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Knights CEO says Iran-backed militias threaten Iraq's religious minorities

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 5:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reute

By

NEW YORK (CNS) -- In an April 12 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus said that "Christian towns in Iraq increasingly look neither Christian nor Iraqi -- but Iranian."

"The public identifies the threat against Christians in Iraq and Syria as emanating from Islamic State," wrote Carl Anderson. "After a hard-fought war, ISIS is no longer a territorial power. But the religious minorities persecuted under the caliphate remain in peril, thanks to the Iraqi government's tolerance of Iranian influence."

He said the threat to Iraq's Christians now is coming from Iran-backed militias that are keeping minority groups from returning home or fleeing once again.

Before he visited Iraq in March, Anderson said, he met with Pope Francis. "A Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East," the pope told him.

"Baghdad's ambassador in Washington often says that 'Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities,'" Anderson wrote.

He noted that five years ago, the Islamic State "swept through Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities."

Both the Obama and Trump administrations each declared the IS actions genocide, he said, "The proof lay not only in the dead but in the collapse of communities that had survived for millennia. There were as many as 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before 2003. Today some 200,000 remain."

The IS onslaught across Iraq "was intense but burned out quickly," he said. "The group swiftly took control of the ancient Christian homeland of Ninevah in 2014 but was forced out within three years. With their towns liberated, displaced Christians hoped to return, rebuild and work for a better future. "

The Knights of Columbus stepped in, committing $25 million to help with the rebuilding of homes and other structures as well as assist in the return of those who had fled the area. In August 2017, many Iraqi Christians were coming back.

The international fraternal organization also has led a national effort to prioritize funding for the reconstruction and resettlement of Karamdes, a devastated Christian town in Northern Iraq, which was liberated from IS in late 2016.

Anderson pointed out that the Trump administration "also promised to prioritize the needs of these minorities after previous aid programs had overlooked them."

"Water and power facilities, schools, hospitals and other public works have been refurbished and rebuilt, courtesy of the U.S. government," he said.

But during his visit to Iraq in March, Anderson said, he "learned of new threats that could undermine these projects and keep Christians from returning home."

As IS was dismantled, "a different menace took its place," he said. "Iranian-backed militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, quickly took root in the devastated, previously Christian towns."

While Baghdad "claims power over the Ninevah region," he said, "the reality is "the militias control much of it."

"They have made life nearly unbearable for Christians attempting to return to towns like Batnaya, where the Popular Mobilization Forces have stripped Christian family homes of plumbing, wiring and other metal," he explained.

Locals, church leaders, and American and Kurdish government officials "warn that the Iranian-backed groups have extorted Christian families and seized their property," said Anderson. "Credible reports of violent crimes have emerged. Iranian proxies now are conducting a program of colonization in the Iraqi sector -- building homes and centers for the use of Iraq's Shiite majority in historically Christian towns."

He described the two goals he said Iran has in Iraq: It wants to build a "'land bridge' to Syria through Iraq," he said. "Second, it aims to alter fundamentally the demography of Ninevah in favor of Tehran. The Christians are at best collateral damage."

So once again many of fleeing the country because they fear for their lives, because of the militias and no "rule of law in their hometowns," according to Anderson.

He said that the genocide IS carried out "is now being facilitated and even actively continued by Iran's proxies with the tacit support of the Iraqi government."

"The situation is beyond demoralizing for anyone who has stood by Iraq's minorities and prayed for their triumph after years of adversity," Anderson added.

He praised the fact that much aid has been directed to the Ninevah region, "but it will be undermined unless the country's overall security situation improves."

He support must continue for "these fragile communities" Ninevah as well as in Kurdistan and in Southern Iraq.

Anderson noted that Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. government officials have urged Iraq "to remove these irregular militias and take control of the region. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has proved unwilling to comply so far."

Like the U.S. government, those who have advocated for and supported displaced communities are not happy with Iraq's "dalliance with Iranian proxies."

"Washington's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization should encourage Baghdad to rethink its embrace of Iran-backed militias," Anderson concluded. "If Iraq wants Iraq to remain Iraq, it should get serious about protecting minorities before it is too late."

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Hope from the ashes: President, archbishop vow to rebuild Notre Dame

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 9:58am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The president of France and the archbishop of Paris have vowed to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral after a devastating fire, continuing what a professor of architecture described as the natural lifecycle of a historic building.

Steven W. Semes, a professor and director of graduate studies in the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said he was as shocked and pained as everyone watching on television as the building burned April 15.

"Like all historic monuments," he said, Notre Dame Cathedral is "the result of hundreds and hundreds of years of development" with an initial idea, a long and labor-intensive construction process, design changes, additions, demolitions and remodeling over and over again as fashions and usages change.

So, from the initial construction, which began in 1160, the cathedral "was transformed multiple times," he told Catholic News Service in Rome, where he regularly teaches. When one looked at Notre Dame before the fire, "we weren't seeing the cathedral as it was built, we were seeing it through layers of change."

"Buildings and cities do change through time," Semes said. "We wouldn't go see a painting by Rembrandt that four people had painted over, but we look at almost any historic building and we see something that has been restored multiple times -- sometimes restored in a way very faithful to an early state and sometimes not."

"One thing about buildings and cities is that they are more like natural phenomena than other art works. Think of a forest. You can have a fire in a forest, but then it comes to life again," he said. "Buildings are resilient."

"Hope springs from seeing monuments that have endured," even though they almost never remain unchanged, Semes said.

"A lot of people are feeling today, 'We can't do it again' or 'It can't be restored,'" and while that would be true of a painting, the professor said, "we do have the skills to restore this building."

"Obviously, a big fire has a big impact," he said, but even for nonbelievers, there is a sensitivity to the fact that Notre Dame Cathedral was not just a treasure of Gothic architecture.

"Notre Dame was truly a work of devotion," he said. "Think about it -- how large the building was compared to everything else in the city, the attention, the loving care that went into making it, ornamenting it and maintaining it. This is truly an act of devotion; it is a kind of sacramental."

The building as a church "speaks to people," whether they are believers, he said, pointing to similar reactions in 2015 when a massive earthquake in Nepal toppled Buddhist statues and monuments. "We feel these things even if we are not personally involved in that particular tradition."

The key to understanding Notre Dame Cathedral was summarized by Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit in a television interview in the wee hours of April 16: "Why was this beauty built? What jewel was this case meant to contain? Not the crown of thorns (a relic saved from the fire), but a piece of bread that we believe is the body of Christ."

Pope Francis, in a message April 16 to Archbishop Aupetit, expressed his solidarity with the sadness of Parisians, calling Notre Dame "an architectural jewel of a collective memory, the gathering place for many major events, the witness of the faith and prayer of Catholics in the city."

The pope also expressed his confidence that the cathedral would be rebuilt and continue its vocation as "a sign of the faith of those who built it, the mother church of your diocese, (and) the architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, France and humanity."

Antoine-Marie Izoard, editor of the French Catholic magazine Famille Chretienne, told CNS, "That this happened at the beginning of Holy Week makes it even more striking and calls us to Christian hope."

"Last night, Catholics, members of other religions and nonbelievers united around this strong symbol in the heart of Paris," he said April 16. "It was very striking to see Catholics praying around the cathedral for the firefighters battling the flames."

Add to that French President Emmanuel Macron's determination to rebuild, he said, and "we realize once again that the Christian roots of the country are still at the heart of France."

Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told reporters April 16 that while Notre Dame, like other French cathedrals, is state property, "it remains a living creature in which the liturgy is celebrated, encounters of faith occur and even nonbelievers enter to make a tour of beauty."

The prayerful, tearful public vigils that took place as the fire burned, he said, demonstrated how "the great cathedrals and basilicas really are living bodies."

And, the cardinal said, Notre Dame is not just a living sign of religiosity, but is "the heart, the beating heart" of Paris.

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Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

 

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Blaze erupts at Paris' iconic Notre Dame Cathedral; cause unknown

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 3:07pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Benoit Tessier, Reuters

By

PARIS (CNS) -- A major blaze engulfed the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral April 15, sending pillars of flame and billowing smoke over the center of the French capital.

The fire erupted about 6:30 p.m. local time, and authorities said the cause was not certain but that it could be linked to renovation work that the cathedral was undergoing, the BBC reported.

Officials ordered an evacuation of the area around the 850-year-old cathedral that has withstood world wars and political turmoil throughout France's history.

Le Monde, a Paris daily newspaper, reported that the fire erupted in the attic of the cathedral. Televised images showed the church's iconic steeple was ablaze.

In 2018, the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Paris opened an urgent fundraising appeal to save the cathedral, which was starting to crumble.

The Associated Press reported that Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said about an hour after the fire started that firefighters were attempting to contain a "terrible fire" at the cathedral. An AP reporter at the scene said the roof at the back behind the cathedral, behind the nave, was in flames and yellow-brown smoke and ash filled the sky.

City officials cordoned off the area around the Gothic-style church and urged people to evacuate the immediate surroundings.

MORE TO COME

 

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Pope urges students to fight their addiction to phones

Mon, 04/15/2019 - 10:12am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told high school students to break their phone addiction and spend more time on real communication with others and in moments of quiet, personal reflection.

Young people need to learn about "healthy introspection" so they can listen to their conscience and be able to distinguish it "from the voices of selfishness and hedonism," he said.

The pope made his remarks April 13 during an audience with teachers, students and their family members from Rome's oldest classical lyceum -- the Ennio Quirino Visconti Lyceum-Gymnasium. Some notable alumni include Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, and Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci.

The pope told the high school students to "please, free yourselves from your phone addiction!"

Looking up at his audience as they applauded, the pope said he knew they were aware of the many forms and problems of addiction. But, he warned, an addiction to one's mobile phone was something "very subtle."

"Mobile phones are a great help, it marks great progress. It should be used, and it is wonderful everyone knows how to use it" for the "wonderful" activity of communication, he said.

"But when you become a slave to your phone, you lose your freedom," he said.

"Be careful because there is danger that this drug -- when the phone is a drug -- the danger of communication being reduced to simple 'contacts'" and not true communication with others, he said to more applause.

He told them to not be afraid of silence and to learn to listen to or write down what is going on inside their heart and head.

"It is more than a science, it is wisdom, so as to not become a piece of paper" that moves in whatever direction the wind blows, he said.

The pope also told the teenagers that God gave everyone the ability to love.

"Don't dirty it" with shameful behavior, but rather, love "cleanly" with modesty, fidelity, respect and a big generous heart.

"Love is not a game. Love is the most beautiful thing God gave us," he told them, so be vigilant, protect people's dignity and defend "authentic love, so as not to trivialize the language of the body."

He asked them to help their school remain free from all forms of bullying and aggression, which are "the seeds of war."

And he encouraged them to reject mediocrity and indifference, and instead, "dream big," living with passion and embracing diversity.

"Dialogue among different cultures, different people, enriches a nation, enriches one's homeland," he said. It helps people move forward in mutual respect and be able to see the world is "for everyone, not just for some."

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Embrace the cross, trust God will triumph, pope says on Palm Sunday

Sun, 04/14/2019 - 6:43am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefano Dal Pozzolo, pool

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Acclaimed by the crowds and knowing he was the Messiah they sought, Jesus still chose the path of humility and self-emptying, focused only on doing God's will, Pope Francis said on Palm Sunday.

"There is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it," the pope told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square April 14 to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of his passion.

Processing to the obelisk in the center of the square, dozens of young people carried palm branches taller than they were; bishops, cardinals and the pope carried "palmurelli," woven palms; and all the pilgrims in the square were given olive branches donated by an Italian association of olive oil producers.

After blessing the palms and listening to the Gospel reading of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the young people, bishops, cardinals and pope processed to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica for the main part of the Mass, which included the reading of the Passion.

At the Vatican and in many parts of the world, Palm Sunday also is marked as the local celebration of World Youth Day, and Pope Francis spoke specifically to young people in his homily.

"Countless holy men and women have followed Jesus on the path of humility and obedience," the pope said. The holy ones include many young people recognized by the church as saints or known only to God.

"Dear young people," the pope said, "do not be ashamed to show your enthusiasm for Jesus, to shout out that he is alive and that he is your life."

At the same time, he said, "do not be afraid to follow him on the way of the cross. When you hear that he is asking you to renounce yourselves, to let yourselves be stripped of every security and to entrust yourselves completely to our Father in heaven, then rejoice and exult! You are on the path of the kingdom of God."

Throughout his life, including when he was acclaimed with shouts of "Hosanna" and later stripped and nailed to the cross, the pope said, Jesus showed "us how to face moments of difficulty and the most insidious of temptations by preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, which bestows life and mercy."

From the moment of the temptation in the desert and until Jesus' death, he said, the devil, "the prince of this world," tried to entice Jesus into abandoning his humility and instead embrace "triumphalism."

"Triumphalism tries to make it to the goal by shortcuts and false compromises," he said. "It lives off gestures and words that are not forged in the crucible of the cross; it grows by looking askance at others and constantly judging them inferior, wanting, failures."

But Jesus chose the path to true triumph, the triumph of God over the devil, the pope said. "He knows that true triumph involves making room for God and that the only way to do that is by stripping oneself, by self-emptying. To remain silent, to pray, to accept humiliation."

"He also overcomes the temptation to answer back, to act like a 'superstar,'" Pope Francis said.

Like Jesus, he said, "in moments of darkness and great tribulation, we need to keep silent, to find the courage not to speak, as long as our silence is meek and not full of anger."

When faced with holy silence, he said, "the devil will take courage and come out into the open," and God will take over the fight.

"Our place of safety will be beneath the mantle of the holy Mother of God," the pope said. "As we wait for the Lord to come and calm the storm, by our silent witness in prayer we give ourselves and others 'an accounting for the hope that is within us.'"

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Inspired by sons' faith, family prepares to become Catholic at Easter

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 4:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leslie Kossoff, Catholic Standard

By Mark Zimmermann

POTOMAC, Md. (CNS) -- Like many of the boys and young men studying at The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland, brothers Zayd and Rayn Patel have well-rounded interests outside the classroom.

Zayd, 12, a sixth grader, plays oboe in the school band, sings in its choir, is on the math team, runs track, likes to play golf and squash, plays keyboard and piano, and is part of a rock band.

Rayn, 9, a fourth grader, is nationally ranked for his age group in the sport of fencing, plays trumpet in the school band, also sings in its choir and is part of the drama club.

Both boys also like attending daily Mass at the school. The 550 students between third and 12th grade have the option of voluntarily coming to Mass, and about 200 do.

Younger brother Raif, 5, who is in kindergarten and homeschooled by their mother, plays the violin and just started playing ice hockey.

"They follow their own paths," said their mother, Zeena Lafeer.

This Lent, Zeena, husband Sameer Patel and their three sons are on a special path together as they prepare to receive the sacraments of initiation and become Catholic at the April 20 Easter Vigil at Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, Maryland. The parents and their two oldest sons will be baptized, confirmed and receive their first Communion. Raif will be baptized.

"We have found ourselves here after a journey," Sameer said, noting that he and his wife "came from varied religious backgrounds, and we wanted something to ground our family."

Their shared faith journey, Zeena explained, began when "one day our oldest son said, 'I go to Mass every day (at school), would you like to join me?' That kind of was a sense of relief, because I think that's what I was always wanting, but I didn't have the courage to start that for my family. So to have it come from my son ... (I felt) let's see where this leads, and here we are."

Zeena said she and her husband were raised Muslim and attended Catholic schools and wanted a faith-based education for their sons.

"We just found ourselves really searching for something (where) our children could learn to love God," she said.

Sameer, whose family roots are in India, grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, and attended Catholic elementary school there. His father is Hindu and his mother is Muslim.

Zeena's parents, immigrants from Sri Lanka, are Muslim. She was born and grew up in Leonardtown, Maryland, where her father was a pediatrician. She attended Catholic grade school and high school.

"I saw a different way of worshipping God, (but) I knew it was the same God," she said, recalling that she attended Mass and religion classes with other students and felt peaceful in church. "Forgiveness and hope were aspects my friends had."

The couple met at Georgetown University. She said her philosophy and theology classes led to questions about faith's role of faith in her life. "It sort of ended one chapter and I didn't know the next one," she told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Sameer sang in an a cappella group at Georgetown, where a Jesuit priest, Father James Walsh, sang with the group and was a friend and mentor to Patel.

Meanwhile, Zeena's friends who had been encouraging her to marry a fellow Muslim someday "dragged me to hear him (Sameer) sing. We lived in the same dorm."

The couple started dating at Georgetown and married in 2002.

Their interest in music has continued. Zeena plays the piano and flute and works with Raif as he learns violin. Sameer founded the Bach to Rock Music Schools in Bristow, Virginia, and Fulton, Maryland, where the students include children and adults alike.

The family's educational efforts began in 2010 and they opened the Bristow Montessori School, where Sameer continues to serve as board chairman. Five years later, they opened the music school next door and then expanded to Maryland.

Now the family is learning together about the Catholic faith.

"We're all learning and coming to our beliefs collectively but also individually," Sameer said.

He said the family has been inspired by the teachers and families at The Heights, which is sponsored by the Opus Dei prelature of the Catholic Church. On a recent Friday morning, the parents and Raif joined Zayd and Rayn at a school Mass.

Both parents said they are inspired by their older sons' faith that was fostered at the school. "They have a greater purpose, which is very evident. ... When my older son said, 'Would you be upset if I decided to become Catholic?' That was a courageous leap," Zeena said.

The boys' father added, "I see them guiding me as much as I guide them."

At Little Flower Parish Deacon Don Longano said it has been a privilege to prepare the family to receive the sacraments.

"They bring much faith and energy to the RCIA discussions," said Deacon Longano, who also is the director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate for the Archdiocese of Washington. "This family will be very active in the parish, and by their witness to the faith, I know they will be an inspiration to all of us at Little Flower Parish."

At The Heights School, Headmaster Alvaro de Vicente praised the family's witness.

"The inspiring thing about their journey ... it's an affirmation of the beauty of the faith that's always been in my life, but that I can so easily take for granted " he explained. "It's humbling and beautiful to see them come into the church."

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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Washington Post files motion to dismiss Covington student's lawsuit

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 1:23pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kaya Taitano, social media via Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lawyers for The Washington Post filed a motion in federal court April 9 seeking the dismissal of the $250 million defamation lawsuit filed against the newspaper by Nick Sandmann, a student at Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School.

The student was thrown into the center of a national spotlight in January when videos of him and his classmates interacting with Native Americans and others near Washington's Lincoln Memorial went viral.

In the Feb. 19 lawsuit, the 16-year-old student alleged that the Post's coverage of the incident was biased, claiming there were "no less than six false and defamatory articles" in the newspaper about the Jan. 18 encounter.

In its defense, in the motion filed in U.S. District Court in Covington, The Washington Post's legal team said its stories of that day's interaction were accurate and noted that even if they weren't "flattering of the Covington Catholic students" who were involved, they "do not give rise to a defamation claim by Sandmann."

The Post's legal team also said the "story was an emerging one" and that readers would not have "understood the initial article as having told the whole story."

"Newspapers are often unable to publish a complete account of events when they first come to light," the motion said, adding that the coverage of the event gained more context as more information became available.

The lawsuit against the Post said the newspaper ignored "basic journalist standards" and published defamatory stories about Sandmann in an effort to advance an agenda against President Donald Trump.

"Politics has nothing to do with this case, and law warrants its dismissal," the Post's lawyers said in the motion.

The complaint is seeking $250 million because Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, paid that amount for the newspaper when he bought it six years ago. Sandmann's legal team is suing CNN for $275 million in a defamation lawsuit and sent letters to national media outlets, public figures and Catholic dioceses and archdioceses warning of possible legal action for coverage or statements made about the incident.

Sandmann, a junior at Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School, is known now for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat while smiling just inches away from a Native American leader, Nathan Phillips, who faced him as he chanted and beat a drum. Sandmann and his classmates were in Washington for the annual March for Life.

The teen is represented by Todd McMurtry of the Covington-based law firm Hemmer DeFrank Wessels and by L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta attorney involved in high-profile defamation suits.

Sandmann's attorneys said in a Jan. 25 statement that members of the media and others "rushed to condemn and vilify this young man by burying him in an avalanche of false accusations, false portrayals and cyberbullying that have threatened his reputation and his physical safety."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope sends aid to flood victims in Iran

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 11:33am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tasnim News Agency via Reuters

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has sent a large donation to assist tens of thousands of Iranians who lost their homes and businesses in waves of severe flooding that began in mid-March.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said Pope Francis was sending 100,000 euros (US$113,000), which will be distributed with the help of the Vatican nunciature in Tehran.

"In the course of the past two weeks, violent flooding struck the northeast and southern regions of Iran, and there is fear flooding will continue in the coming days," the dicastery said in a statement April 12.

The death toll as of April 12 was 77 people, and more than a thousand were injured. The homes and property of more than 10 million people have been damaged and at least 2 million people require emergency assistance, the dicastery said.

The Iranian Red Crescent Society and the U.N. office in Tehran were appealing for international assistance to help the victims, the statement said. Staff from the Catholic Church's Caritas Iran already had visited the flood zones, and the organization was working with other groups to get aid to the people.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

At retreat for South Sudan leaders, pope literally begs for peace

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 1:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the end of a highly unusual spiritual retreat for the political leaders of warring factions, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy "fathers of the nation."

"As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let's go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid," he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting.

"You have begun a process, may it end well," he said. "There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place 'in the office' while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation."

"The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will," he said in his formal remarks April 11, closing the two-day retreat in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.

The retreat participants included South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation's five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in September, the vice presidents were to take office together May 12, sharing power and ending the armed conflict between clans and among communities.

The retreat was the idea of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who attended the final part of the gathering. He and Pope Francis have been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches and, the pope said again April 11, they hope to visit South Sudan together when there is peace.

Pope Francis told the politicians and members of the Council of Churches that "peace" was the first word Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection.

"Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue," he told them. "Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people."

When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said. Too many of them have died or been forced from their homes or face starvation because of five years of civil war.

After "so much death, hunger, hurt and tears," the pope said, the retreat participants "have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our father, who desires to grant them justice and peace."

"Peace is possible," the pope told the leaders. They must tap into "a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness."

As leaders of a people, he said, those who govern will have to stand before God and give an account of their actions, especially what they did or didn't do for the poor and the marginalized.

Pope Francis asked the leaders to linger a moment in the mood of the retreat and sense that "we stand before the gaze of the Lord, who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth."

The leaders, he said, should recognize how God loves them, wants to forgive them and calls them to build a country at peace.

Jesus, he said, calls all believers to repentance. "We may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater," but Jesus always is ready to forgive those who repent and return to serving their people.

"Dear brothers and sisters," he said, "Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something, and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world."

Pope Francis expressed his hope that "hostilities will finally cease -- please, may they cease -- that the armistice will be respected, and that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted."

Closing his prepared remarks with a prayer, he asked God "to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony."

"By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying solely on your mercy, we may find our way back to you," he prayed.

 

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Update: Nicaraguan bishop to leave for Rome as threats against him increase

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 11:46am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Nicaraguan bishop said he will leave the country indefinitely as concerns for his security increase -- presumably the product of his criticisms of the Central American nation's president.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez Ortega of Managua said April 10 he would travel to Rome -- at the request of Pope Francis -- after finishing Easter celebrations in Nicaragua, which has convulsed with violence for more than a year. Police and paramilitaries loyal to President Daniel Ortega have crushed protests calling for his ouster, and dissidents have been forced to flee the country.

"I give thanks to Pope Francis, who, having confirmed my ministry and my style as bishop, has asked me to go to Rome for a period of time. I carry in my heart of a pastor the joy and sadness, the pain and hopes of the people of Nicaragua. Thank you all for your love!" Bishop Baez tweeted April 10.

"I can tell you with total sincerity, at this time, I am experiencing great pain in my heart, the pain of not being able to be physically in my loved Nicaraguan community," Bishop Baez told a news conference April 10, according the newspaper La Prensa. "I have not asked to leave. The Holy Father called me."

Bishop Baez had traveled to the Vatican April 1-8 and met privately with Pope Francis April 4. He said Pope Francis told him: "I'm interested in having you here with me, I need you right now."

"This decision of the Holy Father, which I have accepted with complete, loving obedience, has made my heart weep.

"I am not abandoning the people of God. ... I am not going to ignore Nicaragua."

At the news conference, Bishop Baez confirmed that in June 2018 he had been warned by the then-U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua of a plan to assassinate him and other prominent people in opposition to the Ortega government.

Bishop Baez has been among the most vocal critics of Ortega and has been harassed for his outspokenness, especially on social media. La Prensa reported government workers had been forced to sign petitions to the Vatican, calling for Bishop Baez's removal.

Nicaragua erupted in protests in April 2018 over planned reforms to the social security institute, which was to be funded with higher taxes after critics allege it was looted by corrupt officials. The protests later demanded Ortega leave office, something he refused to do.

Human rights groups say the death toll in Nicaragua topped 300 in 2018, and they accused police and paramilitaries of using lethal force on protesters.

Nicaragua's Catholic Church has attended to injured protesters and lent spiritual support to those opposing the government. This has put the church in the line of fire; parishes have come under attack and churchmen, including Bishop Baez, have been pummeled by pro-government individuals.

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference has attempted to promote a peaceful exit to the political unrest by promoting a national dialogue. They withdrew from the process, however, saying conditions did not allow for a peaceful solution. Others in opposition accused the Ortega regime of negotiating in bad faith.

 

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Human trafficking is 'crime against humanity,' pope says

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 11:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Maxim Shemeto, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Human trafficking is a "crime against humanity," because it denies the human dignity of the victim, seeing him or her only as a piece of merchandise to be used to enrich or give pleasure to another, Pope Francis said.

Human trafficking, "in its multiple forms, is a wound in the humanity of those who endure it and those who commit it," the pope said April 11, addressing the closing session of a Vatican conference.

The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organized the conference April 8-11. The office brought together more than 200 bishops, priests, men and women religious, project coordinators, pastoral workers, representatives of Catholic organizations and foundations and trafficking experts from around the world to brainstorm and coordinate efforts to stop trafficking.

"Trafficking," the pope said, is "an unjustifiable violation of the victims' freedom and dignity, which are integral dimensions of the human person willed and created by God. This is why it must be considered, without a doubt, a crime against humanity."

Pope Francis praised women religious, in particular, but also all Catholics working to stop human trafficking and assist the victims.

Before offering his blessing to conference participants, he prayed that God would "bless all the victims, console them, be close to the many who suffer from being despised, humiliated, commercialized."

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican's foreign minister, told participants the crime of human trafficking "does not have borders. It violates human rights without discrimination," ensnaring children, women and men around the globe. "It is inextricably linked to statelessness, conflict, misery, corruption, a lack of education as well as migration and smuggling."

Some forms of human trafficking, for example sex trafficking, are well known, he said, but there also is a growing trafficking in newborn babies and in women who can serve as surrogates.

"The birth mothers are often poor and feel they have no choice but to sell themselves or their children for money," he said.

Before the pope arrived, Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio, undersecretary for the Migrants and Refugees Section, read the recommendations drafted by conference participants. They included a commitment by the church to raise people's awareness of the connection between human trafficking and sexual exploitation in prostitution and pornography and to make clear the sinful contribution of "demand" for prostitution and pornography. Participants also pledged to work for laws criminalizing those who buy sex services and those who profit from victims.

Other recommendations included: working for corporate responsibility in ensuring supply chains are free from slave labor; working against child labor; offering pre-departure orientation programs for foreign workers about their rights and possible dangers, especially in the maritime, domestic service and agricultural sectors; opening the eyes of consumers to the risk of supporting slave labor when purchasing very cheap projects; advocating a greater opening of legal channels of migration; and fostering development projects in countries of departure so migration is a choice, not a necessity.

Participants also pledged to advocate for an end to forced marriage, forced begging, forced reproduction and organ trafficking, including by encouraging more Catholics to become voluntary organ donors. They also asked bishops' conferences to set up anti-trafficking committees to share information, promote education, monitor trafficking in their country and coordinate ministry to victims.

 

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Update: Retired pope publishes reflection on abuse crisis

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 8:52am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledging his role in helping the Catholic Church come to terms with the clerical sexual abuse crisis beginning in the 1980s, wrote an article outlining his thoughts about what must be done now.

Seeing the crisis as rooted in the "egregious event" of the cultural and sexual revolution in the Western world in the 1960s and a collapse of the existence and authority of absolute truth and God, the retired pope said the primary task at hand is to reassert the joyful truth of God's existence and of the church as holding the true deposit of faith.

"When thinking about what action is required first and foremost, it is rather obvious that we do not need another church of our own design. Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the faith in the reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament," he wrote.

The pope's remarks, presented as a compilation of "some notes," were to be published in Klerusblatt, a German-language Catholic monthly journal for clergy in Bavaria. Several news outlets released their translations of the text early April 11.

Given the February Vatican gathering of presidents of the world's bishops' conferences "to discuss the current crisis of faith and of the church," and given his role as pope during "the public outbreak of the crisis," the retired pope felt it appropriate he also help contribute "to a new beginning," he said.

Pope Benedict added that he contacted Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, before releasing the article.

The retired pope, who turns 92 April 16, led the universal church from 2005 to 2013 and for 23 years before that headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is charged with handling cases of the abuse of minors by priests. He also served as a theological consultant during the Second Vatican Council, between 1962 and 1965.

Beginning in the late 1960s, while Western society at large was facing the "death" or disappearance of God and any moral compass, he said, the church's own moral theology suffered "a collapse that rendered the church defenseless against these changes in society."

A misreading of the Second Vatican Council, he said, shifted the church's understanding of revelation, resulting in a diluted or shape-shifting morality that was no longer grounded in natural law and the existence of absolute good and evil; morality could only make "relative value judgments" contingent on the moment and circumstances, he wrote.

"Indeed, in many parts of the church, conciliar attitudes were understood to mean having a critical or negative attitude toward the hitherto existing tradition, which was now to be replaced by a new, radically open relationship with the world," he wrote.

To illustrate this radical openness, he gave an example of an unnamed bishop who had been a seminary rector and "arranged for the seminarians to be shown pornographic films, allegedly with the intention of thus making them resistant to behavior contrary to the faith."

In an extensive study on the causes and context of the abuse of minors by priests in the United States from 1950-2010, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York found "the majority of abusers (70 percent) were ordained prior to the 1970s," and 44 percent of those accused entered the priesthood before 1960.

Social factors influenced the increase of abuse incidents during the 1960s and 1970s, the report said, finding the increase consistent with "the rise of other types of 'deviant' behavior, such as drug use and crime," and changes in social behavior such as the "increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce."

In another example of how Catholic tradition was being rejected and a "new, modern 'Catholicity'" was being introduced by some bishops, who were "not only in the United States of America," Pope Benedict cited instances of labeling seminarians "caught reading my books" as unsuitable for the priesthood. "My books were hidden away, like bad literature, and only read under the desk," he said.

The retired pope emphasized the importance of recognizing, embracing and defending the most essential and foundational principles of faith and of protecting the authority of the church, particularly in matters of morality.

In fact, he said the original meaning behind the verse (Mk 9:42) in which Jesus says it would be better to toss out to sea, weighed down with a millstone, whoever causes "one of these little ones who believe in me to sin," refers to those who are intellectually arrogant and cause the "little ones" -- the common believer -- to become confused in the faith.

While it is "not in itself wrong" to associate the verse with "pedophilic misconduct" as many do today, he said, its original meaning must not be obscured because "great goods such as the faith are equally important" and Jesus protects the deposit of faith with a strong threat of punishment to those who would do it harm.

"A balanced canon law," he wrote, would provide legal protection for the accused but also for the "legal protection" of the faith.

"In the general awareness of the law, the faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection. This is an alarming situation which must be considered and taken seriously by the pastors of the church," he wrote.

"What must be done?" he asked.

Creating "another church" will not work because "that experiment has already been undertaken and has already failed."

"Only obedience and love for our Lord Jesus Christ can point the way. So, let us first try to understand anew and from within what the Lord wants, and has wanted with us," he wrote.

The scandal of child sexual abuse reached such terrible proportions, both in society and the church, he said, because of "the absence of God" and a refusal to hold him as the guiding principle.

"A paramount task, which must result from the moral upheavals of our time, is that we ourselves once again begin to live by God and unto him. Above all, we ourselves must learn again to recognize God as the foundation of our life instead of leaving him aside."

"The crisis caused by the many cases of clerical abuse" must not lead to taking the church "into our own hands" and redesigning it.

The church is like a fishing net that catches both good and bad fish, like a field where good grain and bad weeds grow, he wrote. "The field is still God's field and the net is God's fishing net. And at all times, there are not only the weeds and the evil fish, but also the crops of God and the good fish."

The idea that people can create a better church, he wrote, "is in fact a proposal of the devil, with which he wants to lead us away from the living God, through a deceitful logic by which we are too easily duped."

"No, even today the church is not just made up of bad fish and weeds. The church of God also exists today, and today it is the very instrument through which God saves us," he said.

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Catholic doctor gives medical view of Christ's passion, crucifixion

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 4:55pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tom Dermody, The Catholic Post

By Tom Dermody

DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) -- Jesus likely died from excessive blood loss, a Catholic surgeon said April 4 during a talk that examined the 18 hours of Christ's passion and crucifixion from a medical perspective.

"Christ emptied himself," Dr. Timothy Millea told about 100 people at his home parish of St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport. "As a surgeon, two words that make our hair stand on end are 'bleeding out,'" he said. "If you can't stop it, you can't keep that patient alive."

Millea, an orthopedic surgeon with offices in Iowa and Illinois, is president of a local chapter of the Catholic Medical Association for members in those two states.

He said an adult male has about 1.5 gallons of blood and that the loss of 40 percent of that blood can lead to hypovolemic shock, a life-threatening condition. Jesus likely surpassed that threshold after repeated beatings through the night, an intense scourging at the hands of Roman soldiers that included wearing a crown of thorns and having nails driven through his upper wrists and feet.

"Some people ask, did Jesus really die of physical factors, or did he -- as God -- say, 'OK, my work is done,'" said Millea. After taking his audience hour-by-hour through Jesus' physical and emotional suffering from the Agony in the Garden to his death on the cross, Millea countered that "how he lived this long is one of the biggest divine mysteries."

He said his interest in researching this topic began in 1986 when he read an article "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" in the Journal of the American Medical Association. His subsequent research showed that Jesus' medical condition has been discussed since the 16th century.

Among the latest sources he quoted was the 2014 book "A Doctor at Calvary: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ" by Dr. Pierre Barbet. Millea also referenced modern research on the Shroud of Turin, believed by many to be Jesus' burial cloth.

For example, he said the man whose image is seen on the shroud was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed about 175 pounds. While tradition says Jesus was whipped 39 times in his scourging, nearly 400 wound marks are counted on the shroud and "every one of them (was) bleeding" on the day of his death.

While he promised his talk would not be "like watching Mel Gibson's movie again" -- a reference to the graphic depictions of Jesus' sufferings in the 2004 biblical drama "The Passion of the Christ" -- there came a time in his description of the crucifixion when he paused and asked his audience to "bear with me, we're going to get through this. I don't like this part, either, but it's pretty important."

He described Jesus' passion and death as "a tragic story, a horrible story, a painful story," but ended his presentation by showing an image of the resurrected Christ on the screen to illustrate that "this story doesn't end with where we finish tonight."

The surgeon acknowledged that other physicians and historians have suggested that Jesus might have died from asphyxiation because breathing was so difficult on the cross. Others say perhaps he had a heart attack after the hours of physical exertion and trauma.

But Millea feels the blood loss theory is not only medically likely but it also corresponds with the theological teachings of atoning sacrifice, with Jesus taking the place of the slaughtered lambs of the Old Testament. Sacrificed animals also died from blood loss.

"Jesus was literally the sacrificial lamb," he said.

Other medical and historical evidence the surgeon cited included:

-- A rare medical condition that matches the description in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus' sweat during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane "became like drops of blood." The condition, called hematohidrosis, causes blood to be released through the skin and "is almost always associated with intense emotion or physically challenging episodes."

-- The whip used in the scourging was likely a flagrum, with leather cords 2 feet long that contained metal objects, glass and lead balls. "It was a very diabolically effective means of harming the tissues down to muscle depth," said Millea.

-- The crown of thorns likely more resembled a helmet than the laurel wreath depicted in art. "Every time the soldiers hit the thorns, they impaled in his scalp," said Millea. "If you've ever had a cut on your scalp, you know it bleeds like crazy."

-- Jesus probably only carried the horizontal beam of the cross, because both beams would have weighed 300 pounds. "You've got a 175-pound man who has been beaten, he's bleeding, he hasn't eaten or slept or had anything to drink, and he's going to carry 100 pounds for 600 yards. He fell three times? It's a miracle he didn't fall more often."

-- The nails in Jesus' hands likely would not have been in the palms, which could not have held his weight. There is a space in the upper wrist where ligaments are strong. "The problem, for those of you who have had carpal tunnel problems, is that the median nerve travels through there," said Millea, meaning the pain would have been intense.

Millea went through Jesus' last seven recorded phrases -- including "I thirst" and "It is finished" -- which he said were necessarily short because of the difficulty in breathing that Jesus was experiencing.

He said the crucifixion was a public spectacle and Jesus' followers most likely thought it was the worst thing that could have happened not knowing that it would later prove to "be the best thing that ever happened."

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Dermody is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Post, newspaper of Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

 

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Encore: Seeking Christ's face: Some believe hilltop shrine holds true relic

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 3:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

MANOPPELLO, Italy (CNS) -- At the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, visitors see a transparent cloth encased between two glass panes within an ornate silver frame above the sanctuary's altar.

Once light is shined on the cloth of byssus fiber, the image of a bearded man, eyes open and mouth seemingly taking a breath is revealed.

Devotees of the Manoppello veil claim that it is "Veronica's Veil" and that it was secretly moved to the little hilltop town in Abruzzo on orders from Pope Clement VII to protect it following the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Another image of Christ's face known as "Veronica's Veil" is displayed at St. Peter's Basilica on the fifth Sunday of Lent each year to bless pilgrims as they approach Holy Week.

Although the traditional Stations of the Cross include "Veronica wipes the face of Jesus," none of the Gospels recount a woman wiping Jesus' face as he carries his cross to Calvary.

A pious legend says Veronica later went to Rome to leave the relic with St. Clement, one of the early popes.

However, German journalist Paul Badde is convinced that the veil displayed by the Vatican for the past 400 years is a copy and that the true veil is in Manoppello.

"Every year on Passion Sunday, they show a hoax, I would say," Badde told Catholic News Service Jan. 14.

The Capuchin friars at Manoppello have been the custodians of a veil since 1630.

For centuries, few people outside the small town knew of the cloth and its image of Jesus. But a Capuchin priest, Father Domenico di Cese, made it his life's work to spread devotion to the Holy Face of Manoppello.

When he first saw the veil as a young priest in the 1930s, he knelt in shock. The face on the ancient linen looked like the same unidentified man who had rescued him from the rubble of a church after a major earthquake in 1915 when he was a child.

Father Cese died in 1978 and it wasn't until 1999 that the veil really caught the world's attention. That was when Jesuit Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, an art historian at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, announced at a press conference that the cloth was the true "veil of Veronica," stating that after conducting research, he discovered that the image on the veil could be perfectly superimposed on the face of the Shroud of Turin, the relic many believe is Jesus' burial shroud.

Some devotees maintain the image's connection to "Veronica" is not related to a woman who tried to soothe Jesus but is actually a form of the phrase "vera icona," meaning "true icon."

Capuchin Father Paolo Palombarini, parochial vicar of the shrine, told CNS, "Both pupils are open. But one can see that the right pupil is more closed than the one on the left because this is the first instance of the Resurrection and it happened just at it does when we wake up in the morning."

"When we sleep," he said, "we don't realize it, but our pupils are completely dilated. In the morning, when we open our eyes and see the light, our pupils react by closing because they need some time to settle when passing from darkness to light."

The Vatican does not formally recognize the authenticity of relics like the Veil of Manoppello or the Shroud of Turin. However, public veneration of such relics by popes often draw the attention of the faithful.

Such was the case when Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to visit the Manoppello shrine in 2006 and venerate the image, Badde said. He told CNS that Pope Benedict had read his book on the veil and "decided to go there against enormous resistance in the Vatican."

Still, during what Pope Benedict himself described as a "private pilgrimage," he made no pronouncement about the image. Addressing priests, religious and pilgrims who packed the shrine, he said those who seek the true face of Christ can find it in their brothers and sisters, "especially the poorest and those most in need."

"If we persevere in our quest for the face of the Lord," Pope Benedict said, "at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, he, Jesus, will be our eternal joy, our reward and glory forever."

Badde said, "He was the first pope after more than 400 years to get on his knees in front of this image, that's what he did. That's what will remain of his pontificate."

Pope Benedict's visit increased attention to the image, which continues to draw more pilgrims each year.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Volunteer crew prepares oils to be blessed at chrism Mass in Indianapolis

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 1:14pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The annual chrism Mass to be celebrated April 16 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis will arguably be one of the most solemn and joyful moments of worship this year for the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana.

Priests serving in the archdiocese will renew their ordination promises. And Archbishop Charles C. Thompson also will bless oils to be used in sacraments across the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Every celebration of baptism, confirmation, the anointing of the sick, priestly ordination, and church or altar dedication in the archdiocese in the coming year will involve oils blessed at this Mass, which is open to the public.

The oils so joyfully and solemnly to be blessed at the chrism Mass were prepared by volunteers in a rather simple way at the cathedral rectory April 8.

For 27 years, Christina Tuley, executive assistant in the archdiocesan Office of Worship, has overseen a crew of volunteers who annually pour more than 20 liters of olive oil into 750 small bottles and place lids and labels on them. One bottle of each of the three kinds of oils -- the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm and chrism oil -- are then put in small boxes.

They are blessed during the chrism Mass and then distributed to Catholics taking part in the liturgy who take them back to their faith communities across central and southern Indiana.

"We're preparing the oil for every child that is baptized, for every priest that is ordained, the churches that are built, and for the catechumenate, and the oil of the infirm goes for the sick," Tuley told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "It's very much an honor."

Arnold and Kathleen Feltz, members of St. Barnabas Parish and the parents of Father Joseph Feltz, have helped prepare the oils for 18 years. They then attend the chrism Mass where the oils are blessed, and the celebration of the Easter Vigil at their parish where the oils are used to receive people into the church.

"It's moving and rewarding," said Kathleen. "It makes our service and us being able to do it all a little extra special."

Karla Hudacek, a pastoral associate at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis, volunteered for the first time this year. She appreciated the aromatic oils added to olive oil to give chrism oil an attractive smell.

She recalled the effect it had on her twins when they were anointed with chrism oil at their baptism.

"I could smell it for days and days," Hudacek said. "It was a reminder of how blessed and how present Christ is. In our faith, we have some very tangible means of experiencing Christ."

Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization, stopped in to see the work of the volunteers and thank them for their service.

"They're offering their time to enable our faith family to be who it is and do what it does by the power of the Holy Spirit," Father Beidelman said. "You can see them putting their faith into action. It's their love for the church, for the sacramental life of the church. And the kind sharing of their time builds up the body of Christ."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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All are debtors before God's love, forgiveness, pope says

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone is "in debt" to God, who offers his infinite love and graces for free, Pope Francis said.

"We have received so much: our existence, a father and a mother, friendships, the wonders of creation," the pope said April 10 during his weekly general audience in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square.

"Even if difficult days happen to everyone, we must always remember that life is a grace, it is a miracle that God has pulled out of the blue."

Continuing his audience talks about the Lord's Prayer, Pope Francis looked at how Jesus teaches people to ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

"Just as we need bread, we need forgiveness every day," he said.

With the Lord's Prayer, he said, Christians ask that God forgive their "being in debt," which is the meaning behind the use of the word "trespasses" in the original Greek of the Gospel.

Even "if we were perfect, even the purest of saints who never waver from a life of good, we are always children who owe everything to the Father," the pope said.

In fact, the most dangerous thing Christians can be are people filled with pride, deceiving themselves that they are on par with God and owe him nothing, he said.

While some sins are "loud" and glaringly visible, the pope said, pride is the worst of the "sneaky," less obvious sins, which "nest in the heart" without one realizing it.

Pride can be "contagious," even infecting those who live an intensely religious life, he added, and it divides people, making them believe they are better than others.

"Before God, we are all sinners and we have reason to beat our breast," he said. "If we say, 'We are without sin,' we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

Everyone also is in debt, the pope said, for the boundless love they receive from God.

People are capable of loving because they have been loved first and they love, not with their own power, but "with the grace of God," he said.

Much like the moon reflects the sun's light and the church receives and reflects Christ's light, he said, people who love are reflecting a love they received in turn.

"Try listening to the story of someone who made a mistake -- a prisoner, a convict, a drug addict," he said, and think about the "anger and abandonment" that may be part of their past.

"If someone has not been illuminated by sunlight, they become frozen like the ground in winter," he said.

"None of us can love God as much as he has loved us," Pope Francis said. "We need only gaze at a crucifix to realize how disproportionate" his love is.

 

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Red embroidery on white handkerchiefs memorializes victims of violence

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 1:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Sister Veronica Faja

By Laura Vallejo

SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- The messages, embroidered in red thread on white handkerchiefs, tell horrific stories of violence and death.

They are memorials, meant to bring attention to those who have suffered and died because of the drug war in the United States and Mexico, those who have died crossing the desert while seeking sanctuary, and those who have disappeared.

Back in 2011, Fuentes Rojas (Red Fountains) originated in Mexico City. The original purpose of this collective project was to raise a voice for the victims of violence caused by the U.S.-Mexico drug war.

As the years passed, Fuentes Rojas formed Bordados por la Paz (Embroidering for Peace) with the idea of creating a memorial for each of the victims, widening their focus to victims of feminicide, forced disappearances, and individuals who have died crossing the desert seeking sanctuary in the United States.

The movement has spread all over the world, and on April 14, 2018, members of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Mexico and the United States decided to start making embroidery pieces for the cause.

"The Sisters of the Holy Cross got hold of Valerie James, who is one of the initiators of this effort," said Holy Cross Sister Veronica Fajardo, one of the sisters and associates of Utah who have participated in the effort.

After a presentation from James, several sisters from Mexico and the U.S. each made an embroidered piece commemorating the people who have died to the violence.

Each piece displays information from police reports about the victim's death in words that are hand-embroidered with red thread on a man's white handkerchief. The information is embroidered in Spanish.

The handkerchief was specifically selected as the background for the message because it is used to dry the tears of those mourning the loss of a loved one.

On May 5, 2018, Holy Cross sisters in Utah invited the associates, who are laypeople associated with the Holy Cross congregation, to join the project. They selected the theme "Bordados for peace and memory."

In addition to Sister Veronica, the associate leadership team is comprised of Holy Cross Sisters Catherine Kamphaus, associate superintendent of Utah Catholic Schools, and Genevra Rolf, who is retired. Others on the team are Kandie Brinkman, Jakie Capella and Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson. A number of other Holy Cross associates in Utah are participating.

Some of the embroidered pieces already have been completed; others are still in process.

"When we finish them, we send them back to James, and she delivers them to Fuentes Rojas in Mexico," Sister Veronica told the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

All the embroidered handkerchiefs will be displayed in May in Coyoacan, a neighborhood in Mexico City.

Each piece will be numbered and also include the total number of pieces made up to that date.

One of Sister Veronica's pieces reads in Spanish: "In a place known as the 'Rincon,' in a remote area that takes you to Escondida, an incinerated body was found. Tepic Nayarit, February 28, 2012. 2,761/150,000."

Another reads: "An armed group killed three men and hurt a woman and a child in a workshop located in Olivia Espinoza, Juarez City, in Chihuahua."

"With every stitch, we remember these victims," Sister Veronica said.

From 2012 to 2018, Mexico's National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information reported 139,758 intentional homicides, an average of over 23,293 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour. "No other country in the Western Hemisphere had seen such a large increase either in its homicide rate or in the absolute number of homicides," according to the organization's Web page.

In the 2018 fiscal year, 283 deaths were registered by the U.S. Border Patrol, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In the past 10 years alone, some 2,000 migrants -- men, women, children and the elderly -- have died this way.

A 2017 joint report from the National Women's Institute in Mexico and U.N. Women highlighted the increase of feminicides, from an annual rate of 3.8 per 100,000 women in 1985 to 4.6 in 2016. The National Citizen Observatory on Feminicide released figures that there were 800 feminicides between January and June 2017.

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Vallejo is on the staff of the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Indian police charge bishop with repeatedly raping nun

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 1:00pm

IMAGE: NS photo/Sivaram V, Reuters

By

NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Indian police charged Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar of repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, the Associated Press reported.

The bishop was charged April 9 with rape, illegal confinement and intimidation, said Hari Sankar, a district police chief in the predominantly Catholic state of Kerala.

Bishop Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21 after a 48-year-old member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the prelate, complained that he raped her multiple times between 2014 and 2016 while he was visiting her convent in Kerala. The bishop, who was in charge of the congregation, denied the allegations.

The New York Times reported a statement from Save Our Sisters, a group of members of India's Roman Catholic Church, who said the filing of charges "enters the annals of history as a rarest of rare incident, when a bishop is going to face trial in a court based on the complaint of a nun who is a subordinate to him."

The New York Times reported Save Our Sisters said the charge sheet includes statements from 83 witnesses, including a cardinal, three bishops, 11 priests and 25 nuns.

The victim first wrote to church authorities in January 2017, the apostolic nuncio in India in January 2018, and then to Pope Francis May 14, seeking church action against Bishop Mulakkal. She copied prefects of the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops, and later sent reminders before going to the police.

On Sept. 24, the bishop was taken into judicial custody. The Vatican removed him from diocesan administrative duties, but he retained his title as its bishop.

The Kerala High Court granted bail Oct. 15 on condition that the bishop, based in northern Jalandhar City, should not enter Kerala state other than to report once a fortnight to investigating police.

A week later, Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 67, considered a prime witness against the bishop, was found dead, with his family suspecting foul play.

The nun's case led to an outcry from women religious, with more reporting cases of abuse.

In November, the International Union of Superiors General called on women religious who have suffered abuse to come forward and report it to their congregations and church and state authorities.

"If the UISG receives a report of abuse, we will be a listening presence and help the person to have the courage to bring the complaint to the appropriate organizations," it added in a statement published on its website Nov. 23.

Global Sisters Report talked to five Missionaries of Jesus in India who complained of church repression for their support of their former superior general, who made the accusations.

"The Catholic Church leadership has been treating us as outcasts after we went public against Bishop Franco Mulakkal (of Jalandhar). Even the Vatican has not bothered to acknowledge our complaints," Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, spokeswoman for five Missionaries of Jesus nuns, told Global Sisters Report earlier this year.

The five sisters were living with the victim in a convent in Kerala state, refusing orders to return to their own communities while the case was ongoing. Retired Auxiliary Bishop Agnelo Gracias of Mumbai, Jalandhar Diocese's administrator, supported their position, but the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council criticized the nuns for stirring up enemies of the church, reported Global Sisters Report.

 

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Devil targets those who succumb to despair, negativity, pope says

Tue, 04/09/2019 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sometimes Christians seem to prefer complaining and being unhappy in life, but that makes them a perfect target for the devil, Pope Francis said in a morning homily.

"Desolation is from the serpent," who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden and who "always bites" when a person sinks in despair, the pope said April 9 at morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the first reading from the Book of Numbers (21:4-9) in which the people of God, after escaping slavery in Egypt, lose their patience and complain about their difficult situation, "worn out by the journey." God punishes them by sending venomous serpents, but then offers an antidote -- a chance at salvation -- after the people recognize their sin of complaining against God and Moses.

The sensation of being "worn out removes hope from us," the pope said. Fatigue gives people a "selective" memory; "it always makes us see the bad side of what we are going through and forget the good things that we have received."

"When we are in anguish, we cannot stand the journey and we seek refuge either in idols or in grumbling" or in other ways that show nothing is pleasing or satisfactory, he said.

"This is the life of many Christians. They live by complaining, criticizing, grumbling, (being) dissatisfied," preferring to see everything as a failure or worthy of complaint, he said.

But what they don't realize, he said, is that this turns them into the "perfect terrain for the devil to sow."

Pope Francis asked that everyone pray to God to "free us from this sickness" -- this fear of hope and healing, the fear of the Lord's consolation and resurrection.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Marine vet counts on prayer, faith to reunite with deported husband

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 2:54pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/PBS

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the quest to bring her deported Mexican husband, Marcos, back to the United States to live with her and their four children, Elizabeth Perez has frequently turned to prayer.

Nothing else has worked.

"My faith is the only thing that kept me moving, because I do believe that God has a plan for all of us, and we don't always know what it is, or why," said Perez, 40, a Catholic who spent five years in the Marines and another five in the Ohio Army National Guard before that.

"I just have to keep telling myself that everything is just part of his plan, and there's a reason why," said Perez, who is featured in the new documentary "Marcos Doesn't Live Here Anymore," to be seen on PBS stations nationwide 9-11 p.m. EDT April 15.

Marcos was stopped by police at a yellow light in Cleveland in 2010. Police determined he did not have documents to allow him to stay in the United States legally. On top of that, he had been arrested for two crimes in California, well before he and Elizabeth met. Two weeks after the traffic stop, he was deported to his native Mexico. At the time, Elizabeth was pregnant with their second child.

Marcos was given a "permanent bar," meaning he could not apply for reentry for 10 years -- or 2020, a year from now.

Perez has worked with immigration lawyers, an advocacy group called HOLA Ohio and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, to seek waivers granting an earlier return for Marcos, knowing there's no guarantee he'd be readmitted in 2020.

In the documentary, Perez says at one point, "I don't want it to be nine years." "I know," she told Catholic News Service in an April 5 telephone interview from Cleveland. "When I saw that part I thought, like, gosh, that's nine years now. ... Now it's actually nine years."

In one scene, Perez goes to a Marian courtyard at St. Anne Church in Cleveland and says before praying the rosary, "Oh, Mary, I don't know how much more of this I can take." In another scene, she and dozens of other HOLA Ohio members are shown making a 20-mile trek from Mentor, Ohio, to St. Casimir Church in Cleveland. The church's story has a particular resonance for Perez.

"We believe miracles happen there" at St. Casimir, Perez told CNS. "When Bishop (Richard G.) Lennon came to Cleveland and closed a lot of churches, that was one of the ones that was closed. A lot of people were upset about it and held their Mass every day outside for three years -- in the rain and the cold and the snow.

"The church was actually reopened because they fought for it. It has a big significance with miracles. It's a Polish church. There's a big portrait of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It's the same one that was outside the day it was reopened. It was significant that we did the march there. It was like a pilgrimage to pray for a miracle from the Polish Madonna."

Through her nine-year effort, Perez has come to some conclusions about the U.S. immigration system.

The system doesn't work for anyone "if it doesn't work for us -- and not only forget about, like, being a veteran, an American and those things -- but all the work that we've done and all the people who have sacrificed their time and their energy to get him back," she said. "You saw the East Cleveland City Council resolution (in the documentary), but we also have other cities. East Cleveland, Toledo. We did the march. We organized groups seeing elected officials, going to D.C., a letter writing campaign -- added on top of the fact of who we are -- that doesn't work either."

Perez added, "I have the privilege to fight for our family openly" without fear of deportation, or having their children taken "and you never see them again, which is what happens." The problem? "I'm definitely aware that it's not just a paper problem, like I originally thought. And I'm more aware that it's a -- in my opinion -- a racial problem. I think it's very racially driven."

Marcos lives in Mexico City, where he referees soccer matches, earning the equivalent of $10 per game. Perez said the low pay levels in Mexico are "just insane." "People have asked, 'Why doesn't he just get a job at Wal-Mart?' They've actually asked that. Those kinds of jobs don't exist."

Perez visited him once in Mexico and got pregnant with their third child. After considerable discussion, the whole family later moved to Mexico's Yucatan state, where she bore him a fourth child. Stress and other issues, though, became too much to bear, so they moved back to their old homes and crossed their fingers for a better result come 2020.

There have been plenty of Skype conversations between Cleveland and Mexico City from the beginning, but "the end of the film is continuing right now. We're still in the same place," Perez said. "The hamster wheel that you see in the film is still rolling right now."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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