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On Good Friday, papal preacher says cross brings hope to the oppressed

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 7:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The cross serves as a warning to the powerful and a message of hope for the poor and oppressed, said the preacher of the papal household.

With Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, "a total reversal of roles has taken place: The vanquished has become the victor; the one judged has become the judge," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during an April 19 service commemorating Christ's death on the cross.

"The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope," he said.

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, which began with a silent, solemn procession down the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica. Two aides then helped the 82-year-old pope down onto his knees as he stretched himself prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance.

During the liturgy, the pope and thousands of faithful stood as three deacons and the Sistine Chapel Choir chanted the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John. As is customary, the papal household's preacher gave the homily.

Father Cantalamessa said the crucified Christ represents everyone who is despised and rejected; "the greatest man in history was one of you," he said, "the discarded of the earth, those from whom we turn aside our faces so as not to see them."

Jesus, who was bound, mocked and tortured by soldiers, is the epitome of all those who are handcuffed, "alone, at the mercy of soldiers and thugs, who take out the rage and cruelty they stored up during their lives on the unfortunate poor," the papal preacher said. On the cross Jesus "becomes the symbol of this part of humanity that is humiliated and insulted."

In his teachings, Jesus "solemnly affirmed that whatever we did for the hungry, the naked, the incarcerated, the outcast, we did to him, and whatever we omitted doing for them, we omitted doing to him," he said.

This is the mandate the church has received -- "to stand with the poor and the weak, to be the voice for those who have no voice," Father Cantalamessa said.

All religions, in fact, must not only promote peace, they must not remain silent "in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see. A few privileged people possess more goods than they could ever consume, while for entire centuries countless masses of poor people have lived without having a piece of bread or a sip of water to give their children," he said.

"No religion can remain indifferent to this, because the God of all the religions is not indifferent to all of this," he added.

The cross, therefore, also contains a message for those who are powerful and "comfortable in their role as 'victors,'" he said.

"It is a message, as always, of love and salvation, not of hate or vengeance," but it reminds them that they, too, are bound to the same fate of divine judgment in the end: "whether weak or strong, defenseless or tyrannical, all are subjected to the same laws and to the same human limitations."

The cross, a sign of hope and a world redeemed from sin, also "warns against the worst evil for a human being, the illusion of omnipotence," he said.

Pope Francis was scheduled to speak briefly later that night at the end of the Stations of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum. The meditations on the stations were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, an Italian nun working against human trafficking and ministering to women and girls forced by their captors to become sex workers.

 

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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.

'Their Calvary was lengthy': Pope's Stations recall those exploited

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 6:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Recalling Jesus' death on the cross, Pope Francis led thousands on Good Friday in reflecting on the crosses of loneliness, fear and betrayal that crucify countless men, women and children in the world.

In the annual Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, the meditation for each station reflected the suffering and pain of people exploited and marginalized.

At the 13th station, Jesus is taken down from the cross, the meditation recalled the funeral of 26 young Nigerian women who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Their Calvary," it read, "was lengthy and difficult."

"Two of them were bearing in their womb the gift of a new life, children who would never see the light of day," the reflection read. "Yet their death, like that of Jesus taken down from the cross, was not in vain. We entrust all these lives to the mercy of God our father and the father of all, especially the poor, the desperate and the abased."

At each station, various people took turns carrying a large black cross and circling the famed Colosseum, which glowed a fiery orange from hundreds of candles placed around the ruins. Thousands of men, women and children standing outside also held lit candles as the sounds of prayers, reflections and music echoed throughout the hallowed site where many Christian executions took place in ancient Rome.

This year, the meditations for the late-night event were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a missionary who ministers to sex workers along the roadsides of Italian cities, in police detention centers or in church-run safehouses, helping them get off the streets and rebuild their lives.

Sister Bonetti is a leader among women religious working against human trafficking. She started and led anti-trafficking initiatives for the Italian Union of Major Superiors and helped educate officials in Italy and the United States about the problem.

Many of the meditations reflected on the horrors of human trafficking witnessed by Sister Bonetti.

The prayer during the meditation of the sixth station -- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus -- asked God to "cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children who, in many parts of the world, are living in poverty and squalor."

"Let us think of all those children in various parts of the world who cannot go to school but are instead exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, used and abused on our streets by many, including Christians, who have lost the sense of their own and others' sacredness," the meditation read.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis read a prayer he wrote, asking Jesus to help Christians today to "see in your cross all the crosses of the world."

He also prayed that Christians may see the cross of Christ in the church that, although faithful to the Gospel, "struggles to carry your love even among the baptized themselves" and is "continually attacked from within and from without."

In his prayer, which he read from a hillside overlooking a torch-lit cross and the crowds holding candles, the pope remembered the crosses of people "hungry for bread and love," especially those who are "lonely and abandoned even by their own children and relatives."

The pope also remembered the crosses borne by children "wounded in their innocence and purity," and who also "find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their families and their peers."

He also prayed for consecrated men and women who are "rejected, mocked and humiliated" for bring Christ's light into the world as well as those "who along the way have forgotten their first love."

Concluding his prayer, Pope Francis said, "Lord Jesus, rekindle in us the hope of the resurrection and of your definitive victory against all evil and all death."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Solitary confinement in U.S. prisons qualifies today as torture

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 4:38pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Few people think about it in these terms, even around Easter, but Jesus was tortured as a prisoner before his death on a cross. There's no other way to characterize the 39 lashes ordered by Pontius Pilate, or the crown of thorns. Or, for that matter, the lance in his side to see if he was really dead or just looked dead.

It brings into sharp focus that, while the methods have changed over the past 2,000 years, torture remains part of prison life.

The federal Justice Department report April 3 on prison conditions in Alabama told of "a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature and pervasive." Among the findings, none of which were ever tracked by the state: 15 prison suicides in the past 15 months, a prison homicide rate well above the national average, and sexual assaults in "dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night."

The investigation began after a series of lawsuits earlier in the decade and published reports describing brutality, violence -- and torture -- in state prisons.

While states are rarely subject to the kind of federal scrutiny Alabama received, U.S. prisons have rarely been held up as models for rehabilitation. Even some tactics used in prison meant to rehabilitate prisoners now qualify as torture.

One such tactic is solitary confinement.

Benjamin Franklin and several Quaker leaders first instituted solitary confinement in Philadelphia in the late 18th century, believing that total isolation and silence would lead to penitence -- from which we get the name "penitentiary."

Instead, enforced solitary confinement led to severe mental health problems for prisoners, including insanity. "I believe it ... to be cruel and wrong," said novelist Charles Dickens after a visit to a Pennsylvania penitentiary that had nothing but solitary confinement cells. "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." The Quakers later apologized for their advocacy of long-term solitary confinement.

Yet the practice persists.

"We oppose the increasing use of isolation units, especially in the absence of due process, and the monitoring and professional assessment of the effects of such confinement on the mental health of inmates," said the U.S. bishops in their 2000 statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice."

"One form of torture is ... confinement in high-security prisons," said Pope Francis in an Oct. 23, 2014, address.

"As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss and significantly increase the suicidal tendency," Pope Francis said.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, or NRCAT, which is based in Washington, has led two-track initiatives decrying torture in prisons both in the United States and abroad.

Leading the U.S. side of the initiative is Johnny Perez, who knows something about extended solitary confinement.

"I was a total of three years in solitary. The longest was 10 months; that was testing positive for cannabis consumption -- smoking weed, in other words," Perez told Catholic News Service in an April 16 telephone interview from New York. "I rely on that experience" in working against torture, he added.

Asked how he made it through, Perez, who was raised Catholic, replied, "Lots of prayer, if that hasn't been obvious," adding a hearty chuckle afterward. "Meditation and understanding. And also the thought that if I don't make it, they win."

Perez said NRCAT works at "engaging faith leaders and mobilizing them" on the issue, "not only with correctional facilities but also legislators."

Faith leaders can be found nearly anywhere. Earlier this decade, NRCAT took its solitary prison cell replica -- a 6-foot-by-9-foot windowless box featuring audio from a maximum security prison in Maine -- to a national Catholic youth conference in Indianapolis. "People are invited to sit in the cell -- for up to one hour -- and those who have are very moved and motivated to take action," said the NRCAT website, www.nrcat.org.

In New York, New Jersey and California, according to Perez, "faith leaders have been able to create mitigation teams where they have direct communication with correctional staff to find some middle ground on what needs to change."

"Between policy and practice is a huge space, And to close that space, we need people who have been affected by these issues to directly engage," Perez said.

One high-water mark in the campaign against solitary confinement came in 2012, when the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights conducted a hearing on the practice.

The Innocence Project, based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, submitted testimony on behalf of several prisoners, exonerated after their conviction, of their time in solitary.

Julie Rea testified she was placed in solitary in an Illinois prison to keep her from harming herself and was then tormented by prison guards who played a recording of a woman being tortured to prevent her from sleeping. Cornelius Dupree, exonerated by DNA after spending 30 years in Texas prisons, recounted receiving one complete meal only every three days when he was in solitary. The other two days he received a spoonful each of rice and beans and a roll.

Nicholas Yarris, freed in 2003 after spending 23 years in solitary confinement on death row in Pennsylvania attempted suicide in prison. Despite his innocence, he asked a year before his exoneration that he be executed rather than continue to be held in what he called "endless degradation."

Clarence Elkins testified he had to spend the last three months in solitary confinement, despite evidence of his innocence to "protect" him from the person who had actually the crime in his case and was housed in the same prison.

Herman Atkins spent 11 years in prison in California, 16 months of it in solitary, before being exonerated. While in solitary, he said he was confined to a small windowless room with a light always on to allow correction officers to watch him at all times, and "when a government has the authority to treat people so poorly," he testified, "it's impossible to hold citizens to a higher standard."

NRCAT asks its affiliates and prison reform advocates to take part in "Together to End Solitary" actions the 23rd of each month. The 23rd is chosen because of the 23 hours each day a prisoner typically spends in solidarity.

"For 23 hours a day for months, years, even decades, more than 80,000 adults and youth are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers," the NRCAT website says.

Study guides for people of different faiths are available from NRCAT, including one for Catholics. The Catholic study guide features this admonition from Hebrews 13:3, which NRCAT translates as, "Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."

 

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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.

Singer-songwriter presents Crucifixion in concert

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 4:09pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joanne Fox, The Catholic Globe

By Joanne Fox

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Singer-songwriter Tatiana "Tajci" Cameron confessed she didn't always like Holy Week.

"It always seemed to be full of sadness," she told the crowd of more than 500 who gathered April 14 at St. Michael Church, part of Holy Cross Parish in Sioux City.

"Then, I saw how it was a beautiful connecting point between God and us," she said. "He was no longer the 'unapproachable' God, but the God who suffered and died for us."

The award-winning vocalist presented "I Thirst: The Crucifixion Story," on Palm Sunday, reinforcing the passion and death of Jesus evoked from the Gospel reading from Luke for that day.

Cameron, who performed at the foot of the sanctuary, turned and gestured toward the larger-than-life crucifix above the altar.

"When I look at the crucifix, I see myself suffering, too," she mused. "I realized it's OK to be afraid and ask, 'Why, God, did you abandon me?'"

By age 19, Cameron was a pop superstar in Croatia.

"Yes, my image was even made into a doll," she told The Catholic Globe, Sioux City's diocesan newspaper. "I had everything -- clothes, a chauffeured limousine -- yet I was empty."

A powerful encounter with God two years later compelled her to abruptly step away from her fame and embark on a spiritual journey that took her to the United States at age 21.

Despite her deep faith and powerful music ministry, Cameron struggled through years of depression, severe anxiety and panic attacks. Her healing came through years of contemplative prayer, inner work and action.

Soon after getting married in 1999, Cameron, along with her husband, Matthew, embarked on what turned into a 15-year tour of America, during which she performed more than 1,000 "I Do Believe" concerts.

"It was this deeper conversion that helped me through the most difficult time of my life," she said. "That was my husband's diagnosis of and eventual death from cancer in 2017."

Father David Hemann, Holy Cross' pastor, met Cameron in 2000.

"I started doing missions out in Alhambra, California, at the Carmelite Sisters in Orange County," he said. "Tajci and I ended up doing a few concerts together, and when I connected with her recently in Nashville, I invited her to perform at Holy Cross."

Father Hemann pointed out the concert was not a "social evening," but an evening of prayer.

"I have kept the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle," he said. "My prayer is that this evening deepens our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, mending, healing and bringing wholeness to us."

The singer-songwriter interspersed the Crucifixion message with music, Scripture and insights about her life. Cameron's hands alternately glided over and pounded at the keyboard to evoke different responses to her vocals.

Her blond hair practically glowed in the semi-darkness of the church. The upper range of her vocal register was as strong as Celine Dion's, and her occasional vibrato suggested Patsy Cline. A particularly moving moment was when she sang a cappella to "O Sacred Head Surrounded."

"Jesus didn't die to change God's mind about us," she said. "Jesus died to change our minds about God, and the biggest sin we can commit is a refusal of accepting God's love."

Cameron stretched out her hands, like Christ on the cross, several times during the concert to emphasize songs or discernments on Scripture.

"My arms wide open like this feel best," she said. "When I do this, I am lifted up. It's Christ saying to me, 'I've got it. You are safe in my arms.'"

When she was in her late teens, a best friend brought her to church, and on her 21st birthday, Cameron discovered God was calling her to a different vocation.

"I told him I would go wherever he would lead me," she said.

"I felt something I had never felt before," Cameron said, then spread her arms wide open. "I experienced a love that loved me, and I wanted to live in that love."

Emotions overwhelmed the vocalist twice. She invited the audience to join her in "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord?)" and ceased accompanying them on the final verse to wipe away tears. Cameron's soaring vocals on "You Raise Me Up" concluded with a few more tears from the vocalist.

"That's why I believe this journey (of life) is worth taking," she told the crowd. "I am excited, grateful and blessed to be here tonight."

Cameron lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her three sons. She volunteers with Better Decisions, mentoring female inmates at a state prison in Nashville. Cameron also serves as a board member of Nashville Peacemakers, an organization that works with at-risk youth in Nashville's low-income neighborhoods and as a presenter with EndSlaveryTN, which raises awareness of human trafficking while working toward preventing it and providing healing for those affected by it.

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Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux 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.

Be servants to one another, pope tells prisoners before washing feet

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 2:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media, via Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Jesus' gesture of washing his disciples' feet, an act once reserved to servants and slaves, is one that all Christians, especially bishops, must imitate, Pope Francis told hundreds of inmates and prison employees on Holy Thursday.

"Jesus' rule and the rule of the Gospel" is to serve others and not "to dominate, do evil or humiliate others," the pope said April 18 during his homily at the Velletri Correctional Facility, 36 miles south of Rome.

"The church asks the bishop to imitate Jesus' gesture every year -- at least once a year -- on Holy Thursday," he said. "The bishop isn't the most important (person); the bishop must be the greatest servant. And each one of us must be servants to others."

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the prison and washed the feet of a dozen inmates. Nine were Italian and one each was from Brazil, Ivory Coast and Morocco, the Vatican said.

Vatican News reported the prison houses more than 570 prisoners; 60 percent of those incarcerated are non-Italians.

The Mass was held in the room the prison uses as a theater; it was draped in white curtains. The altar, lectern and a wooden statue of Mary were adorned with white and yellow flowers.

As Pope Francis made his way into the room at the start of the Mass, the detainees were unable to contain their joy. The solemnity of the opening procession was interrupted by the applause and cheers of the detainees upon seeing the pope.

In his brief homily before the foot-washing ritual, the pope told the prisoners that the act of washing one's feet was a task reserved solely to slaves who would wash the feet of any guests that arrived at the house.

However, Jesus, "who had all the power, he who was the Lord, makes the gesture of a slave," he said.

"This is brotherhood; brotherhood is always humble; it is to be at the service (of others)," the pope said

Pope Francis also recalled another Gospel reading in which the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them. Jesus' response to them -- that the greatest should serve the least -- "is something interesting that we can connect with today's gesture," he said.

"We, too, must be servants. It is true that in life there are problems; we argue among ourselves, but this must be something that passes, a passing phase. In our hearts, there must always be this love to serve the other, to be at the service of others," the pope said.

After Mass, Maria Donata Iannantuono, director of the correctional facility, thanked Pope Francis for his visit. Several inmates and prison employees also presented him with gifts and letters.

As the pope made his way out of the theater, prisoners shouted "Viva il papa" ("Long live the pope") and applauded loudly.

Pope Francis has made it a tradition to celebrate Holy Thursday with people who could not come to the Vatican or the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the celebrations.

The April 18 Mass marked the fifth time Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass in a detention facility.

His first year as pope in 2013, he chose a juvenile detention facility to celebrate Holy Thursday. The next year, he washed the feet of people with severe physical handicaps at a rehabilitation center. That was followed by men and women detainees at Rome's Rebibbia prison in 2015, refugees in 2016, inmates at a jail in the Italian town of Paliano in 2017, and prisoners at Rome's "Regina Coeli" jail in 2018.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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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 to priests: Best place to be is among the people

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 7:14am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as Jesus always sought to be with the people to serve, teach and heal them, so, too, must priests always be in the midst of God's people, "pouring ourselves out" for them, Pope Francis said.

Being with the people "is the most beautiful place" to be, he told priests during the chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica April 18.

"We must not forget that our evangelical models are those people, the 'crowd' with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives. They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint," he said.

Presiding over the first of two Holy Thursday liturgies, Pope Francis blessed the oils that will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick. Deacons brought the silver urns, one by one, up to the pope, who breathed over the open vessels, symbolizing the infusion of the Holy Spirit.

As Holy Thursday commemorates the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, Pope Francis also led the priests, bishops and cardinals present in a renewal of their priestly vows.

He used his homily to reflect on how Jesus related to people, especially the huge crowds that pressed in on him and approached him with their problems, but also were eager to hear his voice and follow him.

From the day he was born, the pope said, Jesus attracted lowly shepherds, kings and wise men, and to the day he was nailed on the cross, his heart drew and still draws people like Veronica, the good thief and a Roman centurion.

The Lord always stood in the middle of the crowd "like a shepherd among his flock," the pope said, and those who gathered around him were in some way transformed by him.

They received the grace of a desire to follow Jesus and by following him, they received the grace of amazement and affection for him, and they received the grace of being able to discern and recognize his authority, the pope said.

The way Jesus encouraged people to be present, he said, contrasts sharply with the "small-mindedness of the disciples, whose attitude toward the people verges on cruelty when they suggest to the Lord that he send them away so that they can get something to eat."

"Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people," Pope Francis said. But Jesus "cut short that temptation" and told the disciples to feed and take care of the people.
 
Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh, awakened the charism of discernment in people, whose hearts were moved by "the power of his teaching" and who were amazed how evil spirits obeyed him.

The people also loved how Jesus could leave utterly speechless those who tried to trap him with tricky questions. "They knew how to distinguish" his authority over those who debated him, "and they enjoyed" it.

Jesus also had a special place in his heart, the pope said, for the poor, the oppressed, the blind and those held prisoner.

"Our cities today are taken prisoner not so much at spear point, but by more subtle means of ideological colonization," he said. "Only the anointing of our own culture, built up by the labor and the art of our forebears, can free our cities from these new forms of slavery."

The stories in Gospel of the poor and oppressed, their simple acts and enormous faith, "carried weight in the kingdom" and would be recorded in the Gospel, he said.

Priests must remember that "we have been taken from their midst, and we can fearlessly identify with these ordinary people," Pope Francis said. "They are an image of our soul and an image of the church."

Priests must see themselves as the poor with their generous hearts, as the blind, who pray, "Lord, that I may see," and as the oppressed who have been beaten by personal sin but await God's compassion to then "be able to show compassion to others."

Referring to their faculty of administering the sacraments and anointing individuals, the pope told priests, "we are not distributors of bottled oil. We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart."

"When we anoint others, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and the affection of our people. We anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people. We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving," he said.

A priest who learns how to anoint and bless the way Jesus intended "is thus healed of meanness, abuse and cruelty," he said.

Pope Francis asked that by being with Jesus "in the midst of our people, may the Father renew deep within us the Spirit of holiness; may he grant that we be one in imploring his mercy for the people entrusted to our care and for all the world."

Later in the day, the pope was scheduled to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Velletri Correctional Facility, about 36 miles south of Rome. He was to wash the feet of 12 prisoners, the Vatican said.

 

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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.

Fire chaplain helped save religious artifacts from burning cathedral

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 4:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By

PARIS (CNS) -- A hero emerging from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire April 15 is Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, who is credited with saving a reliquary containing the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament from the burning cathedral.

The fire chaplain reportedly demanded to be allowed into the cathedral along with firefighters to retrieve the cathedral's relics.

"Father Fournier is an absolute hero," a member of the Paris fire department told reporters April 16, adding that the priest showed "no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day and shows no fear."

The priest was said to be at the top, or "hot end" of the human chain that included city workers and church caretakers who entered the burning cathedral to save irreplaceable religious items and pieces of art.

French Culture Minister Franck Riester said the saved items include the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic once worn by St. Louis in the 13th century.

During the night of April 15, before the flames were extinguished, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted an image of the saved artifacts that were initially transferred to the city hall before being moved to the Louvre.

"Thank you to the Paris Fire Brigade, the police, and municipal agents who made a formidable human chain to save the works of Notre Dame," she said, noting that the crown of thorns, the tunic of St. Louis, and several other major works "are now in a safe place."

The next day, people began to find out more about the heroic fire chaplain involved in this rescue.

According to news reports, he served with the French armed forces for seven years and during that time he was deployed in Afghanistan where he survived an ambush that killed 10 of his fellow soldiers.

The priest also provided spiritual guidance -- praying over the dead and comforting the wounded -- four years ago after the terrorist attack at the Bataclan music club in which nearly 100 people died.

 

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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.

College student's doughnut outing led to love and joining Catholic Church

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 4:26pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ashleigh Kassock for the Catholic Herald

By Ashleigh Kassock

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- In 1957, Sarah Wessel's great-grandmother, Isabella Brooks, hand-stitched a wedding gown for her daughter Mary Ann Kelsey. After the wedding, the satin gown was wrapped in blue paper and placed in a cedar chest, where it remained perfectly preserved.

It was taken out again in 1985 for Sarah's mother, Carolyn Page Wessel, and now it's Sarah's turn to wear it this September.

But before she wears the dress for her own wedding, there is another event the 21-year-old is eagerly counting down the days to -- her entrance into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil April 20.

"I just want the sacraments so badly," said Wessel, a senior math major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. "I am really looking forward to receiving Jesus' body, blood, soul and divinity, " she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

Wessel was baptized in the Episcopal Church, which she said fostered a deep love of Jesus and a serving heart.

"I remember going to the same church through my entire childhood and teenage years," said Wessel. "I felt like they were my family members. I truly love them and I see their love for God."

When she started college, she still desired the closeness she felt at her church back home. That's when she met Hunter Miller.

In June 2017, she was sitting with her friend at the Sugar Shack Donuts and Coffee shop in Fredericksburg. Seating was scarce, so she invited Miller and his mom, Norka, to join them.

"We talked a little bit about God and our lives, and then it was time for him to go to adoration and confession and he invited us to come," said Wessel.

Despite not knowing what adoration was, they agreed. "I remember thinking, 'I feel like God has a purpose here,'" she said.

That night ended up being very good for Wessel and Miller. His mom taught her the rosary and they spent quite a few hours in adoration.

"It was wonderful," said Wessel. "Pretty much every single time after that we went to church to pray."

Their courtship took off from day one and so did their talks about marriage and becoming Catholic.

"I knew that he really wanted me to be Catholic. He loved the Catholic Church. But for a little under a year, I was in denial. I asked him to take a step back in pressuring me and to allow God to make the change within me and call me so that way I would be converting for God and not for someone. He clearly understood."

For several months, Wessel said she just "let it be." She continued going to the Episcopal Church while also attending Mass with Miller. Soon, however, she started praying the rosary and going to church on her own.

"I really fell in love with adoration," she said, "because it is a time where it can be silent and I can feel God's spirit within me. I don't even have to think of anything and he fills me up with his love. I truly desire that and seek it."

After months of prayer and one particularly bad week that left her feeling alone and empty, she received a moment of clarity when she felt she should become Catholic and be engaged to Miller when that question came. And it did a few months later.

"I was like, 'I have to do this. I can't be happy without it. I can't be fulfilled without the church. I'm going to do it' and after that, I felt so much better," she said.

While she was relieved that the spiritual warfare inside her was over, she was apprehensive about talking to her parents since she hadn't kept her parents updated about her decision to become Catholic. Her newfound passion and determination surprised them.

"They didn't understand at first," Wessel said but added that her mom "just poured out love."

That following September she started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and has been counting down the days to the Easter Vigil ever since. She also has taken a more active role in the community by becoming the service chair for the parish young adult group.

"God is calling us to be saints and there are no exceptions," said Wessel. "In college, this is a time where everything is changing and I am so grateful that Jesus called me into the church at this time. Because it really helped me to realize the goal of life and who am I supposed to worship in all of my actions, and that is God."

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Editor's Note: A video accompanying this story can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXUPNEpqvHk.

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Kassock is a contributor to the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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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's Way of Cross will shine light on women 'crucified' by traffickers

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 12:08pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Countless women and girls are being "crucified" by human traffickers, who trick them into slave labor or prostitution, and by those who seek out their services and exploit them, said the missionary nun who wrote the meditations for Pope Francis' Way of the Cross service.

Victims of human trafficking are people whom "we have crucified and, today, in 2019, we continue to have people crucified for our use, our purposes, our well-being," Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti told reporters at a Vatican news conference April 17.

She said she hoped the April 19 event at Rome's Colosseum, where "so much suffering in the past" took place, would give witness to "so much suffering in the present, the suffering of these women, these minors, who are faceless, nameless, hopeless, who are just used and thrown away."

She wanted the pope's Good Friday ceremony, which meditates on Christ's passion and suffering, to help people recognize "today's passion" suffered by so many young people.

The prayers and meditations she wrote come from what she has witnessed and learned from the thousands of women and young girls she has helped over the past two decades, Sister Bonetti said; she and other religious women have ministered to sex workers along the roadsides of Italian cities, in police detention centers or in church-run safehouses, helping them get off the streets and rebuild their lives.

The service will include "heartfelt prayers that we have heard from these women and that we want to share with this world, around that cross, this Christ who dies again today on our streets," she said.

The text, she said, will also highlight today's "Veronicas" and "Marys" who run to be by the side of the victims and offer them comfort and prayers.

Her aim, she said, is to make people understand "that we all have a great responsibility" because if there are still modern-day slaves in the world, "we are all responsible and each one of us is called to do something, is called to really recognize the cry, the secret of these women," because they are there because there is a demand and because of the "enormous profits" reaped from their exploitation.

"Everyone feasts on the flesh of the poor," she said.

Thanks to her advocacy, Italy has a law that sees victims of human trafficking not as criminals but as victims of a crime and gives them a chance to obtain legal residency.

However, she added, the government is doing "much too little" to combat the sex trade "with the excuse that women are free to do what they want," while at the same time doing nothing about the economic and social problems that push many women into "a situation where the only possibility they have is to sell their body."

Every parishioner, parish priest, diocese and bishop must take responsibility and help "shape people's conscience," especially on the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.

People must recognize how "shameful" it is that there are still so many "slaves on the streets" and "we must have the strong courage to say 'no' to slavery" and ask for forgiveness, she said.

For those who believe they should be free to do whatever they want with their money, she said, "No, my dear, you cannot buy a person's dignity; it is sacred, you must respect it, you must protect it."

 

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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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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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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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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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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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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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