Holy Snakes! A Marian feast day’s strange, stunning miracle

Athens, Greece, Aug 15, 2017 / 03:03 am (Church Pop).- Every year, on the Orthodox feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a monastery on a Greek island experiences a miracle – dozens of snakes come to ‘venerate’ an icon of Mary.   In a phenomenon that has reportedly been happening for hundreds of years, black snakes begin appearing on the Greek island of Kefalonia between Aug. 5 and Aug. 15, the days when the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the dormition of the Theotokos (Mother of God). According to tradition, the miracle of the snakes began in 1705, when nuns of the monastery were about to be attacked by pirates. Legend has it that the nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary, asking her that she turn them into snakes to avoid capture. Other versions say that the nuns prayed that the monastery be infested with snakes so as to scare away the pirates. Either way it happened, they were spared. Since then, the small black snakes, known as European Cat Snakes, appear every year just before the feast, and make their way to the walls and entryways of the Church to ‘venerate’ the silver icon of Mary known as the Panagia Fidoussa, or the Virgin of the Snakes. The snakes’ patterning can produce a small black cross on their head, and they have a forked tongue, adding to the legend that these snakes are marked by the sign of the Cross.   In recent years, the faithful have taken to transporting snakes to the church in jars and bags, to protect them from being run over by unwitting motorists. The usually-aggressive snakes are reportedly docile and calm during these days, when they are welcome in the church for Mass and prayers, and disappear from the island completely after the feast until the next year. Reportedly, the only years the snakes have not appeared on the island were during World War II, and in 1953, the year of a massive earthquake. Locals now take the lack of the snake’s appearance as a bad omen. Every year, the island celebrates the Theotokos and the miracle with a Snake Festival. Read more

US Catholics to mark 50 years since Navy chaplain’s heroic death

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Mass and a documentary premiere are among the events marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Servant of God Father Vincent R. Capodanno, the decorated Navy chaplain who was killed seekin… Read more

The history of the Assumption – and why it’s a Holy Day of Obligation

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Today, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven. But while the feast day is a relatively new one… Read more

Selfies for Mary? How a Catholic art project engaged the world

Doylestown, Pa., Aug 14, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an effort to draw the ‘selfie generation’ to Marian spirituality, the Pauline Fathers of Doylestown, Pennsylvania collected photos from dozens of countries around the world for a mosaic of Our Lady of Czestochowa. “In history of Our Lady of Czestochowa, it was a tradition to offer to her new crowns and dresses, made of precious stones and jewels,” said Father Timothy Tarnacki, the coordinator for the Living Crown of Mary Project. “But today, the world is changing, and we have to find new ways how to reach people, how they can make their faith and their relationship with Jesus and Mary more personal,” he told CNA. The project was started almost a year ago and the priests will collect photos until Aug. 20 to build a large mosaic of the Marian image, also known as the Black Madonna. It will be revealed on Sept. 10 in the main church in celebration of the 300 anniversary of Poland’s coronation of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Along with a photo, the Living Crown of Mary project requires the participant to offer a spiritual gift to Mary, which may be an additional Marian prayer or sacrifice. Fr. Tarnacki said the project originated from the orders’ members in Poland as means to honor Mary and spread Marian spirituality especially among the youth, but also to offer pilgrims the opportunity to participate in a spiritual offering to Mary. “They offered to the Blessed Mother their entire life, families, difficult situations, unemployment, illnesses. I remember one couple who offered to Mary their resolution to live in chastity before they get married.” The priests do not have an exact number of the photos sent so far but Fr. Tarnacki estimates the amount to be around 2,000, ranging from cellphone selfies to old black and white photos. All of the photos will be digitalized then a computer software program will arrange the pictures into the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The Pauline Fathers, or the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit, are the original protectors of the image of the Black Madonna, first established in Poland in 1382 at the Shrine of Jasna Gora. Having a large portion of the Polish immigrant community dedicated to Czestochowa in the U.S., a copy of Mary’s icon blessed by Pope Saint John XXIII was brought to America in 1951 and a shrine was later established in Doylestown in 1955. The Marian center is a significant piece of history for the Polish-American community, Fr. Tarnacki said, noting his surprise that a project which started off slowly received a large portion of its participates from countries facing political difficulties. “We were thinking that our project will only cover USA, but it became an international version of the project from Poland, bringing people from every continent into it from about 60 countries.” Read more

El Salvador cardinal says Facebook account posting Romero rumors is not his

San Salvador, El Salvador, Aug 14, 2017 / 04:13 pm (CNA).- A cardinal from El Salvador says that a Facebook account attributed to him is fake, and that he did not post about Pope Francis’ intent to travel to El Salvador for the potential canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero. “This is Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chávez to clarify that I don’t have an account either on Twitter or on Facebook,” the cardinal says in an audio recording released by the Archdiocese of San Salvador. “There is an account that is being published under my name. I want you to know that it is an account that does not belong to me. So whatever is published there has nothing to do with me.” Cardinal Rosa Chávez’s statement comes after reports that he had said on Facebook that Pope Francis is hoping to come to El Salvador for the possible canonization of Oscar Romero. The Facebook post – in English – says, “Pope Francis has confirmed this evening his intention to come to [El Salvador] for the possible canonization of our blessed. I’ll give more information in the next few days. God bless you all.” Several media outlets, including the Italian ANSA network, Crux, and America Magazine, cited the Facebook post in reporting the Pope’s intent to travel to El Salvador. These stories were later retracted. Although rumors have been circulating for some time that the Pope will travel to El Salvador for the possible canonization, no trip has been confirmed by the Vatican. Archbishop Romero was killed due to hatred of the faith on March 24, 1980, in the midst of the birth of a civil war between leftist guerrillas and the dictatorial government of the right. He was beatified in El Salvador on May 23, 2015. His canonization cause is open, however, the final steps necessary for him to be declared a saint have not taken place.   Read more

Mexico City archdiocese counters allegations of sex abuse cover up

Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 14, 2017 / 02:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Mexico has countered claims made by two former priests that Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera covered up the actions of pedophile priests, calling the allegations an “orchestrated farce.” The communications office of the Mexico City archdiocese reported that Cardinal Rivera had spoken to a Public Ministry official July 26, in response to the June 2 complaint filed by  Alberto Athié and José Barba. Athié and Barba filed their complaint with the Attorney General of the Republic’s Office, accusing Cardinal Rivera of the alleged cover-up of 15 pedophile priests. In the 1990s Athié had brought allegations against Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. Fr. Maciel was later removed from public ministry after it was verified he had committed sexual abuse and fathered several children. The Archdiocese of Mexico indicated that Athié and Barba based their charges on a Dec. 19, 2016, news brief  published in El Universal “in which a meeting was made known that the cardinal had with journalists where the archbishop mentioned that during his administration as head of the Primatial Archdiocese of Mexico he had sanctioned 15 priests – not all for the crime of pederasty, but with other illicit acts classified in canon law.” The archdiocese said that “the complaint against the Archbishop of Mexico was in the sense that he did not promptly report these cases to the authorities, for which they cavalierly accused him of covering up sexual abusers.” It indicated that during his July 26  meeting with the Public Ministry agent, “the cardinal showed copies of the complaints filed by the Archdiocese of Mexico since 2010, as laid down by law, against alleged criminal acts within the Church.” The archdiocese added that Cardinal Rivera “made it clear that from the time that Part 2 of Article 12 of the Law on Religious Associations went into effect Aug. 19, 2010, – which obliged ministers of worship and their representatives to inform the appropriate authority of the probable commission of crimes – he was aware, through some of his episcopal vicars, of the probable commission of six presumably criminal acts.” According to the archdiocese, the cardinal instructed his episcopal vicars “immediately to notify the appropriate authorities, which was done, as attested by the copies he exhibited, and which demonstrated that he did not commit the crime of cover-up.” The archdiocese also publicized the dates of the six complaints, along with the authorities to whom they were made, and the officials who made them. Cardinal Rivera “explained that the other nine cases were prior to the cited law going into effect, and only one had to do with the crime of pederasty, and the accused is being criminally prosecuted with the information that the archdiocese provided to the authorities,” the Mexico City archdiocese stated. “The other eight cases were for conduct penalized by canon law, such as financial fraud, mistreating an adult, breaking the seal of confession, and others that were made known to Church authorities,” it said. The Archdiocese of Mexico stated that in response to “the express question of the Public Ministry agent, the Archbishop of Mexico acknowledged as his own the statement referred to in the news brief published by El Universal Dec. 19, 2016; clarifying that, however, since it was an impromptu interview, he failed to specify that not all the mentioned cases had to do with the crime of pederasty – as the former priests Alberto Athié and José Barba maliciously indicated.” In addition, “he said that regarding the cases made known to the civil authorities, it was solely their responsibility to follow up on them, and of the ones the church authorities knew about, they were concluded with the suspension of priestly ministry, since in those cases the ecclesiastical sentence is given by the Pope and is made known through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” Read more

Bishops across US condemn racism after white supremacist rally in Charlottesville

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2017 / 10:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With deadly violence following a rally of white supremacists this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va., bishops throughout the nation denounced racism and racist ideologies. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and domestic justice chairman Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., issued a statement on Sunday condemning “the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism.” They also prayed for peaceful counter-protesters, saying that “our prayer turns today, on the Lord’s Day, to the people of Charlottesville who offered a counter example to the hate marching in the streets.” “Let us especially remember those who lost their lives.  Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression,” they said. This past weekend, a planned “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the city’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. A counter-protest, including a diverse coalition of religious leaders and members of the Antifa and Black Lives Matter movements, was formed. On Saturday, a man drove a car into the counter-protest, injuring 19 and killing one, 32 year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, the AP reported. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the incident “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute,” and promised to “protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.” Two Virginia State troopers also lost their lives near Charlottesville as they responded to the situation there, when their helicopter crashed in Albemarle County. Catholic bishops denounced the violence but also explicitly condemned the racist ideology amidst the “Unite the Right” gathering. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stated on Sunday that “the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted.” “Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed. Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity,” he said. Bishop Martin Holley of Memphis called the racist rallies and the violence “appalling.” “May this shocking incident and display of evil ignite a commitment among all people to end the racism, violence, bigotry and hatred that we have seen too often in our nation and throughout the world,” he said. Other bishops on Twitter explicitly condemned racism over the weekend as well, in response to the unrest. “Racism is a grave sin rooted in pride, envy and hatred. It suffocates the soul by means of expelling from it the charity of Christ,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas tweeted on Saturday night. “Pray for an end to the evil of racism. And pray, especially today, for its victims. Pray for justice and mercy in our nation,” Bishop James Conley of Lincoln tweeted on Saturday afternoon. However, Americans cannot only condemn racism in statements, but must also pray and work for a collective conversion of heart, Archbishop Chaput said. “If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change,” he said. “Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.” “If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others,” he said. “That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. also called for “soul searching” in the wake of the unrest. “We must always identify hate for what it is, but the inevitable pointing of fingers of blame after the fact only entrenches division,” he said on his blog. “We as a nation must also engage in soul searching about how it is that there is so much social unrest and violence in our communities. After years of seeing the flames of resentment and division fanned by incitement to bitterness and distrust, should we not now be actively seeking reconciliation and a return to civility?” he asked. “At this time, as Christians, as disciples of Jesus, we must redouble our efforts to bear a witness for peace and the common good,” he said. President Donald Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides – on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country.” Vice President Mike Pence, in a joint press conference on Sunday with Colombia University President Juan Manuel Santos, expressed condolences to the families of Hyer and the two state troopers. “We have no tolerance for hate and violence, from white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” he said. “Our administration is bringing the full resources of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the violence that ensued yesterday in Charlottesville. And we will hold them to account, under the law,” he said.   Read more

Australian bishops oppose forcing priests to reveal details of confession

Vatican City, Aug 14, 2017 / 07:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Australia have indicated that they will resist the Royal Commission’s proposal that priests be legally obligated to disclose details of sexual abuse revealed in the confessional, facing criminal charges if they don’t. “Confession in the Catholic Church is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest,” Archbishop Denis J Hart of Melbourne said in an Aug. 14 statement. President of the Australian Bishops Conference, Hart said confession “is a fundamental part of the freedom of religion, and it is recognized in the Law of Australia and many other countries.” “It must remain so here in Australia,” he said, but stressed that “outside of this all offenses against children must be reported to the authorities, and we are absolutely committed to doing so.” The statement came the same day Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, established in 2013, released a sweeping 85 proposed changes to the country’s criminal justice system. In addition to suggestions tightening the law on sentencing standards in cases of historical sexual abuse, the use of evidence and grooming, the commission recommended that the failure to report sexual abuse, even in religious confessions, be made “a criminal offense.” “Clergy should not be able to refuse to report because the information was received during confession,” the report said, adding that if persons in institutions are aware of possible child abuse or suspect it, they ought to report it right away. The commission cited cases brought before them in which perpetrators who had confessed the sexual abuse of children to a priest then “went on to re-offend and seek forgiveness.” Therefore, while it recognized the importance of Confession to the Catholic Church, “the report recommends there be no exemption, excuse protection or privilege from the offense granted to clergy for failing to report information disclosed in connection with a religious confession.” According to the Church’s canon law, “the sacramental seal is inviolable. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other manner.” A priest who directly violates the “Seal of Confession” incurs a “latae senentiae” excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See, which can only be lifted by the Pope himself. In an Aug. 14 statement from the Australian Church’s “Truth, Justice and Healing Council,” established in 2013 as a platform for the Church “to speak as one” on matters involving the Royal Commission, the council voiced opposition to the proposal involving Confession, but suggested that if implemented, the final decision on whether to comply would come down to each priest and his conscience. In the statement, Francis Sullivan, CEO of the council, said that while the Catholic Church and the council itself “have consistently argued that these reporting provisions should not apply to the confessional, the Royal Commission has now made a different determination based on information and evidence it has heard over the past four years.” “The whole concept of confession in the Catholic Church is built on repentance, forgiveness and penance,” Sullivan said, adding that “if a child sex-abuser is genuinely seeking forgiveness through the sacrament of confession they will need to be prepared to do what it takes to demonstrate their repentance.” Part of this, he said, especially in cases of sexual abuse, “would normally require they turn themselves in to the police. In fact, the priest can insist that this is done before dispensing absolution.” However, since the commission has now made a suggestion counter to the Church’s position, the final decision on whether or not it will become law is up to individual parliaments to form their own view and then make the relevant changes to the law. “If ultimately there are new laws that oblige the disclosure of information heard in the Confessional, priests, like everybody else, will be expected to obey the law or suffer the consequences,” Sullivan said. “If they do not, this will be a personal, conscience decision, on the part of the priest that will have to be dealt with by the authorities in accordance with the new law as best they can.” Other changes proposed by the commission include changes to police responses, such as improvements to investigative techniques when interviewing; provisions for the improvement of “courtroom experience” for victims, making the process less traumatic; the removal of  “good character” as a factor in sentencing when that character carried out the abuse; changes requiring sentences to be placed in line with current sentencing standards rather than those at the time of the offense and the extension of grooming offenses to cover when the offender builds trust with a parent or guardian in order access the child. Of the proposed changes, another that could affect the Catholic Church in real time is the request to change sentencing policies for historical cases of sexual abuse. The suggestion asks that “all states and territories should introduce legislation so that sentences for child sexual abuse offenses are set in accordance with sentencing standards at the time of the sentencing, instead of at the time of offending.” However, they said the sentence “must be limited to the maximum sentence available for the offense at the date when the offense was committed.” “Many survivors of institutional child sexual abuse do not report the offense for years or even decades and applying historical sentencing standards can result in sentences that do not align with the criminality of the offense as currently understood,” they said. Although it is unknown whether the change will in fact be made or how quickly it could be enforced, the move would directly affect cases such as that of Cardinal George Pell, who is currently facing charges on multiple counts of historical child sexual abuse. The charges were announced by the police of Victoria, Australia at the end of June. As the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy since 2013 and a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell is the most senior Vatican official to ever be charged with abuse. With the permission of Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell has taken leave from his responsibilities in the Vatican in order to return to Australia for the court proceedings. He has maintained his innocence since rumors of the charges first came out last year. At a brief hearing in Melbourne July 26, the cardinal said he would be pleading “not guilty” to the charges. He is set to appear at a preliminary hearing Oct. 6. Despite the fact that charges against the cardinal date as far back as the 1960s, the new proposals to historical cases of sexual abuse, if implemented right away, could go into effect in time to determine how Pell is sentenced should he be found guilty. At the time the charges were announced, Victoria Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton emphasized that at that point, there had been “no change in any procedures whatsoever,” and stressed the importance of remembering that “none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet.” “Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it’s important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.” Read more

St. Barbara of the Tunnels? These Glasgow workers have a special devotion

Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 13, 2017 / 04:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Workers building a three-mile tunnel under the streets of Glasgow, Scotland have a special patron, and a statue of her sits just outside the train that carries them underground each day. &nb… Read more

Trust in Christ – not in horoscopes, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Aug 13, 2017 / 04:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis repeated a message he often has, warning against putting one’s trust in horoscopes and fortune telling rather than Christ, who is the only true security that gets us through times of trial and darkness. Pointing to how Peter begins to sink when walking toward Jesus on the water in the day’s Gospel reading, Francis noted that the same thing can happen to us when we put our trust in false securities. “When we do not cling to the Word of the Lord, but consult horoscopes and fortune tellers, we begin to sink,” the Pope said Aug. 13. The episode, he said, serves as a reminder “that faith in the Lord and in his word does not open a path where everything is calm and easy; it does not take us away from the storms of life.” Rather, “faith gives us the security of a presence that pushes us to overcome the existential storms, the certainty of a hand that grabs us in order to help us in difficulties, showing the way even when it’s dark.” “Faith, then, is not an escape from life’s problems, but it supports on the journey and gives it meaning.” Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus address, focusing on the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus walks on water in the midst of a storm, and beckons Peter to come to him. Peter initially begins to walk toward Jesus, but starts to sink out of fear when he sees the waves, and cries out for Jesus to rescue him. This episode, Francis said, has a lot of symbolism for both individuals, and for the Church as a whole. The boat can represent the life of each person, but also the life of the Church, he said, explaining that the wind signifies the “difficulties and trials” each will face. Peter’s cry of “Lord, command me to come to you,” and then his plea “Lord, save me!” represent both our desire feel close to the Lord, and “the fear and anguish which accompany us in the most difficult moments of our lives and our communities, marked by internal fragility and external difficulty,”  Francis said. In the moment when he looked at the wind and the waves and began to fear, Peter wasn’t founded on the Word of God, “which was like an outstretched rope to cling to in front of the hostile and turbulent waters.” The same thing happens to us when we put our faith in trivial, worldly securities, rather than in the Lord, he said. Pope Francis said the passage is “a stupendous image” of the reality of the Church throughout the ages: “a ship which, along the crossing, must counter winds and storms which threaten to overwhelm it.” What saves the ship is not the courage and quality of it’s men, he said, but rather, “the guarantee against a shipwreck is faith in Christ and in his word.” “On this ship we are safe, despite our miseries and weaknesses, above all when we get on our knees and adore the Lord” as the disciples did, who, after Jesus calmed the storm, prostrated themselves and said “truly you are the Son of God!” To drive the point home, Francis had the crowd repeat the phrase, listening as they shouted “truly you are the Son of God” three times. Francis closed his address asking that the Virgin Mary intercede in helping all to “stay firm in the faith in order to resist the storms of life, to stay on the boat of the Church, eschewing the temptation to go on amusing, yet insecure boats of ideologies, fashions and slogans.” He then led pilgrims in praying the traditional Marian prayer and greeted various groups of youth from around Italy before asking for prayer and giving his blessing.  Read more