Amid threat of violence, CRS works to ease food shortage in Mali

Bamako, Mali, Aug 26, 2015 / 12:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite a hazardous situation in the African country of Mali, Catholic Relief Services is working to support displaced people and hungry school students, while calling for more humanitarian aid to… Read more

Are Vatican officials involved in the Ashley Madison leak? Nope.

Vatican City, Aug 25, 2015 / 04:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Early this week, a leak of personal data from millions of users of Ashley Madison, a website designed to arrange extramarital affairs, wreaked havoc on and off the internet. At least two suicides have been reported in conjunction with the hack, and a series of privacy lawsuits are in the works, not to mention the rocked or devastated marriages. Shortly after the leak, several blogs also jumped on the fact that some of the e-mail addresses released in the hack were linked to the .va domain, the internet domain belonging to the Vatican (similar to .uk for United Kingdom domains or .nz for New Zealand domains). At first glance, the claim seems questionable – why would top Church officials sworn to celibacy sign up for a website for married people, and no less one that promotes adultery? It turns out, they want nothing to do with it. None of the .va addresses in the leak check out as actually belonging to Vatican officials. David Taylor of went through all 222 addresses supposedly linked to the Vatican and found plausible explanations for each one. And, as an aside, Taylor wrote that he was “brought up Catholic, but I totally rebelled, so I don’t have a vested interest in protecting the Vatican from scandal, quite the opposite. I just believe in accurate reporting.” “…even a casual perusal of these latter addresses reveals that something isn’t right. Does the Vatican have schools named after cities in Virginia or ISPs with the same names as those in Canada?” he wrote. According to the findings, almost every .va address used had a or a equivalent, meaning that the addresses far more likely belonged to government officials in the state of Virginia who just forgot to add the final part of the e-mail address. Most of the names used before most of the .va e-mail addresses corresponded to cities in Virginia. Ashley Madison does not confirm e-mail addresses, so typos and false e-mail addresses can slip through. If the e-mail addresses did not have a Virginia government equivalent, it corresponded to a Canadian one (, but the user likely just slipped up and hit “v” instead of “c”. The two letters are right next to each other on a standard American keyboard. (Seriously. Look down at your hands.) Only one address used rather than simply .va, but Vatican officials use e-mail addresses. There were 55 e-mail addresses that Taylor said he could not connect to either Virginia or Canada, but that he said still didn’t seem to be in any way linked to the Vatican. Several websites that enable searching through the leaked data also come with a disclaimer that because Ashley Madison does not verify e-mails, addresses with typos or fake e-mail addresses could be included. Read more

What does servant leadership look like on a global scale?

Baltimore, Md., Aug 25, 2015 / 02:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For Catholic Relief Services’ president Dr. Carolyn Woo, the way to lead others is to humbly admit when you don’t know something. “You need to accept the fact that there are a lot of things you don’t know. There are a few things you do know, and you have to use what you do know for the good of others,” she told CNA in a recent interview about her new book, Working for a Better World, published by Our Sunday Visitor. Woo didn’t come to her position by a traditional route; she was on the Board of Directors for CRS from 2004 to 2010, but her background is in business and academia. She served as the dean of the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame from 1997 to 2011. Before that, she was the vice president of academic affairs at Purdue, where she also earned several degrees and taught as a professor. But after she missed one of her search committee meetings to find a new CRS president, her colleagues told her she should be open to being a candidate for the position. “I thought somewhere along the line they would send me one of those ‘thank you very much for your interest’ letters. And, it’s just that the letter never came.” It wasn’t until she was one of the three remaining candidates from a pool of some 400 people that she realized she might actually be chosen for the position. “When I was not eliminated, it was like, ‘Aha! Perhaps this might be more real. Perhaps I would have to end up making a decision of whether I would or would not go to CRS.’” So when she took her place in 2012 as head of the 5,000 person organization, she knew she would step aside for those who were experts in their fields. She learned from one of her mentors that “you have to trust that people know what you know and they know what you don’t know.” That’s an approach that CRS has long embraced. The organization goes into a particular area with the support of the local bishop, while also partnering with other, sometimes better established, aid groups in a particular region. While half of all organizations that CRS partners with are Catholic, the other half is made up of other religious groups or NGOs. For example, Woo said, while on a recent trip to Ethiopia CRS was working on reducing harmful practices for young girls such as early marriage and genital mutilation. Although CRS has a strong relationship working with the Bishops Conference of Ethiopia and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa, they also work with local elders and religious leaders. “To have that type of impact you really have to approach faith leaders of different faiths, because they are the elders and the teachers and it’s their influence and their encouragement that can get these practices to stop,” she said. “For transformation to come, you have to work across the society.” Working alongside members of other religions not only helps provide material support to the local area, but can bring peace and stability to a region as well. “Interfaith relationships are very important,” Woo said. “If those are poor or those are hostile, it tends to break out into violence … wherever there is a relative degree of stability, we want to enhance that stability. We want to enhance that we are not rivals, and we’re not enemies. We work together.” Even though there are always more people in need throughout the world, Woo said she doesn’t get discouraged or depressed. “Mother Teresa was right: she didn’t solve poverty, but all she did was what she could at the moment that the need was there,” she said. “And then there is a tomorrow.” And that’s something CRS has been doing for the past 72 years: doing what they can, where they can. What began as a service to help resettle European refugees from World War II has now grown to serve people in 101 countries with everything from helping obtain impact investing to disaster relief to education. Woo likened CRS’ work to that of planting a seed. It’s a very small task, but when you take a step back and look at what it’s grown into you think, “I didn’t do that part of it,” she said. “That’s what you see all the time.” Read more

Cardinal Levada voices regrets after DUI arrest in Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii, Aug 25, 2015 / 11:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal William Levada, a retired Vatican official, was arrested last week for allegedly driving under the influence while vacationing in Hawaii with some of his priest friends. “I r… Read more

Thai Catholics join in interreligious prayer service after Bangkok bomb

Bangkok, Thailand, Aug 25, 2015 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Bangkok gathered together with their fellow countrymen last Friday to pray for peace in the wake of the bombing at a Hindu shrine in the city which had killed 20 people and injured scores earlier in the week. The Aug. 21 interreligious service held just outside the Erawan shrine included a Liturgy of the Word, and prayers for the bombing victims. More than 800 attended the service, where Pope Francis’ message of solidarity was read, and distributed to the crowd, including a government delegation. “The Thai Catholic bishops and the faithful are deeply pained and express their deep solidarity in prayer with the victims in the targeted explosions at the Erawan shrine,” Msgr. Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary general for the Thai bishops’ conference, told CNA Aug. 23. Msgr. Vissanu said that “people were deeply touched by Pope Francis’ message of solidarity, his concern, and his closeness, and in return have expressed their heartfelt gratitude.” The Holy Father in his message expressed his heartfelt solidarity and offered his closeness with his prayers and invoking “divine blessings of peace and healing upon the Kingdom.” “We know it’s hard and we need divine grace for healing,” Msgr. Vissanu reflected. “No malice and revenge can find lasting answers; but only love and prayer can heal and triumph over hate, and bring forgiveness for everlasting peace and development.” “It is very touching and inspiring to see people of all religious feel the power of prayer and congregate together yearning for peace and to pray, when the such horrifying events normally trigger ripples of panic, hate, and vengeance.” The local bishops welcomed Bangkok officials’ call for an interreligious prayer service, acknowledging prayer’s importance in binding communities and in promoting peace and harmony throughout Thailand. Other Christian denominations also led prayer services, as did other religious groups. Msgr. Vissanu recounted with sadness that a Chinese Catholic youth, Tee Wu Shenqi, was among the 20 people killed in the Aug. 17 bombing. His funeral Mass was said at the Ruamrudee Holy Redeemer Church Church in Bangkok, and was attended by his family, who travelled from China, as well as local Catholics. Jithapha Aae, a young adult member of the parish, told CNA that “the bombing at Erawan, targeting innocent people offering prayers, is despicable and a heinous act, and we hope that prayers will bring hope and smiles in our land of smiles … we hope that people will be motivated and inspired to work to make a better world.” Read more

What is the devil’s favorite sin? An exorcist responds

Madrid, Spain, Feb 16, 2017 / 03:17 am (CNA).- Is an exorcist afraid? What is the devil’s favorite sin? These and other questions were tackled in an interview with the Dominican priest, Father Juan José Gallego, an exorcist from the Archdiocese of Barcelona in Catalonia, Spain. Almost a decade after Fr. Gallego was appointed as exorcist, he was interviewed by the Spanish daily El Mundo. The priest said that in his experience, pride is the sin the devil likes the most. “Have you ever been afraid?” the interviewer asked. “In the beginning I had a lot of fear,” Fr. Gallego replied. “All I had to do was look over my shoulder and I saw demons… the other day I was doing an exorcism, ‘I command you! I order you!’…and the Evil One, with a loud voice fires back at me: ‘Galleeeego, you’re over-doooing it.’ That shook me.” Nevertheless, he knows that the devil is not more powerful than God. The exorcist recalled that “when they appointed me, a relative told me, ‘Whoa, Juan José, I’m really afraid, because in the movie ‘The Exorcist,’ one person died and the other threw himself through a window. I said to her ‘Don’t forget that the devil is (just a) creature of God.’” When people are possessed, he added, “they lose consciousness, they speak strange languages, they have inordinate strength, they feel really bad, you see very well-mannered people vomiting and blaspheming.” “There was a boy whom the demon would set his shirt on fire at night and things like that. He told me what the demons were proposing him to do: If you make a pact with us, you’ll never have to go through any more of what you’re going through now.” Father Gallego also warned that “New Age” practices like reiki and some yoga can be points of entry for the demons. He also said that addictions are “a type of possession.” “When people are going through a crisis they suffer more. They can feel hopeless. People feel like they’ve got the devil inside,” he said.  This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 25, 2015.   Read more

Will the Catholic Church have a growing role in Korean reconciliation?

Seoul, South Korea, Aug 25, 2015 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With an increasing number of faithful, the Catholic Church in South Korea may foster a climate of reconciliation and peace, as the nation has reportedly made a deal with North Korea to avoid military escalation after days of fire exchanged between the nations. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Aug. 24 that North Korea had agreed to express regret over the injury of two South Korean soldiers by a landmine earlier in the month, and that South Korea agreed to stop propaganda broadcasts via loudspeakers located on the border between the countries. The Catholic Church has grown significantly in South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953, and its presence maybe be important in nurturing a culture of reconciliation, as was one of the main goals of Pope Francis’ visit to South Korea one year ago. In 1960 there were some 500,000 Catholics in South Korea – less than two percent of the population. There are now 5.5 million Catholics in the nation, who constitute 11 percent of the population. The Buddhist Research Institute predicted last year that in 2044, 56 percent of the population of South Korea will be Catholic, which would give the Church a significant impact on South Korean society. Pope Francis visited South Korea Aug. 13-18 of last year. Among the trip’s goals was the promotion of reconciliation between North and South Korea, which are officially in a state of war, since the Korean War ended with only an armistice. During his trip, Pope Francis said a Mass for Peace and Reconciliation in the Cathedral of Myeong-dong in Seoul. The fact that the Mass was held in the Seoul cathedral was meaningful, as the Archbishop of Seoul is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Pope Francis asked South Koreans during his homily to “bear convincing witness to Christ’s message of reconciliation in your homes, in your communities and at every level of national life.”   The Pope added: “I am confident that, in a spirit of friendship and cooperation with other Christians, with the followers of other religions, and with all men and women of good will concerned for the future of Korean society, you will be a leaven of the Kingdom of God in this land.” During the trip, Pope Francis also called on Asian countries that do not have diplomatic ties with the Holy See to “start a dialogue among brothers,” since “Christians do not come as conquerors.” This way, Pope Francis showed the twofold aspects of the Holy See’s commitment to Korea: on one hand, the missionary and catechetical effort, which aims at fostering and nurturing the seeds of a reconciled society within Koreans themselves; and one the other, the hope of strengthening diplomatic ties with North Korea, which is among the very few countries without diplomatic ties with the Holy See. Pope Francis’ strategy to reach out for North Korea is that of a “diplomacy of martyrs”, which is related to his idea of an “ecumenism of martyrs.” In North Korea’s case, the news was spread during the papal trip that North Korea could have in time its first canonized saint, Bishop Francis Hong Yong-ho of Pyongyang, whose death was officially acknowledged by the Vatican in 2013. Born in 1906, Bishop Hong was disappeared by the government in 1949. He had been appointed vicar apostolic of Pyongyang in 1944. When the Second World War ended, Korea was divided into a Northern zone, occupied by Soviet Union, and a Southern zone, occupied by the U.S. The two zones never reunited, and when the two countries of North and South Korea were formally established in 1948, many Catholics fled the north to escape the Communist cegime. According to some data, by 1950 North Korea had killed or disappeared 166 priests and religious. Since his kidnapping, the Vatican long failed to acknowledge Bishop Hong’s death, in order to show that the tragedy the Church has suffered in North Korea is ongoing. The 2013 decision to acknowledge the death was considered by Vatican observers who spoke with CNA an attempt to awaken the Catholics in North Korea, and to help their hidden work to nurture a reconciliation conscience in society. A Catholic presence in North Korea has been maintained as well as it can. One of the key figures in this sense is Fr. Gerard Hammond, a 82 year old Maryknoll missionary who has lived in South Korea since 1960 and has made more than 50 trips to North Korea since 1995, bringing humanitarian aid. In the end, Pope Francis’ presence in Korea fostered the Catholic presence in the South, which can also be of some benefit for the North. In an interview with Catholic News Agency Aug. 2014, Thomas Han Hong-soon, former Korean ambassador to the Holy see, said that “South Korea is perhaps the only country in the world where the Catholic Church grows as much as the economy.” Read more

#PopUpPope brings hope to the inner city ahead of papal visit

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 24, 2015 / 04:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his nearly two-and-a-half year papacy, Pope Francis has spoken countless times about bringing the hope of Christ to society’s most wounded and forgotten. With a life-sized cut-out of the Pope, and a combination of social media and street evangelization, one small initiative is doing just that. The website for PopUpPope features hundreds of photos of people posing with cardboard cut-outs of Pope Francis. However, for co-founder Christa Scalies, the initiative is more than giving people the chance to take a “selfie” with the pontiff. It’s all about the encounter. “We have sort of the curiosity-seekers,” said Philadelphia-native Scalies in an interview with CNA, “the tourists, the people who love Pope Francis, and other people that will just be drawn in.” “If we could utilize a cardboard image of the Pope, on the street, to engage people in conversation, if they’re interested in coming, getting a photo, talking with us, and it gives them a happy moment,” she said, it “engages them in some sort of conversation.” The most meaningful interactions are with the suffering: the homeless, the drug-addicted, and those suffering from mental health issues, she said.  Co-founder Paul Turner, a catechist, wheelchair bound, and formerly homeless himself, is able to direct the poor and homeless they meet to resources they might need. “For me, those are the best encounters,” Scalies said, because these are the people who may be hopeless. “They might not believe in God. “They might not have any faith. But, (it is having) an encounter with another human being that says: I see you, I recognize you.” “We ask them their name,” she said. PopUpPope was inspired partly by Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the U.S. September 22-27, which will culminate in his visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. The idea further materialized when Scalies and Turner, who are both currently based in Wilmington, Delaware, found images of people in the Philippines posing with cardboard cut-outs of Pope Francis, posted around the time of his pastoral visit to the Asian nation. “Our concept is that we want to be able to engage with people right there, on the spot, and have a conversation with them, pray with them,” Scalies explained, adding that they will sometimes quote from the Bible and other inspirational sayings. “Our intention isn’t to proselytize and take out a Bible and say, ‘You have to believe this!’ It’s about connecting, and love, and mercy. That’s really what it’s about for us.” Going out as a team into the streets of Wilmington, Delaware, they are prepared if the conversation goes in the direction of faith, she said. “Paul is a catechist, and can engage in those conversations.” “On the other hand we thought, if it gives us the opportunity of something that’s new, to engage somebody that might not normally be drawn to a cardboard image of a Pope, it gives us a chance to engage them in conversation, and give us an opportunity to offer them some personal hope.” Unlike other initiatives which set up “selfie stations” for people looking to take their photo with the cardboard Pope facsimile, Scalies and Turner go out to the streets with the Pope Francis cut-out, and use people’s reactions as an opportunity to interact with them. Scalies recalled one instance of a man named Joseph who approached them during one day of street evangelization. “We talked to him. He looked over to me and said: ‘Can I have a hug?’” In another instance, a woman came up to the PopUpPope team, mesmerized by the image of Pope Francis, Scalies said. “She started to engage us in conversation, and was explaining to us – even though she wasn’t Catholic – how much she loves the Pope, and admires the Pope, and how touched she was.” While taking a photo with the cardboard Pope, “she just stood up and looked at him,” she said. “You could tell there was something spiritual happening for her at that moment.” Scalies attributes these encounters, not to herself, but to the image of Pope Francis. “It was because we were out on the street engaging people, and opened ourselves up to having that encounter with people on the street.” “That’s what the Pope has asked us to do,” she said: “To literally take it to the street.” This enthusiasm surrounding Pope Francis served, in part, as the inspiration behind the name, PopUpPope. “Because it’s cardboard, it literally folds on itself, and then pops into place,” she said. “The other part of that logic was, when the Pope ‘pops up’ somewhere in the world, people get excited.”   Read more

Tens of thousands protest at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country

Denver, Colo., Aug 23, 2015 / 06:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Hundreds of demonstrations were held outside of Planned Parenthood clinics across the U.S. this weekend with protesters calling on the federal government to stop funding the abortion giant. &nbsp… Read more

Pope: When Jesus’ words are hard to hear, you need faith to stay

Vatican City, Aug 23, 2015 / 10:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Those who turn away from the “uncomfortable” teaching on Jesus being the Bread of Life, Pope Francis said during his weekly Sunday Angelus address, do so not because of a lack of understanding, but a lack of faith. “The true cause of misunderstanding (Jesus’) words is a lack of faith,” the pontiff stressed, speaking ahead of the Angelus from the papal palace to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square. “All that we have in the world does not satiate our hunger of the infinite. We need Jesus, to be with him, to be nourished at his table, with his words of eternal life! To believe in Jesus means to put him at the center, the sense of our life.” Pope Francis centered his Aug. 23 address on the day’s Gospel from John, in which Jesus pronounces himself to be the Bread of Life. Reflecting on the scene, which follows the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the pontiff observed that the disciples’ “great enthusiasm” dampens when Jesus says he has come that his flesh and blood might be food and drink. The Gospel recounts that upon hearing these words many of the disciples left and returned to their old lives. These disciples who turned away did not understand Jesus’ mission as the Messiah, and found this language disturbing, the Pope said. However, although they failed to accept Christ’s words, they nonetheless understood what he was saying. “In fact, they understood Jesus’ proposition well,” Pope Francis said: “so well that they did not want to hear it, since it is a proposition which sends their mentality into crisis.” Jesus’ words always bring about a crisis in us, he continued, but he gives us the “key” for overcoming the “discomfort” his teaching. There are three elements to this “key,” the Holy Father said: first, a recognition of Jesus’ divine origins; second, that his words could only be understood “through the action of the Holy Spirit”; and finally, that the absence of faith is the true cause of being unable to understand Jesus’ words. Pope Francis said that, although he was deserted by the disciples after making these statements, Jesus nonetheless “does not retract or soften his words,” but rather “forces us to make a clear choice: to stay with him or to separate ourselves from him.” The Gospel reading then recounts Jesus turning to the twelve Apostles, asking them if they will leave along with the other disciples following this teaching. In response, St. Peter says: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Observing that Peter did not say “where” but “to whom shall we go,” Pope Francis said “the fundamental problem is not leaving and abandoning the work that has begun, but it is to whom we go.” “From Peter’s question, we understand that faithfulness to God is a question of fidelity to a person, with whom we are joined in walking together along the same road. And this person is Jesus.” This relationship with Jesus, based on “true faith and love,” does not entail being “enchained,” but rather “profoundly free,” the Pope added. “Each one of us can ask: who is Jesus for me? Is he a name, an idea, merely a historic figure? Or, is he really that person who loves me, who has given his life for me, and journeys with me?” Pope Francis challenged those present to seek to know Jesus through his Word, through daily reading of the Gospel, adding that the more time we spend with Him the greater our desire to remain. He then led the crowds in a moment of silence, in which he invited them to reflect on the question: “Who is Jesus for me?” Concluding his Angelus address, the pontiff appealed to Mary to help us always “to go to Jesus to experience the freedom which he offers, and allow him to cleanse once again our choices from the worldly crusts, and from fear.” Read more