Chicago Catholic cemeteries give a proper burial to those who died on the fringes

Chicago, Ill., Nov 24, 2015 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Chicago’s Catholic cemeteries have helped bury the bodies of about 200 unidentified and unclaimed persons in recent years. One of the priests involved has stressed the importance of reducin… Read more

In Australia, bishops face legal complaint for defending marriage

Sydney, Australia, Nov 24, 2015 / 02:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Sydney archbishop has strongly defended the freedom of the Catholic Church in response to a legal complaint claiming the Australian bishops’ pastoral letter on marriage violated Tas… Read more

Over 200 consecrated hosts stolen, desecrated in Spain art exhibit

Madrid, Spain, Nov 23, 2015 / 04:40 pm (CNA).- Critics of Pamplona’s city council say it deliberately attacked Catholics and broke Spanish law by using city property to display a sacrilegious art exhibit with more than 240 stolen consecrated Hosts.   The Spanish artist Abel Azcona stole more than 240 consecrated Hosts by pretending to receive Holy Communion at Mass. He then placed the hosts on the ground to form the word “Pederasty” in Spanish.    Photos of the theft of the Hosts and their placement on the ground are shown in a public art gallery in Pamplona. The city council there is governed by a Basque separatist coalition called Bildu. Imágenes de cámara oculta con la “recogida” de hostias “consagradas” en iglesias de #Navarra y #Madrid. #AbelAzcona pic.twitter.com/CyA2RbVn7N — Abel Azcona (@abelazcona) November 22, 2015 The Christian Lawyers Association has filed a lawsuit against Azcona for violating Spanish law. It has said the city council must pull the display by Thursday or face legal action itself.   Maider Beloki, a councilwoman from the city’s Department for Culture, presented the exhibit, which is titled “Buried.” The Hosts were laid out on display until a private citizen removed them from the art exhibit.   Polonia Catellanos, spokesperson for the Christian Lawyers Association, told CNA that the association has filed a lawsuit against the author of the display for “an offense against religious sentiments and desecration.” The offenses are illegal under Articles 524 and 525 of the Spanish Penal Code.   “We’ve also given the Pamplona City Council until Thursday to close down the art exhibit. If they don’t do it, we’ll expand the lawsuit to include charges of complicity and necessary cooperation,” Castellanos stated. Asistí a 242 eucaristias y con las hostias consagradas guardadas formé la palabra #Pederastia. #PerformanceArt pic.twitter.com/uxJrIktIF9 — Abel Azcona (@abelazcona) August 2, 2015 The Christian lawyers’ group spokesman emphasized the group’s surprise that the city council would collaborate with this desecration.    “I don’t know why a city council, no matter of what political stripe, would allow something which is clearly a crime,” Castellanos said.   “In principle, public authorities such as the city council should be ensuring that crimes like these are not committed, not help commit them. The penal code is for everyone and if they don’t pull the exhibit before Thursday they’re going to have to answer for it,” he added.   If Abel Ascona has a criminal record, he could face a jail time in addition to a fine.   The Maslibres.org organization has planned a Nov. 23 demonstration at 7 p.m. in front of the Pamplona city council to protest the use of city property to host the exhibit.   “Making available space on city property that all the citizens of the provincial capital pay to maintain with their taxes makes the city government an accomplice in what can be considered the biggest attack on Catholics in recent years,” said Miguel Vidal, a Maslibres.org spokesman.   MasLibres.org called photographic exhibit “a flagrant attack against our freedoms and a spectacle reflecting the moral and creative poverty of the supposed artist.”   As of Monday evening, over 75,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking the city council to immediately and totally remove the exhibit.   Read more

Pope Francis sends greetings to Africa ahead of this week’s trip

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2015 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent two video messages Monday ahead of his tri-nation visit to Africa, speaking his intent to bring “consolation and hope” to the region while serving as a “minister of the Gospel.” In the message sent to the people of the Central African Republic, Pope Francis – speaking in French – referenced the “joy which pervades me” on the occasion of the visit, while acknowledging the ongoing violence which has brought suffering to the war-torn nation. “Your dear country has for too long been affected by a violent situation and by insecurity of which many of you have been innocent victims,” the Pope said, according to Vatican Radio’s translation. The CAR is currently in the midst of of an ongoing conflict. The majority of tensions began in late 2012 when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize. Since then, fear, uncertainty and violence have swept over the country in a conflict that has so far left some 6,000 people dead. The scheduled Nov. 29-30 trip to the CAR would mark Pope Francis’ first time in an active war zone, with new deaths reported daily. “The goal of my visit is, above all, to bring you, in the name of Christ, the comfort of consolation and hope,” the pontiff said in the message. “I hope with all my heart that my visit may contribute, in one way or another, to alleviate your wounds and to favor conditions for a better, more serene future for Central Africa and all its inhabitants.” Pope Francis is set to begin his tri-nation African tour from Nov. 25-30, with scheduled visits to Kenya, Uganda, and finally the CAR. The journey marks the pontiff’s first trip to the continent since his election to the papacy. “Let us pass to the other side” is the theme of the visit, the Pope observed in the CAR video message. This theme, he continued, theme invites Christian communities “to look ahead with determination,” while encouraging “each person to renew their own relationship with God and with their brothers and sisters to build a new, more just and fraternal world.” Earlier this month, Pope Francis said that he would open the diocese of Bangui’s Holy Door while in the Central African Republic ahead of the Year of Mercy, which officially starts Dec. 8, as a sign of prayer and solidarity for the conflict-ridden nation. Francis announced the jubilee during a March 13 penitential service, the second anniversary of his papal election. It will open Dec. 8 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – and will close Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King. The last pontiff to visit the CAR was St. John Paul II in 1985, as part of a larger trip to Togo, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Zaire and Kenya.   Pope Francis also issued a joint video message to the people of Kenya and Uganda, in which expressed his hope that the visit will “confirm” the Catholic communities of the region as they testify to the Gospel. “I am coming as a minister of the Gospel, to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ and his message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace,” the Pope said. Speaking in English, the pontiff said the aim of his visit will be “to confirm the Catholic community in its worship of God and witness of the Gospel, which teaches the dignity of every man and woman, and commands us to open our hearts to others, especially the poor and those in need.” Expressing his desire to encounter and offer a “word of encouragement” the Kenyan and Ugandan people, the Pope noted the need for today’s people of faith and good will to support one another as children of God. “We are living at a time when religious believers, and persons of good will everywhere, are called to foster mutual understanding and respect, and to support each other as members of our one human family,” he said, “for all of us are God’s children.” Pope Francis cited his planned visit with young people as one of the highlights of his visit to the region. Young people, he said, “are your greatest resource and our most promising hope for a future of solidarity, peace and progress.” The Pope concluded by acknowledging the hard work involved in the preparations for his visit, and offered his thanks. He asked everyone to pray that his visit to Kenya and Uganda would “be a source of hope and encouragement to all.”   “Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!” Read more

The Pope in a war zone – what his visit means to Central African Republic

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2015 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis’ visit to the Central African Republic next week will be the first time he steps into an active war zone. It is a meaningful visit for locals which portrays the image of father coming to console his suffering children.   “In the minds and hearts of the people (Pope Francis) is a great figure,” Fr. Hervé Hubert Koyassambia-Kozondo said in an interview with CNA. So to hear his message from within the borders of their own country “is very, very meaningful.”   Even a month ago images of Francis could be seen throughout the country through TV and the media, he said, explaining that the Pope is being talked about daily, so he’s “already there in reality.”   To see the Pope in person in their own community isn’t something that happens every day for citizens of the Central African Republic, he said, but for many will only happen “once in their lives.”   “So they are waiting for him and they will welcome him as a true pastor of the universal Church. I like to say father, as a father, truly.”   Francis’ words will be welcomed especially by the country’s Christian population, the Catholics in particular. “What the Pope says in favor of peace will have a lot of weight,” he said, but stressed that this peace must also be worked for.   Fr. Kozondo is from the archdiocese of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, and is currently studying in Rome. He spoke with journalists ahead of Pope Francis’ Nov. 29-30 visit to the country, as part of a wider visit to the African continent.   Pope Francis will be in Africa Nov. 25-30, and is scheduled to make stops in three countries. He will set foot in Kenya first, where he will stay from Nov. 25-27, before moving on to Uganda Nov. 27-29. His last stop will be the Central African Republic, from Nov. 29-30. The last pontiff to visit the CAR was St. John Paul II in 1985, as part of a larger trip to Togo, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Zaire and Kenya.   Likely the greatest challenge Francis will face in the Central African Republic is the fact that the visit marks the first time he will be stepping into an active war zone, with new deaths reported daily.   The majority of tensions began in late 2012 when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize.   Since then, fear, uncertainty and violence have swept over the country in a conflict that has so far left some 6,000 people dead. The country will hold both presidential and parliamentary elections Dec. 27, after they were postponed in October due to violence and instability. Interim president Catherine Samba-Panza, who has so far struggled to keep peace, will not be a candidate.   In his comments to journalists, Fr. Kozondo remarked that the greatest challenge the Church faces is “the deplorable situation of the country,” as well as the grave lack of security.   “There are many armed people, and (the government forces) still haven’t been able to disarm them,” he said, adding that “armed people with bad intentions can’t be something stable in terms of peace.”   “Disarmament is needed, but the country doesn’t have the means to disarm. So it must count on foreign or external help to act.”   Though the country has seen coups throughout their history, the priest explained that this one is different due the fact it is fueled by arms from foreigners, and because Christians are being targeted. With a population of just over 1 million, roughly 36 percent are Catholic and 44 percent are Protestants, with the remaining 20 percent divided evenly among Muslims and local religions.   Fr. Kozondo said the rebels launched their attacks in part due to the ethnic exclusivity of the former government, as the country has always had ethnic divisions, and politicians usually represent certain ones.   However, when the various Muslim rebel groups banded together in 2012, foreign mercenaries helped in seizing weapons, many of whom were from Chad and Sudan. Therefore, many of the fighters are foreigners who don’t speak the local Sango language.   This detail compounded with the fact that attacks targeted cities that weren’t strategically useful in conquering the country – as well as innocent civilians, state structures and symbols representing the nation’s patrimony – made the people wonder their intentions were for “something more, not only a desire to conquer the power,” the priest said.   A second characteristic which has made this conflict unusual compared to those of the past is that amid the various rebellions, it was obvious attacks were “directed toward Christians, against churches and religious structures, against the social Christian structures.”   The systematic violence toward Christian persons and the destruction of Church properties is what fueled the current anti-Muslim sentiments, he said, because what people saw is that “it wasn’t just a rebellion that sought to conquer the country, but also sought to destroy everything that was Christian.”   Before the conflict erupted in 2012 relations with Islam had been relatively peaceful, Fr. Kozondo said, explaining that though they are a minority, Muslims in CAR have always been well integrated and economically powerful because of their savvy in negotiating different affairs.   Fr. Kozondo said that another challenge is to re-establish the authority of the State, because they have lost control of the situation since the radicals began their offensive, leading ordinary citizens to take up arms.   Once citizens saw that the country’s army was ineffective against the rebels, they formed a resistance group, known as anti-balaka, because there was “no one to defend the population.”   The population feels that they don’t have any protection, “so they organize on their own to defend themselves,” the priest observed.   However, he clarified what he referred to as a media farce depicting the “anti-balaka” resistance group as radical Christians who have taken up arms against the Muslims.   Though the group is depicted as being exclusively Christian, Fr. Kozondo said he believes this image was “created by the media to imprint in the mind of the people.”   He told CNA that while there are certainly Christians, Catholics and Protestants included, who have taken up arms, “They don’t do it in the name of Christianity.”   “They don’t do it with means that come from the Church or something organized by the Church. They don’t do it from a Christian push, something that comes in the name of the Christian faith, this no. It’s not a Christian group that goes around in a sullen way against Muslims.”   Fr. Kozondo explained that the bishops and the episcopal conference have repeatedly denounced the idea that the “anti-balaka” group is being pushed by Christians.   In fact, Catholic and Protestant leaders in CAR have joined forces alongside moderate Muslims to give a concrete, pastoral response to the situation, particularly regarding the large number of refugees and those internally displaced by the fighting.   “There are many people whose homes were destroyed or who don’t find themselves in safety,” the priest said, noting that many have either fled to nearby countries or are even taking refuge “in the forests.”   Fighting now includes the element of revenge-killings, the priest said, explaining that in the capital, Bangui, there is a Muslim quarter entirely closed off to Christians which is particularly dangerous.   Inside, there is “a strong presence of jihadists and extremists” who have killed either non-Muslims or moderate Muslims seeking to enter and offer assistance to those inside, as well as to help those who want to leave get out.   “What happens is if they kill someone there, there is also a revenge to kill a Muslim in another area. If a Muslim is killed, there is also a revenge on their part,” Fr. Kozondo observed.   “The things are also a situation of uncertainty. Today everything is ok. Tomorrow if someone is killed, something could erupt. This is what it’s becoming. Then, the civil population is in the middle.”   Pope Francis himself is scheduled to visit the quarter Nov. 30, his last day in Africa, for a meeting with CAR’s Muslim community at the central Mosque of Koudoukou. Though many have advised against the decision, as of now it’s still on the Pope’s slate.   Additionally, the Pope is also scheduled to visit a refugee camp that houses 1000-2000 people the same day he lands in Bangui, Nov. 29, after meeting with the country’s authorities and interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza.   During a Nov. 19 press briefing, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that Francis is visiting CAR precisely “to show that he’s close to the people who suffer. So that’s why it’s his first stop after meeting the authorities.”   After visiting the refugee camp, the Pope is slated to meet with the different Evangelical communities in CAR at the FATEB Headquarters (Evangelical Faculty of Theology of Bangui).   It’s a meeting, Fr. Lombardi said, directed “against the violence,” and will therefore draw together major Church leaders from the Catholic and Evangelical communities, as well as an imam, “seeking to build dialogue and peace.”   In recent weeks speculation has arisen as to whether Pope Francis will decide to call off his visit to CAR completely due to the ongoing violence.   On Nov. 16, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, suggested that while the plan as of now remains the same, the days in CAR could be cut off at the last minute.   Speaking with journalists after a conference in Rome organized by the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (Rome Pilgrim Office), Cardinal Parolin said that as far as Africa goes “the three stops remain, but we’ll see depending on the situation on the ground.” In a Nov. 11 article, French newspaper Le Monde reported that officials at the French Ministry of Defense said the 900 French troops on the ground in CAR wouldn’t be able to guarantee the Pope’s safety, and would only be able to protect him at the airport.   The head of the Vatican’s security forces, Domenico Giani, is currently in CAR for a final assessment of the situation ahead of the Pope’s arrival in Africa next week.   However, instead of flying back to Rome and traveling with Francis on board the papal plane as usual, he will stay, and meet the Pope directly in Kenya. Fr. Lombardi stressed that Giani’s presence doesn’t signify anything new, and that as of now “nothing has changed.”   “We’re monitoring,” he said, adding that final decisions will be made “as the trip continues.” The spokesman also announced that Cardinal Parolin will not be with the Pope in CAR, but will leave after Uganda in order to go to Paris for the launch of the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 United Nations Climate Change Conference.   Fr. Kozondo said that people are very enthusiastic for the Pope’s visit, and many believe it will be “a turning point” for the country.   “They are preparing a lot every day,” he said, explaining that there is also an effort to quell the violence, so that Francis finds “a better situation” when he arrives.   He told CNA that he believes the first step to working for lasting peace is “disarmament,” which is something that so far the country has been unable to achieve.   “Without this, there will be people who don’t feel safe,” he said, explaining that when people don’t feel safe, they will continue to organize in an autonomous way to defend themselves.   “It’s very dangerous, very harmful when you can no longer protect the people, and the people organize themselves on their own. That is what we’re living.” Read more

Pope sends condolences after deadly terrorist attack in Mali

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2015 / 11:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis condemned the “senseless violence” of Friday’s terrorist attack on a hotel which killed at least 22 people in Mali, and prayed for the “conversion of hearts.” The Pope was “appalled by this senseless violence,” and “strongly condemns it,” reads the telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, according to Vatican Radio’s translation from French. “The Pope implores God for the conversion of hearts and the gift of peace, and  invokes abundance of Divine blessings on all those affected by this tragedy.” The Nov. 20 attack saw gunmen enter the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako.  22 people were killed in the attack, according to a statement Sunday by the UN’s Mali mission. CNN reports that witnesses say the terrorists shouted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is Great.” Two attackers are dead, but it is unclear if they were killed by security forces or by suicide bombs, CNN reports. “Pope Francis unites himself in prayer to the pain of bereaved families and the sadness of all Malians,” reads the telegram, which was released by the Holy See Press Office Nov. 22.   The Pope “recommends all the victims to the mercy of God, praying that the Almighty welcome them into His light. He expresses his deepest sympathy with the injured and their families, asking the Lord to bring them comfort and consolation in their ordeal.” The attacks in Mali came just one week after 137 people, including seven perpetrators, were killed in widespread terrorist attacks in the center of Paris. Read more

Pope Francis: While worldly kingdoms dominate, Christ’s kingdom liberates

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2015 / 09:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a world which employs “weapons of fear” and manipulation, the strength of Christ’s kingdom is founded in truth and love, Pope Francis said in his Sunday angelus address, durin… Read more

Priests aren’t mushrooms: Pope Francis’ reflection on priestly ministry, formation

Vatican City, Nov 22, 2015 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Friday spoke to a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s decrees on the ministry and life of priests and on priestly training, noting priests’ role as coming from the community and being for the community. The conference on Presbyterorum ordinis and Optatam totius was organized by the Congregation for the Clergy, and Pope Francis began his Nov. 20 address calling the two decrees “a seed, which the Council sowed in the life of the Church,” and which have “become a vigorous plant.” He noted the importance of the Congregation for the Clergy having competence over seminary formation (an innovation of Benedict XVI), because “in this way the dicastery can start to deal with the live and ministry of priests from the moment of their entrance into seminary, working to ensure that vocations are promoted and cared for, and may blossom into the lives of holy priests. The path of sanctity of a priest begins in seminary!” Pope Francis began his address, delivered in the Vatican’s Sala Regia, from “ the relationship between priests and other people … given that the vocation to the priesthood is a gift that God gives to some for the good of all.” He reflected on Presbyterorum ordinis’ use of a text from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Priests, who are taken from among men and ordained for men in the things that belong to God in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, nevertheless live on earth with other men as brothers amid brothers,” and urged: “Let us consider these three moments: ‘taken from among men’, ‘ordained for men’, and ‘present among other men’.” A priest, Pope Francis said, “is a man who is born in a certain human context: there he learns the primary values, absorbs the spirituality of the people, grows accustomed to relations.” “Priests also have a history, they are not ‘mushrooms’ which sprout up suddenly in the cathedral on the day of their ordination.” “It is important for formators and priests themselves to remember this and to know how to take into account this personal history along the path of formation … this means that one cannot become a priest, believing that one has been formed in a laboratory, no; he starts in the family with the ‘handing on’ of the faith and with all the experiences of the family.” He added that each vocation is personalized, “because it is the concrete person who is called to discipleship and the priesthood.” The Pope added that the family, the domestic Church, is the “center of pastoral work” and the “firest and fundamental place of human formation, which can germinate in young people the desire for a life concieved as a vocational path, to be trod with commitment and generosity.” “A good priest, therefore, is first of all a man with his own humanity, who knows his own history, with its riches and its wounds, who has learned to make peace with this, achieving the fundamental serenity proper to one of the Lord’s disciples. Human formation is therefore a necessity for priests, so that they learn not to be dominate by their limits, but rather to put their talents to use.” A priest is “a man at peace” who diffuses serenity, “even at strenuous moments, transmitting the beauty of a relationship with the Lord.” “We priests are apostles of joy: we announce the Gospel, which is the quintessential ‘good news’; we certainly do not give strength to the Gospel … but we can favour or hinder the encounter between the Gospel and people. Our humanity is the ‘earthen vessel’ in which we conserve God’s treasure, a vessel we must take care of, so as to transmit well its precious contents.” The Pope urged priests against “loosing their roots”: a priest “always remains a man of the people and the culture that have produced him; our roots help us to remember who we are and to where Christ has called us. We priests do not fall from above but are instead called by God, who takes us ‘from among men’, to ‘ordain us for men’.” The second point, Pope Francis stated, is ‘for men’: “This is fundamental point in the life and ministry of priests. Responding to God’s call, we become priests to serve our brothers and sisters. The images of Christ we take as a point of reference for our ministry as priests are clear: he is the ‘high priest’, at the same time close to God and close to man; he is the ‘servant’, who washes the feet and makes himself close to the weakest; and he is the ‘good shepherd’, who always cares for his flock.” These three images, the Pope reflected, show that “we are not priests for ourselves, and our own sanctification is closely linked to that of our people, our anointment with theirs. You have been anointed for your people. Knowing and remembering that we are ordained for the people, the holy people of God, helps priests not to think of themselves, to be authoritative, not authoritarian; firm but not hard; joyful but not superficial: in short, pastors, not functionaries.” He recalled that “St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, said: ‘Where there is mercy, there is the spirit of the Lord; where there is rigidity there are only his ministers’. The minister without the Lord becomes rigid, and this is a peril for the people of God. Pastors, not functionaries.” The mission of priests benefit “the people of God and all humanity,” Pope Francis said, adding that “human formation, as well as intellectual and spiritual formation, flow naturally into pastoral formation, providing tools, virtues, and personal dispositions. When all this harmonizes and blends with a genuine missionary zeal, along the path of a lifetime, the priest can fulfil the mission entrusted by Christ to his Church.” “Finally, what is born with the people must stay with the people. The priests is always ‘among other men’: he is not a professional of pastoral ministry or evangelisation, who arrives and does what he has to do – perhaps well, but as if it were a profession like any other – before then going away and living a life apart. One becomes a priest in order to stay in the midst of the people,” he said. Pope Francis then reflected on the particular ministry of bishops, saying that one can often hear priests complaining that he called his bishop with a problem, and “the secretary, the secretary told me he is very busy … he cannot see me for three months.” In response to such a situation, Pope Francis had two pieces of advice for bishops: have time for your priests, and spend time in your diocese. “A bishop is always busy, thanks be to God, but if you, a bishop, receive a call from a priest and cannot take it because you have so much work, at least pick up the phone and call him and say: ‘Is it urgent? Not urgent? Well, come this day …’, so that you feel close. There are bishops who seem to move away from priests … Proximity, at least one phone call! This is the love of a father, fraternity.” His second point for bishops, spend time in your diocese, he demonstrated by caricaturing a bishop saying, “No, I have a conference in that city and then I have a trip to America, and then …” But Pope Francis reminded them that “look, the decree of residence of Trent is still valid! And if you do not like to remain in the diocese, resign, and travel the world doing another very good apostolate. But if you’re the bishop of that diocese, have residence there. These two things, proximity and residence. But this is for us bishops! One becomes a priest in order to say in the midst of the people.” “The good that priests can do arises above all from their closeness and their tender love for people. They are not philanthropists or functionaries, but fathers and brothers. The fatherhood of a priest does so much good,” Pope Francis said. He reflected on how priests are called to make concrete God’s love for the people, and turned to Confession. “Always you can find ways to give absolution. This is good. But sometimes, you cannot absolve. There are priests who say: ‘No, this I cannot absolve, go away’. This is not the way. If you cannot give absolution, explain and say: ‘God loves you very much, God wishes you well. To come to God there are so many ways. I cannot give you absolution, but I give you a blessing. But return, always return here, for whenever you return I will give you a blessing as a sign that God loves you’. And the man or the woman goes away full of joy because they have found an icon of the Father, who never refuses; in one way or another, they have been embraced.” The Pope then offered as an examination of conscience for priests, to ask “Where is my heart? Among the people, praying with and for the people, involved in their joys and sufferings, or rather among the things of the world, worldly affairs, my private space?” He concluded his address by calling the conference to offer its work to the Church as a useful reflection on Vatican II’s words on the priesthood, “contributing to the formation of priests … configured always to the Lord.” Read more

What does Christ have to do with cancer? One woman’s path to peace

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2015 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- Heather King never cared much for doctors. It’s an attitude she partly inherited from her mother, “who classified ginger ale as a medicine, considered Novocain a snobbish extravagance” and somehow managed to avoid a visit to the doctor’s office for almost 30 years. After years of relatively good health despite a 25-year stint as a functioning alcoholic, King had always taken her physical health somewhat for granted. She viewed her body as a “dependable tractor” that simply required exercise and a balanced diet to function, and considered nutritionists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and their ilk “to be a bunch of overpaid quacks.” So when she dutifully showed up to Mercy General Hospital for her yearly mammogram, squeezing the appointment in on a Friday after several other errands, she shook with fear when the technician came back from the lab asking for a second picture of her left breast. “Immediately right then I just thought ‘Cancer! Cancer! Cancer!’” King told CNA. Although she’d have to wait two weeks for the final word, King immediately made her way down to the chapel in the Catholic hospital after her appointment. A devout convert after years of drinking and promiscuity, King attempted to piece together a prayer amid her anxiety. “I’m pretty sure I really heard Him that afternoon because after a while, there in that sterile chapel, I experienced a moment of peace such as I never had known before and never have quite known since,” King recalls in her new memoir, “Stripped: at the intersection of cancer, culture, and Christ.” At that moment, she had a deep sense that whatever happened to her, even if it was death, Christ would be with her. That moment of peace and surrender to Christ was what she clung to in the subsequent moments of fear and panic – the actual diagnosis, deciding what further treatment she would accept, a struggling marriage that further crumbled under the stress. Throughout her immersion in the world of the oncology ward, King was struck by what she saw as a very militant response to cancer from the medical world and the culture at large. “What I object to is the implication that when you get a cancer diagnosis, right away you’re supposed to put on your fatigues and pick up your gun and do battle with it,” she said. “And that’s the word we use, a ‘battle’ with cancer, and it’s always in obituaries, it’s odd.” Despite her tumor’s small size – and her cancer’s stage one, grade one diagnosis – a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation were all recommended to her as courses of treatment, as well as five subsequent years of a heavy-hitting estrogen medicine. But after doing a lot of research and soul-searching, King opted to forgo most of the traditional treatments. She had the tumor removed and spent not even one night in the hospital, returning to her normal life the next day. It’s not because she had a death wish, King insists. It’s not because she was expecting some radical, miraculous healing from God. It’s not because she distrusts doctors and the medical field. Rather, she said, it was about how she wanted to live and offer the rest of her life, and death to God. “It’s not really a book about cancer as much as it’s a book about what master do I really want to serve?” she said. “My point is I want to surrender in a way, and that doesn’t mean lying over and playing dead, it doesn’t mean being a doormat, it doesn’t mean having a sublimated death wish,” she said. “It means fighting the battle that St. Paul fought when he says ‘I have stayed the course, I have run the race.’” That race, she said, is being able to love life without clinging to it through extreme medical measures out of fear. It means coming to some sort of peace with the ultimate mystery of life, with the paradox that good people suffer and die, with “the deepest questions of human existence.” It means not being afraid to die out of the fear that you haven’t fully lived. For King, it meant resting in the peace that she had “ordered her life to true North.” Earlier in life, King was looking for answers and thought they could be found in the world of law. As a functioning alcoholic, she made it through law school, passed the bar, and went on to a high-paying but ultimately unfulfilling job as a lawyer. She’d recently kicked her salary and benefits to the curb in order to pursue the life she felt God was truly calling her to – a quiet life centered around the sacraments, silence, and plenty of time devoted to the vocation of writing. In a way, she’d already surrendered much of her worldly security to God. The fact that she had the presence of mind to call upon faith during the diagnosis, and the tumultuous aftermath, came as somewhat of a surprise to King herself. “I always thought if this happened, I’d be so scared that I wouldn’t bring my faith to it,” King said. “But there’s always an element of surprise, like the woman at the well who runs back to the town yelling ‘People, people! I think I’ve met him! I’ve met the Messiah.’” It’s been 15 years since King’s original diagnosis, and she’s still doing well. “I had a mammogram for the first time in a long time, it came back normal, so everything’s been fine,” she said. King said her advice to anyone facing a new cancer diagnosis would be to not be afraid to listen to their own bodies, hearts and souls when it comes to making the big decisions, despite outside pressure from family, friends or even doctors. Having faith in something bigger than yourself, even if it’s simply in the power of love, is also invaluable when facing something so drastic, she said. “The word accompany and the word companion come from the Latin ‘com panis,’ or ‘with bread’” King said. “And if you’re already a follower of Christ, this bread, he accompanies you, he walks with you. You’re not alone.” Read more

Cardinal Sarah on new book: I want to help people rediscover God

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2015 / 10:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the presentation of his new book Cardinal Robert Sarah said that Western society is rapidly forgetting God, and expressed his desire to help people rediscover him through both prayer and witness. “I would like to help people discover God in their lives, because many of us have lost God,” Cardinal Sarah told CNA at the Nov. 20 presentation of his new book, “God or nothing.” “God is disappearing from society, from culture, from the economy, no one is interested in God,” he said, which is why he thought of the need to bear witness to the fact that “God exists, that God is our life.” Without God, the cardinal said, “we are nothing. Without God man doesn’t know where he is, where he is going and therefore it’s a testimony of faith. Without God we are lost.” Released last month, “God or nothing” was officially presented yesterday in Rome’s Santa Maria dell’Anima church. In addition to Cardinal Sarah, brief interventions were also given by Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy; Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. Published so far in French, English, Italian and German, the book offers Cardinal Sarah’s insights on current hot-button issues, such as gender ideology and the definition of marriage, as well as the mission of the Church, the joy of the Gospel and the “heresy of activism.” Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, spoke with CNA before the event began, saying that although it’s not easy to put God back into the minds that have forgotten him, “through our testimony, through our life, we can help people to love God.” “Not only by reading my book, because it’s not enough to read a book. But you must have an experience… a personal encounter, a personal experience with God.” In his speech, Archbishop Ganswein said Cardinal Sarah has “prophetic” insights, and likened him to Pope St. Gelasius I, who in the late 400s succeeded in stopping the emperor, Anastasius I, from declaring power over the Church, as well as the state. He said that Cardinal Sarah clearly sees how many states today seek to lay claim to the “spiritual power” which belongs exclusively to the Church. “When the states of the West today attempt to overturn, step by step, natural law at the behest of globally active pressure groups; when they want to adjudge, for themselves, on the very nature of man – as in the highly ideological programs of Gender Mainstreaming – then this is more than just a fatal relapse into the rule of the arbitrary,” Archbishop Ganswein said. “It is primarily a new submission to that totalitarian temptation that has always accompanied our history, like a shadow.” This temptation is present in every age, though manifested in a new language, he said, noting that Cardinal Sarah “forcefully insists” that the Church must not give in to the intellectual fashions of the time. He said that while a state shouldn’t be a religion, as is currently “horrifically expressed” by ISIS, neither should the state “prescribe to the people secularism as a supposedly neutral world view.” It’s dangerous, the archbishops said, to think of secularism “as if it is nothing more than a new pseudo-religion, which once again takes up where the totalitarian ideologies of the last century left off in attempting to denounce and ultimately extinguish Christianity – and every other religion – as outdated and useless.” Archbishop Ganswein called Sarah’s book “radical” in the sense of the word’s Latin origin, “radix,” meaning “root,” because in it the cardinal takes us back to the root of our faith and the true radicalism of the Gospel. Cardinal Sarah awakens us to the fact “that the new forms of indifference to God are not just mental deviations one can simply ignore. He recognizes an existential threat to human civilization par excellence in the moral transformation of our societies,” he said.  The archbishop cautioned that the Gospel is in danger of being transformed by certain “so-called ‘realities of life,’” and insisted that divine revelation must never be adapted to the world. “The world wants to devour God,” he said, however, “God wants to win over us and the world.” Like the archbishop, Cardinal Pell in his speech praised Sarah’s boldness in speaking out on contemporary issues, saying that he is part of the return of “the great African theologians.” Cardinal Sarah himself spoke to CNA about the blossoming faith in Africa, and expressed his hope that it will continue to grow not only in number, but in depth and fidelity to Christ and the Church’s magisterium. It’s the goal of many African bishops, he said, “to show that we believe in Christ, we are faithful to him, we are faithful to the magisterium,” and to help people in Europe, “who have a bit lost this fidelity to Christ,” to rediscover that Christ is our life. God is light and truth, he said, explaining that we need truth in order to live correctly, which is why the African bishops are so eager to help people find God through prayer, and especially through fidelity to the magisterium. “The magisterium is the way that will guide us to God. He’s not only rules or things that are against our liberty, our freedom. No. Doctrine is the way of salvation, the way of liberty and freedom and the way to Jesus,” he said. Cardinal Sarah also offered his thoughts on Pope Francis’ trip to Africa next week, saying he expects the Pope to discover the great richness the continent has to offer. Francis, he said, “will discover a living faith, perhaps his message will be to encourage Africans to root their faith in Christ, to not forget that Christ is their faith.” Read more




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