Fr. Mitch Pacwa asks: Are you ready to answer Our Lady of Fatima?

Worcester, Mass., Sep 13, 2017 / 03:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first time Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the shepherd children, she asked a question. For Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., host of “EWTN Live,” this question could be addressed to e… Read more

What the bishops say about politics matters – and here’s why

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2017 / 03:14 pm (CNA).- Catholic moral theologians have responded to Steve Bannon’s accusation that the U.S. bishops are economically motivated in their stance on immigration, calling the former White House chief strategist “rash” in his take on the issue. But what’s more, they say Catholics should not treat the guidance of the bishops as just another “guy with an opinion,” as Bannon said – even when dealing with situations that are applications of the Church’s doctrinal teaching. “I absolutely reject Bannon’s way of formulating it in general,” Dr. Kevin Miller, a professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, told CNA. “In teaching about matters dealing with faith and morals: even when the bishops are speaking in a prudential way, in a non-magisterial way, they’re not just some other guy in the conversation,” he said. “There’s a certain kind of appropriate deference that is due there, even if one is to end up disagreeing with what they say or do there.” “But I also disagree with Bannon because I think he’s making an artificial distinction between, on the one hand, the realm of faith and morals, and on the other hand, the realm of politics,” Miller added. “Politics has to be engaged in morally and the Church has something to say – and has said a great deal over the centuries – over what that means.” Miller’s comments came in response to remarks by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, during an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” host Charlie Rose, posted online Sept. 7. The full interview aired September 10. In the clip, Bannon criticized the U.S. Bishops’ immigration policy stances and said that the bishops support undocumented immigration because of a cynical “economic interest.” Rose asked Bannon about the Trump administration’s recent announcement to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). After Bannon defended the decision, Rose pressed further, noting that Bannon is a Catholic and that New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan – along with other leaders – have opposed the move. DACA was established in 2012 by former President Barrack Obama to create a pathway to legal residency for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children so that qualifying individuals can work or continue their education. After challenges on the executive order’s constitutionality – which was partially upheld– the Trump administration responded to pressures from numerous state attorney generals to repeal the program. Currently, around 800,000 persons are part of the DACA program. “The bishops have been terrible on this,” Bannon responded. “By the way, you know why? Because [they have been] unable to really, to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens,” Bannon said. “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it.” He continued, saying that while he respected the bishops on elements of doctrine, “this is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation.” “And in that regard,” Bannon said, “they’re just another guy with an opinion.” In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement saying that the bishops’ stance on issues including life, healthcare and immigration reform “is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day.” “It is both possible and morally necessary to secure the border in a manner which provides security and a humane immigration policy,” the statement said. “For anyone to suggest that it is out of sordid motives of statistics or financial gain is outrageous and insulting.” Cardinal Dolan also responded to the interview, calling Bannon’s insinuation that the bishops’ teaching is based on an economic incentive “preposterous.” “That’s insulting and that’s just so ridiculous that it doesn’t merit a comment,” the cardinal said. Both Dolan’s comment and the statement from the bishops’ conference referenced long-standing Church teachings highlighting the Christian duty to care for one’s neighbors, as well as to protect the vulnerable within a society. Miller explained that while there is an element of truth in Bannon’s statement, in that the statements of bishops’ conferences “don’t share in the magisterium,” or the official authoritative teaching of the Church, that does not mean the bishops’ statements or positions on policy should be disregarded. The lack of official magisterial weight of a statement like the bishops’ Sept. 5 comments in defense of DACA “doesn’t mean it doesn’t require significant, significant deference.” Miller said it would be “rash” to disregard the guidance of the bishops, and that often, when a bishop comments or signs a statement, it’s generally “a fairly clear application” of teachings the Church does hold. The professor also discussed the issue of prudential judgement, and that Catholics are able to disagree on matters of prudence in how a situation is handled or implemented. Dr. Miller acknowledged that in situations like immigration, there is a prudential component in determining how best the Church’s teachings should be applied. Yet, he continued, the bishops’ statements and judgement still require deference. The prudential character of subjects the bishops might talk about, Miller stressed, “doesn’t mean that you can feel free to ignore them and they’re like some guy next door.” Miller also pushed back against the distinction Bannon made between matters of prudence and matters of “dogma.” He said that while Catholics can, in good faith, disagree on matters of practicality and approach, the bishops’ moral voice still has relevance to politics. “Although there’s this difference between basic moral principle and prudential judgement about how to apply it in sometimes complex cases, I don’t think that that distinction is as neat as people sometimes think it is in at least some cases.” Miller explained that the Church has long spoken on the moral duties of nations, and their obligation to serve the common good. While states can do some things in the name of “sovereignty,” he continued, they must act in the interest of the common good – particularly with an eye towards the most vulnerable. Joseph Capizzi, professor of theology at the Catholic University of America and executive director of the school’s Institute for Human Ecology, told CNA that while there may not be a definitive, set doctrine on immigration itself, there is aconsistent teaching within the Church “on principles that pertain to immigration.” He pointed to scriptures and to traditions reaching back to the earliest centuries of the Church that highlight the Church’s concern for “the poor, the outcast, refugees, orphans – the physically vulnerable.” “Those are the first people who get our attention. We’re supposed to care for them.” Capizzi also pointed to the Church’s tradition of care for one’s neighbor and those within one’s community. The care for individuals of that community must be promoted in concert with the common good of the community and its people, he explained.     The issue of immigration is not one that is new for the Church in the United States, Capizzi said. “When many of our parents and grandparents came into this country, they faced very similar antagonisms,” and many of the same arguments used against immigration today were used in previous decades and centuries, he noted. “The Catholic bishops are only articulating the same defense of good Catholic people that was articulated on behalf of their parents and their grandparents, and in some cases, themselves, over the course of the history of this country.” The positive contribution of Catholic immigrants and immigrants in general to the Church and to the United States should outweigh the concerns raised by Bannon’s “crass” and “unprovable” statements, as well as those of a decline of Christianity in the United States and the West. “There’s no question the Catholic Church benefits from the presence of hard-working, faithful young Catholic men and women who are coming into this country seeking better lives for themselves and their children,” Capizzi said.   Read more

Count on it: Mother Angelica will always be with EWTN, says CEO

Worcester, Mass., Sep 13, 2017 / 12:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Fans of Mother Angelica should know that her influence will not wane at EWTN, where she will always have a place, said the network’s CEO during the Family Talk at the 2017 EWTN Family Celebration in Worcester, Mass, Sept. 9-10. “Her message really resonates with everyone universally… that’s an incredible, incredible thing,” said Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer at EWTN Global Catholic Network. “One of the remarkable things we’ve commented about this: how fresh and how evergreen Mother Angelica’s shows are,” he said. “Many of these shows are 30 years old, and yet they seem as if they were just recorded today. Her message is really timeless in that respect.” Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a Poor Clare nun, founded EWTN in 1981. She passed away on Easter Sunday 2016, after a long period out of the public eye following a severe stroke in 2001. In addition to running a network that became the largest religious media network in the world, she hosted a popular call-in show, “Mother Angelica Live,” in which she catechized, conducted interviews, and answered viewer questions. Warsaw said that these shows still have global influence. “One of the things that has really impacted me as I have traveled and we have expanded internationally is that Mother Angelica really does translate across any language group,” Warsaw said Sept. 9 at the EWTN Family Celebration in Worcester, Mass. Warsaw, together with several other EWTN leaders, spoke to a crowd of hundreds at Worcester’s DCU Center on Saturday afternoon in a Family Talk. The talk is a way for EWTN viewers to engage with the network, asking questions and making suggestions. One viewer, Maria from Somerset, Mass., wanted to be certain that EWTN would continue to broadcast Mother Angelica’s shows. “I think you can count on the fact that Mother Angelica will always be a part of the on-air programming,” Warsaw replied. Among stories recounted at the Family Talk was an Australian archbishop’s encounter with a woman who was in a rehabilitation center. “He walked in and said ‘Hi, I’m the archbishop, I’m here to see you’,” Warsaw said. “And she said: ‘Shh! I’m praying the rosary with EWTN. You should sit down and wait’.” “And so, he dutifully pulled his rosary out of his pocket and prayed his rosary along with her, and made his visit afterward,” Warsaw said. A recurring concern among attendees was the situation of family members and friends who were no longer practicing Catholics. Zachary, a 14-year-old high school freshman, mentioned a friend who had drifted away from the faith and asked how to help her return to the practice of the faith. Father Mark Mary Cristina, MFVA, responded: “Certainly encourage her to pray. If she’s not going to Mass, invite her to go to Mass with you.” “Sometimes I think when we are in grief or struggling, practicing our faith can help increase our faith,” the priest said. “Certainly be a good listener, pray for her, try to encourage her to pray.” “And we’ll pray for you,” Warsaw added. Father Joseph Mary Wolfe, MFVA, chaplain for EWTN, reflected on the network’s coverage of pro-life issues. “I believe that there are people walking this earth that are alive today because of EWTN’s pro-life programming,” he said. For his part, Warsaw cited letters from women who had considered abortions at one point in their lives. Some had written in saying: “My baby was born because at that moment when I needed EWTN, you were there.” He cited the launch of the news show EWTN Pro-Life Weekly and its focus on key issues in the pro-life cause at all stages of life. “We’re really trying to motivate people to get involved in the pro-life movement, whatever state they are in,” said Warsaw. “There’s really no other outlet that has done as much in terms of the pro-life message, the pro-life cause, as the network has done over these years.” “I think it comes back to the importance of prayer. The centrality of that is certainly Mother Angelica’s mission,” he said. EWTN Global Catholic Network, in its 37th year, is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 268 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. EWTN services also include radio channels transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; the largest Catholic website in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including “The National Catholic Register” newspaper, and several global wire services; as well as a publishing arm. CNA is part of the EWTN family.   Read more

Fr. Tom to Pope Francis: I offered my suffering for you and the Church

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2017 / 11:25 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Just one day after being released from 18 months of captivity, Indian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil shared an emotional meeting with Pope Francis, saying that throughout his time as a prisoner, he offered his suffering for the Pope and the Church. According to a Sept. 13 article published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the encounter took place at the Pope’s residence in the Vatican’s St Martha guesthouse immediately after the general audience on Wednesday. Photos of the encounter show an emotional scene as Fr. Uzhunnalil bends down to kiss the Pope’s feet, after which the Pope tenderly gives the priest his blessing. While Fr. Uzhunnalil appeared with an overgrown beard in the majority of photos published during his time in captivity, today’s pictures show him clean-shaven and dressed in clerics. According to L’Osservatore Romano, Fr. Uzhunnalil thanked the Pope, saying “(I) prayed for you every day, offering my suffering for your mission and for the good of the Church.” These words, the newspaper reports, moved the Pope to tears. A Salesian missionary, Fr. Uzhunnalil first garnered the world’s attention when he was kidnapped March 4, 2016, during an attack on a Missionaries of Charity home in Aden, Yemen, that left 16 people dead, including four Sisters. His international profile grew when rumors spread that he was to be crucified on Good Friday, which were later discredited. After that, numerous photos and videos were released depicting Fr. Uzhunnalil, thin and with an overgrown beard, pleading for help and for his release, saying that his health was deteriorating and he was in need of hospitalization. In comments to L’Osservatore Romano, Fr. Uzhunnalil said he couldn’t celebrate Mass while in captivity, but “every day inside, in my heart, I repeated the words of the celebration.” The priest remarked that he would continue to pray “for all those who were beside me spiritually,” and offered a special word of remembrance for the 16 people who died during the attack in which he was kidnapped. He also offered thanks to the government of Oman, in particular Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, and to the Holy See for their role in brokering his release. On his part, Pope Francis embraced Fr. Uzhunnalil and told him that he would continue to pray for him, as he had every day while the priest was imprisoned. Visibly moved, the Pope then gave the priest his blessing, L’Osservatore Romano reported. Accompanying Fr. Uzhunnalil was Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and a member of the Pope’s Council of Cardinal advisers. In comments to L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that after this “terrible experience, the essential message that Tom is about to convey is that ‘Jesus is great and loves us.’” He recalled the words of the priest, who after being released said, “Truly, every day I felt Jesus next to me, I always knew and felt in my heart that I was not alone.” In a Sept. 13 letter, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, Major Rector of the Salesian order, said Fr. Uzhunnalil arrived to their community around 6 p.m. Sept. 12, having flown to Rome directly from the Muscat airport in Oman. He said Fr. Uzhunnalil will stay with them for a few days in order to ensure that he has medical treatment and time to rest, and also “to be able to embrace him in the name of all brother Salesians and the entire Salesian family.” Artime said that while they were aware that discussions were underway with the priest’s kidnappers, the community did not know that Fr. Uzhunnalil had been freed until he was already on his way to Rome. He stressed that “the Salesian Congregation was not asked for any ransom payment,” and said they are unaware of any payment that may have been made to ensure Fr. Uzhunnalil’s release. The rector offered his thanks to the various parties involved in securing Fr. Uzhunnalil’s release, as well as all those who kept the priest in their prayers. Fr. Uzhunnalil’s freedom, he said, “is a motivation to continue to respond in the future with utmost fidelity and authenticity to the call and to the charism he has entrusted to us, and to which Fr. Tom has given his life: the announcement of Jesus and his Gospel, preaching to young boys, girls and youth throughout the world, among them, the poor and abandoned.” In a separate article published on the Salesian Information Agency, it was noted that after his arrival, one of Fr. Uzhunnalil’s first requests was to pray in the Salesian community’s chapel in the Vatican, and to celebrate Mass. Due to the necessity of immediate medical examinations, he was not able to celebrate Mass right away, but he asked if he could go to confession before the medical staff arrived, since he not had the opportunity while in captivity. The article says Fr. Tom was treated to a traditional Indian meal later that night. In sharing his experience with the community, the priest said he never once felt that his life was in danger, and that at one point, his captors provided medicine for his diabetes. No official date was given for when Fr. Uzhunnalil will return to India, however, he is expected to go back to Kerala within a few days.   Read more

Council of Cardinals says more youth, women needed in Roman Curia

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2017 / 09:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One of the key talking points in the latest round of meetings for the Pope’s Council of Cardinals was the selection of personnel in the Roman Curia, with an emphasis on making it more international with a higher number of young people and women. The cardinals gathered for the 21st time in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace from Sept 11-13 to discuss the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia. Commonly referred to as the “C9,” the group was established by Pope Francis after his election in 2013 to advise him in matters of Church governance and reform. Each one of the nine members of the group was present for this week’s meetings, apart from Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, who is currently on leave while facing abuse charges in Australia. In comments to journalists during a Sept. 13 press briefing, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said that as of now, no one is stepping in for Cardinal Pell during his leave, and that Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Coordinator of the Council for the Economy, is holding down the fort. Pope Francis himself was absent for the first day of meetings due to his recent trip to Colombia, but was present for the rest of the sessions apart from Wednesday morning, when he was at the weekly general audience. In addition to reviewing the status of previous proposals given to the Pope regarding the reform of the Curia, members also took time for a special reflection on past speeches Francis has given on the topic. Texts examined in the previous round of meetings, which took place in June, included proposals for the dicasteries for Interreligious Dialogue, Eastern Churches, Legislative Texts, and the three courts of the Roman Curia: the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signatura, and the Roman Rota. Led by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, the reflection focused primarily on the speeches given by the Pope during his annual Christmas audiences with the Roman Curia, the consistories of February and October 2015, and his speech for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops in 2015. In his comments to the press, Burke said specific themes discussed by the cardinals were the role of the Curia as “an instrument of evangelization and service for the Pope and the local Churches,” decentralization, the role of apostolic nunciatures and the “selection and competence” of curial personnel. Specifically, Burke said four points were brought up in regards to Curia personnel. Namely, that the Curia be “less clerical, more international” and that there is “an increase in young people and women” among their ranks. The role of young people, laity and women is something Pope Francis has emphasized strongly throughout his pontificate, as is the need for a more international Church that is less “Euro-centric.” In fact, the laity, youth and the role of women were the three key points Francis brought up to the bishops of Latin America in his audience with CELAM during his visit to Colombia, in which he said these three categories are the faces of hope on the continent. They also seem to be the faces of his vision for the Church and, more specifically, for those who work in the Roman Curia. In his speech to the Curia Dec. 22, 2016, which is among the texts reflected on by the C9, Pope Francis said that when it comes to Curial officials, “in addition to priests and consecrated persons, the catholicity of the Church must be reflected in the hiring of personnel from throughout the world.” This “catholicity” must also be reflected in the presence of “permanent deacons and lay faithful carefully selected on the basis of their unexceptionable spiritual and moral life and their professional competence,” he said. In this view, “it is fitting to provide for the hiring of greater numbers of the lay faithful, especially in those dicasteries where they can be more competent than clerics or consecrated persons.” He also stressed that “of great importance is an enhanced role for women and lay people in the life of the Church and their integration into roles of leadership in the dicasteries, with particular attention to multiculturalism.” In addition to Curial personnel, the cardinals also discussed Pope Francis’ recent Motu Proprio “Magnum Principium,” which have more power to local bishops in the translation and approval of liturgical texts, and it’s implications for the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Prefect of the Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, also addressed the group, speaking Tuesday about updates in his dicastery. Later this afternoon, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will address the group on the latest work of the diastery, also known as “Propaganda Fide,” which was a focus of June’s meetings. The cardinals also re-read the statutes of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, which was announced by the Pope in 2015 and established in 2016, and is headed by Cardinal Kevin Farrell. Cardinal Farrell also made an appearance at the C9 meetings, and gave his fellow prelates an update on the dicastery’s work. Cardinal Sean O’Malley also briefed the group on the most recent work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he was tapped to lead in 2014. O’Malley is slated to meet with the Pope individually later this afternoon. In response to journalists, Burke said the meeting would naturally involve the commission’s work, but would touch on other topics, though he did no elaborate which. The Council of Cardinals’ next round of meetings is set to take place from Dec. 11-13 in the Vatican. Read more

Pope Francis: Colombia is proof that love is stronger than death

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wendesday Pope Francis recalled his recent visit to Colombia, saying the desire for peace in the country is proof that the violence of their past doesn’t have the last word, but rather, the love and mercy of Christ. “Colombia, like most Latin American countries, is a country in which the Christian roots are strong,” the Pope said in his Sept. 13 general audience. “And if this fact makes the pain due to the tragedy of the war that has torn it apart even more acute, at the same time it constitutes the guarantee of peace, the solid foundation of it’s reconstruction, the lifeblood of it’s invincible hope,” he said. Given it’s recent bloody past, Francis said “it’s evident that the Evil One wanted to divide the people in order to destroy the work of God, but it is equally evident that love of Christ and his infinite mercy is stronger than sin and death.” The Pope spoke to pilgrims present at his general audience, which took place just two days after he returned from his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia. The visit, which marked Francis’ third tour of South America since his election in 2013, took him to a total of four cities, including Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín and Cartagena. In his audience address, the Pope said that while in Colombia, he felt a strong continuity with Bl. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, who visited the country in 1968 and 1986, respectively. He described it as “a continuity strongly animated by the Spirit, which guides the people of God on the streets of history.” Pointing to the theme of the trip, “Let us take the first step,” he said it refers to the process of reconciliation Colombia is going through after more than 50 years of conflict between the government and guerrilla and paramilitary groups. Colombia, he said, is trying “to go out of a half century of internal conflict, which has sown suffering and enmities, causing many wounds that are difficult to heal.” However, he said that “with the help of God the path is now underway,” adding that during his visit he wanted to “bless the effort of that people, confirm them in faith and in hope, and receive their testimony, which is a richness for my ministry and for the entire Church.” “This visit was intended to bring the blessing of Christ, the blessing of the Church, to the desire for life and peace which overflows from the heart of that nation,” he said. Francis then recounted the different stages of his visit to Colombia, recalling how in Bogotá he was able to see this desire in the eyes of the “thousands and thousands of children, teenagers and young people” who came to meet him at the Apostolic Nunciature, where he stayed during his visit. He also noted that he was able to meet the bishops of Colombia and all of Latin America, and gave thanks “that I could embrace them and for having given them my pastoral encouragement for their mission in service to the sacramental Church of Christ.” Then in Villavicencio, the day was dedicated to reconciliation, and included a large gathering for national reconciliation and a Mass in which the Pope beatified the two modern martyrs Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve and Fr. María Ramírez Ramos. The two martyrs, he said, was a reminder “that peace is founded also and above all on the blood of the many witnesses of love, truth, justice and even the true and real martyrs killed for the faith, like the two mentioned.” Listening to their biographies “was moving to tears: tears of pain and joy together,” he said. And in front of their relics and their faces “the holy people of God felt their own identity strongly, with pain, thinking of the many, too many, victims, and with joy, for the mercy of God extending toward those who fear him.” Then in Medellín, the perspective for the day was that of “Christian life as discipleship: vocation and mission,” Francis said. “When Christians commit themselves until the end in the journey following Jesus Christ, becoming true salt, light and leaven in the world, and the fruits are seen abundantly,” he said, explaining that one of these fruits was the children’s home he visited for youth who have lost their families due to violence or poverty.   Finally, the Pope drew attention to his visit to Cartagena, where St. Peter Claver lived. The saint, who was referenced in many of Francis’ speeches during the trip, was an “apostle of the slaves,” he said. St. Peter Claver and St. Maria Bernarda Bütler, a missionary in Colombia, “gave their lives for the poor and marginalized, and so revealed the path to true revolution; evangelical, not ideological, which truly frees people and society from the slavery of yesterday and, unfortunately, today,” he said. In this sense, “taking the first step” means above all “drawing near, bending down, touching the flesh of the wounded and abandoned brother,” the Pope said. “And in doing it with Christ, the Lord became a salve for us. Thanks to him there is hope, because he is mercy and peace.” Pope Francis closed his address by entrusting Colombia to the care and intercession of Our Lady of  Chiquinquirá, whose statue he venerated in the cathedral of  Bogotá. “With the help of Mary, each Colombian can everyday take the first step toward their brother and sister, and so build together, day by day, peace and love, in justice and in truth.” After his audience, Pope Francis greeted individuals and groups of pilgrims from different countries around the world, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who became Catholic in 2007 and has established several foundations and non-profit organizations based on faith and global advancement. Read more

St. Peter’s Bones? Maintenance Worker Makes Surprising Discovery

During routine restoration of a nearly 1,000 year-old church, a worker discovered bone fragments in clay pots, which may belong to St. Peter, three other popes, and four early Church martyrs. Read more

How the US needs to stick up for the Middle East’s Christians

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christians in the Middle East are heroic witnesses to the faith, and the U.S. must help ensure they can stay in their homelands in peace, a Maronite bishop who is a leading advocate for the reg… Read more

Stories of Fr. Stanley Rother, from those who knew him

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 13, 2017 / 03:16 am (CNA).- Unlikely.  It’s a word often used to describe the story of Fr. Stanley Rother, an unlikely priest who came from an unlikely place in the middle of Oklahoma to take on an unlikely task and die an unlikely death, who is now on the unlikely path of becoming a canonized saint.   All of it certainly seemed unlikely, at least for a while, to Fr. Stanley’s little sister, Sr. Marita, who has been a religious sister since the age of 17.  One never really considers that saints could be found within one’s own family, Sister Marita told CNA.  “As young people, when we learned about the saints, their backgrounds, why they became a saint, we said: ‘How did they do it? We could never do that!’” Sr. Marita recalled.  “And then you see something like this in reality, and it puts a whole new perspective on life, on God’s purpose in our life and why we’re here.”  Sr. Marita’s big brother will be beatified in Oklahoma City on September 23. Pope Francis officially recognized his martyrdom, clearing the way for his beatification, in December 2016.  Fr. Stanley was killed in 1981 while serving at a mission parish in Guatemala, at which he had been stationed for 13 years. While at the mission, he had built schools, hospitals, wells and a Catholic radio station, as well as a strong rapport with and love for the people there. In the midst of Guatemala’s civil war, Fr. Stanley briefly left the country in 1981, but returned to be with his parishioners, which cost him his life.  For those who knew him as he was growing up, the idea that Stanley would become a great leader in the faith on the path to canonization would have seemed, well, unlikely. Growing up with quiet, ‘occasionally ornery’ Stanley “He was quiet, kind of bashful in a sense, so was I,” Sr. Marita said. “Introverted or whatever you want to call it.”  She said she remembered teachers calling Stanley, herself and their next brother Jim the “three little bears” at school “because we were just like stairsteps” – very close in age. Stanley was well-behaved – they all were – at school, said Sr. Marita, because in a the small German Catholic town of Okarche, Oklahoma, surrounded by siblings and cousins and relatives, word spread fast if you decided to act up.  But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get up to the occasional “ornery” thing on the farm, Sr. Marita added.  One time in particular stood out to her. She was checking the hen house for eggs with Stanley when he asked her to reach up and check under a hen that she was sure had already been checked.  “And I said ‘well you just did it,’ and he said ‘I didn’t do that one.’ So I reached in,” Sr. Marita recalled.  But instead of grabbing a chicken egg, she got a hold of a big (non-venomous) bull snake that had been hiding out in the chicken house.   “And that made me really mad at him, so I chased him to the house for it,” Sr. Marita recalled.  “He got halfway there and I picked up a can from the yard and flung it at him…and it hit him right over the eye. He had a scar there the rest of his life,” she said. “I got in trouble for that one, because I could have hit him in the eye.” “But that was probably the orneriest thing he did. That was such a scare for me, and he thought it was so funny, and he knew that it wouldn’t hurt me,” she said, laughing.  Stanley was busy helping his parents on the farm, and became president of the school’s chapter of Future Farmers of America, an agricultural club.  He was talented at farming, Sr. Marita said, but he couldn’t ignore God’s call. Fostering a vocation  There are some things about Fr. Stanley’s story that are not so unlikely.  The fact that his vocation was fostered in the family home in Okarche, Oklahoma, where life revolved around family, farming, and the Catholic schools and parishes, seems very likely.  In fact, there was a lot of discernment about vocations within the Rother family. Sr. Marita said she doesn’t remember who told their parents first, but she and Stanley both declared that they were pursuing vocations the same summer – he would enter seminary, and she would enter religious life. Stanley had just finished high school, and Sr. Marita still had a year left. They hadn’t discussed their decisions with each other before telling their parents.  “We never talked about it that much in the family,” she said, as far as discerning vocations.  But they were surrounded by family and friends who shared their morals and values, and they prayed together daily.  “We went to Mass, and any time there was prayer in the church we were there. The school was a tremendous support as far as building on what the family had done, and the rosary in our family was an everyday occurrence,” Sr. Marita said.  “After our evening meal we knew that we would kneel for a good 20 minutes, it was our prayer time. And I don’t think we realized the importance of that until we moved on in life.”  The Rother’s parents, Franz and Gertrude, were supportive of their vocations, although they did report that the dinner table felt a little lonelier when it suddenly shrank from six to four. Bright, but in unexpected ways  Never much for academics, Stanley would struggle when he entered seminary in San Antonio, Texas.  Latin was particularly difficult for him, so much so that he ended up failing out of his first seminary. When he returned to his home diocese, they offered him a second chance at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  There, he was able to receive the tutoring he needed to eventually graduate and be ordained.  Fr. Donald Wolf is the second cousin of Fr. Stanley Rother, on his mother’s side. Fr. Wolf told CNA that while everyone would “make a big deal” out of Fr. Stanley’s “not being very bright” academically, Fr. Stanley excelled in other areas.  “Everybody makes a big deal of the fact that he was asked to leave the seminary, he was never any good at Latin, and his studies were just not the first thing on his mind,” Fr. Wolf said.  “But he was, as his father was, a really really good mechanic. Not just that he kind of knew how to fix things, I mean he was really brilliant at that kind of stuff, and really really capable,” he recalled.  “So one of the things that marked his life was his mastery of those things – carpentry and masonry and plumbing and mechanics in a really remarkable way. So he did not think of himself as a failure, nor did his family. It was one of those attributes which his father had times 10 – his ability to solve problems, and his sense that he could do anything.” The perfect fit: called to mission When Stanley was still in seminary, Pope St. John XXIII asked the churches of North America to establish missions in Central America. Soon after, the diocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people. Five years after he was ordained, Fr. Stanley asked to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life. Although Guatemala was a long way from Okarche, the decision seemed to make sense to everyone – priests, family and Fr. Stanley himself believed this mission would be a “perfect fit,” Fr. Wolf said.  “Part of that was he just never fit in very well around here” as a priest in the diocese, Fr. Wolf said.   “He wasn’t very articulate, he wasn’t pushing for change everywhere, he wasn’t one of those guys who could attract notice…so when he volunteered to go to the mission, to do the kind of things that he could do well – taking care of the mechanical needs, taking care of the plants, making sure the plumbing worked and that the electricity stays on – everyone figured that was a perfect position for him, and he figured that it was a perfect position for him.”Fr. Stanley, tri-lingual pastor extraordinaire For Sr. Marita, however, finding out her brother volunteered to go on mission to Guatemala was kind of a shock. The two had had limited contact since joining religious life, and communicated mostly through letters, in which Fr. Stanley never expressed a desire for the missions. “I had no idea he was leaning in that direction,” she recalled.  It wasn’t until she was able to visit him in Guatemala – once in 1973 and again in 1978 – that she was able to watch him in action and see how well it suited him.  By that time, Stanley, the Latin flunkie, had mastered Spanish and the local native Tzutuhil dialect, and had won over the hearts of the people, who seemed to swarm around him everywhere he went, she recalled.  “To see him in that vein was a grace, because I did not know that about him, how compassionate he was with people, how he responded with the young people, they would flock around him, come to chat when they saw him coming down the road.” She said she remembered watching him help some young people fix a truck that had broken down – a chance to use his master mechanical skills. During his time at the mission, he also built a farmers’ co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, which was used for transmitting catechesis to the even more remote villages. “He evolved very quickly into his role as pastor, as someone who was tri-lingual. He was, it would appear, perfectly equipped to take care of the challenges of the people in the middle of the challenges of that place,” Fr. Wolf said. ‘Absolute, resolute stubbornness’ Over the years, the violence of an ongoing Guatemalan civil war inched closer to Fr. Stanley’s once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people. “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” Fr. Stanley wrote in a letter home, which would become his signature quote.   “Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.” In 1980-1981, the situation reached a boiling point. At the behest of friends and family and with his name on a hit list, Fr. Stanley returned to Oklahoma for a few months in January 1981. But as the weeks and months went on and as Easter approached, he was anxious to get back to the mission.  “He really did become one of them, and they claimed him as one of them, so when you leave someone you really love, you want to be there for them,” Sr. Marita said.  In Guatemala, Holy Week is “a lived experience, it’s not just portrayal, so he wanted to be back for that, and celebrate that with them,” Sr. Marita recalled. Sr. Marita was able to visit Fr. Stanley while he was home that winter. It was the last time she would see her older brother alive.  “As we talked about it, I realized more and more, that no matter what any of us said, he knew that he had to listen to how God was speaking to him (and return). And we accepted that, we weren’t too surprised that that was what he wanted to do.”  But not everyone was so supportive of his decision. Fr. Wolf said for years, many people, including people within the family, considered Fr. Stanley’s decision to leave the safety of the United States and face almost certain death as another sign that he just wasn’t very bright.  “One of my uncles in particular just was not at all impressed with Stanley’s decision to do this,” Fr. Wolf said.  Still, it wasn’t surprising to anyone who knew Fr. Stanley or the Rother family that once his mind was made up, there was little anyone could do to change it.  “One of the attributes of the Rother family – just ask around – is absolute, resolute stubbornness that they’re going to do what they’re going to do,” he said.  “And the Lord builds the supernatural upon the natural, and that was one of the natural attributes that he worked with, because Stanley was not going to be deterred.”  “But if you ever spent 10 minutes with his father you’d know that that’s something he came by perfectly naturally. His father, his father’s brothers, my mother, her brothers and sister – I mean it is a pretty tough crowd,” Fr. Wolf added with a laugh.  So Fr. Stanley returned in time to celebrate Easter with his people. A few months later, at 1:30 in the morning on July 28, 1981, three armed hitmen broke into the rectory where Fr. Stanley was sleeping. They were known for their kidnappings, and wanted to turn Father Stanley into one of “the missing.” Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, Fr. Stanley struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Fr. Stanley was dead. The men fled the mission grounds.Fr. Stanley’s legacy  While the rest of Fr. Stanley’s body was buried in Okarche, his heart remained in Guatemala, and will become a relic once he’s beatified.  Sr. Marita said that in Guatemala, they were quick to call him a martyr, while the legacy of her brother’s witness continued to grow in Oklahoma over the years.  “Bishop (Eusebius) Beltran told my parents that he’ll be considered a saint one day, and they felt very strong about it, they had that to dream about at least before they died,” she said.  Gertrude Rother would pass away in 1987, just a few years after her son, and Franz Rother died in 2000. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City officially started working on the cause of Fr. Stanley in 2007, though the church in Guatemala had already gotten it off the ground.  “When they started doing the interviewing it became more of a reality to everybody, that it would be for promoting his cause,” Sr. Marita said.  “It really is difficult for me to express in certain terms, but I am deeply grateful and proud of him. It’s an awesome experience, one that you would never dream of in your own family,” she said.  When asked what she hoped others learned from her brother’s witness, Sr. Marita said she hoped they would notice the steadfast faith with which he answered the call of God and gave his last breath serving others.  “It goes way back to his ordination card, which said: ‘For myself I am a Christian, for the sake of others I am a priest,’” she said.  “I feel like he really lived that out. I think young people today don’t know if they’re called to the priesthood or religious life, but we have to listen to the first call – come follow me – and then every day continue to follow him and hear that call from him.”  Fr. Wolf echoed her sentiments.  “It was his yes to what he was called to,” he said, “that manifests itself with his desire to remain there and to serve the people.”  “But it began when he said yes to his first invitation to vocation, when he said yes even after failing out of seminary, when he said yes at his ordination, and when he said yes to going to the mission and his yes to remain there after all the other Oklahomans had left.”  Fr. Rother will be beatified Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. The Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and concelebrated by Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City.   It will likely be a fitting celebration for a life of most unlikely circumstances. Read more

For the first time, the papal nuncio to Italy is not Italian

Rome, Italy, Sep 13, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time ever, a non-Italian will serve as apostolic nuncio, or papal ambassador, to Italy. On Sept. 12, Pope Francis appointed Swiss-born diplomat Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig as his n… Read more