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This couple gave up everything to help Sudanese refugees in Uganda

CNA General News - 49 min 49 sec ago

Arua, Uganda, Feb 24, 2018 / 01:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Selling everything and moving to Uganda to work with refugees is not likely on many people's to-do list. In fact, it's probably the last thing most would consider, especially for a young couple hoping to start a family.

Yet this is exactly what happened to Rachel and Rich Mastrogiacomo when a chain of devastating events and realizations eventually led the couple to undertake one of the most radical and unexpected adventures of their lives – one that would take them to the edge of a war zone in the heart of east Africa, bring them face to face with abject poverty and eventually lead them to the recent adoption of their new daughter.

 

Though seeds were planted in both of their lives much earlier, the story began when the two got married in 2014. Like any other couple, they were excited about their new life together and eager to start a family.

 

However, this initial enthusiasm was quickly replaced by pangs of sadness and disappointment as the couple slowly began to realize, after months of trying to become pregnant, that they were facing infertility.

 

This pain was sharpened when, after becoming foster parents with the Family Missions Company in 2017 in hopes of adopting the three little ones who came to stay with them, the children were unexpectedly returned to their birth mother, again dashing their hopes of becoming parents.

 

It was after this that Rachel and Rich began to feel an inkling that they were being called to something specific – something they would discover through a process of prayer and radical openness to God's will and the signs that he provided along the way.

“It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”

Shortly after their foster children were removed, Rachel and Rich attended a healing Mass. At the end, after receiving the anointing of the sick, Rachel was praying when a woman tapped her on shoulder, and told her, “When you went up to receive the anointing of the sick, I heard Jesus say, 'She will be a mother to many.' You're healed.”

 

Around the same time, Rich – who says he never has dreams – had a very vivid dream of his wife standing on brownish-reddish dirt with trees all around. In the dream, Rachel was holding a baby and was surrounded by children, and as he looked at her, she smiled back at him with a peaceful expression.

 

Immediately after the dream, Rich began to research South Sudan, and came across multiple articles detailing the horrors of the country's ongoing conflict and the millions who, having fled war and famine in their homeland, are now living as refugees in neighboring countries. Uganda in particular has been one of the main refugee destinations.

 

After reading about the situation in South Sudan, Rich began emailing bishops in the area, and immediately got a response from Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua, in northern Uganda, saying Rich's email was an “answer to prayer,” as he had more than a million Sudanese refugees in his diocese and had been praying for lay missionaries to come from America.

 

The contact with Bishop Odoki – whose diocese sits closely along the border with both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – was seen as providential by Rachel and Rich, because ever since she was 10-years-old, Rachel had a special love for Sudan after her father put an image of starving Sudanese children her age on the refrigerator in hopes of fostering a sense of gratitude in her.

 

The image stuck with Rachel and was in many ways the spark of her desire to be a missionary, and when they got married, both Rachel and Rich had felt a strong call to live a missionary life.

 

So when Bishop Odoki said he wanted them to come and serve for a month-long “trial run,” the choice was obvious. The couple sold everything and went to Arua in the spring of 2017 with the Family Missions Company.

 

“There are no words to describe the intense human suffering that we saw among the refugees,” Rachel told CNA Feb. 22.

 

“It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, unlike slum poverty. Never have we seen such a vast amount of people living in such poor conditions,” she continued.

 

South Sudan has been split by a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years. Driven largely by political motives, the conflict has so far prompted some 4 million citizens to flee the country in search of peace, food and work. In August 2017, shortly before Rachel and Rich traveled to Uganda, the African nation had taken in their one-millionth refugee, and the number has continued to climb.

 

Roughly 85 percent of the refugee settlements Rachel and Rich served are made up of women and children, and while many humanitarian organizations on the ground try to help meet basic needs, “the overall need is absolutely overwhelming.”

 

They specifically visited the Palorinya refugee settlement in Uganda's Moyo region, which is the second biggest camp in northern Uganda and as of November 2017 housed some 185,000 refugees, according to Reuters.

 

While in Arua, Rachel and Rich were able to tour the diocese and participate in the centenary celebration of Moyo Catholic parish, which is the first parish of the diocese of Arua. They also spent time visiting orphans, schoolchildren and youth in prison, and distributed both gifts and donations.

 

“[We] just loved on the kids,” Rachel said, and recalled what she said is one of her favorite memories of the trip. As they were visiting a school, Rachel and Rich entered one classroom and the children immediately began singing: “The Lord is calling you. You are welcome to lead us all into His kingdom.”

 

The song “touched our hearts deeply,” she said, explaining that throughout the entire month “we experienced the joy of the Gospel in a fresh and new way. The faith of the people is vibrant; God is their treasure.”

 

While the basic needs of those living in the camps are many, Rachel said that spiritually speaking, “the greatest need we found was the need to be heard.”

 

“Pope Francis speaks about a ministry of listening, and this concept came alive for us while we were in the refugee camps,” she said, explaining that when they eventually return to Uganda, they plan to help with spiritual formation, since general catechesis and sacramental preparation are often lacking.

 

“The people are hungry for more than just food; they truly are hungry for God,” she said.

 

As the month drew to a close, Rachel said she, her husband and Bishop Odoki all experienced an “overwhelming confirmation” that God was inviting the couple to serve there as full time lay missionaries and live as spiritual parents to the many children and orphans in need.

 

So while they already see Uganda as their new home, Rachel and Rich headed back to the United States to get things in order. But the story doesn't end there.

 

Just three days after returning to the U.S., Rich got a phone call from a lawyer who helps facilitate private adoption, saying a woman had selected him and Rachel to adopt her baby.

 

“The phone call came out of left field, when we least expected it! Truly, it was wild,” Rachel said.

 

Rich and Rachel had been in touch with the lawyer several years before, but hadn't spoken to her since.

 

However, she had saved their profile, and as the mother was looking through the stack of possible adoptive parents for her unborn child, she was “moved” when she saw Rachel and Rich's profile and wanted to know more about them.

 

According to Rachel, when it was explained to the mother that the couple were missionaries living in Uganda, “it struck a deep chord,” as the woman herself was an orphan who had been adopted from Guatemala.

 

The mother had initially scheduled an abortion during the time that Rachel and Rich were in Uganda, but decided against it and reached out to a crisis pregnancy center. When she heard about Rachel and Rich, she wanted her unborn daughter to be with them, as she had fond memories of the Catholic nuns who raised her until she was adopted.

 

“We always felt open to adoption, but trusted that God would make it happen in His time,” Rachel said. “It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”

 

The little girl, who Rachel and Rich named Chiara Maria de Guadalupe Mastrogiacomo, was born Feb. 18.

 

Both Rachel and Rich were present when their daughter was born. “We wept tears of joy and continue to do so. She has taken our breath away,” Rachel said, adding, “truly, God has turned our mourning into dancing!”

 

Once the adoption is finalized and little Chiara Maria gets her passport, Rachel and Rich will return to Uganda with their new daughter and continue to serve as lay missionaries in the Arua diocese under the guidance of Bishop Odoki.

 

While they will wait for Odoki to give them instructions when they arrive, Rachel said she believes they will travel to the refugee settlements in order to provide catechesis, sacramental preparation and trauma counseling.

 

Rachel, who graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, holds degrees in theology and religious education, while Rich holds a baccalaureate in Sacred Theology and a licentiate in Spiritual Theology which he obtained from different pontifical universities.

 

Overall, Rachel said she sees their role as a “funnel of resources” from the U.S. to help this particular group and to raise awareness and funds to address the current humanitarian crisis in the area, which is “one of the most serious in the world right now.”

 

Pope Francis himself recently put a spotlight on the crisis by declaring Feb. 23, the Friday of the first full week of Lent, as a day of prayer and fasting for the DRC, South Sudan and Syria, all three of which have been ravaged by internal conflict for years.

 

Though they can cease being missionaries at any time, Rachel said she and Rich feel that their call to be missionaries is a “lifelong vocation,” and don't see themselves leaving it.

 

“Pope Francis dreams of a poor Church for the poor and a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything; this has become our dream,” she said. “We want to give everything for Christ in the disguise of the poor and marginalized of society. We want to be on the margins, with the marginalized.”

 

“That is where Jesus is,” she said, adding, “we cannot wait to return and see see how the Lord will work.” 

A funding page for Rachel and Rich can be found here

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Second Sunday of Lent: Here I am, Lord

Natl Catholic Reporter - 12 hours 24 min ago
Scripture for Life: This week's readings give us a Lenten invitation to contemplate the image of God they present. Instead of calling us to say, "Here I am," God tells us, "Behold me in the Son."

Feb. 24 Saturday of the First Week of Lent, Weekday

But Jesus told them, "Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Mark 10:5-9).

Lenten Recipe: Hot Cross Buns



Hot Cross Buns are sweet rolls marked with a cross on the top. They are a very popular Lenten treat, especially on Good Friday. There are many myths and legends surrounding the history and significance of Hot Cross Buns, but I took a special liking to the ones that I learned about from the Smithsonian.

The Four Marks of the Church: The Contemporary Crisis in Ecclesiology

Catholic World Report - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 9:00 PM
We need to mount a robust defense and clear advocacy of the Church’s four marks, for without such an apology, the Church’s identity – what [...]

Letters to the editor: Action v. Inaction, Excommunicated Catholics

Natl Catholic Reporter - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 6:07 PM
Dear Editor: Confused by Vatican actions; The importance of Nostra Aetate, Lincoln Catholics and excommunication; Looking for opportunities to proclaim Christ the Light; Politicians and abortion.

At Villanova, Archbishop Chaput talks faith and society

CNA General News - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 5:36 PM

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nation-wide violence. School shootings. Political tensions. Drugs. Unemployment. Hunger.

These are some of the illness which plague the nation, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who discussed faith as the antidote to these challenges in an address Thursday at Villanova University.

 “In my experience, this moment in our country’s history is the most conflicted and divided since the 1960s,” said Archbishop Chaput during his address.

“One of the tasks of the Church, and each of us as individual believers, is to live and work in a way that does help to make the world around us better,” he continued, noting that “there’s no healing without a good diagnosis.”

Chaput’s words were addressed to students at Villanova University in Philadelphia on Feb. 22, with a speech titled “Things to Come: Faith, State and Society in a New World.” The archbishop delved into some of society’s challenges, what has led to them, and a renewal of faith as a way to heal some of the nation’s wounds.

“The United States is the most powerful market economy in the world…and most of us would probably agree that since World War II, American democratic capitalism has reshaped much of the world; in effect, created a new world of political and economic relationships,” Chaput said.

Global market economies, Chaput continued, have benefited millions around the world by improving their opportunities, standards of living, and lifespans. They have also reshaped other dynamics, such as family, political, and educational relationships, and shifted philosophies and behaviors around the globe.

However, while noting its many benefits, Chaput also highlighted capitalism’s damaging side effects.

“A consumer market economy tends to commodify everything and recast all relationships as transactional,” Chaput said.

“In practice, it depersonalizes a culture by commercializing many of our routine human interactions. It also very easily breeds a practical atheism by revolving our lives around the desire and consumption for new things,” he continued.

While many of the country’s changes and steps in progression over the years have aided Americans, especially through medical advancements, Chaput said that the pros and cons do not balance out.

“…the benefits and deficits of change have been very unequally shared. The result has been a deep dislocation in the American sense of stability, security, common purpose, and self,” he said.

Chaput particularly pointed to the lower classes, who are promised with the lures of “sexual freedom,” and yet burdened by its consequences because of a lack of wealth. He noted destroyed marriages, fatherless children, angry males, and increased poverty and crime as a result.

Chaput also underscored the nation’s other “deep and chronic problems” of drugs, unemployment, inadequate schools, and inner-city hunger.

The Philadelphia archbishop also spotlighted the rise in secularism over recent years, saying that Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, or of no religious affiliation rose from 16 percent to 23 percent from 2007 to 2014. This shift, Chaput said, “has political and legal implications,” particularly seen in the attacks against religious freedom and human rights.

“Religious freedom – as the nation has traditionally understood it – can’t be a major concern for people who don’t respect the importance of religious faith,” Chaput said.

“Human rights, without a grounding in God or some higher moral order, are really just a matter of public consensus,” he continued.

While many leaders and politicians have promised change with various notions such as income equality and increased opportunities, or various other plans of action, Chaput believes the only antidote to the nation’s plague is a renewal of faith in God.

“The point is, God’s authority ensures human freedom,” Chaput said.

“When God leaves the stage, the state inevitably expands to fill his place. Without the biblical God, we end up in some disguised form of idolatry. And it usually involves politics,” he continued.

Despite the culture’s downfalls, Chaput said people still have the desire for beauty, relationship, and new life – all of which can be found in the treasure of the Catholic Church and its proclamation of the truth.

“People still have a need for beauty, which means that beauty has the power to evade the machinery of logic and reach right into the human soul,” he said.

According to Chaput, the nation is desperately in need of the uncompromising truth, saying that before the problem can be fixed, individuals need to wake up to the reality of its challenge.

He also encouraged Catholics to protect their identities in Christ and act as faithful witnesses to the truth, saying “this isn’t a time for Catholics to be weak or apologetic.” At the same time, Chaput also noted this proclamation of truth should be spoke with love, patience and mercy.

Ultimately, Chaput said, the nation’s future will depend on the power of “personal witness,” through every individual’s pursuit of sanctity.

“Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, liked to say that, in the end, the only thing that matters is to be a saint,” Chaput said.

“So the task tonight, when each of us leaves here, is to begin that path. And may God guide us all in pursuing it.”

Decision to stop Texas execution called 'example of restorative justice'

Natl Catholic Reporter - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 4:56 PM
The Catholic bishops of Texas praised Gov. Greg Abbott for stopping the execution of death-row inmate Thomas Whitaker shortly before he was to be put to death Feb. 22.

Pope: The Church Must Open Without Fear

Zenit News - English - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 4:46 PM

Before returning to the Vatican on Friday, February 23, 2018, Pope Francis thanked Fr. José Tolentino Mendon, who preached the meditations during the February 18-23 spiritual exercises for the Holy Father and curia. Fr.Tolentino is a Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon.

The “thank you” to conclude the week was recorded on video and released on February 23 by the Vatican. In his remarks, Pope Francis stressed that the Church must open without fear.

About 45,000 privately sponsored refugees backlogged

Catholic Register Canada - News - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 2:11 PM

As they wait to learn about 2018 quotas, sponsoring agencies are set to welcome 18,000 refugees this year, including many who have waited for years to finally start a new life in Canada. 

A backlog  of up to 45,000 privately sponsored refugees frustrates Deacon Rudy Ovcjak, director of the Archdiocese of Toronto Office for Refugees. Last year ORAT helped Toronto parishes and others welcome nearly 1,200 refugees, but that still leaves 4,000 in the pipeline. 

“While Immigration Canada may have made significant progress in reducing the backlog for spousal sponsorships, they have not had any such success with the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) backlog,” Ovjak told The Catholic Register in an email.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has promised far more refugees will be processed this year.

Average processing times for privately sponsored refugees can vary wildly. Refugees in Iraq who have Church sponsors lined up can be in Canada in 15 months. The average processing time for refugees stuck in Lebanon is 18 months.

But at the other end of the scale, refugees in Ethiopia are left waiting an average of 68 months. For refugees stuck in South Africa it’s 69 months. Canadian-sponsored refugees in India wait for an average of 81 months — nearly seven years.

“Certain IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) missions overseas have clearly not been adequately resourced to support the demand of the PSR program in that region,” said Hamilton Diocese Office of Refugees director Erin Pease.  

“Such a large backlog is, of course, not at all good for the PSR program and none of us like it,” said the Archdiocese of Edmonton’s refugee sponsorship co-ordinator Paulette Johnson. But Johnson believes Ottawa is making progress in clearing up the backlog. She’s confident that the government will keep its promise to reduce PSR wait times to an average of one year by 2020.

“We are actually impressed with what this government has been doing,” Johnson said in an email.

To get down to one-year processing times, Immigration Canada is planning to unite 57,000 refugees with their private sponsors in Canada over the next three years. Most of the sponsors are faith-based groups who undertake to absorb the costs and provide the volunteer hours to ensure refugees settle successfully in Canada. From 2018 to 2020, Canada will annually welcome about four times the yearly average over the previous decade — numbers Canada’s private sponsors haven’t seen since the Boat People from Vietnam began arriving 30 years ago.

In Hamilton, Pease is more cautious about the government’s plans to get refugee wait times down to one year.

“One concern with IRCC’s 2018-2020 Immigration Levels Plan is that it is not ambitious enough,” said Pease. “While PSR arrivals are set to increase in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the arrival targets are not  sufficiently high to reduce the PSR inventory to a reasonable size that can be managed within a reasonable timeframe — seemingly established by IRCC to be a 12-month term — unless significant human resource changes are made at key IRCC missions overseas.”

Pease points out that the government has had some success in drawing down the massive backlog of refugees in Africa by adding more paper pushers in Dar es Salaam and Rome. Currently, it’s the vast differences between the processing times for refugees in the Middle East and refugees in Africa and South Asia that worries Pease.

“While the issue of the size of IRCC’s PSR inventory is important, a key problem that must be rectified is ensuring that processing timelines for all PSR applicants are in closer alignment, irrespective of the country of asylum in the world where a refugee finds herself,” she said.

In addition to bringing in larger numbers, the government is limiting the number of new sponsorships church groups can apply for. “How could they reduce a backlog without reducing input?” asks Johnson.

In total, Sponsorship Agreement Holders across Canada were allowed to submit 7,500 new cases last year. This year they will be allowed 8,000 new applications, though how many applications individual sponsoring agencies will be allocated won’t be revealed until the end of February.

Edmonton parishes sent delegations out to the airport last year to greet refugees they had been waiting for since 2011, though most were cases that had been submitted in 2015 or 2016.

“It was so wonderful to have them (IRCC) finally process those old cases,” Johnson said.

Gaza explosion would reverberate regionally

Natl Catholic Reporter - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 1:55 PM
Thirteen years after Israel withdrew its settlers and military from the Gaza Strip, this 140-square-mile narrow patch of land that is one 10th the size of the smallest U.S. state of Rhode Island, is on the verge of a total infrastructural and economic collapse. 

Pope Francis returns to Rome after week of spiritual exercises

CNA General News - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 1:40 PM

Vatican City, Feb 23, 2018 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis returned from his week-long Lenten spiritual exercises in Ariccia, where he and members of the Roman Curia have been on their annual retreat since Sunday afternoon.

Before boarding the bus that would take him back to Vatican City, Francis thanked the priest who preached the exercises for his reflections and for encouraging members of the Curia to be open to the Holy Spirit and not stuck in bureaucratic structures.

“Thank you, Father, for having spoken of the Church, for having made us, this small flock, feel the Church,” the Pope said Feb. 23.

He thanked Fr. José Tolentino de Mendonça for reminding them that “the Church is not a cage for the Holy Spirit,” and also voiced thanks for receiving a warning “not to shrink it with our bureaucratic worldliness!”

Fr. Tolentino is a Portuguese priest, poet, and Biblical theologian who preached during the spiritual exercises, which this year focused on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”

De Mendonça is vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and has been a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011. He was ordained a priest in 1990 and completed his master's degree in Biblical Studies in Rome before later obtaining a doctorate in biblical theology from the Portuguese Catholic University, where he later taught as an assistant professor.

In his brief greeting at the end of the retreat, Pope Francis also thanked De Mendonça for helping them understand how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of non-believers and those of other religious confessions, saying the Holy Spirit is “universal, he is the Spirit of God, who is for everyone.”

Francis noted that there are many people today like the centurions and the guards at Peter's prison who live with an “an inner search” and who know how to tell when there is “something that calls” them.

He thanked De Mendonça for the call “to opening ourselves without fear, without rigidity, for being malleable in the Spirit and not mummified within our structures that close us off.”

The Pope also noted how he had declared Friday as a day of prayer and fasting for South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria, saying the spiritual retreat is extended through the offerings they will make on behalf of the war-torn countries.

Held Feb. 18-23, this year's curial Lenten spiritual exercises began Sunday evening with adoration and vespers. The rest of the week followed a basic schedule beginning with Mass at 7:30 a.m., followed by the first meditation of the day.

In the afternoon, a second meditation was preached before concluding with adoration and vespers. Friday, the final day of the exercises, consisted of only a morning meditation. Pope Francis and the curia then left the retreat house, returning to the Vatican at 11:15 a.m.

The exercises took place at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a town just 16 miles outside of Rome. Located on Lake Albano, the retreat house is just a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. It will be the fifth consecutive year the Pope and members of the Curia have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia.

While the practice of the Bishop of Rome going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago, it had been customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

Prayer for peace in Congo, South Sudan a call to action, cardinal says

Catholic Register Canada - News - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 1:05 PM
VATICAN – Pope Francis' call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in war-torn countries like South Sudan and Congo is also a reminder for world leaders to protect their countrymen from violence and injustice, a Vatican official said.


In an article for L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said leaders have "the duty of securing a peaceful life for their fellow citizens."

"We will ask the Lord to tear down the walls of enmity and strengthen the will of government leaders to look for peaceful solutions through dialogue and secure negotiations," the cardinal wrote in the article, published Feb. 22.

In early February, Pope Francis had called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.

"Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish; he heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds," the Pope had said.
Fighting involving government troops, rebel forces and militias continues in Congo, especially in the East, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

Expressing sadness over the violent deaths of peaceful protestors, Cardinal Turkson said the international community has "the responsibility of guaranteeing a nonviolent transition toward a new presidency in Congo."

He also highlighted the need for action in South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.

Noting that the situation was so dire that Pope Francis was forced to cancel a planned visit in 2017, the cardinal said action was needed to aid refugees and displaced people "who represent one-fourth of the population."

"They, too, are men and women, children, young and old who are looking for a place to live in peace," the cardinal said.

Cardinal Turkson said the Pope's call for a day of prayer "once again shows his care for the universal church and its closeness to the people who suffer most," as well as a way bring attention to those forgotten by the world.

The day of prayer and fasting is just the latest initiative of Pope Francis "to draw the attention of the international community to extremely painful situations of violence that do not find adequate coverage in the media," the cardinal said.

Archbishop Scicluna leaves hospital, continues abuse investigation in Chile

CNA General News - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 12:16 PM

Santiago, Chile, Feb 23, 2018 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a gallbladder surgery left him in the hospital for three days, Archbishop Charles Scicluna has been discharged, and will continue investigating allegations of abuse cover-up by a local bishop in Chile.

According to a Feb. 23 statement from the Archdiocese of Malta, Scicluna was discharged from San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago earlier today.

He will be staying at the apostolic nunciature of Chile, where he will continue to investigate allegations from several witnesses accusing Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid of Osorno of covering up abuse committed by his longtime friend, Fr. Fernando Karadima.

In 2011, Karadima was found guilty by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of sexually abusing several minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

Scicluna is the Vatican's top man on sex abuse appeals cases. In addition to heading the Archdiocese of Malta, in 2015 he was named by the Pope to oversee the team in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

He arrived in Santiago Feb. 19 to interview victims of Karadima's abuse and those opposed to the 2015 appointment of Barros as Bishop of Osorno, whom they say not only covered up for Karadima, but also at times participated in the abuse.

Prior to arriving in Santiago, Scicluna stopped in New York to interview Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima's most high-profile victims and one of Barros' most vocal opponents. He then went to Santiago to interview additional witnesses related to the Barros case.

Scicluna was admitted to the hospital in Santiago Feb. 21 after experiencing several days of abdominal pain and underwent surgery.

By order of Pope Francis, he stayed in the hospital to recover for three days while Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who accompanied Scicluna as notary for the case, took over the interviews.

However, now that he has been discharged Scicluna will continue the investigation as normal while continuing to recover at the Chilean nunciature. He is scheduled to return to Malta Feb. 25.

Archbishop Follo on the Transfiguration

Zenit News - English - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 12:09 PM

Roman Rite – Second Sunday of Lent – Year B – February 25, 2018
Gen 22.1-2.9.10-13.15-18; Ps 116; Rom. 8, 31-34; Mk 9, 2-10

Ambrosian Rite
Dt 5, 1-2. 6-21; Ps 19; Eph 4, 1-7; Jn 4, 5-42
Sunday of the Samaritan – Second Sunday of Lent

1) Temptation and Transfiguration.

On the first Sunday of Lent, we have contemplated Christ overcoming the test of hunger. It was not just a corporal hunger. Like every human being Jesus had three hungers:

  1. hunger for life that tempts man to have and to acquire a disproportionate quantity of material goods. This is why the devil asked him to turn stones into bread;
  2. hunger for human relationships that can be friendship or power. The devil tempts Christ to satisfy this hunger by offering him power;
  3. hunger for omnipotence. This hunger pushes us to stifle the desire of God and the yearning for boundless infinity and freedom inducing the temptation to design one’s own existence according to the human criteria of ease, success, power and appearance, and to yield to the worship of the Liar (the devil) instead of to the adoration of the true providential Love.

The Messiah defeated the temptation of these three hungers using, as a criterion of discernment, the fidelity to the project of God to which he fully adhered and of which He is the Word made flesh to redeem us.

Let us imitate the example of Christ “using” the Word of God as the instrument available to understand the will of God and to overcome the temptation of the three hungers: the hunger of life, the hunger of love and power, and the hunger of relationships and of God. “When you are caught by the pangs of hunger – and we can also add of temptation – let the Word of God become your bread of life, let Christ be your Bread of Life” (St. Augustine of Hippo)

From the desert – the place of test, of rebellion and where the tempter and accuser lives (First Sunday of Lent) – let’s go to the mountain of the Transfiguration, the place of God’s manifestation, his revelation, and his holiness. This is the path that the second Sunday of Lent opens before us.

Today, from the desert, which recalls that human life is an exodus and a return home that passes through the desert, the place of trial and encounter with God, we arrive at Mount Tabor, the place of transfiguration. There, the shining truth of Christ is revealed to allow those who follow him to arrive at Easter not in spite of the Cross but through the Cross.

Jesus, in fact, tells us: “If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). He tells us that, to arrive with him to the light and joy of the resurrection and to the victory of life, love, and good, we too must take the cross every day, as a beautiful page of the Imitation of Christ exhorts “Take therefore your cross and follow Jesus; thus you will enter into eternal life. He preceded you carrying his cross (Jn 19:17) and died for you so that you too may carry your cross and wish to be crucified. In fact, if you will be dead with him, with him and like him you will live. If you have been a companion in suffering, you will also be his companion in glory “(L. 2, paragraph 12, No. 2).

Therefore, let us meditate together the facts presented by these two Sundays because they anticipate the paschal mystery. The struggle of Jesus with the tempter anticipates the great final duel of the Passion, while the light of his Transfigured Body anticipates the glory of the Resurrection. On the one hand, we see Jesus fully man who shares with us even temptation. On the other, we contemplate him as Son of God who deifies our humanity.

2) Exodus of Transfiguration.

Today, the exodus, the path of liberation that we are called to fulfill, is the one of contemplation. Through contemplation, prayer becomes gaze, and our heart, which is the “center” of our soul, opens up to the light of Christ’s love.

In this way, we can understand the journey that the liturgy of this Sunday indicates to us: that of a pilgrim who carries out the exodus that leads him to the Promised Land: eternal Life with Christ.

It is a journey full of nostalgia, precariousness, and weakness, but also full of the hope of those who have the heart wounded by the beloved. It is full of light because “the ‘brightness’ that characterizes the extraordinary event of the Transfiguration, symbolizes its purpose: to illuminate the minds and hearts of the disciples so that they can clearly understand who their Master is. It is a flash of light that suddenly opens itself on the mystery of Jesus, and illuminates his whole person and his whole life “(Pope Francis).

It is true that to follow the Lord is to be crucified with Him. It is true that at every step the wounds of pain pierce our heart. Evil is true, sin is true, death is true. But the Transfiguration of everything is also true, and the beauty that surpasses and gives meaning to everything is true: “In the passion of Christ … the experience of beauty receives a new depth, a new realism. The One who is “Beauty in himself “ let himself be struck on his face, covered with spits, crowned with thorns … But in that disfigured face appears the authentic extreme Beauty of the Love that loves” to the end ” showing itself stronger than any lie and violence.

An example of how to grasp this transfigured beauty comes to us from the consecrated virgins. In a special way, these women testify to three specific aspects of the Christian.

The first is to give themselves in complete abandonment to Christ because they lovingly trust his Love, “who does not hesitate to undress from external beauty to announce the Truth of Beauty” (Joseph Ratzinger). With their consecrated virginity, these women announce precisely the crucified beauty, the transfigured beauty, his beauty which is our true beauty.

The second is that of witnessing, in their life lived as a virgin, the need to descend from the Mount to return to the evangelizing mission of the Lord, a mission that passes through the Cross and proclaims the Resurrection that is nothing else but the Transfiguration made eternal in the Humanity of the Lord.

The third is to show that listening is the main dimension of the disciple of Christ. Today’s Gospel tells: “This is my beloved Son: listen to him!” (Mk 9: 7).

In a world that has the habit of speaking so many words (it would be better saying: to chat), these women are constantly listening to the Word and, following the example of the Virgin Mary, become “virgins of listening and mothers of the Word”.

The Father asks each of us to be a listener of the Word, whose words are words of life because, through the Cross, they purify from every dead work and unite to God and to the brothers.

This Word needs a place (our heart). It needs to go deep in it and to die there like a seed, to put root, to grow, to sprout and to resist the storms and bad weather like a house built on the Rock.

For it to be heard, this Word needs attention, but also silence. Inner and outer silence are necessary for this word to be heard. This is a particularly difficult point for us in our time. In fact, ours is an age in which meditation is not encouraged; on the contrary, sometimes, one gets the impression that there is a fear of detaching himself, even for a moment, from the river of words and images that mark and fill the days.

The secluded life of the consecrated virgins shows how important it is to educate ourselves to the value of silence because with it we accept the Word of God in our personal and ecclesial life, valuing meditation and inner calm. Without silence one does not hear, one does not listen, one does not receive the Word and what it says. This observation of St. Augustine is always valid: Verba crescente, verba deficiunt – “When the Word of God grows, the words of man become less” (cf. Sermo 288: PL 38.1307; Sermo 120.2: PL38 , 677)

Patristic reading

Golden Chain

on Mark 9:14-29

Theophylact: After He had shewn His glory in the mount to the three disciples, He returns to the other disciples, who had not come up with Him into the mount; wherefore it is said, “And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the Scribes questioning with them.”
For the Pharisees, catching the opportunity of the hour when Christ was not present, came up to them, to try to draw them over to themselves.

Pseudo-Jerome: But there is no peace for man under the sun; envy is ever slaying the little ones, and lightning strike the tops of the great mountains. Of all those who run to the Church, some of the multitudes come in faith to learn, others, as the Scribes, with envy and pride.

It goes on, “And straightway all the people, when they beheld Jesus, were greatly amazed, and feared.”

Bede, in Marc., 3, 38: In all cases, the difference between the mind of the Scribes and of the people ought to be observed; for the Scribes are never said to have shewn any devotion, faith, humility, and reverence, but as soon as the Lord was come, the whole multitude was greatly amazed and feared, and ran up to Him, and saluted Him; wherefore there follows, “And running to Him, saluted Him.”

Theophylact: For the multitude was glad to see Him, so that they saluted Him from afar, as He was coming to them; but some suppose that His countenance had become more beautiful from His transfiguration and that this induced the crowd to salute Him.

Pseudo-Jerome: Now it was the people, and not the disciples, who on seeing Him were amazed and feared, for there is no fear in love; fear belongs to servants, amazement to fools. (p. 174)
It goes on: “And He asked them, What question ye with them?”

Why does the Lord put this question? That confession may produce salvation, and the murmuring of our hearts may be appeased by religious works.

Bede: The question, indeed, which was raised may, if I am not deceived, have been this, wherefore they, who were the disciples of the Saviour, were unable to heal the demoniac, who was placed in the midst, which may be gathered from the following words; “And one of the multitude answered and said, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away.”

Chrys.: The Scriptures declare that this man was weak in faith, for Christ says, “O faithless generation:” and He adds, “If thou canst believe.”
But although his want of faith was the cause of their not casting out the devil, he nevertheless accuses the disciples.
Wherefore it is added, “And I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; but they could not.”

Now observe his folly; in praying to Jesus in the midst of the crowd, he accuses the disciples, wherefore the Lord before the multitude so much the more accuses him, and not only aims the accusation at himself, but also extends it to all the Jews; for it is probable that many of those present had been offended, and had held wrong thoughts concerning His disciples.

Wherefore there follows, “He answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” By which He shewed both that He desired death, and that it was a burden to Him to converse with them.

Bede: So far, however, is He from being angry with the person, though He reproved the sin, that He immediately added, “Bring him unto Me; and they brought him unto Him. And when He saw him, straightway the spirit tare him, and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.”

Chrys.: But this the Lord permitted for the sake of the father of the boy, that when he saw the devil vexing his child, he might be brought on to believe that the miracle was to be wrought.

Theophylact: He also permits the child to be vexed, that in this way we might know the devil’s wickedness, who would have killed him, had he not been (p. 175) assisted by the Lord.

It goes on: “And He asked his father, How long is it ago since this come unto him? And he said, Of a child; and ofttimes it has cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him.”

Bede: Let Julian (ed. note: Julian was bishop of Eclanum in Campania; he was well known to St. Augustine, who before his fall speaks of him with great affection. On refusing, however, to agree to Pope Zosimus’ condemnation of Pelagius, he was deposed, and expelled from Italy. He wrote a great deal against St. Augustine, by whom he was refuted in works now extant. The opinion specially referred to in the text was, that Adam would have died, even though he had remained innocent, and therefore that death and sickness are not the consequences of original sin. He died in Sicily in great poverty, about A.D. 453.) blush, who dares to say that all men are born in the flesh without the infection of sin, as though they were innocent in all respects, just as Adam was when he was created.

For what was there in the boy, that he should be troubled from infancy with a cruel devil if he were not held at all by the chain of original sin? since it is evident that he could not yet have had any sin of his own.

Gloss.: Now he expresses in the words of his petition his want of faith; for that is the reason why he adds, “But if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”

For in that he says, “If thou canst do anything,” he shews that he doubts His power, because he had seen that the disciples of Christ had failed in curing him; but he says, “have compassion on us,” to shew the misery of the sons, who suffered, and the father, who suffered with him.

It goes on: “Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

Pseudo-Jerome: This saying, “If thou canst,” is a proof of the freedom of the will. Again, all things are possible to him that believeth, which evidently means all those things which are prayed for with tears in the name of Jesus, that is, of salvation.

Bede: The answer of the Lord was suited to the petition; for the man said, “If thou canst do any thing, help us;” and to this, the Lord answered, “If thou canst believe.” On the other hand, the leper who cried out, with faith, “Lord, if Thou will, Thou canst make me clean,” (Mt 8,2) received an answer according to his faith, “I will be thou clean.”

Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: His meaning is; such a plenitude of virtue is there in Me, that not only can I do this, but I will make others to have that power; wherefore if thou canst believe as thou oughtest to do, thou (p. 176) shalt be able to cure not only him, but many more. In this way then, He endeavored to bring back to the faith, the man who as yet speaks unfaithfully.

There follows, “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

But if he had already believed, saying, “I believe,” how is it that he adds, “help thou mine unbelief?” We must say then that faith is manifold, that one sort of faith is elementary, another perfect; but this man, being but a beginner in believing, prayed the Saviour to add to his virtue what was wanting.

Bede: For no man at once reaches to the highest point, but in holy living, a man begins with the least things that he may reach the great; for the beginning of virtue is different from the progress and the perfection of it. Because then faith mounts up through the secret inspiration of grace, by the steps of its own merits, (ed. note: This sentence of Bede may be considered to be an exposition of our Lord’s words: “for he that hath not from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” The connection between grace and merit, as used by the Fathers, may be illustrated from St. Thomas, their faithful disciple. He defines a meritorious operation to be one the reward of which is beyond the nature of the worker; so that merit implies the infusion of a supernatural habit, that is, of grace, not only as its effect, but as its formal cause. Summa 1 Q62, Art 4) he who had not yet believed perfectly was at once a believer and an unbeliever.

Pseudo-Jerome: By this also we are taught that our faith is tottering if it lean not on the stay of the help of God. But faith by its tears receives the accomplishment of its wishes.

Wherefore it continues, “When Jesus saw that the multitude came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee come out of him, and enter no more into him.”

Theophylact: The reason that He rebuked the foul spirit, when He saw the crowd running together, was that He did not wish to cure him before the multitude, that He might give us a lesson to avoid ostentation.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: And His rebuking him, and saying, “I charge thee,” is a proof of Divine power. Again, in that He says not only, “come out of him,” but also “enter no more into him,” He shews that the evil spirit was ready to enter again, because the man was weak in faith, but was prevented by the commend of the Lord.
It goes on, “And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him; and he was as one dead, insomuch that (p. 177) many said, He is dead.”

For the devil was not able to inflict death upon him because the true Life was come.

Bede: But him, whom the unholy spirit made like unto death, the holy Saviour saved by the touch of His hold hand; wherefore it goes on, “But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Thus as the Lord had shewn Himself to be very God by the power of healing, so He shewed that He had the very nature of our flesh, by the manner of His human touch. The Manichaean (ed. note: “Their fundamental maxim of the intrinsic evil of matter and the degraded state of mind, which their speculations on the birth after the flesh brought with it involved the denial of the Incarnation of our Lord and, as a consequence, of the reality of His whole life.” (Note a, upon St. Augustine‘s Confessions, Oxf. Tr. p. 325)) indeed madly denies that He was truly clothed in flesh; He Himself, however, by raising, cleansing, enlightening so many afflicted persons by His touch, condemned his heresy before its birth.

It goes on: “And when He came into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out?”

Chrys.: They feared that perchance they had lost the grace conferred upon them; for they had already received power over unclean spirits.

It goes on: “And He said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”

Theophylact: That is, the whole class of lunatics, or simply, of all persons possessed with devils. Both the man to be cured, and he who cures him, should fast; for a real prayer is offered up, when fasting is joined with prayer when he who prays is sober and not heavy with food.

Bede: Again, in a mystical sense, on high the Lord unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to His disciples, but below He rebukes the multitude for their sins of unfaithfulness, and expels devils from those who are vexed by them. Those who are still carnal and foolish, He strengthens, teaches, punishes, whilst He more freely instructs the perfect concerning the things of eternity.

Theophylact: Again, this devil is deaf and dumb; deaf, because he does not choose to hear the words of God; dumb, because he is unable to teach others their duty.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, a sinner foameth forth folly, gnasheth with anger, pineth away in sloth. But the evil spirit tears him, when coming to salvation, and in like manner those whom he would drag into his maw (p. 178) he tears asunder by terrors and losses, as he did Job.

Bede: For oftentimes when we try to turn to God after sin, our old enemy attacks us with new and greater snares, which he does, either to instill into us a hatred of virtue or to avenge the injury of his expulsion.

Greg., Mor. x., 30: But he who is freed from the power of the evil spirit is thought to be dead; for whosoever has already subdued earthly desires, puts to death within himself his carnal mode of life, and appears to the world as a dead man, and many look upon him as dead; for they who know not how to live after the Spirit, think that he who does not follow after carnal pleasures is altogether dead.

Pseudo-Jerome: Further, in his being vexed from his infancy, the Gentile people is signified, from the very birth of whom the vain worship of idols arose, so that they in their folly sacrificed their children to devils. And for this reason, it is said that “it cast him into the fire and into the water;” for some of the Gentiles worshipped fire, others water.

Bede: Or by this demoniac are signified those who are bound by the guilt of original sin, and coming into the world as criminals, are to be saved by grace; and by fire is meant the heat of anger, by water, the pleasures of the flesh, which melt the soul by their sweetness.

But He did not rebuke the boy, who suffered violence, but the devil, who inflicted it, because he who desires to amend a sinner, ought, whilst he exterminates his vice by rebuking and cursing it, to love and cherish the man.

Pseudo-Jerome: Again, the Lord applies to the evil spirit what he had inflicted on the man, calling him a “deaf and dumb spirit,” because he never will hear and speak what the penitent sinner can speak and hear. But the devil, quitting a man, never returns, if the man keep his heart with the keys of humility and charity, and hold possession of the gate of freedom (ed. note: of “fastness”.). The man who was healed became as one dead, for it is said to those who are healed, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”

Theophylact: Again, when Jesus, that is, the word of the Gospel, takes hold of the hand, that is, of our powers of action, then shall we be freed from the devil. And observe that God first helps us, then it is required of us that we do good; for which reason, it is said that Jesus “raised him;” in which is shewn the aid of God, and that “he arose,” in which is declared the zeal of man.

Bede: Further, (p. 179) our Lord, while teaching the Apostles how the worst devil is to be expelled, gives all of us rules for our life; that is, He would have us know that all the more grievous attacks of evil spirits or of men are to be overcome by fastings and prayers; and again, that the anger of the Lord, when it is kindled for vengeance on our crimes, can be appeased by this remedy alone.

But fasting, in general, is not only abstinence from food, but also from all carnal delights, yea, from all vicious passions. In like manner, prayer taken generally consists not only in the words by which we call upon the Divine mercy but also in all those things which we do with the devotedness of faith in obedience to our Maker, as the Apostle testifies, when he says, “Pray without ceasing.” (1Th 5,17) Pseudo-Jerome: Or else, the folly which is connected with the softness of the flesh, is healed by fasting; anger and laziness are healed by prayer. Each would have its own medicine, which must be applied to it; that which is used for the heel will not cure the eye; by fasting, the passions of the body, by prayer, the plagues of the soul, are healed.

 

 

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Video View of the Pope on Spiritual Exercises

Zenit News - English - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 11:51 AM

A brief video released February 23, 2018, by the Vatican Press Office gives a view into the Holy Father on Spiritual Exercises:

Sunday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2018, Pope Francis departed the Vatican to participate in his annual Lenten Spiritual Exercises at Casa ‘Gesù Divin Maestro’ (the Divine Master House) in the town of Ariccia near Rome. Originally, the Spiritual Exercises took place in the Vatican, but Pope Francis moved them to the retreat house, 16 miles outside of Rome.

Fr. José Tolentino Mendon, who led the meditations, is a Portuguese priest and Biblical theologian and vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon.

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