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This couple gave up everything to help Sudanese refugees in Uganda

5 hours 28 min 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.” 

At Villanova, Archbishop Chaput talks faith and society

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.”

Pope Francis returns to Rome after week of spiritual exercises

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.

Archbishop Scicluna leaves hospital, continues abuse investigation in Chile

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.

What's the point of fasting, anyway?

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 5:02 AM

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- God commanded it, Jesus practiced it, Church Fathers have preached the importance of it – fasting is a powerful and fundamental part of the Christian life.

But for many Catholics today, it's more of an afterthought: something we grudgingly do on Good Friday, perhaps on Ash Wednesday if we remember it. Would we fast more, especially during Lent, if we understood how helpful it is for our lives?

The answer to this, say both saints of the past and experts today, is a resounding “yes.”

“Let us take for our standard and for our example those that have run the race, and have won,” said Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo, founding executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture and a deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Mclean, Va., of the saints.

“And...those that have run the race and won have been men and women of prayer and fasting.”

So what, in essence, is fasting?

It's “the deprivation of the good, in order to make a decision for a greater good,” explained Deacon Carnazzo. It is most commonly associated with abstention from food, although it can also take the form of giving up other goods like comforts and entertainment.

The current fasting obligation for Latin Catholics in the United States is this: all over the age of 14 must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays in Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, adults age 18 to 59 must fast – eating no more than one full meal and two smaller meals that together do not add up in quantity to the full meal.

Catholics, “if possible,” can continue the Good Friday fast through Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference adds.

Other Fridays throughout the year (aside from Friday within the Octave of Easter) “are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church,” according to Canon Law 1250. Catholics once abstained from meat on all Fridays, but the U.S. bishops received permission from the Holy See for Catholics to substitute another sacrifice or perform an act of charity instead.

Eastern Rite Catholics, meanwhile, follow the fasting laws of their own particular church.  

In their 1966 “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence,” the National Conference of Catholic Bishops exhorted the faithful, on other days of Lent where fasting is not required, to “participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting.”

Aside from the stipulations, though, what's the point of fasting?

“The whole purpose of fasting is to put the created order and our spiritual life in a proper balance,” Deacon Carnazzo said.

As “bodily creatures in a post-fallen state,” it's easy to let our “lower passions” for physical goods supersede our higher intellect, he explained. We take good things for granted and reach for them whenever we feel like it, “without thinking, without reference to the One Who gives us the food, and without reference to the question of whether it’s good for us or not,” he added.

Thus, fasting helps “make more room for God in our life,” Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. said.

“And the Lord said at the well, with the (Samaritan) woman, He said that 'everyone that drinks from this well is going to be thirsty again. Why don't you let me go to work in your life and I’ll give you a fountain welling up to Eternal Life.'”

While fasting can take many forms, is abstaining from food especially important?  

“The reason why 2000 years of Christianity has said food (for fasting), because food's like air. It's like water, it's the most fundamental,” Deacon Carnazzo said. “And that's where the Church says 'stop right here, this fundamental level, and gain control there.' It's like the first step in the spiritual life.”

What the Bible says about it

Yet why is fasting so important in the life of the Church? And what are the roots of the practice in Scripture?

The very first fast was ordered by God to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Deacon Carnazzo noted, when God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

This divine prohibition was not because the tree was bad, the deacon clarified. It was “made good” like all creation, but its fruit was meant to be eaten “in the right time and the right way.” In the same way, we abstain from created goods so we may enjoy them “in the right time and the right way.”

The fast is the weapon of protection against demons - St. Basil the Great.

Fasting is also good because it is submission to God, he said. By fasting from the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve would have become partakers in the Divine Nature through their obedience to God. Instead, they tried to take this knowledge of good and evil for themselves and ate the fruit, disobeying God and bringing Original Sin, death, and illness upon mankind.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus abstained from food and water for 40 days and nights in the desert and thus “reversed what happened in the Garden of Eden,” Deacon Carnazzo explained. Like Adam and Eve, Christ was tempted by the devil but instead remained obedient to God the Father, reversing the disobedience of Adam and Eve and restoring our humanity.

Following the example of Jesus, Catholics are called to fast, said Fr. Lew. And the Church Fathers preached the importance of fasting.

Why fasting is so powerful

“The fast is the weapon of protection against demons,” taught St. Basil the Great. “Our Guardian Angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting.”

Why is fasting so powerful? “By setting aside this (created) realm where the devil works, we put ourselves into communion with another realm where the devil does not work, he cannot touch us,” Deacon Carnazzo explained.

It better disposes us for prayer, noted Monsignor Pope. Because we feel greater hunger or thirst when we fast from food and water, “it reminds us of our frailty and helps us be more humble,” he said. “Without humility, prayer and then our experience of God really can't be unlocked.”

Thus, the practice is “clearly linked by St. Thomas Aquinas, writing within the Tradition, to chastity, to purity, and to clarity of mind,” noted Fr. Lew.

“You can kind of postulate from that that our modern-day struggles with the virtue of chastity, and perhaps a lack of clarity in theological knowledge, might be linked to an abandonment of fasting as well.”

A brief history of fasting

The current fasting obligations were set in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, but in previous centuries, the common fasts among Catholics were stricter and more regularly observed.  

Catholics abstained from meat on all Fridays of the year, Easter Friday excluded. During Lent, they had to fast – one meatless meal and two smaller meatless meals – on all days excluding Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. They abstained from meat on Fridays and Saturdays in Lent – the days of Christ's death and lying in the tomb – but were allowed meat during the main meal on the other Lenten weekdays.

The obligations extended to other days of the liturgical year. Catholics fasted and abstained on the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost Sunday, and on Ember Days – the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of St. Lucy on Dec. 13, after Ash Wednesday, after Pentecost Sunday, and after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in September – corresponding with the four seasons.

In centuries past, the Lenten abstention was more austere. Catholics gave up not only meat but also animal products like milk and butter, as well as oil and even fish at times.

Why are today's obligations in the Latin Rite so minimal? The Church is setting clear boundaries outside of which one cannot be considered to be practicing the Christian life, Deacon Carnazzo explained. That is why intentionally violating the Lenten obligations is a mortal sin.

But should Catholics perform more than the minimum penance that is demanded? Yes, said Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., who is currently studying for a Pontifical License in Sacred Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

The minimum may be “what is due to God out of justice,” he explained, but we are “called not only to be just to God,” but also “to love God and to love our neighbor.” Charity, he added, “would call us to do more than just the minimum that is applied to us by the Code of Canon Law today, I think.”

In Jeremiah 31: 31-33, God promises to write His law upon our hearts, Deacon Carnazzo noted. We must go beyond following a set of rules and love God with our hearts, and this involves doing more than what we are obliged to do, he added.

Be wary of your motivation

However, Fr. Lew noted, fasting “must be stirred up by charity.” A Catholic should not fast out of dieting or pride, but out of love of God.  

“It’s always dangerous in the spiritual life to compare yourself to other people,” he said, citing the Gospel of John where Jesus instructed St. Peter not to be concerned about the mission of St. John the Apostle but rather to “follow Me.” (John 21: 20-23).

In like manner, we should be focused on God during Lent and not on the sacrifices of others, he said.  

Lent (is referred to) as a joyful season...It’s the joy of loving Him more.

“We will often fail, I think. And that’s not a bad thing. Because if we do fail, this is the opportunity to realize our utter dependence on God and His grace, to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and to seek His strength so that we can grow in virtue and do better,” he added.

And by realizing our weakness and dependence on God, we can “discover anew the depths of God’s mercy for us” and can be more merciful to others, he added.

Giving up good things may seem onerous and burdensome, but can – and should – a Catholic fast with joy?

“It’s referred to in the preface of Lent as a joyful season,” Fr. Lew said. “And it’s the joy of deepening our relationship with Christ, and therefore coming closer to Him. It’s the joy of loving Him more, and the more we love God the closer we draw to Him.”

“Lent is all about the Cross, and eventually the resurrection,” said Deacon Carnazzo. If we “make an authentic, real sacrifice for Christ” during Lent, “we can come to that day of the crucifixion and say 'Yes Lord, I willingly with you accept the cross. And when we do that, then we will behold the third day of resurrection.'”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 20, 2016.

Former president of Franciscan U posthumously receives Poverello Medal

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 6:59 PM

Steubenville, Ohio, Feb 22, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, former president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, will posthumously receive the 2018 Poverello Medal, the college's highest non-academic award.

The medal will be given in recognition of the achievements of Father Scanlan, who helped rejuvenate the school's Catholic spirit and advanced evangelization world-wide.

"Very few college presidents who could not only reinvigorate Catholic higher education … but also be an evangelist, a writer, [and] a Catholic media figure,” Public Relations Manager for Franciscan, Tom Sofio, told CNA.

The award will be accepted by Father Richard Davis in memory of the school's fourth president, who died in January 2017. The event will be held March 3, coinciding with school’s Mission Immersion Day - a preparation for the nearly 300 students who plan to leave on mission trips this spring.

Acknowledging individuals and organizations who have emulated the qualities of St. Francis of Assisi, the award is given in recognition of substantial Christian character and works of charity.

Father Michael Scanlan served as the school's president from 1974-2000 and aided the restoration of the university's Catholic identity. He emphasized school's theology program, making it the largest undergraduate theology program of any U.S. Catholic university today.

Having a good rapport with the students, he also created an environment for young adults to grow in their faith. He established faith based fraternity groups called households, where men and women would be formed and supported in their Catholic faith.

Under Father Scanlan, Franciscan University in 1989 became the first U.S. Catholic university or college to adopt an Oath of Fidelity - a promise from the priests and theology faculty to teach according to the Church.

Additionally, Father Scanlan was a strong supporter of the pro-life movement and the charismatic renewal, speaking at international conferences like the Franciscan Conferences, which now serves over 55,000 high school students, and Fire Rallies (Faith, Intercession, Repentance, and Evangelization), which have reached over 400,000 people.

Father Scanlan also wrote 16 books and spiritual pamphlets and was one of the first priests to get involved with EWTN, hosting the theology series Franciscan University Presents for 18 years.

“He could help rebuild a Catholic university and spearhead the move to Catholic higher education, and be preaching in front of large groups of people, leading pilgrimages, and writing books about the faith,” Sofio added.

“It was amazing how he could do all those and move from one to other so effortlessly. The Holy Spirit gave him a lot of energy and he used it well.”

Change your heart, change your abortion votes, Bishop Paprocki tells Sen Durbin

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 4:42 PM

Springfield, Ill., Feb 22, 2018 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois has reiterated that U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin should not receive Holy Communion due to the Catholic lawmaker’s support for abortion, including a recent procedural vote against a bill that would bar abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy.

“Sen. Durbin was once pro-life. I sincerely pray that he will repent and return to being pro-life,” Bishop Paprocki said Thursday. “Because his voting record in support of abortion over many years constitutes ‘obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin,’ the determination continues that Sen. Durbin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents of this sin. This provision is intended not to punish, but to bring about a change of heart.”

Paprocki’s statement cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities chairman Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who said it was “appalling” that the Senate failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.

Durbin was one of the 14 self-identified Catholic senators who on Jan. 29 voted against cloture for the bill, which was needed to prevent a filibuster.

The Springfield bishop, in whose diocese Durbin resides, cited statements of previous priests and bishops of Springfield regarding the Democratic senator’s support for legal abortion. In April 2004, his pastor Msgr. Kevin Vann, who is now Bishop of Orange, said he would be reluctant to give Holy Communion to the senator because of his lack of unity with the Church’s teaching on life.

Then-Bishop of Springfield George Lucas, who now heads the Archdiocese of Omaha, said he would support that decision.

“I have continued that position,” Paprocki said.

The Springfield bishop cited Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says those who “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

He also cited the U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement on Catholics in Political Life, which said failing to protect the lives of the innocent and defenseless is “to sin against justice.”

“Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good,” the U.S. bishops’ statement said.

Backers of the bill which Durbing voted against said that fetal neural development means the unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks into pregnancy. The bill included exceptions for an abortion in the case of rape or incest, as well in circumstances in which the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother.
Twenty-one U.S. states have laws barring abortion after 20 weeks.

The federal bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in October 2017, is opposed by most Senate Democrats. To prevent a filibuster, Republicans needed Democratic support to reach 60 votes, in addition to the votes of the 51 Republican Senators.

Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly supported the motion. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted against it.

In France, Italy, and Germany, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The United States, China, North Korea, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vietnam are the seven countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.

Archbishop Chaput: Catholics need faith and reason, not a new paradigm

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 4:01 PM

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 22, 2018 / 02:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et ratio will mark its 20th anniversary this year, on Sept. 14. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia reflected on the encyclical in his essay “Believe that you may Understand” in the March 2018 issue of First Things.

Making the case that the 1998 encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason was a “prophetic” document which “confronts the crisis of truth within the Catholic Church herself,” the archbishop warned against “faddish” theology. Vigorous philosophy and good theology are, rather, mutually enriching. “Knowledge of the truth expands our freedom to love,” Archbishop Chaput said.

In an interview with CNA, he spoke more about the encyclical’s relevance for today.

 


How can the average Catholic benefit from Fides et ratio, 20 years after its publication?

The first thing to know is that it’s not the sort of text you can browse like the Sunday paper. Fides et Ratio takes time to read and absorb. Most people are rightly focused on things like raising a family and earning a living. So a lot of good people may never read it. But that doesn’t lessen its importance for the average believer.

The main takeaway from Fides et Ratio is that learning how to think clearly, with the Church, in a mature and well-informed fashion, is vital. It’s every bit as crucial as feeling our religious convictions deeply. Sentiment isn’t enough, and that directly affects how we understand the role of conscience.

Christian faith is more than good will and kind intentions. Conscience is more than our personally sincere opinions. A healthy conscience needs a strong formation in the commonly held truths of the Catholic community. Without it, conscience can very quickly turn into an alibi machine. The world is a complicated place. It requires sound Catholic reasoning skills rooted in the teaching of the Church.

The trouble is that we’ve now had at least two generations of poor catechesis and very inadequate conscience formation. So when voices tell us to leave today's hot button moral decisions to the “adult consciences” of our people, we might want to agree – ideally – but before we do, we need to examine what exactly that means. We have a great many otherwise successful, credentialed adults who see themselves as Catholic but whose faith education stopped in the sixth grade. Recovering the discipline of good Catholic moral reasoning is urgent.

If someone finds himself or herself in a cultural or ecclesial environment dominated by poor philosophy and theology, how should he or she respond?

Ignore the nonsense, read, watch and listen to good Catholic material, and live your faith in conformity with what the Church has always taught. The basics still apply on marriage, sex, honesty and everything else. There are no “new paradigms” or revolutions in Catholic thought. Using that kind of misleading language only adds confusion to a confusing age.

If we’re in an environment with good philosophy and theology, what do we need to guard against?

Pride and complacency, and taking the blessing of good teachers and pastors for granted. All of us are called to be missionaries. We preach Jesus Christ best when we witness our faith well in the charity and justice of our daily actions.

Why do you think these problems of faith and reason are so recurring in our time?

Science and technology can seem – but only seem – to make the supernatural and sacramental implausible. The language of faith can start to sound alien and irrelevant. This is why we lose so many young people before they even consider religious belief. They’re catechized every day by a stream of materialist distractions that don’t disprove God but create an indifference to him.

The Church is struggling with a lot of self-doubt. It’s natural in an age of rapid change. I think many Church pastors and scholars have simply lost confidence in the rationality of faith and the reliability of God’s Word without being willing to admit it. Instead they take refuge in humanitarian feelings and social action. But you don’t need God for either of those things, at least in the short run. In the long run, God is the only sure guarantor of human rights and dignity. So we need to think our Christianity – deeply, faithfully, and rigorously – as well as feel it.

Which is why Fides et Ratio is so important. It reminds us.

A Catholic 'paradigm shift' would be corruption, not development – Cardinal Muller

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 3:48 PM

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The authentic development of doctrine is about making more explicit the revealed truths of faith, not changing, or “shifting,” Church teaching – and to use this idea to defend an agenda is wrong, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said.

In an essay published Feb. 20 in First Things, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said there can be no such thing as a “paradigm shift” in the interpretation of Catholic doctrine, and to push for one is to contradict God’s commandments.

Anyone who calls a major shift in the Church's teaching in moral theology a “praiseworthy decision of conscience… speaks against the Catholic faith,” wrote the 70-year-old prelate.

The idea of a “paradigm shift” – a “fundamental change in theoretical forms of thought and social behavior” – with respect to “the form of the Church's being and of her presence in the world” is not possible,” Müller wrote, simply because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” as it says in Hebrews 13:8.

“This is, in contrast, our paradigm, which we will not exchange for any other,” Müller stated.

He also explained that the Pope and his fellow bishops have a duty to preserve the unity of faith and to prevent polarization and partisan mentalities. Therefore, it is also a duty of conscience to speak up in opposition when the term “pastoral change” is used by some to “express their agenda to sweep aside the Church’s teaching as if doctrine were an obstacle to pastoral care.”

In his essay, he explained the concept of the “development of doctrine” in the Church as taught by Blessed John Henry Newman, and how it relates to debates on the interpretation of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia.

Chapter eight of Amoris laetitia “has been the object of contradictory interpretations,” he said, stating that when a “paradigm shift” is spoken of in this context, it seems to be “a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith.”

According to Blessed Newman, a way to identify an authentic development of doctrine is to see if the surrounding cultural environment is growing in conformity with Christianity, not the other way around.

“Thus, a paradigm shift, by which the Church takes on the criteria of modern society to be assimilated by it, constitutes not a development, but a corruption.”

The formal principle is a category within Christian theology which distinguishes the source of the theological teaching from the teaching itself.

In the Catholic Church, Müller said, the “proper method for interpreting revelation requires the joint workings of three principles, which are: Holy Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Apostolic Succession of Catholic bishops.”

He pointed out that the Protestant Reformation is an example in history of when a new formal principle was introduced, in this case, Scripture alone.

“This new principle subjected the Catholic doctrine of the faith, as it had developed up to the sixteenth century, to a radical change,” he said. “The fundamental understanding of Christianity turned into something completely different.”

Regarding debates surrounding the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, Müller noted that groups of bishops or individual bishops’ conferences have issued directives recently on the reception of the Eucharist by divorced-and-civilly-remarried people.

He pointed out the teaching of St. John Paul II in Familiaris consortio, which says that “the divorced living in a new union must resolve to live in continence or else refrain from approaching the sacraments.”

“Is there any logical continuity between John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio n. 84 … and the change of this selfsame discipline that some are proposing? There are only two options,” he said.

“One could explicitly deny the validity of Familiaris Consortio n. 84, thus denying by the same token Newman’s sixth note, 'Conservative Action upon the Past.' Or one could attempt to show that Familiaris Consortio n. 84 implicitly anticipated the reversal of the discipline that it explicitly set out to teach. On any honest reading of John Paul II’s text, however, such a procedure would have to violate the basic rules of logic, such as the principle of non-contradiction.”

Cardinal Müller added that “when cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity ask the pope for clarity on these matters, what they request is not a clarification of the pope’s opinion. What they seek is clarity regarding the continuity of the pope’s teaching in Amoris Laetitia with the rest of tradition.”

For the statements of bishops to be orthodox, “it is not enough that they declare their conformity with the pope's presumed intentions” in Amoris laetitia, he said.

“They are orthodox only if they agree with the words of Christ preserved in the deposit of faith.”

Texas bishops support Catholic Charities in wake of gay adoption lawsuit

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 3:40 PM

Fort Worth, Texas, Feb 22, 2018 / 01:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Catholic bishops of Texas voiced strong support Tuesday for a Catholic organization being sued by a lesbian couple in Texas.

The couple, Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin, filed a complaint this week in district court in Washington against Catholic Charities of Fort Worth after being denied a request to adopt refugee children.

The couple believes they are being discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation, and told the Washington Post that they hope their lawsuit results either in a policy change at Catholic Charities or in a loss of the organization’s taxpayer funding.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the Catholic bishops of Texas voiced their support for Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, which they said is in compliance both with Catholic teaching and “with all federal regulations associated with funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is carrying out the federal government's Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) and the Unaccompanied Alien Child (UC) programs.”

“Catholic Charities of Fort Worth's International Foster Care program is an outreach that is faithful to the Church's mission to care for the poor and vulnerable,” Bishop Michael Olson of the diocese of Fort Worth said in a statement. “This mission is entrusted to the Church by Christ.”

“Finding foster parents – and other resources – for refugee children is difficult work,” Bishop Olson added. “Catholic Charities are often the lead agent in this work. It would be tragic if Catholic Charities were not able to provide this help, in accordance with the Gospel values and family, assistance that is so essential to these children who are vulnerable to being mistreated as meaningless in society.”

According to Church teaching, the ideal and normative family situation is a married mother and father and their children.

In 2014, Pope Francis emphasized that “(c)hildren have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity.”

In compliance with Church teaching, Catholic Charities places children in families in which the child can experience the presence of a married mother and father.

Marouf and Esplin learned about Catholic Charities after Marouf, who directs Texas A&M’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, was invited to visit Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and learn more about their refugee programs.

Marouf said she felt “shock, disappointment, anger” after being denied the adoption, and the couple told the Washington Post they did not know of other agencies through which they could adopt refugee children.

In the bishops’ statement, Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, noted that “all couples seeking to foster in Texas can easily find a regional agency to serve them. By contacting Wendy Bagwell at 512-438-2133, or visiting https://www.dfps.state.tx.us/adoption_and_foster_care/adoption_partners/private.asp, all couples in Texas have the opportunity to serve and through the protections of HB 3859, faith based providers are welcome to serve as well.”

This case is not the first time that Catholic Charities has come under fire for reserving adoptions to a mother and a father. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to shut down its adoption services because of a state law barring “sexual orientation discrimination.” That same year, Catholic Charities of San Francisco was forced to close for similar reasons.

In 2010, after a law redefining marriage, the Washington, D.C. branch of Catholic Charities was forced to close its foster care and adoption services for holding the belief that children should be placed with a married mother and father.

In 2011, Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois were forced to close after a new requirement stipulated that state money could only go to adoption services that offered those services to same-sex couples.

“In the name of tolerance, we're not being tolerated,” Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, said at the time.

On their website, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that Catholic adoption agencies should be allowed to operate according to Church teaching as a matter of religious freedom.

“Religious liberty is more than freedom of worship; it includes our ability to make our contribution to the common good of all Americans without having to compromise our faith,” the bishops noted.

“Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, including the neediest children seeking adoptive and foster families, as well as birth parents who wish to turn to faith-based providers in order to place their children with adoptive parents.”

Pope Francis to youth: face your fears with discernment, courage

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 2:55 PM

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2018 / 12:55 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Addressing youth around the globe, Pope Francis encouraged young people Thursday to face their fears with discernment and courage, looking to the Mother of God as their example.

“What are your fears? What worries you most deeply? An ‘underlying’ fear that many of you have is that of not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are,” Pope Francis said in his Feb. 22 message, saying that many insecurities arise from a “sense of inadequacy.”

“For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God…and in life!” the Pope continued.

Pope Francis’ words come ahead of the 33rd diocesan-level World Youth Day, which will take place March 25. This localized event is a preparation for the international World Youth Day, which is set to occur in Panama in 2019.

The diocesan World Youth Day also coincides with the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will discuss the topic of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Pope Francis called this a “happy coincidence,” which will place the gaze of the Church on young people.

While many youth are ruled by their fears and hide behind “masks and false identities,” Pope Francis encouraged young people to remember the words from Scripture “do not be afraid,” which have been “repeated 365 times with different variation, as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year.”

“In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary,” the Holy Father said, noting that it is also “indispensable when searching for one’s vocation.”

While many see discernment as an individual process, Pope Francis said that it is rather an interior reflection on each person’s vocation, or “call from above.” Prayerful silence and dialogue with others, the Pope said, are necessary for the process of discernment.

On this note, the Roman Pontiff pointed to the example of Mary and her witness of love despite her fears, which was “full of boldness and focused completely on the gift of self.”

“Mary, like others in the Sacred Scriptures, trembles before the mystery of God’s call, who in a moment places before her the immensity of his own plan and makes her feel all her smallness as a humble creature,” Pope Francis said, noting her complete willingness even in the face of uncertainty.

“The first reason not to fear is the fact that God has called us by name. The angel, God’s messenger, called Mary by name,” Pope Francis continued, noting that God has also called “each of you by name.”  

The angel’s words to Mary also ring true for youth today, the Pope said, noting that the all-knowing power of God will always sustain every individual, even amidst fear and darkness.

“The Angel’s words descend upon our human fears, dissolving them with the power of the Good News of which we are heralds: our life is not pure chance or a mere struggle for survival, rather each of us is a cherished story loved by God,” Pope Francis said.

However, the Pope said that courage is also needed for the youths of today to address their fears and discern what God wants for them, just as Mary did.

“From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, and in every area of our lives,” the Holy Father said.

Encouraging young people to face their fears with faith, discernment, and courage while looking to Mary as an example, Pope Francis said that the universal Church awaits the gift that all youths have to offer in their unique personhood.

“Dear young people, the Lord, the Church, the world are waiting for your answer to the unique call that each one receives in this life!” the Pope said.

“As World Youth Day in Panama draws closer, I invite you to prepare yourselves for our gathering with the joy and enthusiasm of those who wish to participate in such a great adventure… do you accept the challenge?”

German bishops discuss intercommunion of Lutheran, Catholic spouses

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:26 PM

Munich, Germany, Feb 22, 2018 / 10:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx has announced that the German bishops' conference will publish a pastoral handout for married couples that allows Protestant spouses of Catholics "in individual cases" and "under certain conditions" to receive Holy Communion, provided they "affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist".

According to the press report of the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, the handout is primarily aimed at pastoral workers and is to be understood as a tool for pastoral situations, "to consider the concrete situation and come to a responsible decision about the possibility of the non-Catholic partner to receive Communion".

The announcement was made "after intensive debate" at the conclusion of the general assembly of the German bishops' conference, which was held Feb. 19 - 22 in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, and attended by 62 members of the bishops' conference under the leadership of conference chairman Cardinal Marx.

The press release declares that its premise is that "in individual cases, the spiritual hunger for receiving Communion together in interdenominational marriages can be so strong that it could jeopardise the marriage and the faith of the spouse". The statement goes on to say that this applies all the more to spouses who "already want to live out their marriage very consciously" as a Christian couple.

The central message of the handout is "that everyone in a marriage that binds denominations," after a "mature examination in a spiritual conversation with their priest or another person charged with pastoral care, that has come to a decision of conscience to affirm the Faith of the Catholic Church as well as thereby concluding a 'grave spiritual need' as well as fulfilling the desire to receive the Eucharist may approach the Lord's table and receive Communion."

Cardinal Marx' statement emphasises: "We are talking about decisions in individual cases that require a careful spiritual discernment."

The handout is expected to be published in a few weeks' time.

The Code of Canon Law states that in the danger of death or if “some other grave necessity urges it,” Catholic ministers licitly administer penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to Protestants “who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

The bishops' announcement follows a discussion of such a proposal at a previous general assembly held in the spring of 2017.

According to Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg in a report in the German diocesan newspaper "Tag des Herrn" from March 2017, Schick is quoted as saying that the bishops were seeking "a responsible decision" on the question of non-Catholic partners in interdenominational marriages in individual cases by pastoral means.


On Dec. 31 2016, the website of the Lutheran ecclesial community in Germany reported that Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück was hoping for a recognition of what was already the case, namely, that in many places, Protestants went to Communion with their Catholic spouses. "We have to give a foundation to what often already is in place in practice", the website quotes Bode from an interview with the Lutheran press agency EPD.


Bode, who also attended the 2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the family, was elected vice-chairman to the German bishops' conference Sept. 26, 2017.

 

What to do if you're too ashamed to go to Confession

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 5:16 AM

Madrid, Spain, Feb 22, 2018 / 03:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While Reconciliation is intended to allow Christ’s victory to overcome sin in our lives, what happens when shame over one’s sins is so great that it keeps people away from the sacrament?

The famous Spanish theologian Father José Antonio Fortea discussed this phenomenon, and practical solutions to it, in a blog post.

Normally, a sense of Christ’s mercy should be enough to help people overcome their shame and go to Confession, in order to receive forgiveness and healing.

However, in some cases, Fr. Fortea acknowledged, people are overwhelmed by their sins, and this shame becomes “a wall” keeping them away from Reconciliation.

“They would rather make a 100-mile pilgrimage than have to confess face-to-face certain things they did that are terribly and frightfully humiliating to them,” he said, reflecting on the torment that faces some penitents who struggle approaching the sacrament.

The Spanish priest first pointed out the importance of priests offering fatherly compassion on those who have “these burdens on their consciences.”

He also noted the importance of ensuring truly anonymous confessions. In each city, he said, “there ought to be at least one confessional where instead of a grill, there is a metal sheet with small holes, making it totally impossible to see the person making their confession.”

The person confessing should not be visible to the priest as they approach or leave, he continued. If there is a window on the priest’s door, it should not be transparent.

“With these measures, the vast majority of the faithful can resolve the problem of shame,” Fr. Fortea said.

But for those “truly very rare” cases where shame is still a major obstacle, even with anonymous confessionals, additional steps can be taken.

In these instances of extreme shame, the person can “make an anonymous phone call to a priest in the city and tell him about this problem.” Confession itself cannot take place over the phone, but “in many cases, the phone conversation will be enough so the penitent can get up his confidence and can approach the kind of above-mentioned confessional.”

If the penitent still finds that the shame of mentioning his sins is too great to bear, he can arrange for a written confession with the priest.

Fr. Fortea said that in several of the confessionals in his city of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, “it's possible for the penitent to move the screen slightly, just a fraction of an inch, and slip in a piece of paper.”

He offered guidelines for such written confessions: they should generally not be longer than one page, sins should be written “in a clear and concise manner,” or if possible, should be typed for clarity in reading.

“The priest will give his counsel, the penance and absolution without needing to bring up any questions for the penitent. In this case asking questions would be counterproductive,” he reflected.

While the general rule is that confession should be vocal, it can be done through writing in some cases, the priest said. He noted that those who are deaf or mute have always been permitted to make written confessions.

And in the case of insurmountable shame, this would also be licit, he said. “A psychological inability can be just as real as a physical one.”

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 18, 2016.

In Aleppo, a heroine of endurance

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 5:23 PM

Aleppo, Syria, Feb 21, 2018 / 03:23 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Annie Artin, 15, is a lonely girl who lives with her mother, Silva Owadis, 37, her grandmother, and aunt in a modest but new apartment in Aleppo, Syria.

The family has lived there since the middle of 2016, after moving a number of times, each time because neighborhoods had come under attack in the battle for control of the city.

Annie is lonely because she had to move so often and change schools, plus her father disappeared from her life. This Armenian Catholic family has no regular income and depends on support from local Catholic sources for its livelihood.

Annie is a tenth grader at a school run by her Church, Al-Markazia. She loves going to school and studies very hard.

Here is her story, in her own words:

“I came up against serious problems with both French and math. While I was the top student in chemistry, my math scores suffered a lot at one point. I attribute this problem to my teacher who did not have a streamlined approach to teaching. To make matters worse, my mother didn’t have enough money to pay for a math tutor. There were difficult circumstances, too, with many mortar attacks on areas very close to my school. Fortunately, we survived the terrible consequences of war after a long period of having to stay home from school.

“Even before the war started, things had not been going well between my mother and father; he was unemployed and rather lazy. Things got worse when the fighting started – they clashed every day. Eventually, my father decided to go to Armenia, supposedly in search of work and finding a way to make better life for himself and his family. He ended up disappearing, no longer responding to our communications and calls; he didn’t even try to ask about us.

“After a while, visiting a government center for some paperwork, my mother was shocked to discover that my father had divorced her and married another woman. My mother collapsed upon learning the news and got sick. I was left with no financial support owing to the fact that my father couldn’t care less about my school requirements. I was in dire need of financial help not only to pay tuition, but also to secure the basic necessities of life.  

“My father wasn’t even worried about us after a mortar shell hit the side of our apartment. To the best of my knowledge, fathers are not only supposed to be fully committed to their families, they are also in charge of providing financial support. Life dealt us heavy blows; my mother had lost her job and we were left homeless in the middle of very difficult circumstances.

“I was hoping my father would call to inquire about our situation, but there was no response from his side. Despite being in touch with him in the beginning after he first left, he vanished without a trace a few months later. In an attempt to survive hardships after being without food for quite so long, we tried desperately to ask my father for financial support, but he was reluctant to do anything for us. Even a few loaves of bread were not available to keep us alive for one single day. My heartless father kept giving us unjustifiable excuses, such as road blocks.  

“At one point, I fell gravely ill; I was also psychologically bruised as I had been fatherless, homeless, and penniless for a long time. My mother pleaded with the doctor repeatedly to call my father and ask him to call me to make me feel better, yet there came no answer. To be frank, I would never have survived without God’s blessings.

“My mother has been with me every step of the way in unimaginable situations. I owe my success to her long-term effort to keep me going despite the challenges. Despite being envious of my friends who had private tutors and generous fathers, I never lost faith in God. I kept wearing religious symbols to offer supplications to God. I clung onto hope that God would never forget me. I always felt comfortable after my prayers, confident that I would stay safe no matter what happened.

“I did not know what to do – but God did not leave us; he was with us in every sad moment; he used to send us many people who helped us; they were angels in our lives.

“I have always dreamed of moving to Tartus, where I was born. However, the prospect of living abroad has been haunting me because of the scarcity of job opportunities in Syria. Following long discussions with my mom, however, I came to realize that this lovely idea would be hard to pull off. No matter what, I will never relent in my pursuit of being a pharmacist; and faith in God is carrying me. And should I ever leave the country, I would hope to return to Syria as soon as security and stability are restored.

 


Fawzy Basily writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org

Attacks against India's Christians doubled in 2017

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 2:02 PM

New Delhi, India, Feb 21, 2018 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Compared to 2016, attacks against Christians in India by Hindu extremists more than doubled in 2017 amid efforts to label the religious minority a danger to the state.

The persecution ranges from threats and physical violence to destruction of church property, but false allegations against Christians have also increased.

"It is a new trend to accuse Christians of serious crimes," said Shibu Thomas, founder of the ecumenical forum Persecution Relief.

The allegations are "a clear indicat[ion] that those opposed to Christians want to portray them as serious threats to the nation's safety and security," he told UCA News.

According to a report from Persecution Relief, last year 736 incidents of attacks occurred throughout India compared to the 348 that happened in 2016. Most of these are "daring physical attacks," the report said, but the victims of these attacks were also accused of sedition, discrimination, and destruction of religious property.

"When victims reach for police help, they find themselves accused of violations. … This is a dangerous sign. Unfortunately, the police are in league with fanatics and elects members support their actions," Thomas said.

Attacks against Christians have increased since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the general election in 2014, naming Narendra Modi as prime minister.

The party has now the largest representation in the country's parliament. A majority of the attacks stem from four of India's 29 states - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Chhattisgarh - three of which are governed by the BJP.

"Christians are not safe anymore in India under the current situation," said Anil Andrias, who leads a protestant congregation in Uttar Pradesh.

Andrias told UCA News that the persecution against Christians could be physical attacks and false allegations, but he also said Christians have been denied government services, such as collecting public water or using public roads.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India's population, with 80 percent identifying as Hindu.

Bishops praise Christian witness of evangelist Billy Graham

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 1:01 PM

Charlotte, N.C., Feb 21, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The evangelist Billy Graham died Wednesday at his home in Montreat, N.C., his family has announced. He was 99.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939. During his work in ministry, he wrote more than 30 books and conducted the annual Billy Graham Crusades until his retirement from active ministry in 2005. His last book, Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond the Now, was published in 2015.

During his time in ministry, Graham insisted that his crusades and rallies be racially integrated, and was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1981, Graham first met with St. John Paul II, who said that the two were “brothers.” They would meet again several times. When John Paul II died in 2005, Graham said he believed that the Pope had been “the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years,” and praised his “strong Catholic faith” and perseverance through his illnesses.

Prominent Catholics reacted with sadness to Graham’s death, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. In a statement on the archdiocesan website, Dolan wrote that while his family was Catholic, there was a level of respect for Graham’s work in bringing people to Christ.

“There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God,” said Dolan.

“As an historian, my admiration for him only grew as I studied our nation’s religious past, and came to appreciate even more the tremendous role he played in the American evangelical movement.  May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest."

Dolan’s sentiment was echoed by Catholic Herald editor Damian Thompson, who praised Graham’s evolution on Catholicism. Thompson called Graham a “fine man, a powerful force for good.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Billy Graham started out as an typical evangelical anti-Catholic and ended up acclaiming St John Paul II as the world’s greatest witness to Christianity. A fine man, a powerful force for good: rest in peace.</p>&mdash; Damian Thompson (@holysmoke) <a href="https://twitter.com/holysmoke/status/966317143523495936?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 21, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered condolences to the Graham family and said that he was praying for the repose of his soul. DiNardo praised Graham for his work spreading the gospel around the country, and said he was thankful for his ministry.

“His faith and integrity invited countless thousands around the world into a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the ministry of Billy Graham,” said DiNardo.

Dr. Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, compared Graham to St. John Paul II and other religious figures, saying that while he was “firmly rooted” in his denomination, Graham was able to reach all people.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Billy Graham was like John Paul II, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was firmly rooted in a particular tradition of faith, yet somehow spoke to--and in a sense belonged to--all of us.</p>&mdash; Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) <a href="https://twitter.com/McCormickProf/status/966320319681187841?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 21, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Archbishop Scicluna hospitalized in Chile amid abuse investigation

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 12:27 PM

Santiago, Chile, Feb 21, 2018 / 10:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who is currently in Chile investigating allegations of abuse cover-up by a local bishop, was hospitalized Wednesday and underwent gallbladder surgery, though he is expected to make a full recovery.

The Archdiocese of Malta announced the news in a brief statement Feb. 21, saying Scicluna was admitted to the San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago.

According to the Chilean bishops’ conference, Scicluna had been experiencing pain since last week. The spokesman, Deacon Jaime Coiro, said the archbishop has come out of surgery and is in stable condition. His recovery time in hospital is expected to take between two and three days.

Scicluna arrived in Santiago Feb. 19 to interview victims of sexual abuse and those opposed to the 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros as Bishop of Osorno, whom they say covered up the crimes of his longtime friend Fr. Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

In addition to heading the Diocese of Malta, Scicluna in 2015 was named by the Pope to oversee the doctrinal team charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, beginning in 1995, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual 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.

Barros’ appointment to Osorno was met with harsh criticism and continues to be a source of contention for activists and abuse victims who accuse the bishop of covering up the crimes of Karadima.

Barros has repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing of the abuse, and Pope Francis has backed him, saying during a visit to Chile last month that accusations against the bishop were “calumny,” as he has received no evidence backing the allegations and no victims had come forward.

However, shortly after returning from his Jan. 15-18 visit to Chile, the Vatican announced that Francis had named Scicluna as his envoy to interview several witnesses who came forward claiming to have evidence of the cover-up.

The case then took another complicated turn when Cruz made a statement in an interview with the Associated Press saying he had sent the Pope an eight-page letter in April 2015 claiming that Barros had not only witnessed Karadima's abuse, but had at times participated.

He had given the letter to four members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, who in turn handed it to the head of the commission Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who was to deliver it to the Pope.

News of the letter and the Pope's statement in Chile that no victims had come forward raised questions as to whether or not Francis had received the letter, or whether he read it if it did in fact reach his desk.

After leaving Malta Feb. 15 to meet with Cruz in person in New York, Scicluna then went to Santiago Feb. 19 to interview more witnesses related to the Barros case. He is scheduled to return to Malta Feb. 25.

According to the Chilean bishops’ conference, Scicluna's surgery has not impacted the investigation, and the interviews “will continue as planned,” being carried out instead by Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who accompanied Scicluna as notary for the case. In turn, another priest traveling with two has been asked to act as notary.

In their statement, the Chilean bishops’ conference voiced their hope that Scicluna will have a “quick recovery.” The archbishop, they noted, voiced his desire to meet with some of the witnesses as soon as he is able.

British judge allows toddler's life support switched off, despite parents' wishes

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 6:49 PM

Liverpool, England, Feb 20, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A British court ruled Tuesday that physicians can stop providing life support, against his parents' wishes, to Alfie Evans, a 21-month old boy who has an unknown neurological degenerative condition.

Evans is in a “semi-vegetative state” and on life support at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, where doctors have said further efforts are futile and went to court to argue that continuing treatment, as his parents wish, is not in Evans' best interest.

Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court ruled Feb. 20 that “Alfie's need now is for good quality palliative care … He requires peace, quiet, and stability, so that he may conclude his life as he has lived it.”

“I am satisfied that continued ventilatory support is no longer in Alfie’s interests. This decision I appreciate will be devastating news to Alfie’s parents. I hope they will take time to read this judgement again.”

Alder Hey Children's Hospital has said it always tries to agree with patients on plans for care: “Our aim is always to try and reach an agreement with parents about the most appropriate care plan for their child. Unfortunately there are sometimes rare situations such as this where agreement cannot be reached and the treating team believe that continued active treatment is not in a child's best interests.”

The hospital may withdraw Evans' ventilation on Friday.

Alfie's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, are considering appealing the decision.

His doctors have described his condition as untreatable, but his parents are requesting their son’s transfer to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome for further diagnosis and possible treatment.

Evans' case echoes that of Charlie Gard, a terminally ill English infant who died in July 2017 after being taken off life support against his parents' wishes. Gard was 11 months old, and had been at the center of a months-long legal debate regarding parental rights and human life.

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital treating Gard also went to court to take him off of life support, saying his parent's decision to maintain treatment was not in his interest.

Though Gard's parents raised more than $1.6 million for his treatment and had offers from hospitals in Europe and the US to give him experimental treatments, a High Court judge ordered that he be taken off life support.

Discussing Gard's situation with CNA in June 2017, Dr. Melissa Moschella, a Catholic University of America philosophy professor, said: “It seems to me completely wrongheaded that the state should be stepping in here when the decision that the parents are making is really aimed at the best interests of the child.”

“It’s not crazy, it’s not abusive, it’s not neglectful. It’s the decision of parents who want to, however they can, to give their very sick child a chance for life.”

She said such a decision “should be completely within the prerogative of the parent,” citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Moschella, that declaration “clearly indicates that the parents, not the state will have primarily responsibility.”

Recent polls encourage Ireland's pro-life advocates

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 4:16 PM

Dublin, Ireland, Feb 20, 2018 / 02:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Republic of Ireland prepares to vote in a referendum that could liberalize the country’s abortion laws, a recent poll has shown dwindling support for a change in the constitution.

According to a recent Sunday Times Behavior and Attitudes poll, support for abortions past three-months gestation fell to 43 percent from 51 percent, while opposition to changing the country’s abortion laws rose to 35 percent from 27 percent.

“These new figures represent a notional 16 percent swing towards opposition in a two-week period,” Niamh Ui Bhriain, a spokesman for the pro-life campaign Savethe8th, said in a recent statement.

“This tallies with the experience of our campaign, which has been that the more people find out about the government’s extreme proposal, the more they reject it,” Ui Bhriain continued.

Ui Bhriain voiced her hope in the new numbers, but also noted that “all polls should be taken with a grain of salt.”

The proposed bill would repeal the country’s eighth amendment, which recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child. Under current law, the practice of abortion in Ireland is illegal, unless the mother’s health is endangered.

The eighth amendment was passed in Ireland in 1983, with upwards of 67 percent voter-approval. It reads, in part, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The new legislation is seeking to repeal the amendment, which would allow unrestricted access to abortion for the first three months of pregnancy.

Advocates of the referendum are also noticing the drop in support for the proposed law. Regina Doherty, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, said there is a lot of “work to be done” if they are to repeal the eighth amendment.  

“Standing right now, if nobody does anything, I don’t think this referendum will pass,” Doherty said, according to the Irish Examiner.

Health Minister Simon Harris said in a Tweet that they were in for “a busy few weeks ahead on an extremely important issue.”  

Some reports have noted conflicting viewpoints among cabinet members, causing confusion in the discussion surrounding the amendment. However, Doherty denounced the speculation, saying,  “I don’t think there is anybody creating problems or muddying the waters.”

The BBC reported that the Irish cabinet is set to release a final text of the referendum bill March 6.

The proposal will be brought to the people, who will vote on whether a “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.” The formal referendum will take place in May.

In an effort to fight against the referendum, Savethe8th will be hosting a rally March 10 at the Dublin City Center at 2:00 PM. This gathering will be the last major pro-life rally in an effort to “keep Ireland a safe place for mothers and babies,” before the referendum vote in the spring.

“If this referendum is passed, there will be no constitutional protection for the unborn child at any stage of pregnancy,” said Ui Bhriain.

“We will campaign will all of our strength to defeat it, and we are going to win.”

South Africa's new president praised for commitment to fight corruption

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 3:50 PM

Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb 20, 2018 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first State of the Nation address by South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been welcomed by one of the country's Jesuit priests for its call to create communities of trust and to dialogue about problems facing South Africa.

Ramaphosa assumed office Feb. 15, following the resignation of Jacob Zuma, whose tenure was marked by numerous allegations of corruption allegations and fostered a decline in morality in public life. South Africa's bishops were quick to welcome Zuma's choice to resign.

In his State of the Nation address Feb. 16, Ramaphosa pledged to “turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions. We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.”

Ramaphosa also discussed land redistribution and job creation.

Fr. Peter-John Pearson wrote at Spotlight Africa Feb. 19 that Ramaphosa's speech echoed “poignant issues outlined in Catholic Social Teaching.”

Writing at the ministry of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, the priest cited Ven. Pius XII and Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster from 1976 to 1999, in stressing “importance of restoring and building civic relationships thus strengthening civil society.”

“Ramaphosa called for the reestablishment of communities of trust in the face of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders. He underlined that it is everyone’s task to create a common destiny,” Fr. Pearson noted.

He cited St. John Paul II's teaching on solidarity, and said Ramaphosa's “commitment to undoing past injustices and present inequalities is key to establishing the common good.”

“His further commitment to the free basic services which supports 3.5 million indigent households and continuing the payment of 17 million grants to the poorest of the poor, resonates with the fundamental option for the poor as does his promise to deal effectively with those who have plundered the resources of the nation and those who have established a culture of cronyism and corruption.”

The priest also considered it important how often Ramaphosa “promised to hold summits on a variety of important and often contested issues ranging from investment to jobs.”

“While some decried this emphasis as an entrenchment of a culture of talking at the risk of it diminishing action: from a CST perspective it undergirds the importance of dialogue as a powerful way of ensuring the inclusion of usually excluded voices in the process of developing public policy,” Fr. Pearson stated.

“In a country plagued with a history of identity politics and a growing exclusion of the poor from any meaningful decision making about their own futures, creating spaces for dialogue and thus building incrementally those communities of trust, is critical for any sustainable  life  together,” he added.

The priest concluded suggesting that this is the first time that “there seems to be a spirit of hope in South Africa” in several years.

“A solid indication of pursuing the quest for justice, enhancing a dialogical culture together with appropriate processes that implement such dialogues, and the generation of hope, are indeed the benchmarks of CST and a sign of the times in South Africa.”