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The World Seen From Rome
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Pope & President of Hungary Discuss Upcoming Eucharistic Congress in Budapest

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 5:01 PM

This morning, Pope Francis received the President of the Republic of Hungary, Mr. János Áder, in audience.

According to a communique released by the Holy See Press Office, during the “cordial” discussions, appreciation was expressed for their existing good bilateral relations.

In addition, the statement highlighted, they recalled the centenary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Hungary and the 30th anniversary of their re-establishment.

The focused in particular on the celebration of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest in September.

Moreover, the statement concluded, various themes of mutual interest were discussed, including “social justice, acceptance, the promotion of the family, the protection of creation, as well as the present and the future of Europe.”

Hungary’s President subsequently met with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Msgr. Mirosław Wachowski.

 

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Cardinal Porras Calls for Changes in Venezuela

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 3:56 PM

Venezuelan Cardinal Baltazar Porras said during a press conference at the ACN Foundation’s headquarters in Spain that “real changes are always built from the bottom up” and cautioned about “not raising our hopes about so many populisms that are doing so much damage to our continent”.

The Archbishop of Merida and Apostolic Administrator of Caracas has supported the ACN campaign to support the church in this country.

In Venezuela, 30% of children suffer from malnutrition, 60% of families search for food on the street every day, censorship has grown enormously, “85% of the media are confronted with restrictions and the free press is very much threatened,” said the Cardinal. He added that the disappearance of young people is constant and “the repression is enormous”.

However, the Catholic Church in Venezuela “does not lose hope, creativity and constancy” and is completely dedicated to helping the people in this social, political, economic and humanitarian crisis. “The Church works creatively in order to serve others,” he said. “In the most popular districts, the presence of the Church is impressive, involved in all these districts with a joy and a dedication that edifies me”.

The parishes in the dioceses of Venezuela have been transformed into social dining halls and medical dispensaries, the Cardinal explained. “The people unite to give solutions to the common problems” and it is “the simple and humble people who give and give, as in the Gospel, the little that they have”. According to the Venezuelan Cardinal, the work of the priests, religious and laity who are helping others is incredible: “they do not only give food; it is to accompany, to give their time and dedication. The greatest lack now is that of affection”.

Regarding the future of his country, the Archbishop of Merida added that “we want a way out of this situation that is peaceful and democratic, without the language of war, we all need each other. We must do something beyond political beliefs and ideologies, creating deep consciences for the present and for the future”.

The ACN Foundation is supporting priests, men and women religious, lay people, catechists, and seminarians to respond to the crossroads the country is at. In addition to helping in their support and formation, the Holy See’s Foundation has opened humanitarian emergency projects such as supporting parish canteens, building water wells or purchasing electric generators, among other needs.

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Martyrs’ Shrine Honors 21 Victims of ISIS on Fifth Anniversary of Death

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 3:44 PM

The shrine to the 21 Christian men beheaded by ISIS on a Libyan beach in February 2015, will hold an exhibition on February 15, honoring the men and marking the fifth anniversary of their death. Twenty of the men were Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt. The 21st victim was a Christian from Ghana. They have been declared martyrs by the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The exhibition documents the men’s story, from the time of their abduction to the return of their bodies to the village of Al Our, in Egypt’s Minya province, where the shrine is located. Visitors will be shown the orange jumpsuits the men wore when they were beheaded, tools with which they were caught, some sand on which their blood was spilled, and the specially made coffins that hold their remains.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the mother of two brothers, Samuel and Beshoy, 22 and 24-years-old, who were among the 21 martyrs, said: “I’m the mother of martyrs, I’m proud of them. They intercede for me and their father in heaven.” She said she is praying for ISIS followers, calling on “God to give them the light and open their eyes to the truth and the good.”

Before the release of the ISIS video “that showed the killing of my brothers and their colleagues, our family and the church in our village of Al Our had spent 45 days praying for them, as we knew of their kidnapping,” said Basheer, the brother of Samuel and Beshoy. He added that “God talked through their cries of ‘oh Jesus,’” as recorded in the video.

“Our martyrs were praying before they died; it was obvious that they were calling on Jesus. That gave us comfort and made us proud. Those 21 were fortunate to be martyrs for Christ and our community is honored” to have custody of their bodies, Basheer said.

He continued: “My father and mother felt relief when they became sure that their sons had kept their faith in Jesus Christ, who gave us much relief and comfort. My brothers have given us courage in the face of persecution; we are never afraid and never worry anymore.”

“The Coptic Church has a long history of martyrdom and has gone through many ages of persecution throughout its history.” Said Father Abu Fanus Unan, who serves at the shrine, which is housed in the newly built Church of Faith and the Homeland. He told ACN: “We are proud of the blood of these martyrs who refused to recant their Christian faith.” The Coptic Church honors many martyrs who died in centuries past, but the priest testified to the powerful impact of the witness of “contemporary martyrs who refused to recant the name of Jesus Christ. Their example strengthens our faith.”

The shrine is preparing to publish a book documenting miracles that are attributed to the martyrs’ intercession. “There are many miracles in the village attributed to them. A woman with cancer was cured after her prayer at their shrine,” reported Father Abu Fanus, who added that many people were baptized and became Christians because of the example of the 21 martyrs. “The Coptic Church survives thanks to the blood of her children,” the priest said.

The remains of Matthew Ayariga from Ghana are still in Libya. The Libyan ambassador to Egypt has promised the body will be transferred to Egypt once the political situation in Libya stabilizes.

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Mexico City Hosts Three Key Missionary Events

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 3:31 PM

Three important events are taking place in Mexico City these days, which concern the pastoral and missionary conversion of the Church on the American continent from the perspective of Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium. The first, which begins today, is intended for missiologists. The continental Seminary of Missiologists is held from February 14-16, which aims to trigger an academic reflection on the content and methodology of teaching theology and missiology in America. This space of study, reflection, and discussion, under the title “Transforming oneself to Con-forming an Outgoing Church”, will try to respond to the current challenges of the mission ad gentes, offering a contribution to the missionary maturation of the communities, pastors and continental institutions.

On Sunday, February 16,  in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the celebration will take place for the official launch of the path towards the VI American Mission Congress (CAM6), to be held in Puerto Rico in 2023. The Mass will be presided over by Archbishop His Exc. Mgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS). It will be concelebrated by numerous Bishops and priests, as well as by the National Directors of the PMS from all over America, who from February 17 to 20 will give life to the PMS Continental Assembly. Representatives from 23 American nations are expected to attend. In this context, particular attention will be given to the contribution of the PMS to the evangelization of young people, from the perspective of the recent Synod of Bishops on young people, and to the socio-political situation of each country in a missionary key.

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Pope’s Message to Spain’s National Congress of the Laity

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 2:57 PM

The following is the message sent by Pope Francis to His Eminence Cardinal Ricardo Blásquez Pérez, president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, on the occasion of the National Congress of the Laity taking place in Madrid from February 14-16, on the theme: “The People of God going forth”:

Message of the Holy Father

To the Most Eminent

Cardinal Ricardo Blázquez Pérez

President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference

Dear brother,

I am addressing you, as well as dear Cardinal Carlos Osoro Sierra, archbishop of Madrid, and all the brother bishops, priests, religious and, in a particular way, the lay faithful, on the occasion of the National Congress that you are celebrating with the theme: “The People of God going forth”

To reach this celebration they have travelled a long road of preparation, and this is beautiful, to walk together, to make a “synod”, sharing ideas and experiences from the different realities in which they are present, to enrich themselves and to make grow the community in which one lives grow.

It is significant that you begin this Congress on the day that the Church remembers Saints Cyril and Methodius, patrons of Europe. They promoted great evangelization in this continent, bringing the message of the Gospel to those who did not know it, making it understandable and close to the people of their time, with a new language and forms. With their ingenuity and their witness, they were able to bring the light and joy of the Gospel to a complex and hostile world. The fruit was to see how many believed and adhered to the faith, forming a community; a portion of the People of God began to walk in that wide region of the continent and continues to do so even today under the protection of those two evangelizing brothers.

This teaches us – as the motto of the Congress affirms – that we are the People of God, invited to live the faith, not individually or in isolation, but in community, as a people loved and willed by God. We belong to Him, and this implies not only having been incorporated into Him through baptism but living in coherence with that gift received. To do this, it is essential to be aware that we are part of a Christian community. We are not just another group, nor an NGO, but the family of God gathered around the same Lord. Remembering this leads us to deepen our faith every day: a gift that is lived in the liturgical action, in the common prayer of the whole Church, and which must be announced. It is the people called together by God, who walk under the impulse of the Spirit, Who renews them and makes them return to Him, again and again, to feel that they are His own.

And this emerging People of God lives in a concrete history, which no one has chosen, but which is given to them, like a blank page on which to write. It is called to leave behind its comforts and take a step towards the other, trying to give a reason for hope (cf. 1 Pt 3:15), not with prefabricated answers, but with incarnated and contextualized ones, in order to make understandable and accessible the Truth that, as Christians, moves us and makes us happy.

Therefore, we need that inner freedom so as to let ourselves be touched by the reality of our time and to have the courage to go out and meet it. The missionary mandate is always current and returns to us with the same strength as always, to make the voice of the Gospel resound ever new in this world in which we live, particularly in this old Europe, where the Good News is suffocated by so many voices of death and despair.

The living Word of God needs to be preached with passion and joy through Christian witness, so as to break down even the highest walls that isolate and exclude. It is time for you, men and women engaged in the world of culture, politics, industry… by your way of life, may you be able to bring the novelty and joy of the Gospel wherever you are. I encourage you to live your own vocation immersed in the world, listening, with God and with the Church, to the heartbeat of your contemporaries, of the people. And I ask you, please, to avoid at all costs the “temptations” of the laity within the Church, which can be: clericalism, which is a plague and encloses them in the sacristy, as well as competitiveness and ecclesial careerism, rigidity, and negativity… which suffocate the specific call to holiness in today’s world.

Therefore, do not be afraid to pound the streets, to enter every corner of society, to go out to the city limits, to touch the wounds of our people… this is the Church of God, who rolls up her sleeves to go out to meet the other, without judging or condemning him, but rather reaching out to him, to support, to encourage or simply to accompany him in his life. May the Lord’s command always resonate with you: “Go … and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28: 19).

I encourage you in your task and your effort, and I pray to the Lord that this Congress may bear abundant fruit.

And, please, I ask you to pray for me.

May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin keep you.

Fraternally,

Rome, from Saint John Lateran, 14 February 2020

Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

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Archbishop Follo: The Law of Freedom to Walk on the Path of Love

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 2:49 PM

Roman Rite – VI Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 16, 2020

Sir 15.15-20; Ps 119; 1 Cor 2,6-10; Mt 5.17-37

The law to be filled

 

Ambrosian Rite -VI Sunday after Epiphany

1Sam 21, 2-6a. 7ab; Ps 43 (42), 1. 3-5; Mt 12, 9b-21

The law is to love

 

1) Filling the law

Before proposing some reflections on the fulfillment of the Law, I think it useful to dwell on the first verse of today’s Gospel in which Jesus says “Do not believe that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill “(Mt 5:17). If we start from the Greek text and make a literal translation, this sentence would result: “Do not think that I have come to dissolve the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to dissolve, but to fill “. This allows us to understand that Jesus, the Messiah, is the one who fulfills the law, filling it with love.

Love does not destroy; it does not cancel the Law; it is instead the strength and the light to realize it and to teach it (first to do and then to teach) to perfection. Love is the refinement of the law.

Jesus is the first man who lives the Word of God, he is even the Word of God made flesh. Jesus presents himself as the perfect fulfillment of the law. Let us not forget that for the Jews the law is the Word of God, it is the will of God that man has never fulfilled.

The Messiah is the one who fulfills it and gives to man a new heart so that he can fulfill it. In this verse it is stated that the value of the law is perennial and must be fulfilled, and in Jesus it is fulfilled. The greatness of man depends on his observance of the Word of God; whoever observes it and teaches to do the same, will be great, but whoever does not observe it and teaches men to do the same, will be of little importance in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The will of God becomes the measure of the realization of man as a righteous person.

Shortly after, Christ says “If your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). This statement seems to contradict what Jesus said before because he introduces the following antitheses. In fact Jesus says: “do you see the scribes and Pharisees? They are those who know the law well and observe it perfectly. Now, if your righteousness does not exceed theirs, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. But then, what justice does Christ speak about? Of the justice that comes from love. True love leads to doing well. Therefore, I think it is correct to say that for Jesus justice means what comes from a new heart. Christian justice cannot be reduced to the observance of legal codes but arises from the ability to love which makes people live properly. Practically, the perspective in which Jesus puts us is the one of the Son. Whoever is a child, lives the filial and the fraternal relationships with the others not because of a law, but because of love. Therefore, by virtue of love he observes the law. In fact, those who love in truth do not kill, do not steal, and do not lie because they love.

Love is the fulfillment of the whole law. The law tells where you are wrong, does not give life but says where you can die. Love gives life and whoever loves has life. Therefore, love fulfills the law and doesn’t go against life.

2) The law[1] and its fulfillment [2].    

In today’s Gospel Jesus says that he wants to bring” to fulfillment the Law and the Prophets”[3] (Mt 5:17). In fact, Christ, the Word made flesh for love of us, is not only the Word of the Law, that is, the Way we must follow, but he is also the Truth that fulfills the law and the Life that rewards its fulfillment.

What is then the “fulfillment” of the law? The fulfillment of the law is the obedience to the commandment of love (cf. Rm 13: 9-10). Obedience becomes the sign that one lives under the grace of love. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love does not replace the law but complies with it and “fulfills” it.

Indeed, love is the only force that can really observe the law. We can say even more:” Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, as he fulfills its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: He himself becomes a living, personal [4] and bright law.

Psalm 19 compares the law of God to the light of the sun, when it says that “the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye” (19: 9).

The Book of Proverbs also states that “the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light “(6:23). Finally, we must not forget that Jesus himself presents his person as the definitive revelation using the same image “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8: 12), that is, the light of love. Christ is the Light without which we can walk only groping around. He is the Light that makes us know ourselves, understand the world and know where to go.

Walking in the light of Christ means taking up our daily cross and receive peace. Peace of heart is the strength of the believer: if we are steadfast in obeying the commands of God, our perseverance will be source of happiness.

Let’s  pray to our Father in Heaven that Christ , our Law [5],  may enlighten our hearts, fortify our souls and give us the wisdom of the simple so that we can always walk in His light, even when there are difficulties , troubles and dangers.

Jesus didn’t begin to preach, saying” Repent and believe the gospel so that the Kingdom may come to you “. He began by saying” The kingdom of God has come among you: repent and believe the gospel.” It is not first conversion then salvation, but first the gift of salvation and then conversion.

In Christianity there are duties and commandments, but the plan of the commandments, including the greatest of all that is to love God and the neighbor, is not the first plan, but the second one. First comes the plan of the gift, the plan of grace. “We love because he first loved us “(1 Jan 4:19). It is from the gift that the duty flows and not vice versa.

3) The law is a gift.

Christ tells us not only “what to do “, but “who we should be,” and teaches us how we should live to realize communion in the love for God and for our brothers and sisters. With the observance of the commandments and with love we obey to the law that is rooted in the love of God and that indicates the will of God to rule our lives with his command of charity. With this observance of the law of freedom we become more “human”, making shining in us the image and likeness of God who created us for the life with Him.

The law is the word of God that indicates his will for life. Jesus is the first that has fulfilled this will, which is a gift that God gives us to live as new people in love. Those who love fulfill the law, that is the journey of life, always observing it.

Saying that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, Jesus intends to take away the fear of punishment and to root us in confident love. He is the Man and knows every man, understanding their weakness. He knows that a law imposed by fear of punishment is fulfilled, we can say, three times out of ten. He also knows that a law that guarantees a prize is observed seven times out of ten. He wants to help us to observe it ten times out of ten. As a good older brother He reminds us that not only the law was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai among thunder and lightning, but it came from the Thought of God, who gave it to us thanks to his Love and proclaimed it with his Word.  Jesus, the Man who has God as Father, teaches us that holiness is not a “job” for a few but the vocation of all the baptized.

Holiness is not separation from the everyday life and from the daily toil to live, but to live in trust and confidence, as children do in their mother’s arms.

A significant example is that of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. What did this woman do that we cannot do? This great Saint answered to love as a young 24 years old woman can do. She didn’t do great things[6]. The greatness of our actions depends on the faith we have in His love. Let’s imitate Little Therese who believed with the certainty of being loved by God. She shook the Heaven with her “simple, small” acts of love, with a smile, with another step in the garden, with the offer of its pain due to bone cancer so that a missionary might have the strength to return to the path of evangelization.

Even her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, lived like little Therese of the Child Jesus, and I think that they taught the kind of lifestyle on which the Carmelite Saint traveled on as the” little way”. The little way of the spiritual childhood of Therese of Lisieux requires the pure and poor heart of a simple person like little Therese who knew how to stand empty-handed before God, without any foothold except “trust and nothing else than trust”.  Holiness and happiness are also a possible goal for us; it is “enough” to live every moment of our daily life offering it to God.

This lifestyle is practiced by the consecrated Virgins, who are simple women that express their talents in dedication to God and in service to others in their everyday life. It is in their daily donation that these women can discern their deepest vocation to take charge of life, even where no human eye but only the eyes of God see.

The Ordo Virginum is a gift to the Church of today to make visible the Kingdom of God among us. These women are called to “do the ordinary extraordinarily well “because consecrated virginity in the world has no operational defined tasks except the clear and courageous testimony of the Gospel in every environment. They give themselves completely to God while remaining in the world. They have as a distinctive sign to show the compassion of God which is manifested by their discreet presence. This presence that donates itself, allows others to meet the Presence that is a gift.

Their life testifies that not only we can do to others what we want done to us, but we can do to others what God does in us, loving with pure and vigorous love. The law of love is not to give a lot or a little, but to give with a lot of love. With the mouth we talk, with the eyes we see, with the hands we do. In consecrated life the mouth speaks words of praise to God, the eyes contemplate the love of God, the hands come together to pray and open themselves to donate.

        Patristic Reading From a commentary on the Diatesseron

   by Saint Ephrem, deacon

   (1, 18-19: SC 121, 52-53)

 

God’s word is an inexhaustible spring of life

“Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words. We loose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. As the Apostle says: They ate spiritual food and they drank spiritual drink.And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word. Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find. But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not you thirst the spring. For from it you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your own harm.Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains. What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on.”

[1] It is important to remember that the Law (in Hebrew the Torah) for the Jews is not a set of rules as we understand it; it is a gift that God has given to his people in order to understand his salvific will. In Hebrew Torah derives from the verb to teach (yrh) with a reference to the instruction transmitted by the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and, by extension, it is then attributed to all Scripture. Of course, this gift is practical, it involves concrete actions to be performed and therefore the translation into Greek with nomos (law) is correct.

[2] The fulfillment brought by Jesus to this Law can be understood with reference to:

  1. a) his personal behavior (he observed the precepts of the Law);
  2. b) his role of fulfillment of the Scriptures, underlined by St. Matthew (see chapters 1-2 and other passages);
  3. c) within the scope of his teaching, as expressed in the commandment of love (cf. Mt 22:40) from which all others take strength and meaning.

[3] Law and Prophets were the first two great parts of the Hebrew Bible (the third part is constituted by the Psalms). By extension, they indicate the whole Old Testament, and St. Matthew uses it in this sense (cf. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40).

[4] Saint John Paul II,” Veritatis Splendor”

[5] The Torah of the Messiah is the Messiah himself; it is Jesus. In it, what of the stone tablets of Sinai is truly essential and permanent now appears inscribed in the living flesh: the double commandment of love, which finds expression in the “feelings” that were in Jesus (Phil 2,5). (J. Ratzinger, The Church, Israel and world religions, Rome 1967, p 74)

[6] Then, what things are great before God? What difference is there between Saint Francis Xavier’s achievements and what little Teresa did? Every difference disappears before the infinite greatness of God. A person’s life and greatness are nothing before God. What makes a man’s act great is that every act reaches a God who loves him.

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Valentine Blessing Address of Bishop Dennis Nulty

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 2:49 PM

Bishop Dennis Nulty of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, Ireland, performed the traditional blessing of an engaged couple at the reliquary of Saint Valentine, Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street, Archdiocese of Dublin. Following is his address, which provides some interesting background on the saint.

******

It is my very pleasant duty to welcome you all today to the Shrine of Saint Valentine.  This has become a very special event over the years, as a couple present themselves at the Shrine for a blessing, and the blessing is imparted in the context of presenting the annual returns of Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service, through its three separate companies.  This year Jonathan and Michelle are that couple.  I welcome both of them and their families who join us this day.

Last year I was privileged to celebrate two Masses here in Whitefriar Street on Saint Valentine’s Day.  I couldn’t but notice the couples, like Jonathan and Michelle, of all ages I might add, who made their way over to the Shrine, perhaps to write an intention, pray a while, light a candle or maybe take a quick photograph or smile for a selfie before leaving.

Most of them had little knowledge of Saint Valentine, except his association with love. I am always intrigued at this annual event that brings the family of Accord on the island together.  Most questions I field are around the Saint himself and how the relics come to be here in the heart of Dublin city.

Flowers, candy, red hearts, and romance seem to sum up Saint Valentine’s Day and yet all of these were very distant from the life of the Roman priest who gives this feast day its name.  Valentine was a priest who lived in the time of the great persecutor Claudius II.

Claudius issued an edict prohibiting the marriage of young people, on the basis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married ones, who might fear for their wives or families if they died in battle.  Saint Valentine seemed to operate in a very permissive society and people of faith did their very best to encourage the Church’s vision for marriage and relationships. In presenting that vision Valentine secretly married young couples.

He was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing these clandestine marriages.  The story is told that he cured the daughter of one of the judges assigned to his case.  The young girl was blind.  The judge Asterius became a believer as a result.  Valentine was sentenced to execution, all because of his promotion of Christian marriage in the year 269AD.  And the last message Saint Valentine wrote before facing his executioner was a note to this young girl signed off “from your Valentine”.  And so, today’s commercial business has been born out of that note and out of this man, we know as Saint Valentine.

And the relic arrived here in Dublin in 1836, because of a Carmelite priest Father John Spratt.  His reputation as a good preacher reached Rome and on a visit to Rome, preaching at the famous Jesuit Church, the Gesu, Pope Gregory XVI gifted him with the remains of Saint Valentine and a small vessel tinged with his blood.  Since then couples have been coming here to Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s Church to pray at his shrine.

So what does a reliquary that contains the heart of a Saint say to us in the heart of Dublin this day?  It speaks to us of love and the importance of love in a society that can be very cruel and callous. Saint Paul speaking to the Corinthians tells us what love is and what love isn’t.  Jonathan and Michelle, and all our couples who complete their Accord Marriage Preparation program with us, choose scripture readings that speak to them of love and Saint Paul regularly features.

Since the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August 2018, Accord has been undergoing a thorough review of how we prepare couples for the sacrament.  And this review is in the context of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love, marriage and the family which the Holy Father published in 2016.

Accord, in its three companies, here in Dublin, in Northern Ireland and throughout the country, recognizes that couples who present for our preparation program are on a shared journey, and we are privileged to walk some of that journey with them.  In the words of Pope Francis:

love needs time and space, everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one another and gaze into each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a strong relationship[1].

The program Accord offers every couple that time and that space.  And when things may not go so well, Accord is also here to accompany a couple in counseling and to do so non-judgementally and always gently.

This annual blessing ceremony allows us in Accord to reflect on the valuable contribution marriage and the family offer the wider Irish society.  I thank all those who work in Accord – the operational heads of the three companies, the chairs of our respective boards, our facilitators, counselors and specialist teams and admin staff across the Accord family.  It is an opportune time to thank the dioceses who help to fund our work.  I would like to take this opportunity to encourage people to give generously to the Annual Dublin Diocesan Collection for Accord which takes place this coming weekend.

I also take the opportunity to thank TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency, for its major contribution to our counseling services; it is deeply appreciated.  I equally appreciate the contribution of the HSE and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.  The generosity of our funders allows Accord to continue to support marriage and family life and, for this, the couples and individuals who avail most of that important support, are very grateful indeed.

For over fifty years Accord has specialized in supporting marriages and families across our island.  For thirteen years we have hosted this annual blessing ceremony in honor of Saint Valentine here at his Shrine.  I conclude with the beautiful simple prayer associated for years with a visit here to the shrine here at Whitefriar Street, and it says:

Saint Valentine,

touch the hearts

of our young people;

intercede for their needs;

hear my prayer.

Amen.

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Santa Marta: Pope Invites Each One to Thank Loved Ones

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 2:45 PM

“I would like to thank the persons that accompany us for their patience and ask forgiveness for our faults,” said Pope Francis during the Mass celebrated at Saint Martha’s on February 14, 2020.

On the occasion of the retirement of employee Patricia, the Pope invited each one to think of his/her “extended” family,” “of all the persons that accompany us on the path of life: neighbors, friends, companions of work, of study . . . “ So he remembered persons he has known: “Myriam, who left with her child; Elvira who was an example of the struggle for life, to the end.”

“We aren’t alone. The Lord wants us with people, He wants us in company; He doesn’t want us to be egoists: egoism is a sin,” he stressed. And he put us on guard  against gossiping “ and sins “against charity.”

“Today is a day to thank and to ask for forgiveness, each one of us, from the depth of our heart, to persons that accompany us in life, for a part of life, for our whole life,” said the Pontiff. He also encouraged us to express our gratitude to God: “Thank you, Lord, for not leaving us alone.”

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Hong Kong Takes Coronavirus Precautions

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 7:29 AM

In the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, the diocese in Hong Kong has decided to suspend all public Masses for two weeks.

“The next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic. The diocese has decided to suspend all public Masses, on Sundays and weekdays for two weeks, including the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, from February 15 to 28. Some Church members may be disappointed. However, I hope that everyone can understand this is not an easy decision,” wrote Cardinal John Tong, Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, in a message released on February 13, sent to Agenzia Fides.

The Cardinal invites everyone “not to panic”, and to “deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbors and all people”. “In addition to fulfilling our Mass obligation by participating in the Mass online, receiving Holy Communion spiritually, meditating on the Scriptures, or saying the Rosary, at home we can care more for the health of our family, especially the elderly and the children”, explained Cardinal Tong.

The Church asks the faithful to “help one another, share anti-epidemic materials, live the Gospel virtues of faith, hope, and love, and pray for each other”. “Through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary, may the Lord listen to our prayers that the epidemic will soon disappear, and grant us good health and well-being”, concludes the Cardinal in the letter.

Meanwhile, the government of Hong Kong has extended the suspension of schools until at least March 16. Schools have been closed since the Chinese New Year break began in late January. “We are listening to doctors. We will announce the date of the resumption of schools”, said Minister of Education Kevin Yeung, reiterating strategies to prevent and control the epidemic.

Hong Kong currently has 50 confirmed coronavirus cases and is at the forefront of the global battle to contain the disease.

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Cardinal Bo’s Appeal: Entrust All Victims of Coronavirus & People Worldwide to Lady of Health

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 6:25 AM

“We should pray that Our Blessed Mother intervenes to control and help prevent a global epidemic of Coronavirus,” says the president of Asia’s bishops.

This is at the heart of the message of Salesian Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon (Myanmar), which His Eminence has provided to ZENIT, which was sent before the Feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, and can be read in its entirety below.

The leader of Asia’s bishops encouraged all faithful to “fervently ask her maternal protection to stop the rapid spread of this deadly virus, give hope and courage, and lay her miraculous healing hands upon them.”

“In these tragic moments,” he reminded, “may Mother Mary who stood by the cross of her dying son Jesus, be the pillar of strength and beacon of hope to the health workers who risk their lives to save the lives of their sick brothers and sisters.”

Cardinal Bo prayed “the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, comfort families and sustain the great commitment by the Chinese community that has already been put in place to combat the epidemic.”

He also appealed to all his brother bishops in Asia “to entrust all victims of Coronavirus and people of the whole world to the Lady of health – Our Lady of Lourdes.”

Myanmar is emerging from decades of military rule after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the 2015 elections and has taken office.

The Muslim minority of the Rohingyas is considered by the UN to be one of the most persecuted. According to data from the Arakan Project, a humanitarian organization defending Rohingyas rights, since 2010, some 100,000 members of the minority have fled Burma (Myanmar) by sea. Violence between radical Buddhists and Rohingyas has left, since 2012, more than 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.

Here is Cardinal Bo’s full message provided to ZENIT English:

***

Message on Coronavirus Epidemic 2020

To all my  brothers and Sisters,

All blessings on the upcoming feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the miraculous healer. Special prayers and blessings to victims of the deadly Coronavirus plaguing the world, particularly our Asian continent.

Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the virus has spread to some 30 countries as of Saturday 8 February (10.50 GMT) with 34, 956 cases of confirmed infected people of which 6,106 in severe condition, and killed 724 brothers and sisters, majority of the victims in China and 2,355 persons have been reported as recovered.

Outside of China, Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in almost all countries of Asia.

The Coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization on December 31.

At this critical juncture, I would like to be close to and pray for my brothers and sisters who are sick because of this virus that has spread through China and the world over.

May the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, comfort families and sustain the great commitment by the Chinese community that has already been put in place to combat the epidemic.

I also appeal to all my brother bishops in Asia to entrust all victims of Coronavirus and people of the whole world to the Lady of health – Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast we shall celebrate on Tuesday 11th February.

We should pray that Our Blessed Mother intervenes to control and help prevent a global epidemic of corona virus. We shall fervently ask her maternal protection to stop the rapid spread of this deadly virus and give hope and courage and lay her miraculous healing hands be upon them.

In these tragic moments, may Mother Mary who stood by the cross of her dying son Jesus, be the pillar of strength and beacon of hope to the health workers who risk their lives to save the lives of their sick brothers and sisters.

Charles Cardinal Bo SDB

President: FABC

Archbishop of Yangon

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes – 2020

[Text of Message provided to ZENIT English by Cardinal Bo]

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Challenges in Libya: Springboard to Europe

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 5:14 AM

Libya has been at war for almost nine years: government versus militias, both supported by foreign powers. The “Berlin Conference” in mid-January wanted to make a breakthrough. But the most important agreements didn’t even last a week. The Apostolic Vicar of the capital diocese of Tripoli, Bishop George Bugeja, gave information in an interview about the current situation in the country, the expectations of the Church in the peace process and the upcoming meeting of the Catholic bishops in the Mediterranean. Tobias Lehner from the worldwide Catholic foundation organization “Aid to the Church in Need” spoke to him.

ACN: The Berlin Conference in mid-January should be a contribution to finally pacify the civil war in Libya that has been going on since 2011. How do you rate the results?

The Conference was a very positive sign in a long process to help Libya reach a situation in which Peace and Reconciliation are finally achieved.  It will not be an easy process to arrive to get to this point since there are profound divisions and the parties in conflict are far apart, even finding it difficult to be at the same table to discuss the situation itself.  Surely the various countries that took part in the Berlin Conference have to continue doing their part in this long process in talking with one voice and putting in practice what has been achieved during the Conference.

The ceasefire to which the warring parties agreed lasted less than a week. The arms embargo is also said to have been broken again. What is the current situation in the capital, Tripoli?

Unfortunately, yes there has been some fighting since the ceasefire agreement. Fighting creates tension. Tripoli airport opens and closes according to the situation but schools, shops and offices are open at least in the central part of the city.

Libya has been at war since the Arab Spring in 2011. Can the continuing wave of refugees to Europe be stopped at all?

I think that the problem of the refugees is not Libya itself. Libya is a springboard to enter to Europe.  Refugees coming from Sub-Saharan countries are escaping from the problems they have in their own countries and trying to find a better future for themselves and their families.  So to stop or diminish the wave of refugees from trying to enter Europe one has to help the countries from where they are leaving to find solutions for the problems that exist there.  Otherwise refugees will continue to travel to Europe even risking their own lives as they are already doing.

Although Christians are a small minority of a few thousand believers, their voice has been heard over and over again in the conflict. What are you doing, socially and politically, to improve the situation of the people?

Politics are not in our way of working.  We are the Pastoral Ministers of the Catholic Church.  We do our best with our limitations to help people first with our presence. I must say that we as the Catholic Church stayed in Libya throughout the conflict even when all others churches and all European embassies left the country. So our presence with our flock has been and is a sign of encouragement to all those who come to the Church.  Apart from this we also have a small Caritas centre from where we give help to those in need, including first aid medical attention with the presence of a doctor and nurses.

At the end of February, Pope Francis invited the Mediterranean bishops to a conference in Bari. Among other things, it should deal with the topics of migration and peace policy. What are your expectations for this meeting?

I will hopefully be attending this meeting in Bari at which Pope Francis will be present on the last day.  I do not think that the bishops present will be those who will find solutions.  I expect that we will be able to discuss and put forward our particular situations, those that each bishop is experiencing in his diocese, and learn and support from each other.

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Warning of Worldliness

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 5:45 PM
A Warning Against Slowly Slipping Into Worldliness, at Heart of Pope’s Morning Homily

At Santa Marta, Francis Reminds Only Entrusting Ourselves to God Can Straighten Our Sorted Course

Pope & President of Mali Discuss Religious Radicalism & Terrorism

Also Reflect on Growing Food Insecurity, Migration, & Peacekeeping

Pope Receives Metropolitan Hilarion of Russian Orthodox Church

From Its Archives, ZENIT Brings You Its Recent Exclusive Interview With Top Official of Russian Orthodox Church

Missionary in Bangladesh Calls for Greater Role for Laity

‘To Bring the Gospel of Christ into Society’

Training the Educators: ‘A Priest for You’

‘You have shown me the beauty and universality of the Church’

Bishops Asks Government to do More to Protect Nigeria’s Christians

ACN Interview with Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria

Primate of Poland: We Undertake Systematic Support for People Wounded in the Church

Presented Activities of Church for Victims

Church Calls for End to Inter-Ethnic Clashes in Kazakhstan

Prayers Offered for Victims

‘Fatima’: True Story of Marian Apparitions to Open in Theaters April 24

Shrine of Fatima and Legatus Summit Early Screenings Garner Positive Reactions

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Primate of Poland: We Undertake Systematic Support for People Wounded in the Church

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:55 AM

We undertake systematic support for people wounded in the Church – said Archbishop Wojciech Polak, Primate of Poland and Delegate for the Protection of Children and Youth of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, during the press conference “Helping the Wounded in the Church”.

The Primate of Poland presented the activities of the Church for the victims, he spoke about the Saint Joseph Foundation, which is beginning its work, trainings conducted all over Poland and supporting dioceses in working out principles of prevention.

The conference started with the testimony of Mr. Tadeusz, who in his childhood was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest. “This experience has had a huge impact on my mental and spiritual life and on my family and professional relationships for 30 years” – he said. He forgave the priest who hurt him. “Because I risked my life and came back to the Church, God made me fit for marriage. Today I am a husband and father of several children” – stressed the man. He added that for normal functioning he still needs therapeutic, pharmacological and spiritual support.

The Delegate for the Protection of Children and Youth Archbishop Polak emphasized: “Mr. Tadeusz’s testimony was a cry to us not to be indifferent. We are looking for the best way to answer this cry. We are doing everything to break the indifference”.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak summarized the current state of assistance to the victims and presented the activities that will be undertaken by the Church in the coming months. He also informed that at the beginning of this year the Foundation was registered in the National Court Register. “We want the Saint Joseph Foundation to have a coordinator in each diocese who will reach out with help and support to those who need it there where they are” – he said.

The Primate of Poland also spoke about the “Wounded in the Church” initiative that consists mainly in a helpline. Those involved in the initiative not only offer advice but also provide concrete help. Archbishop Wojciech Polak also informed about preventive actions taken by the Church in Poland. “The Child Protection Centre is doing a huge job. Father Adam Żak and his team conduct trainings all over Poland. Priests, monks, nuns, catechists, educators and animators are trained. So far about 1000 people have already participated in the trainings. In each diocese and religious province there is a designated delegate for the protection of children and youth – a person responsible for receiving reports of sexual abuse of minors by a cleric and for indicating psychological, legal and pastoral assistance” – he said.

Archbishop Polak reminded that in October last year, the Polish Episcopate amended the “Guidelines” on canonical investigation in case of clerical accusations of abuse of minors. “This was in connection with Pope Francis’ motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, in which he recommended that each bishops’ conference should establish a system allowing for the submission, in an accessible manner, of reports of alleged pedophile crimes against minors” – he said.

Barbara Smolińska, a psychotherapist and co-initiator of the “Wounded in the Church” initiative, pointed out that the testimonies of the victims prove that for full healing one needs a skilful combination of spiritual support and professional psychotherapy.

The conference was accompanied by the premiere of the book “Tears of Innocence. Sexual violence in childhood. The Way of Spiritual Healing” by Joël Pralong, published by the Dominican Publishing House “W drodze”.

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Pope Receives Metropolitan Hilarion of Russian Orthodox Church

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:45 AM

This morning, Feb. 13, 2020, Pope Francis received Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The Vatican did not issue a statement about the encounter, but Zenit has decided to publish its recent exclusive interview done with Metropolitan Hilarion by its Senior Vatican Correspondent.

***

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Metropolitan Hilarion to ZENIT: We Will Continue to Work in the Spirit of Historic Encounter in Havana

Top Official of Russian Orthodox Church Speaks to ZENIT at Community of Sant’Egidio ‘Spirit of Assisi’ Encounter in Madrid

by Deborah Castellano Lubov

“Unfortunately, today we are witnessing an escalation of violence hidden behind religious slogans.” This is the alarm launched in Madrid by Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, of the Patriarchate of Moscow. But “the transfiguration of the surrounding world begins with the transfiguration of the inner world of man,” he added, speaking yesterday in Madrid to the audience of “Peace without borders,” gathering more than 300 leaders and representatives of all world religions, coming from 60 countries.

“Radical groups organize terrorist acts that claim lives of thousands of absolutely innocent victims,” Hilarion decries. “The level of profanation is so great, that terrorists carry out their actions even during church celebrations, giving evidence of what kind of spirit animates them.”

The Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations took part in the 33rd interreligious meeting organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, in different cities of Europe, to commemorate the historic day of prayer for peace convened in 1986 in Assisi by Pope John Paul II with the leaders of all world religions.

Hilarion represents the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, the largest Church (in terms of the number of faithful) of the Orthodox world.

In an interview with ZENIT on the sidelines of the event in Madrid, Hilarion expressed: “Religious leaders are opinion-leaders, they have influence, they are very influential, too, and we must be together in order to demonstrate our unity in the desire for peace among people.”

Therefore, he came to Madrid, since “the Russian Orthodox Church believes it is very important that representatives of different religions work together for the achievement of peace among people and nations.”

Hilarion gave a speech during the opening ceremony of the meeting, Sept. 15, which continues today and tomorrow with 27 round tables on a wide range of world religious and social, economic, political issues. A solemn closing ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow, Sept. 17, with the signing of a solemn “peace appeal.”

The Russian metropolitan started by quoting a great ascetic of the Russian Orthodox Church, Seraphim of Sarov: “Gain a spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved.” Therefore, he remarked that “we know of numerous examples in which an attempt has been made to radically transform society and, in reality, have brought violence, hatred and social opposition. They were unsuccessful attempts precisely because, trying to change society, man did not change himself and was moved by the spirit of enmity and not that of peace.”

According to the Metropolitan, “today the dialogue between peoples and religions is increasingly necessary and urgent,” following the example of meekness, charity, forgiveness, offered by so many saints in Christian history, such as Francis of Assisi, who “preached peace to Muslims and related himself lovingly to all Creation.”

Another shining example of service to peace, Hilarion said, “is the Community of Sant’Egidio, which every year organizes this international meeting to create bridges between people belonging to different horizons of thought and culture, to stop the enmity and build a solid and beneficial peace in the world.”

In Russia, he explained, “for several years, a group has been active for humanitarian aid to the Syrian population affected by the war, where Christians of different denominations and also Muslims work side by side. This collaboration becomes a school of peace for all those who participate, because it teaches us to overcome selfishness and open our hearts to others.”

Finally, in his address, Metropolitan Hilarion repeatedly recalled the joint declaration signed by Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during their first, historic meeting in Havana, on Feb. 12, 2016: “the attempts to justify criminal actions with religious slogans are absolutely unacceptable”; “differences in the understanding of religious truths must not prevent people of different faiths from living in peace and harmony.”

“What do you hope from these encounters?,” Zenit’s Deborah Castellano Lubov asked Hilarion on the sidelines of the encounter, noting that she also met him recently in the southern Italian city of Bari for the unprecedented ecumenical gesture for the Middle East by Pope Francis and Christian leaders of the Middle East. That event too was organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.

FEATURE: Pope Francis Visits City of St. Nicholas in Unprecedented Ecumenical Gesture for the Middle East

“Our hope is a peaceful world, peace among nations, peace in many places troubled now by internal conflicts or conflicts between different countries. We have many examples today, here in Madrid, when people spoke about how massive international problems were solved thanks to the goodwill of both sides of the conflicts.”

Finally, with regard to the 2016 encounter in Cuba between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill, Zenit asked if it would be possible, and when, a new meeting in Moscow.

“I believe that the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Cuba, in 2016, paved the way to a much better understanding. We will continue to work in the spirit of that historical encounter in Havana,” he answered.

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Pope & President of Mali Discuss Religious Radicalism & Terrorism

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 11:32 AM

This morning, Pope Francis received the President of the Republic of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, in audience.

According to a communique released by the Holy See Press Office, during the “cordial” discussions, appreciation was expressed for their existing good bilateral relations.

Moreover, the statement specified, “the parties spoke about the domestic situation in the country, with particular reference to humanitarian and security issues, endangered by the spread of religious radicalism and terrorism.”

“Reference,” it continued, “was then made to various matters of regional and international interest, including growing food insecurity in the Sahel region, the phenomenon of migration, and peacekeeping in western Africa.”

Mali’s President subsequently met with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

 

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A Warning Against Slowly Slipping Into Worldliness, at Heart of Pope’s Morning Homily

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 10:50 AM

Words of caution: be careful not to slowly slip into worldliness, and if you start to, pray to the Lord so His grace and love give you a new start…

According to Vatican News, Pope Francis stressed this during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta as he reflected on today’s First Reading which focused on the fall of King Solomon.

Recalling today’s reading, Francis observed that generally this falling toward worldliness is not something that happens one day to the next, but happens little by little over time.

“Think of this sin of Solomon, think of how that wise Solomon fell, blessed by the Lord, with all the inheritances of his father David, how he slowly fell, anesthetized towards this idolatry, towards this worldliness and the kingdom was taken away,” he said.

Lamenting the sad gradual fall of Solomon, Francis noted that only God saves us and stops us from this, if we turn to him.

Pope Francis concluded, giving the following invitation: “Let’s ask the Lord for the grace to understand when our heart begins to weaken and slip, to stop us.”

“It will be His grace and His love that stop us,” the Pontiff said, “if we pray to Him.”

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Missionary in Bangladesh Calls for Greater Role for Laity

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 10:00 AM

“The Church in Bangladesh is called to give greater emphasis and responsibility to lay Catholics, trying to make understood that the apostolate is not only the ecclesial service, in the context of parishes or movements, but is also and especially that in society, in structures related to politics, the world of work, the family and in the context of dialogue with young people, in all those other realities where it is urgent to bring the Gospel of Christ.” This is what Fabrizio Calegari, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), said in an interview with Fides News Agency summarizing the challenges of the Bengali Catholic community. “With a spirit of service – he underlines – it is necessary to try to increase mainly the spiritual life of the faithful called to witness Christ in the dear areas of society.”

More than fifty different ethnic groups coexist in the Asian country, more than half of these continue to practice Aboriginal traditions and animist cults, while a part of those indigenous communities has accepted the message of the Gospel. “Among these groups – notes the priest – most of the evangelizing activity of our missionaries takes place: every year we welcome many newly baptized”. Father Calegari worked in two PIME hostels in the diocese of Dinajpur which host children belonging to tribal minorities from poor families for twenty years, offering them human and professional formation: “In Bangladesh – he observes – thousands of young people, boys and girls, students, workers and unemployed are truly left to themselves, and no one takes care of them”.

The PIME missionaries are in particular close to this part of the Indian subcontinent – ex Eastern Pakistan – the first three missionaries destined for Bengal, Albino Parietti, Luigi Limana, and Antonio Marietti, accompanied by the catechist Giovanni Sesana, land in Calcutta at the beginning of June 1855 and on June 17 they arrive in Berhampur, sent by the Apostolic Vicar of the Bengali capital, on which they depend. “In 1910 – continues Father Calegari’s story – the mission begins among the indigenous population of the Santal. Other missionaries in those years dedicated themselves to the assistance of lepers”.

Currently, the communities of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions are located in the dioceses of Dhaka, Dinajpur, and Rajshahi. Dialogue with Islam, the apostolate and human promotion among the Santal natives are still the priorities of that missionary community in Bangladesh. Among the privileged channels for evangelization, Father Calegari highlights how education and work in schools play a fundamental role: “Our apostolate – he reports – passes through education: in this way, we reach most of our faithful. We have many primary, junior and college schools, attended by 80 percent non-Catholic students. With educational works, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus also learn to know and appreciate Christ”.

Recalling that all the baptized are “missionary disciples”, the missionary reports, one focuses today on the formation of the laity, called to give testimony of the Gospel in the structures of society.

Bangladesh is the fourth most populous Muslim nation in the world. About 90 percent of the 160 million inhabitants are Muslims, about 8 percent Hindus. There are about 600,000 Christians, 400,000 of whom are Catholics.

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Training the Educators: ‘A Priest for You’

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 9:59 AM

“You have shown me the beauty and universality of the Church”, said Father Habtelel Ghebray from Eritrea – Father Hagos Danne from Ethiopia also thanks us, with these words: “Together with all the priests, our brothers from all over the world, we were like one big family. The Catholic Church is one great family.” These two priests had recently taken part in an international training course in Rome for seminary teachers and were interviewed by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Each year this course brings together over a hundred professors, rectors, and lecturers from all over the world.

They spend a month in the Regina Apostolorum Institute, not only brushing up on their theoretical knowledge and getting up to date with the latest research in the field of education but also experiencing the wonderful depths of that mutual “sacramental fraternity” described by the Congregation for the Clergy in its guidelines for priestly formation – in shared prayer, Holy Mass and joint excursions to view the Eternal City. This awareness of their common fraternity, in the priesthood and service of the sacraments, is something that needs to be constantly deepened. The patron saint of priests, the holy Curé of Ars, put it like this: “Oh how great is the priest! He will understand himself only in heaven. He holds the key to the heavenly treasures. The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution, does not administer the sacraments to himself. He is a priest not for himself, but for you.”

It is this awareness that the seminary formators must seek to convey to their seminarians, and they are strengthened in this mission by the spirit of fraternity they experience here. Most of them come from Africa and Latin America, from countries where the Church is rich in vocations but too poor to be able to fund the cost of these courses. So each year ACN contributes more than €100,000.

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Bishops Asks Government to do More to Protect Nigeria’s Christians

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 8:06 AM

Nigeria is a unique country. Its inhabitants are distributed almost equally between Christians and Muslims. It comprises about one fifth of the African population, so a crisis that is not seriously dealt with in Nigeria would end up affecting the rest of Africa.  Msgr. Augustine Obiora Akubeze, Catholic Archbishop of Benin City and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, explains in an interview with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) the serious political problems arising from the current situation of insecurity in the country due to both the atrocities of the terrorist group Boko Haram and other radical groups such as the Fulanis.

ACN: How would you describe the current situation of Christians in Nigeria?

Msgr. Augustine Obiora Akubeze: I really do not know if I will be able to paint the true picture of Nigeria to you and the world in just one interview. I must admit that I am going to try to do so, knowing that I risk doing a great disservice because of time constraint and the complexities with regard to the nature of Nigeria.

The current situation in Nigeria reflects an unnecessary, unwarranted and self-inflicted tension. A politically polarized nation. Unfortunately, some of our political leaders have made and keep making decisions, statements, and appointments that make some Nigerians from some parts of the country question again and again the reason for the unity of the country. We live in a Nigeria where we have a Constitution that recognizes the Federal Character principle, which means that in the administration of Federal Institutions there must be representation from every sector of the country. This was designed to make every Nigerian feel welcomed and to know that Nigeria belongs to everyone. In the face of the daunting challenge of great insecurity previously never witnessed in Nigeria except during the civil war, the present Federal Government has decided to take a completely suspicious approach to appointments of people to sensitive positions. Virtually all the officials who advise the President are from the same Hausa-Fulani ethnic group. 95 percent of them are Muslims, in a country where there are about 50 percent Christians. The authority to provide leadership in the security sector is led by one religious sect, one ethnic group, in a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation! We at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria have repeatedly spoken out against this attitude of the Federal Government. We have met the President and expressed our complete disapproval at this position and action of the Government.

But there has been insecurity for a number of years.  Boko Haram has been threatening Nigeria for a decade. Can we say they are hurt but not defeated?

Boko Haram attacks on Nigerians have continued for many years. This terrorist group that has sworn allegiance to ISSIS is operative in North-East of Nigeria. But they have staged attacks even in Abuja the Federal capital. Their religious extremist ideology is to make the whole of Nigeria an Islamic Republic. They resent and reject everything that is Western, except that they use Western-made guns and ammunition to attack innocent Nigerians. They have attacked both Muslims and Christians in the past. But presently, they are focusing on the killing and kidnapping of mainly Christians. For the majority of Nigerians, the Government response has largely been unsatisfactory. As we speak, Leah Sharibu, who was taken captive by the Boko Haram and refused to renounce her Christian faith, is still being held. Only a few weeks ago, a local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) was beheaded by Boko Haram. Rev. Lawan Andima was 58 years old, married, and the father of nine children when he was killed simply because he was a Christian.

Do you think the government isn’t doing enough to protect Christians?

The President of Nigeria recently stated that he was shocked at the unabated killing of Nigerians, who are mostly Christians. Many Nigerians wonder whether the President lives in a parallel universe. How can he be surprised at this time? After some of us have attended mass burials of Christians killed by Boko Haram?  The Government is certainly not doing enough to protect both Christians and Muslims. A few days ago, the National Assembly unanimously moved that the President change the officials because they are not providing sufficient security for the lives of Nigerians. This legislative arm of the Government has a majority of the ruling party as members. This speaks to the fact that Nigerians are dissatisfied with the level of incompetency shown by the Government of Nigeria with regards to protecting lives and properties. We at the CBCN already stated in our communique that a Government that is incapable of fulfilling the constitutional obligation to secure lives and properties of Nigeria will gradually lose legitimacy.

In addition to Boko Haram, we are witnessing more and more attacks against Christians by other radical groups such as the Fulanis. How does that affect the situation of Christians in Nigeria?
In the past, the serious security challenges were confined to a particular area, namely, the North-East of Nigeria. But presently there is insecurity everywhere. People are kidnapped for ransom basically in every part of Nigeria. There are many instances of herdsmen and farmer clashes. The herdsmen are predominantly Fulani Muslims from the North, the same area as the President. The audacity with which they move to every part of Nigeria looking for grass to feed their cattle is unprecedented. There are too many cases of these herdsmen invading farmlands in every part of the country and they are armed with guns and other weapons. These herdsmen, already designated by the international community as a terrorist group, act with impunity. The lack of significant prosecution of these men further fuels the belief that they have the backing of the Federal Government. I must admit that I do not have conclusive evidence to state that this group do have the backing of the Government. But to do nothing or what appears to be a lack of true will-power or motivation to stop these crimes increasing makes it difficult to convince more Nigerians that there is no connection between one-sided appointments of officials and the lack of prosecution of perpetuators of these crimes against humanity and the seemingly selective killing of Christians. Justice and peace are always together. Anyone who wants genuine peace must work for justice. For peace and security to reign in Nigeria, there must be political justice, religious justice, ethnic justice, economic justice, judicial justice, and justice for everyone.

Recently we were shocked by the kidnapping of seminarians and the murder of one of them, Michael Nnadi, in Kaduna. We know that the other three were released. Can you tell us something about their health?

We heard the news with sadness in our hearts. The kidnapping of the seminarians, unfortunately, comes amidst the kidnapping of priests and religious by the same group of people who are terrorizing Nigerians. Too many priests and religious have been kidnaped in the recent past. The seminarians who were released, I understand are presently receiving treatment. As to their specific health conditions I am not able to speak about that. But suffice to say, from the stories we have heard from those held in captivity, there is no doubt that the young men would have been greatly distressed and traumatized. We are pained and sad at the killing of Michael Nnadi. And to know that he was an orphan is more painful. May his soul and the souls of all who have died in the hands of these criminals rest in peace.

How is it possible to ensure the security of places of worship or other places like seminaries and monasteries?

Every institution is trying to provide security in these places of worship. Based on local intelligent reports the religious leaders are responding to the needs of their people. There are some churches that request the services of the Nigerian Police for Sunday worship and have to pay for the security provided for them. There are others who contract private security outfits. In some cases, the faithful themselves volunteer to provide security. It depends on the particular area. There is presently no homogeneous description of security plans for places of worship and seminaries. Most of the privately contracted security agencies are not well armed to be able to deal with the level of threat posed by herdsmen and Boko Haram.

 Is there anything we can do to help you in this area?

I would like to thank you for the interest your institution has constantly shown in the plight of suffering people. To be specific, the plight of the poor in Nigeria. Your assistance has been of great help to many Nigerians, especially our brothers and sisters in the Northern dioceses.

One area that I think the Western nations and the media can be of great help is to cover the stories of these atrocities in Nigeria. The number of killings is just mind-boggling. Maybe with significant Western coverage, the Government of Nigeria may be put under pressure to act. In the same light, the Government of EU nations and America will probably see the moral obligation to seek ways to protect the lives of Christians and other Nigerians who are constantly being attacked by Boko Haram and the herdsmen.

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‘Fatima’: True Story of Marian Apparitions to Open in Theaters April 24

Thu, 02/13/2020 - 7:10 AM

There have been a number of Marian apparitions approved by the Catholic Church, but none has generated more devotions — and controversy — than those that occurred in Fátima, Portugal, in 1917. The remarkable apparitions at Fátima will come to life on theaters across North America on Friday, April 24, in the inspirational feature film Fatima.

Following special screenings of the film this month, the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima in Portugal released this endorsement, “Inspired by the story of Our Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearances to three children, the movie Fatima shows why it is still possible for humanity to believe in divine intervention, even in our contemporary world. The film leads us to reflect that 100 years later, the light of God that the Virgin Mary shined upon Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia still lights the way for those who commit to a life of faith in the Gospel.”

Fatima is a powerful and uplifting drama about the power of faith that tells the story of a 10-year-old shepherd and her two young cousins in Fátima, Portugal, who report seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. Their revelations inspire believers but anger officials of both the Church and the secular government, who try to force them to recant their story. As word of their prophecy spreads, tens of thousands of religious pilgrims flock to the site in hopes of witnessing a miracle. What they experience will change their lives forever.

Superstar Catholic tenor Andrea Bocelli, who performs an original song for the movie, “Gratia plena,” the soaring end-credit song in Fatima, is delighted to be part of the film and what it stands for.

“What Our Lady of Fátima represents, in her inspired simplicity, is an epicenter of spirituality, a catalyst for prayer and a bridge between humanity and the divine,” says Bocelli. “It is no coincidence that people have sung extraordinary songs that evoke her over the centuries. She brought an undeniable message of peace and universal fellowship.”

“Every Catholic should see Fatima,” says producer Dick Lyles. “We fervently believe that this powerful and beautifully rendered story will help unite Catholics around the world, by showing them what it means to be faithful and heroically committed to the truth.”

“Marco Pontecorvo has created a beautiful and inspirational film telling the emotional story of three young children whose visions captured a nation at a time when World War I was ravaging Europe,” said Bob Berney and Jeanne R. Berney, co-heads of Picturehouse. “We are extremely excited to bring this film to North American theatergoers.”

Fatima’s cast features Stephanie Gil (Terminator: Dark Fate), Lúcia Moniz (Love, Actually), Joaquim de Almeida (“Queen of the South”) and Goran Visnjic (Beginners), with Sonia Braga (Aquarius) and Harvey Keitel (The IrishmanThe Piano). Origin Entertainment produced the film, along with Elysia Productions and Rose Pictures. Fatima will be distributed by Picturehouse in North America.

Directed by Marco Pontecorvo and written by Pontecorvo & Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi, Fatima is produced by James T. Volk, Lyles, Stefano Buono, Maribel Lopera Sierra, Rose Ganguzza, Marco Pontecorvo and Natasha Howes. The film features the original song “Gratia Plena” (“Full of Grace”), performed by Andrea Bocelli and composed by renowned Italian composer Paolo Buonvino.

The official website for Fatima is www.fatimathemovie.com.

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