Catholic News Agency
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2017 / 02:09 pm (CNA).- Philosopher Nigel Biggar, who backs legal abortion, is among the 45 new appointments to the Pontifical Academy for Life, according to a statement on the Vatican website.
Biggar, the Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, has said that he supports legal abortion up to 18 weeks.
In a 2011 dialogue with Peter Singer, a philosopher who supports infanticide, Biggar said: “I would be inclined to draw the line for abortion at 18 weeks after conception, which is roughly about the earliest time when there is some evidence of brain activity, and therefore of consciousness. In terms of maintaining a strong social commitment to preserving human life in hindered forms, and in terms of not becoming too casual about killing human life, we need to draw the line much more conservatively.”
He added: “It’s not clear that a human foetus is the same kind of thing as an adult or a mature human being, and therefore deserves quite the same treatment. It then becomes a question of where we draw the line, and there is no absolutely cogent reason for drawing it in one place over another.”
Biggar has also opposed the legalization of assisted suicide, and written in defense of just war.
Other appointments to the Academy include Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, Dr. John M. Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney.
The pontifical academy was founded by Pope St. John Paul II and professor Jerome Lejeune in 1994 and is dedicated to promoting the Church’s consistent life ethic.
The appointments come at a time when the Pontifical Academy for Life is under sharp scrutiny and criticism from former members, who are concerned by the actions of current president Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who has been head of the Academy for nine months.
In November, Archbishop Paglia implemented new statutes for the academy that ended the terms of the 172 members of the academy (with some subject to possible renewal), and removed a requirement for new members to sign a statement promising to defend life in conformity with the Church’s magisterium.
Christine Vollmer, a founding member of the academy and president of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, told the National Catholic Register that Archbishop Paglia’s actions amount to the “elimination” of the institution which St. John Paul II founded.
Mercedes Wilson, president of Family of the Americas and also a founding member of the academy, told the Register that Archbishop Paglia’s appointment is “very tragic” and said that he seemingly wishes to “destroy” both the academy and the Pope St. John Paul II Pontifical Institute on Studies on Marriage and Family, to which he was appointed grand chancellor last year.
Archbishop Paglia defended his actions in comments to the Register, and urged anyone with concerns to read what he has said and written in defense of life.
He added that new members will be “not only talented and accomplished,” but also “truly representative of all who value life at all its stages,” and said his vision for the academy is one that must “express clearly what it means to be human and must present an attractive vision of human love and solidarity,” drawing on the Church’s “great treasury of human and Gospel wisdom” to inspire all cultures “to a new and fruitful humanism.”
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2017 / 02:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday the Vatican announced that Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, has been appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
“I am honored to have been appointed to the Pontifical Academy for Life by Pope Francis. The issue of the sanctity of life has been a priority for the Knights of Columbus, and for me personally,” Anderson said in a statement June 13.
Anderson said that in their work they have taken Pope Francis’ words in Laudato si' and Evangelii gaudium as a guide, that “among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.”
“I look forward to working with Pope Francis and the Pontifical Academy for Life in supporting an authentic human ecology and building a culture of life based on a proper understanding of the right to life and the dignity of each person,” he concluded.
The Statues of the Pontifical Academy for Life, revised every five years, were last revised Nov. 5, 2016, leading to the Pope’s usual review and confirmation of current members, as well as new appointments.
As head of the Knights of Columbus, Anderson is the chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He was elected supreme knight in 2000, and earlier served as supreme secretary and state deputy of the District of Columbia.
He was first appointed to the Pontifical Academy for Life in 1998 by St. John Paul II.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order, was founded in New Haven, Conn., in 1882 by Venerable Michael J. McGivney, a parish priest. It has 1.8 million members worldwide who perform volunteer service and advance the order’s key principles of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism.
The Pontifical Academy for Life is a team of scientists and ethicists representing different branches of biomedical sciences who are appointed by the Holy Father to work with Vatican dicasteries to discuss issues related to science and the protection of the dignity of human life.
In total, Pope Francis has either appointed or confirmed 50 members to the Academy.
Those also from the U.S. are: John M. Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia; Kathleen M. Foley, M.D., attending neurologist in the Pain and Palliative Care Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and professor of neurology, neuroscience, and clinical pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University; Ignatius John Keown, professor of Christian ethics at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; and Daniel Sulmasy, professor of bioethics at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Other lay members named to the Academy are: Etsuko Akiba; Niggel Biggar; Francesco D'Agostino; Bruno Dallapiccola; Jokin de Irala Estevez; Mounir Abdel Messih Shehata Farag; Rodrigo Guerre Lopez; Alicja Grzeskowiak; Mohamed Haddad; Kostantinos Kornarakis; Katarina Le Blanc; Alain F. G. Lejeune; Jean-Marie Le Mene; Mónica Lopex Barahona; Ivan Luts; Manfred Lutz; Anne-Marie Pelletier; Adrian Messina; Alejandro César Serani Merlo; Avraham Steinberg; Jaroslav Sturma; William F. Sullivan; Fernando Szlajen; Marie-Jo Thiel; Angelo Vescovi; Alberto Villani; Shinya Yamanaka; and René Zamora Marin.
Clergy named are: Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher of Sydney (Australia); Fr. Aníbal Gil Lopes; Bishop Daniel Nlandu Mayi of Matadi (Democratic Republic of the Congo); Mons. Luño Ángel Rodriguez; Bishop Noël Simard of Valleyfield (Canada); Mons. Jacques Koudoubi Simpore; Fr. Tomi Thomas; Bishop Alberto German Bochatey, auxiliary bishop of La Plata (Argentina); Fr. Maurizio Chiodi; Archbishop Fernando Natalio Chomali Garib of Concepcion (Chile); Fr. Roberto Colombo; and Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk of Utrecht (Netherlands).
The Pope has also named and confirmed five honorary members of the Academy: Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop emeritus of Bologna, past president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family; Bishop lgnacio Carrasco de Paula, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life (Spain); Birthe Lejeune, vice president of the Jéróme Lejeune Foundation, Paris; widow of the first president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune; Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life; President of the International Federation of Centers and Institutes of Bioethics of the Personalist School, President of the Ut Vitam Habeant Foundation (Vatican City); and Juan de Dios Vial Correa, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life and rector emeritus of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago de Chile (Chile).
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The last meeting of the head of dicasteries of the Roman Curia took place last May 29. Among other issues, the meeting discussed the possibility of priests being incardinated directly into ecclesial movements rather than into a diocese.
Pope Francis made the issue a central topic of his regular meeting with the head of dicasteries, though these kind of meetings usually deal with topics related to the government and the organization of the Roman Curia.
Via “incardination,” a member of the clergy is placed under the jurisdiction of a bishop or, in the case of a religious, an ecclesiastical superior.
Aside from dioceses and religious institutes, only personal prelatures and ordinariates can incardinate priests.
Some ecclesial movements have been asking for some time to have priests directly incardinated.
The request of the movements is based on the fact that there are priests whose vocation is born and nurtured within a specific ecclesial movement.
According to their argument, these priests should not be bound to a diocese, and should be free to live their vocation within the movement, moving from place to place according to the needs or the requests of their particular movement.
Under the current situation, bishops and the priests of movements who are under their jurisdiction have had to find a balance between the movement's charism and the needs of the diocese.
During the May 29 meeting, Pope Francis largely listened, and did not express an opinion. However, his thought may be deduced from his recent words in other contexts.
At a meeting on April 27 with Catholic Action – a movement founded in Italy 150 years ago – the Pope
said the movement's charism is “profoundly incarnate in the here and now of every diocesan Church,” and that it “takes on true vigour by responding to, and making its own, the pastoral outreach of each diocesan Church.”
“Nor can you be like those groups that are so universal that they are not based anywhere, answer to no one, and are always on the lookout for what they suits them wherever they go,” he told them.
Pope Francis reiterated the importance of dioceses a month later, during his May 27 visit to Genoa.
Speaking with the clergy and religious of the city, Pope Francis underscored the importance for charisms of staying attached to the concrete realities of a diocese or project.
While a congregation might be “universal” in the sense that it has houses throughout the world, the “concreteness” of involvement in the diocese helps give the order “roots,” allowing it to remain and also to grow as they see different needs come up, he reflected.
The incardination of priests to movements would have a significant impact on such groups as the Focolare Movement, Communion and Liberation, Cançao Nova, or Shalom.
Some have speculated that the Neocatecumenal Way might also benefit from the possibility of incardinating its own priests.
The incardination problem in fact leaves open several questions: if a priest is directly incardinated in the movement, will he refer to a bishop or to the leader of the movement? And what happens if the leader is a lay person?
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said at a book presentation June 1 that the incardination issue “is not about building parallel Churches. It is rather a matter of working together. We are called to a further reflection, being very careful not to lose the Church’s sacramental structure.”
Cardinal Müller hinted at the possibility of a communion of movements. The need, however, is to make it evident that priests are of the Church and not of the movements. Otherwise, the same movements risk to remain closed to the universal Church.
Referring to the possibility of a community of movements, Cardinal Müller talked about charismatic movements, which “can enrich the Church with their spirituality, with the tradition of the territories they live in, with choosing a certain spirituality. This spirituality must anyway favor the Church. It must not be stuck in the temptation to stay within a group, to build a too much enclosed and selective identity. Masses are not private. They must be open to all Catholics.”
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2017 / 04:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his message for the first World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said that the suffering and broken bodies of the poor are where we encounter the body of Christ – and to know Christ we must know the poor.
“If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist,” he said in his message, released June 13.
“The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.”
“We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience,” he continued.
And these acts may be good for putting other’s needs more clearly before us, but what they should ultimately do is “lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”
On our paths to becoming true disciples of Christ, we find confirmation of our evangelical authenticity in the charity and sharing stemming from a real encounter, he said. “This way of life gives rise to joy and peace of soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ.”
Pope Francis established the World Day of the Poor in his apostolic letter, “Misericordia et misera,” presented Nov. 20, 2016 at the end of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.
To be celebrated on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – this year falling on Nov. 19 – the idea came about, he explained, during the Jubilee for Socially Excluded People, highlighting in particular the homeless, which took place at the Vatican near the end of the Jubilee.
“At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need,” the Pope explained in the message.
Pope Francis himself will celebrate Mass on Sunday, Nov. 19 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Archbishop Rino Fisichella told journalists at a press conference on the Pope’s message June 13.
Afterward, there will be a lunch for the poor, serving around 500, in the Pope Paul VI hall.
The theme for the World Day of the Poor, which includes a special logo depicting an open door, and one person welcoming another inside, is “Let us love, not with words but with deeds.”
Words alone aren’t enough, the Pope pointed out in his message, illustrating the point with the words of St. James in his epistle.
St. James writes, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body; what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead.”
Quoting St. John Chrysostom, as well, Francis continued, “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”
“We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude.”
The Pope said he wanted to add this day to the already established ‘world days,’ because it adds an “exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.”
This day is meant to encourage all believers, regardless of religious affiliation, to react against a culture of discard and waste, and instead embrace a culture of encounter, which shares with the poor through “concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity.”
“God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded,” he lamented.
But though as Christians we have often failed in our duty to the poor, throughout history, the Holy Spirit has raised up holy men and women who have truly lived this out, setting an example for us all.
St. Francis, for example, is an excellent witness of how to serve the poor authentically, he explained. It was because the saint kept his eyes fixed firmly on Christ first that he was able to see Christ also in the poor and vulnerable, he said.
“If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization,” he said. “At the same time, I ask the poor in our cities and our communities not to lose the sense of evangelical poverty that is part of their daily life.”
The poor are not just a chance to serve Christ, however, he said. They also offer us an opportunity to step outside of our places of comfort and certainty and acknowledge the counter-cultural view that poverty has a value even in itself.
“Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty.”
Poverty means having a humble heart and accepting our limitations and sinfulness. More than anything, poverty, like the poverty of spirit Christ speaks of in the beatitudes, is an “interior attitude” that doesn’t get caught up in thinking happiness is found in material goods and worldly success.
And prayer should be at the heart of all our concrete actions, he said. The Our Father is “the prayer of the poor,” because in it we ask God for our “daily bread,” expressing our entrustment to God for our most basic needs.
“When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he answered in the words with which the poor speak to our one Father, in whom all acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters. The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is ‘ours,’ and that entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility,” Francis said.
The Pope asked that bishops, priests, deacons, and consecrated persons, as well as associations, movements and volunteers around the world help to make this day of the poor “a tradition that concretely contributes to evangelization in today’s world.”
“This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel.”
“The poor are not a problem,” he concluded, “they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practice in our lives the essence of the Gospel.”
Vatican City, Jun 13, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent a letter last week to the Latin American Parliament as they discuss migration in the region, encouraging governments to protect all who reside in their territory regardless of their origin.
“As members of a large family, we must work to place the 'person' at the centre; this is not a mere number or an abstract entity but a brother or sister who needs our help and a friendly hand,” the Pope wrote in his June 7 letter to the Latin American Parliament, which is holding its 33rd General Assembly.
The assembly of representatives from 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries is meeting to discuss migration in the region and international responses.
Francis offered his congratulations to the parliament “on this initiative that aims to help and make life more dignified for those who, having a homeland, regrettably do not find in their countries adequate conditions of security and subsistence” and are forced to flee.
The Pope's message highlighted three themes: reality, dialogue, and commitment. He explained how each of these can be oriented toward developing effective humanitarian aid for migrant peoples.
Speaking about his first chosen word, “reality,” Francis emphasized knowing the causes of migration.
“This requires not only analysis of this situation from ‘the study desk,’” he said, “but also in contact with people, that is to say with real faces.” He warned against an “aseptic analysis” which “produces sterile measurements,” instead encouraging the parliament to pursue “a relationship with a person in the flesh helps us to perceive the deep scars that he carries with him, caused by the reason, or unreason, of migration.”
Francis expressed hope that the assembly would produce “valid responses for migrants and host countries,” as well as security which is based in reality.
“Dialogue is indispensable in this work,” Francis explained. “One cannot work in isolation; we all need each other.”
He condemned the “throwaway culture,” calling instead for member nations to work for approaches which welcome migrants fairly and efficiently. He emphasized the need for unity in dialogue, saying that attaining “a consensus between the parties is a ‘craft;’ a meticulous, almost imperceptible task but essential for shaping agreements and regulations.”
“Dialogue is essential to foster solidarity with those who have been deprived of their fundamental rights,” Francis said.
Speaking on commitment, the Pope cautioned against spending too much energy “on the detailed analysis and the debate of ideas,” saying instead that a solution must be sought.
“Latin America and the Caribbean have an important international role and the opportunity to become key players in this complex situation,” he said.
He emphasized the need for mid-term as well as long-term planning so that aid can extend beyond emergency responses. This, he said, will allow for migrants' integration into their new nations and, assistance in the lands they fled.
Francis called special attention to the needs of children in this struggle, recalling their “right to be children,” and once more spoke out against human trafficking, which he described as a “scourge.”
He acknowledged the enormity of the work, saying that “we need men and women of good will who, with their concrete commitment, can respond to this ‘cry.’”
“I urge national governments to assume their responsibilities to all those residing in their territory,” the Pope said, “and I reiterate the commitment of the Catholic Church, through the presence of the local and regional Churches, to responding to this wound.”
In closing, Pope Francis encouraged the assembly in their work on this crisis, and prayed for the intercession of the Holy Virgin, recalling the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. He asked for the prayers of the assembly, and asked God to bless them.
Vatican City, Jun 12, 2017 / 04:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In order to foster collegiality, Pope Francis has added to the usual schedule of bishops' ad limina visit to Rome: one additional meeting with the heads of the Vatican dicasteries.
The ad limina apostolorum – “to the tomb of the apostles” – visits are the meetings that groups of bishops from each ecclesiastical region in the world have with the Pope every five years. In such occasions they also visit and celebrate Mass at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
Before meeting the Pope, the bishops from a particular country or region visit all the dicasteries Vatican dicasteries and can schedule personal meetings with the head of each dicastery to discuss particular matters.
During such visits, bishops’ conferences prepare exhaustive reports for each dicastery, describing the status of the Church in the country or region.
Before Pope Francis, the meeting of the bishops with the Pope included an exchange of speeches: the president of the bishops' conference delivered a speech to describe the state of the region, and the Pope delivered a speech in his turn which provided pastoral recommendations and priorities.
After the exchange of speeches, the Pope held a short conversation with each bishop individually.
But since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis chose the format of an open conversation with the whole group of bishops. All of them are allowed to ask questions, and the Pope responds off the cuff.
The Pope also prepared a formal speech, a copy of which was provided to each bishop.
With time, even the delivery of the papal speech fell into disuse. Now, no official papal text is prepared and therefore the press only knows of the matters discussed during the visit from the bishops who attended it.
Pope Francis has made an additional, recent change: the bishops have now a meeting presided over by Pope Francis with many heads of the Vatican dicasteries.
Not all the heads of Vatican dicasteries take part in the meeting, but only those whose dicasteries are in some way related to pastoral care or some of the main issues at stake in the ecclesiastical region visiting Rome.
Bishop Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop of Montreal, told CNA that “for the first time with our group, the Pope met twice with the bishops: before in a meeting with several heads of the Vatican dicasteries, and after for the usual exchange of opinions, which lasted about two hours.”
Bishop Dowd described it as a working meeting which included representatives from the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Clergy, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
Thanks to provided translation, the Pope, prefect, and bishops of Quebec had “an open exchange of opinions about the Church in the region and its needs. We got advice from the Curia. We gave our input to them, the Curia officials gave their input to us.”
Bishop Dowd added that “the Pope listened to us, and we had coffee together at the end.”
The auxiliary bishop of Montreal recounted: “The Pope basically said: ‘We want to hear from you about what is your situation. Tell us your experience’. The various dicasteries had prepared remarks based on the reports that we sent in advance to the ad limina visit.”
He added that, as the discussion went on, “some of the dicasteries read the texts they prepared, but most of them did not read the texts, but reacted to the experiences raised during the open discussion.”
During the meeting, Pope Francis listened attentively to all the discussions. He spoke at the end, to summarize the discussions and provide an overall reaction.
The bishops of Peru followed next in May, with the same new extra meeting.
Archbishop José Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura told CNA that the double meeting, first with the heads of the dicasteries and then only with the bishops “gives great attention to the local Churches, since we have the possibility to spend at least four hours with the Pope.”
Vatican City, Jun 12, 2017 / 12:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Consolation is never self-reliant, Pope Francis said during Mass on Monday, noting it is only possible to receive the Lord’s encouragement through another.
“No one can console himself, no one – and whoever tries to do it ends up looking into the mirror – staring into the mirror and trying to ‘make oneself up,’” said the Pope during his June 12 Mass at the chapel of the Vatican's Casa Santa Marta.
“The experience of consolation, which is a spiritual experience, always needs ‘someone else’ in order to be full.”
He reflected on the day’s readings, in which Saint Paul described the need for the Lord’s consolation in his second letter to the Corinthians, and the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew.
He said the “doctors of the law” will not have true consolation because they are the ones who console themselves. “One ‘consoles’ with these closed things that do not let one grow,” he said, “and the air that one breathes is that narcissistic air of self-reference.”
This narcissism never allows for growth or a view of the entire picture, he explained.
Pope Francis said consolation is always from the Lord, and is a two-fold process: receiving a gift and serving others. He said “consolation is a state of transition from the gift received to the service given.”
Consolation must begin with a recognition of one’s own need, he said, explaining that “only then does the Lord come console us, and give us the mission to console others. It is not easy to have one’s heart open to receive the gift and to serve.”
He said an open heart is a happy one because it relies on the Lord, and he reflected on the receptive spirit described in Beatitudes.
“The poor: the heart is opened with an attitude of poverty, of poverty of spirit; those who know how to cry, the meek ones, the meekness of heart; those hungry for justice who fight for justice; those who are merciful, who have mercy on others; the pure of heart; peace-makers and those who are persecuted for justice, for love of righteousness.”
“Thus is the heart opened and [then] the Lord comes with the gift of consolation and the mission of consoling others,” Francis stated.
The Pope contrasted it to the men with closed hearts, who find themselves sufficient: “those who do not need to cry because they feel they are in the right.” He said these men do not understand meekness, mercy, or forgiveness, and in turn they cannot serve others in the same way.
He asked his audience to reflect on how open their hearts are to be able to ask for consolation and then to pass it on to their neighbors.
Ending with words of encouragement, he said the Lord always aims to console us and “asks us to open the doors of our hearts even only just a little bit.”
Vatican City, Jun 12, 2017 / 10:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis met on Thursday with a delegation from a Nigerian diocese which for the last four and a half years has refused to recognize the bishop who was appointed as its shepherd.
He demanded that the clerics of the Diocese of Ahiara accept the bishop appointment that has been made, or face suspension and loss of office.
Fr. Peter Okpaleke was appointed Bishop of Ahiara in December 2012 by Benedict XVI. But the Ahiara diocese is dominated by the Mbaise ethnic group. As an outsider from the nearby Diocese of Awka, Fr. Okpaleke was rejected by much of Ahiara's clergy and laity, who wanted one of their own to be appointed bishop over them.
The Mbaise are among the most Catholic of Nigerian peoples – 77 percent of the diocese's population of 670,000 are Catholic. Nearby dioceses range between 19 and 70 percent Catholic.
Families in the rural diocese foster priestly and religious vocations, with at least 167 priestly ordinations for the diocese since its establishment in 1987.
With such a wealth of priests, the Ahiara diocese sends many as missionaries to Western countries, and many Mbaise hoped that one of its own would become their bishop.
In May 2013, an Mbaise emigrant to California and a representative of Mbaise USA, George Awuzie, told CNA that “The Mbaise people wanted their own bishop, who knows what's going on within the community. They're sending someone from a different community, a different village, that doesn't know what we do within our area.”
Mbaise opponents of the appointment blocked access to Ahiara's cathedral. Due to the strong opposition, Bishop Okpaleke was consecrated and installed outside his new diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary in the Archdiocese of Owerri, May 21, 2013.
In July 2013 Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja was appointed apostolic administrator of Ahiara, but proved unable to solve the problem.
In light of the impasse, Pope Francis met with a delegation from Ahiara June 8 and gave them an ultimatum, saying he is “deeply saddened” by the events there and that the Church “is like a widow for having prevented the Bishop from coming to the Diocese.”
“Many times I have thought about the parable of the murderous tenants … that want to grasp the inheritance. In this current situation the Diocese of Ahiara is without the bridegroom, has lost her fertility and cannot bear fruit.”
“Whoever was opposed to Bishop Okpaleke taking possession of the Diocese wants to destroy the Church,” he charged. “This is forbidden; perhaps he does not realize it, but the Church is suffering as well as the People of God within her. The Pope cannot be indifferent.”
He expressed gratitude for the “holy patience” of Bishop Okpaleke, and said he had “listened and reflected much” on the situation, even considering suppressing the Ahiara diocese.
“I feel great sorrow for those priests who are being manipulated even from abroad and from outside the Diocese,” the Pope stated.
“I think that, in this case, we are not dealing with tribalism, but with an attempted taking of the vineyard of the Lord.”
The Bishop of Rome charged that “the Church is a mother and whoever offends her commits a mortal sin, it’s very serious.”
“I ask that every priest or ecclesiastic incardinated in the Diocese of Ahiara, whether he resides there or works elsewhere, even abroad, write a letter addressed to me in which he asks for forgiveness; all must write individually and personally,” Pope Francis said.
In their letters asking for forgiveness, the clergy of Ahiara must “clearly manifest total obedience to the Pope” and “be willing to accept the Bishop whom the Pope sends and has appointed.”
Moreover, the Pope demanded that each cleric's letter be sent within 30 days – by July 9.
“Whoever does not do this will be ipso facto suspended a divinis and will lose his current office.”
Acknowledging that this measure “seems very hard,” Pope Francis said he must do this “because the people of God are scandalized.”
“Jesus reminds us that whoever causes scandal must suffer the consequences,” he told the delegation. “Maybe someone has been manipulated without having full awareness of the wound inflicted upon the ecclesial communion.”
At Bishop Okpaleke Mass of episcopal consecration, Bishop Lucius Ugorji of Umuahia had said that “acceptance of the papal appointment is a respect for the Pope, while the outright rejection and inflammatory statements and protests are spiteful and disrespectful of papal authority,” according to The Sun of Lagos.
Ahiara's first ordinary, Bishop Victor Chikwe, served from 1987 until his death in Sept., 2010. The diocese was vacant for 26 months before Bishop Okpaleke was appointed.
Awka, whence Bishop Okpaleke comes, is located in the state of Anambra. Ahiara, meanwhile, is located to the south in Imo state. The Mbaise assert that the Nigerian hierarchy favors Anambra.
The Mbaise, who are proud of their identity and strong Catholicism, resent what they call the “Anambranization” of the Church in southeast Nigeria, believing there to be corruption within the Church in Nigeria and a “recolonization” of the Mbaise.
At the conclusion of the audience on Thursday, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the presence of the Mbaise who came to Rome, as well as for the patience of Cardinal Onaiyekan, and for Bishop Okpaleke, “whose patience and humility I admire.”
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, is planning to have the Ahiara diocese and its bishop make a pilgrimage to Rome to meet with Pope Francis “at the conclusion of this sequence of events,” the Vatican announced June 11.
Vatican City, Jun 11, 2017 / 09:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Through God's mercy the Church can become an image of the communion and goodness of the Trinity, Pope Francis said Sunday in St. Peter's Square.
“The Christian community, though with all its human limitations, can become a reflection of the communion of the Trinity, of its goodness and beauty,” he said Jun 11 during his Angelus address.
“But this – as Paul himself testifies – passes necessarily through the experience of the mercy of God, of his pardon.”
The Pope's address on Trinity Sunday reflected on the “mystery of the identity of God,” which so affected St. Paul.
“God is not distant and closed in on himself,” Francis reflected, “but rather is the Life which wishes to communicate itself; he is openness; he is the Love which redeems man’s infidelity."
God's revelation “has come to completion in the New Testament thanks to words of Christ and to his mission of salvation,” he said.
Christ “has shown us the face of God, One in substance and Triune in Persons; God is all and only Love, in a subsisting relationship that creates, redeems, and sanctifies all: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The Son of God showed that God first sought us, and revealed that eternal life is precisely “the immeasurable and gratuitous love of the Father that Jesus gave on the Cross, offering his life for our salvation.”
“And this love, by the action of the Holy Spirit, has irradiated a new light upon the earth and in every human heart that welcomes it.”
“May the Virgin Mary “help us to enter ever more, with our whole selves, into the trinitarian Communion, to live and bear witness to the love that gives sense to our existence,” Pope Francis concluded.
Vatican City, Jun 10, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- World Youth Day wasn't the only topic on the agenda for Panama's bishops during their meeting with Pope Francis this week: they also touched on the role of the laity and the dangers of gender ideology – both key topics for the universal Church.
Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama, president of the Panama bishops conference, told journalists June 8 that gender ideology “is really being pushed in Panama,” and was a major talking point in their meeting with Pope Francis.
The bishops are concluding a trip to Rome for their ad limina visit, during which they met with several Vatican departments and had a nearly 2-hour discussion with Pope Francis June 8.
Archbishop Ulloa described the meeting as “marvelous, a brotherly visit,” in which they exchanged jokes, asked questions, and voiced concerns freely.
The international WYD encounter set to take place in Panama in 2019 was of course a big topic, as well as the youth in general. However, particular concern was raised about the growing threat gender ideology poses to youth and to families.
“Let's say something that in other media doesn't sell so well: gender ideology is demonic,” Archbishop Ulloa said. “It wants to break with the reality of the family and it does so by getting in so softly that we don't realize it.”
It is never permissible to impose an ideology, he said, stressing the need to respect others, “but having very clear the importance of the family according to the plan of God: man and woman.”
In comments to CNA, Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David said Pope Francis “is very worried about Latin America” and listened carefully to what the bishops had to say.
“We listened to his concerns, he listened to our concerns, and from there we had a very fraternal dialogue, very nice, very friendly,” the cardinal said, explaining that the Pope allowed them to share and ask questions, and he responded by giving his own ideas and opinions.
Cardinal Lacunza said that right now in Panama, “there is a real escalation in the media and in the environment to impose, even in the educational field, this theme of gender ideology (on) young children.”
He said there is currently “a fight” between those who are pushing gender ideology as a human right and those who, from the perspectives of faith and reason, “say that it is in no way a human right.”
“The homosexuals have a right to be respected in their dignity and not to be discriminated against,” the cardinal said, emphasizing the need to go from “a society that has to assume as good or acceptable this opinion,” to one that teaches children “that there is a very big path that we are not willing to take, we are not willing to compromise.”
When asked what the Church can do to help, Cardinal Lacunza said it is essential to remember that “the Church” includes the laity – not just clerics.
As bishops, “we can't do anything,” he said. “We can give orientations, guidelines, but the ones who have to take the baton in their hands are the laity.”
It is the laity who must “fight for adequate legislation in education and other areas,” he said, and, pointing to a recent initiative in the country, said the push to have “an encyclopedia of genitalia” as if it were the most important educational text “is the wrong path.”
There are already lay people working in this area, the cardinal said, adding that “this is what we want: that they are the ones with the baton.”
Youth and laity were also key topics in the meeting with Pope Francis, stemming from discussion on World Youth Day.
Francis has often condemned a clericalist attitude prevalent in Latin America, calling it in a 2016 letter to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America “one of the greatest distortions of the Church” in the region.
So it's not surprising that the role of the laity came up with the Panamanian bishops. In fact, Archbishop Ulloa said the Pope stressed “the importance of believing in the laity,” because the laity “are also capable of transforming our society.”
This also includes the youth, the archbishop said, explaining that Pope Francis also focused on the “spaces and opportunities” that must be provided to the youth.
“In the Church, in the world, many things will change, and youth will truly fight to have a place in this time of transformation,” he said, noting how Pope Francis said that youth “are not [just] the future,” but rather, “they are the present of the Church, and the present of humanity.”
“What a responsibility it is for them also to be a youth in this time!” Archbishop Ulloa said, adding that the youth are “the fresh air that we have to continue hoping in for a different world.” If this world is possible, he said, “it's possible thanks to the youth.”
Alvaro de Juana contributed to this piece.
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2017 / 04:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis participated in a Google Hangout on Friday with youth from around the world, emphasizing that “everyone has meaning,” even though the world will try to exclude certain people.
Combatting a world which promotes elitism and exclusion, the Pope said June 9, “you have a meaning, everyone … has meaning, you have a meaning, it is in your hands to discover the meaning I have in life, what I am like, with the potentiality that you can … and how to give this meaning to others.”
The hangout, Pope Francis’ third time for the meeting, was organized for the inauguration of a new Vatican office of the Scholas Occurentes, a world-wide initiative in schools to encourage social integration and the culture of encounter through technology, arts, and sports.
Society “is accustomed to exclude, to select, to attack, to shut out people,” he lamented.
However, he said Scholas isn’t like the world, but instead it will “include, shake hands, give a hug, [refrain from] attack, and recognize that no one is a ‘no’… everyone is a ‘yes,’ a ‘yes’ for them and a ‘yes’ for others. To include, a ‘yes’ to give.”
The video chat included youth from the countries of Italy, Colombia, Haiti, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates. Each group took turns giving a short presentation on the impact of their local “Scholas Ciaudadania” group.
The Pope listened intently to each one before making his comments in Spanish.
“This work that you're doing, of encountering one another, dialoguing … is an example for us grownups,” he said.
Scholas was started by Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In 2013 it was approved as an ecclesiastical institute by the Holy See.
With just a few youth involved at its beginning, the foundation now consists of a worldwide network of over 400,000 state and religious schools, which are organized by Argentine school headmasters Enrique Palmeyro and José María del Corral.
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During Mass on Friday, Pope Francis urged Christians to more prayer and hope, especially during the difficult times, instead of finding pleasures in vanity.
He reflected on the suffering endured in the Book of Tobit – blindness, exile, strained marriages – which tempted Tobit and Sarah to desire death; but rather than giving into despair they committed themselves to prayer and hope.
“This is the attitude that saves us in bad times – prayer. Patience – because both of them are patient with their pains. And hope – that God will listen to us and help us tide over these bad moments,” said the Holy Father at the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta June 9.
“In moments of sadness, little or much, in moments of darkness, prayer, patience and hope. Do not forget this."
Pope Francis recognized that everyone will suffer, and “know how it feels in times of darkness, in moments of pain, in times of difficulty,” and that “after the test” God reveals “beautiful and authentic moments.”
But he warned against an artificial beauty – something he calls “beautiful makeup” or “fireworks.”
Asking what Tobit, Sarah, and Tobiah do with authentic moments of beauty, he said, “They thank God, broadening their hearts with prayers of thanksgiving.”
He challenged his audience to discern what is happening in their souls, especially during times of suffering. To encounter these moments without vanity, he said we must commit “to pray, to have patience and have at least a bit of hope.”
Like Tobit and Sarah, he said we must “wait, in prayer and in hope for the Lord's salvation.”
The Pope encouraged his audience to read the short book of Tobit over the weekend and to “ask for [the] grace of discerning what happens in the bad times of our lives and how to go on and what happens in the beautiful moments and not be misled by vanity.”
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2017 / 08:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After twin terrorist attacks killed at least 17 people in Tehran, Iran, earlier this week, Pope Francis condemned the 'barbaric' act of violence and offered his prayers for the victims and their families.
“His Holiness Pope Francis sends his heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the barbaric attack in Tehran, and laments this senseless and grave act of violence,” a June 9 letter signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.
“In expressing his sorrow for the victims and their families, His Holiness commends the souls of the deceased to the mercy of the Almighty, and he assures the people of Iran of his prayers for peace.”
On Wednesday, June 7, deadly twin attacks on Iran's parliament building and a monument containing the tomb of the republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killed at least 17 people and wounded several others.
According to CNN, six attackers simultaneously carried out gun and suicide bomb assaults around 10a.m. local time. The violence began when four of the gunmen, allegedly dressed as women, stormed the gate of the parliament building and opened fire.
The assailants took several hostages before one detonated a suicide bomb. Sporadic gunfire was heard before Iranian security forces eventually killed all four of the attackers.
Also called the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis, Iran's parliament is the country's main legislative body. It has a total of 290 members, including women and representatives of minority religions, such as Christians and Jews.
At the same time as the parliament attack, two gunmen went on a shooting spree at the Ayatollah Khomeini mausoleum, which is located roughly 15 miles away and is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims.
Khomeini, the Iranian Republic's founder and first supreme leader, led the revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979, and remained the supreme leader of the republic for the next 10 years.
ISIS militants claimed responsibility for the attack, marking the first time the organization, a Sunni Muslim group fighting Iranian-backed forces in Syria, took responsibility for an attack in Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation.
The last major attack in Iran took place in 2010 when a Sunni extremist group launched a suicide attack against a mosque in Sistan-Baluchistan that killed 39 people.
The Tehran attack was the latest in a string of terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS in recent days. On June 4, seven people were killed and 48 others injured when three men drove a van into a crowd of people on London Bridge before going on a knife spree at local bars and pubs.
A separate car and knife attack took place in Westminster in March that left five people dead, and the Manchester bombing at a concert less than two weeks ago, in which 22 people were killed.
Several attacks have also taken place in Egypt over the past few months, raising concerns surrounding terrorism all over the world.
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2017 / 07:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis said women have an essential role to play in interreligious dialogue given their natural ability to build relationships and fraternity, making their involvement necessary in all areas of society.
“Today more than ever it's necessary that women are present,” the Pope said June 9. “Woman, possessing special characteristics, can offer an important contribution to dialogue with her ability to listen, to welcome and to generously open herself to others.”
Francis spoke to members of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who are gathered in Rome for their annual plenary assembly.
During the plenary discussion, members of the council explored the theme of “the Role of women in educating in universal fraternity.”
In his speech, Pope Francis said the topic is “of prime importance for the path of humanity toward peace and fraternity; a path which is not at all obvious and clear, but marked by difficulty and obstacles.”
“Unfortunately today we see how the figure of woman as an educator in universal fraternity is blurred and often unrecognized due to many evils that afflict this world and which, in particular, affect women in their dignity and in their role,” he said, noting that women and children are the most frequent victims of the “blind violence” that takes place in the world today.
However, women have a key role to play, he said, stressing women must collaborate with men in carrying out their mission as an educator “in a serene and effective way.”
The Pope pointed to three main areas of reflection for council members to consider regarding the theme of their discussion: valuing the role of women, educating in fraternity and dialogue.
When it comes to valuing the role of women, Pope Francis said that within a complex society marked by plurality and globalization, “there is need for a greater recognition of the ability of women to educate in universal fraternity.”
If women are able to freely put their gifts at the service of the entire community, “the way in which society understands and is organized is positively transformed, reflecting better the substantial unity of the human family,” he said.
Because of this, a beneficial model for society is one that amplifies the presence of women in social, economic and political life at the local, national and international levels, “as well as in the ecclesial,” he said.
“Women have the right to be actively involved in all areas, and their right must be asserted and protected even by legal means wherever they prove necessary.”
This, Francis said, involves “expanding the spaces of a more incisive feminine presence.”
“There are so many and many women who, in their daily commitments, with dedication and conscience, with courage that is at times heroic, have developed and put their genius to use, their precious traits in the most varied, specific and qualified skills combined with the real experience of being mothers and teachers.”
On the plenary theme of educating in fraternity, the Pope said women as educators “have a special vocation, capable of creating and growing new forms of acceptance and esteem.”
“The feminine figure has always been at the center of familiar education, not exclusively as a mother,” he said, adding that the contribution of women in the field of education is “inestimable.”
Education, he said, “ brings a wealth of implications both for the woman herself, for her way of being, and for her relationships, for the way she deals with human life and life in general.”
Because of this, men and women are called to contribute together in fostering universal brotherhood, which is, in the end, also an education “in the peace and complimentarity of their various and sensitive roles.”
“Women, intimately linked to the mystery of life, can do much to promote the spirit of brotherhood, with their care for the preservation of life and with their conviction that love is the only force that can render the world habitable for all,” he said.
In effect, women are often the only ones to accompany others, particularly the weakest in the family and in society, and victims of conflicts.
“Thanks to their contribution, educating in fraternity – due to their nature of inclusion and generating ties – can overcome the culture of waste,” Francis said.
Educating in fraternity is also an essential part of interreligious dialogue, he said, noting that women are often committed more than men in this area, “and so contribute to a better understanding of the challenges characteristic of a multicultural reality.”
However, “women can also become fully involved in exchanges at the religious level, as well as those at the theological level,” the Pope said, noting that many women “are well prepared to face encounters of interreligious dialogue at the highest levels and not just from the Catholic side.”
“This means that the contribution of women is not limited to 'feminine' arguments or to encounters of only women,” he said, adding that dialogue “is a path that man and woman must accomplish together.”
Vatican City, Jun 8, 2017 / 04:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After a last-minute meeting with Pope Francis Thursday to discuss the dire situation of their country, Venezuela's bishops said they have his full support in facing the trials of a regime they say oppresses its people to maintain power.
“The government has as a goal to maintain power at the cost of the life of any person at all costs,” Archbishop Diego Padrón Sanchez of Cumana told journalists June 8.
Not only this, but the government “has the desire, the will, the scope, to have a submissive, silent people that doesn’t protest,” he said. And to ensure that this happens, society must be made up of a people who have “no food, no medicine (and) which spends every moment trying to resolve daily problems.”
“A people that is oppressed, suffering and sick doesn't have the strength to raise itself in revolt against anyone,” he said.
Archbishop Padrón spoke to a group of journalists after the leadership of the Venezuelan bishops conference met with Pope Francis and other Vatican officials earlier that morning.
The meeting was not planned in advance, and was not included in the weekly schedule sent out by the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications. Announced just days before, the conversation was squeezed into the Pope's agenda before his meeting with the Panamanian bishops, who are in Rome for their ad limina visit, and a meeting with Nigeria's bishops.
During the meeting, Archbishop Padrón said they discussed the ongoing crisis in the country, and that the conversation was very “cordial, very simple, fraternal” and relaxed. The Pope asked questions, and the bishops were able to answer freely.
The Pope is “very well informed” on the situation, the archbishop said, explaining that Francis himself said he receives a daily update on what is going on.
Francis voiced his closeness to the bishops and the “people who are suffering,” the archbishop said, recalling that Francis was “very moved” by the description of some of the cases they've witnessed in recent days.
Venezuela is currently undergoing a humanitarian emergency in which fundamental necessities are inaccessible and many, including children, die due to the lack of basic foods and medicines.
The country has been ruled by a socialist government since 1999. In the wake of Nicolas Maduro succeeding Hugo Chavez as president in 2013, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social and economic upheaval. Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.
The socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.
The Venezuelan government is known to be among the most corrupt in Latin America, and violent crime in the country has spiked since Maduro took office.
The regime is known to have committed gross abuses, including violence, against those who don’t share their political ideologies, and are accused of taking many political prisoners.
Archbishop Padrón said that for the bishops, their “Magna Carta” on how to move forward in the crisis is the letter Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin sent them in December, in which he indicated the conditions under which dialogue with the Maduro regime ought to be carried out.
The four conditions listed by Cardinal Parolin are: the assurance of a humanitarian corridor for food and medicine; respect for and the re-establishment of the National Assembly; the release of political prisoners; and the guarantee of elections.
While Venezuelans had been protesting many of Maduro's moves for some time, the final straw for many was when in late March the president announced his decision to call a constitutional assembly and and to revoke the power of the National Assembly, which had been in the hands of the opposition since 2015.
Part of Maduro's guarantee was that after the constitutional assembly takes place July 30, elections will finally be held in December.
However, Archbishop Padrón said he doesn't have faith in the regime, and believes the deal is “a trap” for the people, because during the July assembly “you can easily vote to annul or not the elections in December. So the December date is just an imaginary figure for the people.”
But even though they have very real problems with Maduro, Archbishop Padrón said this doesn't mean that the bishops are on the side of the opposition.
“We don't represent any party, and we don't want to be on the side of the government or the opposition,” he said. “We want to help the people.”
The bishops came “to present to the Holy Father the situation of the Venezuelan people, whether they are those people who are close to the government, or those who feel far from the government. We don't have any preference in this sense.”
During the meeting, the prelates gave the Pope two dossiers, the first containing a list of some 70 people, mostly youth, who have been killed during protests in Caracas and other cities throughout Venezuela. The second document was a detailed outline of the work the bishops conference has done so far to help alleviate the crisis.
After meeting with the Pope, who gave the bishops his “full support” and “total confidence” in their efforts, the six prelates present for the encounter then met with Cardinal Parolin, who before becoming Secretary of State was the apostolic nuncio to Venezuela for four years.
They later met with officials of the Vatican's charitable organization Caritas Internationalis, which is offering concrete support to needy families on the ground in Venezuela.
Pope Francis specifically told the bishops to “reinforce” the work that Caritas does, not only for the Venezuela branch, but the international organization as a whole, because they are “ready to help” in acquiring and distributing food and mostly medicines to the people.
However, the bishops conference still faces issues when it comes to getting medicines to the people, Archbishop Padrón said. Even though the government technically gave them permission to distribute medication a few weeks ago, the conditions outlined in the fine print make it nearly impossible to do.
The government does this, he said, because they don't want to appear “insensitive” or as “a needy country.”
“The international image of the government must be maintained,” he observed.
Vatican City, Jun 7, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- There are many things about Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta that could be called heroic – her tireless service to the world's most rejected and her courageous witness to millions of what it is to live the Gospel, just to name a couple.
But the priest who oversaw her path to sainthood said that for him, one thing stands out above all the rest: her experience of spiritual darkness and what she described as feeling totally abandoned by God for the majority of her life.
“The single most heroic thing is exactly her darkness. That pure living, that pure, naked faith,” Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, the postulator for Mother Teresa's canonization cause, told CNA in an interview. Fr. Kolodiejchuk is a priest of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, founded by Mother Teresa in 1989.
By undergoing the depth and duration of the desolation she experienced and doing everything that she did for others in spite of it, “that's really very heroic,” he said.
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu Aug. 26, 1910 in Skopje, in what is now Macedonia, Mother Teresa joined the Sisters of Loretto at the age of 17, but later left after she felt what she called “an order” from God to leave the convent and to live among the poor.
She went on to found several communities of both active and contemplative Missionaries of Charity, which include religious sisters, brothers, and priests.
The first community of active sisters was founded in 1950. An order of active brothers was founded nearly 20 years later in 1968. Then two contemplative orders came, one of women (in 1976) and one of men (in 1979).
In 1989 the Missionaries of Charity Fathers was established, and is a clerical religious institute of diocesan right whose members make promises of poverty, chastity, obedience, and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor.
Additionally, an order of lay missionaries was also founded in 1984, and several movements who organize various works of charity have also been born as part of the Missionaries of Charity spiritual family.
One of the first steps in declaring someone a saint is to determine their heroic virtue. Fr. Kolodiejchuk said that Mother Teresa's entire life was lived heroically, which was clear from what he had seen firsthand and heard from the testimonies of others, even though he himself has only been a part of the Missionaries of Charity family for 20 years.
He said the most heroic aspect of Mother Teresa's life and vocation is the more than 50 years of darkness and abandonment she felt after receiving what she termed “a call within a call” to leave the Sisters of Loretto and found the Missionaries of Charity.
Although the Albanian nun is always seen beaming and smiling brightly in photos, she experienced a profound internal desolation during which she felt silence and rejection from God, who seemed distant.
In a letter to her spiritual director in 1957, Mother Teresa wrote that “I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer. Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.”
“Love – the word – it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she said.
Mother Teresa had prayed fervently to share in Jesus’ suffering, and many, including her spiritual director, believed her feelings of rejection and abandonment to be a mirror of Christ's own experience of loneliness and desolation during his Passion and death.
Because of the depth and duration of Mother Teresa's spiritual desert, many have hailed her as a great mystic when it comes to topic of spiritual darkness.
Fr. Kolodiejchuk himself said Mother Teresa was “a great mystic, but also very concrete, very down to earth.”
The priest had met Mother Teresa in his early 20s while attending the vows of his sister, who had joined the active branch of the Missionaries of Charity sisters. He joined the order of priests a year later.
A lot of people “think that saints are somewhere in the mystical clouds,” he said, but cautioned that this wasn’t true of Mother Teresa, who was spiritual, but also observant and active in the lives of others.
From the first moment he met her, of Mother Teresa's most distinguishing qualities was “this sense that she really was Mother,” he said, explaining that being a mother was something important to her, and was the only thing she was ever called.
When Mother Teresa was first elected superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, her immediate response after receiving congratulations, he noted, was to say “Oh that means nothing, the title. No, I want to be a mother.”
The nun also placed a heavy emphasis on God’s tenderness, Fr. Kolodiejchuk said, recalling that “tender” was one of her favorite words – even more so than mercy.
“She would talk more about Jesus’ tender love and mercy; his thoughtfulness, his presence, his compassion…So mercy was a word in her vocabulary, but with this quality especially of tenderness.”
“Even in the darkness she still had an intimate sense of God’s tender love for us,” he said, and recited a prayer that Mother Teresa would often teach and have others repeat: “Jesus in my heart, I believe in your tender love for me. I love you.”
The priest said that her canonization during the Jubilee of Mercy was providential since the core mission of the Missionaries of Charity is to respond to Chapter 25 in the Gospel of Matthew, which lists the works of mercy.
He noted how the day of Mother Teresa’s canonization also marked a special jubilee day for workers and volunteers of mercy.
Given the work the Missionaries of Charity do, “it’s appropriate” that the nun would become a patroness for all who carry out the same type of activities, he said.
Part of the reason Mother Teresa is such a strong example for the world today, Fr. Kolodiejchuk believes, is because “people like to see,” and the work the Missionaries do is something visible that others can easily touch and participate in, no matter what religion they profess.
“Mother was a great believer in that we receive in giving. So there’s something attractive about the work. And then you receive by sharing in it,” he said.
This article was originally published on CNA April 4, 2016.
Vatican City, Jun 7, 2017 / 04:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith is that we have a God we are taught to call ‘Father’ – a father who never leaves us and who we can call on in prayer at any moment.
“The entire mystery of Christian prayer is summed up here, in this word: to have the courage to call God by the name of Father,” the Pope said June 7.
He pointed to Chapter 11 of the Gospel of Luke, in which the evangelist provides a somewhat shortened version of the “Our Father” prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, and which begins with the simple invocation: “Father.”
The fatherhood of God, which Francis called “the source of our hope,” formed the basis of his general audience catechesis. Addressing crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope immediately recalled the parable of the “merciful father,” also known as the Prodigal Son.
The father in this story, he said, does not punish his son for his arrogance, but still gives him his share of the inheritance, later welcoming him back home even after he had squandered it.
“The father does not apply the criteria of human justice,” the Pope said, “but first he feels the need to forgive, and with his embrace makes the child understand that in all that long absence he missed him; he is painfully missed by his father's love.”
“God is Father, Jesus says, but not in the human way, because there is no father in this world who would behave like the protagonist of this parable,” the Pope said, adding “What an unfathomable mystery is a God that nourishes this kind of love towards his children!”
However, despite this familiarity, to call God by the name of “Father” is not necessarily something we merit or understand, he said. In fact, sometimes it seems like we should use only the highest titles to address God, because it would be more respectful of his divinity.
“Instead, invoking him as ‘Father’ puts us in a relationship of trust with Him, as a child who turns to his dad, knowing he is loved and cared for by him,” Francis said, adding that despite the grand mystery and greatness of God, which can often make us feel small, we are not afraid.
This concept isn't easy “to welcome in our human soul,” he said, noting that even the women who after the Resurrection first found the angel and the empty tomb of Jesus ran away, “because they were filled with fright and astonishment.”
“But Jesus reveals to us that God is a good Father, and He tells us, ‘Do not be afraid,'” Francis said, adding that perhaps this is the reason the Apostle Paul doesn’t translate into Greek the Aramaic word, “abba.”
This phrase, he said, is “a term more intimate than ‘father,’” and is sometimes translated as “papa” or “daddy.”
Going on, Pope Francis said the Gospel reveals to us that no matter what, God the Father is there for us. When we need help, Jesus tells us to turn to the Father with confidence, never closing ourselves off, or becoming resigned, he said.
“All of our necessities, from the most obvious and every day – such as food, health and work, to being forgiven and sustained in temptations – are not the mirror of our solitude: there is a Father who is always there looking with love, and who surely does not abandon us,” he said.
The Pope concluded by making a proposal to the crowd before leading them in praying the ‘Our Father.’
“Each of us has so many problems and needs,” he said. “Let us think a little, in silence, about these problems and these needs. And all together, with confidence and hope, we pray, Our Father...”
Vatican City, Jun 6, 2017 / 02:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis said Tuesday that truthfulness is the weapon against the temptation of hypocrisy, which destroys the community with lies and flattery.
“The hypocrite is capable of destroying a community. While speaking gently, he ruinously judges a person. He is a killer,” said the Pope during his homily at Mass June 6 at the chapel of the Vatican's Casa Santa Marta.
Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel passage in which the Pharisees and Herodians, who tried to ensnare Christ with his words, began by flattery.
“The hypocrite always uses language to flatter,” said the Pope, explaining that they will exaggerate the truth, “feeding into one’s vanity.”
He continued to the say that hypocrites are two-faced, and “the language of hypocrisy is the language of deceit, it is the same language the serpent used with Eve.”
He gave an example of a priest he met who “drank up all the flattery,” and he said that flattery is initiated by bad intentions. He said the Pharisees were trying to hide their true intentions, hoping to test Christ by asking him, “is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
However, he said reality and truth are the tools to combat such hypocrisy, and it is Christ who exposes a lie with reality.
“Jesus always responds to hypocrites and ideologists with reality: ‘this is the reality; everything else is either hypocrisy or ideology.’”
He continued to say that “the reality was that the coin carried the image of Caesar.”
Hypocrisy not only destroys community, but he said it also “tears to pieces the personality and the soul of a person.”
Pope Francis ended his homily asking the Lord to strengthen a commitment to truth by the members of the Church.
“Let us ask the Lord to guard us from this vice, to help us be truthful, and if this is not possible to keep silent – but never to be a hypocrite.”
Vatican City, Jun 6, 2017 / 05:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- More than 130 imams and religious leaders throughout the UK have joined voices in strongly condemning recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, calling the acts “cold-blooded murders.”
In a joint statement issued June 5, the imams and other religious leaders said they condemn the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London “in the strongest terms possible.”
Coming from a range of backgrounds across the UK, the signatories said that in “feeling the pain the rest of the nation feels, we have come together to express our shock and utter disgust at these cold-blooded murders.”
In an unprecedented move, the imams who signed the statement also declared that they will not perform the traditional Islamic funeral prayer for the attackers.
Signatories urged fellow imams and religious authorities to withdraw the privilege of the prayer because of the “indefensible actions” of the perpetrators, which are “completely at odds with the lofty teachings of Islam.”
Seven people were killed and 48 others injured in London the night of June 3 when three men drove a van into a crowd of people on London Bridge around 10 p.m. local time. The men then went on a stabbing spree in nearby Borough Market, where people were enjoying a night out at restaurants and pubs.
The three men reportedly shouted “this is for Allah” during the attack. The three attackers were shot dead by police within eight minutes of the first emergency call.
According to police, 12 more people have been arrested in connection to the attacks.
Saturday's assault marked the third terror attack in the UK in three months. In March a separate car and knife attack in Westminster left five people dead, and a bombing at an Ariana Grade concert in Manchester May 22, killed 22 people, most of whom were youth.
Such “ruthless violence” is never acceptable, the declaration read, but especially during Ramadan, when Muslims around the world are focused on “prayer, charity and the cultivation of good character.”
This only serves to demonstrate how “utterly misguided and distant the terrorists are” from the Islamic faith, the signatories said, adding that the “reprehensible actions” of the attackers has neither religious legitimacy nor their sympathy.
“Alongside our friends and neighbors, we mourn this attack on our home, society and people, and feel pain for the suffering of the victims and their families,” they said, and prayed “that the perpetrators be judged in accordance with the gravity of their crimes in the hereafter.”
“Their acts and willful dismissal of our religious principles alienates them from any association with our community for whom the inviolability of every human life is the founding principle,” they said, quoting the Qaran.
The signatories also commended the actions of the police and emergency personnel for their courage and “rapid response” the night of the attack.
Closing their statement, the faith leaders said they are praying “for peace and unity, and for all the victims of terror both at home and across the globe, who are targeted, irrespective of their faith.”
Vatican City, Jun 5, 2017 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Monday challenged the Consolata Missionaries to give a “new impetus” to their missions work, including by inculturation of the Gospel, promoting family values, and dialogue with Islam.
“It will be above all your apostolic fervour that will sustain the Christian communities entrusted to you, especially those that have been recently founded,” the Pope said June 5 to the Consolata Missionaries who were gathered at Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
“In the effort of the re-qualification of the style of missionary service, it will be necessary to favour certain significant elements, such as sensitivity to inculturation of the Gospel, and the choice of simple and poor forms of presence among the people. Special attention is due to dialogue with Islam, commitment to the promotion of the dignity of women and family values, and sensitivity to the themes of justice and peace.”
The Consolata Missionaries are a community of religious priests and sisters consecrated to God for the evangelization of peoples, especially wherever the Gospel is not yet known. The communities, founded by the Blessed Giuseppe Allamano in 1901, are holding their 13th General Chapter in Rome this month.
Pope Francis urged the Consolata Missionaries to further their charism and reignite their zeal for evangelization by how they encounter the culture and the mercy of God. He said they must follow the example of Blessed Guiseppe, whose faithfulness was identified by how he used his gifts to evangelize and his dedication to sharing the gospel to all people regardless of race or nationality.
“Let yourselves be continually challenged by the concrete realities with which you come into contact and seek to offer in appropriate ways the witness of charity that the Spirit infuses in your hearts.”
He told the community they are called “to project yourselves with renewed zeal in the work of evangelization, in view of pastoral urgencies and new forms of poverty. While I joyfully thank the Lord for the good that you are doing in the world, I would like to urge you to carry out a careful discernment on the situation of the peoples among whom you perform your evangelizing work.”
He urged them to “never tire of bringing comfort” to those whose lives “are often marked by great poverty and acute suffering”, as in much of Africa and Latin America as an example.
Applauding the fruitfulness of the Consolata Missionaries, he identified the sacrifices made by the order’s men and women, to the point of death: “May their evangelical choice, without reserve, illuminate your missionary effort and be of encouragement for you all to continue with renewed generosity on your special mission in the Church,” he said.
In order to move forward in this mission with renewed generosity, Pope Francis said the Consolata Missionaries must have an increasing awareness of God’s mercy.
“It is necessary to live communion with God with increasingly awareness of the Lord’s mercy that we receive. It is much more important to be aware of how much we are loved by God, than of how we love Him ourselves!”
We should consider first of all the “priority of the gratuitous and merciful love of God,” he said, experiencing “our commitment and our effort as a response.”
“We have a great need always to rediscover the love and mercy of the Lord to develop our familiarity with God. Consecrated persons, inasmuch as they make an effort to conform more perfectly to Christ, are most of all, familiar with God, intimate with Him, those who interact with the Lord with full freedom, and with spontaneity, but also with astonishment at the wonders He performs.”
Religious life can thus “become a journey of the progressive rediscovery of divine mercy, facilitating the imitation of the virtues of Christ and His attitudes … to then bear witness to them to all those you encounter in your pastoral service.”
Invoking the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Pope Francis ended his address with hope that their consecrated lives and the guidelines which will be developed in the General Chapters may lead to a greater encounter with Christ's love, the source of consolation for all humanity.