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Updated: 31 min 37 sec ago

This man was killed for defying Hitler – and now he's been beatified.

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 15:01

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian layman Joseph Mayr-Nusser who refused to take the Hitler oath was beatified March 18 in his home town of Bolsano.

In 1944, Mayr-Nusser, a Catholic husband and father, refused to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler after being drafted into the German army. He died on the way to Dachau concentration camp, to which he had been sentenced.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that Blessed Joseph is a model for all laymen and fathers “on account of his great moral and spiritual stature.”

Joseph was born on Dec. 27, 1910 to a devout family. Since his family was poor and his older brother Jakob was in seminary studying for the priesthood, Mayr-Nusser didn’t study himself, but worked on the farm and later as the clerk for the Eccel company in Bolzano.

At the age of 22 he joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an international Catholic volunteer organization dedicated to serving the poor and disadvantaged, in an effort to imitate the charity of the saint.

Mayr-Nusser was also involved in Catholic Action, and became head of its division in the Diocese of Trent in 1934. In 1937 he became president of the Bolzano branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, spending a large amount of his time visiting the poor and providing them with both material and spiritual support.

When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, Mayr-Nusser joined the anti-Nazi movement “Andreas Hofer Bund.”

A few years later, civil war also broke out in Italy following the 1943 ousting of Benito Mussolini from power, which led to the German occupation of the northern half of the country.

The Nazi regime had established the “Schutzstaffel,” or “protective squadron.” The regime called not only on local men from Nazi Germany to join the squad, but they also took volunteers and conscripted men from both occupied and non-occupied territories.

Mayr-Nusser was among those conscripted from northern Italy, and so in 1944 was enrolled in an SS unit, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son for training in Prussia.

However, when it came time for the SS members to swear an oath to Hitler, Mayr-Nusser refused.

According to a fellow comrade, he was “pensive and worried,” but told the general with a “strong voice” that “I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.”

Although his friends and tried to convince him to retract his statement and take the oath, Mayr-Nusser refused, believing that Nazi ideals could in no way be reconciled with Christian ethics and values.

As a result he was jailed, put on trial and sentenced to death for treason.  He was ordered to march to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to be shot by firing squad.

Dachau held many religious prisoners of Nazi Germany, and became known as the “largest monastery in the world” because of the number of clerics there. The camp housed some 2,700 clergy, roughly 95 percent of whom were Catholic priests from Poland, making it one of the largest residences for priests in the history of the Church.

Joseph fell ill with dysentery before he reached Dachau, and died Feb. 24, 1945. When his body was discovered, he had both a Bible and a rosary with him.

Mayr-Nusser’s cause for martyrdom was launched by his home diocese of Bolzano in 2005. Pope Francis declared him a martyr in July 2016, paving the way for his beatification.  

Pope Francis' schedule for Fatima visit released

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 21:48

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 / 09:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the Vatican released the official program for Pope Francis’ two-day visit to Portugal in May, where he’ll celebrate the centenary of the Fatima Marian apparitions and make a brief stop at an air base to meet the country’s president.

Francis will likely make a stop at his favorite Roman basilica, Saint Mary Major, sometime before leaving Rome at 2 p.m. May 12.

He’ll land at the air base in Monte Real around 4:20 p.m. local time, where he’ll be greeted by an official welcoming ceremony and meet with the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, before making his way to Fatima.

After his meeting with the president, the Pope is scheduled to stop by the chapel of the air base for a moment of prayer before boarding a helicopter that will take him to the Fatima’s multi-use stadium.

From there, he’ll hop inside an open car and drive to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. Once he arrives around 5:30 p.m., Pope Francis will head to the Chapel of the Apparitions inside the sanctuary, where he’ll recite a prayer.

He’ll then bless the candles in the chapel and offer a special greeting, marking his first public speech of the trip, before praying the rosary with faithful.

The next day, May 13, which marks the first apparition of Mary to the three shepherd children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, Francis will meet with Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa at the city’s Casa “N.S. do Carmo” hotel-convent.

Francis will then head to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, which sits next to the official Shrine, to say Mass. After the celebration, he’ll greet sick and disabled persons who are present.

Lunch will then be served with the Portuguese bishops at the Casa “N.S. do Carmo” before the Pope heads back to the Monte Real air base for his official farewell ceremony.

He’s scheduled to leave around 3 p.m. local time, arriving to Rome’s Ciampino airport around 7 p.m. local time. As usual, he’ll likely pay another visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major to pray and leave flowers before heading back to the Vatican.

Of all Marian apparitions, those relating to Our Lady of Fatima are among the most famous. On May 13, 1917, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto – age 9 and 7 – and their cousin, 10-year-old Lucia dos Santos, took their sheep to graze near the Portuguese town of Fatima when they saw a figure of a woman dressed in white and holding a rosary.

After this first appearance, the Virgin Mary then appeared to the children on the 13th of every month from May until October. The message of the Fatima apparitions can be summarized primarily as a call to repentance and prayer.

In 1930, the Catholic Church proclaimed the supernatural character of the apparitions and a shrine was erected at Fatima. It was visited by Pope Paul VI May 13, 1967, and later by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

St. John Paul II had a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After a harrowing assassination attempt in 1981, he credited his survival to her miraculous intervention. As a sign of his gratitude, he placed the bullet from the failed assassination in her crown.

“Pray for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven. United to Christ, as a priest and victim, I offer my sufferings for the Church and the world,” Pope John Paul II said on that occasion.

 

Pope meets Rwandan president, apologizes for Church failure during genocide

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 20:46

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2017 / 08:46 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During a brief meeting with Rwandan president Paul Kagame Monday, Pope Francis voiced his sadness for members of the Church who participated in the 1994 genocide, asking for forgiveness and assuring those who still suffer of his prayer.

According to a March 20 Vatican communique, during the meeting, the Pope “conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the Church, for the genocide against the Tutsi.”

“He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic event,” it read.

In imitation of St. John Paul II’s gesture during the Great Jubilee in 2000, Francis implored God’s forgiveness “for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission.”

Pope Francis, in light of a statement published by the Rwandan bishops at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy asking forgiveness for the failure of the Church and her members, expressed his desire that his own “humble recognition” of the failings of that time, “which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a purification of memory.”

He also voiced his hope that the renewed apology “may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together, once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center.”

The genocide began April 7, 1994, after controversy over the plane crash that killed the then-president of Rwanda, a Hutu. In the aftermath, Hutu extremists killed over 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

About 57 percent of Rwanda is Catholic, with another 37 percent Protestant or Seventh-Day Adventist. The churches have worked to bring about healing and reconciliation as well.

The Pope’s meeting with President Kagame, which lasted around 25 minutes, took place inside the Vatican’s apostolic palace and was conducted in English.

During the “cordial” discussion between the two, mention was also made of the good relations between the Church and the State in Rwanda. Specific appreciation was expressed for “the notable path of recovery toward the social, political and economic stabilization of the country.”

Likewise, the collaboration between the State and the local Church in working for “national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace” nationwide was also cited.

The two also exchanged views on the political, social and regional situation of Rwanda, with specific attention placed on areas suffering due to conflict and natural problems, including the high number of migrants and refugees in need of support from the international community.

After the meeting, Pope Francis greeted the presidential delegation of 9 people, handing each of them a rosary, before exchanging gifts.

Francis gave Kagame three books: his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” his environmental encyclical Laudato Si, and his post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

He also gave the president a medal, telling him that “I like to give this work to Heads of State because for me it represents the biblical passage: ‘a desert that becomes a garden,’ so that the countries can also become gardens.”

On his part, President Kagame gave the Pope a box with a black and white staff inside, explaining that “it’s a rod used to summon the people,” like a sort of “pastoral” hook.

After meeting the Pope, Kagame then met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States.

Pope Francis: This Lent, seek the only ‘well’ that satisfies – Christ

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 18:47

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2017 / 06:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said that Lent is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the life-giving water we received at our Baptism, turning away from things of the world, which ultimately leave us unsatisfied.

“The water that gives eternal life has been poured out in our hearts the day of our Baptism; then God has transformed us and filled us by his grace,” Pope Francis said March 19.

“But it may be that we have forgotten this great gift, or reduced it to a mere piece of personal data; and maybe we go in search of ‘wells’ where the water will not quench.”

In this case, Francis said, then this Sunday’s Gospel on the Samaritan woman and her encounter with Jesus at the well is for us. “Jesus speaks to us like the Samaritan woman,” he said.

“Of course, we already know him, but perhaps we have not yet met him in person, and we have not yet recognized him as our Savior.”

Before leading the Angelus, the Pope spoke to a crowd of around 40,000 people in St. Peter’s Square about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well as recounted in the fourth chapter of John.

Asking for a drink of water, Jesus, a Jew, begins a dialogue with the woman, the Pope said. She asks why he would deign to ask something of her, a Samaritan. Jesus answers her that he is alone can give her “living water, water that satisfies every thirst.”

At first, she thinks it is a type of temporal water that would mean she no longer has to go to the well to draw water. “But Jesus peaks of a different water.”

We are, in some ways, like this woman, he said. “Her thirst for affection and a full life was not satisfied” by the world – in this case, by her five husbands. “We know who Jesus is, but maybe we have not met him in person, talking with him, and we have not yet recognized him as our Savior.”

“This time of Lent is a good time to approach him, meet him in prayer in a heart to heart conversation, see his face in the face of a brother or sister suffering,” Francis explained.

By approaching the Lord in prayer and strengthening our personal relationship with him, he said, “we can renew in us the grace of Baptism, quench our thirst at the source of the Word of God and his Holy Spirit; and so discover the joy of becoming artisans of reconciliation and peace tools in everyday life.”

After the Angelus, the Pope prayed for Peru, which, because of heaving rains in the last few days, has been hit by floods and mudslides, resulting in the deaths of 72 people, BBC News reports.

“I want to assure my closeness to the dear people of Peru, hit hard by devastating floods. I pray for the victims and for those engaged in relief operations,” he said.

The worst floods the country has seen in 30 years, the capital city of Lima has been without water since Monday, services only now being restored, and more than 800 towns and cities have declared a state of emergency, according to BBC News.

Pope Francis also drew attention to the beatification Saturday of Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser in Bolzano, Italy, who was martyred for his refusal to join the Nazis in faithfulness to the Gospel.

“For his great moral and spiritual stature, he is a model for the lay faithful, especially for dads,” Francis said, “that today we remember with great affection, though the liturgical feast of St. Joseph, their patron.”

Because March 19 is the feast of St. Joseph – also Father’s Day in Italy – Pope Francis concluded with a special greeting for all fathers, asking for a round of applause from the crowd.

Pope Francis to visit Egypt in April

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 18:11

Vatican City, Mar 18, 2017 / 06:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In what will be his first international trip of the year, Pope Francis will be traveling to Egypt, to the city of Cairo, April 28 and 29, the Vatican announced Saturday.

He will visit the country in response to an invitation from His Holiness Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, as well as Egypt's president and the bishops of the local Catholic Church, the March 18 Vatican communique stated.

While the full program for the Pope's the trip will be published shortly, he will almost certainly visit Al-Azhar University in Cairo, which he has recently partnered with amid thawing Vatican-Egypt relations to help combat the issue of religious justification for violence.

The Pope’s trip will likely focus largely on inter-faith dialogue and Catholic-Muslim relations – especially in combating Christian persecution – continuing dialogue from a seminar Vatican officials attended in February.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, along with the council's secretary and the head of their Office for Islam, traveled to Cairo Feb. 24 to participate in the special seminar at Al-Azhar University.

They discussed the theme “The role of al-Azhar al-Sharif and of the Vatican in countering the phenomena of fanaticism, extremism and violence in the name of religion.”

Persecution of Christians has long been an issue in Egypt, with a recent spike in attacks causing even more reason for alarm.

There have been 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the last three months, His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said in a statement Feb 28.

Twenty-nine were killed in a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December. The Islamic State took credit for the bombing and released a video threatening to target Christian “crusaders” in Egypt.

Since the video’s release, more Christians have been killed in Egypt and hundreds have reportedly fled their homes in the Sinai region in the north of the country after several murders there, the group In Defense of Christians claimed.

Egyptian society was also profoundly shocked by the beheading in Libya of 20 Orthodox Coptic faithful and a companion by Islamic State militants in February 2015.

Pope Francis was invited to visit Egypt by Coptic Catholic bishops during their ad limina visit at the Vatican Feb. 6, during which they also gave a report on the state of the Church in their country.

The Pope had also received an invitation to visit Egypt from the country’s president and from the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, who occupies a prestigious place in the Sunni Muslim world.

Al Tayyeb paid a visit to the Vatican May 23, 2016 for a meeting with Pope Francis, which marked a major step in thawing relations between the al-Azhar institution and the Holy See, which were strained in 2011 with claims that Pope Benedict XVI had “interfered” in Egypt’s internal affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria during the time of Coptic Christmas.

Since then relations have continued to move forward at a surprisingly fast pace, leading to the Oct. 21 announcement from the Vatican that sometime this spring the Holy See and the Al-Azhar Mosque and adjunct University will officially resume dialogue.

Francis’ visit to Cairo and to the University in April will likely mark the official resumption of this dialogue.

Pope Francis goes to confession

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 23:48

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2017 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the end of his annual Lenten penitential service on Friday, Pope Francis was the first to go to the sacrament of confession, afterward hearing the confessions of seven laypeople, three men and four women, in attendance.
 
Instead of giving a homily during the service, which he has done in years past, Pope Francis led people in a lengthy silence following the readings in order to reflect and pray prior to receiving the sacrament of confession.
 
Earlier on March 17, Francis spoke with participants of the Apostolic Penitentiary’s annual course on the internal forum about the importance of confessors being available to people and spiritually well-formed.
 
In his speech, the Pope said that to be a good confessor, a priest must be a man of prayer, a man who is attentive to the Holy Spirit and knows how to discern well, and who also is a good evangelizer.
 
Held in St. Peter's Basilica, the penitential service usually takes place on the fourth Friday of Lent, in anticipation of the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative held yearly on the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent.
 
This year, however, the Pope's penitential service was moved to the week prior, March 17. In addition to going to confession and hearing the confessions of seven others, the service included prayers, songs and readings from Scripture.
 
Afterward, almost 100 priests and bishops were available to hear the confessions of those in attendance.
 
Led by Pope Francis, “24 Hours for the Lord” is a worldwide initiative which points to confession as a primary way to experience God's merciful embrace. It was launched in 2014 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
 
Taking place on Mar. 24-25, this year's theme is “I Desire Mercy” (Mt. 9:13). The theme is taken from the verse in Matthew which says: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
 
Starting in the evening on March 24, churches throughout Rome will remain open for 24 hours to give pilgrims the opportunity to go to confession and take part in Eucharistic Adoration.
 
While parishes in Rome will be open overnight, churches elsewhere in the world are invited to participate as well, adapting the initiative to suit their local situations and needs.
 
Additional information on the “24 Hours for the Lord” can be found at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization's website, www.novaevangelizatio.va.

Confession must be a pastoral priority, Pope Francis says

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 23:16

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2017 / 11:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told priests Friday to make confession a priority in their parishes, and, if they want to be good confessors, to have a strong prayer life focused on growing in humility and closeness to the Holy Spirit in order to evangelize.

The confessor, in face, is called daily to go to the peripheries of evil and sin,” the Pope said March 17, adding that “this is an ugly periphery,” but the priest is called to go “and his work represents an authentic pastoral priority.”

“To confess is a pastoral priority,” he said. “Please, may there not be those signs (that say): ‘confessions only Monday and Wednesday, from this time to this time.’”

“Confess each time they ask you,” he said, telling priests that if they are sitting in the confessional praying, “you are there with the confessional open, which is the open heart of God.”

Pope Francis spoke to participants in the Apostolic Penitentiary’s annual course on the internal forum.

The Internal Forum branch of the Apostolic Penitentiary is one of the three tribunals of the Roman Curia and is responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church, particularly sins involving some types of grave matter which require a special form of absolution that only certain priests can administer.

Taking place March 14-17, the course is held every year in Rome and is designed to educate attendees on canon law regarding Confession, as well as what the internal forum does. It is attended by around 500 seminarians in their third year of studies and by priests who wish to participate.

In his speech, the Pope said that to be a good confessor, a priest must be a man of prayer, who is attentive to the Holy Spirit and knows how to discern well, and who also is a good evangelizer.

They must be “a true friend of Jesus the Good Shepherd,” he said, adding that without this friendship, “it will be very hard to mature that paternity which is so necessary in the ministry of Reconciliation.”

This friendship is cultivated primarily through prayer, he said, whether it's a personal prayer “constantly asking for the gift of pastoral charity,” or a special prayer for “ the exercise of the duty of confessors toward the faithful … who come to us looking for God’s mercy.”

A ministry of confession that is “wrapped in prayer” will be a “credible reflection of God’s mercy” and will help to avoid the “bitterness and misunderstandings” that can at times happen in the confessional.

Confessors must also pray for themselves, the Pope said, specifically to understand well that they themselves are sinners who have been forgiven.  

“One cannot forgive in the Sacrament without the knowledge of having been forgiven first,” he said, adding that prayer is “the first guarantee of avoiding every attitude of harshness, which uselessly judges the sinner and not the sin.”

Francis also stressed the need for priests to pray for the gift of “a wounded heart,” which is able to understand other wounds “and heal them with the oil of mercy,” like the Good Samaritan did to the man on the side of the road.

A priest must also pray for humility and invoke the Holy Spirit, who is the spirit “of discernment and compassion” that allows him to accompany others with prudence.

A confessor must also be “a man of the Spirit, a man of discernment,” who knows how to listen to the Holy Spirit in trying to discern the will of God.

“How much harm is done to the Church from the lack of discernment! How much harm comes to souls from an act that is not rooted in humble listening to the Holy Spirit and the will of God,” he said.

“The confessor does not act according to his own will and does not teach his own doctrine. He is called always to do the will of God alone, in full communion with the Church, of whom he is the minister, that is, a servant.”

Discernment, the Pope said, allows the priest to distinguish individual cases instead of generalizing and putting everyone together in the same category, which helps the penitent to open “the shrine of their own conscience” in order to receive light, peace and mercy.  

This discernment is necessary above all because many people who come to confession find themselves in “desperate situations.” They could also be “spiritually disturbed,” he said, explaining that these cases have to be discerned well, keeping all of “the existential, ecclesial, natural and supernatural” causes in mind.

“When the confessor becomes aware of the presence of genuine spiritual disturbances – that may be in large part psychological, and therefore must be confirmed by means of healthy collaboration with the human sciences – he must not hesitate to refer the issue to those who, in the diocese, are charged with this delicate and necessary ministry, namely, exorcists. But these must be chosen with great care and great prudence.”

Confession must also be a true place of evangelization, Pope Francis said, stressing that “there is no more authentic evangelization than the encounter with the God of mercy, with the God who is mercy.”

“The confessional is then a place of evangelization and therefore of formation,” he said, explaining that in the brief dialogue with the penitent, the confessor is called to discern “what is most useful and what is even necessary for the spiritual path of that brother or sister.”

At times this will mean re-explaining the most basic fundamentals of the faith, “the incandescent core, the kerygma,” without which the experience of God’s love and mercy would be “mute.” Other times it will mean explaining the basics of the moral life, “always in relation to the truth, to the good and to the will of the Lord.”

“It involves a work of ready and intelligent discernment, which can be of great benefit to the faithful,” the Pope said, urging the priests to be good confessors who are “immersed in relation with Christ,” and who are capable of careful discernment and attentive evangelization.

The order of Irish Catholics you probably haven't heard of

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 14:50

Denver, Colo., Mar 17, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- They’re Irish, they’re Catholic, and they’re proud. But you maybe haven’t heard of them.

They’re the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Lady’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organizations in the United States.

Non-Irish need not apply to the orders – membership is reserved for those who can prove that at least some Irish blood flows through their veins. The word ‘Hibernian’ is another word for Irishmen, taken from ‘Hibernia’, the classical Latin term for Ireland.

Members also must be practicing Catholics willing to stand up for and support the Catholic Church.

Today, the order functions similarly to other Catholic charitable organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, but with an Irish twist. They support many Catholic causes such as vocations and pro-life work, but they also promote Irish culture and education on Irish history, and help modern-day Irish immigrants to the U.S. and support a free and united Ireland.

“If you had a group of us in a room you’d have twice as many opinions as you’d have people,” Danny O’Connell, National Vice President for the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, told CNA.

“But the thing that pulls us all together is our culture, our music, our traditions, many of which came from the immigrants.”

Why the Ancient Order?

The orders come from a time when secret societies were in vogue, and the stakes were much higher.

After the Protestant Reformation, the English, who had conquered Ireland, tried fiercely to convert the stubborn Irish Catholics, to little avail. Irish Catholics soon became accustomed to “Mass rocks”, where a priest would say Mass outside on a rock and quickly be able to hide the altar cloth and feign a picnic if they were found out.

At this time, secret groups with names like the Whiteboys, Ribbonmen, and Defenders supported rights for Catholics, but their first job was to protect their clergy. Despite persecution, the Catholics clung fiercely to their faith.

As Catholic oppression continued and crop failures struck Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Irish began to move, and their secret societies, now a learned defense mechanism, came with them. It was around this time that the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Ireland and the UK was born.

Many Irish also immigrated to the United States, with more than 1 million doing so around the time of the Irish potato famine between 1845-1852. So many sick Irish died on the trip that the boats that brought them over began to be referred to as “coffin ships.”

“When people refer to the famine, most of the Irish see it as a genocide,” O’Connell explained. “It was the Great Hunger. They were exporting more food from Ireland than they are today, yet the Irish Catholics were dying and their teeth would be stained green because the only thing they could even try and eat was the grass. It was the British government starving the people who weren’t allowed to eat the food on their land except for the potatoes, and it was land that the British stole from us.”

But despite promises of religious freedom, the Irish found that United States was also hostile to Catholicism, under the guise of patriotism.

Since colonial times, Americans had been suspect of Catholics from all immigrant groups, suspicious that their allegiances to the Pope would trump their loyalty to the U.S.

“Like any immigrant group, when you were new in the U.S., you were low on the totem pole, you were the ones abused and beaten and robbed and not given good jobs,” O’Connell said.

“And people didn’t understand Catholicism, so they would prevent you from practicing your religion. So if you were having a Mass, they would beat up or often kill the priest … so the Hibernians would stay outside or wherever they were, and stand guard. Back in those days that’s what you did, you stood outside and protected the life of your priest, and that was the only way you could continue practicing your religion,” he said.

The Hibernians also helped their own to overcome discrimination when they were looking for housing and employment. In 1894, the Daughters of Erin, which eventually became the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, was founded in order to protect young Irish immigrant women in the United States.

The Hibernians today

A strong Irish Catholic identity, forged in the overcoming of numerous adversities, can still be felt strongly in many parts of the United States, and is what bonds the Hibernians together today.

Marilyn Madigan, the National Treasurer for the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, said the camaraderie among the early Hibernians can still be felt strongly in the organization today.

“It’s the best organization I’ve ever belonged to, we’re like a second family,” she said.

Madigan said one of the most important things the orders do today, besides their Catholic charitable work, is to help undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States, of whom there are an estimated 50,000. Most of them entered the country legally, but are now here on overstayed visas.

Fears and anxiety are even higher among this group after the election of President Donald Trump, who promised to crack down on illegal immigration.

“There are a lot of undocumented Irish in this country, and most of the Irish organizations do work to try to document those Irish, so we haven’t forgotten where we came from, we hold that country dear to our hearts, as well as our religion,” Madigan said. In fact, the two are really inextricably linked.

“Most of the famine Irish were Catholic, their religion was taken away from them, they had to go to Masses behind rocks, so our Irish and Catholic heritage is very important,” she said.

Because the orders are non-profit groups, they do not engage in any kind of lobbying for Irish immigration, and they also declined to comment politically on the immigration situation of other undocumented immigrants in the United States.

A completely free and independent Ireland is another cause near and dear to the Hibernian heart, and the group hopes to see a peaceful and legal reunification of the country soon, though Brexit has raised some doubts.

“We’re very involved with Brexit, the fear is that we could see a return to a hard border between the North and the Republic,” O’Connell explained. Ireland and Northern Ireland (the six northern counties that still belong to the U.K.) have enjoyed relatively open borders since the 1990s, to the benefit of both countries’ economies, he added. Several members of the order will be travelling to Europe to voice their support for an open border.

The diversity of causes that the order supports and the faith that undergirds it continues to tie them together, O’Connell said.

“The culture, the music, the song, that brings us all together, and it’s kind of like with a family … and it’s driven by being Catholic. There’s not another Irish group in the country that has that diversity, and that’s why we’re so strong.”

But membership is waning. The women’s and men’s orders combined have a membership of about 80,000 in the U.S., at a generous estimate. It’s something that has both O’Connell and Madigan concerned.

“It seems like the younger generations do not join organizations like we have in the past,” Madigan said. “It seems like the younger generation, while they’re proud of their heritage, they don’t join, or they may join or not be as active.”

“We’re trying to do a better job of welcoming people who are younger than 60,” O’Connell said.

“We’re in the process of really kicking off what’s going to be a several-year membership campaign. We’ve never really done that before, and we realize how many people say, ‘I don’t know anything about this, why don’t I?’”

What a Hibernian wants you to know about St. Patrick's Day

While you might think you’d find a Hibernian dressed in green and drinking steadily like the stereotypical St. Patrick’s Day celebrant, there are a few things the Hibernians wish the general population understood about the holiday.

“First and foremost, to a true Irishman, St. Patrick’s Day is a feast day,” Madigan said.

“We start out with Mass, with the majority of us participating in parades prior to or on the day itself, where we highlight our Irish heritage.”

Getting drunk, she said, is not part of the plan.

“The things that upset me the most is that people think it’s just a day to go out and celebrate and imbibe in alcoholic beverages, and maybe be overserved,” she said.

“They wear shirts that are very denigrating to the Irish, making us look like we’re a race of drunks. We’re not, we’re a proud irish race that has spread Christianity throughout the world through our missionaries. And I don’t think that the general public really sees what we do.”

O’Connell said that he is also “very disturbed” by the T-shirts and decorations that denigrate the Irish.

“What I try to tell people when I talk to them about it, is I say change it to a different nationality, change it to a different race … can you imagine?”

St. Patrick's Day is also an Irish-American holiday, he added. We eat corned beef and cabbage because that’s what the Irish immigrants in America ate because they couldn’t afford other cuts of meat. They wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a big way because they wanted to feel close to their Irish heritage. It wasn’t until recently that the holiday became anything more than any other feast day in Ireland, and they only started holding big celebrations for tourism purposes.

Still, he said, it’s hard to completely blame those who want to be Irish for a day.

“Being Irish is just so much fun.”

Here's what Pope Francis is doing for Holy Week

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 12:08

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With Easter only a month away, plans have already been set in the Vatican for the celebrations surrounding the big day, and the lead-up to Holy Week will be filled with several papal daytrips, Masses, and liturgies.

The Pope began Lent with his March 5-10 spiritual exercises alongside members of the Curia in Ariccia, a small town just outside of Rome.

Next on the schedule is a March 17 penitential service in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which several individuals will go to confession with the Pope as part of his annual “24 Hours for the Lord” event, which this year takes place the third Friday and Saturday of Lent.

A worldwide initiative led by Pope Francis, the event was launched in 2014 under the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and points to confession as the primary way to experience God's mercy.

On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, Francis will make a daylong pastoral visit to Milan, where he is scheduled to say Mass, meet with youth who recently received Confirmation, and visit the city’s cathedral and a prison.

After his visit to Milan, the Pope will start the month of April by making another daylong visit to the northern Italian town of Carpi, during which he will commemorate the nearly 20 people who died when an earthquake struck the region in 2012.

One week later Pope Francis will say Mass for Palm Sunday at 10 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square April 9, during which he will process with palms from the obelisk in the middle of the square to the main altar, as is tradition.

During the Mass, the World Youth Day Cross will be handed over from Poland to Panama, signaling the location of the next international encounter in 2019. As is customary, the Pope will also deliver his message for WYD at a local level, which this year holds the theme “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” taken from Lk 1:49.

On April 13, Pope Francis will offer the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at 9:30 a.m., which will be concelebrated with the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and priests present in Rome.

Then in the afternoon he will say the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the traditional washing of feet. The location of this year’s Holy Thursday liturgy has yet to be announced, but Francis has typically chosen to hold it either in prisons or centers for the sick and disabled. Last year the celebration was held at a refugee welcoming center on the outskirts of Rome.

On Good Friday the Pope will preside over an afternoon liturgy commemorating the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica at 5 p.m., with the papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., delivering the homily, as usual.

Later that night he will make his way to the Colosseum to pray the Via Crucis with the faithful at 9:15 p.m., extending his blessing to all present. The name of person writing this year’s meditations has yet to be announced.

The following night, Holy Saturday, Francis will celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:30 p.m. In previous years he has baptized and confirmed several individuals during the celebration, and is expected to do so again this year.

On April 16, Easter Sunday, the Pope will hold a public Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10 a.m. Immediately after, he will give his special “urbi et orbi” blessing, “to the city and to the world.”

Pope Francis and Lebanese president talk Syrian war

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 23:07

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2017 / 11:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With the 6th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war as backdrop this week, Pope Francis met Thursday morning with the President of Lebanon, Michel Aoun.

Their discussion centered on the large number of Syrian refugees now in Lebanon and the efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

According to a March 16 statement by the Vatican, in the 20-minute meeting, the Pope and President Aoun discussed Syria “with special attention to international efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.”

The Pope expressed appreciation for the many Syrian refugees Lebanon has welcomed during the years of the Civil War. The two leaders also exchanged views on the greater regional context and other ongoing conflicts, particularly the situation for Christians in the Middle East.

Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a sovereign state bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south. Before President Aoun, 82, was elected on Oct. 31, 2016, the Lebanese parliament was under a 29-month deadlock to choose the next president.

During the audience, Pope Francis and Aoun both expressed satisfaction at the efforts of the various political parties to put an end to the long presidential vacancy.

The encounter also “focused on the good bilateral relations between the Holy See and Lebanon, underlining the historic and institutional role of the Church in the life of the country,” the Vatican statement read.

The two emphasized, the statement continued, “the hope for an increasingly fruitful future collaboration between the members of diverse ethnic and religious communities in favor of the common good and the development of the nation.”

At the visit, President Aoun gifted the Pope a statue of the Infant Child of Prague with emblems of the Holy See and of Lebanon and Francis gave Aoun a bronze sculpture of olive branches as a sign of peace, as well as three books: Evangelii Gaudium in French, and Amoris Laetitia and Laudato Si in Arabic.

Since the start of the civil war on March 15, 2011, 400,000 people have died in the conflict between government forces and rebel groups, and over 11 million have been displaced from their homes, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Five million registered refugees have fled the country, at least 2.2 million of these residing in Lebanon and 1 million in Jordan. This has placed considerable strain on the countries, which previously had populations of just 4 million and 6 million, respectively.

Rapid City native appointed as next bishop of Cheyenne

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 21:22

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2017 / 09:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Steven Biegler, a native of Rapid City, South Dakota, as the next bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, WY.

A March 16 message posed on the Rapid City diocese’s website wished Fr. Biegler well in his new role on behalf of Bishop Robert Gruss, the clergy, religious and people of the diocese, saying, “we pray that God will continue to richly bless you with wisdom, vitality and the love of Christ and his people.”

Fr. Biegler, 58, has been a priest of the Diocese of Rapid City since his ordination July 9, 1993. Most recently, he has held the position as Vicar General of the diocese since 2011 and Rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help since 2016.

The Diocese of Cheyenne encompasses the entirety of the state of Wyoming and has a total population of 584,153 people, of whom 55,336 are Catholic.

The official See of the Cheyenne diocese has been only been vacant for five months, making Biegler’s appointment a quick one, since bishop appointments typically take at least a year to approve.

The former bishop of Cheyenne, Paul D. Etienne was appointed Archbishop of Anchorage, Alaska by Pope Francis Oct. 4, 2016.  

Bishop-elect Biegler was born March 22, 1959, in Mobridge, South Dakota, in the diocese of Rapid City. After high school, he studied for a year at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

He then entered the Seminary of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winona, Minn., and later studied at the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, obtaining his Bachelor of Arts in Theology in 1992.

In 2007, he received a License in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

After his ordination, Biegler was named Parochial Vicar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City from 1993-1994, then Parochial Administrator of Immaculate Conception Parish in Bonesteel, Saint Anthony Parish in Fairfax, and Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Ponca Creek from 1994-1996.

From 1996-2003, he was Co-Pastor of Saint Bernard Parish in McLaughlin with the mission churches of Saint Bonaventure in McIntosh, Saint Bede in Wakpala, Saint Aloysius in Bullhead, Assumption in Kenel and Saint Michael in Watauga.

He was a member of the College of Consultors from 1998-2003 and then again since 2009. He was also Director of Pastoral Formation at the Pontifical North American College from 2003-2006.

From 2007-2010 Bishop-elect Biegler was Chaplain of the diocesan Catholic schools, and of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City and Diocesan Administrator of Rapid City from 2010-2011.

He was Pastor of Our Lady of the Black Hills parish in Piedmonth from 2011-2015.

Pope Francis: It's a grave sin to lay people off carelessly

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 03:41

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2017 / 03:41 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Business is obliged to protect peoples' dignity – and those who lay off employees solely for economic gain commit a serious sin, Pope Francis told employees of a TV platform in Italy.

“He who shuts factories and closes companies as a result of economic operations and unclear negotiations, depriving men and women from work, commits a very grave sin,” the Pope said in reference to Sky Italy’s recent cutbacks.

Sky Italy is a platform for digital satellite television. Partly owned by 21st Century Fox, they are also a major broadcaster for sports. Sky has recently announced plans to downsize and move 300 employees to Milan from Rome.

The Pope emphasized the dignity work gives to men and women and lamented employers who do not keep their responsibility to access to this dignity.

“Work gives dignity, and managers are obliged to do all possible so that every man and woman can work and so carry their heads high and look others in the eye with dignity.”

Pope Francis has spoken on the accountability of a business to its workers before. Addressing the Italian Christian Union of Business Executives in 2015, he encouraged the estimated 7,000 gathered at the Vatican to look at ethics as a necessity for economics and business.

“You are called to cooperate in order to grow an entrepreneurial spirit of subsidiarity, to deal with the ethical challenges of the market and, above all the challenge of creating good employment opportunities.”

The Pope ended his speech with hope for a quick resolution that “takes into account the respect for the rights of all, especially for families.”

What Pope Francis did when guards tried to stop these Chinese pilgrims

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 03:01

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2017 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis greeted and blessed a group of pilgrims from China who broke protocol and approached him during the Wednesday general audience.

The group of faithful, some of whom approached the Holy Father on their knees, held Chinese flags and amid sobs, asked for him to bless a statue of Our Lady of Fatima they had carried into Saint Peter's Square.

At first, some Swiss Guards tried to prevent the pilgrims from approaching the pontiff, but Francis quickly stopped them and shared a few moments with the pilgrims.

Among the pilgrims there were some children whom the Pope spent a few minutes with.

China only allows Catholic worship services for the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party, and rejects the authority of the Vatican to appoint bishops or to govern them.

The Catholic Church faithful to the Pope is not completely clandestine, although it faces constant opposition.

Diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican were broken in 1951, two years after the communists came to power and expelled foreign clerics.

For some years the Holy See has been working on an accord for the reestablishment of  diplomatic relations with China, a rapprochement encouraged by Pope Francis.

In August 2014, while he was on his way  to South Korea, the Holy Father sent  a telegram to the President of China to express his best wishes when his plane was over Chinese airspace.

The fact that the Pope had received permission to fly over Chinese airspace was considered a small step forward. Pope John Paul II had to avoid the airspace of this country during his trips to Asia.

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— ACI Prensa (@aciprensa) March 15, 2017

How to love well according to Pope Francis: it starts with God

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 18:33

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2017 / 06:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis warned against the hypocrisy that comes from believing that the ability to genuinely love others is based on our own efforts or goodness, rather than being only and always a gift from God.

“We are called to love, to charity: this is our highest calling, our vocation for excellence,” he said March 15, asking: “how can we be sure that our love is sincere, that our charity is genuine?”

“Behind all this there is a false idea, that is to say, if we love, it is because we are good; as if charity were man’s creation, a product of our heart. Charity, however, is first and foremost a grace, a gift; to love is a gift of God, and we have to ask. And He gives it willingly, if we ask it.”

Showing love to others, Francis said, is not something that we do to shine a light on who or what we are, but to show better who God is, and what he freely gives to us.

And the only way we can express this in our encounters with others is if we have encountered it first in the “gentle and merciful face of Jesus.” Without this, our charity is in danger of being hypocritical, he said.

Speaking during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis reflected on the passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which says: “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.”

“Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord,” the passage continues. “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.”

These things are not easy to do, the Pope said, but clarified that the words of St. Paul are not a reproach of all the times we fail or do not live up to the commandments.

Instead, these words give us the grace of realizing that we cannot love perfectly on our own, but that “we need the Lord to continually renew this gift in our hearts, through the experience of his infinite mercy,” he said.

“Paul invites us to recognize that we are sinners, and that our way of loving is marked by sin. At the same time, however, he is the bearer of a new proclamation of hope: the Lord opens before us a way of liberation, of salvation.”

Above all, we have hope, he said, because even in our own failures we know that “God’s love never fails,” and if we ask, he will give us the grace to love more perfectly.

“The Risen Lord who lives among us…is able to heal our heart: he does, if we ask it,” he said. “It is he who allows us, despite our littleness and poverty, to experience the compassion of the Father, and to celebrate the wonders of his love.”

“Indeed, it is God himself who, taking residence in our hearts and in our lives, continues to be close and to serve all those we meet every day on our journey,” he said.

When we invite God into our hearts, allowing ourselves to be loved by him, only then can we sincerely act out the great commandment “to become instruments of God’s love,” Pope Francis said.

“And then, yes, we will return to appreciate the little things, simple and ordinary; and we will be able to love others as God loves them, wanting their good; that they be saints, friends of God.”

The Pope concluded by saying that in doing this, we will “be happy for the chance to get closer to the poor and humble, as Jesus is with each of us when we are away from him, to bend at the foot of brothers, as he, the Good Samaritan, does with each of us, with his compassion and forgiveness.”

How Pope Francis' sincere humanity has shaped his pontificate

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 04:05

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Rather than a weakness, Pope Francis' humanity – and his acknowledgment of it – has been a source of strength and impact during the four years of his pontificate, said Vatican's press office director.

“The Pope says something which is very impressive, which is: 'I am a sinner,'” Greg Burke told EWTN News Nightly. “And I think he says that in every interview he does, that none of us is without fault. I think that's been part of his strength: how human he is.”

“Yes, he is the Vicar of Christ and yet at the same time he's a human being like the rest of us.”

Burke reflected on one small moment from Francis’ pontificate that stands out in particular as hugely impactful: which was “when the Pope got down on his knees to go to Confession himself, in front of the cameras.”

The way that Pope Francis leads by example “has done a great service to all of us,” Burke said.

Burke was appointed Director of the Vatican’s press office in July 2016, after just under six months as vice director. Formerly a Rome correspondent for Fox News Channel and Time Magazine, he has worked in the Vatican since June 2012 when he was appointed senior communications advisor to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

March is the month of anniversaries, with March 13 marking the fourth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election as pontiff, and March 19 the anniversary of the start of his pontificate.

Burke said that in these four years there have been many significant moments, but one that stands out to him is the Year of Mercy, “because it wasn't just that year it was the whole spirit of mercy which I think the Pope has helped remind everyone of.”

“That God is waiting there to forgive us, something he said from the first week of his pontificate, and people knew perhaps, but it's been a great reminder.”

A few of the trips Pope Francis has taken “where he wasn’t supposed to go” were also important moments, he pointed out. For example, when Typhoon Haiyan – the deadliest typhoon on record – hit the Philippines in November 2013, Francis “insisted on going,” saying “I’m not going to leave those people alone.”

“That was impressive,” Burke said.

The Pope also went to the war-torn Central African Republic, “despite the risks,” Burke noted, because he thought it was important that he go there, “so he did.”

In general, Burke said that he believes the Pope’s impact on the Church the last four years “has been huge.”

“The Pope has helped people rediscover the joy of what it means to believe. That despite anyone's limitations, despite their sins, despite the crosses one might have to carry, there is an inherent joy in the Christian life.”

His impact on the world at large has been much the same, he said. “Much of what makes a Christian a better Christian also makes a human being a better human being. In terms of taking care of the poor, visiting the lonely or the sick.”

“And I think the Pope has been a huge wakeup call in that sense, for all faiths, of taking better care of their neighbors,” Burke noted.

Despite confusing or misleading headlines at times, Francis’ message has been consistent the last four years, Burke said: “the Pope's main message is simple and that remains: God loves you, God forgives you, and you just have to be willing to ask for that forgiveness and share God's love with others.”

A lot of people think that the pace of activities Francis keeps are what makes it a “break-neck papacy,” Burke said, but in reality, what has changed the most is communications.

“I think we keep up with it just like everybody else does. Though it's not always easy,” he said.

Personally, Burke said that Pope Francis has impacted him in many ways over the last four years, one of which is in how he pays attention to the person right in front of him.

“He has somebody in front of him and for that moment it's that person and that person is all that counts and I think there's a lot to learn from that,” he said.

“Quite frankly, most of us are busy with a million things, we're busy with our cellphones. We're talking to people and yet at the same time we're checking Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and maybe that's what saves the Pope – that he's not there with his cellphone.”

Mary Shovlain contributed to this story.

Conversion is a journey of action, Pope says

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 04:01

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis urged Catholics in Tuesday’s homily not only to avoid evil, but to pursue good in concrete actions, likening the Lenten conversion to a journey.

“Avoiding evil and learning to do good: this is the rule of conversion. Because being converted doesn’t come from a fairy who converts us with a magic wand: No! It’s a journey. It’s a journey of avoiding and of learning,” said the Pope during Mass at the Casa Santa Marta.

Beginning his homily with the first step of the journey, the Pope said that we must recognize “Each one of us, every day, does something ugly.” He emphasized the importance of recognizing our own sins and he referenced to a quote from the book of Proverbs: “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”

This sin, he said, “poisons the soul,” but he encouraged the faithful not to worry, for God responds with the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “though your sins should be like scarlet, they will become white as snow.”

Pope Francis insisted that refusing evil is not enough, but we must learn to do good with a child-like attitude. He said, “Along the path of life, of the Christian life...You have to learn every day to do something, to be better than the day before,” and good must be practiced through concrete actions and not just words.

The Pope pointed to the examples of Jesus in the Gospel: to “relieve the oppressed, give orphans justice, defend the cause of the widow.” He also spoke on the “ruling class of the people of Israel,” rebuked by Christ “because ‘they talk and don’t act,’ they don’t know concreteness.”

This Lenten conversion is difficult and doesn’t occur over night, Pope Francis said, but added that the Lord walks “with us to help us, to explain things to us, to take us by the hand” and heal our iniquities.

“And this is the path of Lenten conversion. Simple. It is the Father who speaks, it is the Father who loves us, who really loves us. And who accompanies us on this path of conversion.”

 

US congratulates Pope Francis on his 4th anniversary

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 22:09

Vatican City, Mar 13, 2017 / 10:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, the anniversary of Pope Francis being elevated to the papacy, the United States offered its congratulations and wishes for collaboration in the future.

“On behalf of President Trump and the people of the United States, I offer my congratulations to His Holiness Pope Francis on the fourth anniversary of his election as Bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic Church,” said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a statement.

On March 13, 2013, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope.

“The United States and the Holy See have worked together for decades to face global challenges such as trafficking in persons, food insecurity, epidemics, and the exploitation of religion as a tool to incite hatred and divide nations,” Tillerson said in his statement. “Together we have built vital partnerships and cooperated to advance peace, liberty, and human dignity around the world.”

“On this day I join millions of Americans, and people around the world, in congratulating the Holy Father and wishing him continued success in leading the Catholic Church to make a better world for all.”

 

My life isn't a tragedy – a Rwandan woman's incredible story of survival

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 15:02

Vatican City, Mar 13, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- She begged and scrounged for food in the forest; she drank water from a stream with dead bodies in it; she wrapped grass on her feet in order to walk long distances in the hot sun in order to survive, facing starvation and malnourishment, all before the age of six.

Now, Mirreille Twayigira is a licensed medical doctor hoping not just to save lives, but to inspire young women worldwide – particularly those in her same situation – by showing them there's hope, and that life is more than the tragedies they face.

While some might label her life “a tragic story” due to the suffering and loss she faced as a young child, Twayigira said others might choose to call it “a story of courage and perseverance.”

However, “I choose to call it a story of hope, a story of God...from ashes to beauty, (like) a beautiful stained glass window.”

Twayigira was among several speakers at the March 8 Voices of Faith women's gathering in the Vatican, marking International Women's Day.

First held in 2014, the VoF conference was established in response to Pope Francis' call to “broaden the space within the Church for a more incisive feminine presence.”

Gathering women from around the world, this year's VoF took place at the Vatican's Casina Pio IV, headquarters of the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, and featured testimonies of women from around the world, including Syria and Burundi, who shared their stories of perseverance, highlighting the importance of building peace in a world filled with conflict.

In her testimony, Twayigira noted that when war broke out between Tutsis and members of the Hutu majority the government, leading to mass killings of the Tutsi tribe, she was just three years-old.

Although she doesn't remember much about the war itself when it started, she remembers the day she got the news that her father had been killed.

“I remember being told that my father had been killed, his body being brought home wrapped in this blue tent,” she said, noting that she was too young to fully understand what was happening on the day of his burial.

Before the war, “we were a big, happy family. Our house was next to our grandparent's house, so my sister and I used to spend our days with uncles and aunts...so it was a beautiful and happy childhood,” she said.

After her father's death, however, this changed dramatically.

“My family knew that it was no longer safe for us, so they had to pack and leave,” she said, explaining that at first, they fled to another district of Rwanda, thinking they would be safe.

However, after just a short time her younger sister, who was just one-year-old at the time, got sick and, because her family didn’t have access to medicine or proper nourishment due to the war, she passed away.

After her sister’s death – which marked the second time she had lost a sibling, since an older sister had died before Twayigira was born – the family fled through Burundi to a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“In the camp I was a very happy kid,” she said, “but this all ended when I encountered more loss.”

While in the camp, her mother fell ill and “one night she was gone.” However, Twayigira said that despite the tragic death of her mother, “life had to go move on,” so she and her grandparents continued to move forward.

But just two years later, in 1996, they had to leave because of war in the DRC, which is when “I began to experience a life that is unimaginable,” she said, recalling how she had her grandparents fled the camp with bullets flying over their heads, and took refuge in the forest.

“We only survived by begging for food,” she said. Her grandparents begged from locals in nearby villages, and at times were given moldy bread to eat. When begging wasn’t enough, “we even had to eat roots from the forest.”

“I remember sometimes we had to drink water from rivers with dead bodies floating in it,” she said, noting that their situation had become one of the “survival of the fittest.”

They had long distances to walk going from village to village and in search of another camp, many times walking on rough terrain. When the weather was too hot for their bare feet, they bunched up grass and tied it to their feet in order to be able to walk.

“We escaped death from so many things: from hunger, bullets, drowning, wild animals, you name it. No child should go through what I went through. In fact, nobody should go through what I went through,” she said.

Eventually the family made their way to another refugee camp, “but life would not be better there,” she said. While there were some soldiers protecting them, they would take young boys and train them to fight, and would take girls either as companions for the night or, at times, as wives.

Most of the boys leave refugee camps “with some sort of trauma,” she said, noting that when it came to the girls, some got pregnant, and others were made to be servants.

“The only reason I survived this is because I was very little,” Twayigira said. Due to the ongoing war, she and her grandparents traveled to nearby Angola before eventually ending up back in the DRC for a period of time.

However, with no improvement to the situation and no end to the war in sight, they again made their way to Angola for the second time. But when they arrived, “my grandma was very tired, and as for me, I was very malnourished.”

“You can imagine a big tummy and thin brown hair, and swollen cheeks and feet,” she said, describing herself as a young girl.

Twayigira recalled that her grandmother died shortly before they reached the refugee camp in Angola, and that had they not arrived when they did, “I was also almost gone.”

With just the two of them left, Twayigira explained that her grandfather eventually decided to travel to a different refugee camp in Zambia, because he heard they had a better school.

Despite such a long journey and so much loss, her grandfather moved again for no other reason “than to give his granddaughter a better education,” Twayigira said. She recalled that her grandfather “really believed in me so much. He never once said, 'she's just a girl, let me not waste my time on her.'”

After spending a few years in Zambia, the pair decided to make yet one more move, this time heading to a camp in Malawi that had better living conditions and even better schools. They arrived in September 2000.

Twayigira immediately enrolled in school once she arrived, making several new friends and, for the first time since they had left, was happy to have adequate food and shelter.

Being able to do well in her classes “would give me joy. Because at least I got to make some people proud, and I was very happy,” she said. Twayigira was eventually selected to join a Jesuit-run school, with all fees paid for by the Jesuit Refugee Service.

When she finished school in 2007, Twayigira's grandfather fell ill, passing away just a few days after.

“I cried uncontrollably, badly, but life had to go on, and although I was in so much pain with the loss of my loved ones, it did not stop me from working hard,” she said, “because I knew that my future, it was not certain, I did not know what my future had, but I knew that my hard work would pay off.”

In 2009 she studied for the national final exam in Malawi, and finished among the top 6 students in the country. At the awards ceremony, the Chinese embassy offered a number of full-ride scholarships to study in China for the top students.

Twayigira was one of the students selected and, despite being a refugee with no citizenship status or passport, was able to get her paperwork in order with the help of the Jesuits at her school, a Catholic radio station and even the Malawian parliament.

She then moved to China and studied the language for a year before officially beginning classes in Chinese. She has since graduated and is currently working as a medical intern in Malawi.

While there were many times she wanted to give up along the way, Twayigira said she persisted, because at a certain point she realized that “God spared my life” not to keep it for herself, but because “there are people that I was meant to serve.”

“Before I went to China, I used to think I was just this girl with a tragic past...but when I got to China I realized that I’ve got a story to tell; a story of God and his love, a story that can change somebody’s life.”

As a doctor, Twayigira said she feels she can give even more. But in addition to her medical duties, she also looks for opportunities to speak in schools to try and “raise hope among the youth, especially refugee youth.”

She said that in the future, she hopes to work more directly with refugees, “because I believe I have a lot to share, having gone through what they’ve gone through.”

“Now this is my story...but unfortunately for many, theirs is just in the tragedy part,” she said, explaining that many refugee children don’t even have access to adequate housing let alone higher education.

Even those who do get a good education don’t necessarily have the same opportunities, Twayigira said, so “their hopes are just crushed.”

In order to change the situation, she said war itself has to end: “why not end all this violence, and I’m not talking about people from other countries coming in to invade our own countries, I mean why wait for an outsider to come to stop hurting, and killing?”

“Is the money or power at the expense of their blood really worth it? I don’t think so,” she said, adding that the only way to really resolve conflict is with “forgiveness, mercy and love.”

“Is there such humanity in us, or have we become robots?” she asked. “What is happening to innocent kids is completely unfair, and it needs to stop and I believe it starts from within us: from love, forgiveness and mercy.”

People in situations similar to hers need to know “that they are loved by God and people around them. They need to know that they matter, that there is hope for them, that they have a purpose in life,” she said, noting that this stems not only from having the basic needs met, but above all from education.

In an interview with CNA after her talk, Twayigira stressed the importance of education, saying it’s “really the key to everything, because if not educated, many girls don’t even know their value.”

However, with a good education women learn that “okay, I’m not worthless and someone can’t just come and step on my foot. I am somebody,” she said, adding that a proper education helps women to step into decision making positions where they can change things.

“I believe that once a girl is educated, that means you’re actually educating the whole family. Because a woman, you raise your children, they’re with you all the time, you know that whatever they get is what you teach them,” she said.

“So if a woman is educated that means the whole family will get quality advice from their mothers. So educating a girl is actually educating the whole country.”

Twayigira said she was happy to be able to speak at the Vatican, since the event was streamed live. She voiced her hope that people can hear her story “and not just feel sorry for me, but also see ways they can help other people like me to get a better education or a safe place, or open their homes to refugees like me.”

She said she also hopes other young women and girls from around the world will be able to see and hear her story, and to know that “it’s all possible...I believe that I’m a pillar of hope for them.”

She said one of her hopes coming out of the conference is not only to encourage young women in her situation to have hope, but also that the people who have the power and resources to change things will see that they “can actually do something under-privileged people like I was.”

“Their actions can change somebody’s life for the better, never to be the same,” she said.

The Transfiguration prepares us for the Cross, Pope says at parish visit

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 00:07

Rome, Italy, Mar 12, 2017 / 12:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In his brief homily at a Roman parish Sunday, Pope Francis reflected on the beautiful faces of Jesus during the Transfiguration and the Resurrection, saying they give us the hope and courage needed to handle the face that comes between the two: the face of the Crucifixion.

“Between this beautiful transfiguration and that Resurrection there will be another face of Jesus. There will be a face that’s not so beautiful,” the Pope said March 12.

“There will be an ugly face, disfigured, tortured, despised (and) bloodied. Jesus’ entire body is like something to throw away,” he said, adding that there are “two transfigurations, and in the middle is Jesus Crucified, the Cross.”

He encouraged parishioners to look at the Cross often, and to remember how Jesus was “annihilated” to save us.

Using word coined by St. Paul that perhaps “too strong,” Francis said Jesus “was made sin. Sin is the worst thing, sin is an offense against God, a slap in the face to God...And Jesus became sin, he was annihilated.”

And to prepare his disciples “not to be scandalized” by seeing him on the Cross, Jesus was transfigured, he said, explaining that “with this assurance of the transfiguration to go forward.”

“To see this face, so beautiful, so luminous, which is the same that we see in the transfiguration and it’s the same one that we’ll see in heaven,” he said.

Francis urged faithful to contemplate these two faces of Jesus: “the transfigured one and the one made sin, cursed.”

Doing this “encourages us to go forward on the path of life, the Christian journey. It also encourages us in the forgiveness of our sins, we’ve sinned a lot,” he said.

But above all it “encourages us in trust,” Pope Francis said. “Because if he became sin because he took ours upon himself, he is always disposed to forgive us. We only have to ask him.”

Pope Francis made his comments while celebrating Mass at the Roman parish of Santa Maddalena di Canossa, which sits on the outskirts of Rome and is run by the Canossian order Sons of Charity and their sister-branch, the Sisters of Charity.

Upon his arrival the Pope was greeted by the superior general of the Sons of Charity, Fr. Giorgio Valente, who has been in charge of the parish since the canonization of their founder in 1988. The Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and Bishop Paolo Selvadagi, the auxiliary of Rome’s west sector, also greeted Pope Francis. The last Pope to visit the parish was St. John Paul II in 1996.

Before celebrating Mass the Pope met with youth, the Daughters of Charity sisters and their superior general Sr. Annamaria Babbini, a group of elderly and sick persons belonging to the parish, the parents of the 65 children baptized there in 2016 as well as a number of the parish’s pastoral workers.

During his various encounters, the Pope took questions from the youth, some of whom were members of the Scouts of Europe group, also heard the confessions of four people, including a teenager, a youth and two adults, a woman and a man.

The Pope was thirty minutes late to Mass due to meetings with various groups from the parish community. He kept his homily short, contrasting the luminous faces of Jesus at the Transfiguration and the Resurrection with the face of Jesus on the Cross.

Please read below for the full text of the Pope’s brief homily:

Two times reference is made in this passage of the Gospel to the beauty of Jesus, of Jesus as God, of Jesus illuminated, of Jesus full of joy and life. First in the vision, he was transfigured in front of them, in front of the disciples. ‘His face shown like the sun and his garments became white as light.’ Jesus is transformed, he is transfigured. The second time, while they were going down from the mountain, Jesus ordered them not so speak of this vision before he is risen from the dead. In the Resurrection, Jesus will have a face, luminous and bright, it will be like this. What can I tell you? Between this beautiful Transfiguration and that Resurrection there will be another face of Jesus. There will be a face that’s not so beautiful. There will be an ugly face, disfigured, tortured, despised (and) bloodied. Jesus’ entire body is like something to throw away. Two transfigurations, and in the middle is Jesus Crucified, the Cross. We must look at the Cross a lot. And Jesus-God; this is my Son, this is my Son, the beloved. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is annihilated to save us. And to use a word that’s too strong, perhaps it’s one of the strongest words in the New Testament: he was made sin. Sin is the worst thing, sin is an offense against God, a slap in the face to God. It’s to tell God ‘I don’t care about you, I prefer this.’ And Jesus became sin, he was annihilated. And to prepare the disciples not to be scandalized by seeing him like this on the Cross, he did this transfiguration. We are used to speaking about sin. When we confess, ‘I did this sin, I did this other one.’ Even in confession, when we are forgiven, we feel that we are forgiven because he took this sin in the Passion. He was made sin. We are used to speaking about the sin of others. It’s an ugly thing. Instead, to speak of (others), I don’t say to sin, because we can’t, but to look at our sins, it’s he who became sin. This is the path toward Easter, toward the resurrection, with this assurance of the transfiguration to go forward. To see this face, so beautiful, so luminous, which is the same that we see in the transfiguration and it’s the same one that we’ll see in heaven. And also to see this other face, which became sin. He paid like this for all of us. Jesus became sin. He became the curse of God for us. The blessed Son of God became cursed because he took our sins upon himself. Let’s think about this. How much love. Let’s also think about the beauty of the transfigured face of God that we’ll see in heaven. This contemplation of the two faces of Jesus, the transfigured one and the one made sin, cursed, encourages us to go forward on the path of life, the Christian journey. It also encourages us in the forgiveness of our sins, we’ve sinned a lot. It above all encourages in trust. Because if he became sin because he took ours upon himself, he is always disposed to forgive us. We only have to ask him.

The Cross is more than jewelry – it's a call to love, Pope Francis says

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 18:03

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2017 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said Lent is a time to really contemplate the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us on the Cross, which is more than just a devotional symbol, but an exhortation to imitate the love of Christ.

“The Christian Cross is not a furnishing for the house or an ornament to wear, but a call to the love with which Jesus sacrificed himself to save humanity from evil and from sin,” the Pope said March 12.

As Lent moves forward, he encouraged Christians to “contemplate with devotion” the image of the Jesus crucified on the Cross, which he said is “it’s the symbol of our Christian faith, it’s the emblem of Jesus, died and risen for us.”

“Let us make sure that the Cross marks the stages of our Lenten journey in order to increasingly understand the severity of sin and the value of the sacrifice with which the Redeemer has saved us,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square during his Sunday Angelus address, which he focused on today’s Gospel passage from Matthew recounting the scene of the Transfiguration.

Speaking from the window of the papal apartments in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Francis noted how in the passage, Matthew points out that Jesus’ face “shown like the sun and his garments became white as light.”

The “brightness” that characterizes the Transfiguration, he said, symbolizes the event’s ultimate aim, which is “to illuminate the minds and hearts of the disciples so that they are able to clearly understand who their master is.”

“It’s a flash of light that opens unexpectedly opens the mystery of Jesus and illuminates his entire person and his story,” he said.

Since they are already drawing near to Jerusalem, where Jesus will undergo his violent Passion and death, the Lord wants to prepare them for “this scandal that’s too strong for their faith and, at the same time, announce his resurrection, manifesting himself as the Messiah,” the Pope said.

By revealing himself in the way that he did to Peter, James and John, Jesus shows that he is a Messiah different than what was commonly expected at the time: he’s not “a powerful and glorious king, but a humble and disarmed servant; not a gentleman with great wealth, a sign of blessing, but a poor man who has not place to rest his head; not a patriarch with numerous descendants, but a homeless bachelor without a nest.”

“It’s truly a revelation of God upside down,” Pope Francis said, explaining that “the most disconcerting sign of this scandalous reversal is the Cross.”

However, it’s precisely through the Cross that Jesus will achieve “the glorious resurrection,” he said, noting that by transfiguring himself, Jesus wanted to show his disciples his glory not to help them avoid the Cross, but to “indicate where the Cross leads.”

“Whoever dies with Christ, will rise with Christ. Whoever fights together with him, will triumph with him,” the Pope said. “This is the message of hope that the Cross of Jesus contains.”

Mary, he said, was someone who knew how to contemplate this glory of Jesus that was masked by his humanity. He prayed that she would help Christians “to be with him in silent prayer, to allow ourselves to be illuminated by his presence, to carry in our heart, through the darkest of nights, a reflection of his glory.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Angelus prayer, Francis offered special prayers for the victims of a March 8 fire at a safe house for girls in Guatemala.

“Brothers and sisters, I express my closeness to the people of Guatemala who live in mourning due to the grave and sad news of the fire that erupted inside the Virgin of the Assumption Safe House, causing victims and wounded among the girls who lived there,” he said.

The fire occurred March 8 after a group of girls and teenagers rioted to protest what they alleged was physical and sexual abuse at the facilities. Authorities said that some of the children set fire to mattresses and the fire then spread to the rest of the facility.

The center, located in the San Antonio area of the town of San José Pinula, was created to provide protection for about 400 girls and teenagers abandoned and at risk. However, it currently houses close to 750 children, including those in trouble with the law.

According to State officials, the girls who died in the fire were unable to get out because they were locked in a room, apparently as a punishment. The previous night, some 60 children escaped from the center

In his address, Pope Francis prayed that the Lord would “welcome their souls, heal the wounded, console their grieving families and the entire nation.”

He also invited faithful to pray with him “for all boys and girls who are victims of violence, mistreatment, exploitation and wars.”

“This is a plague,” he said. “This is a hidden cry that must be heard by all of us and which we can’t continue to pretend not to see or to hear.”

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