Vatican City, Mar 23, 2018 / 05:00 am ().- Cardinal John Tong Hon has voiced support for a proposed deal on the appointment of bishops between the Vatican and China, saying he believes the Chinese government has generally become more tolerant, and an accord would help bring further openness and unity to the Church.
Tong is the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, and spoke at a March 22-23 conference titled “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation” taking place at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.
Tong is one of two Chinese cardinals, the other being his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen. While Zen has consistently been an outspoken critic of the proposed deal, Hon holds a different opinion.
In an interview with a small number of journalists, one of which was CNA, Hon said opposition to the accord is “unreasonable,” because the deal aims at unity. He called the agreement “far-sighted” and said at times, sacrifice is necessary in order for Catholics to become “members of one family.”
The deal – which would allegedly follow the model of the Vatican's agreement with Vietnam, allowing the Holy See to pick bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the government – is rumored to be “imminent.”
In a recent blog post, Cardinal Zen indicated that the agreement could be signed as early as March 23 (tomorrow) or March 27. If the deal is reached, Zen said he would “retire in silence” and would “hide and pray,” but that he would not oppose the pope.
In his interview with journalists, Cardinal Hon said he didn't want to speculate about when the deal might come, but said he was “optimistic” it would eventually happen.
Below are excerpts of Cardinal Hon's conversation with journalists:
Q: This conference is addressing the presence of Christianity in China. From your perspective, what is the current situation for Christians there? Some say there is persecution and an increase in restrictions for religions, but others say the situation has improved. What is your take?
I am a Hong Kong citizen. Hong Kong belongs to one country, is a part of China, yet Hong Kong, after 1997, is one country run under two systems, meaning Hong Kong still continues to be a capitalistic administration, and China is under the socialist system for 50 years. So we are doing the same things as before. Regarding China, I am also a foreigner, so that means I'm not an insider. I can offer my impression with a limited knowledge of China...In a general picture I think China has already greatly improved, so sometimes you find this tightening in this part or that part, but China is huge. You cannot use this to describe...If we have a very far-sighted vision about China, I think China is [becoming] more civilized, closer to the outside world. And then I think the general situation, in the present, is better. Those would be my remarks.
Q: So your perception is that China is more open to religion, is more tolerant?
In the future also it should be, not the other way. Because the people can come out from China, now most of the people like to come to Hong Kong or outside of China for a week, so their eyes are opened after seeing the outside world. So they of course have higher expectations. And also the officials, knowing, they are not stupid, they know the expectations of most of the common people, and although on one hand they want to exercise their authority over the common people, but at the same time they have to compromise. So from time to time, sometimes [there's] a tightening, but other times [there's] a loosening policy. But in the long run China will be more and wider open, there is no other way. If I were the officials, I would do similar things. So I am optimistic.
Q: In your opening remarks you spoke about the importance of dialogue and communication between Chinese authorities and Christianity. This reminded me of your remarks in February about a deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops and allowing the Church to be registered in China. You said you were optimistic if it followed the Vietnamese model. Some say it won't follow this model. Are you still optimistic?
Yes, I'm still optimistic, because I always, this is my belief, whatever is reasonable can last for a long time. Whatever is unreasonable will fade out or has to be changed. You can see from the whole of human history, even the history of China. Even Mao, Mao was so cruel, so strong, but finally...and also the cultural revolution created a lot of chaotic situations in China, but finally those situations have been changed. So there is no other way.
Q: So in this case 'reasonable' would be the deal, and 'unreasonable' would be against it?
Q: A lot has been said in the media about your predecessor, Cardinal Zen, who has spoken out a lot against this deal. What is your opinion about this and what it says about the current dynamics in China?
This is a free world, everybody can express their own opinion. Everyone can use their own mind, their wisdom, to discern. So when you open your eyes and also open your ears, you can hear many, many different voices. So this is a free world. What can you say? We, as persons, we respect everybody as a person. So different opinions, up to your own wisdom to discern. That's my [opinion], which I received from my teacher, it's the lesson I learned.
Q: How is Pope Francis received in China? In the West he's very popular even among non-Catholics. Is it the same in China?
Yes. Generally speaking, he's loved by Catholics and non-Catholics.
Q: What's the appeal?
He's a humble person. The first thing is that he is really humble, and a humble person will be loved by many people. If you are proud you get a lot of enemies. This is also biblical teaching by our Lord Jesus. So we have to be humble. Jesus humbled himself and came down to earth and finally received crucifixion, suffering. So humility is important, that's one thing. And second, he has a far-sighted vision. He's not only seeing [now], but how to achieve the reign of God. The reign of God is to make humanity whole, to be one family, and we are all brothers and sisters, the whole world. Also through the negotiations promoted and advocated by the Second Vatican Council...Sometimes we can lose something so we can achieve friendship and set an example for all others and all other people, so finally we become friends, and then eventually we become all members of one family. At that time the reign of God will be implemented on earth...I was trained here 50 years ago at the Urbanianum. At that time the Second Vatican Council was being held, and I witnessed the grand closing ceremony. And right away I was ordained a priest with more than 60 classmates by Pope Paul VI. So that is what we were taught, and we have also what we were taught to believe in. So if you don't believe that, that it's only looking for [certain] things, that's your business, that's not my faith. And finally, we have to pray for the Church in China.
Q: People have been talking about a deal with China for years, and now it seems that is pretty sure...
I don't want to make any guess, it's up to God's will.
Q: But if it does happen, is there something about Francis' pontificate or diplomatic style that would allow the deal to happen? Is there something about the way he does diplomacy that would make the deal more likely than in the past?
If there's any breakthrough, it's God's will, I don't want to make any speculation. I'm not a prophet, I only follow our dogmatic teaching in the Church, and also the teaching of the constitutions issued by the Second Vatican Council. What I have learned in teaching in seminary, we pray for the Church in China, but I don't want to make any speculations...during the year, almost three years ago, during the year of divine mercy, the Church in China, particularly, during that period, was also very happy to respond to the appeal made by the Holy Father. So it shows that they are very positive about the Holy Father because they follow the instructions given by the Holy Father.
Vatican City, Mar 22, 2018 / 11:47 am ().- The United States delegates to a pre-synod gathering in Rome this week have said they think young Catholics in the nation need – and desire – faithful and authentic accompaniment in order to live the faith and to form a relationship with Christ.
“The common thread that we kept going back to… was the need for companionship for young people, and how there’s this real desire to meet authentic people who are authentic witnesses,” delegate Katie Prejean McGrady told CNA.
“That word [authentic] came up frequently. And then the whole concept that it didn’t matter where you were from, and it didn’t matter what the state of the Church was, young people respond far better to personal relationships and one-on-one interactions with people of faith.”
Prejean McGrady, a wife, mother, youth minister, and speaker from Louisiana, is one of four representatives – all in their 20s – who were chosen by the U.S. bishops as delegates to the Vatican’s pre-synod gathering happening ahead of the October Synod of Bishops on young people.
Prejean McGrady spoke to CNA March 21 alongside Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, a LaSallian Brother who teaches religion in El Paso; Nick López, a single young adult who is the director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Chris Russo, a Byzantine Catholic who works as a research technologist at a hospital in Boston.
The pre-synod gathering has included discussion among young people from all over the world as they help to prepare and edit a document which will serve as a guide for bishops during the synod. The final document will be presented Saturday, and given to the Pope at Palm Sunday Mass.
Speaking to CNA, all four delegates said that the growing number of young Americans not practicing the faith they were given is one of the major concerns they brought to the meeting, and something they would like to see addressed.
Prejean McGrady said that she thinks one reason for the disaffiliation is that many Catholics in the US were catechized in a way that merely presented “bullet points to learn or these things to do”, rather than integrating these as part of the basis for a relationship with Christ.
She also noted that it is her belief that having “companions on the journey” makes it “much easier to build that relationship.”
Delegates also expressed frustration at feeling that older generations often place the blame of youths' disengagement from the faith on the young people themselves, and do not admit their own share in the responsibility.
Russo said that people to whom he’s spoken are “very distressed about disaffiliation in the Church,” but those “who ask why young people are no longer involved in the Church, are the same people who then criticize, saying, ‘oh, well, you’re too young to understand or to express an opinion.’”
Lopez agreed that it often feels like older generations think young people “don’t care” or are “too distracted,” but he takes hope in the fact that bishops are making an effort to listen to young people. He also expressed his desire that adults outside the hierarchy will also be inspired to listen more.
The four acknowledged that disaffiliation is also a problem in other parts of the world, and that it is not the only challenge young Americans have in common with youth in other parts of the globe.
They noted the increase in mental illness, the effects of media, and pornography use, in particular.
Because the meeting's participants come from different backgrounds, including different religions, Prejean McGrady said that not everyone in attendance has had a positive view of the Church. But in general, the discussions have been instructive and focused on cooperating with the Church, not tearing it down.
She said that she thinks there’s great hope “because we were already brought to the table. I think that’s the bishops appealing to us, saying we want to know how to meet you face-to-face.”
Br. Javier expressed the desire that the same sort of discussions happening at the pre-synod meeting could take place on a national or local level, creating a conduit for communication with young people.
In the end, the delegates all emphasized that young people are both the future of the Church and the Church now.
Russo also requested that the world continue to pray for everyone involved in the Synod. “This is only an initial step – this isn’t the be-all-end-all,” he said. “This isn’t ending, this is something so, so much bigger. We have to talk to our communities… we’re the Church.”
Vatican City, Mar 22, 2018 / 12:00 am ().- The story of Benedict XVI’s letter and the communication issues it raised, dubbed “Lettergate,” has led to the resignation of a curial prefect, among other things.
But it also had the effect of revealing the agenda behind some discussion, namely, pieces of a strategic plan for undermining the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, especially regarding Humanae Vitae.
Reactions to Saturday’s publication of the full text of the letter reveal a certain resentment among the supporters of the “agenda of mercy,” those in Rome pushing for a change in the doctrine of the Church.
A particular example is a blog post from Italian theologian Andrea Grillo, written after the publication of the full text of the letter by the Holy See Press Office.
Grillo, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Sant’Anselmo Univerity, titled his blog post “The letter of discord: too many unjust words and the silence of the innocent”
In 2017, Grillo criticized Benedict XVI for speaking out in a public context after his resignation. After the Pope Emeritus wrote the foreword to a popular book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Grillo said in an interview that “for the future, in case of resignation of the pope, norms that more sharply and safely regulate the ‘institutional death’ of the predecessor and the full authority of the successor will be required.”
Grillo mentioned that criticism at the beginning of his recent blog post. He continued to criticize Benedict, this time for his remarks about a theologian who authored one of the books about Francis.
Grillo said that Benedict XVI’s letter shows “acrimony and one-sidedness of judgment on a theologian like Father Huenermann, of whom he presents a distorted and unjust profile.” He criticized the Pope Emeritus for “judging the great theologian only with the measure of censorship.”
(As a side consideration, it must be said that Benedict XVI knew very well what he was saying about Fr. Huenermann: as former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he knows well how Fr. Huenermann’s books had been monitored and checked. Plus, he did not describe Fr. Huenermann as an ‘enemy of popes’, as Grillo wrote, but as a man who virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the pope. That is, of any pope in any era.)
Grillo’s post also criticized Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for the Communication, mostly because he asked Benedict XVI to break his silence, and then because he used only part of the Pope Emeritus’ response.
But it was the final part of his post that was the most revealing. Grillo praised Francis for “having broken the silence”, overcoming the “awkward silence that had paralyzed the magisterium for three decades,” while the Church was “making believe that the magisterial authority ‘had no power’ to change anything in matrimonial, ministerial, liturgical, ecumenical, juridical and curial field.”
Grillo criticized what he called “the still Church” of the past to the current lively Church, which needed “lively theologians” like Fr. Huenermann, who “continued to speak even when the magisterium wanted from theologians only silence or applause.”
The blog post ended with a critical note about the Pope Wmeritus, who, he said “solemnly promised be silent,” but “spoke without prudence.”
The post, on the whole, seems to be a protracted criticism of the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It takes pains to suggest that Pope Francis is permitting renewal of a progressive theological agenda, even without any actual support for that claim.
A curious analysis, in a discussion started to show an intellectual continuity between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
But by calling for a “new theological discussion,” Grillo suggests an intention to advocate for theological positions in discontinuity with the Church’s traditional teaching.
In short, Grillo’s reaction epitomized all the current issues at stake: a sort of “vindication” of the self-proclaimed “conciliar theology” that looks at the Second Vatican Council through the lenses of discontinuity; a fear of the Pope Emeritus’ words, whose judgment is always heard, even by Pope Francis; a push to overturn Catholic teaching, which turns into bitterness when the discussion takes an unexpected turn.
If this was just the point of view of one theologian, it would be one thing. But Grillo is a kind of rising star in Italian academic circles, gaining always more traction in public debate, and also in academia.
In particular, Grillo has been tapped as one of the teachers of a High Formation Course on “Family Counseling with Pastoral specialization.”
The course is organized by the Ecclesia Mater Institute of the Pontifical Lateran University and it is sponsored by the Italian episcopal conference’s National Office for the Pastoral of the Family.
The course takes over three summers, in the picturesque Madonna di Campiglio in northern Italy.
Grillo will teach “History of the Family in the History of the Church,” addressing Familiaris Consortio and Amoris Laetitia.
The course is a sort of replica of another summer school, that one sponsored by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the “Diploma in Pastoral Family Ministry.”
That summer school, like the new one, was offered to people without theological degrees, took place over three summers, and was sponsored by the Italian bishops conference.
While John Paul II Institute is in a period of transition, being retooled as a Pontifical Theological Institute, this new course backed by the Italian Bishops Conference will likely cannibalize the old summer institute. But the theological method will be quite different.
This move shows the struggle behind the curtain to reframe Catholic teaching.
The teachers of the John Paul II Institute are not going to back down. The presentation of the book “Karol Wojtyla and Humanae Vitae” was a clear theological battlefield, and it was no wonder that Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was sharp enough to say that “overturning Humanae Vitae’s teaching is a crime against the Church.”
Following the discussion on the book, Msgr. Livio Melina, former president of the Institute, penned an article to denounce the strategy of contrasting a ‘good and flexible” depiction of Paul VI with a “rigid and doctrinal” depiction of John Paul II
In the end, the miscommunication drama following the publication of the full text of the letter of Benedict XVI’s had the effect of revealing a theological strategy that seems to be taking place without Pope Francis’ knowledge.
How this will strategy will unfold remains to be seen. But it bears watching in the months to come.
Kano, Nigeria, Mar 21, 2018 / 03:45 pm ().- On Wednesday, terrorist group Boko Haram returned at least 76 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped in a raid last month.
More than 30 girls are still missing, some of whom are allegedly still being held, while others have reportedly died, possibly of thirst, according to reports from the New York Times.
On Feb. 19th, Boko Haram raided a girls’ technical school in Dapchi, a small town in northeastern Nigeria. Witnesses said the militants stormed the school and herded 110 students into trucks and drove away.
Father Maurice Kwairanga, who coordinates the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) for the Nigerian Diocese of Yola, told CNA last month that in the wake of the kidnapping, “deep sorrow has descended on the once sleepy…town” of Dapchi.
Residents of Dapchi told the New York Times that they were “very, very happy” for the return of so many of the schoolgirls.
They added that when the militants dropped off the girls, they gathered several residents around them to warn them that the girls should not be allowed to return to school.
Of the girls still being held by the militants, sources told the New York Times that one of them, Leah Sherubu, is a Christian who has refused orders to convert to Islam.
Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group based in northeastern Nigeria. The group launched an uprising in 2009 hoping to impose strict sharia law on the country. It has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, targeting security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north. In 2015, the group pledged allegiance to ISIS.
The group has carried out numerous attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings in recent years, including a 2014 raid during which militants abducted 276 schoolgirls. Of those girls, dozens have been freed, though more than 100 are still missing.
Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari said on Twitter that the recent release of the Dapchi girls came as a result of “backchannel” negotiations and that no ransom was paid.
The government has faced harsh criticism in the wake of the Dapchi kidnapping, and Fr. Kwairanga told CNA last month that while Buhari campaigned on a platform of eradicating terrorism, confidence in the government is “waning.”
According to the New York Times, advocacy group Bring Back Our Girls expressed relief at the return of the Dapchi girls, but added that they want the negotiations surrounding their release investigated.
The latest group of freed Chibok girls were released in May in exchange for as many as six suspected militants who were not identified, though some reports say the militants were high-ranking commanders in Boko Haram. There are also rumors of a large ransom paid, which critics fear could encourage more kidnappings.
Pope Francis has assured Nigerians of his prayers and recently met with a Boko Haram abduction survivor in a private audience. Nigerian Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme has also urged the world to pray the rosary for an end to Boko Haram’s violence.
Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 11:26 am ().- Several young people from across Africa have voiced their excitement at being able to participate in the Vatican's pre-synod meeting, which they say will give them a chance to be heard and will provide the courage to confront the challenges they face at home.
For Nigerian youth Vincent Paul Nneji, being able to participate in the pre-synod meeting in Rome makes him “feel more part of the Church.”
“I feel that my voice is very loud now, because we get to meet one on one with the Pope and we get to tell him how we feel about the faith that we've always believed in since we're born, so I feel very good and very, very energetic to go back and give more to society.”
The March 19-24 pre-synod meeting is in preparation for the October Synod of Bishops on “Young people, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”
Nneji is one of some 300 young people from around the world participating in the event, 31 of whom come from Africa.
CNA was able to speak with youth from Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe about their expectations for the meeting, the challenges they face at home, and what problems they want the Church to be aware of when it comes to young people.
There was a nearly unanimous recognition that young people in Africa tend to take on a lot of responsibility at an early age, and lack older role models who are able to help steer them in the right direction amid political and societal instability.
According to Nneji, “at a young age we tend to be adults [in Nigeria]. We don't have a choice but to be adults because we have so many challenges and less people to help us.”
“So here we want to talk about the challenges and how [the Church] can help us, feel our pain and feel empathetic with us, and try to connect with us even when we're far away,” he said, explaining that the biggest challenges youth face in the country are social injustice and unemployment.
In Nigeria, “an average youth has to feed, has to be financially secured to a large extent, has to feel a sense of security in order to profess his or her faith,” he said, “so that is a major challenge, because we have issues of bad governance and bad leadership, and we are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
“We're supposed to be the ones to take up the mantle of leadership in society and even in the Church,” he said, noting that there is often also a lack of role models in the Church itself.
Nneji said he wants to bring these challenges to the attention of the Pope and the synod committee so they can find ways to “help us to do better, even amid all the challenges; to do better and still be a youth.”
Tendai Karombo, a 26-year-old youth from Zimbabwe, said she wants the Church in her country to have greater appreciation for young people, many of whom become caregivers for their elderly parents as early as 12-15 years old.
“When we come to Church we do not get that respect … We are then sidelined to minor things, we cannot do a lot, we are viewed as weak, [so] we cannot do so many things,” she said.
“I [would] hope and appreciate if the Church can also see that strength in us, make us responsible, and we can save so many souls,” she said.
For Karombo, it's not so much about the individual countries as it is about learning what challenges youth face on a global level and confronting them together.
“I believe we can discuss and come up with a way that is universal to help everyone out,” she said.
“If I were living in Europe with all those challenges, how would I react to them? Maybe that way, in understanding each other, we will have a way forward in addressing the challenges,” she said.
Tinyiko Joan Ndaba, a woman from South Africa who works to raise awareness about human trafficking, told CNA a major problem she wants to address is human trafficking, and she feels a responsibility to share the knowledge she had gained about the phenomenon with her peers.
Ndaba said she learned about trafficking through workshops with the Combating Trafficking in Persons branch of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Talitha Kum anti-trafficking organization.
After starting a group with Talitha Kum to help raise awareness in parishes, Ndaba said “we noticed that people do not know about this,” so they made their campaign public, “because if people in our churches don't know, it means the public doesn't know about this.”
Trafficking, she said, is “so sad, it is inhumane,” and it “takes away from the communities; I imagine myself in that situation, and thinking how much I would have lost if I was a victim of slavery, so it’s better to prevent it before it happens to anyone else.”
Ndaba said she knows of at least one instance when a young woman in the process of being trafficked was able to realize what was happening and get out of the situation thanks to a workshop they led at her school.
“One group cannot do anything, but we need to community to carry this out, because this is a social issue,” she said, voicing her hope that young people at the pre-synodal meeting “can really contribute toward the growth of our different communities that we come from.”
Nneji also voiced hope that the youth in attendance would be able to address their challenges and find a clear way forward.
“We want to be part of decision-making, [and] the Church has given us an opportunity in the pre-synod, so this conference … is a wonderful opportunity to see ourselves and know where we are; know our strengths and our weaknesses, manage them together and see how we can help the Church and society.”
Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 05:42 am ().- On Wednesday Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano as prefect of the Secretariat for Communications in wake of what has been dubbed by many as the 'Lettergate' scandal, which has dominated Catholic media the past week.
The announcement was made in a March 21 statement from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, who said said Msgr. Lucio Adrián Ruiz, secretary of the Vatican communications office, will take charge until a new prefect is named.
In his letter submitting his resignation, which was dated March 19 and published March 21 alongside Francis' response, Vigano said that in recent days, “many controversies have arisen regarding my work which, beyond intentions, destabilizes the complex and great task of reform which you entrusted to me.”
He thanked the Pope for his accompaniment and generosity, and said that for the sake of avoiding the “delay” of the reform and for “love of the Church,” he tendered his resignation.
In his letter of response, dated March 21, Francis said that after speaking with Vigano and after a “long and attentive reflection,” he accepted the prefect's resignation.
He thanked Vigano for his service, and offered his blessing, asking that he stay on in the secretariat in a different, more advisory capacity.
The fiasco began last week after the Monday, March 12, launch of the 11-book series “The Theology of Pope Francis,” published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications.
A letter from Benedict XVI praising Francis' theological and philosophical formation was read aloud at the event, however, the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications later admitted to tampering with an image of the letter that was sent to media, blurring out lines in which Benedict said that he had not read the full series, and so could not give an in-depth analysis.
Days later another twist was added to the scandal when it was revealed that further paragraphs had been left out in which Benedict questioned the inclusion in the series of a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
After receiving pressure from the media, the Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, which they said was confidential and never intended to be published in its entirety.
Msgr. Vigano was tapped to head the secretariat for communications in 2015 with a mandate to reform and streamline the Vatican's various communications entities. The recent scandal surrounding the letter has been likened by reporters to the first “Vatileaks” scandal in 2012, when Benedict XVI's personal butler leaked some of his private letters to the press.
Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 04:58 am ().- At Wednesday's general audience, Pope Francis said our participation in the Holy Eucharist at Mass is not a merely spiritual communion, but a sacramental one, uniting us to Christ and his Church.
“The celebration of the Mass… is ordered to sacramental Communion. It is not a spiritual communion. No, [it is] a sacramental communion,” he said March 21.
“While it unites us to Christ, tearing us from our selfishness, Communion opens and unites us to all those who are one in Him. Here is the wonder of Communion: we become what we receive!”
Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass by outlining and explaining the second part of the Communion Rite in light of the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
When we receive Holy Communion, we must let ourselves be changed, he said, because as St. Augustine said, “every time we approach the Eucharist, we are transformed into Jesus.”
“As bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of the Lord, so those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist,” Francis continued, explaining the parts of the Mass.
After the Sign of Peace, the priest holds up the consecrated host and says: “Blessed are the guests at the Lord's Supper: here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
These words are inspired by a passage from the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” he said.
“This invitation calls us to experience the intimate union with Christ, source of joy and holiness. It is an invitation that rejoices and at the same time leads to an examination of conscience illuminated by faith.”
“If on the one hand, in fact, we see the distance that separates us from the holiness of Christ, on the other we believe that his Blood is ‘shed for the remission of sins.’”
As an aside, Francis reminded Christians that they have already been pardoned through the grace bestowed at their baptism and are forgiven again every time they approach the Sacrament of Penance, because “Jesus forgives us always,” he said.
Repeating a favorite phrase, he emphasized that “Jesus does not tire of forgiving us, it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”
The Pope also quoted St. Ambrose, who, thinking of the salvific power of the blood of Christ, said: “I who always sin, must always have the remedy.”
With the same faith, Francis said, we also turn our gaze to the Lamb of God, praying to him with the words: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This is the point in the Mass where we go up to receive the Eucharist, which is “a meeting with Jesus,” he said.
He also explained that though the entirety of Christ is present under each of the two species of the Eucharist, both Body and Blood, the Church believes that the “Eucharistic banquet is expressed with greater fullness if Holy Communion is made under the two species.”
He also noted Church teaching that the faithful may receive communion either “standing up with devotion, or kneeling,” as determined by the local bishops’ conference, and that the faithful receive “the sacrament in the mouth or, where it is allowed, on the hand, as preferred.”
After receiving the Eucharist, to help acknowledge the gift, the Pope recommended spending time in silent prayer, or the singing of a psalm or hymn of praise.
The Eucharistic Liturgy concludes with the prayer after communion, where the priest “turns to God to thank him for making us his guests and to ask that what has been received transforms our life.”
He noted the significance of the final prayer for the Mass of the day, Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent: “We ask the Lord that ‘participation in his sacrament should be for us the medicine of salvation, heal us from evil and confirm us in his friendship.’”
Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 04:40 am ().- During his Wednesday general audience Pope Francis was presented with the official icon for the World Meeting of Families, announcing afterward that he will travel to Dublin from Aug. 25-26.
In his greeting to English-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis made special mention of a group of Irish pilgrims in attendance for the presentation of the official World Meeting of Families icon, telling them, “I intend to travel to Dublin from August 25-26.”
He then thanked authorities and all those working to prepare for the trip. The official program for the papal visit has yet to be released; however, Francis did not mention any other cities in his announcement and is expected to stay in Dublin for a short visit primarily focused on events related to the family gathering.
The theme for this year's World Meeting of Families (WMOF), which will take place Aug. 21-26, is “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.” The topic was chosen by Pope Francis and is based on his 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia.
During the March 21 general audience, two families of Irish heritage – the Tobin family and the Bushell family – presented the Pope with the WMOF icon, titled the “Icon of the Holy Family.”
The Tobin family is from Co Derry and consists of mom and dad Brenda and Bryan, as well as their grandmother Maureen and their two children, 20-year-old daughter Emma, and 13-year-old daughter Cathel.
The Bushell family, who currently live in Rome, is originally from Ireland and is comprised of mom and dad Mary and Michael, and their two young daughters, Olivia, 7, and Molly, 5.
According to a news release on the event, the icon is intended to serve as an invitation to prayer. It is shaped like a cabinet with two doors that open to reveal the image inside, and is made of traditional seasoned wood.
Specialist icon company the Joinery Group crafted the wooden cabinet, which was then covered in several layers of a gesso primer before being painted with the ancient 'tempera' technique, in which the colored pigments are bound together with egg yolk and water.
Commissioned especially for the 2018 WMOF, the icon was written by Romanian iconographer Mihai Cucu and depicts three scenes: the Holy Family eating together at a table, the Gospel episode of the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus raising Jarius' daughter from the dead, which is recounted in the Gospel of Mark.
The icon was anointed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin at an Aug. 21, 2017, Mass marking the one-year countdown to the WMOF.
The WMOF began as the result of a request by St. John Paul II in 1994 for an international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration for families. The first took place in Rome in 1994. It is held every three years.
It was most recently hosted in Philadelphia by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The 2015 event had approximately 20,000 attendees from 100 different countries, including Pope Francis.
As far as this year's celebrations, a “national opening” will take place in each of the 26 dioceses in Ireland Aug. 21, which will be followed by an Aug. 22-24 “pastoral congress” in Dublin that will include workshops, talks and discussion dedicated to the official theme. There will also be activities geared toward young people and children.
On Saturday Aug. 25, a “festival of families” will take place, consisting of a concert and personal testimonies given by families representing each of the five continents. The event will close with an Aug. 26 Mass, which all participants are invited to attend.
Vatican City, Mar 20, 2018 / 04:00 pm ().- Young people from around the world have begun a meeting at the Vatican by voicing their hopes and expectations from the Church regarding the challenges they face and the questions life poses.
Specifically, they have said they want to know they are taken seriously, and they want the Church to talk to them about difficult issues, among them same-sex marriage, euthanasia and the role of women in the Church.
The young people are delegates to a special pre-synod meeting of youth, which is taking place March 19-24 and has drawn some 300 representatives from around the world to talk about key themes ahead October’s Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”
CNA spoke with several young participants at the pre-synod meeting, hailing from Japan, Australia, Mexico, Iraq and the United States.
They spoke about issues important in their countries of origin, including persecution, the refugee crisis, suicide and drugs.
For 22-year-old Angelas Markas, a Chaldean Catholic living in Australia, youth need to “move forward, we need to be brave in addressing topics like same-sex marriage, euthanasia, sexuality – what does it mean to embrace our sexuality as Catholics, and the role of women – how important are we, how empowered are we?”
Markas was one of five young people to give testimonies in front of Pope Francis during the March 19 opening session.
In her speech, she highlighted, among other things, her life as part of the Iraqi Chaldean diaspora, her work with indigenous communities in Australia, and her hope that the Church would engage with young people on important issues, especially the role of women, who she said “need to feel our sense of empowerment.”
In comments to CNA, Markas said these are all the topics she wants to discuss during the event, and voiced hope that the stories and experiences she shares “will be embraced.”
On the role of women, Markas said she believes they are already “embraced and empowered” in the Church, but thinks this sense of empowerment should be “more obvious.”
She also spoke of the tragedy of clerical abuse -- which has plagued Australia for years and tarnished public perception of the Church -- saying that while it is a problem, she trusts the Church “is going to find her path in this.”
“We are a Church of hope, if we aren't a Church of hope, how are we really going to grow from this?” she said. “We are the witnesses of the Resurrection, so we have to have hope that this will all heal and we have to work toward it.”
Markas also voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' appeals on behalf of migrants and refugees, which hold special significance for her because of her own heritage. The Pope, she said, “is so great in that he always addresses the littleness, the smallness of the youth from wherever we come from.”
“He's doing such a brilliant job,” she said. Recalling a brief handshake with Francis after giving her speech, Markas said she was still in disbelief: “I can't believe I shook his hand and kissed his cheeks, I'm not going to wash my face! It was brilliant.”
Francis has a dynamic way of engaging the youth, she said, noting that many young people still crave connection with the Church, especially those who lack hope or who have experienced suffering or loss.
She challenged the Church to listen and engage more with young people, calling for a “transformation” of approach. This isn't something that will happen immediately, she said, “but we are meeting this culture that desires to be connected and we need to address it in a more universal and listening way.”
The pre-synod gathering, she said, “is the perfect example” of how this connection and listening can take place. “It's a real change, it's not something that is delusional or a fantasy. Young people want to feel a sense of value and purpose, they want to hear and understand and be able to understand.”
Shaker Youhanan Zaytouna, a 24-year-old seminarian from Iraq, told journalists March 20 that one of the biggest challenges the local Church faces is that many young people are leaving the country, opting to move abroad due to the threat of extremist violence and the country's ongoing political instability.
This presents a unique challenge for the future of the country, he said, explaining that “it's very hard to tell the Church to not allow youth to leave Iraq.” Security is a big problem, he said, because one can ask the youth to stay, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t be killed later.
A Chaldean Catholic studying in Rome, Zaytouna said the Church has a big role to play in encouraging youth to stay in Iraq and helping provide the conditions for them to stay. However, “the problem is that the government needs to initiate this step.”
Iraqi youth are being welcomed into other countries, but many want to return, he said. “[And] if the government isn't helping the heart, if they aren't providing that security, how can these youth return?” he said, adding that finding work is also a problem for many young families.
The seminarian also voiced concern over the fact that many young people, from various religions, are becoming either atheist or agnostic, calling it “a [big] a problem” for the future that will have to be addressed.
He also touched on the topic of vocations, saying the Church “must commit herself more to listening...and not only, but to learn to accompany.”
Noting that he is still a young seminarian himself, Zaytouna said better accompaniment is needed, because “if the bishop doesn't accompany us, if the priests don't accompany us, or someone else, how can I stay on this path?”
At times parents try to prevent children from pursuing consecrated vocations, he said, noting there are cultural pressures that make it difficult to accept or follow such callings. However, he said there have also been times when formators pressure someone discerning, telling them they are not cut out for religious life.
Those discerning need to be encouraged and accompanied, Zaytouna said, explaining that “listening comes first; learn to listen, accompaniment comes and then the discernment.”
Also participating in the pre-synod meeting is Yoshikazu Tsumuraya, a Japanese Buddhist from Fukushima who currently lives in Rome and works with the Japanese Buddhist Lay Movement. Before coming to Rome, he taught in a Buddhist seminary.
In comments to CNA, Tsumuraya said his organization has strong ties with the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and was invited to participate in the meeting as a representative of the Buddhist community.
“When I received this invitation, I was really happy, because having a knowledge of Christianity, it pushed me to get to know Christian youth,” Tsumuraya said, explaining that he has worked with a lot of Christians and is very committed to interreligious dialogue.
Tsumuraya said he came primarily to listen and understand the different realities of youth from around the world.
In the case of Japan, he said the major challenges for youth are a widespread competitive and consumerist mentality, as well as the immense cultural pressure to be successful. And if youth don't give into this way of thinking, they might feel estranged from their peers or that they don't fit in, Tsumuraya said.
In cases when this happens, young people react in a variety of ways, he said, explaining that one big problem is that youth who feel that they don't quite fit in “are no longer able to go to school,” due to the stigma they face, “so they stay home closed in their rooms.”
Other major problems for Japanese youth are premature death due to “excessive work,” he said, as well as suicide, which is a common phenomenon among teenagers in the country.
Tsumuraya voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' frequent references to the problem of teen and young adult suicide, which “is not just a Japanese problem, but it's a global problem.”
“So thinking about this phenomena which affects the whole world, we must face it, above all in knowing the reality, then to think about how to accompany youth to avoid this terrible [phenomena],” he said.
Nicholas Lopez, a 27-year-old campus minister from Dallas, Texas, is also participating in the meeting as one of three representatives from the United States.
Lopez gave his testimony during the opening session, pointing to various challenges young people have faced during his experience working with youth on campus.
In comments to CNA, Lopez said the major topics he wants to bring to the table during the pre-synod meeting are “the concerns of the Hispanic Americans in the United States, and the solidarity between us and them.”
The topic is particularly timely in the U.S. as concerns continue to mount over President Donald Trump’s strict immigration policies. Many, including a high number of college students whose parents are immigrants, have voiced fear about deportation.
In addition to issues affecting the Hispanic community, Lopez said he also plans to discuss mental health issues, the higher education system in the United States and “the way young people are impacted on college campuses.”
Also participating in the meeting is 25-year-old Corina Fiore Mortola Rodriguez of Mexico. She came with a large group of other youth from Latin America, which is one of the youngest and most Catholic continents in the world.
In comments to CNA, Mortola Rodriguez said the message she wants the Church to hear this week is that young people like herself are “valid interlocutors,” and they need to be listened to and helped to go deeper in finding solutions to the problems they face, such as drugs, violence, poverty and unemployment.
Pointing to Pope Francis' visit to Mexico in 2016, she said his encouragement to youth and his appeals to avoid hopelessness and the allure of gangs was “a call not of tension, but to action.”
Her reflection echoed the Pope's March 19 opening speech, in which he told youth they need to approach problems with a “head, heart, hands” mentality. The call to “think, feel and act,” Mortola Rodriguez said, is also a call to be “unified” and to make concrete resolutions in confronting the problems they face.
As an example, Mortola Rodriguez said she helps lead a theater workshop for incarcerated youth in Mexico, which has helped them to “heal the wounds that have caused through the crime they committed.”
“[Through us] they can heal this pain that they have in order to be able to return to society and find a new form of work,” because healing is essential for a person's reintegration into society, she said.
Speaking of the contribution of the Latin American Church, Mortola Rodriguez said one thing she hopes her continent can offer the universal Church is “joy,” because Latin Americans are “ known for our joy.”
“I think youth should be more joyful,” she said, and noted how there are many young people who reflect what Pope Francis says when he talks about youth who seem old because they have lost their joy and happiness.
Another topic Mortola Rodriguez said she wants to discuss is vocation, because many people think of their vocations as only the choice of a state of life.
“But no. The vocation is a call, a call today, to the present, to be active, to be happy and to do concrete actions that benefit my society,” she said, and voiced her desire to fight against social evils such as human trafficking, and to fight to “stop the things that harm us.”
Vatican City, Mar 20, 2018 / 07:38 am ().- On Tuesday Pope Francis offered his condolences for the death of Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, the disgraced former archbishop of Edinburgh, who died Monday at the age of 80 in a hospital in northern England.
The Pope's March 20 message was addressed to Archbishop Leo Cushley, who was appointed to head the archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 after O’Brien stepped down following his acknowledgment that he participated in inappropriate sexual conduct during his ministry.
In the brief message, Francis said he was saddened to hear of O’Brien’s death and offered his heartfelt condolences to his family and those who mourn him.
“Commending his soul to the merciful love of God our Father, and with the assurance of my prayers for the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote.
The funeral and burial arrangements for the cardinal are still being determined. Scottish newspaper The Herald reported March 20 that the Holy See will be a participant in the decision, as well as Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who the Pope appointed to manage the O’Brien scandal in 2013.
According to The Herald, an archdiocesan spokesperson said O’Brien’s funeral arrangements “will be decided in the days to come.”
“There will be consultation between the Holy See – the Holy Father will have an input – and Keith O’Brien’s family as to where his requiem Mass takes place and when and where he is buried.”
Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, O'Brien was named archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh by St. John Paul II in 1985.
From 2002-2012, O’Brien served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2003 and participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI.
He stepped down as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh in 2013 at the age of 74 after allegations went public that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men in the 1980s.
After the claims surfaced that February, the cardinal's request for retirement – originally submitted to Benedict XVI in November 2012 for reasons due to age and health – was accepted immediately by Benedict, going into effect Feb. 25, 2013.
O'Brien did not participate in the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, and in May 2013, after speaking with the newly-elected Pope, he left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection.
Two years later, Francis accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of cardinal – a rare circumstance which can only be approved by the pope.