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Let go of 'false lights' that lead down the wrong path, Pope says

Vatican City, Mar 26, 2017 / 04:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said Lent is a key time to open ourselves to the light of Christ and let go of all the “false lights” that lead us away from him, taking us instead down a path of darkness marked by our own selfishness.

“If now I were to ask you, do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe that he can change your heart? Do you think you can see reality as he sees it, not as we do? Do you believe that he is light, that he gives us the true light?” the Pope asked March 26, telling pilgrims to respond in silence.

The walk in the light of Christ means to convert, he said, explaining that this transformation means above all “abandoning false lights.”

One of these false lights, he said, is the “cold and fatuous light of prejudice against others, because prejudice distorts reality and builds hate against those who we judge without mercy and condemn without an appeal.”

Gossip is an example of this, he said, noting that to speak badly of others leads away from light, and down the path of darkness.

Another false light that is particularly “seductive and ambiguous,” he said, “is personal interest.”

“If we evaluate men and things based on the criteria of our profit, our pleasure, our prestige, we will not live the truth in relationships and in situations,” the Pope said. “If we go down this path of seeking only personal interests, we will walk in darkness.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address, focusing on the day’s Gospel reading from John which recounts the healing of man blind from birth who, after receiving his sight, recognizes and worships Jesus as the Son of God.

“With this miracle Jesus manifests himself as the light of the world,” Francis said, explaining that the blind man represents each of us, who, blinded by sin, “need a new light, that of the faith, which Jesus has given us.”

Referring to the Gospel passage, Francis noted that it was precisely by “opening to the mystery of Christ” that the man gained his sight.  

Francis pointed to the line in the passage where Jesus asks the man “do you believe in the Son of Man?” and tells him that “you have seen him, it is he who is speaking with you.”

The man then prostrated himself and worshipped Jesus, the Pope observed, saying the episode serves as an invitation to reflect on our own faith in Christ, and to remember the moment we received it in our Baptism.

Baptism “is the first sacrament of the faith: the sacrament which make us ‘come to the light,’ through rebirth in water and in the Holy Spirit,” he said, noting how the blind man’s eyes were opened after bathing in the Pool of Siloam, upon Jesus’ request.

The man’s need for healing and rebirth is a sign of the times when we fail to recognize “that Jesus is the light of the world, when we look elsewhere, when we prefer to rely on small lights, when we fumble in the darkness.”

The fact that that blind man didn’t have a name, Pope Francis said, “helps us to see ourselves with our face and our name in his story.”

We have also been “illuminated” by Christ through our Baptism, he said, explaining that because of this, we, like the blind man, “are called to act like sons of light.”

But to do this “requires a radical change of mentality, a capacity to judge men and things according to a new scale of values, which comes from God,” the Pope said, adding that Baptism itself requires “a firm and decisive choice” to let go of the false lights, and live as children of the true light of Christ.

Francis concluded his address by praying that Mary, welcomed Jesus as the “light of the world,” would intercede for us in obtaining the grace needed to really welcome “the light of faith” into our lives during Lent.

“May this new illumination transform us in attitude and action, so that also we, starting from our poverty, may be bearers of a ray of the light of Christ.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Pope Francis offered special thanks to the diocese of Milan for his March 25 pastoral visit.

He also gave a shout-out to Blessed José álvarez-Benavides y de la Torre and his 114 martyr companions, who were beatified yesterday in Spain.

“These priests, religious and laity were heroic witnesses of Christ and his Gospel of fraternal peace and reconciliation,” he said, and prayed that their example and intercession would “sustain the commitment of the Church in building the civilization of love.”

Meet the monks who decided to go green years before Laudato Si

Arlington, Va., Mar 25, 2017 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Years before Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical was published, a Trappist monastery in Virginia went back to its spiritual roots by embracing environmental stewardship.

“This really is a re-founding,” Fr. James Orthmann of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Va. told CNA, a “real renewal and a re-founding, and in a real sense getting back to our traditional roots.”

Since 2007, the community has taken concrete steps be better stewards of the earth in the tradition of the Cistercian Order, while also reaching into the outside world to draw more Catholic men to their monastic life.

The abbey was founded in 1950 after a planned Trappist abbey in Massachusetts burned down. The Diocese of Richmond offered to accept the monks and they procured 1200 acres of pasture on the Shenandoah River in Northwest Virginia, just in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.

However the community has shrunk along with the overall number of religious priests and brothers in the U.S., which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1965. The community’s Father Immediate – the abbot of their mother house – suggested in 2007 they start planning how to sustain the abbey for the long-term.

The monks discussed their most important resources and “literally everybody talked about our location, our land,” Fr. James recalled. “As monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, we have a vow of stability. So we bind ourselves to the community and to the place that we enter.”



The Trappists have a long history of settling in valleys and caring for the land, dating back to their roots in the Cistercian Order and their mother abbey in Citeaux, France, founded in 1098. Monks at Holy Cross Abbey began farming the land in 1950 but as the community grew older, they leased out the land to local farmers and made creamed honey and fruitcake for their labor.

“We live a way of life that’s literally rooted in the land,” Fr. James explained. “The liturgical life reflects the succession of the seasons, and the more you become sensitized to that, the symbolism of the liturgy becomes so much more compelling.”

So what specifically have the monks done to become better environmental stewards? First, they reached out to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment to author a study on how the abbey could be more environmentally sustainable in the Cistercian tradition.

A group of graduate students made the project their master’s thesis. The result was a massive 400-page study, “Reinhabiting Place,” with all sorts of recommendations for the monks. With these suggestions as a starting place, the monks took action.

First, they turned to the river. They asked the cattle farmer to whom they lease 600 acres of their land to stop his cattle from grazing in the river. This would protect the riverbanks from eroding and keep the cows from polluting the water, which flows into the Potomac River, past Washington, D.C., and eventually feeds the massive Chesapeake Bay.

They fenced off tributaries of the river and planted native hardwoods and bushes on the banks as shelter for migratory animals and to attract insects and pollinators to “restore the proper biodiversity to the area,” Fr. James explained. They also leased 180 acres of land to a farmer for natural vegetable farming.

Most of the abbey’s property was put into “conservation easement” with the county and the state. By doing this, the monks promise that the land will forever remain “fallow,” or agricultural and undeveloped, and they receive a tax benefit in return. The county provides this policy to check suburban sprawl and retain a rural and agricultural nature.

The community also switched their heating and fueling sources from fossil fuels to propane gas. They had a solar-fed lighting system installed in two of the guest retreat dorms, and they pay for the recycling of their disposable waste. The monks stopped making fruitcake for a year to install a new more energy-efficient oven and make building repairs.

The have even started offering “green burials” at Cool Spring Cemetery in the Trappist style.

Normal burials can cost well over $7,000 with embalming fluids and lead coffins that can be detrimental to the soil. A Trappist burial, by contrast, is “rather sparse” and “rather unadorned,” Fr. James explained. A monk is wrapped in a shroud and placed directly on a wooden bier in the ground.

The Trappist burials, while quite different from a typical modern burial, actually have an earthy character to them that’s attractive, Fr. James maintained.

After the “initial shock” at seeing such a sparse burial for the first time, “oddly enough, it’s very cathartic and you have a real sense of hope,” he said. The burials are “a lot less formal” and “people [in attendance] are more spontaneous,” he noted, and there’s “even a certain joyfulness to it.”

With their “green burials,” the body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container like a wooden coffin, and buried in the first four feet of the soil. By one year, just the skeleton may be left, but it’s a harkening back to the Ash Wednesday admonition, “Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

And this contrasts with the complicated embalming process of normal funerals where chemicals like formaldehyde can seep into the ground.



The monks have already touched lives with their example of stewardship.

Local residents George Patterson and Deidra Dain produced a film “Saving Place, Saving Grace” about the monastery’s efforts to remain sustainable, for a local PBS affiliate station. The affiliate’s general manager had looked at the story and thought everyone needed to hear it.

The monastery has been an “example” to the county’s leadership with its care for the land, Patterson said. Dain, a retreatant at the monastery 15 years ago, is not Catholic but found her time at the abbey “inspiring” and as a lover of nature praises their sustainability initiative.

All in all, the communal effort for stewardship is “helping to renew our life,” Fr. James said of the community.

Papal statements on the environment have given a boost to their efforts. “There was a lot of supportive stuff from the time of Pope Benedict about the environment,” Fr. James recalled, particularly in his 2008 encyclical Caritas in Veritate which upheld the responsibility of man to care for the environment.

This “helped bridge” any gulfs that kept certain members of the community from fully embracing the sustainability initiative, Fr. James said.

Parts of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment Laudato Si are “so sophisticated in (their) grasp of environmental teaching,” he continued, and it’s quite a support to have popes promoting environmental stewardship amidst the bureaucratic tediousness of upgrading the abbey’s land and facilities.

“At the end of the day, I can open up Laudato Si and say to myself ‘Ah, this is worth it. We should keep doing this. I’m going to keep putting up with the nonsense to get this done’,” he said.

The community hopes too that it can be a sustainability model for developing countries that might not be able to afford high-tech and expensive solutions to environmental problems. Their facilities are simple by nature and not sophisticated, and the monks’ consumption is already low because they take a vow of poverty.

Plus, retreatants at the monastery can observe first-hand the changes made and consider what they can do in their own lives to be more caring for the environment.



However, in its “re-founding” efforts, the community has also explored ways to attract more vocations to the abbey.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve lost most of our seniors first to illness, aging, and then death. So in a sense, the community has a whole new profile right now,” Fr. James said. The abbey was founded to be “separate” from the cosmopolitan world, but young men are not actively seeking out the monastic life like they did in the 1950s and 60s.

So the community created a new website and continuously update it with new posts. They started hosting “immersion weekends” where men come and live with the monks for a weekend, praying with them. They expanded their local profile in the community by hosting teenagers to earn their school community service hours. “Only two students had realized we existed here,” Fr. James recalled in a telling moment.

“We’re reaching out to men of all ages, and it’s probably even more likely, given the limits of our way of life, that nowadays it’s going to be older men who are coming to this vocation,” Fr. James admitted. “This way of life and its limits make much more sense to people who have tried their quote-unquote dream, have been disillusioned by the result, and they’re yearning for something more.”

What distinguishes Holy Cross Abbey and the Trappist way of life? Their vocation to community life, Fr. James answered, “the silence, the discipline of silence, and daily familiarity with the Scriptures.”

The monks follow an intense daily schedule of prayer, contemplation, and work that includes 3:30 a.m. prayer and a “Great Silence” beginning at 8:15 p.m. They don’t leave the abbey grounds and don’t own private property.

“It’s a lifestyle that very much will develop one’s interiority, spirituality, relationship with God,” he said. “It’s a vocation of adoration, done in community, and offered to the world around us through hospitality here in this place.”

And the modern world offers special challenges to a man discerning this vocation, he admitted.

“There’s not much in the pop culture to invite a person to even think about interiority. And in fact it can be rather threatening to people,” he said. “Initially,” when one begins to seriously cultivate an interior life, “it’s the negative stuff that comes up.”

However, “with guidance you realize that’s the negative face of very important, unrecognized resources. And our vulnerability is perhaps the greatest resource we have in life. (Even if) that’s not the message you’d get from watching Oprah.”
 
This article was originally published on CNA Sept. 2, 2015.
 

In Milan, Pope makes youth promise to never be a bully

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 01:27 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In last meeting during his day trip to Milan, Pope Francis issued a harsh criticism of bullying in schools, asking youth to promise him and Jesus to never bully others, and telling teachers to be aware of the problem.

“There is an ugly phenomenon in education today: bullying. Please, be aware,” the Pope said during a March 25 encounter with youth in Milan.

He responded to a question posed by a catechist asking how to foster an open dialogue between educators, students and their parents. Among other points, he told teachers to watch out for bullying before addressing the youth about it themselves.

“I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?” the Pope asked.

“Think about this. This is called bullying," he said, and asked the youth – many of whom will receive the sacrament of Confirmation this year – to use their Confirmation to “make the promise to the Lord to never do this” and to pray that it doesn’t happen in their schools, neighborhoods or parishes.

“Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?” he said. Not satisfied with the strength of their answer, he again asked the youth the same question, which was then met with a roaring "yes".

“Think in silence if you do this and if you are able to promise this to Jesus. Promise Jesus to never bully.”

Pope Francis spoke to a stadium filled with youth at the end of his March 25 daytrip to Milan.

The pope started his trip visiting the city’s impoverished “White Houses” complex greeting several of the families who live there, including a Muslim family.

He then headed directly to Milan’s cathedral where he met with the priests and religious before praying the Angelus and eating lunch with inmates at the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison.

After lunch, he celebrated Mass at Milan’s Parco di Monza for the Feast of the Annunciation, traveling by car after to the Meazza-San Siro Stadium where he met with some 78,000 people, including catechists, volunteers and many of the 45,000 youth who have either received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 2017 or will receive it, along with their parents and family members.

After scripture readings and a series of performances by the youth, Francis responded to three of their questions, one of which was posed by a boy named Davide, one by a couple with three children and one by the catechist.

In his response to Davide’s question about what helped him to grow in friendship with Jesus when he himself was young, the Pope said it came down to three main things: his grandparents, playing with his friends and participating in groups at this parish.

Francis recalled how one grandfather had told him to “never go to bed without saying something to Jesus; tell him goodnight.” This reinforcement combined with the prayers he learned from his grandmothers and his mother helped reinforce the faith, he said.

“Grandparents have the wisdom of life, and with that wisdom they teach us to grow closer to Jesus,” he said, urging the youth to talk to their grandparents, “ask them whatever questions you want. Listen to what they say.”

Playing with friends also helps, he said, because in knowing how to play well with others, “without insulting each other,” you learn “to respect others, you learn to make a team, to work together, and this unites us to Jesus. So play with your friends!”

Parish life is also crucial, he said, and jestingly encouraged the youth to have the same excitement about Mass as they do about their groups and activities.

When answering the couple’s question on how they can transmit the beauty of the faith to their children without sounding boring, annoying or authoritarian, Pope Francis advised them to think of who helped them to grow in the faith.

He asked the stadium to take a moment and ponder the answer in silence, explaining that an important figure for him was the priest who baptized him and who was then present throughout his life until he entered the novitiate with the Jesuits.

“I never, never forget that priest. He was an apostle of the confessional; merciful, good, a hard worker. And so he helped me to grow,” the Pope said, explaining that he asked for this reflection because “our children watch us constantly; even when we are not aware.”

On this point, as he often has in the past, Francis warned against the damage it can do to children when they see their parents fight.

“You don’t understand the suffering a child experiences when they see their parents fight, they suffer. And when their parents separate, they pay the price,” he said, explaining that when parents bring a child into the world, “you must be aware of this.”

“We take responsibility to help this child grow in the faith,” he said, and suggested that the couple reach Chapters 1 and 4 of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, a fruit of the 2014 and 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Dedicated to love in marriage and in the family, the Pope told them the chapters, particularly the first, would be helpful, and told them to never forget that “when you fight, children suffer and they don’t grow in the faith.”

He also stressed the importance of playing with their children and practicing the works of mercy together, which help nourish faith and family life.

Sunday’s are an especially good day to spend together as a family, he said, but noted that for some this is hard to do, since many have to work on weekends in order to provide for their families.

“Parents at this time can’t or have lost the virtue of playing with their children,” he said, explaining that whenever when he hears a parent complaining about their children’s behavior, he often asks if they take time to just sit and play with their children.

Many parents “don’t know how to respond,” he said, recalling how he once spoke with a father who only saw his children on the weekends, since he left for work while they were still asleep and came back after they were already in bed.

“It’s this life that takes your humanity,” he said, and told parents to “play with your children, and transmit the faith.”

On Annunciation, Pope says God still seeks hearts like Mary

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 10:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation in Milan, telling mass-goers that even today God is still searching for hearts like Mary’s that are open to welcoming his invitation and providing hope, even when it’s hard.  

As in the past, “God continues to look for allies, he continues to seek men and women capable of believing,” remembering and recognizing that they are part of his people and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, the Pope said March 25.

“God continues to walk our neighborhoods and our streets, he pushes in each place in search of hearts capable of listening to his invitation and making it become flesh here and now,” he said.

In the end, the Lord “continues to seek hearts like that of Mary, disposed to believe even in very extraordinary conditions.”

Pope Francis offered his reflection during Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrated in Milan’s Manzo Park during his daytrip to the city, marking the first papal visit there since Benedict XVI’s trip in 2012.

He kicked off the visit by stopping by the “White Houses” high-rise complex in the eastern quarter of the city, marked by acute poverty, visiting two families in the complex before stepping out to greet families gathered outside, including immigrants and some Muslims.

After greeting families in the complex, Francis headed to the cathedral, where he delivered an off-the-cuff speech to priests and seminarians of the diocese, answering three of their questions.

He then prayed the Angelus with pilgrims before heading to the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison, which holds about 1,700 detainees, and greeted employees and police officers who work at the prison before greeting the inmates themselves. He ate lunch with 100 of them before heading to Mass at Monza Park.

In his homily, the Pope referred to the day’s Gospel reading from Luke recounting the Annunciation, saying he likes to read it alongside the “annunciation” to Zachariah of John the Baptist’s birth.

One annunciation happens to a priest in the Temple of God during a liturgy where everyone is waiting outside, while the other happens to a young woman named Mary in a small town that didn’t necessarily have a good reputation, he noted.

This contrast is “not insignificant,” he said, noting that it serves as a sign “that the new Temple of God, the new encounter of God with his people will take places in places which we normally don’t expect, on the margins, on the peripheries.”

“By now it will no longer be in a place reserved for the few while the majority wait outside. Nothing and no one will be indifferent, no situation will be deprived of his presence: the joy of salvation began in the daily life of the home of a youth in Nazareth.”

Just like he did with Mary, God also takes the initiative in our lives, inserting himself into our daily struggles, anxieties and desires, the Pope said, explaining that it’s precisely in the daily routine of our lives that we receive “the most beautiful announcement we can hear: ‘Rejoice, the Lord is with you!’”

However, despite the joy of hearing this annunciation, we can also be distracted by the “speculation” of our times, asking like Mary, “how will this be?” he said.  

Nowadays “one speculates on the poor and migrants, one speculates on youth and their future,” he said. “Everything seems reduced to figures, leaving, on the other hand, that the daily lives of many families is tinged with uncertainty and insecurity.”

“While the pain is knocking on many doors, while in many youth dissatisfaction is growing due to the lack of real opportunities, speculation abounds everywhere,” Francis continued, noting that the “dizzying rhythm” we have become accustomed to at times seems to “rob us of hope and joy.”

In the midst of the speed and pressures of society, it’s easy to lose time for family, friends and community while rushing to build a better society, Pope Francis said.

In this context, the Pope said it would be good to stop and ask ourselves how we can live the joy of the Gospel in our cities, and whether or not it’s possible to have hope in the here and now of our concrete situations.

Francis said by looking to the Gospel passage of the Annunciation, we see that the Angel Gabriel gives us three keys to finding this hope and accepting the mission entrusted to us.

The first, the Pope observed, is the importance of “evoking memory.” Just as the angel reminded Mary of the history of salvation, which she is a part of, we are also invited to look to our own past “in order not to forget where we come from,” he said.

Referring to Milan, Francis noted that “this land and it’s people have known the pain of two world wars; and sometimes thy have seen their deserved reputation for industriousness and civilization polluted by unregulated ambitions.”

However, taking time to remember helps us “to not remain prisoners of speeches which sow fractures and divisions as the only way to resolve conflicts,” he said, adding that “to evoke memory is the best antidote to our disposition in front of the magic solutions of division and estrangement.”

A second key the angel gives us is a sense of belonging to the People of God, he said, explaining that a part of remembering salvation history is remembering that we, like Mary, are among God’s chosen people.

In this sense, he pointed to the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic background of Milan, saying that because of this, they specifically are called to welcome differences and “integrate them with respect and creativity and to celebrate the novelty that comes from others.”

Finally, Pope Francis noted that the third key we get from the angel is his assurance to Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God.”

“When we believe that everything depends exclusively on us we remain prisoners of our abilities, of our strengths, of our horizons,” he said, noting that if we don’t allow ourselves to be helped, advised or open to grace, “it seems that the impossibility begins to become reality.”

However, pointing to the many missionaries who have come to the area, the Pope noted that in overcoming “the sterile and divisive pessimisms, they opened to God’s initiative and became a sign of how fertile a land can be that doesn’t allow itself to close in its own ideas, in its own limits and in its open capacity and opens to others.”

After Mass, Pope Francis will head to Milan’s Meazza-San Siro stadium to meet with youth before heading back to the Vatican.

Don't fret about numbers, but your mission, Pope tells Milan religious

Milan, Italy, Mar 25, 2017 / 06:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his daytrip to Milan Saturday, Pope Francis told the diocese’s priests and religious not to fear the challenges that come with their ministry nor the increasing number of empty convents, urging them instead to focus on the core of their mission: bringing Christ to his people.

“Our congregations were not born to be the mass, but a bit of salt and yeast which would have given their own contribution so that the mass grows; so that the People of God have that ‘condiment’ they were missing,” the Pope said March 25.

He noted that for many years in the past, congregations moved forward with the idea that they needed to “occupy spaces” more than launching new processes and projects.

The perception then, he said, was that “ideas (or our impossibility to change) were more important than reality; or that the part (our small part or vision of the world) was superior to the whole Church.”

But today’s reality serves as a challenge, and “invites us to again be a bit of yeast and a bit of salt,” he said, asking “Can you imagine a meal with too much salt? Or a pasta that’s totally fermented? No one would eat it, no one could digest it.”

“I've never seen a pizzamaker use a kilo of yeast and a gram of flour” to make the dough, Francis said, and urged religious to “listen to reality, to open ourselves to the ‘mass,’ to the Holy People of God, to the entire Church.”

Pope Francis spoke to priests and religious inside Milan’s cathedral of St. Mary of the Nativity during his March 25 daytrip to the city.

He kicked off the visit by stopping by the “White Houses” high-rise complex in the eastern quarter of the city, an area marked by acute poverty where many migrants, including Muslim families, live. He then headed directly to Milan’s cathedral where he met with the priests and religious.

<blockquote class="twitter-video" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Up-close view of a papal blessing to some small pilgrims in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Milan?src=hash">#Milan</a> via <a href="https://twitter.com/andygag">@andygag</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PopeFrancis?src=hash">#PopeFrancis</a> <a href="https://t.co/lEiFe59PCE">pic.twitter.com/lEiFe59PCE</a></p>&mdash; Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) <a href="https://twitter.com/cnalive/status/845563394254082048">March 25, 2017</a></blockquote>
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The Pope took questions from three members of the audience, including Ursuline sister Mother M. Paola Paganoni, parish priest Fr. Gabriele Gioia and Robert Crespi, one of the diocese’s 143 permanent deacons.

Instead of taking notes and giving an entirely off-the-cuff speech as usual during his Q&A sessions, this time Francis decided to follow a written text due to the day’s full schedule, deviating to add a few lines here and there.

The question on numbers was posed by Sr. Paganoni, who asked the Pope how to be a prophetic sign in modern society, and to which peripheries they should go, given that religious are small in number and constitute a “minority” in the Church.  

In response, the Pope not only told the nun to not fret about numbers, but he also cautioned against the feeling of “resignation,” which he said can frequently creep up when looking at how few they are.

“Without realizing it, each time that we think or see that we are few, or in many cases elderly, we experience the weight, the fragility more than the splendor, and our spirit begins to corrode from resignation,” he said.

In turn, resignation can lead to the spiritual sin – also called a “disease” – of acedia, about which the Fathers of the Church issued sharp warnings since it essentially leads a person into despair, indifference and apathy regarding the faith and one’s vocation.

“Few yes, a minority yes, elderly yes, but resigned no!” he said, explaining that the lines in this regard are fine, are can only be recognized by a process of self-reflection in front of the Lord.

“When resignation takes hold of us,” he said, “we live with the imagination of a glorious past which, far from awakening the original charism, increasingly surrounds us in a spiral of existential heaviness. Everything becomes heavier and difficult to lift up.”

He warned religious to stay away from this attitude, as well as the temptation to use the empty structures to get money by turning them into hotels or looking for other “human solutions” to the problem. Doing this, he said, “hinders or deprives us of joy.”

And while he said he can’t tell them which peripheries to go to, since that’s the job of the Holy Spirit, who inspired their original charism, Pope Francis urged religious to choose them well and reawaken “the hope spent and sapped by a society that has become insensitive to the pain of others.”

“Go and bring the ‘anointing’ of Christ,” he said, telling them never to forget “that when you put Jesus in the midst of your people, they find joy…only this will render our lives fruitful and will keep our hearts alive.”

In response to Crespi’s question on what contribution deacons can give to the Church, the Pope said they have “a lot to give,” specifically when it comes to managing the tensions and blessings of ministry and family life.

However, Francis also cautioned against viewing deacons as “half-priests and half-laity,” because in reality “they are neither here nor there.”

Looking at them in this way “does harm to us and does harm to them” and takes strength away from their vocation in the Church, he said, explaining that the deaconate “is a specific vocation, a family vocation that recalls service as one of the characteristic gifts of the people of God.”

“The deacon is – so to speak – the guardian of service in the Church,” Pope Francis said. Because of this, his specific mission consists of “reminding all of us that faith, in its various expressions – communitarian liturgy, personal prayer, different forms of charity – and in its various states of life – lay, clerical, familial – has an essential dimension of service.”

Speaking directly to the deacons, he said they are “a sacrament of service to God and to your brothers. A vocation which like all vocations is not only individual, but lived inside the family and with the family, inside the People of God and with the People of God.”

Francis also answered Fr. Gioia’s question on what can be done in order not lose the joy of evangelizing in the face of challenges such as secularism and ministering to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic flock with different religions.

In his response, the Pope said we shouldn’t be afraid of challenges, because they are “a sign of a living faith, of a living community that seeks its Lord and has eyes and hearts opened.”

Rather, what we must fear instead is “a faith without challenges, a faith believed to be complete, as if everything has been said and realized,” because without challenges, there is a danger that our faith becomes “an ideology.”

The Pope also spoke of the importance of recognizing the richness of the differences in the Church throughout its history, explaining that “the Church is one in a multifarious experience.”
 
Although there can also be “horrors” and errors in the ways some interpret religion, he stressed the need to separate and distinguish between the “luminous aspects and the dark aspects” of each.

He also cautioned against confusing unity with uniformity and plurality with pluralism, saying that in both cases “what is being sought is to reduce the tension and remove the conflict or ambivalence to which we are subjected as human being.”

Finally, the Pope in his last point to the priest emphasized the need for pastors to offer better formation in discernment, particularly to youth.

“The culture of abundance to which we are subjected offers a horizon of many possibilities, presenting them as valid and good,” he said, noting that today’s youth are exposed to a constant “zapping” of information.

“Whether we like it or not, it’s a world in which they are inserted and it’s our duty as pastors to help them pass through this world,” he said, explaining that because of this, “it’s good to teach them to discern, so that they have the tools and elements which help them to walk the path of life without extinguishing the Holy Spirit which is in them.”

After his audience with priests and religious, Pope Francis led pilgrims gathered outside the cathedral in praying the Angelus before heading to the city’s Casa Circondariale di San Vittore prison, which in 2012 held 1,700 detainees.

At the prison, the Pope is slated to greet employees and police officers who work at the facility before greeting the inmates themselves. He is then expected to have lunch with 100 of prisoners before heading to Milan’s Parco di Monza to celebrate Mass and meet with youth after.

Texas pro-lifers target 'wrongful birth' lawsuits, Planned Parenthood

Austin, Texas, Mar 25, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the targets of Texas pro-life advocates are so-called ‘wrongful birth’ lawsuits and Planned Parenthood’s alleged involvement in the sale of unborn baby parts. Both are finding some success in the State Senate.

In some cases, parents of a child born with a disability such as Down syndrome have filed lawsuits against doctors claiming that they were not informed of a disability in time to procure an abortion. Such claims aim to secure the costs of raising the child, even lifetime costs.

Senate Bill 25 would prevent parents of children born with disabilities from suing their physician.

The bill, which has the support of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, passed the state senate by a vote of 21-9 March 21. It now heads to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration.

“We are thrilled that the Senate has passed S.B. 25, because it reverses a decades-old injustice and bad public policy that devalues babies, both unborn and born, who have a disability,” Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, told CNA March 23. “In our view, S.B. 25 eliminates wrongful birth lawsuits while holding doctors accountable to practicing good medicine.”

While opponents of the bill charged it would allow doctors to withhold information from parents about an unborn child, Pojman said the bill’s text explicitly excludes such a possibility.
 
He added that the bill is consistent with tTexas’ policy of promoting childbirth over abortion.

Meanwhile, Texas Alliance for Life’s top priority is the passage of S.B. 8, provisions of which would, in Pojman’s words, “shut down Planned Parenthood's harvesting and sale of body parts harvested from the bodies of aborted babies.”

The bill passed the state senate March 15 by a bipartisan vote of 24-6. The House considered its own version March 22.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had called for such a bill in his January State of the State Address.

The bill follows an undercover investigation from the Center for American Progress which found Planned Parenthood staffers and leaders appearing to encourage the illegal sale of fetal tissue and unborn baby body parts for profit.

A Dec. 7, 2016 letter from the Select Investigative Panel of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce referred an unnamed Houston abortionist to the State Attorney General for alleged violations of a federal partial-birth abortion ban.

S.B. 8 would also bar partial-birth abortion, creating a criminal penalty for the physician and a cause for civil action for the father.

The bill has the support of the Texas Catholic Conference.

Another bill, S.B. 415, passed the state senate by a 21-9 vote.

The ban on “dismemberment abortions” would bar “dilation and evacuation” procedures, which use surgical instruments to grasp the unborn baby and remove his or her parts while he or she is still alive. The procedure is the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.

However, the Texas Alliance for Life opposed it.

“We look forward to the day when laws protect all unborn babies from abortion and the courts uphold those laws,” Pojman said. “Unfortunately,  a ban on dismemberment abortion would never be enforced, and it would save no lives.”

He said the bill had zero chance to survive a federal court challenge and could create a precedent to make overturning Roe v. Wade more difficult.

“We believe it to be naive and harmful to pursue such legislation this session given the makeup of the Supreme Court now and for the foreseeable future. Since these bills will set the pro-life movement back rather than moving us forward, we cannot support these bills.”

A loss in federal court would also fund the abortion movement, as the state is required to pay plaintiff attorney fees if the plaintiff wins on constitutional issues.

Pojman pointed to the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case, which successfully challenged parts of a Texas law requiring more safety regulations at abortion clinics.

The abortion providers are asking for $4.5 million in legal costs.

“We do not know what they will end up receiving,” Pojman said. “We do know, however, that whatever the attorneys for the abortion providers receive will be used to attack other pro-life laws in Texas and in other states.”

Protection of minors event draws swath of top Vatican leaders

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2017 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a significant show of unity, officials from every Vatican department – including at least half a dozen cardinals who head various dicasteries – attended a recent Rome seminar on safeguarding minors.

“I actually come from a dicastery that takes up the issue of human rights and justice,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 

As head of an office that deals with human rights, awareness of what’s going on in the realm of abuse prevention is “very crucial,” he told CNA, stressing that “it’s so very important that we try to be on the same page with this commission and what they do.”

Every department of the Roman Curia was represented in some way at the March 23 seminar, an indication of its importance in the eyes of Vatican officials.

It is rare for the cardinals who head dicasteries to attend events outside of those hosted by their own department – more often, they send representatives to attend. The presence of several cardinals at Thursday’s event further indicated that the Vatican is seeking to place an emphasis on this issue, especially given that the one-day event was not specifically aimed at members of the Curia, but at a wider audience.

Joining Cardinal Turkson at the gathering was Cardinal Kevin Farrell, president of the Vatican’s mega-department for Laity, Family and Life.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley hosted the event in his capacity as head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and the seminar was also attended by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for Bishops and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Cardinal Turkson said that in the case of his own department, he sent the official charged with the topic of international law, human rights, family law and other related topics, but also decided to come himself because it is “essential to see the new things that are being said about this issue.”

“There’s no pastor who is not interested in this issue, especially if he’s a bishop, because there was a way that bishops used to deal with this issue,” he said, noting that often times, priests were simply sent to treatment centers and then put into another parish once they had completed the program. 

“Now the understanding about this is deeper,” he said. “The impression in those days was that people could go to treatment centers and get help, but that was all false.”

“So it’s good to deepen our understanding about this, very, very, very deeply and very well,” he said, explaining that he came not only to support Cardinal O’Malley, a longtime friend, but also to learn and hear updates on the issue.

Cardinal Farrell agreed. “It’s important for the Church to be here because…if you look back on the history of probably the last 20 years, it’s the greatest obstacle to preaching the Word of God and the credibility of doing what we’re supposed to do,” he told CNA.

Sponsored jointly by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and the Pontifical Gregorian University’s Center for Child Protection, the day-long educational seminar focused on what the local church and institutions are doing to combat abuse of minors specifically in schools and the home.  

It included presentations by several members and collaborators of the commission, including Kathleen McCormack, chair of the PCPM Working Group on Education of Families and Communities. It also featured presentations by representatives from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina, as well as Australia and Italy.

The event fell just weeks after clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from her position on the commission, citing pushback from certain Vatican dicasteries, specifically from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as one of the main reasons for stepping down.

According to Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, head of the Center for Child Protection and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, hearing and including the voice of survivors was a key point in the discussion during their plenary, which begins March 24.

In March 23 comments to CNA, Fr. Zollner said “we need to be informed by survivors and victims, we need to listen to them, and we need to take into account what has been and is their experience.” 

Regarding the involvement of survivors in the process, he noted that Collins herself said in an interview that “a certain set of skills” is needed if a survivor wants to participate in any kind of panel or commission.

“So we will see, together with survivors, what this set of skills should look like,” he said, but cautioned that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. From his perspective as someone who travels around the world trying to raise awareness on the issue, in many countries “people are not so used to speaking out about this.”

“Even if they are a survivor and victim, in some parts of the world this is still taboo and we need to help people come out of that,” he said, explaining that when their mandate is up at the end of the year, the commission will re-visit their structure and development process “so that our journey continues.”

But in the meantime, he praised the seminar as a key step, saying it was a “very successful event,” particularly in “drawing many high-ranking members of the Curia, including a number of cardinals, and (with) all the dicasteries represented.”


Hannah Brockhaus contributed to this report.
 

How do we solve crises? Put the person first, Pope Francis tells EU

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2017 / 01:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Being disconnected from the values of the past – which upheld the human person and the family – has placed us in a new era of crises, Pope Francis told European leaders. However, he noted, there is hope.

“Europe finds new hope when man is the center and the heart of her institutions,” he said March 24. “I am convinced that this entails an attentive and trust-filled readiness to hear the expectations voiced by individuals, society and the peoples who make up the Union.”
 
“Affirming the centrality of man also means recovering the spirit of family,” he continued, “whereby each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts.”

Europe finds this new hope, he emphasized, “When she invests in the family, which is the first and fundamental cell of society. When she respects the consciences and the ideals of her citizens. When she makes it possible to have children without the fear of being unable to support them. When she defends life in all its sacredness.”

Pope Francis met with 27 European Union Heads of State and Government, as well as Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission at the Vatican.

The leaders met in Rome for celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community and is one of the two most important treaties in the modern-day European Union (EU).

In the speech, the Pope warned against having a short memory about Europe’s past – both the good and the bad – and as in previous speeches, urged a return to the roots, in this case the fundamental and founding values of the EU.

In a change from previous meetings of a similar nature, however, Francis took a very hopeful attitude toward Europe’s future, saying that while Europe is undergoing its own modern crises – in economics, migration, the institution, and the family – these don’t have to be solely destructive.

“The term ‘crisis’ is not necessarily negative,” he said. “It does not simply indicate a painful moment to be endured.”

“The word ‘crisis’ has its origin in the Greek verb krino, which means to discern, to weigh, to assess. Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it. It is a time of challenge and opportunity.”

For Europe to move past these present crises, leaders must refocus around the centrality of the human person, solidarity, the pursuit of peace, and openness to the future and the world, he said.

The spiritual and human values present in Europe’s past are the way forward in what is becoming an increasingly valueless society, one that is very different from even just 60 years ago.

“Europe has a patrimony of ideals and spiritual values unique in the world, one that deserves to be proposed once more with passion and renewed vigor, for it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time, which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism,” Francis said.

The Pope gave several examples of how Europe’s hope can be renewed. One major way is by investing in the future through opportunities for young people to receive a good education and to have real possibilities in the work force, he said.

In the speech, the Pope referenced at length the history of Europe, such as the “tragedy of walls and divisions,” and the efforts made to “tear down that wall” that “divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic,” separating families as well.

He also quoted at length from addresses of founding fathers of the EU at the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, including Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul-Henri Spaak; Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Luns; Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Joseph Bech; German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer; and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Christian Pineau.

Addressing “the grave crisis of immigration,” Francis said that the issue poses deep question, that is primarily cultural, and that is: “What kind of culture does Europe propose today?”

“The fearfulness that is becoming more and more evident has its root cause in the loss of ideals. Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.”

“Yet the richness of Europe,” he continued, “has always been her spiritual openness and her capacity to raise basic questions about the meaning of life. Openness to the sense of the eternal has also gone hand in hand, albeit not without tensions and errors, with a positive openness to this world.”

The Pope had strong words against modern forms of populism, which he said solidarity is the antidote to. He defined solidarity as entailing “the awareness of being part of a single body” while also involving “a capacity on the part of each member to ‘sympathize’ with others and with the whole.”

“When one suffers, all suffer,” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 12:26.

Without Christianity, the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice “would prove largely incomprehensible,” Francis said. “In our multicultural world, these values will continue to have their rightful place provided they maintain a vital connection to their deepest roots.”

Gorsuch praised for record of building unity on religious freedom

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2017 / 12:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch received a strong voice of support Thursday from a lawyer at a major religious liberty firm, who said that he shows a record of consensus building and protecting religious freedom for all.

In addition to ruling on some high profile cases, Gorsuch also defended the religious freedom of religious minorities and prisoners, “some of the most politically powerless in our society,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Smith testified about Gorsuch before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. Gorsuch sits on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was nominated by President Donald Trump in February to be an associate justice at the U.S. Supreme Court.

In her testimony, Smith pointed to Gorsuch’s ruling in favor of a Native American inmate’s request to have access to a sweat house at his prison, for religious use.

Gorsuch wrote in that Yellowbear case, “While those convicted of crime in our society lawfully forfeit a great many civil liberties, Congress has (repeatedly) instructed that the sincere exercise of religion should not be among them – at least in the absence of a compelling reason. In this record we can find no reason like that.”

He also was “a remarkable consensus-builder,” Smith added, “in an area of jurisprudence that can be quite contentious.”

Smith said she studied 40 religious freedom cases where Gorsuch, appointed to the Tenth Circuit by President George W. Bush, either wrote an opinion or took a position. She found that “judges appointed by a Democratic president agreed with him in 80 percent of those cases.”

Where Gorsuch authored an opinion in a religious freedom case, she added, he “produced a unanimous decision every single time.”

“My assessment is that Judge Gorsuch, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, would be a jurist committed to protecting this vital freedom,” Smith said of religious liberty. “None of his religious liberty opinions has ever been reversed by the Supreme Court.”

Judge Gorsuch was a Marshall Scholar who received his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University, studying under Natural Law scholar John Finnis while there. He clerked for Supreme Court justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy before working as the principal deputy associate attorney general at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

In 2006, President Bush appointed Gorsuch to the Tenth Circuit. In his time on the circuit, he weighed in on major religious freedom cases including those of Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

He was nominated by President Trump on Feb. 1 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. Senate Democrats, however, have announced their intent to hold up his confirmation through filibuster, which would require the votes of 60 senators to override.

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Senate, have not yet announced if they will invoke the “nuclear option” where the Senate rules would be altered to allow for a simple majority vote in the 100-seat chamber rather than a three-fifths, or 60-seat, vote.

Smith, in her testimony on Thursday, also pointed to Gorsuch’s rulings in recent prominent religious freedom cases.

As a judge, Gorsuch wrote a concurrence with the majority decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, and joined the dissent in the case that went against the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, saying they were exempt from the contraceptive mandate, which “substantially burdened” their religious exercise and was not the “least-restrictive” means of ensuring access to contraceptives.

Later, in the middle of deciding the Little Sisters case, the Court called for the nuns and the government to outline alternative ways of allowing cost-free coverage of contraceptives while respecting the religious freedom of the nuns. After both parties submitted their answers, the Court sent the case back to the lower courts and instructed the parties to come to an agreement.

Ultimately, Smith said, Gorsuch’s record makes it clear that he will uphold the religious liberty of all people.

“His jurisprudence demonstrates an even-handed application of the principle that religious liberty is fundamental to freedom and to human dignity,” she said, “and that protecting the religious rights of others – even the rights of those with whom we may disagree – ultimately leads to greater protections for all of our rights.”

 

Americans agree: Moms and dads should have paid parental leave

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2017 / 08:56 am (CNA).- A new report by the Pew Research Center has found that the overwhelming majority of Americans support paid family and medical leave for workers.

More than 80 percent of adult Americans surveyed believe that women should have paid maternity leave, and just under 70 percent support paid paternity leave.

When it comes to paid leave for new fathers, there are significant generational differences. Of those under 30 years of age, 82 percent believe dads should get paid leave after a birth or adoption. Support drops to 76 percent among respondents from 30-49 years of age, and 59 percent for those 50 and older.

Support for paid family leave was a rare issue of agreement between both candidates in the last presidential election, although Democrats and Republicans have general disagreement on the extent to which the government should be involved in ensuring this benefit.

The study, based on two surveys conducted late last year, found that there is currently a drastic difference in leave opportunities between higher and lower income workers.

Some 60 percent of leave takers with annual household incomes from $30,000 to $74,999 received at least some pay when they took family or medical leave. The same is true for 74 percent of those with incomes of $75,000 or more. But that number drops to 37 percent for leave takers with incomes under $30,000.

For those who take unpaid or partially paid leave, the shortfall in income often proves to be a significant financial strain. The report found that 41 percent of people in this situation cut their leave short, 37 percent took on debt, and 33 percent put off paying bills.

Among lower-income workers who took unpaid or partially paid parental leave, nearly half went on public assistance to cover lost income.

Meanwhile, a little more than half of those who took parental leave said they took less time off than they needed or wanted to take. Lost income was the top reason cited, followed by concerns about the impact that additional leave would have on their jobs.

One in four women who took maternity leave in past two years say it negatively impacted their job or career.

Another area of strong agreement: about three-quarters of respondents believed that employers who offer paid leave are more likely to attract and keep good workers than employers who do not offer paid leave.