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Faith is not ‘decorative,’ Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2018 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis gave an Advent reminder Wednesday that faith should not be just a “decorative” addition to daily life by pointing to how the ‘Our Father’ prayer embodies the essence of life itself.

“Prayer - Jesus teaches us - does not begin in human existence after the stomach is full: rather it lurks wherever there is a man, any man, who is hungry, who cries, who struggles, who suffers and wonders ‘why,’” Pope Francis said in the Paul VI hall Dec. 12.

The ‘Our Father’ prayer’s request for “daily bread,” the pope explained, exemplifies God’s desire to meet man in his concrete reality, in his basic needs.

“Our first prayer, in a sense, was the wail that accompanied the first breath. In that newborn cry, the destiny of our whole life was announced: our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our search for happiness,” he continued.

Pope Francis pointed to the Biblical example of Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel - a blind man who begged at the gates of Jericho - whose loud cries for mercy were met by Jesus’ healing.

“Around him he had so many good people who told him to keep quiet, not to disturb the Master with his annoying shouts. But he, demanded with holy insistence, that his miserable condition could finally meet Jesus,” Francis said.

Prayer “frees us from the desperation of those who do not believe in a way out of so many unbearable situations,” he added.

The pope’s teaching on the ‘Our Father’ is a continuation of catechesis he began in the first week of Advent on “the seven questions” found in the “short but bold prayer” full of “filial trust.”

“The Lord Jesus gives us the grace of total trust in God as a compassionate Father who loves us and always remains at our side,” Pope Francis said in Spanish as he greeted pilgrims from Spain and Latin America.

The Paul VI Hall was filled with cheers and waves as the pope mentioned the day’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“May Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we celebrate today, help us to surrender ourselves to the providential love of God and to place all our hope in Him,” Francis prayed.

Indian sister: Rape claims against bishop went unheard by Church leaders

Jalandhar, India, Dec 11, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The religious sister who says she was serially raped by an Indian bishop claims she made a police report only after written complaints to Church authorities went unheeded.

“I was scrambling for support and initially I found almost none,” the 44-year-old sister based in Kerala, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, told Scroll.in, in reference to the two-year period in which she claims to have been repeatedly sexually assaulted by Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar.

The sister was not named in the Scroll.in interview.

The sister claims that Mulakkal sexually assaulted her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. She said that after telling members of her religious community about the assaults in early 2017, she wrote to several Indian Catholic leaders, including Cardinal George Alencherry.

Eventually, the sister claims, she sent letters to India’s Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Giambattista Diquattro, to Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and to Pope Francis.

She claims those letters went unacknowledged. In June 2018, she filed a police report in Kerala. After several public demonstrations in support of the sister’s claim, Mulakkal was arrested on Sept. 21. He has since been released on bail, although he is temporarily removed from his responsibilities as Bishop of Jalandhar.

The bishop has claimed that the sister made false reports against him because he censured her for engaging in a romantic affair. A police investigation is ongoing.

The sister told Scroll.in that she had wanted to enter religious life since childhood. She became a novice in the Missionaries of Jesus at age 20.

She said that since she initially reported the sexual assault, she has faced serious difficulties. In November 2017, Mulakkal reportedly pressured her to recant her allegation, holding her in a room for nearly eight hours while trying to convince her to retract the claim.

“I had several moments when I asked God, why me?” the sister told Scroll.in.

“But, after a while, I realized God had chosen me as an instrument to ensure that nuns do not suffer this way in future.”

The sister, along with five other sisters who have publicly supported her, have been the subject of criticism and threats, Scroll.in reported.

On Oct. 22, Fr. Kuriakose Kattuthara, who testified in support of the sister’s claims, was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Foul play has been alleged by members of the priest’s family, but a final autopsy report has not yet been reported.

Nevertheless, the sister and her supporters say that making public the claim of sexual assault is an important part of their vocation.

“Even now, I maintain there should be an internal mechanism within the Church where we can complain,” the sister said. “That will ensure the Church does not face public humiliation.”

“If your husband is ill, would you leave him to die?” a sister asked Scroll.in.

“We are married to the Church that way, we know it has major illnesses and we are hoping to help it cure itself.”

 

Trump signs law to aid Christians in Iraq, Syria

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- President Donald Trump signed into law Tuesday the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which seeks to ensure US aid reaches Christian and Yazidi genocide victims.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House Nov. 27, and in the Senate Oct. 11.

This bill was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and the lead Democratic sponsor was Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). This was Smith’s second attempt at getting the bill signed into law, and altogether it took 17 months for this bill to be passed.  

Trump was joined at the Dec. 11 signing by Vice President Mike Pence, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Carl Anderson, Smith, Eshoo, Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, and many others.

Trump said it was a “great honor” to sign H.R. 390 into law, and remarked that his administration has had great success in fighting Islamic State. The group has lost nearly all of its territory since its peak in 2015.

“This bill continues my administration's efforts to direct US assistance for persecuted communities including through faith-based programs,” he said.

The signing of the legislation is a symbol of the US speaking “with bold moral clarity and political unanimity,” Anderson said in a statement provided by the Knights of Columbus, which were heavily involved with the process of writing the bill and assisting the situation of Christians in the Middle East.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus have donated more than $20 million to help Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria with food, housing, and other needs. The Knights also spent $2 million to rebuild an Iraqi town that had been destroyed by Islamic State.

H.R. 390 provides funding to various entities, including faith-based and religious organizations, that are helping with recovery and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Syria in religious and ethnic minority communities, including Christians and Yazidis.

The bill also instructs the Trump administration to “assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee” the region and for the administration to identify signs of potential violent action against minority groups in the country.

Another part of the law encourages foreign governments to identify those who belong to Islamic State in security databases and security screenings to aid with their prosecution. The bill provides support for groups that are investigating members of Islamic State who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region.

Since Islamic State took control of the region, the country’s Christian population has dwindled to only a few thousand families. Many of these people fled to nearby Turkey and Lebanon out of concern for their safety. Although the situation has drastically improved since nearly all of Islamic State's territory has been regained, Christians are reluctant to return to the region due to a lack of economic opportunities and continued concerns for safety.

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 11, 2018 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- It would be virtually impossible to travel to Mexico without seeing the colorful, star-cloaked, evil-crushing image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on street corners, in private homes, on restaurant walls, and certainly in church chapels.

Four hundred and eighty seven years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared multiple times to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Catholicism, in his native Mexico. The Mestiza Mary, who became known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, spoke to Juan Diego gently as a mother, and in his native language.

On December 12, in her last appearance to Juan Diego, she ordered him to gather the unseasonable roses from the top of a mountain in December, and bring them to the bishop as proof of her request to have a church built there. When Juan Diego let the roses fall out of his tilma, the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared imprinted on his tilma, and the bishop was convinced.

Since then, the tilma has been venerated by millions of people every year, and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has become ubiquitous with Mexican culture.

“Pretty much if you’re Mexican you are Marian, devoted to Our Lady,” Deacon Jesus Valenzuela, F.S.S.P., a seminarian from Mexico at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Nebraska, told CNA.

But while she is originally from Mexico, her patronage and devotion has spread throughout the Americas, and beyond.

Mother of Mexico and of ‘all the rest who love me’

Monsignor Eduardo Chavez, postulator of the cause of St. Juan Diego and a Guadalupe apparition expert, is not surprised that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has grown strong in the United States and throughout the world.

In fact, the Virgin Mary told Juan Diego herself that she desired to be the mother of more than Mexico alone, he said.

In introducing herself to Juan Diego, Mary says: "I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me.”

“In 1531, there were no borders in the Americas. But, just in case we need clarification, the Virgin herself says to Juan Diego ‘and of all the other people of different ancestries who love me.’ Then from the Virgin of Guadalupe herself it is declared that she is not only for Mexicans but for the whole world,” Chavez told CNA.

The Virgin of Guadalupe transcends cultures and countries because she comes bearing Christ, Chavez added.

“(Our Lady) puts Jesus in the heart of every human being, beyond language, traditions, customs, politics, beyond divisions, beyond all - she put Jesus Christ our Lord in the human heart, making us brothers.”

Her devotion gained significant followings outside of Mexico starting in the 20th century, when she was granted numerous titles by the Vatican.

In 1910, St. Pius X named her Patroness of Latin America, and in 1945, at the urging of bishops from the U.S. and Canada, Ven. Pius XII bestowed on her the title Empress of the Americas.

“Empress is perhaps the most impressive title as it is limited to a small number of the leading Marin advocations across the globe, none of whom lay spiritual claim over two continents as is the case with the Virgin of Guadalupe,” Andrew Chesnut, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and specialist in Catholicism in Latin America, told CNA.

Later, St. John Paul II formalized the invocation of Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization. In 1999, he declared that her feast day of Dec. 12 be celebrated in churches throughout the Americas, and in 2002 he canonized St. Juan Diego.

“She used to be called Empress of the Americas, because by then the Americas were considered divided into the southern part and its Hispanic and Portuguese culture and the northern part with its English and French culture,” Chavez said. “But St. John Paul II named her in 1999 Patroness of all America, singularily, because for the love of God there are no divisions.”

How Guadalupe came to the U.S.

One of the strongest places of devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, outside of Mexico, can be found in the United States, where shrines, seminaries, and parishes bear her name.

While Chesnut has seen images of the Virgin of Guadalupe in churches throughout Latin America, “there is no doubt that devotion to the Mestiza Mary is strongest in Mexico and the U.S.”

“Over the past few decades devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe in the U.S. has spread beyond parishioners of Mexican and Latino heritage to Americans of African, European, and Asian descent,” he said.

The simplistic version of the story of how the devotion spread north is Mexican migration, Julia Young, an associate professor of history at Catholic University of America, told CNA.

“Mexicans, whenever they came to the United States, brought their faith with them and their own religious identity and their own religious practices, and where they could, they found places of worship or they opened new places of worship. And often...they named them for the Virgin to whom they were most devoted - Our Lady of Guadalupe,” she said.

The Cristero War, which took place in the late 1920s, was a rebellion of Catholic clergy and laity against the anti-Catholic and anti-clerical Mexican government. The conflict made political and religious refugees out of a proportionally high number of Catholic clergy and religious, Young said, who came to the United States seeking safety and brought their devotions with them.

Mexican migration to the United States continued after the Cristero war until Mexico became the top country for immigration to the U.S., Young said.

While they may not be building as many new churches as they were in the earlier years of immigration, Mexican immigrants to the United States today still bring their religious devotion with them wherever they go.

“They’re not opening their own churches, they’re participating in existing churches,” Young said of Mexican emigrants.

“That’s why you go to, say, Southbend, Indiana and you see a church built by Polish immigrants that now has an altar or a side altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The newer Mexican immigrants are coming into the older Italian and Polish immigrant churches and they’re bringing the Virgin of Guadalupe when they come to worship.”

Her many patronages

As she’s gained popularity in the Church in the United States, numerous Catholic organizations and causes that transcend cultures and even countries have chosen Our Lady of Guadalupe as their official patron saint.

When Carl Anderson was named Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus Catholic fraternity in 2001, he brought the Board of Directors and the officers of the order to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, in order to place the Knights under the protection and intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“I wanted to emphasize the international character of her message, and the international character of the Knights of Columbus,” Anderson told CNA.

He was also inspired by St. John Paul II, who called Guadalupe “an example of perfect inculturation and placed the entire hemisphere under her protection, so it seemed to me that this was the right thing for the Knights of Columbus to do,” he said.

The Virgin Mary has often been invoked as a special protectress and patroness of priests. In Nebraska, at an international seminary for the Fraternity of St. Peter, the priests-to-be are under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for whom the seminary is named.

Valenzuela said that this patronage speaks to the “international character” of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which is a worldwide congregation of priests specifically formed and trained to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has a special place in the hearts of seminarians, Valenzuela said, because “the work of Mary is pretty much the work of priests.”

“Our Lady of Guadalupe from what I know is the only apparition of Mary where she’s pregnant, so what she does, what her full mission is, is to bring Christ into the hearts of man, and that’s what priests do, we bring Christ to other people,” he said.

Her feast day at the seminary, which includes seminarians from South, Central and North America, is a full day of celebrations beginning with the liturgy and complete with pinatas, a Mexican feast, fireworks, and a mariachi band.

“It’s a pretty big feast day,” Valenzuela said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has also been popularized as the patroness of the pro-life movement, particularly in the United States and Canada, “because she is a pregnant woman and she carries Jesus Christ our Lord in her immaculate womb, she is the patroness of life from the moment of conception,” Chavez said.

Human Life International (HLI), a group of pro-life missionaries founded in the United States, is one pro-life organization that specifically claims her as their patroness.

“We live in a world in which child sacrifice, i.e. abortion, is embedded deeply in the substructures of our culture,” HLI President, Fr. Shenan J. Boquet, said in e-mail comments to CNA.

“The modern-day gods of wealth, power, pleasure, convenience, and independence demand so much blood – sacrifice – in exchange for their poisonous gifts,” he said. “In this spiritual and temporal battle, we may be tempted out of fear and discouragement as to wonder what we can possibly do against such determination of will and evil as experienced today in the advancement of the Culture of Death.”

Fr. Paul Marx, O.S.B., who choose Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of Human Life International, did so because he saw devotion to Mary as “the solution” to moral decay, Boquet said.

“In contemplating her simplicity we find the strength to emulate her faith, and proceed with confidence in the knowledge that God will overcome the seemingly insurmountable barriers looming over the world today,” Boquet said, quoting Marx.

Valenzuela said he also looks to Guadalupe for encouragement against the “culture of death.”

“Pope John Paul II called the culture in this present time the culture of death. And Our Lady of Guadalupe, she is the symbol of life. Why? Because she bears life, Christ himself, in her womb.”

The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the Church today

Chavez said the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to grow and spread, and is evident in the variety of international pilgrims at her shrine in Mexico City.

Her message, he noted, is one of unity and love.

“That is why she is making a new civilization - of God's love - where there are no borders or divisions, where we are all the one family of God. Her dark skin, her mestizo skin, also signals she is the mother of all people,” he said.

Anderson, who co-authored a book on Guadalupe with Chavez entitled “Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love”, said that amid divisions and tensions in the U.S. and the world, the Virgin is ever urging peace and reconciliation.

“She came at a time when there was a tremendous conflict between the Europeans that had arrived in the New World and the indigenous people, and her message was one of hope, reconciliation, unity, and healing,” he said.

“That message has carried through centuries, and I believe that it’s just as relevant today, when we look at what is going on around the world, but also right on our own border, we need her message as much today as ever before.”

Valenzuela said the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Catholics today is also one of total confidence in the love and protection of Mary.

“I think she has a universal message...and this is very important for all Catholics, of this confidence in Mary,” he said, “because she tells Juan Diego: ‘nothing should frighten you. Let your heart not be disturbed.’”



Editor's note 12/11: A previous version of this story said the Virgin of Guadalupe was crushing a Satanic snake. She is in fact crushing a dark moon, an Aztec symbol of evil. It has been corrected.   

Archbishop Gomez: Church needs to 'return to Guadalupe'

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2018 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles wrote this week that Our Lady of Guadalupe, a messenger of reform and renewal, has important lessons for contemporary Catholics.

“In the Church today we face new challenges to our fidelity to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally,” wrote Archbishop Jose Gomez in a Dec. 10 column in Angelus.
 
“In this moment, I am more and more convinced that we need to ‘return to Guadalupe,’ to the original vision, the original path that Christ wanted for us in this country and throughout our continent. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the messenger who is sent to lead us to renewal and reform in our time.”

The archbishop noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared “at a time of confusion and discord — and a time of immense cruelty and suffering, corruption, and infidelity.”

She appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, a poor indigenous man, on a hill near what is now Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the local bishop build a church on the site, and famously left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a cactus-cloth tunic. The image has survived to this day. Several million pilgrims journey each year to see that tilma.

Gomez wrote that the apparition occurred less than two decades after the start of the Protestant Reformation, at a time when the Church in Europe was “confronting decadence and corruption and the need for renewal and reformation.”

There were debates among theologians in the so-called Old World about whether indigenous peoples in the Americas were even people with souls, the archbishop wrote.

At the same time, the economy of the New World was being developed on the backs of slaves, and “the greed and ambition of Spanish colonizers led to unspeakable horrors” and the destruction of many native peoples and their ways of life.

Gomez noted that Mary appeared as a “mestizo,” a brown-skinned mixture of European and indigenous peoples, and spoke to Juan Diego in his own indigenous language.

“She reminds us that beyond the color of our skin or the countries where we come from, we are all brothers and sisters,” the Archbishop reflected.

“We are — every one of us, without exception — children of one heavenly Father and we have the Mother of God as our mother...a profound icon of the unity of humanity and the Church’s mission to create one family of God out of all the world’s nations and races, peoples, and languages.”

Today, as in Juan Diego’s time, there are new forms of inhumanity and cruelty, Gomez wrote. “Selfishness and greed” lead to injustices like abortion and the persecution of religious minorities.

The archbishop recalled the words Mary spoke to Juan Diego: “Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. ... Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

In her role as our mother, Mary “guides us along the pathways that lead us to her Son,” Gomez wrote.

“In leading the mission to the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe was showing us the vision of a way forward — to a new humanity, a new Church, a new world.”

“Authentic reform and renewal are always based on a return to the origins — to the purity of first beginnings. That is what distinguishes reform and renewal from revolution, which always seeks to destroy the old in order to build the new.”

“In these troubling times, we need to go always forward with joy and confidence. May we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. And may we contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes,” Gomez concluded.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

Iran, China detain hundreds of Christians

Tehran, Iran, Dec 11, 2018 / 02:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While religious leaders marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week by saying that more should be done to preserve human rights, both Iran and China detained upwards of 100 Christians.

The United Nations declaration, which was proclaimed Dec. 10, 1948, affirms that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom … to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Pope Francis told a conference meeting on human rights Monday that everyone is “called to contribute with courage and determination, in the specificity of their role, to the respect of the fundamental rights of every person.”

And ahead of the declaration's anniversary, the Holy See's representative to the United Nations said the occasion presented an opportunity to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” while also warning that parts of the world are experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold those rights.

Thus, according to Open Doors UK, 114 Christians were arrested last week in Iran. And the New York Times reports that in China's Sichuan province, a Protestant pastor and more than 100 members of his congregation were detained Dec. 9.

In China, the Sunday raid was conducted at Early Rain Covenant Church, an underground community in Chengdu, which is led by Wang Yi. Some members of the ecclesial community were released Dec. 10, but were then put under house arrest.

Wang is a prominent human rights activist; he met with US president George W. Bush in 2006 to discuss religious freedom in China.

Sam Brownback, the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, tweeted about the raid, saying, “we're deeply concerned” about the government “crackdown on house churches.”

“We call on China to release leaders/congregants & allow members of unregistered churches to exercise their #ReligiousFreedom rights,” Brownback wrote.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. President Xi Jinping has in recent years pushed for the Sinicization of religion and strengthened government oversight.

China has practiced greater repressions of Muslims in recent years; it is believed that as many as 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group in China's far west, are being held in extra-legal detention.

The Telegraph reported Dec. 10 that many of the Christians detained in Iran last week were converts from Islam. They were instructed to cut off ties with Christian groups and to relate the story of their Christian activities.

Shia Islam is the state religion of Iran, though several religious minorities are recognized and granted freedom of worship. However, conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited.

Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, told the Telegraph that the reinstatement of sanctions on Iran by the US “has contributed to the government’s ever-increasing dependence on hardline Islamic ayatollahs, who naturally see Christianity as a threat to their power. For this reason, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in Christian persecution.”

An Open Doors spokesperson, Zoe Smith, commented that the increase in arrests of Christians “follows an established trend of the Iranian government – as the number of converts to Christianity increase, so the authorities place greater restrictions on churches,” adding that “the restrictions are worse for churches seen to be attended by Christians who have converted from Islam.”

 

What is a lay 'Parish Life Coordinator'? A CNA Explainer

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Last week the Diocese of Bridgeport announced the appointment of a lay “parish life coordinator” in the parish of St. Anthony of Padua.

Dr. Eleanor Sauers has been placed in charge of the day-to-day administration of the parish, following the untimely death of the parish’s former pastor, Fr. John Baran.

The appointment has led some to ask: What is a parish life coordinator? What does such a lay person do?

In Bridgeport the arrangement, announced in a letter from Bishop Frank Caggiano, will see Sauers “work with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission.”

It is the first appointment of its kind in Bridgeport, though similar appointments have been common in other American dioceses for some years.

When such an appointment is made, it can strike some parishioners as a novelty. In fact, the possibility of lay “parish life coordinators” exists in the Code of Canon Law, and has been an option available to bishops since in 1983.

Canon 517 of the Code of Canon Law gives the diocesan bishop options for dealing with circumstances in which it is not possible to assign to a parish a priest who is able to serve as its resident and full-time pastor.

The first option offered by the canon is for a parish, or several parishes, to be given into the care of a team of priests, with one of them serving as the “moderator,” of leader of the team, responsible for coordinating the pastoral care of the people.  

The second option the canon presents is for a deacon “or some other person who is not a priest” to be given “a share” in the “exercise of the pastoral care of the parish.” This is only to be done, according to canon law, because of a shortage of priests; it is a remedy for exceptional circumstances and not something the Church allows to be done for its own sake.

In addition to the sacramental life which is the heart of their existence, modern Western parishes are busy places, often requiring leadership and coordination on the ground.

There are clear advantages to placing a lay person in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the parish’s activity, rather than a team of priests who could be spread across a number of other parishes and have many other demands on their attention.

Overseeing finances, religious education programs, the maintenance of buildings and other facilities, even a school in some places, is a complex set of responsibilities - one that, in the judgment of some bishops, cannot be overseen effectively by even a well-intentioned and well-organized team of non-resident priests.  

In the case of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua, this would seem to be the role Caggiano has in mind, noting in his letter to parishioners that Sauers will “oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish.”

She will also be “working with a team of priests who will provide the sacramental ministries at St. Anthony,” while having decision-making authority in the parish itself.

Arrangements like these often leave some Catholics with the impression that the priests are working “for” or “under” a lay person (which would be a novelty in a parish setting, but not unusual in other ecclesiastical settings). However, there is a distinction in canon law, and in the teaching of the Church, between collaboration and a hierarchical relationship.

Finding the right balance in ecclesial collaboration is important. Bishops are enjoined to promote and authentic expression of the gifts of all members of the Church, and to avoid any blurring of roles and responsibilities, that might obscure the unique dignity of the different members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

St. John Paul II issued in 1997 an authoritative instruction on lay and clerical collaboration, Ecclesiae de mysterio.

The pope instructed that arrangements like the one at St. Anthony of Padua should only be made in “exceptional cases” and because of a shortage of priests. The possibility of such arrangements is not, St. John Paul said, to be used for “convenience or ambiguous ‘advancement of the laity.’”

The faithful have the right, expressed in c. 213, to receive the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and other means of obtaining sanctity from the pastors of the Church - that is from the priests and bishops. When lay parish life coordinators are appointed, they are not given charge of the spiritual care of the community: the “care of souls” is explicitly reserved to the clergy.

For that reason, while canon 517 creates the possibility for a lay person to be given “a share” in the running  of a parish, it also requires that there be a priest designated responsible for the pastoral care of the the people. Whenever a deacon or lay person is appointed to such a role, “the bishop is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a pastor [parish priest], will direct the pastoral care” of the people, canon law explains.

This condition, Ecclesiae de mysterio affirms, must be followed with “strict adherence” in order to safeguard both the care of the faithful of the parish, and the distinction of the roles between a lay collaborator and a priest.

“Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone,” the instruction explains.

In Ecclesiae de mysterio, St. John Paul taught that the impetus of Vatican Council II “opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful.”

As the Church responds to the changing landscape of society in different parts of the world, new ways for the laity to work together with the clergy will continue to emerge.

St. John Paul II taught that as those new modes of collaboration are developed, it is important for bishops to promote the role of lay people in the Church, while ensuring among Catholics “the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion.”

Cobblestones honoring Holocaust victims stolen in Rome

Rome, Italy, Dec 11, 2018 / 12:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Twenty bronze-capped cobblestones, commemorating members of two Italian Jewish families who were deported during the Holocaust, were stolen in Rome in the early hours of Monday morning.

The memorials were set into the street in front of the former homes of the two families, in Rome’s Monti neighborhood, not far from the Colosseum.

Police are investigating the Dec. 10 theft, which has left a gaping hole in the street, as a hate crime.

The cobblestones marked the name, date of deportation or arrest, and if known, the place and date of death, of 20 Italian Jews. Among those memorialized in the stolen stones were 18 members of the Di Consiglio family and two members of the Di Castro family.

Fifteen were deported to Auschwitz during World War II, dying either there or in an unknown place.

The other five were killed by the occupying Nazis in the Ardeatine Massacre, carried out in caves outside Rome. They were among 335 Italian men and boys assassinated in March 1944 in retaliation for partisans having killed 33 German policemen.

At a news conference Monday, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, called it an act of “repugnant anti-Semitism” and said he would work to stop similar acts.

The group of plaques were incorporated into the classic Italian “sampietrini” stones which make up the side and pedestrian streets of cities. There are around 200 of these memorials in Rome, sometimes called “stumbling stones” because of their ability to provoke thought in passers by.

German artist Gunter Demning started the initiative of placing these memorials, called Stolpersteine, outside the homes or workplaces of Holocaust victims in Europe in 1992.

The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, said in a tweet Dec. 10 that the theft of the stones was “unacceptable” and “a gesture that I condemn with force and deep indignation. Memory demands respect.”

Five dead in Brazilian cathedral shooting, cathedral priest asks for prayer

Campinas, Brazil, Dec 11, 2018 / 11:46 am (CNA).- A gunman killed at least four people people Tuesday, inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception in Campinas, Brazil. After opening fire inside the cathedral, the gunman took his own life.

The man entered the cathedral at the conclusion of a midday Mass on Dec. 11 and began firing, according to the Military Police of Campinas. In addition to those killed, at least four people were injured during the attack.

According to local fire department officials, the man was carrying two handguns, at least one of which was a .38 caliber revolver.

He reportedly committed suicide directly in front of the cathedral’s altar.

Father Amauri Thomazzi, who celebrated Tuesday’s 12:15 Mass in the cathedral, published a video on his Facebook page, in which he requested prayer.

“At the end of the Mass, a person came in firing and took lives. Nobody could do anything,” the priest said.

“To you, friends, I ask only that you pray for the [attacker]. He killed himself after the situation. He shot people and there were over 20 shots in here, then he killed himself. So we pray for him and for those who have been injured, there are some fatalities,” he said.

The names of the victims and the attacker have not yet been disclosed.

On its Facebook page, the Archdiocese of Campinas also urged Catholics to pray.

“A shooting left at least five people dead and four others injured in the early afternoon of Tuesday, inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Campinas, in the city center, according to information from the fire department. The motive is not yet known,” the Facebook post said.

“The cathedral remains closed for the care of the victims and the investigation of the police. Once we have more information, we will make it available. We count on the prayers of all in this moment of deep pain,” the post concluded.

Major Paulo Monteiro of the Campinas Fire Department told reporters that the motive for the crime is not yet known and that at the moment the main concern is the care of the survivors.

The wounded were taken to local hospitals; their condition has not been disclosed.

“Let us ask Our Lady Immaculate to intercede for this cathedral, for these people and for these families,” Thomazzi urged.

This story was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Digital. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Sisters of St. Joseph will not defend embezzling LA sisters

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2018 / 08:52 am (CNA).- The two religious sisters accused of embezzling from a California Catholic school face a criminal investigation, and will not be defended by their religious community.

“The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has filed a criminal complaint with the Torrance, California Police Department against Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang for misappropriation of funds,” the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet confirmed in a statement released Tuesday.

“As a religious community we will not defend the actions of our Sisters. What happened is wrong. Our Sisters take full responsibility for the choices they made and are subject to the law.”

Krueper and Chang stand accused of diverting funds from St. James School, where both worked until this year, into personal accounts. They reportedly took nearly $500,000 over more than a decade, and were caught during an audit begun earlier this year. Krueper had been principal at the school and Chang a teacher; both are recently retired.

The sisters are suspected of using the money for gambling, trips to Las Vegas, and other personal expenses. Krueper has a P.O. Box and a prior address in Las Vegas, according to The Beach Reporter.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles told CNA Monday that it intended to file a criminal complaint in the matter, reversing Nov. 28 announcement that the matter would be handled internally. The archdiocese has not indicated why they changed their position.

In their Dec. 11 statement, the Sisters of St. Joseph said they are unable to confirm the precise amount taken until an investigation is complete.

“We intend to make restitution to St. James School as soon as a total is known,” the Sisters of St. Joseph said. “Justice demands this of us.”

The order also said that “canonical restrictions” have been imposed on Kreuper and Chang.

“The two Sisters are removed from their residence and placed in a religious house under the supervision of community leadership. They are also removed from all public ministry.”

A spokesperson for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet told CNA that the congregation's indication that it will not defend Krueper and Chang's action refers to “morally” defending the sisters. When asked, the spokesperson did not rule out the possibility that the congregation would assist in whatever legal expenses the sisters could incur.

The sisters have reportedly expressed remorse for their actions. Their religious congregation did the same.

“The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet are concerned and saddened by this situation and regret any pain this has caused many in our Church, especially the families connected to St. James School. We hold the sorrow of our Sisters’ actions deep in our community hearts.”

Law enforcement officials have not yet indicated when charges could be filed against the sisters.

 

This story is developing and has been updated.