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  • At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said.

    "Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside," the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil.

    The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, "fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change."

    Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope's candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world's largest Catholic church.

    During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.

    In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel scene of the women going to Jesus' tomb to anoint his dead body. Pope Francis imagined that the women were worried about how they would remove the stone sealing the tomb and said that in an analogous way it is a worry the entire Christian community can experience.

    "At times," he said, "it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people."

    "In the history of the church and in our own personal history," he said, it may seem that "the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life."

    But, he said, "God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness."

    The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, "and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment."

    When the women entered Jesus' tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?"

    Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming "cynical, negative and despondent."

    The "stone of sin" also seals human hearts, he said. "Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away."

    "Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God's light from entering in?" the pope asked people at Mass. "Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?"

    Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, "for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty," Pope Francis said. "In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived."

    "Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing," he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a "Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus."


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  • At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said. "Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside," the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil. The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, "fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change." Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope's candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world's largest Catholic church. During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.

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  • 'Their Calvary was lengthy': Pope's Stations recall those exploited

    ROME (CNS) -- Recalling Jesus' death on the cross, Pope Francis led thousands on Good Friday in reflecting on the crosses of loneliness, fear and betrayal that crucify countless men, women and children in the world. In the annual Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, the meditation for each station reflected the suffering and pain of people exploited and marginalized. At the 13th station, Jesus is taken down from the cross, the meditation recalled the funeral of 26 young Nigerian women who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. "Their Calvary," it read, "was lengthy and difficult." "Two of them were bearing in their womb the gift of a new life, children who would never see the light of day," the reflection read. "Yet their death, like that of Jesus taken down from the cross, was not in vain. We entrust all these lives to the mercy of God our father and the father of all, especially the poor, the desperate and the abased." At each station, various people took turns carrying a large black cross and circling the famed Colosseum, which glowed a fiery orange from hundreds of candles placed around the ruins. Thousands of men, women and children standing outside also held lit candles as the sounds of prayers, reflections and music echoed throughout the hallowed site where many Christian executions took place in ancient Rome.

    Jesuit Father James Schall, philosopher, author and professor, dies at 91

    LOS GATOS, Calif. (CNS) -- Jesuit Father James V. Schall, who retired in 2012 after a long tenure as a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University in Washington, died April 17. He was 91. He was living in the Jesuit residence in Los Gatos and died after a brief hospitalization there. Father Schall was "one of the great treasures of American Catholic academics," a writer for Catholic News Service once wrote in reviewing two of his more than 30 books: "The Sum Total of Human Happiness" and "The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking," published in 2006. "Throughout his career, Father Schall has been a champion of the traditional liberal arts education, with much of his work dedicated to remedying the gaps in college-level curricula that can leave even the most impressively credentialed among us strangers to history's greatest intellects," the reviewer said. Besides his books, Father Schall edited or co-edited eight other volumes, wrote several pamphlets and authored essays that appeared in numerous publications, including the St. Austin Review, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and the National Review.

    Indiana parishes pray for fallen-away Catholics through Lent

    MERILLVILLE, Ind. (CNS) -- Two parishes in Northwest Indiana dedicated their Lenten journey to praying for those who have left the Catholic Church and for their return to the fullness of the faith through the intercession of the Mother of God, Searcher for the Lost. Father Andrew Summerson, administrator of St. Michael Byzantine Catholic Parish in Merrillville and of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Parish in Whiting, initiated the prayer campaign at both parishes under his pastoral care. "We pray for people who have left because they have been hurt by the church, for those who at some point in their lives made bad choices that have kept them away, and for those who simply walked away, drawn by other things," he said. "We love them and so does God." The Lenten prayer campaign was launched at St. Michael Church March 3, the eve of the first day of Lent for Byzantine Catholics. Parishioners submitted the names of people in need of prayer, and the priest prayed for them by name at his parishes during the Sunday Divine Liturgies. "We want to put those who are far from the church in the heart of the Eucharist," Father Summerson said. The two parish communities also prayed the moleben to the Mother of God, Searcher for the Lost. A moleben is an Eastern Catholic service of supplication to Christ, the Mother of God or a saint for a particular intention. St. Mary Parish prayed it in their church every Wednesday and Sunday morning. St. Michael Parish held the prayer at their weekly fish fry in the parish hall. Before fish and pierogis were served, the priest led the moleben, after which the more than 300 patrons could pray before the icon of the Mother of God, Searcher for the Lost, which was set on a wooden podium. Prayer cards also were distributed.

    Singer-songwriter presents Crucifixion in concert

    SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Singer-songwriter Tatiana "Tajci" Cameron confessed she didn't always like Holy Week. "It always seemed to be full of sadness," she told the crowd of more than 500 who gathered April 14 at St. Michael Church, part of Holy Cross Parish in Sioux City. "Then, I saw how it was a beautiful connecting point between God and us," she said. "He was no longer the 'unapproachable' God, but the God who suffered and died for us." The award-winning vocalist presented "I Thirst: The Crucifixion Story," on Palm Sunday, reinforcing the passion and death of Jesus evoked from the Gospel reading from Luke for that day. Cameron, who performed at the foot of the sanctuary, turned and gestured toward the larger-than-life crucifix above the altar. "When I look at the crucifix, I see myself suffering, too," she mused. "I realized it's OK to be afraid and ask, 'Why, God, did you abandon me?'" By age 19, Cameron was a pop superstar in Croatia. "Yes, my image was even made into a doll," she told The Catholic Globe, Sioux City's diocesan newspaper. "I had everything -- clothes, a chauffeured limousine -- yet I was empty." A powerful encounter with God two years later compelled her to abruptly step away from her fame and embark on a spiritual journey that took her to the United States at age 21. Soon after getting married in 1999, Cameron, along with her husband, Matthew, embarked on what turned into a 15-year tour of America, during which she performed more than 1,000 "I Do Believe" concerts.

    New York fundraising effort started to help restore Notre Dame Cathedral

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said he named a fundraising effort for the Paris cathedral "From St. Patrick's to Notre Dame" because he really wanted "to twin our beloved St Patrick's Cathedral, America's parish church here on Fifth Avenue, with Notre Dame." He made the comments April 18 on "Seize the Day With Gus Lloyd," which airs on SiriusXM's The Catholic Channel. By the time of the interview, about $150,000 in donations had already been received. A website has been set up for the fundraiser, All donations will be sent to Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit to assist with the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral and its numerous historical relics and artistic treasures. Earlier in the day, Cardinal Dolan was joined by philanthropist Kenneth Langone, who is co-founder of Home Depot, Consul General Anne-Claire Legendre of France and other religious, business and political leaders to announce the fundraiser to help support the restoration and rebuilding of the Paris cathedral. "Almost from the very first moments we heard the awful news that Notre Dame was ablaze, New Yorkers of all faiths, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, reached out to me to express their sorrow at the devastation and ask how they could help," the cardinal said at a news conference. Langone, "in his typically generous way, called and said, 'We've got to do something. Count me in,'" Cardinal Dolan said.

    On Good Friday, papal preacher says cross brings hope to the oppressed

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The cross serves as a warning to the powerful and a message of hope for the poor and oppressed, said the preacher of the papal household. With Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, "a total reversal of roles has taken place: The vanquished has become the victor; the one judged has become the judge," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during an April 19 service commemorating Christ's death on the cross. "The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope," he said. Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, which began with a silent, solemn procession down the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica. Two aides then helped the 82-year-old pope down onto his knees as he stretched himself prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance. During the liturgy, the pope and thousands of faithful stood as three deacons and the Sistine Chapel Choir chanted the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John. As is customary, the papal household's preacher gave the homily.

    Update: Man faces charges for trying to walk into cathedral with flammables

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- A man arrested by New York police after he tried to walk through St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown Manhattan with flammables late April 17 has been charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment and trespassing. Marc Lamparello, 37, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, was carrying gas cans, lighter fluid and igniters when he was stopped by security staff at the cathedral. He said he was just cutting through to get to Madison Avenue where he had left his car, which he said had run out of gas. Lamparello's actions took place just two days after the horrific fire that devastated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. News reports said before his arrest in New York, he was arrested April 15 for reportedly refusing to leave the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey. There he was charged with trespassing, obstructing the administration of law and resisting arrest. He was due in court in that state May 1. Lamparello is currently a student at City University of New York working on a doctorate in philosophy. In the spring of 2018, he joined the faculty at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, but a spokeswoman told reporters he is no longer on the faculty. Lamparello was an adjunct professor and part-time professor at Lehman College, which is part of City University. He taught online at Lehman starting in the 2018-19 academic year.

    Update: Priest says outsiders caused riots that led to death in Northern Ireland

    LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (CNS) -- A priest who ministered to an independent journalist killed by paramilitaries described the killers as "anti-Christ." Lyra McKee was shot April 18, Holy Thursday evening, while she covered a riot Londonderry, just on the border with the Irish Republic. McKee, 29, was killed by a gunman who was shooting at police. Her death came as the region was getting ready to mark the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to 30 years of sectarian conflict. Police suspect McKee was killed by so-called dissident republicans opposed to the deal. Father Joe Gormley, the local parish priest, told BBC Radio Foyle April 19 that after McKee had been taken to hospital, "I went and anointed her. ... her family and her partner have great dignity. "Many of her friends were there last night, and they were all shocked as well. They have great dignity, but they are feeling the loss this morning. The shock, for them, is awful." He said his whole parish was stunned by the killing and accused those outside the area of being behind the attack.

    Church workers say Brazil's indigenous still face discrimination

    ALTAMIRA, Brazil (CNS) -- Brazil celebrated its national day of indigenous peoples April 19, and church workers say the fact that it was on Good Friday was a fitting reminder of the discrimination and violence still faced by descendants of the country's original inhabitants. The government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has weakened the agency responsible for protecting indigenous peoples, publicly opposed constitutionally mandated demarcation of indigenous territories, and proposed opening up indigenous lands for mining and other natural resource extraction. "There are two ways of looking at land -- the vision of land for life, and the vision of land for business," retired Bishop Erwin Krautler of Altamira told Catholic News Service. "These two visions are in conflict." Indigenous people, he said, "defend their land as a place of myth and ritual, of life, of their ancestors, who are buried there." But business interests tend to view land as a commodity to be bought and sold, with natural resources to be exploited, without taking into account the people who live there, he said. "Without land, indigenous peoples do not exist, and they will cease to exist if they lose it," the bishop said.

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  • Update: Catholic leaders nationwide react to Notre Dame Cathedral fire

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As U.S. Catholic leaders grappled with the enormity of the April 15 fire that ruined the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the word "iconic" came to mind for many of them. "Our prayers are with the people of Paris as the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral is burning," said an April 15 statement by Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon; the blaze was put out after nine hours. "As we enter this most Holy Week of the year in preparation of Easter," he added, "we rest in the peace of the Resurrection and know Christ will console us in our most tragic times." Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, in an April 16 appearance on NBC's "Today" show, said Notre Dame has "become an icon not only of faith ... it's also an icon of art, poetry, literature, French pride and gratitude, French identity. ... It really is an icon for what's best in human nature." He said of the fire, "There does seem to be a death in the family ... and not just the Catholic family, the world family. ... It's almost like we are at a funeral parlor. We are seeing a loved one who has died." "Notre Dame has been an iconic house of worship for over 850 years and a prayer destination for faithful Catholics of Paris and from around the world," said an April 16 statement from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York. "We give thanks to God for the firefighters who so bravely battled the devastating fire. And we look toward the future as this great Cathedral of Notre Dame is rebuilt."

    Peruvian archbishop urges calm after ex-president kills himself

    LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- The president of Peru's conference of bishops called for calm after two-time former Peruvian President Alan Garcia died April 17 after shooting himself in the head as authorities prepared to arrest him. "A sad end for this person, who was also important, independently from political and financial situations," Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo said. "He was a political leader." Noting that there were strong opinions about the former president, the archbishop urged "serenity, calm, and that these situations not occur again." The Peruvian bishops' conference later issued a brief statement of sympathy to Garcia's family, friends and colleagues, saying, "We call on the mercy and tenderness of God the Father, who knows the depths of the human heart, to grant him the joy of his eternal presence." Garcia, 69, was accused of taking bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht during his second term of office, 2006-2011. His first term, 1985-1990, was marked by hyperinflation, economic chaos, and brutal massacres by both leftist rebels and security forces.

    Vermont synod yields proposals on communications, evangelizing, parish life

    BURLINGTON, Vt. (CNS) -- Recommendations on evangelization, vibrant parishes and communications emerged from the Diocese of Burlington's first synod to be held since before the Second Vatican Council took place. On April 16, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne promulgated the documents of the synod at the annual chrism Mass April 16 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington. In the spring of 2017, he had announced plans to convene the synod to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont and to establish particular laws and policies to do so. "This was a serious undertaking by the church ... not a simple convening of meetings," he said. All of the members of the Catholic community were invited to participate in a preparation process in which they were asked to pray, listen, learn and discern what the future pastoral plan for spreading the "good news" of the Catholic Church in Vermont should be. Bishop Coyne asked all the parishes in Vermont to have listening sessions. Parishioners were invited to offer responses to three questions: As the Catholic Church in Vermont, what are we doing well? What are we doing that we should be doing better? What are we not doing that we should be doing?

    Be 'faithful witnesses' to your call, Cardinal DiNardo says at chrism Mass

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- Every year during Holy Week, the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston gather at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston for the celebration of the chrism Mass -- one of the most solemn and significant events of the liturgical year. On April 16, at least 1,725 faithful attended the Mass presided by Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz to witness when all of the oils used in sacramental ministry throughout the 10-county Galveston-Houston Archdiocese were blessed and the sacred chrism was consecrated by Bishop Sheltz. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo preached the homily for the Mass and attended the entirety of the hours-long Mass in choir. The chrism Mass was his first public-facing ministry appearance since suffering a mild stroke March 15 while leading the Stations of the Cross at the same co-cathedral. Hundreds of priests from the archdiocese joined retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza in concelebrating the Mass. The priests also renewed their promises at this Mass. Approximately 50 gallons of oil were blessed with the consecrated chrism. At the start of the Mass, Bishop Sheltz thanked Cardinal DiNardo, who typically presides over the chrism Mass, for allowing him to be the celebrant for the "beautiful celebration." Bishop Sheltz echoed the prayers of many around the world and said: "Our prayers are with you and we are blessed that you can be with us on this sacred occasion."

    Be servants to one another, pope tells prisoners before washing feet

    ROME (CNS) -- Jesus' gesture of washing his disciples' feet, an act once reserved to servants and slaves, is one that all Christians, especially bishops, must imitate, Pope Francis told hundreds of inmates and prison employees on Holy Thursday. "Jesus' rule and the rule of the Gospel" is to serve others and not "to dominate, do evil or humiliate others," the pope said April 18 during his homily at the Velletri Correctional Facility, 36 miles south of Rome. "The church asks the bishop to imitate Jesus' gesture every year -- at least once a year -- on Holy Thursday," he said. "The bishop isn't the most important (person); the bishop must be the greatest servant. And each one of us must be servants to others." Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the prison and washed the feet of a dozen inmates. Nine were Italian and one each was from Brazil, Ivory Coast and Morocco, the Vatican said. Vatican News reported the prison houses more than 570 prisoners; 60 percent of those incarcerated are non-Italians.

    Rwandan bishops apologize for letter urging release of old, ill convicts

    KIGALI, Rwanda (CNS) -- Rwanda's Catholic bishops apologized for urging the release of some prisoners convicted for roles in the 1994 genocide, saying they realized by the reaction that they had caused much hurt. The statement followed criticism of a pastoral letter that called for the release of old and ill convicts serving sentences for the mass killings. "We wrote to Christians, encouraging them to continue promoting unity and reconciliation, while also seeking forgiveness," the bishops said in a Swahili-language statement in mid-April. "This letter caused a lot of hurt, especially for what we requested on behalf of the elderly and sickest who are still in prison for the crime of genocide. We are saddened it offended people -- this was not what we intended." The bishops said they especially regretted their appeal had caused anguish "at a great moment of mourning" and pledged the Catholic Church would continue supporting genocide survivors and those safeguarding the memory of victims. More than 800,000 people, mostly from Rwanda's Tutsi minority, were massacred from April to July 1994 with the connivance of the national army, police and Hutu tribal militias.

    South Sudan's Christian leaders say papal kiss is message of Easter

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Pope Francis' surprise kiss on the feet of South Sudanese political leaders is the message of Easter, the country's Christian leaders said in a joint Easter message. The action has resounded across Africa, with ordinary South Sudanese citizens, clerics, politicians and civil society groups celebrating it as a major boost for the fragile peace in world's newest nation. South Sudan descended into a civil war in December 2013 following a political dispute between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. "His Holiness ... kissing the feet of our leaders, as if to say, I serve you, now serve your people ... was the very message of Easter," the leaders said in the message from the South Sudan Council of Churches. Among those who signed the statement were Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, Anglican Archbishop Justin Badi Arama of South Sudan, African Inland Church Bishop Arkanjelo Wani Lemi and Bishop Isaiah Dau, general overseer of the Sudan Pentecostal Church. The leaders had watched April 12 as Pope Francis repeatedly knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's political leaders at the end of a spiritual retreat at the Vatican. In their statement, the Christian leaders said South Sudan has suffered the force of crucifixion, as the people turn against each other, bringing many to the people to the point of self-doubt.

    Update: U.S. cathedrals rely on state-of-art fire prevention, remain vigilant

    RYE, N.Y. (CNS) -- Cathedrals in the United States count on state-of-the-art fire prevention, detection and suppression techniques to prevent the devastation witnessed at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as Holy Week began. Nonetheless, firefighters and cathedral staff remain vigilant. Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, oversaw a recent, extensive restoration that included replacement of the traditional fire suppression system in the 140-year-old church. He told Catholic News Service one of his greatest fears during the project was that fire would break out. The rector said he prayed daily that the building and workers would be safe from fire. "St. Patrick's has some similarities to Notre Dame, with its attic of ancient logs," he said. "Of course, ours are not 800 years old, but it's still a concern, because it's wood and it's so dry." Msgr. Ritchie said there has been a camera in the attic for many years to provide early visual warning of fire. The cathedral's new system provides a high-pressure water mist powered by 19 vessels of nitrogen gas, Msgr. Ritchie said. The rector said the New York City Fire Department conducts a major annual inspection of the cathedral. In addition, firefighters make three or four other visits each year to practice getting up into the attic and maneuvering there. Coincidentally, members of the fire department performed a practice drill April 15, the day of the Notre Dame fire.

    Pope to priests: Best place to be is among the people

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as Jesus always sought to be with the people to serve, teach and heal them, so, too, must priests always be in the midst of God's people, "pouring ourselves out" for them, Pope Francis said. Being with the people "is the most beautiful place" to be, he told priests during the chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica April 18. "We must not forget that our evangelical models are those people, the 'crowd' with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives. They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint," he said. Presiding over the first of two Holy Thursday liturgies, Pope Francis blessed the oils that will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick. Deacons brought the silver urns, one by one, up to the pope, who breathed over the open vessels, symbolizing the infusion of the Holy Spirit. As Holy Thursday commemorates the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, Pope Francis also led the priests, bishops and cardinals present in a renewal of their priestly vows. He used his homily to reflect on how Jesus related to people, especially the huge crowds that pressed in on him and approached him with their problems, but also were eager to hear his voice and follow him.

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  • Thousands of new Catholics expected to join church at Easter Vigil

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Tens of thousands of new Catholics are expected to join the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil liturgies in parishes throughout the United States the night of April 20. While a precise number was not available, reports from 89 U.S. Latin-rite dioceses, roughly half the total number, indicate that their dioceses alone will account for about 37,000 Catholics joining the church. The great majority of the new Catholics will have gone through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process at their chosen parish. Already with some knowledge of Jesus and Christian teachings at the time they begin, the new Catholics learned the teachings of the Catholic Church in a more formal way and discerned that they were ready to commit to living according to these beliefs. There are two distinct groups of people joining the church. One group is known as catechumens, who have never been baptized. They will receive the sacraments of initiation -- baptism, confirmation and first Communion -- at the Easter Vigil liturgy. The other group is known as candidates, who have already been baptized in another Christian faith. They will enter the Catholic Church through a profession of faith and reception of confirmation and the Eucharist.

    Procession shows support for Texas chapel at center of border wall plan

    MISSION, Texas (CNS) -- After Palm Sunday Mass April 14 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mission, over 1,000 parishioners participated in their annual Palm Sunday procession to a nearly century-old Catholic chapel on the U.S.-Mexico border. La Lomita chapel, in the Diocese of Brownsville, has been in the spotlight in the ongoing debate over a border wall. Father Roy Snipes, commonly known as the "Cowboy Priest," has been fighting for his entire congregation to maintain access to the chapel, and the procession illustrated the community's commitment to saving their church. If the wall is built, the government has proposed some sort of a gate or structure that would allow access to the chapel, but even a gate would prevent easy access and may deter worshippers since they can be subject to interrogation just to go into a religious space to pray, the lead counsel for the diocese told Catholic News Service in February. Diocesan officials believe if the government decides to take some property for the border wall, the action will violate its right to religious exercise under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Building a section of the wall near the chapel would only impede those who frequent it for religious services and prayer. A judge in Texas ruled Feb. 6 that the Diocese of Brownsville must allow federal officials to survey some of its property for possible construction of a border wall on it. The action had been blocked by Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores, who earlier said he could not consent to it because such a structure "would limit freedom of the church to exercise her mission." The judge ruled that doing a survey would not constitute a "substantial burden" for the church.

    Fire chaplain helped save religious artifacts from burning cathedral

    PARIS (CNS) -- A hero emerging from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire April 15 is Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, who is credited with saving a reliquary containing the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament from the burning cathedral. The fire chaplain reportedly demanded to be allowed into the cathedral along with firefighters to retrieve the cathedral's relics. "Father Fournier is an absolute hero," a member of the Paris fire department told reporters April 16, adding that the priest showed "no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day and shows no fear." The priest was said to be at the top, or "hot end" of the human chain that included city workers and church caretakers who entered the burning cathedral to save irreplaceable religious items and pieces of art. French Culture Minister Franck Riester said the saved items include the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic once worn by St. Louis in the 13th century. During the night of April 15, before the flames were extinguished, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted an image of the saved artifacts that were initially transferred to the city hall before being moved to the Louvre.

    College student's doughnut outing led to love and joining Catholic Church

    ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- In 1957, Sarah Wessel's great-grandmother, Isabella Brooks, hand-stitched a wedding gown for her daughter Mary Ann Kelsey. After the wedding, the satin gown was wrapped in blue paper and placed in a cedar chest, where it remained perfectly preserved. It was taken out again in 1985 for Sarah's mother, Carolyn Page Wessel, and now it's Sarah's turn to wear it this September. But before she wears the dress for her own wedding, there is another event the 21-year-old is eagerly counting down the days to -- her entrance into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil April 20. "I just want the sacraments so badly," said Wessel, a senior math major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. "I am really looking forward to receiving Jesus' body, blood, soul and divinity, " she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. Wessel was baptized in the Episcopal Church, which she said fostered a deep love of Jesus and a serving heart. "I remember going to the same church through my entire childhood and teenage years," said Wessel. "I felt like they were my family members. I truly love them and I see their love for God."

    Vermont's 10th bishop opens sainthood cause for diocese's first bishop

    BURLINGTON, Vt. (CNS) -- The 10th bishop of the Diocese of Burlington has opened a cause for canonization for the first bishop of the statewide diocese. Bishop Christopher J. Coyne made the official announcement at the chrism Mass April 16 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Burlington. "He was known to be a holy and simple man," he said of Bishop Louis deGoesbriand. "He died well loved by many." Saying that a saint can come from anywhere, Bishop Coyne said it would "be nice to have our own local saint." Msgr. John J. McDermott, vicar general for the diocese, read the official request to open the cause of canonization on behalf of the diocese, recognizing Bishop deGoesbriand's heroic life of holiness and virtue. "The first step, after the announcement of the process, is to develop and foster the cult/devotion of the faithful toward Bishop deGoesbriand," Msgr. McDermott told Vermont Catholic, Burlington's diocesan magazine. Born in France, Bishop deGoesbriand devoted his priestly life to missionary service in America.

    Update: Scammers pose as pastors in email, ask faithful to buy gift cards

    JACKSON, Miss. (CNS) -- Scammers have taken aim at pastors, parishes and even the bishop in the Diocese of Jackson in the past couple of months. Just after Christmas, parishioners at St. Richard Church in Jackson received a warning that someone pretending to be pastor Father John Bohn was using a fake email address to try to persuade people to buy gift cards for him. Father Lincoln Dall, pastor of St. Jude Parish in Pearl, and Father Albeen Vatti, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Madison, had to warn their parishes of similar schemes. Most recently, the parishes served by the Priests of the Sacred Heart in north Mississippi sent out warnings to their members. Even Jackson Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz was not immune. Twice in the past four months, someone has created an email account using his name and sent messages asking for gift cards. The Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the Attorney General of Mississippi have both sent out alerts about scams just like these. Priests and pastors will never email parishioners looking for gift cards and would never send a business email from a private account such as AOL or Gmail.

    Notre Dame to Notre Dame: University to donate to cathedral restoration

    SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) -- Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, has directed the university to donate $100,000 toward the renovation of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. "We are deeply saddened to see the damage to ... a church whose exquisite Gothic architecture has for centuries raised hearts and minds to God," the priest said in an April 16 statement. The horrific fire that engulfed the centuries-old Gothic cathedral began about 6:30 p.m. local time April 15. Up to 500 firefighters battled for 15 hours to save the cathedral after flames erupted in the structure's attic. The blaze quickly consumed two-thirds of the 13th-century oak roof and brought down the cathedral's 300-foot spire. Authorities said much of the cathedral's wooden interior was destroyed and its masonry was seriously scorched. "We join in prayer with the faithful of the cathedral and all of France as they begin the work of rebuilding," Father Jenkins said. He quoted the university's founder, Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin, a French immigrant, who spoke to how the university would go forward after a fire destroyed the campus in 1879: "Tomorrow we will begin again and build it bigger, and when it is built, we will put a gold dome on top with a golden statue of the Mother of God so that everyone who comes this way will know to whom we owe whatever great future this place has." President Donald Trump tweeted early in the afternoon of April 17 that he had called Pope Francis to offer "condolences from the People of the United States for the horrible and destructive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral."

    Irish commission: Grave for children was improper, but not a septic tank

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- The commission investigating the historic treatment of unmarried mothers and their children in religious-run care homes in Ireland has dismissed claims that an underground burial plot was in fact a sewage tank. When news of the common grave on the grounds of the former state-controlled home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam was first reported in the media in 2014, an Irish newspaper claimed up to 800 children who died at the home had been buried in a septic tank. The story quickly circled the globe and caused a wave of anger and revulsion. However, in an interim report published April 17, the Commission of Investigation of the Mother and Baby Homes said "in the light of a great deal of inaccurate commentary about the Tuam site, the commission considers it important to emphasize what it has established and what it has not established," the report said. It continued, making clear that the "human remains found by the commission are not in a sewage tank." But, the report also stated that these chambers were not a recognized burial ground or purpose-built burial chamber and that it "did not provide for the dignified interment of human remains." Reacting to the report, Katherine Zappone, Ireland's minister for children and youth affairs, also insisted that there is no evidence that children born in the home were secretly "sold" to American couples as has been alleged in some media reports.

    The French in Canada find meaning of faith in cathedral blaze

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- The fire that ravaged a large part of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris offered an opportunity for French Catholics with Canadian connections to reflect on the impact the event can have on their faith. Popular French Catholic singer Gregory Turpin, who joined thousands of Parisians at the scene of the tragedy, said "there is something violent and shocking" about the fire. "I was present. I went all the way around Notre Dame. I saw thousands of people. Every 50 meters I saw people praying around a priest. Others sang a song to the Virgin. To see such a monument go before one's eyes leaves no one indifferent," he in a telephone interview from Paris. "In any case, whether one is an atheist or not, whether one is Republican or not, it's a part of history that goes away. It may be time to realize that we are all connected to our history. That may be important," he said while watching the cathedral burn. Isabelle Morel, deputy director of the Higher Institute of Pastoral Catechetics at the Catholic Institute of Paris, described how her colleagues and she were in awe of events as they transpired at the peak of the blaze April 15. "We had the impression of being hit in gut, upset in our hearts and in our heads," she said. "It was as if something of ourselves, us, together, we people, went up in smoke before our eyes without being able to do anything."

    God's glory is shown on the cross, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The glory of God is not manifested with fanfare and applause but displayed through the love of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, Pope Francis said. "True glory is the glory of love because that is the only kind that gives life to the world. Of course, this glory is the opposite of worldly glory, which comes when one is admired, praised, acclaimed: when I am at the center of attention," the pope said April 17 during his weekly general audience. Arriving in St. Peter's Square, the pope invited several children to join him in the popemobile to ride around the square while he greeted thousands of pilgrims. Among those present at the audience was 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who spoke briefly with Pope Francis at the end of the general audience. She started the "school strike for climate" initiative, which has expanded to include tens of thousands of students taking a day off school to demonstrate and demand their government's act against climate change. "Thank you for standing up for the climate and speaking the truth. It means a lot," Thunberg told the pope. In reply, Pope Francis told the young woman, "God bless you; continue to work, continue. Go along, go ahead."

    Pope's Way of Cross will shine light on women 'crucified' by traffickers

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Countless women and girls are being "crucified" by human traffickers, who trick them into slave labor or prostitution, and by those who seek out their services and exploit them, said the missionary nun who wrote the meditations for Pope Francis' Way of the Cross service. Victims of human trafficking are people whom "we have crucified and, today, in 2019, we continue to have people crucified for our use, our purposes, our well-being," Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti told reporters at a Vatican news conference April 17. She said she hoped the April 19 event at Rome's Colosseum, where "so much suffering in the past" took place, would give witness to "so much suffering in the present, the suffering of these women, these minors, who are faceless, nameless, hopeless, who are just used and thrown away." She wanted the pope's Good Friday ceremony, which meditates on Christ's passion and suffering, to help people recognize "today's passion" suffered by so many young people. The prayers and meditations she wrote come from what she has witnessed and learned from the thousands of women and young girls she has helped over the past two decades, Sister Bonetti said; she and other religious women have ministered to sex workers along the roadsides of Italian cities, in police detention centers or in church-run safehouses, helping them get off the streets and rebuild their lives.

    Filipinos reminded in Holy Week to reflect on Jesus' humility

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Church leaders in the Philippines reminded the Catholic faithful to spend Holy Week, a public holiday in the predominantly Catholic country, "to know and understand deeply the humble Messiah." Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila urged Filipinos to spend the week not only as a break from work but also to reflect on the humility shown by Jesus in his suffering and death, reported. "While we also get to rest during Holy Week, I hope it will not remain merely as a break or vacation rather than a time to deeply know Jesus," he said. "I hope those of you here will inform your children, grandkids, relatives, friends that Holy Week is a time to look at Jesus. Listen to him, allow his words, his sufferings and love to transform our whole being," he added. Archbishop Rolando Tirona of Caceres called for prayers during Holy Week and urged people to remember the "loving and total sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our salvation. I call on you, my dear faithful, to enter more deeply and spiritually embrace the meaning of our Lord's Passion, death and resurrection," he said.

    Vatican firefighter says St. Peter's at much less risk than Notre Dame

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris April 15, Romans and tourists could not help looking at St. Peter's Basilica and wondering, "what if?" But Maj. Paolo De Angelis, head of the Vatican fire department, told the Italian news agency ANSA April 16 that the structural differences between Notre Dame and the basilica and, especially, the differences in the materials used, make a catastrophic fire at St. Peter's less likely. While the attic of Notre Dame was known as "the forest" because of the lattice of oak beams supporting the roof, in St. Peter's, he said, most of the supports are in stone or masonry. The few wood beams, he said, are covered in a fire-resistant varnish and are constantly monitored by an ultramodern fire alarm system. In addition, De Angelis said, "we have an advantage with respect to Paris in that the response time would be much less. From the barracks, we can see the basilica. With a fire, response time is crucial."

    Notre Dame fire showed that beauty still matters, art historian says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As people in Paris and around the world watched in horror as flames consumed the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, the blaze also stirred genuine emotions that could come only from witnessing the loss of beauty, art historian Elizabeth Lev said. The April 15 fire that engulfed the centuries-old Gothic cathedral showed that although Notre Dame was a formidable structure, it was "vulnerable at the same time, much like Our Lady at the foot of the cross," Lev told Catholic News Service April 17. "People saw a thing of beauty -- universally recognized beauty -- hovering on the brink of destruction and realized that beauty does matter to us after all," she said. Up to 500 firefighters battled for 15 hours to save the cathedral after flames erupted in the structure's attic. The blaze quickly consumed two-thirds of the 13th-century oak roof and brought down the cathedral's 300-foot spire. Authorities said much of the cathedral's wooden interior was destroyed and its masonry was seriously scorched. Lev told CNS that as a child, she admired the stunning edifice from afar and when dreaming of moving to Europe, "I imagined it would be the backdrop to my life."

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  • Knights CEO says Iran-backed militias threaten Iraq's religious minorities

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- In an April 12 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus said that "Christian towns in Iraq increasingly look neither Christian nor Iraqi -- but Iranian. The public identifies the threat against Christians in Iraq and Syria as emanating from Islamic State," wrote Carl Anderson. "After a hard-fought war, ISIS is no longer a territorial power. But the religious minorities persecuted under the caliphate remain in peril, thanks to the Iraqi government's tolerance of Iranian influence." He said the threat to Iraq's Christians now is coming from Iran-backed militias that are keeping minority groups from returning home or fleeing once again. Before he visited Iraq in March, Anderson said, he met with Pope Francis. "A Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East," the pope told him. "Baghdad's ambassador in Washington often says that 'Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities,'" Anderson wrote. He noted that five years ago, the Islamic State "swept through Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities."

    North Dakota governor signs bill banning 'dismemberment abortions'

    BISMARCK, N.D. (CNS) -- The North Dakota Catholic Conference praised Republican Gov. Doug Burgum for signing a bill into law April 10 to "prohibit the practice of dismemberment abortions. While every abortion should be considered unacceptable, the people of North Dakota have wisely seen that this particularly gruesome procedure should never occur," said the conference, which is the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops. It outlaws an abortion procedure known as "dilation and evacuation," which is reportedly the most commonly used procedure in second-trimester abortions. The director of North Dakota's only abortion clinic said she has not decided yet on a legal challenge to the new law, because she said her clinic's lawyers are waiting for a court decision on an effort to block a similar law in Arkansas. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Dakota, heard oral arguments in December on the challenge to the law in Arkansas. North Dakota's law makes it a crime for a doctor who is performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the unborn child from the womb. Doctors would be charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

    Archbishop invites Parisians to light a candle to dispel fire's darkness

    PARIS (CNS) -- Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris invited the faithful to attend the annual chrism Mass at historic St. Sulpice Church April 17 in the wake of the massive fire that seriously damaged the historic Notre Dame Cathedral. "This will be an opportunity for all of us to manifest our unity, our fervor and our confidence in the future. We feel well that we will not only have to rebuild our cathedral but also reconstruct our church whose face is so wounded," Archbishop Aupetit said in an invitation issued April 16. The archbishop also asked "people of goodwill" to place a light or a candle in their window on the night of Easter "as we will do in all our churches started with the Paschal vigil by the rite of the new fire. It means that light illuminates the darkness, that life definitively triumphs over death," he wrote. St. Sulpice Church is Paris' other prominent Catholic church. With origins in the mid-17th century, the Baroque-era church is nearly the size of Notre Dame Cathedral. Its construction incorporates intricately designed stained glass windows that are often compared for their beauty and elegance with the medieval-era windows in the now damaged cathedral. "France cries and with it all its friends from all over the world. It is touched in the heart because its stones are the testimony of an invincible hope which, by the talents, courage, genius and faith of the builders, has raised this luminous lace of stones, wood and glass. This faith remains ours. It is she who moves the mountains and will allow us to rebuild this masterpiece," Archbishop Aupetit said in his invitation.

    Muslim father, 'wanting to be part of something,' joins Catholic Church

    OAKLAND PARK, Fla. (CNS) -- After questioning the Islamic tradition he had practiced for a few years, Christopher Booty delved into its history and explored other world religions -- which eventually led him to Catholicism. During the Easter Vigil April 20, he and his wife, Kristin, will be baptized at Blessed Sacrament Church in Oakland Park, along with their 8-month-old daughter, Catherine, and 3-year-old son, Maytham. Father Robert Tywoniak, pastor of Blessed Sacrament, said their experience was unique. Christopher, 28, and Kirstin, 27, married five years ago. He grew up without spiritual guidance, and as a teen, explored various organizations. "Growing up without religion, without a community of people, I wanted to be part of something," explained Booty, who said he did one semester of college and dropped out. "I was working at some dead-end jobs. I didn't have a vision. I was looking for someone to tell me how to lead a moral life. In 2012, I became a Muslim." Kristin is from a tiny village in the Canadian mountains and was raised agnostic. Growing up without faith and with the belief that it's impossible to know whether there is a God or a future life, she said she always felt she needed something more solid, something more concrete. In her third year at the University of British Columbia, she began looking for a group to belong to. "I was always looking for ways to be accepted by my peers," she said. "I jumped around to different communities. I tried an atheist community and Buddhism. I found the Muslim community on campus."

    Fordham University senior dies after fall from bell tower on campus

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- A 2015 graduate of Jesuit High School in Portland died after falling from a bell tower at Fordham University in New York City early the morning of April 14. Sydney Monfries, a Portland native, was a senior at the Jesuit-run university and weeks away from graduation. Monfries was "beloved for her spirit of kindness, generosity and compassion," Thomas Arndorfer, president of Jesuit, said in a written statement. The 22-year-old fell from the clock tower at about 3 a.m., according to a statement released by the university. She had reportedly climbed into the tower with friends. Monfries was taken to a hospital, where she died from her injuries. The Observer, a student newspaper at Fordham, reported that police said Monfries fell through an opening on the first landing of the tower. "She fell 40 feet through the inside of the tower and struck her head on the ground," the paper said. The Jesuit university said it is investigating how the students gained access to the tower, which is supposed to remain locked. It is located on Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the New York borough of the Bronx.

    Delaware high school senior develops medical shadowing program

    WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) -- Internships and shadowing programs are nothing new. It is unlikely, however, that many have been conceived, organized and implemented primarily by high school students. That is one of the unique aspects of the program Apollo: Youth in Medicine. Last year, Sean Holly had a desire to see what it would be like to work in the medical field, and when he couldn't find a way to do that, the senior at St. Elizabeth High School, in Wilmington, went to work. He talked with other students, who like him are part of the Delaware Youth Leadership Network. Some of them had shadowing opportunities in fields they were interested in, but medicine was more restrictive. Holly said he wanted to shadow some physicians to volunteer and just see what the medical field was about. So he spoke with a local leader, a school representative an orthopedic surgeon and the president of the Medical Society of Delaware. The group sought feedback from medical professionals and a training session was developed. More students and professionals joined the effort, and Apollo: Youth in Medicine was born.

    Bishop Barron finds Notre Dame Cathedral catastrophe 'heartrending'

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- It was in the car somewhere between Santa Barbara and downtown Los Angeles that Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron got the news that the legendary Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris had caught fire. Minutes later, he was already on a phone interview with MSNBC, explaining the Gothic landmark's significance and his own personal connection to it. "It is heartrending," Bishop Barron said in an interview with Angelus News of the Los Angeles Archdiocese just before the chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels April 15. As a young priest studying for a doctorate in theology at the Institut Catholique de Paris, Bishop Barron spent three years in the French capital and lived blocks away from Notre Dame. He even gave tours of the cathedral to English speakers. "Notre Dame just meant the world to me," he said. "I went there practically every day when I first moved to Paris, so I feel a very personal connection." The bishop admitted he could not "bring myself to see what it's like now," adding that "it's a real personal loss for me."

    Korean cardinal affirms church's abortion teaching after court decision

    SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) -- Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul reiterated the Catholic Church's stance on abortion after South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled that the country's abortion ban is unconstitutional. The country's top court April 11 called for a legislative change to partially allow a mother to choose to terminate a pregnancy in its early stages. While some women's and medical organizations welcomed the decision, Cardinal Yeom used his Easter message to express his concerns, reported. "A nation has a responsibility to protect its people's lives and safety under any circumstances. Every life, from the moment of conception, should be protected as a human being and secured with its dignity," he said in the message released April 15. While urging lawmakers to carefully amend the law, he asked the faithful to be the first to choose life rather than death. "We, people of God, should concretely serve and sacrifice for life. Among various social obstacles and difficulties, we Christians should strictly refuse the culture and temptation for death," he said.

    China invites Vatican to have pavilion at Beijing garden expo

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Accepting an invitation from the Chinese government, the Holy See is one of a number of nations and organizations participating in an international garden expo in Beijing. Though the expo's focus is on flowers, horticulture and the environment, the Vatican's presence will be "one step further" on a journey of dialogue between the Vatican and China, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told reporters at a news conference April 16. While high-level talks and agreements between the two countries, which do not have formal diplomatic relations, are "delicate" and ongoing, taking part in the April 29-Oct. 7 expo and other cultural exchanges have the important task of creating "an atmosphere" that facilitates dialogue, he said. The cardinal unveiled details at the news conference of the Vatican's participation in the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition, which was to feature dozens of gardens and exhibitions centered on the theme of "Live Green, Live Better." He said the Chinese government invited the Vatican to have its own pavilion at the expo, and with permission from the Vatican Secretary of State, the council for culture was put in charge of coordinating the effort.

    French leaders pledge Notre Dame Cathedral again will grace Paris skyline

    PARIS (CNS) -- Church leaders joined government officials in saying they expect that Notre Dame Cathedral's grandeur will be restored as firefighters extinguished the last flames of a fast-moving blaze that seriously damaged much of the iconic structure. "We are living through an extreme moment. This is Holy Week and it isn't an accident," Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said outside of the 850-year-old historic structure late April 15 as firefighters continued to attack the flames. "Having marked the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are now experiencing our own passion, but we know that after it will come the resurrection. We believe in this and we will proclaim it by rebuilding this cathedral," Archbishop Aupetit said. The archbishop also appealed for church bells throughout Paris to be rung in a sign of prayer and solidarity. French President Emmanuel Macron praised the "extreme courage and great professionalism" of first responders who helped save the facade and towers of the Gothic landmark. He announced that a national reconstruction fund would be established. Speaking in front of the charred cathedral late April 15, Macron said he understood the feelings of French Catholics in face of the disaster and pledged the whole population would "stand with them" in restoring it.

    Hope from the ashes: President, archbishop vow to rebuild Notre Dame

    ROME (CNS) -- The president of France and the archbishop of Paris have vowed to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral after a devastating fire, continuing what a professor of architecture described as the natural lifecycle of a historic building. Steven W. Semes, a professor and director of graduate studies in the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said he was as shocked and pained as everyone watching on television as the building burned April 15. "Like all historic monuments," he said, Notre Dame Cathedral is "the result of hundreds and hundreds of years of development" with an initial idea, a long and labor-intensive construction process, design changes, additions, demolitions and remodeling over and over again as fashions and usages change. So, from the initial construction, which began in 1160, the cathedral "was transformed multiple times," he told Catholic News Service in Rome, where he regularly teaches. When one looked at Notre Dame before the fire, "we weren't seeing the cathedral as it was built, we were seeing it through layers of change. Buildings and cities do change through time. We wouldn't go see a painting by Rembrandt that four people had painted over, but we look at almost any historic building and we see something that has been restored multiple times -- sometimes restored in a way very faithful to an early state and sometimes not."

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  • Bishop 'dismayed' over university president's call for his resignation

    BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNS) -- A Buffalo diocesan spokeswoman said April 12 that Bishop Richard J. Malone is "disappointed and dismayed" over the president of St. Bonaventure University's call for his resignation as head of the diocese. Dennis DePerro, in several interviews, said he admired the bishop's "unflinching desire to repair the damage" the abuse crisis has caused. "But sometimes, the most courageous thing a man can do is to step aside and recognize that his voice is no longer being heard and that he stands in the way of creating true resolution." "We suspect that Dr. DePerro has not fully studied the carefully developed and well-publicized protocols of the Diocese of Buffalo," said diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler. "The bishop has received helpful input from others, including the president of Canisius College and other members of the Movement to Restore Trust, on how diocesan procedures might be improved. The bishop would have welcomed and still would accept such input from Dr. DePerro, but to criticize the bishop for following established protocols is unjust."

    Update: Blaze erupts at Paris' iconic Notre Dame Cathedral; cause unknown

    PARIS (CNS) -- A major blaze engulfed the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral April 15, sending pillars of flame and billowing smoke over the center of the French capital. The fire erupted about 6:30 p.m. local time. Authorities said the cause was not certain, but that it could be linked to renovation work that the cathedral was undergoing, the BBC reported. Officials ordered an evacuation of the area around the 850-year-old cathedral that has withstood world wars and political turmoil throughout France's history. Le Monde, a Paris daily newspaper, reported that the fire erupted in the attic of the cathedral. Televised images showed the church's iconic steeple was ablaze. In 2018, the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Paris opened an urgent fundraising appeal to save the cathedral, which was starting to crumble. The Associated Press reported that Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said about an hour after the fire started that firefighters were attempting to contain a "terrible fire" at the cathedral. An AP reporter at the scene said the roof at the back behind the cathedral, behind the nave, was in flames and yellow-brown smoke and ash filled the sky.

    Court reinstates Good Friday holiday in federally ruled area of India

    THRISSUR, India (CNS) -- The Mumbai high court reinstated Good Friday as a holiday after it had been removed from the list of government-approved holidays in an area in western India ruled by the federal government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. "We are very happy to inform you that we have won the Good Friday battle in the Mumbai high court," Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi, secretary general of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference, said in a statement after the court's April 15 ruling. Bishop Mascarenhas called the ruling "a big relief" for the Christian minority in the region. "The court order reinforces our faith in the judicial system," he told Catholic News Service. Federal government leaders in the Union Territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu had determined that beginning this year, Good Friday, which falls on April 19, would cease to be a compulsory holiday. The government's stance meant that public institutions, including schools and colleges, would have remained open on one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. The territories were a Portuguese colony for 450 years before becoming part of the Indian union in 1961. Ecclesiastically, the area falls under the Archdiocese of Goa that covers the tiny state of Goa, which was part of the Union Territory until becoming a state in 1987.

    Assisted suicide now law in N.J.; cardinal calls it 'morally unacceptable'

    NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark called New Jersey's new law allowing assisted suicide regrettable, saying "whatever its motives and means," it is "morally unacceptable. Every gift of human life is sacred, from conception to natural death, and the life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition," the cardinal said in a statement April 12, the day Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act, effective Aug. 1. "Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or disabled persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible," Cardinal Tobin said. Under the new law, which goes against the Catholic Church's fundamental teaching on the sanctity of all human life, adults who receive a terminal diagnosis would be allowed to obtain self-administered medication to end their lives. Murphy is Catholic. It passed the Assembly 41-33 and the Senate 21-16 March 25. As the measure awaited Murphy's signature, pro-life groups and other opponents urged state residents to contact the governor and ask him not to sign the bill into law.

    After long spiritual road, Cambodian genocide survivor to enter church

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Phally Budock, who will enter the church this Easter at St. Andrew Apostle Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, has always believed in God, but for a long time she did not understand why God allowed terrible things to happen, such as the atrocities she witnessed during the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s. "I didn't understand, if there is a God who is almighty and so powerful, why did he let so many of my family members die during the war?" she said. "I didn't understand, if God was good and God was almighty, why didn't he intercede and save us?" Budock was just 5 when the communist regime, the Khmer Rouge, forced her family out of their home. The regime was trying to eliminate all educated citizens, and Budock's father, who was educated in the U.S., had a high-profile job as a president of an agricultural bank. Her family was forced to march to a camp in the jungle in the northern part of the country, and even before they arrived, the Khmer Rouge soldiers took away several members of her family, starting with her father. She vividly remembers running after her father when the soldiers told him to come with them. Her mother scooped her up and told her that he would come back. He never did. Over the next three years, she saw both her brother and her sister die in front of her, and watched her mother bury them. Before the war, they were a family of 12. After the war, only their mother and five of the children were still alive, two of whom had been out of the country attending college. When the South Vietnamese Army freed them, Budock's brother sponsored her, her mother and two of her sisters to come to the United States, and they arrived Nov. 30, 1980, after spending a year in a Thai refugee camp awaiting approval to come to the country. Because she had trouble understanding how God could allow such terrible things to happen, Budock said she was indifferent about wanting to know more about God or to pray. But through it all, her mother, who was raised Catholic, never lost her faith.

    Official marks retired pope's birthday, commenting on his latest letter

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking retired Pope Benedict XVI's 92nd birthday, the editorial director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication insisted what the retired pope wrote about facing the clerical sexual abuse crisis is essentially what Pope Francis has said, too. "Celebrating Joseph Ratzinger's birthday, it can be useful to underline the approach that both Benedict XVI and his successor, Francis, have maintained in the face of the scandals and the abuse of minors," Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director, wrote. The approach of the two popes, he said in an April 15 article, cannot be "reduced to a slogan." The retired pope's birthday is April 16 and just five days earlier, several media outlets published what Pope Benedict described as "some notes" that could help Catholics understand and address the abuse crisis. For both the pope and retired pope, Tornielli wrote, it is not enough for the church to trust new emergency norms, "although necessary," or the "indispensable" formulation of "more detailed and precise protocols for guaranteeing the safety of children."

    Helping others is the true goal, pope tells soccer league

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like those who play soccer, people must learn to work together, help one another and race toward a clear goal, Pope Francis said. While one may not always achieve every goal in his or her life, having a clear set of objectives makes people see "where are we going and where our efforts are taking us" as opposed to today's culture which often pushes young men and women to "run without stopping," the pope said April 15 during an audience with members of the Italian National Amateur Soccer League. "To clarify and improve our goals is an exercise that is never-ending and carried out every day -- I would say almost every moment -- to become more and more aware of what we are doing and the most suitable ways to achieve the desired result," he said. Founded in 1959, the Italian National Amateur Soccer League oversees several men's and women's regional soccer leagues throughout Italy. Noting that the association will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year, the pope said it continues to "play an important role in Italian society," and that its role in educating young men and women should be "appreciated and encouraged." Soccer, like all sports, he said, can play an integral part in a person's life and teach "patience, acceptance of defeat, team spirit and a willingness to work with others."

    Pope makes surprise visit to community for people with Alzheimer's

    ROME (CNS) -- Drawing attention to the special needs of people with Alzheimer's disease, Pope Francis made an afternoon visit to a community of group homes designed to keep residents active and living as normal a life as possible. The pope's visit April 12 to Emanuele Village on the northern edge of Rome was part of his continuing series of "Mercy Friday" visits, which he began during the Holy Year of Mercy in 2015-16 to highlight the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Emanuele Village consists of 14 group homes, each with six residents, as well as a small supermarket, hair salon, coffee bar and restaurant, "allowing the residents to live as normally as possible, reproducing many of the little aspects of daily life," and helping them maintain ties with others. Pope Francis surprised many of the residents and staff who were in the village courtyard when he arrived, the Vatican said. He also visited some residents who were resting in their rooms and others who were involved in various recreational activities.

    Pope urges students to fight their addiction to phones

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told high school students to break their phone addiction and spend more time on real communication with others and in moments of quiet, personal reflection. Young people need to learn about "healthy introspection" so they can listen to their conscience and be able to distinguish it "from the voices of selfishness and hedonism," he said. The pope made his remarks April 13 during an audience with teachers, students and their family members from Rome's oldest classical lyceum -- the Ennio Quirino Visconti Lyceum-Gymnasium. Some notable alumni include Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, and Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci. The pope told the high school students to "please, free yourselves from your phone addiction!" Looking up at his audience as they applauded, the pope said he knew they were aware of the many forms and problems of addiction. But, he warned, an addiction to one's mobile phone was something "very subtle."

    Organ donation fosters culture of life, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When done ethically and free of charge, organ donation is a selfless gesture that contributes to fostering a culture of life, Pope Francis said. Christians who donate their organs offer "a gift to the suffering Lord who said that everything we have done for a brother or sister in need we have done for him," the pope said April 13 during a meeting with members of the Italian Association of Organ Donors. However, he added, organ donation must remain "as an unpaid, free act. In fact, any form of commercialization of the body or any part of it is contrary to human dignity. In giving blood or an organ of the body, it is necessary to respect the ethical and religious perspective," the pope said. While donating one's organs in life or after death responds to a social need that "still remains great," he said, it also gives donors the opportunity to go "beyond one's individual needs and open oneself generously to a greater good."

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  • Retired editor, publisher in Peoria and former CPA president dies at 92

    PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Albina Aspell, former editor and publisher of The Catholic Post of Peoria and a past president of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, died in Peoria April 11, two days after observing her 92nd birthday. Considered a pioneer for women in the Catholic press, Aspell encouraged church officials to be more open in providing information. "A free flow of information has the power to avert problems," she said in a 1987 address to Pope John Paul II and a World Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. Addressing the gathering as a non-voting synod participant in her role as CPA president, Aspell said access to information and newsmakers "can stop rumor and erase suspicion" and called it the lifeblood of Catholic communications." A funeral Mass for Aspell will be celebrated April 15 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Peoria. Visitation begins at the church at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be at Resurrection Cemetery in Peoria. Aspell was a 1992 recipient of the St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest honor of the Catholic Press Association, for her "distinctive and eloquent leadership in the Catholic press and for her role as a dynamic force and inspiration." She retired in 1995 after 21 years on the staff of The Catholic Post; her tenure included being the first layperson to be named editor of the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria in 1982 and being named its first lay publisher a decade later.

    Embrace the cross, trust God will triumph, pope says on Palm Sunday

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Acclaimed by the crowds and knowing he was the Messiah they sought, Jesus still chose the path of humility and self-emptying, focused only on doing God's will, Pope Francis said on Palm Sunday. "There is no negotiating with the cross: one either embraces it or rejects it," the pope told tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square April 14 to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of his passion. Processing to the obelisk in the center of the square, dozens of young people carried palm branches taller than they were; bishops, cardinals and the pope carried "palmurelli," woven palms; and all the pilgrims in the square were given olive branches donated by an Italian association of olive oil producers. After blessing the palms and listening to the Gospel reading of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, the young people, bishops, cardinals and pope processed to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica for the main part of the Mass, which included the reading of the Passion. At the Vatican and in many parts of the world, Palm Sunday also is marked as the local celebration of World Youth Day, and Pope Francis spoke specifically to young people in his homily. "Dear young people," the pope said, "do not be ashamed to show your enthusiasm for Jesus, to shout out that he is alive and that he is your life."

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  • Georgetown students vote for student fee to pay reparations over slavery

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Undergraduate students at Jesuit-run Georgetown University voted overwhelmingly April 11 to pay a new student fee that would be for reparations to the descendants of slaves owned and later sold by the school. The fee would be $27.20 per semester and the figure represents the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved individuals by the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus province for the benefit of Georgetown University. According to the Georgetown University Student Association Elections Commission, which announced the results April 12, of the nearly 60 percent of undergraduates who voted, 2,541 supported the measure and 1,304 opposed it. The vote was part of a nonbinding student referendum. Approximately 66% of students voted in favor. USA Today quoted a statement from university administrator Todd Olson, who did not commit to the fund's establishment but said the vote provided "valuable insight into student perspectives." The College Fix, an online national college news website run by students, reported that proponents of the measure hosted a rally on campus, "chanting, 'When they don't act -- we fight back' and encouraging students to get out the yes vote." The Fix also reported that opponents of the measure who handed out fliers explaining their arguments against the measure had those fliers "torn and discarded."

    N.H. death penalty repeal bid called 'an enormous victory for life'

    CONCORD, N.H. (CNS) -- The New Hampshire Senate's vote to repeal the death penalty is "an enormous victory for life," according to the executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network. The New Hampshire Senate voted 17-6 April 11 to repeal the state's death penalty law. This follows a 279-88 vote for repeal by the state House in March. "The overwhelming margins by which the repeal bill passed through the Legislature sends a strong message about the state's priority to put an end to the death penalty," said an April 12 statement by Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy. "It speaks to a long-term decline in support for capital punishment found not only in New Hampshire, but across the United States as a whole." New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has threatened to veto the bill, but the original vote in each chamber passed by margins wide enough to override a veto. A two-thirds vote is required to override. "Catholic Mobilizing Network celebrates this encouraging progress and looks forward to the day when the state officially unshackles itself from the death penalty once and for all," Murphy said. New Hampshire has not put a prisoner to death since 1939. However, there is one man on the state's death row, but the state's corrections department said there are no immediate plans to acquire the drugs necessary to execute him.

    Buffalo statements assert more transparency, urge privacy for victims

    BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNS) -- In a pair of statements issued April 11, the Diocese of Buffalo both asserted greater transparency in its handling of clergy sex abuse claims and urged respect for the privacy of abuse victims. The former statement, from Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, was issued to "correct some of those errors" about the diocese's response to the crisis that had cropped up from the "intense media coverage." But he also used the statement to address "the times when I personally have fallen short." "I also regret not being more transparent about claims involving abuse against adults," Bishop Malone added. "As you know from the manner in which we have been addressing more recent claims involving conduct between adults, we are handling those matters differently now. Lessons have been learned." He also said that there "have been no substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against any diocesan priest ordained in the past 30 years." In a second statement, the Buffalo Diocese asked area media to respect the privacy rights of abuse victims. "Because of the release of private information to the media has resulted in added injury to some of the very people who are reporting abuse, the diocese is asking all members of the media to please respect the privacy and confidentiality of persons who have come forward to report abuse," the diocesan statement said.

    Inspired by sons' faith, family prepares to become Catholic at Easter

    POTOMAC, Md. (CNS) -- Like many of the boys and young men studying at The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland, brothers Zayd and Rayn Patel have well-rounded interests outside the classroom. Zayd, 12, a sixth grader, plays oboe in the school band, sings in its choir, is on the math team, runs track, likes to play golf and squash, plays keyboard and piano, and is part of a rock band. Rayn, 9, a fourth grader, is nationally ranked for his age group in the sport of fencing, plays trumpet in the school band, also sings in its choir and is part of the drama club. Both boys also like attending daily Mass at the school. The 550 students between third and 12th grade have the option of voluntarily coming to Mass, and about 200 do. Younger brother Raif, 5, who is in kindergarten and homeschooled by their mother, plays the violin and just started playing ice hockey. "They follow their own paths," said their mother, Zeena Lafeer. This Lent, Zeena, husband Sameer Patel and their three sons are on a special path together as they prepare to receive the sacraments of initiation and become Catholic at the April 20 Easter Vigil at Little Flower Parish in Bethesda, Maryland. The parents and their two oldest sons will be baptized, confirmed and receive their first Communion. Raif will be baptized. "We have found ourselves here after a journey," Sameer said, noting that he and his wife "came from varied religious backgrounds, and we wanted something to ground our family."

    New diocesan abuse task force is for 'whole family of our church to heal'

    ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger is calling for comprehensive church reform through an abuse task force focused on accompanying and supporting survivors of clergy sex abuse. The newly developed task force will establish protocols for greater accountability and increased transparency at all levels of the diocese integrating the healing journey of survivors of clergy sex abuse and their families in the church. "Most importantly, I want to offer ways for the whole family of our church to heal, because all of us have been incomplete as long as survivors and their family members have suffered in silence and isolation," Bishop Scharfenberger said April 11 in announcing the new task force. "I know from experience that survivors can be 'wounded healers' offering wisdom and grace to the church and to the world." The task force will be comprised of diverse points of view and expertise, including survivors, parents, professionals, and community and parish leaders. The independent advisory group will be tasked with assessing and recommending upgrades to existing diocesan protocols and processes and to programs that support development of a trauma-informed pastoral outreach to survivors of clergy abuse and/or family members. The goal of this advisory group is to evaluate past and present practices and to devise a path forward with regard to a holistic approach to survivor ministry and to the overall well-being of Catholics in the diocese.

    Twitter restricts Mother Teresa abortion quote; CEO can't explain why

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Before the crowd at an April 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, displayed a billboard containing a tweet of a St. Teresa of Kolkata quote, "Abortion is profoundly anti-woman. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers." Alongside the quote was a picture of the saint, smiling. Then Cruz, the subcommittee's chairman, asked expert witness Carlos Monje of Twitter's public policy team a simple question: "Is this hate speech?" The graphic in question was posted to Twitter March 8 by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. The national pro-life organization had intended it to run as a promoted ad, but Twitter ensured that it never saw the light of day by removing it immediately. The reason for the ban? The graphic purportedly violated Twitter's "health and pharmaceutical products and services policy." Details on that policy from Twitter's website are vague, listing entities to which those restrictions apply from country to country while providing only cursory explanations for why the restrictions themselves are necessary, for example, stating that "unless listed below, the promotion of health and pharmaceutical products and services is prohibited." Such an explanation makes the ban of a St. Teresa quote questionable.

    Washington Post files motion to dismiss Covington student's lawsuit

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Lawyers for The Washington Post filed a motion in federal court April 9 seeking the dismissal of the $250 million defamation lawsuit filed against the newspaper by Nick Sandmann, a student at Kentucky's Covington Catholic High School. The student was thrown into the center of a national spotlight in January when videos of him and his classmates interacting with Native Americans and others near Washington's Lincoln Memorial went viral. In the Feb. 19 lawsuit, the 16-year-old student alleged that the Post's coverage of the incident was biased, claiming there were "no less than six false and defamatory articles" in the newspaper about the Jan. 18 encounter. In its defense, in the motion filed in U.S. District Court in Covington, The Washington Post's legal team said its stories of that day's interaction were accurate and noted that even if they weren't "flattering of the Covington Catholic students" who were involved, they "do not give rise to a defamation claim by Sandmann." The Post's legal team also said the "story was an emerging one" and that readers would not have "understood the initial article as having told the whole story."

    As fighting intensifies, bishop urges Filipinos in Libya to return home

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- A Philippine bishop appealed to Filipinos in Libya to return home as fears of renewed civil war intensify. Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said the situation in Libya is "uncertain, volatile and unstable" and the safety Filipino migrants there, "is not secured," reported The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs has already urged Filipinos in Libya to opt for "voluntary repatriation" to avoid getting caught up in the fighting. The call was made following an escalation in fighting, including the shelling of residential areas on the outskirts of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Thousands of people have reportedly fled their homes as a result of fighting in which at least 47 people have been killed, according to the World Health Organization. reported Philippine authorities said Filipinos in areas near the fighting should move to safer areas or request assistance from the embassy for their repatriation.

    Humanity's ancestors: Lucy, Toumai and the evolving journey of prehumans

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As a follow-up to a 2013 symposium on the origin and evolution of humans, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a workshop discussing the latest discoveries about humanity's earliest ancestors -- where they lived and what they may have looked like millions of years ago. This gathering, however, was taking "a different approach by inviting the discoverers themselves" to tell the academy about their historic findings and the new questions emerging from these new discoveries, said Yves Coppens, a French anthropologist and member of the papal academy who helped organize the workshop at the Vatican April 12-13. Coppens was involved with the 1974 discovery in Ethiopia of Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old partial skeleton of a female hominin -- a "prehuman" or human-like species. She now seems young, compared to Toumai, the nickname for a 7-million-year-old small cranium unearthed in Chad in 2001 by Michel Brunet, who told the academy that Toumai is -- for now -- probably the earliest known member of the human family. With these and so many more ancient ancestors being found in Africa, "we are all African and we are all migrants out of Africa," he said.

    Aid to the Church in Need named 2019 Path to Peace Award recipient

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Aid to the Church in Need is the 2019 recipient of the Path to Peace Award. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and president of the Path to Peace Foundation, said the organization is being honored for its humanitarian and pastoral work in support of persecuted Christians around the world. "It is a great honor for Aid to the Church Need to receive this prestigious award," George Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need USA, said in an April 11 press statement. "This recognition of our work on behalf of the suffering and persecuted church around the world is a tribute to the generosity and faithfulness of our donors." Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need International, will accept the award during a celebration May 22 in New York. Aid to the Church in Need annually supports 5,000 projects in more than 140 countries. In 2018, the organization distributed more than $100 million for the construction of churches and chapels; the training of seminarians, men and women religious and lay catechists; emergency aid; transportation for church ministers; and numerous other church-based programs.

    Bulgarian Orthodox: No common prayer for their clergy during papal visit

    SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNS) -- Bulgaria's predominant Orthodox Church has ordered its clergy not to take part in prayers or services with the pope when he visits the country in early May. "The invitation to Pope Francis comes from the state authorities, so it is appropriate that the main events are coordinated with state institutions," the church's 15-member governing Holy Synod said in a statement. "Any form of service with a common liturgical or prayerful character, including the use of liturgical garments, will be unacceptable to us. Our holy canons do not permit this." The synod said it had agreed the ban unanimously after examining a draft agenda for the pontiff's May 5-7 visit and would confirm it in a letter to the Vatican's nuncio, Archbishop Anselmo Pecorari. It said Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Neophyte would greet the pope with other church leaders at Sofia's Synodal Palace and Orthodox cathedral, but said the participation of Orthodox clergy, including the church's patriarchal choir, in other events was "impossible," while an Orthodox interpreter would only be available during the palace and cathedral events. Pope Francis will meet Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Rumen Radev during the three-day pilgrimage, which will include an interfaith peace vigil in the capital's Independence Square and stopover at a refugee camp. The itinerary features an outdoor Mass in Sofia's Battenberg Square, and a visit to Rakovski, a largely Catholic town in central Bulgaria.

    Pope sends aid to flood victims in Iran

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has sent a large donation to assist tens of thousands of Iranians who lost their homes and businesses in waves of severe flooding that began in mid-March. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development said Pope Francis was sending 100,000 euros (US$113,000), which will be distributed with the help of the Vatican nunciature in Tehran. "In the course of the past two weeks, violent flooding struck the northeast and southern regions of Iran, and there is fear flooding will continue in the coming days," the dicastery said in a statement April 12. The death toll as of April 12 was 77 people, and more than a thousand were injured. The homes and property of more than 10 million people have been damaged and at least 2 million people require emergency assistance, the dicastery said.

    Vatican imposes 10-year suspension on Legionaries priest for abuse

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has banned a Legionaries of Christ priest from publicly exercising his priestly ministry for 10 years after he was convicted in Chile of sexually abusing a young girl. Irish-born Legionaries Father John O'Reilly was convicted in Chile in 2014 and sentenced to four years of "supervised liberty." When the four years was up in December, he was told to leave the country or face deportation. He moved to Rome, where he still lives, according to the Legionaries. In accordance with church law, he also underwent a trial by a tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which also found him guilty of child sexual abuse, the Legionaries of Christ press office said in a statement April 11. In addition to suspending him from ministry, the Legionaries said, the doctrinal congregation imposed "the perpetual obligation to establish residency outside Latin America and the perpetual prohibition of voluntary contact with minors," as well as recommending he seek "psychological and spiritual accompaniment. The sentence concludes with the mention of the right to appeal," the Legionaries said.

    Pope: In a divided world, Christians must treat all as brothers, sisters

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Treating all other people as brothers and sisters "is not fashionable now," Pope Francis said, but it is a clear "calling card" of a Christian. "We know that brothers and sisters often argue and fight over many things, but even when that happens, they know how to keep alive that search for a good that cannot prevent peace and harmony between them," Pope Francis said April 12, meeting members of the Confraternity of Nuestra Senora de la Cinta (Our Lady of the Ribbon) from Tortosa, Spain. The group was celebrating its 400th anniversary as an association dedicated to promoting devotion to Mary, supporting the church and serving the poor in Tortosa. Belonging to the group, the pope said, is not just about keeping a part of Catalonian history alive; "You call yourselves brothers and sisters, and by doing so you reveal the fundamental reality of our lives: we are all children of God." In a world that seems increasingly divided, the pope said, it is not enough for Christians to call themselves brothers and sisters, they must do the hard work of acting like they really are children of the same God. And, he said, a Catholic association also must keep intact the "bond of charity that, as brothers and sisters, unites them with their bishop and, through him, with the pope."

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  • Singer-songwriter trades in secular success to share his faith in music

    MIAMI (CNS) -- For one of the Catholic world's up-and-coming worship leaders, the church once seemed boring and "too serious." But now, Zander, as he is known on stage, is changing his tune. A conversion experience led him to gain a new perspective on Catholicism. "So many people think Catholicism is a guilt religion, as if we can't dance, smile, or have fun -- but we can!" Though he had built a successful career as a pop/reggae artist, Zander is now trading in the ways of the world to share God's message through his music. Born in Hong Kong to American and Irish parents, Zander and his family have lived around the world. As a child, Zander learned to play classical piano, indulging the works of composers such as Chopin, while listening to diverse music, like the Peruvian pan flute. Not long after classical training in piano, he picked up a guitar and began to rock out. His career as a singer-songwriter took off upon graduating from college. He soon shared the stage with artists such as Train, Ziggy Marley and Fall Out Boy, and the Wailers. Throughout the years, Zander has gained an international following through gigs around the U.S., as well as tours in South America and Australia.

    Ohio governor signs fetal heartbeat law, setting stage for legal challenges

    COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill that would make it illegal to carry out an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. "The function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us, those who do not have a voice. Government's role should be to protect life from the beginning to the end, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, such as the elderly, the unborn, those who are sick, those who have mental illness or have an addiction," DeWine said at a mid-afternoon signing ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse April 11. "The signing of this bill is consistent with that respect for life and to ability to sign protect those who cannot protect themselves," added DeWine, a Republican who is Catholic. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, a timeframe in which many women are unaware they are pregnant. Opponents of the measure, including American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, have pledged to challenge the law in court. The Ohio House April 10 voted 56-40 in favor of the bill. Agreeing with the House's changes in the legislation, the Senate adopted it a short time later, 18-13, sending it DeWine for his signature. Both votes occurred mostly along party lines with Republicans lined up in favor of it and Democrats opposed.

    'Instant Family,' 'Faith Under Fire' among Christopher Award winners

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- The theatrical features "Instant Family" and "Paul, Apostle of Christ" were named winners of Christopher Awards in the award program's 70th anniversary. Other winners announced April 9 included the Lifetime biopic "Faith Under Fire: The Antoinette Tuff Story" and "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" -- the documentary on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" host and creator Fred Rogers. This year's winners "highlight the power of community and common purpose, the positive difference that love and perseverance can make in the lives of the lost or lonely, and the struggle to find God's presence and light, even in the darkest of circumstances," said an April 9 statement from Tony Rossi, the Christophers' director of communications. "Instant Family" delivered a message strongly in favor of foster parenting. In "Paul, Apostle of Christ," St. Paul and the evangelist St. Luke courageously struggle to live out the Gospel in ways that model forgiveness and love that stems from a divine source as the early Christians are being persecuted by Roman emperor Nero. "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" highlighted the lessons of kindness, empathy and respect that Rogers -- himself a former Christopher Award winner -- embodied and passed on to children through his PBS series. "Faith Under Fire" tells the true story of the bookkeeper at a Georgia school who used kindness to convince an armed, mentally ill young man who entered the school in 2013 and threatened to kill all the children to instead surrender peacefully.

    Retreat aims to bolster Catholic voices in ever more secular media world

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the 1950s, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was able to captivate the nation with his television program "Life Is Worth Living," where his theological discussions in front of a chalkboard were often able to rival the likes of Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra during the prime-time slot. Catholics nowadays have no such media muscle, but one priest seeks to change that. Father Peter Stravinskas, of the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, is starting a new retreat that he hopes will teach journalists, nonfiction writers, novelists and poets alike to be strong voices for Catholicism in an increasingly secular media world. Simply dubbed the "Catholic Writers Retreat," it will take place June 7-9 at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. A variety of topics will be covered, including what Catholic editors look for when choosing stories to publish and how to cover the Vatican. In an April 10 phone interview with Catholic News Service, however, Father Stravinskas also emphasized how the workshop will push writers to produce material from a "Catholic perspective" without delving into explicitly religious territory. "A Catholic writer has a unique worldview" even on topics that aren't overtly religious, the priest said. "There is a Catholic take on ethics ... even secular values."

    Catholic leaders condemn bulldozing of crosses at site of executions

    MINSK, Belarus (CNS) -- Catholic and Orthodox leaders condemned the bulldozing of memorial crosses at a site of communist-era mass executions. Media reports said at least 15 protesters were arrested in early April when police cordoned off an area of the Kuropaty Forest, outside Minsk, and bulldozers moved in to demolish about 70 15-foot crosses, which were taken away in unmarked trucks. The crosses marked the site where tens of thousands of execution victims were thrown in mass graves, mostly between 1937 and 1941. "I feel desperate about the removal of these crosses," said Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, chairman of the Belarusian bishops' conference. "Perhaps some order is needed in this place, and perhaps it was necessary to move the crosses temporarily and then replace them. We also do such things -- but not without telling people," he said. In an April 9 interview on his church's website, he said the action had insulted Christians, and he urged people of all faiths to help "avoid a social explosion." The nation's Catholic bishops' conference demanded "an urgent stop" to the destruction of the crosses in Kuropaty, which they called one of the country's "many Golgothas" and a "holy place of memory and prayer." The bishops accused the authorities of showing "indifference to the tragedy of mass killings" by failing consult religious representatives."

    It's in the cards for woman religious who threw perfect pitch

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The perfect pitch Dominican Sister Mary Jo Sobieck threw prior to a Chicago White Sox game last summer not only went viral but is still out of the park. First, there was a bobblehead in her image and now, she has her own baseball card. Not bad for a theology teacher at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago. And in baseball terms, it's a double, because the money she gets for the cards goes directly to her school's scholarship program. Sister Mary Jo also gets to throw out the pregame pitch April 11 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis before the Cardinals' game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, which isn't bad for the sister who also happens to be a Cardinals' fan. According to news reports, the Twins rank at the top for the sister who grew up in Minnesota, followed next by the White Sox, but her favorite team in the National League is the Cardinals, whom she discovered and went to plenty of games to see, when she moved to Springfield, Illinois, to join the Dominican sisters there in the 1993. On April 8, she signed 260 limited-edition baseball cards bearing her image in the gym at Marian Catholic High School. The baseball card company, Topps, contacted her after her famous pitch last August and said a card picturing her would be perfect for their Allen & Ginter series, which also features pop culture icons and historical figures in its packs.

    At retreat for South Sudan leaders, pope literally begs for peace

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the end of a highly unusual spiritual retreat for the political leaders of warring factions, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy "fathers of the nation. As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let's go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid," he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting. You have begun a process, may it end well," he said. "There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place 'in the office' while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation. The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will," he said in his formal remarks April 11, closing the two-day retreat in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives. The retreat participants included South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation's five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in September, the vice presidents were to take office together May 12, sharing power and ending the armed conflict between clans and among communities.

    Foot-care ministry offers physical relief, friendship to the homeless

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Rodger placed his backpack next to a chair, sat down and unlaced worn-out shoes. "They told me there are going to be Epsom salts," he said, slowly taking off his socks. Dirt was visible behind each toenail. Some nails were gnarled. Rodger has long lived under a Portland bridge with his wife. This winter, after one foot became frostbitten and lost sensation, he unknowingly kicked a hot wood pellet from his fire. The foot was burned and developed an infection. "There still are tender spots," he told a nursing student as she placed a tub of warm, soapy water in front of him. It was a recent Wednesday morning and Rodger's first visit to the weekly foot-care ministry in the basement of St. Andre Bessette Church in downtown Portland. Here a team of nurses and volunteers tend to those who spend their days thinking about shelter and safety -- not what's best for their feet. "Foot care so often gets overlooked when it comes to the homeless, but it's a real need," said Holy Cross Brother Joe DeAgostino, pastoral associate of the parish. Near Rodger, a woman named Kat hung a cane over the arm of a chair before sitting down. She said she's exhausted from pushing multiple shopping carts -- containing all her belongings -- for several blocks. "This will feel good," she said, removing a shoe. Many guests at St. Andre to receive foot care have old or ill-fitting shoes, and Portland's soggy winter weather takes an additional toll on foot health.

    Philippine Catholic groups criticize Canadian agency for 'opaque' review

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- In a letter addressed to the Canadian bishops and the leaders of their Caritas affiliate, Development and Peace, prominent leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines and civil organizations criticized a moratorium on at least four Philippine associations suspected of "violating the social teachings of the church." The seven-page letter deplores that the investigation, conducted by an "opaque" committee that included staff of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and Development and Peace, was surrounded by secrecy. The four Philippine partners affected by the moratorium have never been told why Development and Peace is denying them financial support from its Lenten campaign. Philippine groups also have "no way to know the charges against them," said the signatories, upset that "the truth of the charges is determined by an opaque ad hoc committee. We regard this as deeply unfair and inconsistent with the partnership principles and practices to which D&P proudly declares itself adherent," said the letter, obtained by the French Canadian Catholic news agency Presence. Development and Peace's temporary moratorium, the letter added, is already affecting "peacebuilding, agrarian reform, urban shelter and community development work in the Philippines. For a distant and anonymous committee with no knowledge of our circumstances, our lived experiences, or the challenges facing us, to make summary and unilateral judgments of us at a time of growing authoritarianism is deeply dangerous," said the letter, noting that the Catholic Church has recently been threatened by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

    USCCB migration committee chair backs bills for 'Dreamers,' TPS holders

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops support efforts in Congress "to fully integrate hard-working 'Dreamers' and TPS holders" into the U.S., said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas. "We need a permanent legislative solution for those who have spent their lives contributing and living in the United States, the country they know as home," the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration said in a statement released late April 10. Bishop Vasquez endorsed two pieces of legislation under consideration in the Senate. The first is the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2019, or DREAM Act (S. 874). The name "Dreamers" is taken from the bill's title and refers to the young adults who were brought by their parents to the U.S. illegally as children and remain in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The second bill relates to TPS holders --TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status -- and those protected under Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED. The measure is the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression & Emergency Act of 2019, or the SECURE Act (S. 879). "Dreamers and TPS holders are vital members of our community who are going to school, working to make our communities better and raising families," Bishop Vasquez said.

    Update: Nicaraguan bishop to leave for Rome as threats against him increase

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Nicaraguan bishop said he will leave the country indefinitely as concerns for his security increase -- presumably the product of his criticisms of the Central American nation's president. Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez Ortega of Managua said April 10 he would travel to Rome -- at the request of Pope Francis -- after finishing Easter celebrations in Nicaragua, which has convulsed with violence for more than a year. Police and paramilitaries loyal to President Daniel Ortega have crushed protests calling for his ouster, and dissidents have been forced to flee the country. "I give thanks to Pope Francis, who, having confirmed my ministry and my style as bishop, has asked me to go to Rome for a period of time. I carry in my heart of a pastor the joy and sadness, the pain and hopes of the people of Nicaragua. Thank you all for your love!" Bishop Baez tweeted April 10. "I can tell you with total sincerity, at this time, I am experiencing great pain in my heart, the pain of not being able to be physically in my loved Nicaraguan community," Bishop Baez told a news conference April 10, according the newspaper La Prensa. "I have not asked to leave. The Holy Father called me." Bishop Baez had traveled to the Vatican April 1-8 and met privately with Pope Francis April 4. He said Pope Francis told him: "I'm interested in having you here with me, I need you right now. This decision of the Holy Father, which I have accepted with complete, loving obedience, has made my heart weep."

    Human trafficking is 'crime against humanity,' pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Human trafficking is a "crime against humanity," because it denies the human dignity of the victim, seeing him or her only as a piece of merchandise to be used to enrich or give pleasure to another, Pope Francis said. Human trafficking, "in its multiple forms, is a wound in the humanity of those who endure it and those who commit it," the pope said April 11, addressing the closing session of a Vatican conference. The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organized the conference April 8-11. The office brought together more than 200 bishops, priests, men and women religious, project coordinators, pastoral workers, representatives of Catholic organizations and foundations and trafficking experts from around the world to brainstorm and coordinate efforts to stop trafficking. "Trafficking," the pope said, is "an unjustifiable violation of the victims' freedom and dignity, which are integral dimensions of the human person willed and created by God. This is why it must be considered, without a doubt, a crime against humanity." Pope Francis praised women religious, in particular, but also all Catholics working to stop human trafficking and assist the victims. Before offering his blessing to conference participants, he prayed that God would "bless all the victims, console them, be close to the many who suffer from being despised, humiliated, commercialized."

    Update: Journalist surprised by bishops' support after controversial lawsuit

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a court ruled in favor of an archbishop's defamation lawsuit against him, Peruvian journalist Pedro Salinas said he was "pleasantly surprised" by a message of support from the country's bishops. Peruvian Archbishop Jose Eguren Anselmi of Piura won the case against Salinas April 8, but bishops in the country distanced themselves from the lawsuit and said the church needs the help of journalists and survivors of clergy sex abuse to overcome the current crisis. "The Holy Father has praised and thanked the world of journalists who, through their investigations, contribute to denouncing abuses, punishing the perpetrators and assisting victims. The pope underlined that the church needs their help in the difficult task of fighting against this evil," the Peruvian bishops' conference said in a statement April 10. In a message to Catholic News Service April 11, Salinas said he was surprised by the bishops' message "because it is unprecedented. We now know that someone (Archbishop Eguren) is going against the current guidelines established by Pope Francis," Salinas told CNS. "In soccer terms, we could say that the Sodalitium Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren of Piura was discovered in an offside position," he added. "An unforgivable offside, if you ask me."

    Update: Retired pope publishes reflection on abuse crisis

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledging his role in helping the Catholic Church come to terms with the clerical sexual abuse crisis beginning in the 1980s, wrote an article outlining his thoughts about what must be done now. Seeing the crisis as rooted in the "egregious event" of the cultural and sexual revolution in the Western world in the 1960s and a collapse of the existence and authority of absolute truth and God, the retired pope said the primary task at hand is to reassert the joyful truth of God's existence and of the church as holding the true deposit of faith. "When thinking about what action is required first and foremost, it is rather obvious that we do not need another church of our own design. Rather, what is required first and foremost is the renewal of the faith in the reality of Jesus Christ given to us in the Blessed Sacrament," he wrote. The pope's remarks, presented as a compilation of "some notes," were to be published in Klerusblatt, a German-language Catholic monthly journal for clergy in Bavaria. Several news outlets released their translations of the text early April 11. Pope Benedict added that he contacted Pope Francis and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, before releasing the article.

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  • Detroit Archdiocese launches new publication to build up discipleship

    DETROIT (CNS) -- The next phase of Catholic media is filling mailboxes across the Archdiocese of Detroit, and it's all part of a continuing mission to make and build up disciples of Jesus Christ. Starting this week, Unleash the Gospel Magazine, an all-new print periodical from the Archdiocese of Detroit, will be arriving at an estimated 90,000 homes across southeast Michigan. The magazine is the latest effort in the archdiocese's conversion from "maintenance to mission" in response to an archdiocesan synod in 2016 and Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's 2017 pastoral letter -- also called "Unleash the Gospel" -- which called for the archdiocese and its parishes, schools, ministries, families and individuals to rethink how they live their vocation as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Edmundo Reyes, director of communications for the archdiocese and executive editor for Unleash the Gospel Magazine, said the magazine's launch -- and the launch of a newly redesigned partner website at -- is part of the archdiocese's greater plan to form and equip Catholics to carry out the saving work of Jesus in bold and creative ways. "The new magazine is part of the way we want to engage with people in the archdiocese; it's part of a bigger plan," Reyes said. "Last year, we looked how we can best serve people in the archdiocese. We made a decision to create Detroit Catholic as a place to tell the stories of this missionary movement across the archdiocese in our parishes, schools and ministries." Detroit Catholic is the archdiocese's online news service and can be found at

    Catholic doctor gives medical view of Christ's passion, crucifixion

    DAVENPORT, Iowa (CNS) -- Jesus likely died from excessive blood loss, a Catholic surgeon said April 4 during a talk that examined the 18 hours of Christ's passion and crucifixion from a medical perspective. "Christ emptied himself," Dr. Timothy Millea told about 100 people at his home parish of St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport. "As a surgeon, two words that make our hair stand on end are 'bleeding out,'" he said. "If you can't stop it, you can't keep that patient alive." Millea, an orthopedic surgeon with offices in Iowa and Illinois, is president of a local chapter of the Catholic Medical Association for members in those two states. He said an adult male has about 1.5 gallons of blood and that the loss of 40 percent of that blood can lead to hypovolemic shock, a life-threatening condition. Jesus likely surpassed that threshold after repeated beatings through the night, an intense scourging at the hands of Roman soldiers that included wearing a crown of thorns and having nails driven through his upper wrists and feet. "Some people ask, did Jesus really die of physical factors, or did he -- as God -- say, 'OK, my work is done,'" said Millea. After taking his audience hour-by-hour through Jesus' physical and emotional suffering from the Agony in the Garden to his death on the cross, Millea countered that "how he lived this long is one of the biggest divine mysteries."

    Put needs of survivors first, not strictly the law, panelists urge church

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Amid the legal wrangling surrounding the long-standing clergy sexual abuse crisis, Barbara Thorp, a social worker who formerly led the Archdiocese of Boston's office that supports and cares for abuse survivors, wants Catholic leaders to know that healing among survivors is a far more important path to pursue. Greater transparency related to church procedures and changes in canon law to focus on the needs of victims will demonstrate that the church truly cares about survivors, Thorp said during an April 9 panel discussion on the role of civil law and the action of lawyers in hiding and uncovering the abuse crisis sponsored by Georgetown University's Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. Right now, Thorp told an audience at the Georgetown University Law Center, many survivors feel abandoned by the church, especially since new revelations of the church's response to alleged abuse and the actions of some prelates emerged in 2018. When the abuse crisis exploded in 2002, abuse survivors felt a sense a betrayal, Thorp said. As church actions since then in many cases have failed to fully address the needs of survivors, the survivors realize that canon law is preventing strict action to address wayward clergy, she said. Thorp credited changes in civil law and even some actions among church leaders that have led to greater transparency and steps to support the spiritual needs of abuse survivors. But she charged that canon law "is lagging far behind in terms of seeing itself as another opportunity to bring real healing and real confidence that the church understands the depth of the harm in the damage that was done."

    President of Franciscan University resigns; search underway for successor

    STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (CNS) -- Franciscan Father Sean O. Sheridan, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville since 2013, said that "after a great deal of prayer," he submitted his resignation to the university's board of trustees. "I feel called to continue my service to the Catholic Church in another capacity," he said in a statement released by the university April 8. He said his new assignment would be "determined in consultation" with the minister provincial of his religious order, the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular. "I will miss my brother friars, the extended Franciscan University family and the great community surrounding it, but this is an appropriate time for the board to initiate a search for a new president who will be available to welcome the incoming class this fall," Father Sheridan said. He submitted his resignation to the board of trustees April 5. The board accepted it and announced it will begin the search for its seventh president immediately. Father Sheridan said he would remain at Franciscan University until the end of the current academic year. University officials said they expect a new president will be in place by the beginning of the fall semester. "We are thankful for Father Sheridan's years of leadership and dedication throughout which he continued the Franciscan University tradition of exceptional education grounded in a passionately Catholic faith that enables our alumni to evangelize and transform the culture," said Franciscan Father Malachi Van Tassell, chairman of the board of trustees.

    Encore: Seeking Christ's face: Some believe hilltop shrine holds true relic

    MANOPPELLO, Italy (CNS) -- At the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manoppello, visitors see a transparent cloth encased between two glass panes within an ornate silver frame above the sanctuary's altar. Once light is shined on the cloth of byssus fiber, the image of a bearded man, eyes open and mouth seemingly taking a breath is revealed. Devotees of the Manoppello veil claim that it is "Veronica's Veil" and that it was secretly moved to the little hilltop town in Abruzzo on orders from Pope Clement VII to protect it following the Sack of Rome in 1527. Another image of Christ's face known as "Veronica's Veil" is displayed at St. Peter's Basilica on the fifth Sunday of Lent each year to bless pilgrims as they approach Holy Week. Although the traditional Stations of the Cross include "Veronica wipes the face of Jesus," none of the Gospels recount a woman wiping Jesus' face as he carries his cross to Calvary. A pious legend says Veronica later went to Rome to leave the relic with St. Clement, one of the early popes. However, German journalist Paul Badde is convinced that the veil displayed by the Vatican for the past 400 years is a copy and that the true veil is in Manoppello. "Every year on Passion Sunday, they show a hoax, I would say," Badde told Catholic News Service Jan. 14.

    Pakistani prime minister tells BBC Asia Bibi has not left for Canada

    KARACHI, Pakistan (CNS) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Asia Bibi remains in the country, negating speculation that she had already joined her family in Canada. Khan told the BBC in an interview published online April 10 that Bibi was still in Pakistan because there was "a little bit of a complication," which he declined to explain. "But I can assure you she is safe, and she will be leaving in weeks," Khan said during the interview, conducted in London. The Catholic mother of five had been on death row for blasphemy since 2010 and was held in solitary confinement for eight years, reported In a landmark judgment in November, the Supreme Court of Pakistan quashed her death sentence and ordered her immediate release from prison. The ruling sparked violent nationwide protests that came to an end only after the government agreed to stop Bibi from leaving Pakistan until a challenge to her acquittal was heard by the top court. On Jan. 29, the court upheld Bibi's acquittal, allowing her to exit Pakistan.

    Indiana conference gives Catholic women road maps to healing, wholeness

    MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. (CNS) -- For the second year in a row, nearly 600 women participated in the Northwest Indiana Catholic Women's Conference, organized by the Diocese of Gary. The program for the daylong event, held April 6 at Queen of All Saints Church, included three well-known Catholic authors, who offered personal testimony and theological instruction about how God leads people to wholeness. Sister Miriam James, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, who is the host of a show on Catholic radio and the author of "Loved as I Am," led the morning program by encouraging participants to surrender their suffering to God's healing grace. She said being honest with herself about her past wounds and surrendering them to God allowed her to recover from alcoholism and heal from child sexual abuse. "These were chapters I didn't want to own in my story and I just wanted them to go away. But there is a great saying in healing circles, 'Suffering that is not transformed is transmitted,'" Sister James said. "We all have these little parts of us that God is desiring to heal," she added. "There is nothing in my life and in your life that is outside the boundaries of the mercy and the healing of God."

    Uganda bans alcohol sales around martyrs shrine

    KAMPALA, Uganda (CNS) -- Authorities in Uganda have banned the sale of alcohol within 200 meters (220 yards) of the Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine outside Kampala. John Mukasa, a local government leader in Namugongo, where the Catholic shrine is located, said the decision was made after the discovery that many people who celebrate the feast of the Uganda Martyrs each June 3 ended up spending much of their time in bars and at the pork kiosks surrounding the shrine. The ban is year-round; bars more than 200 meters away can continue to serve alcohol. "Martyrs Day is meant to be a day for believers to pray in honor of Ugandan martyrs," Mukasa said. "But some people have been coming here to drink alcohol and eat pork without even going where the Mass is conducted. That has made us, together with the Catholic Church, ban sales of alcohol in the area surrounding the shrine." He said that sex workers have also been taking advantages of the bars to pick up men, especially in the night before the feast.

    Volunteer crew prepares oils to be blessed at chrism Mass in Indianapolis

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The annual chrism Mass to be celebrated April 16 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis will arguably be one of the most solemn and joyful moments of worship this year for the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana. Priests serving in the archdiocese will renew their ordination promises. And Archbishop Charles C. Thompson also will bless oils to be used in sacraments across the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Every celebration of baptism, confirmation, the anointing of the sick, priestly ordination, and church or altar dedication in the archdiocese in the coming year will involve oils blessed at this Mass, which is open to the public. The oils so joyfully and solemnly to be blessed at the chrism Mass were prepared by volunteers in a rather simple way at the cathedral rectory April 8. For 27 years, Christina Tuley, executive assistant in the archdiocesan Office of Worship, has overseen a crew of volunteers who annually pour more than 20 liters of olive oil into 750 small bottles and place lids and labels on them. One bottle of each of the three kinds of oils -- the oil of catechumens, the oil of the infirm and chrism oil -- are then put in small boxes. They are blessed during the chrism Mass and then distributed to Catholics taking part in the liturgy who take them back to their faith communities across central and southern Indiana.

    Bishop Duca celebrates special Way of Cross to 'heal this wound' of abuse

    BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- Where there is darkness, light shines; where there is despair, hope. Bishop Michael G. Duca celebrated a special Way of the Cross for reparation for the sin of sexual abuse within the church April 5 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge, offering grace to survivors and asking the church to accompany them on their journey of healing. "(Praying the Way of the Cross) was important because we need to heal this wound in the church in many different ways; through our policies. But also we need to always remember our deepest healing comes from our faith in Jesus Christ," the bishop said immediately following the service. "And the faith on the road to the resurrection is the road to the passion of Jesus, and we can see that in the passion he teaches us how to walk with suffering in the hope of the resurrection." He added, "I thought it was important to add this to our many ways we will grow and hopefully heal as a church." Following each of the 14 Stations of the Cross, Bishop Duca prayed a special prayer for sexual abuse victims. After the third station -- Jesus falls for the first time - Bishop Duca prayed "for all abuse victims falling under the heavy burden of anguish too heavy to carry, we pray with them in their pain, fear and confusion that they may have the endurance and receive the love that enables them to rise again."

    Update: Indian police charge bishop with repeatedly raping nun

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Indian police charged Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar with repeatedly raping a nun in her rural convent, with a charge sheet that is 2,000 pages long. The bishop was charged April 9 with wrongful confinement, rape of a woman incapable of giving consent, causing grievous bodily harm during rape, unnatural offense and criminal intimidation. He was charged in the predominantly Catholic state of Kerala, where the nun's convent is based. If found guilty, the bishop faces imprisonment of not less than 10 years or up to life in jail. reported the charge sheet also lists 83 witnesses, 40 of them Catholic leaders, including Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop and head of the Syro-Malabar Church. Three bishops -- Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai, Kurien Valiakandathil of Bhagalpur and Sebastian Vadakel of Ujjain -- and 25 Catholic nuns and 11 Catholic priests are also named as witnesses. Bishop Mulakkal was arrested Sept. 21 after a 48-year-old member of the Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation under the prelate, complained that he raped her multiple times between 2014 and 2016 while he was visiting her convent in Kerala. The bishop, who was in charge of the congregation, denied the allegations.

    Draft of new constitution for Curia reform ready for consultation

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A draft of the proposed apostolic constitution for reforming and governing the Roman Curia will soon be sent out to leaders of the world's bishops' conferences, religious orders and some pontifical universities for their observations and suggestions. The draft, which has been approved by Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals, will be subjected to this "consultative step" before it is once more amended and then given to the pope for his consideration, Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, told reporters April 10. The proposed apostolic constitution, provisionally titled "Praedicate Evangelium" ("Preach the Gospel") also will be sent to the synods of the Eastern Catholic churches, the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the conferences of major superiors of men and women religious and some pontifical universities. They will be asked to send observations and suggestions to the Council of Cardinals so that changes or additions can be made and a final draft be given to the pope by the end of 2019, Gisotti said. The Council of Cardinals, which has been advising the pope on the reform of the Curia and church governance in general, met at the Vatican April 8-10.

    Executions down globally, but up in U.S., says Amnesty International

    LONDON (CNS) -- The number of executions worldwide has dropped by almost one-third, Amnesty International said in its latest review of the death penalty. At least 690 people were executed globally in 20 countries in 2018, compared to 993 in the previous year, the organization said in the report released April 10. The statistics assess the use of the death penalty worldwide except in China, where the number of people executed each year is a state secret. The figures "show that the death penalty is firmly in decline, and that effective steps are being taken across the world to end the use of this cruel and inhuman punishment," it said. Amnesty International also recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 29 countries last year. While "global consensus is building towards ending the use" of the death penalty, "with more than 19,000 people still languishing on death row worldwide, the struggle is far from over," the organization said. Last August, Pope Francis ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which now says that "the church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,' and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide."

    Update: Faith leaders urge U.S. government to uphold religious liberty

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- More than 140 religious leaders, including the chairmen of three U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees, called on President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders to uphold principles of religious freedom following a series of attacks on people of faith, clergy and houses of worship. In an April 4 letter, the leaders urged Trump and the other U.S. leaders to recognize that "individuals of all faiths and none have equal dignity, worth and rights to religious freedom." The letter outlined an additional seven principles, among them affirmation that a person "is not more or less American because of his or her faith," confirming religious practice without fear of harm, and the unacceptability of "scapegoating, stereotyping and spreading false information" about any person or community. Among those signing the letter were Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. They are the chairmen of the committees for Religious Liberty, Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and International Justice and Peace, respectively. Besides Trump and Pence, the letter was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky; and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

    All are debtors before God's love, forgiveness, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone is "in debt" to God, who offers his infinite love and graces for free, Pope Francis said. "We have received so much: our existence, a father and a mother, friendships, the wonders of creation," the pope said April 10 during his weekly general audience in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square. "Even if difficult days happen to everyone, we must always remember that life is a grace, it is a miracle that God has pulled out of the blue." Continuing his audience talks about the Lord's Prayer, Pope Francis looked at how Jesus teaches people to ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Just as we need bread, we need forgiveness every day," he said. With the Lord's Prayer, he said, Christians ask that God forgive their "being in debt," which is the meaning behind the use of the word "trespasses" in the original Greek of the Gospel. Even "if we were perfect, even the purest of saints who never waver from a life of good, we are always children who owe everything to the Father," the pope said.

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