Omaha, Neb., Apr 6, 2008 (CNA) - He went from being a lost teenager who was heavily into partying, drinking and smoking marijuana to a charismatic member of a religious order serving the poor in Ireland.
Brother Martin Ervin's story of conversion is unique, but not uncommon, he said, because God changes lives every day.
The youngest of 10 children to Frank and Loretta Ervin of Omaha, Brother Martin, whose birth name was Stephen, grew up in a Catholic family where Sunday Mass and devotions to Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus were part of life. For a little while, he attended St. Margaret Mary School before graduating from Central High School.
But after struggling for several years with dyslexia, he developed a low self-esteem and a lack of motivation.
"I stopped searching to be popular in the way of being top in the class and the best at sports and I started to look for friends who would accept me in the way of being an odd person because I thought I was odd," he told the Catholic Voice during a visit to Omaha in February.
He made friends with people in the punk rock scene and eventually became the lead singer of a local punk rock band.
When he was young, the l3-year-old Ervin and his sister started lying to their parents about going to Sunday Mass. Instead they went to McDonalds.
"I didn't understand the Mass and I didn't even know what was happening when the priest said the prayers over the bread and wine and that the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Jesus," Brother Martin said.
"Because I stopped receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus, I stopped receiving that life of God within me," he said. "I stopped going to confession and I didn't have an understanding of what the church teaches about the commandments."
He said he started choosing other things, like drinking and partying, to fill up the emptiness he felt by pushing God out of his life.
Brother Martin spent eight years in this lifestyle during which time he distanced himself from his family.
Family helps him
But he says it was his family that helped him return to Christ.
When he was 18, Brother Martin began working as a janitor in his older brother's photography studio. During the workday, his brother, Bob, who was going through his own conversion at the time, slowly began talking to him about the Scriptures, Eucharist, sacraments and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
At first he was uncomfortable with the conversations, but Brother Martin said he was grateful for his brother's guidance.
"Every day I went to work I realized it wasn't just going to be mopping floors. I was going to be taught a lesson," he said. "Some were tough lessons, but that was good because he was being honest and willing to really try and pull me out of the darkness I was living in. He was helping me see that there's more than just my own selfish life."
Slowly Brother Martin began to change his ways. He started to pray, visited with a priest, went to confession and attended Sunday Mass. He also started being more vocal about his faith to his friends, and stopped drinking and doing drugs.
Bob Ervin calls his brother's conversion and vocation to the religious life a "miracle."
"I'm really proud of him," he said, adding that he believes the struggles his brother experienced were necessary for him to be the kind of person he is today. "He's very charismatic. It's just an absolute miracle."
One day in the office, Brother Martin overheard his brother talking about vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and he said he felt something stir within him.
"As I was standing there, all of the sudden this little fire kind of burst in my heart and I felt myself say inside my heart, 'You're going to do that someday,'" he said.
Bob Ervin credits the Holy Spirit with inspiring his brother.
"I don't think I was on a mission to change him at all. It was the Holy Spirit. That's the thing about living the Catholic faith - if you actually live it, you can't really predict what's going to happen with it," he said.
"I do remember one talk we had when he told me he was thinking about his vocation. We talked for like four hours about how awesome it is to live with Christ."
Brother Martin started watching the Catholic television station, EWTN, and came across Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, with whom he immediately felt a connection.
"All the things he was talking about were confirming all the desires that I had in my soul," he said. "He talked about the community and the work with the poor and living a radical life for Christ and the need to reform our lives. I just thought it was incredible."
Although he explored the diocesan priesthood, Brother Martin felt called to Father Groeschel's order, especially after he visited the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal's headquarters in the Bronx in 1994. He joined the order as a religious brother in 1995.
"I'm a bridge to the priesthood in a way because sometimes people need someone to talk to before they go to confession or before they go back to Mass or they enter marriage," he said. "They're looking for someone to help them see that right path to walk on."
As a Franciscan, Brother Martin prays seven times a day, goes to daily Mass and prays in front of the Eucharist for an hour every day. He also works with the poor, prays peacefully outside abortion clinics, and evangelizes through retreats and street ministry.
Brother Martin spent eight years in the Bronx before moving to a mission house in London. Five months ago he was sent to help start a mission house in Ireland.
"Being in the community has been a blessing. It's not without its challenges. My brother, Bob, helped me realize that life is not just a one moment thing, but it's a daily conversion, it's a daily change and sometimes we fall back and then we have to get back up again. That's why we have the name in our community and I'm realizing that more and more. Every day we have to renew ourselves in Jesus and get back up again, sometimes 100 times a day and start over."
Printed with permission from the Catholic Voice.
Florence, Italy, Apr 6, 2008 (CNA) - A priest in Florence is being investigated for fraud after allegedly earning millions by performing fake exorcisms, the Telegraph reports.
Prosecutors alleged that Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi would “stage shows” before crowds of more than 400 people at the House of the Sainted Archangels, an organization he founded.
According to prosecutors, the priest’s associates would “pretend to be possessed by demons” and Father Bazzoffi would allegedly exorcise them using obscure rites.
The priest would then offer to heal members of the audience who were sick and solicit donations to his organization.
“During Mass, the priest spoke in Aramaic, and strange things happened. I do not know if it was group hysteria or our suggestibility, but I remember one old woman screaming in a man's voice while five big guys held her down,” one witness told police, according to the Telegraph.
Thirteen of the priest’s associates are also under investigation. Prosecutors began monitoring Father Bazzoffi in 2005, and his house was raided last month. Seized documents showed the priest had nearly $6 million in his bank account.
Father Bazzoffi heads the matrimony office of the diocese of Florence. Last October the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, publicly cautioned the priest against performing exorcisms.
“I would like to make clear the following: any sort of special rite of benediction, such as the laying on of hands, is forbidden. Exorcisms are also prohibited,” the cardinal wrote in his letter. A priest must be authorized by the diocese to carry out an exorcism.
Father Bazzoffi denied the accusations, though he admitted he did not have permission to perform exorcisms. “I have always only carried out blessings,” he said, according to the Telegraph. He said he “welcomed” the cardinal’s warning, since “it showed that work like mine can trigger suspicion.”
The priest also denied he had ever encouraged sick people to believe he could heal them. “These accusations would make me laugh, if it was not such a serious thing,” he said.
He said his organization, being an unregistered business, did not have a bank account, so he opened an account in his own name. He claimed the money is made up of “lots of small donations,” saying 30,000 people visit every year.
“The police should be able to see that the money always goes out to our projects in India and the Philippines,” Father Bazzoffi said.
, Apr 6, 2008 (CNA) - Administrators at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health blocked the word “abortion” as a search term in a public health database after the office of a U.S. agency complained about two abortion-related articles in the database, Wired.com reports.
A spokesperson for the government office that lodged the complaint said the block resulted from a misunderstanding.
Tim Parsons, a spokesman for the Maryland school, said, "The items in question had to do with abortion advocacy -- the two items dealing with abortion were removed following this inquiry, and the administrators made a decision to restrict abortion as a search term."
The PopLine search site is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a federal office in charge of providing foreign aid, including health care funding, to developing nations.
Bush administration policy denies funding to non-governmental organizations that perform abortions or “actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.”
Sandra Jordan, director of communications in USAID’s office of population and reproductive health, was unable to identify the two documents that had prompted the complaint. However, she did say the publications were biased in favor of abortion rights.
Jordan said that the office’s request had been misunderstood, saying database administrators blocked the word “abortion” on their own.
"We're glad they're restoring the search function to the site -- the studies and statistical information are certainly important information to family planning," she said, according to Wired.com.
A search on “abortion” produced nearly 25,000 results from the database, but a search on Thursday resulted in the message “No records found by latest query.”
The school’s dean said in a Friday statement that he would launch an inquiry to determine why the change occurred.
Vatican City, Apr 6, 2008 (CNA) - The road to Emmaus “is the path of renewal and maturation in faith for all Christians,” Pope Benedict told the many thousands of pilgrims that packed St Peter's Square for the Regina Caeli Prayer today at noon.
The Gospel of this Sunday - the third Easter - is the famous story told of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24,13-35). It tells of two followers of Christ who, sad and disheartened, left Jerusalem the day after the Sabbath, the third since his death, to go to a nearby village called Emmaus.
Along the road, the risen Jesus came up beside them, but they did not recognize him. Sensing their dejection, he explained on the basis of the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and die to achieve glory. Then he entered a house with them, sat down at table, blessed the bread and broke it, and then they recognized him. But he vanished from their sight, leaving them full of wonder before the broken bread, a new sign of his presence.
The two immediately returned to Jerusalem and told the other disciples what happened.
The fact that archaeologists have not identified the location of Emmaus with any certainty, Benedict said, holds for him a certain value: it "suggests that Emmaus is really everywhere, the road that leads there is the path of every Christian, indeed, every human being."
On our own journeys, the risen Jesus is a traveling companion who "rekindles in our hearts the warmth of faith and hope and the breaking of the bread of eternal life."
Pope Benedict commented that the disciples' encounter with Christ on the Road to Emmaus manifests a crisis of faith. The use of the past tense by one of the unknown disciples says it all: "We hoped, we believed, we followed…but now everything, even Jesus of Nazareth, who had shown Himself to be a prophet mighty in deed and word, even he failed, and we were left disappointed."
"Who has not experienced in life a moment like this?" he said. “Sometimes our faith enters into a crisis, which, because of negative experiences, makes us feel abandoned and betrayed by the Lord. But the story of Emmaus suggests instead that it is possible to encounter the risen Jesus "still today". Departing from his prepared text, the Holy Father repeated,
"Still today, Jesus speaks to us in the Scripture; still today Jesus gives us his Body and his Blood".
“The road to Emmaus becomes the way of a purification and maturation of our belief in God: the encounter with the risen Christ gives us a deeper faith, one that is authentic, tempered, so to speak, through the fire of Easter, a faith robust because it is from the word of God and the Eucharist, not human ideas.”
Concluding his reflection on the Gospel, Pope Benedict said, "This beautiful evangelical text already contains the structure of the Mass: in the first part listening to the Word through the Scriptures; second in the Eucharistic liturgy and communion with Christ present in the sacrament of his Body and his Blood. Nourishing ourselves in this twofold meal, the Church builds itself up and is renewed every day in faith, hope and charity.”
“Through the intercession of Mary, we pray that each and every Christian community, reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus, rediscover the transforming grace of the risen Lord.”
After the Regina Caeli prayer, Pope Benedict greeted some 10,000 participants of the First World Congress for Divine Mercy which concluded today with Mass in St. Peter's Basilica presided over by Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. "To all the participants", the Pope said, "I extend my cordial greeting, which now becomes an assignment: go and be witnesses of the mercy of God, the spring of hope for every man and for the entire world. Made the risen Lord be with you always!"
Phoenix, Ariz., Apr 6, 2008 (CNA) - The Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference, in a statement released Friday, denounced Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano’s veto of legislation that would have banned partial birth abortion in Arizona.
The veto came despite significant medical evidence that partial birth abortions are never medically necessary. The legislature was entitled to make a constitutionally correct judgment in banning a particularly gruesome procedure that blurs the line between abortion and infanticide.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, who is also the Apostolic Administrator of Gallup, NM, and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson said in the statement, “Even though there is a federal law banning partial birth abortion, a state ban would have allowed Arizona prosecutors to enforce such a ban without having to rely on the federal government.”
The full text of the statement from the Arizona Catholic Conference Bishops is available at www.azcatholicconference.org.