Vatican City, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - The Vatican saw an unusual sight this morning as 33 new Swiss guards, their family members and fellow corps members trooped into the audience chamber of the Holy Father to receive his words of inspiration. Benedict XVI thanked the attentive guards for showing their love of the Catholic faith through their service and told them that the Corps "is also a school of life."
The encounter with the Pope comes as the new guardsmen prepare to take the oath of allegiance tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.
In his talk to them, delivered in German, French and Italian, the Pope pointed out how, five centuries after the foundation of the Corps, "the spirit of faith remains unchanged which encourages young Swiss to leave their beautiful land to come and serve the Pope in the Vatican. The love for the Catholic Church remains the same", he said, "to which you bear witness, rather than with words, with your bodies which, thanks to the characteristic uniforms, are easily recognizable at the entrance to the Vatican and to pontifical audiences. Your historic uniforms speak ... of your commitment to serve God by serving the 'servant of His servants'."
The Swiss Guard, the Pontiff said, offers the soldiers the chance to cultivate this impulse of service to the faith. He also reminded them to take advantage of “the crucial presence of your chaplain. Be open, straightforward and loyal.”
The guardsmen must go beyond the external appearance of their uniformity, the Holy Father added. Instead the guards must learn to “appreciate the differences of personality and character that exist among you… because each one is a unique and irreplaceable person called by God to serve His Kingdom of love and peace," he said.
The Swiss Guard, said the Pope, "is also a school of life", and he explained to the recruits how during their time at the Vatican "many of your predecessors were able to discover their own vocation: to Christian marriage, to the priesthood, to consecrated life. This is a reason to praise God, but also to appreciate your Corps".
Benedict XVI parted with the guardsmen and their families by thanking all members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard for the "generosity and dedication with which you work in the service of the Pope. May the Lord reward you and fill you with abundant heavenly fruits".
The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a stable corps, directly dependant on the Holy See. Its main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces.
Vatican City, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - On Saturday, the Holy Father presided at the praying of the Rosary in the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major. He noted that when one prays the Marian prayer authentically, it brings peace and reconciliation.
Pope Benedict reflected on his experiences with the Rosary especially during May, the month of Mary. He recalled how evenings in May “evoke pleasant memories” of paying “homage to the Virgin Mary.” He also noted that “the holy Rosary is not some pious practice relegated to the past, a prayer of distant times to be thought of nostalgically. Indeed, the Rosary is experiencing what is almost a new springtime.”
The Rosary is especially needed today, because it “helps us to place Christ at the center, as did the Virgin who meditated upon everything that was said about her Son and upon what He Himself did and said. When we recite the Rosary we relive important monuments of the history of salvation, we again go over the various stages of Christ's mission. With Mary we turn our hearts to the mystery of Jesus."
The Holy Father called on the Blessed Mother to help us “welcome within ourselves the grace that emanates from these mysteries, so that through us this grace can 'irrigate' society, starting with our everyday relationships, purifying it from many negative forces and opening it to the novelty of God.”
The Pontiff added that the Marian prayer can bring healing to the world. "The Rosary, when it is prayed in an authentic manner - not mechanically and superficially, but profoundly - brings peace and reconciliation. It contains the healing power of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, invoked with faith and love at the heart of each Hail Mary."
Benedict XVI then called on those present to ensure they remained united to Mary during these days leading up to Pentecost, "invoking a renewed effusion of the Holy Spirit for the Church." In conclusion, he also entrusted them with "the most urgent intentions" of his ministry: "the needs of the Church, the great problems of humanity, peace in the world, the unity of Christians, and dialogue between cultures", as well as the pastoral objectives of the diocese of Rome.
Vatican City, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - The San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace will be filled on Tuesday evening with close to 100 of the Pope’s Swiss Guards decked out in their 16th century black, red, and yellow dress uniforms. The occasion for the guards’ en masse appearance is the oath swearing ceremony of 33 new recruits for the papal guard.
Accompanied by their families and friends, the new members will begin the day with a Mass at 7:30 a.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica, celebrated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. This will be followed by a military decoration ceremony led by Archbishop Fernando Filoni and the placing of a laurel wreath at the monument honoring the fallen members of the corps.
At 5 p.m. in the evening, the Swiss Guard will assemble for the oath of fidelity, which will be taken by the 33 new guardsmen. Present for the ceremony will be members of the Roman Curia, diplomatic representatives and civil and religious authorities from Switzerland.
The oath will be taken by 20 of the recruits in German, 11 in French, one in Italian and one in Romansch.
The date on which the ceremony is taking place is significant to the history of the Swiss Guard. May 6, 1527 marks the day that 147 members of the Swiss Guards lost their lives protecting Pope Clement VII during the famous sack of Rome by the troops of Emperor Charles V.
To become a guard, one must be a Swiss Catholic male under the age of 30, unmarried, over 5 feet 8 inches in height and have a professional diploma or high school degree. The candidate must have attended Swiss military school. Guards live inside Vatican City in quarters situated at the foot of the Palace of Sixtus V. The minimum term of service is two years and one month.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded in 1505 when Cardinal Matthaeus Schinner arranged an agreement between Pope Julius II and the two Swiss cantons of Zurich and Lucerne. The main duties of the corps are to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces.
Rome, Italy, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - On Sunday during a Mass celebrated in the town of Laus in the French Alps, Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco of Gap, accompanied by numerous cardinals and archbishops from around the world, announced the official approval of the Church of the Marian apparitions to Benôite (Benedicta) Rencurel between 1664 and 1718.
During the Mass, attended by Roman Curia officials including Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, Bishop de Falco noted these are the first Marian apparitions to be approved in the 21st century by the Vatican and the Church in France. He called it the most singular event to take place in France since the apparitions of Lourdes in 1862.
“I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine,” the bishop said.
“Nobody is obliged to believe in apparitions,” he continued, “even in those officially recognized, but if they help us in our faith and our daily lives, why should we reject them?” he asked. Bishop de Falco’s comment was apparently aimed at the French Communist Party, which last week described the announcement of the ceremony as “a marketing ploy of the Church” and denounced the presence of French government officials at the ceremony as a “violation of the separation of church and state.”
The shrine of Our Lady of Laus attracts some 120,000 pilgrims each year. The Catholic philosopher Jean Guitton called it “one of the most hidden and powerful shrines of Europe.”
Our Lady’s message
Benedicta Rencurel was born on September 16, 1647 in Saint-Étienne d'Avançon (in the southern French Alps), and suffered the death of her father when she was 7 years-old. She never learned to read or write and her only education came from the homilies at Sunday Mass.
One day in May of 1664, Benedicta was caring for the animals of some neighbors and praying the rosary when she saw a dazzling lady standing on a rock, holding a beautiful child in her arms. “Beautiful Lady!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing up there? Do you want to eat with me? I have some good bread which we can soften up at the fountain.” The girl’s simplicity brought a smile to the Lady’s face, but she said nothing. “Beautiful Lady! Could you give us that child? He would make us so happy.” The Lady smiled again without responding. After remaining a few minutes with Benedicta, she took the child in her arms and disappeared into a cave.
For four months, the Lady appeared to Benedicta every day, talking to her and preparing her for her future mission. Benedicta told the woman who owned the flock that she cared for about the visions, but she did not believe her. One day, however, the woman secretly followed her to the Fours valley. She didn’t see the vision, but she did hear Mary’s voice, who told Benedicta to warn her that her soul was in danger. “She has something on her conscience,” Mary said. “Tell her to do penance.” The woman was deeply moved by the message, returned to the sacraments and lived piously for the rest of her days.
On August 29, Benedicta asked the Lady what her name was. She replied, “My name is Mary.”
During the winter of 1664-1665, Benedicta went up to Laus frequently, each time receiving a vision of the Blessed Mother, who told her to “pray continuously for sinners.” News of the apparitions spread throughout the entire region.
On September 18, 1665, when Benedicta was 18 years old, the apparitions were officially recognized by the diocese and that fall, construction began on a small church to receive the hundreds of pilgrims coming to visit.
Mary revealed herself in Laus as the reconciler and refuge of sinners, and therefore she offered signs to convince them of the need to repent. She told Benedicta that the oil from the sanctuary lamp would work miracles with the infirm if they received the anointing with faith in her intercession.
Benedicta took the mission she received from Mary seriously and dedicated herself to preparing sinners to receive the sacrament of Penance. She encouraged the two priests at the shrine to receive penitents with charity and kindness in order to help them convert.
Mary asked Benedicta to admonish women and girls about living lives of scandal, especially those who commit abortion, the unjust wealthy and the perverse. She also encouraged priests and religious to be faithful to their vows.
Between 1669 and 1679, Benedicta received five visions of the suffering Christ. On a Friday in July of 1673, the suffering Jesus told her: “My daughter, I show myself in this state so that you can participate in my Passion.” After more than two decades of suffering and continual apparitions of the Blessed Mother, Benedicta received Communion on Christmas Day 1718. Three days later she made a confession, received the last rites and around 8p.m. said goodbye to those around her. Benedicts then kissed a crucifix and passed away peacefully.
Today the shrine is run by diocesan clergy with the assistance of a community of the Brothers of St. John who are dedicated to promoting the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic magazine “Cristo Hoy” in Argentina has published an article on a mother who entrusted her daughter to the intercession of Our Lady of Lujan once she was diagnosed with an incurable disease before she was born. The little girl, Lujan, is now three years-old and living a normal life.
Marcela is an eye doctor and mother of three. During the eighth month of her last pregnancy, doctors found her baby to be suffering from anencephaly, a condition in which the brain does not develop normally. Marcela was told her child would die within days of being born.
“When I was being taken into the delivery room, I prayed to the Virgin of Lujan and decided to name my daughter after her and place her into her hands. The Virgin of Lujan appeared in my mind and my heart during those difficult moments and I fervently prayed for my child to her. Thanks to her, I have my daughter with me today and she is just like any other girl her age, smiling and loving those whom she meets. According to the doctors she has a deficient nervous system, but she is nonetheless a normal girl,” Marcela said.
Little Lujan’s case continues to be inexplicable to the doctors who treated her. “They cannot explain the extraordinary improvement of our daughter. Today she is a normal girl except for hemiparesis on her left side,” her mother said.
She said her daughter’s illness has made her family appreciate life more. “I thank God every day of my life for the miracle He did with my daughter,” she said.
“When faced with the blunt reality of a developing baby with problems, everything around comes crashing down, hope fades, negative thoughts take hold, because of how fragile these little people seem to be. But you need to pray for a lot of strength, have hope and through prayer try to overcome this difficult moment,” Marcela stated.
“My message to everybody is that miracles do exist and that God is always with us,” she added. “I can testify to this because I experienced it. I hope that by telling my story I can help others with their faith,” she said.
Mexico City, Mexico, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - Two unknown men killed 33 year-old Father Julio Cesar Mendoza, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, on May 1 in Mexico City.
According to the Mexico City Justice Department, the two men entered the church on the evening of May 1 and tied up Father Mendoza. They beat him and then fired a shot into his head, leaving him wounded in the bathroom before they left.
Paramedics arrived minutes later and found the priest still alive. He was taken to a local hospital where he died the following morning.
Police said an investigation is underway and that a motive has yet to be determined for the crime. They ruled out robbery as no objects of value were missing from the church.
Upon learning of the priest’s death, nearby residents of the church gathered outside to demand justice for those responsible.
Seville, Spain, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - The archbishop of Seville, Cardinal Carlos Amigo Vallejo, said last week that “from a moral point of view,” Catholics cannot neglect their obligation to economically support the Church, “and much less so for reasons that are not serious.”
During a press conference on the Archdiocese of Seville’s financial report for 2007, the cardinal explained the moral obligation of all Catholics to contribute financially to the Church.
He called on the faithful not to fall in to the “irresponsibility” of not designating the 0.7% of their income to the Church on their tax returns because they don’t like their pastor or because their parish has changed Mass times. Such reasons for not contributing would be “unacceptable,” he said.
Cardinal Amigo said the Archdiocese of Seville is facing a “worrisome” economic situation that will require a greater effort to meet the financial challenges of the Church’s commitment to the poor and the needy. Last year the archdiocese gave $7.5 million to Caritas for work with the poor.
Valencia, Fla., May 5, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Institute for Family Policy, Eduardo Hertfelder, defended the “irreplaceable” educational role of the family amidst the scarcity of public assistance it receives and the “attempts to implement Stalinist educational models.”
Hertfelder, who was participating at the first International Congress on Catholic Education for the 21st Century, organized by the Catholic University of Valencia, said the current government’s policy implies “deconstruction” as it seeks the “implementation of regressive laws on the family, life and education.”
According to the AVANA news agency, Hertfelder denounced the Spanish government for using legislative action as “a key, irreversible instrument” to allow the state to “grant rights, when man has them by his very nature.”
Hertfelder also criticized the elimination of all moral references besides the State, which takes upon itself the determination of “what is good and what is bad” and argues that “whatever is legal is good,” in reference to abortion, cloning and so-called “gay marriage.” For this reason, the state sees as its main obstacle “the Catholic Church, as a moral guide, and the family, as the principal conveyor of the values it seeks to eliminate,” Hertfelder warned.’’
“It is in the heart of the family where people are born and develop, where we receive care and protection, where we find models, where we live the values that allow us to grow as persons,” he added.
Hertfelder called on officials to “recognize the rights of parents to educate their children, that parents are their primary educators, that the family is the ideal place for the development of persons, and that measures that favor parents in their role as educators should be implemented.”
Washington D.C., May 5, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl has expanded his previous comments about politicians who support permissive abortion laws but also present themselves to receive Holy Communion. Though he insisted that support for abortion is wrong, he said that convincing and persuading national Catholic pro-abortion political figures is best done in their respective home dioceses, rather than in the Archdiocese of Washington.
Writing in his archdiocesan newspaper The Catholic Standard, Archbishop Wuerl said that both Catholic citizens and Catholic politicians must follow Catholic moral convictions.
“Just as Catholic voters are not asked to leave aside the most deeply held moral convictions of our faith when they enter a voting booth, so Catholic elected officials are not asked to deposit the moral and ethical convictions of the Church at the door of Congress or at the State Assembly where they serve,” he wrote.
The archbishop reiterated Catholic teaching on abortion, saying, “The teaching is clear. Abortion and support for abortion are wrong. No informed Catholic can claim that either action is free of moral implications, and certainly no one should be led to believe, because of someone else's voting record, that this teaching about abortion is uncertain.”
The archbishop said Catholics’ political actions must be based on the natural moral law and respect for “the most basic of all human rights,” the right to life.
Archbishop Wuerl said that he, along with priests and bishops nationwide, has taught “with persistence and insistence” that abortion is an intrinsic evil. He noted that the Archdiocese of Washington sponsors a Mass and Rally for Life each January.
He characterized as an “altogether different yet related issue” how to respond to public officeholders who support abortion legislation. He said that a June 2004 statement from the Catholic bishops of the United States titled “Catholics in Political Life” taught that the responsibility to assess the situation and to apply canon law within a bishop’s own diocese “clearly rests with the individual bishop.”
“Bishops may arrive at different conclusions based on their local situations,” Archbishop Wuerl said. The U.S. bishops’ document, he noted, was confirmed in 2004 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is now Pope Benedict XVI.
While emphasizing that the archdiocese would continue to teach about the “evil of abortion,” he said that national political figures must be persuaded and convinced in their home dioceses.
“A decision regarding the refusal of Holy Communion to an individual is one that should be made only after clear efforts to persuade and convince the person that their actions are wrong and bear moral consequences,” the archbishop said. “Presumably this is done in the home diocese where the bishops and priests, the pastors of souls, engage the members of their flock in this type of discussion. In the case of public figures who serve in Washington as representatives of other parts of the nation, this dialogue and any decisions would take place within their home diocese.”
Archbishop Wuerl said he had always respected the “role of the local Church.” For that reason, he wrote, “I have not accepted the suggestions that the Archdiocese of Washington or episcopal conferences have some particular role that supersedes the authority of an individual bishop in his particular Church.”
, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - Relief agencies are pleading for government cooperation in response to the devastating cyclone in Myanmar that has killed almost 4,000 people, leaving thousands missing and hundreds of thousands homeless. According to diplomats who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press, Foreign Minister Nyan Win said at a closed-door briefing that the death toll could rise to more than 10,000.
On Saturday Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian country with wind speeds nearing 120 miles per hour. A radio station in the capital city Naypyitaw said that 2,879 people are unaccounted for in a single town, Bogalay, which is located in the low-lying Irrawaddy River delta where the storm was most damaging.
The Associated Press reports that the cyclone blew roofs off of hospitals and schools and cut electricity in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. Citizens have lined up to buy candles and water. The failure of electric water pumps has left most households dry.
The ruling military junta of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, has spurned the international community for decades. It appealed for aid on Monday, but the U.S. State Department said Myanmar’s government had not granted permission for a Disaster Assistance Response Team to enter the country.
According to Matthew Cochrane at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Geneva headquarters, volunteers are already distributing some basic items. However, a Red Cross official in Bangkok said widespread destruction is hindering the distribution of aid.
The World Food Program has pre-positioned 500 tons of food in Yangon and plans to bring in more relief supplies, according to the Associated Press.
The Caritas network of Catholic aid agencies has informed CNA that it is coordinating relief efforts for its 162 national organizations and is working with staff in the region.
Caritas Internationalis Emergency Response Team Leader Dolores Halpin-Bachmann said in an e-mail that, “There is an urgent need for access to aid workers to the affected areas so that we can assess the damage, start to provide food, shelter, clean water, and medical assistance. Myanmar is a poor country and will most likely need international help to respond to a disaster on this scale.”
“We’ve only been receiving sketchy reports, but they’re enough to make us concerned about the humanitarian situation. Nagris hit a major city with a population of five million people. In that environment, we know how important it is for people to get access to clean water to stop the spread of disease.”
Halpin-Bachmann said that the first few days are “crucial” for saving lives. After the great Asia tsunami disaster in 2004, she said, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved because of “rapid and effective response” from the humanitarian community in its early stages.
“The government must do all it can to help aid workers respond,” she said.
The Myanmar government has indicated that a planned referendum on the country’s draft constitution would proceed as scheduled on May 10, though officials have said the vote could be delayed by “a few days” in the worst hit areas. Pro-democracy groups and international critics claim the proposed constitution is only a means for the ruling junta to give the appearance of democracy.
Ankara, Turkey, May 5, 2008 (CNA) - Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II, is applying for Polish citizenship because, he says, he wants to live in the country of the late Pope, his “spiritual brother.”
Agca shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 13, 1981. The Pope met with Agca in an Italian prison two years later and forgave him for the attack.
Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for the shooting and is presently serving a prison term in Turkey for killing a prominent journalist in Turkey in 1979. Though his motives are unclear, Agca belonged to the Grey Wolves, a Turkish extremist organization involved in political murders in the late 1970s. He is due to be released in 2010.
According to the Associated Press, Agca has addressed a petition to Poland’s Catholic president Lech Kaczynski, who has the power to grant or revoke Polish citizenship.
In his petition Agca said, “I shall be proud of becoming a member of the noble Polish nation, if my request to be granted Polish citizenship is accepted."
"I am not a stranger to your country because the national hero of Poland, Pope Karol Wojtyla, is my spiritual brother," he said, referring to Pope John Paul II by his birth name.
Agca’s lawyer, Haci Ali Ozhan, told the Associated Press that Agca wants to be transferred to a prison in Poland to serve the remainder of his sentence.
"He has chosen Poland because it is country of the Pope," Ozhan said. "Because the Pope forgave him and paid close attention to him, we believe that the application will be accepted."
Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said the chances Agca would obtain citizenship are “minimal,” because he has not provided any “good service” to Poland.
"The condition for according Polish citizenship is residence in Poland for at least five years, prior to applying," Paszkowski said. "I think that at least from this formal point of view the chances for Ali Agca receiving Polish citizenship are minimal."