CNA STAFF, Oct 4, 2009 (CNA) - St. Francis of Assisi, "the little beggar," whose feast is celebrated on October 4, is perhaps the most popular saint in history. Born to noble parents in Umbria, Italy in 1182, Francis grew up in relative luxury and was an avid pleasure seeker leading a frivolous life. Despite his high living, however, he was always generous with the poor.
Francis went off to war seeking glory and was captured in battle and held captive for over a year. On returning home, he continued to long for glory and went to war yet again. However, along the way he fell ill with a fever, and having already realized the emptiness of his life, he turned back to Assisi following a dream in which Christ instructed him to do so.
His attitude on returning home was less exuberant. He spent time with his friends but his heart and mind were distant. He had begun to fall in love with ‘lady poverty.’
One day, while on horseback, Francis unexpectedly drew near a poor leper, a sight which filled him with disgust and repulsion. Instead of turning away, he made an effort to fight against his discomfort and he dismounted his horse, embraced the man and gave him all he had.
Later, while praying in the church of San Damiano, he heard the Lord tell him, "Repair my Church." Francis took it literally and began to live in a ruined Church and rebuild it. Soon, after the town had mocked him for giving away his inheritance and selling his father’s cloth in order to pay for materials, the sons of many of the noble families in the town began to also give away everything and join him. These were the beginnings of the Franciscan order.
In 1212, moved by a sermon he preached, Clare of Assisi, a young noblewoman asked to join him and Francis and Clare founded the Poor Clares, a parallel woman’s order.
In 1224 St. Francis became the first person recorded to receive the stigmata – the wounds of Christ – which he bore for two years until his death in 1226, at the age of 44.
St. Francis was canonized in 1228.
Vatican City, Oct 4, 2009 (CNA) - Over two hundred bishops and dozens of experts and observers are gathering in Vatican City today for the Second Special Assembly for Africa, where they will discuss the continent’s evangelization as well as food security and the situation in Darfur.
The assembly’s theme is related to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa.” That document collected the results of the First Special Assembly for Africa held in 1994. The first assembly had as its theme the Church in Africa and her “evangelizing mission towards the year 2000.”
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, speaking on Friday at a Holy See Press Office briefing for journalists, explained that the Church in Africa is “very dynamic.” He reported that the number of African Catholics increased from 55 million to 146 million between 1978 and 2007.
“Vocations to the priesthood and the religious life also saw a notable growth in numbers,” he said.
The archbishop also lamented that 521 pastoral workers have been killed in Africa between 1994 and 2008.
The Second Special Assembly will take place Oct. 4 to Oct. 25. It will be attended by 244 Synod Fathers, of whom 228 are bishops. A reported 197 of the Synod Fathers are from Africa while 34 are from Europe, ten are from the Americas, and the rest from Asia and Oceania.
“Fraternal delegates,” representatives of six other Churches and ecclesial communities with a significant presence in Africa, will also attend. Another 29 experts and 49 observers will participate in the event.
Archbishop Eterovic listed three “special guests” invited by Pope Benedict: Patriarch Abuna Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; Rudolf Adada, former head of the Joint U.N./African Union Peacekeeping Mission for Darfur; and Jacques Diouf, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Patriarch Abuna will take part in the synod’s Third General Congregation. Adada will speak about the efforts for peace in Darfur while Diouf will discuss FAO efforts to ensure food security for Africa.
Concord, N.H., Oct 4, 2009 (CNA) - A federal judge in New Hampshire has thrown out an atheist activist’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in Hanover, New Hampshire public schools. He reasoned that the Pledge is voluntary and is not a prayer.
Activist Michael Newdow’s suit was dismissed by Judge Steven McAuliffe in response to a motion of Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The motion was filed on behalf of three Hanover families and the Knights of Columbus, the Becket Fund reports.
The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, led the effort to add the phrase “under God” to the Pledge 55 years ago.
The Becket Fund argued that the phrase conveys a foundational idea in American law and political philosophy: that human rights are inalienable and that the power of the state is limited because those rights exist prior to the state and come from a source beyond it.
The same argument was made to the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar lawsuit also brought by Newdow. The decision in that case is still pending.
“Judge McAuliffe couldn’t have gotten it more right when he said that the Pledge is not a prayer – it is an ‘affirmation of adherence to the principles for which the Nation stands.’ And one of those principles is that our inalienable rights are not created by the State but endowed by a Creator,” said Becket Fund president Kevin “Seamus” Hasson.
Vatican City, Oct 4, 2009 (CNA) - In St. Peter’s Basilica, during Sunday’s Opening Mass for the Synod of African Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI preached holiness as a means to societal reconciliation and peace. The Holy Father also called for a new evangelization of Africa, highlighting the primacy of God, marriage and protecting children from violence as the areas most in need of the Gospel.
Benedict XVI, who visited Cameron and Angola in March of this year, began by stating the unity between this Synod and the first one opened in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.
This “spiritual lung” that is Africa risks two “dangerous diseases,” he warned. "First, a disease that has spread throughout the Western world, namely practical materialism, combined with relativistic and nihilistic thinking.” The second, he said, is “religious fundamentalism. Mixed with political and economic interests, groups claiming different religious affiliations are spreading in Africa.”
For Pope Benedict, the work of the Synod must focus on two themes: marriage and children.
"Marriage as the Bible presents it, does not exist outside of our relationship with God,” he said. "To the extent that it preserves and develops its faith, Africa can find huge resources to donate to the benefit of the family founded on marriage."
The Synod, the Pope advised, should pay attention to "the reality of childhood, which is a large and unfortunately suffering part of the African population." The Church in Africa, he said, "manifests her own motherhood towards the smallest children, even those not yet born, for as the Lord Jesus, the Church does not see them primarily as recipients of care, lesser still as vessels for pietism or exploitation, but persons in their own right.”
To address these challenges, the Holy Father continued, the Church in Africa must implement “a new evangelization, which takes account of the rapid social changes of our time and the phenomenon of worldwide globalization.” In addition to numbers, "We need to focus increasingly on the 'high standard' of Christian life, that is holiness. Pastors, and all members of the ecclesial community, are called to be saints.”
He added: “The lay faithful are called to spread the fragrance of holiness in the family, workplace, school and all other social and political spheres. May the Church in Africa be a family of true disciples of Christ, where the difference between ethnic groups becomes a motive and stimulus for mutual human and spiritual enrichment."
"Reconciliation,” the Pontiff recalled, “is a gift of God that men have to plead for and accept. It is the stable foundation on which to build peace, a prerequisite for true progress of mankind and society, according to the design of justice willed by God.”
“By the redeeming grace of the Risen Lord,” he proclaimed, “Africa will be ever more enlightened by his light and, guided by the Holy Spirit, it will become a blessing for the universal Church, contributing their own and qualified to building a world more just and fraternal world.”
At the conclusion of his homily, Benedict XVI asked the cloistered monasteries and religious communities in Africa and spread all over the world, parishes and movements, the sick and suffering to accompany with prayer the work of the Synod Fathers "so that the Lord render fruitful this second Special Assembly.”
Vatican City, Oct 4, 2009 (CNA) -
As the Pope prepared to pray the Angelus today, he followed up his earlier remarks calling for a new evangelization of Africa and a revolution of holiness in its families. The Holy Spirit, he reminded the faithful, is the one who guides the Church and will inspire the Synod for Africa.
Before the reciting the Angelus, Pope Benedict spoke from the window of his study overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He explained to the crowd of faithful that the Synod is not a "study conference," or "programming assembly." "We hear reports and speeches, we confront ourselves in groups, but we all know that we are not the protagonists. It is the Lord and his Holy Spirit, who guides the Church.”
“The most important thing for everyone is listening, listening to one another and everyone, listening to what the Lord wants to tell us."
He recalled, “Africa is a land rich in human life, but this life is marked by so many, who unfortunately, sometimes suffer grave injustice and poverty. The Church is committed to overcoming this with the power of the Gospel and the concrete solidarity of many institutions and charitable initiatives.”
After the Marian prayer, the Pope said he followed in recent days "the serious incidents of violence that have shaken the people of Guinea.” Speaking to the situation, he said, “I express my condolences to the bereaved families, I invite the parties to dialogue, reconciliation and trust that no efforts will be spared to reach a fair and equitable solution.”
Also, he urged university students to join him and the Synod Fathers in a recitation of the Holy Rosary "with Africa and for Africa" on the afternoon of Saturday, October 10. The prayer, led by the Holy Father in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, will be followed via satellite by students in African cities.