Atlanta, Ga., Aug 1, 2010 (CNA) -
Not that long ago Father Carlos Vargas was on track to becoming a successful lawyer. While working on a case of a man charged with murder, however, the young, faith-filled man realized he could help people in another, more spiritual way.
Born in Florencia, Colombia, in 1977, Father Vargas grew up in a very religious family. His parents, Jaime Vargas and Mariana Silva, were devout Catholics and so for him and his three siblings, looking at the world through a spiritual lens was nothing new.
After receiving his law degree from St. Thomas Aquinas University in Bogota, Colombia, in 2000, it was no surprise that he still wanted to help people find God. Working with a murder defendant opened his eyes to his own passion for his faith.
“I realized that my conversation with him was about more than legal stuff,” Father Vargas said about the case that led to his initial discernment. “And I started to discover that I could help him more with God.”
This desire led him to more carefully consider where God was calling him. While working as a lawyer, he stayed active at his church, volunteering for various ministries before realizing he needed to take the next step.
“Finally I made the decision to enjoy the seminary,” he said.
Now 33 years old, Father Vargas also received a lot of preparation through parish work as he studied for the priesthood. As a seminarian, he was assigned to St. Jude Church, Atlanta, and had the opportunity to see the multiculturalism of the archdiocese firsthand as he worked with the Portuguese-, Spanish- and English-speaking communities at the parish.
It was a learning experience to see how each community celebrated the faith and a sign of how much the Catholic community in North Georgia is thriving. During his time as a transitional deacon, Father Vargas also served at a parish in New Castle, Pa., a mostly English-speaking community, where he had the chance to polish his English skills while learning more about the intricacies of the role in which he was preparing to serve.
The Mass of ordination to the priesthood at the Cathedral of Christ the King on June 26 was the culmination of his emotional journey, made especially memorable by the presence of his family, friends and fellow clergymen.
“I was very nervous,” said Father Vargas, who said the ordination Mass was much like preparing for a wedding.
“Now I understand how couples feel before marriage because there are so many things, so many details,” he said.
As the Mass began he was overcome with emotion and became teary-eyed during certain parts of the liturgy, especially when all the concelebrating priests approached the altar to lay hands on the candidates.
“This is my community now, my church,” he said to himself.
Father Vargas celebrated two Masses the following day, one in English at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Newnan and one in Spanish at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta.
“I felt really comfortable,” he said about his first Masses. “I really love these communities.”
Bishop Jorge Alberto Ossa of Florencia, Colombia, who was a concelebrant at the ordination and helped the new priest to vest in his stole and chasuble, also came to the Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas, along with Father Vargas’ entire family.
“I had to be careful what I was doing,” the priest said with a chuckle, noting that he was a bit nervous to be principal celebrant in front of Bishop Ossa, other priests and his family.
Father Vargas has been assigned to serve as a parochial vicar at St. Andrew Church, Roswell.
“I am excited to be a part of this archdiocese because … it is a positive environment,” he said, adding that the growth of Catholics in North Georgia and the positive attitude of priests here will continue to be an encouragement.
“People are supporting me in the parish, and I feel like a part of the community,” he said.
Printed with permission from The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Ga.
CNA STAFF, Aug 1, 2010 (CNA) - Both Roman and Eastern rite Catholics will soon celebrate the Church's feast of the Transfiguration on its traditional date for both calendars, August 6.
The feast commemorates one of the pinnacles of Jesus' earthly life, when he revealed his divinity to three of his closest disciples by means of a miraculous and supernatural light.
Before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Christ climbed to a high point on Mount Tabor with his disciples Peter, James, and John. While Jesus prayed upon the mountain, his appearance was changed by a brilliant white light which shone from him and from his clothing.
During this event, the Old Testament figures of Moses and the prophet Elijah also appeared, and spoke of how Christ would suffer and die after entering Jerusalem, before his resurrection.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that the voice of God was heard, confirming Jesus as his son (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:6, Luke 9:35). Peter and John make specific reference to the event in their writings, as confirming Jesus' divinity and his status as the Messiah (2 Peter 1:17, John 1:14).
In his address before the Angelus on August 6, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI described how the events of the transfiguration display Christ as the “full manifestation of God's light.”
This light, which shines forth from Christ both at the transfiguration and after his resurrection, is ultimately triumphant over “the power of the darkness of evil.”
The Pope stressed that the feast of the Transfiguration is an important opportunity for believers to look to Christ as “the light of the world,” and to experience the kind of conversion which the Bible frequently describes as an emergence from darkness to light.
“In our time too,” Pope Benedict said, “we urgently need to emerge from the darkness of evil, to experience the joy of the children of light!”
For Eastern Catholics, the Feast of the Transfiguration is especially significant. It is among the 12 “great feasts” of Eastern Catholicism.
Eastern Christianity emphasizes that Christ's transfiguration is the prototype of spiritual illumination, which is possible for the committed disciple of Jesus. This Christian form of “enlightenment” is facilitated by the ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, and charitable almsgiving.
A revered hierarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the late Archbishop Joseph Raya, described this traditional Byzantine view of the transfiguration in his book of meditations on the Biblical event and its liturgical celebration, titled “Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
“Transfiguration,” Archbishop Raya wrote, “is not simply an event out of the two-thousand-year old past, or a future yet to come. It is rather a reality of the present, a way of life available to those who seek and accept Christ’s nearness.”
Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 1, 2010 (CNA) - During its first annual congress in Pennsylvania, the Theology of the Body Institute presented five awards to organizations and individuals for their work in promoting the late John Paul II's teachings on human sexuality.
The 2010 Theology of the Body Institute Awards for Distinguished Achievement were presented at the banquet dinner on Thursday evening during the July 28 – 30 event in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.
“As we prepared for this first National Theology of the Body Congress, the planning committee and the Theology of the Body Institute Board felt it was important to recognize organizations and men and women who have been pioneers in the advancement of the teaching of the Theology of the Body,” said David Savage, Institute Chairman of the Board.
Speaking on the five who were honored, Savage said that the “decisions were not easy for this first year.”
“But each of the recipients have been true trailblazers - in ways unique to their individual and organizational missions - in promoting and helping others understand the Theology of the Body,” he added. “We are thrilled to recognize them for their miraculous work in advancing the Theology of the Body throughout the world.”
Those included as distinguished awards recipients were educators Valentine and Ann Coelho, of Goa, India; Fr. Richard M. Hogan, pastor of the Church of St. Raphael, in Crystal, Minn; the Daughters of St. Paul, of Boston, Mass.; the Theology of the Body International Alliance, of San Antonio, Texas; and Ruah Woods, an education center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Absent from this week's congress was popular speaker and founder of the Theology of the Body Institute Christopher West, who though he was originally scheduled to participate, recently took a six month sabbatical starting in April. The presenter cited family obligations and the need to reflect on advice he has received about his teaching methods as reasons for his sabbatical.
West was the subject of a recent paper by Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand, who contrasted the speaker's approach to the teachings of John Paul II with how she believed her husband – the late and noted philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand – would have approached them.
Other Catholic commentators have been critical of West's teachings, with Catholic Exchange recently posting observations from author Dawn Eden, and commentators Christi Derr and Marie Pitt-Payne. In their essays, Derr and Pitt-Payne voiced their support for Dr. Von Hildebrand's concerns.
Geneva, Ill., Aug 1, 2010 (CNA) -
Thanks to discussions between a priest and a minor league baseball team official, the Kane County Cougars of the Class A Midwest League hosted a Catholic Mass before a Friday baseball game earlier this month.
The Cougars of the Class A Midwest League, a team affiliated with the Oakland Athletics, organized the Mass at their baseball field in the Chicago suburb of Geneva.
The liturgy began at 5:30 p.m. and Mass attendees were required to have a ticket for the game. The July 16 event, which was billed as “Mass on the Grass,” drew participants from 14 area churches.
Cougars assistant general manager Jeff Ney said about 400 people attended the service. He did not think any players attended because they were preparing for the game. He added that the players have baseball chapel service on Sundays.
While the team was unsure whether it would hold any similar services this year, it planned to have religious events next year with other faiths and denominations as well.
Asked if there were any complaints about the event, general manager Jeff Sedivy told USA Today, “Not at all. Not one.” He added that the Catholic Mass was the first religious event the team had hosted simply because Cougars media relations coordinator Shawn Touney, a Catholic, had the idea.
In a Friday interview, Ney told CNA that the event resulted from conversations Touney had with his friend Fr. Paul Fasano, a parochial vicar at Holy Cross Parish in Batavia, Ill.
Talking about a possible outing for one of their youth ministries, the two wondered whether they could have a church service as part of the event.
“It just grew from there,” Ney reported, confirming that Fr. Fasano was the celebrant at the Mass.
Parishes were informed of the event by telephone, Ney added. Though youth ministries were the initial target of the promotion, senior citizens and others were well represented at the event.
Feedback about the Mass was “generally really good,” with many looking forward to attending a similar event next season. The weather provided “a beautiful afternoon with clear skies,” though the temperature was hot and the priest had to paperclip the sacramentary used during Mass because of a strong breeze.
According to an e-mail from Ney, Fr. Fasano threw the ceremonial First Pitch before the start of the game, in which the Cougars defeated the South Bend Silver Hawks by a score of 8-0.
Vatican City, Aug 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The person who trusts in the Lord and does not give in to a fear of adversity or death shares "a wise heart" with the saints, Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday. Remembering the saints’ examples of trust in God, the Holy Father taught that any dependence on "passing realities" is "foolishness."
From the balcony in the cortile of the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father addressed pilgrims from across the world. Spanish, Polish and Italian pilgrims were the most vocal in their cheers. The day's pleasant temperature and the friendly demeanor of attendees created a very comfortable atmosphere during the Angelus.
In his catechesis before the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI recalled saints whose feast days were celebrated this weekend: the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and Redemptorist founder and patron of confessors, St. Alphonsus of Liguori. He also discussed St. Jean Vianney, the French patron saint of priests, and St. Eusebius, the first bishop of Italy's Piedmont region and a "strong defender" of Christ's divinity.
Reflecting on the lives of these saints, the Holy Father noted their "common commitment ...was that of saving souls and of serving the Church with their respective charisms, contributing to renew her and enrich her.
"These men acquired 'a wise heart,' accumulating that which is not corrupted and discarding all that is irremediably changeable in time: power, wealth and ephemeral pleasures. Choosing God, they possessed every necessary thing, anticipating eternity from the earthly life."
He went on to offer his perspective on Sunday's Gospel from Luke in which Jesus speaks of the wealthy man who, having enjoyed an excellent harvest, stops working and decides to love off his goods.
"But God said to him," quoted Pope Benedict from the reading, "‘Foolish one, this very night they require your soul of you. To whom, then, will those things belong, which you have prepared?’"
The fool, said the Holy Father, is "he who does not wish to realize, from the experience of visible things, that nothing lasts forever, but everything passes.”
Among the transient things listed by the Holy Father were youth, physical strength, comfort and positions of power.
"Making our own lives depend on such passing realities is, therefore, foolishness," concluded the pontiff.
"The man who, instead, trusts in the Lord and does not fear the adversity of life, nor the inevitable reality of death, is the man who has acquired 'a wise heart,' like the saints."
Before praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict called to mind other important events to be celebrated in the Church in the coming days. On Monday, he said, the "Pardon of Assisi," an indulgence which St. Francis of Assisi himself received in 1216, can be earned.
On Thursday, the Church commemorates the dedication of the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major. The following day, in addition to the celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration, the death of Pope Paul VI will be remembered.
Vatican City, Aug 1, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -
It was with "great contentment" that Benedict XVI observed the first day of the worldwide ban on cluster munitions, which took effect on Sunday. The Vatican participated in the talks that led to the international agreement, focusing upon the "logic of peace."
A total of 107 states have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), adopting its ban in May 2008. The convention prohibits “all use, stockpiling, production and transfer of Cluster Munitions." According to the CCM, the agreement also includes articles which address victim assistance, the clearance of contaminated areas and the elimination of stockpiles.
On Aug. 1, the agreement became binding in international law. However, countries such as the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan did not sign it. Both Iraq and Afghanistan, where wars are currently taking place, are signatories to the ban but have not yet ratified it.
After the Sunday Angelus at Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father welcomed the news, saying that his first thought goes to “the numerous victims who have suffered and continue to suffer serious physical and moral injuries, even loss of life, from these insidious explosives.”
"With the entry into force of the new Convention, to which I exhort all states to comply, the international community has demonstrated wisdom, foresight and the capacity to pursue a meaningful result in the field of disarmament and international human rights.
He concluded by saying that it is his "hope and encouragement" that States continue to work in this way "with ever greater vigor, for the defense of dignity and human life, for the promotion of integral human development, for the establishment of a peaceful international order and for the realization of the common good of all people and all nations."
In an accompanying Sunday statement, the Vatican highlighted its commitment to the process which led to the convention. It reported the Holy See’s close participation with the other states and said the Holy See was one of the first state to call for a moratorium on the munitions and to ratify the document that entered into force on Sunday.
The Vatican is highly committed to the cause, reads the statement, "in the conviction that the logic of peace is stronger than the logic of war, which in every case must have as an insurmountable limit the protection and preservation of the civil population, and particularly the most vulnerable people."
The first meeting of the parties involved in the convention's ratification will meet this Nov. 8-12 in Vientiane, Laos.