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Archive of March 30, 2011

Christians pray for defeat of Colorado civil unions bill

Denver, Colo., Mar 30, 2011 (CNA) - Colorado Catholics and others in a coalition opposed to a civil unions bill will gather on the state capitol’s eastern steps on March 31 for a noontime prayer vigil.

Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver has invited others to join him at the event.

“The domestic Church (founded on marriage between one man and one woman) is the very basis of society and an image of the Triune God,” he said.

He asked those who cannot make the vigil to “please join in prayer where ever you are for this most important issue.”

Catholic laity, seminarians and a contingent from the Colorado Springs-based evangelical Christian ministry Focus on the Family will be among the attendees.

A rally for supporters of the bill, including homosexual activist groups, will take place at the same time on the western steps.

The proposed legislation would grant “the legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities that are granted under the law to spouses” to both same-sex and heterosexual civil unions for unrelated individuals. These benefits include property inheritance, dependent coverage under life insurance and health insurance policies, and hospital visitation rights.

However, according to the website of the gay activist group Human Rights Campaign, as of July 2009 any two unmarried Colorado adults can "enter into a Designated Beneficiary Agreement providing certain rights and responsibilities, including hospital visitation, medical decisionmaking, and inheritance."

The civil unions legislation has already passed the Senate by a vote of 23-12. The House begins debate on the bill on March 31.

E. Christian Brugger, a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, said in an e-mail circulated to Catholics that there is a chance of defeating the legislation in the House.

If it passes, he warned, “You can be sure that we will not get the genie back in the bottle in
our lifetime, perhaps never.”

“It’s important for as many defenders of traditional marriage as possible to get out there and show their face,” he commented.

Jessica Haverkate, director of the Colorado Springs-based Colorado Family Action, said on March 30 that the vigil was “just bringing people together to pray and support the legislators.”

If the legislation passes out of committee, she predicted “a huge floor battle.”

“The voters out here in Colorado already voted on this issue. We chose to define marriage as one-man, one-woman, we chose to defeat Referendum I,” she said, referring to the state’s marriage amendment and a 2006 ballot initiative to recognize domestic partnerships.

Haverkate thought the effects of the bill could be “extremely concerning,” especially for children.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, in his March 2 column for the Denver Catholic Register, said that civil unions are “essentially marriage under another name” and the long-term impact of the legislation has not been fully discussed.

“How this legislation will impact Catholic ministries and the benefits the Church affords to her employees are very real concerns,” he wrote.

The archbishop noted that state legislation benefiting “a variety of non-marital domestic arrangements” had already passed in 2010.

“Attempts to redefine marriage, whether direct or indirect, only serve to weaken the already difficult family structure of our society,” he said.

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Pope sends top Vatican official to Ivory Coast

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Internal conflicts in the Ivory Coast that threaten tear the country apart are a cause of such great concern for Pope Benedict XVI that he sent a top African official from the Vatican to plead for peace.

After four days of continuous battle in several of Ivory Coast’s cities, Pope Benedict pleaded for an end to the violence that has confined people to their homes or forced hundreds of thousands to flee to nearby countries.

Ivory Coast is "traumatised by painful internal conflicts and grave social and political tensions," said the Pope in his French-language greeting after the March 30 general audience at the Vatican.

Military forces supporting president-elect Alassane Ouattara are fighting to remove former president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to cede the office since he lost in still disputed elections last November.

Fighting is taking place in cities across the nation as Ouattara's supporters attempt to push the ex-president out of office.

The Pope decried the violence and expressed his closeness to all those who have lost loved ones or are suffering because of the conflict.

The Associated Press estimates that 462 people have been killed and over one million displaced.

"I make an urgent appeal for a process of constructive dialogue for the common good to begin as quickly as possible," said the Pope.

"The dramatic clashes necessitate the urgent restoration of respect and peaceful co-existence. Every effort must be made to this end."

Bishop Gaspard Béby Gnéba of Man, Ivory Coast told Fides news agency on March 29 that the humanitarian situation was deteriorating as the fighting continued.

“The conditions for people, which were already dramatic, have worsened," he lamented.

There is little information on civilian conditions because of the continuous fighting. However, the bishop has learned from contacts within the Church that many fleeing Ivorians have gone to Liberia, where the Church is organizing medical and food assistance and shelter.

Liberian priest, Fr. Joseph, told Fides that they are welcoming Ivorians with open arms, but scrambling to provide for them.

Not long ago, he said, he himself fled to the Ivory Coast due to the Liberian civil war.

"We lived as refugees for four years in that country. Now it's our turn to welcome our Ivorian brothers and sisters," he said. "But we need the help of the universal Church."

The conflict is a cause of such great concern to the Pope that he has sent one of his top curial officials to the nation, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Cardinal Turkson’s mission is to plead for peace on the Pope’s behalf.

As Pope Benedict explained at the general audience, Cardinal Turkson is also going to convey the solidarity of the Pope and the universal Church with the victims of the fighting.

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Church welcomes divorced with mercy, Vatican official affirms

Bogotá, Colombia, Mar 30, 2011 (CNA) - The head of the Vatican's council for the family, affirmed that the Catholic Church always embraces those who are divorced and remarried “with truth and mercy.”

“Those who are divorced and have entered into a new union cannot be admitted to the Eucharist and to sacramental absolution as long as they remain in a state of objective contradiction of the demands of Christian marriage,” Cardinal Ennio Antonelli explained. However, they “should be helped to find the mercy of God ‘through other means’.”

The Church is with them and encourages them to “remain humble, to pray to understand and follow ever more the will of God,” the cardinal said. He added that they should also commit to doing good works, reflect on the “meaning of moral norms” and always trust “in the infinite mercy of God.

Cardinal Antonelli spoke March 29 at a conference for Latin American bishops who are devoted to family ministry. The event will run through April 1.

He referred to a number of challenges that families today must confront, including secularization and the sexual revolution. The cardinal said these problems must be addressed by a decisive commitment to living lives of holiness.

This holiness will make them “more merciful toward Christians who are living inconsistently, toward those who are indifferent, those who are combative toward the Church, those who destroy or do not establish authentic family bonds, those who promote ideologies and laws that are contrary to family and to life, those who are violent and those who take advantage of the poor.”

“Obviously,” he said, “mercy is inseparable from the truth. What we want and desire is their well-being. God has sent us, as he sent Jesus, not to ‘condemn the world, but to save it’.”

“Apart from that, only God knows our hearts and to what degree a person is open to, or is a reflection of, Christ the Savior. For our part, we must be willing to dialogue and to embrace everyone, so that all might feel loved by the Church, and through her, by God,” the cardinal added.

The Church, “constituted to be an effective sign of salvation, should only give her cooperation to Christ, the only Savior, through prayer, sacrifice, testimony and the proclamation of the Gospel,” he continued. “The Lord will make use of her cooperation to draw men to himself through mysteries and innumerable means of grace,” he said.

As bishops, the cardinal told them, “Our duty is to lead our ministries to awaken the abundance of energy that is more or less dormant in the body of the Church.

“What should concern us most, as Leo XIII said, is not the strength of those who are evil, but the inertia of those who are good.”

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Pope proposes St. Alphonsus Liguori as model for new evangelization

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Church owes a debt of gratitude to the towering figure of St. Alphonsus Maria of Liguori, Pope Benedict XVI said at his weekly Wednesday audience, March 30.

Although his times were much different, prayer groups the saint started are "a model of missionary action which can also inspire us today for a 'new evangelization,' especially among the poorest, and for building a more just, fraternal and united human coexistence," said the Pope.

"The task of spiritual ministry is entrusted to priests, while well formed laity can be effective Christian leaders, genuine evangelical yeast in the bosom of society," he added.

The final general audience of March took place outdoors for the second time this year as spring weather has begun to arrive in Rome.

Continuing his catechesis on the “doctors” of the Church, the Pope considered the life and spirituality of St. Alphonsus, who founded the missionary Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, also known as the Redemptorists.

St. Alphonsus was born in Naples, Italy in 1696 into a wealthy family. He finished his studies in canon and civil law at 16 years old and built an impressive record in court over the next eight years, never losing a case.

"However, in his soul thirsting for God and desiring perfection, the Lord guided him to comprehend that it was another vocation to which he was called," recalled the Pope.

He left riches and his successful but brief career as a lawyer to become a priest.

The still young Fr. Liguori focused on evangelizing and preaching to the poorest of the city. He started prayer meetings with those living in the greatest misery, and people began to attend in ever larger groups. "With patience, he taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life," said the Pope.

The prayer groups grew to include other catechists and priests and began to change neighborhoods. "They were a true and real source of moral education, social development, mutual assistance among the poor.

"Theft, duels and prostitution nearly disappeared," the Pope said.

Fr. Alphonsus dreamed of preaching to pagan peoples abroad. However, he soon found that in the rural areas around Naples the people were ignorant of the Gospels and in great material and spiritual need.

He began to help them and after just six years as a priest, he founded the missionary Congregation of the Holy Redeemer with the intention of bringing Christ's message beyond the slums of Naples to the most remote corners of Italy.

The missionary method was above all based on prayer, remembered Pope Benedict. In fact, among the most important forms of prayer he advocated was Eucharistic adoration.

Although he died in 1787, the congregation continues its founder's work today well beyond Italy's borders. Its 5,500 members in 77 countries carry out much of their work in schools, parishes and missions.

Alphonsus was canonized in 1839 and declared a doctor of the Church in 1871 for his "accurately expressed" teachings on moral theology, Pope Benedict said. In this same vein, Pius XII proclaimed him "patron of all confessors and moralists."

He is a figure to which "we are all debtors, because he was a prominent moral theologian and master of the spiritual life for all, above all for the simple people."

The Pope highlighted St. Alphonsus' great respect for the value of priests as visible signs of God's infinite mercy in confession where they pardon and illuminate "the minds and hearts of sinners that they might convert and change their lives."

Today, he said, where there are signs that moral conscience and respect for confession are being lost, this saint's teachings remain valid.

Pope Benedict recalled St. Alphonsus' success in winning souls to Christ through teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments with a "gentle and mild manner."

"We thank the Lord that, with his providence, he raises saints and doctors in different places and times, who speak the same language to invite us to grow in the faith and live our Christian being with love and joy in the simple actions of every day, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path towards God and towards true joy."

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Bishop approves Our Lady of Lourdes healing

Paris, France, Mar 30, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Emmanuel Delmas of Angers, France confirmed the healing of a man at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

“This healing can be considered as a personal gift of God for this man, as a fact of grace, as a sign of Christ the Savior,” the bishop said March 27.

Serge Francois, 56, had lost almost all mobility in his left leg after complications from two operations left him with a herniated disc. He made a pilgrimage to the shrine on April 13, 2002 to pray for healing. 

Bishop Delmas noted that the healing took place after Francois “had finished praying at the grotto and went to the miraculous spring to drink the water and wash his face. A unique gesture of the Virgin Mary can be seen in the healing of this man,” he said.

The Spanish daily La Razon said that after Francois' recovery, he returned to Lourdes in 2003 and reported his case to the medical commission, which began its investigation.

The Lourdes Medical Commission later verified that “the rapid functional healing, unrelated to any form of treatment" was "still present, eight years later.” 

Francois made a 975-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain in thanksgiving for his recovery.

Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes explained that doctors are “hesitant today to use the term ‘inexplicable,’ unless they qualify it with ‘scientifically'.”

“They prefer to limit themselves to one fact: the healing is inexplicable today. They consider this qualification to be essential so they are not discredited later by colleagues who reject the inexplicable,” he said in a statement published on the Shrine of Lourdes’ website.

“Moreover,” he added, “the doctors at Lourdes always strive to be medically irreproachable. The Church herself encourages them in this.”

To commemorate the latest healing, Bishop Delmas has invited Catholics to a special Mass in Lourdes during a pilgrimage to the shrine May 3-8.

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New Ukrainian Catholic leader seeks restoration of patriarchal status

Rome, Italy, Mar 30, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, newly enthroned as the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church on March 29, will discuss the possible restoration of his church's historic status as a patriarchate with Pope Benedict XVI during his upcoming visit to the Vatican.

“A patriarchate is a period in the completion of the development of a church,” he explained to reporters in Kyiv before his departure for the Vatican. He said that the delegation would discuss the development of the Ukrainian Catholic Church that has taken place since its 1989 re-emergence into public life. “I will give the evidence of our maturity to the Pope,” he stated.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church's Synod of Bishop chose the 40-year-old Archbishop Shevchuk as their new leader on March 27. His predecessor, 77-year-old Cardinal Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, retired for health reasons on Feb. 10.

Archbishop Shevchuk's youth, and his prior position as a bishop of a Ukrainian Catholic eparchy in Argentina from 2009 until 2011, made him an unusual choice to succeed Cardinal Husar. His previous appointments included positions at Lviv's Holy Spirit Theological Seminary as well as the Ukrainian Catholic University. He also served as Cardinal Husar's personal secretary from 2002 to 2005.

“Our Church in the twentieth century has walked with our Savior to the end,” Major Archbishop Shevchuk observed in his enthronement homily, referring to the persecution of Ukrainian Catholics that took place under Communism from 1946 until 1989. “The death of hundreds of thousands of our laity, priests, monks and nuns, led by our bishops, was death on a cross – and therefore the giver of life!”

“In its slavery, humiliation and self-giving, our church was brought to this place – the place of resurrection, where the Father glorified it and raised up its imperishable glory,” he proclaimed.

Today, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church – whose existence was denied by Soviet authorities for decades – has approximately 4.3 million adherents.

“Today we are experiencing a new spring of our Church – which in its resurrection by the Holy Spirit begins to get younger and smile anew to the world with the light of Christ's Gospel,” he said.

“Let us boldly carry out our Christian vocation in the world, and together we can renew the face of our nation and its state.”

Major Archbishop Shevchuk's enthronement took place in Kyiv at the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ – whose name reflects Ukrainian Catholics' own view of their church as the authentic heir to the tradition of Slavic Christianity.

Kyiv was historically the center of this tradition, although the Eastern Orthodox Churches transferred the patriarchate to Moscow in 1589. Ukrainian Catholics, whose church reunited with the Roman Catholic Church in 1596, have generally continued to regard their leader as a legitimate patriarch –  particularly since 2005, when the church moved its leadership back to the national capital in Kyiv.

Political and theological disputes have left a lasting mark on Ukraine, where two rival Eastern Orthodox churches – both entirely separate from the Ukrainian Catholic Church – are also not in communion with one another. One of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches is affiliated with the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, while the other claims to represent Ukraine independently of Russia.

Amid these disputes, the faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic Church regarded Cardinal Husar as the Patriarch of Kyiv prior to his retirement, and applied the title to him in liturgical settings. Although the Vatican did not officially recognize him under this title, the announcement of his retirement significantly made reference to the portion of canon law that describes the retirement of Eastern patriarchs.

In his installation homily, Major Archbishop Shevchuk referred to himself as the “leader and father” of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. He also made reference to Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Slipyj, who led the church from 1944 to 1984, as “Patriarch Joseph.”

At the March 30 general audience in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict greeted Archbishop Shevchuk and his delegation, assuring them of his "constant prayer that the Holy Trinity may bring abundance, and confirm in peace and harmony the beloved Ukrainian nation."

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Bishop Aquila urges clergy not to let ‘lies’ take hold

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 30, 2011 (CNA) - When bishops and priests are hesitant in exercising their authority, the “father of lies” takes hold of the hearts and minds of the faithful, Bishop Samuel J. Aquila of Fargo warned recently.

“One must honestly ask, how many times and years may a Catholic politician vote for the so called ‘right to abortion’ … and still be able to receive Holy Communion?” the bishop said.

The continual reception of Communion by those who “so visibly contradict and promote a grave evil” creates “grave scandal” and undermines the teaching and governing authority of the Church, he warned. The faithful can interpret these actions as indifference to the teaching of Christ and the Church on the part of those who have “the responsibility to govern.”

“If we honestly pray with the Gospel we can see that hesitancy and non-accountability is not the way of Jesus Christ, but rather it is a failure in the exercise of governance,” Bishop Aquila told a March 18 symposium in Philadelphia about the spirituality and identity of diocesan priests.

While Jesus provides criteria  in Matthew 18 for correcting a brother or sister who sins, the bishop questioned whether Catholics follow this example.

If these criteria had been followed with those who dissented from Church teaching against contraception in 1968, he asked, “would we still be dealing with the problem today of those who dissent on contraception, abortion, same-sex unions, euthanasia and so many other teachings of the Church?”

He cited Pope Benedict XVI’s conversation with Peter Seewald in the book “Light of the Word,” where the Pope connected an anti-punishment mentality to the response that some Church officials have had to sexual abuse among clergy.

The awareness that punishment can be an act of love “ceased to exist,” the Pope said. “This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.”

Pope Benedict said that love for the sinner and love for the person harmed are “correctly balanced” when the sinner is punished appropriately.

Bishops and priests should not apologize or make excuses for the teachings of Christ and the Church, Bishop Aquila exhorted. Rather, they should teach with “charity and unhesitating truth.”

The exercise of Church authority faces challenges because secular culture “makes man into god” and undermines any authority attributed to God. Bishops and priests should turn to Jesus Christ to learn how to exercise their authority in governing the Church, the Fargo bishop said.

Jesus was “direct” in calling people to conversion and to change their way of acting and thinking, he pointed out.

“This directness makes many of us uncomfortable today.

“We should follow his example and language, even if we do not use his precise words. His language is good to contemplate and definitely should challenge us to look at how we correct the faithful, including priests and bishops, and speak the truth especially with those who say they are with Christ and the Church but do not accept the teaching of Jesus and the Church.”

Jesus’ “forceful” language towards the Pharisees and Scribes “would never be tolerated today” but the Gospel writers did not hesitate to pass down his words, Bishop Aquila said.

“In love Jesus makes these direct statements to open the eyes of those whose hearts and minds are hardened. His straight talk, given in love for the person, desires the conversion and holiness of the person to the ways of God,” the bishop explained.

“(T)oo many people understand correction or punishment as not loving the other or as dominion over the other, and this is the work of ‘the father of lies.’ A reluctance or hesitancy to correct and properly punish does not invite the other into the truth that frees and ultimately fails in true charity.

“As servants of truth, of Christ, we will correct those who sin for their own good and for the love of the other, even if it leads to our own persecution and rejection,” Bishop Aquila said.

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Conference examines inspiring poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Denver, Colo., Mar 30, 2011 (CNA) - The deeply religious poetry of the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins was the focus of a conference where participants praised the nineteenth-century poet’s craftsmanship and environmentalism, saying he and Bl. John Henry Newman were “revolutionaries in their time.”

“His poetry is beautiful, and inspiring. It’s full of deep thought and observation of nature, and the presence of God in every living thing and even in inanimate objects,” said Richard Austin, an English-born actor presently living in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.

Austin, one of the presenters at the international Gerard Manley Hopkins Conference, held at Regis University in Denver March 25-27, said the poet’s work is particularly important at a time when mankind appears to be becoming more devoted to a “cult of the self” and is distancing itself from an “ideal of connection” to God and spirituality.

Hopkins saw poetry as “speech purged of dross, like gold in the furnace,” he told CNA on March 26.

The poet’s 1877 work “God’s Grandeur” focuses on the beauty of creation. It begins:

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed.”

Regis University professor Victoria McCabe told CNA that the Hopkins Conference has had 16 meetings, including events at the Gregorian University in Rome, Oriel College in Oxford, the Milltown Park Jesuit Institute in Dublin and at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

The conference launched after three Catholics, “passionate readers” of Hopkins, envisioned a gathering of scholars, poets, students and parishioners to help widen interest in the poet and to serve the people of God.

Hopkins, who lived from 1844 to 1889, was born in England to Anglican parents. In 1866 he was received into the Catholic Church by another prominent convert, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman. Hopkins joined the Society of Jesus the next year and was ordained to the priesthood in 1877.

He spent the last five years of his life teaching in Dublin at Newman’s Catholic University of Ireland, which served Irish Catholics who had been denied an education.

Conference speaker Fr. Peter Milward, S.J., a professor emeritus of English at Sophia University in Tokyo, said Newman and Hopkins both represent the “second spring” of Catholicism in England.

“Newman was great in the medium of prose, and then he’s followed by Hopkins in the medium of poetry. The two complement each other.”

Both men were “revolutionaries in terms of their time,” he said. While Newman proposed an “essentially Catholic spirit” in the Anglican Church, Hopkins created innovative poems filled with “deep spiritual inspiration.”

Fr. Milward cited the 1875 poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” which commemorated a naval disaster that killed dozens of people, including five Franciscan nuns. This poem “looks through the outer appearance of disaster to the reality of some divine providence at work.”

Hopkins’ poetry is comparable to “the greatest language of William Shakespeare,” the priest said.

Regis student Alex Dohn, a junior studying marketing, told CNA he likes Hopkins because “he incorporates God in his poems through nature.”

Dohn echoed a common theme at the conference.

Fr. Joseph Feeney, S.J., a professor of English at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said Hopkins was “an environmentalist poet.”

“He celebrated nature, he grieved for the destruction of nature, and he urged the preservation of nature.”

One of the poet’s “quite distinctive” perspectives includes the “interplay between the environment and himself.”

He was “fascinated with the very shapes of nature” and had “a sense of the ‘selfhood’ of a thing in nature.”

“People normally don’t transfer selfhood over to individual stones, or individual dragonflies,” Fr. Feeney explained.

Austin, who performed Hopkins’ poetry for the conference, emphasized the importance of listening to the poet’s works.

“You shouldn’t so much read him, as hear him,” he remarked.

When a performer of Hopkins has the right pacing, the poet’s imagery will carry along the listener “even though it’s a heightened form of language and it’s not the one that he or she would normally be used to listen to.”

Austin’s album “Back to Beauty’s Giver,” made in 2003, contains 27 of Hopkins’ poems. The work is “reckoned to be the most complete audiobook of Hopkins poetry,” he added, and “most people seem to feel that it’s the best.”

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As beatification nears, memories of John Paul II surface

Rome, Italy, Mar 30, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

With the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II fast approaching, those who knew and loved the late pontiff are speaking out about the imprint he left on the Church and the world.

Archbishop Piero Marini remembered the “almost father-son relationship” he enjoyed with the Pope while serving as his master of liturgical ceremonies. In a Vatican Radio broadcast on March 28, he said that the beatification is a way for all people to once again “re-encounter this friend of humanity” by getting to know him, his love for evangelization and his strong witness.

Archbishop Marini remembered that the "greatest gift" the Pope ever gave him was in reminding him of the everyday quality of holiness. "Each of us ... must build sanctity responding to the vocation that the Lord has given us in our life with humility and simplicity as John Paul II did. He spent his entire life announcing the Gospel to create unity."

By going out to meet the people where they were, proclaiming God's Word and celebrating the Eucharist and sacraments, the Pope was able "to create around himself, around the person of the Pope, truly the unity of the Church," said the archbishop.

Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who planned the Pope's lengthy and frequent trips to international destinations, remembered the Pope for his "spontaneity."

He was present at a press conference last week to launch Italian journalist Angela Ambrogetti's new book, "Travel Companions," examining previously unedited comments and conversations the Pope had with reporters on his trips abroad.

Cardinal Tucci called the book a "rare and efficient testimony of the personality and the ideas of Pope Wojtyla which comes across with great freshness – as it was – with his extraordinary spontaneity and freedom of expression, with his kindness and bluntness before others, also to that special kind of humanity that are journalists."

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, and veteran Vatican analysts Gian Franco Svidercoschi and Paloma Gomez Borrero recounted anecdotes of their personal experiences with the pontiff on the numerous papal flights.

Beautiful accounts of the Pope’s spirituality have come to light.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri said Pope John Paul "restored Mary to her place in the Church alongside Jesus."

In an article written for the Diocese of Rome's website, the archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica and Marian scholar recalled that in the 1960s and 1970s many sought to marginalize the Madonna.

Into this "Marian winter," Pope John Paul led the Church to rediscover Mary, said the cardinal.

"It is beginning from Jesus, in fact, that one discovers Mary, and beginning from Jesus that one notes the presence of the Mother and her interminible mission ... that of leading us to him!"

Cardinal Comastri remembered the great faith of John Paul II and his untiring devotion to the Blessed Mother.

"Every time we touch the crown of the Holy Rosary and recite the Holy Mary, may a spontaneous exclamation come out of our hearts, "Totus tuus, Maria!" (Totally yours, Mary!). It is the Marian inheritance that John Paul II left us."

Initiatives to remember the Pope are also popping up all over the city. On March 31 at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Cardinal Angelo Amato of the Vatican's department for saints' causes and the late-Pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, will be joined by journalists and experts in examining public opinion and "sensus fidei" (sense of the faithful) ahead of the beatification.

A pub in downtown Rome called the GP2 (Italian abbreviation for JPII) has announced that it will be hosting a series of encounters for the month of April in the countdown to the beatification. The Diocese of Rome-sponsored establishment has scheduled the likes of Fr. Slawomir Oder, the priest in charge of John Paul II's cause for sainthood, and former vicar general of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, as speakers at the gatherings.

Pontifical universities and religious communties are organizing events, lectures, conferences and prayer memorials for the late Pope ahead of this occasion, which could prove to be the largest since his funeral on April 8, 2005.

Vatican officials are hesitant to make estimates as to possible attendance. Expectations will certainly be become more clear during an April 5 press conference at the Vatican's Press Office. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, current vicar general of Rome, and other Church officials will host the press event.

At a March 29 press conference, Vatican-affiliated pilgrimage and travel agency Opera Romana Pelligrinagi (ORP) set the bar low, saying they are expecting a minimum of 300,000 people to attend.

The pilgrimage agency has set up reliable information hub at www.jpiibeatus.org, offering information on the beatification, lodging and travel for anyone interested in making the trip.

The organization is even offering a multilingual telephone hotline for direct inquiries and a discounted three-day tour pass for the weekend. They emphasize that no ticket is needed for the ceremony.

The agency announced that structures are being built around St. Peter's Square for the huge influx of people. Reception points will serve pilgrims around the Square with bathrooms and refreshment stands, while young adults are encouraged to "spend the night safely" in a village set up outside the city.

They announced that the city of Rome awaits all who come "with open arms."

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