Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2011 (CNA) - The World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be held on May 15, Good Shepherd Sunday, to underscore Catholics’ duty to foster vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
“We all have a responsibility to invite young people to consider if God is calling them to the priesthood or consecrated life,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “Such a call challenges our deepest convictions and leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves.”
Those who are being called by God, the archbishop said, “deserve our prayers and encouragement to respond generously and without reservation.”
Pope Benedict XVI has announced that the theme for the Day of Prayer is “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church.” His message noted that parish priests, families, catechists and youth ministers should take advantage of “every moment” in the life of the local church for prayer and activities that give children and young people a sense of belonging to the Church and a sense of their responsibility to answer the call to priesthood and religious life.
“We hope that every member of the Church will encourage and promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life at home, in the parish, at school and in their community,” said Mercy Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ vocations office.
The bishops’ conference has created two websites, a Facebook page and other social media outlets to help laity build a culture of vocations.
The websites, www.ForYourVocation.org or www.PorTuVocacion.org, include videos of priests and vowed religious giving witness to their vocations and testimony from parents whose children have answered a vocation. The sites also present prayers and discernment resources for men and women, lesson plans for educators, and retreat resources for parishes.
Valletta, Malta, Apr 27, 2011 (CNA) - Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Malta Doug Kmiec wrote an April 24 open letter reaffirming his admiration for President Obama and protesting the “injustice” forcing him to leave his current position.
“By now, many know that these are my final weeks in Malta,” wrote Kmiec. “An unfortunate rebuke for refusing to either suppress the relevance of faith in my life and writing, or to disregard the President’s assignment to promote inter-faith dialogue, has prompted me to offer my resignation to the President.” According to the State Department, the president has accepted his resignation.
Kmiec said many of his supporters had expressed “anger and disbelief that the U.S. … would tolerate such injustice.” The criticism that Kmiec considered an “injustice” came from State Department officials, who complained that Kmiec was spending too much time writing on the subject of inter-religious dialogue while neglecting fundamental duties of his ambassadorship.
He described the State Department Inspector General's April 7 audit, which led to his resignation, as an act of “soulless, secular censorship.” Along with Kmiec's investment of time in writing about religious affairs, the report also said he did not not manage the embassy effectively, follow State Department guidance, or meet frequently enough with Maltese government officials and colleagues.
“I may have been rebuked by a group holding their hymnals upside down, but at the very same time in the White House, President Barack Obama held a prayer breakfast,” he noted, recalling the president’s recent reflection on the significance of Holy Week.
“The President’s open affirmation of the significance of Divine grace in our hectic, information-overloaded existence is reminiscent of the message of hope and social justice that brought me to his side in 2008 to help him win the Catholic vote,” Kmiec observed.
Kmiec, a self-described pro-life Catholic and former law professor who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, drew criticism from pro-life advocates and conservatives for his outspoken support of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.
Nearing the end of his ambassadorship, Kmiec expressed no regrets for this decision.
“Unlike other candidates who used religion to divide,” Kmiec wrote, “candidate Obama searched for common ground.” He said that his own choice to spend significant time writing about religious affairs was his way of “following the President’s direction as practical wisdom and the Holy Spirit would guide me.”
“I cannot help but recall that it was President Obama who brought me here to Malta, where faith abounds,” Kmiec said. “Scheduled to leave now on the Feast of the Visitation,” May 31, “my time grows short and my heart already mourns a premature farewell.”
“A groundswell effort to reach the President to ask him to decline my offered resignation went unanswered,” Kmiec noted. He said he was “disappointed,” but not “devastated” or “defeated” by the outcome.
“Is there an explanation, or is it like the way grace works in our lives, unfathomable? It troubles me deeply not to know,” he reflected. “Yet, let us rejoice together on Easter that it is not to sadness and fear that men and women are called, but to eternal happiness.”
Kmiec had originally proposed that he depart on August 15, the feast of the Assumption. However, after President Obama accepted his resignation, the State Department asked him to leave two-and-a-half months earlier.
Chicago, Ill., Apr 27, 2011 (CNA) - One of the fastest-growing devotions in the Catholic Church is reaching the heart of downtown Chicago through the work of the Heralds of Divine Mercy. The organization is publicly displaying a large image of Christ during a nine-day campaign of 24-hour prayer and evangelism.
“The Divine Mercy Project is really about having an opportunity to witness to the culture, in environments we're normally pushed out of,” said Michael C.X. Sullivan, a 40-year-old lawyer who developed the idea earlier this year. “It's specifically for the conversion of Chicago, America, and the world.”
The prayer vigil is taking place in Daly Plaza, a crowded area that features a number of civil administrative buildings. There, the Heralds of Divine Mercy are displaying a large cross along with a ten-foot-tall image of Christ based on the visions of St. Faustina Kowalska. While some participants remain in prayer, others take their turn distributing cards that promote the message of God's mercy.
Sullivan said his five-year-old son had become an enthusiastic evangelist, along with the many other participants who have manned the image in shifts all day and night. “He shoots out across Daly Plaza,” Sullivan said, “running right up to people and giving them the card.”
“Most people receive it, and look at it, and you see their countenance shift – there's a kind of a brightening. However, you also see a real darkness in some people, a hardness in them. So we say a prayer for them, if they don't want to receive this gift.”
CNA caught up with Sullivan on April 25, the fourth day of the campaign. During the afternoon, a “Life Mob” of about 50 pro-life Catholic young people had showed up with a large “rosary” made of dozens of helium filled balloons.
The young participants held down the large chain of balloons as they recited the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, a prayer that is associated with the image and typically prayed on rosary beads.
“Then they let go of all these balloons,” Sullivan recalled, “so there was this rosary floating up in the sky in front of city hall, in front of this icon of political corruption.”
“I broke out in laughter – it was just awesome.”
The vigil has taken on a more joyous tone since Easter Sunday. During Good Friday and Holy Saturday, however, the large image of Christ was covered with a purple cloth, indicating the solemnity of those liturgical days. The gesture intrigued many passers-by, who wondered what would appear when it was unveiled.
“The vigil participants were out there praying, and people were asking them, 'Why is this covered?'” said Sullivan. “Our culture is one that doesn't want to wait in expectation. Just having it veiled, for those days, was a witness to a more sacramental worldview.”
Now that the image is visible, Sullivan says it is awakening many Chicagoans' quietly suppressed faith.
“We've had people who work in the nearby buildings, sometimes coming up and just kneeling before it,” he observed. “There is this multitude out there that is crying out in silence for God's presence – in all levels of society, whether they're cleaning ladies or at the top of the ladder in media, news, banking, or politics.”
“When they see this sign – this sign that Christ exists, that there are people of faith who are willing to be out there 24 hours a day – they identify with those people. It's feeding and nourishing that inner life of faith in them.”
“I think our culture is ready for Catholics to become more 'evangelical' – more demonstrative, taking the strength of our faith into the public square without compromise.”
He believes that the Divine Mercy image, which shows rays of blood and water flowing from Jesus' heart, is a striking means of evangelism – especially in a highly visual culture, where images can have more impact than words.
“I think our Lord knew that we were entering into this time of a highly visual culture,” Sullivan said. “We have no idea how many people are being touched just by driving by and seeing it. We're seeing police officers drive up and stop near it, and they have this look in their eyes. There's something that is happening to them.”
“We trust that the Lord will use this image as a means of touching souls – because he said he would.”
St. Faustina Kowalska, the 20th century Polish nun whose visions inspired the image, said that Jesus asked her to have it painted and displayed as a sign of God's love during the upheavals of modern history. Sullivan and his fellow vigil participants expect to pass out 20,000 cards bearing the image, along with a prayer and a passage from St. Faustina's diary.
While the Divine Mercy Project seeks to evangelize the public, it also has the goal of encouraging Catholics to perform the “corporal works of mercy” – acts such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and sheltering the homeless. These acts, Sullivan noted, are an essential part of the message given to the world through St. Faustina.
“Jesus said that the strongest faith is of no avail without works,” he said. “Christ demands deeds of mercy.”
The Heralds of Divine Mercy are already getting requests from at least five other U.S. states, where devotees want to launch similar campaigns in the public square. Sullivan believes that the project has national potential, as long as Catholics are willing to step out and take the necessary risks.
“You can say 'Jesus, I trust in you' to your heart's content,” he said, “but if there's no risk involved in that trust, then where is the proof? As Catholics, we really have to put more on the line.”
“Our fears and anxieties keep the power of our faith locked up,” said Sullivan. “But when we lead with prayer, and take risks, God shows up.”
Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict appointed Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez, a former auxiliary bishop of Miami, to lead the northeastern Florida diocese of St. Augustine.
“I congratulate Bishop Estevez on his appointment,” Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said on April 27. “He brings many gifts to Northeast Florida – as a priest, he has served as a pastor, spiritual director, seminary rector, and as a very effective preacher of retreats and missions.”
Bishop Estevez, 65, will replace current St. Augustine Bishop Victor Benito Galeone, who offered his resignation upon reaching the retirement age of 75.
“While the People of God here in South Florida rejoice over Northeast Florida’s good fortune in having Bishop Estevez as their new shepherd,” Archbishop Wenski added, “we will certainly miss him.”
“Bishop Estevez has not only been a brother priest and bishop to me, he has, for more than 35 years, been and still is my good friend.”
Bishop Estevez was born in Cuba in 1946 and came to the U.S. as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which rescued some 14,000 Cuban children from the Communist regime of the time.
He attended school in Fort Wayne, Indiana and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 for the Diocese of Matanzas in Cuba. After working in Honduras, he came to Florida in 1975 and was received into the Archdiocese of Miami in 1979.
He served on the faculty of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach and as president rector of the seminary from 1980 to 1986. Bishop Estevez was also was in charge of campus ministry at Florida International University in Miami from 1987 to 2001, while serving as pastor of St. Agatha Church.
He was ordained a bishop in 2004 for the Archdiocese of Miami.
Vatican City, Apr 27, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his first days in office back in 2005, Pope Benedict considered but rejected the instant canonization of Pope John Paul II. That’s the claim being made by Andrea Tornielli, Vatican correspondent with the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
He writes April 27, “Pope Ratzinger did not decide on the spot. He knew his predecessor and had no doubts about his personal holiness. He wanted to consult first, though, and finally decided to waive the usual waiting period of five years (before opening the cause of canonization) but not to skip the step of beatification.”
Tornielli claims that the suggestion of instant canonization came from Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the private secretary to John Paul II. He also states that the idea of not waiting the standard five-year period before opening a cause of canonization was made by the Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, a close friend and confidant of John Paul II.
The cardinals of the Roman Curia, Tornielli says, were moved by the unbroken stream of people who filed past the body of Pope John Paul II following his death. They were touched by the cries particularly of young people, for “Santo Subito” or “Sainthood Now.”
The new Pope’s thinking, however, was guided by previous experience.
“Just two years earlier, in June 2003, a similar discussion had taken place in those hallowed halls as regards Mother Teresa of Calcutta,” writes Tornielli, “The then- Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, consulted in writing several cardinals of the Roman Curia on behalf of John Paul II to ask them what they thought of immediately proceeding with the proclamation of the Saint Mother Teresa, skipping the step of beatification. Pope John Paul II wasn’t averse to the idea but it didn’t happen because he chose to consider objections from those consulted.” Mother Theresa was then beatified in the October of that year. Her cause of canonization continues.
Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1. It will be the first time in nearly 1,000 years that a pontiff has beatified his immediate predecessor.
Erbil, Iraq, Apr 27, 2011 (CNA) - A leading voice in the Iraqi Church believes his community can still play a role in reconciling the country, despite the continued threats and attacks that have decimated its Christian population.
“The Church was born through God’s willingness to seek reconciliation with man through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Erbil diocese. “So you could say we are experts in the field of reconciliation and we may be able to help.”
“People are still suffering very much because of the instability,” he told Aid to the Church in Need in an April 26 interview. “We offer a prayer and willingness to help with the process towards reconciliation and cooperation.” Violent threats forced the cancellation of some services during Holy Week, and the bombing of a mostly-empty church on Easter Sunday injured four people in Baghdad.
In Mosul, one of Iraq's most dangerous areas, large numbers of Christians defied a local curfew and walked for up to an hour to attend a Good Friday service.
Government-enforced road closures, meant to prevent violence against Mosul's Chaldean Catholics, forced Archbishop Amil Nona to cancel the previous day's Holy Thursday liturgy. The Easter Vigil was also rescheduled due to security concerns.
Mosul, 200 miles outside of Baghdad, has become a target for Islamic extremists seeking to rid Iraq of Christians through a campaign of violence. But worshipers packed the Church of St. Paul to honor Christ's sacrifice on Good Friday.
“People in Mosul really encouraged Archbishop Amil by their willingness to participate in the service,” said Archbishop Warda. He reflected that the remembrance of God's own incarnate suffering “is always very uplifting and special in the life of the community.”
Another sign of hope for Iraqi Christians came on Easter Sunday at Baghdad's Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation.
Last October, 58 people died when gunmen stormed the cathedral and detonated suicide-bombing devices during a Sunday Mass. But last week, the church was crowded with worshipers celebrating Christ's resurrection on Easter.
The Syriac Catholic priests, who lost two of their number in last year's massacre, had to schedule three Easter liturgies rather than the single service they originally planned, in order to accommodate the surge in attendance.
Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a time when Christians face heightened persecution particularly in the Middle East, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut pointed to John Paul II as a heroic example in the fight to protect religious freedom.
“In these days when the peoples of the Middle East are risking their lives for freedom, and in these days when we must be vigilant for our own hard-won freedoms, may the words of this great pontiff resonate in our minds and hearts,” Bishop Lori said at the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on April 27.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Live Action's founder and president, Lila Rose, also spoke at the event.
Bishop Lori said it was particularly apt to pay tribute to John Paul II as the day of his May 1 beatification in Rome approaches.
He noted in his remarks that the late pontiff had a “profound” understanding of the dignity of the human person and the fundamental importance of religious freedom.
“In his extraordinary life, Pope John Paul II experienced the full range of threats to human dignity and religious freedom: the totalitarianisms of the right and the left which oppressed his native Poland.”
“Even as Communism tightened its grip,” he added, “a young Karol Wojtyla heard and responded to the call of a priestly vocation. Risking both life and freedom to answer a vocation to the priesthood,
he entered the underground seminary.”
Bishop Lori recalled that throughout John Paul II's life, “he taught that no one brings human dignity and freedom into clearer light than the Eternal Son of God who assumed our humanity, united himself in a certain way with each person, and called each person, even those who do not yet know his Name, to freely embrace His Father’s love.”
However, the bishop noted that as a philosopher, defender of human rights, and a religious leader, John Paul II rejected any notion that religious truth should be imposed on others or that modern democracies should be dominated by the Church.
“Religious freedom, of course, belongs not only to individuals but also to churches, comprised of citizens who are believers, and who seek, not to create a theocracy, but rather to influence their culture from within.”
“We look to the State not to impose religion but to guarantee religious freedom, and to promote harmony among followers of different religions,” said Bishop Lori, who lamented current situations where citizens are not afforded basic religious freedom.
Citing recent waves of violence against Christians in the Middle East, he urged Catholics to not forget other believers “who are often denied the first of their human rights, freedom of religion, and, as a result, many other human rights.”
“We need to ask our own leaders as well as human rights groups and international organizations
to speak out for these, our fellow Christians, persecuted and even killed for professing the Name of Christ,” he underscored.
The bishop also pointed to the U.S. as fumbling in its duties to protect religious freedom and conscience rights for members of different faiths.
“Increasingly, religious freedom in our country is viewed as a 'carve out,' an exception built into laws which are otherwise an affront to human dignity,” he said. “This tends to reduce religious freedom to a grant, given by the State, rather than an inalienable right given by the hand of the Creator.”
He decried legislative efforts that seek “to limit the Church’s mission only to worship” and make “every other activity of the Church subject to laws that conflict with both human reason and the Church’s teaching, on the sanctity of unborn life, the dignity of human life at its conception,
and the role of marriage and family in Church and society.”
“And what should be our response to this?” Bishop Lori asked. “We have much to learn from the wise and canny manner in which Cardinal Wojtyla dealt with the Polish Communist authorities of his day,
that astute mix of subtlety and public pressure which those authorities came so to fear.”
“But what he never did and what we must never do is to compromise the truth for in so doing we would compromise our freedom,” he added. “Rather, we must proclaim the truth boldly.”
“'Be not afraid!' John Paul II says to us from his place in eternity.”
Vatican City, Apr 27, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI urged Europeans facing an influx of immigrants from war-torn North Africa to “continue their valued commitment to solidarity with our brother migrants.”
The Pope welcomed pilgrims from the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa to St Peter’s Square for his weekly Wednesday audience April 27. Although a part of Italy, the tiny isle is closer to the coast of Tunisia and has been the first port of call for those fleeing the fighting in northern Africa.
“I greet the faithful of Lampedusa,” said the pontiff, “and encourage them to continue their valued commitment to solidarity with our brother migrants, who find in their island a host of first asylum, at the same time I hope that the competent bodies to continue the necessary action to protect the social interests of every citizen.”
The Pope’s comments come only a day after the leaders of Italy and France met to discuss the recent rise in North African migration to Europe. About 25,000 migrants have arrived in southern Italy so far during 2011. Many have been fleeing the unrest caused by conflict in Libya.
Italy has long complained to other European Union countries that it is left to cope with the influx. Meanwhile, France worries that open-border policies within the European Union mean that it has become the final destination for most of the migrants. Earlier this month both countries agreed to join sea and air patrols to try and stop migrants reaching Europe.
Now both President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy have written to senior officials at the European Union asking for the institution’s open-borders policy, known as the Schengen Treaty, to be reformed. The agreement allows legal residents of most EU countries, plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland to travel across the zone with only minimal border checks.