Archive of July 10, 2011

‘Virtual pilgrimage’ to World Youth Day uses Facebook

Washington D.C., Jul 10, 2011 (CNA) -

The U.S. bishops have launched a Facebook app and a website to serve as a “virtual pilgrimage” to World Youth Day 2011 for those who are staying home.

Users can create an avatar and use it to participate in the “pilgrimage” coinciding with the August 16-21 worldwide youth gathering. A Google map also provides visuals of pilgrims’ worldwide origins and shows them on a detailed map of Madrid.

A Facebook fan page for the “Virtual World Youth Day” lets users create their avatar, view live video from Madrid, follow key twitter feeds and blogs and upload photos and videos.

Those in Madrid can contribute to the page from the event. U.S. bishops’ staff in Madrid will post content from there as well. A team of young adults and young adult leaders attending the event will post to the page and blog on behalf of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

About 900 people have already created avatars and joined the pilgrimage.

The non-Facebook website is at while the Facebook fan page is at

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God always respects our freedom, says Pope

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Jul 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

God always respects human freedom and never compels anybody into a relationship with him. That was the message of Pope Benedict XVI in his midday Angelus address July 10.

“God does not force us to believe in Him, but draws us to Himself through the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son. Love, in fact, always respects freedom,” Pope Benedict said from the balcony of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles southeast of Rome.

The Pope based his conclusion upon the story told by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading: the parable of the sower who plants seed with different degrees of success.

He said that for Jesus the parable was “autobiographical” because “it reflects the experience of Jesus himself and of his preaching” as “different effects are achieved depending on the kind of reception given to the proclamation.”

Pope Benedict then attempted to answer the question subsequently raised by the apostles: why does Jesus speak in parables?

The Pope said that Jesus makes a distinction between the general crowd and the apostles.

“To those who have already decided for him, he can speak openly of the Kingdom of God” while to others he must speak in metaphor “to stimulate precisely the decision, the conversion of heart” needed. Jesus' parables “require effort to interpret, challenging one’s intelligence but also one’s freedom.” 

“After all,” said the Pope, “the real ‘Parable’ of God is Jesus himself, his person, under the form of his humanity, hiding and yet revealing the same deity.” In this way “God does not force us to believe in Him, but draws us to himself through the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son.”   

The Pope then reminded the pilgrims gathered in the papal courtyard at Castel Gandolfo that tomorrow is the Feast of St. Benedict, Patron of Europe, from whom we can learn “to give God his rightful place, first place.”

After the Angelus address and prayer, Pope Benedict turned his comments to those who earn their living on the seas, since July 10 is designated “Sea Sunday” by the Catholic Church. In particular, the Pope assured his prayers “for seafarers who unfortunately find themselves seized by pirates.” Estimates say there are currently around 800 such individuals being held hostage on the high seas.

“I hope they are treated with respect and humanity, and pray for their families so that they are strong in faith and do not lose hope that they will soon meet their loved ones.”

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Beloved Detroit crucifix saved from fire finds new parish home

Detroit, Mich., Jul 10, 2011 (CNA) -

A 100 year-old crucifix pulled from a devastating Detroit parish fire in the 1960s is being restored and sent to a new church home in Michigan.

“It's life size,” said Alton James from Detroit's Good Shepherd parish, where the 13-foot crucifix has been kept safe over the decades.

The cross was the only surviving artifact from a fire – believed but never proved to be set by arsonists – that destroyed Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church on the city's east side in 1963. Though no one was killed in the disaster, it grieved Detroit's Belgian Catholic community, which had been attending the parish since its establishment in 1884.

Parish member and 19th-century Belgian immigrant Joannes Emmanuel Verbiest donated the cross, which is made out of fir and a 5-foot plaster corpus, to his church in 1911.

Pastoral associate Alton James told CNA/EWTN News that the spared crucifix was transferred to a nearby parish after the fire, which merged with other parishes over the decades and eventually became Good Shepherd.

But it wasn't until recently that Mary Lou Schulte, great-granddaughter of Joannes Verbiest, started the effort to have the crucifix restored.

“This is an important piece of Detroit history and of Belgian history,” Schulte told the Detroit News. “It has to be preserved for generations to come. It's our obligation.”

After inquiries were made at several local parishes, Schulte found the artifact a new home at St. Gerald Catholic Church in Farmington.

With the help of two of her cousins, Schulte will share the cost of the restoration, estimated to be about $3,000. The restoration process is expected to take around two months.

Alton said that the parish council at Good Shepherd met and agreed to give the crucifix away, which was in storage because the church already had a wealth of other religious artifacts on display.

“Religious art is absolutely crucial,” Alton said, referencing the growing local media buzz on the crucifix restoration. “It always inspires us to prayer as well as enriching our faith experience.”

Alton praised older Church art like the Belgian crucifix, saying “it's a phenomenal inspiration” that helps us utilize our senses “in order to draw closer to God.”

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Speakers’ stories reveal that faith grows against all odds

College Park, Ga., Jul 10, 2011 (CNA) - A former Protestant pastor who felt haunted by the hidden God in the presence of the Eucharist. A tiny Iraqi nun whose Catholic faith life grew living among the homeless amidst the devastation of war, even though she wasn’t Catholic. A priest who encouraged others to seek freedom from life’s material attachments—and let grace flow through their life. And a former secular Irish singer whose own faith—and career—took off after a serious throat operation left her unable to sing for years.

The stories shared by the speakers in the English track during the 2011 Eucharist Congress—Dr. Paul Thigpen, Sister Olga of the Eucharist, Father Robert Barron and Dana—were all different. But all shared a similar message: that the “abundant harvest” of faith starts with just a small seed planted in the wild garden of life’s trials and tribulations.

“I planted, Apollos watered; God gave the growth,” Thigpen said, quoting St. Paul, as he talked about his own circuitous journey to Catholicism. “It all starts with seeds and sprinkles.”

Here is a sampling of their talks and some audience reaction.

Sister Olga Of The Eucharist

In the garden of humanity, Olga Yaqob is certainly one of God’s most tenacious plants; rooted in hostile soil, her faith is now flowering into one of the 21st century’s new Catholic orders of sisters.

The diminutive 4-foot-10-inch Iraqi woman—dressed in the simple blue habit of her order— stepped in front of the podium in the cavernous Georgia International Convention Center hall to tell the crowd her story of growing up in a war-torn nation wondering if her country would ever see peace.

Olga could have been shielded from the carnage of war because of her family’s wealthy status. But she didn’t shy away, even when she saw the devastation caused by war up close as a teenager.

She helped prepare the bodies of the war dead for funerals. As she washed and cleaned the bodies, many horribly disfigured because of their injuries, she wept.

“I prayed for peace every day,” she said. “I thought, there has to be a way to stop the war, as I witnessed one funeral after the other. I thought this shouldn’t be the reality of how we treat each other. God says, ‘Peace be with you’… and we Christians have a responsibility to speak and preach about peace; I wanted to become a missionary of peace.”

She grew up in the Assyrian Church of the East, an ancient Christian church that broke with the Catholic Church in A.D. 431, but that began a fruitful theological dialogue again with Rome starting in the 1990s. Her own young seeds of faith—and that desire to become a missionary of peace—were cultivated by a Catholic family who invited her to Mass and showed her how to pray the rosary. It was while visiting a Catholic church that she also learned of the Virgin Mary and her role in the church.

“I thought, who can teach me to be closer to God than Mary,” Sister Olga said.

“Who can teach me more about peace than the Prince of Peace himself,” she said, as she reflected on the gradual growth of her Catholic faith.

Her faith grew despite the adversity she faced as she eventually began to embrace the Catholic Church and a celibate lifestyle, much to the dismay of her family and the church of her childhood.

Disowned by her family for running away to avoid an arranged marriage, she lived among the homeless helping others while she built her own faith life. Eventually, her piety and good works led her to be invited to start an Assyrian order of sisters by her bishop in 1995. But the Assyrian Church after several years rejected her because she continued her Catholic practices of praying the rosary and attending daily Mass. With the help of Jesuits, she came to the United States to study in Boston. There, while studying English, she began helping students at Boston University with their faith. She was able at last to join the Catholic Church and was asked by the archbishop of Boston to become the Catholic chaplain at the university. Now Sister Olga of the Eucharist has been invited again to start a new order of sisters, this time by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

Listening to Sister Olga speak, Carolyn Webster was moved with emotion, reflecting on the good Catholics who let her experience their faith over the years. Webster attended the session with her 18-year-old daughter, Grace, This was the St. Anna’s parishioners’ first Eucharistic Congress.

“I see that suffering gets us to where we need to be to know our true vocation,” she said, reflecting on Sister Olga’s own faith journey. Then she looked up, with tears in her eyes. “Over the years, God has put good Catholics in my life, and I would attend Easter services. Last year, I witnessed a woman being baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church; she was so joyful. I knew I also wanted to receive the Eucharist—to experience that joy.” She joined the church in April with her teenagers.

Dr. Paul Thigpen

That hunger for the Eucharist was shared by another speaker, Dr. Paul Thigpen, whose own faith journey meant leaving his Protestant faith and a successful career as an evangelist.

“Even as a pastor I knew the power of the Eucharist—I would go into a Catholic church and see (the tabernacle) and know there was a presence. I was haunted by the hidden God,” Thigpen told the crowd. “I tell you that vocations do live in the Eucharist, and I was called to enter into our Lord’s Catholic Church.”

After years of work as a Protestant pastor, Thigpen became a Catholic in 1993. A prolific author and Catholic historian with a doctorate from Emory University, he directs the publishing division of the Coming Home Network International, an apostolate that helps non-Catholic clergy enter the Catholic Church.

Thigpen encouraged others attending the Eucharistic Congress to practice “10 small effective ways to evangelize” and share their faith.

“We have to help plant our faith and cultivate our faith,” he said. Those tips for Catholics to help with that “cultivation,” include: answering a question; recommending a good book; recalling a meaningful experience with God; offering to pray with someone or for someone; and providing an example of integrity to your own faith commitment.

Thigpen added that even doing everything on the list may not produce results. He added, “Be patient. If you plant the seed of faith, someone else will water.”

Father Robert Barron

Father Robert Barron, founder of “Word on Fire,” a global nonprofit media ministry, also encouraged the crowd to cultivate a very public Catholic faith. But he also reflected on the importance of the Eucharist in that faith in deepening an individual’s own vocation as a Catholic.

“Jesus makes meals so central to his ministry,” Father Barron said, as he recounted the story of the fishes and loaves and the Last Supper. “And you know we are what we eat. … In the Eucharist, we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We conform unto him.”

He challenged the crowd to discover their own mission and vocation in sharing their faith with others.

“How do you allow divine grace to flow through you into the world?” he said to the crowd.

“To fulfill that you need freedom …freedom from your attachments to wealth, pleasure, power and honor. To be detached from these things is to be able to respond freely to God’s will.”

Father Barron is currently finishing up a documentary film series about the Catholic faith called “The Catholicism Project.”

Tony Rozier, a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, was taking notes during the English track, but stopped to reflect on what he had learned after Father Barron’s talk.

“I think the message and the recurring theme of today is that you never know God is all you need until God is all you have—and that’s when you really begin to live,” he said.


Dana, the singer whose hymn, “We Are One Body,” became the anthem for a resurgence of Catholic youth in the Church, seemed to reflect Rozier’s thoughts, as she told the crowd her story of how her dormant childhood faith was renewed after an operation that left her unable to regain her singing voice for over a year. The popular singer told the crowd that it wasn’t until she finally allowed herself a small prayer to God that her answer was given—and her recovery started immediately.

“The hardest things that we meet in life—we can really look back on them and say that was a blessing to me,” said the singer, whose full name is Dana Rosemary Scallon.

She spoke with emotion as she shared with the crowd that Ireland will host its first Eucharistic Congress since 1932 next year, inviting everyone to come to Ireland in 2012.

“Your light of faith is needed in Ireland. I invite you to be with us in prayer or be with us physically,” she told the crowd.

Reflecting on the day, Lina Cruz summed up her own experience.

“The Eucharistic Congress always has touched me and refreshed my faith,” the St. Lawrence parishioner said, as she joined the rest of the crowd who held hands as they sang, “We Are One Body.”

Printed with permission from the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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St. Henry's piety and generosity remembered on July 13 feast

Denver, Colo., Jul 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On July 13, the Catholic Church will celebrate the memory of St. Henry II, a German king who led and defended Europe's Holy Roman Empire at the beginning of the first millennium.

St. Henry was born in 972 to Duke Henry of Bavaria and Princess Gisela of Burgundy. During his youth, Henry received both an education and spiritual guidance from a bishop who was himself canonized, St. Wolfgang of Regensberg. Henry was an intelligent and devout student, and for a period of time he was considered for the priesthood.

St. Wolfgang's lessons in piety and charity left a lasting mark on Henry's soul. But it was ultimately in the political realm, not the Church, that he would seek to exercise these virtues. He took on his father's position as Duke of Bavaria in 995, one year after St. Wolfgang's death. The Church supported his accession to the throne as King of Germany in 1002.

As king, Henry encouraged the German bishops to reform the practices of the Church in accordance with canon law. During the same period he is said to have brought a peaceful end to a revolt in his territory, which ended with the king mercifully pardoning the rebels. Henry also acted decisively, but not harshly, against an Italian nobleman who set himself up as a rival king.

In 1014, the German king journeyed to Rome where Pope Benedict VIII formally crowned him as head of the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor demonstrated his loyalty to the Pope by confirming Benedict VIII's authority over the city of Rome. Henry made his journey from Rome back to Germany into a pilgrimage of sorts, stopping at various monasteries along the way.

Henry became a great patron of churches and monasteries, donating so much of his wealth to them that his relatives complained that he was behaving irresponsibly. But Henry was far from irresponsible, as his leadership of the Western Empire in both war and peace demonstrated. The emperor was also a great patron of the poor, making enormous contributions for their relief.

The emperor's extraordinary generosity was made possible in part by his lack of an heir. He was married to a woman who was later canonized in her own right, St. Cunigunde of Luxembourg, but the two had no children. Some accounts say that the couple took vows of virginity and never consummated their marriage, though this explanation of their childlessness is not universally accepted.

For the last several years of his life, Henry had to deal with serious illness, and an additional ailment that crippled his left leg, along with his imperial responsibilities. He found support in prayer during these trials, and seriously considered resigning his imperial leadership in order to become a monk.

After several years of illness, St. Henry II died in July of 1024. The public mourned sincerely for the monarch who had managed to lead his earthly kingdom so responsibly without losing sight of the Kingdom of God. Pope Eugene III canonized him in 1146.

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