Kirkuk, Iraq, Aug 16, 2011 (CNA) -
In less than two weeks, car bomb attacks have hit three churches in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk. The city’s archbishop lamented that Christians’ security concerns are not a priority for the government.
On Aug. 15 it seemed that the entire country of Iraq was being hit with bomb attacks. The coordinated bombings hit 17 cities, ranging from northern Sunni lands to the southern Shiite-dominated region. According to an Associated Press estimate, 63 people were killed and 250 injured.
The explosion at St. Ephrem’s Syrian Orthodox Church at 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15 did not injure anyone. But its priest, Fr. Gewargis Elias, was lucky to escape with his life.
Security staff spotted a vehicle carrying suspicious devices and ordered him out just minutes before the blast, Aid to the Church in Need reports.
“Today they attacked the church. Who knows if tomorrow they will attack the clergy or the people?” asked Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk.
“The government will provide guards and repairs but after that we are not sure if there will be another explosion. Our concerns are not a priority for the government. What can we do? How can we plan for the future?”
The archbishop, who visited the church after the attack, reported that the bomb left a huge hole in the main wall and smashed pews and other church furnishings. There was evidence the attack was carefully planned.
Archbishop Sako himself was awoken by the blast, which broke the windows of his house. The church is less than 0.6 miles from his home.
“I saw many people in the church when I was there,” he said of his visit. “They were so very tired and shocked. They were asking: ‘Why our church? What is the reason?”
“There is no justification for attacks like this. We Christians have no part to play in politics. We are not causing people any problems,” the archbishop said.
Two weeks ago similar car bomb attacks took place at Holy Family Syrian Catholic Church and the nearby Evangelical church. At least 13 people in homes close to Holy Family church were injured, the majority not seriously.
Nobody had claimed responsibility for the attacks, Archbishop Sako said.
“This is only happening because we are Christians. Maybe the people responsible want to empty the city of Christians.”
The local governor has promised Archbishop Sako that the government will provide guards for churches and funding for repairs. However, the archbishop said that such measures offer little long-term reassurance.
Christians are continuing to emigrate from violent areas of Iraq. Five families have left Kirkuk since the attacks two weeks ago and the archbishop estimates that thousands of Christians have left the city over the past 30 years.
“This exodus of Christians is going on all the time. It is a big loss for those Christians who want to continue here. How long can they resist the pressure to leave?”
Because of the bombings, celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption have been scaled back to “modest” levels.
However, Archbishop Sako reported good relations with the Syrian Orthodox and other churches in Iraq. He added that Christians will work together.
Vatican City, Aug 16, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect for the Congregation for Clergy, stated in a recent letter to all Catholic shrines around the globe that they provide a crucial opportunity to evangelize the thousands of tourists who visit them each year.
“Shrines maintain an extraordinary attraction for the faithful, shown by the growing number of pilgrims that go to them,” the cardinal said. “To visit a shrine can be for them a valuable opportunity to encounter Christ or to rediscover their sense of baptismal vocation and to hear its saving call.”
“Frequently one finds men and women of every age and condition, with complex human and spiritual situations, sometimes removed from a sound life of faith,” he added.
In an Aug. 12 letter to priests and rectors of shrines, Cardinal Piacenza first expressed his gratitude for the “attentive dedication” they give in addressing the pastoral needs of the pilgrims “who approach the places of worship entrusted to your care in ever greater numbers from every part of the world.”
He then outlined several ways in which shrines become an opportunity for visitors to be touched by God, specifically through the Scriptures, the sacraments of Reconciliation and of the Eucharist, adoration, prayer vigils and the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the saints.
Cardinal Piacenza said that presenting the depth and beauty of the Church through its sacraments will challenge “the pervasive sense of relativism that currently reigns” and enable shrines to “become places that facilitate a renewed dynamism directed towards the greatly desired new evangelization.”
He also encouraged priests and rectors to be warm and inviting to visitors as well as deeply informed on the teachings of the faith.
“I exhort each of you to direct to direct your sights to these persons in a particularly welcoming and attentive manner,” the prefect said.
“With evangelical wisdom and with a generous sensitivity, it would serve as an example to make oneself the companion on the journey with pilgrims and visitors, seeking to identify the reasons of the heart and the expectations of the spirit that have brought them there. “
A “welcoming humanity, spiritual insightfulness and theological intelligence, will help in introducing the pilgrims to the Shrine as an event of grace, a place of religious experience and of rediscovered joy,” he added.
Madrid, Spain, Aug 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Over 5,000 Canadian youngsters began World Youth Day this morning with a rally where they gathered to pray, sing and celebrate their Catholic faith.
“The Lord has a wonderful way of placing things and timing things,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, organizer of this morning’s event at Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes, in remarks to CNA.
“It wasn’t until we were preparing, though, that somebody said to me, ‘you realize you’re the first event of World Youth Day?’”
The 90-minute event - conducted in English and French – is also the first time the Canadian Catholic Church has attempted such a mass gathering at a World Youth Day on foreign soil.
It heard testimony from young people who had taken part in World Youth Day in Toronto, Canada in 2002, as well as speeches from various Canadian bishops, 22 of whom were present.
“We are delving into the mystery of our faith, the beautiful faith of the Church, which we’re immersed at the time of our baptism. And as we do, we pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us to a new encounter with Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton told the young pilgrims.
Meanwhile Archbishop Terence Prendergast of Ottowa and Archbishop Gerald Lacroix of Quebec led the gathering in a “prayer of commissioning” that was first used by Pope John Paul II in Toronto.
Throughout, music was provided by Christian rock singer Fr. Robert Galea, a Maltese priest who is now based in Australia.
CNA caught up with a group of young pilgrims from the Diocese of Kamloops, British Colombia as they exited the arena.
“It was really great, it was awesome, it made me think more about the faith and the way everybody spoke about it was very inspiring,” said 13-year-old Emily Ouillette.
“It was amazing. Canada is a very unified country, so to come together in Madrid and show our faith is really amazing,” added 25-year-old Mike Bruno.
“The youth will always bring new life to the Church. If we can inspire the youth of our country, it’ll be the grassroots swelling to keep our faith alive,” said their pilgrim group leader, Fr. Andrew L’Heureux.
“To give the children an understanding a great love of God is the most important thing – if our young people can understand how much God loves them, how much Mary loves them and how much they desire to have intimate friendship with them, then they will inspire the rest of the country. They will be the fire for our country.”
“This is the beginning of something,” Fr. Rosica predicted.
“The fact that there are over 6,000 Canadians present here at the moment in Madrid is incredible. The fact they wanted to gather together is another great gift. It was quite beautiful.”
Madrid, Spain, Aug 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A U.S. flag that has appeared at every World Youth Day over the past decade in remembrance of 9/11 victims has arrived in Madrid.
The flag originally belonged to the family of a young Catholic woman from Brooklyn who was killed in the 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center.
“This flag was given to the family of Suzanne Geraty,” said Fr. Gerard Sauer, chaplain to the World Youth Day pilgrims from the Brooklyn diocese.
“She was a parishioner of mine and I buried her,” he told CNA.
Thirty-year-old Suzanne was a systems support worker for the financial services company Cantor Fitzgerald.
“So we honor her and all those who perished in 9/11 by bringing this flag to World Youth Day,” said Fr. Sauer, parish priest of St. Mel’s Church in Flushing.
This is the flag’s fourth World Youth Day. It was first carried to Toronto, Canada in 2002, then onto Cologne, Germany in 2005 and, most recently, to Sydney, Australia in 2008.
Today it led several hundred young pilgrims from the Diocese of Brooklyn towards their first destination -- the opening ceremony for English-speaking pilgrims at Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes stadium.
“Well it means a lot to me that I was chosen as the flag bearer today,” said 17-year-old Andrew Patrick from St. Patrick’s parish in Brooklyn as he made his way through the sun-baked streets of Madrid.
“I just feel very proud of my country, very proud that I’m able to do this, very honored. And I’m glad that I can do this for my country.”
Walking behind Andrew were fellow pilgrims who seemed equally moved to be taking part today.
“Yes, it means a lot to me. I know plenty of friends who lost family members in 9/11. I’m just proud to be an American today as we’ve been able to bounce back and stand up for what we believe in,” said 17-year-old Christopher De Sciora, also from St. Patrick’s in Brooklyn.
“I really think it’s important to remember 9/11. I was only in the fourth grade when it happened, but it really changed the way we look at the world. So we should never forget,” said 19-year-old Matthew Freeze from Our Lady of Angels parish in Brooklyn.
Next month marks the 10th anniversary of the series of terror attacks upon the U.S. that claimed the lives of over 3,000 people in one day.
“This flag represents our city, our state, our country and an event that the whole world felt, actually,” concluded Fr. Sauer.
Madrid, Spain, Aug 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Catholic Church in Spain will benefit greatly from this week’s World Youth Day – and in ways that can’t be imagined yet, say Australian Catholics who hosted the 2008 gathering in Sydney.
“God works in many and mysterious ways - but God is at work,” said Cardinal George Pell of Syndey, after attending a rally of over 4,000 Australian pilgrims in Madrid on August 16.
“One of things we’ve learned in Sydney is that so many spontaneous growths and activities have sprung up themselves since World Youth Day. We haven’t really organized them, but when you plant seeds in the hearts of people they germinate and flower in very different ways,” he told CNA.
Today’s Australian gathering was held in the indoor Palacio de Deportes stadium in central Madrid. The event featured various testimonies from young people who had attended WYD in Sydney.
“Yeah, until I had to write my testimony I hadn’t realized just how much World Youth Day in Sydney has changed my life,” said 29-year-old teacher, Cheryl Fernandez, from Sydney.
She told the crowd of Australians how “it led me to know more about my faith and share it with others.”
Fernandez advised rookie WYD pilgrims “to take it all in this week. It can be really overwhelming so just let the Holy Spirit do his work.”
The two-hour celebration also featured indigenous Australian culture provided by didgeridoo player Robert Dann and several young aboriginal dancers. Time was also devoted to studying the life of Saint Mary MacKillop, the 19th century nun who last year became the first Australian to be canonized.
The whole Madrid event was hosted by two young Australian Catholics - Kiri Groeneveld from Brisbane and Jack O’Sullivan from Melbourne.
“World Youth Day in Sydney really opened my eyes to the universality of the Catholic Church,” said 20-year-old Jack, a youth worker with his local diocese.
“Not only the diversity in Australia but of the whole world; we come from such different walks of life and yet share something so wonderful in common in our Catholic faith.”
A similar story was told by Therese Nichols who this week is leading a group of pilgrims from the Australian Catholic University.
“The Catholic University took seven pilgrims to World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005. This week we’ve got 87 pilgrims here. So what happened in between? Sydney World Youth Day,” said Therese to CNA.
One of the final speeches today came from Bishop Christopher Prowse of Sale in Victoria who challenged the thousands of young pilgrims in attendance to go back out into the world with an “attitude of the Gospel and not the attitude of a world that’s so confused – the ‘me’ world.”
“The more you run away from the cross of Jesus Christ, the more you will become despairing,” he said.
“The more you’ll wake up in the morning here in Madrid and say, ‘the showers were cold’, ‘there were no cornflakes for breakfast – it was all these coffee and cakes,’ ‘my feet are sore, there’s too much walking, ‘my pilgrim leader is bossy’, ‘those people from New South Wales make too much noise.’”
“It was fantastic, a really great way to kick-off the week,” said 26-year-old Angela Moore from Melbourne, as she began to leave the stadium.
“We’ve had a fantastic time at this Aussie gathering. It’s been so wonderful for our young people to come here and experience a gathering with so many young Catholics from Australia,” said 30-year-old group leader, Fran Davis, also from Melbourne.
“Yes, there’s no doubt whatsoever that time and time and time again WYD gatherings have demonstrated the strength of the faith and goodness of young people,” Cardinal Pell stated.
“The mixture works. There’s no doubting the evidence. It’s one of the greatest legacies of John Paul II.”
Madrid, Spain, Aug 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko welcomed the more than 500,000 young people who flooded the Plaza de Cibeles at the World Youth Day Madrid 2011 opening Mass on Aug. 16.
“The day we have all been waiting for has arrived,” Cardinal Rylko, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said. “After a long path of preparation you are finally here in Madrid, a beautiful modern city that will be the world capital of Catholic youth for the next few days...”
The cardinal reminded all those present that the motto for World Youth Day 2011 is “Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith.” He said that this reflection “is very demanding because it contains a definite life plan for each one of us. Faith will be at the center of our reflection at this time. Faith is a decisive factor in each person’s life.”
“Everything changes according to whether God exists or not. Faith is like a root that is nourished by the lifeblood of the word of God and the sacraments. It is the foundation, the rock on which life is built, the dependable compass that guides our choices and gives clear direction to our lives.”
To those who ask if it is “possible to have faith” in today’s day and age, young adults must know that “faith is possible. It is in fact a wonderful adventure that allows us to discover the magnitude and beauty of our lives. This is because God, revealed in the face of Christ, does not put human beings down. God exalts us beyond all measure and beyond our wildest imaginings!”
“As we await the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI,” the cardinal continued, “we have welcomed a special guest this evening to (World Youth Day) in Madrid. Blessed John Paul II has come back to you, the young people that he loved so much, and who was equally loved by you. He has returned as your blessed patron and as a protector in whom you can trust. He has returned as a friend – a demanding friend, as he liked to call himself.”
“He has come to say to you yet again and with much affection: Do not be afraid! Choose to have Christ in your lives and to possess the precious pearl of the Gospel for which it is worthwhile giving everything!”
The cardinal concluded by welcoming the crowd to Madrid.