Rome, Italy, Oct 21, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Sister Elvira Maria de Witt, DCJ, is an opera singer turned nun who has found a new way to win vocations to the religious life—by going online.
“The Netherlands had a lot of missionaries. I didn’t come into this congregation, give up my whole career as a singer - and I was really good - to let it die. Come on Jesus!” the feisty, young Dutch religious sister told CNA while visiting Rome.
“But I asked myself, where should I find new people?”
So, after considering going to bars and soccer games to find young people but concluding “I don’t think I can go there,” she came up with her bold broadband plan.
From a slow start in 2001, she now receives up to 300 e-mails a week, and they are mostly from the young.
“Some questions about the faith or that they don’t feel well or are depressed,” she explained. Others are from girls who are pregnant and have nowhere else to turn for advice. Still more are young people wanting to know about the Catholic faith and religious life – most of whom are not Catholic themselves.
“There are questions about how to pray better or how to pray the Rosary or questions like how do I go to confession? What should I say and where can I find somebody?”
Sister Elvira is the novice mistress at the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus convent in the southern Dutch city of Maastricht. She believes that her online presence – now extended to Facebook and a blog - is giving answers that are not readily available elsewhere in her country.
“The Netherlands is a good example of how things shouldn’t work: there is no catechism in the Catholic schools, there are no Catholic schools - only in name - but inside you see nothing,” she said.
Despite those obstacles, the religious vocations keep coming – just not from Catholic households. In fact, the convent’s two latest recruits are not even baptized.
“So, there is the whole process of catechism, of telling them about the Catholic faith, asking if it’s what they want, being baptized and confirmed,” Sister Elvira explained.
After joining the Church, the sisters ask that they live their faith for “a couple of years or so” before they enter the convent.
Not that such things worry her, given that she herself never really went to church until she was 24 when, in her words, “I found Jesus!”
“I was a singer, singing in Berlin and Amsterdam in the big halls, then Jesus came and I followed him.”
Sister Elvira can be contacted at http://www.roepingen.nl
Bethel, Conn., Oct 21, 2011 (CNA) - Author Thomas Craughwell's latest two books speak to society's growing fascination with saints and relics—but with an engaging wit that is rarely seen on the topic.
“If by 'pious' you mean sentimental and humorless, then yes, my work is not pious,” Craughwell told CNA. “I am devout, I am a faithful son of the Catholic Church, but I have a sense of humor.”
“Don’t get me wrong—I know where to draw the line,” he added. “But I do think it’s kind of funny that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of archers—not because he was an archer himself, but because he was the archers’ target.”
Author of several books including the 2006 hit “Saints Behaving Badly,” Craughwell released two more this year in time for All Saints Day on Nov. 1.
In an Oct. 20 interview, he talked about the exhaustive process in writing “Patron Saints: Saints for Every Member of Your Family, Every Profession, Every Ailment, Every Emergency, and Even Every Amusement” (Our Sunday Visitor, $14.95) and “Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics” (Image, $16.00).
“Patron Saints was supposed to be this simple project that I could knock out pretty quickly,” he said. “Instead it turned into a magnum opus.”
“Honestly, I do not know how many entries are in the book, but it runs to the hundreds.”
Craughwell explained that although most patron saint books list one saint for each cause, most causes, ailments, and countries have more than one patron saint, “so my editor and I decided to include as many as I could track down.”
As a result, “in my book you’ll find six patron saints for children, four for nuns, six for soldiers, 11 for Poland, and so on.”
Touching on his second major work of 2011, the encyclopedia of relics, Craughwell called it “a book I’ve wanted to write for years.”
The encyclopedia includes around 350 entries for everything from the bones of St. Peter to the True Cross, and from the Holy Grail “to the multiple locations that claim to possess the head of St. John the Baptist.”
“In each entry I identify the location or locations of the relic” and “include capsule biographies in the case of saints, and historical information in the case of objects such as the Ark of the Covenant,” he said.
On his passion for writing about the saints, Craughwell explained that he largely finds them misunderstood by modern society.
“Most people think 'saint' is a synonym for 'perfect,'” he said. “But the saints were not perfect, and some of them were a lot less perfect than others.”
St. Olga of Kiev, for example, “was a mass murderer,” Craughwell noted. “St. Patrick in his teen years was an atheist. St. Margaret of Cortona lived in sin with a man for nine years. St. Camillus de Lellis was a card sharp and a con man.”
But it was when these individuals repented of their former lives that they took the first steps toward becoming holy, he said.
“It wasn’t easy. Repentance never is. Camillus slipped back into his old life more than once. Margaret missed the comfortable life of being a rich man’s mistress.”
“But by prayer and penance, the Mass and the sacraments, and God’s grace, they overcame their temptations and became saints,” he added. “If these guys could become saints, then there’s hope for all of us.”
Aside from his love for the Blessed Mother, Craughwell said he has had a devotion for St. Thomas More since he was a little boy.
“I like him because he teaches us how to live in the world. He had a wife and children; he had a successful career; he became well-to-do and politically powerful,” he said. “He was an internationally acclaimed author and he was the confidant of his king.”
“Yet he never lost sight of what is most important in life—love for and fidelity to Almighty God. That intimate relationship with God grounded More all his life, and gave him the courage to die, as he said on the scaffold, 'the king’s good servant, but God’s first.'”
Craughwell noted the importance of devotions to those who've gone before us, reminding that every week at Mass in the Apostles Creed, Catholics recite their belief in the communion of saints.
“The communion of saints is an eternal spiritual relationship that even death cannot destroy,” he underscored. We “beg the saints in heaven to pray for us, so that ultimately when we pass from this life we may pass through purgatory to the unending joy of heaven.”
“That is what God desires for every human being, and he has given us countless saints to show us the way that leads to Him.”
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2011 (CNA) - The Vatican Council for Interreligious Dialogue has offered its “cordial greetings” to Hindus celebrating the feast of Deepavali. The council proposed religious freedom as the answer to religiously motivated conflicts.
“May God, the source of all light, illumine your hearts, homes and communities for a life of peace and prosperity,” said the Oct. 20 message, signed by the council president Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and the council secretary Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata.
The three-day Deepavali celebrations begin this year on Oct. 26. They mark the beginning of a new year and are a time for Hindus to take part in family reconciliation and adoration of the divine.
The Council for Inter-religious Dialogue traditionally shares a reflection on the occasion. This year it chose the subject of religious freedom because it is at center stage in many places. The subject calls attention to “those members of our human family exposed to bias, prejudice, hate propaganda, discrimination and persecution on the basis of religious affiliation.”
Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, they said.
“When it is jeopardized or denied, all other human rights are endangered. Religious freedom necessarily includes immunity from coercion by any individual, group, community or institution,” they explained.
The message comes after several years of tensions and anti-Christian violence in some parts of India. Hindu radicals have participated in deadly attacks that have driven Christians out of their homes and destroyed their churches.
The Vatican council said that the human freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion or belief can take place in public or private, alone or in a community.
The right to religious freedom also involves a “serious obligation” from civil authorities, individuals and groups to respect the freedom of others. It also includes the freedom to change one’s own religion.
The council’s letter observed that respect for religious freedom allows believers to be “more enthusiastic” about cooperating with their fellow citizens to build “a just and human social order.” Its denial stifles and frustrates “authentic and lasting peace.”
The council noted areas like the defense of life and the dignity of the family, the education of children, honesty in daily life and the preservation of natural resources as areas in which believers can make a specific contribution to the common good.
“Let us strive, then, to join hands in promoting religious freedom as our shared responsibility, by asking the leaders of nations never to disregard the religious dimension of the human person,” the council said.
“We cordially wish you a joyful celebration of Deepavali.”
New York City, N.Y., Oct 21, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York praised local news and anti-discrimination groups for chastising actress Susan Sarandon after she called Pope Benedict a “Nazi.”
In a Oct. 19 post on his blog, “The Gospel in the Digital Age,” Archbishop Dolan said he was “grateful” to the New York Daily News, the Catholic League and the Anti-Defamation League for criticizing remarks Sarandon made during an Oct. 15 press conference at the Hamptons Film Festival.
The actress, known for her Academy Award-winning role in the 1995 anti-death penalty movie, “Dead Man Walking,” said that she had given a copy of the book which the film in based on to the Pope.
“The last one. Not this Nazi one we have now,” Sarandon said in reference to Pope Benedict. She allegedly made the same comment again at another discussion panel that day.
Though none of the press visibly reacted at the time, several organizations were quick to jump on the actress's remarks, including the Catholic League. Group president Bill Donohue called her comments not only “obscene” but historically inaccurate.
“Susan Sarandon’s ignorance is willful: those who have hatred in their veins are not interested in the truth,” Donohue said on Oct. 17.
“The fact is that Joseph Ratzinger (the Pope) was conscripted at the age of 14 into the Hitler Youth, along with every other young German boy,” he explained.
“Unlike most of the other teenagers, Ratzinger refused to go to meetings, bringing economic hardship to his family. Moreover, unlike most of the others, he deserted at the first opportunity.”
In a strongly worded Oct. 19 editorial, the New York Daily News also added to the criticism, saying that Sarandon “defamed” Pope Benedict with a “grotesque characterization.”
“Sarandon meant what she said because, it is clear, she despises the church’s moral teachings,” the Daily News wrote. “And that, for her, justifies placing the Pope in the category of a mass-murdering perpetrator of evil beyond description.”
The actress's comments also drew outcry from the Jewish community, specifically the Anti-Defamation League, which said that Sarandon had “no excuse for throwing around Nazi analogies.”
“Such words are hateful, vindictive and only serve to diminish the true history and meaning of the Holocaust,” it said.
The league, which works to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, called on the actress to apologize to the Catholic community “and all those she may have offended with this disturbing, deeply offensive and completely uncalled for attack on the good name of Pope Benedict XVI.”
Archbishop Dolan said on his blog that he agrees with the Daily News' take that “Sarandon will face no public fall-out for her remarks, 'because so very often the Catholic Church is considered fair game for anything.'”
“However,” he added, “with support from the Daily News, the Catholic League and the ADL, we might one day be able to turn that tide.”
Havana, Cuba, Oct 21, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana, Cuba submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Havana on Oct. 18, upon reaching the canonical age of retirement.
According to Canon Law, bishops must submit their resignations upon reaching the age of 75. The Pope has the authority to decide whether to accept the resignation or to allow a bishop to remain in office.
In recent years Cardinal Ortega has become one of the principal mediators with the Cuban government on issues such as the release of political prisoners. Between 2010 and 2011, 115 prisoners were freed, 103 of which traveled to Spain with their family members.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega was born on Oct. 18, 1936. He studied theology at the seminary of St. Albert the Great in Matanzas, Cuba, and at the Seminary for Priests of the Foreign Missions in Quebec, Canada.
He was ordained a priest on Aug. 2, 1964. In 1966 he was imprisoned by the Communist government and held in a work camp until 1967.
In December of 1978 he was named bishop of Pinar del Rio and in 1981 he was appointed Archbishop of Havana. He was president of the Cuban Bishops’ Conference from 1988 to 1990.
The cardinal also hosted John Paul II during his historic visit to Cuba in 1998.
Santiago, Chile, Oct 21, 2011 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications recently reminded Catholic media professionals to communicate the love of Christ.
Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, made his remarks during the closing Mass of the 2nd Congress on the Church and the Digital Culture in Chile on Oct. 19.
In his homily, Archbishop Celli noted that the task of Catholics is to communicate and “share the love we have for Jesus with somebody.”
The congress included a talk by Pauline Sister Joana Puntel of Brazil, who gave an address on strategies for communicating the faith in a digital society. The changes brought on by the new social media demand a new mentality in which users must be attentive to every message, she said.
The head of the Department of Communications at the Catholic University of Chile, Silva Pellegrini, spoke on the subject of ethics in the new media, which poses new problems in light of the multiple forms of expression in the digital world.
In his address, Christoph Dietz of the Catholic Media Council said in order for a project to be successful, its creators must focus on a specific audience and the means it prefers to use to communicate. He advised that financial risks be kept to a minimum and that improved financial management receive greater attention.
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI used his address to the new ambassador from the Netherlands to outline how the Catholic Church views its role in diplomatic relations.
“In acting as a voice for the voiceless and defending the rights of the defenseless, including the poor, the sick, the unborn, the elderly, and the members of minority groups who suffer unjust discrimination,” said Pope Benedict, “the Church seeks always to promote natural justice as it is her right and duty to do.”
Although the terms “Vatican State” and “Holy See” are often used interchangeably they are very different things.
According to international law and diplomatic custom, it is the Holy See and not the Vatican City State that is the recognized “legal personality” of the worldwide pastoral ministry of the Bishop of Rome as head of the Catholic Church. Therefore the Holy See existed for centuries as a diplomatic entity before the creation of the Vatican City State in 1929.
And it is the Holy See, not the Vatican City State, which exchanges diplomatic representations with 179 countries and is also represented at many inter-governmental bodies including the European Union and the United Nations.
Pope Benedict explained to the new Dutch Ambassador, Joseph Weterings, that the relationship between the Holy See and other states was “clearly of a different character from those between nation-states.”
“The Holy See is not an economic or military power,” he said, yet “its moral voice exerts considerable influence around the world.”
The reason for this influence, said the Pope, was precisely because the unchanging moral stance of the Holy See “is unaffected by the political or economic interests of a nation-state or the electoral concerns of a political party.”
Its contribution to international diplomacy, therefore, consists “largely in articulating the ethical principles that ought to underpin the social and political order,” and also “in drawing attention to the need for action to remedy violations of such principles.”
Obviously the opinions of the Holy See are drawn “from the standpoint of the Christian faith,” but “Christianity has always pointed to reason and nature as the sources of the norms on which a state of law should be built,” the Pope said to the ambassador.
Therefore the Holy See conducts its diplomacy not on “confessional nor on pragmatic grounds” but on the basis of “universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment,” he said.
With specific reference to the Netherlands, the Pope praised the Dutch government’s promotion of religious freedom which, he said, was “a matter of particular concern to the Holy See at the present time.”
The Dutch government is currently investigating the creation of a body to monitor religious freedom at home and abroad, similar the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Since 2010 the government of the Netherlands has consisted of a coalition of center-right and Christian democrat parties led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It is presently trying to change the country’s liberal laws on drug use and prostitution. The Pope praised both these initiatives.
“While your nation has long championed the freedom of individuals to make their own choices, nevertheless, those choices by which people inflict harm on themselves or others must be discouraged, for the good of individuals and society as a whole,” he said.
Catholics make up about 25 percent of the Netherland’s population of 16 million, making it the country’s largest religious group.
Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In recent interviews with the media, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has defined where he stands on abortion, including in cases of rape and medical emergencies.
In an Oct. 20 CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Cain was asked if what he would do if a family member was raped and if he would want that family member to raise the child, Cain said it is "not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision."
Cain reacted to the interview in an Oct. 21 statement.
"My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey.
"I am 100% pro-life, period."
Cain indicated in both the CNN interview and an Oct. 16 appearance on Meet the Press that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. In situations where the mother’s life is at risk, he said he would leave the decision up to the family.
“I do not agree with abortion under any circumstances,” Cain told Meet the Press host David Gregory.
“Not for rape and incest,” he added, “because if you look at rape and incest, the percentage of those instances is so miniscule that there are other options.”
Asked about the possibility of an exception when the life of the mother is in danger, Cain responded, “If it’s the life of the mother, that family’s going to have to make that decision.”
When pressed further about whether he was condoning abortion in such cases, Cain simply repeated, “That family is going to have to make that decision.”
As a businessman with no previous political experience, Cain’s positions on key issues have been less well-known than those of the other GOP candidates. He has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks as he has risen in national polls.
Cain has described himself as pro-life, and at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 7, he told his audience, “I believe in life from conception, period. No exceptions.”
However, his commitment to life was called into question by some pro-life advocates when he chose not to sign the Susan B. Anthony List pledge.
The pledge, offered to each major GOP presidential candidate, included four specific measures to fight abortion.
These measures included: nominating only federal judges who are dedicated to “applying the original meaning of the Constitution;” selecting “only pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions;” working to pass legislation to “permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion;” and committing to “advance and sign into law a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”
Cain issued a statement over the summer explaining that while he agreed with the first three parts of the pledge, he chose not to sign it because he objected to the last component.
“I support right-to-life issues unequivocally and I adamantly support the first three aspects of the Susan B. Anthony pledge involving appointing pro-life judges, choosing pro-life cabinet members, and ending taxpayer-funded abortions,” he said.
“However, the fourth requirement demands that I ‘advance’ the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” he explained. “As president, I would sign it, but Congress must advance the legislation.”
“I have been a consistent and unwavering champion of pro-life issues,” Cain added. “In no way does this singular instance of clarification denote an abandonment of the pro-life movement, but instead, is a testament to my respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency.”
Republican candidates Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum all signed the pro-life pledge.
Mitt Romney joined Cain in refusing to sign the pledge. Romney said that he could not sign the “well-meaning pledge” because it is “overly broad and would have unintended consequences.”
Romney also agreed with three out of the four components of the pledge. However, he opposed the provision asking for a commitment to select “pro-life appointees for relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions.”
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - An Oct. 27-29 conference in Rome and Siena will honor Saint Catherine of Siena, 550 years after her canonization.
Fr. Bernard Ardura, president of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, explained in a Vatican press conference that “the figure of St. Catherine extends far beyond her own earthly existence and takes on a powerful symbolic value” for the Church today.
In his Oct. 21 announcement, Fr. Ardura said the study of St. Catherine “serves to remind us of the unshakeable faith which she possessed and which made her spiritual mother to so many Christians.”
Her example is especially important, he said, as the Church prepares for the 2012-2013 “Year of Faith” announced Oct. 16.
The conference entitled “Virgo digna Coelo” (Virgin Worthy of Heaven) will study the 14th century Dominican philosopher and theologian's life, work and legacy. The Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences has arranged it along with the Archdiocese of Siena and the Dominican Order.
Fr. Ardura explained that the conference will hold four sessions to allow “a deeper examination of the saint and her influence.” Most of the meetings will take place in Rome, but delegates will also travel 120 miles north to the saint’s hometown for the opening of a new exhibition about her.
Born into a middle-class Tuscan family in 1347, Caterina Benincasa received her first vision of Christ around age six. She later recalled that Jesus smiled at her, blessed her and left her in ecstasy.
At 19, after experiencing a “mystical marriage” to Christ, she gave her life over to prayer and proclamation of the Gospel. Throughout northern and central Italy she urged reform of the clergy and called the lay faithful to the “total love of God” found through repentance.
Catherine also authored many letters and spoke fearlessly to those in power, often urging peace between Italian city-states. She successfully lobbied for Pope Gregory XI to return administration of the Church from Avignon in France, where it had moved since 1309, back to Rome.
In 1380, St. Catherine died in Rome where her body now lies beneath the high altar at the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. She is also one of the two patron saints of Italy, together with Saint Francis of Assisi, and a co-patroness of Europe.
At Friday's press conference, Fr. Ardura noted that St. Catherine “enjoyed great recognition among theologians … for her exalted theology and her influence in the renewal of that discipline.” Pope Paul VI named her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will address the first session of the “Virgo digna Coelo” conference, while the second meeting will study St. Catherine’s canonization.
The conference will then look at St. Catherine's relationship to the religious orders of her day, before a final session – held partly in Siena, at the new exhibition about the saint – to discuss her legacy.