Leeds, England, Nov 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Franciscan Sister Jacinta Pollard, one of the women profiled in the BBC's new documentary “Young Nuns,” hopes her community's prayers and sacrifices can help bring Britain back to the Catholic faith.
“It's like living in pagan Rome, actually! It must have been very similar, for the early Christians,” said Sister Jacinta, head of St. Clare's Convent in Leeds.
Her growing community consists of five women with an average age of 30. They are a missionary project of the New York-based Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, who evangelize through service to the poor under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Filmmaker Vicky Mitchell highlighted Sr. Jacinta and her community, along with other young women of the Benedictine and Dominican orders, in a documentary that premiered Oct. 25 on the BBC.
Sr. Jacinta spoke highly of Mitchell's work in an Oct. 31 CNA interview. She said the producer and director of “Young Nuns” was “extremely sympathetic and understanding of our life” and “did not try to 'tabloid' it.”
The friendly coverage may come as a welcome surprise in England, where both the government and the press have been accused of an anti-Christian bias.
Sr. Jacinta says England now has only “a very small population of Christians.” And some young people there have not taken well to the sight of religious sisters in full habits.
“We are certainly heckled more in Britain, than in the U.S., and laughed at on the street,” said the head of St. Clare's convent, who spent her years of formation in New York before returning to her native country.
“It's not that unusual to be laughed at, out loud. It's mostly the teenagers and young adults that would be most openly aggressive. It feels like they're just very insecure.”
“Anything that approaches them that they don't understand, or that they think is threatening their understanding of life and who they are – they have to react to it. And they unfortunately experience us as threatening.”
“We just smile at them, love them, and pray for them. And we hope that we can enter into some kind of dialogue with them, to show them that actually we're really concerned about them and can offer them something.”
Despite these outbursts of hostility, Sr. Jacinta has found that monks and nuns still have a hold on the British imagination.
“We find there's definitely an attraction, even among non-believers,” she observed. “There's a certain something there, that no one quite understands.”
“There's this fascination with nuns: 'Who are nuns? What do they do?'”
“That's why I think the documentary was something people were really interested in and excited to see.”
In the film, Sr. Jacinta recalls that the prospect of becoming a nun seemed “so radical, so different from what a lot of my peers were doing” with their lives – as she described it, “out-of-the-stratosphere kind of different.”
A lifelong Catholic, she worked as an occupational therapist before joining the Franciscan Sisters in her late 20s. The first hints of her vocation came on a pilgrimage to Rome for World Youth Day in 2000.
“I heard the Holy Father speak, at the closing Mass,” the Franciscan sister remembered. “I very much sensed that I wasn't doing a great job with my life, making myself happy. It was very clear to me, at that moment.”
“At the last Mass, with the Holy Father, I simply said in my heart as a prayer: 'Lord, you take over. Take my life, and I'll follow you. I won't follow me.'”
“I didn't know I was meant to be a nun. I just opened my heart to God's will.”
“Then I came back to England. What do you do then? I had to find something that would keep this kind of flame burning. I knew that I would die without it.”
A prayer group and the Legion of Mary apostolate became “lifelines” for the young professional, who came to see “the difference between my life in the world and my life of faith.”
She later left her job and worked as a full-time youth minister. “In that time, I really felt the Lord asking me to be his alone,” she said. “But I also realized that I was being called to community.”
“It just made sense. But it was very scary!”
As a child, the future Franciscan sister had listened to bedtime stories about the saints. She had trouble imagining herself in a lifestyle radically geared toward holiness.
“I felt so far from the nuns I'd heard of, or even met. I thought they were kind of perfect, and beautiful, and amazing, and great evangelists.”
“I thought, 'That doesn't seem right for me – I'm not there yet, I'm very imperfect.'”
“But the Lord broke through that rubbish! If he calls, you answer, and you go and listen.”
Sr. Jacinta said the biggest sacrifice for her was not the loss of her possessions or the prospect of marriage.
“It has to be the separation from family,” she reflected. “For most of us, that's the biggest sacrifice. And it is a daily sacrifice.”
Sr. Jacinta's parents accepted her decision. But other young women have faced opposition from family.
“There have been some really hard situations, with some parents not accepting a vocation, getting really angry and thinking: 'Where are my grandchildren coming from?'”
“I'm sure it's a lot of hopes and dreams smashed for parents, if they never envisioned their children taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It seems so absurd to them – and to most people!”
But Sr. Jacinta's own father sees a growing need for the sisters' service to the poor.
“My dad keeps telling me that England's going bankrupt soon. He keeps telling me: 'You're gonna have your work cut out for you!'”
“Maybe the need for religious life will increase, because the needs will increase,” she speculated.
“That's what we've seen in past centuries. Religious communities spring up, where there is great poverty and great need.”
“The Lord is merciful, so he'll draw us back to himself by any means possible.”
Sr. Jacinta longs to see her country return to its historic faith. She thinks the “Young Nuns” documentary could help the cause, despite its origins as a “totally secular project.”
“Many, many people have seen it. Who knows the effects it's having?”
Meanwhile, the Franciscan Sisters will continue to preach the Gospel to a troubled country through their words and deeds.
“I see a lot of awful things around me,” Sr. Jacinta said. “I see my own country torn apart by a culture that is devastating to it, that is one big lie.”
“What does that mean for me? All I know is that God has asked me to live this life, and I have said yes. He's asking me now to go back to England and say yes to the little things that I'm asked to do there, even if it is simply to live a life of sacrifice and prayer.”
God's grace, she said, can bring unforeseen results out of humble work.
“We can see someone like Mother Teresa and say, 'Well, she changed the world!' And yet, what did she do? She just did the next thing that God asked.”
“God can do the same with us. He can make us great saints, if we allow him to do that.”
Denver, Colo., Nov 2, 2011 (CNA) - Though purgatory can be considered strictly a place of punishment, author Susan Tassone describes it as a “masterpiece of God’s mercy.”
“It’s not punishment—it’s a loving purgatory,” explained Tassone, who has written six books on the subject including, “Praying With the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory” (Our Sunday Visitor, $10).
“(God) gives us this chance to cleanse … to purify our souls with his own attributes.”
On All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2, Catholics pray for the poor souls in purgatory—those believed to be completing their journey to heaven. In accordance with Church teaching, purgatory is a place for those who departed life in God’s grace, “not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.”
From the earliest days of Christianity, the Church taught that praying for the dead was an obligation, an act of charity believed to help souls enter into the fullness of heaven more quickly.
“They’re called ‘poor’ (souls) because they can no longer merit,” said Tassone. “They rely totally on us. They’re called poor because they don’t know when they will reach heaven … the soul cries out: ‘God! God! I must be with God!’”
“The best devotion to help the holy souls is the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” said Tassone, who herself has led efforts to raise more than $2 million for stipends for some 400,000 Masses for the dead worldwide. “It’s the most efficacious means to relieve and release these suffering souls.”
“Offer Gregorian Masses for them,” Tassone suggested. “Put them in your will!”
Along with the Mass; the rosary, Stations of the Cross, eucharistic adoration and the Divine Mercy Chaplet are very powerful devotions because of the indulgences attached to them that can be offered for deceased loved ones.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 958), the souls in purgatory can intercede on behalf of the living: “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”
“The more you pray for them, the more effective their intercession is for you,” said Tassone “You’ve got to remember who they are: our aunts, uncles, mothers, brothers, sisters, our lawyers, our priests … people that have been entwined in the fabric of our lives.
“Pray especially for priests and consecrated religious because we tend to 'canonize' them and leave off too soon our prayers for them. They are some of the most abandoned souls.”
While the Church devotes the entire month of November to pray for the souls in purgatory, Tassone stressed the importance of praying for them throughout the year.
“Remember the holy souls all year-round,” she said. “They suffer day and night without any repose.”
“Never stop praying for the dead even if they are already in heaven,” she added. “Thomas Aquinas tells us that if a soul is already in heaven and we continue to pray for them, they receive ‘accidental glory,’ an increase in its intimacy with God and an increase in its intercessory power.”
Tassone also urged establishing a commitment to pray for those near death. She encouraged membership in the Pious Union of St. Joseph, a ministry founded by newly-canonized St. Louis Guanella.
Tassone will be Father Mitch Pacwa’s guest on EWTN Live Nov. 2.
Trenton, N.J., Nov 2, 2011 (CNA) -
Twelve nurses in New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against a local government hospital for being told they would lose their jobs if they refuse to perform abortions.
The case shows evidence of “a systematic attack on the right of pro-life professionals to engage in their careers without being forced to violate their fundamental moral and religious beliefs,” Matt Bowman, attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, told CNA.
On Oct. 31, the defense fund filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey on behalf of the dozen nurses, who currently work at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey.
According to Bowman, the hospital has violated federal and state law by requiring the nurses to perform abortions against their consciences and threatening to terminate their jobs if they refuse.
Two of the nurses—Lorna Mendoza and Julita Ching—are both scheduled to assist with an abortion this Friday, Nov. 4.
Bowman said that although the hospital has been performing abortions for many years, nurses had not been forced to assist until the hospital recently passed a policy and put one of the nurses who does abortions in a supervisory position.
Despite hospital officials initially agreeing to meet with the 12 nurses to discuss the issue, Bowman said, the meeting was canceled at the last minute when the nurses arrived with an attorney.
“We are asking the hospital to cease its illegal compulsion immediately,” he said, adding that the hospital is aware of the lawsuit.
“We're going to ask the court to order the hospital to obey the law and to not violate our clients' beliefs, and we're going to ask the court to make the hospital give back the millions of dollars that it's received in tax money on the promise that it would not force health care personnel to assist abortions.”
Bowman noted that the Alliance Defense Fund is seeing more and more cases of pro-life health care personnel being forced to assist in abortions and other practices that they object to on moral grounds.
“Even though we have federal and state laws in the books that protect them,” the hospital is “blatantly violating the law in an arrogant way,” he said.
The attorney said the situation is becoming more common in the U.S., with medical workers' conscience protections being increasingly disregarded.
“This case shows that there is a rampant crisis in which entities—that are getting tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government—are violating public trust by forcing health care personnel to participate in abortions against their religious beliefs. ”
Rome, Italy, Nov 2, 2011 (CNA) - Ignacio Segura Madico, the vice president of the Spanish Association of Blind Catholics, is leading a signature drive to declare Blessed Manuel Lazon Garrido as the patron of the organization.
Blessed Manuel was a journalist and writer who spent 25 years in a wheelchair. He was blind the last nine years of his life and was a tireless champion of joy for young people.
Segura told CNA that “(b)elief in God does not depend on physical, but rather spiritual sight.” Therefore “belief in God by someone who cannot see well or is blind is not anything special compared to other people without disabilities. Belief in God is a virtue that makes the one who has it and practices it a better person.”
The organization for the blind was canonically established on Nov. 28, 2008.
It was founded in 1990 in the Diocese of Zaragoza by a group of Christians including the association's current president, Luis Garcia Martinez de Aguirre.
Members of the association include the blind and those devoted to helping them.
Vatican City, Nov 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On All Souls Day, Pope Benedict XVI reflected upon death and the hope that Christian faith brings to it.
“As human beings, we have a natural fear of death and we rebel against its apparent finality,” Pope Benedict said to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience.
“Faith teaches us that the fear of death is lightened by a great hope, the hope of eternity, which gives our lives their fullest meaning. The God who is love offers us the promise of eternal life through the death and resurrection of His Son.”
Therefore, said the Pope, “in Christ, death no longer appears as an abyss of emptiness, but rather a path to life which will never end.”
In the Catholic Church, the month of November is dedicated to praying for the dead. Today priests around the world are given special permission to say three Masses – one for the Pope, one for the dead and one for a personal intention. It is also customary to visit family graves on this day. In some Spanish speaking countries – such as Mexico – this has evolved into a pious national festival known as the “Day of the Dead.”
The Pope said that a visit to the cemetery “to pray for loved ones who have left us” is a good reminder of the “Communion of Saints” and that there is a “close link between we who still walk upon the earth and our countless brothers and sisters who have already reached eternity.”
And yet many of us still fear death, observed the Pope, giving three reasons why this is the case. He pointed to fear of the unknown, the apparent destruction of “all that was beautiful and great” in our lifetime, and also a fear of judgement, in particularly for those actions that “with skill, we often remove or attempt to remove from our consciousness.”
The Pope said that modern society often tries to approach death using the “criteria of scientific experimentalism,” so that the “great question of death must be answered not with faith, but with testable, empirical knowledge.”
But this approach, he cautioned, can end up in a form of spiritualism where, in an attempt to have contact with the world beyond death, we almost imagine “a reality” that is “a copy of the present.”
This worldview reduces man to “a horizontal dimension” and causes life to lose “its deeper meaning.”
The life of a person is understandable, Pope Benedict said, “only if there is a love that overcomes all isolation, even that of death.” The practical impact of this is that “only those who can recognize a great hope in death, can also live a life based on hope.”
The Pope then reminded pilgrims of the numerous occasions where Christ confirmed the reality of life after death, including upon the Cross on Calvary when he “addressed the criminal crucified on his right,” with the words, “Truly I tell you, with me today you will be in Paradise.”
“Christ is the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in him will never die,” Pope Benedict said in conclusion.
Before imparting his apostolic blessing, Pope Benedict also prayed that the economic meeting of the G-20 Head of State or Government in Cannes, France, over the next two days “will help to overcome the difficulties that, worldwide, impede the promotion of an authentically human and integral development.”
The Pope rounded off his public duties for the Solemnity of All Souls with a 6 p.m. visit to the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica, where he prayed at the tombs of his papal predecessors who are buried there.
Rome, Italy, Nov 2, 2011 (CNA) - The under secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Guzman Carriquiry Lecour, recently stressed that Our Lady of Guadalupe brings together the people of North and South America.
Pointing to Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, “Ecclesia in America,” Carriquiry noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe “is the patroness of America, and she makes us—Americans and Latin Americans—into a family of sons and daughters and brothers and sisters.”
“This is what we need to be promoting through the bonds and ties of communion between Catholics, between Churches, but also between lay Catholics in the United States and Latin America.”
In an interview with CNA, Carriquiry said the two peoples of North and South America are united by the Catholic faith. “The first Christian presence in the United States … passing through New Orleans to the great California, was Catholic,” he recalled.
In addition, he continued, the presence of Hispanics in the heart of the Church in American culture “will continue to grow and they will be half of all Catholics in the U.S. within 10 to 15 years.”
The Catholic faith will again unite these groups, Carriquiry argued. “It is important that these two peoples are not in opposition to one another, distracted with one another and isolated from one another, but rather that they have a much more intense relationship of mutual enrichment,” he said.
Carriquiry, a native of Montevideo, Uruguay, is the highest ranking layman in the Roman Curia. He is married to Lidice Maria Gomez Mango and has four children and three grandchildren. He was a close collaborator to Pope Benedict XVI, first at the Consilium dei Laicis and later at the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
He also participated as an advisor at the Latin American Bishops’ Meetings at Puebla in 1979, Santo Domingo in 1992 and Aparecida in 2007.
Washington D.C., Nov 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee chairman, urged the Health and Human Services Department to respect religious beliefs as it considers finalizing a mandate that would require health insurance providers to cover contraception.
“Catholic organizations committed to their moral and religious teaching will have no choice but to stop providing health care and other services to the needy who are not Catholic, or stop providing health coverage to their own employees,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.
“This is an intolerable dilemma, and either choice will mean reduced access to health care.”
The Health and Human Services department announced federal rules on Aug. 1 that could require nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious agencies, to cover all government-approved methods of contraception as well as surgical sterilization.
The mandate comes with a religious exemption that narrowly defines religious employers as those who employ and serve members of their own religion for the purpose of teaching religious doctrine.
“Jesus and the apostles would not be ‘religious enough’ under such a test, as they served and healed people of different religions,” Cardinal DiNardo said on the eve of a hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives on conscience protections.
In a Nov. 1 letter to subcommittee chairman Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), the cardinal outlined his support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and other moves to address potential problems with health care reform.
He noted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “excluded longstanding protections for conscience rights on abortion, by failing to apply the annual Hyde/Weldon amendment to the billions of dollars newly appropriated by the Act.”
“And it created new open-ended mandates for ‘essential health benefits’ and ‘preventive services’ to be included in almost all private health plans, without any provision for individuals or institutions that may have a moral or religious objection to particular items or procedures,” he added.
Cardinal DiNardo stressed that a lack of conscience protections would ultimately lead to more harm than good—not only because less people would receive the basic health care that religious groups provide but because the fundamental right to religious freedom would be violated.
“Is the drive to maximize contraceptive coverage, even among those who do not want it, such an urgent national priority that it transcends concerns about religious liberty, our nation’s ‘First Freedom,’ as well as concerns about women’s health and about access to basic health care for men and women alike?” he asked.
Washington D.C., Nov 2, 2011 (CNA) -
New information about the Department of Health and Human Services’ failure to renew a $19 million grant to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ program for human trafficking victims has prompted complaints of religious discrimination.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, SM, director of media relations for the bishops’ conference, said in a Nov. 1 blog post that the grant process had been “manipulated” to prevent the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services from receiving the award.
She criticized the decision to “promote abortion politics over real care for trafficking victims” and denounced the Obama administration’s failure to protect conscience rights.
Sr. Walsh told CNA on Nov. 2 that the bishops’ conference is still gathering information and that no decision has been made yet about pursuing legal action.
Conscience protection has become a growing concern for American Catholics in recent months. The U.S. House Subcommittee on Health held a Nov. 2 hearing on a mandate that resulted from President Obama’s health reform law which would require coverage of contraception in most private insurance plans.
Catholics from across the country have written to the HHS to protest the mandate for the way it violates their right to conscientious objection.
At the end of September, the Office of Refugee Resettlement for the Department of Health and Human Services informed the U.S. bishops’ conference that its application for a grant to continue helping human trafficking victims had been denied.
Since 2006, the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has led efforts to provide food, clothing and other aid to trafficking victims around the country.
In accordance with Church teaching, the outreach to refugees does not provide referrals for contraception or abortion.
A Nov. 1 front-page story in the Washington Post revealed that the decision to direct funding away from the bishops’ conference was made by political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The decision was made despite the fact that staff members in the department had recommended that the bishops’ service receive the grant based on scores issued by an independent review board.
Department policies do not prohibit political appointees from being involved in grant competitions. However, the Post explained, grants are normally managed by career officials and “priority consideration is given to the review board’s judgment.”
Some department staffers protested the involvement of Sharon Parrott, one of three advisers to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The staffers said that the process was politicized and aimed at unfairly excluding the Catholic bishops’ group.
“It was so clearly and blatantly trying to come up with a certain outcome,’’ one official told the Post on the condition of anonymity. “That’s very distasteful to people.’’
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services have denied any unfair treatment.
George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, told the Post that the department had “followed standard procedure.”
“I don’t think there was any undue influence exerted to make this grant go one way or another,’’ Sheldon said.
“Ultimately, I felt it was my responsibility – and I’m not trying to get anyone off the hook here – to do what I thought was in the best interests of these victims.’’
Although the department initially said at least four anti-trafficking grants would be awarded, only three groups were ultimately given awards: Heartland Human Care Services, Tapestri and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
According to the Post, individuals familiar with the matter say that Tapestri and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants both scored “significantly below” the bishops’ conference in independent reviews.
This spring, political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services were involved in adding new written instructions to groups requesting grants through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The new instructions dictate that “strong preference” will be given to organizations which offer referrals for the “full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”
In an Oct. 13 blog post, Sr. Walsh said the new instructions amounted to an unwritten rule of “Anybody But Catholics.”
She pointed out that the bishops’ outreach has always received superior rankings for its work.