Archive of April 22, 2012

Portraitist seeks to capture essence of the popes

Arlington, Va., Apr 22, 2012 (CNA) - Since childhood, Cuban-American portraitist Sylvia Castellanos has been intrigued by the human face. That fascination and her love of drawing have led her to paint hundreds of portraits — from Washington, D.C., dignitaries to Central American Maya campesinos.

And with each portrait, her hope is to capture the person’s soul. Not a small task in itself, but her objective became even more challenging when she chose to paint the Church’s spiritual leaders Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“I had a personal desire to paint the popes because this is my Church and these are the leaders of my Church,” said Castellanos, who began painting Pope John Paul II in the last months of his life.

“I was in my 20s when he was elected pope,” she said. “You would have to have been there to understand the significance of this young pope who liked to ski and mountain climb, who was so vibrant, alert and intelligent.”

“With the passage of time, he had become this old man with Parkinson’s disease who could hardly walk.”

“I wanted to try to catch something to bring back into people’s consciousness that this was the real man and this is how he deserves to be remembered,” she said.

Since Castellanos immigrated with her family to the United States from her native Havana at age 9, she said she was “especially interested that John Paul came from a country enslaved by communism.”

“I learned later that he was doing things behind the scenes to fight communism, and that made him especially dear to me.”

After she completed the portrait in 2006, it was exhibited for five years at Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, where she received much praise for capturing the pope’s essence. She values such compliments highly, especially since she never met Pope John Paul, nor his successor, Pope Benedict, whom she began painting in 2010.

Mostly self-taught, Castellanos painted her first “commissioned” portrait at the age of 13. Her portrait of Abraham Lincoln for a school project drew the attention of her principal, who commissioned her to do a portrait of the assistant principal for $10.

Years later, after obtaining a graduate degree from Princeton University in New Jersey, Castellanos moved to the Washington metro area in the early 1970s. For the remainder of the decade she served as research director of the Senate Steering Committee while doing commissioned portraits for prominent people on Capitol Hill, including Congressional members and international personnel. During those years she studied with portraitist Danni Dawson at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.

“That was the only study of art I have ever done,” said Castellanos. “She taught me the things fundamental to my outlook.”

“I seek to catch emotions in the way a perfume maker captures a fragrance so that by uncorking a bottle, people can experience again the full dimension of the scent,” said Castellanos.

To capture the essence of Pope Benedict, Castellanos pored through photographs.

“People who have met Benedict talk about the kindness and holiness he gives off. I wanted to catch that,” she said.

Castellanos completed her first portrait of the pope late in 2010, but after carefully observing viewers’ reactions, Castellanos was dissatisfied with her work. She stored the painting for a year and half until this past January when she began repainting his face from scratch. This time she’s pleased with the result.

“The whole point of doing a portrait is to capture the person, his emotions and who the person is. If you don’t do that, it’s not a good portrait,” Castellanos said. “People say I’ve got the likeness now, and I hope that is the case.”

With two important dates coming up for Pope Benedict — his birthday April 16 and the anniversary of his ascension to the papacy April 19 — Castellanos hopes she can find the right place, possibly in Washington, to exhibit her work.

“The Church will be marking both these events, and maybe my painting can have a small role in whatever form its commemoration takes,” she said.

Her ultimate ambition is for the painting to be exhibited at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Castellanos hopes her portrait of Pope Benedict will appeal to those outside Catholic circles, as well.

“To the extent that it’s seen by non-Catholics, I hope they will appreciate the personal quality that I tried to include,” she said.

“And when they look at it they will say, ‘so this is what he is like as a person.’”

Posted with permission from The Catholic Herald, official newspaper for the Diocese of Arlington, Va.

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Domestic workers' patroness St. Zita remembered April 27

Denver, Colo., Apr 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

On April 27 the Catholic Church honors Saint Zita, a 13th century Italian woman whose humble and patient service to God has made her a patron saint of maids and other domestic workers.

Born into poverty during the early 1200s, Zita was taught by her mother from an early age to seek God's will in all circumstances. She had already developed a strong prayer life by the time she was sent, at age 12, to work in the home of the Fatinelli family in Lucca.

Zita's employers lived near a church where she managed – by waking up extremely early in the morning – to attend daily Mass. She looked upon her work primarily as a means of serving God, and kept herself mindful of his presence during long hours of exhausting tasks.

Her presence in the Fatinelli household, however, was inexplicably unwelcome and met with harsh treatment for a number of years. Zita suffered hostility and abuse from her employers, including fits of rage and beatings.

The young woman faced these trials with patience and inner strength developed through a life of prayer. In time, the members of the household came to value her service, and appreciate the virtues she had acquired through God's grace.

Zita maintained her humility when she was promoted to a position of responsibility within the Fatinelli home. She continued to view her earthly responsibilities as a service to God, and to seek his presence through prayer and fasting. She also refused to hold a grudge against those who once mistreated her.

Within her new household role, Zita was faithful to Christ's admonition that superiors should conduct themselves as the servants of all. She was kind to those under her direction, and mindful of the poor through frequent almsgiving to the point of personal sacrifice.

Throughout her life, Zita found a source of strength and consolation in the Mass and Holy Communion, which frequently moved her to tears. Despite her many responsibilities, she frequently set aside time to recall God's presence through contemplative prayer in the course of the day.

After foretelling her own death and spiritually preparing for it, Saint Zita died in Lucca on April 27, 1271. Many residents regarded her as a saint and began to seek her intercession, to which a large number of miracles were attributed. Some writers even began referring to the city of Lucca as “Santa Zita” in her honor.

The Fatinelli family, which had once caused St. Zita such extreme suffering, eventually contributed to the cause of her canonization. The earliest account of her life was found in a manuscript belonging to the family, and published in 1688.

The Church's liturgical veneration of St. Zita was introduced in the early 1500s, and confirmed by Pope Innocent XII in 1696. In 1580, her body was exhumed and found to be miraculously incorrupt. It is venerated today in the Basilica of St. Frediano, where she attended Mass during her life.

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Author says women's conference should return to authentic religious life

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An expert on religious women in America believes that renewal within the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) will require “very strong self-evaluation” and cooperation with the Vatican's recent call for reform.

“After having studied this for many years, I think it was 40 years in the making,” said Ann Carey, author of the 1997 book “Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities.”

Carey told CNA on April 20 that ever since the LCWR revised its statutes in 1971, it has had a rocky relationship with the Vatican.

“The Vatican was patient, trying to give the sisters some guidelines to modify the direction they were taking, and they resisted that,” she said.

On April 18, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced that it had appointed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead reform efforts within the conference.

The announcement came as the findings of a multi-year doctrinal assessment of the women's conference were released, raising concerns of dissent from Church teaching on topics including homosexuality, the sacramental priesthood and the divinity of Christ.

Carey said that members of the LCWR have “definitely” exhibited doctrinal problems and have also “made it quite clear that they are intent on changing the nature of religious life.”

They have also spoken of “loyal dissent,” as if to suggest that “it is permissible for one to disagree with Church teaching as long as one professes loyalty to the Church,” she added.

Carey explained that many of the problems illuminated in the Vatican’s assessment are the result of a “misinterpretation of Vatican II documents.”

In the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council called on religious orders to renew and update themselves, removing “outdated” rules and customs so as to engage the modern world.

For example, many religious orders were continuing the custom of waking up at dawn and going to bed at twilight, she said. This rule was left over from a time before electricity was in use, and it is now unnecessary and outdated.

But while the council called for renewal by returning to the orders’ original founding ideas and adapting them to modern times, many people misinterpreted this call and instead proceeded to “totally throw off some of the essentials of religious life,” she said.

The result was an abandonment of central elements of religious life, such as living and praying in community, serving in a corporate apostolate and wearing some type of distinctive religious garb, she explained.

Carey said that after Vatican II, members of many religious orders began to live in apartments and find their own jobs, separate from a corporate apostolate such as teaching or care for the sick.

In addition, they threw off the “loyalty and faithfulness to the Church” as well as the “deference to the hierarchy” that had previously characterized religious life.

The changes were so drastic that they caused some women to leave the LCWR, Carey said. These women formed another group, which eventually became an alternative superiors’ conference known as the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious.

This more traditional group, which requires its members to adhere to the essentials of religious life as understood by the Church, is attracting the bulk of young vocations today, she noted.

If the conference is to undergo a true renewal, Carey said, its members must re-examine the Church’s understanding of religious life and make a firm commitment to live as “representatives of the Church,” in union with the local bishop.

She emphasized that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is not trying to return to the pre-Vatican II days but is instead promoting an “accurate interpretation of those documents” and the life they portray.

Carey said it will be “very interesting to watch” as the situation progresses. While she does not know what will happen, she said there are ultimately only two possible outcomes.

It is possible that the LCWR will cooperate with the Vatican’s reform efforts and see that they have gotten away from Church teaching, she explained.

However, she is unsure whether that will happen, because some of the group’s members are “very convicted that what they’re doing is the right thing.”

The other option is for the conference to relinquish its canonical status and simply continue as a professional group, which Carey believes will cause them to “lose a lot of their members.”

She said that some of the group’s members value their canonical standing and have simply continued their membership with the conference over the years because they had always done so.

No matter what the organization decides, “there will be dissenting voices,” predicted Carey.

She explained that the LCWR consists of the leaders of various religious orders, so it is actually only made up of about three percent of the religious women in America. She said that she knows many individual sisters with no say in decisions of the conference who are “very unhappy” with the organization and “welcome this move” by the Vatican.

Carey also commented on the possibility of the group asking the Vatican to establish a new category of consecrated life that would better fit them.

While other types of consecrated life – such as hermits and consecrated virgins – do exist, she said, there would still be a pressing need to address the theological problems exhibited by the conference.

“For vowed religious to be embracing teachings that are dramatically opposed to the official Church teaching is very scandalous and damaging,” she said.

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Pope urges careful preparation for First Communion

Vatican City, Apr 22, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his April 22 Regina Coeli address, Pope Benedict XVI said adults should bring reverence and love to the task of preparing children to receive their first Holy Communion.

“Dear friends, the Church at Easter time usually administers First Communion to children,” he noted in the midday address. “I therefore urge the pastors, parents and catechists to prepare this feast of faith well, with great fervor, but also with sobriety.”

Among the large crowd gathered in the sunshine of St. Peter's Square were thousands of Italian children who will make their first Holy Communion in the coming weeks. As Pope Benedict addressed them, the young pilgrims cheered and released hundreds of colored balloons into the Roman sky.  

The Pope told them their First Communion would mark “the moment when you too understand the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus.”

Christ promised the Church his continued presence in “the Word and the Eucharist,” the Pope said.

“Therefore, just as the disciples of Emmaus recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, so we meet the Lord in the Eucharistic celebration.”

Pope Benedict also spoke about the Scripture readings for the third Sunday of Easter. He noted that the disciples were “incredulous and frightened” when they first saw the risen Christ, initially mistaking him for a ghost. 

In response, Jesus showed his hands and feet which displayed the marks of the crucifixion. He also asked for food, and received a piece of baked fish.

Pope Benedict explained that these “very realistic signs” helped the disciples “open up to the gift of faith” – which in turn helped them “understand the things written on Christ ‘in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’.”

The Pope reserved his final words for the children in St Peter’s Square, before leading the recitation of the midday Marian prayer. 

“May the Mother of God help us to listen attentively to the Word of the Lord and participate worthily in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, to become witnesses of the new humanity,” he declared.

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