Denver, Colo., Jan 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On Feb. 1 Catholics in Ireland and elsewhere will honor Saint Brigid of Kildare, a monastic foundress who is – together with Saint Patrick and Saint Columcille – one of the country’s three patron saints.
St. Brigid directly influenced several other future saints of Ireland, and her many religious communities helped to secure the country's conversion from paganism to the Catholic faith.
She is traditionally associated with the Cross of St. Brigid, a form of the cross made from reeds or straw that is placed in homes for blessing and protection. Some Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians also celebrate her feast, on the same date as the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Brigid has been profiled many times by both ancient and modern writers, but it is notoriously hard to establish the historical details of her life, and the various accounts make many conflicting claims. According to one of the more credible biographies of Brigid – Hugh de Blacam's essay in “The Saints of Ireland,” on which the following account is based – most historians place her birth around the year 450, near the end of Saint Patrick's evangelistic mission.
Brigid was born out of wedlock, the daughter of a pagan cheiftain named Dubthach and a Christian slave woman named Broicsech. The cheiftain sold the child's pregnant mother to a new master, but contracted for Brigid to be returned to him eventually. According to de Blacam, the child was probably baptized as an infant and raised as a Catholic by her mother. Thus, she was well-formed in the faith before leaving Broicsech's slave-quarters, at around age 10, to live with Dubthach and his wife.
Within the new circumstances of the cheiftain's household, Brigid's faith found expression in feats of charity. From the abundance of her father's food and possessions, she gave generously to the poor. Dubthach became enraged, threatening to sell Brigid – who was not recognized as a full family member, but worked as a household servant – to the King of Leinster. But the Christian king understood Brigid's acts of charity and convinced Dubthach to grant his daughter her freedom.
Released from servitude, Brigid was expected to marry. But she had other plans, which involved serving God in consecrated life. She even disfigured her own face, marring her beauty in order to dissuade suitors. Understanding he could not change her mind, Dubthach granted Brigid permission to pursue her plan, and material means by which to do so. Thus did a pagan nobleman, through this gift to his illegitimate daughter, play an unintentional but immense part in God's plan for Ireland.
While consecrated religious life was part of the Irish Church before Brigid's time, it had not yet developed the systematic character seen in other parts of the Christian world by the fifth century. Among women, vows of celibacy were often lived out in an impromptu manner, in the circumstances of everyday life or with the aid of particular benefactors. Brigid, with an initial group of seven companions, is credited with organizing communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland.
Bishop Mel of Ardagh – St. Patrick's nephew, and later “St. Mel” – accepted Brigid's profession as a nun. According to tradition, the disfigurement she had inflicted on her face disappeared that day, and her beauty returned. St. Mel went on to serve as a mentor to the group during their time at Ardagh.
Around the time of his death in 488, Brigid's community got an offer to resettle. Their destination is known today as Kildare (“Church of the Oak”), after the main monastery she founded there.
Brigid's life as a nun was rooted in prayer, but it also involved substantial manual labor: clothmaking, dairy farming, and raising sheep. In Ireland, as in many other regions of the Christian world, this communal combination of work and prayer attracted vast numbers of people during the sixth century. Kildare, however, was unique as the only known Irish “double monastery”: it included a separately-housed men's community, led by the bishop Saint Conleth.
From this main monastery, Brigid's movement branched out to encompass a large portion of Ireland. It is not clear just how large, but it is evident that Brigid traveled widely throughout the island, founding new houses and building up a uniquely Irish form of monasticism. When she was not traveling, many pilgrims – including prominent clergy, and some future saints – made their way to Kildare, seeking the advice of the abbess.
Under Brigid's leadership, Kildare played a major role in the successful Christianization of Ireland. The abbess' influence was felt in the subsequent era of the Irish Church, a time when the country became known for its many monasteries and their intellectual achievements.
St. Brigid of Kildare died around 525. She is said to have received the last sacraments from a priest, Saint Ninnidh, whose vocation she had encouraged. Veneration of Brigid grew in the centuries after her death, and spread outside of Ireland through the work of the country's monastic missionaries.
San Salvador, El Salvador, Jan 27, 2013 (CNA) - New, interpersonal approaches to preventing drug violence in Mexico and gang violence in Central America show promise where harsher measures have fallen short, a Catholic Relief Services expert in Latin America said.
In El Salvador, the overseas relief agency for the U.S. Catholic Church is working with the government to create a system to prevent violence and create opportunities for young men drawn to gangs, Rick Jones, deputy regional director for global solidarity and justice for CRS in Latin America, told Catholic San Francisco.
After years of ineffective punitive measures, the government of El Salvador negotiated a truce last year with the country’s two major gangs, MS and 18th Street. The truce has held since March 2012 and the homicide rate has dropped to 40 per 100,000 people – still double what is considered epidemic by the World Health Organization but “a positive step forward” for the tiny Central American nation, Jones said.
Now, CRS is joining forces with the U.N. and the government to work with high-risk young Salvadorans and their families to address the roots of gang involvement. The approach is modeled on gang prevention and youth development work that has shown success in Los Angeles.
“Kids join gangs for a sense of identity, belonging and empowerment and a sense of adventure – same reasons kids join a lot of different groups,” said Jones, who visited San Francisco last week in part to meet with University of San Francisco and Santa Clara University faculty who are working with CRS under partnerships between the schools and the agency.
Gang problem has roots in civil war
He said the gang problem in El Salvador started at the end of the nation’s civil war, which was settled with a truce in 1992. Salvadorans who had fled the fighting in the 1970s and ’80s and had started gangs in Los Angeles were among the deportees.
When these gang members showed up in El Salvador in the mid-90s, they started recruiting.
“Most young men were at below poverty line and most kids had a sixth grade education and were out of school and out of work, and that is a recipe for disaster,” Jones said.
The government responded with a zero-tolerance policy in 2004. “The first year homicides went up 25 percent,” Jones said. “And they instituted another super-iron fist and homicides went up another 30 percent. Because violence won’t solve violence.”
What will make a difference is a process of healing and reconciliation to work with individuals and families to stop kids from joining gangs in the first place, Jones said.
“It’s taken a long time and a lot of heads being butted up against the wall to understand that you can’t stop this through repression,” he said.
Helping kids find work, start businesses
Working the U.N. Development Programme and the government, CRS is part of any effort in the capital of San Salvador to help kids find work and start micro-enterprises.
In Mexico, a project to address drug violence has begun in the Diocese of Acapulco, which has experienced a high level of bloodshed. “Listening centers” have been established to help people talk through the fear that paralyzes action, Jones said.
The centers “help victims deal with their grief and become more secure, and they end up being agents of change,” he said. “Who better to speak out about it?”
The centers are part of a larger effort by the church in Mexico to address violence. The bishops of Mexico issued a pastoral letter on violence, and CRS is helping them design a strategy to put the letter into action. The work started with training in peace building.
“We’ve taken a lot of lessons over our experience over 15 years in CoIombia to train both parishes in how to help victims and the people who have been victims, because the shortest way to being a perpetrator is to be a victim,” Jones said. “If you don’t process that, what you want is vengeance.”
Helping improve the welfare of migrants and helping agriculture deal with the effects of climate change are the other two main lines of CRS work in Latin America.
In Mexico, CRS is helping the church make U.S.-bound migrants less vulnerable to criminal exploitation. People migrating to the U.S. face horrendous conditions because of the drug trade, Jones said. In 2010, the Catholic Church uncovered 9,000 kidnappings of Central Americans traversing Mexico – the work of gangs out to steal the travelers’ money. Kidnappings doubled the following year.
CRS is supporting a new project for migrants to enter the U.S. for agricultural work. Linking migrants and employers and thus cutting out middleman scams, the project began on the border near Yuma, Ariz., and has spread to Washington state and the Carolinas.
Posted with permission from Catholic San Francisco, official publication of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Calif.
Vatican City, Jan 27, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI told thousands gathered in St. Peter's square Jan. 27 that marking Sunday as a day of rest and engaging in the liturgy can teach us to listen to the voice of God.
“Before we can speak of God and with God, we need to listen, and the liturgy of the Church is the 'school' of this listening to the Lord who speaks to us,” he said during his weekly Angelus address.
Exploring the day's reading from the Gospel of Luke, the Pope recounted how Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath.
“As a true believer, the Lord does not avoid the weekly liturgical rhythm and joins the assembly of his fellow citizens in prayer and in listening to the Scriptures.”
This passage from scripture, Pope Benedict said, “makes us think about our way of life on Sunday as a day of rest and for the family.”
Sunday, he noted, is the “first day to devote to the Lord by participating in the Eucharist in which we're nourished by the Body and Blood of Chirst and his Word of life.”
“In our scattered and distracted era, this Gospel invites us to ask ourselves about our ability to listen, ” he emphasized.
“Every moment can be a 'today' moment for our conversion and become a day of salvation because salvation is a story that continues for the Church and for every disciple of Christ,” he said, adding that the “the Christian meaning of 'carpe diem' is to seize the day in which God is calling you to give you salvation.”
During his remarks on Sunday, the pontiff also recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Day, created by the United Nations in memory of the Holocaust victims of Nazism.
“It must be a constant reminder to all so that the horrors of the past, which exceeds all forms of hatred and racism, are not repeated,” he said, as well as a reminder “to promote respect and dignity of the the human person.”
Pope Benedict also noted that this Sunday “marks a special day of intercession” for peace in Holy Land. “I thank those who promote it in many parts of the world and I greet in particular those present here,” he said.
During the angelus a young boy and girl freed two doves, as symbols of peace, from the window of his Apostolic Palace after reading a message of Acr di Roma, an Italian lay association with over half a million members.
The Boys of the Catholic diocese of Rome, who celebrate annually a “Caravan of Peace” at the end of January, were also at St. Peter's Square.
On Jan. 27 this year, the Church also celebrates the 60th World Day of Leprosy.
“I express my closeness to those who suffer from this disease and encourage researchers, health professionals and volunteers, particularly those who are part of Catholic organizations and the Association of Friends of Raoul Follereau,” the Pope said.
He also invoked the intercession of St. Damien de Veuster, “who gave his life” for those afflicted with the disease, as well as St. Marianne Cope, who was canonized in Rome in October of last year. Both worked with leprosy sufferers in a colony in Hawaii in the 19th century.