Vatican City, Feb 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Along with the rest of the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI began his second day of spiritual exercises by reflecting on Psalm 119 and the “light that breaks the darkness, especially in today's culture.”
“The comparison with the Word is essential, it shows us the true scale of values, often calculated only in things, in money, power,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi told the Pope Feb. 18 at the Apostolic Palace.
The Italian cardinal focused his meditations for today on Psalms 119, 23 and 19, under the title “At the sources of the Jordan River of the Spirit: God of Grace and the Word.”
“In Psalm 23, there is the sharing of the road – God is the shepherd leading the flock, and at the same time a traveling companion – elements which refer to the value of grace, truth and love,” said the cardinal.
And during this morning’s third meditation, the cardinal poetically described Creation as “a different word of God” that contains “a silent theological music and is a message that knows no sound or echoes words but rather runs through the universe.”
The annual Lenten spiritual exercises began on Sunday evening and will run until Feb. 23, when the Pope will give a short speech. The week’s theme is titled “The art of praying, the art of believing. The face of God and of man in the prayers of Psalms.”
The retreat schedule involves two mediations in the morning and one in the early evening, followed by the celebration of vespers and Eucharistic benediction. The reflections are preached to the Pope and members of his administrative offices, known as the Roman Curia, in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel.
Pope Benedict chose Cardinal Ravasi, president for the Pontifical Council for Culture, to head this year’s Lenten spiritual exercises.
The cardinal, who is frequently named as a potential candidate for being selected as the next Pope, has chosen the Psalms as the subject of his reflections.
Just days before starting the retreat, he told CNA how he felt about leading it.
“On the one hand, I’m excited about this experience because it is the first time that the head of a dicastery speaks to his colleagues as well as to the Pope,” Cardinal Ravasi said Jan. 31.
“On the other hand, I also believe that there is a sort of familiar atmosphere, not just because of the relationship I already had with the Pope before he even became Pope and came to Rome,” he said.
“But I also think that I would like to propose again the big founding topic through a single book, the Book of Psalms. Because in the end, prayer reveals the true face of God and the true face of man,” he added.
Madrid, Spain, Feb 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A woman who helped cook for the Pope during his visit to Spain in 2011 said the Holy Father looked at those who prepared his meal the way that she looks at her children.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Madrid for World Youth Day, a group of teachers from the Fuenllana School prepared lunch for him.
Diana Cabrera, a mother of three, teacher and host of a cooking show on Spanish television, was among those who helped cook for the Holy Father at the request of Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid.
Cabrera affectionately recalls the encounter with the Pope and said that what most impressed her was “how detached and humble he was, always attentive to others, looking at them in the same way that I look at my children.”
“He was continuously observing and attentive to all the details and all the people that were around him,” she explained in a press release from the education center. “I saw that he cared for them, he seemed to rise above to the spiritual level of those who were around him and those of us who were serving him.”
“I could tell by how he looked that he realized how excited we were to be working for him,” she continued. “I was amazed that despite the fatigue and the hot temperatures that day in Madrid, (the Pope) was attentive to others.”
Cabrera described the Holy Father as “the most important person I have ever served” and said that to see him was to “see a very spiritual person” who was filled with immense peace.
She explained that the spirituality, joy and humility the Pope conveyed “both with his presence and with his gaze” impressed her greatly.
Although she was initially very nervous about the lunch, Cabrera recalled that once Pope Benedict arrived, her “nerves were gone, because he conveyed such peace that he made you feel like you were with someone from your family.”
After lunch, the Pope “unexpectedly got up and came towards us and told us in Italian: ‘That was the best meal of my life, the food was so beautifully prepared, and that beauty leads to God,’” she said.
The menu that day featured salmorejo (a Spanish soup made with olive oil, vinegar and tomatoes), veal with vegetables and a dessert of lemon sorbet and jello.
The director of communications at Fuenllana, Carmen Calvo, told CNA on Feb.15 that wine was offered to the Holy Father, but he declined and preferred to drink orange juice. He asked for a copy of the menu to have as a memento, Calvo said.
All of the items used to prepare the lunch were donated by supporters of the school, and nearly 40 volunteers - including cooks and waiters - served the Pope and his entourage of approximately 60 people.
The school’s principal gave the Holy Father a donation of nearly $6000 to help pay the expenses of a new vocation to the seminary resulting from World Youth Day 2011. She also gave him a photo album about the school and a small statue of Our Lady of Fuenllana.
Cabrera said that after the experience, “I resolved to spread that joy and happiness that I saw in the Holy Father to those around me, and I know as a Catholic that that is precisely what our faith teaches.”
Vatican City, Feb 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Pope Benedict XVI serves his last days in office, the head of the Knights of Malta paid tribute to him by describing the pontiff as “a marvelous person with a great sense of humor.”
“I will remember him with great affection, and I think he is the most marvelous person,” said the prince and grandmaster of the Order of Malta, Matthew Festing, of which Pope Benedict is also a member.
“He is very well informed, he has a great sense of humor, he is funny, he is extremely warm, he is immensely gentle and intelligent,” Festing said in a Feb. 18 interview with CNA at the order’s headquarters in Rome.
The Order of Malta, which issues its own international passports, postal stamps and coins, is a Catholic order comparable to a state but without land.
It has permanent U.N. observer status, its own constitution and is in charge of humanitarian aid in 120 countries.
Pope Benedict recently met with Festing and over 5,000 of its 13,500 members on Feb. 9 to celebrate its 900th anniversary, which took place on Feb. 15.
Festing, who spoke with the Pope on that day, said he told him something which really struck him.
The most interesting remark he made was “your daily life must be imbued with the presence of Jesus, under whose gaze you are called to face the sufferings of the sick, the loneliness of the elderly, and the difficulties of the disabled,” Festing recalled.
“It happens that the present Pope, by chance really, is a member of the order and he was made a member when he was the Archbishop of Munich,” he explained.
Festing also said he was surprised at the Pope’s resignation announcement.
“I was a bit surprised like everybody else was because I wasn’t exactly expecting it. And I don’t think anybody was,” said the 63-year-old Englishman.
“It has been one of the very well, best kept secrets of all time, I think. And certainly I was unaware,” he remarked.
In Festing’s view, Benedict XVI is a “hugely interesting man” and “one of the most abled Popes of modern times.”
Festing said the order has a great relationship with the papacy and will remain loyal to it.
“Nothing will change because our focus will merely change from one person to another, but we will go on being great friends” with the next pontiff, he said.
Sixty members of the Order of Malta are lay men who take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, as well as saying certain daily Church prayers.
It started off as a military order to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land before becoming a humanitarian order.
Their work includes running the Bethlehem Nativity Hospital, which has helped women give birth to nearly 60,000 children since it was established in 1990.
They also run a social project in California that removes the tattoos of former gang members to help re-enter them in society.
CNA STAFF, Feb 18, 2013 (CNA) - A priest who was conceived in rape when his mother was only 13 years old is sharing the story of how he met, forgave and heard the confession of his father, who is now living a life of faith.
“I could have ended up in a trash can, but I was allowed to live,” said Father Luis Alfredo Leon Armijos of Loja, Ecuador.
In a Feb. 6 telephone interview with CNA, Fr. Leon, who is pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Loja, said his mother, Maria Eugenia Armijos Romero, was working as a maid to help her parents support their eight children.
“The owner of the home took advantage of her working alone, raped her and left her pregnant,” he said.
His mother always defended his life, even though she was young and alone, without the support of her family members, who tried to cause an abortion by giving her concoctions to drink and punching her stomach.
“She prayed and felt that the Lord was saying to her in her heart: defend that child that is in you,” Fr. Leon recalled.
The young girl ran away to the city of Cuenca, where she managed to survive on her own. On Oct. 10, 1961, she gave birth to Luis Alfredo.
A short time later, with the help of the baby’s father, she returned to Loja to begin a life as a single mother.
“She ended up under the care of her rapist - my father - who acknowledged I was his and said he would take care of me,” Fr. Leon said, “but that doesn’t mean that things between them were healthy.”
He went on to recount how his father “always visited our home and fulfilled his duty to us. They had three more children, and my relationship with him was distant but pleasant. I respected him a lot, he instilled a sense of authority in me, he was tough with me and he took me to work.”
Fr. Leon encountered Christ through an invitation to the Charismatic Renewal at age 16 and began preaching and teaching catechism “wherever God put me,” whether on the bus or with young people in juvenile detention.
At 18, he felt a call to the priesthood and entered the seminary despite the opposition of his father. He was ordained at the age of 23 with special permission from the bishop.
Two years later, he joined the Neocatechumenal Way, and his mother revealed to him how his birth came about. She had ended her relationship with his father, and this marked the beginning of a journey of reconciliation for them both. Fr. Leon helped his mother understand that she could not hate his father and dealt with his own need to forgive as well.
“God allowed me to be a priest not to judge but to forgive, to be an instrument of his mercy, and I had judged my father a lot,” he said.
Years later, he received a call from his father, who was about to undergo surgery and was afraid. He asked his son to hear his confession and returned to his faith after 30 years of being away from the Eucharist.
“I told him: Dad, you deserve heaven, eternal life,” Fr. Leon said, and “at that moment my father broke down in tears.”
When Fr. Leon preaches to pregnant women undergoing difficulties, he reminds them that just like Jeremiah, God formed their children in the womb as well.
He encourages children to learn how “to see things from the perspective of God’s love” as they come to know their own life story.
“If you are a child or a single mother, you should see how God our Father has cared for you in your life,” he added.
Washington D.C., Feb 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In anticipation of upcoming legislation, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore urged the nation’s lawmakers to work this year “to restore a tradition on rights of conscience in health care.”
“I fear that the federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives,” Archbishop Lori said in a Feb. 15 letter to Congress.
The archbishop, who heads the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, voiced his support for several new legislative measures to protect religious freedom and warned of the negative consequences that would come from a failure to preserve rights of conscience.
He said that a current draft of an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services contains “two important provisions supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.”
The first of these provisions would “extend the longstanding federal policy on conscience” to new programs and mandates created and covered by the Affordable Care Act.
This extension would ensure that “Americans are not forced to violate their fundamental moral and religious convictions in order to offer, sponsor and purchase health coverage,” he explained.
The second important part of the bill would clarify nondiscrimination clauses, giving insurers and employees “the freedom to choose a plan consistent with their religious beliefs,” the archbishop continued.
This clause would also protect health care professionals who refuse to prescribe or provide contraceptives due to their moral or religious beliefs.
Appropriations and funding bills have been used in the past to ensure conscience protections, Archbishop Lori observed, adding that such protections were instituted by President Bill Clinton and have enjoyed bipartisan support since then.
“It can hardly be said that all these Presidents and Congresses, of both parties, had been waging a war on women,” he noted.
The archbishop also criticized attempts to restrict conscience protections, saying that he has “seen no evidence” that laws protecting religious freedom “have done any harm to women or to their advancement in society.”
Instead, he told members of Congress, there is “a new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power.”
He noted that while the Obama administration’s decision to mandate insurance coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, “is hailed by some as a victory for women’s freedom, it permits no free choice” for women who object to this coverage for themselves and their minor children due to moral or religious beliefs.
Archbishop Lori echoed Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in critiquing the “coercive element” present in the latest proposal by the administration to amend the mandate.
Explaining that “the new proposal falls short of meeting the hopes and expectations of many concerned about religious freedom,” Archbishop Lori pointed to the narrow exemption for religious employers, the imposition into the private affairs of non-exempt religious groups and the mandate’s disregard for the conscience rights of non-religious and for-profit employers.
Furthermore, the new approach “threatens to undermine access to quality health care” because it tells insurance providers and purchasers “that they need to drop their participation in the health care system if they want to preserve their religious and moral integrity,” he added.
Quoting Cardinal Dolan, he said that “the Nation’s bishops remain committed to ‘engaging with the Administration, and all branches and levels of government.’”
“A restoration of full respect for one of our Nation’s founding values is urgently needed,” he stressed.