Blackwood, N.J., Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic men studying to be priests have expressed their “deepest appreciation” for words and prayers of encouragement from grade school students participating in a New Jersey letter-writing campaign.
“Please convey my deepest appreciation to the children and tell them to continue their prayers for us here,” one seminarian wrote. “God does indeed hear the prayers of little children.”
In a project sponsored by the New Jersey State Council of the Knights of Columbus, Catholic grade school students are able to send words of encouragement to men studying to be priests in the United States and Rome.
John Tirado, the Seminarian Letter Project chairman, said he was inspired to begin the project by his childhood admiration of priests and their sacrifice for the Church.
“I’ve always been greatly inspired by anybody that spends a lifelong devotion to God,” he told CNA April 15. “These individuals, these men, are being an instrument (of God).”
Tirado said that the practice of writing letters is a “very easy, very inexpensive” way to help a group of people who “need all the support they can get.”
As chairman of the project, Tirado contacts other Knights of Columbus councils and Catholic schools in his state to encourage them to participate in the campaign.
So far, nine other local councils have joined to help school children send letters to several seminaries in the United States and to the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
Tirado has seen “very enthusiastic cooperation” from principals and teachers in the schools “because they see the value” of encouraging seminarians, as well as excitement from the students because they “enjoy writing the letters.”
Although he’s been managing the project for a number of years, he said a note from a seventh grade girl this year is “one of the best letters” he’s been able to send to the seminarians so far.
In the letter, the girl explains how her mother had “prayed for a son so that she could give a priest to the Church” but jokingly added that she “soon found out” God does not “work that way.”
“I am writing you with a heart full of appreciation for following the call of Jesus to serve him and us as a beloved son and priest,” she said.
“You may be sacrificing the choice of getting married and having a family,” she wrote, “but you will be able to actually touch Jesus and consecrate the host and wine into his actual flesh and blood.”
Other students told the seminarians about their interests at school, such as sports, while some simply encouraged the men.
“I believe you have the passion and determination to become a great priest,” wrote one student.
Another student said his seminarian should not be discouraged by the physical state of the church to which he’s assigned.
“I know you will be a great priest at any church even if it’s old and beat down,” he wrote.
Stationary and postage are the only costs of a letter-writing campaign, Tirado said, but the benefit is helping encourage the vocation to the priesthood.
He hopes that Catholics all over the country begin similar campaigns in their parishes or Knights of Columbus councils.
“Our guys just really need it; they need all the support they can get,” he said. “Maybe that’s God’s will for us.”
Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2013 (CNA) - Human rights advocates are warning that the health of an American citizen imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith is rapidly deteriorating due to physical and psychological abuse.
For months, said Jordan Sekulow, executive director for the American Center for Law and Justice, Pastor Saeed Abedini “has been suffering from internal bleeding” cause by “injuries received from the beatings in prison.”
“In what could only be viewed as a cruel act of psychological abuse, prison officials took Pastor Saeed to a hospital last week – only to be turned away – and brought back to Evin prison without receiving medical treatment for his internal bleeding,” Sekulow said in an April 15 blog post.
A native of Iran, Abedini was raised as a Muslim but converted to Christianity in 2000. He became an American citizen in 2010 after marrying an American woman.
The pastor worked with house churches in Iran until 2009, when he was ordered by the government to stop his work. He then turned his focus to non-religious orphanages. However, he was arrested in late 2012 under charges of threatening national security for his previous work with the churches, despite the fact that these churches are technically legal in Iran.
He was given an eight-year sentence and is being held in Evin prison, an institution known for its particularly harsh treatment of prisoners.
The American Center for Law and Justice is representing Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, who lives in the United States with the couple’s two children.
The organization has been working to raise awareness of Abedini’s plight, calling on U.S. officials to work for his freedom an orchestrating an effort for people to send letters showing their support for the pastor. More than 30,000 people have participated in the initiative.
According to Sekulow, “the beatings and physical abuse are intensifying,” and Abedini’s family has “reported that his physical condition is worsening,” leading to frequent fainting spells made worse by a lack of treatment.
“Iranian officials are telling Pastor Saeed it could be an additional two months before he will receive medical treatment,” he continued. “Such a delay is inhumane and a gross violation of Iran’s international obligations.”
In addition, Sekulow said that Abedini is suffering psychological torture from his prison mates. The pastor reported that his cellmates recently threatened to suffocate him “in his sleep, making his death look like an accident.”
“The daily threat that his life could be taken by his internal injuries or by the hands of cellmates, weighs heavily on Pastor Saeed,” Sekulow explained.
“I cannot express in words how concerned I am about Saeed's physical and mental health,” said Abedini’s wife, adding that the “Iranian government should know that we are watching and aware of what they are doing to Saeed inside Evin prison.”
She asked Americans to “speak louder until Saeed is home safely on U.S. soil.”
Denver, Colo., Apr 18, 2013 (CNA) - To counter decades of Catholics becoming absorbed into secular American culture, noted author and journalist Russell Shaw is proposing a new Catholic “subculture” committed to evangelization.
“We're no longer evangelizing the culture, we've been evangelized by it, and it's not good for the secular culture, and it's destroying us as a religious community,” Shaw told CNA on April 16.
“My critique of Americanism and of cultural assimilation is very real,” he explained. “What has happened has turned out not to be in the best interest of the Catholic Church in the U.S., but no one started out with bad intentions.”
Shaw is the author of “American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America,” which is published by Ignatius Press and was released at the end of March.
The book contains a foreword by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who discusses the dangerous temptation for Catholics to “become like everyone else....rather than be 'other than' and holy,” agreeing that American Catholics have largely “abandoned who we really are.”
Shaw's work, originally titled “The Gibbons Legacy,” begins by examining “Americanism,” which was a “naively optimistic” view of the compatibility between Catholicism and the American ethos of individualism, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Americanism was championed by such figures as Archbishop John Ireland of Saint Paul and Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore. It was opposed by Leo XIII and by Orestes Brownson, a Catholic intellectual who argued that there is a “radical incompatibility” between the American ethos and traditional Catholicism.
“Whether Brownson was or wasn't correct in his time, it's to a great extent turned out that way today, in the wake of four decades of profound and alarming change in the character of American secular culture,” Shaw said.
He noted the falling number of priests and religious in the U.S., as well as declining participation in the sacraments, an exodus from the Church and the large amount of “Catholics in name only,” attributing these figures to the cultural assimilation of Catholics into the mainstream.
The story told in “American Church,” Shaw said, is one “without villains,” but is it is about “generally decent, good people trying to do the right thing, but often in retrospect not doing the right thing, blundering, making large mistakes, which we're only now coming to realize and understand clearly.”
“And which we need to rectify before it's too late,” he stressed.
Among his reasons for writing the book, Shaw said, is to examine questions of Catholic identity and history in the U.S. and to “call what I think are the right answers to the attention of as many people as possible.”
That way, he explained, “instead of just muddling through and hoping for the best, we can proceed in a rational, self-conscious manner to achieve the sort of goals and objectives that we want to achieve, rather than sometime in the future ending up in a state of affairs that we didn't anticipate and don't particularly like, which could happen.”
As a solution to the problem of the faithful being absorbed into secular culture, Shaw proposed the creation of a new “Catholic subculture” that promotes Catholic identity while being evangelistic rather than being focused inward like the “Catholic ghetto” of the early 20th century.
Shaw agrees with those who would denounce an inward-focused Catholic subculture whose institutions are laughable to secular culture. However, he maintains that a healthy Catholic subculture is necessary for the Catholics to thrive as Catholics: “absent a subculture, you won't have any group identity.”
“You'll be what we are now, a rather amorphous group, a label for convenience's sake: 'the Catholic Church in the U.S.', but a splintered group in which a very large number of the putative members are not really Catholic in any meaningful sense at all.”
“In the late 50s through the 70s, we gave up on the Catholic subculture in a big way, and that's the era when we lost a lot of the older Catholic institutions, and those that remained went secular,” he observed.
More than half a century ago, Shaw noted, Catholicism was “well on its way to becoming a profoundly effective culture-forming factor in the United States.”
But now, he explained, the Church has no significant influence on the broader secular culture because so many American Catholics have plunged “unconditionally” into that culture.
The solution, a new subculture, must be based in “a Catholic identity which is outward looking and which is profoundly and radically committed to evangelization” of the larger culture, the author emphasized.
This subculture must sustain its members and maintain Catholic identity.
“You have to get your identity, values, and commitments right, or you're going to be in serious trouble,” he said.
Shaw sees promising signs of the framework for this Catholic subculture, including new media ventures such as Catholic News Agency, new Catholic educational institutions such as Ave Maria University, and “the return to a more orthodox brand of Catholicism on the part of at least some older academic institutions, such as Catholic University of America.”
He added that a new subculture will require both those deeply immersed in it, who “provide reinforcement and catechesis,” bolstering and sustaining Catholic identity, and those who having been bolstered and are more present “in the midst of the secular world.”
“What I'm saying is predicated on the assumption that we'll have a large percentage of Catholics who are loyal and orthodox...who will be out there in the secular society, working and socializing with non-Catholics, but whose commitment to the Catholic faith will be visible at all times and in all circumstances,” he explained.
“And it is those people who will be agents of the new evangelization in that larger secular context.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The most powerful Catholic leader in Syria met Pope Francis today to ask the Vatican to get more involved in bringing peace to his tortured homeland.
“I think it’s time the Vatican plays a bigger role, when we hear about weapons here and there,” said Patriarch Gregory III Laham.
“We want to hear the voice of the Holy Father saying, ‘This is a sin, it is against humanity,’” he told reporters April 17 at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
The Patriarch of Antioch, who is the spiritual leader of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, said the voice of the Holy See “is now extremely important for us, both Christians and Muslims.”
His Church is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Patriarch Gregory said Orthodox Christians, Muslims and government leaders also want to meet with Pope Francis.
At the level of diplomacy, he hopes that whoever the next Vatican Secretary of State is will take “new actions.”
“I hope they have the gesture of sending a cardinal to Damascus to pray with us,” remarked Patriarch Gregory.
“We don’t want a protocol gesture, we want to shock the world by praying for peace,” he stated.
“The Vatican’s voice,” he underscored, “is especially important for the future of Syria.”
In addition to praying for peace, the patriarch called on Christians to stay in the Middle East, fearing that if they left, “Jesus would only be a myth” and people would no longer believe in him.
“The reason to remain in the Middle East is to live alongside Islam, because that is our role as Christians,” he told CNA at the press conference.
He recalled how on April 6 he prayed for three people who were killed in the fighting, two Christians and one Muslim, explaining that it was part of every day life.
Patriarch Gregory presided over a funeral in Saidnaya, Syria for a 26-year-old Catholic who was killed by the opposition.
Later in the day he presented his condolences to a 65-year-old Greek Orthodox and a 75-year-old Muslim, both killed in their own homes and, according to him, for no reason.
“There is a war without a face and warriors without faces,” he said, commenting on the absence of any apparent motive for the murders.
“There is a battle of armed people, bandits, opposition, groups from outside and inside, from east and west, and you don’t know with whom you have to do what,” he added.
According to the patriarch, “this is not a civil war, it is war” and he believes it is “a complot.”
“I don’t understand how Europe can allow this situation and send people to fight,” said the patriarch.
“You’re using the name of democracy and you’re sending warriors!” he remarked.
The patriarch wrote a letter to Pope Francis on March 29 appealing for greater support from the Vatican, and asking him to “come and be our cross.”
He also recalled how the Pope referred to his country as “beloved Syria,” saying it “touched all hearts of everyone including Christians, Muslims and the opposition and those are the kinds of words we like to hear.”
In his opinion, the “whole world is now thinking about weapons and not about dialogue.”
But Patriarch Gregory insisted “Syrians, despite two years of fighting, are still able to discuss with each other.”
“Syria is a battlefield,” he said. “You are in full security in every place and in danger in any place.”
According to the patriarch, 2 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, over 1,000 Christians have been killed and 20 churches have been destroyed.
“The biggest problem is that whole world is now occupied with deciding to take up arms, deliver more or less weapons to whom, where and how,” he said.
“The world has to think about peace and not about weapons,” Patriarch Gregory maintained.
Vatican City, Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
If Catholics do not proclaim Jesus with their lives, then the Church becomes “not the mother, but the babysitter,” Pope Francis cautioned in a homily and a separate letter to his brother bishops in Argentina.
When believers share their faith, “the Church becomes a mother church that produces children (and more) children, because we, the children of the Church, we carry that. But when we do not, the Church is not the mother, but the babysitter, that takes care of the baby – to put the baby to sleep. It is a Church dormant,” Pope Francis stated.
The solution to this is “to proclaim Christ, to carry the Church – this fruitful motherhood of the Church – forward,” he said.
The Pope first mentioned the importance of being spiritually fruitful during the April 16 Mass he celebrated for employees of the Vatican’s Institute for Works of Religion in St. Martha’s residence.
He based his homily on a reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recalled the lives of the first Christians.
“They left their homes,” he recalled, “they brought with them only few belongings, and going from place to place proclaiming the Word.
“They were a simple faithful, baptized just a year or so – but they had the courage to go and proclaim,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis then turned to a point that he emphasized frequently in Buenos Aires.
The early Christians, he stressed, had nothing but “the power of baptism,” which “gave them apostolic courage, the strength of the Spirit.”
But, he asked, do Christians today really believe in the power of their baptism?
“Is it sufficient for evangelization? Or do we rather ‘hope’ that the priest should speak, that the bishop might speak?”
This way of seeing Christianity often carries with it the attitude of, ‘I was baptized, I made Confirmation, First Communion ... I have my identity card, alright.’ And now, go to sleep quietly, you are a Christian,” the Pope explained.
Instead, he said that believers must be “faithful to the Spirit, to proclaim Jesus with our lives, through our witness and our words.” Pope Francis repeated this message in a letter he sent to his fellow Argentinian bishops who are meeting for their annual full assembly in Pilar, Argentina.
“Mission,” he underlined, “is key to ministry.”
“A Church that does not go out of itself, sooner or later, sickens from the stale air of closed rooms,” the Pope wrote.
He acknowledged that in going out the Church runs risks, but “I prefer a thousand times over a Church of accidents than a sick Church.”
The Church, the Holy Father observed, typically suffers from being self-referential, only looking to and relying on itself.
This kind of self-centeredness “leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism” and prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization, he warned.
Pope Francis finished his letter by greeting the Argentinian people and asking his fellow bishops to pray “I do not grow proud and always know how to listen to what God wants and not what I want.”
Grand Rapids, Mich., Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father David J. Walkowiak, a priest of the Cleveland diocese, was appointed Bishop of Grand Rapids, Mich., on April 18 by Pope Francis.
“I am grateful to Pope Francis for entrusting me with this apostolic office as bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids,” said Bishop-designate Walkowiak.
“In accepting this appointment I renew my trust in the Lord who asks me to set out again on a new mission. I thank God for providing me with the opportunity to serve this local church, which I pray will be a blessing to its people.”
Bishop-designate Walkowiak will be consecrated a bishop June 18, becoming the 12th bishop of Grand Rapids. The diocese is located in western Michigan, and is home to 182,000 Catholics in 82 parishes. In 2006, nearly 13 percent of the total population of the diocese was Catholic.
He succeeds Bishop Walter Hurley, who has been the shepherd of Grand Rapids since 2005. Beginning today, Bishop Hurley serves as apostolic administrator of the diocese until Bishop-designate Walkowiak's installation on June 18 at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew.
Bishop Hurley turned 75, which is the mandatory retirement age for bishops, last May. He submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict, which has now been accepted by Pope Francis.
Bishop Hurley announced that he will continue to live in the diocese, assisting Bishop-designate Walkowiak “in our parishes and the diocese as called upon to serve.”
“Catholics in the Diocese of Grand Rapids are fortunate to have someone with Bishop-designate Walkowiak’s experience to lead the faithful of West Michigan into the future,” Bishop Hurley said.
“Bishop-designate Walkowiak’s education, service to the Church and pastoral ministry to the people of the Diocese of Cleveland will be of great benefit in this new role to which he has been called.”
The incoming bishop was raised in Ohio and was ordained a priest for the Cleveland diocese in 1979. He has served in parishes and is currently a pastor.
He received a doctorate in canon law from Catholic University of America, and has worked in the diocesan chancery, as an associate judge of the appellate tribunal for the Cincinnati province. He has also been on the faculty of Saint Mary Seminary in Wickliffe.
Pope Francis also appointed a bishop to a Croatian archdiocese today.
In the U.S., there are currently seven vacant dioceses, as well as an Eastern Catholic eparchy.
Vatican City, Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis tweeted a prayer request for the victims of a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.
“Please join me in praying for the victims of the explosion in Texas and their families," he said on the English channel of his Twitter account, which uses the handle @Pontifex.
Between five and 15 people are believed to be dead and 160 injured in the explosion that took place Wednesday night near Waco, Texas.
Emergency services and rescue workers are still searching through smoldering ruins for missing firefighters and survivors of the huge blast.
The explosion happened at a fertilizer company just off the town of West, a small community of 2,300 people just 20 miles north of Waco.
First-responders were able to evacuate 133 residents of the West Rest Haven Nursing Home, some in wheelchairs, since they were at the plant fighting a fire, about 30 minutes before the deadly blast.
Authorities say 75 houses, several businesses and a 50-unit apartment complex were damaged.
Experts say it is possible that the highly explosive chemical ammonium nitrate, which can be used to make fertilizer, was being stored at the plant.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board said it was sending a large team to investigate the incident.
The Pope has previously launched appeals at his weekly general audience and during his Sunday Angelus where thousands of pilgrims gather.
But his Dec. 12, 2012 Twitter debut gave the pontiff another venue for making his prayer requests or calls for peace when violence breaks out.
The account shows 18 posts since Pope Francis became the Successor of Peter on March 13, 2012.
Vatican City, Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis, who has quickly become known for his austere style, will continue using his simple black shoes and has called his shoemaker from his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina to repair them.
For 40 years, 81 year-old Carlos Samaria has provided shoes from his store on the outskirts of the Argentine capital for Pope Francis, who was known before his election to the papacy as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.
“Hello Samaria, it’s Bergoglio,” the phone conversation began.
“But who is this?” the shoemaker responded with surprise.
“Samaria, it's Francis, the Pope!” the Holy Father replied.
According to Vatican Radio’s Brazilian program, the Holy Father told Samaria, “No red shoes, make them black like usual.”
Samaria said the shoes Pope Francis wears “are simple and made of black leather, with a smooth toe and no decorations.
“If you were to grab one of the Pope’s shoes it would feel like a clog, without any adornment but with laces,” the shoemaker explained.
“He doesn’t want new shows, only that I fix his old ones,” Samaria said.
However, he added that he is planning to “make a new but simple pair to be ready for him when he says I can visit, in May.”
Wellington, New Zealand, Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, president of the Bishops’ Conference of New Zealand, has expressed profound sadness over the authorization of ‘gay marriage’ by the country’s Parliament on April 17.
“We find it bizarre that what has been discarded is an understanding of marriage that has its origin in human nature and is common to every culture,” said Archbishop John Dew, according to CathNews.
He also voiced concern that “almost all references to husband and wife will be removed from legislation referencing marriage.”
“We know many New Zealanders stand with us in this,” he said.
By a vote of 77-44, New Zealand became the first country in the Pacific region and the thirteenth country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex “marriage.”
The law was sponsored by Labor representative Louisa Wall, who said it was necessary to secure “equal rights.”
Representative Maurice Williamson, who supported the measure, dismissed Catholic criticism as “coming from someone who’s taken an oath of celibacy for his whole life.”
However, Archbishop Dew stressed that marriage “is founded on sexual difference” and “reflects this unique reality.”
“Marriage is the essential human institution that predates religion and state,” he said. “It is a committed union between a man and a woman which has a natural orientation towards the procreation of new human life.”
“We’ve been assured that our religious freedom to teach and practice marriage according to our religious beliefs is protected, and we will continue to ensure that this freedom is upheld,” he added.
Boston, Mass., Apr 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, people of diverse faith backgrounds are uniting in prayer for the victims and offering support to all those affected.
“Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn't even know we had, and we carry on; we finish the race,” said U.S. President Barack Obama at an interfaith prayer service in Boston on April 18.
“Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us,” the president observed. “As we do, may God hold close those who've been taken from us too soon, may he comfort their families and may he continue to watch over these United States of America.”
Obama joined numerous religious leaders in speaking at an interfaith prayer service at the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Cross
On April 15, two bombs exploded shortly before 3:00 p.m. near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three individuals were killed in the explosions, and over 170 were injured. The FBI is investigating the attack and seeking those who are responsible.
Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston also offered a reflection at the service, urging those gathered that they must “overcome the culture of death by promoting a culture of life.”
“Jesus gives us a new way to deal with offenses, by reconciliation,” he said. “Jesus gives us a new way to deal with violence, by nonviolence.”
Stressing that the crowd’s “presence here is an act of solidarity with those who lost their lives or were injured in the explosions,” the cardinal called on the faithful to see the tragedy as “a challenge and an opportunity for us to work together with a renewed spirit of determination and solidarity and with the firm conviction that love is stronger than death.”
Other leaders and members of various faith groups attended the service, including representatives of the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, First Church Cambridge, Old South Church and Trinity Church.
Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino also gave reflections at the service.
The Archdiocese of Boston is continuing to offer a variety of opportunities for Mass and prayer for all those affected by the bombing.
On April 16, a Mass for the victims of the attack was celebrated at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Memorial and healing Masses, Eucharistic adoration and prayer services are scheduled throughout the archdiocese in the coming days.
Cardinal O’Malley was in the Holy Land at the time of the bombing. He offered Mass for all of those impacted by the tragedy before returning to Boston for the prayer service.
Members of other faiths, including the Episcopal Archdiocese of Massachusetts and various Jewish denominations, and are also hosting prayer services.
In addition, several colleges in Boston are holding vigils and Masses. Harvard University held three vigils on April 16 in honor of the victims, including one at Harvard Divinity School. Northeastern University and Tufts University also held prayer services and vigils.
Boston College, a Catholic university located on the marathon route, celebrated a “Mass of Healing and Hope” on April 16 for victims of the bombing, “including two graduate students, M.B.A. student Liza Cherney and joint J.D./M.B.A. student Brittany Loring.” The Mass was celebrated by university president, Fr. William P. Leahy, SJ.
“We come with certain hurts and a sense of confusion: Why do these things happen? How can we carry on?” said Fr. Leahy in his homily, according to the Boston College Chronicle.
“Christ proclaimed that ‘I am the bread of life,’ and those words have extra significance to us,” he added. “We are seeking a level of consolation, food that will sustain us. The bread of life gives us energy, support and faith. Christ’s words sustain us today, and in the future.”
“We are called upon to represent faith, hope and healing for those who it need most,” Fr. Leahy explained.
Others from around the country have joined in prayer to support victims of the attacks. Notre Dame University offered a Mass on April 18 for all those affected, and the Catholic Chaplaincy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., held a prayer vigil on the night of April 15.
Austin, Texas, Apr 18, 2013 (CNA) -
As the state reacts to a massive fertilizer plant explosion, Pope Francis and Bishop Joseph S. Vasquez of Austin have asked for prayers for the people of West, Texas and all those affected.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent a message to Bishop Vasquez, saying Pope Francis was “saddened” by the news of the destruction and sent his “heartfelt condolences” to the civil authorities and the affected families.
“He prays for the eternal rest of the victims and implores God’s blessings of consolation and peace upon those who mourn and all who generously aid in the continuing work of relief,” the cardinal said.
The Austin diocese said Thursday that Bishop Vasquez asks “that all people pray for the people of West.”
The explosion Wednesday night at the West Fertilizer Company plant flattened parts of the town of West, killing five to 15 people and injuring at least 160. The explosion took place after efforts to battle a small fire on the plant premises.
The town of West has about 2,300 people and is about 20 miles north of Waco.
About 75 houses, several businesses and a 50-unit apartment complex were damaged. Rescue workers are still searching through the rubble for missing firefighters and survivors of the blast.
Evacuees include 133 residents of the West Rest Haven Nursing Home.
The local Catholic church, St. Mary, Church of the Assumption Parish, is located along with its school about one mile from the plant and was not damaged in the blast. St. Mary's parish hall is being used as a command center for emergency responders.
The West community is predominantly Czech and mostly Catholic. The parish has 1,275 registered families and its pre-K-8 school has 136 students and 17 faculty members.
Priests of the Diocese of Austin visited area hospitals to administer the sacraments and to meet the spiritual needs of the injured and their families.
The American Red Cross will be providing disaster relief for the first 30 days after the incident. Catholic Charities of Central Texas and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will begin to help those in need of assistance 31 days after the disaster, including help with long-term case management, providing furniture and household goods.
Bishop Vasquez will visit West on Friday and will celebrate a Mass on Sunday morning at St. Mary, Church of the Assumption in West. Catholic parishes of the diocese will take up a special collection for disaster victims.
Catholic Charities of Central Texas is accepting donations at its website http://ccctx.org.