Rome, Italy, Jul 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Franciscan Friar Ibrahim Alsabagh says that remembering the June 23 killing of his friend, a Syrian priest, at a Mass in Rome made him feel “bitter, happy, and a little bit of envy," as well as "how close martyrdom is."
“My first reaction was of bitterness because I had met him personally and I know how much good he did,” said Father Alsabagh, a Syrian Franciscan of the Custody of the Holy Land. “Also because it made me realize how close martyrdom is.”
“But on the other hand, I also felt joy and a little bit of envy,” he told CNA July 4, following the memorial Mass for Father François Mourad, held in Rome.
The evening Mass was celebrated by Bishop Matteo M. Zuppi, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rome, at the Church of Saints Fabian and Venantius.
During the Mass, which was held to pray for the priest and all of the victims of the conflict, Fr. Alsabagh spoke about the war, the growing faith of young Christians in Syria and about Fr. Murad’s death.
Initial media reports falsely informed that Fr. Murad was beheaded in an attack that was recorded on video, showing a group of foreign jihadist militants beheading two men in Syria.
But Vatican sources later confirmed the 49-year-old was in fact shot dead in the Christian village of Gassanieh near Jisr Ash-Shughur in northern Syria, after rebels raided the monastery where he was living.
“There are many news (reports) involving his death, one of them is that he received a bullet when he was inside the monastery,” Fr. Alsabgh said.
“Another story is that he was assaulted by a group that wanted to loot the monastery and that they killed him,” he stated. “This story wasn’t disseminated immediately by the mass media, and it was later confused with a movie published in YouTube that shows the beheading of a priest with other two lay people.”
Fr. Alsabagh stressed the truth was that he was not beheaded but shot in the monastery.
“He was gentle and docile, he was a Franciscan that always aspired to initiate a monastic path,” he said.“He always helped in our mission, and we always considered him as one of our brothers.”
Fr. Murad initially wanted to open a monastery close to Aleppo and base its spirituality on Saint Siemon the Stylite.
But Fr. Alsabagh said that because of “many difficulties,” Fr. Murad went to live in the monastery of Saint Anthony of Padua in Ghassanieh, which is where he was killed.
“We, Franciscans of the Holy Land, are also always called to testify to our faith in the Middle East, even to the point of martyrdom,” he remarked.
Fr. Alsabagh, who was studying for a doctorate in Rome, traveled to one of the three Franciscan monasteries in Damascus on July 5 “to help and support his brothers in the mission.”
“I’m returning there to be with my brothers and to live the testimony,” he said. “There are probably so many dangers; there is no security in the capital, on the streets, not even in the monastery.”
“One can be killed in any moment but so many people expect our strength, our bravery, our prayers and our homilies,” he stated. “They expect words of faith, as well as the sacraments.”
He underscored the Franciscans’ mission in Syria is to be “brothers of the people, to be with the people, and to serve the (Syrian) people.”
After spending the next two months in Syria, he plans to return to Rome in September to continue his doctorate.
According to him, since the violence began there is “more sensibility regarding the Christian life” in Syria.
“When there is the cross, there is something that moves and pushes you more; there is a force that springs so much from within to the outside,” he remarked.
“When one lives in prosperity, there is a big danger and indifference becomes the result,” he added.
“Instead, a little bit of suffering, a little bit of the cross on the shoulder, helps us open our eyes a bit to the importance of our Christian vocation and to its beauty.”
Fr. Alsabagh noted suffering “also helps us respond generously to our Christian vocation, helps us realize that everything passes, that it’s important to stick closer to Jesus and to be ready at every moment to give your life for your brothers.”
“I’ve shared this suffering by listening to my family, friends, priests and brothers,” he said. “It’s made me realize that my martyrdom could come today or tomorrow, too.”
“We need to do what the Pope says: close this passageway of weapons into Syria,” he affirmed.
Concepcion, Chile, Jul 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The archbishop of Concepcion, Chile, has donated a $50,000 inheritance to a Catholic university in the city to establish a food scholarship in memory of his late aunt.
“I believe that in Chile, donation is a path we must take for a more just society, in a bid for freedom for all,” Archbishop Fernando N. Chomali Garib said at the June 24 ceremony establishing the Yolanda Garib Food Scholarship at the Catholic University of the Most Holy Conception.
The inheritance received by the archbishop from his maternal aunt, Yolanda Garib, will serve as financial aid for meals for students whose parents are imprisoned or immigrants.
The rector of the university, Juan Miguel Cancino, as well as members of the Chilean Prison Guard Force, government officials, the ambassador of Palestine, and family and friends of the archbishop were present at the ceremony.
“We hope that this example of generosity is followed by many,” Cancino said of the donation.
Archbishop Chomali said that “money is to overcome poverty,” adding that “now I had the opportunity to lead by example.”
Nearly 80 percent of the university's students are from impoverished families, and the school is meant to help lift students out of poverty.
There is a “very complex” link between education and social standing in Chile, Archbishop Chomali said, and it should be overcome.
The archbishop himself comes from an immigrant family – he is part of the second generation of Palestinian immigrants to Chile.
Ahead of the ceremony, Archbishop Chomali said that “many, by virtue of their poverty and discrimination, could not study. And had they had more support, maybe they would have studied.”
“I believe we need to take care of the poorest of the poor, who today are the children of inmates who are finishing their sentences, and the children of immigrants.
“At least they know that someone wants to lend them a hand,” he reflected.
Vatican City, Jul 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The director of the Holy See’s Press Office says the consistory of cardinals which will discuss the canonization of Bl. John XXIII and Bl. John Paul II may be held in September, with the ceremony taking place a few months later.
“There will be a consistory in autumn, possibly in September but we still don't know the exact date,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told CNA on July 5, shortly after it was announced that Pope Francis has approved the causes for the canonization of his two predecessors in the See of Peter.
The consistory – or gathering of cardinals – “will be the official occasion in which the Pope and the cardinals will make the decision on the date of the canonization,” he explained.
“We can expect that this canonization will probably be the same occasion for both Popes: probably before the end of the year, but there still isn't a fixed date.”
Fr. Lombardi says he believes it will be the first time that two Popes have been canonized on the same occasion in the recent past, and said “I don't have information about the past regarding a similar situation.”
He added, however, that “there have been simultaneous beatifications,” noting the case of John XXIII and Pius IX in 2000.
On July 5, it was announced that Pope Francis had paved the way for the canonizations of Bl. John Paul II and Bl. John XXIII. The previous steps towards John Paul II’s canonization had been completed in recent months.
In the case of John XXIII, however, the Vatican has only verified one miracle as having been obtained through his intercession. Normally, two miracles must be approved before an individual is canonized.
While this situation is out of the ordinary, Fr. Lombardi explained that “this is something that is in the power of the Pope, it's not something particularly special.”
“A miracle is a theological vision of the Church, the proof, the proof of the power of intercession and the confirmation from God's side of the sanctity of a person. But it's not a dogma of faith that is necessary in any way.”
“For example, martyrs are beatified without any miracle, which means that miracles, because of tradition and theology, are commonly requested, but it's not an absolute necessity.”
The spokesman noted that it is “very interesting” that John XXIII will be canonized this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which he had convoked.
John XXIII, known as “Good Pope John,” is most noted for having opened Vatican II, and for his encyclical “Pacem in Terris.”
John Paul II became famous throughout the world during his 27-year pontificate for his charismatic nature, his love of youth, and his role in the fall of communism in Europe, as well as his world travels.
Lampedusa, Jul 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Seeking to “reawaken” consciences, Pope Francis visited an Italian island which is the destination of African emigrants and said that the “culture of comfort” leads many people to ignore the suffering of others.
“The culture of comfort…makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others,” the Bishop of Rome preached in his homily during Mass at the Arena sporting field on Lampedusa July 8.
“In this globalized world,” he continued, “we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business.”
Lampedusa is the gateway for African emigrants, many of whom are Muslim, coming to Europe. It is located a mere 90 miles from the coast of Tunisia. Pope Francis travelled there as a sign of solidarity with the migrants who come to the island seeking a better life in Europe.
Thousands of African migrants, packed into small boats, have been arriving at the island in recent years. Many others have died in the attempt. A boat with some 160 Eritreans made it to the island just hours before the arrival of Pope Francis.
Remembering the death of another group of migrants a few weeks ago, the Holy Father said that this “happens all too frequently” and that it “has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart.”
“I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated.”
Setting a penitential tone for the Mass, the Roman Pontiff wore purple vestments. He began his reflections on the readings by saying, “I wish to offer some thoughts meant to challenge people’s consciences and lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart.”
The first reading told of Cain's murder of his brother Abel, and God's asking “where is your brother?”
Pope Francis said that “'the other' is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply someone who disturbs my life and my comfort.”
God's question to Cain “echoes even today” he said, “as forcefully as ever.”
“How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another,” reflected the Pope.
God's question – where is your brother – is not “directed to others,” Pope Francis assures us, but “is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us.”
“These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death.”
He lamented the lack of understanding and solidarity received by immigrants, and said “their cry rises up to God.”
The Bishop of Rome asked who is responsible for the blood of the migrants who died trying to reach Lampedusa, saying that the immediate answer is often “nobody” or “it isn't me.”
“Yet God is asking each of us: 'Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?' Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters,” he taught.
Pope Francis said that society has fallen into the “hypocrisy” of the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan: “we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: 'poor soul…!', and then go on our way.”
“It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged.”
The Pope compared Westerners' refusal to take responsibility for the plight of immigrants to the 17th century Spanish play “Fuenteovejuna,” in which “everybody and nobody” in the town takes responsibility for the murder of a government official.
The “globalization of indifference” makes everyone “responsible, yet nameless and faceless,” he reflected.
He added that society has “forgotten how to weep,” questioning how many have wept for the situation of those who have died trying to migrate.
“Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families,” he asked.
Indifference has led to a forgetfulness of compassion, of “suffering with” others, said the Roman Pontiff.
The gospel at the Mass was that of the Massacre of the Innocents, which mentions the suffering of the mothers whose children were martyred.
Pope Francis said Herod's decision to kill the infants was made “to protect his own comfort, his own soap bubble.”
“And so it continues.”
The Bishop of Rome implored that we “ask the Lord to remove the part of Herod that lurks in our hearts.”
“Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts, and of all those who in anonymity make social and economic decisions which open the door to tragic situations like this.”
Today's Mass was not the first time that Lampedusa has received the attention of the Vatican. On April 27, 2011, Benedict XVI welcomed pilgrims from the island to his General Audience and encouraged them to “continue their valued commitment to solidarity with our brother migrants.”
At the Mass today, Pope Francis similarly indicated “gratitude and encouragement” to the people of Lampedusa who offer assistance to migrants coming to the island. He also thanked Archbishop Francesco Montenegro of Agrigento, the Sicilian archdiocese which includes Lampedusa.
Noting that many of the African emigrants are Muslim, Pope Francis said that “I also think with affection of those Muslim immigrants who this evening begin the fast of Ramadan, which I trust will bear abundant spiritual fruit.”
“The Church is at your side as you seek a more dignified life for yourselves and your families.”
While visiting Lampedusa, Pope Francis threw a wreath into the sea in memory of the some 20,000 human persons who have lost their lives trying to reach the island in the past 25 years. He also met with representatives of those who have made it to the island.
A speaker for the migrants noted that they had fled Africa for “political and economic” reasons, and pleaded for assistance from the nations of Europe.
As a further sign of solidarity with the migrants who have sought refuge on the island, Pope Francis carried a new ferula, or papal staff, which had been fashioned from the remains of a wrecked immigrant boat. He said Mass at an altar which had been converted from another immigrant boat.
Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After an initial analysis of the finalized HHS mandate, the U.S. bishops are warning that despite changes, the regulation still threatens the Church’s ability “to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.”
“Although the Conference has not completed its analysis of the final rule, some basic elements of the final rule have already come into focus,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a July 3 statement, he explained that so far, the conference “has not discovered any new change that eliminates the need to continue defending our rights in Congress and the courts.”
The statement came in response to the release of the final rules regulating the federal HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate has become the subject of lawsuits from more than 200 plaintiffs who claim that it forces them to violate their deeply-held religious convictions.
Amid protests around the nation, the Obama administration has engaged in a multi-step process to modify the mandate in order to allow for religious freedom. The release of the final rule on June 28 completed that process.
The final rule allows some religious employers to have a full exemption from the mandate. To qualify, they must meet criteria laid out in February, which align with Internal Revenue Code, Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii), which “refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”
The administration has stated that this will cover primarily “churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations.”
Faith-based groups that are not affiliated with a specific house of worship, such as many religious hospitals, schools and charities, are not covered by the exemption. To address these groups, the administration is offering an “accommodation” instead.
The finalized accommodation will require insurance issuers to “provide payments for contraceptive services” directly to women working for religious employers who object to providing them. If a religious employer is self-insured, a third-party administrator will act in the place of an insurer to arrange the provision of employee's contraceptives.
Earlier proposals for the accommodation had suggested that the objectionable services would be covered under a separate insurance plan. The change to direct payments ensures that insurance providers will bear the burden for funding the contraceptives.
Cardinal Dolan observed that this change “seems intended to strengthen the claim that objectionable items will not ultimately be paid for by the employer's premium dollars,” but said that it remains “unclear whether the proposal succeeds in identifying a source of funds that is genuinely separate from the objecting employer, and if so, whether it is workable to draw from that separate source.”
The finalized mandate requires that the insurance issuer “must ensure that it does not use any premiums” from objecting organizations to fund the contraception and related products. The Obama administration has maintained that such products are “cost neutral” and can be paid for by insurance companies with no reimbursement because of the decreased pregnancy and birth costs and the other “health benefits” that contraception brings.
However, in a 2012 nationwide survey, pharmacy directors rejected the notion that contraceptives could be issued at no cost to insurance companies.
Another major concern raised by Cardinal Dolan is the administration’s attempt to create different categories of religious freedom, distinguishing among those employers that receive a full exemption, those that receive only an accommodation and those that are running for-profit businesses and receive no protection at all.
The administration has claimed that religious freedom does not extend to decisions made about the governance of for-profit companies. However, Cardinal Dolan explained that the bishops “are concerned as pastors with the freedom of the Church as a whole – not just for the full range of its institutional forms, but also for the faithful in their daily lives – to carry out the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.”
Another possible area of concern is the unwilling facilitation of contraception under the accommodation, as the “objectionable items will still be paid for by virtue of the fact that an employee belongs to the Catholic employer's plan,” he said.
Out of three possibilities proposed for self-insured groups, the cardinal added, the final mandate utilizes the one that the bishops had identified as “the most objectionable,” as it “treats the employer's very act of objecting to coverage of sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients as the legal authorization for a third-party administrator to secure the objectionable coverage.”
Noting that many of the bishops’ original critiques remain unaddressed in the final mandate, Cardinal Dolan affirmed that the U.S. bishops will “continue to examine” the changes in the 110-page document and will have more to say on the mandate after determining whether it will undermine “the effective proclamation” of Church teaching by religious groups.