Archive of July 24, 2013

Pope rearranges Rio schedule to meet with Argentine youth

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has modified his World Youth Day schedule to plan a meeting this Thursday with several thousand young people from his home country of Argentina.

“The Pope expressed a desire to meet them, and the young people expressed a desire to meet the Pope,” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.

He announced the meeting at a July 23 press briefing, at which he discussed the Pope’s activities from the day.

Tuesday was a free day on the Holy Father’s schedule, after he arrived in Brazil on Monday. Fr. Lombardi explained that the Pope used the day to celebrate a private Mass at his residence, and then meet with cardinals and other advisors.

Due to the inclement weather, the Holy Father did not visit Corcovado Mountain to see the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, as he had originally planned.

However, he did watch the Opening Mass of World Youth Day on television. Statistics from the police authorities indicate that 500-600,000 young people took part in the Mass, held on the evening of July 23 on Copacabana Beach.

The respect and dignity demonstrated by the young people, despite the poor weather, impressed many people, Fr. Lombardi said.

“Even though the Pope was not present physically, he was present spiritually,” he noted.

Fr. Lombardo also talked about a high-level meeting held between Vatican officials and federal government authorities on Tuesday to discuss the logistics of the coming days.

The meeting demonstrated a “spirit of great cooperation,” he explained, and “it was very evident that the Brazilian authorities wish to cooperate to the maximum to accommodate the desires of the Pope.”

He stressed that the gathering was not unusual, but was simply a routine meeting of a group that has been coming together regularly for several years in order to plan the details of the Papal visit.

The new addition of the meeting with the Argentine youth “required some modifications and changes in the overall program.” Furthermore, predictions of poor weather on Wednesday have led planners to change the Pope’s transportation to the nearby city of Aparecida from helicopter to plane.

When Pope Francis returns to Rio later in the day, he will be taken to visit a local hospital. While the original plans called for both an open-air jeep and a covered car, there will now be only a covered car for this trip. The open-air vehicle will be used at other points throughout World Youth Day.

Fr. Lombardi warned against assuming that these changes imply security concerns after the traffic difficulties when Pope Francis arrived on Monday.
“We’re simply trying to facilitate the movement of the Pope from one place to another,” he said.

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Pope's unpredictability challenges security planners

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA) - The rules for the Pope’s security during international trips have had to change since Pope Francis was elected, bringing into focus the tension between safety and pastoral priorities.

When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio walked through the streets, and took buses and the subway, so when he became Pope he did not want to follow the normal security protocols and asked his security team to allow him to be “as close to people as I can.”

And those new rules were evident on July 22, the first day of the Pope’s visit to Rio de Janeiro for the 28th World Youth Day.

The regular security procedures required Pope Francis to travel from the airport to Rio de Janeiro’s downtown in the so-called popemobile, a special car that permits onlookers to see him, while also keeping the pontiff protected behind bulletproof glass.

But Pope Francis found this way of moving to be too far removed from people. He did not want to use the popemobile, and preferred to use a small car as he does when he is in Rome, where he uses a Ford Focus.

In the hours that followed, crowds of eager pilgrims broke through security lines and stopped his car as they tried to touch the Pope and greet him. The papal convoy also ended up taking a wrong turn and getting stuck in traffic, a turn of events that alarmed the security detail.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, seemed to be pleased to be so enthusiastically welcomed, going so far as to lower the windows of his car to make physical contact with the people who approached his car.

Luckily, nothing happened.

In a July 23 news release the Brazilian authorities denied responsibility for the diversion in the Pope’s itinerary and attributed the decision to “the wish of the Holy Father to stay in touch with the most people he can.”

But the fact is that the Brazilian security forces are being strongly tested by Pope Francis’ unpredictability.

Yesterday, for example, Pope Francis had no official appointments scheduled, but he suddenly announced that he wanted to visit Corcovado, the mountain near Rio de Janeiro where the famous Christ the Redeemer statue stands.

It would have been a risky outing since a forest surrounds Corcovado and the access points to it are narrow, as well as the fact that the security detail would have had little time to plan the outing.

But the security personnel were able to convince the Pope that it was not a good idea to go because of the weather and cold temperatures.

It is likely that the coming days will present more divergences from the Pope’s itinerary, not less, as he alluded to during the flight to Rio de Janeiro, telling journalists that “there will be a lot” of unscheduled events.

The careful balance between safety and bringing the Pope’s ministry to the people has a long history.

In 1964, during his visit to Jerusalem, the crowd separated Pope Paul VI from his bodyguards. Paul VI wanted to walk on foot along the “Via Dolorosa” that Jesus took as he ascended Mount Calvary.

The Pope ended up being completely surrounded by a crowd, so the Jordanian soldiers protecting him led him into the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

During his trip to Philippines in 1970, a deranged Bolivian tried to assassinate Paul VI with a knife.

The Pope’s life was saved by Monsignor Paul Marcinkus who helped fight off the attacker. Later, Paul VI acknowledged how grateful he was by appointing Msgr. Marcinkus the head of the Institute for Religious Works, the so-called Vatican bank.

John Paul II was also the target of two assassination attempts: the first was carried out by Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome on May 13, 1981, while the second was attempted by a Spanish priest, Juan Maria Fernandez y Krohn, in Fatima on May 12, 1982.

These kinds of episodes and the inevitable demonstrations by groups trying to grab the international news spotlight resulted in a strengthening of the security protocols during the papal visits.

Although no large-scale protests are expected in Rio during Pope Francis’ visit, several demonstrations against the Brazilian government are planned.

These manifestations first appeared while the Pope was visiting President Dilma Roussef on July 22, but the protestors were repelled by tear gas after one of them reportedly lobbed a Molotov cocktail at police.

According to Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, the Pope “had to use a helicopter to avoid the protestors” as he left the governmental palace.

On Sunday, the day before the Pope’s arrival, a homemade bomb was discovered in a public bathroom adjacent to a parking lot at the Marian shrine of Aparecida, where the Holy Father is paying a visit on Wednesday morning.

In fact, an attempted bombing or attack against the Pope is often tried during a papal trip.

When Benedict XVI went to London in 2010, together with reports on the protests against the Pope’s visit came the news that police arrested six men for allegedly plotting to attack the Pope.

In 2011, before the Benedict XVI’s trip to Germany, two Muslims were arrested while allegedly planning to make a chemical bomb to attack the Pope.  

However, an Italian policeman who is familiar with papal trips and who asked for anonymity told CNA July 23 that “those bombs are made to be found, not to explode. There are often secret services that place the bomb, so the police can find and defuse the bomb or arrest alleged people, thus gaining more trust from the population and a sense of general tranquility which can avoid riots.”

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Vatican diplomat named new Edinburgh archbishop

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has appointed Monsignor Leo Cushley as the new Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh, replacing Cardinal Keith O’Brien who resigned after inappropriate behavior came to light.

“I am humbled that our Holy Father Pope Francis has nominated me for such an important task here in our ancient capital,” Bishop-designate Cushley said in a July 24 statement.

He also acknowledged that “it's a delicate moment and that there is a lot to be done, but with God's grace and the kind support of the clergy and people of Edinburgh, I will work cheerfully and willingly with all the energy I can muster.”

Bishop-designate Cushley, who is a priest of the Motherwell diocese and has been working as head of the Vatican Secretariat of State’s English-language section, will be taking over from the diocese’s apostolic administrator, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.

The saga that led to the resignation of Cardinal O’Brien as Archbishop of St. Andrew’s & Edinburgh began just before Pope Benedict XVI officially stepped down from the papacy.

Cardinal O’Brien became the focus of media attention after three priests and one former priest charged that he made sexual advances toward them in the 1980s. The allegations were particularly hard for the Church because it has been engaged in preventing the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” in Scotland.

The cardinal announced Feb. 18 that he would not attend the conclave and at the same time revealed that Pope Benedict had accepted his resignation, effective Feb. 25.

On May 15, the Vatican released a statement saying that Cardinal O’Brien “will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer, and penance.”

Bishop-designate Cushley will bring his expertise as a diplomat to the difficult situation in Edinburgh.

“There are certain important questions that I will also have to familiarize myself with,” he said.

“It is my sincere hope,” the bishop-designate added, “to do this always in truth and in charity, with a view to reconciliation and healing among the Catholics of Edinburgh.”

He sees his first task as preaching “the good news, Christ crucified and risen from the dead, to confirm my brother priests in their Catholic faith and ministry, and to be a loving, simple, wise shepherd to the flock that has been entrusted to me.”

Msgr. Cushley will be ordained a bishop on Sept. 21 in Edinburgh’s St. Mary’s Cathedral.

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After beatings, imprisoned pastor finally receives medical care

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for over 300 days, has at last received long-awaited medical care after suffering numerous beatings in captivity.

“Thank you to all of the individuals who have prayed, written letters, signed petitions, called government officials, run benefit races, tweeted, and shared Saeed’s story,” said the pastor’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, in a press release.

“Thank you to all the government officials from around the world who have stood for my husband. Iran has listened to your pleas.”

Pastor Saeed is an Iranian-born United States citizen, and is currently serving an eight-year sentence in Evin Prison in Iran on charges of threatening national security for earlier pastoral work in Iran. Human rights organizations and Christian activists, however, have contended that he is being held because of his Christian beliefs.

Abedini, who was raised Muslim, converted to Christianity in 2000, and, after his marriage to Naghmeh, an American citizen, gained U.S. citizenship in 2010.

Previously, Abedini worked with house churches throughout Iran until he stopped his work with religious organizations in the country at the government’s request. Since 2009, Pastor Saeed has worked exclusively with non-religious orphanages in the country. He was arrested in the fall of 2012 during a visit to one of these orphanages.

While in prison, Abedini has suffered beatings, and sustained a number of internal and external injuries. He has been sent to the hospital on two occasions, however on both visits, he returned to prison with no treatment for his injuries.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents his wife, Abedini was taken to a hospital again on July 20, and “for the first time, he was examined by a physician and prescribed  medication for  injuries he sustained from the beatings he endured by prison guards.”

“While I am encouraged that Saeed is finally getting medical care, the fight is not yet over,” said Naghmeh Abedini of her husband’s treatment.

“It has been a difficult 300 days – 300 days of torment simply because Saeed loves Jesus Christ. I am hopeful Iran will do the just and honorable thing and release Saeed.”

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'God acts and he surprises us,' Pope teaches at Marian shrine

Aparecida, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Openness to being surprised by God is an attitude which marks the life of a Christian, Pope Francis said in his homily at Brazil's Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida during his first World Youth Day Mass.

“God always surprises us, like the new wine in the Gospel we have just heard. God always saves the best for us,” Pope Francis taught at a Mass July 24, after he had venerated the shrine's image of Our Lady.

“But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God!”

Pope Francis came to Aparecida, “the house of the Mother of every Brazilian,” about 160 miles west of Rio de Janeiro, earlier today by helicopter. He was greeted by Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida and by the shrine's rector.

Following the Mass, he will visit Aparecida's seminary, and then return to Rio de Janeiro to visit St. Francis hospital.

The Pope's Marian devotion was evident at the Mass, as the shrine of Brazil's patroness was the site of his first Mass for the week-long World Youth Day. He also remembered that the day after he was elected Bishop of Rome, he consecrated his papal ministry to Our Lady at the church of Saint Mary Major.

Similarly, he had come to Aparecida to “place at her feet the life of the people of Latin America.”

Pope Francis also remembered the 2007 gathering of Latin American bishops at the shrine, which led to a document which emphasized mission in the region. He noted that “it is from Mary that the Church learns true discipleship,” adding, “that is why the Church always goes out on mission in the footsteps of Mary.”

Looking forward to World Youth Day, he said, “I too come to knock on the door of the house of Mary … that she may help all of us, pastors of God’s people, parents and educators, to pass on to our young people the values that can help them build a nation and a world which are more just, united and fraternal.”

It was in this context that he introduced three “attitudes” of the Christian life: hopefulness, an openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.

Examining the Mass' reading from the book of Revelation about the woman chased by a dragon, Pope Francis said that while there are “many difficulties” in each person's life, “God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them.”

“Let us never lose hope,” he urged. Though there are “moments of discouragement” as we try to evangelize or “to embody our faith as parents within the family,” he encouraged us to “always know in your heart that God is by your side.”

God is the object of our hope, taught the Bishop of Rome, and he is “the one with the upper hand”  in the face of evil and the devil.

Everyone, he said, “to some extent … feels attracted” to the idols of “money, success, power, pleasure,”  echoing the three temptations – riches, honor and pride – considered by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

“Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols,” Pope Francis reflected.

“Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope,” in light of this situation, he urged. “Let us encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world.”

Youth do not solely need material things, he taught, but “above all, they need to have held up to them those non-material values which are the spiritual heart of a people … spirituality, generosity, solidarity, perseverance, fraternity, joy.”

This attitude of hope leads to an openness to being surprised by God, he said.

“Anyone who is a man or a woman of hope – the great hope which faith gives us – knows that even in the midst of difficulties God acts and he surprises us.”

The Pope recalled the founding of the Aparecida shrine, which was erected after three fisherman discovered in the area an image of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, after a day of catching no fish.

“Whoever would have thought that the site of a fruitless fishing expedition would become the place where all Brazilians can feel that they are children of one Mother,” he asked.

Yet this shows that God is always other, always greater, and “God always surprises us … always saves the best for us.”

Being open to the surprise, the utter otherness of God, allows “the wine of joy, the wine of hope” never to run out in the Christian life.

“If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.”

Pope Francis finally linked hope and openness to God's surprises to the final attitude, living in joy.

“If we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy.”

Joy marks the Christian life, he said, and Christians “are never gloomy,” for “God is at our side.”

“We have a Mother who always intercedes for the life of her children, for us.”

He added, “Jesus has shown us that the face of God is that of a loving Father,” who resurrected his Son so that “sin and death have been defeated.”

“If we are truly in love with Christ and if we sense how much he loves us, our heart will 'light up' with a joy that spreads to everyone around us.”

The Pope remembered the words of Benedict XVI at the 2007 meeting at Aparecida, where he said that “the disciple knows that without Christ, there is no light, no hope, no love, no future.”

Pope Francis concluded saying “we have come to knock at the door of Mary's house.”

“She has opened it for us, she has let us in and she shows us her Son. Now she asks us to 'do whatever he tells you.'”

“Yes, dear Mother, we are committed to doing whatever Jesus tells us! And we will do it with hope, trusting in God’s surprises and full of joy. Amen.”

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Blessed Frassati a 'perfect' fit for World Youth Day play

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After being contacted by World Youth Day officials to perform a play going along with this year’s theme, a theater group decided they would have to write and produce their own on Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati.

“(Bl. Frassati’s) life is a perfect example for today’s youth, especially those that believe that living according to the world is the only logic that exists,” the play’s director, Marcelo Rodriguez, told CNA July 23.

The play, “The Logic of God” was born from months of research and development on the part of Peruvian theater group, Teatro Convivio, after they were asked to find and perform a play that would go along with this year’s theme of Mt. 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

When they could not find such a play to perform, Rodriguez said, they decided would have to produce one of their own.

After a friend introduced Rodriguez and his team to the life of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, the young Italian layman who spent much of his short life serving the poor and working for social reform, the director knew he was a perfect fit.

According to Rodriguez, the title, “The Logic of God” is the way that Frassati lived his devout life of holiness.

 “It is simple, but demanding. The exigency is almost forgotten because of the joy and happiness that comes from following God’s logic.”

The example of Bl. Frassati’s life is one that communicates that “holiness does not have to be something that is foreign.”

“It is just living according to God – not according to the world,” Rodriguez said.

Bl. Pior Giorgio Frassati was born to a wealthy Italian ambassador at the turn of the twentieth century. Although he died at the age of 24 of polio, Bl. Frassati spent much of his short life leading others to Christ and spreading Catholic social teaching strongly shaped by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, “Rerum Novarum.”

Teatro Convivio was born out of the commitment of Peruvian youth to change the world through theatrical art. Although that seems to be an overwhelming goal, Rodriguez says that “even the changing of one heart” through their theatrical productions works to change the world.

The play will have a free special showing at the WYD Vocations Fair today, Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

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Sri Lankan cardinal forgives church desecrators

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has forgiven the desecrators of a Catholic church in Sri Lanka, refusing to press criminal charges against them.

Father Cyril Gamin Fernando, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Colombo, told CNA that the act is an exemplar of “Christian love and mercy.” He said the gesture caused a “shockwave” of surprise and won “goodwill” among Sri Lankans.

On the night of June 5 a group of drunken young men attacked and desecrated St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in the town of Angulana south of Colombo.
Fr. Sunil De Silva, parish priest of St. Mary’s Church in Bambalapitiya, told CNA that the men destroyed the century old historical statues of the church also statues of Mother Mary and forced opened the tabernacle.

He said the group poured Kerosene oil to burn the tabernacle, which miraculously failed to catch fire. Investigators found 30 matches that had been lit soaked inside the Tabernacle. 

The Angulana police arrested three persons for the crime.

The small church is about 750 square feet in area. It is one of several chapels and churches in the parish of Rawathatte, which serves about 4,000 families.

Soon after the crime, parish priest Fr. Christo Viraj Fernando and the rest of the community conducted penitential services with intercessory prayers seeking forgiveness for the desecration of the house of God.

Fr. Cyril Fernando, the archdiocese spokesman, said local Buddhists praised the forgiving “benevolence” shown toward the perpetrators.

The priest said most Buddhists are “tolerant” people and are peaceful and harmonious except for a few “extremists.” 

Some Buddhist monks have also condemned the attack and expressed their “solidarity” with Catholics, Fr. De Silva said.

He told CNA that most Sri Lankans are “rational,” “understanding” and favor inter-religious dialogue, though some extremist forces are indoctrinated and incited to violence.

Christians make up about 8.4 percent of the 20.4 million people living in Sri Lanka.

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Love of Christ helps us find identity, bishop teaches

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - By experiencing the love of God and sharing it with those around us, we will find the answers to our deepest questions and longings, said Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster.

“When we give ourselves away to others in love, then we really do discover who we are, and it really is satisfying and fulfilling,” he said.

The bishop spoke at a July 24 catechesis session at World Youth Day, addressing a group of English-speaking pilgrims from countries including the United States, Ireland, Norway, the Caribbean, Ghana, England, Australia, and the Philippines.

A key part of the formation at World Youth Day, the catechesis events offer a chance for pilgrims to be divided into smaller groups by language in order to hear a talk from a bishop and participate in a question-and-answer period. Confession and Mass are also a part of the sessions, along with song, prayer and reflection.

Bishop Sherrington told the pilgrims that they will spend their entire lives seeking the answer to three questions: Who am I? Am I loved? Whom do I love?

“It is my prayer and hope that through this experience in Rio, you hearts will be touched by Christ so that you may begin to answer those questions,” he said.

While worldly advertising encourages us to define ours identity by brands and labels, these things will not ultimately satisfy us, the bishop cautioned. Rather, we have deeper desires that can only be filled by the God who created us.

He encouraged the pilgrims to ask themselves what they truly desire in their lives.

“Ultimately as human beings, we thirst to love and to be loved,” he said.

This longing for authentic love is universal, he stressed, and when we do not find it, we turn to damaging alternatives, such as gang violence and self-harm.

But when we do find love, it gives meaning and direction to our lives, Bishop Sherrington continued.

He contrasted the image of a nomad with that of a pilgrim. Both are on a journey and may face challenges, he said, but “a pilgrim knows where he or she is going,” while a nomad wanders aimlessly.

Once we have experienced the transforming love of Christ, we will be able to share it with other people, helping them go from nomad to pilgrim as well, he explained. The witness of our lives will draw others who see that we have found meaning through Christ.

Helping those around us encounter Christ and fall in love with him is an important part of our calling, he stressed, because like us, they are “hungering to know the Lord” and “thirsting to know his love.”

The bishop encouraged the pilgrims to spend some time reflecting on their deepest longings and where those are truly fulfilled.

He pointed to the Biblical account of Samuel, who heard the Lord calling him in the night, but at first did not recognize that it was God who was calling.

Samuel had to “open his heart” to hear and understand the voice of the Lord, he said. Similarly, we must learn “to open our hearts to experience the love of Jesus Christ for us.”

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Cricket star's Catholic wedding spreads joy in Sri Lanka

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The marriage of Catholic Sri Lankan cricket star Angelo Mathew and national badminton player Heshani Silva caused joy among the country’s Catholics and gave added prominence to the country’s Catholic minority.

“We are proud of our Catholic sportsmen and their contribution to the nation,” Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, Spokesperson and Episcopal Vicar for the Southern Region of the Archdiocese of Colombo, told CNA.

The wedding took place July 18 at St. Mary’s Church in Bambalapitiya, a suburb of the capital Colombo.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, presided at the solemnization. He imparted blessings on the couple.

Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa served as the attesting witnesses to the couple’s marriage.

Mathew is the second Catholic cricketer to captain the Sri Lankan national team after Duleep Mendes, Fr. Fernando said.

Cricket is an important sport in British Commonwealth countries, with a large fan base that generates billions of dollars in revenue. It originated in England in the 16th century and has some similarities to baseball.

Fr. Sunil De Silva, parish priest of St. Mary’s Church, told CNA that Mathew is an alumnus of St. Joseph’s College. He hails from a “devout practicing Catholic family” in the “strong” Catholic belt of Vattala.

Fr. De Silva said the Sri Lankan Catholic Church is rejoicing in this happy event and wishes the newlywed couple a fruitful family life.

He added that talents and capability are recognized in Sri Lanka in a way that puts aside all religious differences. He said the country is proud of giving opportunities to its people.

 He said many of the country’s great sportsmen and politicians had their formation and education in Catholic schools, colleges and institutions where they “excel” in their disciplines and career.

Over 70 percent of the 20.4 million people in Sri Lanka are Buddhists. Christians make up an estimated 8.4 percent of the population.

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Pilgrims in Rio see fellowship as World Youth Day highlight

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Wind and rain on Copacabana beach did not stop more than half a million young people from experiencing the global nature of the Church at the Opening Mass of World Youth Day on the evening of July 23.

“This is amazing. It's more fun than I've ever had,” said Michael Nightingale.

The 17-year-old from St. Louis, Mo., is traveling with an archdiocesan group and said that he is attending World Youth Day for the first time.

So far, he told CNA, the best part has been “just mixing with all the teens and being here with people from all over the world.”

Other pilgrims echoed his worlds, voicing excitement and enthusiasm as they began the activities of World Youth Day 2013. Running July 23-28 in Rio de Janeiro, World Youth Day unites young people from across the globe to meet each other, pray together and hear a message from the Holy Father.

At the start of the 2013 events, pilgrims visited with travelers from other nations, posing for pictures together and exchanging small pins, scarves and other tokens from their home countries.

Several participants said that they were particularly eager to experience the fellowship with other Catholics that is part of the event.

Perla Corrales, 16, agreed that she is most excited about “meeting new people” from around the world.

She added that she decided to join a local group from Texas to attend World Youth Day in order to “come to a new country and have the opportunity to see the Pope.”

“I think he’s amazing,” she said of Pope Francis. “He’s so simple, and I love that about him.”

Olivia Sharkey, 21, said she was motivated to attend the event by her friends, who had participated in several previous World Youth Days and had recounted “the impact of the experience and how influential it is in their life and their faith and viewing faith as a journey.”

This inspired Sharkey to travel from Philadelphia to Rio de Janeiro “to see the manifestation of the globalization of faith and Catholicism on a whole new spectrum, a whole new level.”

She expressed excitement at seeing “individuals who share the same ideals, the same values and to see those just come alive in a whole new way.”

“The youth are indeed the Church, and Christ does commission the youth to go out to spread the Gospel and to see the Gospel in a whole new light,” she reflected.

Sharkey said at the start of World Youth Day that she was most looking forward to simply “being present to the moment and witnessing the various ways that the personal journeys of people come together.”

“When you get down to it, faith is not just yours, but it’s a gift from God, a gift from others that’s been given to you in order to share,” she said, adding that she is eager to see “how each person’s personal faith is different but how that one common union in Christ unites you and that allows you to express that same faith but in different ways.”

Reflecting on the months since the election of Pope Francis, Sharkey described the Holy Father as “absolutely fantastic.” 

“I think he’s being a fantastic role model of what love in action is,” she said.

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Christian lawyers sue to overturn contraception mandate

Ann Arbor, Mich., Jul 24, 2013 (CNA) - Michael and Shaun Willis and their Michigan-based law firm filed a lawsuit seeking to have the HHS mandate declared a violation of the Constitution and of federal law over religious liberty concerns.

“That our own government is knowingly displaying such a lack of tolerance for faithful Christians is outrageous,” Erin Mersino, a lawyer at the Thomas More Law Center, and the lead attorney on the case, stated July 24.

“The HHS mandate must be ruled unconstitutional or there will be no end to the federal government's intrusion on the religious liberties of Christians.”

Michael Willis is Catholic, and Shaun is Protestant. The brothers operate their firm in a way that reflects the teachings and values of the Christian faith. Both gravely object to providing abortion and abortion-causing drugs in their employees' insurance coverage, as required by the federal contraception mandate.

The mandate was issued under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and its final rules on religious freedom accommodations, which were found unacceptable by the U.S. bishops, were released June 28.

The suit was filed in the U.S. district court for the District of Columbia July 24, and lists the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor, as well as their departments, as defendants.

Because the mandate forces employers and individuals to violate their consciences and their religious beliefs, the suit argues that it is a violation of the Willis' rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech under the First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“The Mandate … subverts the expression of Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs” the suit argues, by forcing them to “fund, promote, and assist others to acquire services which Plaintiffs believe involve gravely immoral practices, including the destruction of innocent human life.”

The suit demonstrates that Willis Law is “formed by a mission of Christian service,” supporting several faith-based organizations and encouraging its employees to give a tithe of their time to providing pro bono legal services to homeless persons.

The Willis brothers also established a foundation in memory of their brother Christoper, a Marine corporal who was killed in a car accident. The foundation provides college scholarships to the children of military parents who have been killed or disabled in combat.

Willis Law employees have received health insurance with a specially engineered policy which specifically excluded contraception, abortion and abortifacients, in keeping with the consciences of its owners.

The suit notes that the Obama administration has offered “highly selective” and “arbitrary” accommodations for conscience protection and religious belief.

It asserts that the defendants' actions have “intentionally used government power to force individuals to believe in, support, and endorse the mandated services manifestly contrary to their own religious convictions, and then to act on that coerced belief, support, or endorsement.”

They also argue that by forcing Willis Law to choose to offer no health insurance whatsoever, the mandate makes the firm “non-competitive,” as “other, non-Christian employers will be able to provide insurance to their employees under the Affordable Care Act without violating their religious beliefs.”

The suit asks that the court block the enforcement of the mandate. If it is enforced against Willis Law, the firm will suffer fines of $547,500 every year.

The firm is one of nearly 200 plaintiffs in at least 50 cases across the country that have filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

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Canadians find greater unity at Rio’s World Youth Day

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A group of Canadian pilgrims said this World Youth Day is more fun and the youth feel “more united” than at previous events.

“There are always little differences in all of them, but I find that in this particularly, there’s a lot more of a sense of communion,” said Christina Brine, from Winnipeg, Canada.

“It doesn’t matter what language you speak, you’re able to communicate, especially with the Brazilians because they’re so welcoming, and it’s just fun,” she told CNA July 24.

She and some of her fellow Canadians gathered at a catechesis session this morning at the school of Our Lady of Mercy in Rio’s Botafogo area.

This is Brine’s fourth World Youth Day. She participated in previous gatherings in Toronto, Cologne and Sydney.

In Rio, she has found great enthusiasm for visitors.

“When Brazilian pilgrims see the Canadian flag, they shout 'Ca-na-da!' and then it’s just a chant of 'Ca-na-da!' all the way until they disappear down the street,” she said.

Brine emphasized that at every World Youth Day she loves seeing people’s faces when they experience the event for the very first time.

The 29-year-old said she loves “how they light up, how they’re so intrigued as individuals through the different activities that we’ve been able to do.”

 Brine believes this Pope “will be one of those that talks from his heart and will be able to communicate with generations now.”

She said one of the things she likes best at the world’s largest youth Catholic gathering is the that the catechesis session that take place over three days.

“It’s just a mingle of all the cultures and nations together and I love seeing how we all interact,” Brine said.

“I was really touched by the Lord in Sydney so this is just a building on from that,” she stated.

She believes that youth have left the Church because of “pressure” and that events like World Youth Day bring people back.

“We need to use these events more to keep people in and bring more people back into the Church,” Brine told CNA.

Another pilgrim, Jennifer Cooke, is a 34-year-old school counselor originally from Winnipeg, Canada. She is living World Youth Day for the second time.

“They were amazing experiences,” Cooke said of her first event. “But this time I felt I came a little better prepared in terms of knowing what is going to happen.”

“But I found that, just the same as last time, the opening Mass gave me such a sense of awe that we’re all here together and it really does give that sense of connection to one another as part of a Christian community,” she said.

Cooke has come to this World Youth Day to strengthen and continue to grow in her faith as well as to embrace “the theme of going to the world and serving it as Christ’s disciple.”

“My hope is that the theme will emphasize the need of the Church to be the agent of social justice and of change in that area for Brazil,” she remarked.

“Money needs to continue to go into education and healthcare and to try to improve the condition of people in favelas,” she said.

Organizers prepared young people for World Youth Day with a ‘mission week’ from July 17 to 20 across different regions of Brazil. They aimed to give young people the chance to participate in spiritual activities, works of solidarity with local communities, and missionary and cultural events.

Cooke said she had hoped to be more involved in work with local communities, but her group leader decided to have her group participate in the spiritual activities of Chemin Neuf, a Catholic ecumenical community.

“That was a different experience and I was really disappointed we didn’t get to participate in missions week,” said the Canadian.

“They have a different theological approach than what I’m accustomed to and it was good that it really exposed me to that,” she added.

She noted “it’s a more evangelical approach than what I’m comfortable with, although it’s good to be outside one’s comfort zone.”

Concerning Pope Francis, Cooke emphasized that she is “definitely looking forward to meeting him” and that she is “touched that he comes from the global south.”

“I think that him being from the southern hemisphere will bring a new approach to the papacy and hopefully really renew the fire for social justice,” said Cooke.

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Pope embraces, voices love for drug addicts at Rio hospital

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis said his namesake St. Francis of Assisi put his conversion into action when he embraced a man with leprosy, saying this is a model for the life of a Christian.

“This brother, suffering and an outcast, was the 'mediator of light ... for Saint Francis of Assisi,'” Pope Francis said, quoting his recent encyclical, “because in every suffering brother and sister that we embrace, we embrace the suffering Body of Christ.”

“Today, in this place where people struggle with drug addiction, I wish to embrace each and every one of you, who are the flesh of Christ, and to ask God to renew your journey, and also mine, with purpose and steadfast hope,” he said during his July 24 visit to St. Francis of Assisi Hospital, a center which treats drug and alcohol addiction and is free of charge to indigents.

Earlier, Pope Francis had said Mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida and visited a seminary. On returning to Rio de Janeiro and coming to the hospital, he was greeted by the city's bishop, Archbishop Orani Tempesta, and by the hospital's coordinator of projects and its director.

Two of the facility's patients gave their testimony, and gave gifts to Pope Francis before he spoke.

At this “particular shrine of human suffering,” he said “we all have to learn to embrace the one in need” as did St. Francis, who saw that “true joy and riches” are found not in the possession of material things but “only in following Christ and serving others.”

Pope Francis addressed the effort in “various parts” of Latin America to de-criminalize and “liberalize” drug use, saying this “will not” achieve a “reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction,” as is sometimes argued.

The Pope lamented that selfishness often prevails in society, rather than the “attention, care and love” required to fight chemical dependency. Societies need to be courageous, he taught, in acting against drug-trafficking and its attendant violence.

“It is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”

“We all need to look upon one another with the loving eyes of Christ, and to learn to embrace those in need, in order to show our closeness, affection and love,” Pope Francis insisted.

He added, however, that an embrace is not sufficient – “we must hold the hand of the one in need,
of the one who has fallen into the darkness of dependency … and we must say to him or her: 'You can get up, you can stand up. It is difficult, but it is possible if you want to.'”

Pope Francis encouraged the patients, as well as “all those others who have not had the courage to embark” on the journey of recovery that for them to flourish, they must “stand up” and seek assistance.

“You will find an outstretched hand ready to help you, but no one is able to stand up in your place. But you are never alone! The Church and so many people are close to you. Look ahead with confidence.”

He returned to the theme of hope, which had discussed during his homily at the Marian shrine Aparecida earlier in the day.

“To all of you, I repeat: Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! And not only that, but I say to us all: let us not rob others of hope, let us become bearers of hope!”

Pope Francis commended and thanked the workers and volunteers at the hospital, saying that “I believe that here … the parable of the Good Samaritan is made tangible,” and that “in these persons, the flesh of Christ suffers.”

“Here there is no indifference, but concern. There is no apathy, but love.”

He concluded by assuring those who struggle against addiction, and their families, that the Church is close to them, and “accompanies you with affection.”

“The Lord is near you and he takes you by the hand … trust in the maternal love of his Mother Mary. This morning, in the Shrine of Aparecida, I entrusted each of you to her heart. Where there is a cross to carry, she, our Mother, is always there with us. I leave you in her hands, while with great affection I bless all of you.”

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Despite repression, Cuban youth celebrate WYD in Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jul 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A group of young pilgrims from Cuba have arrived in Brazil to celebrate the 28th World Youth Day despite initial restrictions from their government.

“We have come to take part in World Youth day; to be part of this great manifestation of the Church and what always happens is that (reporters) end up bringing politics into everything,” one pilgrim who wished to remain anonymous told CNA July 24.

 “We are not allowed to talk,” one of the other members of the group said, explaining that the group decided not to make public statements to the media.

Although young people from Cuba have been allowed to leave the country to attend previous World Youth Days, this delegation faced difficulty in leaving the country.

One member of the group, they said, was initially barred from leaving Cuba until a bishop intervened. Government officials eventually gave in and allowed the pilgrim to travel to Brazil.

“The Church has brought us here,” one girl explained. “A bishop called and because of that we are here.”

So far, catching a glimpse of Pope Francis has been one of the biggest highlights of the pilgrimage.

“Seeing the Pope was so awesome,” the girl said. “We hope to see him more.”

The entire group agreed that it was a blessing to be among the few people, only 54 in their delegation, to have been able to attend World Youth Day in person.

They hope to bring their experience back to the young people in Cuba who were not allowed to attend the pilgrimage.

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