Denver, Colo., Aug 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Twenty years after the 1993 World Youth Day was held in Denver, the archdiocese has been abundantly blessed with much spiritual fruit, said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.
“It's just a tremendous grace, and one can only lift up one's heart in gratitude for the graces that the Lord has poured forth upon the archdiocese since the visit of John Paul II here,” Archbishop Aquila told CNA at an Aug. 15 celebration of the 20th anniversary of the event.
Some 1,800 people gathered at the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization – home to St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and the archdiocesan chancery – for a Mass commemorating the visit of the Pope and over 750,000 pilgrims for 1993's World Youth Day in Denver.
“I have seen tremendous growth here,” said the archbishop, who in 1993 was a priest of the archdiocese, and became its bishop in 2012.
“Since World Youth Day, the fruit that we have seen born are the two new seminaries, Redemptoris Mater and St. John Vianney … we've seen the blessing of ecclesial movements moving here: the Neo-Catechumenal Way, the Christian Life Movement, Communion and Liberation, and so many others.”
He also mentioned the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, the Augustine Institute, ENDOW, Christ in the City homeless ministry and Centro San Juan Diego Hispanic family and pastoral care center as among the “incredible” fruits of Blessed John Paul II's 1993 visit.
“They continue to increase, they continue to grow. We see more and more of our faithful and our young people having a real desire to come to know and encounter Jesus Christ.”
While saying Mass at the gathering, Archbishop Aquila delivered a homily reflecting that “in our humility, we can only lift up our hearts and recognize the blessings that the Lord has bestowed so generously upon us.”
Noting the day's feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, he said that by her 'yes' to the will of God the Father, Mary “trusted and surrendered herself completely” to him.
“We too are called to the same faith, to put our trust and confidence in all of the promises that have been given to us by our God,” Archbishop Aquila taught.
“My beloved brothers and sisters, my sons and daughters, the greatest hunger of Blessed John Paul II, the greatest hunger of Pope Emeritus Benedict, and the greatest hunger of Pope Francis, is the greatest hunger of Mary: that our hearts, aflame with the fire of love, constantly long for the Father and for union with the Father.”
Archbishop Aquila instructed those attending Mass to pray that they encounter Christ “ever more intimately;” that they receive a heart like Mary's, “more receptive” to God; and for an increase in love.
“Let us also lift up our hearts in gratitude to the Father for the gift of World Youth Day 1993 and all the fruit it has borne in the New Evangelization,” he added.
The archbishop closed by citing the words of Blessed John Paul II at Denver's World Youth Day, which he said are especially relevant as the cultures of life and of death encounter each other in the U.S. “whether it be for the unborn, the poor, the elderly, or the immigrant, whether it be for the true understanding of marriage and the family, or whether it be for religious freedom and the freedom of conscience.”
“This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel,” he said, quoting the former Pope. “(D)o not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern 'metropolis'.”
Vatican City, Aug 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis told his millions of followers on Twitter today that it is impossible for Christians to have a partial or lackluster commitment to the faith.
“We cannot be Christians part-time,” he said Aug. 19 on the social networking site, where his popularity is growing fast. “If Christ is at the center of our lives, he is present in all that we do.”
Pope Francis was named the world's most influential leader on Twitter just last month by the Switzerland-based public relation and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
The pontiff made his comments today on his nine accounts, which are in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, French, Latin, German, Polish and Arabic.
The Pope, who is resting from presiding daily Mass at the Saint Martha residency and his general weekly audiences, has been tweeting every two days since the beginning of August and nearly every day during July.
“We cannot sleep peacefully while babies are dying of hunger and the elderly are without medical assistance,” he said Aug. 17.
On the feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15, Pope Francis asked for Mary's intercession and on Aug. 13, he stressed that the heart of the Christian experience is “to be children of God and brothers and sisters to one another.”
His predecessor, Benedict XVI, was the first pontiff to use the social network, eight months ago on Dec. 12, 2012.
Pope Francis now has nearly 8.7 million followers on twitter of which 3.4 million are Spanish-speakers and 2.8 million English speakers.
Italians alone have just reached over one million, making it probably the nation with the highest number of papal followers.
The number of followers in the Pope’s Portuguese, French, Arabic, Polish, Latin and German twitter accounts have still to reach one million.
Pope Francis is the second most followed world leader on Twitter, after President Obama who has 33.5 million followers.
Madrid, Spain, Aug 19, 2013 (CNA) - After a decade of struggling with cancer and other illnesses, a 58-year-old woman from Madrid has found comfort and renewed strength from a recent encounter with Pope Francis.
“Now I am living with joy, happiness and above all, gratitude,” said Elena Alba, according to the newspaper La Razon.
For the past 10 years, Alba has been battling several illnesses, including two bouts with cancer, most recently in her brain. Surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation have been unsuccessful in treating her.
Faced with a dim prognosis from her doctors, Alba decided that one of the things she wanted to do while still alive was to see the Pope. Despite the risks that such a journey might pose to her health, she traveled to the Vatican with the help of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Alba was able to share a few minutes with the Pope during a private audience he gave to those with grave illnesses. She recalled that at the time, she was experiencing paralysis on the left side of her body. But upon arriving at the Vatican, “I began to regain my mobility,” she said.
The Pope arrived at the audience and began hugging and blessing the children and other people present.
“His face began to change,” Alba recalled. “When he came to me, he took out his handkerchief and I saw him sob and wipe away his tears.”
Alba wanted to read him a letter, but it was impossible for the Pope to stop for any longer. She gave the letter to him, and he said he would read it later and answer her.
“I felt the Holy Spirit invade me at that moment,” she said.
Despite her health challenges, Alba said she now feels a renewed sense of joy and gratitude for life and believes that “with God's strength,” she can carry on for “as long as God wants.”
Bangkok, Thailand, Aug 19, 2013 (CNA) - The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue sent a message of condolence to Thailand on the passing of senior Buddhist abbot Somdej Phra Buddhacharn.
The 85-year-old abbot died of a blood infection at Samitivej hospital on Aug. 10.
Highly revered as the most senior monk and chairman of the monastic panel acting on behalf of the Supreme Buddhist Patriarch of Thailand, Somdej Phra Buddhacharn was the chief of the Eastern Region of Thailand, a member of the Supreme Sangha Council and the abbot of Wat Saket Temple, which is known as the Temple of the Golden Mount.
In a message sent through the Apostolic Nunciature in Bangkok, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council, expressed sincere condolences for the loss of the prominent religious leader, as well as hope for continuing dialogue and friendship.
Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary general for the Thai bishops’ conference and former Vatican undersecretary for the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, will be representing the Thai Catholic bishop’s delegation at the funeral ceremonies.
Msgr. Vissanu told CNA that the former Apostolic Nuncio to Thailand, Mons. Giovanni Daniello, had paid an official visit to Somdej Phra Buddhacharn a few years ago, joined by Bishop Jospeh Chusak Sirisut, president for Thailand’s commission for inter-religious dialogue.
“He was a sensitively understanding person who had a truly good will and heart,” Msgr. Vissanu explained, describing the abbot as someone who made real efforts “to support the good relationship between Buddhists and Catholics for living harmoniously and working together peacefully in the society.”
“I am very positive and hopeful in future dialogue to reaffirm our identity and maintain our friendship and respect with other beliefs,” he said.
Msgr. Vissanau explained that the Buddhist funeral ceremony lasts for many days, beginning with the bathing ceremony of the body.
At this ceremony, close relatives and friends pour water on the exposed hand of the deceased and later transfer the body in the coffin. The chanting of Buddhist hymns and prayers also takes place.
Food is served in the name of the dead, and the body is later cremated after a week or even several months.
The abbot’s body will be kept for the Abhaidhamma ritual – the chanting of prayers over the deceased – and for 100 days so that friends and followers can pay their respect.
Alexandria, Egypt, Aug 19, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Coptic Catholic Church has expressed solidarity with other Egyptians over the wave of violence that has struck the country, bluntly calling the events a struggle against terrorist forces.
Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak of Alexandria said that “out of love for our country and in solidarity with all lovers of Egypt, both Christians and Muslims,” the patriarchate will not label the crisis “a political struggle between different factions.”
Rather, the conflict is “a war against terrorism,” he insisted in an Aug. 18 statement.
On Aug. 14, Egyptian security forces violently broke up the camps of protesters allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement. The protesters were demanding the restoration to power of Mohammed Morsi, who had been elected president of Egypt following the country's Arab Spring, yet was ousted by the military July 3.
Since the Wednesday crackdown, violence has spread across the country, with at least 900 dead in the past six days. Nine Christians are reported to have been killed by Islamists, one in Alexandria, seven in Al Nazla, and one in Sohag, about 280 miles south of Cairo.
In the ensuing violence, many churches have been vandalized, burned, and looted because of perceived Christian support for the coup that ousted Morsi. Christian homes and businesses have also been destroyed.
Patriarch Sidrak expressed appreciation for the government institutions which have tried to protect Egyptians from this week's violence, and for “our honorable Muslim compatriots who have stood by our side, as far as they could, in defending our churches and our institutions.”
An Egyptian Catholic who requested anonymity and is from Sohag told CNA in an Aug. 19 telephone interview that moderate Muslims helped defend Christians against attacks in the city, by rushing to help put out the fires in the churches.
He said that “national media is saying it’s only 42” churches that have been attacked since Wednesday, but “everyone knows it’s 82.”
“Twenty-six cities in Egypt have at least three or four big churches and they have been affected,” he remarked.
Western media reports vary between citing 47 and 63 churches having been attacked since Aug. 14.
In Sohag, the source said, the vandals “burned the biggest Orthodox Church and they burned the cars and shops that belonged to the Christians, too.”
The man's lament that the violence is being under-reported in the media was echoed by Patriarch Sidrak, who condemned “those media that promote lies and falsify the truth in order to mislead world
Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, also denounced “the fallacies” broadcast by Western media.
The man from Sohag said that “to save Christianity” in Egypt, “we must get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists.” Both groups support the imposition of sharia law.
While violence against Egypt's Christian minority, which represents 10 percent of the nation, is nothing new, it had been sporadic before the Aug. 14 crackdown on Morsi supporters. Despite this, the Muslim Brotherhood stated last week it “stands firmly against any attack – even verbal – against churches.”
A high-ranking source in the Coptic Catholic Church, who requested anonymity due to the delicate situation, told CNA Aug. 19 that the violence is due to “the categorical rejection by the Muslim Brotherhood of every kind of dialogue with the Egyptian people.”
The belief that Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, are responsible for the violence against Christians, seems to be a common one among Copts, the country's ethnic Christian community.
Pope Tawadros II added in his statement that the Coptic Orthodox “have full faith and confidence in the Divine intervention that will navigate the Egyptian people in this delicate time of our history to a better tomorrow and a brighter future filled with justice, peace, and democracy.”
In Beni Suef, a city 80 miles south of Cairo, three nuns were paraded through city streets after their Franciscan school was looted and torched. They were rescued by a Muslim woman who had taught at the school and whose son-in-law is a policeman there. Two other teachers at the school “had to fight their way out of the mob, while groped, hit and insulted by the extremists,” the AP reported Aug. 17.
In two Egyptian towns, Al Nazla and Minya – over 100 miles apart from each other – it is reported that Islamists marked Christian homes and businesses with graffiti to mark them for attack.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, in Al Nazla Christian buildings were marked with red graffiti.
The AP reports that in Minya, black Xs were painted on Christian stores, and red Xs on Muslim-owned stores. “You can be sure that the ones with a red X are intact,” Bishoy Alfons Naguib, a business owner from Minya, told the AP.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious freedom said Aug. 16 that “the government’s excessive use of force when breaking up protests, the high number of deaths, the return to a state of emergency, and the targeting of Christians by extremists are all profoundly troubling.”
The commission's chair, Robert George, added that “assaulting religious minorities is not a legitimate form of protest against government action … USCIRF calls on the Egyptian government to immediately ensure the protection of places of worship and urges justice and accountability for perpetrators, both inside and outside of government.”
In their statements, both Patriarch Sidrak and Pope Tawadros II stated opposition to foreign influence in Egypt's internal affairs.
In the midst of the violence, it is expected that former president Hosni Mubarak could be freed from jail this week. Mubarak was the nation's leader before the 2011 revolution that lead to the election of Morsi.