Bucharest, Romania, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Monsignor Vladimir Ghika, a martyr under the 20th century communist government in Romania, was beatified on Aug. 31, recognized as a witness to Christian freedom despite persecution.
“He was a living example that in Christ you are a freeman and you can’t be enslaved even if you are thrown in jail or persecuted,” said Fr. Chris Terhes, communications director of the Romanian Eparchy of St. George's in Canton, Ohio.
The Mass of beatification was celebrated in the Romanian capital of Bucharest by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and was attended by around 10,000 faithful.
The press officer of the Archdiocese of Bucarest, Cristina Grigore, told CNA Sept. 3 that among the 10,000, “there were also about 50 members of Ghika`s family from Romania and abroad.”
Romania was behind the Iron Curtain following World War II, and in 1948 the country's communist government forcibly dissolved the Romanian Catholic Church, a Byzantine (or Greek) rite Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. Many Catholics were forced to convert to the Romanian Orthodox Church, which was supported by the state.
Cardinal Amato described the situation in his homily, saying that “Catholics were humiliated, their property confiscated, bishops and priests were imprisoned and killed, seminarians were tortured, lay Christians were forced to renounce the Catholic faith, monks were dispersed, schools and churches were closed and seized, religious liberty was suppressed.”
He added, however, that there were also “bishops and priests of the Romanian Orthodox Church who courageously opposed the abuse of Communist power, most of them ending up in prison or poisoned.”
The cardinal recounted Blessed Ghika's life, beginning with his 1873 birth into a royal family who were members of the Orthodox faith, and his subsequent conversion to the Catholic Church in 1902.
His conversion followed studies at the Angelicum in Rome. Blessed Ghika converted “believing that that being Catholic means 'to become more orthodox', maintaining his life in unshakeable devotion to the Catholic cause.”
He used his wealth to care for the needy and sick, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Paris in 1923. Though a priest of the Roman rite, he was given bi-ritual faculties and also said Divine Liturgy for the Romanian Catholic Church.
In 1939, Blessed Ghika returned to Romania “to meet the needs of Polish refugees” after the Nazi invasion of Poland, Cardinal Amato said. He remained even after a new communist government forced Romania's king to abdicate in 1948, and began to persecute Catholics.
Blessed Ghika was arrested and imprisoned in 1952 at the age of 79. He became an “example of evangelical witness” through his “dignity, forgiveness of his persecutors, spiritual support of his co-prisoners, and intense prayer life.”
He remained in the prison at Jilava until he died May 16, 1954 “because of his cruel tortures applied by the Romanian secret police.” He had been beaten and tortured with electrical shocks, causing him to partially lose his sight and hearing. He died a martyr by “trials from imprisonment.”
Cardinal Amato called the martyr a “man of deep spirituality ... having a strong desire to see the achievement of unity between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.”
After recounting Blessed Ghika's life, the cardinal reflected on three aspects of his pastoral charity: an ecumenical heart; his active involvement in serving refugees, the sick, and those wounded in war; and his passion and death under a Stalinist regime.
The beatified martyr “proposed holiness as the indispensable means for promoting Christian unity,” Cardinal Amato said. He emphasized that ecumenism must be based on love and good faith, avoiding “unnecessary and harmful polemics.”
According to Cardinal Amato, Blessed Ghika “saw that the persecution and martyrdom of millions of Orthodox Christians, especially in Russia and Eastern Europe by communist regimes, would guarantee a true resurrection which, in the logic of the Paschal mystery, would lead to the resurgence of unity.”
The blessed's apostolate of caring for the poor included visiting prisoners, guarding Jews from deportation to death camps during World War II, and directing American food aid to Orthodox monasteries in Moldova during a 1946 famine, Cardinal Amato said.
Finishing his homily, he upheld the martyr's example of faith and prayer during his long martyrdom. Comparing Blessed Ghika to the prophet Isaiah, Cardinal Amato recalled his last words: “I am dying with a clear conscience that I did all I could (for) the true Church of Christ, during a sorrowful time for my country and for the civilized world.”
The cardinal added that the beatification Mass “should be lived as a prophetic sign of reconciliation and peace, a sad reminder of a past that should not be repeated.”
Because of Blessed Ghika's link with the Paris archdiocese, the Mass was attended by the city's bishop, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, along with “a group of French pilgrims,” according to Grigore.
Fr. Terhes explained that the martyr’s example is one of courage for Catholics, through both his conversion and “by deciding not to comply with the law of an ungodly government.” The priest praised Blessed Ghika's decision to remain in Romania “knowing that would face the risk of being arrested.”
As Christians, Fr. Terhes reflected, “we can learn from his example that regardless of our heritage or family, each one of us is called to serve Jesus Christ.”
Rome, Italy, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis called for solidarity with refugees during his Tuesday visit to a Jesuit refugee center in Rome, reminding Christians of their duty to help meet the newcomers' needs.
He lamented how many times refugees have been “forced to live in impoverished conditions, at times degrading, without the possibility of beginning a dignified life, to think about a new future!”
The Pope voiced special concern for the refugee women, including “the mothers who endure these hardships in order to ensure a future for their children...and a different life for themselves and their families,” Vatican Radio reports.
He met with refugees and volunteers at Rome’s Church of the Gesù and visited about 1,000 people gathered at the nearby Astalli Center. The center is the Italian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, an international network that assists refugees and other forced migrants.
Pope Francis said the refugees have faced a “difficult and exhausting” journey. He noted that Rome is often the second stop for refugees after the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, which he visited in July.
The Pope said the Church, the city of Rome and other institutions must ensure that no one is in need of food, shelter, or legal assistance to “recognize his right to live and work and fully be a person.”
He called on religious orders with empty convents to act “generously” and “courageously” by opening these buildings to refugees. The Church, he said, does not need “empty convents to be transformed into hotels,” to “earn money.”
The defense of the dignity and rights of the underprivileged is an essential part of the Church’s mission, he added.
Pope Francis then reflected on the nature of service, which means “welcoming the person who arrives, with care” and “bending down to one in need and offering a hand, without reservations.”
He asked others to reflect on whether they have answered Jesus Christ’s call to serve the poor. “Do I look into the eyes of those who seek justice or do I turn away?” the Pope asked.
He then stressed the duty to accompany those in need, in a way that goes beyond simple charity like giving a sandwich to the poor man. Christians must act beyond this and help the man return to work and the life of society.
The Pope noted that differences of race, national origin and religion can be a “gift” and “a richness to welcome, not to fear.”
He thanked the volunteers and staff of the Astalli Center for recognizing the refugees “as people” and for working “to find concrete answers to their needs.”
The Astalli center in 2012 helped around 21,000 people in Rome through its Italian-language classes, its soup kitchen, its legal center and its health facility. The health facility can give special attention to victims of torture.
In his July visit to Lampedusa, Pope Francis rejected indifference towards refugees. He said Christians practice love “when we identify with the stranger, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation.”
Stockton, Calif., Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishop of Stockton, California has told his parishioners that all the funds for settling sexual abuse lawsuits have been used, and that bankruptcy may be the only option for financial reorganization.
“We continue to investigate our options, and no final decisions have been reached. I feel, however, that it is important to tell you that options other than filing for bankruptcy protection have not emerged,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire said in a Sept. 6 letter to the diocese.
In the last decade, the diocese has spent nearly 20 million dollars on sex abuse lawsuits.
If Stockton decides to file for bankruptcy, it will be the tenth diocese to do so, after the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., announced last week that it has also decided to do so.
Although no final decision has been made in Stockton, the bishop wanted to make the parishioners aware that filing for bankruptcy is a very real option.
“I want to keep you and the wider community informed as best I can in this process,” he said.
Many organizations, such as schools, cemeteries and charities are organized as separate corporations “apart from the Diocese Corporation,” he explained, so they would not be part of the bankruptcy filing.
However, these organizations could face claims from creditors of the diocese and could have their separate status challenged.
“Nevertheless, these separate organizations need to have an understanding of the decision-making process and the possible claims that may be made by creditors of the Diocese so they can be prepared in whatever way necessary,” he wrote.
In the experience of other dioceses faced with bankruptcy, creditors have challenged the organizations’ statuses as separate entities from the diocese.
Bishop Blaire emphasized that the diocese remains committed to finding a way to meet their obligations to victims of abuse, to the poor and needy of their community and to the Catholics who make up the diocese.
“This commitment will guide our decisions as we move forward,” he said.
Although no final decision has been made, Bishop Blaire assured his diocese that they “will be well informed” when one is decided.
The Diocese of Stockton includes six counties and is made up of 250,000 Catholics.
Bishop Blaire's announcement comes amid continuing concerns over a bill passed by the California state legislature and currently waiting for the governor's signature or veto.
The bill, known as S.B. 131, would pave the way for additional sex abuse lawsuits against private employers – including Catholic institutions – while exempting public ones.
Critics have warned that other dioceses in the state could face a situation similar to that of Stockton if the bill goes into effect.
Vatican City, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Vatican spokesman has said that the Holy See is willing to hand over a former nuncio accused of sexual misconduct to civil authorities in the Dominican Republic if requested to do so.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said that the Holy See continues to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations into Archbishop Józef Wesolowski, former apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic.
Because there is no extradition treaty between the Vatican and the Dominican Republic, the Holy See is not required to return the nuncio to Dominican officials. In addition, the Vatican has a legal right to invoke diplomatic immunity in protection of the nuncio.
However, Fr. Lombardi told CNA on Sept. 12 that the Holy See has declared “our intention to cooperate with the Dominican authorities whenever they require it.”
The recall of the nuncio to the Vatican “by no means implies the desire to prevent him from assuming his responsibility for whatever may come out of the investigations” in the Dominican Republic,” Fr. Lombardi explained.
Accusations of sexual misconduct reported in the media led to the resignation of Archbishop Wesolowski on Aug. 21.
Fr. Lombardi explained that after Church authorities were informed of the “serious accusations” against Archbishop Wesolowski, the Vatican Secretary of State responded quickly, “calling back the Nuncio, stripping him of his duty and starting an investigation entrusted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
After the initial accusations were made public, a 13-year-old boy in the country said in a television interview that the nuncio had solicited him for sexual favors in exchange for money. The boy has been taken into protective custody by Dominican Republic officials.
Both the Holy See and the Dominican Republic’s attorney general have announced that they are conducting investigations into the accusations.
The bishops of the Dominican Republic have voiced support for the investigations and called for a purification of the Church. Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez of Santo Domingo called on civil authorities to act with “determination” and “clarity” in looking into the accusations.
Vatican City, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has made public the packed schedule of liturgical activities Pope Francis will be involved in during the months of October and November.The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff also stated he will first partake in three celebrations in September, including a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria at Cagliari, Sardinia, on Sept. 22. The Pope will then celebrate Mass at Saint Peter’s Square at 10:30 am on Sept. 29, a day during which catechists will be gathered in Rome. The following day he will hold an ordinary public consistory on several causes of canonization at the Consistory Hall at 10:00 am. On Oct. 4, the pontiff will visit the Italian city of Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis. He will dedicate Oct. 12 and 13 to Mary, with a Marian prayer in Saint Peter’s Square at 5:00 pm on Oct. 12 and Mass at the Square at 10:30 am the following day. Family day will be the highlight of Sunday, Oct. 27, during which he will preside a Eucharistic celebration at 10:30 am. Pope Francis will have four major events in the month before Christmas. He will preside Mass at the Cemetery of Verano, next to Rome’s Sapienza University, at 4:00 pm on Nov. 1 to celebrate All Saints. On the next day, All Souls Day, the Pope will offer a moment of prayer for former pontiffs who have passed away at 6:00 pm. On Nov. 4 at 11:30 am, he will celebrate Mass at the altar of the Cathedra in the Papal Chapel of Saint Peter’s Basilica for the souls of cardinals and bishops who died this year. Pope Francis will finally officially close the Year of Faith in the Papal Chapel on Nov. 24 at 10:30 am, which coincides with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
Rome, Italy, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - New Vatican Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin said Pope Francis' reform efforts are not revolutionary, but stem from a fidelity to Christ and continuity with foundational Church teachings.
In an interview with the Venezuelan daily El Universal, he said that the Pope's vision does not include “returning to the past” in external ways, but “returning to the fundamental principles of the Church.”
Archbishop Parolin, who was until now the Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela, will assume his new post as the Vatican's Secretary of State on Oct. 15, succeeding Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
In his remarks to the paper, he said he wanted “to underscore the question of continuity because at times it seems (and I don't know if I am exaggerating) that Pope Francis is going to revolutionize and change everything.”
However, changes in the Church “cannot endanger the Church's essence, which has a continuity with the history that comes from its foundation by Jesus Christ.”
“The Church could never change to the point of completely adapting herself to the world. If she did and lost herself in it, she would no longer be fulfilling her mission to be salt and light for all,” he stated.
In response to suggestions during talks leading up to the papal conclave in March, Pope Francis has appointed eight cardinals to advise him on governing the Church and reforming the Curia.
Eight cardinals, representing all the continents, will serve to advise the Pope in “the government of the universal Church” and will “study a plan for revising” the Curia, the Vatican announced April 13.
The group will hold its first meeting Oct. 1-3, though the Pope is already in touch with all the appointed cardinals.
Archbishop Parolin also said that before entertaining any ideas of a “Vatican III,” the Church “ought to look to the Second Vatican Council, which established directives so the Church could fulfill her mission in today's world.”
“It is important to apply them, as the previous Popes have done, each according to his own focus,” he said, referring to the pontificates of Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II.
The new Vatican Secretary of State also said that “the Church is very special structure and the political categories used to analyze the realities of the state cannot be automatically applied.”
“This is not a monarchy or a democracy in the formal sense of the word,” he said, but rather “a communion in which there are different responsibilities, the ultimate of which falls upon the Pope. He is in communion with everyone else and there is no Pope without communion.”
Asked about the issue of celibacy, Archbishop Parolin said it is “not a dogma of the Church.” However, he added that the “effort made by the Church to institute ecclesial celibacy should be taken into account. It cannot simply be said that it belongs to the past.”
Priestly celibacy, he said, “remains in the Church because throughout all these years events have occurred that have contributed to developing God's revelation.”
Archbishop Parolin also referred to the question of homosexuality, saying that when Pope Francis said, “If a person is gay and is seeking the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to criticize him?” what he was saying is that “the doctrine of the Church is very clear about this moral point.”
Jesus, he explained, “asks us to grow and to adapt ourselves to the image he has of us. God alone judges the conduct of each one, and the Pope has said this.”
Madrid, Spain, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Church’s social doctrine is central for the life of the faithful, said a Spanish priest, and widespread ignorance of that doctrine is affecting the performance of the laity in public life.
“The Social Doctrine of the Church is one of the great unknowns for Catholics,” said Father Fernando Fuentes, who works for the Spanish bishops' Committee on Social Ministry.
In statements to the SIC news agency, Fr. Fuentes spoke about the master’s degree in Catholic Social Doctrine offered by the Pontifical University of Salamanca in collaboration with the Bishop's Committee on Social Ministry and the Paul VI Foundation. The online degree program aims to deepen knowledge of an area of Church teaching that is unknown to many Catholics.
The master’s program has been offered for 20 years in Latin American countries including Mexico, Argentina and Panama, but it is now being offered for the first time in Spain. Courses will be offered online by professors from the Pontifical University of Salamanca at its Madrid campus.
The lack of formation in this area among the clergy and among the laity is leading to a weakening of the presence of the laity in public life and to social work that is not always rooted in Church doctrine, Fr. Fuentes explained.
The Social Doctrine of the Church is essential, he continued, “and when it is presented to those enrolled in the program they are surprised at the newness of the Church's social thought.”
Fr. Fuentes noted that in order to discern social issues based on the Christian experience and moral principles, certain resources that many people are not familiar with are necessary. The students who have completed the program throughout its 20 year history learn to apply these resources and become teachers of the Church's Social Doctrine and leaders in social ministries.
The current social and economic crisis poses very specific challenges for Christians, Father Fuentes said, recalling what Benedict XVI warned about in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “The Church has the duty to offer, through the purification of reason and ethical formation, her specific contribution so that the demands of justice are understandable and politically attainable.” This is a task that requires good educational programs and the witness of solidarity, “which is taking place in many Christian communities.”
The commitment of Christians to public life is something that John XXIII already spoke about in his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” which Fr. Fuentes called “'the constitution' for leaders and for commitment in public life that had decisive influence in the 1970s and 80s.
“It was the magna carta of human rights and a lesson to the Church and to society on how to achieve peaceful coexistence,” he said.
Bangkok, Thailand, Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics throughout Thailand – joined by Buddhists and Muslims in the country – have welcomed Pope Francis’ appeals for peace in Syria and throughout the world.
The Catholic Bishops of Thailand worked through social media and archdiocesan websites to share the Pope’s call for prayer and fasting for peace in Syria on Sept. 7.
“Thai bishops took this seriously to heart in spite of the unexpected short notice,” said Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, executive secretary of the Thai Bishops Conference and former Vatican undersecretary for the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.
He told CNA on Sept. 11 that the bishops made it “a priority” to offer “supportive liturgical action.”
Local dioceses and parishes connected to a live stream of the prayer vigil held at St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 7, he said. Eucharist adoration was organized in Churches, and hundreds of people participated in the liturgical prayer services and fasting.
Some Churches dedicated Masses on both Sept. 7 and 8 for the intention of peace in Syria.
St. Louis Church in the Archdiocese of Bangkok has continued with a “weeklong” adoration service, Msgr. Vissanu added.
The prayer initiatives come shortly before Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visits the Vatican this coming week.
The support for Pope Francis’ peace efforts has also had an interfaith dimension. Thousands of students in Catholic schools throughout the country joined with Buddhist students to pray for peace.
Msgr. Vissanu also met with top Muslim leaders in Thailand, sharing the Pope’s concerns with them and informing them of the prayer and fasting initiatives.
Local Muslim leaders joined in the effort, he said, “offering their solidarity and support and asking their local imams to make this announcement public to their communities through their public address systems.”
“Collective prayer has a tremendous force, and this concerned move by the Pope can bridge a constructive, peaceful dialogue,” said Fr. Watchasin Kritjaroen Rector, chair of Christian studies at Saengtham College in Samphran.
Observing that the Pope is also called “pontiff,” which means “bridge builder,” he told CNA that Pope Francis is “connecting lives to be instruments of peace.”
Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Education and interpersonal interaction offer the best hope for change in the situation between Israel and Palestine despite challenges facing those in the region, young students said at a recent panel.
“When you live under occupation, you come to accept things you shouldn't accept,” Lubna Alzaroo, a Muslim graduate of Bethlehem University and Fulbright scholar studying at the University of Washington, said Sept. 9 at the D.C. event.
“Education is our best way for liberation,” Alzaroo added, echoing her father's parting words to her when she left to go to the United States.
She noted, however, that even this hope is threatened by the current political situation.
Peace talks between Palestine and Israel were put on hold in 2010 over the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are considered illegal under international law. Dialogue resumed in late July of this year in D.C., but with signs of tension beginning to emerge over discussions involving decades-old border lines.
Also speaking on the recent student panel were Nagib Kasbary, a Christian and 2013 graduate of Bethlehem University, and Naor Bitton, a Jewish Israeli graduate of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Minnesota.
Bethlehem University is the first university founded in Palestine's West Bank. The college is run by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, serving both Christian and Muslim Students.
The panelists spoke at a conference titled “Religious Freedom & Human Rights: Path to Peace in the Holy Land – That All May Be Free,” hosted by the Catholic University of America. The event was co-sponsored by the university as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.
Alzaroo explained that her education in Palestine was “uncertain,” because it was at the mercy of violence and political situations: she had to pass through checkpoints to make it to and from class.
Passing through these checkpoints was a process dictated by security threats, and included anything from simply walking through to full-body searches. She explained that she nearly missed entrance exams at the university because of a closed checkpoint.
“We don't have the freedom to move about as we want,” she explained, adding that “a lot of people had to let go of their dreams” because of the difficulty of pursuing an education.
In addition, “teachers go on strike every year because they aren't paid enough – or, in some cases, they aren't paid at all,” Alzaroo said.
Because of the difficult situation facing education in Palestine, “we can't get our own graduates to come back and teach,” she said.
Kasbary agreed with Alzaroo's take, saying that the Palestinian people “don't want to put up with this anymore,” and that “those who can leave do leave.”
He posited that the conflict is not a religious one, but a political one, pointing to interreligious cooperation throughout the West Bank, particularly in Bethlehem University. Kasbary said that “we are less than one percent, but that doesn't mean that we are a minority” among the Muslim-majority territory, though he noted that it was “very important for the Catholic Church to keep supporting” Christians in the Holy Land.
Instead, he pointed to checkpoints, laws restricting access to holy sites, even for Holy Days, and the expansion of settlements into Palestine as the root of the problem.
Bitton agreed that settlements “are the biggest obstacle to peace,” saying that they promote “religion as extreme,” and encourage extreme responses.
Still, even with these difficulties, Bitton encouraged Palestinians to use official avenues to gain access, because he said it would help moderate the perception of Palestinians among Israeli citizens.
He also encouraged Israeli and Palestinian young leaders to reach out to one another to enact change.
“I wish the Imam and the Cheif Rabbi of Jerusalem met when they were 25 – not the first time they saw an Israeli soldier.” He explained that if people met younger, they would understand and work with each other more efficiently. Interpersonal change and interaction “can lead to a push” for political action.
“This is the future: think about who has the most interest to change things where they live – the people who are going to stick around for another 60 years.”