Madrid, Spain, Sep 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Two Augustinian missionaries who were martyred in 1994 during the Algerian Civil War are today remembered within their community for their faithfulness, even to the point of death.
Sisters Caridad Alvarez and Esther Paniagua were killed during a war between the Algerian government and Islamists, who targeted various groups, including foreigners living in the country.
The decade-long war, which began in 1991, became especially violent in the summer of 1994. Amid worsening violence, the Spanish embassy in Algeria advised all their nationals to leave the country as soon as possible.
Archbishop Henri Teissier of Algiers issued a similar warning, asking the religious communities in his city to discern and to freely decide whether or not to remain in Algeria, as the situation was extremely dangerous.
Faced with this situation, the provincial superior of the Augustinian Missionaries, Sister Maria Jesus Rodriguez Munoz, decided to visit the order's three communities in Algiers and accompany them in their discernment, which turned out to be decisive for their lives.
“We made this discernment on October 6 and 7, 1994. It was powerful experience of faith,” Sr. Maria Jesus recounted to CNA.
“The Archbishop of Algiers joined with us and we prayed in a calm atmosphere. All the sisters were very conscious of the danger they were facing, but they all freely and individually decided to remain in Algiers.”
“One by one they gave their reasons: out of fidelity to the Gospel, out of love for the Algerian people who had welcomed them, because they were sharing faith and life with those people and they did not want to run away but instead to share in the same fate … At no point did they want to die; they loved life. But they also loved their people and they decided to remain there.”
Periodically the superiors of the congregation – who were in Madrid – called the Algerian communities to ask if they had changed their minds after discerning.
According to Sr. Maria Jesus, they always responded the same: “Do not worry. We are in the hands of God.”
“But what if something happens to you?” the superiors would insist.
“'Well, if something happens to us, we are still in the hands of God', they replied.”
Sr. Maria Jesus remained with her communities in Algiers for several weeks, and on Oct. 23 she encouraged Sr. Caridad to return to Spain, yet the sister replied, “This is my fidelity to the mission. I told you at home that if something happens to me, I want to be buried in Algeria.”
“She told me this an hour and a half before dying,” Sr. Maria Jesus recalled.
The same day, Spain's ambassador to Algeria visited Sr. Esther at the hospital in which she worked, asking her to leave the country as well.
“She told us that the ambassador wanted to take her away in an armored car and she said no, and that she would return home walking, as usual,” recounted Sr. Maria Jesus.
While she returned home that day, Sr. Esther was carrying with her a book titled “Your Surrender out of Love.”
The Augustinians were going to Mass that evening, “at the chapel that the Little Sisters of Foucauld had a short distance from our house,” in the Bab El Oued neighborhood of Algiers, Sr. Maria Jesus explained.
“We decided to follow the safety guidelines for going to the chapel given to us by the embassy: ‘Always go out in pairs.’ So Caridad and Esther left first, and then five minutes later Lourdes and I left. We were going about 100 yards away.”
“Caridad and Esther turned down the street and we lost them from sight. At that moment we heard two gunshots. Seconds later people began running, and one woman pulled us into her home. We heard crying and we found out that a Christian had died.”
“We went up to the roof of the home and from there we could see the chapel of the Sisters of Foucauld, and we saw the bodies of Caridad and Esther lying on the ground.”
Sr. Caridad was ringing the doorbell at the home of the Sisters of Foucauld when she was martyred.
She and Sr. Esther are two of the 19 religious who were martyred in Algeria between 1994 and 1996. Also included in this group was Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, who was killed along with his driver when a bomb exploded at his home.
Seven Trappist monks from the monastery of Tibhirine were also killed. The monastery's story was told in the 2010 film, “Of Gods and Men.”
The 19 martyrs' cause for canonization was opened by the Diocese of Oran in 2007, and is ongoing.
Vatican City, Sep 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a letter to a prominent non-believing Italian journalist, Pope Francis called dialogue a “profound and indispensable expression” of the Christian life.
It “seems to me that it is nothing other than positive, not only for us individually but also for the society in which we live, to pause to dialogue on a reality as important as the faith is,” the Pope said in a Sept 11 letter to Eugenio Scalfari, translated by the Catholic news agency Zenit.
Scalfari, the 89-year-old journalist and founder of the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica,” had posed several questions to the Pope in response to his July encyclical “Lumen Fidei.”
The Pope replied that his latest encyclical was intended not only to confirm the faithful but also to advance a “sincere and rigorous dialogue” between Catholics and non-believers. Dialogue is not secondary to the Christian life, he said.
Citing “Lumen Fidei,” he reflected that faith “grows in coexistence that respects the other.” The certainty of faith “makes possible witness and dialogue with everyone.”
Pope Francis said his own faith is born from the “encounter with Jesus” that “has touched my heart and given direction and new meaning to my existence.” This was made possible by “the community of faith in which I have lived,” the Church.
“Believe me, without the Church I would not have been able to encounter Christ, also in the awareness that the immense gift that faith is kept in the fragile earthen vessels of our humanity,” he said.
The Pope examined the “paradox” of Christianity’s present reputation among many non-believers. The faith is expressed through the symbol of light, but has come to be referred to as “the darkness of superstition that is opposed to the light of reason.”
He lamented the “incommunicability” that has existed between the Church and the “modern culture of enlightenment stamp.”
He then took the opportunity of the letter to reflect on the life of Jesus.
Pope Francis spoke of the “scandal” that Jesus’ words and action caused, crediting this to his “extraordinary authority.” This authority is “not about something exterior or forced” but is “something that emanates from within.”
Jesus' authority is “not aimed at exercising power over others, but at serving them, at giving them liberty and the fullness of life. Jesus shows this to such an extent that he faces “incomprehension, betrayal, rejection” and ultimately condemnation to death.
“But Jesus remains faithful to God, to the end,” the Pope said.
Jesus Christ is the “son of a God who is love and who wishes with all His being that man, every man, discover himself and also live as His true son,” Pope Francis explained.
He said that Jesus’ Resurrection is not done “to triumph over those who rejected him” but instead “to attest that the love of God is stronger than death, the forgiveness of God is stronger than any sin, and that it is worthwhile to spend one’s life, to the end, witnessing this immense gift.”
The originality of the Christian faith rests in its foundation on the Incarnation and its participation in Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, he said.
Jesus' life means that “we are all called to be children of the one Father and brothers among ourselves.”
“The singularity of Jesus is for communication, not for exclusion,” the Pope added. The Christian life means service to all men and to “the whole of man” to keep awake “the sense of hope that drives one to do good despite everything and always looking to the beyond.”
Pope Francis' letter also considered the role of non-Christians. He praised the Jewish people’s persevering faith in God and his remarks about non-believers made headlines.
In answer to the question of whether God forgives “one who doesn’t believe and doesn’t seek the faith,” the Pope responded that “the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart.” He stressed the non-believer’s need for “obeying one’s conscience.”
“Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil. And on this decision pivots the goodness or malice of our action,” the Pope said.
Pope Francis characterized his letter to Scalfari as “tentative and provisional” but also a “sincere and confident answer to the invitation to escort you in a segment of the road together.”
Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics today are being called to renew their own faith in order to share the Gospel with the modern world, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C.
“The role of the church is primarily to be a witness to the great human values, to be a witness to Christ’s message in the midst of everything else that is going on,” the cardinal said.
“We have to be, in a way, a conscience for a nation that is caught up in so many directions.”
Cardinal Wuerl spoke at the Newseum in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10. He was interviewed by Fox News anchor Bret Baier for an annual lecture hosted by the John Carroll Society, an organization of professionals dedicating to strengthening the faith and serving the archdiocese.
The cardinal said that during his time leading the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., he has found hope “in watching the New Evangelization unfold, watching the new Pentecost unfold.”
He explained that the New Evangelization is not presenting a new message. Rather, it is a call to “renew our commitment to the faith,” while seeking new ways to introduce people to the unchanging Gospel message.
“The New Evangelization is renewing your own faith personally, being confident of it, just like the Pope is, and then sharing it,” Cardinal Wuerl explained.
He said that the fruits of such a renewal of faith can be seen throughout the archdiocese in the enthusiastic youth, the full seminaries and activities such as Theology on Tap.
Still, there are challenges, the cardinal said. He noted that modern society brings “voices speaking to us from sources other than the Gospel,” and there is a tendency “to bleach out the place of God, the place of faith publicly.”
“We need to listen,” he commented, “but we need to be critical. Not everything that we hear today should be taken without at least weighing it against ‘what does Jesus say?’”
“The task of the Church is to keep lifting up the values of the Gospel in a situation, a climate, a culture that is very preoccupied with something else,” he continued.
One of the areas in which the values of the Gospel differ significantly from those of the culture is in the realm of sexual morality, Cardinal Wuerl said.
“The Church has a very clear message that sexual activity is supposed to occur in marriage,” he explained.
There are people who do not always follow these teachings, he acknowledged, and for those people, the Church is “not here to criticize and critique, but we are here to say ‘this is the way’” and help them to follow the commandments.
The cardinal also emphasized the duty of Catholics to continue aiding those who are neglected by the rest of society.
“We cannot succeed without bringing forward our brothers and sisters, especially those that have no other way forward.”
He lauded Pope Francis for setting an example in this regard with his “quiet, persistent, consistent presentation of faith.”
There has been “no change in the teaching” or doctrine of the Church between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the cardinal clarified. However, the current Pope’s style of simplicity and listening are an example for the faithful to follow.
Cardinal Wuerl also encouraged those at the lecture to pray, saying that prayer is “our conversation with God” and an important foundation for building a relationship with the Lord.
“Prayer changes hearts, and if enough hearts are changed, the whole world can be changed,” he explained, suggesting that people pray numerous short prayers throughout the day.
“People who believe have a horizon so much larger,” the cardinal remarked, because faith allows us to “simply to know there’s a purpose to life, there is someone who will explain in my heart what it is all about and who will be with me on the journey.”
Denver, Colo., Sep 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As deadly flash flooding devastates the Colorado Front Range, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has asked for prayers for and offered assistance to those in the path of flood waters.
“I am praying for the souls of those victims, for their families and all people who are being affected by the flooding. I ask all people of good will to join me in prayer,” he said in a Sept. 12 statement.
Archbishop Aquila said he “heard with great concern” about the flooding and is especially concerned about the three people who have been killed.
“Through the local parishes in the affected areas, Catholic Charities stands ready to assist those in need,” he added.
As much as 14 inches of rain – the annual average rainfall in some parts of the state – has fallen in as little as 48 hours.
Thousands of Coloradans have been evacuated from their homes as the flooding has collapsed buildings and washed out roads. The city of Lyons has become isolated and required assistance from the National Guard to evacuate the area.
Colorado State University in Ft. Collins and University of Colorado in Boulder have canceled classes, as flooding has made much of both campuses – which are over 50 miles from one another – impassable.
In the cities of Aurora, Thornton and Boulder, heavy rains during rush hour made for a dangerous commute and major traffic delays.
Flash flooding has been especially devastating in areas that were hit by recent wildfires where there is no vegetation to slow the rainfall.
Governor John Hickenlooper signed a disaster declaration on Sept. 12 saying, “This could easily be a 50 or 100-year-flood.”
President Barack Obama approved federal disaster funding which will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Boulder, Larimer and El Paso counties.
Weekend forecasts call for a break in the rain, though a flash flood watch for the Front Range remains in effect until 9 p.m. on Sept. 13.
Vatican City, Sep 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Six months into his pontificate, Pope Francis' distinct style is beginning to take a more defined shape and is viewed by some as having a strong emphasis on the Church's maternal, merciful nature.
“I think he has a very conscious desire to show the motherly, merciful aspect of the Church which in one hand is tremendously real...and in the other hand, sometimes has been forgotten,” Latin American analyst Alejandro Bermudez reflected.
“I think that could be one of the defining characteristics of his pontificate.”
Bermudez serves as executive director for Catholic News Agency and runs several television programs for EWTN's Spanish audience. He has been a guest commentator on religious issues for the New York Times and is the Latin American correspondent for the National Catholic Register.
He is also the author of the new book “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” which is a collection of interviews and reflections from peers, professors and friends who were close to the pontiff before his election.
As someone who knew Pope Francis personally while he was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bermudez told CNA in a Sept. 12 interview that these first six months of his pontificate “have revealed how rich and complex is the personality of Pope Francis.”
“He has been able to define himself without the need of comparing him with some of his predecessors,” he said, “Francis has defined himself as Francis.”
Although much of the Pope's personality remains “in significant continuity with the man we knew as Cardinal Bergolio,” such as making personal phone calls to people he doesn't know to console, greet or encourage them, Bermudez said there have also been changes since his election to the Seat of Peter.
One of the most significant changes, according to Bermudez, has been his “energy and enthusiasm in engaging people.”
“He wasn't a man that was comfortable with crowds.”
However, after World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero earlier this summer, the pontiff is “a completely different person for good, in the sense that he is incredibly comfortable with the crowds as he was not in the past.”
Not only has Pope Francis become more accustomed to being in the spotlight that comes with being the Vicar of Christ, but he has also set an example that many from within as well as outside of the Church are edified by.
“He is a Jesuit through and through,” said Bermudez, the kind that is “one hundred percent Ignatian, meaning being faithful to the spiritual tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola.”
The Jesuits were founded by St. Ignatius in 1534, and are the order most responsible for spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was revealed to St. Margaret-Mary Alacoque in the early 1600s.
The Jesuits, said Bermudez, “see the heart as the center of the human person that has to be transformed and that has to be completely renewed.”
“The transformation of the heart makes the Christian become the heart of the Catholic Church, and when the heart of the Catholic Church is transformed, the Church becomes the heart of the world, and is capable of transforming the world.”
Bermudez explained that this transformation is not something that develops in “a rigid chronological line,” meaning that once all Catholics are transformed, then the Church will transform, and only after that will the world be transformed.
Rather, the Jesuits view this process of transformation as a simultaneous process, in which “every change in the human heart reflects in the change of the Church, which will reflect in the change of the world.”
This approach was clearly seen in both the “thought and the pastoral practice” of Cardinal Bergoglio, and is something that “we see more and more clear in Pope Francis.”
“He's someone that is totally convinced that any reform in the Church begins with the transformation of the heart.”
Bermudez stated that although six months is “an interesting landmark to make an assessment,” it is still too early to define a pontificate, and that the Church will most likely see more of Pope Francis' defining characteristics after many of the significant events that will happen in October.
Among several items on his agenda for next month, the Pope is slated to meet with the eight cardinals he appointed to advise him on governing the Church and reforming the Curia. The group will hold its first meeting Oct. 1-3.
Vatican City, Sep 13, 2013 (CNA) - One of Pope Francis' former teachers says in a new book that the Holy Father has never supported a Marxist-based liberation theology.
“In the Argentinean Liberation Theology, social Marxist analysis is not used, but rather a historical-cultural analysis, not based on class warfare as a determining principle for the interpretation of society and history,” said Argentinean Jesuit priest Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone.
“I think that the pastoral work of Bergoglio is understood in this context.”
Fr. Scannone’s remarks are included in an extensive interview in the recent book “Francis Our Brother Our Friend” (Ignatius Press, 2013) authored by CNA's executive director Alejandro Bermudez.
The book’s release comes amid speculation by Vatican analysts regarding liberation theology, a controversial school of thought that developed in Latin America in the 1950s. Liberation theology has been criticized as a Marxist interpretation of the gospel, focusing on freedom from material poverty and injustice rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.
Although the meeting was not listed among the Pope’s official private audiences, the Vatican confirmed that at the request of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis this week received Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian theologian credited with being one of the founders of liberation theology.
Archbishop Müller’s personal friendship with the 85-year-old theologian – who is thought to have become a Dominican in the late 90's to avoid being under the jurisdiction of the current Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani – has sparked speculations about how much Pope Francis supports the “official acceptance” of theology of liberation at the Vatican.
The speculations from some Vatican analysts grew after the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, ran a short essay from Fr. Gutierrez.
The essay was originally published as part of a book co-written with Archbishop Muller, published in Germany 14 years ago and recently translated to Italian. Gutierrez was in Rome for the presentation of the Italian edition.
However, Fr. Scannone – who taught Pope Francis during his formation period – contends that “there are different currents” within Liberation Theology, which he has studied extensively.
The Argentine current, he said, “which never used Marxist categories or the Marxist analysis of society, but rather, without disregarding the social analysis, it privileges a more historical, cultural analysis.”
“My opinion is that the Argentinean line of Liberation Theology, that some call ‘Theology of the people,’ helps understand the pastoral work of Bergoglio as Bishop, just like many of his affirmations and teachings.”
“There are things that I believe marked Bergoglio in a special way, above all the issue of the evangelization of the culture, an issue of popular piety,” the priest said, observing that it is part of the Pope’s personal “style” to speak “about the faithful people.”
When Pope Francis came out on the balcony of St. Peter’s after first being elected, Fr. Scannone noted, “the first thing that he did was to ask the faithful to pray for him so that God would bless him, before he gave the blessing to the people. That is very much him.”
“He always supports this type of theology and I believe that formed part of the environment where he did his pastoral work,” Fr. Scannone continued. “In fact, the issue of popular piety and the evangelization of the culture, and the enculturation of the Gospel are key to this current of theology.”