Abuja, Nigeria, Sep 18, 2013 (CNA) -
The bishops of Nigeria have praised Pope Francis’ “inspiring leadership,” saying his Sept. 7 vigil for peace in Syria highlighted “the constant need of prayer for peace” in their country as well.
“Prayer for peace is not an afterthought to the work of peace, but the very essence of building the peace of order, justice and freedom,” they said in a September communique.
“Indeed, to pray for peace is to pray for justice, for freedom, for a right-ordering of relations within and among nations and peoples. Above all, it is to seek God’s forgiveness and to forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
The communique comes at the close of the bishops’ Second Plenary Meeting, held Sept. 5-13 in the town of Otukpo in the south-central Nigerian state of Benue.
The bishops hailed Pope Francis, saying he “continues to astound the world with a leadership model of humility, modesty and simplicity, becoming a beacon of hope for the poor.”
“We equally admire his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who, by his historic and heroic resignation, showed that true leadership is selfless and that good leadership creates space for others.”
The bishops welcomed Pope Francis’ first encyclical “Lumen Fidei.” They praised participants in the spiritual and social activities of the Year of Faith, praying for continued efforts to strengthen Christian faith.
The bishops noted recent events in Nigeria including the creation of the Diocese of Gboko and the Diocese of Katsina-Ala, both in Benue state, last December. Veritas University in Abuja, a Catholic university sponsored by Nigeria’s bishops, has graduated its first class. Nigeria’s first National Catholic Health Summit will take place in Abuja this October.
They also addressed other concerns facing the country. They called for more action to counter the menace of armed robbery and kidnapping, criticizing the illegal importation and circulation of small arms in Nigeria.
“We sympathize with all families who have lost their loved ones since the Boko Haram menace began,” the bishops said, praising the government’s “bold measures” against the militant Islamist group.
The bishops also criticized the use of the death penalty, saying the lives of condemned criminals “remain sacred and demand deep compassion.”
They warned against “the continuous attempts made by foreign agencies to introduce unwholesome values,” including a campaign for abortion, condom promotions, and efforts to promote same-sex unions.
“We reject vehemently the slightest attempt by anyone to promote the culture of death and call on such people to repent of their ways.”
“We appeal to the good people of Nigeria to also reject such moves, lest we stand to lose our faith, cultural identity and pride. We reiterate our commitment to the sanctity of life from the very moment of its conception to the time of natural death.”
The Nigerian Senate’s rejection of a same-sex “marriage” bill drew congratulations from the bishops, who said these unions are “truly unnatural, unwholesome, and contrary to the plan of God.”
Nigeria’s bishops condemned corruption and the abuse of power in the country’s government. They urged accountability and transparency in government and the improvement of the lives of people.
The bishops' plenary meeting included a session with priests from throughout Nigeria. The session aimed to renew bishops’ and priests’ mission to teach, sanctify and govern the people of God, and included a renewed pledge of loyalty and obedience to the Pope.
The meeting also condemned the actions of many of the priests of the Diocese of Ahiara who have vocally protested the appointment of Bishop Peter Okpaleke on the grounds that he is not from the Mbaise people, the ethnic group whom the diocese serves.
“We consider their attitude as an affront to the Holy Father who has the sole prerogative of appointing bishops,” the bishops said. “We call on the priests to review their position, recant and accept in love their shepherd.”
The bishops criticized some universities’ denial of land for Catholic chaplaincies, calling on federal and state governments to “foster the right to religious freedom” by setting aside land for places of worship and by removing barriers to land acquisition.
The bishops’ communique closed with a prayer, asking that “the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first disciple and Mother of the Church, be our model and intercede for us in this Year of Faith.”
Havana, Cuba, Sep 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a new pastoral letter, the Cuban bishops said that in “the hope for a better future,” their government should begin political reform and the U.S. should adopt “an inclusive policy” towards their country.
“Cuba is called to be a pluralistic society…Cuba is the nation of all Cubans, with their differences and aspirations, although it has not always been this way,” the bishops wrote in “Hope Does Not Disappoint,” a pastoral letter delivered to the government and read in parishes Sept. 15.
“There should be a right to diversity with regards to thought, to creativity, to the search for truth. Out of diversity comes the need for dialogue.”
The letter praises recent economic reforms undertaken by Raul Castro, the nation's president. Castro succeeded his brother Fidel, a leader of the 1959 communist revolution, as president in 2008, and has allowed small private businesses, greater freedom for foreign travel and the sale of homes and cars, and decentralized state businesses.
Despite these economic reforms, Castro has maintained that the Communist Party will remain the only one allowed in the political sphere.
In response, the bishops said “we believe it is indispensable” to “update” national legislation “in the political order.”
“For some time there have been emerging opportunities for debate and discussion at different levels and environments, sometimes created by citizens themselves: intellectuals, youth and others who, from the grassroots, have expressed in different ways their vision of the changes necessary in Cuba with serious and diverse opinions and proposals.”
They pointed out that the country is no longer the same as it was decades ago, and that in the emerging reforms, “a clear, although still incomplete, reflection of the demands long yearned-for by the Cuban people” can be seen.
The bishops said they hoped reforms would continue to expand, for the good of the people and for new generations of Cubans, many of whom have yet to experience the conditions necessary for building a life for themselves.
Citing the growth of globalization and interdependence, the bishops noted the need for reformation of international relations.
“It is necessary to consider the relations of Cuba with the U.S., which during long decades, in different, constant and steady ways, has affected the life of our people” they stated.
Since the 1959 revolution, the U.S. has maintained a crippling economic embargo on Cuba, which has been slightly eased by the Obama administration.
The bishops quoted Blessed John Paul II, who said during a 1998 visit to the country that “the isolation led to indiscriminate impacts on the population, increasing the difficulties of the weakest in basic aspects such as food, health, and education,” and calling for the end of “the unjust and ethically unacceptable measures imposed from abroad.”
The bishops also noted the large number of Cuban Americans in the U.S., pointing out that “geographical proximity and family ties between the two nations are unavoidable realities that should be taken into account to favor an inclusive policy…which can alleviate the tensions and the suffering experienced by numerous persons and families, as well as a just commercial exchange oriented to the benefit of all.”
“In this respect, we exhort you, too, to be encouraged to new initiatives of dialogue, enabling that the wish of Blessed John Paul II that the world open up to Cuba and Cuba to the world become a reality for the benefit of all.”
In addition, the bishops recalled the importance of the visits of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which “marked our recent history with the sign of hope.”
Both Roman Pontiffs “bore witness not only to the human and social dimension, but also the religious dimension, of the Church’s mission of evangelization. Both referred to the spiritual and social reality Cubans face today and in the future,” they said.
They also underscored the devotion to Our Lady of Charity, the patroness of all Cubans “regardless of race, class or opinion,” and remembered last year's 400th anniversary of the image's finding.
The bishops noted that God’s plan is that all his children enjoy the goods of creation through responsible freedom.
They also said that government should be concerned with the common good, and denounced selfishness seen in “groups of power who do not always represent everyone and do not show interest for those who are not part of their circle.”
“The participative state must definitively replace the paternalist state,” they stressed, encouraging Cubans not to fear “the development of a strong and responsible social autonomy.”
In their letter, the bishops also reiterated their call to dialogue as “the only road to attaining and sustaining the social transformations that are taking place in Cuba, as dialogue is always enriching because it provides the chance to contribute new ideas and solutions to the problems or conflicts that we are facing.”
“In the recent past, the Church’s work of mediation, which led to the release of dozens of prisoners, is a sign that this road is possible in our country, and this should extend as well to other sectors and groups in the nation.”
They emphasized the importance of the family as “the school of humanity” and the source of values. However, they warned that family life “has greatly deteriorated, with grave consequences that have repercussions in the lives of people and in society.”
To promote “the desire to be good and the practice of virtue,” the bishops proposed that the Church work together with families, schools and media to educate youth.
They called on Christian youth to work toward a hope-filled future by promoting the Gospel in Cuban society, saying their “enthusiastic response…is necessary today to carry out the mandate from Christ to renew the evangelization of our people without ceasing.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pointing to his faith in Christ and reliance on the mercy of God, a man in Argentina has voiced public forgiveness to the man who murdered his brother.
“If God forgives us every day and gives us the chance to ‘start over,’ how can I not forgive somebody else?” Hernan Prado said with tears in his eyes during a march his family convened for forgiveness and repentance on Sept. 9.
Around 3,000 people took part in the march.
“The man who killed my brother is also my brother. That is what I want to instill in my nephews and children. I choose to forgive and to extend forgiveness,” Prado said.
Prado’s brother, Sebastian, was killed outside his house in Mendoza, Argentina, as he sat in his car with his two children Sept. 6.
Sebastian was preparing to leave for a family reunion when a man approached and tried to steal his car, according to reports. Although he fought back, he was shot three times and eventually died in the emergency room despite efforts to save his life.
Prado said his offer to forgive the killer comes from his faith.
“I am a Catholic and I believe in Jesus Christ,” he said.
If he ever meets his brother’s murderer face-to-face, Prado says he “would hug him, cry a lot and tell him I could be like a brother to him. That I weep for him and I weep for my brother.”
“In fact, if he comes to talk to me I would not turn him in,” Prado continued. “The police have that job. If he asks for forgiveness, that’s enough for me. I am not going to hold him or anything.”
Prado recalled the instruction of Pope Francis to go to “the peripheries, where there is sorrow, where the people are in need of love.”
“A person who kills is a person who has not experienced love. If we don’t begin with that, it’s going to be very difficult,” he said.
Vatican City, Sep 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
During today's general audience, Pope Francis continued his reflections on the theme of the Church as mother, saying that it is she who accompanies and intercedes for us in life.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters: today I wish to return to the image of the Church as our Mother,” he told those gathered in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 18, “by reflecting on all that our earthly mothers do, live and suffer for their children.”
The Pope reflected on how our mothers, through their “tenderness and love,” show us which path to follow in life, “so that we may grow into adulthood.”
“So too the Church orients us on the path of life, indicating the way that leads to maturity.”
Our mothers know both “how and when to accompany us with understanding,” Pope Francis said, observing that it is this companionship that “leads us back when we wander off the right path.”
“The Church also accompanies us in mercy, in understanding, never judging us or closing the door, but offering forgiveness to help us return to the right course.”
The pontiff then emphasized how mothers “never grow tired of interceding for us, no matter our failings,” and how the Church also “stays with us and, through prayer, puts into the hands of the Lord all our situations, difficulties and needs.”
“And so we see in the Church a good Mother who indicates the path to walk in life, who always accompanies us in patience, mercy and understanding, and who places us in God’s hands.”
Pope Francis also spoke of the “international Day of Peace” which the United Nations celebrates each year on Sept. 21, encouraging all of the pilgrims to continue praying for peace in the most vulnerable places of the world.
“I invite Catholics from around the world to join with other Christians to continue to ask God for the gift of peace in the most troubled parts of our planet,” he said.
“May peace, the gift of Jesus, always live in our hearts and support the intentions and actions of the leaders of nations and all people of good will.”
The pontiff asked the pilgrims and audience members to commit themselves to “encouraging all efforts for a diplomatic and political solution of all the focus points of war that still are a cause for concern.”
He expressed that his thoughts, “go especially to the dear people of Syria, whose human tragedy can only be resolved through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for justice and the dignity of every person, especially the weakest and most defenseless.”
The Pope then gave the final blessing, welcoming all those who were present from other countries, including Argentina, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, India, Canada, Poland and the United States.
San Diego, Calif., Sep 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop Cirilo B. Flores was appointed Bishop of San Diego today, Sept. 18, succeeding Bishop Robert H. Brom, whose resignation, having reached the age limit of 75, was accepted by Pope Francis.
Bishop Flores had served as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of San Diego since Jan. 4, 2012.
He was born in 1948 in Corona, Calif., and after completing undergraduate studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, he received a law degree from Stanford. He practiced law in California for 10 years before entering St. John's Seminary in Camarillo in 1986, studying for the Diocese of Orange in California.
Bishop Flores was ordained a priest in 1991, and served in several parishes. In 2009, he was consecrated a bishop, and appointed auxiliary bishop of the Orange diocese.
He served there until his 2012 appointment as coadjutor bishop of San Diego, meaning he would automatically succeed Bishop Brom upon his retirement. Bishop Brom had served as San Diego's bishop since 1990.
Pope Francis made two further episcopal appointments today: Archbishop Jaime Spengler was made Archbishop of Porto Alegre, in Brazil; and Bishop Antonio Di Donna was appointed Bishop of Acerra, in Italy.
Denver, Colo., Sep 18, 2013 (National Catholic Register) - Two buses driving up to St. Vincent de Paul School in Denver late Friday, Sept. 13 were cheered by weary parents and excited siblings.
The 56 students and 11 dedicated adults inside, including school staff, parent chaperones and John Paul II Adventures Outdoor Lab staff, were not coming back from a victorious sporting event but have the rare distinction of surviving the “Flood of 2013.”
Inside, the grimy seventh-graders who trudged through muddy water to get to the buses made a long three-hour trip from Allenspark where they were evacuated Thursday from floods surrounding their cabins at High Peak Camp near Estes Park.
They forged a special connection to each other and a newfound respect for Mother Nature having witnessed firsthand the state’s epic rainfall that caused five confirmed deaths, turned highways into lakes, caused thousands to be evacuated and left thousands more homeless.
After only a few hours of sleep many of the seventh-graders who attended the leadership retreat were back at the school on Saturday afternoon to celebrate its annual fall festival. The students worked the booths to gain service hours in preparation for the sacrament of confirmation they will be receiving in the spring.
“We got to see God through nature even though it was a tough time,” said Luke K. Krukowski, 12. “We were safe so the hardest part was the other evacuated people at the camp who lost their homes in the flood.”
Classmates Jake Taylor, Luke Maxfield, Drew Renner and Billy Mottram agreed the adults kept the students calm but they knew the situation was serious when flooding near the camp was knee-deep. They saw portions of the highway washed away and sinkholes.
“We knew we were stuck there but at least we had our homes back in Denver,” said Luke Maxfield.
Savannah Viereck, 12, agreed. “We weren’t able to get home right away but many people now don’t have homes.”
Caroline McGrail and Annie Seier said the worst part of the ordeal was not being able to shower for several days. The students were supposed to return Thursday and most packed few clothes.
“When we drove up to the school and saw everyone cheering, it kind of felt like we won the Super Bowl,” McGrail joked.
Anxious parents in Denver were informed throughout the ordeal that their children were safe, warm, and had food and supervision. However, that communication was not instant or easy because the stormy weather interfered with the adults getting phone or Internet access to update school Principal Sister Maria Ivana Begovic, O.P., who in turn shared that information with parents.
“No one ever doubted that the children were safe and in good hands,” the Dominican sister said. “But some parents wanted reassurance because they couldn’t hear their child’s voice or see a photo. There were no phone landlines working or cell phones. It was an opportunity for everyone, including me, to trust in the Lord.”
Once the children were safe, everyone was able to reflect on the important impact of the trip, she said.
“It is very powerful that this was a Catholic leadership retreat and our seventh-graders experienced it on a whole different level,” Sister Begovic said. “Individuals were working behind the scenes to get them home safely and the Lord provided us in abundance with examples of Christian leadership.”
Assistant Principal Heather Grams, who students called “their hero,” accompanied by Sandy Harem, director of John Paul II Adventures leadership program, hiked throughout the area to find Internet connection and working phone lines. Harem, along with her dedicated staff, also stayed with the children until they were rescued even though they could have gone home.
“In this day of kids having cell phones and immediate access, it was particularly hard for this generation,” said parent chaperone Lynn Tartell, who made the trip with her daughter, Sarah, 12.
Tartell’s husband, Joe, and their older daughter, Megan, a Regis Jesuit High School student, considered driving to the camp but heeded Sister Begovic’s request to trust they would get the group home safely.
“I was texting my husband and in the middle of the text we lost the connection,” Lynn Tartell said. “We had no communication for a day and that was very hard on him. He was up all night worrying about us.”
Megan Tartell said they stopped watching the television reports because it was causing them too much anxiety.
The group left Denver on Wednesday when the rain was steady but light. This is the first year the seventh-graders took the leadership retreat. A group of eighth-graders were at the camp earlier in the week and left before the storm.
On Wednesday evening, Sarah Tartell said some of her classmates felt a special connection to God when they were praying.
“It started to pour rain and it was so pretty,” she recalled. “The girls were singing their hearts out.”
But the next morning the group awoke to high water around the cabins and an issue about power at the camp. Grams and the other adults agreed with the option to carpool the group to higher ground at the Highland Presbyterian Camp in nearby Allenspark, which the Red Cross has used previously for shelters in times of crisis. The camp became a makeshift shelter but Red Cross officials could not get there because of washed out roads.
Tartell said the chaperones drove the students to the new location with music playing on the car radios because they didn’t want to alarm the students. But once the adults were alone they tuned the radio to KOA and understood the severity of the situation.
“Everyone was very nice at the camp and the locals knew which roads were passable and which roads were not,” she said. “The teachers kept the students busy with new activities.”
The adults were able to keep the students positive and in good spirits, despite a challenging situation. An older group of visitors already staying at the camp were quilters and taught some of the students how to quilt. The students also played a game they dubbed, “Survivor: The Flood” based on the Biblical characters of Noah, David and Jonah. They hiked, sang songs, and recited the rosary.
“We read through James Chapter I on trials, perseverance, and the rewards of enduring challenges in order to grow in faith,” Grams wrote in an email to parents.
Several area residents evacuated to the camp engaged the students in conversations.
“Many of them already knew their homes were destroyed but they were so thrilled they just got out with their dogs and other animals,” Lynn Tartell said. “Our kids really understand that kind of loss now.”
The students said the experience brought them closer together as a class.
“When we first got there, there were three groups of girls visiting together,” Sarah said. “But when we all ended up sleeping in the dining room together, we stayed up most of the night talking and learning a lot more about each other.”
Early Friday, when the heavy rain finally subsided, the group went outside and sat together in quiet prayer.
“We finally could see the mountains,” Lynn Tartell said. “We all listened and talked to God.”
The group knew they needed to leave when the buses were available Friday evening because another storm was being predicted, which could have further delayed their return and compromised safe travel. They arrived home to teary-eyed parents, clapping siblings and the ultimate celebration meal: pizza.
Posted with permission from Denver Catholic Register.
New York City, N.Y., Sep 18, 2013 (CNA) - A U.S. religious liberty group and a Mexican development organization are holding a seminar at the United Nations to advocate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in a way that respects human life and the family.
“At this crucial time in history when the sanctity of life and the human family are assaulted at every turn, there is an urgent need to address delegates of the United Nation and make them aware of the importance of protecting the dignity and freedom of every human being,” Alan Sears, the president, CEO and general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, said Sept. 18.
“Every innocent life deserves to be protected,” he added.
The Sept. 19 event, scheduled for 3 p.m. Eastern Time in the Conference Building at the United Nations, aims to present solid research and development paths to U.N. delegates, dignitaries and other decision makers.
The seminar, titled “Life and Family: A Real Approach to Millennium Development Goals,” will be webcast live at webtv.un.org. The Alliance Defending Freedom and Incluyendo Mexico are co-sponsoring the event.
The seminar focuses on the four international development goals concerning education, poverty, maternal health and infant mortality.
Dr. Elard Koch, director of the Chile-based MELISA Institute, will present research showing that countries with abortion prohibitions like Chile and Ireland have witnessed dramatic improvements in maternal health and significant decreases in infant mortality.
Sociology professor Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin will present case studies on the link between strong family bonds and a solid education in poverty reduction.
The event sponsors say that development goals can be reached while strengthening the early personal formation of children and protecting the lives of the innocent unborn.
Sears strongly criticized efforts at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva that seek to decriminalize abortion worldwide.
“This is a blatant attack on the sanctity of life,” said Sears, who will speak at the seminar.
Rosa Leal de Pérez, First Lady of Guatemala, will also address the gathering.
After the seminar, a reception at the Millennium Hotel at One United Nations Plaza will honor Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has a special website on the Millennium Development Goals and the Thursday seminar at www.alliancedefendingfreedom.org/MDGs.
Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, prayed for the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, saying victims and their families can find consolation and comfort in the hope given by Christ.
“We pray first of all for all of those who died in the tragedy yesterday at the Navy Yard in southeast Washington,” the cardinal said at a Sept. 17 Mass at Washington’s Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
“We commend to the hands of our merciful and loving God who alone can judge human hearts, the souls of all who died yesterday.”
He urged consolation for the victims and their families, quoting one of Christ’s beatitudes: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“Our consolation is based on hope,” the cardinal taught in his homily. “This hope is a constant awareness of the power of Christ’s resurrection and our destiny to be with him and the souls of the faithful departed in heaven.”
Twelve people were killed by a gunman, and eight were wounded in the Monday shooting spree at the Washington Navy Yard. Three of the survivors, including a police officer, suffered gunshot wounds, the Associated Press reports. Many of the victims were civilian employees and contractors; none were active duty military personnel.
Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old man whom officials have identified as the gunman,was killed by police. He was a contract employee and former Naval reservist who used a valid pass to access the facility, according to reports. He reportedly had a history of mental problems as well as two previous arrests for gun-related incidents.
Police initially sought information about possible other gunmen, but now believe Alexis acted alone.
The spree’s consequences reverberated throughout the capital. Local schools went on lock down, Ronald Reagan National Airport grounded flights, and Senate officials shut down the Senate side of the Capitol.
Cardinal Wuerl stressed the healing nature of the Mass, both for victims and their loved ones. He said this healing “touches what is wounded and broken in our world.”
“Our prayer for healing is offered as well for whatever it is that fostered such a culture of violence, a culture of death.”
“Only love can conquer violence. Only love supersedes and is victorious, even over death.”
He prayed for “the healing that peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice bring to our world.”
Cardinal Wuerl said that Christians, by virtue of their baptism, must build “a civilization of love” and make manifest in the world “God’s kingdom of peace, truth, justice, kindness, compassion, understanding.”
He said the suddenness of the crime should remind everyone to be spiritually prepared.
“Death came suddenly and in an unexpected manner to those at work at the Navy Yard. It is a reminder to all of us that we know not the day nor the hour of death’s visitation. Jesus calls us always to walk in a way that we can go to meet him when that moment comes.”
Military Archbishop Timothy M. Broglio, who often visited the navy base and celebrated Mass at its chapel, said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the shooting.
On Sept. 16 he said Mass on behalf of the shooting victims and their families at the Archdiocese of Washington’s pastoral center. He urged society to restore “respect for life.”