Damascus, Syria, Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Only peace can end the suffering of Syria’s Christian refugees, say local Christian leaders who emphasize the need to give refugees hope alongside material support.
“It is chaos, it is violence, it is blood, it is death. Life has been paralyzed. We have lost everything,” Archbishop Theophile Georges Kassab of Homs told Aid to the Church in Need. “What can I tell you more? Only one thing, in the name of the majority: enough, enough, enough!”
“Now, before anything, our people need love and devotion, the archbishop added. “They need material support as well. They need, really, everything, because they have left everything.”
In a recent video report, Aid to the Church in Need focuses on the sufferings of Christians since the conflict between rebels and the Syrian government began more than two years ago. Over 100,000 have died and millions have fled their homes as refugees, many leaving the country.
Twenty-five percent of Syrian Christians have been displaced or have left the country since the conflict began, the agency says.
A father and former businessman who is now a refugee in Lebanon said that what he saw one day while taking his son home from school was a turning point.
“There were bodies on the street. It was almost impossible to get back home,” he said. “That is when I decided to leave Syria and take my family to a safe place.”
Another refugee from the western Syrian city of Al-Qusayr said that the Christian minority lived in harmony with the wider community until the rebels arrived and the fighting began.
“One day, they came to our house and asked us to leave, threatening us that if we didn’t they would kill us,” he said.
One Christian man, who fled with his family to Beirut, said he noticed his friends acting differently toward him as the crisis escalated.
“The problem is, the Christians, in the eyes of the opposition, are on the side of the regime. Conversely, in the eyes of the regime, we are blamed for not taking sides,” he said. “The truth is, we don’t want to take sides. The Christians simply want peace for Syria.”
Father Andrzej Halemba, head of Middle East Projects for Aid to the Church in Need, said the situation is “so complicated.”
“Nobody would like to say there is a civil war,” he explained. “The opposition wants to say that it is fighting for democracy. The government is saying that they are fighting with terrorists, because there are so many terrorist acts over there.”
The conflict also has an international impact, and Fr. Halemba described it as “a proxy war” in which “the poor civilian people are paying a very, very high cost.”
In addition, conflict in the war-torn city of Homs has seriously affected the Christian community there.
Fr. Halemba explained that the city once had a “beautiful tradition of Christians” who brought their wisdom, business and peace.
“They were highly respected, always,” he said, but this has changed.
Now, he warned, “Christians are being targeted. They are being kidnapped. They are being held for incredible ransoms you can never imagine to pay.”
“They suffer and they weep every single day. They are asking very hard questions, as Christians: ‘Why are we suffering? We are good people. We are not violent people. Is God punishing us? For what?’”
“We have to help find an answer to that,” the priest said, urging others around the world to think about Syria’s future.
“We have to give them hope.”
Hiroshima, Japan, Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Hiroshima is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year with programs for spiritual renewal, a focus on priestly vocations, and an effort to draw attention to local martyrs.
“Our series of faith renewal programs has boosted devotion, in reaffirming our life and renewal during the Year of Faith,” Fr. Harada, chancellor of the Hiroshima diocese, told CNA Oct. 2.
In May, Bishop Thomas Maeda of Hiroshima announced at an annual Mass in memory of the Tsuwano martyrs that he was initiating the diocesan phase of the cause for their canonization.
The Tsuwano martyrs were killed for their faith in the town of Tsuwano, around 90 miles west of Hiroshima, between 1603 and 1912. In the years following 1868, 36 Japanese Catholics died in exile at Tsuwano, locked in small cages, though they were reportedly comforted by a Marian apparition.
Every year, the people of the Hiroshima now undertake a “walking pilgrimage” with a Marian statue to the top of the hill where the Tsuwano martyrs were executed, Fr. Hattari, head of the local organization Apostles of Peace, related to CNA.
This year, the statue of Our Lady of Tsuwano, as well as one of Our Lady of Fatima, will tour various parishes of the diocese to commemorate both the Year of the Faith and the diocesan anniversary, returning to the cathedral Nov. 24 for the Year of Faith's closing Mass.
“We pray during the Year of Faith especially for vocations to the priesthood in each parish,” Fr. Hattari emphasized.
Taking the opportunity this year to “think about our faith,” Fr. Hattari added that diocesan initiatives will not be ending, but will continue with the theme “the light of faith.”
In August, the diocese commemorated the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States in 1945.
A ten-day program of peace included a symposium, Masses, inter-religious prayer, exhibitions, and concerts meant to bring worldwide attention to efforts for peace. The event was attended by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
In 1981, Blessed John Paul II visited the city and appealed to the world, proclaiming that “to remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.”
The Hiroshima diocese was founded in 1923 as a vicariate apostolic, and was elevated to a diocese in 1959. The diocese has an area of over 1,200 square miles and a population of 7.7 million, of whom 0.3 percent - or 21,500 - are Catholic. Its 47 parishes are staffed by around 73 priests.
Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As the U.S. government shutdown continues, lawmakers are being urged to authorize the celebration of Mass by contract priests, who could otherwise face arrest for their routine ministry on military bases.
“Until the Federal Government resumes normal operations, or an exemption is granted to contract and (government services) priests, Catholic services are indefinitely suspended” at many military installations served by these priests throughout the world, warned John Schlageter, general counsel for the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Lawmakers’ failure to reach an agreement on federal spending and the health care law prompted a shutdown of many government agencies that were not deemed “essential,” beginning Oct. 1.
In addition to affecting federal workers and participants in federal programs, the shutdown has impacted military bases throughout the world, where many Catholic service members rely upon contract priests for Sunday Mass and other sacraments and ministries.
In an Oct. 3 op-ed, Schlageter warned that non-active duty Catholic priests have been banned from carrying out their ministry on military installations during the government shutdown, meaning that some military personnel will be forced to “go without Mass.”
He explained that there is “a chronic shortage of active duty Catholic chaplains,” with only 234 active-duty priests serving the some 275,000 Catholic members of the military.
To help ease the burden, he said, government service and contract priests are employed by the government to “ensure that a priest is available when an active duty Catholic Chaplain is not present.”
However, the government shutdown means that many of these priests on military bases across the globe “are not permitted to work – not even to volunteer.”
“During the shutdown, it is illegal for them to minister on base and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.”
Shortly after his op-ed was released, a resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives to allow religious services to continue on military installations during the shutdown.
The resolution “recognizes that the performance of religious Services and the provision of ministry are protected activities under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
It asks Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to “permit the performance of religious services on property owned or maintained by the Department of Defense” and to allow military chaplains to perform their ministry to the same extent that they did before the shutdown.
The resolution was passed by the House in a 400-1 vote on Oct. 5 and has now been sent to the Senate.
Military Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio applauded the resolution as a way to ensure that men and women in uniform can practice their faith as they serve their country.
“Military personnel enjoy, like all Americans, the First Amendment guarantee of the ‘Free Exercise’ of religion,” he said in an Oct. 5 statement. “In the current political climate, however, nothing can be taken for granted.”
The archbishop thanked the House of Representatives for supporting the measure and voiced hope that the Senate will also “act decisively” to support the First Amendment.
Vatican City, Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop Athanasius Schneider has recently published his second book on Eucharistic devotion in the hopes that it will foster greater reverence for the sacrament amongst the faithful of his diocese.
“It is necessary to give a good catechism on what the Eucharist is because we have to be aware of it. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman 'if you knew the gift of God,'” the bishop said in a Sept. 27 interview with CNA.
Bishop Schneider, whose most recent book “Corpus Christi - Holy Communion and the Renewal of the Church” was published earlier this year, is the auxiliary bishop of Kazakhstan in Central Asia – a country whose religious population is roughly seventy percent Muslim, and thirty percent Christian.
During the interview, the bishop expressed the great need to be more reverent in the way that the Eucharist is treated, explaining that the aim of both of his books is to increase respect of the Sacrament, especially amongst the faithful in his diocese.
“If people only knew the greatness of the Eucharist. We have to stress its greatness in homilies and in catechism,” he said.
“When I recognize all the richness and deepness and divinity of the Eucharist of the Lamb of God, before whom the angels prostrate themselves in heaven – as we read in the Apocalypse – then I also have this spontaneous, natural desire to prostrate myself when I receive Him.”
The bishop voiced his perspective that the Eucharist ought to be received in the mouth only, explaining that the tradition of receiving the Host in one’s hand “never existed in the Church,” and was “was invented by Calvinists in the seventeenth century,” but was not present in the first centuries.
“There was communion received in the hand but in a totally different manner and I explain this in my second book (Corpus Christi).”
Referencing the lack of true devotion present in the attitudes of many in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop Schneider urged that “only when we try to cure this wound of the Eucharist, only then we will have a real and stable renewal of the Church. A springtime.”
Vatican City, Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his daily Mass, Pope Francis touched on the importance of prayer and forgiveness in the life of a Christian, warning against common attitudes which “close the door” to God.
“The Lord tells us: 'the first task in life is this: prayer.' But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord,” said the pontiff during his Oct. 8 daily homily.
Pope Francis celebrated his daily Mass in the Santa Marta guesthouse of the Vatican, where he chose to reside shortly after he was elected as Bishop of Rome.
The Pope centered his reflections on the prophet Jonah from the first reading of the day and on Martha from the gospel narrative, stating that both characters are united by a similar problem: neither of them knew how to pray.
Recounting the story of sisters Mary and Martha in the gospel reading, the Holy Father said that when Martha asked Jesus to have Mary get up and serve, Mary chose the “better part,” meaning “that of prayer, that of the contemplation of Jesus.”
“To the eyes of the sister, this was time lost, it even seemed, perhaps, a bit of a fantasy,” he said, “But who wants that? The Lord: ‘This is the better part,’ because Mary heard the Lord and prayed with her heart.”
When coming from the heart, “we know that prayer works miracles,” he emphasized, reflecting on how the Lord delivered the people of Nineveh after Jonah had preached to them about the imminent destruction of the city.
The inhabitants were saved, he noted, because they believed the words of the prophet and were converted, “and from the greatest to the least called upon the divine forgiveness with all their strength.”
Although the people of Nineveh were redeemed, Pope Francis highlighted the erroneous attitude of Jonah, who desired a harsh judgment for the people, rather than a merciful one.
“There are others like this stubborn Jonah” who mirror this attitude, he said. “He went, he prophesied, but in his heart he said: ‘But they deserve it. They deserve it. They were asking for it.”
“He prophesied, but he didn’t pray! He didn’t ask the Lord to forgive…only to beat them. They are executioners, those that believe themselves to be just!”
The Pope concluded his remarks by warning those present against prayer that is redundant, pessimistic and unforgiving, saying that Christians must always be careful to guard against the temptation to fall into these attitudes, and must always choose “the better part.”
He challenged those in attendance, stating that “we ourselves, when we don’t pray, what we’re doing is closing the door to the Lord. And not praying is this: closing the door to the Lord, so that He can do nothing.”
“On the other hand, prayer, in the face of a problem, a difficult situation, a calamity, is opening the door to the Lord so that He will come.”
“This is what praying is,” he stressed, “opening the door to the Lord, so that he can do something. If we close the door, God can do nothing! Let us think on this Mary who has chosen the better part, and makes us see the way, as the door is opened to the Lord.”
Vatican City, Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Holy See press office has announced the date and theme of the upcoming Synod of Bishops, which is slated to occur next fall and will address the pastoral approach to family issues.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi announced Tuesday that the synod will be held from Oct. 5-19 in 2014, during which the bishops will reflect on the theme of “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”
The Synod of Bishops was established by Pope Paul Vl on Sept. 15, 1965 after the Second Vatican Council, and according to the Code of Canon Law in reference to synodal assemblies, the Synod meets in an extraordinary general assembly when the matter under consideration requires a rapid definition.
During the press release, Fr. Lombardi noted that “It is very important that an extraordinary Synod has been convoked on the theme of the pastoral of the family.”
“This,” he said, “is the way in which the Pope intends to promote reflection and to guide the path of the community of the Church, with the responsible participation of the episcopate from different parts of the world.”
Fr. Lombardi also stressed the importance of the Church moving “as a community in reflection and prayer” as she discusses the pastoral direction of “the most important” themes today with the guidance of the Pope and the bishops.
The previous Synod of Bishops, which coincided with the beginning of the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict XVI, was held last October from the 7-28, where the bishops discussed the theme “The New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith,” the conclusions from which are still being drafted.
The Vatican spokesman also noted that yesterday Pope Francis attended the meeting of the Secretariat of the Synod which is taking place during the next few days. The secretariat is composed of around 15 clergy who are in charge of preparations for the next assembly.
Washington D.C., Oct 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - U.S. Supreme Court justices and government officials at an annual Mass invoking the Holy Spirit's aid were reminded of the important role of respectful dialogue in the search for truth and unity.
“We can and should debate, refine positions, truly listen to each other and seek consensus on essentials and respect details that may well be different,” Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas preached at the 61st annual Red Mass in Washington, D.C.
“If dialogue means anything, it means not only that we take another seriously but it means that we revere the other as a fellow human being with gifts and talents from God.”
The Red Mass is an annual Mass of the Holy Spirit offered for the sake of judges, lawyers, diplomats and government officials, a tradition dating back to 13th century France.
The D.C. Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on Oct. 6, the day before the start of the Supreme Court's 2013-2014 term.
In his homily, Bishop Farrell discussed the symbolism of the Red Mass, pointing to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which brought clear speech, insight, wisdom, and the common good, along with communication, humility, and “praying and speaking in God’s name over trying to make a name for oneself.”
The bishop lamented that the U.S. is currently facing “a time of highly polarized and polarizing rhetoric” which divides people and causes confusion.
“Among the things that we celebrate at this Mass today is the countercultural reality of God’s very Spirit hovering over us … and, as the Holy Spirit did at that first Pentecost, he now bestows wisdom, clarity, insight and, yes, unity.”
Unity is separate from uniformity, he clarified, because people can be united despite their differences.
“I deliberately said unity because the Holy Spirit is the source of unity on all that matters and the source of variety in and among the differences we have that make us who we are.”
Catholic theology itself is not a place of uniformity, but of spirited debate, he said, noting that although they remained united “in essentials,” there was diversity in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, who were teachers as universities were arising in the Catholic world.
“The same is true in the Church today and should be in our world today,” the bishop said. “We exacerbate tensions and deepen polarizations when we caricature another’s position and, worse, when we caricature another person.”
While there is room for disagreement on some issues, he continued, “there can be no place for derision or smugness.”
Catholics have a right to voice their beliefs with conviction in the public square, the bishop said, while also being respectful of those in the pluralistic society who do not share their views.
Honest and respectful dialogue requires us “to strike a balance in our words and rhetoric so that conviction should never become stridency and saying things with commitment should never become caricaturing anyone else’s positions or beliefs,” Bishop Farrell reflected.
“Petty partisanship and ever-politicizing rhetoric should have no place at all when men and women of goodwill come together to serve the common good.”
The bishop said that in order to have “the possibility of unity in diversity,” we must “admit our differences in honesty,” without “narrow-mindedness” or “mean-spiritedness.”
“When we see and revere in the other person of a different color or creed or ethnic background the image and likeness of God, then we together can move forward as God’s pilgrims on this good earth,” he stressed.
“When we respect differences of opinion in dialogue, we respect and revere the differences that provide variety and give texture to this great country of ours, made so by others having welcomed our forefathers and mothers.”
Chicago, Ill., Oct 8, 2013 (CNA) -
Catholic Charities of Chicago has rejected a $1,500 donation from a local restaurant which drew offense by releasing a burger topped with an unconsecrated host.
On Oct. 1, Kuma’s Corner announced its new “Ghost burger,” a cheeseburger topped with red wine reduction and an unconsecrated “Communion Wafer garnish,” which the restaurant parenthetically described as the body and blood of Christ.
The burger was created as a tribute to a Swedish band called “Ghost B.C.” that is currently touring. The band is known for its satanic lyrics and themes, with its lead singer dressing as a clergy member with skull face paint and other band members wearing distorted religious images.
“In the spirit of our undying reverence for the lord and all things holy, we give you the Ghost which we think is a fitting tribute to the supreme blasphemous activities carried out by the band itself,” Kuma’s Corner posted on its Facebook page.
In another post three days later, the restaurant acknowledged that some people had been offended by the burger.
The company’s representatives defended the controversial burger as being protected under the First Amendment and said they plan to continue offering it throughout the month of October.
The burger was not created “as a commentary on religion,” they said, adding that their menu items, which are regularly named after heavy metal bands, are designed “(n)ever in the spirit of offending anyone, and always in mindset of praising a band for the work that they do.”
However, in accordance with their “policy of supporting charity and Chicago at large,” they said the restaurant had made a $1,500 donation to Catholic Charities of the Chicago Archdiocese, “as we understand that they share our mentality of serving anyone in need from any walk of life.”
But Catholic Charities said that it will not accept the donation.
“The Eucharist is a central part of the Catholic faith and we strongly urge Kuma’s Corner to discontinue selling a burger that disrespects that faith and the faith of all Christians,” said director of communications Kristine Kappell, according to local news outlets.
Kappel said the restaurant did not contact Catholic Charities directly but made an online donation over the weekend, which will be returned, reports NBC Chicago.