Archive of October 13, 2013

New film shows heroism, strength of English martyrs

London, England, Oct 13, 2013 (CNA) - The new film “Faith of Our Fathers” examines the Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation, whose fortitude is a reminder that persecution strengthens the Church, a presenter of the film has noted.

“I think perhaps the heroism and strength of Catholicism through that period, when we were given so many saints, martyrs and heroes, wouldn't have happened without the persecution,” said Fr. Marcus Holden, a priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark who was involved in the making of the documentary.

“And I think in our modern age, as Catholics, we're always best when we're losing, we're always best when were on the cross, we're always best when we're being persecuted,” he told CNA.

“And maybe that is providence.”

The two-hour film serves as a fit reminder of God's providence through human history, full of sin and seemingly lost opportunities.

While the English Reformation “might have been reversed” at various points in its course, “we can't second guess what God is doing,” Fr. Holden reflected. “That's the same with every situation in history.”

For some 150 years, from 1535 to 1679, hundreds of Catholics in England and Wales were martyred for the faith. In the documentary, Fr. Holden and Fr. Nicholas Schofield, a historian and priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, travel throughout England visiting locations associated with these martyrs.

These include monasteries destroyed by Henry VIII; a seminary on the site of St. Thomas More's home; a manor house which is home to a printing press used by St. Edmund Campion; the shrine of Our Lady of Ladyewell; Tyburn, the site in London where many martyrdoms were carried out; and several homes with priest holes and secret altars.

The film also features interviews with Bishop Terence Brain of Salford, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who discusses his devotion to St. John Fisher, the only martyr-bishop of the English Reformation.

“Faith of our Fathers: in search of the English martyrs” is produced by and available from Saint Anthony Communications on DVD, in multi-region format that can be played on both US and UK players.

Fr. Holden described the documentary as “a personal search … I was looking to understand something of my own background, what it means to be English and Catholic.”

“It's quite a personal search in some ways … and it's a sort of exploration. We feel that the viewer is travelling with us.” He said that while there were scripts for the film, “we at certain moments speak quite openly of how we feel in places, and our reaction to seeing some of these sights that we'd never been to before.”

He added that the scenes are “very evocative, and the camera comes with us, and the viewer kind of feels that he's on the same journey, as well.”

Fr. Holden said the reasons for his involvement with the film were threefold: the inspirational quality of the English martyrs, the fact that they have been a bit forgotten of late; and the recognition that “we are in a period of challenge today, with secularism particularly in this country, and the martyrs faced a very particular challenge in their time.”

The first lesson to be learned from these martyrs, he said, is that “we have to be true to the principles of our faith, no matter what the particular zeitgeist is, no matter what the cultural trend is, no matter what the state or the law happens to say. They were brave in the conviction of their faith to go against all those forces, and I think that's the challenge for Christianity in any age.”

He added that the English martyrs are inspirational for their “great charity to those around them; they never let the persecution lead to a sort of hatred. They always loved their country, and they loved those around them.”

“They are, quite, I suppose you'd say today, entrepreneurial: they were willing to adapt to the particular situation in which they lived, and do the best they could to evangelize, to be a witness to Christ in that situation.”

“We see the martyrs … finding ways to share their faith, to keep their faith alive, in ever changing circumstances, and I think that's a really interesting point, because today things are changing so quickly … and we have to be very innovative, and adapting, while remaining true to those principles of faith.”

These martyrs were much better known in the late 20th century in Britain, due to mass canonizations and beatifications. In 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized 40 English and Welsh martyrs, and Pope John Paul II beatified another 85 in 1987.

Since then, however, interest in the martyrs seems to have waned. “We certainly felt it was time to re-tell the story,” reflected Fr. Holden, cautioning that a new generation is being raised “who would know nothing of the martyrs … so we thought this was really important to help revive interest once again.”

The English persecution of Catholics “is a two-century long event,” Fr. Holden explained, and English “society even today, is affected by that history … because Catholicism was an underground religion for two and a half centuries.”

“The kind of heroism that's needed for generation after generation of families to maintain the faith, with fines, with estrangement from society, for some with execution,” he reflected, is quite an impressive story.

Returning to the theme of providence, Fr. Holden said that it was “very much in the mind of the martyrs that they were laying down their lives, not simply to be united to Christ in Heaven, not simply as a personal witness to the faith, but for the future of Christianity, of Catholicism, for the revival of it in this land.”

“So they very much were praying for the conversion of England, and when (Blessed John Henry) Newman converted to Catholicism … he attributed the 'second spring', the revival of Catholicism in the 19th century, to the blood of the martyrs of the Reformation period.”

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Head of Comboni Missionary Sisters urges renewal

Rome, Italy, Oct 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Ten years after the canonization of Saint Daniel Comboni, the head of the Comboni Missionary Sisters has exhorted the congregation’s members to deepen their focus on Christ as they pursue their founder’s work.

Sister Luzia Premoli, the missionary sisters’ general superior, in an Oct. 5 letter to the congregation, encouraged the sisters to continue to become “women of the Gospel, mothers and sisters of humanity in order to regenerate life and life in abundance.”

“I am convinced that we live in a precious time, which invites us to revive our hope, a time in which our thirst for authenticity can be abundantly satisfied, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the
Risen Lord, by the holiness of our founder and father, by the words and gestures of Pope Francis.”

St. Daniel Comboni, an Italian-born 19th century missionary, was the first bishop of Central Africa – what is now the Archdiocese of Khartoum. He founded the Comboni Missionaries in 1867, and the Comboni Missionary Sisters in 1872.

The saint encouraged African Christians to participate in the evangelization of their continent and fought for the abolition of slavery. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on Oct. 5, 2003.

Sr. Premoli said that the canonization has been a “great gift” from the Church to the order. She encouraged the sisters to reflect on what the canonization has meant in their lives, and in the life of their congregation.

“Where are we in the journey towards living holiness in our daily lives as a response to the Word of God and of Comboni?”

“Without a doubt, there is a crisis of human and spiritual values which does not spare religious life,” she continued, criticizing egoistic and self-referential attitudes.

She said that many commentators have said that religious life needs a “qualitative leap” and must be “converted,” in order to be “re-centered on Christ and on his word.” The congregation feels the need to return to “the sources of our charism in order to incarnate it in history today,” she said.

Sr. Premoli said the missionary sisters “need to pay deeper attention to our spiritual life.” She encouraged them to become “docile and open” to the words of St. Daniel Comboni and to the signs that God is showing them in the world.

The general superior encouraged the sisters to live the virtues of obedience and humility.

Obedience includes “listening to the cry of the poor, of suffering humanity and allowing this cry to call into question my, our, lifestyle,” she explained. In the context of a congregation, it means adherence to “a common vision” and the availability for ongoing community discernment.

Humility is an “attitude of the heart” learned from Jesus, she said. It follows the Virgin Mary’s declaration, “I am the handmaid of the lord.”

“Humility is a virtue of those who are strong, who keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the suffering servant. Humility sustains the faith and the trusting abandonment in God who is Love,” Sr. Premoli reflected. Humility allows its practitioners to “grow in trust and mutual respect” while recognizing their own gifts and putting them to best use.

“Humility enables us to accept our own weaknesses and sinfulness and to learn to trust in the mercy and pardon of God who makes us compassionate and merciful towards all,” the general superior added. She said this virtue is necessary to face “the inevitable conflicts of community and missionary life.”

Sr. Premoli prayed that through the intercession of St. Daniel Comboni, God will give the congregation “the grace of a renewed commitment to live in holiness our consecration to God and to his mission, forever.”

There are over 4,000 men and women in the Comboni missionary congregations.

The Comboni Missionary Sisters will hold their inter-chapter assembly this November at their mother house in Verona, Italy.

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Pope entrusts world to Immaculate Heart of Mary

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis on Sunday entrusted the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to her maternal care before the image of Our Lady of Fatima, asking Mary’s help to “revive and grow faith.”

“Our Lady of Fatima, with renewed gratitude for your maternal presence, we join our voice to that of all the generations that have called you blessed,” Pope Francis said at the close of Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13. “We celebrate in you the great work of God, who never tires of bending down with mercy to mankind, afflicted by evil and wounded by sin, to heal and to save it.”

The original statue of Our Lady of Fatima was moved from its home shrine in Portugal to St. Peter’s Square especially for the entrustment. The act marked the culmination of a weekend of Marian prayer and devotion. About 150,000 people attended the Sunday Mass.

The Pope asked the Virgin Mary to welcome the entrustment “with the benevolence of a mother.”

“We are certain that each of us is valuable in your eyes,” he said.

“Guard our lives in your arms: bless and strengthen every desire for goodness, revive and grow faith, sustain and illuminate hope, arouse and enliven charity, guide all of us on the path of holiness,” Pope Francis asked Mary.

He asked the Virgin Mary to teach mankind her “special love” for children and the poor, for the excluded and suffering, and for sinners.

“Gather everyone under your protection and deliver everyone to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus,” the Pope said.

Dave Corollo, executive director of the World Apostolate of Fatima in the United States attended the Sunday Mass and the preceding evening’s prayer vigil with Pope Francis.

He said that the Pope’s entrustment of the world to Mary shows Christians that the “ancient devotion” to praying the rosary is “a worthy practice.”

“Prayer moves mountains,” Corollo told CNA Oct. 13.  “Through the grace of actions like today, history can be changed.  It has happened before, and it can happen again.”

During his Sunday homily, Pope Francis had reflected on the importance of Mary’s faithfulness even in moments of difficulty. He said she shows the Christian response to God.

“Mary said her ‘yes’ to God: a ‘yes’ which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once,” he said. “Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt ‘yes’ at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the ‘yes’ she spoke at the foot of the Cross.”

The Pope encouraged the crowd to  think on the “full extent” of Mary’s faithfulness despite “seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross.”

“The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong,” he said.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Pope Francis led the crowd in the traditional Angelus prayer. He then greeted the various groups present, which included delegations from many international Marian organizations.

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Thank your family, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis on Sunday preached about the importance of gratitude and thankfulness for the Christian community and for family life.

“If we can realize that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength!” he told the crowd of about 150,000 gathered for Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13. 

“Saying ‘thank you’ is such an easy thing, and yet so hard!” his homily continued. “How often do we say ‘thank you’ to one another in our families? These are essential words for our life in common.”
The Pope gave special attention to the need to show consideration for one’s family.

“If families can say these three things, they will be fine. ‘Sorry,’ ‘excuse me,’ ‘thank you.’ How often do we say ‘thank you’ in our families? How often do we say ‘thank you’ to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted!”

The Pope spoke after a weekend of Marian prayer that culminated in a special act of entrustment of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to Mary’s maternal care.

As the original statue of Our Lady of Fatima stood nearby, Pope Francis reflected on Mary’s relationship with God as an example of Christian gratitude.

Mary’s words at the Annunciation, “my soul magnifies the Lord,” are “a song of praise and thanksgiving to God not only for what he did for her, but for what he had done throughout the history of salvation,” the Pope explained.

This history reveals that “God surprises us.”

“It is precisely in poverty, in weakness, and in humility that he reveals himself and grants us his love, which saves us, heals us, and gives us strength,” the Pope explained.

The journey to salvation also entails a commitment on the part of those following the path of Christ, which is not always easy.

“I ask myself: am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time?” the Pope said. “Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes it toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life.”

Fortunately, the Christian knows that “we can be unfaithful, but he (God) cannot: he is ‘the faithful one’,” he added.

One woman in the crowd shed tears as Pope Francis said that God in his mercy, “never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength.”

“This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins.”

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Pope praises ‘total love’ of Spanish martyrs

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his Sunday Angelus remarks in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis thanked God for the 522 priest, religious and lay martyrs who were newly beatified in Spain.

“We praise the Lord for this their courageous testimony, and we beg for their intercession in freeing the world from every violence,” said Pope Francis.

The martyrs were killed for their faith during the Spanish civil war of the 1930s. They join hundreds of other victims of the conflict’s anti-Catholic persecution who have previously been beatified. 

The Pope had sent a video message to those gathered in Tarragona, Spain for the Oct. 13 beatification ceremony. He said that he was “one in heart” with those in Spain.

“Who are the martyrs?” he asked in his video message. “They are Christians won over by Christ, disciples who have learned well the meaning of ‘love until the end’ that brought Jesus to the Cross.”

“Love doesn’t exist for distribution, love in portions,” the Pope continued. “Total love: when one loves, one loves until the end. In the Cross, Jesus felt the weight of death, the weight of sin, but he trusted completely in the Father, and he forgave.”

The martyrs followed Christ in his love and in his suffering. “Christ puts us ‘first place’ in his love; the martyrs have imitated him in this love until the end.”

The Pope then went on to encourage his listeners to take up this example for themselves.

“The holy fathers say, ‘let’s imitate the martyrs!’ One must always die a little in order to leave ourselves, our selfishness, our well-being, our laziness, our sadness, and open ourselves to God, and to others, especially to those who need it the most.”

This death to self calls for a rejection of a superficial kind of Christianity that lacks depth, explained the pontiff.

“We ask the intercession of the martyrs to be concrete Christians, Christians with works and not of words, not to be mediocre Christians, Christians ‘varnished’ with Christianity but lacking substance, they were not ‘varnished’ they were Christians until the end.”

“Let us ask them for their help to maintain a firm faith, even if there are difficulties,” he concluded.

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