Archive of December 12, 2013

Thai community pays tribute to 'unsung hero' Father Ray Brennan

Pattaya, Thailand, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA) - Observing the tenth anniversary of the death of Fr. Ray Brennan, a Redemptorist missionary from the U.S., the Thai community has launched fundraising initiatives to support the orphanage he founded.

Fr. Brennan was an extraordinarily “zealous, friendly, and exemplary” priest who fell in love with his mission and was in turn “loved by all,” Fr. Mathew Vrasak Buranapol, a Redemptorist and missionary companion to Fr. Brennan, told CNA Dec. 8.

Fr. Buranapol added that Fr. Brennan's mission of “love and charity” to give “dignity to human life” encouraged him to be a foster-father to the orphans and abandoned children of Thailand.

Fr. Brennan was born to a Catholic family in Chicago in 1932, and was ordained a priest of the St. Louis province of the Redemptorist order.

In the early 1960s he was sent to Loei in far-northern Thailand to administer a parish and to serve American troops in Thailand near the border with Laos and Vietnam.

After ten years he was sent to Pattaya, a city on the Bay of Bangkok, serving as a pastor and an auxiliary chaplain to American troops at the nearby Utapao airport and military base.

During a Sunday Mass in 1974, a women brought her baby and handed him over to Fr. Brennan; she could not keep the child, as she had lost his father. The priest accepted care of the child, and he eventually developed an orphanage.

The Father Ray Foundation now operates an orphanage in Pattaya which accommodates 850 children from across Thailand who have been orphaned, abused, born on the streets, and are disadvantaged or have disabilities such as autism or blindness.

The Redemporists associated with the foundation run a vocational school for the disabled, and a school for the blind which is under the patronage of Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

There are also two orphanages; an outreach center for those living on the streets; a day care; and a center for children with special needs, all operating under the motto “we never turn a needy child away.”

Fr. Brennan died Aug. 16, 2003, after becoming known across Thailand for his charitable work. He was buried in Pattaya. The Thai king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, sent emissaries to his funeral with a case of royal soil to be buried with the priest, the highest honor granted to the people of Thailand.

On the tenth anniversary of his death, the government of Pattaya organized a month-long commemoration, culminating with the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception at the city's promenade.

Thousand of people, including various religious communities and physically challenged children, participated in events to promote the legacy of Fr. Brennan.

Fr. Peter Srivorakul, president of the Father Ray Foundation, told CNA that the priest had changed Pattaya's image, and that more than 2,000 disabled children have secured livelihoods through the work he started.

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Congressman highlights ongoing Philippines recovery efforts

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2013 (CNA) - Despite facing a long path to recovery after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, the people of the Philippines have not given up hope, says a U.S. Congressman who recently visited the country.

“I met with numerous survivors who told us heartbreaking stories yet radiated a calm and inner peace,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s global health panel.

“One man told us how his father drowned only a few feet from where we stood and how he had stoically carried many waterlogged dead bodies to a mass grave. He said he nearly collapsed emotionally, however, when he carried the lifeless body of a three year-old girl,” the congressman continued.

“He said he just broke down, overwhelmed, and felt he could continue no more. Yet amazingly, a few hours later, there he was—determined to rebuild and overcome and full of faith in God.”

Rep. Smith and Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Al Green (D-Texas) toured the Philippines from Nov. 22-26 as a delegation from Congress.

They discussed the ongoing response to the typhoon and the current state of its victims at a Dec. 3 hearing at the U.S. Capitol.

The massive storm, locally known as Typhoon Yolanda, made landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 8 with wind speeds of 195 miles per hour, the strongest storm yet recorded. The typhoon killed over 5,000, while 1,600 are still missing and millions have been displaced from their homes.

Rep. Smith cited the encouraging words of Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, who said “the typhoon was the strongest in the word … but our faith in the Lord is even stronger … no calamity or natural devastation can quench the fire of our hope.”

“The Filipino soul is stronger than Yolanda,” the archbishop said.

Sean Callahan, CEO of Catholic Relief Services, told the congressional hearing that the most urgent needs for storm victims include shelter, water, hygiene, sanitation and food.

He said the massive amount of debris keeps storm victims from returning to their homes and will pose public health threats if not addressed soon.

The relief agency is also continuing its response to help victims of the October 2013 earthquake in the Bohol province of the country.

Rep. Smith commended the relief agency’s work in an interview with CNA.

“Right from the start, Catholic Relief Services was there and doing an extraordinary job of getting plastic sheeting, clean water capability, and other kinds of basics without which people would have been sicker if not dead,” he said.

Smith said the Catholic relief centers are providing “a whole lot of good things to help the people.”

He also praised the U.S. military’s “unbelievable job” in providing an emergency response. The work of the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy prevented “a far higher death toll,” he said.

Storm victims’ displacement from their homes is one of the key issues facing the Philippines, the congressman said.

“Four million people are displaced. It’s unprecedented,” he said.

Rep. Smith said the emergency response is now shifting to a recovery phase. Disease epidemics are a major threat and need to be “aggressively fought.”

One risk is Dengue fever infection, which is “very painful.” The disease is mosquito-borne and the stagnant water remaining from the typhoon provides a large breeding ground for mosquitoes.

“There’s much more that has to be done to kill these insects,” the congressman stated.

Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection transmitted through water contaminated with infected animal urine, is also a threat, as is rabies carried by stray dogs.

Furthermore, Rep. Smith said that the 19,000 Filipinos airlifted to Manila are vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers. Pregnant woman are also especially vulnerable during the storm recovery due to a lack of clean facilities, clean blood and accessible roads to hospitals.

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Zimbabwean bishops concerned by polarization after elections

Harare, Zimbabwe, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA) - The bishops of Zimbabwe have released a proposal for restoration and peace in the country following the national elections which were held in July and which have polarized the nation's people.

“We write this Pastoral Letter three months after the national elections were conducted, when the dust from those elections has settled down somewhat,” the bishops wrote in their Dec. 3 letter, released by charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“From where we stand as shepherds in God's vineyard, we are compelled to observe that the elections have left Zimbabweans more polarized than they were before and during the years of the Inclusive Government,” which ran from 2009 to 2013.

The Zimbabwean elections, held July 31, were won by president Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party; Mugabe has held power in the country since it gained independence in 1980. He was challenged primarily by Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change.

Elections in 2008 were contested and had been marred by violence after a period of hyperinflation. Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change agreed to a power-sharing agreement, with Tsvangirai serving as prime minister from 2009-2013.

Observer groups were divided on the freedom and fairness of this year's elections, but the violence experienced in 2008 was notably absent in 2013, with the bishops calling it “a generally and relatively peaceful poll during which reported incidents of intimidation, intolerance and violence were minimal.”

However, they said that “the political fault lines and their impact on all aspects of the lives of Zimbabweans are set not only to deepen, but also to stand in the way of progress and ultimately in the way of peace.”

The bishops noted “with apprehension that three months after the dust from the elections began to settle down, there are no visible prospects for improvement in the spheres of life in Zimbabwe that cry for restoration to give people hope for a better life.”

They pointed to four issues which need to be addressed for the common good of Zimbabwe. First, re-engagement with the international community, and then three areas of economic restoration: the national economy, especially manufacturing; the public sector, including health and education; and Zimbabwe's “historical status” as southern Africa's “bread basket” with “food security for her people.”

“The need to create viable platforms to address effectively the areas outlined above for the benefit of our people and country cannot be overemphasized.”

Since 2000, Zanu-PF has pursued “indigenization” of the economy, seizing land and other assets from white owners to give it to native Zimbabweans, and blocking immigrants from such places as Nigeria and China from certain economic sectors.

The country's bishops lamented that industrial sites “carry the appearance of ghost towns because the once-vibrant manufacturing sector is now largely moribund.”

“The dignity of our people has been severely eroded as they have become reduced to sellers of cheap goods and products at street corners in our cities in order to survive.”

They noted a severe lack of public services which impede Zimbabwean's “hope for a better life,” and emphasized that “it need not be like this.”

Zimbabwe has “abundant natural resources,” they said, and “resilient, God-fearing and highly skilled people,” which “gives us encouragement and hope that Zimbabweans can transform this unsatisfactory situation and in its place create a better life.”

For this to happen, the bishops wrote, there must be “political will at all levels of our society and institutions to work towards the achievement of the common good, political will to transcend differences in order for all Zimbabweans to work together as one family.”

In the face of polarization, they called for Zimbabweans to “transcend their differences and work together for the common good of our country.”

They pointed to the power-sharing government which had made “some visible progress” toward a better lot, especially for the poor, which was possible because the people and parties were collaborating for the common good.

The bishops lamented that the power-sharing agreement was “a temporary marriage of convenience,” and said it demonstrated that a “winner-take-all political arrangement will not benefit Zimbabwe and her people,” and that neither of the parties can alone “achieve the restoration … so sorely need(ed).”

They cited Benedict XVI's message for 2013's World Day of Peace, saying his insight “is the message Zimbabwe needs most.

The Pope had called for a “new economic model” based on fraternity and self-gift rather than consumption and profit-maximization.

The bishops wrote, “We in Zimbabwe can have 'life to the fullest' if we heed the words of Pope Benedict XVI as inspired by the Apostle John and put in place 'a new economic model' across all sectors of our economy, an economic model that is inclusive, that draws from the abundant pool of expertise that we are blessed with among our people and that transcends political and any other boundaries.”

They urged that experts be allowed to address the four areas of national need in a non-partisan way, without respect to their political or religious affiliation, saying, “this is the Agenda for Zimbabwe’s restoration that we urge the Government, the Opposition and all of us as Zimbabweans to embrace.”

“We believe that if we all pray to the Lord for conversion and belief in our hearts and observe the principles of fraternity and gratuitousness enjoined upon us by Pope Benedict XVI, the new model can work and the Lord will, as he promised, heal our land,” they concluded.

“We pray that the season of Advent and Christmas, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as one of us, may help us address all areas of our greatest need.”

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God speaks to us 'with the voice of a child,' Pope reflects

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During his daily Mass Pope Francis reflected on how God lowers himself to converse on our level, and encouraged those present to make more moments of silence in order to prepare for the birth of Jesus.

“When we look at a father or a mother who speaks to their little child,” the Pope explained in his Dec. 12 daily homily, “we see that they become little and speak with a voice of a child and with the manners of children…That’s how the Lord speaks to us.”

Addressing those gathered for his Mass in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, Pope Francis began by reflecting on the words of Isaiah from the day’s first reading in which the prophet assures the Israelites of God’s presence, and tells them not to fear.

What is important in this passage, the pontiff noted, is not only “what the Lord says” but also “how He says it.”

“When the child has a bad dream, he wakes up, cries...the father goes and says, ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, I’m here,” the Pope explained, adding that “That’s how the Lord speaks to us…He is near.”

Reflecting on how parents often speak to small children in the tone of the little child, the pontiff observed that “Someone looking in from the outside might think, ‘This is ridiculous!’ They become smaller, right there, no?”

But they do this, the Pope explained, “because the love of a father and a mother needs to be close…to lower themselves to the world of the child.”

“If the father and mother spoke to them normally, the child would still understand,” he continued, “but they want to take up the manner of speaking of the child.”

“They come close, they become children. And so it is with the Lord.”

Recalling the Greek theologian’s “difficult” word “synkatábasi,” literally meaning “the condescension of God who comes down to make Himself one of us,” which is used to describe this attitude, Pope Francis noted how parents also say “ridiculous things” to their children.

“‘Ah, my love, my toy,’” and “all these things” are said, the Pope explained, stating that the Lord also speaks to us in this way, quoting Isaiah when he says “‘you worm Jacob…you are like a worm to me, a tiny little thing, but I love you so much.’”

“This is the language of the Lord, the language of the love of a father, of a mother,” reflected the pontiff, explaining that although we understand the word of the Lord, we also need to “see how He says it.”

“And we must do what the Lord does, do what He says and do it as He says it: with love, with tenderness, with that condescension towards the brethren.”

Referring then to Elijah’s encounter with God when the Lord came to him as “as sweet breeze,” or “sound of silence,” Pope Francis observed that “that is how the Lord draws near, with that resonance of silence that is proper to love. Without making a spectacle.”

“He becomes small in order to make me strong; He goes to death, with that condescendence, so that I might live.”

This silence, noted the Pope, “is the music of the language of the Lord, and we, in the preparation for Christmas, ought to hear it.”

“Normally, Christmas seems to be a very noisy holiday,” the pontiff explained, emphasizing that “it would do us good to have a little silence and to hear these words of love, these words of such nearness, these words of tenderness.”

“(Let us pray) for this,” he urged, “and to be silent in this time in which, as it says in the preface, we are watchful in waiting.”

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Puerto Rico layman could become second black saint from Americas

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has approved the heroic virtues of Servant of God Rafael Cordero Molina, a layman from Puerto Rico who dedicated his life to fighting racism and educating black children.

If canonized, Molina would be the second black layman from the American continent to be made a saint, following St. Martin de Porres.

Molina, whose beatification cause is now moving forward, devoted more than 58 years of his life to teaching. He founded a school to educate children in the principles of the Christian faith and morality.

Born on Oct. 24, 1790, Molina was educated by his parents, as black individuals at the time did not have the right to education and his family could not afford to send him to a school.

In 1810 as an adult, he opened his own school and gave free classes to black children who were unable to pay for a teacher. Eventually, even white families began sending their children to study under him. Some of his students would become leaders of the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico.

Molina died on July 5, 1868. A few months before his death, he called on the state to complete the education of his last students.

Abbot Oscar Rivera, who is the postulator of Molina's cause for canonization, told CNA that the cause was opened in Puerto Rico in March of 2002.

He said there were some difficulties at first, “because it was believed that Molina was not known for his holiness, but he was.”

In addition, some claimed that “he was more a national hero than a religious person, as the liberal movement portrayed him as a bulwark of the liberal movement and had hidden his religious dimension as a practicing Catholic and catechist,” the abbot explained.

However, in 2009, a Vatican commission confirmed Molina's reputation of holiness and in 2012, it recognized his heroic virtues. Pope Francis approved the heroic virtues on Dec. 9.

Abbot Rivera said the announcement of the Pope’s approval is “very significant as our country is immersed in a crisis, and it is encouraging to know that a man discriminated against because of his race and his poverty, stood out because of his unmeasured commitment to others and his service of love through education.”

In a very racist society, the children educated by Molina “began to dream of a different society,” he explained. “They would later become the national heroes who would teach the people that discrimination against blacks was unjust.”

Moline was also “renowned as a good teacher and father,” Abbot Rivera said, adding that “he was a very good with kids.”

“He was a humble man who had the chance to have wealth and honors, and yet devoted himself in body and soul to the children, his treasure and his love.”

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Fraternity is the 'foundation' of peace, Pope's message says

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis' first message for the World Day of Peace was issued today by the Vatican, revealing the pontiff's special emphasis on fostering greater global fraternity in the process of obtaining peace.

The Dec. 12 presentation of the Pope's message showed how he refers to fraternity as “an essential human quality,” which he elaborates on in several key areas of society.

The theme of the upcoming day, which will occur on Jan. 1, 2014, is “fraternity as the foundation of peace and as the pathway to peace.”

“In this, my first Message for the World Day of Peace,” he opens, “I wish to offer to everyone, individuals and peoples, my best wishes for a life filled with joy and hope.”

“In the heart of every man and woman,” the pontiff writes, “is the desire for a full life, including that irrepressible longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced.”

Using the image of Cain's murder of Abel in Genesis, Pope Francis illustrates how this act demonstrates our capacity to betray our “inherent calling to fraternity.”

This fraternity, the pontiff explains, is “regenerated” in Jesus Christ, adding that “all are loved by God,” and because of this “no one can remain indifferent before the lot of our brothers and sisters.”

Quoting his predecessors, Pope Francis states that from them “we learn that the integral development of peoples is the new name of peace,” and that “not only individuals but nations too must encounter one another in a spirit of fraternity.”

Repeating the words of John Paul II, the Pope emphasized that “Peace…is an indivisible good. Either it is the good of all or it is the good of none.”

“It can be truly attained and enjoyed, as the highest quality of life and a more human and sustainable development, only if all are guided by solidarity as ‘a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.’”

Exploring the role of fraternity in the key aspects of poverty, economics, corruption and crime, and creation, the pontiff explains that “the lack of fraternity between peoples and men and women is a significant cause of poverty.”

“We are concerned by the various types of hardship, marginalization, isolation and various forms of pathological dependencies which we see increasing.”

“This kind of poverty,” he says, “can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of the hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life.”

There are also, reflects the Pope, “grave financial and economic crises of the present time – which find their origin in the progressive distancing of man from God and from his neighbor.”

“The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles,” he goes on to say.

“I express my hope that the daily commitment of all will continue to bear fruit and that there will be an effective application in international law of the right to peace, as a fundamental human right and a necessary prerequisite for every other right.”

Noting how both corruption and organized crime are great threats to fraternal living, the pontiff affirmed that fraternity “generates social peace because it creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good.”

“So a political community must act in a transparent and responsible way to favour all this. Citizens must feel themselves represented by the public authorities in respect for their freedom.”

Recalling how humanity has received nature from God as a “common gift,” the Pope stressed the importance of being responsible in the way we care for creation.

“Nature, in a word, is at our disposition and we are called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it,” the pontiff explains, stating that “the continuing disgrace of hunger in the world moves me to share with you the question: How are we using the earth’s resources?”

“Contemporary societies,” he notes, “should reflect on the hierarchy of priorities to which production is directed. It is a truly pressing duty to use the earth’s resources in such a way that all may be free from hunger.”

In the conclusion of his message, Pope Francis emphasizes that “fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed to.”

“But only love, bestowed as a gift from God, enables us to accept and fully experience fraternity,” he continues.

“Service is the soul of that fraternity that builds up peace,” says the Pope.

“May Mary, the Mother of Jesus, help us to understand and live every day the fraternity that springs up from the heart of her Son, so as to bring peace to each person on this our beloved Earth.”

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Pope names two new bishops for Mississippi and Texas

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has named two U.S. priests as the next bishops of the Dioceses of Jackson, Miss. and San Angelo, Texas.

Father Joseph R. Kopacz, a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., will head the Jackson diocese, while Monsignor Michael J. Sis of the Diocese of Austin will lead the west central Texas diocese.

Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton said the announcement brought “great joy” to Fr. Kopacz’s home diocese.

“In appointing him as bishop, the Holy Father has not only recognized Father Kopacz's many gifts and deep faith, but has also honored all of the faithful of the Diocese of Scranton by calling forth one of our own to the office of episcopal leadership and service in the Church,” he said Dec. 12.

He was born in Dunmore, Pa. and graduated from Dunmore Central Catholic High School, the Diocese of Scranton said. He attended St. Pius X Seminary in Dalton and received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Scranton and a master’s degree in theology from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, N.Y.

Bishop J. Carroll McCormick ordained Bishop-designate Kopacz to the priesthood in May 1977. He served at several pastoral assignments throughout the Diocese of Scranton before becoming vicar for priests and formation director at St. Pius X Seminary. He was named vicar general for the diocese in February 2005, a position he held until 2009.

In August 2009 he became pastor of St. Ann Church in Tobyhanna and oversaw its consolidation with two other churches to become Most Holy Trinity Parish.

Bishop Bambera said the parish will “undoubtedly feel a certain sadness” in losing their pastor and friend, but he voiced gratitude that the priest will “serve the broader Church,” particularly Catholics in the Diocese of Jackson.

Bishop-designate Kopacz has served as president of the Catholic Schools’ Board of Education, as an advocate in the diocese’s tribunal, as a member of the diocese’s finance council, and as a faculty member and formation director at St. Pius X Seminary. He was chaplain at a Catholic elementary school and coordinator of Hispanic ministry for Monroe County.

The bishop-to-be also holds a master’s degree in Latin from Fordham University and a master’s degree in counseling and psychology and a doctorate in human development from Marywood University.

He is the second of three children born to the late Stanley and Carmella Calormino Kopacz.

The Diocese of Jackson, based in the state capital, covers the central and northern area of Mississippi, about 37,600 sq mi. It has 52,500 Catholics in a population of over 2.2 million. The diocese has eighty priests, 31 of whom are priests of the diocese. The diocese has four permanent deacons and 197 vowed religious.

Bishop-designate Kopacz will succeed Bishop Joseph N. Latino, who resigned upon reaching the age limit for bishops of 75 years old.

The Diocese of Austin said Dec. 11 that the bishop-designate “considers his most precious treasure to be his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Msgr. Sis served for more than 13 years as parochial vicar and then pastor of St. Mary Catholic Center at Texas A&M University, where he helped the Catholic campus ministry grow and flourish.

The future bishop, born on Jan. 9, 1960, is the fourth of the five children of Raymond and Jancie Sis. He grew up in Bryan, Texas where he attended St. Joseph Catholic School and public schools, graduating from Bryan High School in 1978. He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1982 from the University of Notre Dame, where he attended Moreau Seminary.

Bishop John E. McCarthy of Austin ordained him to the priesthood in 1986. He studied theology at the Gregorian Pontifical University and at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He also has a licentiate in moral theology from the Alphonsan Academy of the Pontifical Lateran University.

Bishop-designate Sis has served in Hispanic ministry and as an administrator at Austin’s St. Mary Cathedral. In 2006 he left campus ministry at Texas A&M University to become a full-time vocations director for the Diocese of Austin. Pope Benedict XVI named the priest a monsignor in 2009. The next year, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez named him vicar general and moderator of the curia.

Bishop-designate Sis has been a volunteer with Big Brothers / Big Sisters of America and spent a summer of volunteer missionary service in Tanzania. In Rome, he worked with Ethiopian Refugees.

In the west central Texas Diocese of San Angelo, he will serve more than 85,000 Catholics in a total population of 619,000 in a territory of over 37,400 sq mi. His new diocese has 57 priests, 81 permanent deacons and 39 vowed religious.

Bishop-designate Sis succeeds Bishop Michael D. Pfeiffer, O.M.I., who resigned upon reaching 75.

Bishop-designate Kopacz is scheduled to be ordained a bishop Feb. 6 in Jackson’s Cathedral Church of St. Peter the Apostle. Bishop-designate Sis will be ordained as a bishop on Jan. 27 at San Angelo’s McNease Convention Center.

Pope Francis also named a new bishop of Tulle, France, Msgr. Francis Bestion. He will succeed Bishop Bernard Charrier, who has resigned upon reaching 75.

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Pope highlights 'joy of the Church' on Twitter anniversary

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA) - One year after the official opening of the papal Twitter account, Pope Francis invited his nearly 11 million followers on the social media site to remember the joy that characterizes the Catholic Church.

“We cannot think of a Church without joy. This is the joy of the Church: announcing to all the name of Jesus,” tweeted Pope Francis on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the one-year anniversary of the papal presence on Twitter.

The popular social media network allows users to publish messages of 140 characters or fewer. It boasts more than 230 million active monthly users across the globe.

The official “Pontifex” Twitter accounts were launched last December by Benedict XVI, who amassed some 2.5 million followers during his first month and built a following of several million before his resignation at the end of February this year.

Pope Francis continued his predecessor’s practice of sending short messages reflecting on Jesus and the Christian life after his March 13 election to the papacy. His tweets include prayers and short passages from his homilies.

The papal Twitter accounts have accumulated a total of more than 10.7 million followers. The Spanish-language account is the most popular one, with more than 4.3 million followers. The English-language account comes in second, with some 3.3 million followers.

Papal Twitter accounts have also been established in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Latin, Portuguese and most recently, Polish.

In July, Pope Francis was named “the most influential world leader on Twitter” according to a global communications report by Switzerland-based public relation and communications firm Burson-Marsteller.

The report found that Pope Francis’ Spanish-language tweets were re-tweeted an average of 11,116 times. His English-language tweets were re-tweeted by an average of 8,219 followers.

His closest competitor by this measure was U.S. President Barack Obama, whose tweets were re-tweeted on average 2,309 times.

The Pope is also the second most-followed world leader on Twitter, after President Obama, who has 40 million followers.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, pointed to the Pope’s use of Twitter as an inspiration and example of using new media to serve the Gospel message.

Speaking with journalist Carlo Melato in an interview for the Italian publication Tracce, the archbishop praised the decision of both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis to continue with the Twitter account despite insults and criticism.

He explained that evangelization requires a willingness to be insulted, just as Jesus faced revile on the Cross.

“Today the Lord's disciples must ask themselves how they can be a presence and what language to use according to the different instruments, from traditional to the most innovative,” the archbishop stressed.

He pointed to a need for the “active presence” of Christians to proclaim the Gospel on the internet, adding however, that this “does not mean that the traditional instruments lose meaning.”

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Rome's near-abandoned Guadalupe shrine marks feast

Rome, Italy, Dec 12, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Several hundred yards from the heart of the ancient forum, devotees are gathering in the run-down Basilica of San Nicola in Carcere today where one of the first copies of the Virgin of Guadalupe is on display.

“Practically, this icon of our lady isn't the original but the second icon of Our Lady that was brought with some difficulty to Italy,” recounts Fiorella Silvestri after the 11a.m. Mass. She's one of several dozen core members of the prayer group that meets every twelfth of the month at the shrine.

The Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe brings more of a crowd than usual – there are nearly 50. At the same time, as many as six million people are making the pilgrimage to the original back in Mexico while a 20,000 man-strong security force is guaranteeing their safety.

Here, the basilica's lone young doorman is distracted as he assembles a tarpaulin-covered nativity scene in a dark corner of the church.

This is Rome's shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

With its humble appearance and the peeling paint on the stone and plaster walls, this is another of Rome's great treasures. And as many of the myriad treasures that find a home in this city, not many know about it.

The image of Our Lady – which is believed to be the work of the 18th century maestro Miguel Cabrera – was brought to Rome by two Jesuit priests around 1770 and placed in St. Mary of the Vineyards Church at the base of the forum's Capitoline Hill. Several years later, it was moved 100 yards down the hill to San Nicola where it remains.

The small basilica itself was built using the ruins and foundations of nearby pagan temples. The eclectic columns holding up the ceiling are the originals, some graffitied with millennial Latin scribblings.

Construction on the church started just 68 years after the image of Our Lady miraculously appeared along with Castillian roses in Juan Diego's tilma in 1531.

The copy that now adorns chapel altarpiece is just small, measuring no more than 2 by 3 feet at most. The original at Mount Tepeyac just outside Mexico City is imprinted on a cape made of plant fibers measuring 5.5 by 4.6 feet.

Whereas in Mexico City, Our Lady is visited by between 18 and 20 million pilgrims a year. At San Nicola, she's tucked away in a side altar and sees the few visitors that trickle through to see the ancient Roman ruins accessible through the crypts of the Church.

“I don’t know why the devotion hasn’t grown more. We’ve tried in every way to increase interest… but it hasn’t grown any more than it has,” said Silvestri, who travelled in from the nearby city of Ostia for the occasion. She was one of the first members of the local Guadalupe prayer group.

“Unfortunately, this church is rather poorly take care of. Sorry if I say so.” Rebeca Vasquez Flores, another local member, originally from San Agustin Mimbres, Mexico.

She’s been coming to the church since she arrived in Rome for work 28 years ago. “What am I doing here? Well, I’ve come to venerate the Virgin. I really like to come when I have time, because I don’t always have time.”

“In my simplicity, I can tell you that God is in all of us and Our Lady cares for us and protects us as her children,” says Flores.

She was the only Mexican there besides the celebrating priest, Fr. Jose Luis Garcia Bernal from Guzman in Jalisco state.

He’s in his second year as a student in Rome, celebrating the Guadalupan feast away from home for the second time. He said he sees the same fervor as there is back in Mexico here, however. “Although this is not a very big celebration,” he said, “I’ve perceived the great gesture of devotion and dedication to Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

He was particularly struck by Italians singing the Spanish-language “La Guadalupana” hymn at the end of Mass.

“Perhaps in the form there are some differences (between this and the celebration in Mexico) but in terms of the faith and encountering Jesus in the Eucharist,” said Fr. Garcia Bernal, “I don’t think there are any differences.”

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