Vatican City, Mar 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On Sunday afternoon Pope Francis left Rome with members of the Curia to spend their annual Lenten retreat in the hillside town of Ariccia, breaking from the tradition of holding it inside of the Vatican.
According to Vatican Radio the Pope left Vatican City for the retreat, lasting from March 9 – 14, a few hours after his weekly Sunday Angelus address.
In making the decision to hold the retreat here, thus removing themselves from the daily pressures, work and duties of the Curia, the Pope is stating that both silence and prayer have a crucial role in transforming our lives and our relationships with others, Vatican Radio reports.
Drawing attention to an interview given to Italian daily “Corriere della Sera” last week, the Vatican news source recalled how Pope Francis noted that annual retreats ought to be given more importance, saying “everyone has a right to spend five days in silence and meditation.”
Preaching for the pontiff and curia members during this year’s retreat is Msgr. Angelo De Donatis, who will be reflecting on the theme of "the purification of the heart" throughout the week.
Msgr. De Donatis oversees a parish in the center of Rome, and is highly regarded as a spiritual director for both priests and seminarians.
During the retreat the Pope and curia members begin everyday with Mass, breakfast and a meditation given by Msgr. De Donatis, which is followed by lunch and a period of free time before a second meditation is given at 4p.m. After this they pray Vespers, have Eucharistic adoration, and eat dinner.
Just outside of the Castel Gandolfo, where the papal summer residence is located, the retreat is being held at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat house in Ariccia, which has 124 rooms, 5 chapels, a large dining area, gardens and various meeting rooms.
With sunny weather on the forecast all week, it is predicted that the retreat participants will also take advantage of the retreat house’s outdoor Way of the Cross and Rosary trails, which have been placed throughout the woods for quiet meditation and prayer.
On March 14, the final day of the retreat, the participants will celebrate Mass together, have breakfast, hear the last meditation, and return to the Vatican at 10:30a.m.
Vatican City, Mar 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a statement released earlier this morning, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed Pope Francis’ apostolic trip to the Republic of Korea, which is slated to occur in August of this year.
“Welcoming the invitation from the President of the Republic and the Korean bishops,” Fr. Lombardi announced in his March 10 statement, “His Holiness Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Voyage to the Republic of Korea from 14 to 18 August 2014, on the occasion of the Sixth Asian Youth Day, to be held in the diocese of Daejeon.”
Although no further details were released, Pope Francis has both received invitations from and spoken of his desire to visit various countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Sri Lanka.
This visit will mark the first time in 25 years that a Pope has visited the Korean peninsula, the last visit occurring when Bl. John Paul II came in Oct. of 1989, following a 1984 trip where he canonized 103 Korean martyrs.
According to the Yonhap news agency, the Pope is also scheduled to meet with the county’s president, Park Geun – hye, during the visit, and will preside over the Mass of beatification for 124 other Korean martyrs, whose causes he approved last month.
During last month’s consistory of Cardinals, the Pope offered affectionate words to Korean Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung about the country, stating that “I love Korea.”
“The Korean people love you Holy Father” was the response of Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, who was elevated to Cardinal along with the 19 other men named by Pope Francis earlier this year.
In a statement published on AisaNews on March 10, the cardinal expressed his “warmest welcome to Pope Francis' visit to Korea.”
Recalling the Pontiff’s words to him during the consistory, Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung expressed that “now that he is really coming to our country, I can feel the abundant grace of God. The Holy Father's visit to Korea is (a) great joy and blessing to our country.”
“I am very grateful that the Holy Father has kept in mind the young people of Asia and the Korean faithful, and has decided to travel such long way to our country,” he said, praying that “Pope Francis' visit will bring reconciliation and peace to the Korean Peninsula.”
He also expressed his hope that the Pope’s visit “will be the chance for all Asia to feel the peace of our Lord,” and prayed that “this also be a time for the poor and the marginalized people to regain hope.”
Vatican City, Mar 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Known as the Barberini Gardens, the historic area of Castel Gandalfo has been declared open to the general public by Pope Francis, with tours available for those who are interested.
Located roughly 20 miles south of Rome in the Alban Hills, the gardens surround the Papal Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo and include the remnants of a Roman Villa, a 62 acre farm, and the ancient papal palace.
According to a March 4 article published on Vatican Radio, director of the Vatican Museums Antonio Paolucci explained that it was the Pope himself who made the decision to open the gardens of the Pontifical Villa, “where the splendor of art and the glory of nature co-exist in admirable equilibrium.”
Having officially opened on March 1, the gardens lay on an ancient Villa built by Emperor Domitian, who was both the third and last ruler during the Flavian dynasty.
With a view overlooking Lake Albano and beyond, as well as the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, visitors are now free to stroll throughout the ruins of the imperial theater and covered passageway where the emperor himself and his guests would walk when trying to escape from the heat.
A favorite summer getaway for Benedict XVI during his pontificate, the villa was conceded to the Holy See as one of their extra-terrestrial possessions under the Lateran pact of 1929.
Following major restoration efforts, the Villa has served as the Papal summer residence since the pontificate of Urban VIII during the 17th century, and has a small farm created by Pope Pius XI, which produces eggs, milk, oil, vegetables and honey either for local employees, or for sale in the Vatican supermarket.
Among the other secret treasures the gardens hold, visitors can also enjoy a magnolia garden, a path of roses as well as one of aromatic herbs and one of lilies, a square of holly oaks and the breathtaking Belvedere garden, from which there is a panoramic view over Latium, out to the coastline.
Pope Pius XII, who offered war refugees sanctuary in the Villa, died there in 1958, as did Pope Paul VI two decades later.
The gardens are open to the public in the mornings from Monday through Saturday, with bookings available for either individuals or groups on the Vatican Museums website. Individual tickets cost 26 euros, while group costs vary, with a beginning rate of 450 euro for a group of 1-15 people.
Bangalore, India, Mar 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
“Called to be a Catechist,” a book recently released by the Indian Catechetical Association, discusses the role of the laity in faith education in the country.
The book collects the talks delivered at the association’s 17th annual conference, held last year in Patna, and is edited by Fr. Gilbert Choondal, a Salesian priest.
“The papers explore the dimensions of a catechist, including historical, religious, pedagogical, and Oriental models, as well as discussing the challenges of being a catechists today,” Fr. Choondal told CNA March 7.
He said the book’s title indicates that “to be a catechist” is a “basic Christian vocation,” and the mission of all the baptized.
“The papers provide a new emphasis on the identity, role, and formation of catechists,” he explained.
Fr. Choondal described how the Church has placed a renewed emphasis on lay catechists since the Second Vatican Council, with numerous magisterial documents underlining the importance and training of catechists.
He lamented that “in recent years, the formation and role of catechists, especially of laypersons, has taken a backseat.”
Fr. Choondal made reference to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” in which he wrote, “many lay people fear that they may be asked to undertake some apostolic work and they seek to avoid any responsibility that may take away from their free time. For example, it has become very difficult today to find trained parish catechists willing to persevere in this work for some years.”
Fr. Choondal recounted that the Church in India is “both blessed and cursed by parishes dominated by clergy and religious … they have also hijacked the role of laity, making the laity withdraw from active involvement in the mission.”
“The Church in India has failed to train our laity or to equip them to be skilled catechism teachers,” he observed. “When I see Sunday catechesis dominated by catechists who are religious or seminarians, I feel that the Church has yet to grow.”
He added that while there are in some places numerous lay catechists, they often remain “faceless ministers of the Church” and are not sufficiently recognized or promoted in many parts of India.
Among the challenges facing Indian catechists, he noted first that of coordinating their training, at both regional and local levels.
“Another serious problem facing Indian catechesis is isolated catechetical content,” Fr. Choondal reflected. “In this present times, especially in all the major towns and cities, we face all three ritual churches living side by side.”
There are three major ritual churches which exist in India: the Latin Church; the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Fr. Choondal stressed that catechists in India do not have enough knowledge of the rites which are not their own, even though the three Churches are all Catholic and in communion with one another and are ultimately under the Pope.
“We need to have inter-ritual training of catechists and inter-ritual catechism textbooks so that we don’t live with ignorance about the Catholic faith,” he said.
“Called to be a Catechist” will serve as a guide to the modern challenges faced by catechists in India, and is published by Kristu Jyoti Publications in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state. It is priced at 150 rupees, or about $2.50.
Fr. Choondal is chief editor of the Word and Worship Commission of the National Biblical and Catechetical Liturgical Center, an official organ of the Indian bishops’ conference.
Damascus, Syria, Mar 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A group of Greek Orthodox nuns in Syria, as well as women from their convent’s orphanage, were returned safely Sunday, following their kidnapping by the rebel al-Nusra Front.
“God did not leave us,” said Mother Pelagia Sayyaf of the convent of St. Thekla, when they arrived in Damascus Monday, March 10.
One dozen nuns and three workers were abducted from St. Thekla convent in Ma’loula, located 35 miles north of Damascus, when the town was seized by al-Nusra Front Dec. 2. They had been held three months in the nearby town of Yabrud.
The abductees were brought through a rebel-held border crossing to Arsal, a Lebanese border town, where they were given to Lebanese officials, and then driven to Syria, where they have been taken to the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Damascus.
“As God is my witness, I tell you the al-Nusra Front treated us well,” one of the nuns told the press.
They explained that they were not forced to remove their crosses, but Mother Sayyaf said they did so “because we were in the wrong place to wear them.”
The nuns’ abduction had prompted objections and concerns from around the world. Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns in his Dec. 4 general audience. They appeared in a video broadcast on Al Jazeera in December.
Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, said the nuns’ release was “a sign of hope in this time of crisis.”
“I think they were not treated too badly, as it is not in the interest of the kidnappers to do this,” he told Aid to the Church in Need March 9.
Yabrud is now the focus of a major military campaign by the Syrian army and fighters of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist movement.
Greek Orthodox Bishop Louka al-Khoury credited the military action, saying “what the Syrian army achieved in Yabrud facilitated this process.”
Patriarch Gregorios said that Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch had intervened to help secure the nuns’ release, adding that the secret services of Qatar and Lebanon helped mediate the negotiations.
The BBC reports that officials from Qatar and Lebanon negotiated the deal, quoting a Lebanese general, Abbas Ibrahim, who was involved in the talks. It said the nuns’ release was part of a deal with the Syrian government, which agreed to release around 150 female prisoners.
Sana, the Assad regime’s news agency, quoted the regime’s information minister, Omron al-Zoubi, as saying that only 25 prisoners were released in exchange for the nuns’ freedom, and that Qatar was not involved. Sana has acknowledged Lebanon’s role in their release.
Syrian officials have said the nuns were abducted to intimidate Syria’s Christians, while al-Nusra Front have said they were protecting the nuns from government shelling.
The rebels first took Ma’loula for three days in September. Twelve people were killed during that time, including three men who refused to renounce their Christian faith.
The Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, according to Sana, said that the nuns’ return “is a divine message to the Christians to cling tenaciously to this land in fraternity with Muslims.”
Sana added, “the Patriarchate expressed in a statement hope that freeing the nuns is a step forward on the road to genuine national reconciliation and the return of all the abducted and the missing, including bishops Boulous Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim, to their homes.”
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulous Yazigi of Aleppo and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo were abducted in April 2013. Their fate is unknown, though there are rumors that only one bishop is still alive, and is being kept in either Syria or Turkey.
Approaching its third anniversary, the Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of at least 100,000 persons, and as many as 130,000.
The conflict began March 15, 2011, when demonstrations protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad and his Ba'ath Party sprang up nationwide. In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
The civil war is being fought between the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups. The revels include moderates, such as the Free Syrian Army; Islamists such as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; and Kurdish separatists.
Some 40 percent of Syria's population have fled their homes because of the civil war. There are 2.4 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and an additional 6.5 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.
Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Although recent polls on Catholics supporting same-sex “marriage” are viewed as less disheartening than they appear, the results sparked a call for education on the beauty and truth of Church teaching.
Tim Roder, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said that Catholic belief in marriage is about “remaining faithful to Jesus and his teaching.”
He cited Christ's words about married couples in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
“We cannot be driven by polls,” Roder told CNA March 7.
Surveys indicating some Catholics' rejection of Catholic teaching show “there is still much work to be done, particularly in educating the faithful on the beauty of marriage as the unique union of one man and one woman.”
Two recent polls suggest that some Catholics approve of same-sex “marriages” not only in U.S. law, but even in Catholic churches.
The U.S. Spanish-language television network Univision's recent global poll of Catholics about their views indicated that about 54 percent of U.S. Catholic respondents support “gay marriage.” Among this subset, fifty-nine percent of respondents agreed that the Church should not perform “gay marriages,” but 35 percent said the Church should. Among the 12 countries polled, only Spanish Catholics showed more support than Americans for these ceremonies in Catholic churches.
Roeder said it was a positive sign that even among supporters of same-sex “marriage,” most rejected such unions being performed in Catholic churches.
However, a February survey from the Pew Research Center reported that 50 percent of all Catholic respondents said they think the Church should “recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian couples,” while 43 percent did not. Only 36 percent thought this would be likely by the year 2050. The Pew survey had a sample size of 351 Catholics and a margin of error of plus or minus six percentage points.
Roder noted, though, that even in the Pew survey, only one-third of Catholics who attended Mass weekly or more supported Church recognition of same-sex “marriages.”
He said that the survey results help show that changing the legal definition of marriage “can indeed have a cultural impact swaying more to support it.”
“The law teaches for good and ill,” Roder said. “When it teaches something false many just accept it and this increases the profound cultural crisis in marriage and family that Pope Francis spoke about in 'Evangelii Gaudium.'”
Roder said marriage is “a question of definition, not expanding rights.” It is “impossible” for the Church to perform same-sex weddings.
“The body matters. Sexual difference between man and woman is essential to marriage,” he said. “The Church cannot affirm something that is not true or real. Only a man and a woman can enter a conjugal union open to the possibility of children.”
Roder noted that even in countries where marriage has been redefined like France and Argentina, the majority of Catholics still do not support the redefinition of marriage or coercing the Church to perform it.
“I think many come to realize that such laws redefining marriage are fundamentally unjust,” he said.
Roder did not foresee immediate pressure on the Church to perform same-sex “marriage” ceremonies. Rather, the “most urgent threat” beyond the threat to marriage and the family is to the religious freedom of individuals, businesses and religious organizations.
“Beyond religious ceremonies, there is a serious concern that many persons may be pressured to treat same-sex sexual conduct as the moral equivalent of marital sexual conduct,” he said.
Changing the civil definition of marriage would also impact “hundreds, even thousands” of laws at the same time and give rise to “countless” violations of religious freedom.
Roder encouraged Catholics to respond to such threats with prayer, fasting, and “honest study of the faith.”
“We need to move beyond merely reading the headlines and sound bites that often do not convey the full truth,” he said. “Although there is a concerted effort to redefine marriage, this attempt still cannot change the fact that marriage can only ever be between one man and one woman.”
He noted the “Call to Prayer” movement, which involves fasting on Fridays, praying for weekly prayer intentions, and holding parish holy hours and daily rosaries to increase awareness of the challenges to life, marriage and religious liberty and to build “spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful to address these challenges in truth and love.”
Roder recommended the resources of U.S. bishops' “Marriage: Unique for a Reason” website, including the bilingual film “Marriage: Made for Love and Life.”
That website is at http://marriageuniqueforareason.org.