Archive of March 15, 2014

Up to 5 million may go to Rome for Papal canonizations

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - As many as 5 million people could travel to Rome for the April 27 canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II, and are expected to arrive beginning on Good Friday, April 18.

Rome will be a hot spot for tourism also because on April 25 Italy celebrates its liberation from fascism, and is national holiday. Many Italians will take advantage of the day off to spend the weekend in Rome, so pilgrims and tourists will be mixing during these days.

According to a source in the Vatican-affiliated pilgrim office Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi who spoke with CNA March 13, “the number of pilgrims may be overestimated,” with it “more likely that the pilgrims for the canonizations will be around 1.5 million persons.”

Rome is anyway considering how to avoid overcrowding, and access to St. Peter’s Square.

Maurizio Pucci, an official of the city, said there will be just 10,000 reserved seats for guests and dignitaries in the square, while there will be “free access, with no ticket needed, to the whole area which comprises St. Peter’s Square, Piazza Pio XII, and Via della Conciliazione,” the road which runs from Castel Sant’Angelo into St. Peter’s.

The area from Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square can contain from 150-200,000, so “jumbotrons will be installed in the big squares of Rome’s downtown … so that people can gather there and watch the celebration live,” he added.

Polish pilgrims are expected to number some 300,000, and five busloads will arrive from Sotto il Monte, the town in Lombardy where Bl. John XXIII was born and raised.

The evening prior to the canonizations will be a night of prayer, with many parishes in Rome’s center open from 9 to midnight so that pilgrims will be able to keep vigil.

At the moment, it is estimated that 85 percent of Rome’s hotels are booked for the canonization period. Pilgrims will be also accommodated in the nearby towns of Fiumicino and Civitavecchia, where ships of pilgrims arriving from Spain will be docked.

It is rumored that Vatican Television has signed an agreement with Sony for a live, 3d broadcast of the ceremony.

Msgr. Dario Vigano, director of Vatican Television, told CNA March 4, “we are studying how to involve new technologies” for the canonizations.

Marta Leonori, assessor of the Rome Town Hall for Tourism, has announced there will be a “Roma Pass” for the weekend -- a special card, the fee for which includes three days of public transport, free entrance in two museums, and price reductions for the other museums in Rome.

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Three years in, Catholics note brutality of Syrian conflict

Damascus, Syria, Mar 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - As today marks the third anniversary of uprisings which led to civil war in Syria, Catholic leaders there and in neighboring Lebanon have reflected on its devastating effect on both countries.

“It creates a huge impact on (the Lebanese) in all aspects, and in terms of security issues…it's had a huge impact,” Wadih Daher, assistant to Archbishop Issam John Darwish, told CNA in a March 13 interview.

Daher spoke on behalf of the bishop, who leads the Melkite Greek Archeparchy of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa, on Lebanon's border with Syria.

Conflict began March 15, 2011, when demonstrations protesting the rule of president Bashar al-Assad and his Ba'ath Party sprang up nationwide. The following month, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.

Now, three years on, an estimated 140,000 persons have died in what has become a civil war. The U.N. quit counting the bodies last July, leaving its estimates at 100,000, saying it could no longer verify its sources.

Because of the civil war, half of Syria's population have fled their homes. 6.5 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the war, and there are 2.5 million Syrian refugees living in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

Of those 2.5 million, more than 1 million are in Lebanon, a country whose population, three years ago, was slightly over 4 million.

Now, one in every five residents of Lebanon is a refugee from Syria.

The refugees’ impact on Lebanon has thus been “first of all (one) of demography,” Daher told CNA. “There are a quantity of people coming, so all the villages are full with people right now.”

Secondly, he noted that the workers entering the country have produced a “cheap replacement" for the Lebanese labor force. “The Lebanese carpenter makes $30 a day, (but) the Syrian will work for $10 a day,” Daher explained.

Despite these challenges to their livelihood, housing, and security, many Lebanese are doing their best to accommodate the influx of refugees from Syria. Archbishop Darwish told Aid to the Church in Need recently, “we try to support them emotionally and financially.”

The Furzol and Zahle archeparchy runs its own refugee camps in the Bekaa valley, where many refugees first enter Lebanon. Zahle is located fewer than 15 miles from the Syrian border.

The archeparchy has been helping the refugees to pay rent and get work; Archbishop Darwish noted that they “are in need of the very basics of daily life – food, educational opportunities for their children, medical care” and that they “came here with literally nothing.”

In Jordan at the U.N.’s Zaatari refugee camp, a Safeway supermarket has opened, reported the BBC’s Yolande Knell, noting the increasingly long-term nature of the refugee crisis. The camp is now home to nearly 150,000 people, CNN has reported.

Meanwhile inside Syria, the Melkite Greek Archbishop of Homs, Hama, and Yabrud has emphasized Christians’ desire to remain inside their country.

“We Christians are living in fear, the future is uncertain, but we want to stay in our homeland,” Archbishop Jean-Abdo Arbach told Aid to the Church in Need March 14. He added that many residents of Homs have returned to the city, since “the main fighting is taking place in the cities of Yabrud and Hama.”

Archbishop Arbach’s residence is in Homs, and he has remained there: “for the faithful it is important that their priests and their bishop bear the suffering and persevere like everyone else.”

His archdiocese is located on Syria’s western edge which is contested, but largely held by the Assad regime. “The situation in and around Homs is calm,” he said. “Government troops have almost complete control over the region and the rebels control only four to five districts.”

The north of Syria, along the border with Turkey, is largely held by rebel forces. The rebels are made up of a variety of groups, including 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.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant controls much of the Euphrates river watershed, in the northeast of Syria. In the city of Ar Raqqah, now held by the Islamist group, Christians are now forced to pay “jizya,” a tax on non-Muslims levied under sharia law.

Kidnappings have been a feature of the civil war for some time; in April 2013, the Greek Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox bishops of Aleppo were abducted while they were on their way back to the city from a meeting in which they were negotiating for the release of two priests – one Greek Orthodox, and one Armenian Catholic.

Their fate is unknown, though there are rumors that only one bishop is still alive, and is being kept in either Syria or Turkey.

At the beginning of this week a group of 12 Greek Orthodox nuns plus three of their helpers who had been kidnapped from Ma’loula in December 2013, were returned safely by their abductors, al-Nusra Front.

At a meeting of Syria’s Assembly of Catholic Heirarchs March 12, the bishops issued a call for all Christians who have been kidnapped in the civil war to be released; Gregorios III, Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, said the nuns’ release was an encouraging sign.

“We are keen to also see the same concern for the two bishops…as well as the priests, and many, many other people (who have been) kidnapped, especially those who have nobody to care for them,” Patriarch Gregorios told Aid to the Church in Need.

He noted particularly his concern for the abducted poor, “who have no support, no relations to help them.”

Three years of civil war in Syria have brought displacement, starvation, disease, and death to the nation’s citizens. Neither side has been able to gain decisive victory, and the international community has encouraged peace talks, though two rounds of negotiations in Switzerland have failed to garner success.

Iran and Russia have supported the Assad regime, while western and Arab nations have tended to favor rebel groups.

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'I need the people of God to sustain me,' Pope says in interview

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a recent radio interview given to a station in a slum of Argentina, Pope Francis explained his frequent request for prayers, and praised the work of the many priests who minister among the poor.

When asked why he so frequently requests prayer from those he encounters, the Pope simply stated that “I need it. I need the people of God to sustain me.”

The interview was given to Argentinian radio station Bajo Flores, which broadcasts from the slum called the “Villa 1-11-14” in Buenos Aires, and which is close to the San Lorenzo soccer stadium, where Pope Francis’ favorite team plays.

Entitled “El Papa de los villeros,” or “Pope of the slums,” the interview contains 12 questions regarding the presence of the Church among the poor and marginalized.

Broadcast on Thursday March 13, coinciding with the pontiff’s one year anniversary as Bishop of Rome, the interview was originally filmed two weeks prior in the Pope’s residence at the Vatican’s Saint Martha house, and was shown on a large screen in the slum’s gymnasium, with hundreds flocking to see the message, Zenit news reports.

Speaking also of the involvement of the “slum priests” of Buenos Aires in the lives of the poor, the pontiff expressed that their work “is not ideological, it's apostolic, and therefore forms part of the same Church.”

“Those who think that it's another Church don't understand how they work in the slums. The important thing is the work.”

While still living in Buenos Aires before being elected Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis was also very involved in the Argentinian slums, assigning priests to parishes around the city’s capitol, and gaining popularity among the marginalized, especially during the country’s military dictatorships in the 1960s and 70s.

Pope Francis was also asked for his thoughts on Fr. Carlos Mugica, who was labeled a communist subversive, but who spoke out against armed revolution before he was murdered in 1974.

Referring to Fr. Mugica, as well as other members of Argentina’s Movement for Third World Priests, which is a branch of liberation theology, the Pope stated that “They were not communists. They were great priests who fought for life.”

Also giving special comments regarding education, those in prison and the media, the pontiff asserted the importance of a good education, stating that “one has to accompany young people in their growth.”

On the topic of prisoners, Pope Francis questioned “Why is he imprisoned and not me?” adding that “they are making their path of life, completing their penance, but they are people of flesh and bone, like you and like me.”

In regards to the media, the pontiff explained that it is a “warm and disinterested way of communicating reality and life.”

When asked what was the thing he liked least about his role as Pope, the pontiff stated "paperwork" and "officework," noting that it is something he has never been good with.

Before the Pope’s interview was shown, a special Mass was celebrated in his honor by the slum’s parish priest, Fr. Gustavo Carrara, who stated that “We are going to dedicate this Mass to our Pope Francis, who knows the neighborhood,” which has a “little place in his heart,” Spanish paper Sociedad reports.

The altar used for the ceremony was a school bench, the paper noted, adding that above the altar there were two candles, an image of the Pope, a chalice, a ciborium, and the Missal.

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