Archive of March 16, 2014

Philly Catholics join 'Mass Mob' trend to support churches

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 16, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have planned their first “Mass Mob” in the north of the city, seeking to rally scores of people to a beautiful but sparsely attended church.

“It’s an opportunity for people from all over the archdiocese to come together as a community,” Mass Mob Philly organizer Ben DiFrancesco, a 28-year-old software engineer, told CNA March 14.

“It’s an opportunity for people to enjoy these big, beautiful, old church buildings that they maybe normally don’t get to see at their regular parish.”

DiFrancesco is one of the organizers who are using social media to encourage as many people as possible to attend Mass at St. Francis Xavier, The Oratory, in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood on the morning of March 23. They are asking attendees to arrive at 11:15 a.m., 15 minutes before the Sunday Mass begins.

DiFrancesco said he was inspired by news reports of a similar endeavor in Buffalo, N.Y.

“It really struck me as a great idea that could work equally as well in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said. “Call it a movement of the spirit or whatever, but I talked it over with people and they gave me encouragement to give it a shot.”

Several dozen people have responded to the idea. As of the afternoon of March 14, over 50 people had RSVP’d at the Mass Mob Philly Facebook event page.

St. Francis Xavier is DiFrancesco’s home parish. The church building was built in 1898.

“It’s just a beautiful building in a wonderful neighborhood,” he said, praising its three large rose-shaped stained glass windows, its high columns and arches, and its artwork.

He said the church is like many city churches in Philadelphia and around the U.S. where shifting demographics mean “the building really doesn’t match the size of the congregation anymore.”

“It was built in a time when the neighborhood was pretty much all Irish immigrants. It had a huge Catholic population,” he said. “It was built to serve that kind of congregation.”

“There’s plenty of space when you go to Mass in a beautiful building. It’s a good opportunity for people to come together and enjoy that.”

DiFrancesco said that the Mass Mob is intended to support the local parish community and boost “parish morale” by filling the pews again. It could also boost donations to the collection plate.

The church is served by priests with the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, commonly known as the Oratorians. The priests were “enthusiastic and willing” to help consider the logistics of the event.

He also had special words for anyone considering starting a Mass Mob in their own diocese.

“The first thing I would say is ‘go for it!’ Don’t hesitate,” he said. “Have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to achieve.”

“Just put together the online and social media assets and just start getting the word out,” he said.

Social media have played a role in both the Buffalo and the Philadelphia Mass Mobs. DiFrancesco said the Mass events can help counter the “general sense” that social media in modern life “water down or dilute our authentic friendships or relationships with people.”

“This is one of many ways that we Catholics can use these things as tools not to replace authentic face-to-face relationships, but to bring people together in reality, in community,” he said. “I think that we can demonstrate that in a way that the world needs to hear.”

DiFrancesco suggested new Mass Mob organizers contact him or the organizers of the Buffalo event, who had advised him on launching his own effort.

The Philadelphia organizers work with the parish staff to ensure they can accommodate a larger than usual congregation. They plan to select other churches for future Mass Mobs by means of public votes on social media.

“There are plenty of beautiful churches in Philly that we could use,” DiFrancesco said. “I think that as we move forward, the goals will evolve and we’ll get a clearer sense of what people are getting out of it.”

The Mass Mob Philly website is

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Thai nuns share ray of hope among landfill scavengers

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, Mar 16, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A group of missionary sisters are bringing humanitarian assistance to the scavengers who live in the rubbish dump of the Thai city Lopburi.

“We bring to them the necessary, basic items of life, and spend some time teaching them, sharing their struggles, and encouraging their shattered hopes,” Sr. Mary Clare Thong IN, superior of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres in Lopburi, told CNA March 11.

Lopburi is a city of more than 26,000, located 80 miles southeast of Nakhon Sawan, and the Paulist sisters there have begun reaching out to those on the periphery of the city.

“St. Paul instructed Christians to serve and embrace all people irrespective of class, race and religion in his First letter to the Corinthians,” Sr. Mary Clare reflected.

“‘All things to all people’ has been our guiding, inspirational motto from our patron St. Paul,” she continued.
Sr. Mary Clare described how some of the city’s residents have become scavengers in the landfill, living in unhygienic and hazardous conditions on the decaying materials, with birds and animals of prey as their neighbors.

They sustain their livelihood by scavenging in the sea of rubbish, even making their temporary shelter with a patched tent which flutters in the breeze, unprotected during rains.

It’s “overwhelming” to see their bright, happy, smiling faces in the midst of their strife-ridden and difficult lives, Sr. Mary Clare said.

“The site is scary, with devouring birds and pack of animals, while the stench is so awful that even when one comes home and takes a shower, the illusion of the smell lingers for hours,” Fr. Alessandro Chamnan Klahan, rector of St. Paul Seminary in Korat, told CNA March 11.

“The SPC sisters’ commendable commitment, missionary zeal, and courage to stand against all odds makes a world of difference for a better world.”

Sr. Mary Clare noted that “the strong formative exposure in our junior days transforms our faith into action in the footsteps of our superiors -- which becomes our point of reference.”

She stressed Pope Francis’ repeated call to Catholics to “go to the peripheries,” especially “to the poor and marginalized,” as one of her inspirations for the ministry.

 “My inspiration was also Mother Myriam Kitcharoen, our former Mother General, who was magnanimous and generous toward the poor, and who has left an indelible imprint of her exemplary testimony of life.”

The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres were founded in France in 1696 by Fr. Louis Chauvet to care for the sick and the poor. They are now spread over 35 countries, serving apostolates of health care, education, and evangelization.

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Let the word of God grow in your heart, encourages Pope

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis reflected on the scene of the Transfiguration, emphasizing the importance of listening to God, especially in scripture, and of sharing the Gospel with others.

“And this is curious. When we hear the Word of God, listen to the Word of God and have it in our heart, that Word grows. And do you know how it grows? Giving it to others!” the Pope exclaimed in his March 16 Angelus address.

“The Word of Christ in us grows when we proclaim it, when we give it to the others!”

Addressing the thousands present in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff centered his weekly discourse on the day’s Gospel, which recounts the story of the Transfiguration, when Jesus takes Peter, James and John up Mt. Tabor, and is transfigured before them and seen speaking with Moses and Elijah.

Marking this passage as the second stage of our Lenten journey, the first being Jesus’ temptation in the Desert from last week’s Gospel, the Pope observed that the mountain “represents the place of the closeness with God and of intimate encounter with him; the place of prayer, where the presence of the Lord is.”

Recounting the story, Pope Francis recalled that up on the mountain when Jesus transfigured himself to the disciples, “his face is so bright and his garments so white, that Peter is dazzled, so much so that he would like to stay there.”

However at that moment, the Pope continued, the voice of the Father immediately “resounds” from heaven, proclaiming that Jesus is his “beloved Son,” and saying “listen to him.”

Drawing attention to this command, the pontiff expressed that “this word is important! Our Father has said this to the apostles and also says it to us: ‘Listen to Jesus, because he is my beloved Son!’”

“It is not the Pope who says this, God the Father says it, to all: to me, to you, to all! As a help to go forward in the path of Lent. ‘Listen to Jesus!’ Don’t forget.”

Continuing, the Pope explained that in order to listen to God and take his word seriously, we have to be close to him and follow him, like those in the Gospel who “chased” Jesus through the streets of Palestine.

Highlighting how Jesus did not have a “chair” or a “stationary pulpit” to teach from, but rather “brought his teachings, the teachings given to him by the Father, through the streets,” the pontiff observed that we are also able to listen to Jesus in the Gospels.

“I’ll ask you a question” he inquired of the crowd gathered, “do you read a passage of the Gospel everyday?” Echoing their responses, he stated “Yes, no…yes, no…half and half. Some yes and some no.”

“But it’s important! Do you read the Gospel? It’s good,” the Pope repeated, stating that “it’s a good thing to have a little Gospel, small, and take it with us, in our pocket, in our purse, and read a small passage in any moment of the day.”

“It’s not difficult,” he continued, adding that “it’s not even necessary” to have all four, but just “one of the Gospels, a very little one” always with us, and “listen to it.”

Highlighting the two significant elements of “ascent and decent” present in the narrative of the Transfiguration, Pope Francis explained that we need to “go aside” and “climb the mountain” in order to have silence and to better hear the voice of the Lord.

“This we do in prayer,” he observed, however “we cannot stay there!”

“The encounter with God in prayer drives us once again to ‘come down from the mountain’ and return down into the plains, where we meet so many brothers and sisters burdened with fatigue, illness, injustice, ignorance (and) material and spiritual poverty.”

We are called, noted the Pope, to “bring the fruits of the experience we have had with God” to these brothers who suffer, and to “share the grace we have received.”

Concluding his address, the pontiff emphasized that we allow the Word of God to grow in us by sharing it with others, adding that “This is the Christian life. It’s a mission for the whole Church, for all of the baptized, for all of us.”

“To listen to Jesus and offer him to others. Do not forget,” the Pope stated, encouraging those present to think about his proposition regarding the Gospel in the coming week, asking “do you do it? Will you do it?”

“Next Sunday you can tell me if you have done this: have a little Gospel in your pocket or in your purse to read a small passage during the day.”

Pope Francis ended his Angelus address by praying that all might listen and announce Jesus with “fraternal charity,” and entrusted all present to Mary’s guidance with the recitation of the traditional Marian prayer.

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Three abducted priests in Crimea returned safely

Kyiv, Ukraine, Mar 16, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Three priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who were kidnapped in Crimea over the weekend have reportedly been returned and are safe.

“We have just spoken with Fr. Nicholas Kvych, pastor of the UGCC in Sevastopol. With the help of his parishioners he was able to leave Crimea, and he is now on mainland Ukraine,” the information service of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said in a statement released late in the day, March 16, according to Radio Svoboda.

Fr. Kvych had been kidnapped this weekend by pro-Russian forces, as had Fr. Bohdan Kosteskiy, from Yevpatoria, and Fr. Ihor Gabryliv, from Yalta. Fr. Kvych, a navy chaplain, had been abducted twice: initially on March 15, he was released once, briefly, before being detained again.

After his escape to mainland Ukraine, Fr. Kvych telephoned Fr. Ihor Yatsiv, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's information service, telling him that Fr. Kosteskiy and Fr. Gabryliv were also safe, without being able to discuss their location.

Priests in Crimea of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has received numerous oral and written threats in recent weeks, as military tensions have escalated on the peninsula; several were warned to leave Crimea, yet have remained with their flock.

“Our priests and bishops have been very close to the people,” said Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Vladimir-Le-Grand of Parish, according to Vatican Radio. “We’ve been inspired by the example of Our Lord (who) went a long distance from fellowship with the Father to incarnate himself and be in our reality.”

The Church's priests in Crimea have been inspired by Pope Francis, “who said a pastor needs to have the smell of his sheep. And our pastors have been with the people, and they’re today with the people enduring this occupation in the Crimea,” Bishop Gudziak noted.

“Every abduction is a terrible event for everybody involved,” the bishop stated, emphasizing that “it’s a gross violation of human rights and God-given human dignity.”

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has been expanding in Crimea recently. A new exarchate was established for the peninsula Feb. 13, after the Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Odesa-Krym was split in two. The Crimean exarchate is based in the territory's capital, Simferopol.

Crimea is a southern peninsula of Ukraine where nearly 60 percent of the population are ethnic Russians, and more than 50 percent of the population speak Russian as their first language. The territory was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 under the Soviet Union.

A referendum was held in the territory March 16 regarding union with Russia. Local officials report that with half the votes counted, 95.5 percent favor joining Russia.

The referendum was condemned as illegal by Western nations and the government in Kyiv, but is supported by Moscow.

The vote was boycotted by Tatars, the indigenous ethnic group of Crimea who make up roughly 12 percent of the population. Many Tatars were deported to Central Asia under the Soviet Union, and many want to remain Ukrainian rather than becoming Russian.

Despite condemnation from authorities in Kyiv, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Friday that Moscow would “respect the will of the people of Crimea.”

Current tensions in Crimea follow four months of protests in Ukraine which culminated in its president fleeing the country for Russia Feb. 21. Two days later, parliament appointed Oleksander Turchynov acting president.

Beginning Feb. 27, pro-Russian forces began taking control of Crimea, including its airports, parliament, and telecommunications and television centers.

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