Archive of March 23, 2014

Nigerian Catholics risk violence, lives to attend Mass

Abuja, Nigeria, Mar 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics in a northern Nigerian city are risking their lives to attend Sunday Mass, as their community has fallen prey to violence from radical extremists.

“There were a lot of bomb explosions, but that did not seem to deter people from coming to church,” said Fr. John Bakeni, the celebrant of a March 14 Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Maiduguri.

“It was a very humbling and edifying experience to see so many people at Mass. The place was packed,” he told Aid to the Church in Need in a March 18 interview.

Fr. Bakeni said more than 2,000 people packed the cathedral, saying to him later that “if the attacks would worsen they would rather die in church than anywhere else.”

The Mass was held during violent attacks on the city, allegedly by radical Islamist group Boko Haram, which included rocket-propelled grenades and attacks on the city's military barracks. Houses were set on fire, and innocent people were killed, locals have reported.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful," has declared its animosity for Christianity and the Church, educational institutions, the Nigerian government, and moderate Muslims.

During the attacks on the city, which have taken place over the course of months, hundreds of people have died. In the days preceding the March 16 Mass, the Nigerian military had undertaken a campaign to push back the extremists, killing more than 200 members of Boko Haram.

Fr. Bakeni said that despite these attempts, Boko Haram had regrouped and were undertaking more attacks.

The “military are doing their very best, but they lack modern weaponry to counter these guys who are far more sophisticated.”

Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009; according to the BBC, they have killed 500 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons in Nigeria.

During the Mass, Fr. Bakeni said, he told the congregation "that there was no need to preach. I told them: ‘Your presence in such large numbers is a homily in itself.’"

“Please pray that this violence will stop.”

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New confirmation program aims to transform Catholic youth

Denver, Colo., Mar 23, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - Youth minister and Catholic speaker Chris Stefanick says that his confirmation preparation program “Chosen” aims to catechize and evangelize teens in a transformative way that leads them to Jesus Christ.

“When people hear the faith in a way that’s both true and compelling, it reaches them where they’re at. They respond just as much, just as wholeheartedly, as they did 2,000 years ago,” Chris Stefanick, the program’s co-author, told CNA March 19.

He said the “Chosen” program is “catechetically sound” and presents “an engaging vision of the faith and how to live it.”

“It’s transformative. It’s going to change kids’ lives,” said Stefanick, who said he has already seen these changes in the lives of his children’s friends.

“Chosen,” from Ascension Press, is a 24-lesson program intended primarily for teens grades 8-10 who are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The program aims to set an engaging pace that can keep teens’ interest by balancing faith, fun and powerful videos.

The program is the result of five years of planning and consultation.

Stefanick reflected on the nature of teaching the faith. He said that if teaching doesn’t win over hearts and minds, then it is not catechesis.

“Catechesis is teaching specifically for transformation, teaching specifically to bring about an encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what we keep in mind in every lesson.”

He said the program is “easy to use” and is intended to help “the average parish volunteer” who is not a trained theologian, or youth minister to start small groups and “watch people’s lives be changed.”

The program’s first lesson doesn’t begin with facts about God or the faith, Stefanick explained.

“It starts out with a simple question: ‘what are you looking for?’” Stefanick said, adding that this was “Jesus’ first question to humanity.”

Stefanick said the program aims to help teens “recognize that they’re looking for something deeper than the passing things of the world.”

“They’re looking for happiness,” he said.

The second lesson discusses how God is the source of happiness and talks about who God is.

Other lesson topics include salvation history, divine revelation, and the person of Jesus Christ. One lesson addresses the question “Why be Catholic?” Lessons examine the Trinity, Church, the sacraments, Mary and the Saints, the role of the Beatitudes, and how to build virtue and the kingdom of God.

The lessons review the previous week’s material then begin with an opening prayer. A video presentation is divided into three segments to allow for workbook activities and small group discussion. The lessons include a story of a saint and a challenge of the week that encourages teens to live out their faith. Each lesson closes with prayer.

Each lesson, Stefanick said, is “constantly bringing them to an encounter with Jesus, to think about who he is, who they are, what life is about, and how to fulfill their purpose in God.”

“This is structured to change lives, not just to convey truths,” he added.

The presentations aim to be “inherently engaging” in style. The lessons includes contributions from various Catholic teachers who Stefanick said are “some of the best youth ministers in the country.”

He said it is essential that “Chosen” takes place in “small group discipleship” to help teens form “meaningful and mentoring” relationships while they are learning the faith.

He said the program aims to create meaningful experiences that make conversions permanent, in part because participants are encouraged to keep in contact with each other after the program is finished.

Stefanick stressed that confirmation preparation may be the last chance to reach many young Catholics who are not firm in their faith. Some statistics indicate as many as 80 percent of young Catholics stop going to mass by age 23.

He said confirmation programs sometimes fall into the error of being “as engaging as possible, sacrificing content with the sad presumption that content is not engaging.” Other programs stress the truths of faith to the point where program leaders don’t try to “meet kids where they are by making it as engagingly beautiful and compelling as possible.

“Chosen” study materials include a DVD set for a confirmation preparation group, a leader’s guide for facilitators, and a family pack composed of a student workbook, a parent’s guide and a sponsor’s guide.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has said that the program “speaks to the hearts and minds of our youth.”

“This is a new level of catechesis that uses modern methods to transmit eternal truths,” he said.

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Upcoming day of reconciliation announced by Pope

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2014 (CNA) - During his Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis announced that March 28-29 would be “24 hours for the Lord,” during which people can find special opportunities for prayer and the sacrament of confession.

“Next Friday and Saturday we will live a special moment of penance, called ‘24 hours for the Lord.’ It will begin with a (liturgical) Celebration in the Basilica of St. Peter’s (on) Friday afternoon, then in the evening and night some churches in the center of Rome will be open for prayer and confessions,” he explained to the crowds in St. Peter’s square on March 23.

“It will be - we could call it -  a celebration of forgiveness, which will happen also in many dioceses and parishes of of the world.”

The Holy Father then noted that “the forgiveness that the Lord gives us” should make us “celebrate like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who when the son returned home, had a party, forgetting all his sins.”

The Pope’s Angelus message also focused on the theme of the joy of encountering Christ despite our sinfulness.

Sunday’s gospel recounts the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus begins a conversation with a sinful woman who is despised by society by asking her for a drink of water.

“Jesus’ simple request is the beginning of a frank dialogue, through which he, with great delicacy, enters the inner world of a person with whom, according to societal norms, he should not even say a word,” Pope Francis said.

Jesus’s thirst “was not so much for water but for meeting a parched soul.” His request for a drink “highlighted the thirst that was within her.”

“The woman is touched by this encounter: Jesus turns to those profound questions that we have inside, but often ignore. We too have many questions, but we do not have the courage to ask them of Jesus!” the Pontiff exclaimed.

“Lent is the appropriate time to look inside, to bring out our true spiritual needs, and ask for the Lord’s help in prayer,” he stressed.

The Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus is “enthusiastic.”

“She runs to the village, that village that judged her and rejected her, and announced that she had met the Messiah: one who changed her life.”

“Every encounter with Jesus changes our lives,” Pope Francis repeated. “Every encounter with Jesus fills us with joy.”

Like the Samaritan woman, we are called to “leave our jars” at the well and “witness to our brothers the joy of meeting Jesus and the wonders that his love accomplishes in our lives,” he urged.

The Holy Father then led the crowds in the Angelus prayer and greeted the various pilgrim groups who had traveled to pray with him.

“I wish everyone a good Sunday and a good lunch!” he concluded.

Correction on March 24, 2014 at 9:32  a.m. MST: Original article incorrectly stated that the "Day of Reconciliation" would take place on March 29 to March 30. CNA apologizes for this inaccuracy.

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