Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Despite the violence currently plaguing the Central African Republic, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick believes the country can recover if it abandons vengeance and focuses on a shared sense of humanity.
“It is a rich country in its natural resources and its human resources, which is why it's a shame that they have had to suffer so,” the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., told CNA on April 15, after returning from a trip to visit the conflict-torn country.
While “we weren't there long enough to do a lot,” Cardinal McCarrick said, the delegation promoted a vision of peace focused on the fact that “we're all brothers and sisters in God's one human family.”
The cardinal traveled to the Central African Republic in early April, alongside Imam Mohamed Magid of the Islamic Society of North America and Pastor Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, as part of a U.S. State Department delegation to religious leaders in the country.
Violence broke out in Central African Republic in December 2012. Seleka rebels, loosely organized groups that drew primarily Muslim fighters from other countries, ousted the president and installed their own leader in a March 2013 coup.
The Seleka were officially disbanded, but its members continued to commit crimes such as pillaging, looting, rape and murder.
In September 2013, after 10 months of terrorism at the hands of the Seleka, “anti-balaka” self-defense groups began to form. The anti-balaka picked up momentum in November, and the conflict in the nation took on a sectarian character, as some anti-balaka, many of whom are Christian, began attacking Muslims out of revenge for the Seleka’s acts.
The nation is now in the midst of continuing conflict among political, tribal, and religious groups.
Estimates place the number of displaced persons at around 900,000, close to 20 percent of the country's population, with an additional 2,000 people killed in the violence.
In February 2014, Archbishop Dieudonnè Nzapalainga of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, warned that many ethnic groups face genocidal violence due to the attacks by the anti-balaka.
Cardinal McCarrick described the nature of the conflict as “inter-religious problems as well as inter-tribal,” dominated by a mentality of people hurting others because “you treated us badly.”
Other observers have also noted the complex nature of the conflict, which is fueled by both self-defense and vengeance, and is not divided solely along religious lines.
The cardinal explained that their trip was limited to just a single day because their security detail felt “they could not be responsible for security if we stayed overnight,” even though they had “machine guns at the ready,” and refused to drive the delegation through certain dangerous areas.
In some neighborhoods, he added, “Muslim stores had been all burned out,” and in one area, he said they feared for Imam Mohamed Magid's safety because of the violence against Muslims in the region.
While in the country Cardinal McCarrick said, the delegation “met three major religious leaders who were trying desperately to find a road to peace” - Archbishop Nzapalainga, Imam Omar Kobine Layama and evangelical pastor Reverend Nicolas Guerekoyame Gbangou.
The U.S. delegation offered its support to these individuals, who have led efforts for peace within the country. Among these peace efforts was a recent trip to the U.S. to meet with diplomatic officials and the Obama Administration, as well as the drafting of a Declaration for Peace that renounces violence and encourages “intercommunity and inter-religious dialogue to mitigate tensions and lay the foundations for a new peaceful coexistence in CAR.”
In a gesture of support, Cardinal McCarrick and the other members of the U.S. delegation signed the declaration as observers. While in Bangui, the cardinal also preached at the cathedral.
While there has been movement toward peace, the people of the Central African Republic still face many challenges, he said, including the refusal of some groups to abandon violence.
However, many people in the country are weary from the continued fighting and would welcome a peaceful resolution to the conflict, the cardinal continued, saying that many of the people he talked to expressed that “we need to stay together or else the country will go up in smoke.”
“There's enough people that understand that you have to live together,” he observed.
Together, Cardinal McCarrick said, he hopes that the delegation and local religious leaders displayed a message that despite religious differences, all people are God's “children and that means we need to work together.”
The presence of United States officials could also be an inspiration for peace, he added. Because “we made great progress in the U.S.” in working alongside one another despite religious differences, “we can show them how we get along together.”
He expressed deep hope that people in the Central African Republic will continue to work toward peace.
“We have to get people talking with each other,” he said. “If you do that, you get to understand each other” and can eventually reach a situation in which “you get to appreciate each other.”
Despite the challenges, Cardinal McCarrick said he was hopeful that the Central African Republic could work to build justice and forgiveness.
“In my business you've got to be always hopeful,” he observed.
The cooperation between the religious leaders in the country, the cardinal explained, “has demonstrated how good it can be,” as has the involvement of Catholic Relief Services, which has offered aid to displaced persons and those affected by the widespread violence.
“We in the U.S. can be so pleased we have Catholic Relief Services,” he said of the organization's work. “It's a blessing we have CRS.”
Vatican City, Apr 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis on Monday exhorted the Christian faithful to spread the joy of Easter to others.
“Happy Easter!” he said. “Christ is Risen! He is truly risen.”
The Pope addressed thousands of faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for the Regina Coeli April 21.
“Let the joyous wonder of Easter Sunday radiate through our thoughts, looks, attitudes, gestures and words,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.
Those who help radiate the joy of the Resurrection can bring the “light” of the Risen Lord to others by spreading happiness, by helping those in pain and by bringing “serenity and hope,” the Pope explained.
This radiating wonder must come “from within us,” from a heart that is “immersed in the source of this joy,” he said.
Pope Francis emphasized the joy and wonder of the Resurrection accounts in the gospels.
He noted the example of Mary Magdalene, who “wept for the loss of her Lord and could not believe her eyes seeing him risen.”
The Pope encouraged the congregation to let the experience of the Resurrection “be imprinted in our hearts and in our lives.”
He said that the Virgin Mary’s experience of the death and Resurrection of her Son made her heart a source of peace, comfort, and mercy.
Mary is “the Mother full of hope, the Mother of all the disciples, the Mother of the Church,” he said.
After concluding his remarks, the Pope led the faithful in the Regina Coeli. He then wished them a very happy and holy Easter.
San Diego, Calif., Apr 21, 2014 (CNA) -
Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego is “alert and in good spirits” after suffering a stroke on the afternoon of April 16, according to a statement released by the diocese.
“With the faithful people of God let us pray for Bishop Flores’ speedy and full recovery,” the San Diego diocese’s vicar general Monsignor Steven F. Callahan said April 17.
The bishop suffered the stroke in his office at the diocese’s pastoral center. Paramedics took him to the hospital, where he received treatment, Msgr. Callahan said.
Bishop Flores, 65, has headed the Diocese of San Diego since September 2013.
Singapore, Apr 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his Easter message to his flock, the Archbishop of Singapore urged them to proclaim the gospel “with joy and with passion.”
“In our celebration of Easter, we are reminded once again that through the Paschal mystery, (Christ's) death and resurrection has given us a certain hope of new life,” wrote Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye.
“Despair is overcome by hope; hatred is overcome by love; injustice by forgiveness; and death by eternal life.”
Archbishop Goh's message focused on three key points: new life in Christ; personal encounter with the Risen Lord; and going forth with joy.
His first reflection was based on the words of St. Paul that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”; he invited all the faithful to rid themselves of anger, rage, malice, and slander, and to “live as a new creation in Christ, and put on the new self.”
The archbishop based his first key theological reflection analyzing the exhortations of St. Paul’s words becoming “new creations” and invited all to get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language, and live as a new creation in Christ.”
Archbishop Goh then discussed the importance of personally encountering Christ, saying that faith and prayer “must be Christocentric.”
“I encourage every Catholic not to be contented with merely an intellectual grasp of the faith, but to seek a personal encounter with Christ through a deeper prayer life and meditation on the Word of God.”
To facilitate this personal encounter, he urged each of his faithful to make a retreat annually: “A personal encounter with the Lord gives us the conviction to join the Church in mission of the New Evangelization as personal witnesses to the gospel.”
In the final part of the message, the Singaporean archbishop implored every Catholic to proclaim the gospel with “joy and with passion.”
“It must be presented as something so beautiful that every human person is attracted to it.”
Archbishop Goh stressed that “no evangelization is possible unless we have been evangelized and set on fire by the love of the Lord, and the truth he has come to reveal to us.”
“Let us then be filled with the presence of the living Christ through the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist so that we may go forth and boldly proclaim the good news with great joy and zeal.”
While welcoming the newly baptized, he reminded them that “your saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus this Easter is indicative of God having touched your lives.”
“I welcome you to the family of God with great love and joy…be true witnesses of Christ’s love in the world, giving hope and life to all of humanity.”
He advised that “to do this, you must find strength and support from the community of faith. We cannot be evangelizing missionaries unless we remain as disciples of Christ in a loving Christian community.”
“The mission of Christ cannot be accomplished unless we are in communion with fellow Catholics.”
He thus urged the importance of Christian communities, because “left alone, your faith will not stand in times of temptation, trial and suffering.”
“God continually beckons us to new life in him, through Christ our Lord … May the blessed Virgin guide us towards him, individually and collectively as Church.”
“Go forth to spread the gospel of joy! Christ is risen, he has risen indeed!”
New York City, N.Y., Apr 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Lay Catholics on the East Coast have teamed up with a prominent cardinal to create ads for secular radio proclaiming the Church’s message to an audience who may not otherwise hear it.
“This is an incredible opportunity to have listeners on a secular news radio media hear a message that gives very tangible examples of the good in the Catholic Church – what it has been doing, what it is doing, and what it will continue to do,” said Deb O'Hara-Rusckowski.
“Too often the Catholic Church is portrayed in a negative light,” she told CNA, adding that “it's nice to have a reminder that the Catholic Church truly is the largest charitable organization in the world - and it's not because it's a service organization, but that we try to follow the words of Christ.”
A nurse by training, Rusckowski had seen the value of grassroots Catholic efforts when she helped Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston defeat a 2012 physician assisted suicide ballot measure in Massachusetts.
Also on the board of counselors for the Order of Malta – which works to defend the faith and care for the sick and poor – Rusckowski observed at a recent meeting that statements released by the U.S. bishops’ conference reach a limited audience when they are placed in Church bulletins.
She suggested that there was a need to get the message out to a wider audience, including those who may not be faithful Mass attendees.
Soon, Rusckowski was asked by the Order of Malta to work with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to do just that. She met with then-president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
They agreed that secular media presented an opportunity to evangelize by offering a positive message about the Church that people may not otherwise hear.
“We have an opportunity right now because of Pope Francis,” Rusckowski observed, adding that Catholics need to use this opportunity to share the Church’s message, including some of the beautiful but rarely-recognized work performed in the areas of health care, education, and charitable aid.
Rusckowski was then connected with Catholic Voices USA, a communications training group that works to equip lay Catholics to promote and defend their faith. The organization agreed to sponsor a special Holy Week ad to air 62 times on New York’s 101WINS during key “drive times,” with a reach of 4.2 million.
The one-minute Holy Week ad featured Mother Agnes Donovan, mother superior of the Sisters of Life, listing some of the Catholic ministries in the Archdiocese of New York, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, ArchCare, the Gianna Center for Women, and the Catholic Underground. The ad then shifted to Cardinal Dolan, who discussed the Beatitudes and explained, “We Catholics do what we do because he is who he is.”
Noting that “(a)ll Catholic social teaching comes from the words of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount,” the cardinal emphasized following the example of Christ and offered an invitation to Holy Week celebrations in the archdiocese.
An additional ad was created for Easter Week, with Cardinal Dolan discussing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and inviting people to stop by a Catholic parish for adoration.
Rusckowski said that Cardinal Dolan is an excellent representative because of his strong and welcoming presence, and because “he is real and can relate to everyone!”
“Cardinal Dolan can teach in a way that is respectful to all and not condescending, no matter where one is on their spiritual journey,” she reflected.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, founding director of Catholic Voices USA, explained that the radio commercials are both “sharing and inviting.”
She described the Holy Week ads as “both a little window in and an open door to come join us as we enter into the holiest days of the year.”
They serve as a “re-introduction of who we are as Catholics, as a Church,” called “to live and serve in love,” following the example of Christ and responding to the call of Pope Francis to go out and minister to those on the peripheries, helping them encounter Christ’s merciful love, she said.
These acts of service are fundamentally connected to Catholic prayer and worship, Lopez continued, noting that “our identity is in the Trinity,” and this connection is illustrated in the cardinal’s invitation to Holy Week Masses and prayer services.
She also observed that the people who work at the Catholic ministries mentioned in the ad “are the kind of people anyone wants to be around because they are filled and motivated by and overflowing with a transcendent, contagious love and joy.”
“We need these people,” she stressed. “The world needs Catholics living the radical missionary call of the Gospels, living Sacramental lives, living the Beatitudes. There are many Catholics doing just that in New York today, on fire with the love of Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit in their work.”
Emphasizing the need to “catch people in the busy-ness of life and invite them in,” Lopez explained that the commercials align with Catholic Voices’ mission of being “a welcoming, loving presence in the media.”
“To have the opportunity to literally be welcoming people into our Trinitarian reality during peak times and alongside the weather and traffic in such a direct and beautiful way is a great opportunity and blessing.”
Rusckowski said she sees great value in the work of Catholic Voices USA and is now planning to go through the organization’s training program, which teaches the lay faithful how to defend Church teaching in the public square
“I think it’s important that we learn how to defend our faith without getting in an argument,” she reflected.
“Media is a powerful tool to communicate and convey messages. The late Pope John Paul II encouraged us all to not be afraid and embrace the media – to use it to help evangelize, share our beautiful faith with others.”
“We all know media shapes culture – both positively and negatively – be it intentional or unintentional,” Rusckowski continued, pointing to the example of political campaigns and views of foreign nations and policies.
“So when it comes to religious beliefs, having the media help spread a positive message about our Catholic Church is truly a great blessing,” she said, especially for those who have “inherited” their faith from previous generations but may not have a deep understanding of what the Church does or why.
“This opportunity allows the media to share these positive acts of service and kindness people might not hear otherwise.”
New Delhi, India, Apr 21, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholics in India are praying as they vote in the midst of five weeks of the nation's parliamentary elections, now going on in the world's largest democracy.
“We are very hopeful that the general elections underway will be conducted in a free and democratic way,” Bishop Henry D’Souza of Bellary told CNA earlier this month.
More than 814 million Indians are registered to vote in the polls, which take place in nine rounds from April 7 to May 12.
The Indian bishops issued a pastoral letter Feb. 11 anticipating the elections, saying that Catholics in the nations “must pray ardently for a good government.”
“The Catholic Church does not identify herself with any political party. But we have a responsibility as bishops to urge every eligible citizen to exercise his/her right and duty to vote and (to) do so prudently, carefully and judiciously.”
“We owe it to ourselves, our children and our country not to let go of this opportunity to get involved in bettering the history, culture and destiny of our nation.”
Noting the profound changes facing India, including a widening gap between rich and poor, the decreasing place of ethics as a “guiding principle for society,” and observing that “God is slowly being pushed to the periphery,” the bishops wrote that “it is in this context and at this moment in history that we are going into the elections.”
The bishops wrote that India needs leaders who will “uphold the secular character of our nation and promote communal harmony and a spirit of inter-religious dialogue and understanding; care for the minorities and weaker sections of society … safeguard the rights of tribals over land, water and forests; and grant equal rights to dalit Christians, equal to those given to other dalits; work for an economy that seeks in particular to help the poor and the under privileged” and ensure a “safe environment for all people, particularly women and children.”
They urged the faithful to "spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and at home, so as to be able to discern what is best for the common good … with the Lord’s strength and guided by the Spirit we can all work unitedly for a better India."
April 6, the day before the elections' beginning, was dedicated as a day of prayer “for the peaceful conduct of the general elections and for the divine assistance for all the citizens of India,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, Syro-Malankarese Major Archbishop of Trivandrum.
Bishop D’Souza told CNA that “voters should vote for suitable candidates who can work selflessly, free of corruption, promoting peace, prosperity, and freedom of religion.”
“I feel … people will be able to elect suitable candidates to be the lawmakers of this great country,” he added.
“We should be able to work with all governments, provided they respect the secular character of the Indian Constitution and the freedom of religion every citizen.”
“I am sure people will rise to the occasion and elect suitable lawmakers for this great country.”
Considering the current elections, Bishop D’Souza said that “the whole condition is blurred; anything can happen and any government may be elected.”
The leading parties in the elections are the ruling Indian National Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist movement.
Narendra Modi, the BJP candidate for prime minister, has been associated with economic prosperity but is also accused of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting in Gujarat, where he is chief minister.
Key issues in the elections include corruption, economic issues, women’s safety, and national security.
Bishop D’Souza said voter turnout has thus far been very encouraging and citizens are voting enthusiastically, and that voters have also been “sensitized” to the evils of “corruption and communalism.”
The bishop expressed concern over the little representation of Catholic leaders to protect and voice concerns of minorities among the vast population.
Some 80 percent of Indians are Hindu, but there is a 13 percent minority of Muslims, and Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists each account for one to three percent of the population.
Bishop D’Souza, who is the Indian bishops’ youth commission chair, also added that “India is young, and 50 percent of the population is young.”
“Our Catholic youth must take leadership and bring in change and transformation in the society,” he emphasized.
He reiterated that “as the chairman of the National Youth Commission, my priority is to make our Catholic youth the disciples of the Lord, deeply committed to Christ; they must take up leadership role in public life, in any political affiliations or party with which they desire to affiliate.”
He suggested that Catholic youth to join public administration, qualifying through public examinations and also being entrepreneurs in agriculture and industry.
Once voting in India concludes May 12, they will be counted May 16. Any party or coalition needs at least 272 members of parliament to form a government.