Rome, Italy, Apr 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope John Paul II's enthusiasm for the vocation of marriage and family life is being carried forward today through an academic institute dedicated to studying his theology and related issues.
The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family “was born after the synod on the family that John Paul II had desired from the beginning of his pontificate,” Msgr. Livio Melina, the Rome institute's president, told CNA April 16.
The pontiff “did not want us to concentrate principally or mostly on the problems but above all on a complete and positive vision of the mystery of the family,” Msgr. Melina explained. He wanted the Institute “to offer to the Church a new and positive school of thought, rising up, regarding the family.”
In the years since its foundation in 1981, the Institute has “sought to take up that vision,” placing itself “in the path of this great legacy which he left us,” continued Msgr. Melina, whose own journey began when John Paul II personally handed him a copy of “Familiaris Consortio.”
He said that as a young priest, receiving the apostolic exhortation from the Pope's hands “was like receiving a mandate.” He went on to write his doctorate on the topic, and after several years working at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took over leadership of the Institute in Rome.
The Institute's central location is in Rome; there are seven other major sections throughout the world in the U.S., Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Africa, India, and Australia. Other associated institutions are located in Lebanon, the Philippines, Korea, and Zambia.
John Paul II's perspective on marriage and family life can be described as “a vision of wonder and respect for the mystery of man and woman willed thus by God, and which...manifests in a small way the mystery of God and at the same time shows the mystery of man,” reflected Msgr. Melina.
This attitude of reverence and respect offers an antidote to a kind of “puritanism” present in many cultures, he suggested. “John Paul II, in his catechesis, in his testimony, has completely overturned this situation,” offering “a Christian vision” of the body and human sexuality “that values human love” as a “gift of self.”
“He put (all these human things) in light of the hope of the revelation of God, and in this he exalted... the relationship between man and woman, the possibility of becoming a gift of self, and in this gift also becoming a font of giftedness also for children.”
Sr. Alessandra Diriart teaches sacramental theology at the Institute. She noted that John Paul II's theological legacy also includes his “fascination” with the initial chapters of Genesis, which tell the story of the creation and reveal the meaning of human existence.
“He was in love with the first two chapters of Genesis. John Paul II recommended that his collaborators read these first two chapters every day because he truly saw in these two (creation) accounts the whole truth about man,” Sr. Diriart explained.
“For John Paul II, the person finds himself or herself, his or her 'mystery,' his or her 'who I am,' only in the gift of self,” the sister reflected. “This is accomplished through either marriage between man and woman or through the total gift of self in virginity for the Lord, which is a total gift of the person, body and soul.”
Professor Oana Gotia, who teaches moral theology at the Institute, recounted the focus of many of John Paul II's Wednesday audiences as “the beauty of the love between man and woman.”
These audiences which have been collected and popularized under the title of the “Theology of the Body,” emphasize “the dignity of the body as being always a personal body - not something to be objectified but being part of who we are, and part of our vocation to love, to accept love, to welcome love.”
The Institute's focus on John Paul II's positive vision of human love has a real impact on the lives of its students.
Eleanora Stefanya received her license degree in theology and is now pursuing her doctorate there. “For me personally, studying at the Institute was a great gift in understanding myself, understanding what I'm called to,” the laywoman from Georgia said.
Studying alongside priests and religious has brought about “beautiful friendships with people from all over the world,” she reflected, “because at the end, we have the same vocation, the vocation to love.”
Vatican City, Apr 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In an open letter, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has addressed accusations that he had angered Pope Francis with his “luxurious” new residence, saying he and the Pope are on good terms.
“I am personally grateful to Pope Francis for having called me April 23 to express his solidarity and his disappointment for the media attacks about the apartment, of which he had been informed as soon as the article was published,” the emeritus Secretary of State wrote in an open letter published in the magazines of the archdioceses of Vercelli and Genoa, both of which he led for a time.
Italian daily La Repubblica published an article April 20 claiming that the cardinal was moving into a lavish 6,500 square foot apartment in the Vatican’s San Carlo Palace, while Pope Francis has been urging clerics to adopt a modest lifestyle.
According to La Repubblica, the Pope himself had been angered by the luxury of Cardinal Bertone’s new apartment.
The paper claimed that the restructure combines two apartments, one formerly the home of the head of the gendarmerie, and another once home to a Vatican monsignor.
Three nuns who worked with him while he was Secretary of State will live with him in his new residence.
San Carlo Palace is a few steps from Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where Pope Francis resides.
La Repubblica’s article caused a certain media frenzy in Italy.
Cardinal Bertone did not make any official statement, but in the end decided to send a letter to the weekly magazines of the two dioceses where he had been ordinary, in order “to thank the friends” from the dioceses who showed him support for the media reports and also for “those who may have been surprised by the news.”
Cardinal Bertone stressed that the source of the article “doubled the size” of the apartment he is going to live in, and complained that “it was even said that the Pope angered with me for living in so much luxury.”
He explained that the apartment “is temporarily given to me” and that “after me, someone else will be living in it.”
He added that the apartment is a typical size for the Vatican palaces, and that he renovated it “at my own expense.”
“As Pope Saint John XXIII used to say, ‘I do not stop to collect the stones launched against me’,” Cardinal Bertone wrote, concluded the letter.
Manchester, N.H., Apr 29, 2014 (CNA) -
Catholic publisher Sophia Institute Press has announced a new undertaking to help train school teachers and to provide free, high-quality teaching materials and support.
“Young people are less catechized than they were 20 or 30 years ago,” Charlie McKinney, Sophia Institute president, said April 16. “School teachers are burdened and over-worked, and all too often fail to find the training and materials they want.”
McKinney said the Sophia Institute for Teachers aims to provide Catholic educators with “the faithful, high-quality training and materials they crave.”
The new non-profit initiatve provides teacher training programs, lesson plans, and ongoing advice and support to teachers and schools; the materials and programs are free of charge.
The free materials include lessons connecting the faith to current events, lessons on liturgical life, and primary source documents on the faith.
Sophia Institute for Teachers has already partnered with three dioceses. It has several training events scheduled for hundreds of teachers in the Los Angeles and Philadelphia archdioceses, as well as in the Diocese of Manchester.
McKinney said the numbers of teachers already participating in the program and the program’s relationships with several dioceses shows that it is providing “a much-needed service.”
Veronica Burchard, Sophia Institute’s vice president for education programs, said that the teacher training programs have a structure that is “absolutely unique in Catholic K-12 education.”
In addition to catechetical training, the Sophia Institute program provides teaching strategies to help them apply their new knowledge to the classroom.
“As an added bonus, they receive classroom-ready instructional materials on core teachings of the Church, as well as regular, ongoing guidance and help,” Burchard noted.
Sophia Institute has also launched a Catholic Curriculum Exchange to provide free one-day lesson plans on many topics for primary and secondary teachers.
Burchard described the exchange as a “crowd-sourcing” effort to develop best practices; teachers can upload their research activities, assessment tools, student exercises and other materials for other teachers to download and use.
“Good teachers are always innovating and creating new resources for their students,” Burchard said.
The Sophia Institute for Teachers program is donor-supported. McKinney said the program expands “as quickly as funds are made available.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Polish artist Anna Gulak has mesmerized pilgrims in Rome with a series of drawings on the recently-canonized John Paul II and John XXIII, portraying both the holiness and humility of the two saints.
“The message that I would want to give to people with this exhibition is to show the human and normal faces of these two great saint personalities,” she told CNA April 28.
“They were not only Popes, but they were the personification of God's love and God's goodness.”
Twenty total portraits of John Paul II and John XXIII were exhibited across Rome in both the main churches – such as St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls – as well as more remote parishes.
The collection was displayed in honor of the dual canonization of the two former pontiffs which took place on Sunday and drew hundreds of thousands worldwide to the Vatican.
Thirty-year-old Gulak, who draws, sculpts and paints, said that many of the John Paul II pieces were completed years ago. During a time when she was commissioned by the Vatican to do a metal sculpture of John Paul II, “I studied a lot of pictures of his face,” Gulak remembered.
“I was inspired by his face because for me he was not only a religious leader, a great saint and a great Pope,” she added, “But he was also a modern man of great charisma. He was the Peter of our times. He was a great leader, a philosopher, but he was also empathetic and a simple man.”
Gulak began and completed her work on John XXIII with what could be considered a striking amount of precision and speed given that the approval of his sainthood was announced only last summer.
She recalled that “after the news that they would be canonized together, I decided complete the cycle by portraying the faces of John XXIII because they had a lot of similar qualities: gentleness, goodness...they talked a lot about peace.”
What struck Gulak in reflecting on the lives and work of the two saints during their pontificates is the relevance of their words to the world today. “The joy, the charity and their beautiful quotes are still very valid to modern society,” she said.
“Not only for Christian people, but they send a message of hope, peace and the need of forgiveness and dialogue between different cultures, different religions.”
The artist also noted how throughout their lives, both pontiffs demonstrated the redemptive power of suffering. “We can also get a lot of strength from suffering,” Gulak observed. “They were examples as we can see during the death of John XXIII.”
“And also through the holiness of John Paul II. Most of his pontificate was an example of how suffering has meaning and that is also a message that I would like to give to all.”
On being present for April 27's canonization, Gulak said that as “a believing person, it was a great blessing for me that I could be here in Rome...You could feel the greatness of the moment. It was a wonderful and happy day.”
Estefania Aguirre contributed to this report.
Vatican City, Apr 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Returning to his usual daily Mass schedule, Pope Francis reflected today that our contemporary faith communities ought to reflect that of the first Christians, who were united in “heart and mind.”
“They had one heart and mind,” the Pope said in his April 29 daily Mass, quoting the day’s first reading, emphasizing that they were a “community in peace.”
Taking his launching point from the day’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles describing how the first Christians lived, the pontiff focused on the entire first week of Easter, during which the Church brings light to our “rebirth from on high.”
Addressing those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse, he explained that this rebirth came from the Holy Spirit, who gave the first group of “new Christians” life when “they still didn’t bear that name.”
Highlighting how this very first community of Christians was one of “peace” and “forgiveness” where “Love covered everything,” the Pope expressed that “in this community there was no room for gossip, envy, calumnies, defamation.”
“Peace,” he repeated, observing that in order to “qualify” a Christian community on these characteristics, “we have to ask about the attitude of the Christians.”
“Are they meek, humble? Do they vie for power between each other in that community? Are there envious quarrels? Is there gossip?” the Roman Pontiff asked, emphasizing that these “are not on the path of Jesus Christ.”
“This feature is so important, so important, because the devil always tries to divide us. He is the father of division.”
However, although the first community of Christians existed in such harmony, this does not mean that they did not have problems, the Pope went on to say, recalling “the infighting, the doctrinal struggles, power struggles” that evolved later.
Giving an example, Pope Francis pointed out how the widows complained about there being a lack of assistance, so the apostles “had to create deacons,” but that the “high point” of their beginnings has fixed the essence of all Christian communities as being born of the Holy Spirit.
Naming a second characteristic of a Christian community, the pontiff expressed that in addition to being harmonious, they are also communities full of witnesses to the faith, and invited attendees to reflect on the state of their own groups.
“Does this community give witness to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Does this parish, this community, this diocese really believe that Jesus Christ is Risen?” he questioned, “Or rather: ‘Yes, He is Risen, but only here,’ because they only believe here, in their hearts far removed from this force.”
It is “by how we bear witness that Jesus is alive, that He is among us” that “we verify the life of a community,” he noted.
Another way we can distinguish a true Christian community is by “the poor,” the Bishop of Rome observed, asking those present first of all “what's your attitude or the attitude of this community toward the poor?” and secondly “is this community poor?”
Is our community “poor in heart, poor in spirit? Or does it place its trust in riches? In power?” the Pope continued, highlighting that Christian communities are measured by “harmony, witness, poverty and care for the poor.”
“This is what Jesus explained to Nicodemus: This comes from above. Because the only one who can do this is the Holy Spirit. This is the work of the Spirit,” he stated, expressing that “The Church is built up by the Spirit” who “creates unity” and “leads us to witness.”
“The Spirit makes us poor, because He is our wealth and leads us to care for the poor.”
Concluding, Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit would help all “to walk on this path reborn through the power of Baptism.”
Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The U.S. bishops have announced a third Fortnight for Freedom to encourage prayer and awareness of religious liberty, with a particular focus on how it enables service to the poor and vulnerable.
“This is a time when Catholics can unite themselves in prayer to the men and women throughout history who spread the Gospel and lived out Jesus’ call to serve the ‘least of these’ in even the direst of circumstances,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.
Archbishop Lori noted that the June 21-July 4 initiative includes the Catholic feasts of saints like John Fisher, Thomas More, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul and the first martyrs of Rome who “remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power.”
This is the third consecutive year that the Fortnight for Freedom has been conducted as a period of prayer, education and advocacy for religious liberty.
As in 2012 and 2013, this year’s event will include two nationally televised Masses.
Archbishop Lori will celebrate an opening Mass at the Baltimore Basilica on June 21 at 5:30 p.m. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington will celebrate a closing Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on July 4 at noon, with U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., serving as homilist.
The national activities will be supplemented by diocesan-level prayer initiatives throughout the United States. Past efforts have included special rosaries, Masses, prayer vigils and holy hours, as well as study groups, movie nights and community service events.
In the last two years, some dioceses have hosted public gatherings, ecumenical prayer rallies, talks and panel discussions on religious liberty. Others have encouraged private devotion, fasting and contributions to spiritual bouquets during the two-week period.
The U.S. bishops have prepared fact sheets to highlight current domestic and foreign religious freedom concerns.
Domestic concerns include the federal HHS mandate that requires most employers, including many Catholic organizations, to provide employees with health coverage for sterilization, contraception and drugs that can cause abortions, despite their religious and moral objections. Violators of the mandate face heavy penalties. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue an important ruling on the mandate as it affects religious individuals running for-profit businesses this June.
The bishops have also noted threats to religious organizations and businesses caused by the redefinition of marriage and laws that consider objections to “gay marriage” to be illegal discrimination. Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Illinois have been shut down because they cannot in good conscience place children with same-sex couples. In addition, businesses have faced lawsuits for declining to serve same-sex “wedding” ceremonies.
State immigration laws have also threatened charitable outreach and pastoral care to undocumented immigrants, while Catholic medical personnel and others who object to abortion have faced pressure to participate in the deadly procedures, the bishops’ conference explains.
Foreign religious freedom concerns include the threat to historic Christian communities in war-torn Syria and the danger to religious minorities, including Christians, in Pakistan. The bishops have also highlighted threats posed by the terrorist Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and by religious conflict in the southeast Asian country of Myanmar.
The U.S. bishops’ conference has prepared materials to help dioceses and parishes take part in the Fortnight for Freedom, including guides for special prayer services, a list of frequently asked questions about religious liberty, and a study guide on the Second Vatican Council’s “Dignitatis Humanae,” its declaration on religious freedom.
The Fortnight for Freedom website is www.fortnight4freedom.org.
Santiago, Chile, Apr 29, 2014 (CNA) -
A statue of St. John Paul II donated by the University of San Sebastian in Chile has been moved to the Puente Alto neighborhood, five years after authorities refused to install it in a prominent area in the Chilean capital.
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago blessed the statue during a Mass at the St. John Paul II Park to celebrate the canonization of the late pontiff.
“It was suggested to me that I go to Rome that day, but I wanted to remain here with you to celebrate this occasion of joy and grace,” he told the residents of Puente Alto, which is Santiago’s largest poor neighborhood.
“The figure of St. John Paul II is a seed that descends into the ground of Puente Alto, an area that has been touched by so much pain and abandonment,” Cardinal Ezzati said.
“Today, the Pope comes here to stay with you, to be a seed of justice, fraternity and peace, a seed that will bear fruit in a community in which everyone can feel that they are brothers and sisters and can share in the dignity of the children of God that we have been given through the Lord’s Resurrection.”
The 42-foot bronze statue was donated in 2009, but its installation in Santiago’s Bellavista district was rejected by the National Monuments Commission, which said it was too tall and would not look good.
Cardinal Ezzati said the “pride and self-sufficiency of those who think that art or beauty or truth depends on their own narrow point of view prevented this statue from being installed somewhere else. But in reality that was providential, because the Pope wants to be among the simple, among the poor.”
“From this place, Pope John Paul II will continue to walk with these people, with the people of Puente Alto, he will continue to foster hope in the poor, he will continue to encourage authorities to be committed to bringing about justice and peace in these places in Chile, so that a truly great community of brothers and sisters will be raised up here.”
Cardinal Ezzati said he spoke to Pope Francis about the blessing of the statue. “Holy Father, we are waiting for you,” he told him, “because there one of your predecessors has wished to remain in the hearts of the people.”
“I hope that in a year-and-a-half or two, when Pope Francis gets the chance to visit us, we can have a gathering as wonderful as this one today.”
Little Rock, Ark., Apr 29, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
At least 35 people have been killed in deadly storms and tornadoes in the South, and Catholic agencies are preparing long-term support for the storm’s victims.
“The storm was really powerful,” Patrick Gallaher, executive director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, told CNA April 28. “They’re not finding many damaged homes. They’re either untouched or they’re completely blown away, just blasted off the foundations. Smooth concrete slab is all that’s left.”
Storms including high winds and dozens of tornadoes destroyed homes and businesses, flipping cars and uprooted trees across Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee on April 27 and April 28, USA Today reports.
Some wind speeds in Tennessee’s Lincoln County exceeded 190 mph. One tornado in Arkansas was particularly deadly, reportedly killing at least 15.
The small Arkansas towns of Mayflower and Vilonia were hardest hit. Vilonia had previously been hit by a strong tornado in 2011.
“They were almost rebuilt,” Gallaher said.
He reported that authorities have finished searching for and rescuing survivors and are presently assessing the damage.
Catholic Charities of Arkansas is coordinating with Catholic parishes in the vicinity and with agencies outside of the area, including Catholic Charities USA. The agency does not specialize in being a first responder. Rather, it assists in disaster follow-up action.
“We do furnish the clean-up teams and our forte over the years has been the long-term recovery case management,” Gallaher said. “That’s what we’re coordinating right now.”
The agency aims to help storm victims get “back on their feet.”
The parish hall of St. Joseph Church in Conway, Ark., the only Catholic church in Faulkner County, serves as one of several emergency American Red Cross shelters for those displaced by the tornado. Gallaher said only a small number of people are staying at the 200-person capacity shelter. They may move out within the next few days.
Gallaher reported that there has been an “outpouring of donations” of in-kind items to help storm victims, to the point that there are now logistical problems organizing the donations. However, he believes that these donations may decrease soon. He said the agency is “very appreciative” of monetary donations.
The Diocese of Little Rock is accepting donations for disaster relief funds, and online donations may be made through the American Red Cross.
Catholic Charities of Jackson is also accepting donations to support victims in Mississippi.