Vatican City, May 9, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Martyrdom is a call to Church unity, Pope Francis observed to the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, signalling his preference for a means of ecumenism favored by his representative for Christian unity.
Cardinal Kurt Koch became president of Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in February 2013, taking over from Cardinal Walter Kasper. In line with Pope Francis, he has returned to a focus on “ecumenism of blood,” whereas Cardinal Kasper had preferred a “spiritual ecumenism.”
“The sufferings endured by Christians in these last decades have made a unique and invaluable contribution to the unity of Christ’s disciples,” Pope Francis said May 8 at an audience with Karekin II, Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
“So too in our time the blood of innumerable Christians has become a seed of unity.”
The Armenian Apostolic Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church; these Churches reject the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and have been considered monophysites by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
Pope Francis began their meeting by praising Christ because “in recent years relations between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Church of Rome have been strengthened,” noting Karekin’s meetings with St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and his presence at his own inauguration as Bishop of Rome.
He then began discussing the ecumenism of martyrdom, saying that “the number of disciples who shed their blood for Christ during the tragic events of the last century is certainly greater than that of the martyrs of the first centuries, and in this martyrology the children of the Armenian nation have a place of honour.”
In 1915, the Ottoman Empire began a genocide against the Armenian people, in which some 1 million were killed.
“The mystery of the Cross,” Pope Francis said, “has been lived as a direct participation in the chalice of the Passion by so many of your people.”
He said the “ecumenism of suffering and of the martyrdom of blood are a powerful summons to walk the long path of reconciliation between the Churches, by courageously and decisively abandoning ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit.”
“We feel the duty to follow this fraternal path also out of the debt of gratitude we owe to the suffering so many of our brothers and sisters, which is salvific because it is united to the Passion of Christ.”
Pope Francis thanked Karekin for his work for ecumenical dialogue, and exhorted that they might prayer for each other: “may the Holy Spirit enlighten us and lead us to that day, so greatly desired, in which we can share the Eucharistic table.”
This ecumenism of suffering and of martyrdom is seemingly the way Pope Francis wishes to tread the path of ecumenical dialogue.
He had already discussed it in his December interview with Italian daily La Stampa.
Pope Francis said that “ecumenism is a priority” of his, and that “today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible; and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed.”
St. John Paul II had also discussed this ecumenism of martyrdom. At the Way of the Cross held at the Colosseum April 1, 1994 – preached by Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Eastern Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople – he mentioned “the other ‘Hills of Crosses’, so numerous, throughout European Russia, throughout Siberia, many ‘Hills of Crosses’, many Colosseums of modern times.”
“Today I would like to say to my Brother from Constantinople and to all our Eastern brethren: dear ones, we are united in these martyrs of Rome, of the "Hill of Crosses” and the Solovietsky Islands and many other extermination camps. We are united against the background of these martyrs; we cannot fail to be united.”
Later that same year, in the apostolic letter “Tertio millennio adveniente,” St. John Paul II wrote that the commemoration of martyrs “cannot fail to have an ecumenical character and expression. Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and of the martyrs. The communio sanctorum speaks louder than the things which divide us.”
In contrast, Cardinal Kasper – whom St. John Paul II appointed head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2001 – chose “spiritual ecumenism” as the “watchword” for ecumenical dialogue, instead of martyrdom.
At a reflection for the Week of Christian Unity in 2008, he discussed spiritual ecumenism as a challenge “to become ever more aware of the scandal of division,” and focused more on the eschatological dimension of ecumenism and an “invisible monastery” rather than the achievement of Church unity in the here and now.
Despite all this, Cardinal Kasper’s “spiritual ecumenism” did not exclude the ecumenism of martyrdom.
However, when he replaced Kasper in 2013, Cardinal Koch returned the discussion’s emphasis to martyrdom.
He had already called for a new ecumenism of martyrs in March 2011 at an annual ecumenical and interreligious summit sponsored by the Community of Sant'Egidio in Munich.
"Since today all churches and Christian ecclesiastical communities have their martyrs, we are dealing with a true ecumenism of martyrs,” he said.
“While we, as Christians and as churches, live on this earth in an as yet imperfect communion, the martyrs in their celestial glory find themselves in full and perfect communion.”
New York City, N.Y., May 9, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a recent interview with Commonweal, Cardinal Walter Kasper discussed his proposal that divorced and remarried persons might receive Communion, suggesting that Christians aren't called to be heroic.
“To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this,” he told Commonweal's Matthew Boudway and Grant Gallicho, referring to divorced partners who have entered into a new civil marriage.
“But it's a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”
A divorced and remarried couple living as brother and sister, he said in the article published May 7, “could also create new tensions … normally it’s also the sexual relations in such a communion, so I can’t say whether it’s ongoing adultery.”
The president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity came to the fore after a Feb. 20 address on marriage to a group of cardinals, controversial for its comments on remarriage and the reception of Communion.
According to La Stampa, Cardinal Camillo Ruini has reported that the vast majority of cardinals present at the consistory – about 85 percent – expressed opinions contrary to those laid out by Cardinal Kasper.
Cardinal Kasper's interview with Commonweal began with a discussion of mercy, which he juxtaposed with justice; he suggested that there be should be greater mercy within the Church regarding both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “criticisms of some theologians” and “the question of Communion for divorced and remarried people.”
With respect to this question, he told Commonweal that a failed marriage is a shortcoming which “has to be confessed.”
“Penance is the most important thing,” he said, highlighting the importance of repentance and “a new orientation,” living the “new quasi-family or the new partnership” in a Christian way.
“My question – not a solution, but a question – is this: Is absolution not possible in this case? And if absolution, then also Holy Communion?
He asserted that “there are many themes, many arguments in our Catholic tradition that could allow this way forward.”
It was at this point that the cardinal stated that the average Christian is not meant for heroism.
Saying that for divorced and remarried persons to live and brother and sister is heroic, he added that “people must do what is possible in their situation.”
He noted the importance of finding a position “between rigorism and laxism,” citing St. Alphonsus Liguori, patron of moral theology, as an example of this. “We aren’t in bad company if we rely on him.”
Cardinal Kasper did not mention that St. Alphonsus Liguori flourished when the rigorist teachings of Jansenism were still en vogue in much of moral theology.
The cardinal responded to his critics – mentioning Cardinal Caffarra by name, though the Archbishop of Bologna has been joined by at least Cardinals Mueller, Brandmueller, Bagnasco, Sarah, Re, Ruini, and De Paolis – by professing that marriage is indissoluble and that when someone is divorced and enters a new union, “the bond of marriage remains.”
Yet he said that if a person repents of the failure of their marriage, “God provides a new chance -- not by cancelling the demands of justice: God does not justify the sin. But he justifies the sinner.”
“Many of my critics do not understand that distinction,” Cardinal Kasper claimed.
“I respect those who have a different position, but on the other hand, they must see what the concrete situation is today. How can we help the people who struggle in these situations?”
He acknowledged that in such situations, the “second marriage” is “not a marriage in our Christian sense,” adding that he would be “against celebrating it in church.”
Cardinal Kasper drew an analogy between such a second marriage, and other Churches and ecclesial communities, which have “elements of the true church” and yet lack its fullness.
“It’s not the best situation. It’s the best possible situation. Realistically, we should respect such situations, as we do with Protestants.”
The cardinal professed: “In no way do I deny the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage.”
“That would be stupid,” he said.
The Church “must enforce” marriage’s indissolubility, he stated, as well as “help people to understand it and to live it out.”
“But,” he added, “we must recognize that Christians can fail, and then we have to help them.”
Boston, Mass., May 9, 2014 (CNA) -
A new report finds many signs of vitality in Hispanic Catholic ministry in the U.S., but recommends immediate action and more youth outreach to meet Hispanics’ growing needs and to counter secularization.
“A new generation of Hispanic leaders in the Church is emerging,” Hosffman Ospino, the Boston College professor who led the study, said May 5. “The question is: is the Catholic Church ready for this? Will the structure of the American Catholic Church allow them to succeed?”
He said American Catholics “still have a long way to go,” Boston College reports.
The Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate conducted the study between 2011 and 2013. It considered 4,368 U.S. parishes with some form of Hispanic ministry, which make up 25 percent of all Catholic parishes in the U.S.
Ospino, a professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education, said that only three percent of Hispanic Catholic children attend Catholic schools, while fewer Hispanics under 30 attend Church.
“The secularization of Hispanics is the biggest threat to the future of the Catholic Church in America. We run the risk of losing a whole generation of Catholics.”
The report was released as the Pew Research Center published the results of its national survey examining Hispanic religious identity in the U.S.; Pew reports that about 25 percent of the Hispanic population are former Catholic.
The changes appear to be primarily among adults under age 50. Those aged 30-49 who have left Catholicism move towards either evangelical Protestantism or no religious affiliation, while those aged 18-29 who have left Catholicism heavily trend towards adopting no religious affiliation.
About 55 percent of U.S. Hispanics are Catholic, 22 percent are Protestant, and 18 percent are unaffiliated. The report appears to show a 12 point drop in the proportion of Catholic Hispanics since 2010, when about 67 percent of respondents said they were Catholic.
Hispanic Catholics tend to be less religiously engaged than Hispanic evangelicals. About 40 percent of these Catholics say they attend religious services weekly or more and 61 percent say they pray daily. Hispanic Catholics tend to be less opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage than evangelical Hispanics, though a majority of Hispanic Catholics favor a ban on all or most abortions and only 30 percent support gay marriage, the Pew report found.
Ospino said that a failure to address the issues facing Hispanic Catholics and their parishes could mean a “dramatic decline” for the parish structure in America, similar to that in Europe.
The summary report of Ospino’s study said that about 40 percent of all Catholics in the U.S. are Hispanic, which represents significant growth from the early 1980s, when Hispanics made up an estimated 15 percent of U.S. Catholics.
Since 1960, Hispanics have made up 71 percent of the growth in the U.S. Catholic population, the report said, and about six percent of all Masses in the U.S. are now said in Spanish.
Citing the Department of Labor’s 2013 Current Population Survey, the report said that 61 percent of Hispanics and 93 percent of all Hispanics under age 18 are U.S.-born. The report said that as the U.S.-born Hispanic Catholic population increases, Hispanic ministry may need to expand or shift to providing more services in English.
Most parishes with Hispanic ministry are in the southern and western U.S.
Hispanic parishes often brings together different nationalities and ethnicities from 21 Latin American countries, Spain, and Puerto Rico. About 72 percent of Catholic Hispanic parishioners have Mexican roots.
The apostolic movement with the greatest presence in parishes with Hispanic ministry is the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which is present in about half of those parishes.
Pastors of parishes with Hispanic ministry have an average age of 58, slightly younger than the national average for Catholic clergy. Of these pastors, 69 percent say they are proficient in Spanish.
The presence of vowed women and men religious is “very significant” in parishes with Hispanic ministry, the report said.
The summary report found ten “signs of vitality,” such as the continued place of the parish as a “very important institution” for Hispanic Catholics to “build community and celebrate their faith.” A new generation of young Hispanic pastoral leaders is also emerging, and parishes with Hispanic ministry benefit from the experience of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic leaders. Hispanic permanent deacons are one of the fastest-growing groups of pastoral leaders.
However, the report also found areas requiring “immediate pastoral attention”: there will be major transitions in the next decade due to the retirement of thousands of “culturally competent” pastoral leaders; Hispanic Catholics have “minimal” integration into parish life; ministry resources are “limited” and “unequally distributed”; the offertory at Spanish-language Masses is “significantly” lower; there is a a “widening distance” between predominantly Hispanic parishes and Catholic schools; and those engaged in Hispanic ministry are often unpaid.
Pastoral outreach to Hispanic youth, especially U.S.-born Hispanics, is “minimal” compared to the size of the Hispanic population.
“Lack of appropriate investment in ministry with this population at a time when most young Catholics in the country are Hispanic is self-defeating,” the report warned.
Vatican City, May 9, 2014 (CNA) -
In his homily on Friday morning, Pope Francis reminded the congregation of the holiness of the Church that at the same time contains sinful members.
“We are sinners, everyone, here. And the Church is holy! We are sinners, but she is holy,” he emphasized to the congregation at the daily Mass on May 9 in the Santa Marta guesthouse chapel.
The Pope stressed the living reality of the Church that is both heavenly but also present on earth, saying the Church “is the spouse of Jesus Christ and he loves her, he sanctifies her, he sanctifies her every day with his Eucharistic sacrifice, because he loves her so much.”
He went on to acknowledge that it can be difficult to understand the nature of the Church’s holiness: “But how can it be holy if all of us are in it?”
“We are sinners, but in a holy Church,” he explained, noting that because Christ makes the Church holy, all members of the Church are called to participate in the process of being made holy.
“And even we are sanctified with this membership in the Church: we are sons of the Church and mother Church sanctifies us, with her love, with the sacraments of her spouse.”
Moreover, he noted, “holiness is a gift from Jesus to his Church.” Christians can actively accept this gift, but “no one sanctifies himself.”
Rather, Christ “chooses persons in which one sees clearly his work of sanctification.”
Pope Francis noted that there are many persons in scripture who display sanctity, showing that “there is not one path for becoming holy.”
Many of the people Jesus calls to follow him, like Matthew and Zacchaeus who were tax collectors, display “the first rule of sanctity: it is necessary that Christ grows and we become less.” Humility is the “rule of sanctity,” he stressed.
In Friday’s scripture reading, the story of St. Paul shows this kind of process of sanctification through humility.
St. Paul, known first as Saul, persecuted the first Christians, “but the Lord awaits him. He waits for him and makes known (to him) his power. (Saul) becomes blind and obedient,” recounted Pope Francis.
After his conversion, Paul becomes a great preacher of the Christian faith, traveling throughout the nations to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Yet he ends “his life with a small group of friends, here in Rome.”
“They carry him away...cut off his head. Simply. The great man, that one who went out into the world, ends (life) like this,” reflected the pontiff.
“The difference between heroes and saints is witness, the imitation of Jesus Christ,” he explained. Saints embrace the way of the cross: many “finish so humbly.”
“I think of the last days of St. John Paul II - everyone saw it,” remarked the Pope, recalling how frail his deceased predecessor was. The recently canonized late pontiff was unable to walk or speak in the days preceding his death.
Vatican City, May 9, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis met with the secretary general and other leaders of the United Nations today, urging them to challenge both a “culture of death” and the “economy of exclusion.”
In a meeting on May 9 with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other executives at the U.N., Pope Francis said that the institution should work towards goals which include providing “appropriate protection for the family, which is an essential element in sustainable human and social development.”
“Specifically, this involves challenging all forms of injustice and resisting the ‘economy of exclusion,’ the ‘throw-away culture’ and the ‘culture of death’ which nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted,” he continued.
Ban Ki-Moon is in Rome for a yearly meeting of all the heads of the U.N. agencies. Although the Secretary General met the pontiff last year, today’s meeting was unique in its inclusion of about 50 senior UN officials.
Pope Francis took the opportunity to speak regarding the Future Sustainable Development Goals at the world organization, noting that they must be “formulated and carried out with generosity and courage, so that they can have a real impact on the structural causes of of poverty and hunger.”
He urged the U.N. leadership to refuse “to be satisfied by current results,” keeping in mind that “the world’s peoples deserve and expect even greater results.”
It is from an “awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death” that development and progress can aid peoples throughout the world.
Such an awareness “must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands, material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones,” urged the Pope.
He then considered the gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with the tax collector Zacchaeus. When Christ looks at the man who was living a life of greed, Zaccheus’ conscience is “awakened.”
“The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions,” reflected the pontiff.
“Does the spirit of solidarity and sharing guide all our thoughts and actions?” he queried.
The gospel story “teach us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective, and practical openness to the needs of others.”
The Pope then encouraged the leadership of the U.N. to “work together in promoting a true, worldwide ethical mobilization” guided by “fraternity and solidarity, especially with regard to the poorest and those most excluded.”
Cambridge, Mass., May 9, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A Harvard student group organizing a re-enactment of a satanic black mass on campus has dismissed Catholic critics, calling their views arrogant and their objections ignorant and intolerant.
“Satanists have a ritual that they perform for their own affirmative reasons,” the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club told CNA May 8, adding that these reasons “currently have absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism beyond the symbols themselves.”
“Offense is anachronistic and based on intolerance and ignorance about the practice (of) Satanism.”
The club has faced controversy since it announced its plans to host a re-enactment of a satanic black mass on campus May 12. It described the ceremony as an educational event that is part of a larger series exploring various cultural practices.
The group said objections that have been raised to event are “closed-minded,” arguing that it is “paranoia” to think the satanic rituals and practices are designed to degrade the Catholic faith.
A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony structured as a parody of the Catholic Mass. Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, it invokes Satan and demons, often in Latin.
The ceremony is centered around the desecration of the Eucharist, which is generally done by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual, or defecating and urinating on it.
Early media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, both the temple and the Cultural Studies Club later insisted that the statement was inaccurate, and only a plain piece of bread would be used.
Announcements of the black mass prompted a deluge of complaint from Catholics who argued that the event is not educational, but sacrilegious and disrespectful.
The event has drawn strong opposition from the Archdiocese of Boston and many individuals in the Harvard community. Critics argue that the university would never permit a student organization re-enacting a Koran burning or lynchings of African Americans and should similarly refuse to allow a sacrilegious ceremony mocking the Catholic faith.
In a general email responding to numerous questions presented about the event, the Cultural Studies Club said that it was not seeking to offend people but instead hoping to “work towards diminishing misconceptions” about Satanists, whom it described as misunderstood and marginalized.
“The Black Mass began as a propagandistic literary device to justify brutal purges against alleged witches. This conspiracy of witches, or Satanists, has never actually existed,” the group asserted. “The idea originated with the Church itself and has become a staple of the mythology concerning Satanism. The Black Mass has been adopted as a symbolic revolt against arbitrary authority, not a focused assault upon Catholic faith.”
The group acknowledged that the black mass is “inspired by, or derivative of” the Catholic Mass, but insisted that it is not intended as a mocking or “hateful display.” Rather, it said, the satanic black mass is “an affirmation of a set beliefs whose intent is not to marginalize anyone, nor incite violence, nor intimidate others.”
The Cultural Studies Club told CNA that “there is no formal doctrine” in Satanism, which allows “for a wide range of behavior” and is largely defined by its “outsider status” and ideas of individualism.
However, it also argued that “it is an outright lie to claim that the Black Mass ceremony as currently performed by Satanists, in general, is done with the intent of mocking Catholicism.”
“That position is arrogant and egocentric,” the group charged, suggesting that the black mass “has constructive meaning for the people who perform those actions” and that the offense of Catholics is not justification for stopping the event.
While there is “no one set of Satanic beliefs,” the club asserted, Satanists do not believe in Satan as an actual person, like many religious organizations do, but rather believe that “Satan is a metaphorical construct who represents the struggle against tyrannical authority.”
The source of Catholics’ offense, the group suggested, “is founded on differing interpretations of symbols and an insistence that one’s own interpretation is universal.” The group insisted that it “is presumptuous and inaccurate to insist that this event is designed as an expression of ridicule.”
In response to the black mass, the Catholic community at Harvard has announced that it is holding a Eucharistic Holy Hour on the evening of May 12 to correspond with the scheduled satanic event.
Senior chaplain Fr. Michael Drea said this will allow students to “focus on the goodness of our Eucharistic Lord” and seek the grace to be true “defenders of our faith and the sacramental life.”
Alejandro Bermudez contributed to this report.
Vatican City, May 9, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis visited some of the Holy See’s future diplomats on May 2, advising them that their diplomatic work must rest on a Christian worldview.
“In order to understand reality, the present must be read with the eyes of a believer,” Pope Francis said at the Vatican’s Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, according to L’Osservatore Romano.
“It is an illusion to think we can read reality while disregarding our status as disciples of Jesus Christ. The interpretation needed to understand the present, the Christian hermeneutic, is based on the outlook of the disciples.”
The Pope was received at the academy by its president, Archbishop Giampiero Gloder, who was joined by 29 priests presently training to be the Holy See’s diplomats. A group of religious from the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Child Jesus, supporters of the academy, also attended.
The discussions with Pope Francis began after evening prayer and ended with a dinner.
In response to a question from one of the priests, Pope Francis described three fundamentals for a good pontifical diplomat.
He stressed the importance of “remembering the past,” citing the prophets of the Old Testament.
These prophets “have the task of keeping alive the memory of God’s faithfulness and the unfaithfulness of the people,” the Pope said. A diplomat “should know the history of God with the people he has been called to serve.”
Another diplomatic fundamental consists in being able to correctly assess the present.
“This realism of the present is connected to competency, to studying and learning in order to fully understand a country’s situation. This means studying, visiting and speaking with the people,” Pope Francis said.
A third fundamental is prudence, he continued.
“It’s not possible to walk down every street,” the Pope explained. “A prophet ought to stand on these three pillars in order to say the right words, make the right gesture that is developed in prayer.”
He warned that when the memory of the Gospel, of the Church, or of the history of nation are lost, “everything ends up in ideology.”
The Pope encouraged those working in formation at the pontifical academy to embrace “competency,” calling this “the profound study of problems in order to avoid improvisations.”
He encouraged them to demonstrate fraternity and “priestly friendship” to overcome “ambition and excessive talk.”
Above all, he recommended prayer “as that conversation in silence before the altar, placing before the Lord the situations and problems experienced in the ministry.”
The pontiff addressed current issues facing the Church, such as the commitment to care for the dignity of human life at the international level. He also discussed the expectations for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family.