Denver, Colo., Jul 10, 2014 (CNA) -
When Dr. Christopher Blum first read "Introduction to the Devout Life," he knew that he would be personally indebted to St. Francis de Sales.
Inspired to read various other letters written by the saint, Blum decided to compile a book of meditations that would give readers advice for renewing their spiritual journey.
Printed by Sophia Institute Press, “Rose Among Thorns” is the first English publication in this form of St. Francis de Sales’ letters. The book, according to Blum, will help any reader who is “trying to be the rose among the thorns.”
“This book seeks to encourage Christians, particularly suited for people in the middle decades of their life, who are really in the thorns of life and struggling with the fact that they have been trying to live a good, Christian life for 30 years and don’t feel like they are saints yet. This book is speaking to that person. And since I myself am that person, I found it very helpful,” he told CNA.
A philosophy and Catholic culture professor at the Denver, Colo.-based Augustine Institute, Blum read thousands of St. Francis’ letters. He translated the letters from French and edited them for the meditations in the book.
“It was not as daunting procedure as you might think,” he commented, explaining that he filtered through and picked “only the passages that seemed most likely to be appreciated today.”
Blum wanted the letters of St. Francis de Sales to be read as if the saint was personally speaking to the reader.
“What I did in translating was to remove all the particularities from the letters, anything that would identify it as dealing with this or that person or private concerns, so now they really read like meditations,” he said.
The title “Rose Among Thorns” was a prominent illustration St. Francis himself used. “I think it is a nice image of spirituality, which he is famous for having pioneered,” Blum reflected, “that a life in the world for a Christian is life among thorns.”
The primary spiritual focus of the book is centered on meekness, which Blum explained is “a characteristic that is maybe a little hard for us to understand. We think that to be meek is to be personally unimpressive, or the wallflower at the dance.”
However, St. Francis describes meekness as a fundamental example of charity.
“St. Francis’ advice to cultivate meekness is really a concrete way of making us better prepared to express the joy of the Gospel that Pope Francis is calling us to,” Blum emphasized.
Rome, Italy, Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Italy's upcoming “Meeting of Friendship among People” organized by the ecclesiastical movement Communion and Liberation has set its sights on the “peripheries” spoken of by Pope Francis.
The event has taken place in the Italian city of Rimini every year since 1980 and often attracts international interest because of the prominence and quality of its participants.
The theme of the 2014 gathering is “Toward the peripheries of world and existence: Fate has not left man alone.” Scheduled for August 24-30, it's program – including 14 exhibitions and more than 100 conventions and shows – was presented at a press conference in Rome July 1.
“The crucial issue for changing history is the change of a man's heart, not power,” said Giorgio Vittadini, president of Communion and Liberation's Foundation for Subsidiarity.
Vittadini explained that “all the shows, the conventions and the exhibitions have the common aim of going out and going towards others,” adding that other people are “always a good we must be provoked by.”
Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer to the United Nations in Geneva for the last ten years who will be a special guest of the meeting, underscored that there are two possible responses to “the other.”
“We can welcome the other as a gift, or we consider him a menace, and so we will build our wall,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “History, however, teaches us that walls cannot stand. Only (by) starting from the fact that the other is an opportunity for our good, will we be able to tread a new path.”
Vittadini stressed that the way toward “the other” is that indicated by Pope Francis during his visit to the Holy Land and the subsequent meeting of prayer for peace held in the Vatican Gardens June 8.
This is the reason why Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land and a main organizer of the June 8 meeting, has been invited to address attendees in Rimini. Fr. Pizzaballa will also speak about the current situation facing the Middle East.
Aleksandr Filonenko, a professor of philosophy at the University of Kharkiv in Ukraine, will speak about the changes that marked Ukraine in the past year.
Among the major events of the meeting will be an exhibition and several debates on Syria moderated by Giorgio Bucellati, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. There will also be debates about Brazil, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Pope Francis has on occasion stressed the need for Christians to go to the “peripheries.” The Italian Minister for Education Stefania Giannini underscored that peripheries are “not only geographical.”
“There are anthropological peripheries, which deal with education.”
Italian political figures will also be highly represented at the Rimini meeting. Besides Giannini, attendees include Italy's Minister for Labor Giuliano Poletti and the Minister for Economic Development Federica Guidi.
Sacramento, Calif., Jul 10, 2014 (CNA) -
Proposed California food safety rules for butchering animals have raised concerns among the state’s Muslims, who say the rules would prevent them from practicing their religious beliefs.
“Religious freedom is an important issue for all Americans. It is at the core of the freedoms our country was founded on and a value we pride ourselves on,” Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council of Islamic Relations’ San Francisco Bay Area Office, told CNA July 8.
The celebration of Eid al Adha, a Muslim holiday which includes a ritual sacrifice of an animal, the meat of which is shared among family, friends, and the poor. Food safety proposals in California may threaten the ability of local Muslims to carry out the sacrifice in accord with their beliefs.
Billoo explained that Muslims sacrifice an animal during Eid al Adha “as a means of paying respect for and honoring the story of Prophet Abraham and his sacrifice.”
Unlike Jews and Christians, who believe Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac but then substituted a ram after proving his faith, Muslims hold that Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his other son, Ishmael.
California Muslims’ commemoration of the event could be endangered by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s proposed regulation on custom slaughterhouses.
The rule would require the slaughterhouses to stun animals before a non-employee can come in and cut the animal’s throat, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Muslims sometimes use special slaughterhouses to make their sacrifice for Eid al Adha. To mark the occasion, a conscious animal is slaughtered by making a single cut across its neck with a long, sharp blade while saying a short prayer.
“The proposed rule would undermine the ability of Muslims to engage in the slaughter, specifically by requiring that the animal be stunned in advance,” Billoo said.
Stunning an animal would undermine the halal requirements that many Muslims follow, she noted.
Billoo said that some Muslims have a “sincerely held religious belief that they must personally slaughter their meat.”
“The proposed rules would inhibit the ability to engage in these practices.”
Billoo said regulators are now reviewing submitted comments on the proposed new rule. The agency could disregard the new rules, adopt them as proposed, or make a new proposal and again seek public comment.
Brice Hamack, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, California, said in a June 30 letter to the California Department of Food and Agriculture that the regulation, as written, would “prohibit many American Muslims residing in California from practicing their religious beliefs,” adding that the regulation is inconsistent with current California legal codes regarding the religious slaughter of animals.
Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, encouraged non-Muslims to “stand up for the right of Muslims to engage in this.”
“That’s something that everyone should stand up for, even if they don’t personally stand to benefit,” he remarked to CNA.
Rassbach’s organization has been defending Catholic and other Christian organizations, on the basis of religious liberty, against federal requirements to provide employees with health insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception.
He said that respecting religious freedom is “part of everyone being able to live together.”
While a religious practice may not make sense to somebody else, he said, “we can at least agree that in order for our fellow citizens to be able to follow their religion, we should try to accommodate that and make space for that.”
“That’s what California should do,” he added.
Rassbach said there have been efforts in some European countries to ban halal or kosher slaughter. He attributed the rarity of these efforts in the U.S. to the fact that the practices are recognized as humane under U.S. law.
He suggested that California regulators may not have considered the religious issue and could adjust the law. In his view, the regulators have a duty under the California and U.S. constitutions to respond to religious concerns and advance a government interest “without impinging on this religious activity.” He said this duty is especially clear given that California statutes already recognize this kind of slaughter.
“Religious freedom is not going to be something that’s only going to be provided to a certain group,” Rassbach said. “In our system, we treat different religious groups equally.”
“It would be very unfortunate that if somebody doesn’t agree with a particular religious practice it could be banned. Almost everybody who is religious has some practice that other people don’t agree with.”
St. Louis, Mo., Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Archdiocese of St. Louis has agreed to a legal settlement with a woman the archdiocese says falsely accused a priest known to have committed sexual abuse.
“The archdiocese has vigorously defended this case because it believes Jane Doe 92's claims and allegations are false,” the archdiocese said July 7, using a pseudonym for the accuser who is now 22 years-old.
The archdiocese has acknowledged that the accused priest, Joseph Ross, abused boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
“To be clear, the archdiocese is not defending Ross. He is a known abuser, which is illegal, wrong and shameful. The archdiocese does, however, have an obligation to defend itself against claims it believes are false, and instead use its money for charitable work and to heal all legitimate victims of sexual abuse.”
The woman claims the priest abused her as a young girl between 1997 and 2001 at St. Cronan Parish.
She also claims that her father witnessed her alleged abuse by Ross and did nothing to stop it, an accusation her father denies. According to the archdiocese, the woman's doctors have diagnosed her with a medical condition that causes her to make false claims and inconsistent statements.
“Her own doctors and expert witnesses voiced doubts about her allegations and noted that they contained multiple inconsistencies. We simply do not believe her allegations are true,” the archdiocese said.
Prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Ross because they believed they could not prove Jane Doe 92’s case. She has also accused another person of rape, which prosecutors declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence.
In 1988 Ross pled guilty to a misdemeanor sexual assault charge and was sentenced to probation. The archdiocese then sent him for treatment at a medical facility whose doctors said the priest was not a pedophile and recommended he be returned to ministry, which the archdiocese did in 1989.
Other victims have accused the priest. The St. Louis archdiocese said no other alleged victims have claimed the priest engaged in abuse in the years since 1989.
The priest was again removed from ministry in 2002 under new “zero tolerance” standards and due to what the archdiocese said were “clear changes in society's and the medical community's views on the ability to treat child abusers.”
At the time of his removal, the archdiocese voiced regret at reassigning him and apologized to victims and their families. The priest was laicized in 2002.
In its statement, the archdiocese said it is committed to helping abuse victims and preventing sex abuse.
“The archdiocese and Archbishop Robert Carlson remain committed to eradicating the terrible and inherent societal evil of child abuse,” it said.
Attorney Ken Chackes, who represented the plaintiff, said in a statement that Jane Doe 92’s attorneys believe a jury would have found the priest guilty.
“We must, however, take action to preserve her health and well-being,” he said, saying that her alleged victimization “should never happen to any person.”
The woman's lawyers, who include Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, had planned to use other abuse complaints drawn from records the archdiocese had been ordered to turn over, the Associated Press reports.
Potential witnesses in the trial included Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is a former auxiliary bishop of St. Louis; Bishop Richard Sitka of Knoxville, Tenn.; and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb. The latter two bishops had served in the St. Louis archdiocese.
The terms of the settlement are confidential and the archdiocese said that by the terms of the settlement agreement it will not make any further statements on the matter.
“The settlement is obviously also intended to allow the Church to move past this matter – a costly legal fight which is not good for the Church, its parishioners, or the community as a whole,” the archdiocese said. “It is time for all parties to move forward.”
Baton Rouge, La., Jul 10, 2014 (CNA) -
After the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that a priest may have to testify about an alleged confession, the Diocese of Baton Rouge said that this demand “assaults” Church teaching and is unconstitutional.
“The issue before the District Court, the First Circuit Court of Appeals and the Louisiana Supreme Court assaults the heart of a fundamental doctrine of the Catholic faith as relating to the absolute seal of sacred communications (Confession/Sacrament of Reconciliation),” said a July 7 statement from the diocese.
In May, the state Supreme Court ruled that the priest in question, Fr. Jeff Bayhi, may be subject to mandatory reporting laws regarding sexual abuse, and cannot invoke the privilege of confidentiality regarding an alleged confession made to him about sexual abuse by a young girl.
The diocese explained that a priest is under the gravest of obligations not to reveal the contents of a confession or if the confession even took place. He cannot do so even under threat of imprisonment or civil penalty, and incurs automatic excommunication if he breaks the “seal of confession.”
“A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable,” the diocese stressed.
“Pursuant to his oath to the Church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. If necessary, the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil court and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent.”
A state appeals court initially ruled that the alleged confession was “confidential” and thus Fr. Bayhi did not have to testify in court as to its alleged contents or whether it even took place.
However, the state Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying that the seal of confession did not shield Fr. Bayhi from mandatory reporting laws.
Louisiana law states that a “member of the clergy” must report allegations of sexual abuse, except in the case of “confidential” conversations made in private “and not intended for further disclosure except to other persons present in furtherance of the purpose of the communication.” In addition, a priest “is presumed to have the authority to claim the privilege” of confidentiality “on behalf of the person or deceased person.”
The high court ruled that Fr. Bayhi can only invoke confidentiality if the girl refuses to disclose their conversation, and since she waived her confidentiality privilege, he is subject to the mandatory sexual abuse reporting laws.
By saying that a civil court can determine whether or not a confession took place, the court is in “clear and unfettered violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States,” argued the diocese.
“This matter is of serious consequence to all religions, not just the Catholic faith.”
Denver, Colo., Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Efforts in several states to legalize recreational marijuana use poses serious harm to individuals as well as to communities that are already broken, said members of a recent panel.
“For the state to say something that’s really manifestly harmful – though it might have some benefits, manifestly harmful – is legal, is just short-sighted and irresponsible,” Dr. E. Christian Brugger stated at a July 1 panel discussion at Denver’s Holy Ghost Catholic Church.
Brugger is the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford professor of Moral Theology at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. He was one of several panel members discussing moral, legal, pastoral and personal concerns with recreational marijuana use.
Brugger argued that recreational marijuana use carries many long-term negative side-effects and is morally wrong because users intend to impair their cognition.
Legalization of the drug teaches that its use is permissible, he cautioned.
“The law is a moral teacher. And when the law says something is legal, what it does is it removes a stigma from that thing and over time we start to look at it not only as neutral, but even as something that can be good for us,” he stated.
“So for the law to remove the legal stigma against pot smoking,” he said, “when we can hardly call ourselves a community of unity and charity and selflessness and love, when we know it’s going to have bad effects upon our youth who are affected most by this, when our families are weak and certainly not flourishing….is very short-sighted. I think it was stupid for the country to do it.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney M.J. Menendez said that conflicts between state and federal law on the matter undermines general respect for the law. Both Colorado and Washington state have recently implemented laws allowing for the recreational use of marijuana; however, the drug remains illegal under federal law.
“I am told regularly how can anybody say that the rules are legitimate and ought to be obeyed when the federal government tells me one thing and the state government tells me another?” she asked, adding that enforcement of the myriad complicated marijuana regulations has proven extremely difficult.
Legalization of marijuana is especially “unjust” to the youth, Brugger added, because they are largely ignorant of the long-term consequences of pot use. Side-effects can include long-term deterioration of memory and learning ability, respiratory problems, increase in anxiety and depression, and loss of motivation, he said, and about 10 percent of regular pot smokers develop an addiction.
“Young people are most likely to be influenced by recreational marijuana use,” Brugger stated. “Children who see their peers or who see their neighbors or worse, see their parents using pot hear about all the merits of getting high, are very likely to be put into a situation of temptation where it’s too strong for them, and start to experiment with it and then become users.”
Just about all recreational pot smokers intend to get “high,” he added, which as an end is immoral.
“Intentionally altering our consciousness is wrong. Recreational users smoke pot to get high. So they intend to alter their perceptions and faculties of cognition. Since human cognition is a precondition to make choices, and choices are the foundation by which we cooperate with God and with grace, or deny God’s grace, by which we become good or we become wicked, to diminish our capacity to make good choices is not a good thing for us to do.”
Although the Bible never specifically mentions marijuana, it repeatedly condemns drunkenness, Brugger stated, and getting “high” is an equivalent state to being “drunk.”
“I think that getting high is an offense against communion,” stated Fr. Peter Mussett of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder, Colo.
Addressing pastoral concerns with recreational pot use, he referenced studies showing that “it isolates you. And it draws you back into yourself. And it fills you with those things that we’re working against, which is alienation, distrust, loneliness, despair, and boredom.”
When asked if it is possible to smoke marijuana without getting “high,” Dr. Brugger did not dismiss the possibility of such a scenario, but maintained that just about all marijuana users intend to get “high.”
“I think if a person was able to know that all it would do is relax them, not alter their consciousness – if that’s possible; it’s a hypothetical – but if that’s the case, then I don’t think that the doing of it would be intrinsically wrong,” he stated.
However, he quickly added other factors that could make the hypothetical action morally impermissible, such as scandal and cooperation with evil.
“If they had children and the children saw them, it could be a bad example, it could be wrong on that account. If they go out and buy it in dispensaries and they have to become the kind of person who purchases it and sees themselves as purchasing it, involve themselves in a culture, all those things could make it for them something they should not do. In other words, be wrong.”
And such a hypothetical scenario is highly unusual, Brugger added.
“[I]t seems that a very, very small minority of people are interested in smoking marijuana in order not to get high. It’s almost seems to me counter-factual. The reason you smoke marijuana is to get high.”
Vatican City, Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican announced earlier today that Pope Francis has decided to pay a private visit to an evangelical pastor who is a close friend from his time in Buenos Aires, but currently lives in Italy.
On the morning of July 26, a Saturday, the Roman Pontiff will travel to the province of Caserta in the Campania region of Italy for a casual visit with pastor Giovanni Traettino.
The idea of making the visit to pastor Traettino’s church of the Reconciliation in Caserta originally sprang from an encounter Pope Francis had with a group of evangelical pastors in the Vatican last month, during which the pontiff expressed his desire to visit the pastor’s church.
The visit “will be a strictly private, simple and quick” encounter, the July 10 statement from the Vatican explained.
Caserta lies in southern Italy and is a prominent agricultural, commercial and industrial commune. It is roughly a 2 and half-hour drive from Vatican City.
Pope Francis’ visit to Caserta will mark his third trip to an Italian city outside of the Vatican this summer.
On June 21 the Bishop of Rome traveled to the town Cassano all'Jonio, where he spoke harsh words against the region’s ongoing problem with organized crime.
He also met with priests, seminarians and religious of the diocese, encouraging them to serve with joyful fraternity, and ate lunch with the poor and young residents of the region’s drug rehabilitation center. He ended the trip by visit the elderly in a retirement community and celebrating Mass.
July 5 the Roman Pontiff traveled to Campobasso and Isernia, where he met with students and staff of the city’s university, urging greater collaboration in finding creative solutions to the economic crisis, which has hit the region particularly hard.
He also praised the example that working mothers give in their challenging balance of work and family life.
Following his morning audience, Pope Francis again ate lunch with the poor, after which he met with youth from the cities of Abruzzo and Molise. He then traveled to Isernia where he met with prison inmates, and was later received by local authorities for the launch the Celestinian Jubilee Year.
Pope Francis’ next scheduled trip is his Aug. 14 – 18 trip to South Korea, which will follow the theme “Rise Korea, clothe yourself in light, the Lord’s glory shines upon you.”
Seoul, South Korea, Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The vitality of the Church in South Korea is behind the many conversions that have taken place in the nation which Pope Francis is set to visit Aug. 13-18, according to a Salesian bishop.
Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, visited South Korea June 21-26 to give lectures on Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” in the nation's archdioceses: Kwangju, Daegu, and Seoul.
Bishop Toso told CNA July 2 that he was “profoundly stricken by the interest and love of the Korean Church for poor and those who suffer. I was especially struck by priests who advocate for the weakest people and share their pain in different social contexts.”
This commitment “proves that Korean priests are a good example of what Pope Francis said: ‘Priests must go to peripheries, be a shepherd with the smell of the sheep.”
“I could personally witness that the Catholic Church is a sort of ‘hook’ for poor and unemployed people in South Korea,” Bishop Toso recounted.
Catholics in South Korea represent 12 percent of the population. Despite the fact Catholics are a minority, they are a strong community, which includes at least 30 parliamentarians.
Bishop Toso recounted that “secular, I would say secularist, media depict the Church in Korea as a conservative community, and one on the side of the government and the rich.”
“I could highlight in my lectures and I personally saw,” he said, however, “that the Catholic community in Korea is strongly committed to the announcement of the Gospel and Jesus,” and that this is “a revolutionary step, since the presentation of Jesus faces the dominant culture – in Korea as well as in the rest of world – of a materialism and consumerism ready to adore the idol of money and to consider the weakest people as useless.”
The bishop said the Church in Korea has been “very much on the side of the people” during social difficulties in recent years; he also recounted saying Mass for the unemployed of the country.
“There was great participation. And among the participants, there were atheists. After the celebration, they told me that they were very stricken by the words of the Mass, 'only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ When we took a picture all together, everybody wanted to hold, to shake my hands. This proved to me that people are looking for the Church, because the Church in Korea is very close to the people.”
Because of this proximity, Bishop Toso said, “many have converted in recent years … I could experience that many people have converted in the course of the years.”
The Catholic population of South Korea has grown rapidly, having been around 0.6 percent of the population in 1949, and 10.9 percent by 2010.
Vatican City, Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Pontifical Council for Culture launched an effort designed to unite the world in asking for peace in warring countries by observing a moment of silence during the final game of the World Cup.
“Sports were born around religious festivities. Sporting events were moments of peace when wars ceased, as for the Olympic truce,” Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda said July 10 for the launch of the campaign.
“Why not for the World Cup? Why not a pause, a moment of silence, a truce for peace?”
Msgr. Sanchez, undersecretary at the Pontifical Council for Culture and head of the section for culture and sport, spoke in reference to the ancient Greek tradition “ekecheiria,” or “truce”, that was put into practice during wartimes in order to allow citizens safe travel to the Olympic Games.
Established in the 9th century B.C. as a treaty signed by three kings, the truce allowed for athletes, artists, their families, and ordinary pilgrims to travel in complete safety to participate in or attend the games, as well as a safe return to their home countries.
The campaign, launched on the council’s website and Facebook page, is simply “a call for peace,” said Richard Rouse, a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
“It's as simple as it says. It's just that one simple phrase – we live in an age of simplicity, we don't need big, long speeches to get the point across. We just want peace, simple as that,” Rouse told CNA July 10.
Rouse said because much of the world will be watching the final game "we just thought it would be a good opportunity to take a moment, 30 seconds, a minute, to remember all those who are suffering in the wars around us.”
That pause, he said, “could be a moment at the beginning of the game, in the middle or whenever.”
“We'll leave that up to the organizers to decide, but to take a moment to ask for peace in the middle of so many conflicts.”
The World Cup final match will be played July 13 between Germany and Argentina.
In addition to being shared on Facebook, the pontifical council is also promoting the initiative on Twitter with the hashtag #PAUSEforPeace.
Vatican City, Jul 10, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas, who was appointed Wednesday to be an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Ranchi in India's eastern state of Jharkhand, has voiced his enthusiasm for the task.
“I would like to be what Pope Francis asks us to be: a pastor who feels the smell of the sheep, who has the sheep close to him,” Fr. Mascarenhas told CNA July 10, the day following his appointment, expressing his desire to follow in the Pope’s pastoral footsteps.
“I will try my best, in spite of my human limitations and shortcomings, to be good to the clergy, to be good to the priests, to be close to the laity, and above all to try and show them the love and mercy of God. And I hope they too show the love and mercy of God to me. That’s my hope.”
Recalling the moment earlier this month when he was informed of his appointment, Fr. Mascarenhas, who is an official of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted that there were just two others from the council present, as well as a crucifix on the wall.
Sensing that there was something the others wanted to say, the priest recalled that when they finally gave him the letter from the Pope asking if he would accept the appointment, he looked to the crucifix on the wall, saying to himself in silence,“okay, but this is in your hands!”
Ranchi is a city of 1.1 million, and the capital of a state seen as the heart of India's indigenous tribes. While he has never been to the archdiocese, Fr. Mascarenhas said he has heard it is “a great place with very, very warm people.”
“The people are open, simple, friendly and with great faith in God,” he noted, explaining that he has been told it is a place “where the word of God has made a lot of advances and where evangelization has very good prospects.”
In 2010, 4.4 percent of the more than 3 million people in the Ranchi archdiocese were Catholic; most of the population of Jharkhand are Hindu, while 14 percent are Muslim and 13 percent adhere to indigenous religions known as Sarna.
Fr. Mascarenhas expressed that “honestly it feels strange” to have been appointed a bishop, “because ever since the appointment has been made people look at you differently.”
“You within your own heart feel a sort of weight, a responsibility. And at the same time looking forward to a new task entrusted to you.”
Born in Camurlim, in west India's Goa state, in 1960, Fr. Mascarenhas was professed as a member of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier in 1979, and was ordained a priest of the society in 1988.
He holds a masters in political science, as well as a licentiate and doctorate in sacred scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
He is currently procurator general of the Society of the Missionaries of St. Francis Xavier in Europe, and a member of the Pontifical Committee for the International Eucharistic Congresses.
In addition to these, and his position on the Pontifical Council for Culture, he is a lecturer in scripture at the Pontifical Gregorian University and at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Speaking of the great need for evangelization in India, the bishop-elect explained that it “is a very complex thing, because on one side we have rising extremist forces of all sorts that impede the evangelization efforts.”
These extremists come not only from fundamentalist Hindu or Muslim forces, but also from radicals in other Christian communities, he observed, affirming that there is a great need to bring these extremist voices “under control for good evangelization.”
“Evangelization simply means spreading the word of God, and the word of God is all about love, about mercy, and in that there can be no violence, there can be no fundamentalism.”
Describing how fundamentalism in India is different from that of the rest of the world, Fr. Mascarenhas stated that this is because “it goes against their own interests.”
“See, evangelization goes against the caste system, it breaks down the social order, and obviously people who have been in control are finding evangelization a threat,” he explained, noting that in general India is a very tolerant country, but this “small slice” is growing and “posing a threat not only to the Christians, but to the unity, integrity, and secularism of India.”
Referring to how Christianity is “a religion of dialogue,” the bishop-elect explained that one of his key strategies in combating fundamentalism will be in “keeping channels open, talking to everybody.”
“We talk to everybody, we see their viewpoints and we expect that they will respect us. I think if we can live in love and respect a lot of unnecessary problems will be avoided in the world.”
Fr. Mascarenhas also revealed that although the date is not yet set in stone, his consecration to the episcopate will most likely take place Aug. 30 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Ranchi, along with Fr. Telesphore Bilung, who was himself appointed an auxiliary for the Archdiocese of Ranchi on May 6.
The Ranchi archdiocese is led by Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, who will celebrate his 75th birthday in October.
Fr. Mascarenhas said that posed with the decision to have his episcopal consecration either in Rome or in Ranchi, since h has never been to the local Church before, he chose to have it there as a way for the archdiocese to get to know him, and as sign that he wants to be close to his new flock.
“I have chosen my motto for my episcopate as ‘Your word, oh Lord, is a lamp unto my feet,’ and I hope it will be the word that will guide me in my ministry.”