|Book on Vatican art walks a course of spiritual exercises
Vatican City, December 6 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The director of the Vatican Museums' art patrons program has authored “Meditations on Vatican Art,” a collection of images of beautiful works accompanying the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
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VATICAN CITY, December 6 (CNA/EWTN News) .- In wake of the passing of Nelson Mandela, spokesman for South Africa’s Episcopal Conference lauded his political achievements, stating that he will be remembered most for his work in fostering unity.
The political legacy of Mandela can be described in “one word: reconciliation,” Fr. Similo Mngadi told CNA in a Dec. 6 interview.
“He made you feel human, and want to be human.”
Nelson Mandela, the South African revolutionary who headed the country’s anti-apartheid movement, fighting to replace it with a multiracial democracy, died at the age of 95 in his Johannesburg home after a long battle with illness.
Regarding the politician’s Dec. 5 passing, Fr. Mngadi, spokesman for the South African Episcopal Conference, explained that many in South Africa are experiencing “mixed feelings,” because although Mandela had been suffering various health problems the last few years, “he was an icon for everybody.”
He was “good for reconciliation,” observed the spokesman, reflecting that he “put everyone together,” and that his work was a “point of cohesion” for the division in the country.
South Africa’s apartheid originally developed after the Second World War, and was strictly enforced by the country’s National Party governments, who implemented the movement as a means of racial segregation, and under which the rights of most blacks were seriously restricted.
After the 1994 overthrow of the apartheid, Mandela, who had previously been imprisoned for 27 years due to his opposition to the government, was elected as South Africa’s first black president, and worked tirelessly to dismantle the remaining legacy of the apartheid until the end of his term in 1999.
During his time in office Mandela collaborated closely with Church officials in overcoming racial tensions, Fr. Mngadi recalled, highlighting how he continued to work alongside South Africa’s current cardinal until his death.
The Episcopal Conference of South Africa offered Mass for the political icon this morning at 8:30, the spokesman noted, stating that a special Mass will be held at 1p.m. in Capetown’s Our Lady of the Flight to Egypt’s cathedral in his honor.
Marta Jimenez Ibanez contributed to this report.
VATICAN CITY, December 6 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The director of the Vatican Museums' art patrons program has authored “Meditations on Vatican Art,” a collection of images of beautiful works accompanying the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
“Obviously you can't exhaust the richness of the Spiritual Exercises in this book, because his was 30 days in silence, with one on one preaching, but you always can get a first step into the mystery of the retreat through the window of the art” found in the book, Fr. Mark Haydu told CNA.
“It's really meant to be a tool, either personally or in groups, with questions and reflections, and spiritual exercises for each day, and a resolution, that can make the prayer practical.”
Fr. Haydu, a Legionary of Christ, explained that much of the order's spirituality is Ignatian, noting that he goes on an eight-day retreat using St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises annually.
“In the Ignatian method of meditation, there's a step called composition of place: once you place yourself in God's presence, the composition of place is to use your imagination to enter into the scene, whether it be the Gospel, or an idea, or the life of a saint that you're meditating on: and art facilitates that imagination, and reflection.”
Beauty, he said, “has a role of inspiration, and projecting us into the eternal and transcendent, as well as healing and soothing the soul,” just as prayer has. “On a different level maybe, in that beauty is a reaching out to us, so to speak, and prayer is our reaching out to God. So both are complimentary, but beauty is a great medium” to foster prayer.
The book, produced by Liguori Publications, presents meditations from the 28 days of the Spiritual Exercises, each with a work of art found in the Vatican Museums reflecting the theme; a text from Scripture; commentary from Fr. Haydu; points for prayer and reflection; and a resolution or exercise with which to put the meditation into practice.
For the creation of man, he said, “I was almost obliged to go to Michelangelo's scene of creation from the Sistine Ceiling; talking about the flight into Egypt, well Barocci is again a must, as is The Transfiguration of Raphael.”
“So a lot of them were clear, and for other meditations, I used my own inspiration, what I like. When I came to, for example, meditating on time and creatures, which can be kind of an abstract meditation for Ignatius, I used a St. Francis, who is a good symbol of someone who places little focus on the treasures of this world and focuses his treasure on God, so I thought that was appropriate.”
Fr. Haydu added that another concern was to include a variety of pieces from across the 12 Vatican Museums: “Many people think of the Vatican as just Raphael, Michelangelo, and don't realize that our largest collection is our Missionary Museum, or that we have an incredible collection of 1st-4th century sarcophagi of the Christians. So I tried to pull from the modern collection as well, to give people a sense of the breadth of the Vatican tradition of patronage and collection.”
“Meditations on Vatican Art” includes art ranging from the fourth century to a portrait of Bl. John Paul II produced in 1980, and the majority of pieces presented for meditation are from the Renaissance era.
As director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, Fr. Haydu is charged with connecting those who support the restoration of art held by the Vatican the museums' curators and restoration labs. The Vatican Museums are the “breadwinner” for the Vatican City State. “So much of what the Pope and the Vatican does, the services, the daily Masses, the plaza, some 100,000 people come, and its all free, but it does have its cost.”
In addition, the Vatican operates a radio station and a newspapers, “so the Vatican Museums support all those initiatives. Thus the Patrons pay for the restoration” of the collections, “so it's a way for art lovers and faith lovers to be part of the Vatican family, the Vatican Museums, in a real direct way, and help the Pope preserve the collection that the Church has patronized over the years.”
Individuals can join the Patrons of the Arts for a donation of 600 U.S. dollars a year, or 1,200 for families, and 250 for under-35s.
“We want to bring in as many people as can be connected to the art as possible … it's certainly not just for the ultra-rich,” Fr. Haydu explained. “At the same time, it allows for someone who is coming to Rome to do it as a special experience for their families, and build up their faith.”
When visiting Rome, the Patrons of the Arts are given private tours of the Vatican Museums, and are allowed into the restoration labs to see the work for which they donated.
Fr. Haydu related that “Pope Francis told me recently when we had lunch together, that no-one needs beauty more than the poor.”
“So keeping it open to the world and to those who can't access it as easily, that's really what the Patrons are about. Those who have the capacity to come and to see and preserve, do it not only for themselves … but they do it out of a sense of service.”
Patronage of the Vatican Museums' art is important because as the marketplace has become the primary patron of artists, “the whole sense of art as a service to the common good, has lost a bit of traction”; becoming patrons of art through the Church helps to restore the role of art as what is offered for the edification of all, including particularly the poor.
“Art is a great way, especially with Pope Francis' focus on the peripheries, and on people who aren't as connected to the faith, to reach out to them … and to those who wouldn't be in the pews on Sunday.”
“So the book presents itself in a beautiful manner … it can be given as a gift” to those not in the Church – its format is that of a coffee table book – “so it's a tool for evangelization, for reaching out.”
Fr. Haydu said “Meditations on Vatican Art” could be used either on a daily basis, even to go through Advent for example, or Lent, or one's own spiritual preparation for a decision you need to make, or for small groups” such as Bible studies or prayer groups.
VATICAN CITY, December 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- In his daily homily on Dec. 5, Pope Francis reflected that the words and actions of a Christian must be centered on Jesus, or they will be empty, leading to division and the “madness of pride.”
“A Christian word without Christ at its center leads to vanity, to pride, power for the sake of power,” said the Pontiff during Mass at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Martha.
“And the Lord knocks these people down. This is a constant in the history of salvation,” he observed, pointing to the words of Mary’s Magnificat.
God will cast down those who are vain and prideful, believing themselves to be made of rock, the Pope explained, according to Vatican Radio. Rather, God wants us to build our lives on Him as a solid foundation.
“Isaiah, in the first reading, says: 'Trust in the Lord always! The Lord is the rock!'” the Holy Father emphasized.
“This figure of the rock refers to the Lord. One word is strong, life-giving, it can go forward, it can tolerate all the attacks, if this word is rooted in Jesus Christ.”
The Pope called on those present to examine their consciences in order to determine whether their Christian words are truly founded on the rock of Christ.
“A Christian word that does not have vital roots, in the life of a person, in Jesus Christ, is a Christian without Christ!” he exclaimed, adding that “Christian words without Christ cheat, they do evil…they begin to travel the path of madness.”
Pope Francis added that “when there is no Jesus Christ this also creates division among us, it makes division in the Church.”
We must put our Christian words into practice or they will be empty, he said, pointing to the Pharisees whom Jesus rebukes for knowing God’s law but failing to live it.
The Pope encouraged the faithful to “ask the Lord to help in this humility, to speak words rooted in Jesus Christ.”
STEUBENVILLE, OHIO, December 6 (CNA/EWTN News) .- More than 10,000 young people have signed a giant birthday card for Pope Francis, offering their prayers and well-wishes for the Holy Father’s 77th birthday on Dec. 17.
“We wanted to give the Pope a gift he would truly appreciate; something he would be proud of,” said Mark Nelson, founder of Catholic to the Max, the Ohio-based arts and gifts outlet company behind the initiative.
The 4-foot-tall card consists of a tri-fold plaque featuring an image and prayer of one of the Holy Father’s favorite Marian devotions, “Mary, Un-doer of Knots.” After collecting both physical and digital signatures, Catholic to the Max intends to send the card to the Pope later this month.
Nelson said that the idea to give the Holy Father gifts of prayer and service came from the Pope’s first “Urbi et orbi,” when he asked that the faithful pray for him before he imparted his blessing.
“From day one, he has asked all of us to pray for him and to serve the poor. This is our response,” Nelson said.
The card traveled to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis last month and acquired signatures from more than 10,000 young people.
Now that the card is back in Steubenville, Ohio, it has been gathering signatures at local Catholic parishes and Franciscan University.
A website has also been created to allow even more youth to digitally sign the card, which will be sent in time to reach the Holy Father for his birthday.
Well-wishers can choose from different spiritual gifts or works of mercy to give the Pontiff on his birthday, such as visiting the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary or serving the poor.
Those wishing to sign the card can do so until Dec. 9, when the pages containing physical and digital signatures will be organized and bound together with the Marian image and sent to the Holy Father.
To learn more about Catholic to the Max’s project, visit popefrancisbirthdaycard.com.
WASHINGTON D.C., December 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Researchers say the Christian population is growing in regions that experience anti-Christian persecution, though this threatens their ability to contribute to societies.
“Persecution is growing because Christianity is growing in the places where people are persecuted,” said Todd Johnson of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Speaking during a Dec. 5 media call, he characterized anti-Christian persecution as “growing fast.” His research estimates that one in five Christians, 500 million people, currently live in countries where Christians are likely to be persecuted. By 2020, their numbers are expected to rise to 600 million, 25 percent of the Christian population.
Johnson noted that the Christian population has significantly shifted from Europe and North America to the “Global South”: Africa, Asia and Latin America.
He also observed a change from 20th century anti-Christian persecution, which was predominantly state-based.
“Persecution in the 21st century is both state-based and society-based,” Johnson said. “Persecutors today represent a wide variety of ideologies: communist, national security state, religious nationalists, and Muslim majorities.”
However, Muslim majority countries’ persecution of Christians makes up only 25 percent of all such oppression.
Johnson is one of several scholars who will be taking part in the upcoming conference, “Christianity and Freedom: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.” The conference, which will be held Dec. 13-14 at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, aims to highlight Christianity’s political, religious and economic contributions.
Timothy Shah of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, also participated in the media call, explaining that the Rome conference intends to “get behind the headlines” about global anti-Christian persecution and ask “fundamental questions” about trends in persecution and their impact on society and global stability.
“Wherever you look, there are headlines about this growing phenomenon of attacks (and) persecution against Christian communities, from Indonesia to China, to India, to sub-Saharan Africa and to the Middle East,” Shah said.
Also discussed during the Dec. 5 conference call was the situation of Coptic Christians in Egypt.
Mariz Tadros of the University of Sussex noted that Christians in the Middle East do not consider themselves “minorities” because “they see themselves as part of the fabric of society. They see their faith extending over 2,000 years to when the initial churches were built.”
She said that the recent political revolution in Egypt initially had an “extremely inclusive” goal to create space for all citizens irrespective of their religion, gender and class.
However, the rise of some Islamic political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood has correlated with an increase in “a very exclusionary discourse” that puts pressure on Christians, non-mainstream versions of Islam and other non-Islamic religions.
Christian churches in Egypt suffered intense attacks in mid-August, when over 64 churches were attacked or burned in one 24-hour period.
Tadros said the attacks on Christian churches are unprecedented in modern Egypt since its establishment three centuries ago.
Although religious intolerance is increasing, Tadros also noted a “strong resistance movement” against anti-Christian violence. She stressed that there were no instances of a Christian responding to violence with violence.
“This was extremely important in not bringing the country into a state of civil war,” she explained.
Coptic civil society leaders are advocating not only for the rights of Christians, but for all citizens irrespective of their religion, she said.
Tadros also lamented “misrepresentation” and “bias” in news coverage in the U.S. and other Western outlets that neglected the situation of Christians in Egypt.
“The plight of the Christians was completely uncovered,” she said. “It made people think ‘why is it some people’s suffering is considered more newsworthy than others?’”
She urged media coverage to convey local voices and civil society associations that are talking about persecution in their area. However, she also cautioned that such news coverage “does a lot of damage” when it is linked to the interests of the U.S.
Christianity is also growing in China, where there are still “very strict” restrictions that tend to burden Christianity more than other religions, said Fengang Yang of Purdue University.
He explained that the Christian population has passed a “critical threshold” of 5-10 percent of the population.
“The number of Chinese Protestants is going to grow dramatically,” he said.
According to the scholar’s projections, China could become the largest Christian country in the world at some point between 2025 and 2032, surpassing the number of Christians in the U.S. His projections, which are not certain, indicate China’s Protestant population might reach 255 million people.
Fengang said Christianity has become more visible in part through Christians’ prominence in disaster relief efforts, such as the response to the massive 2008 earthquake in Sechuan province.
ROME, ITALY, December 5 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The acting general director of the Legion of Christ has shared the steps the order has taken to prevent sexual abuse and to respond to its allegations, focusing on the gravity of abuse and its victims' suffering.
“When we confront the reality of sexual abuse, it is helpful to keep certain complementary values in mind: compassion and solidarity with the victims, the responsibility to protect people who are under our pastoral care, the right of the accused to a due process, the promotion and defense of justice, and – keeping in mind that sexual abuse is a behavior that will never be tolerated – mercy and support of our brothers who are guilty of this crime,” wrote Fr. Sylvester Heereman in a Dec. 5 letter.
“Finally, we should see this from the point of view of Christ, who is capable of making all things new. The last word belongs, not to evil, but to him.”
The letter was sent to all members of the Legion of Christ shortly before its general chapter, which will establish a new constitution and elect new leadership.
Fr. Heerman outlined what the Legion has done to deal with sex abuse, as well as “the principles that guide the actions of the Legion in the prevention of sexual abuse and in responding to allegations made against any of our brothers.”
The letter comes the same day the North American territorial director announced that it has no reason to doubt the truthfulness of sex abuse allegations against one of its former novice instructors, Fr. William Izquierdo.
Fr. Heereman said the announcement “confronts us with the painful and horrifying reality of sexual abuse of minors by members of our congregation.” He acknowledged that abuse, especially that committed by a priest or consecrated person, “brutally obscures the light of the Gospel.”
The director of the North American territory, Fr. Luis Garza, wrote in a separate letter that he was informed of an allegation against Fr. Izquierdo in July 2012, committed when he was a novice instructor in Connecticut – a position he held from 1982 to 1994. An independent investigation concluded in August 2013, and its findings were presented in October.
Fr. Izquierdo is now 85 and suffers from advanced dementia; he has not exercised ministry since 2008. Fr. Garza said he would be “moved to an assisted living facility where he will receive proper treatment.”
Fr. Heereman's letter noted that “clear steps” have been taken against abuse of minors throughout the Legion's territories, and that the upcoming general chapter will include reports of progress from each area.
He offered a diagnosis of the congregation: of the 1,133 priests who have been ordained in the Legion, 35 have been accused of the sexual abuse of minors. In 14 of those cases, it was determined that sexual abuse did not occur: 10 of the accused were innocent, and four committed imprudent behavior, but not abuse. Nine other priests were found guilty and punished canonically; two had already left ministry; and 10 cases remain under review.
Fr. Heeremen added that six allegations of sexual misconduct by superiors against adults under their authority, including those against the Legion's founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel, had been levied.
These figures indicate that fewer than four percent of Legion priests have been accused of sexual impropriety, and fewer than one percent have been found guilty of sexual abuse.
“Today I can assure one and all that we have put the necessary means in place to ensure that no member of the congregation can have ministerial contact with minors if we have information that indicates that he has committed a crime of sexual abuse,” Fr. Heeremen said.
He emphasized that steps have been taken in the Legion both for preventing sexual abuse and handling accusations. The order has sought advice from the Holy See, dioceses, and other congregations about how to prevent and respond to abuse.
Principles gleaned from that advice include: handling allegations at a more local level to ensure that “the civil and ecclesiastical laws of each country” are complied with; proper selection of candidates for the congregation; codes of conduct; clear procedures, and care for both victims and accused; prioritizing victims and the prevention of future occurrences through publicizing allegations when necessary, in spite of “scandal and the damage to the reputation of the priest”; the presumption of innocence; and the expulsion of the guilty in formation, and the laicization or restriction on ministry of those guilty who are ordained.
“The victims should be at the center of our attentive care,” Fr. Heereman wrote. “We must ask ourselves how we can help these persons to rediscover life and regain trust in Jesus Christ and in the Church. We should all feel responsible for ensuring that in the Legion of Christ there is not room for ambiguity with respect to protecting the innocence of minors who are under our pastoral care. This issue will need to be addressed in the general chapter.”
As a Christian response to sexual abuse, he recommended care for victims as a priority; proper discernment by seminarians; willingness to listen to and care for victims; and the obligation not to remain silent about abuse.
“May the Lord grant us all the grace of following the paths of the Gospel, of faithfully observing his commandments and of configuring our lives with the mystery of the Lord's cross,” Fr. Heereman concluded.
“May he, the God of all consolation, help us bring peace and the light of the Gospel to the men and women he has entrusted to our pastoral care.”
PATTAYA, THAILAND, December 6 (CNA/EWTN News) .- The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences is hosting a seminar on biblical apostolates and the new evangelization this weekend, drawing clerics, religious, and laity from across the continent.
“The main crux is to reawaken the missionary challenge of the Word,” Fr. Jacob Theckanath, executive director of the bishops' conference, told CNA, explaining “Crossing the Borders: Renewed Biblical Apostolate,” being held Dec. 5-7 in the Thai city of Pattaya, located 90 miles southeast of Bangkok.
The seminar marks the release of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation “Evangelii gaudium,” on the new evangelization; Fr. Alberto Rossa, an Argentine missionary, has supplied copies of the document to the participants.
The group aims to draw on both Pope Francis' text and “Verbum Domini,” Benedict XVI's apostolic exhortation on the Word of God in the Church's life and mission, to amplify the role of the biblical apostolate.
The seminar was also inspired by the message of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences' tenth plenary assembly, published in December 2012, on “renewed evangelizers” for the new evangelization in Asia.
Drawing people from 19 countries across Asia and Oceania, the seminar aims to help participants produce more effective biblical apostolates, using lectio divina and integrating missionary zeal for the new evangelization into all forms of biblical and pastoral ministry, Fr. Theckanath explained.
The Christian community should not be “introverted” with their use of the Bible, but rather carry and integrate the Gospel into all walks of life, he stressed.
Fr. Theckanath was encouraged by the “tremendous representation of the laity,” making up half of the participants in the seminar, calling it a “positive sign of the interest and hunger for the Word of God.”
LAGOS, NIGERIA, December 5 (CNA) .- After a shipwreck off the coast of Nigeria, a 29-year-old man survived three days at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean while constantly reciting a psalm his wife mentioned to him during their last conversation.
Harrison Okene was a Nigerian cook on the tugboat Jascon 4, which was one of three vessels pulling an oil tanker. It capsized and sank about 32 kilometers off the coast of Nigeria in late May with its 12 crewmembers aboard.
Although the shipwreck occurred in May, a video of the dramatic rescued surfaced this week and was published by the Associated Press on YouTube.
The video shows Okene being found alive by divers who were inspecting the shipwreck.
Okene was in the bathroom when the boat sank 100 feet to the ocean floor. He was trapped in an air pocket, where he remained for three days reciting a passage from Psalm 54: “Oh God, by your name save me...The Lord sustains my life.”
The video captures the moment in which a diver saw the cook's hand and thought it belonged to a dead body. When the hand grasped at him, he shouted, “He's alive, he's alive,” to his fellow rescue workers, who were watching on monitors on the surface.
Okene said he thought only a miracle would lead to his rescue and during the long wait, he began “reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed.”
In an interview with Nigerian newspaper The Nation, Okene recalled that he began to invoke the name of God and that he was in a daze because the surroundings went completely dark.
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