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‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ has a moody blue Mystique

May 29th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags:


Catholic News Service

Time travel meets a gleefully loopy version of American history in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

There are many surreal moments — Jennifer Lawrence as cerulean shape-shifter Raven/Mystique in a showdown with Richard Nixon, for one — but also some thoughtful moral commentary on whether it’s a good idea to alter the path of history or accept an immutable destiny.

The plot, loaded with action sequences familiar from the first six films in the series, is simple. It’s 2023 and the planet has been devastated by the Sentinels, fire-breathing robots first unleashed for American defense 50 years earlier. As doom descends on the mutants known collectively as X-Men, the elderly versions of Dr. Charles Xavier and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen) argue about the need to rewrite history.

Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the ability to send someone’s consciousness back in time, so she sends the most indestructible among them, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to 1973 so he can intercept Raven/Mystique before she assassinates the Sentinels’ inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).

It was after that event that the blue gal was captured and her DNA replicated to make the Sentinels virtually indestructible. If Trask lives, though, he’ll be imprisoned and the nascent Sentinel program will go away.

Wolverine also grabs the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who is being held in an underground prison at the Pentagon after being wrongfully implicated in the assassination of President Kennedy. He’s helped by a new character, Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who escapes every jam with his super-high speed.

Discussions about how a single event changes the future mingle with arguments between the younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto about how best to deal with Raven/Mystique. Screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Jane Goldman eventually surrender existential angst to the plethora of special effects, including a flying stadium.

The film contains gun and physical violence, fleeting rear male nudity, a reference to nonmarital sexual activity, and fleeting rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.


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‘Blended’ eliminates Sandler’s usual gags

May 29th, 2014 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

“Blended” is that rarity of rarities, a sincere family film, and since it stars Adam Sandler, whose trademark is scatological gags, it’s more than a bit of a surprise.

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler star in a scene from the movie “Blended.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Warner Bros.)

At the same time, director Frank Coraci and screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera hew to a rigid formula now common for the genre: Each child’s problem is dealt with individually and completely, without condescension.

There’s an exotic element, too, with blended families developing bonds at a high-end safari resort in South Africa. And there’s even an old-fashioned approach about sons needing fathers to teach them lessons about toughness, and daughters needing a mother’s uniquely compassionate understanding.

Sandler is the widowed Jim, manager of a sporting-goods store, with daughters Hillary, Espn (pronounced Espin, and yes, named after the cable-sports network) and Lou (Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann and Alyvia Alyn Lind, respectively). Barrymore is the divorced Lauren, a professional closet organizer with sons Brendan and Tyler (Braxton Beckham and Kyle Red Silverstein).

Through a mutual acquaintance’s temporary breakup, they both finagle the same South African getaway for their families. Hilarity usually ensues under such circumstances, but instead, Jim and Lauren quickly rise to the tasks of dealing with their children’s issues, which include the normal physical changes for adolescents.

Such matters are dealt with forthrightly, without descending into any crude remarks. Mature adolescents shouldn’t have trouble with any of this. The script strains not to offend.

Toward the end of the story, Jim and Lauren’s budding romance takes an unexpectedly serious twist involving her ex-husband, Mark (Joel McHale), which keeps matters firmly anchored and away from cliches.

The film contains frank mentions of bodily functions, light sexual banter and fleeting crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.


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Pope Francis says peace is fashioned by ordinary people – updated


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called on the world’s Christians to pray with him for peace in the Middle East, help convince governments to come to the aid of refugees and pray for Christian unity.

While peace is a gift from God, it is also built out of the day-to-day handiwork of individuals: true “artisans of peace,” who are capable of crafting fraternity and reconciliation with people of all cultures and religions, he said during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 28.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives in St. Peter’s Square to lead his weekly general audience May 28. The pope said peace is not mass produced, but handcrafted by ordinary people. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA)

Reviewing his May 24-26 trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, the pope told the tens of thousands of people in the square that his visit to the Holy Land, “that blessed land,” was a great gift of grace for the church and himself.

He said he had gone to “bring a word of hope, but I received one in return, too,” meeting people who still hope “against hope,” enduring much suffering, “like those who fled their own country because of conflict,” or facing discrimination and persecution “because of their faith in Christ.”

“During the pilgrimage,” he said, “I encouraged authorities to continue efforts to diffuse the tensions in the Middle East region, above all in martyred Syria, as well as to continue to seek a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

That is why, he said, he invited Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, “both men of peace and builders of peace, to come to the Vatican to pray together with me for peace.”

As the people in the square applauded, the pope told them, “Please, I ask all of you not to abandon us; pray hard so that the Lord gives us peace in that blessed land. I am counting on your prayers — pray hard, and a lot, so that peace may come.”

The Vatican announced the next day that the “prayer for peace” encounter would be held at the Vatican June 8 — Pentecost Sunday.

“There are no industries of peace,” outside, super-entities that can magically mass-produce a world free of conflict, the pope told the crowd. “No,” peace “is created day-by-day, handcrafted” by individuals whose hearts are open to God’s gift of peace.

“That’s why I urged Christians to let themselves be anointed” by the Holy Spirit, so they may always be “ever more capable of gestures of humility, fraternity and reconciliation” in their interactions with people of different cultures and religions.

During his trip, he said, he encouraged everyone to work for peace. “Each time I did it as a pilgrim, in the name of God and mankind, carrying in my heart great compassion for the children” of the Holy Land, which “has lived with war for too long and has the right to finally know days of peace.”

The pope said he was truly “struck by the generosity of the Jordanian people for welcoming refugees.” He said he thanked the country’s leaders and people for their humanitarian efforts, “which merit and require constant support from the international community.”

He asked that God bless not only the refugees, but those who come to their aid, and he called on people to “ask all international bodies to help” Jordan in its efforts.

Despite the importance of fostering peace in the Middle East, the pope said the main aim of his trip was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.

“That prophetic gesture” marked a “milestone” in what has been “an arduous, but promising journey toward unity for all Christians,” Pope Francis said.

Meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, a “beloved brother in Christ,” was the high point of the visit, the pope said.

Together with leaders of other Christian communities, they held an ecumenical prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Jesus. burial and resurrection. The event was seen as historic since the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities normally observe strict separation when they worship in the church.

Just as that sacred place echoed the joy of Christ’s resurrection, the pope said, “we also sensed all the bitterness and suffering of the divisions that still exist among Christ’s disciples.”

Such divisions are “truly harmful,” especially when evident at the very spot where Jesus’ resurrection was proclaimed.

During the celebration, the pope said, “we heard loud and clear the voice of the risen Good Shepherd who wants all his sheep to be of one flock.”

Pope Francis said that, “as popes before me have done, I ask forgiveness for what we have done to foster these divisions and I asked the Holy Spirit to help us heal the wounds that we inflicted on our other brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.

The pope had special words of thanks for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, responsible for preserving the sites commemorating the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as welcoming pilgrims and helping those in need.

“These Franciscans are amazing. Their work is wonderful, the things they do.” he said.

He also thanked all the government officials, “Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian, who welcomed me with so much courtesy and, I daresay, with friendship, too.”


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Pope to meet with survivors of sex abuse, confirms financial investigation of a cardinal


Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard the flight from Tel Aviv to Rome May 26. The pope told them he will meet with a group of sex abuse survivors for the first time and confirmed reports the Vatican is investigating charges its former secretary of state misappropriated 15 million euro from the Vatican bank. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM TEL AVIV — Pope Francis will meet with a group of sex abuse survivors for the first time soon, he told reporters May 26.

During a wide-ranging inflight news conference on his return to Rome from the Holy Land, the pope also confirmed reports the Vatican is investigating charges its former secretary of state misappropriated 15 million euro from the Vatican bank. And he announced he plans to visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January.

The pope described the abuse of children by priests as “such an ugly crime” and a “very grave problem,” the betrayal of a priest’s duty to lead young people to holiness, comparable to performance of a Black Mass.

“We must move ahead, ahead, zero tolerance,” he said.

As an indication of how seriously he takes the problem, the pope said he would meet soon with a group of six to eight sex abuse victims from various countries, including Germany, the U.K. and Ireland. He also will celebrate a private Mass with the group in the Vatican guesthouse, where he lives. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, a member of the recently established Vatican commission on child protection, will be present at the gathering, the pope said.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters the next day that the exact date for the meeting had not been set but that it would be soon.

Pope Francis is not known ever to have met with a group of sex abuse victims, something Pope Benedict did several times in various countries. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor from Ireland whom the pope named to the child protection commission, met him at the Vatican in May.

Pope Francis said the church cannot have privileged “daddy’s boys,” exempt from punishment when it comes to sex abuse of minors. He revealed that three unnamed bishops are currently under investigation by the Vatican for misdeeds related to sex abuse, and another has been found guilty and is awaiting punishment. It was not clear if the bishops in question had been accused of personally abusing children or of mishandling accusations of abuse by priests.

The pope also was asked about reports that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican secretary of state was considered the highest Vatican official, mishandled 15 million euro in funds held by the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank.

“It’s something being studied, it’s not clear,” the pope said. “Maybe it’s the truth, but at this moment it’s not definitive.”

Pope Francis said the Vatican bank was a case study of financial reforms now underway in the Vatican under the new Secretariat for the Economy led by Cardinal George Pell. The bank has closed some 1,600 accounts held by “persons who didn’t have the right,” because they were not church officials or institutions, the pope said.

“But there will still be incongruities, there always will be, because we’re human,” he said. “The reform must be continual.”

The pope answered several questions about his just-ended three-day visit to the Holy Land.

Looking ahead to other travels, Pope Francis said his second trip to Asia, after a visit to Korea in August, will take him to Sri Lanka for two days in January and then to the Philippines, where he will visit areas struck by Typhoon Haiyan last November.

Asked if he might follow his predecessor’s lead and ever resign, Pope Francis said he would pray for the wisdom to obey God’s will, but added that Pope Benedict had “opened a door” to the possibility of other retired popes and would not remain a “unique case.”

Pope Francis said the door is also open to allowing more married priests in the Catholic Church, in the Latin rite as well as the Eastern Catholic churches where the practice is already established.

“Celibacy is not a dogma of faith, it is a rule of life that I appreciate very much and believe to be a gift for the church,” the pope said. “Not being a dogma of faith, the door is always open.”

Discussing what he has frequently called a “throwaway culture,” the product of a “worldwide economic system centered on money, not the human person,” the pope said that culture is exemplified not only by youth unemployment and neglect of the elderly, problems he has cited before, but also by low fertility rates in Europe, particularly in Italy and Spain.

Regarding the two Synods of Bishops on the family he has called for this October and October 2015, the pope lamented what he characterized as an overemphasis, by members of the clergy among others, on the question of when divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may receive Communion.

The pope said focusing on that question posed the risk of “casuistry,” which he has defined in the past as the practice of setting general laws on the basis of exceptional cases. He emphasized the synods would consider the pastoral care of the family in its totality.

“Today, we know, the family is in crisis, it’s a worldwide crisis, the young don’t want to marry or they live together,” Pope Francis said. “The pastoral problem of the family is very large, very large.”


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High school teams ramp up for final playoff games of the year


For The Dialog


Most of the state tournaments resume after the holiday weekend and has some Catholic teams still standing after a crazy week. Here is the schedule, by sport. Read more »

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On last morning in Holy Land, Pope Francis reaches out to Muslims, Jews


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis spent the last morning of his three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land meeting with Muslims and Jews and calling for closer relations among the three major monotheistic religions as the basis for peace in the region.

At his first appearance May 26, Pope Francis toured the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, sacred to Muslims as the place from which Mohammed ascended to heaven, and spoke to Muslim leaders.

Pope Francis embraces Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem May 26. Looking on is Omar Abboud, Muslim leader from Argentina. “We did it,” Rabbi Skorka said he told the pope and Abboud. The pope’s message contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Addressing his listeners as “brothers,” rather than “friends,” as indicated in his prepared text, the pope pointed to Abraham as a common model for Muslims, Jews and Christians, since he was a pilgrim who left “his own people and his own house in order to embark on that spiritual journey to which God called him.”

“We must constantly be prepared to go out from ourselves, docile to God’s call,” especially “his summons to work for peace and justice, to implore these gifts in prayer and to learn from on high mercy, magnanimity and compassion,” the pope said.

In his remarks to the pope, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, accused Israel of impeding Muslims’ access to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Pope Francis then visited the Western Wall, the only standing part of the foundation of the Second Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D.

The pope stood for more than a minute and a half with his right hand against the wall, most of the time in silent prayer, before reciting the Our Father. Then he followed custom by leaving a written message inside a crack between two blocks.

Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope from Buenos Aires and an official member of the papal entourage, said the pope’s message contained the text of the Our Father and of the 122nd Psalm, traditionally prayed by Jewish pilgrims who travel to Jerusalem.

Stepping away from the wall, the pope simultaneously embraced Rabbi Skorka and Omar Abboud, a Muslim leader from Buenos Aires and a member of the papal entourage.

“We did it,” Rabbi Skorka said he told the pope and Abboud.

The pope also visited a memorial to victims of terrorism, a stop that had not appeared on his original itinerary. It was added at the request of Israeli authorities, in reaction to his spontaneous decision the previous day to pray at Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank. The separation wall, which Israel says it needs to protect itself from terrorism, has been a target of Palestinian protests and international condemnation. At the terrorism memorial, the pope prayed with his hand against the stone, the same gesture he used at the separation wall and at the Western Wall.

Following a brief wreath-laying at the grave of Theodor Herzl, father of the Zionist movement that led to Israel’s founding, Pope Francis visited the Yad Vashem Memorial to victims of the Holocaust. There he greeted half a dozen survivors of the Nazi genocide, kissing their hands in honor.

“He took my hand in his two hands and kissed my hand. I was dumbfounded. I never had a rabbi do that,” Joe Gottdenker of Toronto told Catholic News Service.

Gottdenker, who was rescued as a baby by a Polish Catholic couple, said he “was moved much more than I had even anticipated.”

In his remarks at Yad Vashem, the pope echoed and elaborated on God’s words to Adam after the fall, asking: “Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.”

“Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what we men have done,” the pope prayed, “to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with your own breath of life.”

Pope Francis’ next stop was a visit to the two chief rabbis of Israel, leaders of the country’s Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities. The pope told them that relations between Jews and Catholics had progressed greatly in the half century since the Second Vatican Council, which declared that Jews were not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus and that God’s covenant with them had never been abrogated.

Pope Francis called on Christians and Jews to develop greater appreciation for their common “spiritual heritage,” through deeper knowledge of each other’s faith, especially among the young.

Even by the standard of his densely packed Holy Land trip, the pope’s morning was especially busy, and he soon fell behind schedule. Many other Jerusalem residents found themselves in the same situation, as streets cleared to facilitate the pope’s movements caused traffic jams across the city.

His public appearances for the morning ended with a visit to President Shimon Peres at his official residence, where the pope greeted and blessed a group of children with cancer and planted an olive tree in the garden as a symbol of peace.

The pope told Peres that he wanted to “invent a new beatitude, which I apply to myself, ‘Blessed is the one welcomed into the home of a wise and good man.’”

It was only the latest sign of the pope’s friendship with Peres, who invited him to Israel shortly after the start of his pontificate. At Yad Vashem, the pope greeted other dignitaries with a handshake but gave the president a warm embrace.

In his address at the presidential palace, Pope Francis praised Peres as a “man of peace and a peacemaker,” and, as the pope had done the previous day to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, asked that “all parties avoid initiatives and actions which contradict their stated determination” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pope also stressed the “universal and cultural significance” of Jerusalem, and its importance to Christians, Muslims and Jews.

“How good it is when pilgrims and residents enjoy free access to the holy places and can freely take part in religious celebrations,” he said.

As in his speeches to Abbas and to the king of Jordan over the previous two days, Pope Francis also spoke up for the local Christian community, telling Peres its members wished to “contribute to the common good and the growth of peace,” and thus deserved to be “full-fledged citizens’ of Israel.

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.


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Fifty years later, another pope and patriarch meet in Jerusalem


By Francis X. Rocca

Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Half a century after a historic encounter between their predecessors, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew met in the same place to seek inspiration for Christian unity at the site of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople embrace during an ecumenical celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem May 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so, too, every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed,” the pope said May 25 during a prayer service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

“Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen,” the pope said, his voice hoarse and expression fatigued after two full days of public appearances in the Holy Land.

The pope also spoke of an “ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood,” which brings Christians closer through the common experience of persecution. When others kill Christians, he noted, they do not ask if they are Catholic or Orthodox.

Patriarch Bartholomew said Jesus’ tomb sends the message that “history cannot be programmed; that the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God. In vain did the guards of secular power watch over this tomb. In vain did they place a very large stone against the door of the tomb, so that none could roll it away.”

The patriarch said the tomb also encourages Christians to “love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions.”

Their prayer service marked the 50th anniversary of an encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. The earlier meeting, which led both churches to lift the mutual excommunications that started the East-West schism in 1054, opened the modern period of ecumenical dialogue.

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew reached the square in front of the church a few minutes after 8 p.m. They arrived from opposite sides and met in the center, where they embraced before entering the church.

Inside, they participated in common prayer with representatives of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic churches, which share custody of the building. The event was extraordinary because members of the three communities usually observe a strict separation when praying inside the church. Representatives of other churches present in the Holy Land — including Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Anglican and Lutheran archbishops — also participated in the ecumenical celebration.

At the beginning of the service, which featured songs and readings in Greek and Latin, the pope and the patriarch knelt and prayed together before the stone of unction, a red limestone slab traditionally believed to be the surface on which Jesus’ dead body was anointed for burial after the crucifixion.

Both Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis gave short addresses, the former speaking in English and the latter in Italian.

Later, the pope and patriarch entered the aedicule, a small wood building containing Jesus’ tomb. They knelt before it and kissed it. After exiting they climbed a stairway to Mount Calvary to light candles at the site of the crucifixion.

Earlier in the evening, the pope and patriarch met privately at the apostolic delegation, the Vatican’s representative office in Jerusalem, where the pope was to spend the second and final night of his visit to the Holy Land.

The two leaders spent more than an hour together, more than twice as long as scheduled. They emerged with a signed common declaration calling for “communion in legitimate diversity” between their churches.

“We look forward in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the eucharistic banquet,” the pope and patriarch wrote, calling for continuing “fraternal encounter and true dialogue” to “lead us into all truth.”

Their declaration also called for common efforts in the “service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person at every stage of life and the sanctity of family based on marriage, in promoting peace and the common good” by struggling against “hunger, poverty, illiteracy (and) the inequitable distribution of resources.”

The leaders also stressed the need to protect the natural environment and defend religious liberty, especially for embattled Christian minorities in the Middle East.

The Vatican had emphasized that the pope’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew was the main reason for his densely packed, three-day visit to the Holy Land. The two leaders were scheduled to meet a total of four times during the visit, whose official logo was an icon of the apostles Peter and Andrew, patron saints of the churches of Rome and Constantinople, joined in a fraternal embrace.

The text of the common declaration can be found at http://www.news.va/en/news/common-declaration-signed-by-pope-francis-and-the.


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Pope invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to Rome to pray for peace


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to pray together at the Vatican for peace between their nations.

The pope made the announcement May 25, after praying the “Regina Coeli” at the end of Mass that Abbas attended in Manger Square, in Bethlehem, West Bank.

A large crowd is seen as Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 25. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)

Later in the day, arriving at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Pope Francis was greeted by Peres and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There the pope repeated his invitation to Peres using exactly the same words with which he had invited Abbas.

He also urged Israel to stay on the “path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace,” saying “there is simply no other way.”

“The right of the state of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized,” the pope said. “At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement.”

Pope Francis also echoed Peres’ and Netanyahu’s words, in their speeches of welcome, condemning the previous day’s shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where three people, including two Israeli citizens, were killed.

The pope arrived in Israel on the last leg of a May 24-26 trip to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and the West Bank.

Earlier in the day, en route to the Bethlehem Mass, he made an unscheduled stop to pray before a controversial separation wall, built by Israel over Palestinian protests on West Bank land. The pope unexpectedly stopped the vehicle and alighted, then walked over to the graffiti-covered structure and rested his forehead against it in silence for a few moments. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, later confirmed that the pope had been praying as he stood against the wall.

Father Lombardi told journalists the stop was a very important symbol of the pope’s understanding of the significance of the wall and was a manifestation of his identification with the suffering of the people, even though he made no mention of the wall in his spoken statements.

The spokesman also told journalists no date had been set for the prayer session in Rome, but that he hoped it would be soon. Father Lombardi said as far as he knew no pope had ever issued a similar invitation.

Peres’ term of office as president expires in July.

Meeting with Palestinian leaders in Bethlehem, Pope Francis voiced his sympathy with “those who suffer most” from the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation he called “increasingly unacceptable.”

During a speech to Abbas and other dignitaries in the presidential palace, the pope decried the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s “tragic consequences,” including “insecurity, the violation of rights, isolation and the flight of entire communities, conflicts, shortages and sufferings of every sort.”

“In expressing my closeness to those who suffer most from this conflict, I wish to state my heartfelt conviction that the time has come to put an end to this situation which has become increasingly unacceptable,” he said.

The pope said lasting peace would require the “acknowledgement by all of the right of two states to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders.”

“Each side has to make certain sacrifices,” Pope Francis said, calling on Israelis and Palestinians alike to “refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement.”

The pope also expressed his concern for Palestinian Christians, who he said contributed “significantly to the common good of society” and deserved accordingly to be treated as “full citizens.”

Christians make up an estimated 1 percent of the 4.5 million people living under the Palestinian authority.

The pope voiced hopes that an eventual agreement between the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority on the status of Catholics would guarantee religious freedom, since “respect for this fundamental human right is, in fact, one of the essential conditions for peace, fraternity and harmony.”

His words echoed his remarks the previous day in Amman, Jordan, where he called for religious freedom throughout the Middle East, including respect for the right to change one’s religion.


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At River Jordan, pope meets suffering, speaks against arms trade


Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s powerful and marginalized joined together at the banks of the River Jordan to welcome Pope Francis at the site believed to be where Jesus was baptized.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, his wife, Queen Rania, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, the monarch’s personal representative and special adviser on religious matters, welcomed the pontiff to a very intimate setting of reflection, followed by testimonials of courage in the face of life’s difficulties.

Pope Francis makes the Sign of the Cross after praying as he visits Bethany Beyond the Jordan May 24, believed to be where Jesus was baptized, southwest of Amman. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis brought his trademark human touch to those suffering, the marginalized in society, as he visited the sacred place.

There, near the banks of the River Jordan he prayed, spoke and blessed Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in Jordan, along with Jordanian orphans, the sick, and the disabled who shared their stories.

Young Jordanian orphans tenderly sang the cherished song of St. Francis of Assisi, “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace,” and more hymns followed: “Welcome, Welcome, to Pope Francis, to His Holiness,” the exuberant crowd belted out in Arabic.

The pope signed a welcome book, his message reading, “I ask the all-powerful and merciful God to teach us all to walk in his presence with our souls and feet uncovered and our hearts open to divine mercy and love for our brothers and sisters. In that way, God will be all in all and peace will reign. Thank you for offering humanity this place of witness. Francis. 24.5.2014.”

In a papal address, Pope Francis hit hard on those who perpetrate and perpetuate wars, instead saying that peace must be pursued particularly in the troubled Middle East region.

“Arms are the main reason for the war. … We pray for those making and selling arms, that compassion fill their hearts,” he said.

“May God change the hearts of the violent and those who seek war and those who make and sell arms. And may he strengthen the hearts and minds of peacemakers and grant them every blessing,” the pope said.

He singled out Syria, in desperate need of healing and peace.

“Jesus’ humility never fails to move us, the fact that he bends down to wounded humanity in order to heal us,” he told the packed Catholic church in Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

“We are profoundly affected by the tragedies and suffering of our times, particularly those caused by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. I think particularly of Syria, rent by nearly three years of civil strife, which has led to countless deaths and forced millions to flee and seek exile in other countries,” he said.

A young Syrian refugee in the audience told Catholic News Service of his trials back home and in Jordan.

“My brother and I fled because of the dangers of kidnapping and killing of Christians in northern Syria,” said the 33-year-old man named Moussa. “Christians are perceived to have money, and that’s why they are kidnapped by militants.”

“On top of that, there are many difficulties just living in Syria at this time. There is no work, prices have shot up. There is no water and electricity available. Actually there is nothing,” the part-time university student/salesman said.

“I want the pope to pray for us, for peace in Syria and for the war to end,” he said.

Pope Francis said before that “he doesn’t want Christians to leave the Middle East. But if you stay here, maybe some people will be killed and others face great difficulties, so what do we do?” the refugee asked.

The pope also urged the international community to help Jordan bear the economic burden posed by hosting more than 1 million Syrians, 600,000 registered with the U.N. refugee agency, and 300,000 Iraqis still sheltering in the country.

The pope listened to stories of courage by the sick and disabled gathered at the Baptismal Site and gathered many in his arms.

Zaina Haddad, 19, told the pope how her faith in Christ helped her overcome cancer.

“I had faith I would get through this, I know that God ordained the time of my sickness and that Jesus gave me this time to be in solidarity with him,” the young Jordanian woman said.

“I finished my high school exams I knew that God stood with me, and that he would not leave me,” she added, embracing the pope and placing around his neck a traditional red and white checkered scarf with the papal visit emblazoned on the material.


—By Dale Gavlak


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Memorial Day: Veterans remember the fallen every day

May 25th, 2014 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

Memorial Day, the traditional kickoff of summer marked by family getaways, cookouts, picnics and parades, also includes somber events the day was created for such as wreath-laying ceremonies, prayer services and visits to war memorials.

The holiday, created in 1868 by an organization of Union veterans, was initially called Decoration Day and meant as a time for Americans to put flowers on the graves of those killed in the Civil War.

Retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Engineman Ken Faller, 74, recalls his service in Vietnam on the grounds of the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington. In an interview with Catholic News Service, recalled his tours of duty in Vietnam. For Faller and other veterans, Memorial Day doesn’t stand out for them, because they always remember fellow soldiers who died in battle. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Today, those who lost their lives in military service are remembered in both large-scale events and simple tributes across the country and in Washington in particular. At least 900,000 motorcycle riders were expected to take part in the Rolling Thunder rally in Washington May 25 to pay tribute to POWS and MIAs from the Vietnam War, and thousands planned to attend ceremonies May 26 at Arlington National Cemetery,  the burial ground for U.S. soldiers from the Civil War up to recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just a few miles from the major war memorials, two Vietnam veterans at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, planned to mark the holiday without any fanfare.

Ken Faller, retired master chief engineman with the U.S. Navy, said he thinks about the shipmates who served with him and remembers those who died but he doesn’t “dwell on it.”

He joined the Navy at age 17 and spent 23 years there, mostly on submarines and serving two tours in the Vietnam War, first on riverboats preventing the transfer of weapons between the North Vietnamese troops and then as a Navy adviser.

“I cannot get myself to see” the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he told Catholic News Service May 20, the day before his 74th birthday.

“I don’t care to. I don’t want to do it,” he said matter-of-factly. He acknowledged that many others not only visit the monument but also touch some of the names of the 58,000 U.S. soldiers carved in the black granite wall symbolizing those who died in the war.

“I don’’ want to see names. I know who did it, who got killed,” he said.

Faller, raised in Patterson, New Jersey, has visited the city’s other war memorials and says he can’t explain his unwillingness to go to the Vietnam memorial, but he also said without hesitation that he will always remember those who died.

“They’re not forgotten,” he said.

Faller has lived in the city’s oasis of 250 acres for retired service men and women for the past five years. More than 500 residents live on the property, which is also home to President Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage. The property, on a hillside near The Catholic University of America, includes housing for independent living, assisted living and long-term care.

A key part of the property for Faller is its nine-hole golf course where he plays almost daily.

For Terry Sawyer, a 62-year-old Army combat medic during the Vietnam War who just moved to the home two weeks earlier, it’s the garden plots.

“Now I garden,” said Sawyer, showing the rows of tomato, strawberry and corn plants he started, remembering tips his grandfather, a tobacco farmer in North Carolina, showed him when he was a kid. Sawyer also is growing two rows of flowers he hopes to use to “bribe the nurses.”

The fenced-in gardens, to keep out the deer, are surrounded by tall grasses at the edge of the property that bumps up to the city streets. There are a few massive oak trees, some old picnic tables, grills and rusted lawn chairs alongside the garden’s wooden toolshed.

Sawyer, who tends this garden daily, might not doing anything special on Memorial Day, but he has wrestled for decades with the memories of deaths he witnessed firsthand in the Vietnam War. Joining the Army at 18, the former beach lifeguard and high school football and wrestling captain from Norfolk, Virginia, says he “wanted to do something” for his country.

“You don’t realize what you’re getting into until you get over there and see bodies and you say, ‘Man, they are really killing people here.’”

Just last year he said he finally put some closure on this experience by making a 450-mile trek along Appalachian trail from Georgia to Virginia to honor the memory of those who died.

He described the two-month hike during March and April, often on snow-covered trails, as a way to put behind him the horrors he witnessed firsthand of countless burns and gunshot wounds on soldiers crying out, and sometimes dying in his arms, as he tried to get them to medical care.

Although the hike gave him closure, he admits, “I don’t think you can close it totally,” which is why he finds solace now in gardening and being with other service men and women.

Diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, Sawyer said it has taken him a long time to get over what he saw and that during the roughest part of dealing with these memories he “really had to dig deep” into his faith.

“At that point, you really depend on your faith,” he added.

Fuller, who like Sawyer, was raised Catholic, likewise said his faith helped him through several rough spots.

“You could always rely on it,” he said, from a lawn chair at the golf course check-in spot.

“I’ve been in some tight situations and got out of it, so somebody beyond my shipmates took care of it. My faith was never in question, never.”

Father James Dixon, the Catholic chaplain at the Armed Forces Retirement Home for the past seven years, said he encourages those in his pastoral care, whom he describes as men and women who followed a calling of self-sacrifice, to spend time in prayer and reflection.

He joined a group of them May 18 at a Sunday Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. It was celebrated in honor of Memorial Day celebrated by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.

In his homily, the archbishop said the annual Memorial Day observance is meant to remember “those who have perished in the service of our country, the veterans and the chaplains who have died.” For people of faith, he said, this remembrance goes a step further and is not just “passive, merely a looking back, or turning the pages of a scrapbook.”

The archbishop said Catholics should continue to pray for those who died and also “offer consolation to those who lost loved ones in the tragic circumstances of war” which he said is “always a defeat, a loss and an unnecessary expenditure of precious resources.”

Memorial Day videos accompanying this story can be viewed at http://youtu.be/DZJbfEaG1KM and http://youtu.be/7y8FWy1p03g


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