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Pope tells Egyptians his visit will be sign of friendship, peace

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Praying that God would protect Egypt from all evil, Pope Francis told the nation’s people that a world torn apart by indiscriminate violence needs courageous builders of peace, dialogue and justice.

“I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world,” the pope said in a video message broadcast April 25, ahead of his April 28-29 trip to Cairo.

A cross above a church is seen alongside minarets of a mosque April 17 in Cairo ahead of Pope Francis' April 28-29 visit. (CNSAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

A cross above a church is seen alongside minarets of a mosque April 17 in Cairo ahead of Pope Francis’ April 28-29 visit. (CNSAmr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

“I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church,” he said.

The pope thanked all those who invited him to Egypt, those who were working to make the trip possible and those “who make space for me in your hearts.”

He said he was “truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the country that gave, more than 2,000 years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod.”

“Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land, needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices; it needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity,” he said.

Honored to visit the land visited by the Holy Family, the pope asked everyone for their prayers as he assured every one of his.

“Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and elderly, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor … I embrace you warmly and ask God almighty to bless you and protect your country from every evil.”

He said it was “with a joyful and grateful heart” that he was heading to Egypt, the “cradle of civilization, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality, where patriarchs and prophets lived” and where God — benevolent, merciful, and the one and almighty — made his voice heard.

The day the video was released, April 25, was also the feast day of St. Mark, who evangelized the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, Egypt, before being martyred there.

Pope Francis dedicated his morning Mass to
“my brother Tawadros II, patriarch of Alexandria” of the Coptic Orthodox church, asking that God abundantly “bless our two churches.”

In Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Egypt would welcome the pope and “looks forward to this significant visit to strengthen peace, tolerance and interfaith dialogue as well as to reject the abhorrent acts of terrorism and extremism.”

Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq struggle with mounting pressures from extremists challenging their religious identity and the right to practice their faith and continue to exist in their ancestral homelands.

Pope Francis has urged an end to what he called a “genocide” against Christians in the Middle East, but he also has said it was wrong to equate Islam with violence.

Christians are among the oldest religious communities in the Middle East, but their numbers are dwindling in the face of conflict and persecution. Egypt’s Christian community makes up about 10 percent of the country’s 92 million people.

A high point in the pope’s schedule is an international peace conference at Cairo’s al-Azhar University, the world’s highest authority on Sunni Islam, hosted by Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of the educational institution.

Pope Tawadros and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, are also expected to participate.

The pope will also meet separately with el-Sissi and other officials. Observers will be watching whether the pope will take on thorny issues with his hosts, such as the detention of thousands of Egyptians, without due process, simply held on suspicion of opposing el-Sissi.

Others will watch to see if Pope Francis prods the Sunni Muslim religious establishment to take a more forceful stand on religious extremism perpetrated in the name of God.

Many hope the al-Azhar meeting will sound a moral wake-up call to leaders worldwide to combat religious intolerance while seeking greater cooperation to fight growing threats by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.

Sawdust & sadness: Priest accompanies anguished circus workers on final tour

By

Catholic News Service

WORCESTER, Mass. — The congregation, numbering about 50, gathered for their last Easter Mass together on the DCU Center’s arena floor.

The chaplain, Father George “Jerry” Hogan, borrowed one of their colorful boxes to use as an altar. The altar cloths and his chasuble sported circus images. Costume designers had sewn pieces of old elephant blankets together to make his stole.

Father Jerry Hogan, national circus chaplain, celebrates Easter Mass for circus workers April 16 at the DCU Center arena in Worcester, Mass. (CNS photo/Tanya Connor, The Catholic Free Press)

Father Jerry Hogan, national circus chaplain, celebrates Easter Mass for circus workers April 16 at the DCU Center arena in Worcester, Mass. (CNS photo/Tanya Connor, The Catholic Free Press)

The backdrop suggested the reason for such an unusual liturgical environment: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had come to town to offer shows on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

But it isn’t all fun and games for performers and other circus workers, some of whom attended the Mass before the Easter shows. While “they’ve always performed during Holy Week,” they are now going through the paschal mystery themselves, Father Hogan told The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.

The Ringling circus was nearing the end of its 145-year run and the workers, including frontline performers, were in a quandary about their future. They learned Jan. 14 that the circus was closing.

Father Hogan, who has been national circus chaplain for 24 years after being appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recalled the anguish of the workers when they learned of show’s fate just hours after he celebrated Mass for them in Orlando, Florida, where they were performing.

His cellphone “went wild” at his winter home in Sarasota, Florida, where he ministers at St. Martha Parish, the national circus church, as shocked circus workers called him with the news they received: “We’re closing.” The 145th edition of “The Greatest Show on Earth” would be its last.

The priest of the Boston achdiocese had to ask himself, “How can I help these people?”

Over the years, Father Hogan has dealt with five circus tragedies, three of which included fatalities, he said, but this was different.

“First of all, you’ve got to deal with your own feeling, because you become numb,” he said. Then you have to look past that to what God is calling you to do. It’s more than hearing; it’s listening, being physically present.”

Such tragedies affect not only those who get hurt, and their families and co-workers, but the managers and owners too, he said.

He described Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment Inc., Ringling’s parent company, as very caring when tragedy strikes.

The same is true with the circus closing.

“He’s a very good businessman,” Father Hogan said. “He didn’t want to close. This is tough for him, too.”

Reasons cited for the closing included costs, declining attendance and battles with animal rights groups. Employees were to be helped with the transition.

Ringling’s Red Unit and Blue Unit each have at least 300 employees, about 100 of whom are performers, Father Hogan said. The circus runs two different shows simultaneously, for two years each, performing in various cities.

Worcester was one of the last stops for the Red Unit, which was to perform its final show in Providence, Rhode Island, May 7. The Blue Unit’s final show is May 21 in Uniondale, New York.

“I will be with you all week in Providence,” Father Hogan told Red Unit workers at the Easter Mass. “You’ll grow. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll be able to survive this.”

In his homily, he told circus employees, “Easter is a time to celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead,” and to celebrate with family.

There had just been an Easter egg hunt for the children who travel with their parents, Father Hogan said. When old enough, they often perform, too. Some families have been in one circus or another for generations.

Some performers from abroad are far from loved ones. During the intercessions, Father Hogan offered an intention for “all your family and relatives who you can’t be with because you’re working.” He asked that God would watch over the people in the Red Unit in this time of transition, and also prayed for the Blue Unit.

He likened his listeners to the beloved disciple in the Gospel, who was reflecting on what was important that first Easter. He acknowledged that the circus workers’ life is totally changing and they may wonder, “How am I going to move from this show?”

“This is a time to really talk to the Lord in prayer, like you’re talking to another person,” Father Hogan said. “You also have to listen. … Be open to that experience.” 

A silver lining Father Hogan sees in the dark times people are experiencing is the reception of sacraments in Uniondale several days before the final show. He said a baby is to be baptized, 12 children are to receive their first Communion, five adults are to be confirmed and one is to be received into the church.

Tanya Connor is a staff writer for The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.

Vikings bats awaken late in 8-1 victory over Tatnall

By

Dialog reporter

 

GREENVILLE – Brett Brooks had two hits and four runs batted in as St. Elizabeth took an 8-1 victory in nonconference baseball on April 26. Brooks drove in a pair of runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings, when the Vikings did all their damage.

Tatnall got on the board with a single run in the first, and Hornets starting pitcher Oliver Campbell made that stand up for most of the fast-paced game. Campbell worked out of a bit of trouble in the fourth, when David Hazelton started the inning with a long double to the fence in left-center. Hazelton reached third with one out, but St. Elizabeth could not score. Read more »

Schepers’ PK earns Spartans draw with Auks in girls soccer

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For The Dialog

 

CLAYMONT – The St Mark’s Spartans soccer team had a tough start to the season, but they found their game a 1-1 draw against the fourth-ranked Archmere Auks on April 26. Goalkeeper Nicole Clark had a big match for the Spartans as she held the high-powered Auks offense to one goal.

The Auks controlled most of the play in the first half. Dara Dawson had a quality shot in the third minute, but Clark made the early save. Sophomore Nicole Witherell had a couple chances, including a great shot in the 38th minute but was stopped by Clark. The Auks threatened again in the 43rd, but Clark made the save as she collided with Leah DaCosta of Archmere. After shaking off the injury she had to sit out one play. Read more »

Why be afraid when God always shows the way, pope says

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians always have hope, no matter how bleak, bad or uncertain the journey, because they know God is always by their side, Pope Francis said.

In fact, “even crossing parts of the world (that are) wounded, where things are not going well, we are among those who, even there, continue to hope,” he said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square April 26.

Pope Francis reaches for his zucchetto as a gust of wind lifts it off his head during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis reaches for his zucchetto as a gust of wind lifts it off his head during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 26. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Just a few days before his visit to Cairo April 28-29, the pope continued his series of talks on the nature of Christian hope, saying it is rooted in knowing God will always be present, even to the end of time.

The Gospel of St. Matthew, he said, begins with the birth of Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us,” and ends with the risen Christ telling his doubtful disciples to go forth and teach all nations, assuring them that “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

The apostle shows how “ours is not an absent God, sequestered in a faraway heaven. Instead he is a God impassioned with mankind,” so tenderly in love that he is unable to stay away, the pope said.

Human beings are the ones who are really good at cutting off ties and destroying bridges, not God, he said.

“If our hearts get cold, his remains incandescent,” the pope said. “Our God always accompanies us even if, through misfortune, we were to forget about him.”

In fact, the decisive moment between skepticism and faith is “the discovery of being loved and accompanied by our Father,” the pope said.

Life is a pilgrimage, a journey in which “the seduction of the horizon” is always calling the human “wandering soul,” pushing people to go and explore the unknown, he said.

“You do not become mature men and women if you cannot perceive the allure of the horizon, that boundary between heaven and earth that asks to be reached” by those who are on the move, he said.

Christians never feel alone “because Jesus assures us he not only waits for us at the end of our long journey, but accompanies us every day,” even through dark and troubled times, he said.

God will always be concerned and take care of his children, even to the end of all time, he said. “And why does he do this? Quite simply because he loves us.”

The pope said the anchor is one of his favorite symbols of hope.

“Our life is anchored in heaven,” he said, which means “we move on because we are sure that our life has an anchor in heaven” and the rope “is always there” to grab onto.

So if God has promised “he will never abandon us, if the beginning of every vocation is a ‘Follow me,’ with which he assures us of always staying before us, why be afraid then?” the pope asked. “With this promise, Christians can walk everywhere,” even in the worst, darkest places.

“It’s precisely there where darkness has taken over that a light needs to stay lit.”

Those who believe only in themselves and their own powers will feel disappointed and defeated, he said, “because the world often proves itself to be resistant to the laws of love” and prefers “the laws of selfishness.”

Jesus promising “I am with you always” is what keeps the faithful standing tall with hope, believing that God is good and working to achieve what seems humanly impossible.

“There is no place in the world that can escape the victory of the risen Christ, the victory of love,” the pope said.

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Faith leads to freedom, not compromise, Pope Francis says

April 24th, 2017 Posted in Featured, Vatican News

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christian faith is belief in the concrete work of God and leads to concrete witness and action by believers, Pope Francis said.

The Christian creed details concrete events because “the Word was made flesh, it was not made an idea,” the pope said April 24 during his morning Mass in the chapel of Casa Santa Marta.

Pope Francis celebrates his morning Mass April 24 in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican. (CNS /L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis celebrates his morning Mass April 24 in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican. (CNS /L’Osservatore Romano)

“The creed does not say, ‘I believe I must do this, that I must do that’ or that ‘things are made for this reason.’ No. They are concrete things,” such as belief in God who made heaven and earth or believe in Jesus who was born of Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, the pope noted.

The concreteness of faith “leads to frankness, to giving witness to the point of martyrdom; it is against compromises or the idealization of faith,” he said.

Pope Francis reflected on the day’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recalled Peter and John’s release after they were imprisoned by the Sanhedrin following the miraculous healing of a cripple.

Noting their courage in the face of persecution, the pope said that their defiance of the Sanhedrin’s order not to preach in the name of Jesus was an example of the concrete nature of faith, “which means speaking the truth openly without compromises.”

The “rationalistic mentality” shown by the Sanhedrin, the pope added, did not end with them, and even the church at times has fallen into the same way of thinking.

“The church itself, which condemned rationalism, the Enlightenment, many times fell into a theology of ‘you can do this and you can’t do that,’” forgetting the freedom that comes from the Holy Spirit and gives believers the gift of frankness and of proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, the pope said.

“May the Lord give us all this Easter spirit of following the path of the Spirit without compromise, without rigidity, with the freedom to proclaim Jesus Christ as he came: in the flesh,” Pope Francis said.

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Divine Mercy opens the door to understanding the mystery of God, pope says

By

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Mercy is a true form of knowledge that allows men and women to understand the mystery of God’s love for humanity, Pope Francis said.

Having experienced forgiveness, Christians have a duty to forgive others, giving a “visible sign” of God’s mercy, which “carries within it the peace of heart and the joy of a renewed encounter with the Lord,” the pope said April 23 before praying the “Regina Coeli” with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

A child waves a Mexican flag as Pope Francis leads the "Regina Coeli" in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 23, Divine Mercy Sunday. (CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

A child waves a Mexican flag as Pope Francis leads the “Regina Coeli” in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 23, Divine Mercy Sunday. (CNS/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

“Mercy helps us understand that violence, resentment and revenge do not have any meaning and that the first victim is the one who lives with these feelings, because he is deprived of his own dignity,” he said.

Commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis said St. John Paul II’s establishment of the feast in 2000 was a “beautiful intuition” inspired by the Holy Spirit.

God’s mercy, he said, not only “opens the door of the mind,” it also opens the door of the heart and paves the way for compassion toward those who are “alone or marginalized because it makes them feel they are brothers and sisters and children of one father.”

“Mercy, in short, commits us all to being instruments of justice, of reconciliation and peace. Let us never forget that mercy is the keystone in the life of faith, and the concrete form by which we give visibility to Jesus’ resurrection,” Pope Francis said.

 

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Pope Francis pays tribute to modern martyrs

By

Catholic News Service

ROME — The Christian church today needs believers who witness each day to the power of God’s love, but it also needs the heroic witness of those who stand up to hatred even when it means giving up their lives, Pope Francis said.

During a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome April 22, Pope Francis greets Roselyne Hamel, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in Rouen, France, July 18, 2016. (CNS/Maurizio Brambatti)

During a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome April 22, Pope Francis greets Roselyne Hamel, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, who was killed in Rouen, France, July 18, 2016. (CNS/Maurizio Brambatti)

At Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs, Pope Francis presided over an evening prayer service April 22, honoring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism.

“These teach us that with the force of love and with meekness one can fight arrogance, violence and war, and that with patience peace is possible,” the pope said in his homily in the small basilica on Rome’s Tiber Island.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he wanted to add to the martyrs remembered at St. Bartholomew by including “a woman, I don’t know her name, but she watches from heaven.”

The pope said he’d met the woman’s husband, a Muslim, in Lesbos, Greece, when he visited a refugee camp there in 2016. The man told the pope that one day, terrorists came to their home. They saw his wife’s crucifix and ordered her to throw it on the ground. She refused and they slit her throat.

“I don’t know if that man is still at Lesbos or if he has been able to leave that ‘concentration camp’” the pope said, explaining that despite the good will of local communities many refugee camps are overcrowded and are little more than prisons “because it seems international agreements are more important than human rights.”

But, getting back to the story of the Muslim man who watched his wife be murdered, the pope said, “Now it’s that man, a Muslim, who carries this cross of pain.”

“So many Christian communities are the object of persecution today. Why? Because of the hatred of the spirit of this world,” the pope said. Jesus has “rescued us from the power of this world, from the power of the devil,” who hates Jesus’ saving power and “creates the persecution, which from the time of Jesus and the early church continues up to our day.”

“What does the church need today?” the pope asked. “Martyrs and witnesses, those everyday saints, those saints of an ordinary life lived with coherence. But it also needs those who have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, to the point of death. All of those are the living blood of the church,” those who “witness that Jesus is risen, that Jesus lives.”

Under a large icon depicting modern martyrs of the gulag and concentration camp, Pope Francis prayed: “O Lord, make us worthy witnesses of your Gospel and your love; pour out your mercy on humanity; renew your church; protect persecuted Christians; and quickly grant the whole world peace.”

During the prayer service, Pope Francis wore a stole that had belonged to Chaldean Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni, who was murdered in Mosul, Iraq, in 2007.

Father Ganni’s stole along with dozens of other items that belonged to men and women martyred in the 20th and 21st centuries are on display on the side altars at the basilica, which is cared for by the lay Sant’Egidio Community.

During the prayer service, at which Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox clergy were involved, people who had been close to those honored as martyrs at the shrine spoke.

Karl A. Schneider’s father, the Rev. Paul Schneider, was the first Protestant pastor martyred by the Nazis for opposing their hate-filled doctrine. He was married and the father of six children.

“My father was assassinated in 1939 in the Buchenwald concentration camp because he believed the objectives of National Socialism were irreconcilable with the words of the Bible,” Schneider told the congregation. “All of us, still today, make too many compromises, but my father remained faithful only to the Lord and to the faith.”

The next to speak was Roselyne Hamel, the sister of French Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered as he celebrated Mass July 26, 2016. The Archdiocese of Rouen has begun his sainthood cause with Pope Francis’ approval. Father Hamel’s breviary is preserved at St. Bartholomew’s.

“Jacques was 85 years old when two young men, radicalized by hate speech, thought they could become heroes by engaging in homicidal violence,” his sister told the pope. “At his age, Jacques was fragile, but he also was strong — strong in his faith in Christ, strong in his love for the Gospel and for people.”

His witness to Gospel values continues, she said, in the reaction of Christians who did not call for revenge after his death, but for love and forgiveness. And, she said, the family and local church have experienced “the solidarity of Muslims who wanted to visit our Sunday assemblies after his death.”

“For his family, there certainly is pain and a void, but it is a great comfort to see how many new encounters, how much solidarity and love were generated by Jacques’ witness,” she said.

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Fresno Catholics urged to be a light to community shocked by shootings

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FRESNO, Calif. — After three men were killed April 18 in a shooting rampage in Fresno by a gunman who was captured and admitted to the shootings, the Diocese of Fresno urged the local Catholic community to “seize this moment as an opportunity to live as people of light not darkness by rejecting the temptation to hate the hater.”

“Once again, our community is touched by darkness,” said the diocesan statement posted on the diocese’s website. “Family, friends, neighbors and the vast multitude of good and caring people in our community must now decide, once again, how we will respond to this senseless tragedy.”

A road is blocked by police tape April 18 after multiple victims were fatally shot in Fresno, Calif. Community members and faith leaders held a prayer vigil in the alley behind the Catholic Charities' Fresno Family Resource Center to honor the three shooting victims that were killed that day. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A road is blocked by police tape April 18 after multiple victims were fatally shot in Fresno, Calif. Community members and faith leaders held a prayer vigil in the alley behind the Catholic Charities’ Fresno Family Resource Center to honor the three shooting victims that were killed that day. (CNS photo/Reuters)

One of the three victims was shot at a bus stop near a Catholic Charities office and another was shot in the agency’s parking lot.

Kelly Lilles, executive director of Catholic Charities in Fresno, said: “Our hearts are heavy as we reflect on the wrong done to our community yesterday and the horrific events that took place as a result of one angry individual.”

The gunman, Kori Ali Muhammad, also was wanted in the slaying of a security guard in Fresno the previous week. All four victims were white. The Associated Press reported that Muhammad, who is black, fired 16 rounds in less than two minutes at four places within a block April 18.

Lilles said in a statement that she and the staff and board of directors of Catholic Charities were thankful for those who reached out to the victims and for the first responders on the scene.

She said the Catholic Charities team had come together for prayers for the victims and their families, for clients and each other. They also continued their work, opening their doors the day after the shooting for clients. “Nothing will stop us from being a light for our community and we will continue to be here even in times of great sadness,” she added.

The Fresno diocesan statement urged Catholics to reflect on what they experienced, stressing that “anger and outrage are certainly a natural reaction; yet, these feelings must also be experienced as an invitation to prayerful reflection.”

The statement pointed out that “in less than two minutes, three lives were taken for no apparent reason beyond an incomprehensible depth of hatred carried in the heart of one man.”

The diocese offered prayers for the deceased and their families and for the “conversion of souls that intentionally inflict acts of violence on innocent victims. May their minds and hearts be enlightened and opened to God’s love, mercy and forgiveness; and may we be prepared to walk with them when they seek reconciliation within our community.”

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‘Conflict minerals’ — Demand for cellphone metals fuels war in Congo, priest says

By

Catholic News Service

Global demand for metallic ores used in cellphones is thwarting efforts to end war and violence in Congo, said an African priest.

Any person who possesses a cellphone or other electronic device with components derived from such “conflict minerals” is benefiting from bloodshed, said Father Richard Muembo, rector of a Congolese seminary firebombed earlier this year. Read more »

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