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Religious leaders praise Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew as a great ecumenist

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — As leaders of dozens of religions gathered in Assisi for dialogue and prayers for peace, they honored Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as an exemplar of one who is so deeply rooted in his own religious tradition that he can reach out to others without fear.

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders paid tribute to Patriarch Bartholomew as he was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis was scheduled to participate in a celebratory luncheon for the patriarch Sept. 20 in Assisi.

The Assisi celebrations Sept. 18-20 were organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars.

In a formal meeting hall at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Sept. 19, the leaders praised Patriarch Bartholomew as an ecumenist, theologian and leading religious defender of God’s creation.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the tribute to the patriarch, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the main talk, highlighting how “with great tact in difficult situations” the patriarch “always helped to overcome complicated twists and turns with the grand dexterity of a ‘pontiff,’ that is, a builder of bridges.”

“Like you,” Cardinal Kasper told the patriarch, “we are certain that unity is a command of the Lord and a response to the signs of the times in a world that is increasingly united, but at the same time profoundly lacerated by many conflicts.”

The unity Christians hope and pray for, he said, will not be the result of “any absorption, or watering down or homogenization, but a unity in reconciled diversity.”

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told participants, “There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance.”

The biblical model of excellence, though, is of “a luxuriant tree,” the rabbi said. It is the image of “one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all.”

Saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is such a man, Rabbi Rosen praised the patriarch’s leadership in condemning all violence in the name of religion and in addressing the issue of climate change and care for creation.

“His leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole,” he said.

Saying he was humbled by the tributes, Patriarch Bartholomew jokingly told the crowd present, “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

The patriarch said that while he was touched by the words of those he has collaborated with and admired, his work “resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering.”

“We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages,” he said.

The celebration serves only as an affirmation “that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the church,” the patriarch said.

 

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Archbishop of Canterbury: Failure of ecumenism would imprison mercy

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Churches that are not reconciled with one another weaken the experience of mercy that unites believers to God and with each other, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury said.

By not reconciling with one other, “our worship is diminished and our capacity to grow close together with God

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, England, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

is reduced,” he said Sept. 20 in Assisi during a discussion on ecumenism.

“The failure of ecumenism imprisons mercy and prevents its liberation and its power with one another,” he said.

Speaking before Pope Francis arrived in Assisi for an interreligious peace meeting, Archbishop Welby joined other Christian leaders exploring how love, charity and mercy help foster peace and unity among Christian denominations.

Mercy is the “engine of reconciliation,” Archbishop Welby said, and it is “the source of our capacity for the evangelization of the world in which we live.”

“Mercy begins with the mercy that each of us experiences in the sacrament of reconciliation; the knowledge that we ourselves are accepted,” he said.

Suffering and martyrdom, the archbishop added, also unite Christians and are a visible sign of ecumenism for the world.

“If we do not suffer together, we do not know the meaning of the ecumenism of mercy,” he said. “When they kill us, they do not ask if we are Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic or Orthodox; we are one in Christ for them. So why are we divided when they are not killing us?”

Echoing Jesus’ prayer “that they may be one so that the world may know that I come from the Father,” Archbishop Welby said that the evangelization of the world “depends on that ecumenism of mercy.”

While they may have theological differences, he said, Christians must learn to “disagree well” and “learn to love one another with good disagreement.”

Evangelization depends on the visible sign of love and unity. If not, churches will be unable “to carry out Jesus’ command to go out into the world,” he said.

“It depends on the world seeing visibly that we belong to one another and that we love one another,” Archbishop Welby said. “Without that, we have nothing to say to a world that is incapable of resolving its own differences.”

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Legacy of 1986 interfaith peace gathering in Assisi lingers

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Religious leaders celebrating the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s Assisi interfaith peace gathering in 1986 called on people from around the world to continue its legacy to combat today’s indifference and violence.

The stage is prepared for an interfaith peace gathering outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 19. Pope Francis will attend the Sept. 20 peace gathering marking the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Assisi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The stage is prepared for an interfaith peace gathering outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 19. Pope Francis will attend the Sept. 20 peace gathering marking the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Assisi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The event Sept. 18-20 was sponsored by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars to reflect on the theme, “Thirst for Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue.”

At the opening assembly, attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said, peace “starts from within and radiates outward, from local to global.”

“Thus, peace requires an interior conversion, a change in policies and behaviors,” he said.

Humanity’s relationship with creation “has a direct impact on the way in which it acts toward other people,” said the patriarch, known for his decades of work on the connection between Christian spirituality and ecology.

“Any ecological activity will be judged by the consequences it has for the lives of the poor,” he said. “The pollution problem is linked to that of poverty.”

Recalling his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos with Pope Francis, the patriarch said they saw examples of how the world has treated migrants “with exclusion and violence.”

Echoing Patriarch Bartholomew’s sentiments, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, said the spirit of the 1986 Assisi meeting is still alive, despite a “complex and fragmented time with its challenges,” particularly with new fears arising due to war and migration.

The “simple and profound” gesture of religious leaders standing together for peace, he said, “gave witness to their respective faithful that it was possible to live together.”

“Dialogue is the intelligence to live together: either we live together or together we will die,” he said.

The meeting featured dozens of interreligious panel discussions on topics ranging from the environment and migration to dialogue and the media.

Discussing the 30th anniversary of the 1986 peace gathering and its relevance today, Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, “The spirit of Assisi is not a vague feeling, a sentimentalism or nostalgic memory,” but an example that “peace is not possible without prayer.”

“Prayer is one of the means for implementing God’s design among people,” he said. “It is apparent that the world cannot give peace; it is a gift from God that we must ask from him through prayers.”

The religious leaders who were gathering to pray for peace, he added, are “here to show that religion is not the problem but is part of the solution to bring peace and harmony in our societies.”

“I hope that the spirit of Assisi may be deeply rooted in our hearts so that it can keep enlightening this world that is marked by the darkness of hatred and violence,” he said.

Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, stressed the need to promote “the message of the spirit of Assisi to all nations” in order for peace to prevail, particularly between Christians and Muslims.

While differences exist between the two faiths, he said, “it does not mean that we have to be the enemy of one another.”

On the contrary, the differences between religions can complement and complete each other. “And this process of common belief and common respect is manifested in the spirit of Assisi,” Sammak said.

Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of Pope Francis, also addressed the panel and lamented that violence, hate and uncertainty “has become more and more one of the characteristics of human reality.”

He also denounced the “exacerbated egoism” prevalent in politics today and racist overtones by individuals who “are holding leadership positions in well-established democratic countries.”

“Uncertainty about the future to come and no clear ethical rules respected by peoples and nations build the best scenario for the rise of demagogic and corrupted leaders,” Skorka said.

However, despite humanity’s worsening condition, he said, the “voice calling for justice, peace and love” that emerged in1986 “has not been silenced.”

“The spiritual fire lit then gathers us today,” he said. “The hope of peace, which is the core of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, continues palpitating in the hearts of many,” he said.

 

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In Kolkata, joy, prayers and testimonies as Mother Teresa becomes saint

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Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — At Shishu Bhavan, children, the destitute, Missionaries of Charity nuns and novices sat silently, glued to the TV screen for the live telecast of the Vatican canonization ceremony of Mother Teresa.

While many prayed at the new saint’s tomb, the nuns and the children of Shishu Bhavan (Children’s Home), preferred to stay indoors and celebrate the historic moment all by themselves, as Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa to be St. Teresa.

Spanish volunteers help a man at a home for the dying in Kolkata, India, Sept. 4. The women were working during Mother Teresa's canonization in Rome. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Spanish volunteers help a man at a home for the dying in Kolkata, India, Sept. 4. The women were working during Mother Teresa’s canonization in Rome. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

“It is a day of feast for us. Brothers and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity are watching this in all the establishments of the MOC, but many of the sisters are visiting the headquarters for the special thanksgiving Mass after the ceremony in the evening,” said Missionaries of Charity Sister Benoy, who had come from the home in suburban Dum Dum to help the sisters with the large number of visitors.

Earlier, outside the gates of Shishu Bhavan, the poor, the sick and the old had gathered like they do each Sunday, hoping for a meal. Like any other Sunday, the nuns and cooks filled their plates.

“This has been our home. What would you call someone who provides you food, medicine and shelter?” asked a woman who identified herself only as Amina, who regularly visits for food and medicine. After the meal, she and her mother waited to watch the ceremony. She sang hymns and prayed silently near the saint’s statue.

In the narrow lane leading to the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, hundreds of people had gathered together not just to witness the live ceremony for the “saint of Kolkata” but also to invoke her in their prayers. Special arrangements outside the home had been made for live viewing, and devotees gathered with their little memories of the “blessed” one. Some were carrying pictures, some flowers and some photographs declaring their love and devotion. Hymns were sung by the visitors and the nuns, but also commoners who gathered outside. Souvenir shops had come up and people went around buying little artifacts being attributed to Mother Teresa.

Mohammad Ahsan, 62, had come to visit the nuns and pray at the tomb. He had carried his photographs with Mother Teresa that he had taken in 1994.

“My association with her is more than two decades old. These pictures are my prized possessions. My life is much peaceful now, and I owe it to the saint of Kolkata,” he said gleefully.

Diana Silvester, a television producer from the Indian state of Kerala, came carrying a poster of Mother Teresa.

“I came to witness a historic moment,” she said. “Mother Teresa was and will be the icon of love, compassion and service to humanity for all days to come.”

Sister Babita, 20, from the Indian state of Orissa, chose to sit with other postulants at the convent to watch the ceremony. “For us it was sheer the call of the saint of Kolkata,” she said of her vocation.

“If not a saint, then why would the world follow her footsteps 19 years after her death? Her life, through her humanitarian work and her healing touch, is the everyday miracle that keeps us going,” said Sister Adelica, who came from Bangladesh for the ceremony and will spend a month working in India.

Before leaving for Vatican, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who was part of the 40-member official delegation from the state, said: “Mother was the mother of humanity. Her love for the ailing, the needy, entire humanity was unbounded. Bengal is more proud as Mother lived and worked here and showered us with her abundant love and care.

“Bless us, Mother, so that we can continue to serve the people,” she prayed.

Nearly 250 miles away from Kolkata, in Nakor village, Monica Besra, whose healing from a tumor was Mother Teresa’s first miracle recognized by the Vatican, sat and prayed at the nearby cathedral.

“I miss not being at Vatican. But I was there for the beatification ceremony,” she told Catholic News Service by telephone. “For me she was a saint always, and I invoked her always in my prayers. Today the world recognizes her and prays to her.

“I was dying,” she said. “Mother had a healing touch and she healed me. That is enough for us. We are much better and a happy family now.”

— By Saadia Azim

 

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Catholic missionaries stay in South Sudan after brutal attack on foreigners

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Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — While most expatriate aid workers left South Sudan after a brutal attack on foreigners in the capital, a group of Catholic missionaries chose to stay.

Soldiers with Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the chief of staff of the South Sudan rebel troops, arrive in late April in Juba. (CNS photo/Phillip Dhil, EPA)

Soldiers with Gen. Simon Gatwech Dual, the chief of staff of the South Sudan rebel troops, arrive in late April in Juba. (CNS photo/Phillip Dhil, EPA)

“We stayed because we are committed to the ordinary people who are suffering so much,” La Sallian Christian Brother Bill Firman, director of Solidarity with South Sudan, said in an Aug. 29 telephone interview from Juba, the capital.

“My colleagues and I believe this is a good place for religious to be,” the Australian brother said, noting that “we know our continued presence encourages” local residents and “provides some hope.”

South Sudanese troops attacked aid workers in July in a Juba hotel. According to an Associated Press report, more than 80 armed men “raped several foreign women, singled out Americans, beat and robbed people and carried out mock executions” for nearly four hours. One woman was raped by 15 men.

U.N. peacekeepers did not respond to repeated pleas for help.

Four days after the attack Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian aid and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement that the upsurge in violence in Juba had led it to evacuate its “non-essential international staff” from the capital.

CRS “is supporting the work of Solidarity with South Sudan to help those affected by the current violence with food, water and shelter in churches and schools, where many have sought refuge,” the July 15 statement from Baltimore said.

A civil war that began December 2013 has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes in the northeast African country. In July, hundreds of people in Juba were killed in fighting that dashed hopes of a transitional government ending the conflict. Since then, sporadic fighting has rocked the north and east of the country.

“None of our members were evacuated but many, probably most, expatriates were,” Brother Firman said. “Many foreign aid workers are returning now, and most of CRS’ staff came back fairly quickly.”

Solidarity with South Sudan is an international Catholic group of missionaries implementing teacher and health training, agriculture, trauma healing and pastoral programs in many parts of South Sudan, under the auspices of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“I don’t see any of our people being excessively nervous, and we are living a normal life here,” Brother Firman said. “But we are cautious, because we do live with uncertainty about the future and declining law and order.”

“Many people in Juba are very hungry,” Brother Firman said, noting that “the collapse of South Sudan’s economy” is a major concern.

South Sudan has a “very complex political situation, with many militias,” Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Joan Mumaw, Solidarity with South Sudan’s development director in the U.S., said in an Aug. 27 telephone interview from Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Violence has spread and everybody is armed,” she said, noting that “young boys with no education and no formation for life are taken into the military.”

Solidarity with South Sudan, which has a network of 17 congregations in 14 countries, uses its local religious partners to distribute humanitarian aid “to people most in need” for aid organizations whose usual routes have been disrupted, she said. As the “only credible group left in the predominantly Christian country,” the church, with its “strong ecumenical reach, has a chance of restoring peace” to South Sudan, Sister Mumaw said.

“But it will be very difficult to do this until the militia is stopped from killing and raping,” she said, noting a “new and complete lack of respect for human life.”

After a late-December attack on religious sisters at the Solidarity teacher training college in Yambio, the capital of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, and subsequent sporadic violence in the area, some training staff from neighboring Kenya and Uganda were evacuated, Sister Mumaw said.

“This leaves us with a shortage of staff in our capacity-building programs, and there is some feeling among local people that the international community has deserted them,” she said.

A primary school teacher who was among 50 graduates from the college last year has set up a makeshift school for about 300 children at a U.N. camp in Juba, Sister Mumaw said.

“This young man recognized the need and has pulled together everyone with training that he could find to educate these children,” she said. “The camp was built to house U.N. staff, not refugees, yet people fleeing violence have been taking shelter there for about two years.”

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Shameful that need for clean water is not a priority, Cardinal Turkson says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Allowing people to drink unsafe water or have no access to dependable, clean sources of water is shameful, Cardinal Peter Turkson told religious leaders.

Indian boys collect drinking water in early May from the main water supply line in Bhopa. Allowing people to drink unsafe water or have no access to dependable, clean sources of water is shameful, Cardinal Peter Turkson told religious leaders at an interfaith meeting Aug. 29 in Stockholm. (CNS photo/Sanjeev Gupta, EPA)

Indian boys collect drinking water in early May from the main water supply line in Bhopa. Allowing people to drink unsafe water or have no access to dependable, clean sources of water is shameful, Cardinal Peter Turkson told religious leaders at an interfaith meeting Aug. 29 in Stockholm. (CNS photo/Sanjeev Gupta, EPA)

“It is a continuing shame,” too, that people’s needs “are secondary to industries which take too much and that pollute what remains,” said the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

It’s also a shame “that governments pursue other priorities and ignore their parched cries,” he said in the keynote address to an interfaith meeting Aug. 29 in Stockholm, Sweden. The Vatican office sent Catholic News Service the cardinal’s written speech the same day.

The meeting on how faith-based organizations could contribute to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals dealing with water was part of Stockholm’s annual World Water Week gathering, which seeks to find concrete solutions to global water issues. The meeting also came in the run-up to the Sept. 1 World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

With speakers representing the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities, the Aug. 29 meeting looked at how religious communities could promote guaranteed access to sanitation and clean water for everyone. Some 660 million people are without adequate drinking water, and every year millions, mostly children, die from diseases linked to poor water supply and sanitation, according to the United Nations.

Religious faith and practices, Cardinal Turkson said, offer the needed “motivation to virtue” that inspires people to protect human dignity and rights.

Faith-based organizations can help youth embrace the values of “solidarity, altruism and responsibility” needed to become “honest administrators and politicians,” he said.

Religious leaders could also help organize “interreligious campaigns for cleaning rivers or lakes in order to foster mutual respect, peace and friendship among different groups,” as well as promote “a wise hierarchy of priorities for the use of water,” especially where there are competing demands, he said.

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Indians gather to celebrate birthday of Blessed Teresa, soon-to-be-saint

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Catholic News Service

KOLKATA, India — They came from all around to celebrate the birthday of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity who will be become a saint Sept. 4.

Kolkata Archbishop Thomas D’Souza celebrated Mass at the order’s motherhouse Aug. 26 for the woman “who knew everyone and touched many lives.” Hymns were sung in Hindi and English.

Members of the Missionaries of Charity pray Aug. 26 near the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, India, in celebration of her birthday. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Members of the Missionaries of Charity pray Aug. 26 near the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, India, in celebration of her birthday. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, will be canonized at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Piyal Adhikary, EPA)

Sister Lysa, deputy head of the religious congregation, repeated Mother Teresa’s words: “We are not social workers; what we are doing for the people is, in fact, doing something for God, in the path of God.” Then the nuns, priests and faithful prayed for Mother Teresa and reiterated their commitment to carry forward her humanitarian work.

Missionaries of Charity Sister Mary Prema Pierick, who was in Rome to lead the celebrations for the canonization, sent a message, saying the canonization “will be a moment when, gathered around Mother, we shall have an experience of universal family of the children of the one heavenly Father. The difference of caste, creed, color, rich, poor will not prevent us from rejoicing together in the honor bestowed on Mother. Mother is with God and, as she promised us, she continues to light the light of hope and peace in everyone’s heart.”

All over the state, on what would have been Mother Teresa’s 106th birthday, churches held special prayers for her and also to commemorate her journey to sainthood.

The state-run multiplex began a four-day Mother Teresa International Film Festival, which included 23 films on her or inspired by her work.

A cathedral in the outskirts of Kolkata at nearby Baruipur will named St. Teresa, and statues have been erected around the area, including at the archbishop’s house.

“It is a moment of celebration, not just because she will be canonized as a saint, but that her work and philosophy will be propagated more now,” said Missionaries of Charity Sister Asharita.

Margaret Frank, a teacher, said she prayed to thank Mother Teresa.

“Mother had a healing touch,” she said. “For me I have been praying to her posthumously, but when she was alive, I was her regular visitor. She was a guide, friend and philosopher … she touched the lives of many.”

— Saadia Azim

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Pope leads 11,000 pilgrims praying rosary for Italy’s earthquake victims

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hearing the mayor of Amatrice in central Italy say his town no longer exists and knowing there were children who died Aug. 24 in the earthquakes that struck the region, Pope Francis turned his weekly general audience into a prayer service.

A man walks amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

A man walks amid rubble following an earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, Aug. 24. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

Beginning the audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said he had prepared a normal audience talk on how the merciful Jesus is close to people, but given the devastation in central Italy, he decided to lead the recitation of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.

Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology reported the first quake, which registered a magnitude 6.0, struck at 3:36 a.m. with an epicenter about 100 miles northeast of Rome between the towns of Accumoli and Amatrice. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude was 6.2 and the epicenter was closer to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.

Smaller quakes — at least two of which registered more than 5.0 — continued for several hours after the main quake. By early afternoon, the death toll had reached 38 but was expected to rise.

As emergency workers began digging people out from under the rubble of collapsed buildings and the number of verified deaths climbed, Pope Francis arrived in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience.

“Hearing the news of the earthquake that has struck central Italy and devastated entire areas, leaving many dead and wounded, I cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and my closeness” to everyone in the earthquake zone, especially those who lost loved ones and “those who are still shaken by fear and terror,” the pope said.

“Having heard the mayor of Amatrice say, ‘The town no longer exists,’ and knowing that there are children among the dead, I am deeply saddened,” Pope Francis said.

The pope thanked all the volunteers and emergency workers who were trying to rescue victims people trapped under the rubble.

Assuring the people in the region of the prayers and “the embrace of the whole church,” the pope asked the estimated 11,000 pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square to join him in praying that “the Lord Jesus, who is always moved by human suffering, would console the brokenhearted and give them peace.”

At the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a community growing in fame because of its prayer life and brewery, the 15 monks and five guests were already awake when the first quake hit, Benedictine Father Benedict Nivakoff told Catholic News Service. Aug. 24 is the feast of St. Bartholomew and “on feast days we get up earlier” to pray, he said.

“All of the monks and the monks’ guests are safe,” he said. But the Basilica of St. Benedict suffered “considerable structural damage,” and the monastery will need repairs as well.

Within a half hour of the first quake, Father Nivakoff said, the square outside the monastery was filled with people “because it is the safest place in town, around the statue of St. Benedict.”

While no buildings collapsed, it is obvious that many homes are no longer habitable, he said. The monks have set up a reception desk to help meet their neighbors’ needs.

The basilica, he said, is closed pending an inspection by civil engineers, who were to arrive the afternoon of Aug. 24. However, Father Nivakoff said, “the facade seems to have detached” from the rest of the building and major repairs are likely.

Assisi is just 45 miles from Norcia and, according to Franciscan Father Enzo Fortunato, the quake was felt strongly at the convent and basilica that suffered major damage from an earthquake in 1997.

Father Fortunato told the Italian news agency ANSA that the quake woke all the friars, many of whom ran to the Basilica of St. Francis. No damage was visible, he said.

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Order of Malta in Lebanon: Seeing the face of God in the disabled

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CHABROUH, Lebanon — In a pristine mountain setting in Lebanon, a female volunteer gently takes hold of the hands of Mohammed, a disabled adult who has trouble communicating. She gazes into his eyes, still shaded in heart-shaped sunglasses from the dress-up activity a few hours earlier, as she engages him in a dance to the rhythm of the music playing in the background.

Smiling contentedly, Mohammed bows his head to kiss her hand, and she responds with a kiss on his forehead.

A man identified only as Charbel engages with his volunteer, Jack Straker of England, during a camp at the Order of Malta Lebanon's center in Chabrouh, Lebanon, July 5. The Order of Malta Lebanon brings together disabled people from institutional settings and volunteers to spend a week together for a camp. (CNS photo/courtesy Sandra Fayad, Order of Malta Lebanon)

A man identified only as Charbel engages with his volunteer, Jack Straker of England, during a camp at the Order of Malta Lebanon’s center in Chabrouh, Lebanon, July 5. The Order of Malta Lebanon brings together disabled people from institutional settings and volunteers to spend a week together for a camp. (CNS photo/courtesy Sandra Fayad, Order of Malta Lebanon)

“By showing acts of love, we are demonstrating that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God,” Anton Depiro, a 30-year-old Catholic volunteer from London, said during a recent camp for people with disabilities, run by the Order of Malta Lebanon.

As Depiro affectionately put his arm around Mohammed, he introduced his middle-aged guest like a proud brother, saying, “He’s very shy and quiet.” He said they were “working together slowly and getting to know each other, and we’re finding ways we can interact.”

The issue of disability is still somewhat of a taboo in Lebanon, and families often experience shame when they have a child with a disability. Because the Lebanese government does not offer support for people with disabilities, many families resort to putting their family member into an institution, where there is little connection with the outside world.

The Order of Malta Lebanon addresses this inadequacy by bringing together disabled people from institutional settings and volunteers to spend a week together at its center in Chabrouh for a camp. Each disabled camper is paired with a volunteer for complete care and attention.

One of the aims of the Order of Malta Lebanon camp is to give guests “the love and respect they deserve and to give them back their humanity,” Patrick Jabre, project director for the Chabrouh camp, told Catholic News Service. Jabre was among the first volunteers when the organization hosted its first camp there in 1997.

Depiro said volunteering with the guests can be challenging, for example, waking them to wash and get dressed for the day.

“But it’s simply about sharing love with our brothers and sisters. After a while, you find the guest starts to look after you,” he said.

The motto at Chabrouh is, “Our guests are our lords, and we are here to serve them.”

So, if a guest signals to the volunteer a desire not to participate in the group activity in progress, the pair might instead play a quiet game, or just sit together and hold hands while taking in the spectacular views from the camp. Chabrouh, which is near Faraya, a popular skiing destination, is 6,200 feet above sea level.

Camp activities include hiking, olive picking, theatre plays, “Olympic” games as well as an outing to the beach.

Jack Straker, 25, a Catholic volunteer from England, said his guest, Charbel, who is mute, “has ups and downs all day.” Middle-aged Charbel sometimes makes sounds of approval or disapproval. That morning, Charbel especially enjoyed washing up.

“Charbel likes to receive kisses. He goes up to people and presents his cheek,” Straker added.

“To see the face of God in the face of the guest helps to renew a lot of people’s faith,” Straker said, referring to the Chabrouh camp experience as a “silent evangelization.”

Each day begins and ends with a group prayer. Mass is celebrated most days, and confession and the anointing of the sick are available.

Melkite Father Romanos Bou Assi, director of the center, said the daily schedule “is always engulfed in the grace of the Lord.”

Although the volunteers come from different paths and an active Christian spiritual life is not a prerequisite, the camp experience encourages them to “think deeply about the meaning of their lives,” Father Bou Assi said. Such reflection, while working closely with the disabled, the priest explained, also can help the volunteers to understand “the things that sometimes cripple us in life” and the importance of having a relationship with God.

Chabrouh underwent an extensive renovation and expansion, whereby two buildings were joined and a new building added in time for the 2016 camps. Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Catholic patriarch, will consecrate the center Sept. 3.

This year’s schedule at Chabrouh included Order of Malta volunteers from four European countries as well as from Lebanon for 18 separate weeklong camps, including two at Christmastime. In all, about 650 volunteers and 500 guests, 15-20 percent of whom are Muslim, will participate. The organization also hopes to receive delegations from North and South and America for future camps.

After each camp, volunteers with the Order of Malta Lebanon visit the former guests where they reside.

The order also sponsors a course for college students, who spend 10 months in Lebanon learning about the region, faith and coexistence, while working daily with the disabled in institutions across the country.

Marwan Sehnaoui, president of the Order of Malta Lebanon, fondly refers to the Chabrouh camp as a little family and a “house to learn how to love.”

“When you look around you and see the state of the world, you understand that something is missing,” Sehnaoui said, citing murder, suicide and bloodshed rampant in the world today. “So we decided that the spirituality of this house is to teach how to love. Because a world without love cannot work.”

Sehnaoui stressed that the experience of the camp instills in volunteers a hope that “together, they can join hands for a better world through loving the disabled.” At the same time, the guest also discovers a capacity to love.

“Christ resides in these suffering people, and Christ, through these disabled people, is an instrument of peace and coexistence,” Sehnaoui said, adding that in Lebanon, “all this is being done on a holy land.”

— By Doreen Abi Raad

 

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Priest finds hope amid violence that has killed millions in Congo

By

Catholic News Service

This story contains a description of a horrible act of violence

QUEBEC CITY — For Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere, the feast of the Assumption represents his hope for better tomorrows for Congo.

Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere poses for a photo in Quebec City Aug. 10. In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. (CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence)

Father Gaston Ndaleghana Mumbere poses for a photo in Quebec City Aug. 10. In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. (CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence)

In his recently published book, this 35-year-old Assumptionist priest describes the violence that plagues his home country. But mostly, he writes to allow a people used to crying from under the rubble of chaos to speak once again.

Father Mumbere is from North Kivu, a Congolese province that, for 20 years, has been at the heart of a conflict that has killed up to 8 million people in the East African nation.

Sent to Quebec City by his religious order in 2009 to study theology, he eventually took up writing to tell of the Congolese drama. His French-language book, “La cloche ne sonnera plus a l’eglise de Butembo-Beni” (“The Bell Won’t Ring Anymore at Butembo-Beni’s Church”), is written like a series of letters addressed to his Aunt Assumpta, a fictitious name that serves two purposes: to protect her identity, and to have a constant reference to the feast of the Assumption.

“Mary has walked the path that awaits us: the path of the Resurrection,” said Father Mumbere. “The path toward the Father. She’s like a model that encourages us, that tells us it’s possible to make it. Stay strong. Mary is not the path. Jesus is.”

In this sense, he said, the Assumption is not just a devotion, “It’s something real, alive.”

Father Mumbere bases his Marian reflection on the Bible, and he used it as a basis for preaching in August at the Sanctuary of the Sacred Heart, also known as the Canadian Montmartre. He said the New Testament tells of how Mary feels the pain of others.

“It’s at this moment that this woman is a model, an inspiration. Mary becomes important, not because I must venerate her, but because she shows me how I must care for the others, for what is lacking in their lives.”

He said he wanted his book to rely on this path of the Assumption to tell about the harsh Congolese reality.

“For me, the first thing, the urgency, is to liberate the word,” he said in French, giving his sentence a double meaning, since it could translate as “to speak freely” or as “to free the Word of God.”

“It’s not enough to say: ‘Bah, 8 million people died in Congo and that’s it.’ I vouch for the word. The muffled word.”

The priest compared the Congolese people to victims stuck under rubble. They cannot talk; they can only cry out, hoping someone will hear them.

Father Mumbere reminded people that in a context of terror, such as in North Kivu, it is difficult to speak freely.

Without delving in all the atrocities, Father Mumbere’s book tells of the dehumanizing violence, such as an incident with his grandmother’s neighbors, when armed men raped the mother and her daughters, before forcing the husband and sons to rape them as well to have their lives spared.

“I wish free speech for them,” said the priest. “We must speak ‘for’ these raped women, and not ‘of’ them. I wish the readers to enter the dynamic of also speaking for these women. For me, it’s biblical. To speak for the others is like a place of salvation.”

Among the victims he wants to speak for, Father Mumbere remembers his Assumptionist friends, kidnapped Oct. 19, 2012. Fathers Jean-Pierre Ndulani, Anselme Wasukundi, and Edmond Bamutupe were all ministering at the Mbau parish, in the Butembo-Beni Diocese, when they were taken. Although many people think the priests have been killed, their fate remains unknown.

“It was a motivation to speak out. I cannot just stay in my sacristy. My prayer, I want it to be active. To pay tribute to these priests is to speak of the chaotic situation in Congo,” he said.

“They give me the energy to write, to speak. And if they’re dead, I think they pray for Congo. They pray for the Assumption. For the church. If they’re alive, it will be a great joy to see them again,” he added, his voice stifled with emotion.

“And to speak with them.”

Vaillancourt is editor-in-chief of Presence info based in Montreal.

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