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Pope pays tribute to Holocaust victims in silence, prayer

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Catholic News Service

OSWIECIM, Poland — Sitting with head bowed and eyes closed, Pope Francis paid silent tribute to the victims of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Pope Francis enters the main gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, pool))

Pope Francis enters the main gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, pool))

The pope arrived July 29 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, an area now blanketed by green fields and empty barracks lined by barbed wire fences, remnants of a horror that remains embedded in history.

Used by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945, the camp was the Nazi’s largest and consisted of three parts: Auschwitz I, where many were imprisoned and murdered; the Birkenau extermination camp, also known as Auschwitz II, and Auschwitz III (Auschwitz-Monowitz), an area of auxiliary camps that included several factories.

In 1942, Auschwitz became the site of the mass extermination of over 1 million Jews, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and thousands of Polish citizens of different nationalities.

Among those killed were St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, and Edith Stein, a Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Crossing the gate inscribed with the infamous motto “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) the pope quietly sat on a small bench for 10 minutes with his head bowed, occasionally glancing somberly around before closing his eyes in silent prayer.

He stood up, and slowly walked up to the wooden post of one of the barracks, reverently touching and kissing it.

The pope then made his way to Block 11 to greet a dozen survivors of the camp, including a 101-year-old violinist, who survived by being in the camp orchestra. Pope Francis greeted each survivor individually, gently grabbing their hands and kissing their cheeks.

Among the survivors was Naftali Furst of Bratislava, Slovakia, who was deported to Auschwitz and was evacuated to Buchenwald in January 1945 before his liberation.

Furst, who now lives in Israel, gave the pope a photograph showing him and other inmates imprisoned in the Auschwitz barracks.

Pope Francis also signed a book for Furst before he made his way toward the “death wall” where thousands of prisoners were lined up and shot in the back of the head before their bodies were sent to the crematoriums.

Candle in hand, the pope lit an oil lamp in front of the wall, before praying and laying his hand on the wall. He then turned around and entered the barracks of Block 11.

Also known as “the death block” because the Nazis used it to inflict torture, it houses the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe spent his final hours, starved and dehydrated before being given a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

Pope Francis entered the darkened cell, illuminated by a faint light from the corridor, revealing a candle, an engraved plaque marking the site of the Franciscan friar’s death, and countless words, even a cross, etched on the walls by those who spent their final moments in the starvation cell.

Once again Pope Francis sat in silence with his head bowed. Alone in the cell for eight minutes, he occasionally looked up to contemplate his surroundings.

Outside the cell, he signed the visitors’ book, writing a simple message: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”

Pope Francis then made his way to the Holocaust memorial at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, driven in an electric cart on a path parallel to the railroad tracks that carried countless men, women and children to their doom. It now leads to a monument that honors their memory.

To the left of the memorial lay the ruins of one of four crematoriums used to incinerate the bodies of those who died of disease or starvation or who were executed in the two gas chambers housed within the extermination camp.

The pope approached the memorial to the victims, lined with 23 plaques, each inscribed with a message in a different language: “Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”

Passing each plaque, Pope Francis reached the end of the monument where he set a candle in a large glass bowl and once again stood in silence, clasping his hands together over his chest in prayer.

While he prayed, the voice of Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Joseph Schudrich echoed Psalm 130 in Hebrew throughout the camp. The psalm begins with a cry to God: “From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord.”

The event ended with the pope greeting 25 people honored as “righteous among the nations,” a recognition of non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi extermination.

Among those present for the solemn occasion was Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of the pope from Buenos Aires.

Speaking to journalists July 28, Rabbi Skorka recalled a telephone conversation with Pope Francis in which he asked about the visit to Auschwitz.

“The pope told me, ‘I am going to behave the same way I did in Armenia, the places where people were killed, I will remain silent,’” he said.

“From a theological point of view and from a biblical point of view, this attitude means a lot,” the rabbi said.

 

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Munich, Kabul attacks are call to pray for peace, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While recent terror attacks in Germany and Afghanistan bring sorrow and death to the world, they are also a reminder for Christians to pray fervently for peace, Pope Francis said.

After reciting the Angelus prayer with thousands of visitors in St. Peter’s Square July 24, the pope conveyed his sadness at “the tragic events in Munich, Germany, and in Kabul, Afghanistan, where many innocent people have lost their lives.”

A man prays outside the Olympia shopping mall in Munich, Germany, July 23, where nine people were killed by an 18-year-old gunman. (CNS photo/Arnd Wiegmann, Reuters)

A man prays outside the Olympia shopping mall in Munich, Germany, July 23, where nine people were killed by an 18-year-old gunman. (CNS photo/Arnd Wiegmann, Reuters)

“To the extent that the difficulties seem more insurmountable and the prospects of security and peace seem more unclear, our prayer should be more insistent,” he said.

Tragedy struck Munich July 22 when 18-year-old gunman David Ali Sonboly shot and killed 9 people and wounded 35 others before killing himself during a shooting spree at a shopping center. Investigators said that they could find no clear motive and no known links to terror organizations.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed the pope’s condolences in a statement following the attack in Munich, praying “that the suffering may find comfort” and “the wounded may find healing.”

“Our resolve turns toward an unwavering desire to be witnesses of love alive in the world. Against this resolve the forces of hatred and division cannot prevail. Let us draw strength from the courage of the victims and first responders in Munich so that we may continue down the path of peace, rejecting violence and that which seeks to divide us,” he said.

The following day, two suicide bombers detonated their explosives during a peaceful protest by a group of Shiite Muslims in Kabul, Afghanistan. A third bomber was killed by security forces before he could detonate his bomb.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack that claimed the lives of more than 80 people and left more than 240 wounded.

Pope Francis assured his “closeness to the families of the victims and the wounded” in both attacks.

“I invite you to join with me in prayer so that the Lord inspires in everyone resolutions of goodness and fraternity,” the pope said after his Angelus address.

The same day, a suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded at least 35 others in an attack in a neighborhood of Baghdad. The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for that attack.

 

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French community to run church above Rome’s Spanish Steps

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — An agreement between the Holy See and France handed responsibility for the church that towers above Rome’s Spanish Steps to the French-founded Emmanuel Community.

The Trinita dei Monti church is pictured at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome in this Dec. 8, 2010, file photo. An agreement signed July 25 between the Holy See and France handed responsibility for the Trinita dei Monti church and the adjoining convent to the Emmanuel Community. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Trinita dei Monti church is pictured at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome in this Dec. 8, 2010, file photo. An agreement signed July 25 between the Holy See and France handed responsibility for the Trinita dei Monti church and the adjoining convent to the Emmanuel Community. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In a series of amendments signed July 25 between the Holy See and France, the Catholic community will run the Trinita dei Monti church and convent starting Sept. 1. The gardens, a school, a pilgrim welcoming center and all works of art on the property will also come under the community’s care.

The new amendments are part of an 1828 accord between the two states. The early 16th-century church had first been run since by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But when the sisters were no longer able to continue their mission because of a lack of new vocations, a Paris-based monastic fraternity took over running the property and the church’s pastoral programs in 2006.

However, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, a small coed monastic community whose monks and nuns live and work in the heart of major cities, could no longer take responsibility for running the property for “internal organizational reasons,” said Philippe Zeller, the French ambassador to the Vatican.

The Emmanuel Community, the ambassador said in a written address July 25, is an international Catholic community recognized by the Holy See as a public association of the faithful. Founded in France in 1972, the community has almost 10,000 members, made up of lay and consecrated men and women as well as priests from about 60 countries.

 

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Cardinal calls Christians to be like St. Mary Madalene on her feast day

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christians are called to be like St. Mary Magdalene, who adored Christ upon finding him, an action that has somewhat lost its meaning in the church, said Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

St. Mary Magdalene is depicted in a stained glass window in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. Pope Francis has raised the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast that is celebrated July 22 on the church's liturgical calendar. (CNS photo/ Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

St. Mary Magdalene is depicted in a stained glass window in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. Pope Francis has raised the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast that is celebrated July 22 on the church’s liturgical calendar. (CNS photo/ Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

He said the July 22 feast of St. Mary Magdalene also serves as a reminder of the need to recuperate “the primacy of God and the primacy of adoration in the life of the church and in liturgical celebrations.”

“I believe, and I say so humbly, that we Christians perhaps have lost a bit the meaning of adoration. And we think: We go to church, we gather together like brothers, and it is good and beautiful. But the center is there where God is. And we adore God,” he wrote in an article published July 21 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis raised the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast on the church’s liturgical calendar June 10 in a decree, “Apostolorum Apostola” (“Apostle of the Apostles”) which formalized the decision and was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship.

While most liturgical celebrations of individual saints during the year are known formally as memorials, those classified as feasts are reserved for important events in Christian history and for saints of particular significance, such as the Twelve Apostles.

As the first to announce Jesus’ resurrection to the apostles, Cardinal Sarah wrote, St. Mary Magdalene was “a witness of divine mercy,” and her feast day can help men and women deepen their roles as followers of Christ through adoration and mission.

Adoration, he continued, is what is most important and “not the songs or rites, as beautiful as they are.”

“What does it mean to adore God then? It means to learn to be with him, to stop in order to speak with him, to feel that his presence is the most true, the most good and the most important of all,” he wrote.

Citing St. John Paul II’s writings on the 25th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Cardinal Sarah highlighted the need “to give God the first place” in order to encounter Christ, his mercy and his love.

“Mary Magdalene is the first witness of this dual behavior: to adore Christ and to make him known,” he wrote. By centering “our lives on Christ and on his Gospel,” Cardinal Sarah said Christians can model themselves after the “apostle of the apostles” who “comes out of herself to go toward Christ through adoration and mission.”

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Pope prays for grieving families after terror attack in France

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Remembering the victims of the tragic terrorist attack in Nice, France, Pope Francis prayed that God may give comfort to grieving families and foil the plans of those who wish to harm others.

People attend a July 15 Mass at the Catholic cathedral in Nice, France, to pay tribute to victims of a Bastille Day attack. Pope Francis condemned the July 14 attack, calling it an act of "blind violence." (CNS photo/Eric Gaillard, Reuters)

People attend a July 15 Mass at the Catholic cathedral in Nice, France, to pay tribute to victims of a Bastille Day attack. Pope Francis condemned the July 14 attack, calling it an act of “blind violence.” (CNS photo/Eric Gaillard, Reuters)

“May God, the good father, receive all the victims in his peace, support the wounded and comfort the families; may he dispel every plan of terror and death so that no man dares to spill his brother’s blood ever again,” the pope said July 17 after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope spoke following the July 14 attack during Bastille Day celebrations along Nice’s seaside promenade that killed 84 people. The French government declared three days of mourning beginning July 16.

In a message following the attack signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, the pope condemned the Bastille Day attack as an “act of blind violence” and expressed his “deep sorrow” and “spiritual closeness” with the French people.

Before leading a moment of silent prayer at his Angelus address, the pope said the pain in the aftermath of the massacre in Nice, “in which so many innocent lives, even many children were mowed down, is still alive.”

“I give a paternal and fraternal embrace to all the residents of Nice and to the whole French nation. And now, all together, let us pray thinking about this massacre, the victims, and the families,” he said.

In his remarks before reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel reading in which Jesus visits the house of Martha and Mary.

The pope noted that the sisters welcomed Jesus in different ways: Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to his word while Martha busied herself “preparing things” and forgetting “the presence of her guest.”

“If you welcome a guest in your house and continue doing things, you will have him sit there, both of you silent, as if he were a rock; a guest made of rock,” he said.

Instead, Christians are called to be like Mary and listen to Jesus whose word “enlightens and sustains all that we are and all that we do.”

“If we are going to pray, for example, before a crucifix, and we talk and talk and talk and then we leave, we don’t listen to Jesus. We don’t allow him to speak to our hearts,” he said.

Reminding the faithful that hospitality is a work of mercy, Pope Francis warned that it is also a virtue that “runs the risk of being left aside,” often due to the hustle and bustle of daily life in which people “don’t have time to listen.”

“I ask you to learn to listen and to dedicate more time to this. The root of peace lies in our capacity to listen,” the pope said.

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Never mind: Vatican says liturgical norm of priest facing people during Mass not changing

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Recent comments by a high-ranking Vatican official have sparked questions about the direction priests should face while celebrating Mass, but the Vatican spokesman said Pope Francis has made it clear no changes are foreseen.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, is pictured at the Vatican in this Oct. 9, 2012, file photo. Cardinal Sarah, the Vatican's liturgy chief, has asked priests to begin celebrating the Eucharist facing east, the same direction the congregation faces. Although not commonplace, the practice is already permitted by church law. Cardinal Sarah made his request during a speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London July 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, is pictured at the Vatican in this Oct. 9, 2012, file photo. Cardinal Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, has asked priests to begin celebrating the Eucharist facing east, the same direction the congregation faces. Although not commonplace, the practice is already permitted by church law. Cardinal Sarah made his request during a speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London July 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, urged priests and bishops at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London July 5 to start celebrating Masses “ad orientem,” or facing away from the congregation, beginning the first Sunday of Advent this year.

However, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement July 11 indicating the Pope Francis met with Cardinal Sarah July 9 to indicate no liturgical directives will begin in Advent.

“Cardinal Sarah is always rightly concerned with the dignity of the celebration of Mass, that it might adequately express an attachment of respect and adoration for the eucharistic mystery,” Father Lombardi’s statement said.

“Some of his phrasing has been badly interpreted, as if he had announced new, different indications from those now given in liturgical norms and the words of the popes on celebration toward the people and the ordinary rite of the Mass,” the spokesman added.

He recalled that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, which “remains fully in force,” indicated that the altar should be built away from the wall so “that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”

The statement also reminded people that when Pope Francis visited the offices of the congregation for divine worship, “he expressly recalled that the ‘ordinary’ form of the celebration of Mass is that foreseen by the missal promulgated by Paul VI,” and that the extraordinary form permitted by retired Pope Benedict XVI “should not take the place of that ‘ordinary’ form.”

Father Lombardi also said it would be better “to avoid the use of the expression ‘reform of the reform,’ referring to the liturgy, given that it’s sometimes the sources of misunderstandings.”

At the conference in London, Cardinal Sarah had asked that “wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the church,” priests face east when celebrating the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Several liturgical experts said Cardinal Sarah does not have the authority to impose a change but is simply encouraging a practice that liturgical law already permits.

By Colleen Dulle

 

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Vatican and Sunni university look to restart joint talks

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican and Sunni Islam’s leading institution of higher learning have begun looking for ways to restart formal dialogue.

Pope Francis talks with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican May 23. The Vatican and Sunni Islam's leading institution of higher learning have begun looking for ways to restart formal dialogue. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis talks with Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private meeting at the Vatican May 23. The Vatican and Sunni Islam’s leading institution of higher learning have begun looking for ways to restart formal dialogue. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Acting on Pope Francis’ expressed desire, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue was sending a top-level official to Cairo to visit al-Azhar University, the council said in a written press release July 12.

Spanish Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the pontifical council, will attend a “preliminary meeting” July 13 with Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk, a member of the university’s Council of Senior Scholars and director of the al-Azhar Center for Dialogue. Archbishop Bruno Musaro, the apostolic nuncio to Egypt, was to also attend the meeting.

The meeting, which was requested by the pontifical council following the pope’s “expressed desire, will evaluate how to begin the resumption of dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and al-Azhar University,” the press release said.

The encounter follows the landmark meeting at the Vatican May 23 between Pope Francis and the university’s grand imam, Ahmad el-Tayeb.

It was the first meeting between a pontiff and a grand imam after five years of tension and top-level silence since the Muslim university in Cairo suspended talks in 2011.

Established in 1998, the formal dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican started to fray in 2006, after now-retired Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany. Al-Azhar officials and millions of Muslims around the world said the speech linked Islam to violence.

Al-Azhar halted the talks altogether in 2011 after the former pope had said Christians in the Middle East were facing persecution. Al-Azhar claimed that Pope Benedict had offended Islam and Muslims once more by focusing only on the suffering of Christians when many Muslims were suffering as well.

After the papal meeting in May, el-Tayeb told Vatican Radio and the Vatican newspaper that his impression of Pope Francis was that “this man is a man of peace, a man who follows the teaching of Christianity, which is a religion of love and peace,” and “a man who respects other religions and shows consideration for their followers.”

Al-Azhar is considered the most authoritative theological-academic institution of Sunni Islam.

Some hope a renewed relationship between al-Azhar and the Vatican will lead to new cooperation in addressing urgent questions of citizenship that embraces religious and cultural diversity and how to counter extremism.

Maronite Father Fadi Daou, chairman of Adyan, a foundation for interfaith studies and spiritual solidarity based in Lebanon, told Catholic News Service in May that “al-Azhar has been working for … years in the direction of new Islamic positions concerning state, religion and politics and diversity.”

“Collaboration with the Vatican on this level can only add to the weight of the positions promulgated by this most important Islamic Sunni authority worldwide,” he said.

 

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American and Spanish journalists to lead Vatican press office

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis named two experienced journalists, including its first female vice director, to lead the Vatican press office.

Greg Burke, a native of St. Louis, succeeds Italian Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who retires after 10 years as head of the Vatican press office, the Vatican announced July 11. Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovejero fills in Burke’s spot as vice director, making her the first female to hold that position.

Greg Burke, the new director of the Vatican press office and Vatican spokesman, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, the new vice director, are pictured with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the outgoing Vatican spokesman, during an announcement of their appointments at an informal meeting with journalists at the Vatican press office July 11. Burke, a native of St. Louis, has worked for the Vatican since 2012 and prior to that was a television correspondent for Fox News. Garcia Ovejero is a Spanish journalist who worked for the radio station of the Spanish Bishops' Conference. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Greg Burke, the new director of the Vatican press office and Vatican spokesman, and Paloma Garcia Ovejero, the new vice director, are pictured with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the outgoing Vatican spokesman, during an announcement of their appointments at an informal meeting with journalists at the Vatican press office July 11. Burke, a native of St. Louis, has worked for the Vatican since 2012 and prior to that was a television correspondent for Fox News. Garcia Ovejero is a Spanish journalist who worked for the radio station of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Burke served as special communications adviser in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State starting in 2012 before he was named by Pope Francis as the vice director of the press office last December.

A graduate of Columbia University’s school of journalism, Burke spent 24 of his past 28 years based in Rome as a journalist with the National Catholic Register, Time magazine and the Fox News network.

The middle child of six, Burke grew up in St. Louis Hills and went to Jesuit-run St. Louis University High School. He is a numerary member of Opus Dei. (Numeraries are lay members of the organization who embrace celibacy.)

Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications, paid tribute to Father Lombardi’s 10 years of service at the press office.

Speaking to journalists July 11, Msgr. Vigano praised Father Lombardi’s professional work and his “ecclesial vision” of the church.

Born in northern Italy near Turin in 1942, Father Lombardi was named program director of Vatican Radio in 1990 and general director of the Vatican television center, CTV, in 2001.

During the reorganization of Vatican offices under Pope Benedict XVI, Father Lombardi was appointed general director of the radio in 2005 and head of the Vatican press office in 2006, while continuing to lead CTV. Before his retirement in 2013, Pope Benedict named Msgr. Vigano the new director of CTV.

Father Lombardi retired as head of Vatican Radio in February this year when the Secretariat for Communications took over the general administration of the radio.

Garcia Ovejero, who studied journalism in Spain and earned a masters degree in management strategies and communications at New York University, worked as the Italy and Vatican correspondent for Spanish radio broadcaster Cadena COPE.

“For me it’s an honor, it’s a service and it’s another way of serving the church. But it is the same church and, in some way, the same type of work: to proclaim the Good News and to transmit faithfully and with dignity the pope’s message,” Garcia Ovejero told Catholic News Service.

The Spanish journalist downplayed her role as the first female vice director of the press office, saying that the first women who served the church “were the ones who found the empty tomb and proclaimed the Resurrection to the apostles.”

“I am in no way the first woman. The first woman above all in the church, in the Vatican and in the press office is the Virgin Mary,” she said.

Garcia Ovejero said she hoped her role will be to serve and fulfill “the will of God, the will of the pope and, in every possible way, the will of the journalists.”

The Vatican announced that Garcia Ovejero, a native of Madrid, and Burke will begin their respective roles Aug. 1.

In Washington, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated all three and thanked Father Lombardi for helping to “spread the Gospel throughout the world across two pontificates.”

“I was especially grateful to have learned not only from his media expertise but also his deep love for the church during the six days we spent together as Pope Francis visited the United States,” the archbishop said.

He said Burke was “long known to us in the United States as a devoted man of the church and an unparalleled communicator.”

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‘VatiLeaks’ verdicts: Journalists not guilty, Spanish priest sentenced to jail

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican court, citing freedom of the press, acquitted two journalists who published confidential documents while their source, a Spanish monsignor, was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi speak to the media after leaving the final session of the so-called "Vatileaks" trial at the Vatican July 7. A Vatican court, citing freedom of the press, acquitted the two journalists who published confidential Vatican documents. Their source, Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Italian journalists Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi speak to the media after leaving the final session of the so-called “Vatileaks” trial at the Vatican July 7. A Vatican court, citing freedom of the press, acquitted the two journalists who published confidential Vatican documents. Their source, Spanish Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, was sentenced to 18 months behind bars. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Judge Giuseppe Della Torre, head of the tribunal of the Vatican City State, delivered his ruling July 7, declaring that the court had no legitimate jurisdiction over Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi.

The court found Msgr. Lucio Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, and Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, guilty of having roles in the leaking of confidential documents about Vatican finances.

Finding the Spanish monsignor guilty of actually stealing and passing on secret documents, the court sentenced him to serve jail time. The judges determined that Chaouqui’s role was one of encouraging the leak and they gave her a 10-month suspended sentence.

Nicola Maio, Msgr. Vallejo Balda’s former assistant, was found not guilty and acquitted of all charges.

Shortly after the court’s ruling, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, released a statement saying that despite criticisms of the proceedings, the trial was necessary to ensure that Vatican law regarding the leaking of private documents is respected.

“We cannot declare objectives or establish norms and not be coherent in putting them into practice and pursuing those who break the law,” he wrote.

The ruling brings an end to the “VatiLeaks” trial, which began in late November, after long periods of recess and months of witness and expert testimonies on the events leading to the leaking of private documents dealing with the Vatican’s financial reform.

Nuzzi’s book, “Merchants in the Temple,” and Fittipaldi’s book, “Avarice,” focused on the irregularities uncovered by the commission Pope Francis established to study the financial activity of Vatican offices.

Shortly after the books were released, Pope Francis expressed his dismay, saying he was “disturbed” by the leak.

“Stealing documents is a crime,” the pope said. “It is a deplorable act that does not help.”

Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Chaouqui and Maio were accused of forming an “organized criminal association” with the aim of “committing several illegal acts” of leaking confidential documents.

Under the Vatican criminal code, it is a crime to take, distribute and publish confidential documents.

Fittipaldi and Nuzzi faced charges of “soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on (Msgr.) Vallejo Balda, in order to obtain confidential documents and news,” which they then used for their books.

Before the judges began their deliberations, the defendants were given an opportunity to deliver a final statement.

Of the five defendants, Chaouqui alone chose to address the court, delivering an emotional plea and apologizing for the outbursts she made throughout the trial.

“I am a person who, at times, is unable to keep quiet. I am proud, angry and have a character that has sometimes led me to make mistakes,” she told the court July 7.

She also argued the prosecution did little to prove her alleged threats led the Spanish monsignor to leak the documents. Chaouqui noted that a profanity-laced message to Msgr. Vallejo Balda read in court July 5 was sent several months after he had already given Nuzzi the documents.

“I was given the harshest penalty as if I had done everything alone from the moment I met (Msgr.) Balda,” she said.

Breaking down in tears, Chaouqui said the accusations against her were false and that her “personal and professional image as a woman and a mother” was destroyed.

“For me these months have been a Calvary. No punishment is greater than what I have been through up until now,” she said.

Lawyers for Maio, Nuzzi and Fittipaldi had given their closing arguments July 6, calling for the full acquittal of their clients due to lack of evidence.

Roberto Palombi, Nuzzi’s lawyer, also said the Vatican court had no jurisdiction because Nuzzi is not a citizen of Vatican City State and that the alleged crime of receiving and publishing private documents took place in Italy.

Palombi also argued that the charge unjustly criminalized journalists for “asking questions.”

“We are defending an Italian citizen who exercised his right to freedom of the press; we are talking about here a new kind of crime, a criminal association of the press,” he said.

The prosecution countered the assertion, saying that the charges reflect only the alleged illegal manner in which the documents were acquired.

The charges are not “against freedom of the press” but rather relate to the questionable methods used to obtain the information, Vatican co-prosecutor Roberto Zanotti argued.

 

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Vatican Letter: ‘Amoris Laetitia’ at three months — Communion question still debated

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Three months after the publication of Pope Francis’ exhortation on marriage and family, bishops and bishops’ conferences around the world are studying practical ways to apply it. Some still disagree on what exactly the pope meant. Read more »

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