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Pope offers prayers for victims of Texas shooting

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VATICAN CITY  — Calling the mass shooting in a Texas Baptist church Nov. 5 an “act of senseless violence,” Pope Francis asked the local Catholic archbishop to convey his condolences to the families of the victims and to the injured. Read more »

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Prayers after ‘unspeakable terror’ in Las Vegas

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WASHINGTON — The nation has experienced “yet another night filled with unspeakable terror,” and “we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

In Las Vegas, a gunman identified by law enforcement officials as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, was perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a hotel and unleashed a shower of bullets late Oct. 1 on an outdoor country music festival taking place below. The crowd at the event numbered more than 22,000.

People mourn during an interfaith memorial service Oct. 2 in Las Vegas for victims of a shooting spree directed at an outdoor country music festival late Oct. 1. A gunman perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a casino hotel unleashed a shower of bullets on the festival below, killing at least 59 people and wounding another 527. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

He killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500, making it by all accounts “the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, said in an Oct. 2 statement.

“My heart and my prayers, and those of my brother bishops and all the members of the church, go out to the victims of this tragedy and to the city of Las Vegas,” he said.

“Our hearts go out to everyone,” Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas said in a statement. “We are praying for those who have been injured, those who have lost their lives, for the medical personnel and first responders who, with bravery and self-sacrifice, have helped so many.

“We are also very heartened by the stories of all who helped each other in this time of crisis. As the Gospel reminds us, we are called to be modern-day good Samaritans,” he added. “We continue to pray for all in Las Vegas and around the world whose lives are shattered by the events of daily violence.”

He said an early evening interfaith prayer service was to take place at the city’s Cathedral of the Guardian Angels and he invited “our sisters and brothers around the world to join us in prayer for healing and for an end to violence.”

In a telegram to Bishop Pepe, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis was “deeply saddened to learn of the shooting in Las Vegas” and “sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy.’

“He commends the efforts of the police and emergency service personnel, and offers the promise of his prayers for the injured and for all who have died, entrusting them to the merciful love of Almighty God,” the cardinal said.

The barrage of shots came from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino complex on the Las Vegas Strip. Once police officers determined where the gunshots were coming from, they stormed the room to find the suspect dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

The suspect later identified as Paddock was from Mesquite, Nevada, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, and was described in later reports as a retired accountant. News reports also said law enforcement believed the suspect was a “lone wolf” in planning and carrying out the attack.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo said: “At this time, we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering. In the end, the only response is to do good, for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light. May the Lord of all gentleness surround all those who are suffering from this evil, and for those who have been killed we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders around the country issued statements expressing sadness at the horrific developments in Las Vegas, offering prayers for the victims and praising first responders, volunteers and bystanders for their efforts at the scene.

“Once again we must reach out in shock and horror to comfort the victims of a mass shooting in our country,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

“We reaffirm our commitment to nonviolence and to addressing the causes of such tragedies. At this time we come together in prayer and also in resolve to change a culture that has allowed such events to become commonplace,” he said. “We must not become numb to these mass shootings or to the deadly violence that occurs on our streets month in and month out.”

He called for better access to mental health care and “stronger, sensible gun control laws.”

“We pray that there comes a day when the senseless violence that has plagued the nation for so long ends for good,” said Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. The bells of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus were to ring in the afternoon for all those affected by the Las Vegas tragedy.

The Catholic University of America in Washington offered prayers and support for the shooting victims. It also announced campus counselors and campus ministry staff were available to students needing help dealing with the deadly events, and said the employee assistance program was available to faculty and staff for the same purpose.

“As a community of faith, our university offers its prayers for the victims and their families, the first responders, and the health care workers who are caring for the injured,” said John Garvey, the university’s president. He added, “I ask that we meet this moment by cultivating peace with our words and deeds in our own community.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit held a noon service at St. Aloysius Church to pray for the victims of the shooting, their families and all affected, and also to pray “for an end to such devastating violence in our country and around the world.”

“Violence has once again horrified us as a nation and drawn us together in sorrow. All of us, people of faith as well as those with no particular religious affiliation, are stunned by the tragic, senseless, and incomprehensible loss of life in Las Vegas,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

“Jesus is weeping with us and for us,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik. “It is time for us as a nation to require at least as much from those purchasing guns as we expect from those making application for a driver’s license. Public safety must always come first.”

He called on lawmakers “to make it far more difficult for those with dangerously impaired moral reasoning, criminals and terrorists to make their point with a gun” and, like Cardinal Cupich, urged better access to mental health care “for those who may be prone to violence.”

“Join with me in prayer that we as a nation will seek to build a society in which the right to life is the standard against which all other rights are measured,” he said.

“I pray for the end of the violence and hatred in our nation, and I continue to pray that we follow the truth given to us in Psalms, that we should always trust in Jesus,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, Pa., noted the “tragic irony” that the mass shooting had taken place on Respect Life Sunday and the beginning of the Catholic Church’s observance of Respect Life Month.

“We can never become numbed to the seemingly endless stream of outrageous crimes that show a lack of respect for our fellow human beings,” the bishop said. “We continue to teach and proclaim that every human person is created in God’s image and has the right to life. … We will continue to pray that the light of God’s love will reach into the darkest places in our nation and our world.”

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Pope’s children’s hospital is fixing past problems, says cardinal overseer

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While there had been problems and complaints in the past, the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital was working resolve them, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, who oversees the hospital.

Pope Francis blesses a sick child in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 15, 2016, during a meeting with patients and workers of Rome's Bambino Gesu children's hospital. Responding to an Associated Press investigation, a top Vatican official said there had been past problems at the hospital, but that the current administration was making a "serious effort to resolve them." (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis blesses a sick child in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 15, 2016, during a meeting with patients and workers of Rome’s Bambino Gesu children’s hospital. Responding to an Associated Press investigation, a top Vatican official said there had been past problems at the hospital, but that the current administration was making a “serious effort to resolve them.” (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

In responding to an investigative report by the Associated Press, the cardinal told the AP July 4 there had been past problems at the hospital, but that the hospital’s current administration, put in place in 2015, was making a “serious effort to resolve them.”

The AP reported July 3 that the Vatican formed a commission in 2014 to study workers’ complaints and concerns about unsafe medical protocols, overcrowding and a culture that emphasized practices that might reap greater revenues.

An external audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2014 determined the hospital’s mission “had been modified in the last few years” by emphasizing expansion and revenues without adequate governance, according to the AP.

In January 2015, the Vatican assembled a team to conduct an announced onsite inspection of the hospital. That team, led by U.S. Sister Carol Keehan — a Daughter of Charity and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association — determined the commission’s report was unfounded and praised the quality of care at the hospital.

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, confirmed in a written statement July 3 that “After hearing complaints about care at the hospital three years ago, the Holy See moved quickly and decisively to study them seriously. After collecting the criticism, a clinical team was commissioned to look at the accusations and visit the hospital. The team found an exceptional level of care at the hospital, and that the accusations were unfounded.”

“The sole critical note concerned inadequate space in intensive care units, something hospital officials are aware of and working to improve,” Burke wrote.

He said the church “welcomes any efforts to help improve that care in its hospitals, including reports of practices that might be below standard. No hospital is perfect, but it is false and unjust to suggest that there are serious threats to the health of children at Bambino Gesu.”

Cardinal Parolin told AP that some of the problems reported by former and current hospital staff in 2014 had been “truly unfounded,” but that “there was an attempt, and there is currently an attempt and serious effort to resolve” those problems that had been confirmed.

Meanwhile, the hospital’s president, Mariella Enoc, told the AP July 4 that the climate at the hospital had become “more serene” since she was appointed by Cardinal Parolin in early 2015. She said she was calling for more open communication and urging people to come forward with any problems in order to talk “and not keep it inside and then have it explode.”

Enoc was appointed after the resignation of Giuseppe Profiti, who had been president of the hospital since 2008. He left less than a year into a renewed term right before the January 2015 onsite Vatican inspection of the hospital, amid rumors that a significant amount of money from the foundation supporting the children’s hospital was used to help finance the remodeling of the apartment of former Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Profiti and Massimo Spina, former treasurer of the hospital, were then subjected to a Vatican investigation in connection to the financing case.

In November 2015, Cardinal Parolin put in a new board of advisers at the Bambino Gesu Foundation with a new set of statutes aimed improving the fundraising body’s transparency.

In December 2015, Pope Francis established a special pontifical commission to study entities operating in the name of the Catholic Church in the field of health care. The body, under the guidance of Cardinal Parolin, who also named Enoc as one of its members, aims to study and propose ways to increase efficiencies, improve governance and collaboration, and protect the religious mission and charisms of the clinics, hospitals or institutes.

When Pope Francis met with staff and patients of the Bambino Gesu hospital Dec. 15, 2016, he emphasized how all those working in the field of health care must help their patients and be on guard against falling down the slippery slope of corruption that begins with special favors, tips and bribes.

“The worst cancer in a hospital like this is corruption,” he said. “In this world where there is so much business involved in health care, so many people are tricked by the sickness industry, Bambino Gesu hospital must learn to say no. Yes, we all are sinners. Corrupt, never.”

 

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Vatican supports new elections to solve Venezuelan crisis

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Negotiations between government and opposition groups in Venezuela, followed by free and fair elections, are needed to put an end to violence and bring relief to the suffering people, a Vatican official said.

In a letter June 13 to six former Latin American heads of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the Holy See continues to follow Pope Francis’ directives and is “trying to help find a solution to the current serious difficulties.”

An opposition supporter holds a rosary as she prays with others during a June 14 rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Christian Veron, Reuters)

An opposition supporter holds a rosary as she prays with others during a June 14 rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas. (CNS photo/Christian Veron, Reuters)

“The Holy See continues to consider that a serious and sincere negotiation between the parties, based on very clear conditions, beginning with the celebration of constitutionally scheduled elections, can solve the serious situation in Venezuela and the suffering to which the population is subjected,” said Cardinal Parolin’s letter.

The Vatican did not release the cardinal’s letter, but it was posted on the blog Sismografo.

Pope Francis had met June 8 with the leadership of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference, which requested the meeting as the country’s political and economic crisis became increasingly violent. Since April, anti-government protests have led to the death of some 70 people, both government and opposition supporters.

Cardinal Parolin’s letter came one day after the pope received a letter from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The letter was posted on Twitter June 12 by the Venezuelan government’s press secretary, Ernesto Villegas Poljak.

Although his government’s violent tactics against protesters have been denounced by the Catholic Church in Venezuela, Maduro has tried to claim he had the support of Pope Francis.

In his letter, Maduro defended the government’s handling of the protests, claiming that the violence was caused by an “extreme right-wing” opposition that was “increasingly smaller and, therefore, more and more insane.”

“The forces of darkness have carried out all kinds of vandalism under the sign of the most abject and brutal terrorism, trying to impose a climate of widespread violence on Venezuela,” he said.

Maduro’s accusations contradict statements by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, who told Vatican Radio that “the repression” exercised by Maduro’s government “has been increasingly cruel.”

In addition to official security forces, there are pro-government, armed civilian groups, “which is absolutely criminal, so that the situation is extremely serious and that is why we are here,” he said at the Vatican June 7.

However, the Venezuelan president said his government’s crackdown against protesters was justified following the death of a 17-year-old boy.

Citing Pope Francis’ own words in his letter, Maduro said children should not “be robbed of joy,” and he was certain the pope’s “active and guiding counsel would open a new stage in national dialogue.”

Asking for the pope’s blessing, Maduro said he would follow the example of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in dealing with the opposition.

“There are those who have diverted toward the field of destabilization, terrorism and coup. My task is to bring them toward the field of the constitution and political debate. In this, I am rigorously following the example of Commander Chavez,” Maduro said.

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope denounces ‘homicidal madness’ after attacks in Berlin, Ankara

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Expressing his condolences to victims and their families, Pope Francis called for an end to terrorism following a string of deadly attacks in Berlin and Ankara.

Similar to an attack with a truck that took place in July in Nice, France, a tractor-trailer veered into the crowded Breitscheidplatz Christmas market in Berlin and plowed through bystanders, killing 12 people and wounding nearly 50.

A mourner prays in front of a makeshift memorial Dec. 20 at the scene where a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market the previous day in Berlin. The terrorist attack killed at least a dozen people and injured nearly 50 as it smashed through tables and wooden stands. (CNS photo/Hannibal Hanschke, Reuters)

A mourner prays in front of a makeshift memorial Dec. 20 at the scene where a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market the previous day in Berlin. The terrorist attack killed at least a dozen people and injured nearly 50 as it smashed through tables and wooden stands. (CNS photo/Hannibal Hanschke, Reuters)

In a Dec. 20 telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, the pope prayed for the families of the dead and the wounded, “assuring his closeness in their pain.”

“Pope Francis joins all people of good will who are working so that the homicidal madness of terrorism does not find any more room in our world,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

Cardinal Parolin said the pope received news of the attack with “profound emotion” and joined the families of the victims in their mourning and “entrusts the dead to the mercy of God.”

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, said news of the attack in Berlin had “deeply shocked me” and called on the people of Germany to “hold together and stand united as a society.”

“The violence on the Christmas market is the opposite of what visitors were seeking. My compassion goes to the relatives of the dead and injured. For all of them, I will pray,” he said Dec. 20.

Police detained an asylum-seeker from Pakistan who was near the attack. However, as of Dec. 20, authorities said they are unsure whether he was the driver of the truck.

The attack in Berlin occurred not long after the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, by a lone gunman during the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara.

Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty Turkish policeman, shot Karlov several times, shouting “Allahu akbar (God is great). Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

The gunman was later shot and killed by police. Several family members and the gunman’s roommate were detained by investigators seeking a possible connection with terrorist groups.

Cardinal Parolin conveyed the pope’s condolences to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, saying he was “saddened to learn of the violent attack in Ankara.”

“In commending his soul to almighty God, Pope Francis assures you and all the people of the Russian Federation of his prayers and spiritual solidarity at this time,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

The Vatican also told journalists that Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, telephoned the Russian ambassador to the Holy See, Alexander Avdeev, to “express his condolences for the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.”

 

 

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On St. Teresa’s Sept. 5 feast day, cardinal praises her defense of unborn

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Love for those society considers “useless” or even a bother led St. Teresa of Kolkata to a courageous defense of the unborn, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Sister Clare, left, one of the first 12 members of the Missionaries of Charity, attends a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. At right is Missionaries of Charity Sister Therese Marie. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Sister Clare, left, one of the first 12 members of the Missionaries of Charity, attends a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. At right is Missionaries of Charity Sister Therese Marie. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Like prophets and saints before her, Mother Teresa would not “kneel down before anyone but the Almighty” and would not bow before “the fashions or idols of the moment,” said Cardinal Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

On the 19th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, Sept. 5, her feast day, the cardinal presided over a Mass in St. Peter’s Square to give thanks for the canonization of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

With hundreds of Missionaries of Charity gathered on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica and several thousand pilgrims in the square, Cardinal Parolin held Mother Teresa up as “a gleaming mirror of God’s love and a marvelous example of service to one’s neighbor.”

Her example, the cardinal said, is a call to all Christians “to convert from being lukewarm and mediocre to allow ourselves to be set alight by the fire of Christ’s love.”

While Mother Teresa became famous for her care of the poorest of the materially poor, he said she knew the worst form of poverty was to be unloved and unwanted.

“That led her to identify as ‘the poorest of the poor’ children who were not yet born and whose existence was threatened,” Cardinal Parolin said. “An unborn baby has nothing of its own; its every hope and need is in the hands of another.”

The unborn, he said, “ask to be welcomed and protected so they can become what they already are: one of us.”

Like every human being, the cardinal said, the unborn have one basic mission in life: “to love and be loved, as Mother Teresa liked to say.”

“The heroic exercise of charity and the clear proclamation of truth” were found in Mother Teresa, he said.

At the end of the Mass, Missionaries of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk thanked Pope Francis for canonizing Mother Teresa. The priest served as postulator or chief promoter of her sainthood cause.

“We really cannot thank God enough for all he has done for us through St. Teresa,” he told those in the square. “Following her example of faith and love, may we even more generously and faithfully love God with all our hearts and see and love God in our neighbors, especially the most unloved, unwanted and uncared for of our brothers and sisters.”

Recognizing all those involved in making the celebration of her sainthood a joyful and prayerful experience, he also said, “We thank the poorest of the poor in whom Jesus is loved and served.”

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Pope, U.S. bishops’ leader express shock after Islamic State murder of a priest in French church

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The murder of a priest in northern France, taken hostage with a handful of other faithful during a weekday morning Mass July 26, is another act of “absurd violence” added to too many stories of senseless violence and death, said the Vatican spokesman.

People walk past St. Therese Church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, near Rouen July 27, a day after a French priest was killed with a knife during Mass. (CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)

People walk past St. Therese Church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France, near Rouen July 27, a day after a French priest was killed with a knife during Mass. (CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters)

Pope Francis was informed about the hostage situation at the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen and the murder of 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

“With pain and horror” for the “absurd violence,” Pope Francis expressed his condemnation of “every form of hatred” and offered his prayers for all those involved.

“We are particularly stricken because this horrible violence occurred in a church, a sacred place in which the love of God is proclaimed, with the barbaric killing of a priest,” Father Lombardi said.

Police said two men, armed with knives, entered the church during Mass. They reportedly slit the throat of Father Hamel. They said another person present at the Mass was in serious condition at the hospital. An Interior Ministry spokesman said the attackers were killed by police, ending the hostage situation.

A nun who witnessed the attack described the scene to French radio station RMC.

“In the church, everyone screamed ‘’Stop, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ They didn’t stop. They forced him to his knees; he tried to defend himself, and it was then that the drama began,” said the nun, who identified herself as Sister Danielle.

“They recorded themselves (on video). They did a little, like a sermon, around the altar in Arabic. It was a horror.”

The sister managed to escape the church and flag down a car for help, RMC reported.

She told the station about her respect for her colleague.

“It’s necessary to remember that this was an extraordinary priest,” Sister Danielle told RMC. “That’s all I want to say. He’s great, Father Jacques.”

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack via its news site, though the group’s involvement has not been confirmed by French police. French President Francois Hollande suggested the group was behind the attack.

Hollande called Pope Francis to express “the grief of the French people after the odious assassination of Father Jacques Hamel by two terrorists,” said a statement from the president’s office.

Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen, who was in Krakow, Poland, with World Youth Day pilgrims when the attacked occurred, said he would return to his archdiocese.

“The Catholic Church can take up no weapons other than those of prayer and brotherhood among people of goodwill,” the archbishop said in a statement from Krakow. He said that while he would leave Poland, hundreds of young people from his diocese would remain. “I ask them not to give in to violence,” but instead “become apostles of the civilization of love.”

Msgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, secretary-general of the French bishops’ conference, also was in Krakow for World Youth Day. He told media: “We know now they were both terrorists.”

“We believe that evil and violence will not have the upper hand, and all the French bishops share this opinion,” he said.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a message of condolence to Archbishop Lebrun. The cardinal said Pope Francis was “particularly upset that this act of violence took place in a church during Mass, the liturgical act that implores God’s peace for the world.”

In the latest event of violence, the cardinal said, the pope prayed God would “inspire in all thoughts of reconciliation and brotherhood.”

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, was another church leader in Krakow for World Youth Day. He told Catholic News Service the attack in France reminded him of the 2010 massacred in Baghdad’s Church of Our Lady of Deliverance “when they held the people inside the church” during Sunday evening Mass “and killed two priests and then started killing the rest.” A total of 48 people were killed and more than 100 were injured.

“This is the sort of world we are living in,” Archbishop Warda said. “We pray for the priest and everyone who was shocked and horrified.”

At the same time, “we pray for all of ISIS so they could really wake up and know the God of mercy,” he said. “We know that it is going to be harder and harder because the more you push them, they come up with more terrifying stories and events.”

“It’s shocking, it’s sad, really sad” to know they could “enter a church, a place of prayer” and commit such violence, the archbishop said. “Imagine you enter a mosque and start killing people; but that’s ISIS. That’s the way they act. Unfortunately this is the way they’ve been trained.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed gratitude for “the unforgettable witness of the faithful” in the church attack.

“Jesus calls us to be sisters and brothers, to strive to care for one another, and always to reject the evil that seeks to divide us,” the archbishop wrote in a July 26 statement.

 

Contributing to this story were Colleen Dulle in Washington and Robert Duncan in Krakow.

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Vatican officials to be called to testify at ‘VatiLeaks’ trial

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Vatican judges have granted a request by one of the defendants to have several prominent Vatican officials take the stand and testify in the so-called “VatiLeaks” trial regarding the leaking and publication of confidential documents.

Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, arrives for the third hearing of the"VatiLeaks" case at the Vatican Dec. 7. (CNS photo/Massimo Percossi, EPA) See VATILEAKS-TRIAL-TESTIFY Dec. 7, 2015.

Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, arrives for the third hearing of the”VatiLeaks” case at the Vatican Dec. 7. (CNS photo/Massimo Percossi, EPA) See VATILEAKS-TRIAL-TESTIFY Dec. 7, 2015.

Following deliberations Dec. 7, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, the presiding judge, along with three other Vatican judges, agreed to the request made by Francesca Chaouqui, a defendant who was a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See.

The witness list requested by Chaouqui’s lawyer, Laura Sgro, was granted despite objections made by Vatican prosecutors. However, the judges said that they may only take the stand to testify on specific matters regarding the case and not as character witnesses for Chaouqui.

The officials who will be called to testify are: Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Santos Abril Castello, president of the cardinal’s commission that oversees the Institute for Religious Works; Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner; Auxiliary Bishop Augusto Lojudice of Rome; and Msgr. Alfredo Abbondi, an official at the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See.

The Vatican judges also granted witness requests made by the defendants Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi; their witnesses include several journalists and communications experts.

In requesting the appearance of top Vatican officials, Sgro argued that Chaouqui’s alleged “actions were in the Holy Father’s interests.” Sgro also argued that the Vatican court did not have jurisdiction over the matter given that the alleged crimes took place in Italy and not within Vatican City State. Sgro cited Article 22 of the Lateran Treaty, saying that as a self-declared “political refugee,” Chaouqui should be tried in an Italian court.

Vatican prosecutor Gian Piero Milano argued that Chaouqui’s lawyer misinterpreted the Lateran Treaty law given that there is no doubt that her alleged crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the Vatican courts. He also argued that by presenting herself to investigators and the court, Chaouqui recognized the validity of the Vatican’s jurisdiction. The judges overruled both objections made by Sgro.

Lawyers for the five defendants presented their requests and objections in court after spending several days reviewing the charges and preparing their defense.

Along with Chaouqui, the defendants present were: Spanish Msgr. Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Nicola Maio, who served as personal assistant to Msgr. Vallejo Balda when he worked on the commission; and the journalists, Nuzzi, author of “Merchants in the Temple,” and Fittipaldi, author of “Avarice.”

Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Chaouqui and Maio are accused of forming an “organized criminal association” with the aim of “committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents concerning fundamental interests of the Holy See and (Vatican City) State.”

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

Fittipaldi and Nuzzi are accused 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. The books went on sale in early November.

Italian lawyer Emanuela Bellardini requested that her client, Msgr. Vallejo Balda, be given a psychological evaluation to assess his state of mind in leaking the private documents. The judges denied her request, sustaining with the prosecutor’s objection that Msgr. Vallejo Balda’s state of mind can be sufficiently assessed when he takes the stand and testifies.

To allow the defendant’s lawyers time to review documentation, including e-mails and text messages exchanged by their clients, the Vatican court granted a recess and did not announce a date for the next session of the trial.

Shortly after the court adjourned, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said in a statement that the defendants will be guaranteed a fair trial under the Vatican’s judicial system and described as “inappropriate” and “entirely unjustified” reports that their right to an adequate defense was in question.

“In this respect, it is necessary to avoid a basic mistake: the current Vatican legislation, applied by the legal authorities, is perfectly in line with procedural law in the majority of jurisdictions throughout the world,” he said.

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Papal message: Sense of longing reminds people they are ‘made for great things’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — A sense of longing, of missing something, often is not a sign that a person has taken a wrong turn, but rather is the heart’s reminder “that our nature was made for great things,” said a message written in the name of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, reflected on the teachings of Pope Francis and of retired Pope Benedict XVI in the message he sent Aug. 19 to the Meeting in Rimini, an annual event sponsored by the Communion and Liberation movement.

For the theme of the gathering’s 2015 edition, organizers chose a line from a poem by Mario Luzi: “What is this lack a lack of, oh heart, of which all of a sudden you are full?”

In a world that offers so many easy answers or solutions that just lull people to sleep, Catholics must ask themselves how best to “give voice to the questions that everyone carries inside them,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

“No one can begin a dialogue about God without fanning the flame of the little light burning in the other’s heart — without accusation because we all have limits and without presumption, but welcoming and listening to all,” the message said.

It is normal and human, the cardinal said, to pose questions such as: Why must we suffer? Why does evil exist? Is hope possible? Do loving, working and sacrificing make sense? What are we doing in this world?

“These are questions that everyone, young and old, believers and nonbelievers, ask,” he wrote. At some point in life, either at a time of great disappointment or great joy, “everyone has to take into account one or more of those questions.”

A sense that something is missing, he said, does not mean one made a mistake, “on the contrary, it is the bell that sounds to remind us that our nature is made for great things.”

The world tries to convince people they can find happiness “in money, power, drugs of all kinds or in satisfying one’s momentary desires,” the message said. But Christians know that meaning, joy and fulfillment come from God.

Cardinal Parolin told Meeting participants that Pope Francis hoped they would “go out to all sustained by a desire to propose with strength, beauty and simplicity the good news of the love of God, who continues to bend down and fill us with the water of life that flows from the risen Jesus.”

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Obama and Castro take next steps to normalize U.S.-Cuba ties

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PANAMA CITY — An hourlong meeting April 11 between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro marked the first such personal encounter between the leaders of the two neighboring countries since 1958.

The session held during the Summit on the Americas, in which Cuba participated for the first time, was the most visible step toward ending a half century of strained relations dating back to the Cuban revolution.

Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they hold a bilateral meeting during the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City  April 11. Obama and Castro, who shook hands at the summit, seek to restore ties between the Cold War foes. CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Cuba’s President Raul Castro shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they hold a bilateral meeting during the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City April 11. Obama and Castro, who shook hands at the summit, seek to restore ties between the Cold War foes. CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, extended Pope Francis’ greetings to the gathering. His presence at the summit served as a reminder of the pope’s hand in encouraging Obama and Castro to move toward restoring diplomatic relations and ending the decades-long U.S. embargo of the nation that sits 90 miles off the tip of Key West, Florida.

A day earlier, the highest-level official meeting between Cuban and U.S. representatives in decades took place in Panama City as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in what the State Department described as a lengthy and productive session.

In remarks to reporters April 11, Obama said he and Castro have concluded “that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility.” Over time, he added, “it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

Castro spoke at length in formal remarks at the summit, in part listing what Cubans have considered U.S. offenses against his country, but then agreeing with everything Obama had said. He said while the two nations have “agreed to disagree” sometimes, Cuba is willing to take up any topic of stress between the two countries, including human rights and press freedom.

Castro acknowledged that as president only since 2009, Obama had no role in the long history of strained U.S.-Cuba relations. “I apologize to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.”

Obama said the Cold War “has been over for a long time,” and that “I’m not interested in having battles frankly that started before I was born.”

Obama and Castro in December simultaneously announced the two estranged nations would re-establish official diplomatic relations. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 first imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in reaction to the repression and human rights abuses which followed the Marxist revolution that put Fidel Castro in power the previous year. President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo and subsequent presidents maintained it.

In 2009, Obama became the first president to substantially loosen restrictions, making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba for family and cultural visits and allowing U.S. citizens to send more money to their relatives there. Cuba, for its part, has in the last few years begun to allow privately owned businesses, now permits people to own, buy and sell their homes and automobiles, and stopped requiring permission from the government to leave the country.

In announcing the moves toward normalized relations in December, Castro and Obama acknowledged the role the Vatican had played in what turned out to have been 18 months of secret negotiations.

Obama said during the Panama summit that he had a State Department report awaiting his return to Washington about whether the U.S. should remove Cuba from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

Removing Cuba from the list would make it easier for Cuba to participate in certain types of financial transactions and eliminate a status Cubans see as an unfair blot against the country.

Although Obama can officially renew diplomatic relations, reopen the U.S. Embassy in Havana and remove Cuba from the list of terrorism sponsors, only Congress can end the trade embargo that blocks most financial transactions between the two countries and makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to travel there for business or tourism.

 

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