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Fatima seers become church’s youngest non-martyred saints


Catholic News Service

FATIMA, Portugal — Standing before the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Pope Francis canonized two shepherd children who saw Mary at Fatima, but more importantly, he said, they heeded the call to pray for sinners and trust in the Lord.

“We declare and define Blessed Francisco Marto and Blessed Jacinta Marto as saints,” the pope said May 13 as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims broke out in applause before he finished speaking.

Pope Francis walks in a procession as he blesses the sick with the Eucharist at the conclusion of the canonization Mass of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three Fatima seers, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 13. The Mass marked the 100th anniversary of the Fatima Marian apparitions, which began on May 13, 1917. (CNS /Paul Haring)

Pope Francis walks in a procession as he blesses the sick with the Eucharist at the conclusion of the canonization Mass of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two of the three Fatima seers, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal May 13. The Mass marked the 100th anniversary of the Fatima Marian apparitions, which began on May 13, 1917. (CNS /Paul Haring)

The relics of the young shepherd children, encased in two thin golden crosses, were placed in front of the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the “lady dressed in white” as the siblings and their cousin described her.

The Marian apparitions began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their 10-year-old cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

After contracting influenza, Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9.

The children, beatified by St. John Paul II in 2000, are now the youngest non-martyrs to be declared saints by the Catholic Church.

Before his arrival at the shrine, the pope met privately with Portuguese Prime Minster Antonio Costa and then made his way into the sanctuary that houses the tombs of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta and their cousin Lucia, who died in 2005 at the age of 97. The diocesan phase of her sainthood cause concluded in February and now is under study at the Vatican.

Pope Francis stood for several minutes in front of the tombs with his eyes closed and head bowed.

In his homily at the canonization Mass, the pope reflected on the brief lives of the young sibling saints, who are often remembered more for the apparitions rather than for their holy lives.

But it is Mary’s message and example, rather than an apparition, is important, he told the crowd, which Portuguese authorities estimated at about 500,000 people.

“The Virgin Mother did not come here so that we could see her. We will have all eternity for that, provided, of course, that we go to heaven,” the pope said.

Instead, he continued, Mary’s messages to the young children were a warning to all people about leading “a way of life that is godless and indeed profanes God in his creatures.”

“Such a life, frequently proposed and imposed, risks leading to hell. Mary came to remind us that God’s light dwells within us and protects us,” the pope said.

The hopeful message of Fatima, he said, is that men and women have a mother and like children clinging to her, “we live in the hope that rests on Jesus.”

Pope Francis called on the pilgrims to follow the example of heroic virtue lived by St. Francisco and St. Jacinta, particularly their insistent prayer for sinners and their adoration of “the hidden Jesus” in the tabernacle.

This continual presence of God taught to them by Mary, he said, “was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering.”

By following their example, the pope said, Christians can become “a source of hope for others” and counter “the indifference that chills the heart” and “worsens our myopia.”

“We do not want to be a stillborn hope! Life can survive only because of the generosity of other lives,” he said.

It is with the light of hope, the pope added, that the church can radiate “the true face of Jesus” and reach out to those in need.

“Thus, may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love,” he said.

Addressing the sick before concluding the Mass, Pope Francis said that Christ understands the “meaning of sorrow and pain” and, through the church, offers comfort to the afflicted just as it did for Sts. Francisco and Jacinta in their final moments.

“That is the church’s ministry: the church asks the Lord to comfort the afflicted like yourselves, and he comforts you, even in ways you cannot see. He comforts you in the depths of your hearts and he comforts you with the gift of strength,” the pope said.

The “hidden Jesus” the young shepherds adored in the Eucharist is also present “in the wounds of our brothers and sisters” where Christians can adore, seek and recognize Christ.

Pope Francis encouraged the sick present at Mass to “live their lives as a gift” and to not think of themselves simply “as the recipients of charitable solidarity” but rather “a spiritual resource, an asset to every Christian community.”

“”Do not be ashamed of being a precious treasure of the church,” he said.


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Bishop warns that popular Puerto Rican Marian devotion is not approved


SABANA GRANDE, Puerto Rico — Although followers of a popular devotion centered on Our Lady of the Rosary were cheerfully celebrating being allowed to attend a public Mass, the bishop planning to celebrate the liturgy warned that their practices continue to be unrecognized by the church.

Members of the Our Lady of the Spring Devotee Association celebrate in 2013 the 60th anniversary of the supposed apparitions of Mary in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico in 1953. (CNS photo/Wallice J. de la Vega)

Members of the Our Lady of the Spring Devotee Association celebrate in 2013 the 60th anniversary of the supposed apparitions of Mary in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico in 1953. (CNS photo/Wallice J. de la Vega)

The group, calling itself Our Lady of the Rosary of the Spring Devotee Association, announced May 2 that Mayaguez Bishop Alvaro Corrada del Rio was “inviting all devotees of the Virgin of the Spring to a Mass that will make history in Puerto Rico.” The group’s press release suggested the bishop was celebrating Mass May 22 specifically as a prelude to the devotees’ anniversary pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in the Rincon area of this southwestern municipality.

The name “Virgin of the Spring” is a popular identifier adopted by devotees after Mary’s supposed apparitions at a spring-puddle in Sabana Grande in 1953. The group maintains that several students from a nearby grade school reported seeing “a beautiful young lady” floating on a cloud above a spring that provided water to the school.

The diocese has said that it has not found the apparent visions as supernatural in nature and has advised the faithful to avoid affiliating with the association.

Local newspapers published the press release May 4 under headlines suggesting that the Mass was specifically for the devotees and that Bishop Corrada was ending his distance from the group. The headlines spurred a social media outbreak, speculating about a policy change on the church’s part.

Ricardo Ramos Pesquera, association president, told Catholic News Service, “We wrote Bishop Corrada requesting to be allowed at the 10 o’’clock Mass, and it was the bishop’s initiative not only to allow us there, but also to say the Mass and preach himself.”

The Mayaguez diocese quickly clarified the church’s position regarding the association in an advance copy of a letter from Bishop Corrada to CNS that was read at all Masses the weekend of May 7-8 and published May 9 by El Visitante, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Juan.

In the letter, Bishop Corrada acknowledged the devotees’ request and his wish to celebrate Mass “”to continue the dialogue I proposed to them in my clarifying letter of September 2014, which I reaffirm.” But he also wrote: “I am going to Sabana Grande as this diocese’s bishop, responding to my pastoral duty to look after a group of Catholic faithful who request the holy Mass; not to celebrate their anniversary.”

He clarified that he will be in Sabana Grande to celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. The letter reminded the faithful that there has been no change in the church’s stance regarding the association and its mission and that the 1987 decree dissolving the association remains in force. The bishop also encouraged diocesan and religious order priests not to participate in activities related to the spring and that any priests who celebrates Mass there would be automatically suspended from ministry.

The supposed Marian apparitions at the Sabana Grande Spring lasted from April 23 to May 25, 1953. Hundreds of thousands of faithful from across Puerto Rico packed a sugar cane field near the spring. Several people reported miraculous recoveries from serious illnesses and physical handicaps.

After two ecclesial investigations, one by the Diocese of Ponce, to which the Sabana Grande parish belonged in 1953, and the other by the Diocese of Mayaguez in 1986, the results were “uniformly negative” and that reports of the apparitions lacked credibility.

The Marian devotion at the spring continued low-key until 1978, when Juan Angel Collado Pinto, one of the children who claimed to see Mary, announced that she had given him a series of messages for the world. At that time, he offered the first message; the most recent, the sixth, was pronounced 2008.

By 1980, a group of devotees had formed, with Collado at the helm, drawing people from throughout the island, including high profile figures from the arts, politics and show business. The resulting association legally incorporated in 1985 as Our Lady of the Spring Mission based in San Juan.

A year later, the mission was approved as a private association by the Puerto Rican bishops’ conference, but specifically without juridic personality, or legal recognition under canon law. However, that approval was vacated in 1987, when the bishops’ conference determined that “from the beginning, the association did not feel bound to the terms and interpretation of the (approval) decree.”

Catholic canon law provides that properly recognized private associations of faithful can receive juridic personality “through a formal decree of the competent ecclesiastical authority” and “are subject to the vigilance of ecclesiastical authority.”

Ramos told CNS his association has “international juridic personality,” being recognized by several bishops in other countries. Church documents available as public records reveal that the association never received juridic personality from its home diocese.

One important problem between the diocese and the devotee association has been the group’s use of several names, including “Association Pro Devotion to the Virgin of the Rosary of the Spring,” an identification they had requested and was denied by the diocese in 1987.

The relationship between the church and the association worsened when the group entered into a mega-project, dubbed The Mystical Mount, to build a resort-type center atop a mountain near the spring.

“That’s what brought them down,” Father Edgardo Acosta Ocasio, diocesan communications director, told CNS. “With time all this was distorted; outside people taking over, new interests created … local humble people, elders, the real devotees — in numbers and quality — saw all this turning into a business and into a corrupted religious element.”

Father Acosta, a native of Sabana Grande, said the distortion was part of a “more serious situation, both on the doctrinal and moral aspect.” Eventually, he said, the church determined no sacrament could be celebrated there, and the association could not be recognized as a Catholic organization.

The association’s image took another turn down in 2005, when claims of divergent practices — among these physical, psychological and sexual abuse — originally surfaced from former “disciples” of Collado.

Father Acosta said the church never opposed the individual, private devotion to the Virgin of the Rosary of the Spring, “especially praying rosary in the manner the church practices it.”

He referred to a 1987 CEP letter to local bishops stating, “every private apparition has a subjective character, hence it cannot be expected to be a teaching for the whole people of God.”

Father Acosta described as “a complex thing” the tension between the diocese and the devotee association.

“Bishop was trying, once again, because he did it before, to cool down tensions of the past,” he said about the association’s recent press release. “As a ‘sabeneno’ (Sabana Grande native), it would be an honor, a reason to be jubilant, if Our Lady had appeared there … but in this case the information has been manipulated.”

— By Wallice de la Vega


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At Marian shrine, pope tells Sri Lankans reconciliation requires repentance


Catholic News Service

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Pope Francis told Sri Lankans seeking reconciliation after two-and-a-half decades of civil war that, before they can forgive each other, they must repent of their own sins.

“Only when we come to understand, in light of the cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance. Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness,” the pope said Jan. 14, during a prayer service in the northern jungle town of Madhu.

Pope Francis prays at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The pope had traveled 160 miles in a helicopter from the capital city of Colombo to visit the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, which houses a statue of Mary venerated by Sri Lankans since the 16th century.

During the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels from the country’s Tamil minority, which ended in 2009, both sides recognized the area around the shrine as a demilitarized zone, which served as a sanctuary for thousands of war refugees. However, in 2008, the historic statue had to be removed temporarily from the shrine when it came under crossfire.

The 300,000 people assembled for the pope’s visit included families who had lost members during what he described as a “long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka.”

Pope Francis invoked Mary, who “forgave her son’s killers at the foot of the cross,” saying she would guide the country to “greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God’s pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”

He described the shrine as “our mother’s house,” where “every pilgrim can feel at home,” and where members of the country’s two main ethnic groups, “Tamil and Sinhalese alike, come as members of one family.”

“Just as her statue came back to her shrine of Madhu after the war, so we pray that all her Sri Lankan sons and daughters may come home to God in a renewed spirit of reconciliation and fellowship,” the pope said.

Later, Father S. Emalianuspillai, rector of the Madhu shrine, described the pope’s three-hour visit as “wonderful and amazing. Everyone one was thrilled and excited with the visit of the Holy Father to this far-off shrine.

“It will help the renewal of faith and strengthen our people in their spiritual lives,” he said.

After landing at Madhu, the pope rode a mile to the shrine in a popemobile, then spent half an hour greeting devotees. He also blessed a group of 2,000 sick and disabled people, including many who had been injured during the war.

The prayer service stressed national unity, with prayers in both the Tamil and Sinhalese languages. The short Bible reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew blessed mourners, peacemakers and victims of persecution. Pope Francis also released a dove as a sign of peace.

At the end of the liturgy, Pope Francis raised the statue to bless the crowd with it, then placed a rosary around its neck as an offering. He went inside for a few minutes of private devotion before leaving for the helipad.

After returning to Colombo, the pope paid an unscheduled visit to a Buddhist temple at the headquarters of the Maha Bodhi Society, responding to an invitation he had received the previous day from its head priest, the Venerable Banagala Upatissa.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope removed his shoes to enter the temple, where he was given a rare look at some relics of two disciples of the Buddha and listened while some monks prayed.

Asked if the pope himself had prayed, Father Lombardi said there had been no moment of silence during the visit, which he described as relaxed and “not a particularly solemn occasion.”

It was at least the second time a pope had visited a Buddhist temple, following St. John Paul II’s visit to a temple in Bangkok in 1984.

The pilgrimage was the pope’s last major public event over two days in Sri Lanka and reinforced his calls to reconciliation the day before, in speeches to President Maithripala Sirisena and at a meeting with other religious leaders. Pope Francis was scheduled to leave for the Philippines early Jan. 15.

Contributing was Anto Akkara.


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