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Villavicencio: Colombian city of ‘victims and victimizers’ on pope’s itinerary


Catholic News Service

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia — People in need in this city set in the heart of Colombia’s cattle country line up outside the Pope Francis food bank, a warehouse built with a donation from the pontiff.

Father Carlos Ricardo, director of social ministries for the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, says the facility meets a great need in a region where people have been thrown off their land in the violence afflicting Colombia and have had to start over in shanties built around Villavicencio.

Father Carlos Ricardo greets participants Sept. 5 in a program for special-need adults in the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, Colombia. (CNS photo/David Agren)

“It’s a city of settlements, made up of people that had to leave their land due to war,” Father Ricardo said. “Villavicencio is made up of victims and victimizers. They’re both here. There are people displaced that lost their homes, the things that they had. There are also people being reinserted into society from the guerrilla groups and paramilitaries.”

Pope Francis arrives Sept. 6 in Colombia for a five-day visit. Among the four cities he will visit is Villavicencio, where he will celebrate Mass for an estimated 700,000 people, including indigenous Colombians, and will later offer prayers for reconciliation with victims of violence attending from all corners of Colombia.

Promoting reconciliation is a recurring theme in the pope’s trip and a priority among Catholics in Colombia after five decades of armed conflicts and the signing of a peace accord between the government and the main guerrilla group.

Villavicencio, 75 miles southeast of the capital, Bogota, is the gateway to remote regions such as the Amazon, and Pope Francis is also expected to promote reconciliation with creation and speak of environmental issues.

Church officials say the trip to Villavicencio, population 500,000 and growing quickly over the past decade as displaced persons arrived, is heavy on symbolism and meant to send messages on topics important for Colombia and the church as a whole.

Villavicencio “was the heart of the conflict for many years in this region, with many different armed groups,” said Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao, director of Caritas Colombia. It’s a city where Pope Francis “will find victims of the armed conflict.”

“It’s also on the road to the Amazon. The pope can point toward the Amazon, toward its inhabitants, (the) destruction of the jungle over the decades … and make a reference to reconciliation with nature,” he said.

Locals call Villavicencio the gateway to the “Llano,” the plains of Colombia. With an abundance of available land, Father Ricardo says the region attracted the displaced persons from around the country, who had to start over from scratch after losing their properties.

Though close to the capital, Villavicencio is described a bottleneck for those traveling to the southern parts of Colombia. It’s also the place where the “rest of Colombia begins,” vast swaths of rugged and sparsely populated terrain, along with the Amazon region, an area taken advantage of by guerrillas, who used its thick vegetation for cover.

The area has been largely forgotten by the government. Paramilitaries, often paid by palm growers, inflicted violence on vulnerable populations. The Catholic Church has played a role, providing services where the state has been absent.

That work has not always been appreciated by those in positions of power. Priests ministering to populations with unpopular political opinions or areas occupied by guerrilla groups were seen with suspicion or as promoting liberation theology.

“There have been murders of human rights leaders … and priests for defending human rights by the state itself,” said Father Ricardo. “We work with the poor, giving them the word of God, but (elites) thought that we were subversive, that if we were not with them, we were against them … that we’re spreading a revolutionary mentality.”

While in Villavicencio, Pope Francis will beatify two martyrs: Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Marxist guerrillas in 1989 in an area rife with conflict, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez. The latter was hacked to death by a machete-wielding mob in 1948 after the assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, whose Liberal Party was often scorned by the Catholic Church.

In this region, the peace accord signed by the federal government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is still viewed suspiciously by many, including some in the church hierarchy.

Father Ricardo expressed hope the pope’s trip to Villavicencio would “set a single direction” for the church to follow in the attempts to promote peace in Colombia.

Reconciliation will not be easy, but some in Villavicencio appear willing.

“Forgiving is hard,” said Jeydi Gonzalez, a program director with the archdiocesan social ministry in Villavicencio, whose father was among six men murdered by paramilitaries. Making forgiveness harder is that provisions under the peace accords mean one of her father’s killers, four others implicated were killed, will have his sentence cut from 50 years to seven years.

“I feel very happy” the pope is coming to Colombia “but also anxious to know what he is going to say,” said Gonzalez, who credits accompaniment from a priest after her father’s murder for helping her family at a time when others in their village viewed them suspiciously. “They stigmatized us,” she said, because they thought her father had to have been involved with the guerrillas.

The priest’s intervention also provided her with an opportunity to continue studying and earn a master’s degree from a Canadian university.

Gonzalez said she hoped Pope Francis “can help bring home a message that speaks to our reality, the context which Colombia is experiencing.”

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Here comes the pope: Francis will be the fourth pope in history (that’s since 1965) to visit the U.S.

September 10th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,


In comic books, there are “crossover” stories. In such stories, a characte from one comic book “crosses over” into another character’s story. So, for example, Superman appearing in a Batman story, or the Invisible Girl appearing in a Spider-Man story, would be examples of a crossover. These stories, in comic reading circles, get a lot of buzz.

In film, buzz happens when there are notable special or cameo appearances. You see this when a well-known celebrity crosses over, unexpectedly, into a movie’s storyline, to the surprise of the viewer.

One of my favorite cameo appearance was in 1961’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” when the Three Stooges show up near the end of the movies. Or even more astoundingly, when master mime Marcel Marceau showed up in Mel Brook’s “Silent Movie” – and ironically spoke the only word of dialogue (“No!”) in the entire film. Now, that’s entertainment! Read more »

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‘Vatican Splendors’ exhibit coming to Philadelphia in time for papal visit


PHILADELPHIA — Works of art including paintings, sculptures and rare artifacts from the Vatican will be on display just in time for the World Meeting of Families and the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia this September.

More than 200 works of art, 40 percent of which have never been shown publicly anywhere, are part of the “Vatican Splendors” exhibit opening Sept. 19 at Philadelphia’s venerable Franklin Institute and running through February 2016. Read more »

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Photo of the week: Filipino priest blesses mass graves a year after typhoon


A year after typhoon, Filipinos look forward to Pope Francis’ visit

Catholic News Service

PALO, Philippines — One year after one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded crashed across the central Philippines, church leaders in some of the worst-hit parts looked to Pope Francis’ brief January visit to Leyte Island with hope, and slight trepidation.

A Catholic priest sprinkles holy water on the crosses at a mass gravesite for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 8. Many Filipinos continue to struggle with the loss of family members, homes and jobs a year after the storm ravaged the central Philippines Nov. 8, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

A Catholic priest sprinkles holy water on the crosses at a mass gravesite for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Nov. 8. Many Filipinos continue to struggle with the loss of family members, homes and jobs a year after the storm ravaged the central Philippines Nov. 8, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Standing near the mass burial site bordered with brand new slate grave markers, at the Palo Archdiocese’s Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Msgr. Rex Ramirez said he was personally excited that Pope Francis would be coming.

But he also compared the scale of the pending visit to that of Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda, as it was known locally. The storm bore 195-mph winds and kicked up tsunami-sized storm surges, leaving 7,300 dead or missing.

“We’re just barely beginning to understand how big the (papal visit) is for us,” said Msgr. Ramirez, vicar general of the Palo Archdiocese. “When we begin to see, ‘Oh we still lack this thing. We still need to do this thing. We still need to prepare such things.’ I say, this is a big event, maybe bigger than Yolanda.”

A year after the storm, Palo cathedral’s interior is still a latticework of scaffolding as its roof is replaced. Its main entrance remains closed, blocked off by construction materials, while other churches on the main road that connects Palo to other towns are still shells under construction.

Apart from the churches, residents continue to rebuild their lives after Haiyan ravaged 1.1 million homes and left millions more jobless. Tent homes still dot many areas.

Palo, population 63,000, is 95 percent Catholic and is part of Leyte province, on the impoverished eastern edge of the country. Msgr. Ramirez told Catholic News Service he could not imagine 1 million people descending on the town to try to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis. But he also said “the pope’s coming is really for the victims of the catastrophe.”

Msgr. Ramirez, a member of the committee managing the visit, said the outdoor papal Mass would likely to be held on the grounds of the airport in nearby Tacloban City.

Tacloban, about two miles north of Palo, bore the brunt of the casualties from the storm. It is the most urbanized area of Leyte and can handle more than a million people who go there for work every day.

Officials at Santo Nino Church, in the heart of Tacloban, are also involved in the preparations.

Amid the clang of heavy equipment being used to repair the church, Father Isagani Petilos told CNS: “It’s really tough. He (Pope Francis) will be staying here for six hours only, but the preparation is enormous. But foremost of all, we are very grateful to him for coming over.”

However, Father Petilos said church leaders are telling congregations not to expect too much in terms of a material encounter with the pope. They are emphasizing the spiritual aspect of his visit.

“I mean, nobody would ever think that the pope in Rome would come and step his foot on the Island of Leyte,” said Father Petilos. “But maybe, this is the blessing also, that God would like to impart (to) us, to strengthen our people’s faith and then our resilient spirits to reclaim once again our normal lives. He would, I believe touch many hearts, once he comes over.”

Msgr. Ramirez pointed out that the pope is passing through some very poor parts of Leyte, and church officials worried his tight schedule might be delayed should he decide to stop along the drive from Tacloban to Palo to reach out to the hordes of people that they expect will be lining the main road.

“We know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. For us it’s probably the event of the century. So we’re excited, fearful too. It’s a good thing that we have hope in the Lord,” said Msgr. Ramirez.

Pope Francis will be in the Philippines Jan. 15-19, staying mainly in Manila.

— By Simone Orendain


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Bethlehem residents look forward to papal visit on Sunday


Catholic News Service

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — A long line of cars trailed down the road next to the Church of the Nativity as Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas helped coordinate the placement of the electricity generator for the May 25 papal Mass.

A Palestinian shop owner arranges souvenirs May 19 inside his shop in Bethlehem, West Bank. Pope Francis will visit Bethlehem May 25 during his May 24-26 trip to the Holy Land. (CNS photo/Mussa Qawasma, Reuters)

“We are working night and day,” he said calmly May 23, as he worked to quickly free up the road while drivers waited patiently in their cars. “I think it will be very nice. The people here are happy.”

Sitting in her car with a rosary twisted around her rearview mirror, Jane Zacharia, 37, nervously grasped her steering wheel, admitting that though she was a bit anxious to arrive home to her waiting children, she was also excited about the pope’s arrival in two days.

Leaving the square in front of the Church of Nativity, a trio of tickets for the papal Mass in her hands, Nahida Sleiby, 39, said she felt like she was walking on clouds.

“I am happy because he is coming to us,” she said, adding that she wanted to attend the Mass because of the message of Christian unity Pope Francis is bringing and, he took the name of her favorite saint.

The arrival of the pope is bigger than any of the minor inconveniences the city is dealing with, she said, looking out at the barriers snaking all around Manger Square.

Though the square was full of pilgrim groups and tourists, and the line down to the manger in the Nativity church was packed, Elias Giacamman, whose souvenir story is one of the many around the square, said tourism was down this year. He said he hoped that Pope Francis’ visit will give an impetus to pilgrims to come as did the visit of St. John Paul II.

“This is a great spiritual experience for Christians and all Palestinians. We are very fortunate,” he added as he took down a welcome banner; city authorities told him only official banners are permitted around the square.

Visitor Eileen Fagan, 50, of California, who was raised a Catholic, was examining the large panels placed around the square juxtaposing biblical Renaissance paintings with modern photographic depictions of the current political situation. Some of the panels replaced Jesus with an image of a Palestinian; she called it “intentionally provocative” and wondered whether they had any place at a religious ceremony.

“It will depend on how the pope handles (the pictures),” she said.

Though this will be a Mass only for local Christians, Sonya Quesada, 54, of Honduras, said she would be able to watch the Mass from the home of a Palestinian friend whose house is on Manger Square.

“It is marvelous,” she said, as she left the Church of the Nativity together with a steady stream of other pilgrims. “It is a great privilege to be able to see the Mass by a Hispanic pope here in Bethlehem. It is an unforgettable experience.”


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Papal visit said to help ‘reawakening’ of church in Cuba


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The March visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI has helped reawaken people’s interest in the Catholic Church, according to two Cuban bishops visiting the United States.

But it also has stirred criticism of the church’s efforts to work with the government more and may be connected to a fire of suspicious origin that gutted a travel agency that organizes charter flights from Florida to Cuba.

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Cuban bishops confirm papal visit in 2012


HAVANA — The Cuban bishops announced that 2012 would be a Marian jubilee year and that Pope Benedict XVI would come to Cuba as a “pilgrim of La Caridad,” the popular name for the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country’s patroness.

In a Dec. 8 pastoral letter, they declared a jubilee year from Jan. 7, 2012, through Jan. 6, 2013, and said Cubans need the joy of faith, the strength of Christian love, and the light of hope that can come from “a reunion with our Christian roots” and with the “enthusiastic reception of the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

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