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An Indian Woman Became a Nun...Because of Elephants?

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || 17 August 2017

an indian woman became a nun coz of elephantsNine years ago, Christians in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, India suffered the worst attacks against Christians in modern times in the country.

Around 100 people lost their lives and more than 56,000 lost their homes and places of worship in a series of violent riots by Hindu militants that lasted for several months.

But since the devastation, the local area has seen an “unprecedented” increase in religious vocations, including Sr. Alanza Nayak, who became the first woman from her area to join the order of the Sisters of the Destitute.  

Sr. Nayak told Matters India that she decided to dedicate her life to God through the poor and needy after she heard “how a herd of elephants meted out justice to the victims of Kandhamal anti-Christian violence.”

A tenth-grader at the time of the attacks, Sr. Nayak said she remembers escaping to the nearby forest so she wouldn’t be killed.

A year after the attacks, a herd of elephants came back to the village and destroyed the farms and houses of those who had persecuted the Christians.

“I was convinced it was the powerful hand of God toward helpless Christians,” Sister Nayak told Matters India. The animals were later referred to as “Christian elephants,” she added.

After completing her candidacy, postulancy and novitiate with the order, Sr. Nayak took her first profession on October 5, 2016, at Jagadhri, a village in Haryana. She is now a member in the Provincial House, Delhi.

On January 26, more than 3,000 people from Sr. Nayak’s village of Mandubadi, honored her with a special Mass and festivities.

Her mother told Matters India that she was “extremely fortunate” that God has called her daughter for “His purpose.”

Sister Janet, who accompanied Sister Alanza at the thanksgiving Mass, said that while materially poor, the people of the area are “rich in faith, brotherhood and unity.”

The congregation of Sisters of Destitute was founded on March 19, 1927, by Fr. Varghese Payyapilly, a priest of Ernakulum archdiocese. It has 1,700 members who live in 200 communities spread over six provinces.

The violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district has been religiously motivated. It started after the August 2008 killing of a highly revered Hindu monk and World Hindu Council leader, Laxshmanananda Saraswati, and four of his aides.

Despite evidence that Maoists, not Christians, were responsible for Saraswati's murder, Hindu militants seeking revenge used swords, firearms, kerosene, and even acid against the Christians in the area in a series of riots that continued for several months.

While the intensity of the violence has subsided since the 2008 attacks, violence against Christians in Kandhamal has continued.

In July 2015, Crux reported on two unconfirmed reports of two Christians who were shot to death by local police in the district while they were on a hilltop, seeking out a better mobile phone signal to call their children, just one example of the ongoing hatred of Christians in the district.  

Rev. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest who heads the Odisha Forum for Social Action, told Crux that such violence is common in a place where the social elites are upper-caste Hindus and the Christians are largely lower-class “untouchables” and members of indigenous tribes.

“There’s a double hatred,” Singh said. “Because Christians are from the lowest caste, they’re untouchable, and because they’re Christians they’re seen as anti-national … they’re treated worse than dogs.”

Source: Catholic News Agency…


Welsh Seminarians Mistaken for Bachelor Party Nearly Kicked Out of Pub

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || 01 August 2017

welsh seminarians in a pubSeven seminarians walk into a bar … and almost get kicked out.

That’s what happened to a group of seminarians in Cardiff over the weekend when they went to The City Arms pub to celebrate the July 29 ordination of Father Peter McClaren.

Thinking they were a rowdy stag party in fancy dress, pub management initially asked the men to leave.

Realizing their error, they invited the men to stay and bought them a round of drinks.

"The staff thought they were a stag. We do have quite a few issues on the weekends with parties wearing fancy dress so it is our policy to turn them away," said assistant manager Matt Morgan, according to the BBC.

He added that the seminarians were "all great sports and saw the funny side of the situation.”

Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff commented that “It is wonderful to hear that the seminarians were celebrating their own path to priesthood by having a good time in Cardiff, which of course they are allowed to have,' adding that “Priests are of the community and for the community they serve.”

He also noted that “The diocese has celebrated the ordination of two seminarians in a week; despite rumours about the shortage of men presenting themselves for priesthood.”

Fr. McClaren was ordained a priest of the Cardiff archdiocese July 29 after having served as a deacon for more than 10 years.

He had been ordained a deacon while married, and after the death of his beloved wife Marie, he spent time in discernment and chose to attend London's Allen Hall Seminary to become a priest.

The seminarians told Wales Online that when they were asked to leave, they thought it was a joke, until “it became clear that this was not the case and he was in fact serious.”

The men were on their way out the door when a manager approached them and said he believed that they were in fact seminarians, and invited them back in for a free round.

“We were entertained and encouraged by the whole affair and look forward to future visits to the well-known establishment,” the seminarians said, according to Wales Online.

They said they received a warm welcome from staff and customers at the pub for the rest of the afternoon, including several who had questions for them.

The pub staff was also amused to find that there was a Reverend James in the crowd of men in clerics –  which is also the name of a popular beer brewed by Brains Brewery served at the pub.

“Even the management found it amusing that the Reverend Robert James, also a city native, was partial to the odd pint of the ale bearing his surname,” the priests said.

“Our Rev James ale is one of our most popular beers so it was great to have a real-life Reverend James and his fellow priests enjoying a pint or two!” Morgan added.

The Archdiocese of Cardiff also chimed in on the incident, joking that the pub better not kick out any more clerics, as many of them, including the archbishop, like to frequent The City Arms.

“We’d like to thank ‘The City Arms’ for being good sports through all of this and their kind gesture to our seminarians – and please note a number of our clergy, including the Archbishop of Cardiff, frequent your bar so don’t turf any more out please!”

“The seminarians in question included our own Rev. Nicholas Williams, Rev. Robert James (no the pint isn’t named after him), Elliot Hanson and Dale Cutlan who took it all in good spirit,” the archdiocese said. “Although initially shocked their only thought was ‘where are we going for our pint now?’”

Williams and James were both ordained to the diaconate in June.

Overall, the archdiocese said the seminarians “walked away encouraged by the positive reaction of the local community – all thanks to a bit of white plastic around their neck and the everyday situation in which they like to partake.”

Morgan added that he would gladly have the group back to his pub.

“It’s not every day you have a group of priests drinking in the pub and they would be welcome back any time.”

Source: Catholic News Agency…


Why Father Jacques Hamel’s Legacy belongs to the Whole Church

Crux || By John L. Allen Jr. || 27 July 2017

father jacques hamel legacy to whole churchWednesday marked the first anniversary of the slaying of Father Jacques Hamel in Normandy, France, on July 26, 2016. Today Hamel is a candidate for sainthood, and there are several powerful reasons why his legacy is important – among them, he's a reminder that old-school martyrdom still occurs in the here-and-now, and that even the simplest believers are capable of great heroism when push comes to shove.

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of one of the most horrifying reminders of the reality of contemporary anti-Christian persecution anywhere in the world: The grisly slaying of 85-year-old French priest Father Jacques Hamel on July 26, 2016, while saying morning Mass at the Church of Sant-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy, France, by two men professing loyalty to ISIS.

In part because the murder happened just as World Youth Day 2016 opened in Krakow, Poland, it shocked the Catholic imagination immediately, and generated new attention to Christian victims of religious hatred all around the world.

Crux’s Claire Giangravé was in the small Normandy church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray for an anniversary Mass on Wednesday, attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, at which Archbishop Dominque Lebrun of Rouen declared, “Though he is dead, Father Jacques Hamel is still alive.”

“Hate has not triumphed, and it will never triumph,” he said.

RELATED: Recalling priest’s murder, Archbishop says ‘Father Hamel is still alive’

Hamel is today a candidate for sainthood. His sister Roselyne, who met Pope Francis in late April during a service for modern-day martyrs in Rome, spoke to Giangravé about her brother’s legacy.

“My brother has become a ‘brother to all’,” she said. “We must not forget that this priest died and, that a few minutes before, he prayed for peace for the whole world, for peace among peoples.”

Remarkably, she expressed no bitterness toward the Muslim community, instead voicing concern over generalized blame. She often meets with Muslim communities in France in search of “an encounter, and in order to share a better understanding.”

In that, she clearly reflects her brother, who had been a close friend of Mohammed Karabila, the president of Normandy’s regional council of Muslims.

RELATED: Sister of martyred French priest says he’s now a ‘brother to all’

That spirit of generosity, of concern for others despite one’s own suffering, probably by itself says everything that needs to be said about why Wednesday’s anniversary mattered.

Nevertheless, there are several other compelling reasons why preserving Hamel’s legacy is important. Yesterday on Crux, Chris White laid out one of them - how the remarkably unified response to Hamel across the church in France is a powerful antidote to the tribal tensions of the day.

RELATED: Father Jacques Hamel’s martyrdom and Church unity in France

Here are three other thoughts on why Hamel’s life, death and legacy offer valuable lessons, and not just for France but the universal Church.

First, Hamel is a reminder that while many of today’s victims of anti-Christian persecution may not satisfy the traditional tests for martyrdom - a primary reason why Pope Francis just added a new pathway to sainthood called the “offer of life,” meaning giving up one’s life for another - some clearly still do.

In Hamel’s case, there’s little doubt his death came in odium fidei, meaning “hatred of the faith.” He had no particular political or social stands for which he was known, and really, very little public profile at all.

When his assailants slit his throat as he was saying Mass, they were killing a Catholic priest, because they despise what a priest believes and represents. Even Hamel’s shouted response as they grabbed him - “Satan, Go!” - lends a clearly spiritual context to his death.

In other words, Hamel illustrates that there’s no sharp dividing line between centuries ago and today in terms of the kinds of risks Christians run, and there are still plenty of traditional, old-school martyrs in the here-and-now.

Second, Hamel is also a reminder of the global nature of the threats facing Christians today, and for that matter all persecuted religious minorities.

Yes, Hamel was killed in Normandy, but his killers were inspired by a radical Islamic movement with its roots in Iraq and Syria. To add a further deftly poetic touch, his successor as the pastor of the Church of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is a priest from the Democratic Republic of Congo, another nation that’s seen far more than its fair share of contemporary Christian martyrs.

In other words, Hamel is a reminder that the “suffering church” today isn’t localized in one region of the world, like the church behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, but can be found anywhere the conditions lend themselves to it.

Third, he’s a classic exemplar of one of the most profound lessons of the martyrs: Beyond all the heartache and frustrations we may experience in the Church sometimes, there’s still something so precious about the faith that, when push comes to shove, ordinary people, with zero aspiration to heroism, will nevertheless pay in blood before they let it go.

As Lebrun put it in a recent interview, Hamel was “a simple and exemplary priest, perhaps exemplary because he was simple.”

If you ask people in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray today what they remember of Hamel, Lebrun said, they’ll tell you “he did baptisms, he celebrated weddings, he preached, he celebrated the Mass with fidelity, and he was well-integrated into his city.

“It’s the same thing that every day a priest does in Australia, or Kenya, or India, or Latin America,” Lebrun said. “He wasn’t a media priest, he was a diocesan priest, and priest and that’s all, and that speaks to all humanity.”

Surely all that adds up to a halo for Hamel, doesn’t it?

On Hamel’s sainthood cause, Lebrun is cautious, warning that “a serene justice is also a slow justice.”

Pope Francis in 2016 declared Hamel a “martyr” and waived the normal five-year waiting period to launch a cause - in part, Lebrun explained, because survivors of the attack on the church need to give testimony, and many of them are of advanced years.

At this point, he said, ten of the 69 projected witnesses have been heard by a tribunal commissioned to handle the case, and the tribunal could also still decide to call others. He expects it may yet be one to three years before the results reach Rome, and who knows how long after that - assuming, of course, that Pope Francis in the meantime does not decide to do what he’s done in a handful of other cases, short-circuiting the process by declaring Hamel a saint under his own personal authority.

In the meantime, Lebrun says he already notes one fruit of the martyr - there have been absolutely no arguments in the archdiocese for the last year over any of the simple things that often cause tensions when a priest dies, such as how to get his apartment in order and when it would be emptied for the next pastor, what time or where to say his memorial Masses, whether somebody is or is not doing their fair share, and so on.

“I’m not aware of any differing opinions that have ever caused conflict, which is very rare,” Lebrun said.

“Father Hamel has brought peace!”

Source: Crux…


Modern Idolatry: Rarely Confessed, or Even Considered

Aleteia || By Father Robert McTeigue, SJ || 19 July 2017

self worship as new idolatryThere is an altar in the center of the human heart, and we can't bear for it to be empty.

How do you know what your priorities are? One answer: Look at what has the first claim on your time, energy and money.

How do you know what your priorities should be? That’s a different, harder, and more important question.

I’ve been thinking about priorities since I recently saw a child, no more than 10, stop what she was doing, take out a small kit, and test her blood sugar. She has a robust form of diabetes and has to monitor herself to stay healthy. I was struck that this little girl, very calmly, unselfconsciously and matter-of-factly stopped what she preferred to be doing (playing with other children) to do what she knew she needed to do and must do. She’d been taught well a clear sense of priorities, to the degree that she could understand, and it seemed to me that she was taught in a way that would allow her to understand better when she was older.

What if we taught our children (and ourselves!) about God that way?

Observing that child, I concluded that proper priorities are those that we cannot afford to treat as secondary or worse. In other words, if proper priorities are not treated as such, dire consequences would follow—whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not. Priorities stem from our acknowledging or ignoring reality. Ayn Rand said, “You can avoid reality, but you can’t avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.” That little girl was taught effectively not to ignore the reality that she has diabetes, and so she has a proper sense of priorities.

What about us? Why can’t we adults, supposedly more mature and certainly more schooled (if not educated) than that child, have a proper sense of priority when it comes to the place of God in our lives? The First Commandment (Exodus 20:3) is first for all else follows from it: “You shall place no gods before me.” In other words, only God may be God, only God may be supreme in our lives. We often pay lip service to those words, but do we actually live those words by arranging our lives accordingly, that is to say, with proper priority?

There is an altar in the center of the human heart. The human heart cannot bear for that altar to be empty. If the living God is not on the altar, acknowledged, worshiped, loved and obeyed, some other god, a false god, some dead idol will be placed on the altar. The idol may be from a pagan pantheon, or it may be an obsession with the State, or an addiction, a relationship or a pleasure. In any case, the idol cannot give life, and, left unchecked will bring about death in this life and in the next.

There was a time when idolatry was the norm. With the advent of Christendom, the religion of the one God held sway over individuals, cultures and nations. That time is over. For the past few decades, we have moved into what many call, at least in the West, the “post-Christian era.” Tom Gilson warns us against using that phrase:

A word like “post-Christian” was never destined to last long in the first place. Great cultures aren’t known by what they used to be, but by what they are. (Who calls medieval Europe post-pagan?) It made sense, for a few decades, to describe Western culture in terms of the Christianity it was leaving behind. But now a new faith has swept the old one totally aside.

The “new faith” he speaks of is “self-worship,” making idols of our selves and our selfish desires. There are as many gods as there are human beings, and these gods will inevitably conflict. Etienne Gilson warned decades ago: “When the gods contend among themselves, men must die.” In attempting to “free” ourselves from the living God, we have “freed” ourselves into the Law of the Jungle.

The Church gives us clear guidance regarding what the First Commandment requires of us, so that we may live with proper priorities: We owe the living God worthy worship; we owe God lives lived with faith, hope and love. Today, sit down and make a list in answer to this question: “If my life were truly formed, informed and transformed by the First Commandment, how would it be different from how I’ve been living it for the past year?” Be honest, be specific, and be accountable—share this list with the Lord in prayer and with a friend in confidence. Let’s learn that lesson from that sick child who knows that she can’t afford to put first things second.

When I write next, I will offer another reflection on reclaiming the Ten Commandments in our times. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Source: Aleteia…


Hundreds Abused in Catholic Boys’ Choir in Germany: New Report

Crux || By Geir Moulson || 18 July 2017

over 500 boys choir abused in germanyAllegations involving the Domspatzen choir in Regensburg, which was run for 30 years by Benedict's elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, were among a spate of revelations of abuse by Catholic clergy in Germany that emerged in 2010. A new report investigating the abuse counted 500 cases of physical violence and 67 of sexual violence, committed by a total of 49 perpetrators.

At least 547 members of a prestigious Catholic boys’ choir in Germany run by the brother of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI were physically or sexually abused between 1945 and 1992, according to a report released Tuesday.

Allegations involving the Domspatzen choir in Regensburg, which was run for 30 years by Benedict’s elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, were among a spate of revelations of abuse by Catholic clergy in Germany that emerged in 2010. In 2015, lawyer Ulrich Weber was tasked with producing a report on what happened.

The report said that 547 boys at the Domspatzen’s school “with a high degree of plausibility” were victims of physical or sexual abuse, or both. It counted 500 cases of physical violence and 67 of sexual violence, committed by a total of 49 perpetrators.

At the choir’s pre-school, “violence, fear and helplessness dominated” and “violence was an everyday method,” it said.

“The whole system of education was oriented toward top musical achievements and the choir’s success,” the report said. “Alongside individual motives, institutional motives - namely, breaking the will of the children with the aim of maximum discipline and dedication - formed the basis for violence.”

The report’s authors said that they checked the plausibility of 591 potential victims’ cases.

The choir was led from 1964 to 1994 by the elder Ratzinger, who is now 93.

Ratzinger said in a 2010 interview with Passauer Neue Presse that he would “often give clips around the ear even though my conscience was later troubled for doing this,” but added he never injured a child or left bruises, and said he was happy when corporal punishment was banned in 1980.

Before corporal punishment was outlawed, such discipline was commonplace in Germany.

He also said he was aware of allegations of physical abuse at the elementary school and did nothing about it, but he was not aware of sexual abuse.

“I knew that the rector there was violent and would beat the boys hard, and that he would do it for no reason,” Ratzinger said.

The report faulted Ratzinger “in particular for ‘looking away’ or for failing to intervene.”

It also cited criticism by victims of the Regensburg diocese’s initial efforts to investigate past abuse. It said that the bishop at the time the allegations surfaced, Gerhard Ludwig Müller, bears “clear responsibility for the strategic, organizational and communicative weaknesses” of those efforts.

Müller, later made a cardinal, became the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office in 2012. Pope Francis recently did not renew his mandate at the beginning of this month, replacing him with Spanish Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer.

Current Bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, has already announced plans to offer victims compensation of between 5,000 and 22,000 dollars each by the end of this year.

Crux staff contributed to this report.

Source: Crux… 


Catholic Priest Wins Beer Brewing's Highest Honor

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || 15 July 2017

priest honored for homebrew beerLong blessed by Catholics as a “healthful drink for mankind,” one Texas priest has managed to take beer to new heights – winning the highest award in the United States for home-brewed beverages.

“It’s surreal,” Fr. Jeff Poirot told the Fort Worth Star- Telegram. “After we were done screaming from excitement when we won, it was hard to put it into words what winning the Ninkasi means to us.”

Yet, for the brewing priest, his hobby doesn’t detract from his vocation.

“This is a hobby, and it’s a hobby I’ve done all right with. So I would never want it to eclipse what I do ... because my role as a priest takes precedence,” he told the newspaper.

“You can have a busy life. You can have commitments with family and work, but you can still do something you love.”

Fr. Poirot serves as pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Fort Worth, and brews with his homebrewing partner Nick McCoy, who is also a Catholic. Together one of their beers has won the 2017 Ninkasi Award from the American Homebrewers Association, and is the highest award for the best drink judged in the annual National Homebrew Competition.

Together their beer was chosen as the best drink submitted among all 33 categories of beers, meads, and ciders submitted for the competition. Over 8,500 beers were submitted in the competition.

Submitting under the name “Draft Punk,” a play on the French Electronic duo Daft Punk, Fr. Poirot and McCoy's brew club also won first place in the Specialty IPA and Trappist Ale and Strong Belgian categories at the National Homebrew Awards in Minneapolis. This was the third year Fr. Poirot and McCoy have entered beers into the competition.

The winning beer, a Belgian Quadrupel, drew its inspiration from the Trappist tradition.

Generally winners of the Ninkasi award go on to open their own shops or to write books, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Fr. Poirot and McCoy will be staying where they are.

“For me, I always want to balance [brewing] with being a priest, because being a priest is primary, first and foremost for me,” Poirot told the newspaper.

Source: Catholic News Agency… 


Pope Delivers Shot in the Arm to Catechists, Church’s Backbone in Global South

Crux || By Ines San Martin  || 13 July 2017

pope delivers shot in the arm to catechistsPope Francis sent a message on Wednesday to the International Catechetical Symposium, being held in Argentina, asking catechists to “change, adapt,” and to make the message more approachable, even when it “remains the same, because God doesn’t change but renews all things in Him.” That choice reflects the importance of lay catechists in the global south, where there are proportionately far fewer Catholic priests.

Pope Francis on Wednesday delivered a shot in the arm to a constituency in the Church that might be under-appreciated by many Catholics in the United States, but which in other parts of the world often amounts to the backbone of the local Church: Lay catechists, in some cases paid, quite often volunteers.

“St. Francis of Assisi, when one of his followers insisted he taught them to preach, answered in the following way: ‘Brother, [when we visit the sick, we help the children and feed the poor], we are already preaching.’ This beautiful lesson encompasses the vocation and task of the catechist,” Francis wrote in a message signed July 5 but released on Wednesday.

The pope also called catechists to be “creative” in what they do, “searching for different means and ways to announce Christ.”

For many American Catholics, a “catechist” often is somebody who volunteers once a week to teach a CCD class. As valuable as that is, they’re not the heart and soul of the local church, as is the case in many parts of the global south, where laity plays a key role because of the much more acute priest shortage.

To illustrate the difference, in the United States there’s one priest for every 1,300 faithful. Globally, the ratio is one for every 3,000, but in Pope Francis’s backyard of Latin America, the situation is far more serious, with a ratio closer to one priest for every 7,000 Catholics, and in some places it’s much worse than that.

As a consequence, reliance on laity, including catechists, to be on the frontlines of the Church’s ministries is proportionally far more pronounced. This perhaps helps to explain why Francis made the point to deliver a special message to this group, even during what is supposed to be a slow summer time.

The pope’s words came in a letter to the International Catechetical Symposium, being held in Argentina’s Pontifical University in Buenos Aires. In it, Francis also said that catechesis is “not a ‘job,’ one ‘is’ a catechist and one’s whole life turns around this mission.”

The July 11-14 symposium, under the motto “Interpellations for our catechesis in the light of Pope Francis,” is addressed to catechists, theologians and pastoral agents.

Among the speakers is Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, the new head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He also heads Francis’s commission to study the historic role of female deacons.

Also speaking will be Cardinal Mario Poli, chosen by Francis to be his successor as archbishop of Buenos Aires; Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, who the pope appointed as rector of Argentina’s pontifical university; and Father Carlos María Galli, considered one of the minds behind the “Theology of the People,” the country’s response to Liberation Theology.

Being catechists, says the message sent by the pope, is a “vocation to the service of the Church, [the faith that] has been received as a gift from the Lord, must in time be transmitted.”

Francis also underlined the importance of returning to that gift, which was the “first announcement or ‘kerygma’ that changed the Catechist’s life.”

This announcement, the pope wrote, has to accompany the faith that is already present in the “religiosity of our people.”

“We need to take ownership of all the potential of piety and love that popular religiosity holds, not only so that the contents of the faith are transmitted, but so that a real school of formation is created, in which the gift of faith that was received is cultivated, so that the acts and words reflect the grace of being disciples of Jesus,” he wrote.

A catechist, Francis continues, “walks from and with Christ,” and he cannot be a person who starts from their own ideas and tastes, but from Jesus.

He also called for a catechesis that is rooted in the Gospels and the sacraments, and that is not something “occasional” but constant.

Calling on them to be creative, he also urged catechists to learn to “change, adapt,” to make the message more approachable, even when it “remains the same, because God doesn’t change but renews all things in Him.”

Every year, the Vatican releases the statistics for the global Church. According to the numbers released this year, as of Dec. 31, 2015, there were 3.1 million catechists, plus an estimated 351,797 lay missionaries. Though technically different categories, the two are often combined under the “lay ministry” label.

It’s virtually impossible to know what is being described with these labels, since the definition of each category sometimes overlaps.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the trend is clearly upward. There were only some 173,000 catechists globally in 1978, signaling that the number of lay people occupying ministerial positions in the church has surpassed the number of ordained clergy (415,656 priests) by a considerable order of magnitude, and the gap is widening.

Source: Crux…


Secrecy Over Clergy Abuse Standards Causes Confusion in India

National Catholic Reporter (NCR) || By Jose Kavi || 10 July 2017

secrecy over clergy abuseThree months after India's theologians and Catholic religious pressed a congress of bishops to act aggressively against a wave of sex abuse cases involving priests, no official response has come.

But top church leaders told National Catholic Reporter in exclusive interviews that bishops in India are following Vatican-approved guidelines for handling clergy abuse cases. The guidelines took effect in 2015 but have not been shared beyond bishops and religious superiors to protect the policy from being misused, an officer in the bishops' conference told NCR.

The March 22 letter, signed by 127 Catholic religious, theologians and feminists, was sent to Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, with copies to heads of India's three ritual churches.

The letter was spurred by the Feb. 28 arrest of Fr. Robin Vadakkumcherry who allegedly raped and fathered the child of a minor in his Kottiyoor parish. The local diocese removed the priest from his position upon his arrest and reportedly acted against another priest and five women religious charged in a cover-up.

Despite Pope Francis' call for "zero tolerance" by the church in handling cases of clergy abuse against minors, change has not been swift worldwide. Priests such as Vadakkumcherry have been more likely to face criminal charges first. And, just last week, Australian police announced pursuing charges against one of the pope's closest advisers, Cardinal George Pell, for historical sexual abuse against minors. The cardinal is required to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a laywoman theologian who helped draft and mail the letter to Indian bishops, says that only Cardinal Oswald Gracias has acknowledged it with a response. The Bombay archbishop, who heads the Latin rite in India and is a member of the council of nine cardinals who advise the pope, expressed his support for the group's concerns April 6 and said guidelines would be published soon to tackle such cases.

In an early May interview with NCR, Cleemis said he found the recent upsurge in sexual abuse cases involving clergy in India "painful, shocking and damaging." He said the church has a responsibility to look into such an "unfortunate, immoral and unethical" act by a priest. "It cannot be simply neglected or sidelined," he asserted at the interview, held outside the biannual meeting of the bishops' conference standing committee in Bengaluru.

He also clarified that the standing committee meeting did not address the March 22 letter because the bishop of the diocese where the incident happened, Bishop Jose Porunnedom of Mananthavady, was not a participant. "It was not proper to discuss the case in his absence," he explained.

But Gajilwala says the non-response from other church leaders is "an insult" to the people who had signed the letter. The signatories included theologians, who have advised the bishops for decades, she says. Others were heads of Catholic institutions, provincials, activists and professionals.

"They wrote to their 'shepherds,' not to point fingers or make demands, but out of concern for both the victims of sexual abuse and the church. Common courtesy demanded a response," Gajiwala told NCR in late June.

She says church leaders ignore such letters "because they either find them difficult to implement or because they are afraid of negative publicity or because they already have policies in place, which they do not want to share with the community, or because they don't believe they are accountable to their flock."

Virginia Saldanha, another laywoman theologian who helped draft the letter, says, although the church leaders ignore them, women's groups and others keep writing, with the hope their efforts "will at least touch their conscience and do something."

Saldanha also explained that their earlier letters were sent from a core group that worked on the issue. "This time we decided to throw it open to a wide spectrum of people because of the anger generated at the stories of abuse coming out in the newspapers. We hoped that this wide spectrum of people would make an impact on the bishops and get them to act on the issue."

Abuse victims: standards for minors, standards for women religious

Cleemis acknowledged receiving the letter but said the theologians have demanded what already has been in force. He said that two years ago the conference had issued stringent standards to deal with clergy abuse of minors. The standards stipulated that dioceses and religious congregations set up committees to deal with such cases.

However, the standards remain a mystery for the public, and for priests and nuns. Gajiwala and Saldanha, who were participants in drafting the document initially, said they are unaware that the standards were released.

Saldanha questions the secrecy over such a document, which she asserts, is "meant to address a crime and should be publicized so that people can come forward to make their complaints."

Saldanha says the apparent secrecy over the standards is a strategy against the bishops' fear that their publication would lead to a deluge of complaints. "They are only behaving like the proverbial ostrich with heads buried in the sand. One day this issue is bound to implode and signs of this are already emerging," she told NCR.

Cleemis says people demanded action from the conference without realizing it has only an advisory role. It is for dioceses to implement the standards and ensure their strict adherence, he says. He was pleased that Mananthavady diocese, where the latest scandal erupted, and its Syro-Malabar rite have responded to the situation according to the standards.

While the cardinal claimed the document was public, Msgr. Joseph Chinnayyan, the conference's deputy secretary general who was also involved in the preparation, clarified that the document was circulated only to bishops and major superiors. The two groups were given strict instruction not to share its content with others lest it fall into the hands of those who may not use it with discretion, Chinnayyan told NCR on June 22.

The priest said the document, "Procedural norms for dealing with cases involving sexual abuses of minors," was issued on October 1, 2015 (feast day of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, patron of missions), and went into effect on November 1, 2015 (All Saints Day).

He said the theologians and others seem to confuse the standards for minors with another set of guidelines the conference has prepared to deal with clergy abuse of Catholic women religious. The standing committee approved the guidelines on treatment of women religious in September 2016, and Cleemis said they would be published once they were made comprehensive and legally tenable. Chinnayyan said the document, which is in the final stage, could be released this month.

Process, practice of standards on clergy abuse of minors

Chinnayyan said it took four years to prepare the standards on clergy abuse of minors. The Indian conference began the work immediately after the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published its guidelines to deal with clergy abuses on May 3, 2011. The Vatican had asked episcopal conferences to prepare similar documents addressing their local needs.

Gracias, who headed the Indian conference in 2011, prepared a draft and circulated it among bishops and members of the Conference of Religious India, the national body of major superiors for both men and women religious. He also set up a subcommittee to incorporate the responses and prepare a second draft that he sent to Rome for approval in 2012.

By the time Gracias finalized the document with modifications suggested by Rome, his term ended and Cleemis replaced him as president in 2014.

Chinnayyan said Cleemis brushed up the final draft and got the two-part document approved by the conference's standing committee in 2014.

Reading from the document, which he keeps inside two envelopes and under lock and key, Chinnayyan said its introduction explains the standards to bishops and major superiors and ways to implement them.

The operative part aims at strict adherence to the procedures. "The Indian norms follow Pope Francis' policy of zero tolerance toward sexual abuse of minors," the monsignor said.

The conference had asked bishops to convene a meeting of their priests to explain the standards and procedures. Similarly, the major superiors were to do the same with their members.

Chinnayyan said the standards stipulate that a diocese prepare a code of conduct for church persons and institutions where minors are given particular care. He outlined the multi-phase process in the guidelines:

·        If a case arises in a diocese or province, a preliminary committee will examine the complaint, and talk to the victim, witnesses and the accused.

·        If the committee finds "a semblance of truth" in the case, it will inform the bishop or the major superior. The bishop will refer the matter to the Vatican congregation. If Rome is persuaded an issue may exist, it will ask the diocese to conduct further inquiry.

·        A Special Committee for Sexual Offense appointed by the bishop or the major superior will study the case. The committee's term is for three years and it should have three members, at least one of them a canon law expert.

·        The special committee will reexamine the case, talking to the complainant, the accused and witnesses, and prepare documentary evidence to submit to the bishop or superior within 90 days.

·        The standards stipulate that the bishop or superior should show the final report to the victim and the accused to ensure justice and fairness. Depending on the gravity of the issue, the matter is again referred to Rome.

·        Penalties could be as severe as laicization of the accused. However, the standards end with No.1752 in the canon law: "The salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one's eyes."

In a follow-up phone interview July 4, Chinnayyan said a diocese could very well act against an accused priest before all steps in the process are exhausted. If the preliminary committee and bishop agree there is truth to the allegation, the accused would be barred from exercising his duties, such as celebrating Mass, preaching, conducting the sacraments or fulfilling other roles, he said.

Chinnayyan said the guidelines do not direct church leaders to inform the police of any conclusions they reach about an abuse complaint.

Cleemis said he has been informed that all dioceses in India have set up committees.

Meanwhile the accused priest, Vadakkumcherry, approached courts twice for bail, but was rejected. He is now awaiting trial in a sub-jail in Tellicherry town in Kerala. Those charged in a cover-up of the incident are free on bail and awaiting court hearings.

The Mananthavady diocese removed Vadakkumcherry from all his posts the day he was arrested. Bishop Porunnedom said the priest's suspension and ban on exercising his priestly duties would remain in force until he is declared innocent.

Cardinal George Alencherry, who heads the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, termed the case "very serious" and promised to take steps not to repeat such abuses in his church of about 5 million members. "The priest has committed a grave mistake. The Church would not protect the accused," the cardinal told reporters in Kochi, Kerala's commercial capital and his base, on March 5.

Cleemis welcomed the gesture of the Mananthavady Diocese and Porunnedom to comfort the victim and her family. Chinnayyan said it was in line with the conference standards for a bishop or major superior to keep in constant touch with the victim and the family after a complaint is raised. Such a step is not to alienate them or intimidate them, but to accompany them in their pain and anguish, the priest explained.

Police arrested Vadakkumcherry three weeks after a 16-year-old girl gave birth to a baby boy. The priest was accused of impregnating the girl, who was a student of his school. Vadakkumcherry first tried to implicate the girl's father as the abuser, but on March 31 a DNA test proved that Vadakkumcherry is the child's biological father.

Gajiwala expressed happiness that bishops of Assam in northeastern India recently issued standards to deal with abusive clergy. "The bishops there have made it very clear that they would suspend offenders and inform the civil authorities. Hopefully other dioceses have taken similar initiatives," she added.

On March 6 the Mananthavady Diocese issued a set of 12 guidelines to avoid future scandals and to bring transparency and propriety to the diocese. The guidelines, drafted by priests and pastoral council members, require all churches and presbyteries to install closed-circuit TV cameras and set up grievance committees in parishes.

The diocesan leaders asserted that the diocese would do nothing to protect the accused priest and his alleged associates.

Cleemis said the scandal became an excuse for the media to question even the church's existence. "The cases have caused great damage not to the dioceses but to the Church in Kerala and India. Not only Catholics — even Christians of other denominations and people of goodwill were very sad," the cardinal noted.

However, the Kottiyoor incident and Mananthavady Diocese's subsequent response have encouraged many other dioceses to address similar issues objectively and take steps to prevent such cases.

The scandals challenge bishops and other leaders to become humble while representing the church "with authenticity and credibility" to the public, Cleemis added.

[Jose Kavi is the editor-in-chief of Matters India, a news portal focusing on religious and social issues in India. He is a regular contributor to NCR and Global Sisters Report.]

Source: National Catholic Reporter…


He was an Opium Addict Who Couldn’t Receive the Sacraments. But He’s a Martyr and a Saint

Aleteia || By Meg Hunter-Kilmer || 06 July 2017

opium addict martyr and a saintSt. Mark Ji Tianxiang couldn't stay sober, but he could keep showing up.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was an opium addict. Not had been an opium addict. He was an opium addict at the time of his death.

For years, Tianxiang was a respectable Christian, raised in a Christian family in 19th-century China. He was a leader in the Christian community, a well-off doctor who served the poor for free. But he became ill with a violent stomach ailment and treated himself with opium. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but Tianxiang soon became addicted to the drug, an addiction that was considered shameful and gravely scandalous.

As his circumstances deteriorated, Tianxiang continued to fight his addiction. He went frequently to confession, refusing to embrace this affliction that had taken control of him. Unfortunately, the priest to whom he confessed (along with nearly everybody in the 19th century) didn’t understand addiction as a disease. Since Tianxiang kept confessing the same sin, the priest thought, that was evidence that he had no firm purpose of amendment, no desire to do better.

Without resolve to repent and sin no more, confession is invalid. After a few years, Tianxiang’s confessor told him to stop coming back until he could fulfill the requirements for confession. For some, this might have been an invitation to leave the Church in anger or shame, but for all his fallenness, Tianxiang knew himself to be loved by the Father and by the Church. He knew that the Lord wanted his heart, even if he couldn’t manage to give over his life. He couldn’t stay sober, but he could keep showing up.

And show up he did, for 30 years. For 30 years, he was unable to receive the sacraments. And for 30 years he prayed that he would die a martyr. It seemed to Tianxiang that the only way he could be saved was through a martyr’s crown.

In 1900, when the Boxer Rebels began to turn against foreigners and Christians, Tianxiang got his chance. He was rounded up with dozens of other Christians, including his son, six grandchilden, and two daughters-in-law. Many of those imprisoned with him were likely disgusted by his presence there among them, this man who couldn’t go a day without a hit. Surely he would be the first to deny the Lord.

But while Tianxiang was never able to beat his addiction, he was, in the end, flooded with the grace of final perseverance. No threat could shake him, no torture make him waver. He was determined to follow the Lord who had never abandoned him.

As Tianxiang and his family were dragged to prison to await their execution, his grandson looked fearfully at him. “Grandpa, where are we going?” he asked. “We’re going home,” came the answer.

Tianxiang begged his captors to kill him last so that none of his family would have to die alone. He stood beside all nine of them as they were beheaded. In the end, he went to his death singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And though he had been away from the sacraments for decades, he is a canonized saint.

St. Mark Ji Tianxiang is a beautiful witness to the grace of God constantly at work in the most hidden ways, to God’s ability to make great saints of the most unlikely among us, and to the grace poured out on those who remain faithful when it seems even the Church herself is driving them away.

On July 9, the feast of St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, let’s ask his intercession for all addicts and for all those who are unable to receive the sacraments, that they may have the courage to be faithful to the Church and that they may always grow in their love for and trust in the Lord. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, pray for us!

Source: Aleteia…


1,600-year-old Basilica Found Underwater in What was Ancient Nicaea

Aleteia || By Zelda Caldwell || 28 June 2017

basilica found under waterArchaeologists in Turkey suspect the church may have been built in the year 325, following the First Council of Nicaea.

The remains of a 1,600-year-old Byzantine basilica have been discovered at the site of the Councils of Nicaea, at the bottom of a lake in northwest Turkey.

“We have found church remains. It is in a basilica plan and has three naves,” said Mustafa Şahin, an archaeology professor at Bursa Uludağ University, told Hurriyet News.

Plans are now underway to open an underwater museum to allow tourists to view the foundation of the church, which was found lying in 5-7 feet of water in Lake Iznik, in Bursa, Turkey.

The ancient basilica was discovered by aerial photographs taken in 2014 during an inventory of historical and cultural artifacts, according to an article in Hurriyet News.

History of the underwater basilica

According to Sahin, the church was most likely built in the 4th century, in honor of St. Neophytos who was martyred during the time of Roman emperor Diocletian in 303.

Neophytos had travelled to Nicaea (now modern-day northwest Turkey) to denounce the pagan faith during the Diocletian persecution. The basilica was built on the spot where he was killed by Roman soldiers in a most brutal manner:

The enraged persecutors suspended the saint from a tree, they whipped him with ox thongs, and scraped his body with iron claws. Then they threw him into a red-hot oven, but the holy martyr remained unharmed, spending three days and three nights in it. The torturers, not knowing what else to do with him, decided to kill him. One of the pagans ran him through with a sword (some say it was a spear), and the saint departed to the Lord at the age of sixteen. – Orthodox Church of America.

It is possible, according to Sahin, that the basilica was built as a result of the First Council of Nicaea, convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in the year 325.

“Most probably, it could have been built in 325 after the first council meeting in İznik. In any case, we think that the church was built in the 4th century or a further date. It is interesting that we have gravures from the Middle Ages depicting this killing. We see Neophytos being killed on the lake coast,” Sahin told Hurriyet News.

Archaeologists have determined that the basilica collapsed during an earthquake in 740 and was never rebuilt. The ruins were submerged over time by changes in the water level of the lake. The discovery of the basilica was named one of the Top 10 Discoveries of 2014 by the Archaeological Institute of America.

Source: Aleteia…


Africa has a New Cardinal, Pope Francis Tells Archbishops Not to be ‘armchair Catholics’

Catholic News Service (CNS) || By Carol Glatz || 29 June 2017

new mali cardinal appointed 2017The Catholic Church's new cardinals and new archbishops must be willing to risk everything, patiently endure evil and bear crosses like Jesus did, Pope Francis said.

"The Lord answers our prayers. He is faithful to the love we have professed for him, and he stands beside us at times of trial." Just as he accompanied the apostles, "he will do the same for you," the pope told five new cardinals and about 30 archbishops named during the past year.

Pope Francis addressed the new cardinals and archbishops during his homily at a Mass in St. Peter's Square June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, who are the patron saints of the Vatican and the city of Rome.

The Mass was celebrated the day after Pope Francis created new cardinals from El Salvador, Mali, Laos, Sweden and Spain. Thirty-six archbishops appointed over the course of the past year were also invited to come to Rome to concelebrate the feast day Mass with Pope Francis. They came from 26 countries.

The concelebrants included Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; and Archbishops Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska; and Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis. All three of the U.S. prelates have deep connections to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Archbishop Etienne was a priest of the archdiocese and Cardinal Tobin is the former archbishop.

In what has become the standard practice, the pope did not place the pallium on new archbishops during the liturgy. Rather, after the Mass, the pope handed each archbishop a pallium folded up in a small, simple wooden box tied with a brown ribbon as a soloist sang "You Got to Walk that Lonesome Valley," a traditional American gospel song.

The actual imposition of the woolen band was to take place in the archbishop's archdiocese in the presence of his faithful and bishops from neighboring dioceses. The pallium symbolizes an archbishop's unity with the pope and his authority and responsibility to care for the flock the pope entrusted to him.

After the Mass, Cardinal Tobin told Catholic News Service that St. John XXIII had said "cardinals and bishops are the coat hangers on which the church hangs its tradition. Now I don't like being a coat hanger, but the thing I like to wear the most is the pallium."

Being made of lamb's wool, the pallium is a reminder of "the need and really the obligation of the bishop to look for the one who is lost and then bring the lost one back on his shoulders," the cardinal said. "I hope to do that in Newark."

Archbishop Etienne noted that the pallium also is "symbolic of the unity of the metropolitan archbishops with the Holy Father and, through him, with the universal church."

It tells an archbishop that his role is to be a good shepherd to his flock, "to help the people entrusted to my pastoral care to learn to live in unity and peace, to manifest that truth and love of Jesus Christ and the Gospel," he said.

"The role of every priest, and particularly every bishop, is to be more and more transformed into Christ and that's my prayer," Archbishop Etienne said. "And then whatever burdens come and challenges, I'll find my peace because I will be firmly convinced in experiencing his presence with me."

Archbishop Thompson told CNS he received the pallium from Pope Francis as a gift for the sixth anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.

Pope Francis "has been such a great model, example and witness, and to receive this from him," the archbishop said, is "a reminder to go forth. I think about Jesus at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of the disciples and said, 'Now, go and do as I have done.'"

Archbishop Thompson said he kept watching Pope Francis during the Mass and looking at the pallium the pope wears as a symbol of the universality of his mission. "I watched him in his role of being the shepherd" and knew the pope was calling him "now to go forth and be that shepherd for the people entrusted to my care."

In his homily at the Mass, the pope said the life of every apostle is built on: constant, edifying prayer; a firm, passionate profession of faith; and a willingness to patiently endure persecution.

People must ask themselves whether they are "'armchair Catholics,' who love to chat about how things are going in the church and the world," he said, or if they are "apostles on the go," who are on fire with love for God and ready to offer their lives for him.

Apostles of Christ "know that they cannot just tread water or take the easy way out, but have to risk putting out into the deep, daily renewing their self-offering," he said.

Christians must follow the Lord completely and live according to his ways, not ways guided by personal self-interest, he said. Christ's way "is that of new life, of joy and resurrection; it is also the way that passes through the cross and persecution."

In different parts of the world, "often in complicit silence, great numbers of Christians are marginalized, vilified, discriminated against, subjected to violence and even death, not infrequently without due intervention on the part of those who could defend their sacrosanct rights," the pope said.

However, there is no Christ and no Christian without the cross, he said. "Christian virtue is not only a matter of doing good, but of tolerating evil as well," he said, quoting St. Augustine.

Enduring evil means "imitating Jesus, carrying our burden, shouldering it for his sake and that of others," knowing that the Lord is by one's side.

Finally, the pope said, prayer is another essential element of the life of an apostle as it "is the water needed to nurture hope and increase fidelity. Prayer makes us feel loved and it enables us to love in turn."

As is customary, a delegation from the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople attended the Mass for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Before the Mass, Archbishop Job of Telmessos, head of the Orthodox delegation, joined the pope in prayer at the tomb of St. Peter inside St. Peter's Basilica. The two also stopped before a bronze statue of St. Peter, which was adorned with a jeweled tiara, ring and red cope.


10-year-old Invents a Gadget to Stop Babies Dying in Heated Cars

Aleteia || By Cerith Gardiner || 21 June 2017

gadget to stop babies dying in heated carsDespite numerous warnings and heartbreaking news reports, around 37 children die from heatstroke in cars each year in the US, and disturbingly this figure never seems to go down. In fact, this year alone, 17 young children have already died after being left in overly-heated cars, and summer isn’t even in full swing. So to combat the problem, a young inventor named Bishop Curry put all his efforts into coming up with an innovative and simple solution, and in doing so proved that sometimes it takes a child to come to another child’s rescue.

Curry, a 10-year-old Texan, was initially inspired after the death of a neighbor, baby Fern, who lost her life after being left in a hot car. The industrious 5th grader got to work and came up with a simple gadget that not only reacts to the car’s heat but also has an alert system built in. The small pink box named “Oasis” has tiny air ducts “that blow cool air when it becomes too hot inside a car and an antenna that alerts parents and emergency services.”

Clipped on to the child’s car seat, the little box that already has a provisional patent could help save the life of any young car passenger. However, Curry, being a conscientious inventor, wants to spend the summer months perfecting the gadget and only then will he hand it over to manufacturers who are eager to get this product on the shop floor.

While we can’t help but admire Curry’s creativity and engineering skills, his attitude is even more impressive. The schoolboy who spends his time inventing all sorts of objects said, “It would be a dream to have lots of inventions that would save many lives.”

His concern for others is something we all want to see in our children and this can only be developed if our children are aware of what’s going on around them. It’s so easy for kids to be attached to their screens and absorbed in a virtual world but if they are encouraged to look beyond their favorite video game they might see that there’s so much more to gain in the real world. With his supportive parents, Curry has shown how kids can think outside the box, and better still, can think of others.

Source: Aleteia… 


Stolen Relic of St John Bosco's Brain Recovered

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By 16 June 2017

stolen relic of don bosco foundA relic of St. John Bosco, which had been stolen from an Italian basilica two weeks ago, has been recovered, the local Prosecutor's Office reported.

An urn containing a relic of St. John Bosco’s brain was discovered missing on June 3. The reliquary was kept in the Basilica of John Bosco in Asti, the saint's birthplace, fewer than 20 miles east of Turin.

According to Italian press reports, the alleged perpetrator of the crime is a 42-year old man with a criminal record, residing in Pirenolo, Turin. He was arrested by the Asti police. The suspect allegedly planned to sell the reliquary, which he believed to be of solid gold.

St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians, was a 19th century Italian priest who had a particular love and apostolate for at-risk and underserved youth. Today, the order serves youth throughout the world primarily in schools, homeless shelters, and community centers.

Fr. Enrico Stasi, provincial of the Salesians in Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta, thanked “the judiciary, all the police and all those who have contributed to the positive solution to this unpleasant affair.”

“It is consoling for the Salesians, for the Church in Turin and for the many friends of Don Bosco throughout the world who have abundantly demonstrated their closeness in this time,” he told Agenzia Info Salesiana.

In this regard, he said that “the occasion of the restitution and return of the relic to its original place will be for us and for the faithful another sign of the benevolence and blessing of Don Bosco for those who continue to keep his spirit alive in the world.”

The basilica has experienced some other minor thefts in recent weeks, though nothing of spiritual value.

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin also commented on the missing relic, saying it was news “you would never want to hear, because it makes us think of a profound moral misery” that someone would steal something of spiritual and devotional value.

The archbishop told an Italian news source that he asked all of his priests to say a special prayer during their Pentecost Masses for the Salesian family and the recovery of the relic, so that it can “continue to be a point of devotion for the millions of faithful who come to the sanctuary dedicated to him.”

Source: Catholic News Agency…


Can a Scientist Be Catholic? A Conversion Story

Aleteia || By Robert Kurland || 15 June 2017

if catholic can be scientistIs there an oxymoron lurking in the phrase “Catholic Scientist?” No. A physicist tells how he found his faith.

Since I am the pet physicist at our parish, a few weeks ago our Deacon kindly gave me a news clipping about a meeting of the Society of Catholic Scientists (SCS) recently held in Chicago.  Being a member of SCS, I had known about the meeting, but had been sadly unable to attend.

But something struck me after reading the article: why should a meeting of scientists who happen to be Roman Catholics be remarkable enough for such coverage? Is there an oxymoron lurking in the phrase “Catholic Scientist?”

The answer is “no,” and I’ll get to that, but first let me offer a bit of biographical background. Despite having two rabbis as great-grandparents, I grew up a secular Jew. I did believe, in my fashion, in a Creator – my teenage passion was astronomy, and in visiting the local planetarium — and constructing a six-inch reflecting telescope — I realized instinctively the words of Psalm 19, “The Heavens declare the glory of God.” Working with the US Forest Service in Yosemite during one college summer, I would lie beneath the big trees, filled with awe at the Creator’s work.

It was not my Jewish background that kept me from pursuing a more personal faith in God; rather, the stumbling block was my belief that science could explain everything one needed to know about the world. I regarded the universe with awe and wonder — as possibly the creation of a deity, but such a deity would not be a living God.

At this time, I wasn’t concerned with the philosophy of science—why it worked, what were its limits.  I was almost selfishly devoted to my work, and was certain that if there were things not yet explained by science – like love and morality – they soon would be.

Later in my adulthood, things happened that moved me to seek support outside of my work. Through the fortunate intervention of the Holy Spirit, I was prompted to read Who Moved the Stone, by Frank Morison.  Reading his account of the days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and some days later, it seemed to me that an impartial jury exposed to his arguments would find that the biblical accounts of the Resurrection were true beyond a reasonable doubt.

What struck me even more was that this New Testament bunch of uneducated yahoos – fishermen, tax collectors, women – had managed to out-talk Greek philosophers and Judaic scholars and thereby to spread the Christian faith through the Roman world, undergoing hardship, pain and death in so doing. Surely they must have been inspired by encounters with the risen Jesus, and the inner voice of the Holy Spirit.

It also occurred to me that if the Gospel account of the Resurrection was worthy of belief, then the rest followed, in particular the words of Jesus giving the keys of the Kingdom to Peter, thus founding the Catholic Church. Accordingly, the Christian religion to which I would convert should be Roman Catholic.

I must emphasize that this whole process of realization and conversion was one of rational decision making; there were no visions or voices – just “Top Down to Jesus.”  I decided to become a Catholic, knowing my cradle-Catholic wife would be delighted and my scientist friends would be appalled and dismayed. I could imagine the gossip: “What’s happened to old Bob?”  “Has he gone bonkers in his old age?” “If he isn’t doing research anymore, maybe he has to do religion, to occupy his mind.” 

Nevertheless, I went to my wife’s priest and told him, “I want to become a Catholic.”

There are categories in my new belief system, so – getting back to that question of oxymorons – I want to break this question into parts: What must a Catholic scientist believe?

Belief in a creating God.

As I have said, even as an agnostic teenager, I allowed that whatever created the world certainly did a wonderful thing. There are probably many scientists who have felt similarly. Not every scientist believes that abstract quantities from equations—gravity, quantum fluctuations—were the agencies of creation. I think it’s likely that many scientists, if they think about God at all, have the same notion as did Einstein: “Der Alte,” a creating but impersonal God.

Belief in a personal God.

During the several years before my conversion I slowly came to believe that there had to be a personal God, one who cared for us.  Otherwise the world made no sense.

Now, conversion for me was not a sharply defined, discontinuous process:  before conversion, an agnostic; after conversion full belief in all the dogmas and doctrines of the Church.  How did my faith grow and become transformed?

Belief in Jesus Christ and Catholic dogma

During my RCIA days, when I was being catechized before being baptized at the Easter Vigil, I expressed doubts about some dogmas of the Church, particularly that most fundamental one, the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. As a physicist, I found it hard to understand how the molecules representing the wafer and the wine could be transformed into molecules constituting flesh and blood.  And at that time I did not know what was meant by the Aristotelian concepts, “substance” and “accidents.” The wise old priest, Fr. McA, who was catechizing me, asked, “Do you believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and His Virgin Birth?”

I said, “Of course. That’s why I’m becoming a Catholic.”

He said, “If you can believe in two miracles, why not more?”

That answer made a lot of sense to me, but finally my faith in the reality of the Eucharist came about not via intellectual engagement, but through music. Several weeks after Fr. McA had advised me about miracles, the parish held a 40 Hours Devotion, and I and the other catechumens were invited to participate in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

And there it happened. As the monstrance was carried in during the procession,Tantum Ergo was intoned, and I read these words: “Præstet fides supplementum, Sensuum defectui.”

Enough of my high school Latin remained, and I understood: “Faith will supplement the deficiency of the senses.”

There it was. My eyes filled with tears as I realized that the wafer before me was indeed the Body of Christ – a mystery beyond science and philosophy. My faith.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote great works of theology and philosophy, but perhaps his hymns have been his most effective evangelization, reaching and teaching the greatest number of people.

As time went on I have come to imagine my Catholic faith as a tree, deeply lodged in the bedrock of faith; the soil is the belief in the Triune Godhead that nourishes my Catholic faith, and it is the dogma and doctrines of that faith that draws it all to me – the roots of my religious belief.

Source: Aleteia… 


The New Celibacy? How Porn may be Destroying the Impetus for Sex

Catholic News Agency (CNA) || By Mary Rezac || 11 June 2017

celibacy and pornographyOne of music artist John Mayer's most signature songs is “Daughters,” a sweet and simple tribute to the importance of parents' influence on their little girls. Here's the refrain:

“So fathers, be good to your daughters, Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”

But when John Mayer isn't crooning about your beautiful daughters, he's looking at naked pictures of them, sometimes hundreds at a time before he gets out of bed in the morning. In fact, he often prefers that to an actual human being, according to his wildly controversial 2010 interview with Playboy magazine.

“You wake up in the morning, open a thumbnail page, and it leads to a Pandora's box of visuals. There have probably been days when I saw 300 (naked women) before I got out of bed,” he told the magazine.

Unfortunately, Mayer's morning routine is not unique to him. Studies show that easy access to free internet pornography is having devastating effects on real-life relationships.

Preferring pixels to people

“For many individuals, the more porn they consume, the more likely it is that they can end up preferring the fantasy to reality, they can end up preferring the pixels to a person, and that's really messing up relationships, as you can imagine,” said Clay Olsen, co-founder of the internet movement “Fight the New Drug” (FTND).

The FTND movement, so named because of porn's addictive properties, aims to raise awareness of the harmful effects of pornography through creative mediums such as blogs, videos and infographics. The website includes personal stories as well as scientific studies to illustrate pornography's effects on the brain, the heart (relationships), and ultimately on the world.

“Our goal is to change the conversation from 'Dude, check this out,' to 'Dude, that's messed up,'” Olsen told CNA.

The longstanding, pervasive cultural narrative surrounding pornography is that it is a healthy sexual outlet and can improve sex lives. However, science begs to differ. Several studies cited in FTND's article, “Porn Ruins Your Sex Life,” found that pornography not only leads to dissatisfying sex, it can lead to less sex with actual human beings.

In a series of studies examining pornography use, “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers” published by the Witherspoon Institute, researchers found that those who viewed pornography became less satisfied with their sex lives, and that viewing porn just once can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction towards a human partner.

According to an article in Psychology Today by clinical psychologist Tyger Latham, Psy.D, erectile dysfunction, while once considered an issue plaguing old men, is cropping up more in young men who rely heavily on pornography to become sexually aroused. A study by the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine surveyed 28,000 men on their internet porn habits, and found that porn use over time led to a lower sex drive and an eventual inability to become aroused at all.

“As soon as they try to actually get close to someone and commit to somebody and have an intimate relationship with somebody, it's in those moments that the harms of pornography show their full colors and truly manifest themselves,” Olsen said. “The unrealistic expectations are completely exposed…

And we now see people in their 20s having porn-induced erectile dysfunction because they cannot get excited or aroused without the presence of pornography.”

A decline in marriage rates

Not only is pornography use destroying the physical sexual life, it may be impacting the number of people pursuing marriage or committed sexual relationships.

In the fall of 2013, an article in The Guardian sounded the alarm that fewer people in Japan were having sex, citing as evidence numerous statistics on the country's declining birth rate, marriage rate, and even rates of young people who are dating or who are interested in dating.

A follow-up article on Slate found that while the actual number of people having or not having sex might not be definitively pinpointed, the statistics on falling marriage and birth rates only mean Japan is leading a world-wide trend, rather than bucking one. While it's not clear whether porn is directly influencing these numbers, many have speculated that it is.

Researchers with The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany found an increase in free Internet pornography is at least correlated with a significant decrease in the percentage of young married men, and it may even be contributing to the trend. A 2013 Pew study found that 71 percent of single Americans were not looking for a committed relationship. Another study found that nearly 40 percent of American women had never been married.  

“The results in this paper suggest that such an association exists, and that it is potentially quite large,” the study notes, as reported in the Washington Post.

The study used General Social Survey (GSS), a comprehensive, nationally representative survey which analyzed internet use of 1,500 men ages 18-to-35, between the years 2000 and 2004. The researchers studied the number of hours spent on the internet per week, how often internet pornography was used in the past 30 days, as well as other activities such as use of religious sites.

Even when adjusted for variables such as age, income, education, religion and employment, the study found that generally, the more a person used the internet, the less likely they were to be married. Additionally, it found that the more a person used internet pornography, the less likely they were to be married. On the other hand, the use of religious websites was positively correlated with marriage.  

Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a Catholic who has studied religion and sexual behavior, cautioned against assuming that correlation equals causation in such studies – but said that pornography use is likely part of a more complex reason for dropping marriage rates.

“We know that both things are occurring, but it's difficult to establish a causal connection,” he told CNA in an e-mail interview. “A variety of things are contributing to the declining marriage rate.”

“I don't think porn use necessarily causes that, but contributes to it (together with diminished earnings power, diminished confidence, etc.),” he added. “To be sure, porn use doesn't help build confidence in men, something that's pretty necessary (but not sufficient) to be considered marriageable. So I'd say porn use is a suspect here, but connecting the dots is hardly straightforward.”

Increasing awareness

Only in the past few years and months has a conversation countering the “it's healthy, it's normal” narrative been emerging in mainstream media about pornography. Several celebrities are speaking up, and there are an increasing number of websites dedicated to helping people fight pornography addictions.

In 2015, the release of the controversial “50 Shades of Grey” movie sparked a conversation on social media about sexual violence against women in media, with the hashtag #50dollarsnot50shades encouraging people to forgo the movie and instead donate to places that help victimized women.

The movie sparked a response from an unlikely source – British comedian Russel Brand, whose short video about the problems with pornography went viral, generating over 500,000 views on his YouTube channel and over 2 million views on FTND's website.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another celebrity who has been outspoken about the negative impact of pornography, most notably in his 2013 movie “Don Jon,” which he wrote, directed and co-starred in along with Scarlett Johansson. The film explores the unrealistic expectations of love and relationships that come from pornography addictions and from the media at large.

“I think that there's not a substantial difference between a lot of main-stream culture and pornography. They're equally simplistic, reductionist,” Gordon-Levitt said in an interview with NPR about the film.

“Whether it's rated X or 'approved by the FCC for general viewing audiences,' the message is the same. We have a tendency in our culture to take people and treat them like things.”

But the internet has been around for decades now – why has it taken society so long to catch on to the fact that pornography is harmful?

“Science has caught up with the fact that pornography's harmful,” Olsen said, “but society is still catching up.”

It often takes years for something that was once culturally accepted as true to be flipped on its head as science proves otherwise, Olsen said, so Fight the New Drug knows they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

“We're very excited to see some of this progress and some of these mainstream media outlets kind of following suit and starting to talk about the negative impacts, we couldn't be more excited about it, but we still have a long way ahead of us.”

Some other websites that are also trying to raise awareness and give help to those struggling with pornography include The Porn Effect and Covenant Eyes, and internet filtering and accountability system.

The best way to kick a porn habit? Keep fighting it and lean on the sacraments, Regnerus said.

“(My) advice: don't give up hope; pursue confession regularly; recognize and avoid the contexts which give rise to temptation. That's a start.”

Source: Catholic News Agency…


10 Ways that Science Is Proving the Church Is Right and the Culture's Wrong

Aleteia || By Jim Schroeder || 15 November, 2014

Source: http://www.aleteia.org/en/scienvironment/article/10-ways-that-science-is-proving-the-church-is-right-and-the-cultures-wrong-5881921179484160?utm_campaign=NL_en&utm_source=daily_newsletter&utm_medium=mail&utm_content=NL_en-15/11/2014

Catholic beliefs have long been challenged by that elite triumvirate of academia, media and government. Today, many of us are also finding our beliefs challenged in our daily lives – in our professional careers, our parenting and how we live.

Adult Catholics need to understand and intentionally embrace Catholic teaching with our intellects and reason. We can’t be content to believe and accept the teaching of the Church solely because our parents and teachers “said so.” In this process, we may struggle with particular teachings due to our own flaws, lack of good catechesis and other reasons. And even as adults, our faith may be challenged when the lives and practices of people we respect and love contradict Catholic doctrine. When this happens, I try to see the relevance of my beliefs to their lives.

The values espoused by the Church can seem harsh and even unfair in our live-and-let-live ethos. It’s understandable that many today believe that the Church is out of step with the modern world and that its teachings are no longer relevant.

But what is amazing (and certainly unintentional) is the fact that modern science – which so many assume is the antithesis or even enemy of Catholic teaching – actually bears out the truth and value and relevance of what the Church has taught for 2,000 years. Here are ten examples to illustrate my point.

1. The Church teaches that pride is the root of all vices. Research studies in psychology show that narcissism and irrational thinking are on the rise, especially in our younger generation, and are creating a “community” that is disjointed, disenchanted and confused. The traits of narcissists – self-centeredness, inflated self-esteen, lack of empathy, aggressiveness – are harmful to others, to society, and eventually to the narcissists themselves.

2. The Church teaches that gluttony and sloth undermine the values of food and rest, creating unhealthy conditions that threaten the mind, body and soul. The “Journal of the American Medical Association” reports that almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, that obesity is a significant threat to mental and physical health and will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of death.

3. The Church teaches that lust involves treating the human body as a physical commodity rather than as an aspect of the whole human person – an inseparable body, mind and soul – who is the masterpiece of God’s creation and who will live forever. Currently, profits from pornography in the United States exceed the combined revenues of CBS, ABC and NBC (Kimmel, 2008).

4. The Church teaches that a valid marriage is forever and indissoluble. Science tells us that growing up in an intact family with one’s biological parents who are married to eachother confers the greatest benefit to children and other arrangements result in varying degrees of social, psychological, emotional and academic harm.

5. The Church teaches that artificial birth control violates the natural law. The World Health Organization classifies oral contraceptives as Class One carcinogens (that is, known to cause cancer in humans), like asbestos, radon, and plutonium, except that contraceptives are far more prevalent.

6. The Church teaches that fear prevents love and that, above all, we should trust in God’s providential care and not be afraid. Studies show that anxiety is the number one psychological complaint in youth and adults (see, e.g., Cartwright-Hatton, McNicol, & Doubleday, 2006; Muris & Steerneman, 2001). At unhealthy levels, anxiety is associated with a myriad of negative health outcomes.

7. The Church teaches that homosexual acts are not a healthy expression of human sexuality. An “International Journal of Epidemiology” review of studies finds that the

risk of HIV transmission is 18 times greater during anal intercourse than vaginal intercourse.  

8. The Church teaches that all human life is precious, from conception to natural death, and that each person is deserving of our love and care. The American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations strongly condemn discrimination against those with disabilities whose medical care, happiness and livelihood are often threatened by others (but, curiously, they support the “right” to abort persons with disabilities).

9. The Church teaches that sex before marriage undermines the loving union and well-being of each individual and the couple as a whole. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that sexually active adolescents are more likely than their abstinent peers to be depressed and suicidal, to use illicit substances, and are at significant risk of acquiring one or more sexually transmitted diseases, many of which are incurable.

10. The Church teaches that greed creates a society in which some people are exploited for others’ gains and those who are exploited struggle to meet basic needs. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the gap continues to widen between rich and poor in this country. This is also the case worldwide, where the disparity between the gross domestic product of the 20 richest and 20 poorest nations more than doubled between 1960 and 1995.
Many people would prefer to avoid topics like greed, lust, pride, birth control and gluttony. It’s awkward and “judgmental” to raise moral issues. But if we truly care for the well-being of our families and friends now and in eternity, as well as the future of society, we need to have honest conversations, at appropriate times. Thankfully, we can now begin these conversations with the findings of science, which people today accept more readily as truth than the teachings of Our Lord and the Church He founded.

Some say that the Church is no longer relevant in the 21st century. But given the serious harm people are causing to themselves and others by ignoring or denying Catholic teaching, it seems that these truths are needed now, possibly more than ever.

Jim Schroeder is a pediatric psychologist at St. Mary’s Center for Children in Evansville, Indiana. He resides there with his wife, Amy, and their six children. He received a BS from Ball State University and graduated with a PhD in clinical psychology from Saint Louis University in 2005. He completed an internship at the University of Louisville School of Medicine / Kosair Children’s Hospital and did his postdoctoral fellowship at St. Louis Children’s Hospital through the Washington University School of Medicine. He also writes a monthly column titled "Just Thinking" (www.stmarys.org/articles) designed to inform, educate, and motivate parents and providers in applying pertinent research in meaningful, practical ways.

Full citations to sources cited in no. 3 and no. 6

Cartwright-Hatton, S, McNicol, K., & Doubleday, E. (2006). "Anxiety in a neglected population:  prevalence of anxiety disorders in pre-adolescent children." "Clinical Psychology Review," 26, 817-833. 

Kimmel, Michael (2008). "Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men": Harper, New York.

Muris, P. & Steerneman, P. (2001). "The Revised version of the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED-R): First evidence for its reliability and validity in a clinical sample." British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 35-44.  


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