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Carzinal Ezzati leaves Santiago with 'head held high'

Santiago, Chile, Mar 25, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, whose resignation as Archbishop of Santiago was accepted Saturday, said he is leaving office “very grateful” and with his “head held high” regarding the way the archdiocese dealt with cases of sexual abuse and cover-up.

Ezzati, 77, has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of several abusive priests. His resignation was accepted March 23.

The current crisis of the Church in Chile is a consequence of the uncovering of a great number of cases of sexual abuse and the abuse of authority and conscience as well as cover-up by members of the clergy.

In that context Ezzati is facing the civil justice system, accused of allegedly covering up sexual abuse by the former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, Fr. Oscar Muñoz Toledo.

At a press conference Ezzati said that the crisis in the Church in Chile “without a doubt has been the greatest sorrow of this time.”

But he stated that “every complaint has been addressed and consequently we will have to wait for what the justice system will say about this. It's not enough for them to say that someone has covered up, it has to be proven, and I hold my head high, confident that that will not be shown."

He also said that the archdiocese has cooperated with the civil justice system, “has had open doors,” and “the prosecutor has requisitioned the documents he has wanted” in the different raids carried out in the context of the investigations.

Regarding the accusations against him, the cardinal explained that “all the complaints that have come to the OPADE (Pastoral Office for Complaints) have been investigated or are being investigated.”

Asked about the petition to dismiss the case requested by his defense lawyer, in the case of the former chancellor,  Ezzati said that he has asked the prosecutor's office to deliver the necessary documents but “we haven't gotten them and we still don't have them.”

“For now I am availing myself of my right to remain silent which Chilean legislation offers me.  I will speak at the appropriate time. My lawyer knows the day and the hour to speak,” he said.

When Ezzati's resignation was accepted, Pope Francis also appointed Bishop Celestino Aós Braco of Copiapó as apostolic administrator Santiago.

Ezzati thanked Pope Francis for his gesture, “which naturally conforms to a criterion of canon law.”

“The Holy Father Francis, with kindness, fraternity, with a great sense of closeness to the Church of Santiago, has decided to appoint an apostolic administrator. I am happy with the action of the Holy Father,” the cardinal said.

“I have profound respect and love for Bishop Aós. I believe he will carry out a very important task and I ask everyone that in this difficult time, I ask at least all Catholics that they go on and support the new apostolic administrator and the Church of Santiago with their prayers and closeness,” Cardinal Ezzati concluded.

 

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Michigan AG: no funds for Catholic adoption agencies if LGBT non-compliant

Lansing, Mich., Mar 25, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has barred state funds from adoption agencies that won't place children with same-sex couples, after reaching a settlement with the ACLU and same-sex couples who approached a Catholic agency and another Christian agency.

The settlement is despite a state law protecting the religious freedom and funding of adoption agencies.
 
“This settlement does nothing to protect the thousands of children in foster care looking for loving homes,” the Michigan Catholic Conference objected in a March 22 Facebook post. These children are “the very people our state is charged with protecting.”

It is “highly unlikely” the settlement is “the last chapter of the story,” the conference added in a March 22 Twitter post.

The settlement means the state must enforce non-discrimination provisions in contracts. Agencies may not turn away otherwise qualified LGBT individuals and must provide orientation or training, process applications, and perform a home study, the Associated Press said.

As of February, Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services had helped oversee 1,600 of the state’s 13,000 foster care and adoption cases, state spokesman Bob Wheaton said, the AP reports. Neither agency places children with same-sex couples.

The State of Michigan contracts with 59 private adoption and foster care agencies. Twenty are affiliated with religious organizations, though state officials were not able to say how many follow similar policies, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Lori Windham, senior counsel at the religious freedom legal group Becket, said the attorney general and the ACLU are “trying to stop the state from working with faith-based adoption agencies.”

“The result of that will be tragic. Thousands of children will be kept from finding the loving homes they deserve,” Windham said March 22. “This settlement violates the state law protecting religious adoption agencies. This harms children and families waiting for forever homes and limits access for couples who chose to partner with those agencies.”

Becket is representing the Catholic adoption agency affected by the case.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of two same-sex couples and a woman who was in foster care in her teens after the previous attorney general, Bill Schuette, declined to speak to the legal group.
The couples had approached St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services to adopt children referred to the agencies through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Nessel justified the settlement on Friday.

“Discrimination in the provision of foster care case management and adoption services is illegal, no matter the rationale,” said Nessel. “Limiting the opportunity for a child to be adopted or fostered by a loving home not only goes against the state’s goal of finding a home for every child, it is a direct violation of the contract every child-placing agency enters into with the state.”

Nessel is the first self-identified lesbian elected to statewide office in Michigan and made LGBT advocacy a major part of her campaign, the Detroit Free Press said. She represented a same-sex couple in a case that led to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating legal recognition of same-sex unions as civil marriages.

The ACLU characterized the settlement as a victory for the 12,000 children in Michigan foster care.

“Our children need every family that is willing and able to provide them with a loving home,” said Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. She said agencies that choose to accept taxpayer dollars “must put the needs of the children first.”

A 2015 law, passed with the backing of the Michigan Catholic Conference, prevents state-funded adoption and foster agencies from being forced to place children in violation of their beliefs. The law protects them from civil action and from threats to their public funding, while requiring agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples to refer the couples to other providers.

When the law was passed, about 25 percent of Michigan’s adoption and foster agencies were faith-based.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, criticized the settlement and said faith-based adoption agencies will have to close because of a lack of taxpayer-funded support.

“Dana Nessel has shown us that she cares little for the Constitution and even less for the vulnerable population of children in need of forever homes,” Shirkey charged. “Nessel’s actions make it clear that she sought the office of attorney general to further her own personal political agenda.”

State Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, wasn’t in the legislature when its 2015 bill passed but said he would have backed it, the Detroit Free Press said.

For Lower, the law made sense because “the situation puts these agencies in a tough situation because they have been able to refer couples to another agency that is willing to work with same-sex couples.”

“But now, they'll have to choose to either not to help the kids or violate their religious beliefs,” he added.

In 2017, the Michigan Catholic Conference described the lawsuit as “mean-spirited, divisive and intolerant,” and “yet another egregious attack on religious faith in public life.” The 2015 law was needed to “promote diversity in child placement” and to maintain a public-private partnership to stabilize adoption and foster care, the conference said.

A 2017 court filing from St. Vincent Catholic Charities said it recruited more new families than seven of eight adoption agencies in the capital region. It would be unable to continue its programs without the contract.

In 2018 Becket said St. Vincent Catholic Charities found more new foster families than almost 90 percent of other agencies within its service district, with particular success in finding homes for hard-to-place children such as those with special needs, larger sibling groups, or older children.

A 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the proposed legal recognition of same-sex unions rejected the placement of children with same-sex couples. That document cited the need for a child to grow up with both a mother and a father and said placing a child with a same-sex couple would “place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development,” something that is “gravely immoral” and in violation of the child’s best interest.

Laws barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or barring state funding from adoption agencies considered discriminatory have shut down Catholic adoption agencies in Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, among others.

While religious freedom was long an assumption of American political and legal life, recent decades have produced an increased push against religious freedom protections. The proposed federal Equality Act explicitly bars appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a defense in cases of alleged discrimination.

CNA investigations have found close to $10 million in grants earmarked to restricting religious freedom in cases impacting LGBT causes and “reproductive rights.” The New York-based Arcus Foundation and the Massachusetts-based Proteus Fund’s Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative play leading roles, and both were leaders in pushing for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

The national ACLU and some state affiliates are among this funding network’s grantees.

While Christian teaching has rejected same-sex sexual behavior as sinful since the origins of Christianity, in recent decades some American Christian denominations and American jurisprudence as a whole have come to categorize such views as erroneous, discriminatory, and opposed to equality. Sometimes these changes followed significant organizing and lobbying by LGBT advocates.

Catholic hospital group sued for refusing transgender hysterectomy

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 25, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A group of five Catholic hospitals in California is being sued by a woman who identifies as a transgender man after one of its locations, St. Joseph Hospital, Eureka, refused to perform a hysterectomy.

 

Oliver Knight is suing St. Joseph Health of Northern California, alleging that she was refused the surgery because of her “gender orientation.”

 

The suit was filed in the Humboldt County Superior Court on Thursday, March 21. In the lawsuit, Knight says that workers at the hospital canceled the surgery because she identifies as transgender. Knight had identified herself as “male” for a period of four years before the surgery, which was initially scheduled for Aug. 30, 2017.

 

Prior to the scheduled hysterectomy, Knight had begun cross-sex hormone therapy and undergone a mastectomy.

 

After the surgery at St. Joseph was denied, Knight underwent a hysterectomy at a hospital unaffiliated with the St. Joseph Health of Northern California system, 30 minutes away.

 

Knight’s lawsuit suit claims that by denying the surgery St. Joseph Health caused “severe anxiety and emotional turmoil.”

 

Knight’s doctor prescribed the hysterectomy as treatment for gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person believes themselves to have been “misassigned” their gender at birth.

 

St. Joseph Health said in a statement reported March 25 that hysterectomies are only performed at their facilities when they have been deemed “medically necessary,” and not for purposes of sterilization. The teaching of the Catholic Church recognizes such procedure as licit when there is a grave and present danger to the life or health of the mother, and when the intention of the procedure is not to prevent the possibility of conception.

 

In January 2019, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued an authoritative response which explained the circumstances under which a hysterectomy could be morally licit.

 

A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that the denial of surgery to someone seeking to change their gender would not be discriminatory, noting that in such cases there would be nothing medically wrong with otherwise healthy organs to be removed.

 

“It is not ‘discrimination’ when a hospital provides care it considers appropriate, declines to perform procedures destructive to patients’ welfare and well-being, or declines to take actions that undermine the health, safety, and privacy of other patients,” the letter said.

 

“A hospital does not engage in “discrimination” when, for example, it performs a mastectomy or hysterectomy on a woman with breast or uterine cancer, respectively, but declines to perform such a procedure on a woman with perfectly healthy breasts or uterus who is seeking to have the appearance of a man.”

 

Knight is being represented in part by the ACLU. The suit requests unspecified damages. She also claims to have been repeatedly “mis-gendered” by workers at St. Joseph Hospital, and was allegedly given a pink hospital gown to wear instead of a blue one.

 

In California, “gender identity” based discrimination is illegal, but the application of the statute in cases invovling religious organizations remains disputed.

 

In 2017, a woman sued California’s largest chain of hospitals, Dignity Health, after doctors declined to perform a scheduled hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan Medical Center. The defendant in that case also claimed that she was denied the procedure due to gender identity.

 

The case Minton v. Dignity Health was decided in favor of Dignity Health, but an appeal has been filed.

Under pressure, UK to reconsider asylum application of Iranian Christian

London, England, Mar 25, 2019 / 01:33 pm (CNA).- The British Home Office has agreed to reconsider the asylum claim of an Iranian Christian, after it was shown on Twitter that the department had denied the application on the grounds that Christianity is not a peaceful religion.

“The Home Office have agreed to withdraw their refusal and to reconsider our client’s asylum application, offering us a chance to submit further representations. A good start, but more change is needed”, the Iranian's caseworker, Nathan Stevens, tweeted March 22.

Stevens added that he hopes “there will be real change though as it isn't all about this one case; there's a much wider problem to be addressed here.”

The immigration caseworker had tweeted photos March 19 of the Home Office's letter explaining its reason for refusing the convert's asylum claim, commenting: “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.”

 

Excerpt from a home office reasons for refusal letter for a convert to Christianity. I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum. pic.twitter.com/R1wA1HMNwH

— Nathan Stevens (@nathestevens) March 19, 2019


 

The asylum seeker had noted in his 2016 application that among his reasons for converting was that Christianity talks of “peace, forgiveness and kindness” while “in Islam there is violence rage and revenge.”

The refusal letter cited biblical passages, from Leviticus, Matthew, Exodus, and Revelation, which it said contradicted the asylum seeker's claims: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a 'peaceful' religion,” the denial letter stated.

Stevens said: “Whatever your views on faith, how can a government official arbitrarily pick bits out of a holy book and then use them to trash someone’s heartfelt reason for coming to a personal decision to follow another faith?”

The Home Office, the British government department responsible for immigration, drugs policy, crime, fire, counter-terrorism, and policing, has said that the refusal letter is “not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution,” the Catholic Herald reported. It added that “we continue to work closely with key partners … to improve our policy guidance and training provided to asylum decision-makers.”

Sarah Teather, director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, said March 21 that the refusal letter “is a particularly outrageous example of the reckless and facetious approach of the Home Office to determining life and death asylum cases – they appear willing to distort any aspect of reality in order to turn down a claim.”

“This case demonstrates the shocking illiteracy of Christianity within the Home Office … Here at JRS, we routinely encounter cases where asylum has been refused on spurious grounds.”

She added that “as this instance gains public attention, we need to remember it reflects a systematic problem and a deeper mindset of disbelief within the Home Office, and is not just an anomaly that can be explained away.”

Stephen Evans, CEO of the National Secular Society, commented on Twitter that it was “totally inappropriate” for the Home Office “to play theologian.” He added that “Decisions on the merits of an asylum appeal should be based on an assessment of the facts at hand – and not on the state’s interpretation of any given religion.”

Paul Butler, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, expressed “extreme concern” that the Home Office “could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities … that these comments were made at all suggests that the problem goes deeper than a lack of religious literacy among individual civil servants and indicates that the management structures and ethos of the Home Office, when dealing with cases with a religious dimension, need serious overhaul.”

Stevens has also noted that the refusal letter was part of a larger problem. He quoted in a March 20 tweet from another refusal that stated: “You affirmed in your AIR that Jesus is your saviour, but then claimed that He would not be able to save you from the Iranian regime. It is therefore considered that you have no conviction in your faith and your belief in Jesus is half-hearted.”

Shia Islam is the state religion of Iran, though several religious minorities are recognized and granted freedom of worship. However, conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited.

Open Doors UK said that 114 Christians were arrested in Iran in December 2018. Many of them were reportedly converts from Islam.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its 2018 report that “in the past year, religious freedom in Iran continued to deteriorate … with the government targeting Baha'is and Christian converts in particular.” It said that “Christian converts and house church leaders faced increasingly harsh sentencing: many were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for their religious activities.”

California AG files to block Title X abortion 'gag rule'

San Francisco, Calif., Mar 25, 2019 / 11:42 am (CNA).- California’s attorney general on Friday asked a federal judge to block a new Trump administration rule designed to strip abortion clinics of federal funds distributed through the Title X program.

In a March 22 announcement, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the Protect Life Rule “reckless and illegal” and “a dangerous political ploy to sabotage women’s reproductive healthcare.”  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finalized the “Protect Life Rule” in late February, by which abortion clinics will be ineligible to receive Title X Program funding. The rule also prohibits clinics receiving funds from referring patients to other doctors for abortions, and bars funded clinics from sharing space with abortion clinics.

The California attorney general’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the rule argues that the rule “undermines clinically established standards of care, interferes with the patient-provider relationship, and contradicts core tenets of the Title X program.”

Dr. Tanya Spirtos of the California Medical Association wrote in a declaration filed with the attorney general’s motion that the Protect Life Rule "restricts physicians from speaking freely with their patients, violates core ethical standards, and undermines the physician-patient relationship."

Title X is a federal program created in 1965 that subsidizes family-planning and preventative health services, including contraception, for low-income families. It has been frequently updated and subject to new regulations.  California has the largest Title X program in the country, serving nearly a quarter of all Title X patients nationwide, according to the attorney general’s office.

Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, is expected to lose about $60 million in federal funds under the new federal rule, which is set to go into effect during April.

Last year, Planned Parenthood received over $500 million in federal funds, about 10% of which came from the Title X program. The abortion chain is still eligible for federal funds that are not part of Title X.

Nearly two dozen states, led by Oregon and including California, are already suing the administration over the Protect Life Rule.

Becerra filed California’s lawsuit against the US Department of Health and Human Services on March 4 in the Northern District Court of California in San Francisco.

The preliminary injunction, if granted, would block the rule’s implementation while the court reviews the state’s lawsuit.

The District Court is set to hear arguments on the preliminary injunction April 18.

Among other provisions, the Protect Life Rule requires that there be a physical and financial separation between recipients of Title X funds and facilities that perform abortions. Clinics that provide “nondirective counseling” about abortion can still receive funds.  

Previous regulations, written during Bill Clinton’s presidency, not only allowed for health clinics that were co-located with abortion clinics to receive funds, but also required that Title X recipients refer patients for abortions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the new rules move Title X closer to “its originally intended purpose—the provision of family planning services, not abortions.”

Pro-life advocates have welcomed the HHS rule change. Marjorie Dannefelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, praised the move, saying that it was targeted at abortion provision alone and would not reduce other family planning services by “a single dime.”

“The Title X program was not intended to be a slush fund for abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood, which violently ends the lives of more than 332,000 unborn babies a year and receives almost $60 million a year in Title X taxpayer dollars,” she said in a Feb. 22 statement.

Why Archbishop Wester says prayer to Santa Muerte is 'really wrong'

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 25, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Santa Fe said recently that people praying to “Saint Death” won’t find the answers they’re looking for.

Archbishop John Wester told the Associated Press recently that Catholics praying to the skeletal figure, popular in Central America, may be fooled into thinking that “Santa Muerte” is an approved devotional practice in the Church.

But the practice of praying to “Saint Death” is not consistent with Catholic teaching, the archbishop said.

"It's really wrong," Wester told the AP.

"I think in part, it's (because) people are looking and searching. It's a symptom of a search looking for answers."

"Our devotion is to the God of life," he added.

In 2013, a Vatican official condemned devotion to “Santa Muerte,” equating it to “the celebration of devastation and of hell.”

“It’s not every day that a folk saint is actually condemned at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Andrew Chesnut, a Santa Muerte expert, told CNA in 2016.

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint," the only English academic book to date on the subject.

Despite her condemnation from on high, Santa Muerte remains increasingly popular among criminals, drug lords and those on the fringe of society, as well as cultural Catholics who maybe don’t know (or care) that she is condemned by the Church.

“She’s basically the poster girl of narco-satanic spirituality,” Chesnut said.

According to Chesnut’s estimates, Santa Muerte is the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas - and it’s all happened within the past 10-15 years.

“She was unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans before 2001, when she went public. Now I estimate there’s some 10-12 million devotees, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America,” he said.

Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgemental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions.

“If somebody is going to be doing something illegal, and they want to be protected from the law enforcement, they feel awkward asking God to protect them,” Fr. Andres Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Helen parish in Rio Hondo, Texas, explained to CNA in 2016.

“So they promise something to Santa Muerte in exchange for being protected from the law.”

Devotees also feel comfortable going to her for favors of vengeance - something they would never ask of God or a canonized saint, Chesnut said.

“I think this non-judgemental saint who’s going to accept me as I am is appealing,” Chesnut said, particularly to criminals or to people who don’t feel completely accepted within the Mexican Catholic or Evangelical churches.

The cultural Catholicism of Mexico and the drug wars of the past decade also made for the perfect storm for Santa Muerte to catch on, Chesnut explained. Even Mexicans who didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday still have a basic idea of what Catholicism entails - Mass and Saints and prayers like the rosary, all things that have been hi-jacked and adapted by the Santa Muerte movement.

“You can almost see some of it as kind of an extreme heretical form of folk Catholicism,” he said. “In fact, I can say Santa Muerte could only have arisen from a Catholic environment.”

This, coupled with the fact that Mexican Catholics are suddenly much more familiar with death, with the recent drug wars having left upwards of 60,000 - 120,000 Mexicans dead - makes a saint of death that much more intriguing.

“Paradoxically, a lot of devotees who feel like death could be just around the corner - maybe they’re narcos, maybe they work in the street, maybe they’re security guards who might be gunned down - they ask Santa Muerte for protection.”

Her familiarity and appeal is actually part of the danger of this devotion, Fr. Gutierrez said.

“(Santa Muerte) is literally a demon with another name,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

In his own ministry, Fr. Gutierrez said he has witnessed people who “suffer greatly” following a devotion to the folk saint.

Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA in 2016 that he has also prayed with people who have had demonic trouble after praying to Santa Muerte.

“I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe,” he said.

Fr. Gutierrez noted that while Catholics who attend Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis tend to understand this about Santa Muerte, those in danger are the cultural Catholics who aren’t intentionally engaging in something harmful, but could be opening the door to spiritual harm nonetheless.

Besides her demonic ties, “Santa Muerte” is also a perversion of what the practice of praying to saints is all about, Fr. Ryan Kaup, a Nebraska priest active in Hispanic ministry, told CNA in 2016.

“What we venerate as saints are real people who have chosen this life to follow the will of our Lord and have done great things with their lives, and now they’re in heaven forever, and so that’s why we ask for their intercession,” Kaup said.

“So taking this devotion and this practice that we have of asking for this saint’s intercession and twisting it in such a way as to invoke this glorified image of death is really a distortion of what we believe is true intercession and truly the power of the saints.”

 

 

Pope Francis: Marriage and family have 'an essential mission'

Loreto, Italy, Mar 25, 2019 / 06:38 am (CNA).- On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of family and marriage for society. He also called the Virgin Mary a model for every vocation.

“It is necessary to rediscover the plan drawn by God for the family, to reaffirm its greatness and irreplaceability in the service of life and society,” the pope said March 25, during a visit to the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy.

The Shrine of the Holy House preserves the building where tradition holds the Virgin Mary was born, raised, and greeted by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Historic documentation shows that the Holy House was brought from Palestine to Italy in the 13th century. The Holy House also holds the statue of Our Lady of Loreto.

The Holy House of Mary is the “home of the family,” Pope Francis said during his visit, noting that “in the delicate situation of today’s world, the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman takes on an importance and an essential mission.”

He said the Holy House is also the home of the young, “because here the Virgin Mary, the young woman full of grace, continues to speak to the new generations, accompanying each one in the search for his vocation.”

“Mary is the model of every vocation and the inspirer of every vocation ministry,” he continued. “Young people who are looking for, or wondering about their future, can find in Mary She who helps them to discern God’s plan for themselves and the strength to adhere to it.”

Mary was a daughter, a betrothed, a bride, and a mother, he noted, and “for this reason, every family, in its different components, finds a refuge here…” in the Holy House.

The pope added that the domestic experience of Mary shows that pastoral care of the family and of young people should not be kept separate, but “must walk closely together,” because young people are highly impacted by their experience of family in their formative years.

During the day-long visit to Loreto, Pope Francis celebrated Mass inside the Holy House, gave a speech and led those present in praying the Angelus.

“The Mother of God does not cease to obtain spiritual benefits in those who, with faith and devotion, come here to pause in prayer,” he said about the Holy House.

After Mass, the pope signed the post-synodal exhortation written following October 2018’s Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment. The document, which is addressed to the young people of the Church, is titled Christus vivit (“Christ lives”) and will be published April 2.

He later greeted the sick and the Capuchin Friars who run the Shrine of the Holy House, thanking them for their devotion to hearing Confessions in the Loreto basilica and for their work at the Loreto St. John Paul II youth center.

He also expressed the desire for John Paul II youth centers to be “relaunched” throughout Italy and around the world and asked the friars to extend the opening hours of the Basilica of the Holy House into the late evening and early night, when groups of young pilgrims are present, so that the place may be available for prayer and vocational discernment.

The pope said: “I think of Loreto as a privileged place where young people can come in search of their vocation, at Mary’s school!”

At the Annunciation, Mary demonstrated the steps one should take to respond to God’s call of vocation: listening to the Word of God, discernment, and decision, he said.

First, Mary listened to the message of the Angel Gabriel. And in response to what the Angel said, she asked, “how can this be?” The pope explained that Mary’s question did not come from a lack of faith, but from a deepening discernment of the Lord’s will and her cooperation in it.

And finally, Mary gives her “yes,” he said, “the ‘yes’ of full trust and total availability to the will of God.”

“There is a need for simple and wise people, humble and courageous, poor and generous. In short, people who, at Mary’s school, welcome the Gospel without reserve in their lives,” Pope Francis said.

“Thus, through the holiness of the people of God, testimonies of holiness in every state of life will continue to spread in Italy, in Europe and in the world, to renew the Church and animate society with the leaven of the Kingdom of God.”

Phoenix Eucharistic retreat seeks to foster sacramental devotion

Phoenix, Ariz., Mar 24, 2019 / 03:26 pm (CNA).- At the end of this month, the Diocese of Phoenix will host a retreat that aims to inspire devotion to and education on the Eucharist.

According to Catholic Sun, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted expressed hope that the event will help participants “to have an even deeper sense of awe and wonder at the love of Jesus present under the humble appearance of bread and wine.”

“The more we grow in love of our Savior, the more He can work through us for the good of others,” he said.

The Lenten Eucharistic Mission is sponsored by the diocese and Friends of the Cathedral. It will take place March 28-30.

The event will include Masses celebrated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares. Speakers from the Denver-based Augustine Institute will include president Dr. Tim Gray and professors Dr. Michael Barber and Dr. Mark Giszezak.

MaryAnn Symancyk, a board member for Friends of the Cathedral and director of adult formation at St. Paul Parish, said the event is for everyone regardless of their theological background.

“They have a beautiful way of teaching the faith and catechizing on every level,” she said of the Augustine Institute, according to the Catholic Sun.

Symancyk said attendees will grow in their understanding about Scripture and its relation to the Eucharist.

“We need to know the biblical references, the history of the Eucharist from the Old Testament through to the New Testament. That’s what the Augustine Institute will bring us,” she said.

A recent study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that 91 percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly believe in Christ's True Presence in the Eucharist. However, this number drops to 40 percent among those who attend Mass only a few times a year.

One of the main goals of the retreat is to equip Catholics to share their knowledge and love of the Eucharist with others. Attendees will have access to apologetic and educational material on the Eucharist.

“People leave our faith but what draws them back is always the Eucharist,” Symancyk said. “When we know our faith on that level, especially with the focus on the blessed sacrament, the more we can evangelize and the more people stay in our faith or come back to the faith.”

 

Pope Francis tells Catholics not to abuse God's mercy

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2019 / 07:09 am (CNA).- The mercy of God is not an invitation to “spiritual laziness,” but requires a sincere and prompt response from those who want to grow in holiness, Pope Francis said Sunday.

“Despite the barrenness which sometimes marks our existence, God has patience and offers us the possibility of changing and making progress on the path of good,” the pope said March 24.

However, the chance for conversion is not limitless, he said. “We can rely heavily on God’s mercy, but without abusing it. We must not justify spiritual laziness but increase our commitment to respond promptly to this mercy with sincerity of heart.”

In his address before the Angelus, the pope reflected on the call to conversion, as depicted in the parable of the fig tree in the day’s Gospel.

In the parable, a man decides to cut down a fig tree in his vineyard because it has not produced any fruit in three years, and he does not want to expend the resources of the land on this barren tree.

But when the man speaks to the farmer who works in the vineyard about cutting down the tree, the farmer asks him to wait one year more and that during that time, he will cultivate and fertilize the land around the fig tree so that it may have the possibility to bear fruit in the future.

“What does this parable represent?” Francis asked. The owner of the land represents God the Father, and the farmer represents Jesus, while the fig tree “is a symbol of indifferent and arid humanity,” he said.

Like the farmer, Jesus intervenes on behalf of humanity, asking for a little more time for “the fruits of love and justice” to grow.

“The fig tree that the owner of the parable wants to uproot represents a barren existence, without fruit, incapable of giving, of doing good,” he said. “It is the symbol of one who lives for himself, satisfied and calm, laid down in his comfort, unable to turn his eyes and heart to those who are close to him and find themselves in a state of suffering, in a state of poverty, of discomfort.”

This state of “spiritual barrenness” is countered by the great love of the farmer for the fig tree, he stated. “He has patience, he knows how to wait, he dedicates his time and his work to it. He promises his master to take special care of that unhappy tree.”

Francis explained that this parable “manifests the mercy of God,” which gives us time for conversion.

“God is the Father and does not extinguish the weak flame, but accompanies and cares for those who are weak so that they may be strengthened and bring their contribution of love to the community,” he said.

Lent, in particular, is a time in which the Lord invites his children to conversion, he said, adding that, “each of us must feel challenged by this call, correcting something in our lives, in our very way of thinking, acting and living relationships with others.”

“We can think in this Lent, what should I do to get closer to the Lord?” he said, adding to not be tempted to put conversion off until “next Lent,” because no one is guaranteed another year.

“Each of us, think today: what should I do before this mercy of God that awaits me, and that always forgives? What should I do?” he asked.

He concluded by asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to help Catholics live Lent “as a time of spiritual renewal and trusting openness to the grace of God and to his mercy.”

After the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for the success of the discussions underway in Nicaragua since the end of February and focused on resolving the “serious socio-political crisis facing the country.”

“I accompany the initiative with prayer and encourage the parties to find a peaceful solution for the good of all as soon as possible,” he said.

Francis also recognized the Church in Italy’s celebration of the “Day of Remembrance for Missionary Martyrs” and the many bishops, priests, religious sisters, and lay faithful who have been victims of violence.

Forty missionaries were killed in 2018, he said, noting that the number is almost double the number of missionaries killed the previous year.

It is “a duty of gratitude” for the whole Church to remember the sacrifice of those killed for their faith in Jesus, even in these times, he stated.

Recalling recent attacks in Nigeria and Mali, the pope also prayed a ‘Hail Mary’ for the dead, the wounded, and their families, and for the conversion of hearts.

Montreal priest stabbed at Mass 'eager' to return

Montreal, Canada, Mar 23, 2019 / 03:19 pm (CNA).- Father Claude Grou is out of the hospital and grateful for the groundswell of support he received after he was stabbed by an assailant while celebrating a televised Mass at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal Friday morning.

The 77-year-old priest said in a statement that the words of support he had received “warm my heart and allow me to contemplate these difficult moments peacefully.” He said he was in good health and still processing the Friday attack, CBC News reports.

Celine Barbeau, a spokesperson for the oratory, said the priest will grudgingly take a few days’ break.

Though he needs a few days, he is in “a very good state of mind,” said Barbeau.

“And actually he’s eager to go back to work. We have to hold him back,” said the spokesperson.

Grou was standing behind the altar for daily Mass with about 60 congregants in the oratory’s Crypt Church when he was rushed by a man in a baseball cap, who stabbed him.

The church security team quickly detained the attacker, BBC News reports. The incident was broadcast live.

Authorities detained a 26-year-old suspect they said is known to police.

The priest, who is rector of the shrine, was taken away by ambulance. Montreal police said he suffered upper-body “lacerations.”

Adele Plamondon was finishing the day’s reading when the assailant stood up from the pew.

“I saw this man coming quickly and taking his knife out and going straight for Père Grou,” she said, according to CBC News. “It was obvious what his intentions were. So, I left screaming to alert the security.”

The attack drew comment from many people.

“Father Claude Grou, Canadians are thinking of you and wishing you a swift recovery,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter the day of the attack.

"We are all shocked by this act of violence that has taken place in our city, in a space dedicated to peace,” Archbishop Christian Lepine of Montreal said in a statement.  

“We know that places of worship of many religions are targets of acts of violence,” the archbishop continued. “We must continue to follow the path of peace and love, believing that good will overcome evil through prayer and good works.”
 
Construction on the mountaintop oratory was finished in 1967. Its dome is visible from across Montreal. It is the largest shrine dedicated to St. Joseph in the world, with about two million annual visitors.

St. Andre Bessette, a Holy Cross brother devoted to the poor and sick, had built a chapel to St. Joseph on the site with help from friends and money he received from giving haircuts to students. He spread devotion to St. Joseph and the brother’s prayers were believed to be especially effective in working miraculous cures, drawing many visitors.

Larger versions of the chapel were built as more and more visitors came. When he died in 1937, over one million people attended his wake and funeral.

Brother Andre was canonized under Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.