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Pope Francis: We need ‘creativity of the Gospel,’ not ‘a defensive Catholicism’

Pope Francis addresses bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists in St Martin’s Cathedral, Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal trip pool.

Bratislava, Slovakia, Sep 13, 2021 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told Slovakia’s Catholics on Monday that the Church should respond to secularization with the “creativity of the Gospel,” not “a defensive Catholicism.”

Speaking to clergy and lay people in St. Martin’s Cathedral in the capital, Bratislava, on Sept. 13, the pope encouraged Catholics to draw inspiration from Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who translated the Bible into the Slavonic language.

“Isn’t this what Slovakia also needs today? I wonder. Isn’t this perhaps the most urgent task facing the Church before the peoples of Europe: finding new ‘alphabets’ to proclaim the faith?” he asked.

“We are heirs to a rich Christian tradition, yet for many people today, that tradition is a relic from the past; it no longer speaks to them or affects the way they live their lives.”

“Faced with the loss of the sense of God and of the joy of faith, it is useless to complain, to hide behind a defensive Catholicism, to judge and blame the bad world. No, we need the creativity of the Gospel.”

The 84-year-old pope, who is making his first international trip since undergoing surgery in July, looked at ease as he delivered his live-streamed address in the capital’s largest church, located beneath the imposing Bratislava Castle.

Slovakian bishops, priests, religious, seminarians, and catechists listened on headsets to a live translation of the speech, which the pope delivered in Italian, frequently stopping for off-the-cuff remarks on everything from the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky to the importance of short homilies.

He said: “This is the first thing we need: a Church that can walk together, that can tread the paths of life holding high the living flame of the Gospel.”

“The Church is not a fortress, a stronghold, a lofty castle, self-sufficient and looking out upon the world below.”

“Here in Bratislava, you have a castle and it is a fine one. The Church, though, is a community that seeks to draw people to Christ with the joy of the Gospel -- not the castle. She is the leaven of God’s Kingdom of love and peace in our world.”

He said that the Church must strive to be humble, like Jesus.

“How great is the beauty of a humble Church, a Church that does not stand aloof from the world, viewing life with a detached gaze, but lives her life within the world,” he said.

“Living within the world, let us not forget: sharing, walking together, welcoming people’s questions and expectations. This will help us to escape from our self-absorption, for the center of the Church ... is not the Church.”

He continued: “We need to become immersed in the real lives of people and ask ourselves: what are their spiritual needs and expectations? What do they expect from the Church? It seems important to me to try to respond to these questions.”

He offered three words to help guide Catholics: freedom, creativity, and dialogue.

He noted that many people were afraid of freedom, saying: “We would rather get along by doing what others -- perhaps the masses, or public opinion, or the things that the media sell us -- decide for us. This should not be. And today so many times we do the things that the media decide for us.”

He recalled the biblical episode in which the Israelites asked if they were better off living in servitude in Egypt, with a guarantee of onions, than wandering exhausted in the desert.

He also referred to the story of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece “The Brothers Karamazov,” who rebuked Jesus for giving humans freedom, insisting that what they needed was bread.

He said: “Sometimes in the Church too this idea can take hold. Better to have everything readily defined, laws to be obeyed, security and uniformity, rather than to be responsible Christians and adults who think, consult their conscience and allow themselves to be challenged. That’s the beginning of casuistry, all regulated…”

“In the spiritual and ecclesial life, we can be tempted to seek an ersatz peace that consoles us, rather than the fire of the Gospel that disturbs and transforms us. The safe onions of Egypt prove more comfortable than the uncertainties of the desert.”

“Yet a Church that has no room for the adventure of freedom, even in the spiritual life, risks becoming rigid and self-enclosed. Some people may be used to this. But many others -- especially the younger generations -- are not attracted by a faith that leaves them no interior freedom, by a Church in which all are supposed to think alike and blindly obey.”

He continued: “Dear friends, do not be afraid to train people for a mature and free relationship with God. This relationship is important.”

“Perhaps this will give us the impression that we are diminishing our control, power, and authority, yet the Church of Christ does not seek to dominate consciences and occupy spaces, but rather to be a ‘wellspring’ of hope in people’s lives.”

The pope urged bishops and priests to be attentive to their flock’s need for freedom as the country undergoes rapid changes.

“For this reason, I encourage you to help set them free from a rigid religiosity,” he said. “Get out of this, and let them grow free.”

“No one should feel overwhelmed. Everyone should discover the freedom of the Gospel by gradually entering into a relationship with God, confident that they can bring their history and personal hurts into his presence without fear or pretense, without feeling the need to protect their own image.”

“To be able to say: ‘I am a sinner,’ but to say it sincerely, not beat our chests and then continue to believe we are righteous. Freedom.”

“May the proclamation of the Gospel be liberating, never oppressive. And may the Church be a sign of freedom and welcome.”

Pope Francis recalled receiving a letter from a bishop complaining about the pope’s representative in his country.

The letter said: “We were 400 years under the Turks and we suffered. Then 50 under communism and we suffered. But the seven years with this nuncio were worse than the other two.”

The pope commented: “Sometimes I wonder: how many people can say the same about the bishop they have or the parish priest? How many people? No, without freedom, without fatherhood, things don’t work out.”

After reflecting on the need for creativity, Pope Francis appealed to clergy to limit homilies to around 10 minutes -- a point he has made frequently since his election in 2013.

The spontaneous appeal prompted the audience to applaud. When the noise died down, the pope observed that the clapping had begun among a group of nuns, who, he joked, “are victims of our homilies.”

Emphasizing the need for dialogue, the pope referred to an episode in the life of the Slovakian Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec, who died in 2015. When he mentioned the cardinal’s name, he drew another strong round of applause.

The pope said: “He was a Jesuit cardinal, persecuted by the [communist] regime, imprisoned, and sentenced to forced labor until he fell ill. When he came to Rome for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, he went to the catacombs and lit a candle for his persecutors, imploring mercy for them.”

“This is the Gospel. This is the Gospel. It grows in life and in history through humble and patient love.”

Pope Francis urges Slovakia to follow the Beatitudes to build a just society

Pope Francis meets with authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps in the garden of the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 13, 2021. / Papal trip pool.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2021 / 03:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis told political authorities in Slovakia on Monday to “follow the road of the Beatitudes” to build a just, peaceful, and fraternal society.

“Your constitution expresses the desire that the country be built on the legacy of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe,” Francis said on Sept. 13.

Cyril and Methodius proposed the Gospel “without impositions or pressure,” he continued, underlining that “this is the path to follow: not the battle for influence and position, but the road pointed out by the saints, the road of the Beatitudes.”

“For the Beatitudes,” he said, “are the inspiration for a Christian vision of society.”

Pope Francis met with political authorities, members of civil society, and the diplomatic corps in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, on Sept. 13.

The live-streamed meeting took place on the morning of his first full day in the central European country, after he visited Budapest, in neighboring Hungary, on Sept. 12, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Congress and met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope will also visit the Slovakian cities of Prešov, Košice, and Šaštín before returning to Rome on Sept. 15.

In his meeting with authorities, which followed a private visit with Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová, Francis referred to the country’s experience under communism and warned his audience about other ideologies threatening the country.

“In these lands, until just a few decades ago, a single thought-system stifled freedom,” he said. “Today another single thought-system is emptying freedom of meaning, reducing progress to profit and rights only to individual needs.”

He urged the Slovakian people to be the salt of the earth, saying that “the salt of the faith acts not by reacting in worldly terms, by engaging in culture wars, but by quietly and humbly sowing the seeds of God’s kingdom, especially by the witness of charity.”

“I have come as a pilgrim to a young country, yet one with an ancient history, a land of deep roots situated in the heart of Europe,” Francis said.

He outlined the history of Slovakia as “an outpost of the Roman Empire and a point of encounter between Western and Eastern Christianity. From Great Moravia to the Kingdom of Hungary, from the Czechoslovak Republic to the present day.”

Slovakia has “overcome numerous trials and attained integration and distinctiveness through a fundamentally peaceful process,” he noted, adding that “28 years ago, the world followed with admiration the peaceful emergence of two independent countries.”

Pope Francis said that “this long history challenges Slovakia to be a message of peace in the heart of Europe.”

He again recalled the example of the ninth-century saints Cyril and Methodius, who brought the Christian faith to the Slavs, explaining that the brothers “showed that preserving what is good does not mean repeating the past, but being open to newness without ever losing one’s roots.”

“Your history abounds in writers, poets and men and women of culture who were the salt of the country. Just as salt burns when placed on wounds, so their lives often had to pass through the crucible of suffering,” the pope said.

“How many illustrious men and women endured imprisonment, yet remained interiorly free, offering a radiant example of courage, integrity, and resistance to injustice! And most of all, forgiveness. That is the salt of your earth.”

As Slovakia looks forward to a better economic period after the COVID-19 pandemic with the help of European Union recovery plans, the pope urged the authorities to not succumb to impatience and the “lure of profit.”

Economic recovery itself is not sufficient, he said. “Even as battles for supremacy are waged on various fronts, may this country reaffirm its message of integration and peace. And may Europe be distinguished by a solidarity that, by transcending borders, can bring it back to the center of history.”

The pope concluded his speech with a reflection on Slavic hospitality and the custom of giving guests bread and salt.

“Bread is something essential. Scripture commands us not to hoard our bread, but to share it. The bread spoken of in the Gospel is always bread that is broken. This sends a powerful message for our life as a community: it reminds us that true wealth does not consist simply in multiplying the things we have, but in sharing them fairly with those around us,” he said.

He urged the authorities to build a society in which laws are applied fairly, the rule of law promoted, and corruption fought.

The pope also noted the importance of everyone having dignified employment, “so that none will feel marginalized or constrained to leave family and homeland in search of a better life.”

Using the imagery of salt and the flavor it gives to food, Francis said that society needed “the flavor of solidarity.”

“Just as salt gives flavor only by dissolving, so too society rediscovers its flavor through the gratuitous generosity of those who spend their lives for others,” he said.

Pope Francis closed by saying: “God bless you. God bless this land,” adding “Nech Boh žehná Slovensko!” (“God bless Slovakia”).

Pope Francis implores Slovakia’s Christians to pursue ‘freedom’ in Christ over comfort

Pope Francis addresses an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021. / VAMP Pool

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

After he arrived in Slovakia on Sunday, Pope Francis exhorted the country’s Christian leaders to prefer God to comfort and security.

Noting the rise of religious freedom in Slovakia in recent years, “after the years of atheistic persecution” of the communist government, Pope Francis implored Christians not to fall into “interior bondage.”

He made his remarks to members of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia. The council consists of seven member churches and five observer churches and religious societies, which include Latin Rite Catholics as well as Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist Evangelical and Jewish congregations. The Apostolic Nunciature in Bratislava hosted Sunday’s ecumenical meeting.

Pope Francis noted “how difficult it is to live your faith in freedom. For there is always the temptation to return to slavery, not that of a regime, but one even worse: an interior bondage.”

“Dear brothers, may this not happen to us! Let us help one another never to fall into the trap of being satisfied with bread and little else,” he said at the meeting. “Then our goal is no longer ‘the freedom we have in Christ Jesus,’ his truth that sets us free, but the staking out of spaces and privileges, which, as far as the Gospel is concerned, are ‘bread and little else’.”

Present at Sunday’s live-streamed meeting was the president of the ecumenical council, Bishop Ivan Elko of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic. He expressed the desire for mutual blessing among churches.

Crises in one church “brings us all down together,” he said. “We want to bless one another, and look at each other with good will.” Metropolitan Rastislav of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia was also present at the meeting.

Pope Francis arrived in Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12, in the Central European country with a population of 5.5 million. It is the first papal visit to Slovakia since 2003.

He addressed the ecumenical event and, later on Sunday, was scheduled to meet privately with members of the Society of Jesus in Slovakia. Later in the week, the pope will travel to the Slovakian cities of Prešov, Košice and Šaštin where he will meet with political authorities, the local Jewish community, and Catholic bishops and clergy.

He traveled to Slovakia from Hungary, where earlier on Sunday he offered Mass at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest and met with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

“I am here as a pilgrim in Slovakia, and you are here as welcome guests in this Nunciature!” the pope told the Christian leaders.

After being greeted by the president of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, the Pope delivered his remarks, followed by the prayer of Psalm 103. He then greeted the participants individually.

Pope Francis called the meeting “a sign that the Christian faith is – and deserves to be – a seed of unity and leaven of fraternity in this country.”

He asked those present to consider the state of the Christian faith in Europe, and pleaded for unity among Christians.

“Here, from the heart of Europe, we can ask: have we Christians lost some of our zeal for the preaching of the Gospel and for prophetic witness?” he asked.

“It is hard to expect Europe to be increasingly influenced and enriched by the Gospel if we are untroubled by the fact that on this continent we are not yet fully united and are unconcerned for one another.”

The pope proposed two suggestions in response to the challenge: contemplation and serving the poor.

“Unity is not attained so much by good intentions and agreement about some shared value, but by doing something concrete, together, for those who bring us closest to the Lord. Who are they? They are the poor, for in them Jesus is present,” he said.

“May the gift of God be present on the table of all, so that, even though we are not yet able to share the same Eucharistic meal, we can welcome Jesus together by serving him in the poor,” he said.

He pointed to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, ninth century missionary bishops who are recognized as the “Apostles of the Slavs.” They adapted the Greek alphabet into a script for the Slavonic language, creating the “Cyrillic” alphabet used to translate the bible into Slavonic.

“As witnesses of a Christianity still marked by unity and zeal for the preaching of the Gospel, may they help us to persevere on our journey by fostering our fraternal communion in the name of Jesus,” Pope Francis said.

Cardinal Wyszynski and Mother Czacka beatified in Poland

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro presides at the beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 12, 2021. / Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka.

Warsaw, Poland, Sep 12, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A Vatican cardinal beatified two towering figures of 20th-century Polish Catholicism on Sunday.

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka blessed at a Mass at the Temple of Divine Providence in Poland’s capital, Warsaw.

He praised Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland who led the Church’s resistance to communism, and Czacka, a blind nun who revolutionized care for the visually impaired, for offering a “model of service.”

“Today’s new blesseds have received from this nation the inestimable good of faith and the vitality of the centuries-old tradition of love for God,” he said at the Mass on Sept. 12, the feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“What did they offer the people in return? They offered a life-long conviction of God’s primacy (‘Soli Deo’ -- ‘To God Alone’ -- was Cardinal Wyszyński’s episcopal motto), which is capable of restoring man to his dignity.”

“They gave testimony of a life faithful to the Gospel, at all costs. They have left a model of service to a specific person in need, even when no one cares for him, and indifference seems to prevail.”

Archdiocese of Warsaw/ Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/ Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.

Attendance at the live-streamed ceremony was limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. Poland’s bishops encouraged Catholics to attend local celebrations and follow the beatification on television and online.

The ceremony took place at the same time as the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, celebrated by Pope Francis.

In his Angelus address after the Mass, the pope said: “Today in Warsaw, not far from here, two individuals who bore witness to the Gospel are being beatified: Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Elżbieta Czacka, foundress of the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross.”

“Both were familiar with the Cross firsthand. Cardinal Wyszyński, the Primate of Poland, who was arrested and imprisoned, was always a courageous pastor according to the heart of Christ and a herald of freedom and human dignity.”

“Sr. Elżbieta, who as a young girl lost her sight, devoted her whole life to assisting the blind. May the example of these new blesseds encourage us to transform darkness into light with the power of love.”

The recipients of the miracles that paved the way for the beatifications took part in the ceremony.

Karolina Gawrych, 18, carried the relics of Czacka, who she credits with her recovery from a devastating accident.

Karolina Gawrych carries the relics of Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 12, 2021. Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.
Karolina Gawrych carries the relics of Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 12, 2021. Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.

Wyszyński’s relics were taken up to the altar by Sr. Nulla, who recovered from a two-inch tumor in her throat after members of her religious community sought the cardinal’s intercession.

At the ceremony, it was announced that Czacka’s memorial would be observed annually on May 19 and Wyszyński’s on May 28.

Sr. Nulla carries the relics of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 12, 2021. Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.
Sr. Nulla carries the relics of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 12, 2021. Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.

Eighty bishops from Poland, 45 bishops from abroad, and 600 priests took part in the Mass. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński were also present.

Cardinals in attendance included papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw, and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, St. John Paul II’s personal secretary.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda attends the beatification ceremony. Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda attends the beatification ceremony. Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka.

A congregation of around 7,000 people attended the beatification, with half inside the church and half seated outside beneath an overcast sky.

The blesseds first met in 1926 in Laski, a village about 10 miles west of Warsaw, where the religious sister had co-founded a center supporting the blind.

During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, Czacka and Wyszyński helped to organize a field hospital for the wounded in Laski.

Semeraro began his homily in Italian, before handing over to Warsaw auxiliary Bishop Piotr Jarecki, who continued reading the cardinal’s text in Polish.

Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka/W. Łączyński.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka/W. Łączyński.

Semeraro said that during the revolt against the Nazi German occupiers, Wyszyński found a piece of burning paper that had been blown from the charred ruins of the capital.

“On it, he read these words: ‘You will love,’” the Italian cardinal said. “Wyszyński, deeply moved by them, took the piece of paper to the chapel, showed it to the sisters, and said: ‘This is the holiest appeal of fighting Warsaw to us and the entire world. An appeal and a testament: You will love.’”

“He lived his ministry as pastor and bishop in response to this appeal and testament.”

After the war, Wyszyński was named archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, becoming the Primate of Poland. In 1953, he was placed under house arrest after he refused to subordinate the Church to the communist authorities.

“During this politically and socially complicated period, he bravely, diligently, and with determination steered the boat of the Church in Poland, defying the ideology that was dehumanizing and leading people away from the fullness of life, the truth contained in Christ’s Gospel faithfully lived and accomplished,” Semeraro said.

“In the fight to defend the freedom of Polish women and men, he often repeated: ‘Whoever hates, has already lost.’ He did not spare himself in anything; he bore all the humiliation and suffering that culminated in three years of imprisonment, from 1953 to 1956.”

Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka/W. Łączyński.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka/W. Łączyński.

Wyszyński is known as the “Primate of the Millennium” because he oversaw a nine-year program of preparation culminating in a nationwide celebration of the millennium of Poland’s baptism in 1966.

He also helped to secure the approval of Karol Wojtyła as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, which ultimately led to Wojtyła’s election as Pope John Paul II in 1978.

In a letter to Poles after his election, Semeraro noted, John Paul II paid tribute to Wyszyński, writing: “This Polish pope, who today, full of fear of God, but also of trust, is beginning a new pontificate, would not be on Peter’s chair were it not for your faith which did not retreat before prison and suffering. Were it not for your heroic hope, your unlimited trust in the Mother of the Church!”

Archdiocese of Warsaw/ Polish Bishops’ Conference /W. Łączyński.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/ Polish Bishops’ Conference /W. Łączyński.

Semeraro then turned to Czacka, who was born into an aristocratic family in present-day Ukraine and lost her sight at the age of 22. After her family’s desperate efforts to restore her vision failed, a doctor advised her to dedicate her life to serving blind people in Poland.

She founded the Society for the Care of the Blind, as well as the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross, and adapted the Braille alphabet to the Polish language.

“Through her extraordinary diligence and commitment, Blessed Elżbieta Róża shows us that there are no obstacles for those who want to love God and love as He does,” Semeraro observed.

Recalling the close bond between the two blesseds, the cardinal said that from their first meeting onwards, they were united in “a communion of faith, love for God and the needy and defenseless human beings.”

“They both knew how to fill each other with strength, endurance, and courage. He was personally involved in helping all those who experienced abuse and limitations in practicing their freedom and professing their faith; she, blind among the physically and spiritually blind, helped all those who were abandoned and left at the margins of society,” he said.

He noted that when Wyszyński presided at Czacka’s funeral in 1961, the Polish cardinal described her as “a person who constantly stood before the face of her Good Lord.”

“That is why she was able to share and nourish so many people around her with love,” Wyszyński said.

Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka. wyszynskiprymas.pl/triuno.pl/Family News Service.
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka. wyszynskiprymas.pl/triuno.pl/Family News Service.

Ahead of the beatification, a letter from Poland’s bishops was read out in churches.

The bishops said: “God united these two people, so different after all, and through them He did great things. The words of the Primate -- Soli Deo (To God Alone) -- and those of Mother Elżbieta -- Through the Cross to Heaven -- which they left us, are still very relevant today. They showed us the way. There is no other way to look for.”

After Czacka’s death, Wyszyński frequently visited her grave.

“Before his departure for Rome for the sessions of the [Second Vatican] Council, before the difficult talks with the communist authorities of those days, he would come to Laski without giving notice or announcing himself, to pray there for at least a while,” the bishops wrote.

“Every year, with the exception of the period of his imprisonment or illness, after the Holy Thursday Mandatum in the Archcathedral, he would go to Laski for adoration with the blind, the sisters, and the lay employees of the center, and to be filled with the power that flows from the light of the Paschal Cross and the victory of Christ’s love, so that he could then have it for everyone.”

Archdiocese of Warsaw/ Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/ Polish Bishops’ Conference/W. Łączyński.

The Polish parliament declared 2021 the Year of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński in honor of the churchman.

The countdown to the beatification saw the launch of new websites dedicated to the Polish Primate, including a web portal created by Polskie Radio, the national public service radio broadcaster.

There was even a new strategy game, created by Weronika and Kamil Kreczko, called Non Possumus.

The game’s name refers to Wyszyński’s 1953 letter to Poland’s communist leader Bolesław Bierut, in which he refused to allow the communist authorities to play a role in Church appointments, declaring “Non possumus!” (We cannot).

Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka/W. Łączyński.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka/W. Łączyński.

A pilgrim copy of the revered icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa was displayed above the sanctuary at the beatification ceremony. The copy was created in 1957 at Wyszyński’s request and toured Poland despite attempts by the communist regime to disrupt veneration of the replica icon.

The image was brought to Wyszyński as he lay on his deathbed in May 1981. According to witnesses, he said: “Thank you, Mother, for once again coming to me. You have always been to me the greatest Grace, Light, Hope, and program of my life.”

Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka.
Archdiocese of Warsaw/Polish Bishops’ Conference/G. Gałązka.

In their letter, Poland’s bishops noted that both Czacka and Wyszyński were deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary.

They wrote: “Each of them entrusted their way to holiness to the Blessed Mother and wanted to serve God and man as Mary did. Mother Elżbieta made her act of consecration to the Mother of God on Dec. 8, 1921, saying: ‘I choose you today as my Mother, Protector…’ And the Primate, imprisoned in Stoczek Warmiński, on Dec. 8, 1953, said: ‘I consecrate my body and my soul to you (…) everything that I am and everything that I possess.’”

Concluding his homily, Cardinal Semeraro said: “Poland, the Nation of Mary, the land of saints and blesseds, in this Temple of Divine Providence, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Blessed Stefan Wyszyński and Blessed Elżbieta Róża Czacka, today let us ask God to grant us the strength to be faithful witnesses of His merciful love towards every needy person of our time.”

“May the new blesseds be powerful intercessors for this meritorious nation, may they be a light for state and local authorities, and may support the Church in Poland in constant fidelity to Christ’s Gospel.”

Pope Francis at International Eucharistic Congress: ‘Let’s make time for Adoration’

Pope Francis arrives at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 12, 2021. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 12, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis encouraged Catholics at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest to spend more time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to become more like Christ.

“Dear brothers and sisters, let us allow our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist to transform us, just as it transformed the great and courageous saints you venerate,” Pope Francis said in his homily in Hungary on Sept. 12.

“We do well to spend time in adoration before the Eucharist in order to contemplate God’s weakness. Let’s make time for adoration,” the pope said.

Pope Francis is the first pope to attend an International Eucharistic Congress since the year 2000. He offered the live-streamed closing Mass for a crowd of tens of thousands gathered in Heroes’ Square in Budapest.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

“The Eucharist is here to remind us who God is. It does not do so just in words, but in a concrete way, showing us God as bread broken, as love crucified and bestowed,” the pope said.

“Today, as in the past, the cross is not fashionable or attractive,” he said. “Yet it heals us from within. Standing before the crucified Lord, we experience a fruitful interior struggle, a bitter conflict between ‘thinking as God does’ and ‘thinking as humans do.’”

The pope said that God’s way of humble love is different from “the wisdom of the world,” which is attached to self-importance and power, “grasping for prestige and success.”

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

“There is God’s side and the world’s side. The difference is not between who is religious or not, but ultimately between the true God and the ‘god of self,’” he said.

“How different is Christ, who presents himself with love alone, from all the powerful and winning messiahs worshiped by the world. Jesus unsettles us; he is not satisfied with declarations of faith, but asks us to purify our religiosity before his cross, before the Eucharist.”

Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Pope Francis said that prayer in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament can be transformative.

“Let us allow Jesus the Living Bread to heal us of our self-absorption, open our hearts to self-giving, liberate us from our rigidity and self-concern, free us from the paralyzing slavery of defending our image, and inspire us to follow him wherever he would lead us,” he said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

The pope arrived at the closing Mass in a popemobile. He kissed babies and waved to the crowd, which cheered enthusiastically as he passed.

Local authorities reported that around 100,000 people were in attendance at the papal Mass, in addition to the people gathered along the streets to wave as Pope Francis made his way to Heroes’ Square in the popemobile.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

“The Christian journey is not a race towards ‘success;’ it begins by stepping back, finding freedom by not needing to be at the center of everything,” Francis said.

“It is to step out each day ... to an encounter with our brothers and sisters. The Eucharist impels us to this encounter, to the realization that we are one Body, to the willingness to let ourselves be broken for others,” he said.

Vatican Media
Vatican Media

After the Mass, Pope Francis prayed the Marian Angelus prayer with the crowd in Budapest.

In his Angelus address, the pope commended the example of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka, who were beatified on Sunday in Warsaw, Poland.

“May the example of these new Blesseds encourage us to transform darkness into light with the power of love,” he said.

The Mass in Budapest concluded the pope’s seven-hour trip to Hungary. After a brief farewell ceremony at the Budapest International Airport, the pope will depart for Slovakia, where he will visit four cities on Sept. 12-15.

“I want to say köszönöm, thank you, thank you to you, the people of Hungary,” he said in his Angelus address.

Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“This is what I wish for you: that the cross be your bridge between the past and the future. Religious sentiment has been the lifeblood of this nation, so attached to its roots. Yet the cross, planted in the ground, not only invites us to be well-rooted, it also raises and extends its arms towards everyone,” he said.

“The cross urges us to keep our roots firm, but without defensiveness; to draw from the wellsprings, opening ourselves to the thirst of the men and women of our time.”

Pope Francis arrives in Hungary and meets Viktor Orban

Pope Francis greets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest, Sept. 12, 2021. / Vatican Media/ EWTN.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 12, 2021 / 02:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis arrived on Sunday morning in Hungary, where he met with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope’s arrival in the capital, Budapest, on Sept. 12 marked the 84-year-old pontiff’s first international trip since his colon surgery in July.

Pope Francis will spend roughly seven hours in Hungary, where he will offer the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, before flying on Sunday afternoon to Slovakia, where he will visit four cities, returning to Rome on Sept. 15.

The pope’s meeting with Orbán, with whom he sharply disagrees on migration, and Hungarian President János Áder, who offered a personal testimony to his Catholic faith at the Eucharistic congress, took place at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The private meeting lasted slightly longer than scheduled.

A photograph of the three men meeting was posted on Orbán’s Instagram account.

Another photograph showed the men sitting inside the museum, with the pope seated on one side, flanked by senior Vatican officials, and Orbán, Áder, and Zsolt Semjén, Hungary’s deputy prime minister, on the other.

A Vatican statement said: “The meeting with the President, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary took place according to the program, in a cordial atmosphere and ended at 9:25 a.m.”

Vatican Media/ EWTN.
Vatican Media/ EWTN.

“Present at the meeting with the Holy Father were His Eminence Cardinal Parolin, Secretary of State, and His Excellency Archbishop Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.”

“Among the various topics discussed were the role of the Church in the country, the commitment to the protection of the environment, the protection and promotion of the family.”

On his official Facebook page, Orbán wrote: “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”

Immediately after the meeting, the pope gave a speech to the bishops of Hungary. He then took part in an ecumenical meeting with leaders of Hungary’s Protestant Christians, as well as representatives of the country’s Jewish communities.

Pope Francis greets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President János Áder in Budapest, Sept. 12, 2021. Vatican Media
Pope Francis greets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and President János Áder in Budapest, Sept. 12, 2021. Vatican Media

“The God of the covenant asks us not to yield to separatism or partisan interests. He does not want us to ally ourselves with some at the expense of others,” the pope said in the meeting.

“Let it never be said that divisive words come from the mouths of religious leaders, but only words of openness and peace. In our world, torn by so many conflicts, this is the best possible witness on the part of those who have been graced to know the God of the covenant and of peace,” he added.

Pope Francis denounced “the threat of anti-Semitism still lurking in Europe” and recalled the life of Miklós Radnóti, a Jewish Hungarian poet who was killed in the Holocaust.

“Imprisoned in a concentration camp, in the darkest and most depraved chapter of human history, Radnóti continued until his death to write poetry,” the pope said.

He said that his surviving poems from his imprisonment testified to “the power of his belief in the warmth of love amid the icy coldness of the camps, illuminating the darkness of hatred with the light of faith.”

Pope Francis said: “The author, crushed by the chains that constrained his soul, discovered a higher freedom and the courage to write that, ‘as a prisoner… I have taken the measure of all that I had hoped for.’”

“Our voices, dear brothers and sisters, must not fail to echo that Word given us from heaven, echoes of hope and peace. Even if no one listens or we are misunderstood, may our actions never deny the Revelation to which we are witnesses,” he said.

Peruvian terrorist leader dies in prison; archbishop urges prayers for his soul

Abimael Guzmán after his capture in 1992. / ANDINA

Denver Newsroom, Sep 11, 2021 / 14:53 pm (CNA).

Abimael Guzmán, founder of the Peruvian terrorist group known as Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), died Saturday at a military hospital at age 86, the Peruvian government has confirmed. 

Archbishop José Antonio Eguren of Piura, Peru told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency, that Guzmán’s “totalitarian hatred” left a legacy of destruction in the country.

Eguren mentioned in particular three European priests who were killed in 1991 by the Shining Path, and who were recognized as martyrs by the Vatican in 2015. 

“The Lord Jesus has asked us to love our enemies and on the cross he has given us an example of this. Let us pray to God to have mercy on his soul,” the archbishop added. 

Guzmán founded Shining Path in the 1960s on communist principles, and began armed conflict in 1980 with the goal of stoking a peasant revolution that would gain control of the Peruvian countryside, and eventually the cities. 

Victims of Shining Path’s violent tactics— which included bombings in Lima— included peasants, community leaders, professionals, police, military, politicians and anyone they considered an obstacle to their path to power. A truth commission in 2003 blamed the Shining Path for more than 30,000 deaths in all, the AP reported. 

Police apprehended Guzmán in Sept. 1992. Since his capture, Guzmán has been incarcerated at the Maximum Security Detention Center of the Callao Naval Base, having been sentenced to life imprisonment in 2006. 

Fathers Michele Tomaszek and Zbigneo Strzalkowski of the Conventual Friars Minor were killed Aug. 9, 1991, by the Shining Path. Both worked in Pariacoto in the Peruvian Andes, and their work to help the poor was considered a threat by the terrorists, who saw their efforts to recruit new members thwarted.

Father Alessandro Dordi was also working in the Peruvian Andes. He was shot dead by Shining Path militants Aug. 25, 1991.

In May 2021, Peru’s bishops condemned a mass killing of 16 people perpetrated by Shining Path about 180 miles north of Ayacucho.

Pope to interfaith summit: If we want peace on Earth, “we cannot lose sight of Heaven”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at this Angelus address on Aug. 22, 2021 / Vatican Media/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Sep 11, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis on Saturday greeted the G20 Interfaith Forum, being held in Bologna, Italy Sept. 12-14, telling participants that “true religiosity consists in adoring God and loving one's neighbour.”

“I would like to reiterate that if we want to preserve fraternity on Earth, ‘we cannot lose sight of Heaven,’” Pope Francis said in a Sept. 11 written message, quoting from a speech he gave earlier this year in Ur, Iraq.

“[W]e are called to show the paternal presence of the God of heaven through our harmony on earth.”

The G20 Interfaith Forum is an annual event that has brought together religious leaders for dialogue since 2014. The interfaith meeting precedes the main G20 2021 meeting, set to take place this October in Rome. 

The pope emphasized the role of religious leaders in combating religious extremism and fundamentalism, especially when it leads to violence. 

“As religious leaders, I believe that first of all we must serve the truth and declare what is evil when it is evil, without fear or pretence, even and especially when it is committed by those who profess to follow the same creed as us,” the pope said. 

“We must also help each other, all together, to combat the religious illiteracy that permeates all cultures: it is a widespread ignorance that reduces the experience of belief to rudimentary dimensions of the human and seduces vulnerable souls into adhering to fundamentalist slogans.”

“Above all, we need to educate, promoting equitable, solidarity-based and integral development that increases opportunities for schooling and education, because where poverty and ignorance reign unchecked, fundamentalist violence takes hold more easily.”

Pope Francis praised the forum for its commitment to the process of building peace between adherents of different faiths. 

“[W]e religious leaders must be the first to support these processes, bearing witness that the capacity to fight evil does not lie in proclamations, but in prayer; not in revenge, but in concord; not in shortcuts dictated by the use of force, but in the patient and constructive force of solidarity. Because only this is truly worthy of man. And because God is not the God of war, but of peace.”

The G20 Interfaith Summit, taking place at the University of Bologna, will feature talks and sessions from a diverse range of religious leaders. The sessions will discuss topics related to “economic models and systems, the environment, women, families, children, work, humanitarian aid, health, education, freedom of religion or belief, global security, governance, human rights, and the rule of law,” according to the forum’s website.

Participants will develop policy recommendations designed to be delivered to G20 Summit leaders and to be relevant to leaders on the international, regional, and national levels. 

Pope Francis is set to celebrate the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, on Sept. 12. 

Cardinal Erdö: Our world today is in burning need of a united Christianity

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest on Sept. 11, 2021. / Daniel Ibanez

Rome Newsroom, Sep 11, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Péter Erdö said Saturday at the International Eucharistic Congress that the world is in “burning need” of the witness of a united Christianity.

The archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and primate of Hungary offered Mass in the main square in front of the grand Hungarian Parliament Building on the penultimate day of the congress as the country awaits the arrival of Pope Francis.

Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“It is a special providential gift of God that before the conclusion of the Eucharistic Congress, we can celebrate here in the central square of the nation," Erdö said in his homily on Sept. 11.

"Present in the parliament now are the Holy Crown and our most cherished relic, the Holy Right Hand of St. Stephen."

The Catholic cardinal noted that Bartholomew I, who was present at the Mass, had presided over the Orthodox canonization of St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary,

“This reminds us that when our first king died in 1038, Eastern and Western Christianity were still in union,” Erdo said.

Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Daniel Ibanez/CNA

“This unity is the will of Christ Himself, who prayed that His disciples may be one, that the world may believe that the Father has sent Him. Our world today is in burning need of the testimony of a united Christianity.”

Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, addressed the International Eucharistic Congress immediately before the Mass.

“We pray to the merciful God to strengthen and bless our endeavors to advance on the path to unity,” the Eastern Orthodox leader said.

“Despite their specificities, East and West organically belong together in the unity of Christendom,” he said.

International Eucharistic Congress Mass on Sept. 11, 2021. EWTN
International Eucharistic Congress Mass on Sept. 11, 2021. EWTN

Earlier this week at the International Eucharistic Congress, Metropolitan Hilarion, the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, also spoke of unity.

He said that belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist unites Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers despite their divisions.

The evening Mass in the center of Budapest concluded with a candlelight procession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Daniel Ibanez
Daniel Ibanez

In his homily, Erdö underlined how the Eucharist unites believers across space and time.

“What we experienced this evening happened because our fathers, our ancestors there in Jerusalem were together with Jesus of Nazareth," the cardinal said. "And He, on the last evening, before he was captured, condemned and crucified, ate together with His disciples. He took the bread and said, 'Take and eat. This is My body.'"

Daniel Ibanez
Daniel Ibanez

“And the disciples sensed that something inexplicable had happened. Something greater than what we are. Something that had to be repeated again and again, for this event to be present among us, this singular unrepeatable event, radiating power. The body of the Master was pierced, His blood shed, but on the third day He rose for the dead,” he said.

“This is why the candles burn, this is why these words are spoken again and again in family homes, in brilliant churches, in prisons, in labor camps, in secret and in the open. This is what we priests are for.”

“This is why following this Holy Mass we will set forth in candlelit procession with the Blessed Sacrament, to proclaim to the city and the world the miracle of Jesus’ presence and ask for His blessing upon us all.”

How 9/11 led a first responder to the priesthood

Father Tom Colucci. / Courtesy photo

Denver Newsroom, Sep 11, 2021 / 10:12 am (CNA).

On a September morning, twenty years ago, Tom Colucci was in his car driving home, weary after working the overnight shift at a firehouse in Lower Manhattan. 

Then, at 8:46am, he got a call. The city was recalling all police officers and firefighters to the World Trade Center. A plane had crashed into the North Tower. 

Colucci, a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department, rushed to the scene— the South Tower was on the verge of collapse, and came tumbling down just as Colucci arrived.

The area surrounding the World Trade Center was total chaos, and he wasn’t entirely sure what to do first. He had heard 40,000 people were missing. So, Colucci and the other first responders began digging through rubble on the streets. 

Less than an hour later, the North Tower fell. Tom and the other first responders continued to dig through the rubble, hoping against hope that they would find survivors. They found precious few. 

More than 340 firefighters died that day, including five from Tom’s firehouse. It was the deadliest day for first responders in U.S. history, and likely the deadliest terrorist attack ever. 

“So it was all very devastating. A lot of these guys were young guys, married, with families ...But we just pulled each other through. And also that our faith came through. Most of these guys were Catholic, and so it was the faith [that] pulled us through,” Colucci said. 

The victims included the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, Father Mychal Judge. Judge was reportedly praying the rosary and offering Last Rites in the lobby of the North Tower, and had run outside the North Tower to minister to a fallen firefighter when the South Tower collapsed.

A photographer captured the moments right after Judge’s death. A now-famous photograph shows two firefighters, a police officer, an EMT, and a civilian carrying the priest’s battered body out of the wreckage. 

“Everybody asks, ‘where was Christ that day? Couldn't he stop the planes?’ But you saw the body of Christ. Everybody that came in to help that day...You saw the country pulled together. That was the body of Christ,” Colucci commented. 

Colucci’s involvement in search and rescue efforts continued until May of 2002, when he was promoted to captain. 

Colucci had been with the New York City fire department since 1985. Now, only a few years from retirement, Colucci began revisiting his longtime interest in becoming a Catholic priest. A devout Catholic since his youth, Colucci said the priesthood had always been at the back of his mind. He said his experience on September 11th, and the witness of the heroic priests he saw that day, made him even more interested in pursuing the priesthood.

“I just saw the best that day. You know, Father Mike died the way he died, and there were other priests that came down and they were, you know, counseling the guys and a few of them were on the rubble helping us cheering us on,” he said. 

Colucci retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2005, after twenty years of service. He didn’t enter the seminary right away. He had sustained a head injury while on the job a few months earlier and needed two brain surgeries. He retreated to a Benedictine monastery in western New York to recover and to discern, for the next seven years, his call to the priesthood. 

During that time away, Colucci strengthened his prayer life, and felt even more secure in his vocation to the priesthood. In 2012, he entered Saint Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, New York. He was ordained in 2016 at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the first retired firefighter ever to become a priest. 

Father Colucci has been a priest for a little over five years now. He’s pastor of a parish with a school in Walden, New York, north of New York City. He says he actually sees a lot of similarities between the priesthood and the fire service. 

“You serve other people. That's what a firefighter does, unselfishly he runs into burning buildings and emergency calls to help people out. And that's what a priest does. He's always available to help people out. I get calls day and night to help people in different areas, spiritually. To help them doing the sacraments, Mass and confessions...And so it's a life of service, both professions,” he said. 

Father Colucci dreams of one day being chaplain for the New York City Fire Department— and he’s on the shortlist of candidates. But for now, he stays in touch with the people he met as a firefighter, he celebrates funerals for firefighters killed in the line of duty, and he’s chaplain for a volunteer firehouse in his area. He also celebrates an annual Mass on September 11th, in Manhattan. 

“We lost 343 [firefighters] that day. And since then we've lost about 200 due to related cancers...we'll never forget the people that died that day and the great sacrifices they made,” he said. 

This story is an adaptation of Episode 111 of the CNA Newsroom podcast. Click here to listen to the podcast.