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Letter reveals Benedict’s praise for Francis booklets came with previously unmentioned caveats

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 12:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid accusations of concealment, the Vatican's communications department has released the entirety of a letter written by Benedict XVI, revealing a previously unpublished paragraph which contains Benedict’s comments about a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
The Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, after questions were raised following the letter’s presentation during a press event March 12 for the release of a newly-published series of booklets on the theological formation of Pope Francis.
The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the secretariat.


#Vatican has now released the full contents of Benedict XVI's letter to +Vigano, saying there was no intention to censor but parts were left out as it was confidential. Earlier today it emerged that more had been omitted from the letter (see end here:

— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) March 17, 2018


The secretariat’s press release on the letter quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but included neither Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full, nor the final paragraph published today.
In the paragraph, Benedict notes his “surprise” that an author of one of the new booklets is the German theologian Peter Hünermann, who, Benedict notes, “was highlighted for leading anti-papal initiatives” during the two preceding papacies.
In the letter, dated Feb. 7 and addressed to the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Vigano, Benedict also notes Hünermann's involvement in the release of the 1989 Cologne Declaration, which “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on matters of moral theology.”
The previously undisclosed paragraph reads, as translated by Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, in full: “Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had been shown to have led anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the ‘Kölner Erklärung’, which, in relation to the encyclical ‘Veritatis splendor’, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the ‘Europaische Theologengesellschaft’, which he founded, initially came to be thought of as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, making that organization a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”
“I am sure that you will understand me for my denial and I greet you cordially,” the letter concludes. Earlier in the letter, Benedict acknowledged that he could not write a requested reflection on the booklets because he had not read them and had other, more pressing, commitments.
A March 17 press release from the Secretariat for Communications said there had been “much polemics” around its “alleged censorial manipulation of photography.”

“What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.”

“The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship,” the secretariat added.

The Vatican office wrote that it had now chosen to publish the letter in its entirety “in order to dispel any doubts.”
The National Catholic Register requested March 14 a copy of the letter Vigano sent to Benedict, but the request has not been answered.
Controversy about the letter heightened March 14 when the Associated Press reported that the Vatican had acknowledged obscuring two lines of the letter in a photo released to the press.
The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

The theological formation of Pope Francis

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A recent letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the subject of controversy, after a Vatican office admitted to releasing a photo of the letter blurring some lines.

The letter responded to an invitation to review a series of books detailing the theological perspective of Pope Francis. While Benedict declined the invitation, saying he wouldn’t have time to read the books, he noted “that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation.”

The Pope Emeritus praised the series as an effort to “oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation.”

While the letter remains the center of debate, it does raise an important question: what exactly is Pope Francis' theological formation?

Those who know Bergoglio well are quick to point out that he is not a “systematic theologian,” and that he cannot be called a theological expert in the academic sense of the word.

However, despite a lack of formal academic experience, biographers note that Francis has a sharp mind and an extensive knowledge of influential Catholic thinkers, especially in the Latin American context.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told CNA that the first Latin American pope cannot be identified exclusively with any particular theological movement or approach.

“People knew where John Paul II's philosophy school was, they could situation him because of his thesis, and because of his scholarly life, and the same with Benedict; Benedict could easily be located as part of a particular school,” Ivereigh said. But Bergoglio “is not a systematic theologian, so you can't really identify him with any particular school.”

However, Ivereigh, author of the authoritative English-language papal biography, “The Great Reformer,” told CNA that as a seminarian, studying at the Jesuit-run Colegio Maximo in Argentina, Bergoglio was the only student to ever get full marks in his classes.

“He was brilliant. Everybody recognized that he was intellectually brilliant from the beginning,” Ivereigh said.

Ivereigh said when Bergoglio was named seminary rector, years later, many of his students also commented that “he was incredibly widely read in literature of the world, European and Latin American, poetry, classics, the novels. He was very, very cultured in that broader sense of the word.”

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of CNA and editor of the papal biography “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” said Bergoglio was “a Jesuit of the old-school,” and as such “he definitely had that very rounded formation, with several interests,” including poetry, classical literature, and writings from the influential thinkers of the day.

However, after being placed into administrative and leadership roles at a young age, the future pope “spent a lot of time doing practical things and in a practical position” which took him away from academic endeavors.

“The truth is, he did not have enough time to get into a deep theological formation,” Bermudez said.

“I'm not saying he's a lightweight,” he said, adding that Francis “has a well-rounded theological formation for sure.”

Bergoglio was tapped as the Argentine Jesuit provincial in 1973 at the age of 36, during a tumultuous period in which the nation was led by a violent military dictatorship. In 1980 he was named rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty at San Miguel Seminary in Buenos Aires, where he taught theology and oversaw Jesuit novices until 1986. He was removed from that role when his emphasis on traditional theology and spirituality clashed with the Jesuits' then-Superior General Hans Kolvenbach.

He was sent to the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany to begin doctoral studies, which were based on the writings of German-Italian theologian Romano Guardini. However, after just a few months he was sent back to Argentina as a confessor in Cordoba.

By the time he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, he still had not finished his doctoral thesis. Bergoglio continued to ascend the ranks of Church hierarchy, taking on increasingly administrative roles that plunged him further into political and practical affairs, and farther away from his doctorate, which remains unfinished to this day.

However, according to Ivereigh, simply because Francis can't be attached to a particular theological school, “that doesn't mean that he's difficult to pin down, because actually his intellectual trajectory is very clear.”

Intellectual Influences

The Pope’s intellectual influences include several prominent 20th century thinkers.

Bergoglio was familiar with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be among the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was also familiar with Gaston Fassard, a French Jesuit priest and theologian who died in 1978, as well as other influential Jesuit thinkers of the time such as German-Polish theologian Enrich Przywara and Frenchman Henri de Lubac.

The Italian-born German priest Romano Guardini, whose theology formed the basis for the future Pope's unfinished doctoral thesis, was also influential on Bergoglio.

Guardini, who lived from 1885-1968, also influenced Pope Benedict XVI, who referenced Guardini frequently.

However, despite the frequent references to Guardini and the decision of Bergoglio to focus his thesis on Guardini's writings, Bermudez stressed the need to have caution when it comes to just how much influence Guardini had, since Bergoglio's thesis was never finished.

“We just know that he was incredibly impacted to the point that he wanted to do his doctoral thesis on him. But there is no trace of the Pope explaining himself in any kind of writing or interview or whatever about how much or how Guardini impacted him.”

Latin American Influences

Bergoglio's biographers say he was impacted especially by several prominent Latin American theologians who were influential in “teologia latinoamericana,” or Latin American theology, an approach that emphasized the Church’s closeness to ordinary people and their expressions of popular devotion.

According to Bermudez, those who had the biggest impact on Francis' thought were Jesuit Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone – who is still alive and was a professor of the young Fr. Bergoglio – as well as Argentinian Fr. Lucio Gera and Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferre, who Bermudez said was “super influential on a whole generation of Latin Americans.”

Bermudez explained that the “teologia latinoamericana” intellectuals had a clear vision for the need to develop a theology “that would line up with the idea that Latin America, as a large continent with one language and one religion, had some kind of a 'manifest destiny.'”

“These were the people who understood that Latin America had a huge contribution to make to the world of theology, considering that close to half of Catholics were living on the continent,” he said.

This approach emphasized the preferential option for the poor, and that popular piety and devotion would play a major role in unifying Latin American, and in preserving and transmitting the faith across the continent.

“That's where the Pope's preference for the importance of Marian shrines, and processions and events of massive faith comes from,” Bermudez said, explaining that because of the way in which people gathered to celebrate their faith in this “popular” way, the approach later became known as the “teologia del pueblo.”

“What is known today as the ‘teologia del pueblo’ didn't exist at that time,” Bermudez said, explaining that the “theology of the people” was a later evolution of Latin American theology,

Bermudez stressed that these ideas were different from liberation theology, which sprung up in Latin America in the 1970s, and often emphasized a Marxist interpretation of the Gospel, viewing faith through the lens of class struggle, rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

He explained that liberation theology largely rejected popular piety, believing it to be “some kind of backwards approach to religion that would keep people away from social change and structural change.”

Liberation theology was not relevant in Argentina at the time of Bergoglio's formation, Bermudez said.

When Bergoglio was being formed, Bermudez said, “there was a lot of hope in a Latin American future in which Latin America would play a huge role in the world,” he said, but noted that in the years since, “crisis and corruption and political squabbles pretty much put an end to any hope that Latin America would raise up as one single nation.”

However, the influence of the “teologia latinoamericana” can clearly be seen in Francis' words, actions and personal style, above all in his emphasis on community and solidarity, which Bermudez said stems from the belief that popular devotion “was a richness that allowed the people of Latin America to preserve and persevere in their faith.”

Another manifestation of this formation is the hope Francis has for Latin America’s role Church, since it covers such large swaths of territory, from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

“You can hardly find any other place in the planet when you can go through such a large territory and be celebrating the same faith and speaking the same language,” Bermudez said, adding that while he's not sure if Pope Francis has a specific belief in the “great future” of Latin America, he still has a tremendous hope for the continent.

Likewise, Ivereigh said this influence can be seen even from Bergoglio's time as rector of the San Miguel seminary in Buenos Aires, where he kept a strict spiritual and academic regime for the Jesuit novices, while also encouraging them to pray the rosary together and sending them out to minister in parishes on the weekends.

“His vision of the Church, I think, derives from his reading of the Spanish missionary experience in the colonial era of Latin America. He makes frequent references, particularly in Latin America, to that era,” Ivereigh said.

Bergoglio wanted the seminarians to “get out of their heads and have contact with the people; so study was important, but on weekends they were out there with the people ministering in the parishes,” which was unusual for Jesuits at the time, who typically placed a heavy emphasis on academics.

After the Second Vatican Council, Bergoglio was “very skeptical of progressive attempts to depart from core Catholic traditions,” such as, in his view, downgrading the importance of popular piety, Ivereigh said.

“He was very strong on maintaining that,” Ivereigh said, explaining that Bergoglio's approach was consistently about “going back to the original charism of the 16th century Jesuits,” which placed a strong emphasis on missionary outreach.

“He certainly didn't want to go back to the former time before the Council, but he didn't want a modernization that would dilute the Catholic tradition, and he wanted a deeper reform that returned the Jesuits to their deeper traditions.”

How his formation shapes his papacy

Both biographers noted that, while the Pope has limited formal theological training, his formation and intellect can be seen in his daily words and actions.

For Ivereigh, Francis' entire 5-year pontificate has so far been “one big lesson in what they call in Latin and Italian 'pastoralita' – it's one big lesson in how to be pastoral...putting people first, spending time with them, showing that everybody is valuable, showing that God cares about everybody.”

This is seen in Francis' homilies and travels, but also in his interaction with media and his general approachability, Ivereigh said, explaining that in his view, the Pope is constantly trying to remove “unnecessary blockages” getting in the way of reaching the people.

“Some of those blockages are the result of social and cultural change, which lead people for example to be suspicious of institutions or to see institutions as distant. But some of those blockages are also part of the Church's culture,” he said. “So the proclamation has to be simpler, humbler and more kerygmatic. That's been his big message of these last five years.”

In his view, Bermudez said the influence of Latin American theology, in particular, can be seen clearly in the Pope's continuous encouragement for priests to take on the “smell of the sheep,” as well as his ideas about how the priesthood and episcopate should be based on the “conviction that the faith of the people is very powerful.”

Since the beginning, Francis has preached the importance of popular devotions, the need for greater hope and solidarity, the importance of truth, a sense of good and evil and an emphasis on divine intervention, Bermudez said.

“All that has been influenced by this experience of the common people, your day-by-day Catholic who lives from Church feast to Church feast and experiences their faith [in this way],” he said, adding that this approach has “completely impregnated his preaching and his vision of how to live our faith.”


Update: Guilty verdict for Guam archbishop, appeal to follow

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2018 / 06:13 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced the conclusion of a year-long trial against an archbishop in Guam, stating that he has been found guilty of some charges stemming from allegations of sexual abuse of minors and has been removed from office.

A source close to the case has confirmed that the archbishop has already appealed the decision.

According to a March 16 statement from the Apostolic Tribunal of the CDF, Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 72, was found guilty of “certain” accusations and penalized with removal from the office and prohibition from residing within the Archdiocese of Guam.

The CDF did not state the charges for which the archbishop was found guilty. Sources close to the case told CNA that the archbishop was found guilty of a minority of the allegations leveled against him.

If the archbishop has been found guilty of sexual abuse of minors, the penalty leveled against him is unusual - often a cleric found guilty of such crimes would be "laicized," or removed from the clerical state, sources say.

Sources also noted that the archbishop has seemingly maintained his ecclesiastical faculties, and though restricted from residence in Guam, is apparently able to exercise ministry as a priest.

A source close to the case told CNA that the penalty is "a complete contradiction" to the sentence.

The source said that if the archbishop is guilty of sexual abuse against minors, "justice would demand the strongest possible penalty," adding "this punishment maintains the status quo."  

One expert suggested to the CNA that the five-judge panel may have been divided on the archbishop's guilt, which could explain the disparity between a guilty verdict and an unusually light sanction.

One source questioned whether pressure to quickly resolve the matter might have influenced the sentence.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura, is the case's only judge to be publicly identified.

"It is difficult to explain how such a serious-minded and competent canonist would put his name to something like this," a source close to the case said of Burke, noting questions raised about the sentence and delays in the case's adjudication. 

Apuron was relieved of his pastoral and administrative authority by Pope Francis in 2016, in the wake of the allegations, and was effectively replaced by Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, formerly of Detroit.

The canonical trial against Apuron began in October 2016, with Cardinal Burke appointed by Pope Francis as the trial’s presiding judge. Byrnes told reporters that the Vatican reached a decision on the case in October 2017, though no information regarding its outcome had yet been released.

Sources question why the CDF delayed finalizing sentences apparently completed in mid-2017. The archbishop is reported to have been notified of the court's decision only recently, and it was not made publicly known until today.

One source close to the Archdiocese of Agana in Guam questioned whether Archbishop Byrnes pushed the Vatican to release the sentence in order to resolve public concern about the matter in Guam.

However, the source questioned whether Byrnes has been appropriately advised on the matter. "Most of the people who were opposed to [Apuron] in terms of governance" have become advisers to Byrnes, the source said.

"The curial advice Byrnes is receiving is institutionally and personally opposed to Apuron."

In the early hours of March 17 on Guam, Apuron released a statement through his attorney.

"I have been informed of the conclusion of the first instance canonical trial against me. While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict. God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process," the statement read.

"Today, my prayers are with the Church in Guam, which has been suffering greatly. I pray that Santa Marian Kamalen may intercede for the healing of our island," Apuron continued.

Until appeals are resolved, “the imposed penalties are suspended until the final resolution” of the trial, according to the CDF.  

A source told CNA that the credibility of the witnesses will be a major factor of the appeal. Questions have been raised regarding connections between the witnesses, attorneys, and real estate developers on Guam.

The prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, will determine whether or not to accept the appeal, and then be responsible for appointing judges to consider it.

The most recent allegation against Apuron was made Jan. 10 by the archbishop’s nephew, Mark Apuron. He filed a lawsuit Jan. 10 claiming that his uncle raped him in a Church bathroom in 1989 or 1990. This was the fifth lawsuit to accuse the archbishop of sexual abuse of minors during his time as a pastor and bishop.

The archbishop denied the allegations in a statement Jan. 18, writing, “God is my witness: I deny all allegations of sexual abuse made against me, including this last one,” according to Guam Pacific Daily News.

In addition to this claim, Apuron also faced four other accusations from former altar boys, who charged the archbishop with abuse in the 1970s when he served as a parish priest in Agat.

The first allegations against the archbishop were made public in May 2016. Mark’s attorney, David Lujan, said that his client was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell his family about the alleged abuse until recently.

Archbishop Byrnes, who is empowered by the Vatican to oversee the Archdiocese of Agana but has not yet formally succeeded Apuron, has since implemented new child protection policies in the archdiocese, including a safe environment program that Byrnes said will “help to instigate a change of culture in our Archdiocese.”

Byrnes adopted in February 2017 the US bishops’ conference’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its essential norms on dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The Archdiocese of Agaña is currently a defendant in 96 sexual abuse lawsuits, involving Apuron, 13 priests, a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor, and a Boy Scout leader. Most of the lawsuits were filed after 2016, when Guam’s territorial legislature eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse.

CNA staff contributed to this report.

Why I Stopped Avoiding the Stations of the Cross

Why I Stopped Avoiding the Stations of the Cross

“Praying the Stations of the Cross is not for me.” Although a practicing Catholic for (mostly) my entire life, I’d always shirked the Stations of…

The post Why I Stopped Avoiding the Stations of the Cross appeared first on Busted Halo.

New book captures Pope Francis’ reflections on the Our Father

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2018 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- In commemoration of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, Penguin Random House has published a collection of the Pope’s reflections on the Our Father.

Released March 13, “Our Father: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer” focuses on issues of social justice and charity around the world, urging Christians to reflect on solidarity and forgiveness.

“I hope that in praying the Our Father, every one of us will feel ever more loved, forgiven, bathed in the dew of the Holy Spirit, and I will thus be able in turn to love and forgive every other brother, every other sister,” writes Pope Francis in the book’s introduction. “This will give us an idea of what Heaven is like.”

A majority of the book contains the text from the nine question-and-answer sessions that composed the Italian television series “Our Father,” aired by Italian television network TV2000. In the series, Pope Francis collaborated with Father Marco Pazzo, a theologian and prison chaplain in Northern Italy, to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer.

Additionally, the book contains excerpts from homilies of his general audiences and angelus addresses, with an afterword by Father Pazzo.

Each chapter breaks down one section of the Our Father. They also include reflections on topics such as hope, Mary’s fiat, the elderly, and the poor.

In the beginning of the book, Pope Francis focuses on the importance of the title of God as “Our Father.” The word “Father” is power, he writes, and shows us an intimate image of God as creator of sons and daughters and as a provider for his children.

“What I say is this: we must humble ourselves into saying ‘Daddy’ and to truly believing that God is the Father who accompanies us, forgives us, gives us bread, is attentive to all that we ask, clothes us even better than the flowers of the field.”

The book emphasizes the need for prayer and compassion for those who suffer from hunger around the world. Quoting the book of James, the Pope writes that the Gospel is not lived properly without attending to the bodily needs of those who are hungry and sick.

“Always someone is hungry and thirsty and needs me … This poor person needs me, my help, my words, my efforts, we are all in this together.”

Pope Francis also expresses the importance of the elderly, stating that their prayers are a gift to the Church. He says their prayers sustain the workers of the Church.

“The lives of the elderly and of the grandparents are prayers. They are a gift for the Church. They are a treasure!”

In December, during one of the filmed sessions for the “Our Father” series, Pope Francis garnered media attention for suggesting that part of the Our Father was “poorly translated.”

“This, ‘lead us not into temptation,’ is not a good translation. . . . It is not God who tosses me into temptation in order to see how I fall. A father does not do this. A father helps his child get up right away.”

He further clarified that God is the good father who helps his children, but it is rather Satan who leads people into temptation.

Vatican encourages youth participation in pre-synod meeting via Facebook

Vatican City, Mar 15, 2018 / 12:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the pre-synod gathering on youth approaches, Vatican organizers are inviting young people around the globe to join in the discussion through Facebook groups in six different languages.

The 2018 Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment will take place this October, but a pre-synod meeting with 315 young people from around the world will take place in Rome from March 19-24.

“With this path the Church wishes to listen to the voices, feelings, faith and even the doubts and critiques of the youth,” Pope Francis said in announcing the pre-synod event.

The goal is to hear from youth worldwide about their lives, situations and challenges, in order to prepare for the gathering of bishops on the topic this fall.

For those unable to attend the pre-synod meeting, Facebook groups have been set up in six languages for Catholics to share their views. The Facebook groups, which were opened about a month ago, will close on March 16.

All young adults ages 16-29 are invited to virtually participate in the pre-synod meeting. After being accepted into the Facebook group, people will have an opportunity to answers questions which will be summarized and presented to the Holy Father.

To participate, members must have an individual profile, not a page representing an organization, group, or cause. The answers to the questions must also be limited to 200 words or a one-minute video sent to WhatsApp at (+39 342 601 5596).

One question discusses “the vocational sense of life,” asking, “Is there a clear understanding in younger generations of their having a personal call and specific mission in the world?”

On Monday, the pre-synod meeting in Rome will begin with a question-and-answer session with Pope Francis. Then participants will break into groups to discuss a variety of themes, like volunteer work, technology, and politics.

At the end of the gathering, notes of the various discussions will be gathered into one comprehensive concluding document, which will be presented to Pope Francis and used as part of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document,” of the October synod.

The March event will also include opportunities for prayer, such as praying the Way of the Cross while touring the Roman catacombs of San Callisto, as well as entertainment. Palm Sunday Mass will conclude the week, celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square.

The focus of the event is divided into three parts: youth in the world, vocational discernment, and pastoral action.

Youth in the world will focus on defining who the younger generations are and what the culture is around them. The gathering will also discuss the choices the youth have made.

Second, the pre-synod meeting will consider how young adults respond to faith and vocations. It will analyze different vocational paths, the gifts of discernment, and how the Church may best accompany young adults.

Third, it hopes to encourage an inclusive pastoral environment where young people are responsibly involved in the community. It will explore possible tools and places, physical and digital, to aid the faith life of young people.

“This is a step the Church is making to listen to all youth,” said Stella Marilene Nishimwe, a young Burundi woman living in Italy who will be a participant to the pre-synod gathering.

“It will give us an opportunity to say everything that we think. This is an opportunity that we must really take.”


Pope Francis to visit towns where Padre Pio lived and died

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2018 / 07:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday, Pope Francis will make a short trip to the Italian towns of Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, the places where St. Padre Pio was born and lived his life, and where his work continues today in the form of the hospital he founded.

Pope Francis’ brief March 17 visit marks the year of the 50th anniversary of St. Padre Pio’s death, and the 100th year of the appearance of the saint’s visible stigmata.

Two highlights of the Pope’s visit will be his stops to pray at the tomb of Padre Pio and to see the young patients of the pediatric oncology ward of Padre Pio’s hospital, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza in San Giovanni Rotondo.

Giulio Siena, who is the communications director of the hospital and a member of the planning committee for Francis’ visit, told CNA that meeting with the children at the hospital was the Pope’s main request.

Francis’ “first thought was for the children – for the children with tumors, with cancer, with leukemia,” Siena said. “He said: ‘I want to greet the children, then there is Mass.’”

After the papal helicopter lands in San Giovanni Rotondo, Francis will be driven by car to the hospital, where he will greet and bless the sick gathered outside. From there he will meet privately with the hospital’s young patients.

“To lift up who is suffering, to listen to the cry of innocent pain, this [is what] the Holy Father will do visiting the children of our oncology pediatrics,” said Archbishop Michele Castoro, the president of the hospital.

“The sensibility of the Pope for the existential peripheries, his dream of a church as a ‘field hospital,’ a church that cares and binds wounds, is found in the work of Padre Pio,” he wrote in La Casa, the magazine of the hospital’s foundation.

Castoro said the hospital anxiously awaits the words of the Holy Father, which have always tasted of the “candor and perennial newness of the Gospel, the strength and power of the Name of Jesus.”

As Archbishop of Manfredonia-Vieste-San Giovanni Rotondo, he is the president of the hospital, one of just two belonging to the Vatican. The Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza was given to the Holy See by Padre Pio in 1957, soon after its launch.

After the hospital visit, Pope Francis will visit the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a large church built in the late 1950s to supplement the smaller original chapel of the Capuchin friars, in which Padre Pio spent hours hearing confessions and preaching.

Padre Pio’s body lies in the crypt of the newer church, which was visited by Pope St. John Paul II in 1987 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Francis will also venerate the Crucifix of the Stigmata. This is the crucifix which Padre Pio was praying before on Sept. 20, 1918, when he received the visible stigmata, bleeding wounds corresponding to the five wounds Christ received at his crucifixion.

Pope Francis will then celebrate Mass in the Church of Padre Pio, a more modern building completed in 2004, which can hold 6,500 Mass-goers.  

After Mass he will greet Archbishop Castoro, other authorities, and a group of local Catholics, before returning to Rome by helicopter.

Before he lands in San Giovanni Rotondo, the Pope will also stop at the birthplace of Padre Pio: the small town of Pietrelcina. There he will pray at the Chapel of St. Francis, which is in front of “the elm of the stigmata,” a tree which Padre Pio would pray beneath.

He will also meet with local Catholics, and deliver a speech in the square outside the town’s “Liturgical Hall.” He will then greet the community of Capuchin friars.


Vatican office altered photo of Benedict's comments on Francis

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2018 / 01:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Vatican office has acknowledged blurring portions of a letter written by Benedict XVI regarding Pope Francis' philosophical and theological formation, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The Secretariat for Communications released the photo March 12 along with a press release announcing a “personal letter of Benedict XVI on his continuity with the pontificate of Pope Francis.”

Altered photo of a letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, released March 12 by Vatican Secretariat of Communications. Credit: Vatican Media


The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote March 14 that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

Winfield added that “The Vatican admitted Thursday [sic] that it blurred the two final lines of the first page … The Vatican didn’t explain why it blurred the lines other than to say it never intended for the full letter to be released. In fact, the entire second page of the letter is covered in the photo by a stack of books, with just Benedict’s tiny signature showing, to prove its authenticity.”

The full text of the letter was published March 13 by Sandro Magister, an Italian journalist who has long followed the Vatican.

The text shows that Benedict's letter, dated Feb. 7, was written to acknowledge receipt of the gift of a series of 11 volumes on “The Theology of Pope Francis,” and to respond to a request that the Pope Emeritus write a theological reflection on the books.

The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the Secretariat.

“I applaud this initiative which is intended to oppose and react to the foolish prejudice according to which Pope Francis would be only a practical man devoid of particular theological or philosophical formation, while I would be solely a theoretician of theology who could understand little of the concrete life of a Christian today,” Benedict wrote.

“The little volumes demonstrate, rightly so, that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation, and they therefore help in seeing the interior continuity between the two pontificates, albeit with all the differences of style and temperament.”

The Pope Emeritus then added, “Nonetheless, I do not feel that I can write a brief and dense theological page about them because for my whole life it has always been clear that I would write and express myself only on books that I had also truly read. Unfortunately, even if only for physical reasons, I am not able to read the eleven little volumes in the near future, all the more so in that I am under other obligations to which I have already agreed. I am sure that you will understand, and I extend to you my cordial greeting.”

Though it was written in early February, the letter was not released by the Secretariat for Communications until mid-March when the book series was released, on the eve of the anniversary of Pope Francis' election as Bishop of Rome.

The secretariat's press release quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but did not include Benedict's admission that he has not read them in full.

The letter was presented at a press conference announcing the series of booklets on Pope Francis' theology.

The prefect of the communications secretariat, Monsignor Dario Viganò, read portions of Benedict's letter at the press conference, “including the lines that were blurred out”, the AP reports. The portion of the letter which was blurred out is the beginning of Benedict's explanation that he has not in fact read all the volumes which were sent him.

Msgr. Viganò, who was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan, has been prefect of the Secretariat for Communications since that office was established in June 2015.

The secretariat was formed as part of Pope Francis' reform of the Roman Curia, and is meant to consolidate the Vatican's media arms and to increase their presence among digital platforms.

The secretariat oversees all of the Vatican’s communications offices, including Vatican Radio, L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican Television Center, the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Internet Service, the Vatican Typography office, the Vatican's Photography Service, and Libreria Editrice Vaticana.


Pope: In praying the Our Father, do you know to whom you’re talking?

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2018 / 06:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of the recitation of the Our Father at Mass, asking if when we pray it, we understand whom we are praying to and the relationship we are called to have with him.

“How many times there are people who say, ‘Our Father,’ but do not know what they say!” the Pope said March 14.

“Do you feel that when you say ‘Father,’ that he is the Father, your Father, the Father of humanity, the Father of Jesus Christ?” he asked. “Do you have a relationship with this Father?”

When we pray this prayer, we are connecting with a loving Father, he continued, explaining that it is the Holy Spirit which gives us this connection with him, the feeling of being God’s child.

What better prayer can there be for giving us sacramental Communion with God, he asked, than the one taught by his son, Jesus?

Pope Francis continued his general audience catechesis on the part of the Mass called the Rite of Communion, which begins with the recitation of the ‘Our Father,’ followed by the sign of peace, the breaking of the host by the priest, and the invocation of the “Agnus Dei,” or “Lamb of God.”

In particular, the Pope noted the appropriateness of the Lord’s Prayer as a preparation for receiving Holy Communion, because in the prayer we pledge our forgiveness of others and ask God to forgive our own sins.

This request opens our hearts to God, but “also disposes us to fraternal love,” he said, noting that this is not always an easy thing to say.

“It's not easy to forgive those who have hurt us. It’s a grace to say: Forgive me as I have forgiven [others]... it’s a grace...” the Pope said. “The Lord gives us peace, he also gives us the grace to forgive.”

“The peace of Christ cannot take root in a heart incapable of living fraternity and of repairing it after having wounded it,” he said.

In the prayer we also ask God to “deliver us from evil,” which is another cause of separation between us and God, and us and our brothers and sisters, he continued. Each of these “are very suitable requests to prepare us for Holy Communion.”

He also pointed to the line where we ask God to “give us our daily bread,” which is something “we need to live as children of God.”

After the ‘Our Father,’ we exchange the sign of peace with those around us, a concrete sign expressing “ecclesial communion and mutual love,” Francis said, quoting from the Roman Missal.

He also emphasized that this peace is Christ’s gift to us – a different peace from that offered by the world, it helps the Church to grow in unity and peace “according to his will.”

Next in the Mass, the priest breaks the host, which has already been consecrated and transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and places it in the chalice. This is accompanied by our prayer to the “Lamb of God.”

“In the Eucharistic Bread, broken for the life of the world, the prayerful assembly recognizes the true Lamb of God, that is Christ the Redeemer, and begs him: ‘Have mercy on us… give us peace,’” the Pope said.

“‘Have mercy on us,’ ‘give us peace,’” he continued, “are invocations that, from the prayer of the Our Father to the breaking of the Bread, help us to dispose our mind to participate in the Eucharistic banquet, a source of communion with God and with our brothers.”

He concluded by asking everyone to pray the Our Father together, each “in their own language.”

In his speech, the Pope did not mention the line of the Our Father which says in English, “lead us not into temptation.”

In an interview he gave in December 2017, Francis said that he believes the Italian translation of this line, which says, “non ci indurre in tentazione,” is incorrect, because God does not actively lead us into temptation.

He also praised in the interview a new translation of this line by the French bishops’ conference, which says “et ne nous laisse pas entrer in tentation” – “let us not enter into temptation.” It replaces the previous translation “ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” – “do not submit us to temptation.”

Coming Together to Serve: How to Create a Volunteer Service Experience with Friends

Coming Together to Serve: How to Create a Volunteer Service Experience with Friends

I’ve just returned from an Alternative Spring Break trip in the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky. This is my eighth year serving as a mentor…

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