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Pope Francis appoints new head of Vatican’s interreligious dialogue

Vatican City, May 25, 2019 / 08:28 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appointed Spanish Bishop Miguel Ayuso Guixot Saturday as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Guixot succeeds Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, who led the Vatican dicastery for over ten years until his death in July 2018.

As a priest in the Comboni Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Guixot served as a missionary in Egypt and Sudan. He has degrees in Arabic and Islamic studies, in addition to a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the University of Granada.

Guixot, 66, served as the dean of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Rome until Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 2012.

In 2016 Pope Francis consecrated Guixot as a bishop, assigning him the titular see of Luperciana. Originally from Seville, Guixot, speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian, in addition to Spanish.

Interreligious dialogue has been a focus of Pope Francis’ pastoral visits in 2019. His trips to the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Bulgaria all included interreligious meetings.

In Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis signed a joint-statement on human fraternity with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, which he called “a new page in the history of dialogue between Christianity and Islam.”

Pope Francis: 'Abortion is never the answer'

Vatican City, May 25, 2019 / 06:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Saturday that abortion is never the answer to difficult prenatal diagnoses, calling selective abortion of the disabled the “expression of an inhuman eugenics mentality.”

“Fear and hostility towards disability often lead to the choice of abortion, configuring it as a practice of ‘prevention,’” Pope Francis said May 25.

“But the Church's teaching on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective purposes must be strongly discouraged because it is the expression of an inhuman eugenics mentality, which removes the possibility for families to accept, embrace and love their weakest children,” he said.

The pope addressed a Vatican conference on perinatal hospice highlighting medical care and ministries that support families who have received a prenatal diagnosis indicating that their baby will likely die before or just after birth.

“Yes to Life: Caring for the precious gift of life in its frailness,” a conference organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life May 23-25 brought together medical professionals, bioethicists, ministry providers, and families from 70 countries to discuss how best to provide medical, psychological, and emotional support for parents expecting a child with a life-limiting illness.

“Sometimes people ask me, what does perinatal hospice look like? And I answer, ‘It looks like love,’” author and mother Amy Kuebelbeck shared at the conference.

Kuelbeck was 25 weeks pregnant when she received the diagnosis that her unborn son had an incurable heart defect. She carried her pregnancy to term and had a little more than 2 hours with her son, Gabriel, before he died after birth.

“It was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Kuelbeck said. She wrote a memoir of her experience of grief, loss, and love called “Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby's Brief Life.”

“I know that some people assume that continuing a pregnancy with a baby who will die is all for nothing.  But it isn’t all for nothing.  Parents can wait with their baby, protect their baby, and love their baby for as long as that baby is able to live.  They can give that baby a peaceful life – and a peaceful goodbye. That’s not nothing. That is a gift,” Kuelbeck wrote in “Waiting with Gabriel.”

Dr. Byron Calhoun, a medical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who first coined the term “perinatal hospice” spoke at the conference. His research has found that allowing parents of newborns with a terminal prenatal diagnosis the chance to be parents can result in less distress for the mother than pregnancy termination.

Many families facing these diagnoses have to decide if they will seek extraordinary or disproportionate medical care for their child after birth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.”

Ministries like Alexandra’s House, a perinatal hospice in Kansas City, provide counsel and grief support to parents as they face these difficult medical decisions. They also connect families with a network of other parents who have had a terminal prenatal diagnosis. “Most of the families stay in contact indefinitely,” said MaryCarroll Sullivan, nurse and bioethics advisor for the ministry.

There are now more than 300 hospitals, hospices, and ministries providing perinatal palliative care around the world.

Sister Giustina Olha Holubets, a geneticist at the University of Lviv, helped to found “Imprint of Life” a perinatal palliative care center in Ukraine that offers grief accompaniment, individualized birth plans, the sacrament of baptism, and burial, as well as respectful photos, footprints, and memory books to help families cherish their brief moments with their child.

The motto of Imprint of Life is “I cannot give more days to your life, but I can give more life to your days.”

Pope Francis met with Sister Giustina and other perinatal hospice providers in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on the last day of the conference.

The pope thanked them for creating “networks of love” to which couples can turn to receive accompaniment with the undeniable practical, human, and spiritual difficulties they face.

“Your testimony of love is a gift to the world,” he said.

“Taking care of these children helps parents to mourn and to think of this not only as a loss, but as a step in a journey together. That child will stay in their life forever, and they will have been able to love him,” Pope Francis said.

“Those few hours in which a mother can lull her child can leave a mark on the heart of that woman that she will never forget,” he said.

Do sports, make friends, Pope says

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- In an address at a gathering of 6,000 young Italian soccer fans Friday, Pope Francis encouraged the sports enthusiasts to play sports in order to build friendships and teamwork, as an alternative to surface-level friendships made through technology.

“Sport is a great opportunity to learn to give the best of yourself, with sacrifice and commitment, but above all, not alone,” the Pope said May 24. “Listen carefully: sport, not alone.”

The event, entitled “The Football We Love,” was sponsored by local sports newspaper “La Gazzetta dello Sport” in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, University and Research, the Italian Football Federation, and the Serie A League.

“We live in a time when, thanks to the massive presence of new technologies, it is easy to isolate oneself, to create virtual bonds with many people, but at a distance,” the Holy Father told the children.

“The great thing about playing with a ball is being able to do it together with others, passing it in the middle of a field, learning to build the action of a game, joining together as a team...The ball becomes a means of inviting real people to share friendship,” he said.

“Dear friends: football is a team game: you can’t enjoy it alone!” he added.

European football, called soccer in the United States, is the most popular sport in Italy. The nation’s professional team has won the FIFA World Cup four times.

After addressing the children, Pope Francis also spoke to their parents. He encouraged them to help make sports a growing and learning opportunity for their children, who should be encouraged to do their best rather than to always win, he said.

He told parents to encourage their children “in difficult times, especially after a defeat ... And to help them understand that being on the bench is not a humiliation, but an opportunity to grow and an opportunity for another person.”

To the coaches and professional athletes present, Pope Francis reminded them to serve as good role models for the young athletes that look up to them.

“Everything you say and do, and the way in which you say and do it, is a lesson for your athletes, and as such will leave an indelible mark on their life, for better or for worse”, the Pope told coaches.

To the professional athletes, he said: “Do not forget where you started from: in that field in the outskirts of town, in that oratory, in that small club...I hope you will always feel gratitude for your history made up of sacrifices, victories and defeats. And may you also be aware of your educational responsibility, shown through consistency in life and solidarity with the weakest, encouraging the youngest to become great inside and maybe even champions in life.”

Pope Francis is a well-known football fan himself. His favorite team is San Lorenzo de Almagro, one of the most important teams in Argentina, and the Pope still keeps his associate membership card for the team.

He also played soccer as a child, but he has said in interviews that he was only a “patadura” - someone not very good at kicking the ball.

When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he celebrated Mass for the 100th anniversary of the San Lorenzo de Almagro sports club in 2008.

Pope Francis urges Catholics to help children by supporting adoption

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 10:39 am (CNA).- Adoption is often a difficult and bureaucratic process, but there are many children who need homes and the Church should step up to help them, Pope Francis said Friday.

Speaking May 24 to employees and patients of an Italian hospital for abandoned children, he said, “so many times there are people who want to adopt children, but there is such enormous bureaucracy,” such as high fees or, at worst, corruption.

“[There are] many, many families who do not have children and would certainly have the desire to have one with adoption,” he continued. “Go forward, to create a culture of adoption, because there are so many abandoned children, alone, victims of war and so on.”

Pope Francis spoke about adoption in unprepared remarks during a Vatican meeting with 70 employees and children from the 600-year-old Hospital of the Innocents in Florence.

In both his casual remarks and a prepared speech, the pope referenced a past practice of some mothers when they abandoned a child at a hospital. They would leave with their newborns “medals broken in half, with which they hoped, by presenting the other half, to be able to recognize their children in better times.”

Today there continue to be many children who are alone, he added, whether victims of unaccompanied migration, of war, of hunger: “Children with half a medal.”

“And who has the other half? Mother Church,” he underlined. “We have the other half.”

“We need to reflect and make people understand that we are responsible for this other half and help make today another ‘home of the innocents,’ more global, with the attitude of adoption.”

Francis also said there must be a goal, at various levels of responsibility, of ensuring “no mother finds herself in a position of having to abandon her child.”

“But we must also ensure that in the face of any event, even tragic, that may detach a child from her parents, there are structures and paths of welcome in which childhood is always protected and cared for, in the only way worthy: giving children the best we can offer them,” he said.

The pope said children are among the most fragile members of society, such as those who are rejected, or who face “desperate journeys to escape hunger or war.”

Speaking about abortion, he said there are “children who do not see the light because their mothers suffer economic, social, cultural conditioning that pushes them to give up that wonderful gift that is the birth of a child.”

“How much we need a culture that recognizes the value of life, especially the weak, threatened, abused,” he said, adding that the Church should be concerned with creating a culture of care and beauty, not exclusion.

“A culture,” he argued, “that recognizes in every face, even the smallest, the face of Jesus: ‘Whoever welcomes one child like this in my name, welcomes me.’”

Former airline pilot appointed to lead diocese of Saginaw, MI

Vatican City, May 24, 2019 / 04:53 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Friday named Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota, the next bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan.

In Saginaw, Gruss succeeds Bishop Joseph Robert Cistone, who died Oct. 16, 2018 at the age of 69, after a battle with lung cancer. Bishop Walter A. Hurley, bishop emeritus of Grand Rapids, has overseen the administration of the diocese since Cistone’s death.

Gruss, 63, was bishop of Rapid City since 2011, where he led 25,000 Catholics across an area of around 43,000 square miles. In March 2019, the bishop announced the diocese would be celebrating a “Year of the Eucharist” beginning June 23.

A native of Arkansas, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa in 1994, after a career as a commercial airline pilot and aviation instructor.

During his seminary formation, Gruss was a student at the Pontifical North American College in Rome (PNAC), studying sacred theology. He also received a master’s degree in spiritual theology.

He was the vice rector and director of human formation at the PNAC from 2007 to 2010, before returning to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa.

In 2017, as the bishop of Rapid City, Gruss opened the cause for canonization of Nicholas Black Elk, a Lakota medicine man turned Catholic catechist who died in 1950.

If Black Elk is canonized, he will be the first official saint from the Diocese of Rapid City, according to his biography on the diocese website.

“From a very young age, there was an openness to the Spirit of God in his life,” Gruss said about Black Elk at the Mass for the opening of his cause. “God used a personal invitation from a Jesuit priest to lead this child of God, Black Elk, down a new path to becoming this great disciple in the Catholic faith for the Lakota people.”

Gruss’ installation Mass is set for July 26 in Saginaw.

The Diocese of Saginaw spans 11 counties and 6,955 square miles in mid-Michigan, and has around 100,000 Catholics.

The Holy Spirit came as fire, not a schedule, Pope Francis tells Catholic charity

Vatican City, May 23, 2019 / 11:05 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Thursday condemned an exaggerated focus on plans and agendas which do not leave room for the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit.

He cautioned against “those particular churches, those who do so much in the organization, plans, to have everything clear, all distributed.”

“It makes me suffer,” he said May 23, at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the opening of the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis.

In his homily, Francis warned against “the temptation of efficiency,” which he said causes people to think everything in the Church is going well as long as it is under control, “without shocks,” and “agenda always in order.”

“But the Lord does not proceed like this; in fact, to his followers he does not send an answer, he sends the Holy Spirit,” he underlined. “And the Spirit does not come bearing an agenda, it comes as fire.”

The pope also said that “Jesus does not want the Church to be a perfect model, which is pleased with its own organization and is capable of defending its good name.”

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of over 160 Caritas organizations around the world. There are 450 delegates attending the general assembly, which takes place every four years, and is running in Rome May 23-28.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, Philippines, is president of Caritas Internationalis. He told journalists May 23 that this general assembly has a record number of attendees, which he attributed, in part, to “the Francis effect.”

In his homily, Pope Francis urged the group of Caritas delegates to remember to listen to the small and the least, through whom Christ is revealed.

“It is always important to listen to everyone's voice, especially the little ones and the least,” he said, adding that, “in the world, those who have more means speak more, but between us it cannot be like this, because God loves to reveal himself through the small and the least. And he asks everyone not to look down on anyone from the top.”

The pope also reflected on the day's first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. He explained that it tells of a great meeting in the history of the Church, when pagans were converting to the Christian faith, and the disciples were deciding if the pagan converts needed to follow the same norms of the ancient law as the others.

“It was a difficult decision to make,” Francis said, since Jesus had since ascended into Heaven, and he was no longer there among them to question directly about how to proceed.

From this passage, the pope said, “we learn three essential elements for the Church on its way: the humility of listening, the charism of the whole, the courage of renunciation.”

Investigative authority continues to fight misuse of Vatican financial entities

Vatican City, May 22, 2019 / 11:49 am (CNA).- The Vatican's Financial Information Authority said in their annual report Tuesday that they continue to catch cases of fraud involving the city state's financial institutions, including a case of money laundering.

The report, presented to journalists March 21, showed that there were 56 Suspicious Activity Reports filed with the AIF in 2018, down from 150 in 2017.

SARs filed over the last three years have led the AIF to investigate cases of money laundering and financial fraud within Vatican financial entities.

Among these appears to be the case of Argentine Msgr. Patrizio Benvenuti, who was arrested and charged with financial fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering in 2016.

Sums worth around 9 million euros were seized from Benvenuti’s non-profit organization, Kepha Invest. It is believed he defrauded some 300 people out of around 30 million euros ($33.5 million).

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to supervise the Vatican’s financial activity and prevent and counter money laundering. It investigates suspicious activity and then passes the information on to the competent authorities for prosecution.

The competent authority may be a foreign state or the Vatican’s Office of the Promoter of Justice.

Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and any non-profit organizations which have registered offices in the Vatican City State fall under the supervision of the AIF, which may take measures to counter and prevent money laundering and terrorism financing as well as undertake “prudential supervision” of financial activities.

The AIF also monitors and reviews actions carried out by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, which oversees the Vatican’s real estate holdings, and the Institute for Religious Works, which is commonly called “the Vatican bank,” though a misnomer.

During 2018, the AIF referred 11 cases to the Office of the Promoter of Justice. The report gave limited to no information on the conclusion of those cases. The report gave four example cases from the last three years, the investigations of which were completed in 2018, but without identifying information.

One of the examples given likely refers to the case of Angelo Proietti, who was convicted by a Vatican court in December 2018 of money laundering and sentenced to two years and six months in prison. The conviction is currently under appeal. This was the Vatican tribunal’s first conviction for money laundering.

Another example likely refers to the case against Angelo Caloia, president of the IOR from 1989-2009, and his lawyer, Gabriele Liuzzo, who were indicted March 5, 2018, on accusations of having embezzled money from Vatican real estate sales during the years 2001-2008.

The report also lists the AIF’s uncovering of a fraudulent “branch” of the IOR in Spain. The alleged non-profit organization presented itself as a canon law foundation, like the IOR is, and used the name of the Vatican institution to elicit donations. The head of the network was also falsely posing as a diplomat.

According to the report, the AIF collaborated with the Financial Intelligence Unit in Spain and “the beneficial owners of the company were arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy, and sums of money and valuables, including firearms, were seized.”

Also, in 2018, the AIF exchanged information with counterpart authorities in foreign jurisdictions in 488 cases, and signed eight new “Memoranda of Understanding,” meaning it now has agreements with financial intelligence units and supervisory authorities in 57 countries.

René Bruelhart, president of the AIF, told journalists May 21, “if we look back in 2018, I think it has been a very positive and also encouraging year."

While he said challenges still exist, now they have the systems in place to tackle them. “At this point, I think a fully functioning system has been implemented and achieved,” he said. “The path we are walking on has become a well paved one... and we continue moving forward.”

Pope Francis prays for China invoking Mary Help of Christians

Vatican City, May 22, 2019 / 03:56 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Wednesday asked Our Lady Help of Christians to intercede for Chinese Catholics, whom he said continue to believe and hope amid trials.

“Dear faithful in China, our Heavenly Mother will help you all to be witnesses of charity and fraternity, keeping you always united in the communion of the universal Church,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square May 22 following his weekly Wednesday audience.

The pope expressed his closeness and affection for all Catholics in China ahead of Friday’s feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, a Marian devotion particularly venerated in Shanghai’s Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan.

Pope Benedict XVI established the custom of praying for China on the Marian feast in 2007, and composed a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan for the occasion.

This year Pope Francis’ prayer for unity with Chinese Catholics has added significance following the signing of a provisional agreement between Beijing and the Holy See in September 2018.

While the terms of the Sino-Vatican agreement have not been made public, Vatican officials have said that the pact was intended to unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Chinese Communist Party government has continued to persecute Chinese Catholics and other religious believers following the agreement by demolishing Marian shrines and forbidding religious practice for anyone under the age of 18.

Pope Francis offered his blessing for Catholics in China, whom he said “continue to believe, hope, and love” amid “daily labors and trials.”

The pope concluded Wednesday the weekly catechesis he has provided on the Our Father prayer since 2018. He said that the Gospels describe how Jesus lived out the Our Father prayer throughout his life.

“For example, on the night of Gethsemane Jesus prays in this way, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will,’” he said.

“How can we fail to recognize in this prayer, however brief, a trace of the Our Father?” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis said that the Holy Spirit is at the center of Christian prayer found in the New Testament.

“The Holy Spirit makes us capable of praying as children of God,” he said. 

“A Christian can pray in every situation,” Pope Francis said. “And to the Father we never cease to tell of our brothers and sisters in humanity, because none of them, especially the poor, remain without a consolation and a portion of love.”

Pope Francis: Bishops who do not know their priests weaken the Church

Vatican City, May 21, 2019 / 04:08 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Monday that each bishop has a duty to have a strong, close relationship with his priests with a firm warning that episcopal aloofness and favoritism weakens the mission of the Church.

“The relationship between us bishops and our priests is, unquestionably, one of the most vital issues in the life of the Church, it is the backbone on which the diocesan community is based,” Pope Francis told Italian bishops gathered at the Vatican for their annual meeting May 20-23.

“Unfortunately, some bishops are struggling to establish acceptable relationships with their priests, thus risking the ruin of their mission and even weakening the mission of the Church itself,” he said.

Pope Francis said that bishops need to understand that at this time many priests feel continually under attack because of the crimes of others in the priesthood, and they need encouragement during this difficult time.

“This requires, first of all, closeness to our priests, who need to find the bishop's door and his heart always open,” he said.

The pope warned the Italian bishops that hierarchical communion “collapses when it is infected by any form of personal power or self-gratification,” but in turn is strengthened by “a spirit of total abandonment and service to the people of God.”

Francis also stressed that bishops must not “fall into the temptation to approach only the sympathetic priests or flatterers” or to “hand over all responsibilities to available priests or ‘climbers.’”

In addition to the importance of the relationship between bishops and priests, Pope Francis outlined two other priorities for the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI) assembly taking place in the Vatican’s synod hall this week: synodality and the implementation of a more streamlined annulment process announced in 2015.

“The success of the reform necessarily passes through a conversion of structures and people; and therefore we do not allow the economic interests of some lawyers or the fear of losing the power of some judicial vicars to hold back or delay the reform,” he said.

The pope concluded his speech by calling on the bishops to be a spiritual father to each of their priests by taking an interest and finding time to listen to everyone, so that each priest feels valued and encouraged by his bishop.

“If a bishop receives the call of a priest, answer within the day, at most the next day, so that that priest will know that he has a father,” Pope Francis recommended.

“The solid relationship between the Bishop and his priests is based on the unconditional love witnessed by Jesus on the cross, which represents the only real rule of behavior for bishops and priests,” Pope Francis said. “It is also based on mutual respect that manifests fidelity to Christ, love for the Church, adherence to the Good News.”

French bishops’ conference to hear testimonies from children of priests

Vatican City, May 20, 2019 / 11:19 am (CNA).- French bishops will meet with the children of priests in June to hear their testimonies of hidden suffering.

Monsignor Olivier Ribadeu Dumas, secretary of the French bishops’ conference, confirmed that three members of the French association Children of Silence will share their stories June 13 at the Bishops Conference of France headquarters in Paris, Le Monde reported.

The president of Children of Silence, Anne-Marie Jarzac, called the June meeting a welcome step. Jarzac met previously with Msgr. Dumas and Father Emmanuel Coquet in February in preparation for the June testimony.

“It was a very moving moment,” Jarzac told Le Monde. “For the first time, we felt that the Church opened its doors to us, that there was no more denial, but a listening and an awareness of what we have lived.”

Jarzac is the daughter of a priest and a nun. She leads the French association for children of priests with more than 50 members.

In February 2019, the Vatican confirmed the existence of an internal document from the Congregation of Clergy outlining criteria on the protection of children of priests. “Notes concerning the practice of the Congregation for the Clergy with regard to clerics with children” is a template document used to aid individual bishops dealing with these cases.

In many cases involving priestly paternity, priests either request dispensation or are dismissed from the clerical state because of the parental responsibility and obligation owed to the child.

“Each case is examined on its merits and its own particular circumstances,” Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, told L'Osservatore Romano in an interview Feb. 27. Stella also noted that exceptions to the loss of the clerical state are rare.

“The child’s well-being and care of the child must be at the centre of attention for the Church, so that the child does not lack, not only the necessities of life, but especially the educative role and the affection of a father,” Cardinal Stella said.

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy also responded to claims that the existence of children of priests somehow undermines the value of priestly celibacy in the Church.

“The fact that some priests have experienced relationships and have brought children into the world does not affect the theme of priestly celibacy, which represents a precious gift for the Latin church, the ever-present value of which has been expressed by the recent Popes, from St. Paul VI to Pope Francis,” he said.