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Pope Francis recognizes martyrdom of Lebanese priests killed under Ottoman Empire

Vatican City, Oct 28, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis Wednesday advanced the sainthood causes of nine men and women, including two Lebanese priests martyred under the Ottoman Empire.

Fr. Leonard Melki and Fr. Thomas Saleh were Capuchin friars and missionaries in what is now Turkey who were arrested, tortured, and martyred by the forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1917 respectively. 

Melki was given a choice: convert to Islam and be freed, or die as a Christian. Refusing to apostatize, the Lebanese priest was forced to march with more than 400 Christian prisoners into the desert, where he was killed “in hatred of the faith” on June 11, 1915, alongside the Armenian Catholic archbishop Blessed Ignatius Maloyan, who was beatified by John Paul II in 2001.

Saleh was arrested and sentenced to death after giving shelter to an Armenian priest during the Armenian genocide. Before his death, he said: “I have full trust in God, I am not afraid of death,” according to the Capuchin Order in Lebanon.

Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of Melki and Saleh on Oct. 28, as well as that of two other martyrs: Fr. Luigi Lenzini, who was killed in Italy in 1945, and Brazilian Isabel Cristina Mrad Campos, who was murdered in 1982 at the age of 20 for resisting rape.

Following a meeting with Cardinal-elect Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope also approved miracles attributed to three founders of religious orders. 

Blessed Fr. Giustino Maria Russolillo (1891-1955) can now be canonized after the pope approved a second miracle attributed to his intercession, involving the healing in 2016 of a religious with serious respiratory damage belonging to the order he founded in Naples, according to Vatican News.

Russolillo was a parish priest in Naples who was highly regarded as a spiritual director and preacher. He founded the Society of Divine Vocations, also known as the Vocationist Fathers, and the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Vocations.

Pope Francis also approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of a blind Polish nun, Venerable Róża Maria Czacka (1976-1961). 

Czacka suffered from eye problems at an early age and completely lost her sight at the age of 22. She devoted her life to helping other people who were blind, founding an educational facility for the blind in Warsaw in 1909. 

This work led her to find her religious calling, and in 1918 she founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters, Servants of the Cross, dedicated to serving the blind. 

Another founder who can now be beatified is Venerable Maria Lorenza Requenses in Longo, a 15th-century Spanish noblewoman who founded the Hospital of the Incurables in Naples and a monastery of Capuchin nuns after she was widowed.

With the decree from the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, the pope also recognized the heroic virtue of Brazilian Brother Roberto Giovanni (1903-1994) of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata, who dedicated his long life to serving the poor and the sick, and the heroic virtue of Maria Teresa of the Heart of Jesus (1844-1908), co-founder of the Handmaids of the Divine Heart of Jesus in Spain.

Pope Francis bestows pallium on new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem

Vatican City, Oct 28, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis on Wednesday bestowed the pallium on the newly appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The pope gave the pallium to Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa Oct. 28 during morning Mass in the chapel of the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence.

Pallia are white woolen vestments adorned with six black silk crosses given to metropolitan archbishops. They symbolize the metropolitan bishop’s authority and unity with the Holy See.

Pizzaballa was named the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem by Pope Francis Oct. 24. The Italian archbishop had served as apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem since 2016.

The appointment of the 55-year-old Franciscan friar ended a four-year wait for a new patriarch for the estimated 293,000 Latin Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Cyprus.

Pizzaballa has lived in the Holy Land since 1990. The former Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land succeeds Jordanian-born Patriarch Emeritus Fouad Twal, who led the patriarchate from 2008 to 2016.

Pizzaballa speaks Italian, Hebrew, and English. The appointment of a non-Arab to the seat prompted mixed reactions, according to Arab News.

The new patriarch said in a message to local Catholics that he knew there would be challenging moments ahead.

“I am sure that together we will be able to look to tomorrow with confidence, as it has been until now,” he said.

The pallium Pizzaballa received was blessed by Pope Francis at a Mass for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul June 29. The Benedictine Sisters of St. Cecilia in Trastevere weave the wool they are made from. 

Formerly, the new metropolitan bishops would be invested with the pallia by the pope at the same June 29 Mass, but in 2015 Francis changed this policy to have the bishops be invested with the pallia in their new diocese by the local apostolic nuncio.

The title of “metropolitan bishop” refers to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis, which is the primary city of an ecclesiastical province or region.

Pope Francis appeals for peace in Cameroon after deadly school attack

Vatican City, Oct 28, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appealed for an end to violence in Cameroon Wednesday after seven students were killed in an attack on a school in the city of Kumba.

“I participate in the suffering of the families of the young students barbarically killed last Saturday in Kumba, in Cameroon. I feel great bewilderment at such a cruel and senseless act, which tore the young innocents from life while they were attending lessons at school,” Pope Francis said at the end of his general audience Oct. 28.

“May God enlighten hearts, so that similar gestures may never be repeated again and so that the tormented regions of the northwest and southwest of the country may finally find peace. I hope that the weapons will remain silent and that the safety of all and the right of every young person to education and the future can be guaranteed.”

Gunmen attacked Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in Cameroon’s Southwest region, on Oct. 24 and opened fire on students in a classroom. A local education official told Reuters that all seven victims of the attack were between 12 and 14 years old.

Bishop Agapitus Nfon of Kumba will offer a Mass for the repose of the souls of the murdered students and for the consolation of their bereaved families at the diocese’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Oct. 30. 

“We shall also pray for the forgiveness and conversion of the Herod(s), the perpetrators of this heinous and barbarous act, while asking our loving Father in heaven to intervene for a lasting solution to be found so that true justice and peace may reign,” Bishop Nfon said in a statement shared with ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. 

“Let us pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit He may turn the wicked and stone hearts of the Herod(s) (the murderers of our children) into hearts of love and flesh.”

The school attack took place amid conflict between separatists and government forces in the English-speaking territories in the country’s Northwest Region and Southwest Region. Tensions escalated after Francophone teachers and judges were sent to work in the historically marginalized Anglophone regions in 2016, and the dispute has come to be known as the Anglophone Crisis.

Schools in the Anglophone regions of the nation, which is located at the junction of western and central Africa, were previously closed due to the skirmishes. In September, separatist leaders in the country called for the resumption of schooling in the warring regions. The government announced the reopening of learning institutions for Oct. 5.

After the attack, Bishop Nfon questioned this reversal on the region’s schools: “Were they not allowed to go to school by those who previously restricted them for the past four years? How could they then ask children to go to school and turn around to massacre them?”

The bishop also noted that the killings came less than a year after 22 people, including children and pregnant women, were killed in another attack in the Diocese of Kumbo in the Ngarbuh village in February.

“What is holding back those concerned, I mean the international bodies and the government of Cameroon, to look for a lasting solution to this problem that will restore justice and peace?” the bishop asked.

“We are painfully weeping and pondering; what is so important other than peace that will make us sit back in indifference and watch tender and precious lives being wasted away?”

Pope Francis supports Polish Catholics in fight against abortion

Vatican City, Oct 28, 2020 / 05:07 am (CNA).-  

Pope Francis told Polish Catholics Wednesday that he asks St. John Paul II’s intercession for respect for life, amid protests in Poland over a law prohibiting abortion.

“Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy and the holy Polish pontiff, I ask God to inspire in the hearts of all respect for the life of our brothers, especially of the most fragile and defenseless, and to give strength to those who welcome it and take it care, even when it requires heroic love,” Pope Francis said Oct. 28 in his message to Polish pilgrims.

The pope’s comments came days after Poland’s constitutional court ruled that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional on Oct. 22. Protestors were filmed interrupting Sunday Masses following the ruling.

Pope Francis noted that Oct. 22 was the feast of St. John Paul II, and recalled: “He always appealed for a privileged love for the least and the defenseless, and for the protection of every human being from conception until natural death.”

In his general audience catechesis, the pope said that it was important to remember that “Jesus prays with us”.

“This is the unique greatness of Jesus’ prayer: the Holy Spirit takes possession of His person and the voice of the Father attests that He is the beloved, the Son in whom He fully reflects Himself,” Pope Francis said in Vatican City’s Paul VI Audience Hall.

Jesus invites each Christian to “pray as He prayed,” the pope said, adding that Pentecost provided this “grace of prayer for all those baptised in Christ.”

“Therefore, if during an evening of prayer we feel sluggish and empty, if it seems to us that life has been completely useless, we must at that moment beg that Jesus’ prayer also become our own. ‘I cannot pray today, I don’t know what to do: I don’t feel like it, I am unworthy.’”

“In that moment … entrust yourself to Him, that He may pray for us. He in this moment is before the Father, praying for us, He is the intercessor; He shows the wounds to the Father, for us. Let us trust in this, it is great,” he said.

The pope said that in prayer one can hear God’s words to Jesus at his baptism at the Jordan River whispered tenderly as a message for each person: “You are God’s beloved, you are a son, you are the joy of the Father in heaven.”

Because of his Incarnation, “Jesus is not a distant God,” the pope explained.

“In the whirlwind of life and the world that will come to condemn him, even in the hardest and most sorrowful experiences He will have to endure, even when He experiences that he has no place to lay His head, even when hatred and persecution are unleashed around Him, Jesus is never without the refuge of a dwelling place: He dwells eternally in the Father,” Pope Francis said.

“Jesus gave us His own prayer, which is His loving dialogue with the Father. He gave it to us like a seed of the Trinity, which He wants to take root in our hearts. Let us welcome him. Let us welcome this gift, the gift of prayer. Always with Him,” he said.

The pope noted in his greeting to Italian pilgrims that Oct. 28 is the feast of the Apostles Sts. Simon and Jude.

“I urge you to follow their example in always putting Christ at the center of your life, to be true witnesses of his Gospel in our society,” he said. “I wish everyone to grow every day in the contemplation of goodness and of tenderness that radiates from the person of Christ.”

Focolare Movement will review handling of abuse allegations

CNA Staff, Oct 27, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).-  

The Focolare Movement will initiate an independent review of its handling of sexual abuse allegations.

Leaders responsible for the lay movement’s activities in France resigned from their positions this month, as the group addressed concerns that it did not properly address a former consecrated member of the movement who admitted to sexually abusing a minor, and is alleged to have committed numerous other acts of sexual abuse.

“The Focolare Movement has...decided to institute a special inquiry that will be entrusted to an independent Body the composition of which will be made public shortly.”

“The task of this Body will be to listen to the victims and to gather further testimonies, as well as investigating whether there were any omissions, cover ups or silences on the part of those responsible for the Movement. At the end of the investigation, the independent Body will make its final report public,” said an Oct. 22 statement from the Focolare Movement’s headquarters in Rome.

The statement addressed allegations concerning a former consecrated member of the group, who admitted in 1998 to having sexually abused a minor, and was dismissed from the movement in 2016.

The Focolare statement said the member, identified only as J.M.M., is presumed to have had other victims, according to a finding from the independent Commission on sexual abuse in the Church in France.

The member was in 1994 accused of sexually abusing a male victim in 1981 and 1982, when the alleged victim was 15 and 16 years old. He was not tried for the crime because of the criminal statute of limitations, but he did admit the molestation during a lawsuit in 1998, and was required to pay damages.

J.M.M “followed a psychotherapeutic path for a number of years,” the statement said, but he was not dismissed from the group until 2016, after his victim contacted Focolare leaders and the French bishops’ conference.

“In November 2019, the independent Commission on sexual abuse in the Church in France (CIASE) received notification concerning the presence of other presumed victims of J.M.M.,” the Focolare statement said.

Last month, the group held a meeting with some alleged victims of J.M.M,, at which one Focolare official expressed his shame for abuse suffered in the group, “and also for the silence or lack of initiative sustained for years on the part of various people in positions of responsibility.”

“Faced with this immense suffering, we are convinced that the only path to follow is that of offering the victims full attention and recognition of the harm done. I wish here to reiterate the Movement’s full and unconditional collaboration, to shed full light on the facts and do justice to the victims,” Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement said in a statement.

Founded in Italy in 1943, the Focolare Movement is a lay-led organization that promotes Christian unity and solidarity. There are formally 140,444 members of the Focolare movement, including some men and women who live forms of consecrated life. Beyond formal members, there are millions worldwide who participate in projects and initiatives of the Focolare Movement.


Former Swiss Guard releases Catholic Christmas cookbook

CNA Staff, Oct 27, 2020 / 05:44 pm (CNA).-  

A new cookbook offers recipes, some more than 1,000 years old, that have been served at the Vatican during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

The Vatican Christmas Cookbook” is written by chef David Geisser, who is a former member of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, along with author Thomas Kelly. The book offers stories of the Vatican’s own Christmas celebrations, and includes 100 Vatican Christmas recipes.

The book pays special attention to the Swiss Guard, the small military force that has guarded popes for five centuries.

“It is only with the cooperation and assistance of the Swiss Guard that we are able to present this compilation of special recipes, stories, and imagery inspired by the Vatican and set in the glory and wonder of the Christmas season,” the book’s forward explains.

“We hope that it brings some comfort and joy to all. With gratitude and appreciation for their service to fifty popes and the Church of Rome for more than 500 years, we dedicate this book to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See.”

“The Vatican Christmas Cookbook” offers recipes like Veal Chanterelle, Egg Williams Soufflé, Venison in Fig Sauce and deserts like Cheesecake David, Gingerbread Plum Parfait, and Maple Cream Cake.

The book incorporates details about the history of Christmas, Advent, and the Papal Guard, which began in 1503 after Pope Julius II determined that the Vatican was in dire need of a military force to protect it from European conflicts. It also offers traditional Christmas and Advent prayers.

“The Vatican Christmas Cookbook” includes stories about the tradition of the Swiss Guard Christmas Watch and recalls Christmases observed by popes of centuries past. 

Swiss Guard Felix Geisser shares his memories of Christmas 1981 - the Christmas that followed a failed assassination attempt on Pope St. John Paul II.

“I had the special honor of serving as a Guard of the Throne during Midnight Mass. This is the most exalted position on the holiest night of the Christmas season, in the heart of venerable St. Peter’s, and so close to the pope, only steps away,” Geisser recalled.

“It was the night when I witnessed the resurgence of the Holy Father. He was energized by the profound meaning of this night, and the faithful that surrounded him. It was a great joy for me to participate in this beautiful service.”

This cookbook is the sequel to David Geisser’s “The Vatican Cookbook,” which was endorsed  chef Michael Symon and actress Patricia Heaton.

Geisser began his cooking career working in European gourmet restaurants. He gained international recognition at the age of 18 when he wrote a cookbook under the title “Around the World in 80 Plate.”

The author spent two years in the Swiss Guard and wrote his third cookbook, “Buon Appetito.” In his Christmas cookbook’s introduction, Geisser said he was excited to share his experiences in the Vatican’s kitchen, the Guard, and the season of Christmas.

“When my friend, Thomas Kelly, proposed a Christmas sequel to ‘The Vatican Cookbook’ that we collaborated with many others to create four years ago, I thought it was a wonderful idea,” he said.

“The collection of many new and classic recipes, surrounded by the splendor of the Vatican and enhanced by the stories of the Swiss Guard, was worthy of its title. I welcomed the opportunity to take that same concept and infuse it with the Christmas spirit and all the meaning and glory of that special season. It seemed a perfect fit to me.”


Report: Vatican investigators focus on longtime investment manager

CNA Staff, Oct 27, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- An Italian newsweekly said Friday that it has obtained a document in which Vatican investigators focus on a longtime investment manager for the Holy See as a central figure in the ongoing financial scandal. The investment manager has said there is nothing unusual about his work at the Vatican.

In a report published Oct. 23, L’Espresso said it had obtained a letter rogatory sent from the Vatican to Switzerland highlighting alleged activities of Enrico Crasso, an Italian-born Swiss citizen.

Letters rogatory are formal requests from courts in one country to the courts of another country for judicial assistance. 

The magazine published a photograph purporting to show the cover of the document, which bore the emblem of the promoter of justice of the tribunal of Vatican City State. The document reportedly requested information about several figures caught up in an investigation into a controversial London property deal. The newspaper said the document was sent to Swiss authorities almost a year ago.

CNA has not verified the document’s authenticity.

According to L’Espresso, Vatican investigators referred to “a hypothesis” which they said “cannot be excluded” when they requested information from Swiss authorities.

The investigators reportedly summed up that hypothesis by saying: “Given that the links between the various internal and external personages at the Secretariat of State took place over a considerable length of time, through the arrangement of well-structured legal instruments with offices in different countries, including those on ‘blacklists,’ and with the realization of multiple criminal activities, it also amounts to the crime of criminal association to the detriment of the Holy See.”

L’Espresso reported that Crasso appeared to be a pivotal figure in that framework. 

Crasso is the manager of the Centurion Global Fund, in which the Holy See is the principal investor. He began working with the Vatican in 1993.

According to L’Espresso, investigators alleged that Crasso repeatedly “contributed to using funds other than institutional funds and for unprofitable speculative investments.” They also reportedly highlighted “an evident conflict of interest and a possible risk of fraud to the detriment of the Secretariat of State.”

“It has not been possible to reconstruct the total commissions collected by him for his activity,” the investigators reportedly told Swiss authorities.

They also reportedly said: “Despite the fact that the Secretariat of State was alerted, it continued to trust him and did not take away from him the power to operate on his current accounts. The very bond that he has with the employees of the Secretariat of State deserves further study.”

Earlier this month, Crasso defended his stewardship of Church funds controlled by the Secretariat of State, saying that the investments he made were “no secret.” 

In an Oct. 4 interview with Corriere della Sera, Crasso also denied managing “confidential” accounts for Becciu’s family.

Crasso was named in reports last month alleging that Cardinal Angelo Becciu used millions of euros of Vatican charity funds in speculative and risky investments, including loans for projects owned and operated by Becciu’s brothers. 

On Sept. 24, Becciu was asked by Pope Francis to resign from his Vatican job and from the rights of cardinals following the report. In a press conference, the cardinal distanced himself from Crasso, saying he did not follow his actions “step by step.”

According to Becciu, Crasso would inform him of what investments he was making, “but it’s not that he was telling me the ramifications of all these investments.”

Crasso appeared to corroborate Becciu’s remarks, saying they had met only five or six times since 2012. He said that Becciu also never applied “pressure” about what investments to make.

Crasso’s Centurion Global Fund is connected to several institutions linked to allegations and investigations of money laundering, a CNA investigation found.

The fund registered a loss of some 4.6% in 2018, while at the same time incurring management fees of roughly two million euros.

According to Crasso, “the Secretariat [of State] has always earned from our management.” 

The Centurion Global Fund first made headlines in December 2019 for its use of Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Corriere della Sera reported that Centurion had raised around 70 million euros in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State was the source of at least two thirds of the fund’s assets.

Crasso said Oct. 4 that after Il Corriere’s Dec. 2019 article, he was told “the Holy Father had given instructions to liquidate the fund. And now we are closing it.”

While Becciu has said that he didn’t know what Crasso was doing, Crasso said “Centurion was known in the Secretariat [of State]” and that Vatican officials “knew very well” which investments were being made. 

Asked how he made his decisions about how to invest Vatican money, Crasso said the secretariat pointed out some investments to him directly, such as shares in the English Eos fund, who were “friends of Mgr Alberto Perlasca.”

Perlasca is Becciu’s former chief deputy at the Secretariat of State. In February, his home and office were raided by investigators over his participation in the Vatican’s investment of hundreds of millions of euros with the Italian financier Raffaele Mincione. 

Crasso indicated that on at least one occasion he informed Perlasca that a desired investment was too risky and advised making an investment of only six million euros instead of 30 million, which they did.

Vatican investments through Centurion have also been reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Holy See.

Crasso confirmed that “the funds of Peter’s Pence were managed by banks, including hedge funds. Everyone knew it,” he said. “Now, however, the Vatican’s auditor general argues that these funds were tied to charitable works. But they never told the banks!”

Vatican abuse trial: Victim petitions to sue pre-seminary and religious group

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- At a hearing Tuesday of an ongoing abuse and cover-up trial against two Italian priests, the Vatican court accepted a request from the victim’s lawyer to sue the institution where the alleged abuse took place, as well as the group which oversees it.

The Oct. 27 hearing was the second in the trial against defendants Fr. Gabriele Martinelli, 28, and Fr. Enrico Radice, 72. Martinelli was charged earlier this month with using violence and his authority to commit sexual abuse over a number of years, and Radice was charged with impeding investigations into the abuse.

The defendants, who have not publicly addressed the accusations against them, were present, together with their lawyers, at the hearing, which lasted three-quarters of an hour.  

L.G., the alleged victim, was also present in the Vatican courtroom for the first time. Under Vatican criminal law, he was present as a civil party. 

Dario Imparato, L.G.’s lawyer, asked for access to court documents, saying that he had “nothing from this trial, only the request for indictment.”

Imparato then presented a petition to sue the institution which oversees the youth seminary where the alleged crimes took place.

The St. Pius X pre-seminary, which is located on Vatican City territory, is run by a Como-based religious group, the Opera Don Folci.

The lawyer said that he made the request to sue Opera Don Folci because “we believe that there are objective responsibilities in the institution that oversees the pre-seminary.” He also cited a “lack of vigilance” and “great negligence” on the group’s part.

Vatican prosecutor Roberto Zannotti said it was “not the prerogative” of the civil party to present such a request, and the defendants’ lawyers presented objections.

In response to a question from court president Giuseppe Pignatone, L.G.’s lawyer indicated that the “legal person” being sued was the youth seminary “as an institution.” The lawyer noted that otherwise they would sue the Diocese of Como instead.

After a deliberation of nearly 40 minutes, the court accepted and authorized the petition to sue the youth seminary and the Opera Don Folci. It also accepted the defense request of the alleged victim, and set the next hearing for Nov. 19.

The defendants were not questioned in the course of the Oct. 27 hearing.

The alleged abuse is said to have taken place from 2007 to 2012 at different times and places in Vatican City State. At the time, Martinelli was an alumnus of the St. Pius X pre-seminary, a residence for about a dozen boys aged 12 to 18, who serve at papal Masses and other liturgies in St. Peter’s Basilica and are thinking about the priesthood.

Martinelli would return to the youth seminary as a visitor, and to tutor and coordinate the students’ activities. He is accused of abusing his authority at the seminary and taking advantage of relationships of trust, as well as using violence and threats, in order to force his alleged victim “to undergo carnal acts, sodomy, masturbation on himself and on the boy.”

L.G. was born in 1993 and was 13 at the time the alleged abuse began, turning 18 about a year before the abuse ended.

Martinelli, who is a year older than L.G., was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Como in 2017.

Radice was the youth seminary’s rector for 12 years. He is accused, as rector, of having helped Martinelli “evade investigations, after crimes of sexual assault and lechery.”

Radice is accused of sending a letter on Oct. 3, 2013, to the bishop of Como, Diego Attilio Coletti, contradicting a complaint by the alleged victim against Martinelli, and speaking of a “fumus persecutionis,” a Latin expression meaning a “suspicion of persecution.”

He is also accused of later impersonating the bishop in a letter using the diocesan letterhead to announce the “imminent” priestly ordination of Martinelli.

Pope Francis urges Europe’s leaders to rediscover ‘path of fraternity’

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis warned Europe’s leaders Tuesday that the project of European unity is at risk unless they “rediscover the path of fraternity” that inspired the project’s founders.

In a letter signed Oct. 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II, and released Oct. 27, the pope wrote: “We can either continue to pursue the path we have taken in the past decade, yielding to the temptation to autonomy and thus to ever greater misunderstanding, disagreement and conflict, or we can rediscover the path of fraternity that inspired and guided the founders of modern Europe, beginning precisely with Robert Schuman.”

He made the remarks in a letter marking three milestones: the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE); the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the European Union; and the 50th anniversary of the Holy See’s presence as a Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe.

The letter was addressed to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who had planned to travel to the Belgian capital, Brussels, Oct. 28-30. 

In the letter, the pope noted that the cardinal intended to make “significant visits to the authorities of the European Union, the Plenary Assembly of COMECE and the authorities of the Council of Europe.”

But the Vatican announced Oct. 27 that Parolin had canceled the trip because of new restrictions seeking to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Argentine pope explained in the letter that he wanted to share his reflections on the future of Europe, a continent that he said was “so dear to me,” not only because of his family’s Italian roots, but also because of Europe’s “central role … in the history of humanity.” 

He said that the pandemic had underlined the importance of cooperation between European countries and the danger of giving in to “the temptation to go it alone, seeking unilateral solutions to a problem that transcends state borders.” 

The pope made a lyrical appeal addressed directly to Europe, urging the continent not to dwell on past glories.

He said: “Sooner or later, we realize that we ourselves have changed; we find ourselves weary and listless in the present and possessed of little hope as we look to the future. Without ideals, we find ourselves weak and divided, more prone to complain and to be attracted by those who make complaint and division a style of personal, social and political life.”

“Europe, find yourself! Rediscover your most deeply rooted ideals. Be yourself! Do not be afraid of your millenary history, which is a window open to the future more than the past. Do not be afraid of that thirst of yours for truth, which, from the days of ancient Greece, has spread throughout the world and brought to light the deepest questions of every human being.” 

“Do not be afraid of the thirst for justice that developed from Roman law and in time became respect for all human beings and their rights. Do not be afraid of your thirst for eternity, enriched by the encounter with the Judeo-Christian tradition reflected in your patrimony of faith, art and culture.”

Pope Francis said that Europe should not focus on “recovering political hegemony or geographical centrality,” but rather on “developing innovative solutions to economic and social problems.”

“The uniqueness of Europe rests above all on its conception of the human being and of reality, on its capacity for initiative and on its spirit of practical solidarity,” he commented.

He said that he dreamed of a Europe in which everyone was recognized for their “intrinsic worth,” rather than as “a mere consumer,” where human life was protected from the womb to the tomb, and with employment opportunities for the young. 

The Europe he envisaged, he said, was both a family and a community. 

“Being a family entails living in unity, treasuring differences, beginning with the fundamental difference between man and woman,” he said. 

He continued: “A divided Europe, made up of insular and independent realities, will soon prove incapable of facing the challenges of the future.” 

“On the other hand, a Europe that is a united and fraternal community will be able to value diversity and acknowledge the part that each has to play in confronting the problems that lie ahead, beginning with the pandemic and including the ecological challenge of preserving our natural resources and the quality of the environment in which we live.” 

“We are faced with the choice between a model of life that discards people and things, and an inclusive model that values creation and creatures.”

The pope said that he longed for a Europe that was inclusive, generous, welcoming, and hospitable. He appealed for an “intelligent solidarity” that goes beyond simply addressing basic needs. 

He wrote: “Solidarity involves being a neighbor to others. In the case of Europe, this means becoming especially ready and willing, through international cooperation, to offer generous assistance to other continents. I think particularly of Africa, where there is a need to resolve ongoing conflicts and to pursue a sustainable human development.”

He added that “intelligent solidarity” also needed to be extended to migrants. 

“It is clear that a proper acceptance of migrants must not only assist those newly arrived, who are often fleeing conflict, hunger or natural disasters, but must also work for their integration, enabling them ‘to learn, respect and assimilate the culture and traditions of the nations that welcome them,’” he said, citing a 2017 address he gave to COMECE. 

Members of COMECE are expected to hold meetings with the authorities of the European Union via video connection during COMECE’s Oct. 28-29 autumn meeting in Brussels.

In his letter, the pope called for a “healthy secularism” in Europe, where believers were free to profess their faith in public. 

“The era of confessional conflicts is over, but so too -- let us hope -- is the age of a certain laicism closed to others and especially to God, for it is evident that a culture or political system that lacks openness to transcendence proves insufficiently respectful of the human person,” he observed.

“Christians today have a great responsibility: they are called to serve as a leaven in reviving Europe’s conscience and help to generate processes capable of awakening new energies in society. I urge them, therefore, to contribute with commitment, courage and determination to every sector in which they live and work.”

Order of Malta to elect new Grand Master amid constitutional clash

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 27, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- On October 23, CNA interviewed HE Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, about the religious order’s international work and ongoing process of constitutional reform. This is part two of that interview.

On November 7, the professed knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are scheduled to gather in Rome for a Council Complete of State, the gathering of representatives from across the order's provinces and ranks, at which they will elect a new Grand Master to lead an ongoing constitutional reform effort of the nearly one-thousand-year-old order.

In normal times, the election of a new Grand Master would be a fascinating enough event. The religious order is also a major international health and aid organization, and a sovereign entity under international law – with its own passports, diplomatic relationships, and permanent observer status at the United Nations.

But these are not normal times for the order.

This week, CNA spoke to the order’s Grand Chancellor – effectively its chief operating officer - Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, about a crucial period for the historic order and its work.

The order has been in a slow-moving constitutional crisis since Pope Francis compelled the resignation of a previous Grand Master, Fra’ Matthew Festing in 2017. That decision came after Festing himself had compelled the resignation of Boeselager in 2016, after it became known that an aid project of the order in Myanmar had distributed thousands of condoms. Boselager insisted that he had not known about the distribution of condoms, and that he had put a stop to it as soon as he became aware.

In 2017, Boeselager was reinstated as Grand Chancellor. At the same time, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Angelo Becciu to serve as his personal delegate to oversee the “spiritual and moral” reform of the order, effectively supplanting the role of the order’s Cardinal Patron, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who remains in post only nominally.

Becciu was to work with Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre, who was elected to succeed Festing, first on an interim basis and later permanently, as the order moved towards a revision of its governing code and constitution, including a revision of the roles and rights of its three levels of knights from around the world.

Dalla Torre died in May, and, on Sept. 24, Pope Francis commanded the resignation of Becciu from the rights and privileges of a cardinal, as well as his position as head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, leaving the order without a Grand Master, papal delegate, or Cardinal Patron.

This month, Boeselager told CNA that the present vacuum at the top of the order’s leadership needed to be addressed, and soon, but the charitable work of the order remained uninterrupted.

“The papal delegate is not part of the structure of the order,” Boeselager said. “He is a representative of the Holy Father, but he is not involved directly in the governance or work of the order.”

“In the intermediate phase, the order is led by a Lieutenant ad interim, which is normally the order’s Grand Commander, who chairs the Council Complete of State.”

That council, due to be held in two weeks’ time, will elect the new Grand Master, who is likely to play a determining role in the future direction and structure of the order, and the way in which it is governed.

Key among the proposed reforms are changes to the office of Grand Master itself, and the role of the 1st degree of professed knights – those who make perpetual religious vows – in the governance of the order, as opposed to the second and third degrees, who do not.

“The old Grand Master had named a small commission of experts on canon law to make proposals for changes which are necessary to the order’s constitution and code,” Boeselager said.

“In early 2018, we organized an international seminar to collect different ideas for the reform of the order, we had working groups on different topics, these presented to the seminar which made recommendations to the specialist commission as well.”

But, Boeselager said, “regarding the professed, the Holy Father has demanded especially that the regulations dealing with the first class of the order are revisited.”

He noted to CNA that the order’s current constitution and code, while revised in 1997, substantially date back to 1961, before Vatican Council II. “All the new elements which came in canon law regarding religious life [since the council] have not yet made it into the constitution of the order.”

Reform of the professed religious is a sensitive issue for the order, since it is the knights of the first degree who form the Council Complete of State and are eligible to serve as Grand Master and other senior governing roles.

Changing the nature and function of the order’s religious life is, Boeselager conceded, inseparable from reforming its governance. “These are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

After the 2018 seminar, a draft of a new constitution was prepared and sent to Cardinal Becciu to be presented to the pope. That process, Boeselager said, is now on hold until there is a new Grand Master and papal delegate.

The most contentious aspect of reform concerns the role of professed religious in the governance of the order. The professed, first degree knights number fewer than 50, and are advancing in age as a group. Some voices in the order favor allowing other members from different ranks to assume more duties, in order to secure the order’s future.

Another possible reform under discussion is the abolition of a requirement that certain high offices in the order be held only by knights of noble descent, in keeping with the order’s tradition of drawing membership from the ranks of European nobility. Today, the majority of members of the order, albeit those of the lower degree, do not come from noble families, or even countries with an aristocracy.

“There is great consensus that the requirement of nobility for the Grand Master should be abolished,” Boeselager said, noting that the order’s transition away from its strictly aristocratic history was part of its evolving character.

“How the order deals with the nobility in its history shows how we adapt in steps, not in revolution,” pointing to a 1997 reforms which opened the second class of knights to non-nobles.

However, despite apparent consensus around opening up the role of Grand Master, Boeselager was more hesitant about similar reforms for other offices, including his own, at least in the immediate term.

“I think there will be changes,” he said, “but, without specifying certain offices, perhaps there will be a quorum for noble members, but this is under discussion.”

Discussion on the direction of reform remains a tense topic within the order, especially among the professed knights of the first class. In September, 25 of the most senior professed knights circulated a letter to the order’s leadership and the Holy See, which objected to the direction of the proposed reforms. The knights said they felt they were being marginalized from the process and the governance of the order.

“The future of the first class is of great concern,” Boeselager said. “It is not a question of removing them from leading offices, it is a question of having enough to fill the offices reserved to them.”

Boeselager noted that many priories – national and regional branches of the order – were in special administrative measures because of a lack of professed members to fill leadership roles.

In their September letter, the 25 professed knights suggested 10 principles to guide the reform of the order. Key among their recommendations was that the professed religious give the final approval to their own reform, as a safeguard against “the undue influence of those who are not [professed] knights” on the process.

Asked directly if the professed religious would have the final say on the reforms of the order, Boeselager said that “we have to distinguish between the final decision and the way to approach this decision.”

“We have to, of course, seek, as far as possible, consent – we will never have total consent because there will always be different opinions – at the end it has to be decided and compromises have to be found.”

In the interim, the selection of the new Grand Master may prove to be the single most important indicator of the direction reforms will take, and according to whose principles. But how many of the professed knights will make it to Rome for the election remains an open question.

The council to elect the new Grand Master next month comes as Italy appears to be entering a new wave of coronavirus infections – and restrictions – bringing an added layer of uncertainty to an already tumultuous time for the knights.

Boeselager told CNA that it was important to proceed with the election if at all possible, noting that the council had already been delayed once, and the order had been without a Grand Master for six months and unable to pass a budget.

“We have to adapt to the situation,” said Boeselager, to “ensure the proper governance of the order in the current circumstances.” But he warned that the council could and would go ahead, even if many of the delegates were unable to attend.

“We still hope we will be able to hold the Council Complete of State [as planned], for the moment it still looks possible. It may be that some delegates cannot come, but the constitution does not foresee a quorum,” he said.

The constitution and code of the order does not permit for proxy or absentee voting during the council, so those unable to travel would be effectively excluded from participation.

“Legally its not in danger [of not going ahead]. Of course, if we were much less than half of the normal delegates, we would have to reconsider, but we have already postponed. I would not feel well [about it] if we had to postpone again.”

“We cannot continue in extraordinary administration,” Boeselager said.