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The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 / 10:40 am (CNA).- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius was the only bishop to accompany him there. Now housing the Museum of the Occupation and Freedom Fighters, the site was once used for the detention and execution of thousands of Lithuanians. Tamkevicius had personal experience as a prisoner there.

The building, a former gymnasium, served as a headquarters for the Gestapo during World War II. Following the Nazi retreat in 1944, the KGB moved in. More than 2,000 people were executed there, and 300 hundred priests were held prisoner - including Tamkevicius.

“In 8 months I was interrogated 60 times - every other day,” he said.

“The pope wanted to come and visit the roots of our pain,” the archbishop told CNA following the visit.

Born in 1938, Tamkevicius vividly remembers the Soviet occupation, and he told CNA about the campaign of religious repression Lithuanians faced under the communist regime.

“The Soviets wanted to destroy Lithuania and suppress religious freedom - that was non existent. They arrested more than 300 priests, who were not even allowed to teach. They wanted to minimize the Church. It was then that we started to think what we could do to resist the Soviets.”

Tamkevicius played an active part in resisting communist persecution of the Church in Lithuania. With four other priests, he founded in 1978 the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers’ Rights.

He also set up the Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania, a small magazine - produced on a typewriter - that reported on the situation of the Church and of Catholics in the Baltic state. Tamkevicius edited the Chronicle for 11 years.

Asked about why he felt called to play such a prominent role during a period of active persecution for the Church, Tamkevicius told CNA, “I entered the Church, and I entered it completely.”

As a Jesuit priest, Tamkevicius began his work of resistance by writing a news bulletin to inform the world about the persecution faced by the Church in Lithuania. As one of the younger members of the order, he felt called to take on an active role.

“I was one of the youngest,” he said, “so I made the decision that I could risk something for the Church.” Tamkevicius founded the Chronicle in 1972.

“Every issue of the Chronicle of the Church in Lithuania carried stories about what was happening here. When I started, I had no idea how many KGB collaborators were all around us. It was only thanks to God I could continue to write the Chronicles for 11 years.”

“In that place Pope Francis visited,” he said, “thousands have been killed, while thousands more were sent to into exile in the Soviet Union.” The archbishop was among them.

In 1983, Tamkevicius was arrested and held by the KGB. He was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor and exile. He served some of his sentence in Siberia.

Tamkevicius told CNA that Francis’ visit was an emotional moment for him.

“I dreamed for 35 years that the pope would one day visit the place where I and others were imprisoned, and so I thanked the pope for showing solidarity with our people.”

The pope’s speech was less important to the archbishop than the fact that he was there. He told  CNA that Francis “said nothing in particular, he showed solidarity.” He added that entering the museum building brought back memories, “good and bad.”

Among the good things, he said, was his recollection of “the prayers, never more intense - the Rosary, the reading of the Bible.”  These devotions sustained him during a period in which he was held and questioned by the Soviets.

Tamkevicius was eventually released as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestrojka program. He returned home and was appointed spiritual director of the seminary in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, in 1989, becoming the rector of the seminary the following year.

In 1991, he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Kaunas, becoming the city’s archbishop in 1996.

Mary shows how to be near those who suffer, Pope Francis says

Aglona, Latvia, Sep 24, 2018 / 10:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Mary’s witness of standing beneath the cross of her Son teaches Catholics how to be close to those around them who are suffering, the pope said at Mass Monday in Latvia.

The Gospel of John says Mary stood near the cross of Christ, “close to her Son,” the pope said Sept. 24. “She stood there, at the foot of the cross, with unwavering conviction, fearless and immovable.”

“This is the main way that Mary shows herself. She stands near those who suffer, those from whom the world flees, including those who have been put on trial, condemned by all, deported.” Even those on the very fringes of society: “the Mother also stands close by them, steadfast beneath their cross of incomprehension and suffering,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Shrine of the Mother of God in Aglona for the third day of a four-day visit to the Baltic states. His last day will be spent in Estonia.

Mary teaches Catholics to stand near others, as she did, he continued. To do so “demands more than simply passing by or making a quick visit… it means that those in painful situations should feel us standing firmly at their side and on their side.”

He stated that those who have been discarded by society can still experience the closeness of their Mother Mary, who sees in all their suffering “the open wounds of her Son Jesus.”

“Like Mary, let us remain steadfast, our hearts at peace in God. Let us be ever ready to lift up the fallen, raise up the lowly and to help end all those situations of oppression that make people feel crucified themselves,” he said.

Francis pointed out that in the Gospel, when Christ asks his Mother to receive John, and John to receive his Mother, they were standing together at the foot of the cross, but “this was not enough, that they had not yet fully ‘received’ one another.”

Many people often do the same, he said, standing at the side of people, even in the same home, neighborhood and workplace, sharing the same faith, contemplating and experiencing the same mysteries, “but without embracing or actually ‘receiving’ them with love.”

He said in the Eucharist we remember Christ’s passion, and “from the foot of the cross, Mary invites us to rejoice that we have been received as her sons and daughters, even as her Son Jesus invites us to receive her into our own homes and to make her a part of our lives.”

“Mary wants to give us her courage, so that we too can remain steadfast, and her humility, so that, like her, we can adapt to whatever life brings,” he stated.

In his homily, the pope also spoke about Venerable Boleslavs Sloskans, who is buried inside the shrine. Born in what is present-day Latvia, he died in 1981 after more than 30 years in exile from his homeland. While a young bishop, he was also arrested twice by the Soviets and imprisoned by them for around five years.

“Sometimes,” Pope Francis said, “we see a return to ways of thinking that would have us be suspicious of others,” or we think we would be better off and more secure by ourselves. “At those times, Mary and the disciples of these lands invite us to ‘receive’ our brothers and sisters, to care for them, in a spirit of universal fraternity.”

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

By Norma Montenegro Flynn

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to rise and continue the work of building the church, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said Sept. 23.

He made the comments during the closing Mass of the Fifth National Encuentro in Grapevine.

"The Encuentro has made us see our missionary reality and responsibility as Hispanic Catholics in the United States," he said. "But most important, the Encuentro has made us reflect on the personal 'encounter' with Jesus Christ."

Archbishop Gomez, who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the homilist. The USCCB's president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, was the main celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrants were Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, the hosting diocese; and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.

Archbishop Gomez reminded the faithful that they're missionary disciples on a journey, just like those who walked with Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem.

The journey eventually reached Latin America and was sealed with God's love in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, who entrusted him with the mission of building the church in the Americas.

"Jesus entrusted the mission of his church in the New World to a layperson. Not to a priest or a bishop. Nor to a member of a religious order," Archbishop Gomez said. "You are the children of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our present times; you are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego.

"The mission that was entrusted to him, is now entrusted to you."

The archbishop invited participants to answer the call to be leaders by striving to be holy and to work united with their bishops.

"I believe that this moment in the church -- is the hour of the laity. It is the time for saints," Archbishop Gomez continued. "He is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops to renew and rebuild his church. Not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas."

He also encouraged them to seek discernment as soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Oscar Romero did, by asking what God's will for him was.

"He is asking you to take your place in the history of salvation, and to do your part for the mission of his church," Archbishop Gomez concluded.

About 3,200 diocesan delegates, bishops and representatives from ecclesial movements and Catholic organizations participated in four days of dialogue and consultation to discern the priority issues for Hispanic ministry currently and for years to come.

The V Encuentro, as it also is known, surpassed its goal of identifying and preparing 25,000 new ministry leaders.

The three most pressing priorities identified focus on developing faith formation opportunities, strengthening families, and developing more paid positions for Hispanic youth and young adult ministries. Another important outcome of the Encuentro is the goal to develop initiatives that promote and create new pathways of leadership for young adults.

"The experience of the Encuentro surpassed all my expectations," said Guzman Carriquiry Lecour, the Vatican's secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who encouraged attendees to continue being committed to their ministries and expand their leadership and outreach.

Father Raul Valencia is ready to put things into practice at his parish in Tucson, Arizona.

"We have had an encounter with ourselves, with Christ, and with many opportunities and hope, to strengthen the pastoral 'hispana,'" he told Catholic News Service.

"What I bring to my diocese is this drive, this happiness and emotion that we carry after this gathering and looking at so many people involved in the same mission," said Ricardo Luzondo from the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

The V Encuentro is a multiyear process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building. The last Encuentro took place in 2006.

Hispanics represent about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics and nearly 60 percent of millennial Catholics, according to research from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

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Pope Francis in Latvia: Don't let Christianity become an artifact

Riga, Latvia, Sep 24, 2018 / 05:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During an ecumenical prayer service in Latvia Monday, Pope Francis warned Christians to not let the faith turn into another piece of history, but to keep it an active part of their lives and communities.      

“This is a recurring danger for all of us,” the pope said Sept. 24. “We can take what gives us our very identity and turn it into a curio from the past, a tourist attraction, a museum piece that recalls the achievements of earlier ages… The same thing can happen with faith.”

“We can stop feeling like ‘resident’ Christians and become tourists,” he continued. “We could even say that our whole Christian tradition can run the same risk. The risk of ending up as a museum piece, enclosed within the walls of our churches, and no longer giving out a tune capable of moving the hearts and inspiring the lives of those who hear it.”

Pope Francis spoke during an ecumenical prayer meeting in the Evangelical Lutheran cathedral in Riga, Latvia. The cathedral is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks and houses a pipe organ considered among the best in the world.

Though the organ has been renovated and rebuilt several times over the years, it is also considered one of the oldest in Europe and was at one time the largest in the world.

During the prayer, Francis referenced the organ, pointing out how it must have “accompanied the life, the creativity, the imagination and the devotion of all those who were moved by its sound.”

“It has been the instrument of God and of men for lifting of eyes and hearts to heaven. Today it is a symbol of this city and its cathedral,” he said. “For those who live here, it is more than a monumental organ; it is part of the life, traditions and identity of this place.”

He said the organ can be a symbol of the Christian faith, which as St. Luke says, “is not to be hidden away, but to be made known and to resound in the various sectors of society.”

If the “music of the Gospel” is not heard in people’s lives, there can be no hope, he said. If the music of the Gospel does not sound in homes, in workplaces, in public, people will not recognize the duty to defend the dignity of every man and woman.

If the music of the Gospel stops, people will lose joy, compassion, trust, and the capacity for reconciliation. He stated: “If the music of the Gospel is no longer heard, we will lose the sounds that guide our lives to heaven and become locked into one of the worst ills of our day: loneliness and isolation.”

“Thank God” that the words of the Gospel of John continue to “echo in our midst,” the pope said: “Father, that all may be one… so that the world may believe.”

He explained that Jesus prayed these words before his Passion, “as he looked ahead to his own cross.” This constant and quiet prayer marks a path for everyone, shows the way to follow, he emphasized.

“We discover the only path possible for all ecumenism: that of confronting the cross of suffering… Jesus turning to his Father, and to us his brothers and sisters, continues to pray: ‘that all may be one.’”

These are not easy times, Francis said, especially for those who, even today, are experiencing exile and martyrdom for the faith. “Yet their witness makes us realize that the Lord continues to call us, asking us to live the Gospel radically, in joy and gratitude.”

“If Christ deemed us worthy to live in these times, at this hour – the only hour we have – we cannot let ourselves be overcome by fear, nor allow this time to pass without living it fully with joyful fidelity,” he said.

Following the prayer meeting Pope Francis met with elderly men and women in St. James’ Catholic Cathedral. Though a historically Lutheran country, Catholics make up around 25 percent of the population of just under 2 million.

At St. James’ the pope recalled the many trials older Latvians have experienced, such as war, political repression, persecution, and exile. “Yet you remained steadfast; you persevered in faith,” he said.

“Neither the Nazi regime, nor the Soviet regime could extinguish the faith in your hearts. Neither could they stop some of you from becoming priests, religious sisters, catechists, or from serving the Church in other ways that put your lives at risk,” he said. “You fought the good fight; you ran the race, you kept the faith.”

He pointed to the words of St. James to have constancy in faith, and encouraged those present to persevere, to “not yield to disappointment or grief,” to not lose gentleness or hope.

Francis encouraged them to have, in their homes and homeland, “patient endurance and patient expectation,” so that “in this way you will continue to build your people.”

Before the meetings in the two cathedrals, Pope Francis started his day in Latvia with a brief speech to the country’s authorities. To them he said he was happy to know that the Catholic Church, in cooperation with the other Christian churches, is an important part of the country’s roots.

“The Gospel has nourished the life of your people in the past; today it can continue to open new paths enabling you to face present challenges, to value differences and, above all, to encourage ‘com-union’ between all,” he said.

The pope also praised the country’s liberty, which is celebrated during this year’s 100th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence.

“If today we can celebrate, it is due to all those who blazed trails and opened a door to the future,” he said, “and bequeathed to you that same responsibility: to open a door to the future by looking to everything that stands at the service of life.”

He said a community’s development is not measured by the goods produced or resources possessed, but by the desire “to engender life and build for the future,” which is “measured by their capacity for self-sacrifice and commitment, in imitation of the example of past generations.”

Archbishop Chaput shares theological critique of youth synod prep document

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 23, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Chaput offered Friday on First Things a critique by a theologian of the working document for the upcoming Synod on Youth, which highlights five principal theological difficulties in the document.

The synod will be held Oct. 3-28 at the Vatican. Archbishop Chaput is one of five representatives who were chosen by the US bishops' conference to attend the meeting.

In addition, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark; though Tobin has elected not to attend, citing pastoral obligations in his local Church amid the sexual abuse crisis.

The Archbishop of Philadelphia wrote Sept. 21 that in recent months he has “received scores of emails and letters from laypeople, clergy, theologians, and other scholars, young and old, with their thoughts regarding the October synod of bishops in Rome focused on young people.”

“Nearly all” of those “note the importance of the subject matter”, “praise the synod’s intent”, and “raise concerns of one sort or another about the synod’s timing and possible content,” he wrote.

Archbishop Chaput shared the text of a critique of the instrumentum laboris, which he received “from a respected North American theologian.”

He noted it “is one person’s analysis; others may disagree. But it is substantive enough to warrant much wider consideration and discussion as bishop-delegates prepare to engage the synod’s theme.”

The theologian identified five principal problems with the text of the instrumentum laboris for the youth synod: naturalism, an inadequate grasp of the Church's spiritual authority, a partial theological anthropology, a relativistic conception of vocation, and an impoverished understanding of Christian joy.

The author said the document “displays a pervasive focus on socio-cultural elements, to the exclusion of deeper religious and moral issues,” and expresses a desire to examine reality through the faith and experience of the Church, while “regrettably fail[ing] to do so.”

Four examples of this naturalism are given. One of them is the discussion in section 144, where “there is much discussion about what young people want; little about how these wants must be transformed by grace in a life that conforms to God’s will for their lives.”

“After pages of analysis of their material conditions, the IL offers no guidance on how these material concerns might be elevated and oriented toward their supernatural end … the majority of the document painstakingly catalogues the varied socio-economic and cultural realities of young adults while offering no meaningful reflection on spiritual, existential, or moral concerns. The reader may easily conclude that the latter are of no importance to the Church,” the theologian wrote.

The theologian next discussed the document's “inadequate grasp of the Church’s spiritual authority,” saying that “the entire document is premised on the belief that the principal role of the magisterial Church is 'listening.'”

By its emphasis on listening and dialogue, the instrumentum laboris suggests that “the Church does not possess the truth but must take its place alongside other voices,” the author wrote. “Those who have held the role of teacher and preacher in the Church must replace their authority with dialogue.”

This misunderstanding of the Church's teaching authority results in a “conflation of the baptismal and sacramental priesthood”, the theologian wrote, and it also “presents a pastoral problem”: “the Church as mother and teacher cannot through negligence or cowardice forfeit this necessary role of setting limits and directing (Cf. §178). In this regard §171, which points to the motherhood of the Church, does not go far enough. It offers only a listening and accompanying role while eliminating that of teaching.”

Third, the theologian discussed the “partial theological anthropology” of the instrumentum laboris, which they said “fails to make any mention of the will” in its discussion of the human person.

“It is the will that is fundamentally directed toward the good,” the author notes. “The theological consequence of this glaring omission is extraordinarily important, since the seat of the moral life resides in the will and not in the vicissitudes of the affect.”

Then is discussed the “relativistic conception of vocation” in the document, which gives the impression “that vocation concerns the individual’s search for private meaning and truth.”

An example of this problem is section 139, which “gives the impression that the Church cannot propose the (singular) truth to people and that they must decide for themselves. The role of the Church consists only in accompaniment. This false humility risks diminishing the legitimate contributions that the Church can and ought to make.”

The last principal difficulty of the instrumentum laboris is its impoverished understanding of Christian joy, according to the theologian.

Spirituality and the moral life “are reduced to the affective dimension, clearest in §130, evidenced by a sentimentalist conception of 'joy.'”

According to the theologian, the document presents joy as “a purely affective state, a happy emotion …  Despite its constant reference to 'joy,' nowhere does the IL describe it as the fruit of the theological virtue of charity. Nor is charity characterized as the proper ordering of love, putting God first and then ordering all other loves with reference to God.”

Consequent upon this understanding of joy is a lack of “any theology of the Cross” in the instrumentum laboris.

“Christian joy is not antithetical to suffering, which is a necessary component of a cruciform life,” the theologian writes. “The document gives the impression that the true Christian will be 'happy' at all times, in the colloquial sense. It further implies the error that the spiritual life itself will always result in felt (affective) joy.”

“The pastoral problem that results from this comes to the fore most clearly in §137: Is it the role of the Church to make youth “feel loved by him [God]” or to aid them in knowing they are loved regardless of how they might feel?”

The theologian added that there are other serious theological concerns in the document, noting, “a false understanding of the conscience and its role in the moral life; a false dichotomy proposed between truth and freedom; false equivalence between dialogue with LGBT youth and ecumenical dialogue; and an insufficient treatment of the abuse scandal.”

In Lithuania, Francis tells priests to hear their people's cries

Kaunas, Lithuania, Sep 23, 2018 / 12:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told priests and religious in Lithuania Sunday to listen to the cries of suffering that come from the People of God, who are looking to them for hope.

“The cry of our people must strike us, like Moses, to whom God revealed the suffering of his people in the encounter at the burning bush,” the pope said Sept. 23. “Listening to the voice of God in prayer makes us see, makes us hear, know the pain of others in order to free them.”

“The cry that makes us seek God in prayer and adoration is the same that makes us listen to the lament of our brothers,” he continued. “They hope in us and we need, starting from a careful discernment, to organize ourselves, plan and be bold and creative in our apostolate.”

There is no room for improvisation when it comes to responding to the needs of God’s people, he said.

Pope Francis spoke during an encounter with priests, religious, and seminarians in the Cathedral of Kaunas in Lithuania, part of the program of the second day of a visit to the Baltic states Sept. 22-25.

In their encounter, the pope offered one piece of advice in particular – for priests to be close to their people and close to God in the tabernacle.

He said a priest more concerned with the administrative or functionary parts of his job “opens the office at that time, does his job, closes the office.” And meanwhile, the people are all outside. “He does not approach people.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, if you do not want to be an executive, I will tell you one word: closeness!... Closeness to the Tabernacle, face to face with the Lord. And closeness to people.  The Lord wants you shepherds of the people, and not clerics of the State!”

The pope said that closeness and mercy are linked, and “a priest cannot but be merciful. Above all in the confessional.” He told priests to think about how Jesus would treat the person coming to confession and to welcome them.

“Already enough has he been beaten by life, that poor guy! Let him feel the embrace of the forgiving Father,” he said. If absolution cannot be given to someone right away, he advised encouraging the person to pray and to come back to talk. “Never chase someone from the confessional! Never drive [someone] away,” he said.

May Lithuania become model of fight for human rights, Pope prays at former KGB headquarters

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 23, 2018 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis prayed that Lithuania become an example of defense of human rights in a gathering Sunday with former 20th-century freedom fighters, political prisoners, exiles and their families.

“May Lithuania become a beacon of hope,” the pope prayed. “May it become a land of memory and action, constantly committed to fighting all forms of injustice. May it promote creative efforts to defend the rights of all persons, especially the most defenseless and vulnerable.”

“And may Lithuania be for all a teacher in the way to reconcile and harmonize diversity.”

Sunday’s gathering took place at the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fighters, a former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, where Soviets detained and executed hundreds of people. The event mourned victims of Nazi and Soviet oppression in Lithuania and honored those who fought for human rights.

In his prayer, the pope reflected on Christ’s cry in the gospels; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

“Your cry, O Lord, continues to resound,” the pope prayed. “It echoes within these walls that recall of the sufferings endured by so many sons and daughters of this people.”

“Lithuanians and those from other nations paid in their own flesh the price of the thirst for absolute power on the part of those who sought complete domination.”

The pope urged Lithuanians to remember their history, and to continue to fight against violations of human rights today.

“May that (Jesus’) cry encourage us not to succumb to the fashions of the day, to simplistic slogans, or to efforts to diminish or take away from any person the dignity you have given them,” he prayed.

“Lord, grant that we may not be deaf to the plea of all those who cry out to heaven in our own day.”

The pope’s meeting with former freedom fighters took place on the second day of his four-day trip to the Baltic states. During the gathering, Lithuanians read poems and performed songs from times of exile and Soviet repression.

Prior to his meeting with the freedom fighters, Pope Francis stopped to pray in Rudninku Square, where the historic Vilnius ghetto was located before its destruction 75 years ago. Lithuania had a Jewish population of about 208,000 before World War II. An estimated 95 percent of that population was killed in the Holocaust.

Two pilgrims trek 30 miles to Encuentro to raise awareness of immigration issues

Dallas, Texas, Sep 23, 2018 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Most of the delegates attending the National V Encuentro conference arrived by plane, or by car if they lived locally enough.

Not Antonio Mendez and José, who walked nearly 30 miles from Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Dallas to Grapevine, Texas, in time for the conference’s closing Mass. The two are looking to raise awareness of immigration issues.

Despite the very rainy and “not good” weather that plagued the Dallas area on Saturday, the pair were able to safely complete the walk without any major issues. They walked to the National V Encuentro, a meeting of Hispanic and Latino Catholics from throughout the United States. Mendez told CNA that he was inspired to do this walk in part by the recent controversy over family separations at the U.S. border.

"You have families struggling, (and they are) separated all over the country,” said Mendez. “Children, suffering. Who's going to take care of that?”

He felt the walk was a way of showing people that, “You have worth, you can do something, to make people (pay) attention and take care of that.”

Before the pilgrimage, the pair did not know each other. They met when Mendez asked at a Mass at the Cathedral if anyone would be able to provide him with a ride or assistance with the trek. José (who has asked that CNA not use his last name) offered his car, and then asked if he could join as well.

This pilgrimage was similar to one Mendez does each year prior to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ annual immigration Mass. That pilgrimage takes three days, and consists of Mendez walking 47 miles from his home parish in Orange County to the Cathedral in Los Angeles. He does this to honor those who were unable to safely migrate to the United States.
The pair met with Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles shortly after arriving at the Gaylord Texan resort, where they had a brief chat.

Afterwards, Gomez told CNA that he feels the United States needs to make concrete moves on reforming its immigration policy, and that they were a symbol of how important the immigration issue is at this time.

“Antonio and Jose, coming from Dallas to Fort Worth to be with us here at the Encuentro is a reminder to all of us of the importance of the immigration issue at this time in our country,” said Gomez.

“They are very good Catholics, and the only thing they want to do is walk, praying that our elected officials, and all people in the United States, understand the importance of the immigrants that are in our country.”

Gomez said that he is continuing to pray that Congress is able to come up with a solution for the problems related to immigration currently in the United States. This spring, Congress was unable to reach a compromise on various measures, including the DREAM Act as well as the construction of a border wall.

“We can do it,” said Gomez.

“We are always praying for that and for them to understand how important it is for so many people that already are participating for the common good of our country.”

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and of warning Lithuanians to be attentive to any signs of anti-Semitism or hatred.

The walls of the KGB building -- a former jail and execution site -- echo the cry of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" the pope said.

Although thousands of people filled the square in front of the building, the mood was somber for the pope's visit Sept. 23. And it was punctuated by long pauses for silent prayer.

He had toured the museum with 79-year-old Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, whose photo is featured prominently on a wall display honoring the priests and bishops who endured imprisonment in the building's basement.

The archbishop had been imprisoned from 1983 to 1988 for "anti-Soviet propaganda." As a Jesuit priest, in 1972 he began publishing the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, an underground newsletter documenting communist repression of the church. Despite repeated questioning by the KGB, he managed to publish and distribute the chronicle for more than 10 years and, once he was arrested, others continued his work. St. John Paul II named him archbishop of Kaunas in 1996, and the archbishop retired in 2015.

The pope had gone to the museum after stopping to pray at a monument to more than 40,000 Jews in Vilnius killed by the Nazis. The prayer coincided with the national commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto.

Standing by the former KGB headquarters, Pope Francis prayed that God would "keep us alert" and strengthen the commitment of Catholics and all Lithuanians to fighting all forms of injustice and defending the dignity of all people.

"Lord," he prayed, "grant that we may not be deaf to the plea of all those who cry out to heaven in our own day."

Juozas Jakavonis, 93, sat in a place of honor and told reporters the pope's visit was important for reminding people of all those who suffered and died for the freedom they now enjoy.

Dressed in an old military uniform, Jakavonis said his nom de guerre had been "Tiger." He was part of the resistance to Soviet domination and spent three months jailed in that very building. After Lithuanian independence in 1990, he helped bring to public attention what occurred there. Records now show 1,038 people were executed in the building between 1944 and 1947.

Pope Francis had begun the day in Kaunas, a city about 60 miles West. But the memory of the victims of Nazism and communism and the obligation of today's Christians to fight all forms of hatred dominated there as well.

His last appointment was with priests, religious women and men and seminarians, and he began with ad-libbed remarks.

"I want to share what I feel," the pope said. "Looking at you, I see behind you many martyrs -- anonymous martyrs, in the sense that we don't even know where they were buried."

"Do not forget. Remember. You are children of martyrs. That is your strength," the pope told them. "They are saints."

Earlier in day, before reciting the Angelus prayer after Mass in Kaunas' Santakos Park, Pope Francis drew special attention to the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and to the evil of anti-Semitism. Before the Nazis invaded the country, at least 200,000 citizens were Jewish; fewer than 15,000 survived.

"Let us think back on those times and ask the Lord to give us the gift of discernment to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs," Pope Francis said.

A visit to the famed Hill of Crosses near Vilnius was not on Pope Francis' schedule, but he did point to it as a place where, especially during Soviet times, Catholics defiantly planted crosses to proclaim their faith.

He prayed that Mary would "help us all to plant our own cross, the cross of our service and commitment to the needs of others, on that hill where the poor dwell, where care and concern are needed for the outcast and for minorities. In this way, we can keep far from our lives and our cultures the possibility of destroying one another, of marginalizing, of continuing to discard whatever we find troublesome or uncomfortable."

Earlier, celebrating Mass in the park, Pope Francis had insisted that for a Christian the mistreatment Lithuanians endured first under the Nazis and then under the communists can never justify mistreating others. Instead, the experience must make victims and survivors even more sensitive and attentive to new attempts to denigrate or dominate certain groups of people.

"The Christian life always involves experiences of the cross," Pope Francis said in his homily. Lithuania's older generation still bears "the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors."

Referring to the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark in which Jesus warns his disciples of the suffering that is to come, Pope Francis said that naturally the disciples "wanted nothing to do with trials and hardships." And, in fact, they were more interested in discussing who among them was the greatest.

"The thirst for power" is not an unusual reaction to having endured suffering, the pope said. Nor is discussing "who was better, who acted with greater integrity n the past, who has the right to more privileges than others."

But when his disciples started speaking that way, the pope said, Jesus pointed to a child, one who was small and in need of protection.

And, the pope asked, "whom would Jesus place in our midst today?"

"Who is it who has nothing to give us, to make our effort and our sacrifices worthwhile?" Pope Francis asked. "Perhaps it is the ethnic minorities of our city. Or the jobless who have to emigrate. May be it is the elderly and the lonely, or those young people who find no meaning in life because they have lost their roots."

Whoever "the least" may be, he said, Christians are called to help them.

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Gomez to Encuentro: Jesus sent disciples, Guadalupe sent Juan Diego, God sends you

Dallas, Texas, Sep 23, 2018 / 11:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the final Mass of the National V Encuentro gathering, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles encouraged Hispanic and Latino Catholics to go out into the world and be missionary disciples for the Church, like the many holy lay people before them.

“Our reading of today's Gospel begins with these words: ‘Jesus and his disciples They left from there and started a journey,’” he said, referencing Mark 9:30-37.

“This is our story, yours and mine. This is the history of the Church. We are his disciples.”

Gomez gave the homily on the final day of the National V Encuentro, a meeting of Hispanic and Latino Catholics from throughout the United States that was the culmination of a years-long process of consultation at the parish, diocesan and regional levels.

The theme of this National Encuentro, held Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine, Texas, was “Discípulos Misioneros: Testigos del amor de Dios” or “Missionary Disciples: Witnesses of the love of God.”

Missionaries are made because they have first encountered Jesus, who then sends them on a journey, Gomez said.

“Your journey is now joined to Jesus. Your story is now part of the story of salvation, the journey of God’s people through history,” he added, like the disciples who spread the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, Asia and Africa.

“The journey of the Church continued towards the American continent with the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, in 1531,” Gomez said.

“We all know that story. We learned it when we were children, and we transmitted it to our little ones. It is a beautiful narration of the tender love of God, manifested in history.”

As Jesus sent the disciples, God through the Virgin of Guadalupe entrusted a mission to San Juan Diego - to go tell the bishop to build a church.

“Think about that, my dear brothers and sisters: Jesus entrusted him with the mission of his Church in the New World to a layman,” he said. “Not to a priest or a bishop. Not a member of a religious order.”

“You are the sons and daughters of the Virgin of Guadalupe in our time; you are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego. The mission entrusted to him is now entrusted to you.”

Just like Juan Diego, God is calling the Hispanic and Latino Catholics of the United States to be saints, missionary disciples and leaders of the Church, Gomez said.

“He is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops to renew and rebuild his Church. Not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas,” he said.

Hispanic and Latino Catholics are being called to lead not for power or ambition, he added, but “to lead by your holiness. True unity in the Church will only come about if every one of us - clergy and laity - is striving to be holy as God is holy.”

“Let's always move forward with confidence. Let's be men and women of the encounter! What
each one of us leads many people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” Gomez said.

“And may Our Lady of Guadalupe always go with us on the journey we make as disciples of Jesus. May she help us to be saints, to be heroes, instruments of unity and healing. These times demand it. And for this is what we were made for.”