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Update: Father of Alfie Evans meets pope, begs for help to save his son

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Begging Pope Francis to help his son, Alfie, Tom Evans met with the pontiff, pleading for "asylum" in Italy so his seriously ill son may receive care and not be euthanized in England.

"If Your Holiness helps our child, Your Holiness will be potentially saving the future for our children in the U.K., especially the disabled. We pray the problem we are facing is solved peacefully and respectfully as no child deserves this," Evans said in a statement he personally delivered to the pope April 18.

The private meeting came before the pope appealed publicly yet again for appropriate care and respect for 23-month-old Alfie Evans.

"I would like to affirm and vigorously uphold that the only master of life -- from its beginning to natural end -- is God," the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience April 18.

"Our duty is to do everything to safeguard life," he said before leading the thousands of people in the square in a moment of prayer and reflection.

He asked those at the audience to pray that the lives of all people, especially Alfie, be respected.

The pope's appeal -- the third he has made publicly -- came after he met with Alfie's father, who also attended the general audience with VIP seating in the square.

Evans flew to Rome overnight from England to meet with the pope. He posted photos and commentaries about the encounter on the Facebook page, "Alfie's Army Official."

The encounter lasted 20 minutes, according to the Italian Catholic news site, "La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana," which had one of its reporters accompany Evans at the meeting. The news site said the last-minute meeting was made possible by Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, whom the site said was designated by the pope to act as a conduit between the Evans family and the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Gently rubbing a small green rosary between his fingers, Evans, who is Catholic, told reporters that his son is being "held hostage" at the hospital, and he and his wife are "being treated like criminals and prisoners." The family has been fighting to remove Alfie from a Liverpool hospital to be transferred elsewhere.

Evans said he thought the meeting with the pope went very well. "I've seen the love and the care and the emotion in his eyes. I'm so fortunate to have had that opportunity" to meet the pope and talk about saving his son, he told Catholic News Service.

"I've prayed every day," he said, and though "God hasn't come through yet," he thought the next step should be the pope, because he understands that no one has the right over Alfie's life, but God.

He also asked the pope to speak out publicly again during the general audience in support of Alfie, and the pope did.

Evans asked the pope to help him bring the baby to Italy to the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu hospital, and the pope said, "Yes" and immediately turned and spoke to Bishop Cavina, according to Patricia Gooding-Williams, who was at the papal meeting acting as the translator. Bishop Cavina worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State for a number of years before being ordained a bishop in 2012.

The pope blessed Evans and told him he really respected his courage, saying he had "the same courage as God has for his children," Gooding-Williams told CNS.

In a statement then posted on Facebook, Evans thanked the pope for meeting with him and begged him for his help.

"I am now here in front of Your Holiness to plea for asylum. Our hospitals in the U.K. do not want to give disabled children the chance of life and instead the hospitals in the U.K. are now assisting death in children," the statement read.

"We have fought for Alfie for one and a half years and we now have realized our son's life does not mean much to the NHS," the National Health Service in the U.K., he wrote.

"We plea with you to help our son!"

Evans said in the written statement, "We see life and potential in our son and we want to bring him here to Italy at Bambino Gesu where we know he is safe and he will not be euthanized."

Mariella Enoc, president of the Vatican-run hospital, said they are ready to welcome Alfie.

"We certainly do not promise to cure him, but to take care of him, without aggressive treatment," she said in a statement published by the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire, April 14.

Three specialists from Bambino Gesu examined Alfie at the Liverpool hospital and determined "a positive outcome would be difficult, but the baby's suffering can be alleviated," she said.

Doctors in the U.K. have not been able to make a definitive diagnosis of the 23-month-old child's degenerative neurological condition.

However, doctors at the hospital have said keeping the toddler on life-support would be "futile," and he should begin receiving palliative care. A high court judge backed a lower court's ruling, saying the hospital can go against the wishes of the family and withdraw life-support.

In an effort to fight that decision, the parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, took their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which found no indication of any human rights violations and declared their application "inadmissible" March 28.

The parents want to transfer their son to Bambino Gesu to see if it is possible to diagnose and treat his condition, but the high court ruling would prevent that from happening, according to the parents' lawyer.

Shortly after Tom Evans met the pope, the bishops of England and Wales issued a statement saying, "With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering."

"We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonizing decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie's good as they see it," the bishops said.

"The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognized and affirmed," they added. "We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided."


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Is my dad in heaven?' little boy asks pope

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighborhood's children.

Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis' parish visits. And, at St. Paul of the Cross parish April 15, there were the usual questions like, "How did you feel when you were elected pope?"

But then it was Emanuele's turn. The young boy smiled at the pope as he approached the microphone. But then froze. "I can't do it," Emanuele said.

Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, a papal aide, encouraged the boy, but he kept saying, "I can't."

"Come, come to me, Emanuele," the pope said. "Come and whisper it in my ear."

Msgr. Sapienza helped the boy up to the platform where the pope was seated. Emanuele was sobbing by that point, and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace, patting his head and speaking softly to him.

With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat.

"If only we could all cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts like he has," the pope told the children. "He was crying for his father and had the courage to do it in front of us because in his heart there is love for his father."

Pope Francis said he had asked Emanuele if he could share the boy's question and the boy agreed. "'A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?'"

"How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, 'He was good,'" the pope told the children. "And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make his children like that, then it's true, he was a good man. He was a good man.

"That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn't a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart," Pope Francis said.

"God is the one who says who goes to heaven," the pope explained.

The next step in answering Emanuele's question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has. "What do you think? A father's heart. God has a dad's heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?"

"Does God abandon his children?" the pope asked. "Does God abandon his children when they are good?"

The children shouted, "No."

"There, Emanuele, that is the answer," the pope told the boy. "God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much."

Pope Francis encouraged Emanuele to "talk to your dad; pray to your dad."

Earlier, a young girl named Carlotta also asked the pope a delicate question: "When we are baptized, we become children of God. People who aren't baptized, are they not children of God?"

"What does your heart tell you?" the pope asked Carlotta. She said, they are, too.

"Right, and I'll explain," the pope told her. "We are all children of God. Everyone. Everyone."

The nonbaptized, members of other religions, those who worship idols, "even the mafiosi," who terrorize the neighborhood around the parish, are children of God, though "they prefer to behave like children of the devil," he said.

"God created everyone, loves everyone and put in everyone's heart a conscience so they would recognize what is good and distinguish it from what is bad," the pope said.

The difference, he said, is that "when you were baptized, the Holy Spirit entered into that conscience and reinforced your belonging to God and, in that sense, you became more of a daughter of God because you're a child of God like everyone, but with the strength of the Holy Spirit."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Schizoid' world brags it's free while chained to greed, pope says

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian freedom is being free from worldly ambition, fashion and passion and being open to God's will, Pope Francis said.

The world today "is a bit schizoid, schizophrenic, right? It shouts, 'Freedom, freedom, freedom!' but it is more slave, slave, slave," he said in his homily April 13 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

People need to think about what kind of freedom they seek in the world, he said.

Is it Christian, he asked, or "am I slave to my passions, my ambitions, to many things, to wealth, to fashion. It seems like a joke, but so many people are slaves to fashion!"

Pope Francis' homily looked at three examples of Christian freedom that were depicted in the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:34-42) and the Gospel reading (Jn 6:1-15).

The first reading told how the Pharisee, Gamaliel, convinces the Sanhedrin to free Peter and John from prison. He made the decision, the pope said, based on a trust that God would eventually let the truth be known about the apostles and by using his power of reason without letting it be warped by quick ambition.

"A free man is not afraid of time -- he leaves it to God. He leaves room for God to act in time. The free man is patient," the pope said.

Pontius Pilate, for example, was a man who was intelligent and could think reasonably, however, he wasn't free, the pope said. "He lacked the courage of freedom because he was a slave to careerism, ambition and success."

Even though Peter and John were innocent and were punished unjustly after they were freed from prison, they did not go to a judge to complain or demand reparation, the pope said.

They freely chose to rejoice and suffer in Christ's name just as Christ suffered for them, he said.

"Even today there are so many Christians, in prison, tortured who carry forward this freedom to proclaim Jesus Christ," he said.

Finally, Jesus himself gives an example of freedom when he escapes to the mountain alone after he realizes the people were going to carry him off to make him king after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

"He detached himself from triumphalism. He does not let himself be deceived" by this attitude of superiority, and makes sure he remains free, the pope said.

True freedom, he said, is making room for God in one's life and following him with joy, even if it brings hardship and suffering.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Blessed Romero's canonization probably in Rome in October

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During an April 11 homily in Washington, Salvadoran Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas said the canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero will "probably" be in Rome and "probably" take place at end of October after a meeting of bishops.

He hedged his statement in an interview with Catholic News Service saying the final decision is up to Pope Francis.

"Soon we will have a canonization," the archbishop said to a crowd of mostly Salvadoran immigrants gathered for Mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart. "On May 19, we will know the date and the place."

That's the date cardinals will gather at the Vatican for a meeting known as a consistory, where they're expected to decide the details.

The archbishop's statement came hours after reports that Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga said to members of the press in Madrid that the Romero canonization would take place Oct. 21.

El Salvador's Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who also was present at the Mass in Washington, referenced Cardinal Maradiaga's statement and said, "Let's wait until the official announcement" but also said the Honduran cardinal was close to the pope and may know details.

Archbishop Escobar, who occupies the post held for three years by Blessed Romero, from 1977 until his assassination in 1980, said El Salvador's bishops sent the pope a message asking that the canonization be held in their country. Many of the country's poor would not be able to otherwise attend the ceremony, a first for El Salvador, he said. Archbishop Romero's May 2015 beatification took place in El Salvador. Ultimately, the pope will decide what to do, he said.

"In any case, he (Romero) will be canonized," he said during the homily. "We are happy."

The archbishop and the cardinal are part of a delegation of Salvadoran bishops seeking to meet in April with U.S. lawmakers to plead for relief for immigrants who have benefited from two imperiled U.S. immigration programs: Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Their end would affect more than 215,000 Salvadoran nationals living in the U.S. under those protections, he said.

Archbishop Escobar told those gathered at Mass to pray for Blessed Romero's intercession and a miracle so that lawmakers find a permanent solution and an answer to their pleas.

"We would like you to invoke (Blessed) Romero for his intercession in this miracle, a solution to this problem," he said. "He is with us and intercedes for us."

Blessed Romero was assassinated March 24, 1980, during Mass after repeatedly pleading for an end to violence, to injustice against the poor, and to the killing of innocent civilians during an armed conflict that ultimately lasted 12 years and resulted in more than 70,000 deaths in the country.

Some of those deaths included 20 Catholic priests, two bishops, including Blessed Romero, and men and women religious, as well as catechists and ministers, the archbishop said. One of them was Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande who is "en route" to beatification, he said.

The church of El Salvador also is working to recognize the other martyrs, he said, which include four American church women from Cleveland slain in the country late in 1980, months after Blessed Romero's martyrdom.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope apologizes for 'serious mistakes' in judging Chilean abuse cases

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a letter to the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

The pope said he made "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information."

"I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks," the pope said in the letter, which was released by the Vatican April 11. Several survivors apparently have been invited to the Vatican to meet the pope.

Abuse victims alleged that Bishop Barros -- then a priest -- had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

Protesters and victims said Bishop Barros is guilty of protecting Father Karadima and was physically present while some of the abuse was going on.

During his visit to Chile in January, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the sexual abuses committed by some priests in Chile.

"I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some of the ministers of the church," he said.

However, speaking to reporters, he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

He later apologized to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

A short time later, the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending a trusted investigator to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

Pope Francis said Archbishop Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, heard the testimony of 64 people and presented him with more than 2,300 pages of documentation. Not all of the witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers' school.

After a "careful reading" of the testimonies, the pope said, "I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame."

The pope said he was convening a meeting in Rome with the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions "without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives."

Pope Francis said he wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to "re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice."

Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu, the pope said, had been overwhelmed by the "maturity, respect and kindness" of the victims who testified.

"As pastors," the pope told the bishops, "we must express the same feeling and cordial gratitude to those who, with honesty (and) courage" requested to meet with the envoys and "showed them the wounds of their soul."

Following the release of Pope Francis' letter, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of the bishops' conference and head of the military ordinariate, said the bishops of Chile would travel to the Vatican in the third week of May.

The bishops, he said, shared in the pope's pain.

"We have not done enough," he said in a statement. "Our commitment is that this does not happen again."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposes synod on women

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church in Latin America must recognize and appreciate the role of women and end the practice of using them solely as submissive laborers in the parish, said members of a pontifical commission.

In addition, at the end of their plenary meeting March 6-9 at the Vatican, members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America proposed that the church hold a Synod of Bishops "on the theme of the woman in the life and mission of the church."

"There still exist 'macho,' bossy clerics who try to use women as servants within their parish, almost like submissive clients of worship and manual labor for what is needed. All of this has to end," said the final document from the meeting.

L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, reported April 11 that the theme of the four-day meeting, "The woman: pillar in building the church and society in Latin America," was chosen by Pope Francis.

In addition to 17 cardinals and seven bishops who are members of the commission, the pope asked that some leading Latin American women also be invited; eight laywomen and six women religious participated in the four-day meeting and in drafting its pastoral recommendations, the newspaper said.

While the assembly expressed appreciation for and based many of its proposals on the Latin American bishops' Aparecida document, participants said more needed to be done to implement concrete solutions to the problems facing women in Latin America.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio headed the drafting committee for the final document of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil.

The Aparecida document's call to renew the church's commitment to mission and discipleship in Latin America must be followed through by local churches, especially "in denouncing every form of discrimination and oppression, violence and exploitation that women suffer in various situations," the Pontifical Commission for Latin America's final document stated.

Expressing appreciation for the Christian witness given by women in consecrated life, mothers who are "authentic 'martyrs' giving their lives for their families" and widows who serve their communities in charity, the commission document said women can and should play a greater role in church life, including in the formation of future priests.

In order for priests to benefit from the "feminine genius," it said, it is important for married women and consecrated women "to participate in the formation process."

Women should be a part "of the formation teams, giving them authority to teach and accompany seminarians, as well as the opportunity to intervene in the vocational discernment and balanced development of candidates to the priestly ministry," the document said.

The commission also warned of the negative influence "telenovelas" (soap operas) have on Latin American women because the programs undermine marriages and families that are labeled "traditional" while advocating a variety of other forms of cohabitation.

In addition, the document said, "they attempt to undermine motherhood, which is depicted as a prison that reduces the possibilities of a woman's well-being and progress."

In Latin America, meeting participants warned, poor women are subjected to "undignified and horrible forms" of exploitation by "renting out their wombs" for surrogacy and influenced by foreign organizations.

"Feminist lobbies that are well-funded and orchestrated by international agencies" play a role in diminishing the dignity of women, the document added.

The figure of Mary as "a free and strong woman, obedient to the will of God," can be crucial in "recovering the identity of the woman and her value in the church," the document said.

Like Mary proclaiming the "Magnificat," women can have a prophetic voice and demonstrate "the feminine and maternal dimension of the church," the document stated.

"The Catholic Church, following the example of Jesus, must be very free of prejudices, stereotypes and discrimination against women," the final document said. "Christian communities must undertake a serious review of their life and a 'pastoral conversion' capable of asking forgiveness for all those situations in which they were and still are accomplices in attacking their dignity."

Participants at the meeting called for improved relations between local bishops and the religious orders of women who minister in their dioceses, saying women religious "must be recognized and valued as jointly responsible for the communion and mission of the church."

Women should be more involved in decision-making on a parish, diocesan, national and global church level, participants said. Such openness is not "a concession to pressure," but the result of an awareness that "the absence of women in decision making is a defect, an ecclesiological lacuna, the negative effect of a clerical and chauvinistic mentality."

Greater efforts, they said, must be made to educate men to overcome chauvinism, counteract the abandonment of their children and "irresponsibility in sexual behavior."

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Contributing to this story was Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Fond memories of global community echo with bishops' justice advocate

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A picture of a young Palestinian boy, with dark, soulful eyes and a bit of a dirty face, hangs on the back wall of Stephen Colecchi's office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

When Colecchi looks at it, he offers a prayer for the nameless child and the Palestinian people.

"I met him in a mosque in Gaza on my first trip there (2007) and he hung around me. He kept smiling at me so I kept smiling at him," recalled Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace.

"I pray for him whenever I look at his picture. I wonder if he's still alive and doing OK."

The boy is one of countless people Colecchi met during fact-finding trips around the world. Their struggles inspired Colecchi's work to protect human life throughout the 14 years at the USCCB.

"The best thing about this work, in addition to working with the bishops," he told Catholic News Service as he approached his April 30 retirement, "was you get to bring three assets of the church together: the experience of the church on the ground in every country around the world; the teaching of the church, the social teaching; and then the relationships ... that help inform what you're able to bring."

Colleagues credit Colecchi with uncounted accomplishments even though he stayed out of the limelight.

"Steve was a delight to work with. He was a man of great wisdom, integrity and very collegial," said retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, who is a past chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The bishop credited Colecchi for doing his homework on vital issues and keeping Scripture and Catholic social teaching at the forefront of his work.

Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, called Colecchi a resolute partner in advocacy and a gifted friend who is at ease talking with policymakers and struggling people alike.

"The bishops and the wider church have been served incredibly well by Steve and his determined leadership on raising the voice of the church on a whole host of international issues," O'Keefe said.

"He's made a profound difference in shaping the U.S. policy on key issues through supporting the bishops in their role," he added. "He combines his intellect and policy analysis with the ability to connect with people who are suffering great injustice."

John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and former executive director of the bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, brought Colecchi to the USCCB in 2004. Carr credited him for his steadfast pursuit of justice, citing his leading role in securing reauthorization of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief among other critical international aid programs.

"There are literally millions of people in Africa who are seeing their grandchildren because of his work and a lot of other people's work on HIV/AIDS and debt relief," Carr said.

"He is smart. He is faithful. He is persistent. He is good to work with. He is just a remarkable example of a faithful Catholic who has made a huge difference," Carr added.

Colecchi keeps the accolades in perspective.

"The church's teaching is neither left or right," he told CNS. "Rather it seeks to be faithful. We should always put our moral principles ahead of our partisan political positions and be guided by faith."

Colecchi's commitment to peace and justice was formed early in life. Growing up in Leominster, Massachusetts, in the 1950s and 1960s, Colecchi was active in the youth group at his family's parish, Holy Family of Nazareth.

"I really saw faith and engagement with society as going together," he said.

At first, Colecchi thought he would do that as a priest.

As he went off to the College of the Holy Cross in nearby Worcester, his father urged him to "do at least a little dating to see if you're really called to celibacy," Colecchi said. In his junior year, Colecchi met his wife, Cheryl, and thoughts of the priesthood disappeared. They have been married 44 years.

The years at Holy Cross were formative in other ways. Colecchi became involved in efforts to end the Vietnam War. It was Jesuit Father Joseph J. LaBran, associate chaplain, who, after an anti-war rally, encouraged Colecchi to consider using his leadership skills to serve the Catholic Church.

Following graduation in 1973, Colecchi entered Yale Divinity School to work on a master's degree in religion. He also worked on low-income housing needs for elderly people. "That was significant because I saw the struggles of poor, inner city elderly residents," he said.

At Yale, Colecchi met Father Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who taught pastoral ministry and wrote numerous books and articles on myriad aspects of the church's vital work.

"He was a big influence on me, too," Colecchi said of Father Nouwen. "He helped me understand that it was important to root myself in some spirituality, which I have never been very good at. I've always been more of an activist. That's one of the things I could do better in retirement."

With advanced degree in hand, Colecchi began his career in religious education at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he connected students with outreach to elderly people. Then it was on to Virginia, the one place where Steve and Cheryl could find work together, he in parish ministry and she as a teacher.

Colecchi worked for three years at St. Joseph Church in rural Martinsville and eight years at St. Bridget Church in Richmond. As time passed, Cheryl built a career as a clinical psychologist.

By 1988, Colecchi's skills were noticed within the Richmond Diocese. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, a leading social justice advocate who opposed abortion as much as nuclear weapons, hired him on the spot during an interview. Colecchi became director of the Office of Justice and Peace and diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

"It was a big office because it included an office of migrant ministry on the Eastern Shore. It included an office in Appalachia that worked on issues in Appalachia. It included refugee resettlement offices in three different metro areas of the diocese."

The position also required regularly meeting with legislators on any number of concerns. He recalled his most notable legislative achievements as changes in public assistance policies affecting two-parent families and a prohibition on partial-birth abortion.

In 2004, the USCCB called.

The Colecchis were not sure they wanted to move northward. They had two daughters and Cheryl's practice was well established. It was their involvement in the Just Faith program that led them to take the risk. The yearlong program rooted in social justice concerns ends with a retreat during which participants are invited to discern how God is calling them to act on behalf of the poor.

"Together we realized we needed to take a greater risk for social justice, we needed to simplify our lives," Colecchi recalled.

The moved turned out well. Colecchi has earned wide praise for his work and Cheryl was able to build a new practice in Washington's Virginia suburbs. Both were to retire together and planned to return to the Richmond area.

Colecchi said he looks "forward to being a full-time grandpa and a part-time something else" in retirement. He hopes to line up work as an adviser on issues such as nuclear disarmament, world poverty and climate change.

"I think I have something to contribute still."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Sweden's Lutherans to let Catholic parish hold Masses in Lund cathedral

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

For the first time in 500 years, Lutherans in Sweden are welcoming Catholics to celebrate Masses in Lund cathedral. The historic cathedral, formerly the site of bitter religious feuding, has become a site of interfaith friendship since Pope Francis held a service there in 2016.

The agreement to allow Catholic Masses to be celebrated in the cathedral was announced in early April to accommodate the growing parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Lund, which will be undergoing building renovations. Catholic services will be held there beginning in October until the renovations are complete.

"People are very excited," said Dominican Father Johan Linden, pastor of St. Thomas Parish. "As I and my Lutheran counterparts have stressed, this is not merely a practical solution but a fruit of the Holy Father's visit and the joint document 'From Conflict to Communion.'"

The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm credits the church sharing to Pope Francis' visit, saying the pope has had a direct impact in improving Christian relationships in Sweden.

"Since the visit of Pope Francis, the ecumenical relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Lund have developed and grown stronger," said Kristina Hellner, diocesan spokeswoman. "The parishes don't wish to focus on what is separating them. Instead they focus on what is uniting: the Gospel, baptism, prayer and diaconal care."

Since the pope's visit, Catholics and Protestants in Lund have also been holding common vespers together on Saturday evenings. The number of participants varies from 50 to 200, said Father Linden.

Lund is home to one of only three Catholic schools in Sweden.

"Our region is growing and Lund, a town with a major university and several important research projects, is growing at a fast pace," said Father Linden, whose parish has about 3,500 registered members but serves about 5,000.

Father Linden said his diverse group of parishioners includes students, immigrants, foreign workers and families.

"Last time I tried to count, we had around 85 nationalities," he said.

Now the small Catholic community has outgrown the building and found a new opportunity for fellowship with their Lutheran neighbors.

Father Linden said he believes that the experience is enriching, saying that goodness and beauty are found everywhere and can be particularly shared with Christians of other traditions.

"If we take Christ's invitation to unity seriously, we must first and foremost seek the good, the true, the beautiful and cherish it. Be humble and recognize it," said Father Linden, saying witnessing a different tradition can inspire people to grow in holiness.

"All this can and will be done without giving up our own tradition," he added. "For us, our common ground of baptism and the Gospel means that we can do a lot to make God's kingdom grow and become more visible in our secular society."

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Fletcher is a correspondent for Catholic News Service.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Holiness means being loving, not boring, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God calls all Christians to be saints -- not plastic statues of saints, but real people who make time for prayer and who show loving care for others in the simplest gestures, Pope Francis said in his new document on holiness.

"Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy," the pope wrote in "Gaudete et Exsultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad"), his apostolic exhortation on "the call to holiness in today's world."

Pope Francis signed the exhortation March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and the Vatican released it April 9.

Much of the document was written in the second person, speaking directly to the individual reading it. "With this exhortation I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you," he wrote near the beginning.

Saying he was not writing a theological treatise on holiness, Pope Francis focused mainly on how the call to holiness is a personal call, something God asks of each Christian and which requires a personal response given one's state in life, talents and circumstances.

"We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer," he wrote. But "that is not the case."

"We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves," he said.

He wrote about "the saints next door" and said he likes "to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God's people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile."

Pope Francis also noted the challenges to holiness, writing at length and explicitly about the devil just two weeks after an uproar caused by an elderly Italian journalist who claimed the pope told him he did not believe in the existence of hell.

"We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea," the pope wrote in his exhortation. "This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable" to the devil's temptations.

"The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice," he wrote. "When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities."

The path to holiness, he wrote, is almost always gradual, made up of small steps in prayer, in sacrifice and in service to others.

Being part of a parish community and receiving the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, are essential supports for living a holy life, the pope wrote. And so is finding time for silent prayer. "I do not believe in holiness without prayer," he said, "even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotion."

"The holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures," he said, before citing the example of a woman who refuses to gossip with a neighbor, returns home and listens patiently to her child even though she is tired, prays the rosary and later meets a poor person and offers him a kind word.

The title of the document was taken from Matthew 5:12 when Jesus says "rejoice and be glad" to those who are persecuted or humiliated for his sake.

The line concludes the Beatitudes, in which, Pope Francis said, "Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy": living simply, putting God first, trusting him and not earthly wealth or power, being humble, mourning with and consoling others, being merciful and forgiving, working for justice and seeking peace with all.

The example of the saints officially recognized by the church can be helpful, he said, but no one else's path can be duplicated exactly.

Each person, he said, needs "to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity."

The exhortation ends with a section on "discernment," which is a gift to be requested of the Holy Spirit and developed through prayer, reflection, reading Scripture and seeking counsel from a trusted spiritual guide.

"A sincere daily 'examination of conscience'" will help, he said, because holiness involves striving each day for "all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day's responsibilities and commitments."

Pope Francis also included a list of cautions. For example, he said holiness involves finding balance in prayer time, time spent enjoying others' company and time dedicated to serving others in ways large or small. And, "needless to say, anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness."

Being holy is not easy, he said, but if the attempt makes a person judgmental, always frustrated and surly, something is not right.

"The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness," he said. "The apostles of Christ were not like that."

In fact, the pope said, "Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor."

The exhortation included many of Pope Francis' familiar refrains about attitudes that destroy the Christian community, like gossip, or that proclaim themselves to be Christian, but are really forms of pride, like knowing all the rules and being quick to judge others for not following them.

Holiness "is not about swooning in mystic rapture," he wrote, but it is about recognizing and serving the Lord in the hungry, the stranger, the naked, the poor and the sick.

Holiness is holistic, he said, and while each person has a special mission, no one should claim that their particular call or path is the only worthy one.

"Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred," the pope wrote. "Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia...."

And, he said, one cannot claim that defending the life of a migrant is a "secondary issue" when compared to abortion or other bioethical questions.

"That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian," he said.

Pope Francis' exhortation also included warnings about a clear lack of holiness demonstrated by some Catholics on Twitter or other social media, especially when commenting anonymously.

"It is striking at times," he said, that "in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying."

Saints, on the other hand, "do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters, and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others."

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Printed copies of "Rejoice and Be Glad" can be ordered from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at: http://store.usccb.org/rejoice-and-be-glad-p/7-599.htm

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Don't be afraid of shame, open hearts to God's mercy, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Feeling ashamed of one's sins does not mean wallowing in guilt, rather it is the gateway all men and women can use to experience firsthand God's tender mercy and forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

Christians should be grateful for shame because it "means that we do not accept evil, and that is good," the pope said April 8 at an outdoor Mass in St. Peter's Square commemorating Divine Mercy Sunday.

"Shame is a secret invitation of the soul that needs the Lord to overcome evil," the pope said. "The tragedy is when we are no longer ashamed of anything. Do not be afraid of being ashamed! Let us pass from shame to forgiveness!"

Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated every year on the Sunday after Easter, was added to the universal church calendar by St. John Paul II in 2000. The Polish pope was a longtime devotee of the Divine Mercy devotions of St. Faustina Kowalksa, whom he beatified in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

As Pope Francis celebrated the Mass, a painting of Jesus inspired by St. Faustina's visions was near the altar. The image, perched on top a bed of white roses, depicts Jesus with one hand raised in blessing and the other pointing to his heart emanating red and white light.

As the sounds of the Sistine choir filled the air, Pope Francis stood and bowed reverently in front of the painting before incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading from St. John which recalled the apostle Thomas' disbelief at Christ's resurrection.

Despite Thomas' initial lack of faith, Pope Francis said, Christians should learn from his example and not be content with hearing from others that Jesus is alive.

"A God who is risen but remains distant does not fill our lives; an aloof God does not attract us, however just and holy he may be. No, we too need to 'see God,' to touch him with our hands and to know that he is risen for us," the pope said.

Like Thomas and the disciples, he explained, Christian men and women can only understand the depth of God's love by "gazing upon" Jesus' wounds.

Although "we can consider ourselves Christians, call ourselves Christians and speak about the many beautiful values of faith," he said, "we need to see Jesus by touching his love. Only thus can we go to the heart of the faith and, like the disciples, find peace and joy beyond all doubt."

There are several "closed doors" that must be opened in order to experience this love and to understand that God's mercy "is not simply one of his qualities among others, but the very beating of his heart," Pope Francis said.

The first step, he said, is seeking and accepting God's forgiveness which is often difficult because "we are tempted to do what the disciples did in the Gospel: to barricade ourselves behind closed doors."

"They did it out of fear, yet we too can be afraid, ashamed to open our hearts and confess our sins," the pope said. "May the Lord grant us the grace to understand shame, to see it not as a closed door, but as the first step toward an encounter."

Another closed door is remaining resigned to one's sins, he said, so "in discouragement, we give up on mercy."

Through the sacrament of reconciliation, Christians are reminded that "it isn't true that everything remains the way it was," and absolution allows them "to go forward from forgiveness to forgiveness."

The final door, Pope Francis said, is the actual sin that is "only closed on one side, our own," because God "never chooses to abandon us; we are the ones who keep him out."

However, he added, confession allows for God to work his wonders and "we discover that the very sin that kept us apart from the Lord becomes the place where we encounter him."

"There the God who is wounded by love comes to meet our wounds. He makes our wretched wounds like his own glorious wounds. Because he is mercy and works wonders in our wretchedness," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.