Pakistani leader talks persecuted Christians with Pope Francis

In a brief encounter with Pope Francis following his general audience Wednesday, former Pakistani minister Paul Bhatti discussed persecuted Christians and invited the pontiff to visit his country.

“I met him with my mom and it was a desire and a heartfelt wish of my mom to see the Holy Father and to share her views regarding peace in the world and regarding the persecution of Christians in the world,” Bhatti said.

“I translated for her and conveyed this message, and I saw that the Pope was really moved by her statement, and he showed her, and me, that he is with us with his prayers,” and is with “all who are persecuted in the name of religion.”

Bhatti is the former Federal Minister of National Harmony and Minorities Affairs in Pakistan, which is a position he took on after the assassination of his younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed in 2011 by Islamic extremists.

The two had worked closely to assist the most marginalized and oppressed in the country, and strove to promote religious freedom, equality and social justice, particularly fighting violations of those areas within Pakistan.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Pope at Santa Marta: Christian Authority Comes From Holy Spirit

A Christian’s authority comes from the Holy Spirit, not from human wisdom or degrees in theology, said Pope Francis at morning Mass Tuesday, as he explained that Christian identity is having the Spirit of Christ, not the “spirit of the world”.

The people were astonished at Christ’s teaching because he spoke with authority. Inspired by the passage from the Gospel Pope dwelt on the nature of Our Lord’s authority and, as a consequence that of the Christian.

Francis said that Jesus was “not a common preacher,” because his “authority” comes from the ‘”special anointing of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus, he said, is “the Son of God, anointed and sent” to “bring salvation, to bring freedom.” And some, he noted, “were scandalized” by this style that belonged to Jesus, by its identity and freedom:

“We too can ask ourselves, what is our identity as Christians? Paul puts it very well today when he says: ‘And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom’. Paul’s preaching is not the result of a course at the Lateran, or the Gregorian [Pontifical Universities - ed]… No, no, no! Not human wisdom, no! But taught by the Spirit: Paul preached with the anointing of the Spirit, expressing spiritual things of the Spirit in spiritual terms. Man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God by his own strength: Man alone cannot understand this!”.
Continue reading

Ebola outbreak worsens amid more pleas for aid

The continuing spread of the Ebola outbreak in Africa is putting more lives at risk, while containment efforts and the flight of vital workers have endangered food supplies and medical care even for those without the disease.

“What we are seeing today in contrast to previous Ebola outbreaks (are) multiple hotspots within these countries, not a single remote forested area, the kind of environments in which it has been tackled in the past,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO Assistant Director-General for Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration, told a news conference in Geneva Aug. 28.

More than 1,552 people have died and at least 3,069 people have been infected, according to U.N. figures. The outbreak is the largest ever recorded, with a fatality rate ranging from 42 to 66 percent.

The outbreak response includes efforts at providing food.

The United Nations’ World Food Program aims to feed 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The efforts plan to feed those being treated for Ebola, their relatives, and those who have been medically quarantined in an attempt to halt the spread of the disease.

Hundreds of families have lost one or more of their members, frequently one of their main income providers.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Slaughter of the Innocents

The ratio of female to male infants continues to decline in India and a recent report by the United Nations warned that urgent action is needed to reverse the trend.

The report, “‘Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection: History, Debates and Future Directions,” was published by the organization UN Women.

The ratio has gone from 976 girls to 1000 boys in 1961, to 927 girls in 2001, and to 918 girls in 2011.

Estimates of how many deaths attributable to sex selective abortion and neglect of newborn girls vary widely, the report explained. One estimate for the period of 1981-2005 is ten million.

More recent data, from the 2011 census, shows that in some of the states in the north and the west of India, who have the worst sex ratios, the problem has eased. Other areas of India, however, showed a decline in the ratio of girls to boys, revealing that the increased mortality of girls has spread more widely across the country.

In the history section of the report it explained how in the early 1980s amniocentesis testing began in some cities to discover the sex of a foetus. Then, some of those discovered to be female would be aborted.

The modern technology that allows girls to be aborted before birth has only made worse a situation that has long existed. The report described how English colonial authorities were shocked at the lack of care for infant girls and there are records of female infanticide going back to 1789.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Albania: let the martyrs’ blood be a warning for the future

Monsignor Angelo Massafra, the metropolitan archbishop of Shkodër-Pult, traces the history of a country that starts from its Christian martyrs and religious coexistence, after state atheism

“I wish that time, as well as His Holiness’ next visit to Albania, favours the work we have undertaken for years; but also that ours can become an example of brotherhood and unlimited openness even for the other populations that today, unfortunately, suffer under religious persecution; remembering that those who kill in the name of faith are actually driven by a criminal or terrorist spirit but never by the Spirit of God”. A few days before Pope Francis’ visit, this is the wish of the Franciscan Monsignor Angelo Massafra, metropolitan archbishop of Shkodër-Pult and president of the Episcopal Conference of Albania.

You are an eminent member of the Interreligious Council in a country where Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics live together under the same national government. What’s the secret?

There is no secret to the coexistence of faiths in Albania: one single population, common sufferings under many years of regime and the willingness not to fall back into ancient forms of repression and dehumanization, that have caused the Albanese population to be “divided” in religion since 1500. What communism has left behind is the memory of religious belonging, which we are recovering in time. The path of religious formation is long, but there are beautiful examples of recovered faith and education in it, both from Christians and Muslims. There have been times when we feared that some factions might exploit moments of social crisis to turn them into a religious war. The unity among the representatives of different faiths has forestalled this. Today, we have cordial relationships through mutual respect and the valorisation of what unites us rather than divides us. The Feast Days of each religion are an occasion to strengthen relationships among us. Undoubtedly the Interreligious Council could and should do much more, not from a religious perspective but socially.

Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Japanese Church makes commitment to peace its priority

The “Pacem in Terris” encyclical becomes the Magna Carta of Christians: The Constitution must not be changed for military purposes

The Japanese Church is focusing on two elements that are essential to the country’s evangelisation mission: dialogue and peace. With the atomic bomb disasters in Hiroshima and Nagasaki still alive in its memory, shaken by the recent Fukushima tragedy and inspired by Pope Francis’ August visit to Korea, Japan’s Christian community is focusing its attention on two key assets that are essential to its presence in the Land of the Rising Sun: dialogue between religions as an integral part of the Church’s mission and the subject of peace and disarmament which pervades political debate and unites Christians in their rejection of Constitutional change for military purposes. The Church is presenting the “Pacem in Terris” encyclical as a Magna Carta for Japanese faithful.

The Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Indunil Kodithuwakku, who was a missionary in Japan, told Vatican Insider that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have left an indelible mark on the memory of Japanese people: “The memory of the over 80 thousand civilian victims in Hiroshima and the 75 thousand people who fell victim to the second bomb still makes people emotional. Not to mention the hibakusha (those exposed to atomic radiation) who still carry the scars of those two mornings of gloom.”
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Myanmar celebrates 500 years of Catholicism with music, art

Celebrating 500 years since the arrival of Catholicism in Myanmar, Catholic artists have pooled together to evangelize through a new musical endeavor.

Catholic Creative Artists Association – an indigenous group of Catholic professional artists inspired by Biblical experience – has composed, developed and released a music album entitled “Revelation” in honor of the anniversary.

Earlier this year, the association premiered its first mega multi-cultural musical entitled “Jesus of Nazareth” at the National Stadium for two days in front of a fully-packed audience.

The program incorporated artists from the seven major ethnic groups with their own music and dances.

“God seems to be inspiring the Church to recognize this great potential and use it for greater benefit of the Word of God,” Fr. Leo Mang, director of social communication for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, said.

The bishops’ conference has declared the current liturgical year “The 500th Great Jubilee Year.” Celebrations kicked off Nov. 24, 2013 and will come to close on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 23, 2014.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Pope Francis: It is Sad to See ‘Watered Down Christians’

Reflects on the Need to Be in a Constant State of Renewal During Sunday Angelus

The Gospel, the Eucharist and Prayer are the three gifts that allows to walk the path of Christ and not of the world. This was the theme of Pope Francis’ address during Sunday’s Angelus.

The Holy Father reflected on today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, where Jesus tells his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise from the dead. When Peter rebukes Him, Jesus in turn reproaches him saying “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

This critical moment, the Holy Father noted, speaks to the reality of Christians today who run the risk of becoming worldly, or “watered down.”

“It is sad to find watered down Christians, who are like watered wine,” he said. “You can’t tell whether they are Christian or worldly.”
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in Angelus

Sunday Angelus: On the Gospel, Eucharist and Prayer

At 12pm today, Pope Francis appeared at the window of the study in the Apostolic Palace to pray the Angelus with faithful and pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Here below is an English translation of his words introducing the Marian prayer, and his address that followed:


Dear brothers and sisters, Good Morning!

In the Sunday itinerary with the Gospel of Matthew, we arrive today at the crucial point in which Jesus, after confirming that Peter and the other eleven had believed in Him as the Messiah and Son of God, “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly…,and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (16,21).

It is a critical moment in which Jesus and the disciples’ way of thinking emerges. Even Peter feels compelled to reproach the Master, because he cannot attribute such a shameful end for the Messiah.

Jesus, in turn, severely reproaches Peter, He puts him “back in line” because he does not think “as God does, but as human beings do.” (v.23) and without realizing that he his playing the role of Satan, the tempter.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in Angelus

Greek Catholics face hostility amid unrest in Ukraine

A bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church called for peace amid escalating conflict with pro-Russian separatists, stating that the Church there is facing increased persecution as fighting goes on.

“Even if it’s not announced – it seems like a war against Ukraine,” Monsignor Dionisio Lachovicz said. “I believe that the only hope is in the Lord, therefore we call the whole world to pray for peace.”

Msgr. Lachovicz, apostolic visitor for the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Italy and in Spain, explained that in the midst of rising tensions between the Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists “a new persecution is being waged against the Greek Catholics located in the territories in Russian hands.”

These are, he clarified, the areas of “Crimea and in the territories where the Russia-friendly ‘separatists’ are seeking to impose their power.”

In Donetsk, a large city in Eastern Ukraine, “the bishop’s residence has been sacked and sealed. The cathedral’s land has been struck by separatist rockets. The bishops and almost all of the Greek-Catholics priests have been forced to leave the area of Donetsk,” the bishop explained.

“The Church has been desecrated by the rebels who blackmail the clergy, threatening reprisals on the parishioners. And only some days ago the monastery of the Servants of God was occupied by separatists.”
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Panic, hunger spread among quarantined West Africans in Ebola areas

Hunger and panic are spreading among people unable to work because of restrictions aimed at containing the spread of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone, say church workers in West Africa.

In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, church groups “are trying to get food and distribute it to families who have asked us to help, but movement is heavily restricted and there is little we can do,” Salesian Father Jorge Crisafulli, provincial superior in West Africa, said in a telephone interview from Accra, Ghana.

Neighborhoods in Monrovia have been sealed off under terms of the government-imposed state of emergency.

The World Health Organization has estimated that more than 2,600 people in West Africa have been infected with Ebola since March. More than 1,400 people have died from the virus.

Food prices in Liberia are “rising steeply and people are hungry,” Father Crisafulli said, noting that “markets in the city that are usually bustling are now empty and no trading is happening.”

People are unable to get to work and, “while they still have to buy food, they have no money because they can’t work,” he said.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Reading I: Jeremiah 20:7-9
Responsorial Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Reading II: Romans 12:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Gospel)

The Cross of Jesus

Among all the religious symbols in the world none is more universal than the cross. You see crosses everywhere, on walls, on hillsides, in churches, in houses, in bedrooms, on chains around peoples’ necks, on rings, on ear-rings, on old people, on young people, on believers, and on people who aren’t sure in what they believe. Not everyone can explain what the cross means or why they choose to wear one, but most everyone has an inchoate sense that it is a symbol, perhaps the ultimate symbol, for depth, love, fidelity, and faith.

And the cross is exactly that, the ultimate symbol of depth, love, fidelity, and faith. Rene Girard, an anthropologist, once commented that “the cross of Jesus is the single most revolutionary moral event in all of history.” The world measures time by it. We are in the year 2007 (roughly) since Jesus died on a cross and ever-increasing numbers of people began to organize their lives around its significance.

What is so morally revolutionary in the cross?

Precisely because it such a deep mystery, the cross is not easy to grasp intellectually. The deeper things in life, love, fidelity, morality, and faith are not mathematics, but mysteries whose unfathomable depths always leave room for more still to be understood. We never quite arrive at an adequate understanding of them.
Continue reading

LA Archbishop Says It’s Time to Start Praying for Fall Synod

Here is an article by Los Angeles’ Archbishop José Gomez, regarding the family. It was published in the archdiocesan news bulletin.

* * *

As the summer winds down and we move into fall, we need to turn our prayers and reflection to the meeting of the world’s bishops that Pope Francis has called for October 5-19 in Rome.

The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will discuss the theme of “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization.”

Strengthening families and restoring the family as the natural center of society is a top priority of our Holy Father. The upcoming “extraordinary” synod will be followed in 2015 by an “ordinary” synod on the family and a World Meeting of Families, to be held in Philadelphia.

Family is the essential foundation for each of our lives.

Family is where we learn our name and where our personalities and values are formed. It is where we learn how to pray and how to share our thoughts and emotions. It is where we learn how to give love and receive love and how to make sacrifices and live with our differences. Family is where the young and the old know their dignity and worth and where they share their lives and take care of each other, especially in times of weakness and vulnerability.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in Synod

US Bishops to Mark 50 Years Since Civil Rights Movement

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on African American Affairs will release a series of resources to highlight the achievements of the Civil Rights era and its connections to the Catholic Church.

Over the next 12 months, resources will highlight the Mississippi Freedom Summer (June to August 1964); the Civil Rights Act (July 1964); the March from Selma to Montgomery (March 1965); and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in August 2015.

“The Civil Rights era was an important time in the history of our country. In constructive ways, many priests, religious sisters, religious brothers and lay Catholic faithful were involved in the struggle for Civil Rights,” said Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the Subcommittee. “Recalling the Catholic Church’s past participation in these important historic moments serves to challenge the faithful to work constructively today to enhance the common good for people of all races and ethnicities.”

The resources will help promote dialogue among parishes, schools, Catholic groups and others by examining how these events helped pave the way to the current multicultural relations. The project also aims to promote dialogue among generations on the meaning of the historic legacy with a look towards the future and to highlight the participation of the Catholic Church and Catholic leaders during such historic and challenging times.

The commemoration will also provide an opportunity to discuss the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Why We Are Reaching Out to Anglicans Longing For Unity

An Analysis by Mgr Keith Newton

November this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the solemn promulgation of the Second Vatican Council Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. It still remains the authoritative document of the Catholic Church setting out the principles of ecumenical dialogue, though much of its teaching was expounded by St John Paul II in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint (1995).

Its first paragraph makes clear that the restoration of unity among Christian people was one of the major concerns of the Council. But a reading of the documents of Vatican II shows clearly that the bishops meeting in Rome did not deviate from the belief that there is only One Church of Jesus Christ and identified that Church with the Catholic Church in communion with the successor of Peter. This is made clear both in the dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and also the decree on ecumenism. The Catholic Church is described as “God’s only flock” and it is from this “one and only Church” that other Christian communities became separated over the centuries. In a much-quoted passage Lumen Gentium described the Church in this way: “This Church constituted and organised as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines. Since these are gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”

In an earlier draft of that constitution the text read “This Church is the Catholic Church” but was changed to “This Church subsists in the Catholic Church”. There have probably been hundreds of articles written about exactly what “subsists” means. It is usually taken to mean that the one Church of Jesus Christ “has concrete form” or is “concretely realised” in the Catholic Church. What it does not mean is that this one Church of Christ subsists in a number of different Christian communities of which the Catholic Church is one among many. It does mean that the Catholic Church is not totally set part from other Christian communities but recognises the active presence of the one Church in other ecclesial bodies, even if they are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. There is already partial communion between all the baptised which should lead by God’s grace to eventual full communion.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in Analysis

Vatican Releases Pope’s Program for Visit to WWI Shrine in Northern Italy

The Vatican has released the program for Pope Francis’ visit to the military shrine of Redipuglia in north east Italy where, on the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, he will pray for those who have died in all wars.

On Saturday 13th September, the Pope is due to arrive at 9:15 a.m. at the Austro-Hungarian cemetery of Fogliano Redipuglia, where he will pray privately and bring flowers. At 10 a.m., he will celebrate Mass and give the homily at the municipality’s military memorial.

At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, a prayer will be recited for the victims of all wars.

The Pope will also present and deliver a lamp to the military ordinaries and bishops present, which will also be turned on in their respective dioceses during the course of celebrations to commemorate the First World War.

Fogliano Redipuglia lies at the eastern end of the shifting front of the Italian campaign against Austria-Hungary and Germany in World War I, and today is home to Italy’s largest war memorial on Monte Sei Busi in Redipuglia.
Continue reading

Washington to Be Next Visit of Pope’s Iraq Envoy

The Pope’s special envoy to Iraq is to meet the Eastern Patriarchs in Washington D.C. in the coming weeks, the Holy See’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva has said.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, speaking during a press conference at Communion and Liberation’s Rimini Meeting, said Cardinal Fernando Filoni will be meeting the patriarchs and the prefect of the Congregation of Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, in the U.S. capital.

“It will seek to involve the American bishops and so influence public opinion,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “Other initiatives will be undertaken in Geneva.”

Cardinal Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, returned last week after a seven day visit to the war-torn region of northern Iraq where many Christians and other religious minorities are being persecuted by Islamists.

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Chilean lawmakers ask president to denounce Iraqi violence

The Chilean Congress has unanimously approved a measure calling on President Michelle Bachelet to condemn “the brutal persecution” of Christians in Iraq and to ask the U.N. to take measures for a “quick solution.”

Congressman Felipe De Mussy, who sponsored the measure, said, “We need to understand that there are people who are suffering greatly and although we may be hundreds of kilometers away, we have to take this one and clearly, firmly reject it.”

Brutal violence continues to plague Iraq as militants with the Islamic State, known as ISIS, have taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.

Tens of thousands have fled the violence and are now facing harsh conditions as internally displaced persons or refugees.

The Chilean Congress agreed to ask President Bachelet “to issue an official declaration of the government of Chile through the Foreign Relations Ministry condemning the brutal persecution of which hundreds of Christian families are becoming victims in Iraq.”

In May of this year, De Mussy sponsored another measure that was adopted by Congress. It called on the government to help in finding a solution to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Continue reading

By VicGeorge Vassallo Posted in News

Pope: division is among greatest sins of Christian communities

During his weekly general audience Pope Francis spoke on the unity and holiness of the Church, stating that despite the fact we are sinners, we are called to live as a community centered on Christ.

“In a Christian community division is one of the most serious sins, because it does not allow God to act,” the Pope said in his Aug. 27 general audience address. “What God wants is that we be welcoming, that we forgive and love each other so as to become more and more like Him, who is communion and love.”

Addressing the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Roman Pontiff explained that as Catholics “we affirm in the Creed that the Church is one and that she is holy.”

“One because she has her origin in the Triune God, mystery of unity and full communion. Holy since she is founded by Jesus Christ, enlivened by his Holy Spirit, and filled with his love and salvation.”

We continue to refer to the Church as “one” and “holy” despite the fact that “we know by experience that it is also composed of sinners and that there is no shortage of divisions,” he said, recalling how the night before he was arrested Jesus “asked for the unity of his disciples: ‘that all be one.’”
Continue reading