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Mother Cabrini's care for immigrants remains relevant, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2017 / 11:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a letter Tuesday to the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Francis reflected on the role of their foundress, St. Frances Cabrini, explaining how her example is a fitting guide for the challenges of migration we face today.

“The centennial of the death of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is one of the main events marking the journey of the Church,” the Pope said Sept. 19. “Both because of the greatness of the figure commemorated and because of the contemporary nature of her charism and message, not just for the ecclesial community but for society as a whole.”

With the “inevitable tensions” caused by the high levels of migration around the world today, Mother Cabrini becomes a contemporary figure, he continued.

Pointing to her example, he said “the great migrations underway today need guidance filled with love and intelligence similar to what characterizes the Cabrinian charism. In this way the meeting of peoples will enrich all and generate union and dialogue, not separation and hostility.”

The Pope’s words on Mother Cabrini and immigration were sent to participants in the General Assembly of the Institute of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

They are meeting in Chicago Sept. 17-23, marking the 100th anniversary of the death of their foundress, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.

An Italian missionary, Mother Cabrini died on Dec. 22, 1917 after spending much of her life working with Italian immigrants in the United States.

She spent nearly 30 years traveling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean as well as around the United States setting up orphanages, hospitals, convents, and schools for the often marginalized Italian immigrants. Her feast is celebrated Nov. 13.

We must not forget, Pope Francis noted, St. Cabrini’s missionary sensitivity, which was not “sectorial, but universal.”

“That is the vocation of every Christian and of every community of the disciples of Jesus,” he said.

Mother Cabrini’s charism gave her the strength to devote herself to Italian immigrants, particularly orphans and miners, the Pope stated, and always in cooperation with the local authorities.

She helped them to fully integrate with the culture of their new countries, accompanying the Italian immigrants in becoming “fully Italian and fully American.” At the same time she worked to preserve and revive within them the Christian tradition of their country of origin, Francis pointed out.

“The human and Christian vitality of the immigrants thus became a gift to the churches and to the peoples who welcomed them.”

In addition to all of this, she accepted the call from God to be a missionary at a time when it would have been considered unusual for women to be sent all over the world to do missionary work with their own charism as consecrated women religious.

But her “clearly feminine, missionary consecration” came from her “total and loving union with the Heart of Christ whose compassion surpasses all limits.”

St. Frances Cabrini's love for the Heart of Christ gave her the evangelical fervor and strength to care for those on the edges of society, Francis said.

“She lived and instilled in her sisters the impelling desire of reparation for the ills of the world and to overcome separation from Christ, an impetus that sustained the missionary in tasks beyond human strength.”

This year’s centennial celebration gives us the opportunity to look at Mother Cabrini and the charism of the Institute of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with “intimate and joyful gratitude to God,” the Pope continued.

“This is a great gift above all for you, the spiritual daughters of Mother Cabrini,” he concluded. “May your whole Institute, every community and every religious receive an abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit that revitalizes faith and the following of Jesus in accordance with the missionary charism of your Foundress.

Pope Francis retools John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2017 / 07:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis issued a new motu proprio changing the legal status of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, making it a theological institute charged with studying marriage and the family from a scientific perspective.

The motu proprio, titled “Summa Familiae Cura,” meaning “Highest Care of Families,” was published Sept. 19 and officially established the John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and Family, replacing the former institute founded by John Paul II in 1981.

In the document, Francis noted that John Paul II made great strides in the area of the family, first of all with his 1980 Synod of Bishops on the topic and the subsequent publication of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the conclusions of the gathering, “Familiaris Consortio.”

He then established the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in 1981 with the Apostolic Constitution “Magnum Matrimonii Sacramentum” in order develop the themes in his 1960 book “Love and Responsibility,” written when he was still Cardinal Wojtyla, and as well as the theology of the body he developed while Pope.

“Since then it has developed a profitable work of theological and pastoral education both in its central headquarters in Rome and in the territorial sections, present on all continents,” Francis said.

While the institute's main headquarters remains in Rome, they have campuses all over the world, including Washington DC, Nigeria, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, India and South Korea, among others.

This path of development has continued, Francis said, with the recent 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family, which resulted in Pope Francis' own apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” published in 2015.

In the text, which was signed on the Sept. 8 Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the Pope said that in light of the new challenges families today face and increasing cultural changes, he wanted to establish the new entity so that the work of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family can be “better known and appreciated in its fruitfulness and relevance.”

Francis said this is why he chose to make it a theological institute with a scientific perspective, “expanding the field of interest, both in terms of the new dimensions of the pastoral task and the ecclesial mission, as well as in the development of human sciences and the anthropological culture in such a crucial field for the culture of life.”

Composed of six articles, the motu proprio said the new John Paul II Theological Institute for the Sciences of Marriage and the Family, linked to the Pontifical Lateran University, will officially “substitute” the prior entity, annulling the 1981 constitution that established it.

However, Francis stressed that “the original inspiration” that led to the founding of the original institute will “continue to fertilize the vast field of engagement” of the new entity, “effectively contributing to make it fully correspond to the modern needs of the pastoral mission of the Church.”

The motu proprio stated that the new institute will be a “center of academic reference” on matters of scientific interest regarding marriage and the family, particularly on topics “connected with the fundamental alliance of man and woman for the care of generation and of creation.”

The new institute will be tied to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Academy for Life, and the dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. It will also be required to adapt its structures to offer the necessary personnel, professors, programs and administrative staff needed to carry out its new task.

Students who attend the institute will now be able to obtain various degrees, including a Doctorate, Licentiate or diploma in the Sciences of Marriage and Family.

Although the statutes for the new institute still need to be defined, the leadership will remain the same, and will continue to be headed by the Institute's Grand Chancellor, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Chairman Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, and the entity's Board of Directors.

Until new statutes are in place, the theological institute will temporarily be governed by the norms under which the previous institute operated.

In a Sept. 19 press breifing on the motu proprio, Archbishop Paglia said the decision to establish a completely new entity was due to the importance of the family today.

The two key aspects of the new institute, he said, are that it is now “theological” and “scientific.”

Adding “theological” to the title points to “the ecclesial dimension in its fullness, the moral perspective, the sacramental perspective, but the biblical and dogmatic perspective, the perspective of history, of law,” he said.

By adding “sciences,” Paglia said it gives the institute the ability to study and explore topics in the “entire realm of human studies,” including the sociological, anthropological and psychological view from a more scientific perspective.

He said Pope Francis' 2015 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia will be new “magna carta” of-sorts for the institute, noting that Chapter 2 of the document is dedicated to the social and anthropological aspects of the family, while Chapter 4 is dedicated to scripture.

“The family, for Pope Francis, is not simply an abstract reality,” the archbishop said. “Families for Pope Francis are families who today must be helped and accompanied to rediscover their historical task, both in the Church and in society.”

Because of this, he said, there is a special link between the new motu proprio and the 2014 and 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family.

In addition, he said faculty will not be cut, but rather expanded, bringing in new professors and experts to discuss themes relevant to the the Sciences of Marriage and Family, including those who aren't Catholic.

Because it is a scientific entity and due to its link to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the institute “dialogues with everyone who reflects on this theme,” Paglia said, adding that “it clear that the dialogue with those who aren't Catholic must be done.”

UK slammed for media portrayal of people with disabilities

London, England, Sep 19, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A United Nations committee addressing the rights of disabled people has rebuked the U.K. for how people with disabilities are portrayed by the government and seen in the media, with one expert expressing concern for attitudes which may lead to euthanasia. 

“Disabled people being portrayed as parasites, living on social benefits, and welfare and the taxes of other people” is dangerous, Theresia Degener told BBC in an unpublished interview, according to Disability News Service. 

This attitude “will later on lead to violence against disabled people … if not to killings and euthanasia,” said Degener, who chairs the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). As part of an economic plan to recover from the 2008 recession, the UK began a social security reform in 2010, intended to achieve financial sustainability and curb abuse of the welfare system.

In a report delivered last year, the UNCRPD expressed concern that the steps taken to restrict abuse of the system were affecting 26,000 people who were eligible for disability allowances.

Among many other issues, the UNCRPD stated that the reform has negatively impacted poorer neighborhoods, reduced disability services, and increased negative stereotyping.

However, a spokesperson for government disagreed with the report and explained that the UK currently spends over $67 billion a year on disabled people – the second highest in the G7. She noted that the report didn’t effectively see the progress made by the country.

In a 2012 survey, Disability Rights U.K. found that three quarters of the disabled people included in the study had recently seen news media which depicted disabled people negatively. Nearly half of the people in the survey attributed responsibility for negative perceptions about disabled people to the U.K. government.

“Although we would never as a human rights treaty body favor censorship, we think that media and the government have some responsibility in this regard,” Degener said.

Disability News Service referenced headlines such as “75 per cent of incapacity claimants are fit to work” and “Disabled benefit? Just fill in a form,” which do not adequately represent a majority of disabled people. Last month, the UNCRPD gathered to discuss the standards for the dignity of the disabled person in society, and Degener specifically emphasized education inclusion and work discrimination.

“I would like to ask the UK government, please explain why in 2015-16 80% of children with disability were without a statement of special education needs within the required 26-week period prescribed by law.”

In June 2016, Pope Francis called for greater social support and inclusion of disabled people, calling discrimination against the disabled “one of the ugliest things” we can do.

Faith, science, beauty: what doctors can learn from Catholic art

Denver, Colo., Sep 19, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The intersection of art, medicine, and faith in the Catholic tradition has a lot to teach today, especially if you’re a doctor.

“Catholic art has a long history of demonstrating the beauty of the human person, beauty both in its health as well as its disease,” Dr. Thomas Heyne, M.D. told CNA. “Catholic artists have been very effective observers and demonstrators of that dual beauty.”

“In looking closely at artwork, we’re able to have a window into what disease looked like many centuries ago as well as how our patients still look today.”

Heyne, who works in the pediatrics department of Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke at a breakout session “Did Michelangelo have Gout?” at the Catholic Medical Association’s annual educational conference, held in Denver earlier this month.

Reviewing historic artwork helps doctors review the presentations of forgotten or rare diseases, he said. It helps improve their observational skills, and remember how patients behaved when lacking simple treatments like pain-relieving ibuprofen.

Citing several studies on medical training, he said that medical examination of art can help make doctors better through honing their observation skills, tolerance for ambiguity, mindfulness, communication skills, and empathy.

Heyne also contended that teaching medicine through art also advances a deeper appreciation for Catholicism’s role in both art and medicine.

“You’re taking a bunch of secular people and making them look at Catholic art half the time,” he said. “To me, this is a pretty helpful thing for the new evangelization.”

His presentation drew on many studies and arguments from doctors and art scholars, including his own research.

Among his examples of diagnosing health conditions in art was Giovanni Lanfranco’s work from about 1625: “St. Luke healing the Dropsical Child.” It shows St. Luke taking the pulse of a child with a distended belly, as a woman looks on. A book of the ancient medical writer Hippocrates rests on a nearby table with an icon of a woman saint.

Heyne suggested that the child’s symptoms as painted by Lanfranco could be the earliest known depiction of congenital heart disease.

At the same time, any interpreter must take into account the interplay between realism and stylistic convention. Despite the child’s stomach, the child appears to have a healthy musculature. Lanfranco tended to paint all children beautifully, Heyne explained.

Even the standard iconography of saints can show Catholic awareness of medical problems. St. Roch, a patron saint of plague victims, is often shown with the tell-tale bulba of plague.

In Istanbul’s Chora Church, a fourteenth century mosaic depicts Christ healing a multitude. One person depicted has crutches, another is blind, another appears to have rickets.

The work also shows a sitting man with a bulge nearly the size of a basketball in his groin area. According to the doctor, this is likely a massive inguinal or scrotal hernia.

“This artist put a giant scrotum on the top of a church. This is pre-Puritan,” said Heyne, interpreting the art as saying, “Jesus came to save everyone.”

“I think this is remarkable: ‘No shame: come out and you will be healed’,” he said. “I think it is a remarkable testament to what the human body was back then.”

The mosaic could be the first depiction of a hernia.

The art history of European Christianity shows diseases now associated only with the developing world.

Other artworks show signs of longstanding diseases like leprosy, while others trace the arrival of diseases new to Christian Europe. A 1496 sketch from Albrecht Dürer shows a man with syphilis, just four years after the disease is believed to have spread to Europe from the New World.

Some figures in famous paintings show signs of finger deformities suggesting rheumatoid arthritis, like the hands of the nude women in Peter Paul Rubens’ 1639 painting The Three Graces.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait shows the famous subject in great detail. The 25-year-old woman appears to show an accumulation of cholesterol under the skin in the hollow of her left eye. Her hand shows a fatty tissue tumor. She is known to have died at age 37.

Heyne took these conditions together and asked whether Mona Lisa died of a cardiovascular event.

As for master artist Michelangelo, his training in anatomy helped give deeper artistic significance to his work. For instance, his statue Night from 1531, depicting a bare-breasted woman personifying Night, and perhaps death, appears to show signs of a breast tumor.

Heyne did criticize some interpretations of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. While some suggested the bulging of some figures’ eyes was intended to represent disease, he said it rather simply represented astonishment at the arrival of the apocalypse.

Review of art also helps doctors understand how patients with particular diseases or health conditions were viewed throughout history.

There is the example of the seventeenth-century Spanish painter Diego Velazquez, who painted at least ten portraits of people with dwarfism. These show their “dignity and beauty,” and don’t depict them as “court buffoons,” Heyne said, suggesting this is another role for Christianity in art.

Christian refugees reportedly forced to say Muslim prayers for food in Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan, Sep 19, 2017 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Christian children in Sudanese refugee camps are reportedly being given food only after they recite Muslim prayers, a papal aid group says.

According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a papal charity that provides aid to persecuted Christians around the world, there are reports of Christian children who have fled violence in South Sudan being forced to recite Muslim prayers in order to receive food at several refugee camps in the Sudan.

Other reports from priests in the area have confirmed that the discrimination is taking place at refugee camps in Sudan, where refugees fleeing the conflict in the South Sudan suffer from poor conditions.

Seven southern states gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and the country of South Sudan was formed. Less than three years later, in December of 2013, a civil war began that has created one of the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Over two million refugees and asylum-seekers have fled the conflict to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, including hundreds of thousands who have fled north into Sudan.

Many are displaced from their homes within South Sudan and have sought shelter at churches, and millions are threatened by an emergency food crisis. In February, the UN declared a famine in parts of the country.

Aid workers have described the conditions in South Sudan as appalling, with hunger, murder, and rape becoming commonplace.

For refugees who have fled north into Sudan, conditions have reportedly been poor in the camps, according to ACN. Children in the refugee camps are being told to recite Islamic prayers before they receive their food, which is provided by the UNHCR, non-government organizations, and the Sudanese government, according to sources.

Refugees of all religions who are living outside the camps have reportedly not received sufficient amounts of food from the government, but Christians have reportedly received especially unfair treatment, ACN said.

The reports of discrimination against Christian refugees come amid concerns about the government of Sudan and its forceful promotion of Islam.

“In the case of Sudan, the same cast of characters, the same power base that promotes a perverted and violent expression of Islam is still in power,” David Dettoni, senior adviser to the Sudan Relief Fund, testified before a congressional panel on April 26.

ACN also cited reports of Christian churches in Sudan being destroyed under the guise of town planning.

Archbishop calls for peace amid protests over St Louis verdict

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2017 / 04:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archbishop of St. Louis called for prayer and peace after a judge acquitted a former St. Louis police officer in the shooting of a man in 2011.

“If we want peace and justice, we must come together as a community through prayer, mutual understanding, and forgiveness,” Archbishop Robert Carlson said Sept. 15. “While acknowledging the hurt and anger, we must not fuel the fires of hatred and division.”

On Friday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted former officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder charges in the shooting of 24 year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. Stockley, a white officer with the St. Louis Police Department, fatally shot Smith after a car chase.

The case received special attention in the wake of another high profile case in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, where police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18 year-old Michael Brown. Riots occurred in the area, pointing to longstanding racial tensions and alleging a history of police abuse.

Over the weekend, demonstrations in protest of Friday’s ruling took place in the city’s downtown area. Marchers called for reforms to the justice system and called attention to racism. The mayor’s house was reportedly damaged in the protests.

Demonstrations on Saturday began peacefully but turned violent after dark, the St. Louis Police Department reported on its Facebook page on Saturday night. Nine officers had been injured by late Saturday night, and tear gas was deployed after officers had been pelted with bricks and other objects, the department said.

On Sunday, the police reported making arrests after protesters blocked street intersections and orders to disperse were ignored; the department reported over 100 arrests made, according to the Washington Post. The Guardian reported that a group of police officers in riot gear chanted “Whose street? Our street” on the side of a street on Sunday. On Monday morning, the demonstrations were peaceful and no arrests were made, the department said.

Archbishop Carlson said that prayer and solidarity are the answers to the verdict, not violence and discord. “We must ask God for peace in our own hearts and share it with those around us,” he said.

“Violence does not lead to peace and justice – they are opposing forces and cannot coexist. I implore each of you to choose peace! Reject the false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” he said.

An interreligious prayer service for peace has been planned for 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Kiener Plaza, led by Archbishop Carlson and other religious leaders.

“We must work together for a better, stronger, safer community, one founded upon respect for each other, and one in which we see our neighbor as another self,” the archbishop said.

In fight against sex abuse, Australian archbishop sees progress, challenges

Brisbane, Australia, Sep 18, 2017 / 02:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid ongoing controversy surrounding clerical sex abuse in Australia, one of the country's archbishops believes the local Churches are making progress – but still face a long journey ahead.

“It's very much a work in progress; we still have a long way to go,” said Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, according to the Australian Associated Press.

“Because it's not just a matter of changing procedures and protocols but of building a culture, and that takes time,” he continued.

Over the years, Australia's sexual abuse crisis has been one of the most infamous within the Church. A recent report from the Australian Royal Commission found that seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia serving between 1950-2009 have been accused of child sex crimes.

One of the most recent cases is that of Cardinal George Pell of Melbourne, who was accused of ignoring sexual abuse claims against Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, who has since been dismissed from the clerical state.

Cardinal Pell himself is also facing sexual abuse charges dating back to 1961, to which he has pleaded not guilty. His preliminary hearing is set for Oct. 6.

Other abuse claims within the country prompted the Australian Royal Commission to create the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse organization, which was officially established in 2013. The group investigates how child sex abuse claims are handled within the country, particularly in religious environments, as well as in education, government, and sporting.

The commission has been investigating the Catholic Church in Australia, going so far as to propose that priests be legally obligated to disclose sexual abuse sins which have been admitted in the confessional, or face criminal charges. They have also proposed 85 additional changes to Australia’s criminal justice system.

Amid the commission’s investigation, some of the country's clergy have responded, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who both expressed sorrow and regret for the Church’s failure in this area.

A recent report conducted by RMIT University found that the Catholic Church in Australia was “significantly behind” in its development of standards and procedures that protect against child sexual abuse, compared to similar countries.

However, Archbishop Coleridge noted that the report may not be completely accurate, since the Church has promoted some efforts to combat sexual abuse claims which are more behind-the-scenes. He pointed to the Archdiocese of Brisbane, which now has safeguarding officers and external auditing.

The Catholic educational system in Australia has also made strides. Archbishop Coleridge noted that the Catholic schools are now “probably the safest places in the nation for a child to be.”

In addition, the Catholic Church established a new non-profit group in 2016 called Catholic Professional Standards Limited, which promotes protection for children against abuse by auditing and reporting on Catholic entities.

While these efforts are pointing the Church in Australia in the right direction, Archbishop Coleridge said that the Church does have a long way to go.  

“Australia has done some things well and some things badly,” Archbishop Coleridge said, adding, “but that's true of any country.”

Cardinal Gracias: curial reform is nearing the 'end of the tunnel'

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2017 / 01:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly four years after the Pope established his Council of Cardinal advisers to help him in the task of reforming the Roman Curia, one member of the group said their work is wrapping up, and that it could take only a few more meetings to finish what they set out to do.

The ongoing process of reform “is being done at various stages of development, and I hope we'll come to an end in all of these matters soon,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay told CNA Sept. 14.

“It will take two or three more meetings more,” he said, adding that “by June perhaps we'll be seeing the end of the tunnel.”

Cardinal Gracias is also President of the Asian Bishops Conference and in 2013 was chosen by the Pope along with eight other prelates from around the world to advise him in matters of Church governance and reform.

He spoke to CNA in a lengthy, sit-down interview after the council – also called the “C9” – concluded their latest round of meetings last week.

As far as the reform goes, Cardinal Gracias said “there won't be very major changes; it's the governance of the Church, we can't just turn everything upside down.” Rather, it will be “a gradual change, a change of mentality, a change of approach, restructuring a bit of the departments so that they are more logically suited to the needs of today.”

He said a key goal of the C9  is to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council, specifically when it comes to the importance of the role of the laity and women, and incorporating greater synodality and collegiality into the Church's structures.

From the beginning Pope Francis “had very clear what he wanted this group to do,” the cardinal said. “He had no hesitation, he's a good leader. He had a clear vision.”

Cardinal Gracias admitted that in the beginning he had doubts as to whether or not they were going in the right direction, and had started to worry what people on the outside might say, since many fruits of the meetings weren't and likely won't be immediately visible. He said he also struggled with doubts about the pace at which they were moving, and believed that things were going “too slow.”

“I will confess that once at the beginning I was wondering, 'are we going in the right direction?' I asked myself. But now I can see it is,” he said, explaining that Pope Francis' Christmas speech to the Roman Curia last year was a “tipping point” for him.

More than anything, there is a change in mentality that's needed, which will take longer than simply reforming the Vatican's structures, he said, but said the group is “rather confident that it will happen because the Pope is giving very effective leadership.”

In addition to the ongoing curial reform, Cardinal Gracias also spoke about the recent release of Indian priest Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil 18 months after he was abducted in Yemen. He also spoke about the Pope's upcoming trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, and when a possible papal trip to India might take place.


Below are excerpts from CNA's interview with Cardinal Gracias:

You've seen Fr. Tom and you were at his meeting with Pope Francis. How is he doing?

I was pleasantly surprised with calmness with which he came out, because he did not know, to my knowledge, that he was being released. But he said I know people have prayed for me, I'm grateful for the people who were praying for me, but he kept on saying 'Jesus is great, Jesus is great.' And then he told the Holy Father. It was a very moving moment. As soon as the Holy Father came he prostrated in front of the Holy Father and kissed his feet, and he said, 'thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you Holy Father, but just one message I want to give you: Jesus Christ is great. Jesus was with me right through, I could sense the presence of God with me'...And once I thought the Holy Father had tears in his eyes. When Tom kept on speaking about Jesus, this is what he told the Holy Father: please tell the people that Jesus is great! I would say that he's come out of it with an experience of the presence of the Lord, and I think at that moment the Holy Father had tears in his eyes...I met the Holy Father later that afternoon, and he was telling me how impressed he was. He was also surprised with the calmness of the man, with Tom...He was a man who is perhaps strengthened in the faith after this experience, and not bitter about anything. Particularly about his captors, he was very understanding. It was a special experience, very edifying. He needs rest, certainly, he'll have a medical exam and he'll be with his superiors, but eventually he'll go back (to India). So thank God really. It was an anxious moment for the whole Church in India. We didn't know what was happening, but we understood that putting more pressure, in the perspective of the government, could make things more difficult for him. (But) he's not really stressed in any way you can make out. Physically weak, but spiritually strong. When he met the Holy Father, he was weeping right through it. And the Holy Father was very touched, he kissed his hand and blessed him...He felt the comfort and strength of the entire Church. As he said, there was never a moment when he felt abandoned, either by the Church or by God. He kept saying, 'Jesus is great.' So he came out spiritually strengthened in that sense. It was a big relief, a big blessing, and the Holy Father was overjoyed. I think the government of Oman did a very splendid job of helping out...they even brought a Salesian to accompany him on the last plane. It was very human of them, so had the comfort of a spiritual companion.

What role did the Holy See play in working out his release?

They only offered help, they kept the issue open and kept sharing. The Holy See was told he was alive, and the Holy See communicated with the Indian government. In Yemen, the political situation is very fragile, and one doesn't know who is in charge. There are bombardments and all sorts of groups are taking over, so there was always a risk I suppose, that if you tried to liberate him you could have harmed him. But they were always interested, they kept it alive. Every time I came to Rome somebody from the Secretariat of State updated me. The Vatican made sure there was interest. Any information the Holy See had, they shared it with the Indian government, the Omani government, so that was good.

It's interesting that there is still no word on who is responsible...

It's not a terrorist attack, it's a kidnapping. They wouldn't glory in taking him. That has not come out. I spent about half an hour with him before the Holy Father, and he was speaking continuously. I did not at any point attempt to ask him questions, because I think that would be a stress for him. He has got to share...he wants to share it and then I imagine you feel lighter. He's probably just got to rest, and rest and rest, physically and then mentally too, he's got to get it out of his mind. He's not come out of it a broken man at all. I was afraid of that, that he would come out a broken man, but no...It's a moment of grace, a moment of faith, a special experience. The high point was when he told the Holy Father, 'just tell everybody that Jesus is great, Jesus is great.' Just three simple words. That was like the sum of his whole experience, what he meant and why he meant it...he felt not abandoned, I suppose. I hope recovers. I imagine he needs a couple of months really, or maybe more than a couple of months, to really rest. He needs time with the family also, natural circumstances...I'm not sure about this, but I have a feeling that the Omani government decided to bring him to Rome, because they (wanted) to hand him over to the Vatican. I think it was better for him, because I think if he had gone to India he would have been mobbed by everybody. He just needs space to recover, and for doctors to examine him. Physically to see if he's alright, and psychologically also, to be investigated. I think it was a wise decision, but I think it was a decision more of the Omani government.

I don't want to exploit your time, but I wanted to ask a few questions about the process of reform and the C9. You just finished your latest round of meetings...

Yes, we just finished the latest round, the 21st meeting. I can't imagine we've had 21. I didn't realize it's 21 already. I think we are working hard. What's nice is that we're a cohesive group now. In the beginning we were all (gestures). Now we know each other so well and we work together, and of course trying to implement the Holy Father's vision of the Church. Also, one of the things we always say, and it's very clear, before the conclave the cardinals had spoken a lot of their vision of the Church, and we have the texts of what all of the cardinals said, and all the cardinals gave their vision. We picked up from that, the Holy Father picked up from that, his own vision. We've focused so far … it's for a dual purpose that the group was formed: one is to help him help him in the governance of the universal Church, and the second is to revise Pastor bonus, the papal document of St. John Paul II for establishing the Curia and giving the job descriptions and the vision of each dicastery. It's to revitalize, I suppose that's what Pope Francis wants us to do, and to have a new mentality which is applying Vatican II also; how to make the Roman Curia at the service of the Holy Father more effectively, but the Churches at the local level, the Churches in the dioceses, how to make the Roman Curia assist the local Churches to be more effective pastorally, so they can be more vibrant in that sense. So I think the holy Father is satisfied with what's happening. I'm satisfied too with the way we are going ahead. We come for three days and work intensely, we work from 9:00 on the first day to 7:00 (pm) on the last day trying to wrap things up, but lots of work has been done. But it's coming to the end. I think it will take maybe two or three more meetings until we wrap up our conclusions about the dicasteries. Then of course the Holy Father will study the thing and decide. So we're going well. The feedback we receive is the Holy Father is happy, he is satisfied, and he has been using the Christmas messages sometimes to give an indication, a little progress report, so this year's Christmas message (2016). I didn't realize it, but when I read it I realized it's practically giving a progress report of what this group has been doing. I hope that it will make an impact. There won't be very major changes; it's the governance of the Church, we can't just turn everything upside down. But a gradual change, a change of mentality, a change of approach, restructuring a bit of the departments so that they are more logically suited to the needs of today, and also of answering the vision of the Second Vatican Council: the importance of lay people, synodality, collegiality, then concern about women, getting more women involved, then giving importance to the local Churches. Then reflecting on the role of episcopal conferences in all this, because that's another big issue. So all of this is being done at various stages of development, and I hope we'll come to an end in all of these matters soon. It will take two or three more meetings more, I foresee at least February, June...by June perhaps we'll be seeing the end of the tunnel.

It's been a long process...

It's been a really long process, really, but it's good. I've been in other committees of this sort, in which at the beginning we don't what we're doing, where to begin, and they you find your way and you find your vision. But here it was very clear, the Holy Father had very clear what he wanted this group to do...we were not clear in why we were called and what he wanted to do, but gradually we understood his mind. He had no hesitation, he's a good leader. He had a clear vision and he had his people with him. He's there with us, he genuinely doesn't take any other appointments. He's there except the general audience. There are emergencies of course, this time there were lots of things happening, but he participates and he listens to discussion, and every now and then he raises his hand when he wants to speak. It's very odd, but now we're accustomed to it, the Pope raising his hand (laughs) … it's very valuable, he's part of the discussion all the way through, completely inserted right in the thick of it. Certainly he doesn't speak that much, because I think we would feel inhibited and want to go in his direction. So it's just the right amount and at the right time.

Well he's very much about the process, isn't he? He doesn't want to interrupt the process that's happening...

Yes, absolutely. And he's happy. And everybody speaks their mind. We know each other so well, and we know that the Holy Father wants us to speak our minds, so no one is at any stage (overly) conscious that the Pope is there with us, no...but it's going well, I think it's going well. I will confess that once at the beginning I was wondering, 'are we going in the right direction?' I asked myself. But now I can see it is. He's a man of deep faith, the Pope. I remember having spoken to him once about the synod, I was sharing him my anxieties on whether the synods were going well, and he told me, 'Cardinal, I am not worried.' He told me that. I told him I was worried, I don't know what direction we're taking, whether we'll be able in two synods to give your vision. (He said) 'I'm not worried. It'll work out.' He knows what he wants, he's a good Jesuit, and the Jesuits know exactly what they want.

At what point were you convinced that things were going in the right direction?

After about seven or eight or nine meetings, I was beginning to wonder. My worry was what will the world say? Everybody knows we're meeting over here, but we are very limited in what we say are the fruits. What are these eight men – nine, we became nine after the Secretary (of State) joined – the nine cardinals are coming and discussing here, what's happening? They're not just coming here for debate. I was worried about the fruits not being seen, and the process being too slow. But then, especially after I heard the Holy Father's speech (at Christmas 2016), for me that was it. I was like, wow, there has been a lot done. That was absolutely...this past Christmas, it was like a progress report of this group. I'm in the group, right, but I never realized the number of things we had really discussed. Besides modifying the document, the protection of minors, the economy, updates on these things, general principles of collegiality, synodality, we're thinking about these things. Care of the Curia personnel. It's everything that the Holy Father...he isn't like us, who when we go back home we're fully in the diocese, he has this in mind and he keeps working on this fully afterwards. We go back to our dioceses and are concerned about the local Church, but he certainly follows up with what we say. I've seen it several times. He takes the group very seriously. Every now and then he would ask us to take up some point on the agenda to discuss it a bit, which he wants advice on. I think it's a new system he has started in which he gets feedback from all over the world, and he gets it from the grassroots. I think,  anyway, I hope. We come from different continents and we bring in our own experiences. But it is going well. In fact I really, really think there has been a contribution to the Holy Father, and then the Holy Father takes decisions. I have a feeling this is shared by all now. I have no doubt, this would be the general feeling of all about it. The tipping point was really his speech, but already before that, say about six or seven months before that, we began to see really when we reflected that...perhaps the Holy Father knew that that was in our minds. It was in my mind, and maybe I expressed it indirectly. And the Holy Father once commented also, he said 'we have done this much, so don't get discouraged.' So at one stage he sort of answered that doubt in my mind.

You mentioned that there's also a change of mentality needed. Other than the structural shifts, it seems that the change of mentality will be the more challenging task...

That will take longer. But we hope it will percolate down, because once you have a certain mentality you generally don't change unless the circumstances change, the ambiance changes. And in a certain sense not changing dramatically. That will I think take longer. But I'm positive that it will happen. We're very, very hopeful. We're rather confident that it will happen because the Pope is giving very effective leadership, and every now and then there is a clear message from him. But it will come about and suddenly we'll realize, oh there has been a change! That's how it will happen. It won't come overnight, but at a certain point we'll realize things have changed. He knows what he wants. And he's happy. Certainly the indication I can see is this way; the relationship he has with the group and the joy he has in being with the group. He says he feels that it has helped him. Thank God. We do what we can. I don't know how or why he chose us, but he's happy. I was very surprised when I got a call from him. I said 'why me? What have I done?' I suppose he knows. I don't know why. I did not know the Holy Father before, we've never been in any other committee before. Only at the conclave. I don't even remember having chatted with him at the conclave, or before the conclave. After the conclave it was true that I was with him. It's true that after I was with the Pope at Santa Marta for a few days. Then we were having meals together – breakfast, lunch and dinner for four or five days. That's the time we came to know each other. So we were thrown together for about a week. It struck me that after his election I was at Santa Marta, because there were five or six cardinals. All the American cardinals were there, the European cardinals, all the ones from close by left and came back (for the installation). I stayed for the installation and then went back to India. And then you share, when you speak. He was very comfortable with us, very comfortable with me. But still, he had to make a choice.

Has he mentioned anything about when a visit to India might take place?

He's very interested. We're working it out, and I'm very hopeful. He would like to come and we would like to have him, and the government would like to have him. But now we must see his program, the government's program, but I'm certain he will come. There are no details at all for the moment. I'm rather certainly positive that we will be able to get the Holy Father, he's interested and I think he's getting more interested. And the people will be excited...we are looking forward. In the beginning, as soon as he was elected, I asked him, 'when are you coming to India?' And he was sort of (disinterested), but gradually he began to like the idea. He's never been to India before. As a Jesuit I think he was supposed to go to Japan, that's what he was telling me. He's going now to Bangladesh and Myanmar. It will be very sensitive. Bangladesh has it's own problems, I believe they have elections next year, and Myanmar has problems to solve, also the refugee problem at the moment. Of late it is continuously on, I believe yesterday or this morning I saw it on CNN, and BBC is reporting on it. It's an issue for the world. I've been there (Bangladesh) a few times. It's a nice Church, concentrated mostly in Dhaka, a living faith. I've been to Myanmar also, I went as a papal legate there some years back, and I found the Church very vibrant. A simple faith, but I'm happy. I think it will mean a lot to the people. It will also strengthen the people. I think the Church is also very vibrant, it's not have any specific difficulty, in my impression as a papal legate about two or three years back, but I was very impressed by the faith and the organization. It was vibrant. The Church was small, but strong and alive. It will make a difference for the Churches, and for the governments I expect.

Will you be there?

I plan to go to both places yes. In all of these trips in Asian I've come along: Sri Lanka, Korea, the Philippines. At the moment I'm president of the Asian Bishops Conference, so I suppose in that capacity I'll have to go.

Remember the witness of your martyrs, Pope tells Japanese bishops

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a letter to Japanese bishops, Pope Francis urges his brother prelates to use the example of their country's martyrs as an inspiration to continue their mission of evangelization amid modern-day challenges.

In the letter, dated Sept. 14, the Pope recalled the numerous martyrs in Japan, including Paul Miki and his 25 companions, who were killed in hatred of the faith in 1597, during a period of strong persecution in the country.  

Published Sept. 17, the letter was sent to the Japanese bishops ahead of the visit of Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who will be on an official visit to Japan from Sept. 17-26.

Japan holds an important place in the Pope's heart. He wanted to be a missionary in the country while still a young Jesuit, but was unable to go due to health reasons after having part of his lung removed due to a serious pulmonary illness.

In his letter Francis also recalled the recently-beatified Justus Takayama Ukon, a prestigious samurai who chose to live in poverty and exile rather than renounce his faith, as well as the witness of Japan's numerous “hidden Christians,” who from 1600 to the mid-1800s were forced to live their faith clandestinely due to ongoing persecution.

“The long line of martyrs and confessors of the faith, by nationality, language, social class and age, had in common a deep love for the Son of God, renouncing their own civil status or other aspects of their own social condition, all in order to gain Christ,” the Pope said in the letter.

With this “spiritual heritage” in mind, the Pope addressed the bishops directly, saying they have inherited this witness and “with gentle solicitude continue the task of evangelization, especially caring for the most weak and promoting the integration of faithful from different backgrounds into the community.”

He thanked them for their commitment to the poor, as well as their efforts in cultural education, interreligious dialogue and in caring for creation, as well as the emphasis the Church in Japan places on mission.

“If the Church was born Catholic (that is, universal), it means that it was born 'going out,' that it was born missionary,” Francis said, adding that it is love of Christ which compels us “to offer our lives for the Gospel.”

“Such dynamism dies if we lose missionary enthusiasm. For this reason life is strengthened in giving it, and weakens in isolation and agitation,” he said, noting that those who “make the most” of the chances life offers are the ones “who leave the safe shore and become passionate about the mission of communicating life to others.”

Francis then turned to the passage in the Gospels when Jesus tells his disciples they are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.”

Both salt and light operate in service, he said, explaining that as salt, the Church has the task of “preserving from corruption and giving flavor,” while as light she “prevents darkness from prevailing, ensuring a clear vision of reality and the purpose of existence.”

Jesus' words in this passage are also “a strong call to fidelity and authenticity,” he said, and told the bishops that God has entrusted a “great spiritual and moral mission” to the Church in Japan.

While there are “no small difficulties” in the country due to a lack of clergy, religious and a limited participation of lay faithful, the Pope stressed that “the scarcity of workers cannot reduce the commitment to evangelize.”

Current challenges, he said, “cannot make us resigned nor defer to an irenic and numbing dialogue, even if some problematic situations arouse considerable concern.”

He pointed examples of these challenges, the Pope referred to the high rates of divorce and suicide among youth; the numerous people who live “totally disengaged from social life;” the presence of religious and spiritual “formalism;” moral relativism; religious indifference and “the obsession for work and earnings.”

A society that runs on economic development as a consequence creates a class of poor, marginalized and excluded persons, he said, explaining that this goes not just for the materially poor, but also “those who are spirituality and morally like this.”

“In this peculiar context, the need for the Church in Japan to constantly renew the choice for the mission of Jesus, both in salt and in light, becomes urgent,” he said. “The genuine evangelistic strength of your Church, which comes from being a Church of martyrs and confessors of the faith, is a great asset to guard and develop.”

Francis then stressed the need for a “a solid and integral” priestly and religious formation, which he said is “a particularly urgent task today” thanks to the widespread promotion of the “culture of the provisional.”

This mentality also leads youth to believe “that it's not possible to truly love, that nothing stable exists and that everything, including love, is relative to circumstances and the needs of feeling,” he said.

Because of this, a key step in the formation process is to help those tasked with it to “understand and experience in depth the characteristics of Jesus' love, which is free, involves self-sacrifice and is merciful forgiveness,” the Pope said.

“This experience renders us capable of going against the current and trusting the Lord, who does not delude. It's the witness Japanese society is so thirsty for.”

Pope Francis closed his letter by pointing to the presence of ecclesial movements in the country. With their “evangelistic impulse and witness,” he said these movements can be of great help “in the pastoral service and mission 'ad gentes' (to the nations).”

“These realities contribute to the work of evanglization,” he said, adding that as bishops, “we are called to know and accompany the charisms that they carry and make them part of our work in the context of pastoral integration.”

Francis closed his letter praying that the Lord would “send workers into his Church in Japan and support you with his consolation,” and gave them his blessing.

Take in more refugees, not fewer, bishops urge White House

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration is reportedly planning to further reduce the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in the coming fiscal year, drawing concern from the U.S. bishops and others.

“We’re strongly urging the administration, the President, to set a Presidential determination of at least 75,000 [refugees],” Matt Wilch of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told CNA of reported changes to the number of refugees the U.S. plans to accept in the 2018 fiscal year.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Trump administration is planning to further reduce the number of refugee admissions for the 2018 fiscal year, “according to current and former government officials familiar with the discussions.”

For the 2017 fiscal year, the Obama administration had planned to take in 110,000 refugees after accepting 85,000 in 2016, including more than 12,000 Syrian refugees.

However, in a March executive order, President Donald Trump ordered a four-month halt to U.S. refugee admissions so that the resettlement program could be reviewed for its security. He set a cap on refugee admissions for the fiscal year at 50,000, well short of the 110,000 originally planned.

In addition, Trump barred most travel from six countries for 90 days – Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Sudan.

Now the administration may be reducing its refugee quota even further, to below 50,000.

The Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a written statement Tuesday that they were “troubled and deeply concerned” at reports that the administration was considering the reduction, which they called “inhumane.”

“We implore the administration to show mercy and compassion for those seeking refuge, and to advance the American value of freedom through providing safe harbor to those fleeing tyranny and religious persecution,” the bishops said.

The conference proposed a goal of 75,000 refugees instead. “We think it’s really time to get back to the serious business of saving lives, and we urge the administration to have the total this coming year be 75,000,” Wilch told CNA Thursday.

In 2016, then-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Dr. Robert George said the refugee resettlement program was secure, and that the U.S. should ultimately look to increase the number of Syrian refugees it resettles to 100,000.

A reduction in refugee admissions would come at a time when the number of displaced persons across the globe is at an all-time high, the group Human Rights First said.

“While ten percent of the world’s 21 million refugees are estimated to need resettlement, only about one percent have access to resettlement,” they said.

Furthermore, several countries neighboring Syria like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, are hosting the bulk of refugees fleeing the six year-long conflict there, the largest refugee crisis in the world, HRF said.

If the U.S. and other countries decide to accept fewer refugees, it could contribute to the destabilization of Syria’s neighbors who are already at or nearing capacity for hosting refugees.

“The United States’ refugee admissions program is not a zero-sum game; we are more than capable of providing safety to those fleeing violence and persecution around the world,” Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First stated.