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Process of beatification begins for Carmen Hernández, co-founder of Neocatechumenal Way

Carmen Hernández, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way / Credit: Archimadrid

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The beatification and canonization process for Carmen Hernández, co-founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, officially opens this Sunday. The archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Carlos Osoro, will preside at the event that will take place at Francisco de Vitoria University.

The second Sunday of Advent is the liturgical setting for the official ceremony. Also attending the event will be the international team of the Neocatechumenal Way: Kiko Argüello, Ascensión Romero, and Father Mario Pezzi, as well as the diocesan postulator for the cause, Carlos Metola.

During the ceremony, the members of the tribunal will be sworn in: the episcopal delegate for the Causes of the Saints, Father Alberto Fernández; the promoter of justice, Father Martín Rodajo; and deputy notaries Ana Gabriela Martínez and Mercedes Alvaredo.

Almost a year and a half has passed since July 2021, when the postulator delivered the “supplex libellus” to Cardinal Osoro at a Mass celebrated on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the death of the Servant of God Carmen Hernández.

The “libellus” is the formal petition for the start of the process. It includes writings, documents, and testimonies in support of the sanctity of the co-founder of the Way and that she lived the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.

On that occasion, Cardinal Osoros noted that Hernández was “a tireless catechist and worker of the announcement of Christ” who in her life wanted to be “a bearer of Jesus Christ.”

Argüello, who co-founded the movement with Hernández, highlighted in a letter that Hernández “was a deep, authentic, and free woman in her relationship with everyone. She loved Christ and the Church and the pope above all.”

“For love of the Church and the brethren, she has stayed with me for 50 years, carrying out this Christian initiation that is the Neocatechumenal Way,” Argüello recalled.

“I thought they were following me,” Argüello acknowledged, “but I discovered that thousands of brethren are on the Way thanks to Carmen and because of the love that Carmen had for Christ.”

After the solemn act, there will be the premiere of two symphonic poems by Argüello, titled “Daughters of Jerusalem” and “Aquedah.” The latter expression refers to the sacrifice of Isaac recounted in Genesis Chapter 22.

Both the solemn act and the premiere of these works can be followed on the YouTube channel of the Archdiocese of Madrid:

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Despite incessant attacks, Nigerian Catholics keep their faith

Police and residents of Wumat, a farming town 45 miles south of Jos, Nigeria, arrive to survey damage and help survivors of a terrorist attack on Nov 22, 2022. / Courtesy of Victor Nafor

Abuja, Nigeria, Dec 2, 2022 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

November proved to be an especially deadly month in Central Nigeria, leaving Catholics like Matthew Onah and his family struggling to cope with their losses.

In the Catholic enclave of Maikatako, 11 people were killed on Nov. 15 in an attack by armed militia, reportedly 200 to 300 in number and dressed in black.

Among the victims was Onah’s 2-year-old son. A member of the St. Benedict’s Independent Mission Kuba within the Diocese of Pankshin in Plateau State, Onah said his wife, Rosemary, 33, was injured but is recovering in a local hospital. Their two other children survived.

One week later, at least 12 unarmed civilians were killed by radicalized Muslim militia in the town of Wumat, 45 miles south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, according to Titus Alams, a former speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly. 

Alams told CNA more than 200 terrorists encircled the hilltop settlement on the cold Tuesday night, shooting residents who tried to escape.

Burned vehicle in the town of Wumat, Nigeria, where 12 villagers were killed in a terrorist assault on Nov. 22, 2022. Courtesy of Victor Nafor
Burned vehicle in the town of Wumat, Nigeria, where 12 villagers were killed in a terrorist assault on Nov. 22, 2022. Courtesy of Victor Nafor

The attacks followed weeks of terror raids on surrounding Christian villages, causing farmers to stay away from their farms, said Father Andrew Dewan, who is in charge of St. Benedict’s Independent Mission Kuba, which serves approximately 25 surrounding villages.

“Just last month, we buried two of our parishioners in a town close to Maikatako,” Dewan said. “They were killed by the same Fulani militants who went to kidnap their sister. They kidnap Christians for ransom, destroy their farm crops and still wage attacks, killing Christians and destroying their livelihoods.”

The motivation for the attacks is “land grab and forceful Islamization,” he said.

“They have taken many of our communities and turned them into no-go zones,” Dewan said.

Officials in Nigeria have often characterized the attacks as clashes between sedentary farmers and semi-nomadic herdsmen over the fertile land, which they say have increased because of climate change.

Bishop Michael Gokum of the Pankshin Diocese told CNA this is a distortion of the facts.

“If you are in your house and somebody comes and attacks you, that is not a clash,” Gokum said in a phone interview. “We are worried about the growing killings not just of Catholics but all Christians which have continued unabated.”

Bishop Michael Gokum, head of the Diocese of Pankshin, Nigeria. Courtesy of Bishop Gokum
Bishop Michael Gokum, head of the Diocese of Pankshin, Nigeria. Courtesy of Bishop Gokum

The attacks by groups of Islamist militia variously called “herdsmen,” “bandits,” or “unknown gunmen” increasingly victimize farming towns in Nigeria’s vast Middle Belt of states.

At least 18 people were shot and hacked to death in the northern area of Benue State on Nov. 3 in three neighboring villages of Guma County, reported Father William Shom, a resident of the county. Many of the victims were children, Shom told CNA.

More worrisome to Nigerian experts is that herdsmen attacks are popping up in Nigeria’s southern states, where they were rare a few years ago.

On Nov. 21, a terrorist group heard speaking the language of the Fulani tribe attacked villages in the southern area of Enugu State, approximately 400 miles from the attack sites in Bokkos County, Plateau State. Enugu State is home to more than one million Roman Catholic residents.

Analysts have warned that the incessant attacks — if unresisted — could push Africa’s most populous nation into the hands of radical Islamists.

“True, Christian farmers have clashed with nomadic Fulani Muslim herders, or militants, for scores of years, but recent attacks by Fulani militants appear to be coordinated and strategic,” Kyle Abts, executive director of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), told CNA.

It’s “concerning that there are continued killings in Plateau State and just a few days later new attacks in the southern state of Enugu,” he added.

“Throughout the Middle Belt, security forces are either overwhelmed, unable to stop, or complicit in these attacks,” Abts said.

Solomon Maren, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, said Bokkos has seen a steady rise in armed attacks and annexations since 2018.

“Our people in the rural areas can no longer farm or move freely without the fear of attacks. Just last month, we buried more than 30 of our people who were attacked either on their farms or in their houses,” he said.

Gov. Simon Lalong ordered a crackdown on terrorists’ hideouts in Bokkos on Nov. 17. Military spokesman Major Ishaku Takwa told CNA that night that the effort was already underway.

However, three hours later, apparently, the same gang of 300 terrorists that attacked Maikatako assaulted a village approximately two miles west of Maikatako.

The volunteer guards in Maikatako armed with single-shot shotguns resisted the night attack as best they could, according to guardsmen who spoke to CNA. 

“They took cover behind houses firing their guns but were forced to retreat by the terrorists’ superior weapons, AK-47 assault rifles,” said Bitrus Dang, a retired assistant superintendent of police. Dang and two other men were injured during the attack.

According to the military spokesman in Plateau State, Major Ishaku Takwa, villagers do not call for help early enough.

“Prompt information sharing is key to ending these attacks,” he said. “These terrorists come in and strike within minutes and go away so we need information as soon as it happens.”

A pastor in the town who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation told CNA that two army trucks carrying at least five men each were stationed on a bypass encircling Maikatako earlier in the evening when rumors of a planned attack started circulating. However, they stood by listening to music during the attack, the clergyman said.

“We were helpless,” Dang said. 

“They came with AK-47 and AK-49 rifles as well as other sophisticated weapons,” he said. “We only had single-shot cartridge guns.” He said the attack continued for four hours without any intervention by police or soldiers.

While sifting through the rubble of their burned house on the morning of Nov. 16, Onah found a Bible, his only belonging that survived the terrorists’ fire. 

“I lost everything including my baby, my car, my house, food and clothing, but with this [Bible], my hope is renewed,” he said.

“Nothing will stop me from being a Catholic. Nothing will stop me from following Christ,” he said.

Iraqi government must support Christians, Chaldean Catholic patriarch says

Cardinal Louis Raphaël Sako / ACI MENA

Erbil, Iraq, Dec 2, 2022 / 11:45 am (CNA).

ACI MENA, the Arabic-language new service based in Erbil, Iraq, conducted an exclusive interview Nov. 21 with Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Cardinal Louis Sako at the patriarchal residence in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. 

During the discussion, the cardinal touched on new challenges facing Christians and the Church and talked about what he expects to come out of the synodal way within the Chaldean Church. 

Over the course of the interview, Sako addressed emerging threats facing Christians in Iraq, including their exclusion from the political process.

The Iraqi government’s refusal to shelter displaced Christians

When Christians were forced to leave their homes in the Nineveh Plain after the 2014 Islamic State invaded Iraq, they exhibited great heroism, Sako said. 

He added that when the Iraqi government failed to help the displaced find new homes on the pretext of not having the necessary funding, the Church, he said, assisted in providing housing to thousands of displaced Christians and non-Christians alike.

He expressed his concern that in Iraq, a country that was once home to more than one and a half million Christians, approximately 20 Christian families leave each month. He warned that if the government and the Muslim majority don’t change their policies soon to support Christians, an unthinkable disaster will occur. A country that has housed the Church for hundreds of years will soon be without the Christian faith, he said.

Property of the Church and Christians not safe

The patriarch cardinal also spoke out against the government’s decision to evict displaced people from a housing project in Baghdad. The Virgin Mary complex, which is located on government-owned property, has hosted 120 families, or approximately 400 individuals — including displaced Christians and poor families — after their areas were destroyed during the period of ISIS control.

The complex will be evacuated by the end of this year according to an order from the Iraqi government.

Reflecting on the situation, Sako shared that “the Iraqi government overlooked the most important issue — that being the Chaldean Church provided apartments for those dislocated and abandoned by the government.”

No real representation of Christians in Iraq

Cardinal Sako explained that, in effect, Christians lack representation in Iraq, citing the influence of those who are doing the will of the political parties in power. He expressed his regret that some Christian politicians have aligned themselves with “Hashd al-Shaabi,” a Shiite militia organization.

“There is a Christian politician who considers that the ‘Hashd al-Shaabi’ is from God; how can a military faction be from God? This is a defect and distorts Christianity,” Sako told ACI MENA.

Sako also discussed a need to reform the way political seats are allocated and how government jobs are distributed so that Christians are not unfairly treated.

The Iraqi government and parties in power, he added, do not listen to the opinions of the Church regarding problems faced by Christians in Iraq.

The synodal way and renewal

The patriarch spoke about the synodal process taking place within the Chaldean Church and noted that he has already seen a “renewal” in the fields of theology, liturgy, and legal work, describing these changes as necessary to meet the needs of the times. 

The Chaldean patriarch also called on Muslim leaders to work on a “synodal way in Islam” to renew Islam and religious discourse just as the Catholic Church has. His hope, he said, is that this renewal on the part of the religions will pave the way to a future where Christians and Muslims in Iraq and countries where Muslims are the majority can coexist.

Role of women and same-sex marriage

Cardinal Sako touched on the ultimate goal of the listening sessions: how to increase the role believers have in the Catholic Church in Iraq. 

He referred in particular to the importance of ensuring that women have an active role and presence in the life of the Church. 

Sako made clear that renewal does not, however, mean accepting what is contrary to Church teaching, such as same-sex marriage.

“The Church respects the human being, but it does not accept marriage that comes outside the concept of man and woman,” he said.

Sako explained that the Church plays the role of a mother, embracing all her sons and daughters who are believers and taking care of them. Her role, he observed, is represented in accompanying and helping them to stay within the correct faith, and guiding them, reminding them that God is “mercy and love.”

At the end of the interview, Sako spoke of his desire to unify the position of the Churches of Iraq so that its members can be united in their demands before a state that deals with Christians as though they are second-class citizens. He also called for the establishment of a civil Iraqi state based on the principle of citizenship and not religious affiliation, and the abolition of any reference to religion in the country’s official documents.

Former Colombian guerrilla fighter sentenced in murder of Catholic archbishop

Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino / null

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 08:00 am (CNA).

The Criminal Chamber of the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice sentenced “in absentia” former FARC leader Luciano Marín Arango, alias Iván Márquez, to 25 years in prison as the orchestrator of the 2002 assassination of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino.

Márquez is at large and must be captured in order to serve the sentence.

The prelate was archbishop of Cali when he was murdered on March 16, 2002, by two hitmen on a motorcycle as he left Good Shepherd parish after celebrating en masse the weddings of 105 couples. The hitmen were later found to have been paid by FARC’s Joint Central Command of the West.

Márquez was part of the Secretariat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that had ordered the assassination of the prelate due to his constant statements against the guerrilla group.

He was also part of the group that negotiated a peace accord with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which led to the disbanding of this guerrilla force in 2016 and its subsequent transition into the far-left Commons political party.

However, in August 2019 Márquez announced in a video that he was returning to the armed struggle, after he had been linked to drug trafficking again. He currently leads one of the FARC factions that rejected the peace accord, known as the Second Marquetalia, which operates on the border with Venezuela. He must be captured in order to serve the sentence.

In the verdict, posted yesterday on its website, the Supreme Court upheld the 25-year sentence handed down by a lower court in December 2011 against Márquez and other members of the FARC Secretariat, but whom the Cali Superior Court acquitted in 2013. 

That same year, the attorney general’s office then filed an appeal for the Supreme Court to examine the case, but the process did not advance until it was referred to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created with the 2016 Peace Accord.

However, on Dec. 15, 2021, the case was returned to the Supreme Court of Justice, which decided to review the rebel leader’s case as he was no longer under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace because he had reneged on the 2016 Peace Accord.

Regarding the other members of the Secretariat, Rodrigo Londoño, Noel Mata Mata, and Pablo Catatumbo, who are also implicated in the crime, the Supreme Court said that since they accepted the peace process, their cases fall under the JEP.

The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice thus upheld the sentence handed down in 2011, stating that in its 2013 ruling the Cali Superior Court made errors in assessing the evidence that showed that the murder of Archbishop Duarte was ordered by the FARC Secretariat. 

In its sentence, the Criminal Chamber noted that the prelate “criticized and censured the actions of the FARC-People’s Army, which he did in the course of his religious preaching and through press releases condemning attacks on the civilian population and kidnappings ordered by said group.”

Former guerilla fighter Julio Rodrigo Iriarte testified in the case that the Secretariat ordered the crime, committed by the 30th and 6th Fronts and the “Arturo Ruíz” Mobile Bloc led by Pablo Catatumbo.

“Undoubtedly, as it is a properly hierarchical organization and organized under clear and precise mandates given by the Secretariat, it could be expected that the group’s orders and operations would be carried out under a strict command logic, whose actions with the greatest resonance and connotation only could be authorized by the most important decision-making body,” the Supreme Court said.

The biographer of Archbishop Duarte, Father Efraín Montoya Flórez, said that on the day of the assassination, the prelate repeated twice the Prayer of Abandonment of St. Charles de Foucauld, a French mystic: “My Father, I abandon myself to you. Do what you want with me.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

German Synodal Way designed to create ‘pressure’ on the Church, founding president says

Thomas Sternberg speaking at a press conference for the German "Synodal Way" on Sept. 30, 2021, in Frankfurt. / Synodaler Weg/Maximilian von Lachner

CNA Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 07:10 am (CNA).

The German Synodal Way was designed from the outset to avoid legal sanctions while simultaneously creating “pressure” on the Church to change Catholic teaching, one of the founders of the process told German media Friday.

Thomas Sternberg, former president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the controversial process wanted to achieve changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the ordination of women, and other topics, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

Speaking to German diocesan broadcaster Domradio on Dec. 2, Sternberg said the Synodal Way was proceeding “much more successfully than I had thought.” 

In light of the Vatican’s interventions against the Synodal Way, he said it had become clear “it was right not to use the form of a synod, as that would have been sanctioned by canon law” and “would have given canon law properly then also the possibility to prohibit something like that.”

From the perspective of canon law, the Synodal Way was just “a nonbinding discussion process,” Sternberg said. 

Only in this way could the participants “actually operate freely. Then even prefabricated critical objections that have been raised by Rome come to nothing.” 

Together with Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Sternberg launched the Synodal Way in 2019. Acknowledging the process is not a synod, Marx at the time said it was instead a “process ‘sui generis.’”

The pope’s letter to the pilgrim people of God in Germany remained “very important,” Sternberg said Dec. 2.

Like many ZdK leaders, Sternberg is a professional politician. He described in detail some of the political tools and tactics the organizers of the German Synodal Way followed in their pursuit of achieving change, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner. 

On the one hand, he said, it was clear the participants could not “decide the question of the ordination of women or the question of the abolition of celibacy in Germany.” 

However, he said, “I am a politician to the extent that I know that processes and developments are needed in order to make topics worthy of discussion in the first place.”

“When you get involved in a synodal process, you also have to reckon with the fact that sometimes you don’t win,” Sternberg said about the one text so far not adopted by the process — which led to tumultuous scenes at the Frankfurt event.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK Chairman Thomas Sternberg on July 5, 2019 Photo: Martin Rothweiler / EWTN.TV.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx and ZdK Chairman Thomas Sternberg on July 5, 2019 Photo: Martin Rothweiler / EWTN.TV.

“We have to talk about it, and we have to make demands,” the former ZdK president said of the approach chosen by the organizers. “Only through pressure does real change come about.”

Sternberg specifically mentioned the Synodal Way’s texts on ordaining women to the priesthood, clericalism, and homosexuality.

He said these topics were now being discussed “internationally, not only in Germany,” thanks to the German process.

The Vatican last week published the full wording of its latest warnings over another schism coming out of Germany, raising fundamental concerns and objections.

The Synodal Way risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Cardinal Marc Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

The prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops said the Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

The Vatican was receiving messages on a daily basis from Catholics scandalized by this process, he added. 

Sternberg’s successor as president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp, accused the Vatican of “snubbing” German Catholics on Nov. 21.

The Synodal Way — “Synodaler Weg” in German, sometimes translated as the Synodal Path — is still expected to continue as planned by organizers. The next (and so far final) synodal assembly will take place in the spring of 2023.

Pope Francis: The effects of the war in Ukraine are being felt all over the world

Pope Francis with members of the group Leaders Pour la Paix at the Vatican, Dec. 2, 2022 / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 05:50 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Friday that the war between Russia and Ukraine is an example of the “globalization of problems” with the far-felt effects of the energy and food crises.

In a message to heads of state and other civil authorities participating in a high-level conference on geopolitics in Rome on Dec. 2, the pope said that the food crisis in particular is affecting “a growing number of people all over the world, especially in the poorest countries.”

“The Ukrainian conflict is in fact producing enormous repercussions in North African countries, which depend for 80% on grain from Ukraine or Russia,” Pope Francis said.

“This crisis urges us to consider the totality of the real situation from a global perspective, just as its effects are global.”

The pope explained that “just as it is not possible to think of tackling the energy crisis apart from the political one, one cannot at the same time solve the food crisis apart from the persistence of conflicts.”

“Nor can the extent of human suffering be taken into consideration without taking into account the social crisis, in which, for economic or political gain, the value of the human person is diminished and human rights are trampled upon,” he added.

The pope’s message was delivered to the Rome Med - Mediterranean Dialogues conference in Rome this week. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosts the annual high-level meeting.

Pope Francis also received an audience on Dec. 2 with members of the organization Leaders Pour la Paix (Leaders for Peace).

“We cannot forget that the sacrifice of human lives, the suffering of the population, the indiscriminate destruction of civilian structures, the violation of the principle of humanity are not ‘side effects’ of war, no, they are international crimes. This we must say and repeat,” the pope told the group.

Pope Francis with members of Leaders Pour la Paix at the Vatican, Dec. 2, 2022. Vatican Media
Pope Francis with members of Leaders Pour la Paix at the Vatican, Dec. 2, 2022. Vatican Media

Leaders Pour la Paix is an organization founded by the former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin that brings together high-level government representatives from around the world.

U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ban Ki-moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations, are among the its board of leaders, along with Kamal Kharazi, the former Iranian foreign minister, and Quan Kong, a member of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

The group of 36 world leaders aims to reduce conflicts through prevention by alerting public opinion and decision-makers on risky situations and their consequences, according to its website.

“Using weapons to resolve conflicts is a sign of weakness and fragility,” Pope Francis said.

“Negotiating, proceeding with mediation and starting conciliation requires courage.”

Ukrainian archbishop appeals for release of Catholic priests captured by Russian troops

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 8, 2022. / news.ugcc.ua.

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2022 / 05:20 am (CNA).

Two Catholic priests captured by Russian troops are “being tortured without mercy,” the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said Thursday.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk issued an appeal to international authorities on Dec. 1 to help facilitate the release of Father Ivan Levytskyi and Father Bohdan Heleta, who have been held in captivity for more than two weeks.

“We have received the sad news that our priests are being tortured without mercy,” Shevchuk said.

“According to classic Stalinist methods of repression, confessions to crimes they did not commit are being extracted from them. In fact, our two heroic pastors are daily threatened under torture with death.”

The Ukrainian archbishop asked Catholics around the world to pray for the release of the priests.

“Our request is for the immediate release of the two priests, who have no fault other than that of loving their people, their Church, the community entrusted to them,” he said.

“I appeal to diplomatic representatives and to international human rights organizations, asking them to do everything possible to save the lives of these heroic pastors. And I ask all the faithful of our Church in Ukraine and abroad, all Christians, all people of good will, to pray for the salvation of these two priests.”

According to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the two Redemptorist priests had chosen to stay in territory under Russian occupation to serve the local Greek Catholic and Latin-rite Catholic communities.

“Subsequently, some military objects were placed in the church in order to accuse them of the illegal possession of weapons,” Shevchuk said.

Levytskyi and Heleta were taken from their parish, the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the coastal city of Berdyansk on Nov. 16 and accused of having committed “subversive” and “guerrilla” activities by the Russian National Guard.

The Ukrainian Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Donetsk denied the accusations, calling the detention “unfounded and illegal,” and demanded the prompt release of the clerics.

“At the time of the search of the church and the adjacent rectory and premises of the parish, both priests were already under arrest; that is, they could not control these premises and the actions of the Russian National Guard in any way,” the statement from the local church said.

“They cannot bear any responsibility for the weapons and ammunition allegedly found in those places. This is clear slander and a false accusation.”

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meets Pope Francis, Nov. 11, 2021. Vatican Media.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, meets Pope Francis, Nov. 11, 2021. Vatican Media.

In an interview published earlier this week, Pope Francis described Ukrainians as “a people who are martyred.”

“If you have a martyred people, you have someone who martyrs them,” the pope told America Magazine.

“When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in. Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on,” Francis added.

The pope’s comments elicited a strong response from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who called Pope Francis “un-Christian” in a televised speech on Thursday.

“Pope Francis calls for talks but also recently made an incomprehensible statement, completely un-Christian, singling out two Russian nationalities into some category from which atrocities can be expected during hostilities,” Lavrov said, according to Politico.

The Russian foreign minister added: “Of course this doesn’t help the cause and the authority of the Holy See.”

Cuban priest: Dignity comes from God, not the government

null / Credit: Unsplash

CNA Newsroom, Dec 1, 2022 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

Father Alberto Reyes, a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey, Cuba, recently shared a reflection on Facebook about human dignity as experienced in his homeland.

He noted that “dignity” is one of the most beloved words in the public discourse of this nation. “‘We are a dignified people,’ we repeat ad nauseam, although then when you ask: ‘What does dignity mean?’ people have no idea,” he wrote.

The Cuban priest explained that dignity is a gift given by God and not something that is received from a government authority, and therefore he called on his compatriots to “grow in the awareness of one’s own dignity” and to defend it.

In the Nov. 30 post, Reyes pointed out that although “dignity is never lost,” what “can be lost, or manipulated, is the awareness of dignity, the awareness of one’s own value.”

The priest explained that sometimes “a person’s dignity is tied to what he possesses, to his social status,” which is a view that is “false and manipulative, because our value lies in our being as persons.”

Reyes pointed out that the same thing happens when dignity is linked “to political discourse, which conveys the message that the person has worth if he joins a political or ideological program, if he defends a certain line of thought, if he participates socially in support of a partisan project.”

The priest said that this message conveyed by the government makes it clear that the person who doesn’t support its political discourse becomes a “second-class citizen” and falls in the category of “the opposition” if he expresses “his disagreement with the current political program,” risking “being denied the right to express himself” freely or to remain in his own country.

Reyes explained that this causes many to be in a state of panic over “‘not losing value’ before the evaluating and inquisitorial gaze of (those in) power” and so they seek to make it clear that “they are behaving well” by participating in all initiatives, demonstrations, and government meetings, including in “all elections, even if they’re a farce.”

The priest wrote that the terror of these people reaches such a point “that even at times when their opinion is asked through a personal and secret vote, they don’t dare to give expression what they truly think, because … ‘you never know.’”

“And when their children are growing up and start saying that they don’t want to live as slaves, they do the impossible to get them to leave the country, preferring distance and separation to facing a government that has set itself up as the source of value for individuals,” he pointed out.

The Cuban priest clarified that it’s possible to live in this way, without having problems with the system, “but at the price of not existing, of giving up your freedom of expression,” ceding “your value to a political system to which that person doesn’t matter, because he’s seen simply as a necessary piece to maintain a power structure.”

“Although dignity is something with which one is born, it’s necessary to grow in the awareness of one’s own dignity, it’s necessary to learn not only to recognize one’s own value but also to defend it, to protect it, and to accept the price of choosing to exist,” Reyes concluded.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Exorcist says porn addiction ‘an opening to the demonic,’ despite German priest’s controversial denials

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti has gained thousands of followers on social media after sharing the wisdom he has gained as an exorcist on online platforms. / Monsignor Stephen Rossetti

Boston, Mass., Dec 1, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Washington, said that a porn addiction puts one in grave spiritual danger, words that starkly contrast with those of a German priest who recently contradicted Pope Francis by saying that connecting porn to the demonic is a “spiritual exaggeration.”

“A pornography addiction, like any serious sin, is an opening to the demonic,” Rossetti told CNA in an email interview Wednesday. 

“It is never a good thing to exploit people as sexual objects, which the porn industry does,” he added. “A porn habit can be an open door to escalating sexual dysfunction."

Rossetti, 71, has spent 30 years working as a licensed psychologist. A priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, he has been an exorcist for the Archdiocese of Washington for over 15 years. He is the founder and president of the St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal, a ministry that specializes in healing for those in need of deliverance, which operates out of the archdiocese.

The exorcist’s clarity on the dangers of pornography echoes Pope Francis’ recent warning to seminarians studying in Rome. 

“Dear brothers, be careful of this. The pure heart, the heart that receives Jesus every day, cannot receive this pornographic information,” the Holy Father said to hundreds of seminarians Oct. 24.

“And if from your cell phone you can delete this, delete it, so you won’t have temptation at hand. And if you can’t delete it, protect yourself properly so you don’t have access to this. I tell you, it weakens the soul,” he said.

“The devil enters from there. It weakens the priestly heart,” the pope said repeatedly to the men.

Following Pope Francis’ comments, a German priest, Father Hermann Backhaus, in an interview with Katolisch.de — the news outlet of the Catholic Church in Germany — said that connecting porn to the demonic is a “spiritual exaggeration.”

In the interview, Backhaus also warned against “the somewhat dirty connotation” that is attributed to the term “pornographic.”

Backhaus claimed that “there are positive effects of explicit sexuality in relation to the couple” such as “making their love life become more alive.”

He added that for celibate people, “the consumption of explicit sexual representations can have a relieving effect, it can’t be denied.”

He said that “the clergy, religious, and other people at the service of the Church generally have experience with pornography.”

He disagrees with the pope regarding his assessment that “the devil enters through there” and added that “associating the devil with pornography is a very strong statement.”

In contrast, Rossetti cautioned against the use of pornography for any reason.

“A pornography addiction can destroy marriages. A porn addiction can distort a person’s sexuality,” he told CNA.

“A pornography addiction not only seriously harms the user, it supports a billion-dollar industry that exploits people, especially women and children,” he added.

Former parish employee identified as second victim of Louisiana double homicide

Ruth Prats offers a reflection on her relationship with Father Otis Young before Mass in June 2022. / Screenshot of YouTube video

Boston, Mass., Dec 1, 2022 / 15:32 pm (CNA).

The second victim in a Louisiana double homicide that also claimed the life of a local Catholic priest, Father Otis Young, has been identified. 

Ruth Prats, a 73-year-old former staff member who worked for Young when he was pastor at St. Peter Catholic Church in Covington, was identified as the second victim, St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston announced Thursday in a press conference.

Young’s death, which was confirmed Tuesday, was caused by “sharp- and blunt-force trauma,” the coroner’s office said. 

The homicides both occurred either Sunday night or Monday morning, the coroner’s office said. It was reported that both Young and Prats were reported missing on Sunday. 

The two bodies were found together “burned beyond recognition” less than a mile away from the church, according to police. The bodies were found in a back alley behind a glass store in downtown Covington, according to Sergeant James Hartman, a spokesman for the Covington Police Department. 

On Monday evening, police announced that they had taken a suspect, 49-year-old Antonio Donde Tyson of Covington, into custody.

Tyson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree kidnapping, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of resisting an officer, and one count of illegal possession of stolen things. 

Fox8live.com reported that Tyson was released from prison in August after serving part of a sentence he received in 1993. The outlet reported that he was serving time for charges of forcible rape and home invasion. 

There is no evidence that suggests that the suspect and the victims knew each other, Hartman said.

The St. Tammany Parish district attorney’s office said law enforcement is still investigating the matter. 

The office offered this statement: “All capital cases submitted to our office undergo a thorough review process before a decision is made regarding the pursuit of the death penalty. That review process begins once law enforcement officially tenders the case to our office by submitting a complete report of its investigation of the alleged offense.”

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond released a statement Wednesday offering prayers for both Young and Ruth Prats. At the time of the statement, Prats was not revealed as the second victim of the double homicide. She was, however, still listed as a missing person.

“The horror of the events that have unfolded here in Covington is beyond shocking. The pain, sadness, and disbelief that something like this could happen will stay with us, but particularly those who are most directly affected, for a very long time,” Aymond said in the statement. His full statement can be read here.

‘You taught us how to carry our crosses’

Young retired as a priest in July. Before his retirement, Prats offered a personal reflection on Young before a Mass for Young at St. Peter Catholic Church in June. The reflection can be watched in this YouTube video posted by the church. 

Addressing Young, Prats said: “It was an absolute gift to work with you as your pastoral associate for eight of the 10 years you were here at St. Peter parish.”

Prats reminisced over the wonderful renovations and improvements that Young brought to the church. She even reflected on Young’s joyful sense of humor. 

Prats said that “the greatest legacy” that Young would leave the parish is his example in showing the parishioners how to suffer. 

“You taught us how to carry our crosses,” Prats said. During her speech, she mentioned that she felt called to volunteer in a caretaking role for Young as his health declined, which led her to leave her role as a church staff member.

She described her time taking care of Young as “the most humble service” and said she was grateful.

In her speech, Prats mentioned a “sacred moment” when a glimpse of Young’s inner prayer life was revealed to the parish. The moment was when Young shared a prayer he prays before Mass to some young children making their first holy Communion. 

According to Prats, the prayer is: “Lord, grant me the grace to celebrate this Mass as if it was my first Mass, as if it was my last Mass, and as if it was my only Mass.”

“May Father Otis’ personal prayer become our prayer today at this Mass and from this day forward when we celebrate Mass,” she said.

“May we pass this prayer down to generations and to all who enter our doors here at St. Peter’s,” she said. “It will be in that prayer, his private prayer, that we will remember, Father Otis, that you walked in our midst as our pastor here at St. Peter’s and you touched our lives profoundly.”