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Surprise! Pope Francis unexpectedly celebrates Vatican wedding

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2018 / 04:22 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis surprised wedding guests Saturday when he unexpectedly celebrated a marriage being held at a small chapel in the Vatican Gardens.

“Look who came as a surprise! Pope Francis is always surprising!” said Brazilian Fr. Omar Reposo on his Instagram account.

The wedding - between Luca Schafer, a member of the Swiss Guard, and Letícia Vera, a former employee of the Vatican Museums, took place in the Church of St. Stephen of the Abyssinians, just outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Sources close to the couple told ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese language sister agency, that only the bride and groom know that Pope Francis was going to preside over the wedding. The pope’s arrival surprised the wedding guests, and the priests who concelebrated the wedding.

According to Vatican Media, the pope preached about three verbs that can help couples to experience the fullness of marriage: “to begin,” “to stop,” and “to resume the journey.”

This was not the first time that Pope Francis celebrated a wedding at the Vatican. In September 2014, the pope presided over the marriage of 20 couples in St. Peter’s Basilica and in July 2016 he did the same for a deaf couple in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

In Nicaragua, paramilitaries attack bishop and besiege church

Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 16, 2018 / 03:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- This weekend, paramilitaries in Nicaragua attacked a car carrying the Bishop of Esteli, and in a separate incident pro-government forces besieged students in a parish church, killing two.

Protests against president Daniel Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths, according to local human rights groups. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara of Esteli was attacked in his car at a police checkpoint in Nindiri, about 15 miles southeast of Managua, July 15. He was returning from saying Mass. The paramilitaries damaged the car's tires and windows, and fired on the vehicle.

Together with his driver, Bishop Mata took shelter in a house which was surrounded by Ortega's supporters, who verbally harassed him for 90 minutes.

He was able to leave the house through the intervention of the Archdiocese of Managua, which intervened with the government to send general commissioner Ramon Avellan to guarantee the bishop's physical safety. Bishop Mata returned to Esteli by cover of dark.

Bishop Mata is among the mediators and witnesses in the national dialogue between the government and the opposition.

Also on Sunday, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua lamented that “police and paramilitaries” had entered a rectory and carried off “various belongings of the parish and of Fr. Jairo Velasquez”, who was unharmed. In his statement, the cardinal reiterated a call for the government and police to desist from “the attacks against the population” and to respect “the churches and rectories and personal articles of priests, which are used in humanitarian work.”

In Managua, around 150 student protesters who took refuge in Divine Mercy parish July 13 were able to leave the following day, after an intervention by the country's bishops.

The parish is near the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, where the students had been protesting during a national strike. They were attacked by the paramilitaries, and sought shelter in the church building, where they were besieged. Two student protesters died in the church from fire by the paramilitaries.

The students were transferred July 14 to Managua's Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where they received medical care.

Fr. Raul Zamora, pastor of Divine Mercy parish, and his vicar, Fr. Erick Alvarado, announced July 16 their appreciation for those who have helped to clean up the church, and said that the church will be closed through July 19. On July 20, a penitential Mass will be said “where we will implore the Mercy of God and the gift of conversion for our Nicaragua.” Normal Mass times and perpetual adoration will resume July 21.

The Nicaraguan bishops have announced a day of prayer and fasting July 20 in reparation for desecrations carried out in recent months.

In a July 14 statement, the bishops' conference said that since it began mediation between the government and the opposition in April, “we have witnessed the government's lack of political will to dialogue sincerely and to seek real processes that would lead us to a true democracy.”

They said Ortega's government has refused “to address the central themes of the agenda of democratization” and to dismantle the paramilitaries.

They denounced the repression by police and paramilitaries, whose attacks “are juridically and morally condemnable” and which have the objective “of sowing terror in the people who have manifested themselves peacefully.”

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout Nicaragua, and clashes frequently turn lethal. Bishops and priests across the country have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

Read Vatican guide to consecrated virginity with discernment, canonist says

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2018 / 01:56 pm (CNA).- A new Vatican instruction on the role of consecrated virginity has drawn criticism from an American group, which says that a key paragraph of the document could lead to confusion. At issue is whether entering the Church’s “order of virgins” requires that women actually be virgins.

On July 4, the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life made public Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, an instruction about consecrated virginity in the Church.
 
The instruction drew criticism from the Lansing, Mich.-based U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, which put out a statement that criticized the document, calling it “intentionally convoluted and confusing.”

The group said the document seems to say that “physical virginity may no longer be considered an essential prerequisite for consecration to a life of virginity,” and called this implication “shocking.”

The association is a voluntary organization of consecrated virgins in the U.S. According to its 2015 statistics, it has 97 voting members and another 34 associate members.

“There are some egregious violations of chastity that, even if not strictly violating virginity, would disqualify a woman from receiving the consecration of virgins,” the association said.

“The entire tradition of the Church has firmly upheld that a woman must have received the gift of virginity – that is, both material and formal (physical and spiritual) – in order to receive the consecration of virgins,” the statement added.

The controversial paragraph of the document, #88, instructs that: “it should be kept in mind that the call to give witness to the Church’s virginal, spousal and fruitful love for Christ is not reducible to the symbol of physical integrity. Thus to have kept her body in perfect continence or to have practiced the virtue of chastity in an exemplary way, while of great importance with regard to the discernment, are not essential prerequisites in the absence of which admittance to consecration is not possible.”
 
It continues: “The discernment therefore requires good judgement and insight, and it must be carried out individually. Each aspirant and candidate is called to examine her own vocation with regard to her own personal history, in honesty and authenticity before God, and with the help of spiritual accompaniment.”

Jenna Cooper, a Minnesota-based canon lawyer who has been a consecrated virgin of the Archdiocese of New York since 2009, told CNA that the Vatican’s instruction must be read carefully to be understood.
 
“I don’t see this as saying non-virgins can be virgins. I see this as saying in cases where there is a real question, it errs on the side of walking with women in individual cases for further discernment, as opposed to having a hard-dividing line to exclude women from this vocation,” Cooper told CNA.
 
“The presumption of the document is that these are virgins who are doing this (consecration),” she said.
 
“An important thing to do though is to read the questionable paragraph in context with the rest of the document,” she continued. “The instruction talks a lot about the value of virginity, Christian virginity, the spirituality of virginity.”
 
Cooper also said that the document can’t be understood as a change in Vatican policy. “The nature of this kind of document as an instruction doesn’t change the law that it’s intended to explain,” she said.
 
The rite of consecration itself is the law, while the instruction is meant as “an elaboration for certain disputed points,” Cooper said, adding “It’s just giving you further guidance in places where existing law is vague.”
 
In Cooper’s view, the document’s “more generous description” of the prerequisite of virginity is “allowing for people in difficult situations to continue some serious discernment.” One disputed paragraph, she thinks, was meant to apply to “difficult cases” where a woman cannot answer whether she is a virgin according to a strict standard. She cited cases where women might have lost their virginity without willing it or against their will, or out of ignorance. Women might have “committed grave sins against chastity but not actually lost their virginity in their minds”
 
Judith Stegman, president of the U.S. Association of Consecrated Virgins, praised the document, saying it “responds well to many questions” about consecrated virginity in the Church. She lauded its emphasis on the consecrated virgin’s “mystical espousal to Christ as key to this bridal vocation of love that images the relationship between Christ and the Church.”
 
However, she reiterated that paragraph 88 was a “confusing statement.” Immediately after the document was published, she said, “we began to receive comments from readers stating, ‘Whoa! Physical virginity is no longer required for the consecration of virgins!’”
 
As for difficult cases, Stegman said, “If a woman has been violated against her will and has not knowingly and willingly given up her virginity, most would hold that she would remain eligible for consecration as a virgin. Such a case would require depth of good judgment and insight carried out in individual discernment with the bishop, as is discussed in paragraph 88.”
 
“It is not such cases, however, that are most common, and if the intention of paragraph 88 was to address situations such as rape, it could have done so directly, without compromising the essential and natural requirement of physical virginity for the consecration of a virgin.”
 
“In our society, questions of eligibility for the consecration of virgins are raised by those who have given up their virginity, perhaps only one time, and who have later begun again to live an exemplary chaste life.” she said, saying the document “should have indicated that these women do not have the gift of virginity to offer to Christ.”
 
“They may make a private vow of chastity, or enter another form of consecrated life, but the consecration of virgins is not open to them.”
 
The association cited the introduction to the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity, which consecrates a virgin as “bride of Christ” so that she might be “an eschatological image of the world to come and the heavenly Bride of Christ.”
 
The association’s statement also acknowledged that the prerequisites for consecration are not changed by the instruction.  
 
Cooper also praised the instruction as “a very positive development for this vocation.”
 
“One thing I’m particularly happy about is I think it does an excellent job articulating the values of this vocation for the wider Church,” she said.

The Vatican estimates there are now more than 5,000 consecrated virgins worldwide.

Federal appeals court sides with Texas bishops in privacy case

Austin, Texas, Jul 16, 2018 / 01:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal court of appeals sided with the Texas Catholic bishops in a July 15 ruling blocking a request from abortion groups to access the bishops’ private communications regarding abortion.

“Hitting churches with subpoenas to win the culture wars was a bad idea from the start,” said Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represents the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We are glad that the Fifth Circuit recognized the deep problems with allowing lawyers to use the power of the court system to probe the private religious discussions of religious groups,” he continued. “That is especially so here, where the plaintiffs oppose the Texas Catholic bishops' right to participate equally in public discourse.”

Whole Woman’s Health, a chain of Texas abortion facilities, filed suit against the State of Texas two years ago over a law that requires aborted fetal remains to be either buried or cremated. Previously, the remains were treated as medical waste and thrown into a landfill.

Although the bishops are not party to the lawsuit, Whole Woman’s Health attempted to acquire various communications from the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops concerning abortion. These included private email and internal communications between bishops.

The bishops had previously offered to bury aborted fetal remains for free in Catholic cemeteries in Texas.

A trial court initially ruled that the bishops must hand over the emails and other documents. The bishops then requested emergency protection from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which last month granted temporary protection and ordered additional briefs to be submitted by June 25.

The July 15 decision permanently blocks the order for the bishops to hand over the documents.

In his concurring opinion, Circuit Judge James Ho stressed the importance of religious liberty.

“The First Amendment expressly guarantees the free exercise of religion—including the right of the Bishops to express their profound objection to the moral tragedy of abortion, by offering free burial services for fetal remains,” he said. “By contrast, nothing in the text or original understanding of the Constitution prevents a state from requiring the proper burial of fetal remains.”

The Texas bishops have emphasized the importance of being able to deliberate privately and freely.

“Children are not disposable,” said Bishop Edward J. Burns from the Diocese of Dallas, comparing the lawsuit to the policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S. border.

“We believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception. We also believe that we have a right to discuss in private how to address this issue and uphold the dignity of every human life, and that while upholding the sacredness of life may seem at odds with some people, our religious liberties and religious rights should not be eroded.”

 

Love is the heart of doctrine on family, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2018 / 11:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a message to Antillean youth, Pope Francis said love is the core of the Church's doctrine on the family, which is something every young person is responsible for carrying forward.

To understand what this love means, the pope urged young people to both read and study chapter four of his 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, which is dedicated to “Love in Marriage.”

“I tell you that the core of Amoris Laetitia was chapter four. How to live love. How to live love in the family,” he said, and told youth to read and talk about the chapter with each other, because “there is a lot of strength here to continue going forward” and to transform family life.

Love “has its own strength. And love never ends,” he said, explaining that if they learn how to truly love as God taught, “you will be transforming something that is for all of eternity.”

Pope Francis sent a video message to participants in the youth assembly of the Antilles Bishops Conference, which is taking place in the Archdiocese of Saint-Pierre and Fort-de-France, in Martinique, from July 10-23.

In his message, the pope asked youth whether they were really living as young people, or if they had become “aged youth,” because “if you are aged young people you are not going to do anything. You have to be youth who are young, with all the strength that youth has to transform.”

He said young people should not be “settled” in life, because being “settled” means one is at a standstill and “things don't go forward.”

“You have to un-stall what has been stalled and start to fight,” the pope said. “You want to transform, you want to carry forward and you have made your own the directives of the post-synodal exhortation on the family in order to carry the family forward and transform the family of the Caribbean,” he said.

In order to promote and carry the family forward, one must understand both the present and the past, Pope Francis said.

“You are preparing to transform something that has been given to you by your elders. You have received the history of yesterday, the traditions of yesterday,” he said, adding that people “cannot do anything in the present nor the future if you are not rooted in the past, in your history, in your culture, in your family; if you do not have roots that are well grounded.”

To this end, he told youth to spend time with their grandparents and other elderly people, and to take what they learn and “carry it forward.”