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Monday, July 30, 2012

JESUS' Life in Us: Eucharist in Communist Prison (Vietnam)

Address of Cardinal Van Thuân's Sister at Congress
"His Life Was Rooted in Union With God Through the Eucharist"

QUEBEC CITY, JUNE 19, 2008 ( Here is the address Elizabeth Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, the youngest sister of the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân, gave today at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, which is being held through Sunday in Quebec. * * *

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, Dear Friends,
I feel immensely privileged and honoured by his Eminence Cardinal Ouellet's invitation to be here at this 49th International Eucharistic Congress, and to have been given the chance to share with you my late brother Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan's message of faith and devotion to the Eucharistic Jesus, as well as the miraculous transformations brought forth by the Eucharist in the darkness of prison.
To better appreciate and understand his deep faith and commitment to the Blessed Sacrament, I'd like to start with a brief overview of some of the important milestones in his life. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was ordained a priest in 1953, and became bishop in 1967, at the age of 39. Nine years later, just before the communist regime took over South Vietnam in 1975, the Holy Father Pope Paul VI appointed him Coadjutor of Saigon, by that time renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Francis' new appointment was rejected by the new government and on August 15, 1975, the Feast of the Assumption, he was arrested and spent the next 13 years in prison, 9 of which were in solitary confinement.
Armed with a strong faith and his constant union with Jesus in the Eucharist, he turned those years of incarceration into a journey to holiness. He brought the message of Christ into the darkness of life in captivity. A free man again at the age of 61, he was first appointed Vice-President in 1994, then President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1998. He was later diagnosed with a rare form of terminal stomach cancer, but once again, as on so many previous occasions, and to the end, he endured and accepted his illness in union with Jesus on the Cross for the Unity in the Church.
On September 16, 2007, the 5th anniversary of his death, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI officially opened his cause for beatification.
The Eucharist, Life for the World
Through his writings, and most particularly through his correspondence from prison, one clear fact emerges: Francis Xavier's life was firmly rooted in an extraordinary union with the Living God through the Eucharist, his only strength. It was also to him the most beautiful prayer, and the best way to give thanks and sing the Glory to God.
Our mother often reminded us of the time when her eldest sister was dying of tuberculosis in the city of Hue, in Vietnam. Back then, tuberculosis was considered a highly dangerous and contagious disease for which there was no cure, hence the difficulty of finding altar boys to help the parish priest administer Holy Communion to my aunt. Nevertheless, Francis offered to accompany the frail old priest on his regular visits to my aunt, on foot, every day after school, until my aunt's death. When asked about it, he explained his great devotion to my aunt with a quote from Saint John: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have the Life within you."
This unshakable faith in the Eucharist was always the guiding force in his life, the strength and food for his long journey in captivity. [As my parents had initially feared, Francis would eventually contract the disease and spend a long time in a hospital for infectious diseases. Successive tests reconfirmed his advanced tuberculosis, necessitating lung surgery that, if successful, would, at best, leave him permanently incapacitated. However, he survived miraculously, and recovered fully.]
During an interview with the media after his release, he was asked what his secret strength had been that kept him alive and sane. His answer was always, "The Eucharist." He explained how when he was arrested, he had to leave immediately, empty-handed. The following day he was allowed to write to his faithful to ask for some personal effects. He wrote: "Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach pain." They understood right away. A few days later, the guards handed him a small container addressed to him, and labeled "Medicine for stomach aliments." He also received another small container containing small pieces of Holy Host.
With three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of his hand, he would celebrate Mass. "Each time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with Him the bitter chalice" (Testimony of Hope).
And those were the most beautiful Masses of his life.
In Testimony of Hope he continued: In the re-education camp, we were divided into groups of 50 prisoners. We slept on a common bed, and everyone had the right to 50 cm of space. We managed to make sure there were Catholics around me. At 9:30 pm, we had to turn off the light. It was then that I would bend over the bed to celebrate Mass by heart, and I distributed communion by passing my hand under the mosquito net. We even made little bags with the aluminum foil from cigarette packs to preserve the Holy Host and take it to others. The Eucharistic Jesus was always present in my shirt pocket.
He always ended his clandestine letters to our parents with these words: Dear Mum and Dad, do not burden your hearts with sadness. I live each day united with the Universal Church and Jesus' sacrifice. Pray that I have the courage and the strength to always remain faithful to the Church and the Gospel, and to do God's will.
The Eucharist and Missionary Activity
The Eucharist is the heart and soul of missionary activity. Indeed it was during those years of silence and solitude, cut off from all pastoral duties, but intimately united to the Eucharist that Francis understood with his whole being that it is only God, and not God's work, that should be the centre of our lives. That understanding opened the door to the Holy Spirit to transform those years of severe restrictions into the most active and fruitful evangelization periods of his life.
ln his book Five Loaves and Two Fish, Francis recounted the special period of his life which he considered as his period of major spiritual growth. Many times I was tempted, tormented by the fact that I was only 48 years old, in the prime of my life. I had acquired a great deal of pastoral experience, and there I was, isolated, inactive, separated from my people. One night I heard a voice encouraging me from the depth of my heart: 'Why do you torment yourself so? You must distinguish between God and the work of God. You must choose God alone, and not his works.
When the communists threw him into the old of a cargo ship headed to Haiphong, 1700 m north, he suddenly found himself among some 1500 desperate, starving prisoners. He sensed their anger, their despair and desire for revenge, and he started to share in their human suffering; but with the inner voice immediately urging him to choose God, and not the works of God, he quickly realized that, in that captive company, he had just been handed a cathedral full of faithful to minister to. He decided to be an affirmation of God's presence in the midst of that cargo of human misery. He sustained his fellow prisoners during the 10-day trip, and managed to provide comfort for them.
He silently celebrated the Feast of Saint Francis Xavier, his patron Saint, who had also travelled north over the same channels of the South China Seas. By the time the cargo ship of prisoners reached Haiphong, Thuan realized he was already following Jesus to the roots of evangelization. It was like going with Him to die "extra muros", i.e., outside the walls, outside the sacred walls (Five Loaves and Two Fish).
Van Thuan described how he practised his ministry in the Vinh Quang Prison Camp: At night, the prisoners would take turns for adoration. With His silent presence, the Eucharistic Jesus helped us in unimaginable ways. Many Christians returned to a fervent faith life, and their quiet display of service and love had an even greater impact on other prisoners. Even Buddhists and other non-Christians joined in the faith. The strength of Jesus' loving presence was irresistible. The darkness of prison became a paschal light, and the seed germinated in the ground during the storm. The prison was transformed into a school of catechesis. Catholics baptised fellow prisoners and became godparents to their companions.
Van Thuan never stopped praising the providence of God in allowing almost 300 to 400 priests to be held in different prisons throughout Vietnam during the period from 1975 to the late 1990s: their presence there opened up a period of truly meaningful inter-religious dialogue and fostered deep friendships among hundreds of thousands of prisoners belonging to different faiths. On one occasion, a group of prisoners came running to ask for his help: one inmate in total despair was trying to hang himself with an electric wire.
Van Thuan knelt beside the man with prayers and encouraging words. Other inmates, moved by this strong display of faith, joined Thuan in prayers, and finally the man broke down, sobbing, and surrendered to God. Years later, Thuan and the once-suicidal inmate met again in California, and together, they would rekindle the memory of that blessed day when the presence of a Eucharistic Jesus made healing possible.
During his 9 years in solitary, he celebrated Mass everyday around 3 pm, the hour of Jesus' agony and death on the cross. He was alone, so he could sing the Mass as he wished in Latin, French, or Vietnamese. He always carried in his shirt pocket the little container holding the Blessed Sacrament. He would repeat "Jesus, You in me and I in You" adoring the Father. Van Thuan reminds us, throughout his writing, that it is not enough to celebrate the Eucharist strictly according to the liturgical rites.
He points out to all of us that Christ offered his sacrifice with immense fervour, as in the hour of His passion and crucifixion, when He obeyed the Father; and this, even to the point of His humiliating death on the cross to bring back to the Father a redeemed humanity and a purified creation. ln prison with the Eucharistic Jesus in their midst, Christian and non-Christian prisoners slowly received the grace to understand that each present moment of their lives in the most inhuman conditions can be united with the supreme sacrifice of Jesus and lifted up as an act of solemn adoration to God the Father. Together each day, Thuan would remind himself and encouraged everyone to pray: Lord, grant that we may offer the Eucharistic sacrifice with love, that we accept to carry the cross, and to be nailed to it to proclaim Your glory, to serve our brothers and sisters.
Five months before his last major surgery, he flew to Sydney, Australia, to celebrate our mother's 100th birthday. Each day with our mother and the rest of the family he celebrated the Eucharist in the livingroom facing the beautiful harbour. Everyone present during those mornings remained deeply touched by the reverence, the serenity, and the perfect harmony of that moment of adoration after communion. All the worries, all the sufferings and joy, all the uncertainties were lifted up to God as a total Yes to His Divine will.
In Casa di Curia hospital where he died, we understood more clearly what he meant when he wrote, in Testimony of Hope: I dream of the Holy See, with all its organizations as a great Host, one bread offered in spiritual sacrifice in the heart of the Church, and all of us as grains of wheat, accepting to be ground by the needs of communion in order to form one body, fully united and fully grown as a sign of hope for humanity. We understood then that as he had lived his years of incarceration, he also lived his illness and accepted his death as part of that Eucharistic Unity.
I would like to end my reflections with those tender thoughts recorded on the Feast of the Holy Rosary, October 7, 1976, in Phu-Khanh prison, during his solitary confinement: I am happy here, in this cell, where white mushrooms are growing on my sleeping mat, because You are here with me, because You want me to live here with You. I have spoken much in my lifetime: now I speak no more. It's Your turn to speak to me, Jesus; I am listening to You.
Every time I read this, I can't help imagining my brother, sitting in his dark cell, facing complete emptiness, but gently smiling as he always did, even during his last days, and holding tightly and lovingly on to his shirt pocket where the Lord of Heaven resided.
May this former prisoner who experienced Heaven's harmony, love, and life to the fullest in the desolation of his prison cell continue to guide us so that we can be like the disciples of Emmaus who called out, "Lord, remain with us and feed us with Your body." From the bottom of my heart, thank you for allowing me to travel this journey of Faith with you.

An Apostle of Hope to Vietnam and the World


"The protection of human life [at all its stages] is the "rock solid and inviolable" foundation upon which all other human rights are based." - Benedict XVI





CAMBODIA: A Martyr Church Remembers its Heroes

A Martyr Church: Cambodian Catholics Remember Their Heroes

Spanish Jesuit, Prefect of Battambang, on Following Christ in Asia

ROME, JULY 27, 2012 ( Father Enrique Figaredo Alvargonzález, prefect of Battambang, Cambodia, originally went to Cambodia searching to put a human face on his economics degree.
The 52-year-old Spanish Jesuit spoke with Where God Weeps, in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, about the Church in Cambodia and the suffering it has endured.
Q: Father, you entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in Madrid when you were 20. When and why did you go to Cambodia?
Father Figaredo: I was seeking an encounter with God; I had it in my novitiate and when I was studying philosophy. However, when I finished my career in economics, my reasoning was that I wanted to put a face to those numbers that I had studied in my career, so I told my Provincial that I wanted to be a volunteer for refugees and I wanted to learn from those people. Because He is the suffering Christ in the world and I thought that the refugees were going to teach me what that Jesus, what that Christ was like. I was ready for anything and suddenly I received a letter from Bangkok, from the Jesuit Refugee Service: "We expect you here on September 1." That letter arrived in May; I had yet to pass the final exams of my degree, so I was very nervous.
Q: Moreover, Cambodia was still at war.
Father Figaredo: Yes, yes, yes. I had to look at a map to see where it was. In the first photos I saw of Cambodians all had the croma, the article of clothing I am wearing. The croma is a scarf that has many uses in Cambodia; it's used both for perspiration as well as for protection from the sun, as a towel, as a hammock for little ones to sleep in. If we had to choose a symbol of Cambodia to identify the Cambodian people, we would have to choose the croma. So, when I wear the croma, it is somewhat like taking Cambodia with me, as in those first photos I saw of Cambodian refugees, all had their croma and that really caught my attention.
Q: You arrived in Cambodia in 1985, when it was at war. What was your first impression?
Father Figaredo: First fear, I was dying of fear. When I went to the refugee camps it was an odyssey. One had to pass five military controls, and every time one was passed, things became darker: military men dressed in black, not smiling, asking for one's papers in a violent way. When I arrived at the gate of the refugee camp, I shall never forget it, the level-crossing opened and we went in. Before me, all of a sudden, were the children, very badly dressed, barefoot but joyful! I recall much joy, life … life … life, life in plenitude although they were shut in in a refugee camp, let's say, as prisoners of war.
Q: And what happened next?
--Father Figaredo: Then I went to visit them and I was received by Jhaimet, who was like their leader. I remember very well: He was standing with his crutches, he was missing a leg, the other one was badly wounded and he was missing an eye. I did not speak Cambodian, but there was a boy who translated for me. He said: "I have heard that you have come to help us," and I, dying of fear, said, "Yes, yes." And he said: "Well don't worry, I'll tell you what we need." At that instant I felt an immense peace, so to speak, Jhaimet was the voice of God who was saying to me: "Don't worry; here we welcome you, we love you."
Q: Cambodia is a country of Buddhist majority, so that in these refugee camps the majority of the people were of the Buddhist religion, no?
Father Figaredo: Yes, yes, they are Buddhists in the majority. Of course there are Catholics, but few. Moreover, the war was also responsible for [Catholics'] disappearance. Many people were killed: priests, bishops, everyone. In the camps there was a small remnant of Israel, of Christianity, of small families, often without the head of the family. The majority were widows and often, even that head of the family was lacking. They were children of Catholics but without formation and they also needed special help.
Q: In the ceremony of your installation as prefect of the Apostolic Prefecture there was a woman survivor who gave her testimony and spoke of the Church in Cambodia as "a Church that in the last 30 years has been a Church of tears and blood." She was referring, obviously, to the persecution of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, to which you are now referring. The Church in Cambodia is a martyr Church.
Father Figaredo: Yes, it is a martyr Church. The Church in Cambodia was completely leveled. All our leaders, as I said earlier, bishops, priests, nuns, many catechists, were killed. Those who weren't killed died of hunger or disease, and the community remained in a very bad state. Today we have places in Cambodia where we remember the martyrs. We remember them on the 7th and 8th of May. However, in remembering these martyrs we also grow in the faith, because they were people who died with a living faith. Bishop Paul Tep Im Sotha, first Apostolic Prefect of Battambang, whom I am succeeding, offered Mass, blessed everyone, two days before dying, and said: "Bad times are coming, take care of your faith, take care of one another's faith." The Mass ended, he left in a car and was killed. Bishop Joseph Chhmar Salas of Phnom Penh was appointed bishop four days before the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. His bishopric was in the rice fields.
Q: Which, we must explain, were like concentration camps, no?
Father Figaredo: Indeed, and in those concentration camps he worked as pastor and visited the Catholics. He prayed and celebrated the Eucharist with very many limitations, but he did so. He looked after his people as a poor person and died of hunger and illness, but at his death, his parents took up his pectoral cross and people gathered to pray around bishop Salas' pectoral cross.
Q: A witness that must give you much strength now that, although -- thank God – it is no longer a martyr Church, it continues to be a Church in need.
Father Figaredo: That's right. After Pol Pot, a pro-Vietnamese Communist regime came that made the people suffer a lot. It did not give liberty of religion and the people continued to endure and suffer in poverty. However, the memory of all our martyrs gives us much strength because we have seen them giving themselves in suffering and our Catholics have also gone through very much suffering and today they witness with their lives.
* * *
The interview was conducted by Maria Lozano for the weekly radio and television program "Where God Weeps," realized in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
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Friday, July 27, 2012

ISLAM: Gaza Christians sense pressure to convert

Gaza Christians sense pressure to convert to Islam

Palestinian Christians react during a protest in front of the Saint Porfirios church in Gaza City, against what they say is a forced conversion to Islam July 22, 2012. REUTERS-Ahmed Zakot
GAZA | Thu Jul 26, 2012 9:13am EDT
GAZA (Reuters) - Two conversions that a Christian family says were forced have strained relations between a tiny Palestinian Christian community in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and the Muslim majority.
Hundreds of Christians have staged protests in Gaza's main church in the past week, demanding the return of members of their community of 2,500, whom they said were kidnapped by Islamist proselytizers and forced to convert to Islam.
Christians are blaming the Hamas-affiliated Palestine Scholars Association and its chairman Salem Salama, a senior member of the Islamist Hamas movement.
Hamas has run Gaza since its forces seized control of the coastal enclave in 2007, ousting security services loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of the secular Fatah movement.
Hamas officials reject the church's accusations, saying two Christians, a man and a woman, converted freely to Islam. The woman, who had left her husband, brought along her three daughters aged 12, 9, and 6 who are now being taught the Koran.
The 24-year-old man told reporters he had become Muslim of his own free will and wanted to go back to his family, should they accept him as a Muslim. A day later, he returned home.
It was not possible to speak to the newly converted woman, Hiba Daoud, but in a video clip made by a pro-Hamas news website she tells her family it was her decision to become a Muslim.
"We are living with a (Muslim) family, they bring us all we need, they teach us how to pray and everything," said Hiba, wearing a full Muslim dress and a scarf covering her hair.
"I love you all, I hope no one feels upset with me, it was my decision which I made months ago."
But her aunt, Fatin Ayyad, says Hiba spoke under duress.
"We are increasingly worried about our sons and daughters. If those people joined Islam of their own will it would not have been a problem. But they were under pressure," she said.
Only nine Gaza Christians are known to have converted to Islam in the past half-dozen years, an insignificant number. Yet the church and some congregants see the latest conversions as the thin end of the wedge and say they are being targeted.
"There is a big split in relations now," said Ayyad. "Some groups want to spread division between Muslims and Christians."
At the Islamic Scholars office, Salama rejected accusations of forced conversions. He said 11 Christians, including non-Palestinians, had come to his office in the past five months to become Muslim.
"No one is forced to change his religion. This is the instruction of our holy book Koran," said Salama.
Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios, who has served the Christian community in Gaza for 12 years, demanded that the Hamas administration help return the woman and her daughters to her home in order to calm tensions.
"We do not want any problem. We want peace and harmony to prevail among us," Alexios told Reuters at the church, located next door to a mosque in downtown Gaza City.
"We are not strangers. Christians did not come from the outside. Christians are part of the Palestinian body and not a strange body," he said at a protest held after the Sunday prayer sermon attended by around 70 worshippers.
Christian-Muslim relations in Gaza are historically far less turbulent than in Egypt, where Copts complain of persecution, or Iraq, where Christians have been targeted for attack.
A Gaza church was bombed in 2009 by al Qaeda-influenced Islamists but since then, Alexios says, churches have been safe. He praised the cooperation of Hamas, but he accused Salama's association of trying to cause friction between the religions.
Hamas security forces have cracked down on radical Islamist cells accused of attacking Christian symbols including a church and a cemetery.
Hamas says it practices a moderate Islam. Palestinian law makes all residents equal before the law regardless of race, gender, color or religion and gives them freedom to practice their religious rituals, without disturbing public order.
In the past five years, two Gaza Christians have been murdered, one by a Muslim friend over a debt, the other in murkier circumstances still not resolved. It was rumored he had been killed by Islamist radicals for trying to convert Muslims.
The Christians of Gaza work in almost all professions. Many are doctors and teachers, and some own jewelry stores. Their number dropped to 2,500 from 3,000 before 2007, mostly owing to economic reasons in the enclave, blockaded by Israel.
There are many more Christians among Palestinians of the West Bank, about 52,000 out of a population of 2.5 million, where they have their own Christian schools.
Some of the Palestinian Christians living among Gaza's 1.7 million Muslims are educated in Hamas government schools, some in secular schools run by the United Nations agency UNRWA and some in their own schools. There is no overt discrimination.
Some Gaza Christian families say their children are the target of "brainwashing" attempts by Muslim activists. Daoud's mother said her daughter Hiba was stalked by fellow employees at the Islamic University, who said she needed to become a Muslim.
"My daughter lived in a struggle with them. She did not do this of her own choice," she said.
Alexios said Gaza Muslims and Christians had lived in harmony for 1,600 years. Hamas is not to blame for those now trying to spoil relations, he said, because it wants political contacts with countries of the Christian world.
"It would not benefit them to harm the Christian community here. That's why it has never crossed my mind," Alexios said.
Some Christians now say they would rather leave Gaza than risk losing their children to Islam. But Alexios said they should not act out of fear.
(Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Alistair Lyon)

SOCIETY / UK: PM suggests Churches must conform to newly molded Cultural values

British PM reiterates call for same-sex marriage, scolds churches that 'lock out' gay members

CWN - July 27, 2012

Addressing a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender reception, Prime Minister David Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to legalizing same-sex marriage and said that "obviously there'll be arguments within the churches as well."

"I run an institution – the Conservative Party – which for many, many years got itself on the wrong side of this argument, it locked people out who were naturally Conservative from supporting it and so I think I can make that point to the church, gently," he said. "Of course this is very, very complicated and difficult issue for all the different churches, but I passionately believe that all institutions need to wake up to the case for equality, and the Church shouldn't be locking out people who are gay, or are bisexual or are transgender from being full members of that church, because many people with deeply held Christian views, are also gay. And just as the Conservative Party, as an institution, made a mistake in locking people out so I think the churches can be in danger of doing the same thing."

"Changing the culture is much more difficult than changing the law, changing culture is much more subtle and difficult," he continued. "But the promise I can make you is that this coalition government is committed to both changing the law and also working to help change the culture and the Conservative party absolutely backs that. This is something I personally feel very passionately about."

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JUSTICE and Mercy



No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women serve in the U.S. Or Canadian Military for years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their pay on retirement.  While Politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full-pay retirement after serving only one 4 yr. Term.

It just does not make any sense. 
If each person who receives this will forward it on to 20 people, in three days, most people in The United States of America and Canada will have the message. This is one proposal that really should be passed around.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States & Canadian Constitution: "Congress & Parliament shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States and/or Canada that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; Congress & Parliament shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States & Canada."  This should be passed by the USA & Canada governments without delay. You are one of my 20+. I passed it on to you, will you please pass it on too?

"If you choose not to, you still made a choice," but, DON'T you ever FORGET, these brave soldiers have given you that right!!  











































































Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Our Lady and the Sea :)



Right to 'choose'

The so called 'woman's right to choose' is fundamentally about taking away another human being's opportunity to choose.

CHURCH / USA: Black Catholics' faith, ties to church are strong

Black Catholics' faith, ties to church are strong, says researcher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Black Catholics are more engaged in their faith than their white counterparts, according to a historic national survey conducted by two University of Notre Dame professors in 2011. It also found that culture and faith are closely integrated in the African-American community. Donald Pope-Davis, a sociologist and one of the researchers, told National Black Catholic Congress XI participants July 19 that key findings of the survey indicate that black Catholics express their faith with greater vitality, and 86 percent believe that integrating African-American religious expression into the liturgy is important. Survey respondents also affirmed the desire by black Catholics to become more knowledgeable about the complexities of the Catholic faith as well as the church's traditions and history, Pope-Davis said during his keynote presentation at the congress, which was held July 19-21 in Indianapolis. "Faith Engaged: Empower, Equip, Evangelize" was the theme for the congress, which focused on the discussion and approval of a pastoral plan for black Catholics as its main task. More than 2,200 participants -- including bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, laypeople and youths -- represented dioceses from across the country. "The energy has been very high here, which is a good thing," Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis and director of the archdiocesan Office of Multicultural Ministry, said during a break in the congress sessions July 20.

FAITH / Kateri Tekakwitha: Native Americans say canonization brings them full circle as Catholics

Native Americans say canonization brings them full circle as Catholics

Marvin Phillips, a member of the Mohawk nation, holds a smudging bowl and feather during a Mass marking the end of the 73rd Tekakwitha Conference at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. (CNS/Glenn Davenport)

By Angela Cave
Catholic News Service

AURIESVILLE, N.Y. (CNS) -- As the sun set on the 73rd annual Tekakwitha Conference at its namesake's birthplace July 21, dozens of pilgrims joined hands and formed a circle, launching a traditional dance symbolic of friendship.

It also seemed to represent what many attendees described as a feeling of coming full circle as members of the Catholic family.

More than 800 Native American Catholics converged in Albany July 18-22 for four days of workshops, liturgies and pilgrimages to two shrines in other locations in the Albany Diocese -- the birth and baptismal places of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the conference's patroness.

She was born and baptized in what is today Auriesville and Fonda, respectively.

This year's gathering was scheduled to take place in "Kateri country," as many natives call upstate New York, years before the Vatican approved the final miracle needed to make Blessed Kateri the first member of a North American tribe to become a saint.

With the long-anticipated canonization set for October in Rome, conference participants shared their joy over the news, their tales of Blessed Kateri's influence on their lives and their hopes for the future of their people -- a tiny portion of the American population that faces problems with poverty, addiction and depression. They say Blessed Kateri's sainthood is an answer to generations-long prayers and an affirmation of their place in the Church and in the country.

"It's going to do a lot to lift up our people, to lift up our spirits," said Sister Kateri Mitchell, a Sister of St. Ann, who is executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference's national office in Great Falls, Mont. "People are just so energized and high-spirited. We feel we belong now, definitely to a stronger degree, to that sacred circle."

The nation's more than 600,000 Native American Catholics -- many of whom participate in about 130 Kateri Circles sponsored by the conference -- will grow even stronger in their faith, Sister Kateri said. And those who have fallen away from the church -- an issue that doesn't discriminate -- will seek to return, Sister Kateri said. This may even happen with non-native Catholics.

"More and more people want to know her story and will be able to embody that story," Sister Kateri said.

In a homily on the last day of the conference, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of Syracuse, seconded the idea that Blessed Kateri is an example for all Catholics. He called to mind the meaning of the soon-to-be-saint's last name -- "who walks groping for her way" -- and said it transcends her impaired vision.

"In some sense, it can apply to us," he said. "At times, the Gospel meets with indifference, misunderstanding or even hostility. We may fumble about us as we try to choose the right place and the right time to live our faith publicly."

Blessed Kateri modeled living out the Catholic faith despite resistance. She was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Turtle Clan war chief father in 1656. When she was 4, her parents died from a smallpox epidemic, which left her with vision loss and pockmarks.

She was raised by her anti-Christian uncle and began studying Catholicism in private at the age of 18. After she was baptized at the age of 20 in Fonda, her family and village ostracized and ridiculed her -- she even received death threats.

She fled to a Christian village in Canada in 1677 to lead a life of prayer, intense penitential practices, love for the Eucharist and devotion to chastity. She taught prayers to children, worked with the sick and elderly and attended Mass several times a day.

"She has, as much as any human being can, embraced the Gospel," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who is a member of the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Nation, in his homily during a July 20 Mass. "That means giving up things."

"It's not enough to receive the gift," he continued. "We have to give it away. We're cowards: We're afraid to preach the Gospel to the Indians among us, aren't we? I think it's hard to imagine that Kateri would keep quiet."

Archbishop Chaput encouraged Catholics to adopt virtues embodied by Blessed Kateri, starting with abstinence from vices such as addiction. Next up is the need to find time for prayer and listening to God, he said.

"Just show up," he advised. "Because most of us don't even do that."

Archbishop Chaput also advised participants to surround themselves with Catholic friends, like Blessed Kateri did with her mother's old friend, Anastasia, whom she met in Canada.

"She knew she couldn't do well without support," he said.

To many, the Tekakwitha Conference provides such fellowship.

"Sometimes in your life, you don't have that connection with native people," said Sylvia A. Spence, a member of an Ojibwe tribe in Minnesota. "I think it's a real blessing."

This was Spence's 12th time attending the conference. "Every year, there's something miraculous that gets me here."

"I'm so excited" about Blessed Kateri's canonization, she said. "I think it's amazing."

- - -

Cave is a staff writer at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.


CHURCH: New Vatican doctrinal chief talks about faith and challenges

New Vatican doctrinal chief talks about SSPX, LCWR discussions

Archbishop Muller (CNS file/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Asked about how he would handle the most controversial cases he inherited, the new head of the Vatican's doctrinal office said, "For the future of the church, it's important to overcome ideological conflicts from whatever side they come."

German Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller, named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in early July, told the Vatican newspaper that the congregation's discussions with the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X and with the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious would focus on the fact that being Catholic means believing what the church teaches.

Although he has been a member of the congregation for five years, Archbishop Muller told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that it would take him some time to get up to speed on all of the details of the congregation's work.

But, in the interview published July 25, the archbishop was asked what he thought about the ongoing discussions aimed at bringing the traditionalist SSPX back into full communion with the church and about the congregation-ordered reform of the LCWR, the organization that brings together the superiors of most religious orders of women in the United States.

Apparently referring to the talks with the SSPX, which rejects certain reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Muller said, "One cannot make reference to the tradition of the church and then accept only parts of it."

In an apparent reference to the LCWR, he said, "One cannot profess the three religious vows (poverty, chastity and obedience) and not take them seriously."

Speaking about the role of women in the church, the archbishop said, "For the Catholic Church it is completely obvious that men and women have the same value."

Many supporters of the ordination of women, he said, "ignore an important aspect of priestly ministry," which is that it is not a position of power. It's a mistake to think "emancipation will occur only when everyone can occupy" that role, he said.

"The Catholic faith knows that we are not the ones to dictate the conditions for priestly ministry and that behind being a priest there is always the will and the call of Christ," he said. The Vatican strongly and formally teaches that the church cannot change the male-only priesthood because Christ chose only men to be his apostles.

The Vatican newspaper said it interviewed Archbishop Muller in his office, but it also asked him how it was that Pope Benedict not only chose him, but decided to give him the apartment where he had lived as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and where he still keeps many of his books.

Archbishop Muller, 64, said he would define the 85-year-old pope as "a paternal friend, since he's older than I am by a generation."

He said his job in Rome will be "to relieve part of his work and not bring him problems that can be resolved" at the level of the congregation. "The Holy Father has the important mission of proclaiming the Gospel and confirming his brothers and sisters in the faith. It's up to us to deal with the less pleasant matters so that he will not be burdened with too many things, although, naturally, he always will be informed of important matters."

Archbishop Muller said he knows the problems and challenges facing the church are serious, including "the problem of groups -- of the so-called right or left -- that occupy much of our time and attention."

However, he said, a bigger danger is losing sight of "our principal task, which is to proclaim the Gospel and explain in a concrete way the doctrine of the church."

The newspaper also asked Archbishop Muller about his annual trips to Peru and his friendship with the liberation theologian Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez, with whom he wrote a book. In the 1990s, the doctrinal congregation had asked the Dominican to write and rewrite articles clarifying some of his theological and pastoral positions.

The archbishop said he was invited to participate in a seminar with Father Gutierrez in 1988, and he went "with some reservations" because the doctrinal congregation had criticized aspects of liberation theology that it said were too influenced by Marxist ideology.

"One must distinguish between an erroneous and a correct liberation theology," Archbishop Muller told the newspaper. "I maintain that a good theology is involved with the freedom and glory of the children of God."

While a Catholic must reject Marxist ideas and analysis, he said, "we must ask ourselves sincerely: How can we speak about the love and mercy of God in the face of the suffering of so many people who do not have food, water, medical care; who don't know how to give their own children a future; where human dignity really is lacking; where human rights are ignored by the powerful?"

The archbishop said that for the past 15 years he has spent a month or two each year in Peru or other parts of Latin America, living simply and getting to know people.

In his travels, he said, "this is what I've experienced: You can be at home anywhere. Where there is an altar, Christ is present. Wherever you are, you are part of God's big family."


SYRIA / Lebanon: Syrian refugees pouring into Lebanon

Syrian refugees pouring into Lebanon

CWN - July 24, 2012

Thousands of families are leaving Syria to escape the escalating violence there, and pouring into refugee camps in Lebanon, Catholic relief workers report.

More than 47,000 people—predominantly women and children—have sought refuge in tents and makeshift huts near the border, reports Father Simon Faddoul, the head of Caritas Lebanon. Only a small minority of the refugees are Christians; most as Sunni Muslims, leaving homes in the northern provinces where rebels are most active.

To date the Lebanese government has refused to recognize official refugee camps. So Caritas Lebanon is helping the displaced families find temporary shelter and food.

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KATERI Canonisation: ‘complex emotions’ surround Blessed Kateri’s canonization

Times finds 'complex emotions' surround Blessed Kateri's canonization

CWN - July 25, 2012
A New York Times article on Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's upcoming canonization focuses on the "complex emotions" that surround it.

The Times finds that the reaction is "complex, particularly among American Indians. Some are proud, because Kateri was a Mohawk. Some doubt the truthfulness of her story as told by the church. Some hope the canonization will ease tensions between Catholic and traditional American Indians. And some are euphoric that the Church is about to name its first American Indian saint, even if they wish it had happened sooner."

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Simeon Stylites Today

What remains of the stulos of St. Simeon
(Atlas Obscura) - In the early fifth century, a Syrian monk named Simeon wandered out into the desert, where he found, near modern-day Aleppo, an abandoned column rising up out of the desert. Simeon climbed the pillar, and would remain on aloft for the next thirty-seven years (though he did eventually transfer to a much taller pillar nearby). From the pillar, he preached sermons to those who sought out his wisdom and his example, though history has not treated his vocation well. Edward Gibbon wrote of Simeon, "This voluntary martyrdom must have gradually destroyed the sensibility both of the mind and the body, nor can it be presumed that the fanatics who torment themselves are susceptible of any lively affection for the rest of mankind." His odd life later became the subject of a scathing satire by Luis Buñuel, Simon of the Desert.

He was not the only pole sitter (known as "stylites") but he was the first and the most famous, and after his death this church was built on the site of his pillar to honor his ascetic devotion. The church was huge, over 5000 square meters, rivaling Hagia Sofia in size, though it has long since fallen into ruin, and now composes only part of the large complex of ruins known as the Dead Cities of Syria. Saint Simeon's pillar, surprisingly, still stands, though it's been whittled down to just a few meters from centuries of relic seekers who've carved off small shards for themselves.

BOOK [ New and Excellent ! ] - "In Search of Japan’s Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival"

I just finished reading the book "In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy, and Survival" (2012) and found it excellent ! It is well worth the read if you are interested in history, martyrdom, and faith held on to at all costs; An intense book (not for the faint of heart) about things that really matter, especially in our day, with an ending that leaves one with many questions.
A review's below :)
In Search of Japan's Hidden Christians: A Story of Suppression, Secrecy and Survival

British-born professor Dougill, who teaches British studies in Kyoto, seems to embody the very culture clash that intrigues him. In this book, he peels back layers of Japanese culture as he explores the history of the Kakure Kirishitan (Hidden Christians). From the arrival of the first Portuguese missionaries to Japan in 1549 through conversions and persecution, Dougill shows how the imported religion was "filtered through a Japanese consciousness." Revealing an early culture clash so relevant to our contemporary global society, he ponders how strange and even offensive European Christianity must have seemed to a country that had no context for the religion or even the manner of dress. As Buddhist and Shinto culture, together with trade and military tactics, became intertwined with Christian conversions, the Hidden Christian population became heterodox, tortured, and marginalized. Readers are immersed in Dougill's travel adventures as he visits historical sites of the Kirishitan. And even those who stumble over the Japanese terminology will understand the importance of a book detailing a dwindling subculture now fading into history. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/09/2012

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Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-4629-0579-9

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"We have been created to love and be loved." - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

SSPX-Vatican problems hinge on authority of Vatican II

CWN - July 24, 2012
A letter from a leading official of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and an interview with the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have confirmed that the authority of Vatican II remains the obstacle to reconciliation between the traditionalist group and the Holy See.

In a July 18 letter to district superiors, Father Christian Thouvenot, the secretary-general of the SSPX, revealed that the group had set certain conditions for signing the "doctrinal preamble" that would allow for regularization of the SSPX. First among these conditions was the insistence that the SSPX would remain free to "correct the promoters of the errors or the innovations of modernism, liberalism, and Vatican II and its aftermath."

Father Thouvenot's letter also said that the SSPX had demanded the right to use the traditional liturgy exclusively. That condition seems to present no major problem to the Vatican, since Summorum Pontificum allows for the use of the traditional liturgy.

However, the determination of the SSPX to "correct" the teachings of Vatican II could pose a major problem in continued negotiations with the Vatican. Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, the newly installed prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated flatly: "The assertion that the authentic teachings of Vatican II formally contradict the tradition of the Church is false."

In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Muller said that he remains hopeful for a successful reconciliation with the SSPX. He explained that different texts of Vatican II hold different levels of teaching authority, and distinctions should be made between pastoral pronouncements and authoritative doctrinal statements. "Whatever is dogmatic can never be negotiated," he said.

The archbishop allowed that there is ample room for discussion of how the Vatican II documents should be properly understood. With reference to the future of talks with the SSPX, he said: "The purpose of dialogue is to overcome difficulties in the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council."

"We have been created to love and be loved." - Mother Teresa of Calcutta