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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

'Who am I to judge?' Pope's remarks do not change church teaching

'Who am I to judge?' Pope's remarks do not change church teaching

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis told reporters July 28, "Who am I to judge" a homosexual person, he was emphasizing a part of Catholic teaching often overlooked by the media and misunderstood by many people.

In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the church teaches that homosexual people "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" and that "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

But the catechism also describes a "homosexual inclination" as "objectively disordered" and homosexual acts as "intrinsically disordered," because sexuality is "an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death."

The church teaches that any sexual activity outside the bond of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. Pope Francis did not change or challenge that teaching.

Pope Francis made his comments about homosexuality during a news conference with reporters flying with him from Brazil to Rome.

The pope was asked about what has been described as a "gay lobby" in the Vatican, allegedly a group of priests and bishops who work at the Vatican and protect each other. Pope Francis said it was important to "distinguish between a person who is gay and someone who makes a gay lobby."

"A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will -- well, who am I to judge him?" the pope said. "The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn't this (homosexual) orientation -- we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby."

Although the question to the pope was about gay Vatican employees, the pope's response was not specifically about priests who are homosexual, a question addressed in 2005 by the Congregation for Catholic Education, which was in charge of seminaries at the time.

The document was titled, "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders."

The church distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies or orientation, it said. The church, unlike much of the public, does not assume all those with a homosexual orientation are sexually active, just as it does not assume all heterosexuals are sexually active.

Men "who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'" are not to be admitted to Catholic seminaries or to be ordained, it said, although it did not give a detailed explanation of what exactly constitutes a "deep-seated" homosexual tendency.

While excluding their suitability for ordination, it said, "such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross the difficulties they may encounter."

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaking on "CBS This Morning" July 30, said Pope Francis' remarks on the plane reflect "a gentle, merciful, understanding, compassionate" approach to church teaching which emphasizes "that while certain acts may be wrong, we would always love and respect the person and treat the person with dignity."

Pope Francis' words "may be something people find new and refreshing," Cardinal Dolan said, but "I for one don't think it is and I hate to see previous popes caricatured as not having that."

The current pope's approach to the question of homosexuality on the flight from Brazil reminded some journalists of the approach Pope Benedict XVI took to a question about gay marriage during a July 2006 flight to Spain where he celebrated the World Meeting of Families.

"It's true that there are problems and things that Christian life says no to," he told reporters. "We want to make people understand that according to human nature it is a man and a woman who are made for each other and made to give humanity a future."

However, he said, instead of focusing on condemning attempts to legally recognize homosexual unions, "let's shine a light on the positive things, so we can make people understand why the church cannot accept certain things, but at the same time wants to respect people and to help them."


Sexuality / Society: Pope Francis hasn’t changed Church teaching on homosexuality

Cardinal Dolan: Pope Francis hasn't changed Church teaching on homosexuality

CWN - July 31, 2013

In an interview with a CBS news program, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that Pope Francis's recent comments on gay priests do not represent a change in Church teaching on homosexuality.

"Pope Francis would be the first to say, my job isn't to change Church teaching -- my job is to present it as clearly as possible," said Cardinal Dolan in response to a question from Gayle King. "But you're onto something, Gayle, when you say it could be a change in tone or emphasis."

He continued:

So what have we got? You might say two levels or two points of Church teaching. One would be the immorality, in God's view, of any sexual expression outside of the relationship between a man and a woman in lifelong, life-giving faithful marriage. That's one point of Church teaching.

The other point of Church teaching is that a person's identity, respect, the dignity and love that he or she deserves, does not depend on anything, not sexual orientation, how much money we've got, if we've got a green card or immigration papers, or a stock portfolio. It does not depend on anything other than that we are a child of God made in his image and likeness.

"Homosexuality is not a sin, homosexual acts are," Cardinal Dolan added. "Just like heterosexuality is not a sin, although heterosexual acts outside a marriage, lifelong, life-giving marriage between a man and a woman, that would be sinful."

"A pope couldn't do that [change that teaching]," he stated. "You see, a pope inherits certain revelation, and it's his job to guard that and pass that on. That comes not from him, the Church doesn't make that up. We inherit that from God's revelation in the Bible, in natural law, so we couldn't change that if we wanted to."

Cardinal Dolan emphasized that previous popes had a pastoral tone similar to that of Pope Francis.

"I think we've got a question of emphasis and tone," he said. "A gentle, merciful, understanding, compassionate tone. That may be something people find new and refreshing. I for one don't think it is, and I hate to see previous popes caricatured as not having that."

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Pope Francis: Charity and Grace in Light of the Gospel

Analysis: Pope's Revolution; Not All Are Pleased

by The Associated Press


VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Francis Revolution is underway. Not everyone is pleased.
Four months into his papacy, Francis has called on young Catholics in the trenches to take up spiritual arms to shake up a dusty, doctrinaire church that is losing faithful and relevance. He has said women must have a greater role — not as priests, but a place in the church that recognizes that Mary is more important than any of the apostles. And he has turned the Vatican upside down, quite possibly knocking the wind out of a poisonously homophobic culture by merely uttering the word "gay" and saying: so what?
In between, he has charmed millions of faithful and the mainstream news media, drawing the second-largest crowd ever to a papal Mass. That should provide some insurance as he goes about doing what he was elected to do: reform not just the dysfunctional Vatican bureaucracy but the church itself, using his own persona and personal history as a model.
"He is restoring credibility to Catholicism," said church historian Alberto Melloni.
Such enthusiasm isn't shared across the board.
Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, had coddled traditionalist Catholics attached to the old Latin Mass and opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. That group greeted Francis' election with concern — and now is watching its worst fears come true. Francis has spoken out both publicly and privately against such "restoratist groups," which he accuses of being navel-gazing retrogrades out of touch with the evangelizing mission of the church in the 21st century.
His recent decision to forbid priests of a religious order from celebrating the old Latin Mass without explicit authorization seemed to be abrogating one of the big initiatives of Benedict's papacy, a 2007 decree allowing broader use of the pre-Vatican II Latin liturgy for all who want it. The Vatican denied he was contradicting Benedict, but these traditional Catholics see in Francis' words and deeds a threat. They are in something of a retreat.
"Be smart. There will be time in the future for people to sort what Vatican II means and what it doesn't mean," the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf warned his traditionalist readers in a recent blog post. "But mark my words: If you gripe about Vatican II right now, in this present environment, you could lose what you have attained."
Even more mainstream conservative Catholics aren't thrilled with Francis.
In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said right-wing Catholics "generally have not been really happy" with Francis.
To be sure, Francis has not changed anything about church teaching. Nothing he has said or done is contrary to doctrine; everything he has said and done champions the Christian concepts of loving the sinner but not the sin and having a church that is compassionate, welcoming and merciful.
But tone and priorities can themselves constitute change, especially when considering issues that aren't being emphasized, such as church doctrine on abortion, gay marriage and other issues frequently referenced by Benedict and Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, used the word "gay" for perhaps the first time in its 150-year history on Wednesday, in an article marveling at the change Francis has brought.
"In just a few words, the novelty has been expressed clearly and without threatening the church's tradition," the newspaper said about Francis' comments on gays and women. "You can change everything without changing the basic rules, those on which Catholic tradition are based."
The biggest headline came in Francis' inflight news conference on the way home from Brazil this week, when he was asked about a trusted monsignor who reportedly once had a gay lover.
"Who am I to judge?" he asked, when it comes to the sexual orientation of priests, as long as they are searching for God and have good will.
Under normal circumstances, given the sexual morality at play in the Catholic Church, outing someone as actively gay is a death knell for career advancement. Vatican officials considering high-profile appointments often weigh whether someone is "ricattabile" — blackmailable.
But Francis said he investigated the allegations himself and found nothing to back them up. And that regardless, if someone is gay and repents, God not only forgives but forgets. Francis said everyone else should too. By calling out the blackmail for what it is, Francis may well have clipped the wings of an ugly but common practice at the Vatican.
Francis also made headlines with his call for the church to develop a new theology of women's role, saying it's not enough to have altar girls or a woman heading a Vatican department given the critical role that women have in helping the church grow.
While those comments topped the news from the 82-minute news conference, he revealed plenty of other insights that reinforce the idea that a very different papacy is underway.
—Annulments: He said the church's judicial system of annulling marriages must be "looked at again" because church tribunals simply aren't up to the task. That could be welcome news to many Catholics who often have to wait years for an annulment, the process by which the church determines that a marriage effectively never took place.
—Divorce and remarriage: He suggested an opening in church teaching which forbids a divorced and remarried Catholic from taking communion unless they get an annulment, saying: "This is a time for mercy."
—Church governance: He said his decision to appoint eight cardinals to advise him was based on explicit requests from cardinals at the conclave that elected him who wanted "outsiders" — not Vatican officials — governing the church. Francis obliged, essentially creating a parallel government for the church alongside the Vatican bureaucracy: a pope and a cabinet of cardinals representing the church in each of the continents.
And then there was Rio.
From the moment he touched down, it was clear change was afoot. No armored popemobile, just a simple Fiat sedan — one that got swarmed by adoring fans when it got lost and stuck in traffic. Rather than recoil in fear, Francis rolled down his window. Given that popes until recently were carried around on a chair to keep them above the fray, that gesture alone was revolutionary.
He told 35,000 pilgrims from his native Argentina to make a "mess" in their dioceses, shake things up and go out into the streets to spread their faith, even at the expense of confrontation with their bishops. He led by example, diving into the crowds in one of Rio's most violent slums.
"Either you do the trip as it needs to be done, or you don't do it at all," he told Brazil's TV Globo. He said he simply couldn't have visited Rio "closed up in a glass box."
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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Exodus International's dissolution - 'Hope and Grief' by Andy Comiskey

Hope and Grief

'Brothers, we do not want you to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again…' (1 Thess. 4: 13, 14b)
Hope and Grief Photo by Daniel CJ LeeThose committed to the transformation of persons with same-gender attraction suffered a double blow this month: the advance of 'gay marriage' via the Supreme Court ruling and Exodus' dissolution. Mike Huckabee said it best by quoting John 11:35: 'Jesus wept.'  Our first honest response is to weep with Him. Our beloved lead intercessor Ann Armstrong greeted me with tears upon hearing of the Court ruling. Words failed us: knowing how hard it is today to be true to Jesus in one's struggle, plus knowing how disorienting 'gay marriage' is on kids reduced us to grief.
Concerning the Court ruling, we grieve over the miscarriage of real justice. In the words of the prophet: 'Justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets and honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.' (Is. 59: 14, 15)
Obama trumpeted the victory of 'democracy' in the Court ruling. The opposite is true: the Court struck down the will of the people who voted for real marriage in CA. The Court advocated instead for state leaders who refused to defend Prop. 8 then voided the good efforts of those who (in the absence of CA's DA) defended Prop. 8 against the notoriously liberal District Court. (The District Judge who struck down Prop. 8 is a gay activist. No bias there.) Justice is driven back.
We weep for CA and her good efforts to uphold marriage in the face of such powerful, irrational opposition. She has lost her right to define marriage according to the will of her citizens. Gay-defined adults celebrate in the streets while children are stripped of another layer of moral protection. Why is the Court inclined to advocate for the sexual liberties of adults (abortion and 'gay marriage') and blind to the violence it visits on kids, the most vulnerable? Weep over the wickedness that disguises itself as 'justice.'
Weep more for those wounded by Exodus' demise. A paradox: in his desire to reach self-defined gays, Alan Chambers has betrayed the very ones God called him to serve as head of Exodus. As a former Exodus president who still stands with many faithful former Exodus leaders, I grieve for all strugglers who have been stumbled by her demise. Now, in the face of 'gay marriage' advances and an irrational, demonic favor upon all things 'queer', the saints have lost one clear expression of hope. I have heard reports from therapists and pastors alike of strugglers wondering why they should even try to be true to Jesus: 'If Exodus cannot endure the heat, how can I?' Weep and pray for scattered sheep.
We weep over these losses and their real impact of vulnerable people. But we do not grieve in vain. Our grief is shared by the Sovereign Lord Jesus who holds the future in His wounded hands and who asks us only to enfold our grief into His.
We mourn unto Mercy Himself, and become stronger in love! Let Him break our hearts in order to create more room to contain what is in His. Could He be using the rise of wickedness to refine a people who look to Him and Him alone? We do not grieve as those who have no hope. We look to Hope alone, 'sorrowful yet always rejoicing' (2 Cor. 6:10).
'You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others who are asleep but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.' (1 Thess. 5: 5-8)
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Sexuality / Society - Pope Francis: Clarity, Please [by ANDREW COMISKEY]

Pope Francis: Clarity, Please
July 30, 2013 by Andrew Comiskey 11 Comments
As the new 'people's pope', Francis' recent statements on homosexuality seem more concerned with shining the light of Jesus on persons with same-gender attraction (be they priests or seekers) rather than on making moral judgments about homosexuality. His good intentions could mislead us. Take for example, his offhanded use of the English term 'gay.' Here he goes beyond affirming the dignity of persons with certain tendencies; he unintentionally affirms an identity which in our age has become the rallying point for an artificial 'ethnos', a people group, whose misbegotten activism has redefined marriage throughout the world. To be fair, Francis decries any kind of 'lobby' with which gays bully their way into power and privilege. Here he references the alleged 'gay' block in the Vatican administration. The good pope wants to keep homosexuality an individual affair, and thus subject to the will of the person to choose Christ (or not). Yet such an honorable intention fails to recognize the irrational and demonic corporate power committed to afflicting a generation with gender disintegration. To benignly 'not judge' that corporate power could mean a lack of pastoral clarity that subjects those afflicted with SSA to a nauseous blend of worshipping both God and Baal. Priests with SSA need that pastoral clarity above all else. Francis' claim to not 'judge' gay priests alarms me. Though I agree that the Church should not exclude priestly candidates on the basis of SSA, these ones need special care to ensure that they are sufficiently well-integrated to pastor others with clean hearts and hands. In the last month alone, I have counseled two vulnerable men who were objects of priests with SSA. Instead of wise counsel, they received spiritual abuse. I wondered as I read the Pope's comments: Does he know anyone who has actually repented of the 'gay self' and behavior, and who has given all to Jesus in order to live a pure life? I just came from the annual Courage Conference where men and women with SSA gathered to urge one another onward to live chaste, integrated lives. (Courage is the only official ministry of its kind in the Catholic Church.) These men and women know both the afflicting nature of homosexuality and the sweet rigor of walking His way; their families have learned to love them courageously by refusing to name them as 'gay' but rather as beloved family members who need to repent unto the pure life Jesus offers. At Courage, I witnessed a renewed dignity born of sacramental grace and repentance. These are the saints of the Church whom the Pope has a responsibility to shepherd with wise commentary. I fear he did not represent well the faithful in his words. His desire to provide a fresh open face for seekers is welcomed as long as he grounds it in the call of costly grace. Such grounding is in part the responsibility of those of us who come out of SSA. Instead of slamming the Pope we must seek to inform him and any church leader with the witness of amazing grace. That is not the grace that threatens to become cheap by accommodating deadly mixtures of perverse sensuality and spirituality. That is the grace seasoned with virtue, a grace that is ours at the cost of Jesus' life. It cost us our old lives too but those losses mean nothing in light of our gain, who is Christ. 'Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.' (Phil. 2: 15) -
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What Pope Francis could not mean regarding gay priests and what he actually said

What Pope Francis could not mean regarding gay priests and what he actually said

The Pope's remarks on the 'gay lobby' in response to a question on his return flight from Rio to Rome have sparked misleading coverage all over the world.  From a look at the headlines of the major mainstream news sources in America and from the television and radio coverage comes a very confusing take on what the Pope actually said.
Pope Francis says he won't 'judge' gay priests - USA Today
Pope Francis says he won't judge gay priests | Fox News
Pope Signals Openness to Gay Priests -
Pope Francis says he will not judge priests for being gay | World ... Guardian UK
Pope Shifts Church's Tone on Gay People - ABC News
Pope Francis on gays: "Who am I to judge?" - CBS News Pope Francis says he won't judge gays - World - CBC News
Pope Charts New Ground On Gay Priests And Women - Forbes
Pope Francis says gays should not be judged -
And from an Israeli and a UK publication there was the following:
Pope digresses from document of predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, declaring that men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests -
Pope Francis marks shift in attitude to gay Catholics on Brazil trip -
First off we need to look at what the Pope actually said, and in the context of the question asked.
He was asked a double question about how he would deal with "intimacy" of Bishop Ricca the prelate of the Vatican Bank and the whole issue of the 'gay lobby.'
His full answer is posted at the bottom of this article but here are the key quotes being given erroneous interpretations in the mainstream media.
Distortion 1: Most media outlets are suggesting that Pope Francis is somehow saying there is nothing wrong with being gay
"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" he asked, according to a Vatican Radio English translation of his remarks.
Understanding the Catholic teaching on homosexuality is necessary to understand the meaning of this phrase.
The Catholic faith teaches that all homosexual acts are presented in Sacred Scriptures as "acts of grave depravity"; that they are "intrinsically disordered" and that "under no circumstances can they be approved." (Catechism 2357)
In another quote the Pope also said, according to Catholic News Serivce: "The problem isn't this (homosexual) orientation -- we must be like brothers and sisters."
This quote cannot mean that the homosexual inclination is not any problem at all. The Catechism teaches that even the homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered" and is a "trial" for most who experience it.  (Catechism 2358)
Distortion 2: Since the context of the quote is in a discussion about a clergyman who is alleged to have been involved (as a priest) in a homosexual affair, the implication is that the Catholic Church is okay with gay priests.
Firstly, the Roman Catholic Church opposes any sexual activity by priests since they vow celibacy.
Secondly, especially after the horrors of the sex abuse crisis, which many have seen to be related to past tolerance of an active gay sub-culture within the Church, the Catholic Church has forbidden even those men with fixed homosexual inclinations from entering the seminary. In November 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education released the "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders."
The Instruction forbade admission to seminary to "those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'."
Distortion 3: Never judge and never discriminate.  A few quotes from the Pope strung together would also leave a faulty impression without a knowledge of Catholic teaching on the matter. 
In addition to the 'who am I to judge' quote some media are translating one phrase of the Pope to say that there must be no discrimination against homosexual persons, and that they must be accepted.
The Catechism does say: They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. (Catechism 2358)
The Catechism is specific that "unjust" discrimination is to be avoided, but the Church also teaches specifically that there is proper discrimination to be applied when it comes to confronting homosexual actions and tendencies.
Firstly as noted above, the ban on homosexuals entering the priesthood is already discrimination, a proper discrimination.  Also in this 1992 Vatican document, the Catholic Church spells out other areas where such discrimination is needed, specifically in the areas of adoption, foster care, teaching, the military, and more.

And finally the most complete transcript of the full remarks of Pope Francis on the plane this morning returning from Rio comes from a couple of sources. (update: The Vatican has released a full transcript in Italian available here )
The first question was: Holiness, there was news published about the intimacy of Monsignor Ricci, how will you address this issue and how does His Holiness intend to address the whole issue of the "gay lobby"?
Vatican reporter John Allen gives this transcript of the Pope's remarks:
 The Ricca Case
"I did what canon law requires, which is to conduct a preliminary investigation. We didn't find anything to confirm the things he was accused of, there was nothing … I'd like to add that many times we seem to seek out the sins of somebody's youth and publish them. We're not talking about crimes, which are something else. The abuse of minors, for instance, is a crime. But one can sin and then convert, and the Lord both forgives and forgets. We don't have the right to refuse to forget … it's dangerous. The theology of sin is important. St. Peter committed one of the greatest sins, denying Christ, and yet they made him pope! Think about that."
Gay Lobby
"There's a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I've never seen it on the Vatican ID card!"
"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they're our brothers."

One final add on to the pope's gay lobby remarks was provided by the BBC: "The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."

CHURCH / Korea: "WYD, a gift of Francis and enormous grace for the Church in Korea"

Bishop of Daejeon: "WYD, a gift of Francis and enormous grace for the Church in Korea"
Joseph Yun Li-sun
Bishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik led 350 young South Koreans to the WYD with the Pope and the Catholic youth of the world: "We have experienced the love and closeness of the Brazilian people, we are ready to give back what received during the upcoming Asian Youth Day. " Now, a 10 day retreat with the Brazilian bishops to "reflect on the message and on the invitation of the Pope to move out to the margins."

Rio de Janeiro (AsiaNews) - The World Youth Day "was a special grace for the life of each of us, priests and young people who came to Rio from South Korea. An extraordinary and unique celebration for the Catholic Church, which Pope Francis has made it even more beautiful with his smile, friendship, and especially his message of love",  Mgr. Lazzaro You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejeon and leader of the South Korean delegation composed of 350 young people to Brazil tells AsiaNews.
Before Francis return to Rome, said Msgr. You, "I was able to speak with the Holy Father. I told him that I was from Korea, from a place that was very far away. He looked at me with his eyes and his particular smile, and then I added that I had brought with me 350 young people . He replied, raising his finger: 'The Korean Church is strong, keep it up!' It was a very special and very intense moment for me. "

The long journey from the Far East to Latin America (almost 24 hours by plane from Seoul to Rio) was an incentive for the entire delegation: "Young people from 4 dioceses and in addition to these groups were organized by the Jesuits and other religious orders who work in Korea. Before leaving we tried to prepare them well at home, and the work helped us and helped us to better understand this extraordinary event. "
Waiting to travel to Rio, the delegation stopped for a week in the diocese of Campinhas, 150 kilometers from Sao Paolo: "They welcomed us in an extraordinary manner. All the young Koreans lived with Brazilian families, and in this way were able to experience different languages, cultures and colors: it was an incredible way to remind us that we all have one Father, we are all brothers and sisters. "

In this diocese, Msgr. You and the young Koreans have visited several parishes: "After 5 days we left Campinhas to go to Rio de Janeiro. Before leaving we celebrated a High Mass with all our new friends, and it was a mass of tears. Of joy but also of sorrow: the relationship that we had created was fantastic, no one wanted to interrupt this harmony of friendship and faith. "
The disappointment was soon replaced by the thrill of meeting Pope Francis: "In Korea, we have enormous respect for the elderly, and the smile of the Pope, his human closeness, he was like a 'grandfather' for all the young people . To overcome the language problems [the pope spoke always in Portuguese - ed] We prepared a simultaneous translation service in Korean, thanks to our priests who live here. In this way we could follow and really live - in the Year of Faith - the closeness of Jesus and experience how important hope, and charity is. "
Now everything is ready for the Asian Youth Day, which will be held in Daejeon in August 2014: "The Korean Church has received so much from the Churches of Asia and the world, especially during the war between North and South. Now , without arrogance, we have to give a lot in return and hopefully we can get started with this day. "

The prelate will spend another 10 days in Brazil: "I'm going to Sao Paulo, where we will be going on retreat with the Brazilian bishops. As the Pope asked us, we have to think very carefully about what was said and what has happened here in these days. The Church must become an inverted pyramid: gone are the days of isolation and arrogance, we have to get out and go towards the faithful. These things are important and must be reflected by all of us, bishops and priests, to follow the invitation of Francis. "

Hermit Humour :) - An Old Irish Joke in Primitive Irish

An Old Irish Joke in Primitive Irish (translation by David Stifter)

 Sample text in Ogham in Primitive Irish


Tengwās īwerijonākā
Tut raddassodd trīs dītrebākī dīslondetun do bitū.
Tēgoddit in wāssākan do atareregiyī esyan kenutan writ dēwan.
Bāddar kina labarātun writ alaliyan qos qennan blēdaniyās.
Issit andan esset bīrt wiras dī ēbis writ alaliyan diyas blēdniyas: "mati ad tāyomas."
Bowet samali qos qennan blēdaniyās.
"Issit mati sodesin," esset bīrt aliyas uiras.
Bāddar andan ēran sodesū qos qennan blēdaniyās.
"Tongū wo mō brattan," esset bīrt trissas uiras, "ma nīt lēggītar kiyunessus do mū, imbit gabiyū wāssākan oliyan dū swi."

Old Irish (Sengoídelc) version

Tríar manach do·rat díultad dont ṡaegul.
Tíagait i fásach do aithrigi a peccad fri día.
Bátar cen labrad fri araile co cenn blíadnae.
Is and as·bert fer diib fri araile dia blíadnae, "Maith at·taam," olse.
Amein co cenn blíadnae.
"Is maith ón," ol in indara fer.
Bátar and íar suidiu co cenn blíadnae.
"Toingim fom aibit," ol in tres fer, "mani·léicthe ciúnas dom co n-imgéb in fásach uile dúib."

Modern Irish (Gaeilge) version (by Dennis King)

Triúr manach a thug diúltú don saol.
Téann siad ins an fhásach chun aithrí a dhéanamh ina gcuid peacaí roimh Dhia.
Bhí siad gan labhairt lena chéile go ceann bliana.
Ansin dúirt fear díobh le fear eile bliain amháin ina dhiaidh sin, "Táimid go maith," ar seisean.
Mar sin go ceann bliana.
"Is maith go deimhin," arsa an dara fear.
Bhí siad ann ina dhiaidh sin go ceann bliana.
"Dar m'aibíd," arsa an treas fear, "mura ligeann sibh ciúnas dom fágfaidh mé an fásach uile daoibh!"

English version (by Dennis King)

Three holy men turned their back on the world.
They went into the wilderness to atone for their sins before God.
They did not speak to one another for a year.
At the end of the year, one of them spoke up and said, "We're doing well."
Another year went by the same way.
"Yes we are," said the next man.
And so another year went by.
"I swear by my smock," said the third man, "if you two won't be still I'm going to leave you here in the wilderness!

Ogham Script for writing Old Irish :)

  Aicme Beithe   Aicme Muine
Beith Muin
Luis Gort
Fearn nGéadal
Sail Straif
Nion Ruis
  Aicme hÚatha   Aicme Ailme
Uath Ailm
Dair Onn
Tinne Úr
Coll Eadhadh
Ceirt Iodhadh
Ifín Peith

Franciscan group forbidden to use traditional liturgy

Franciscan group forbidden to use traditional liturgy

CWN - July 29, 2013

Intervening in a bid to curb dissension within a Franciscan community, the Vatican has appointed a new leader for the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and ruled that all priests of the group must celebrate Mass using the ordinary form rather than the traditional Latin Mass.

The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate have grown rapidly, and became especially prominent in traditionalist circles. But the group has also been torn by internal disputes-- including disputes over liturgical practices. The Congregation for Religious has now issued a decree that installs an outsider-- a Capuchin, Father Fidenzio Volpi-- as acting superior for the order.

The decree also states that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate must use the ordinary form of the liturgy. Any use of the extraordinary form must be explicitly authorized by Church authorities, the decree states. This special rule, which applies only to the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, marks a departure from Summorum Pontificum, in which Pope Benedict XVI ruled that priests are authorized to use the extraordinary form for their private Masses without any further approval from superiors.

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CHURCH: Continuity between Pope Francis, predecessors

Vatican newspaper emphasizes continuity between Pope Francis, predecessors

CWN - July 30, 2013

In an editorial that appeared in the July 30 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian, the newspaper's editor, emphasized the continuity between Pope Francis and his predecessors of the past five decades.

World Youth Day, noted Vian, "was not planned by the first American and Latin American Pontiff but arranged some time ago by his predecessor." Pope Francis's decision to issue the text of Lumen Fidei, when most of had been written by Pope Benedict, is likewise "a very powerful indication of continuity which confirms that in their obvious diversity they are both complementary and on the same wavelength."

At World Youth Day, said Vian, Pope Francis's "meetings with the bishops and talks with the journalists, concentrated at the end of the journey, seem to have been particularly important. They confirm, at different levels, two fundamental strategic decisions of the papacy in the second half of the 20th century, which the Bishop of Rome now intends to develop with highly effective personal emphases: media communication and the synodal method."

"Under the banner of the Second Vatican Council, conceived of and opened by John XXIII, both these decisions are deeply indebted to the revolutionary decisions of Paul VI," continued Vian. "His pastoral staff is used by Pope Francis who in Brazil also wore a red stole of his, with images of the Apostles Peter and Paul."

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Pope Francis signals openness towards gay priests [... but not homosexual behaviour]

Pope Francis signals openness towards gay priests

Pontiff uses in-flight press conference to take questions on role of women in the Catholic Church, sex scandals and gay clergy

Pope Francis
Pope Francis listens to a journalist's question on a flight back to Rome. Photograph: Pool/Reuters
As they settled into their seats on the Alitalia jet, the assembled members of the Vatican press corps might not have expected a great deal from the journey home.
They had just followed the Catholic church's first Latin American pope on a meet and greet around Brazil. They had seen his Fiat Idea mobbed by weeping fans. They had watched him celebrate mass with three million pilgrims on the packed-out shores of Copacabana beach. What, they may have wondered, could top  that?
Sometime after take-off, however, Pope Francis strolled to the back of the aircraft and gave them their answer. The in-flight entertainment, it turned out, would be him: a no-holds-barred press conference that lasted for an hour and 20 minutes and was the first of its kind to take place on a papal plane since the early days of a vigorous John Paul II.
"The atmosphere was one of near incredulity," said John L Allen, a veteran Vatican observer for the National Catholic Reporter, who was on board the flight. "We haven't seen something like this for 20 years."
In the course of his first real press conference, a free-wheeling session in which the pope answered all the questions thrown at him and even thanked a journalist who asked him about a recent sex scandal, Francis signalled a readiness to address the serious issues of the church – albeit in a light-hearted manner.
Asked about reports of a "gay lobby" inside the Roman curia, he replied: "I have still not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay."
He struck a markedly more conciliatory tone towards homosexuality than his predecessor, saying: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge? The catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised because of this [orientation] but that they must be integrated into society."
That catechism however, also teaches that, "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". Francis said nothing that would appear to counter that, although some observers said his remarks set him apart from Benedict, who said that men with deep-seated tendencies should not enter the priesthood.
Francis seemed to disagree: "The problem is not having this [homosexual] orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."
Francis also used the word "gay" rather than "homosexual", which his predecessors preferred.
Speaking for the first time as pope on the issue of women's ordination, Francis said that although that particular door was "closed", the church should find ways to boost women's "role and charism [divinely bestowed gifts]".
He joked about Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a prelate alleged to have tried to fly €20m in cash into Italy illegally, saying he "didn't go to jail because he resembled a saint".
Francis also dismissed sinister whisperings about his relationship with his predecessor, describing living with Benedict in the Vatican as "like having … a wise grandfather living at home". Asked what was in the famous black briefcase he clutched while boarding the plane last week, Francis was happy to clarify: "The keys to the atomic bomb weren't in it." His razor, prayer book, agenda and a book on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux were.
The pope's comments on the gay lobby came after an Italian magazine published a report claiming that the prelate whom Francis chose to be his "eyes and ears" in the Vatican bank had lived all-but-publicly with his gay lover in Uruguay.
The pope said he had ordered an investigation into the claims and had found nothing to back them up. Moreover, he chided journalists for covering such stories, saying there was a world of difference between allegations of that kind – which he said concerned "sin" that could be forgiven and forgotten by God – and crimes, such as the sexual abuse of children.
On the long-troubled Vatican bank, Francis spoke of several possibilities for its reform, and did not rule out its eventual closure, saying that it needed to become "honest and transparent".
Asked whether he had met with resistance from within the Roman curia – the Vatican's sprawling central bureaucracy – to that and other reforms, he said: "There are many people [in the Vatican] who are saints but there are those who are not very saintly … and it pains me when this happens."
Pressed on whether, by that, he meant he had come up against open opposition to his ideas, he replied: "If there is resistance I have not seen it yet."
When the 80 minutes were up, and all subjects from the papal sciatic nerve to the vindication of his free-wheeling low-security preferences had been exhausted, the pope went back to his seat for the remaining hours of the transatlantic flight.
For the reporters on board, Allen said, the spectacle could not have been more different from the "very carefully stage-managed affairs" under Benedict XVI, in which a handful of questions were usually screened and the sessions restricted to brief encounters.
On this occasion, reporters had been told that there would be "ample space" for questions with the pope. But, as Allen remarked, "in Vatican speak, if someone says the pope is going to give you an 'ample' period of time you normally think that means 15 minutes". What they got, instead, was a wide-ranging discussion that touched on some of the most controversial issues in the church today.

"I don't know that we've learned anything new at the level of content," said Allen, after the plane landed in Rome. "I think what we learned first of all is that this pope is capable of dealing with the press and doing so remarkable effectively … and the other thing is that he is determined to set the most positive tone possible, to try to put a positive face on church teachings, including those teachings that some people find harsh."

What Francis said …

• On gay people: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
• On women: "We must go further in the explicitness of the role and charism of women living in the church."
• On the need for bodyguards: "I'd like to walk in the streets. But I know it's impossible."
• On the black bag he took on the plane: "The keys to the atomic bomb weren't in it." (Apparently it held his razor and books)
• On his advisers: "I like it when someone tells me: 'I don't agree.' This is a true collaborator. When they say 'Oh, how great, how great, how great,' that's not useful."
• On his predecessor: "The last time there were two or three popes, they didn't talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!" Having Benedict living in the Vatican "is like having a grandfather – a wise grandfather living at home".

Monday, July 29, 2013

ROMERO: Cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero moving quickly

Cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero moving quickly, says CDF prefect

CWN - July 26, 2013

The cause for beatification of the slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero accelerated during the pontificate of Benedict XVI and is now moving forward "even faster" under Pope Francis, reports the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, whose congregation was asked to examine the teachings of Archbishop Romero to ensure their doctrinal orthodoxy, told the Vatican Insider that the Salvadoran prelate "was a great witness of the faith and of social justice." Although some critics had questioned whether Archbishop Romero's support for liberation theology put him at odds with Church teachings, Archbishop Müller said that the slain prelate said only that society should "be built on the defense and implementation of justice, not on violence and on the survival of the fittest."

"This is what the Church teaches," Archbishop Müller said. He pointed out that during a trip to Brazil in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI "said very clearly that he thought Romero was worthy of beatification."

ISLAM / CHURCH: New crackdown on Christian converts in Sudan

New crackdown on Christian converts in Sudan

CWN - July 26, 2013

Since Sudan was divided in 2011, when South Sudan became independent, converts to Christianity have come under heavier pressure in Sudan, the Fides news service reports.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has announced his intention to strengthen Islamic shari'a law, which stipulates that Muslims who forsake the faith are punishable by death. No Christian converts have been executed in the past 20 years, but about 170 people have been imprisoned on charges of apostasy.

Government officials in Sudan are aggressively hunting down converts, Fides reports. Christians have been arrested and questioned, their passports and other working documents seized, their cell phones and computers confiscated so that police can track their acquaintances.

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ISLAM: Marian devotions bring Muslims to Christian shrine

Marian devotions bring Muslims to Christian shrine

CWN - July 26, 2013

Millions of Muslims make pilgrimages to Marian shrines every year, reports Father Samir Khalil Samir.

Devotion to the Virgin Mary is quite strong in Islam, notes the Vatican expert in a revealing analysis for the AsiaNews service. He notes: "The spiritual dialogue between Christians and Muslims is much more promising than cultural, theological, or political dialogue."

While some Islamic sects are hostile to all manifestations of Christian belief, countless Muslims cherish a belief in the healing powers of Marian shrines. Pilgrimages are particularly popular in Egypt, and thousands of Muslims have been attracted to reported apparitions of the Virgin.

Muslims also maintain a lively belief in the power of evil, Father Samir reports, and many are interested in the Catholic ritual of exorcism.

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CHURCH: Catholic-Pentecost dialogue focuses on healing

Catholic-Pentecost dialogue focuses on healing

CWN - July 29, 2013

The Joint International Commission for Catholic–Pentecostal Dialogue, conducted under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, recently concluded a weeklong discussion in Baltimore on the charism of healing.

The co-chairs of the dialogue -- Rev. Cecil M. Robeck of Fuller Theological Seminary and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh – are both from the United States.

"Healing is a subject on which Catholics and Pentecostals have much in common," said Robeck. "While many people may view the healing ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ with skepticism, or dismiss it altogether, Catholics and Pentecostals believe that God continues to heal and perform miracles."

"This year's Dialogue has provided a wonderful opportunity for members of the Catholic and Pentecostal teams to renew our common faith in the healing power of Jesus, the One who continues to demonstrate His love and miracles in our midst," said Bishop Burbidge. "The Dialogue has helped us to focus on how the charism of healing is understood, expressed and celebrated in our churches and faith communities."

"We have acknowledged that our theological understanding of the charism of healing requires further exploration," he added. "In addition, we noted that the context and supervision of healing ministries within our churches and faith communities will also benefit from further study and discussion."

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Friday, July 26, 2013

LIFE: (Shocking photo) Late-term aborted baby lies in open casket at city hall funeral

Shocking photo: late-term aborted baby lies in open casket at city hall funeral

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Orlando, FL, July 25, 2011 ( – On this past Thursday, July 21, Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, preached at a memorial service for an aborted baby girl.
The child was intact and her body was retrieved after a late-term abortion. The memorial service, organized by Operation Save America, was held outside of City Hall in Orlando.
"We are here because this baby was killed in the darkness, and we come to honor her in the bright light of day," Fr. Pavone declared in his remarks. "The abortion industry wants to hide the violence done to these children, but we must be committed to expose it. Therefore we need to hold many more of these services, with tens of thousands of people looking at these children and recommitting themselves to end abortion."
"Those who are moved to grief by such scenes need to know there is hope for healing after abortion," Vicky Thorn, Founder of Project Rachel commented LifeSiteNews.  "We are here to help you embark on that road to healing. Give God the permission to heal you," she added. 
During the service, the name "Esther" was given to the child.
Fr. Frank invited any pro-life activists who obtain the remains of aborted children to be in contact with him to arrange for a proper wake service and burial.
It's not the first time that aborted babies are afforded funerals.  In 2008, Detroit Bishop John Quinn offered a funeral for 18 aborted babies whose bodies were discovered in dumpsters at the Woman Care abortuary.  Later that same year, Fr. Pavone offered a funeral for three aborted babies at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament that EWTN's Mother Angelica built in Hanceville, Alabama.  In 2010, Michigan Bishop Earl Boyea celebrated a funeral mass for 17 aborted children.
Legislation on the matter was passed in 2001 in the Czech Republic when President Vaclav Havel signed into law a bill regarding funeral arrangements which included a clause ensuring that the remains of aborted babies receive a proper burial.  In 2010, in Michigan a bill was proposed to protect the remains of aborted babies from being simply discarded as biohazardous waste.

WORSHIP: There is ‘perfect continuity’ between Popes Benedict, Francis in liturgical teaching

Cardinal Burke sees 'perfect continuity' between Popes Benedict, Francis in liturgical teaching

CWN - July 26, 2013

In an interview with the ZENIT news agency, Cardinal Raymond Burke praised liturgical law, linked liturgical abuse to "moral corruption," and said that he sees "perfect continuity" in liturgical teaching between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
"Liturgical law disciplines us so that we have the freedom to worship God, otherwise we're captured – we're the victims or slaves either of our own individual ideas, relative ideas of this or that, or of the community or whatever else," said the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. "There's no question in my mind that the abuses in the sacred liturgy, reduction of the sacred liturgy to some kind of human activity, is strictly correlated with a lot of moral corruption and with a levity in catechesis that has been shocking and has left generations of Catholics ill prepared to deal with the challenges of our time."
Ask whether there are "substantial differences between [Popes Benedict and Francis] on the importance of the sacred liturgy," Cardinal Burke replied:

I don't see it at all. The Holy Father clearly hasn't had the opportunity to teach in a kind of authoritative way about the sacred liturgy, but in the things he has said about the sacred liturgy I see a perfect continuity with Pope Benedict XVI. I see in the Holy Father, too, a great concern for respecting the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and his discipline, and that is what Pope Francis is doing.
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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Energized by visit to Rio slum, Pope Francis pleads for the poor

Energized by visit to Rio slum, Pope Francis pleads for the poor

CWN - July 25, 2013

"The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty," Pope Francis said during a July 25 visit a slum in Rio de Janeiro.

Pope Francis was known for his devotion to the poor in the slums of Buenos Aires while he was archbishop there. On this visit to the Manquihos favela in Rio, he was clearly delighted to spend time with the residents, and they were at least equally excited to greet the Pontiff.

The Pope remarked that everywhere in Brazil, he has been "welcomed with such love, generosity, and joy." Speaking with emotion about his wish to meet with the people, he lamented: "It is impossible to knock on every door!" Still he emphasized how much he enjoyed greeting the people.

The people of Brazil, "particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity," the Pope said. He observed that the people of the favelas are ready to share their own scant resources with those in greater need. He remarked that "when we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them – some food, a place in our homes, our time – not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched." The Pope continued:

I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity!

"The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world," the Pontiff said. "It is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters."

Commenting on the political and social changes that are sweeping Brazil, the Pope argued that if a sense of solidarity is lacking, the community cannot be stable and secure. He said: "No amount of 'peace-building' will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself."

While emphasizing the need to help the poor, Pope Francis made it equally clear that this help should provide for more than only material needs. "Dear friends," he said, "it is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry – this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy." The Pontiff went on:

There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.

The Pope said that he placed great confidence in young people, with their "particular sensitivity toward injustice," to root out corruption and to build up a sense of solidarity.

The Pope closed his remarks by assuring the people of the favela that "you are not alone. The Church is with you. The Pope is with you."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pope visiting Brazil's shrine to 'black Mary'

Pope visiting Brazil's shrine to 'black Mary'
By JENNY BARCHFIELD Associated Press
Updated:   07/23/2013 02:45:14 PM EDT
Click photo to enlarge
In this July 20, 2013 photo, a woman holds up a replica of the statue... ((AP Photo/Andre Penner))
APARECIDA, Brazil—The image of the Virgin of Aparecida, Brazil's patron saint, emblazons bumper stickers, presides over shops and dangles from gold chains around women's necks all over this continent-sized country. Replicas of the thin, dark clay statue hang in places of pride on the walls of both the most sumptuous of mansions and the humblest of shacks. On Wednesday, Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, will fly over farmland and sugar cane fields to visit the mammoth basilica that holds the statue of this particular Brazilian Mary. On the pontiff's first day in Brazil, it's also where police found a homemade explosive in a nearby public restroom. It didn't appear to have been aimed at the pope. The Vatican
Catholics from Spain attend Mass at the Basilica of the Virgin of Aparecida, Brazil's patron saint, in the town of Aparecida, Brazil, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. On Wednesday, Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, will fly to visit the basilica. The Vatican says the Argentine pontiff personally insisted the trip be added to his agenda. ((AP Photo/Andre Penner))
says the Argentine pontiff personally insisted the trip be added to his agenda. Millions of grassroots Catholics who[venerate] Aparecida's image will be watching. Rio de Janeiro taxicab driver Wellington Damiao is one of those who's placed his faith in the Virgin. He keeps an inches-tall plastic figurine of Aparecida on his cracked dashboard as he rolls around the city's streets.

"My mother was a devotee, I've been one all my life and now I'm teaching it to my children," Damiao said. "I've never asked anything of her because I believe we have to give thanks, not just ask for things all the time."

Revered across the width and breadth of Brazil, Aparecida's appeal has transcended the church's legions of faithful in the world's biggest Catholic country. She's been syncretized with the goddess of love and maternity in a Brazilian religion with roots in west Africa, and her dark complexion has endeared her to blacks and those with a mix of black and white heritage, both of whom make up about half of Brazil's population.

"Her face is the face of the Brazilian people," said Father Jose Arnaldo Juliano dos Santos, a chaplain and researcher in Sao Paulo. "She's the great unifier of Brazil, who reaches across all sorts

People light candles at the Basilica of the Virgin of Aparecida, Brazil s patron saint, in the town of Aparecida, Brazil, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. On Wednesday, Pope Francis, the first pontiff from the Americas, will fly to visit the basilica. The Vatican says the Argentine pontiff personally insisted the trip be added to his agenda. ((AP Photo/Andre Penner))
of divisions of race, class, region and religion and brings us all together as a people." Standing atop a crescent moon adorned with an angel, Aparecida lifts her hands to her chest in prayer, a slight smile on her upturned lips and several flowers in her hair. Her gown and cloak fall in elaborate folds, and she wears a strand of pearls around her neck. The diminutive statue stands just 39 centimeters tall (15 inches tall), though the gold crown and blue velvet cape she now wears give her a bit of added height and bulk.

Reverence for the figure of the Virgin Mary, known as Marian devotion, is common in much of the Christian world, popular in the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches as well as in Catholic southern Europe, where major shrines such as Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal are dedicated to the Virgin.

Marian devotion also runs particularly deep in Latin America. The Virgin of Guadalupe, another dark-complexioned Mary, is the patron saint of Mexico, and the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, who's often associated with Aparecida, is widely revered in Communist Cuba.

"Wherever you go, that image is a potent one," said Maureen Tilley, a professor of theology at Fordham University. "For some, she is a route to God. For others she is a sort of mediator with God, along with being the first disciple, in a sense."

According to church lore, the Virgin of Aparecida surfaced on Oct. 16, 1717, as the town of Guaratingueta, an inland hamlet about halfway between the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, prepared for a visit by Sao Paulo state's governor. A fleet of fishermen plied the nearby Paraiba River to catch fish for a banquet in the official's honor, but after 12 fruitless hours in the normally well-stocked river, all but three of the fishermen gave up.

As night fell, they cast their nets one last time, dredging up only the terracotta statue of a headless female figure, her hands pressed together in prayer. Surprised, they cast the net once more, bringing up a head that fit perfectly on the body.

They wrapped the pieces in their shirts and cast the nets once more, this time bringing up hundreds of fish.

One of the fishermen gave the statue to his wife, who stuck the two pieces together with wax and placed the figure in the family shrine, where it would remain for some 15 years.

A series of miracles was soon attributed to the Virgin, including the freeing of a runaway slave named Zacarias. After he was caught, Zacarias was being marched back to his owner in shackles when he passed by the little Aparecida shrine. Legend has it he prayed to the Virgin to intercede, and the shackles fell away. Upon hearing the story, Zacarias' owner immediately freed him.

As news of the miracles spread throughout Brazil, the number of pilgrims grew exponentially, and a series of ever-larger churches were built to house her, culminating with the sprawling domed basilica that was begun in 1955 and holds up to 45,000 worshippers in the city named after the Virgin.

Her saint's day, Oct. 12, is now a national holiday in Brazil, and tens of thousands of pilgrims annually mark the day by trekking to the Sanctuary of Aparecida. So many have made offerings to the saint there's a room in the sprawling church where the gifts of famous devotees are on display, with a helmet once belonging to the late Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna next to a soccer ball from celebrated striker Ronaldo.

David Gibson, a New York-based reporter for Religion News Service, called Marian devotion the church's "connective tissue," which "binds people together."

"It's the faith on its knees in prayer, rather than an intellectual faith," said Gibson, adding that Argentine-born Francis has long been a Marian devotee. "Benedict XVI was a theologian, John Paul II was a philosopher, but Francis is a pastor. He's a Catholic that an average Catholic can recognize. He's a guy who's very devoted to the Virgin Mary and sees these popular devotions as the faith of the people."

Still, Aparecida has been a target of friction between Brazil's Catholic majority and its fast-growing Pentecostal community, many of whom accuse the church of promoting idol worship with its reverence for Mary.

In 1978, a man with alleged links to a Pentecostal church smashed the Virgin's protective glass case, snatched the statue from its niche and broke it into more than 100 fragments. Following a painstaking restoration, the statue was returned to Aparecida in an ambulance.

In 1995, a televangelist pastor caused a nationwide furor by repeatedly kicking a plaster replica of the Virgin.

The clay used to make the statue has been traced to a pit in Sao Paulo state, and it's thought she might be the work of a Benedictine monk and sculptor who lived nearby. Friar Agostinho de Jesus was known for figurines embellished with clay pearls and flowers, like the ones that adorn the Virgin of Aparecida's hair and gown.

Though her unique chocolate color has long been part of the Virgin's appeal, experts say it was likely initially painted in bright colors. Her time in the river and surrounded by candles in the shrine are thought to have given the Virgin her trademark chestnut hue.

"We are a nation of African descendants, so this black Virgin in a country of blacks has a huge place of honor," said Fernando Altemeyer, a theology professor at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo. "For black Catholics, obviously Our Lady of Aparecida is the same color as they are. It's the feeling of 'she's black like us!' so it's incredibly important for them."

Like millions of Brazilians, Damiao, the taxi driver, said he lives a humble life. But he's grateful to the Virgin for protecting him and his loved ones.

"It's not that my life is so great, because it's not, but in my family we've never had sickness, never been hungry," he said. "I think we have to thank Our Lady of Aparecida for that."


Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.