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How the Church is honoring pilots and the ‘flying’ house of the Virgin Mary

Loreto, Italy, Dec 8, 2019 / 05:35 am (CNA).- At first glance, pilots and plane passengers have little in common with the Holy House of Mary in Loreto, Italy.

But just as pilots and passengers take flight in airplanes, the Holy House of Loreto also “flew,” according to an often-told story, when it was transported through the air by angels from the Holy Land to the small Italian town of Loreto.

Modern documentation suggests a hint of truth to the pious story, but with a twist. Evidence suggests the house was brought to Italy by the noble Angeli family, who saved the materials of the house from destruction by Muslim invaders in the 13th century. The name Angeli means “angels” in both Greek and Latin.

Three statues of Our Lady of Loreto will soon be “taking flight” during a special Jubilee Year of Loreto, to be celebrated by the Church beginning Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

As part of the jubilee year, the Marian statues of the “Black Madonna” of Loreto will be making symbolic pilgrimages by plane. One will travel to the main Italian airports, another to military units, and a third to major airports of the five continents, including New York.

“This pilgrimage will represent the Mother’s embrace of the whole world,” the prelate of Loreto, Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin, said at a press conference Dec. 3.

The Jubilee Year of Loreto, which will be celebrated through Dec. 10, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Loreto being officially proclaimed the patroness of pilots and air passengers.

This designation was made by Pope Benedict XV in March 1920, after aviators fighting in World War I became devoted to the Virgin Mary under this title for her traditional connection to “flight.”

Pope Francis recently also added the Dec. 10 feast day of Our Lady of Loreto as an optional memorial in the Roman Calendar of the universal Church.

With the theme “Called to fly high,” the Jubilee Year of Loreto will begin with an opening of the Holy Door of the Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto.

By visiting the basilica during the year, Catholics may obtain a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.

A plenary indulgence requires an individual to be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act, and pray for the pope’s intentions.

This plenary indulgence, according to Archbishop Dal Cin, may also be extended to chapels in civil and military airports upon request of the local bishop.

Catholics are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to the Holy House of Mary in Loreto during the jubilee year, or to another shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto.

There is also an official hymn, composed by lauded composer Fr. Marco Frisina. During the year, a charitable donation will be made for the purchase of new equipment for the neonatology department of Sacred Family Hospital in Nazareth.

Celebrations throughout the year will also include an air show by Frecce Tricolori, the Italian Air Force’s aerobatic demonstration team.

The jubilee year “does not only concern the world of aviation (workers and passengers), but is addressed to all the devotees of Our Lady of Loreto,” Dal Cin said, “and to those pilgrims who will arrive to the Holy House from all over the world to receive the gift of the plenary indulgence.”

 

Pope: Mary's Immaculate Conception the start of the fulfillment of God's plan

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2019 / 04:49 am (CNA).- With Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, God was, even before Mary’s birth, putting into motion his plan of salvation for the world, Pope Francis said Sunday.

“Today we consider the beginning of this fulfillment” of God’s promise, he said Dec. 8, during his weekly Angelus address, even “before the birth of the Mother of the Lord.”

“In fact, her immaculate conception leads us to that precise moment when Mary’s life began to palpitate in her mother’s womb,” he continued. “Already there was the sanctifying love of God, preserving her from the contagion of evil that is a common heritage of the human family.”

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, celebrated by the Church on Dec. 8, marks the moment when the Virgin Mary was conceived inside St. Anne’s womb, with a soul preserved by God from original sin.

The pope noted that this feast day always takes place in the context of Advent, a time of waiting, showing that “God will accomplish what he has promised.”

“But in today’s celebration we are told that something has already been accomplished, in the person and in the life of the Virgin Mary,” he said.

The day’s Gospel reading comes from Luke and jumps ahead to when the Virgin Mary is a young woman being visited by the Angel Gabriel. The angel says to Mary: “Rejoice, full of grace: the Lord is with you.”

“God has always thought and wanted her, in his inscrutable design, as a creature full of grace, that is filled with his love,” Francis said.

But, he reflected, Mary is able to be filled with God’s grace also because she makes space, emptying herself of her own will to make room for the will of God, trusting it and accepting in unreservedly, to the point that the Word becomes flesh inside her.

“Mary does not lose herself in so many arguments, she does not put obstacles in the way of the Lord, but relies quickly and leaves room for the action of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

In Mary “is reflected the beauty of God, which is all love, grace, self-giving.”

The pope also spoke about the Blessed Virgin Mary’s own word for herself: “handmaid of the Lord.”

Mary serves “without clamor and ostentation, without seeking places of honor, without advertising,” he said.

This is an example for everyone, he continued, to “do works of charity in silence, in hiding, without boasting of making them. Even in our communities, we are called to follow Mary’s example, practicing the style of discretion and concealment.”

In the afternoon Dec. 8, Pope Francis will go to Rome’s Piazza di Spagna to give homage at the foot of a statue of the Immaculate Conception, a papal tradition. This year, he will also stop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major to pray for Our Lady’s intercession.

“I ask you to join me spiritually in this gesture, which expresses filial devotion to our heavenly Mother,” Pope Francis said.

The pope also asked people to join him in praying for a meeting of the presidents of Ukraine, Russia, France, and the Chancellor of Germany, which will take place Dec. 9 in Paris.

This meeting is “to find solutions to the painful conflict that has been going on for years in eastern Ukraine,” he explained.

“I accompany the meeting with an intense prayer and I invite you to do the same, so that this initiative of political dialogue will contribute to bringing peace in justice to that territory and its population.”

Why an Argentine priest says ‘I love my cassock!’

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 8, 2019 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A popular Argentine priest has explained why he frequently wears a priestly cassock, even while the garment has fallen out of favor among some priests.

Fr. Christian Viñas, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Cambaceres, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, explained in a recent essay why he wears his cassock as often as possible.

In the essay, entitled “I love my cassock!” Viñas explained that “Christ sends us all the time as sons to feed, console, correct, teach and sanctify. Of course to do that we must show ourselves and have to be seen as available.”

Viñas considers the cassock to be “uniquely priestly,” and “indispensable to identify us for what we are: Priests of the Lord! Dead to the world, so that others may live, and live in abundance (Jn 10:10). And in the world but not of the world (Jn 15:19).”

“The cassock of course never goes unnoticed. It situates us, distinguishes us, preserves us, and presents us in society. And, in a society like ours where the ideologues of hate sow all the time aversion against those in uniform, from clerics and nuns, to soldiers and police, on to hotel and building porters, it constitutes a clear identification of what one is and for Whom one is,” he wrote.

By wearing the cassock, “we receive anything from glowing praises to violent insults, to requests for confession, to spontaneous venting, to asking for advice, to requests for blessings for entire families, right out in public,”  Viñas said

Viñas says he has time for all of them. “I always stop even though I am often going from one urgent thing  to another. They are the children God puts on my path and they don't take away my time but they give meaning to the time, as a priest, He gives to me,”

In the U.S., the norms regarding priestly clothing stipulate that while “a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.”

“I love my cassock, amid the pushback from the world. Give me the grace, Lord, to live and die with it, and for it!” Vinas wrote.

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Sheen beatification delay an act of “sabotage,” Peoria official writes

Peoria, Ill., Dec 7, 2019 / 09:30 pm (CNA).- After the Diocese of Rochester last week confirmed it had requested that the beatification of Venerable Fulton Sheen be delayed, a longtime Peoria diocese official is accusing the Rochester diocese of repeatedly “sabotaging” Sheen’s sainthood cause. 

“Under the veneer of the Rochester diocese’s call for caution, more than an overwhelming majority of people would conclude that it is an unexplainable act of sabotage — a sabotage that simply hurts the faithful,” Monsignor James Kruse, an official in the Diocese of Peoria involved in advancing Sheen’s cause, wrote in a lengthy Dec. 7 op-ed

Venerable Fulton Sheen was an American archbishop and television personality who was set to be beatified Dec. 21. The Holy See made the decision to postpone the beatification on Dec. 2, with the Peoria diocese attributing the Vatican’s decision to “a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration.” 

CNA first reported Dec. 4 that it was Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester who asked the apostolic nuncio to the United States to delay the beatification, citing concerns about an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into the dioceses of New York state.

“Rochester diocese’s revelation of these undisclosed cases simply follows the same pattern that the Rochester diocese has executed since this past spring,” Kruse wrote.

“This pattern is simple: The Sheen Cause takes a step forward and then the Rochester diocese acts to block the Beatification. When examining the pattern it is hard not to believe that the diocese of Rochester acts more to sabotage the Cause and less to protect the good of the Church.”

In September 2018, New York’s attorney general began an investigation into whether any of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses had covered up acts or allegations of clerical sexual abuse. Sheen was Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969.

Kruse says he was first contacted by the Rochester diocese in March 2019 by “Fr. Dan Conlon, Vicar General of the diocese of Rochester,” who told him that the Diocese of Rochester had submitted documents to the attorney general of New York which “may possibly implicate Sheen in appointing priests to assignments while having knowledge that these priests had abused children.”

Kruse is likely referring to the chancellor of the Rochester diocese, Father Dan Condon. 

The Peoria diocese and the New York archdiocese were earlier this year engaged in a legal fight in civil court over Sheen’s final burial place, which ended on June 7, 2019 when the Superior Court of New York denied any further appeals. His remains arrived in Peoria later that month. 

The day after the court’s final ruling, Kruse wrote, on June 8, 2019, the Diocese of Rochester submitted to Peoria the documents regarding Sheen’s administration related to two clerics known to have previously abused youth. Kruse wrote that the Diocese of Peoria believed that those documents were also submitted to the Vatican for their review.

Kruse wrote that the Vatican unofficially set a date for Sheen’s beatification for Sept. 20, 2019 but did not present an official decree. 

On July 24, 2019, the Diocese of Peoria was informed that the Vatican’s Secretary of State had delayed the Beatification of Sheen “until the Congregation [for] the Causes of Saints is able to study this issue." 

Kruse says the “issue” in question was the set of documents from the Rochester diocese.

“After Matano blocked the Beatification unofficially scheduled in September, [Bishop] Jenky of Peoria gathered together a group to examine the documents. I was involved in this examination. This examination revealed that [Bishop] Sheen acted rightly and did not place children in harm's way.”

The Rochester diocese said in its Dec. 5 release that it provided documentation to the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints through the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio, expressing concern about the advancement of Sheen’s cause “without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments.” 

“The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen’s cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification,” the diocese said.

The diocese said that Matano had requested a delay “prior to any announcements of the beatification.” 

But Kruse, along with two other officials connected to the beatification cause, told CNA that Matano had also raised his concerns after the date was set. Kruse wrote that Matano did so both in person to an official from the nuncio’s office in Washington DC, and later in an official letter. 

Kruse told CNA that Matano sent the letter in question to the apostolic nuncio Nov. 19, after the beatification was announced, saying that he could not support the scheduled beatification and requesting that it be delayed. 

According to Kruse, a copy of this letter was also sent to Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Cardinal Angelo Becchiu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Blase Cupich of Chicago.

“When I read this letter I immediately remembered Matano telling me in July that the case is now in the hands of Rome. We must wait for the conclusion of their investigation and abide by their decision. His earlier words rang hollow as I read his letter that again has blocked Sheen’s Beatification,” Kruse wrote. 

CNA requested a copy of the Nov. 19 letter from the Diocese of Rochester. The diocese told CNA Dec. 5 that “it is not appropriate to release a letter addressed to the Apostolic Nuncio.”

The Democrat and Chronicle, a Rochester newspaper, reported Dec. 4 that the Rochester diocese had stated to the paper that Sheen’s handling of the cases of not just of Guli but also “two or more accused priests” deserved “more investigation.” The article goes on to speculate that there could be more than a dozen such cases. 

The case of former Rochester priest Gerard Guli was the main focus of the documents submitted by the Diocese of Rochester, Kruse said. 

The former priest was ordained in 1956, and from 1963 to 1967 served in parishes in West Virginia. According to a document issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, in 1963 the Diocese of Rochester received an allegation that in 1960 Guli committed abuse or misconduct against adults, not minors.

Kruse told CNA that the priest “returned from Wheeling to help his sick parents” in 1967.

Sheen became Rochester’s bishop in October 1966.

Some have claimed that Sheen gave Guli an assignment in the Diocese of Rochester, despite the 1963 allegation against him, Kruse said, and that Bishop Matano was concerned the NY attorney general would identify this issue in any report or announcement. But Kruse said that Sheen never assigned Guli to ministry, and reiterated in his op-ed that the case was thoroughly vetted and “Sheen did nothing wrong.” 

Kruse also mentioned the case of another former priest, John Gormley, who abused youth in 1969 and whom Sheen immediately removed from ministry when the abuse was reported. Gormley later left the priesthood and again, Kruse says, it was determined that “Sheen did nothing wrong.” 

“Regretfully, it appears that only after receiving the attorney general’s approval will Sheen enjoy Beatification,” Kruse wrote. 

“We also must wait to see if the Rochester diocese’s established pattern will continue even after this report.”

Kruse concluded his op-ed by exhorting the faithful to follow Sheen’s example. 

“Both the Vatican and the Peoria diocese have confirmed that Sheen did not put children in harm's way. The Vatican also has confirmed that Sheen’s intercession raised a baby from the dead. The diocese of Peoria constantly receives reports of more miracles that are attributed to the help and intercession of Sheen,” Kruse wrote. 

“I am confident that Sheen’s Beatification will eventually take place. Regretfully, certain forces are now inexplicably causing its delay...may Fulton Sheen pray for us.”

Amid terrorism fears in Indonesia, heavy security planned for Christmas

Jakarta, Indonesia, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- Authorities in Indonesia are expected to deploy 160,000 security personnel to ensure Christmas and New Year’s celebrations safe, according to local media.

According to UCA News, the number of security personnel deployed this year will be almost double that of 2018, when nearly 90,000 security personnel guarded about 50,000 churches across the country.

The chief of the National Police Traffic Corps said military personnel and “members of government agencies” will guard churches and tourism sites during Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

In addition to attacks on religious minorities in recent years, Indonesia suffered a bombing attack on a police headquarters in Medan in North Sumatra in November, and in October a militant with ties to an ISIS-affiliated terrorist group stabbed the country’s Security Minister.

Indonesian authorities are concerned that the terrorist group, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), may try to launch additional attacks around Christmas or New Year’s, UCA News reports. Police in the country have arrested more than 100 suspected terrorists since January 2019.

Muslims make up 87% of the population in Indonesia. Christians account for 10%, and 2% are Hindu. Discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, and even among different sects of Islam, are not uncommon.

In March 2018, church officials in the country urged Catholics to be vigilant, especially during Holy Week.

Fr. Felix Atmojo, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Palembang, urged the faithful to stay alert after a church in the Palembang archdiocese was damaged earlier that month when six men broke into the Chapel of Saint Zacharias in South Sumatra’s Ogan Ilir district, damaging part of the church’s walls and burning statues.

The previous month, a man armed with a sword attacked members of St Lidwina’s Church during Mass in Feb. 2018, injuring two before the police shot him.

In May 2018, two men blew themselves up at St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, killing two. More attacks followed that day, and ultimately 11 people were killed and at least 40 injured in three separate suicide bombings at churches as worshipers were gathered for Sunday services.

Though the constitution of the country guarantees religious freedom, Indonesia has strict blasphemy laws embedded in its criminal code.

In Dec. 2018, human rights groups criticized a smartphone app being rolled out by the Indonesian government to allow citizens to file heresy reports against groups with unofficial or unorthodox religious practices.

Users can report from their phones the practice of any unrecognized religion, or unorthodox interpretations of the country’s six officially recognized religions: Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Protestantism.

 

Vatican investments linked to global money laundering investigations

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A fund in which the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested tens of millions of euros has links to two Swiss banks investigated or implicated in bribery and money laundering scandals involving more than one billion dollars. The fund is under investigation by Vatican authorities.

The fund, Centurion Global Fund, made headlines this week that it used the Vatican assets under its management to invest in Hollywood films, real estate, and utilities, including investments in movies like “Men in Black International” and the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra reported that the Centurion Global Fund has raised around 70 million euro in cash, and that the Holy See’s Secretariat of State is the source of at least two-thirds of the fund’s assets. The Vatican’s investment is reported to include funds from the Peter’s Pence collection, intended to support charitable works and the ministry of the Vatican Curia.

Centurion registered a loss of some 4.6% in 2018, while at the same time incurring management fees of roughly 2 million euros, raising questions about the prudential use of Vatican resources.

But beyond losses, a CNA investigation has found that Centurion Global Fund is connected to several institutions linked to allegations of money laundering.

Fund prospectus documents state that all Centurion investment funds are held by Lugano-based Banca Zarattini, a small Swiss bank providing private banking, asset management, and fixed income trading services.

Swiss and U.S. media outlets in 2018 reported that Zarattini was named in indictments filed by U.S. prosecutors in a $1 billion money laundering case, involving the Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA and Venezuela’s president Nicholas Maduro.

Along with an offshore bank and a New Jersey institution that has faced several investigations for non-compliance with money laundering regulations, Zarrattini was at the time holding funds subject to seizure in the PDVSA money laundering investigation.

Swiss financial news sites also linked the bank to an alleged $62 million bribe paid to a PDVSA official.

Centurion Global Fund shares a corporate office, 259 St. Paul Street in Valetta, Malta, and a single phone number and email address, with a Malta-based investment group, Gamma Capital which is listed as Centurion’s formal investment manager.

Gamma Capital's founder and owner is Enzo Filippini. Before founding Gamma, Filippini served as head of the treasury department for a now-closed Swiss bank, BSI.

In 2016, Swiss banking authorities effectively shuttered BSI by a forced extinctive merger, after concluding that it had committed “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.”

European brokerage firms like Gamma Capital Trader are required to disclose the institutions through which they execute client trades each year. In 2017, Gamma executed all of its trades through a single bank – Banca Zarattini.

The next year, 2018, Gamma used only two institutions to execute client trades, Zarattini and Sparkasse Bank Malta, which was also involved in the PDVSA money laundering scandal, according to multiple media reports.

The Times of Malta reported that “Sparkasse Bank was mentioned in the Panama Papers data leak as the Maltese institution of choice for infamous money-laundering Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.”

The CEO of Gamma Capital Markets is Alexander Vella. Vella is also the sole listed director at E2S Monitoring, a compliance firm which also lists its address as 259 St. Paul Street. E2S is the company that registered Centurion Global Fund with Maltese regulators in 2016.

On Dec. 5, Vella’s picture and profile as CEO were listed on the Gamma website, but were erased sometime on Dec. 6, though CNA has retained December screenshots of Vella on the site, and archived copies of the listing. Vella is still listed as CEO on his personal LinkedIn page.

The formal nature of the relationship between the Vatican-backed Centurion Global Fund and Gamma is described in the fund’s proposal document. Centurion is managed by a longtime Vatican financial advisor and Swiss resident Enrico Crasso, whose former company, Sogenel, is listed as the investment adviser for the fund’s investment portfolio, while Gamma is listed as the fund manager.

Centurion’s management fees in the prospectus are listed as 2.25% of assets under management annually and 20% of profits, and the fund has a seven year investment life cycle. The effective fee could, however, be higher, because among Centurion’s listed investments are other private equity funds which could have similar fee structures, including EOS FYSIS Fund Sicav and TAGES Helios II.

According to Corriere della Serra, Grasso also played a “central role” in a controversial investment by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in London property development with the Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione.

CNA has reported that the Vatican’s purchase of the property at 60 Sloane Avenue in Chelsea was arranged and is being managed through a complicated network of individuals and businesses linked to previous and current lawsuits and criminal investigations for fraud and money laundering. It is not clear what role Crasso is alleged to have played in the deal, into which the Secretariat of State has invested around $200 million.

Filippini, Gamma Capital's owner, is also connected to the bank that financed the London property deal. CNA has reported that the Secretariat of State financed the purchase of the London property with a loan against its accounts at the bank for which Fillipini was an officer: BSI.

The Holy See Press Office said on Wednesday that “investigations are in progress” regarding the Centurion Fund and other investments made by the Secretariat of State.

“Lines of enquiry which may help clarify the position of the Holy See with respect to the aforementioned funds and any others, are currently being examined by the Vatican judiciary, in collaboration with the competent authorities,” the statement said.

Multiple phone calls from CNA to Centurion and Gamma went unanswered. An email requesting comment from Vella was not responded to by time of posting.

 

 

Bishop Baker: Ad limina inspires 'hopeful spirit' for renewal of Church in US

Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2019 / 07:12 am (CNA).- Birmingham’s Bishop Robert Baker said Friday there is a hopeful spirit about the renewal of the Church in the United States at the end of the latest round of ad limina visits with Pope Francis and other curial offices.

About the crisis of mistrust in episcopal leadership, Baker said, “we know we have a long way to go, and we know the struggles there… We acknowledge our failures as bishops to do all that we should do.”

“But there’s a hopeful spirit after these ad limina visits, that if we center and focus ourselves on Christ, it’s not we who are going to save the Church ... it’s Jesus Christ.”

For renewal in the U.S., “we need the help of the angels and saints. I think it’s a spiritual quest principally,” Baker stated. “We are being purified, and we are in a penitential time because of mistakes that have been made in the past, but there is hope.”

Bishop Baker spoke to EWTN following a Mass with the bishops of the U.S. regions four and five, held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Dec. 6. Baker was the principle celebrant.

Region four of the U.S. bishops includes Washington D.C., the Military Archdiocese, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Region five encompasses Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

The group of 37 bishops and one diocesan administrator met with Pope Francis for two and a half hours on the morning of Dec. 3, Baker said. “The dialogue was very open-ended and positive. The meeting with the pope was a beautiful meeting.”

Despite being a large group, he said there was time for everyone to speak.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese told EWTN the ad limina visit with Pope Francis was “a very cordial atmosphere. The pope was very open to our commentary and he basically left the themes we would treat, he left that to us, what we would introduce, what we would ask.”

“He was very friendly. We talked about all sorts of things, from the formation of priests to preaching the Gospel in today’s world, to also working together as an episcopal conference.”

The week of meetings is a “moment for the bishops of a region to gather together and to meet with the different offices of the Holy See, but most importantly, with the Bishop of Rome,” Broglio added, also noting the importance of the visits to the four major basilicas: Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Peter.

He said he was particularly touched that Pope Francis asked them how Archbishop Joseph Kurtz is doing. Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, is ill with bladder cancer and did not travel to Rome for the ad limina.

The pope “would know him of course because he had been the head of the [bishops’] conference, but it was still very touching that he would ask us that,” Broglio said.

Bishop Baker said he spoke with Pope Francis about the importance of devotion to St. Joseph and the need “to have St. Joseph in the picture of our Church in the midst of all the scandals and troubles of family life and Church life, to bring him back into that.”

The pope said the world needs the example of the Holy Family, he said.

The Birmingham, Alabama bishop said he thinks two main things are needed for renewal in the Church in the U.S. “It’s a deep spirituality centered on Jesus Christ” and “also a zeal, we need to rekindle a zeal.”

“St. Pope John Paul II talked about the New Evangelization not being new in its message of salvation in Christ, but being new in its methods, expressions, and he said, ardor or zeal,” Baker said.

“I think the American bishops at the last [general assembly] did approve the five-year plan, which really focuses around deepening that personal relationship with Jesus,” he added. “If that’s missing, we will succeed in nothing.”

An “ad limina apostolorum” visit is a papal meeting required for every diocesan bishop in the world to provide an update on the state of one’s diocese. Ad limina visits typically take place every five years.

The trip to Rome, usually made together with all the bishops from a country or region, also serves as a pilgrimage to “the threshold of the apostles,” giving the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, the opportunity to pray at the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The bishops of U.S. regions six and seven are the next group to come to the Vatican for an ad limina visit, which will take place Dec. 9-14. These are the bishops of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

There will then be a short break for Christmas before the next group arrives in mid-January.

Martyred religious brother from Wisconsin farm family to be beatified in Guatemala 

Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Dec 7, 2019 / 03:58 am (CNA).- The son of Wisconsin farmers, Brother James Miller, FSC, will be beatified in Guatemala this Saturday, 36 years after he was shot and killed while working with school children and the indigenous poor in the country.

A graduate of St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota and a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Miller is remembered for his generosity, courage, and zeal to serve the children of Central America. He is the first member of his order in the United States to be beatified.

Brother Miller’s story strongly echoes that of Blessed Father Stanely Rother, another son of American farmers (this time from Oklahoma) who was murdered in Guatemala at his Santiago Atitlan mission, a mere seven months before Brother Miller’s murder. Rother was beatified in September 2017 in Oklahoma City. Both men are remembered for their courage, zeal for their mission, and their humility in their work.

“No one is perfect, and yet Jim, like a lot of people, did things very quietly, behind the scenes. He never asked for recognition,” Brother Pat Conway, who first knew Miller as a student and then as a fellow brother, told Minnesota newspaper Post Bulletin.

James Miller was born on Sept. 21, 1944, to a farming family near Stevens Point, Wis. He attended Pacelli High School, a Catholic school where he first encountered the Christian Brothers. Though he had also considered being a priest, Miller joined the order of brothers in September 1959, drawn to their apostolate in education.

Three years later in the novitiate program, he chose the religious name Brother Leo William, but eventually went back to using his baptismal name, which had become common among the brothers.

After teaching high school in Minnesota for three years, Miller made perpetual vows in 1970 and was sent to Bluefields, Nicaragua, fulfilling his desire to work in the missions in Central America. In 1974, he was transferred to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, where he became the director of a school.

Using the name Brother Santiago while in Central America, Miller more than doubled the enrollment at the school during his five years there and headed the building of 10 additional schools in the area.

In 1979, he was called back to the U.S. by his superiors, who feared for his life after the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza government, for which Miller had worked. Prior to his return to the U.S., Miller acknowledged in a letter that he was aware of the growing violence around him, but he was not afraid.

“Are you kidding? I never thought I could pray with such fervor when I go to bed,” he wrote in a letter home, according to his order.

In January 1981, Miller was again sent back to Central America to a mission in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, where he taught at the Casa Indigena School and worked at a center teaching experimental agricultural techniques to indigenous Mayans. The skills were useful for the indigenous poor people, who had been bought out of their land by rich corporations in prior years, and were attempting to scrape by on farming in the mountains.

After just more than a year at the mission, on February 13, 1982, Miller had returned from taking students on a picnic and was shot in the back three times while repairing a wall at the school, the Post Bulletin reported. Miller died instantly, and his attackers were never identified. He was 37 years old.

Just seven months prior, on July 28, 1981, Father Stanley Rother had been shot and killed in the middle of the night at his mission in Santiago Atitlan, 100 miles to the south of Huehuetenango.

Just a month before his death, Miller had written in another letter: “I am personally weary of violence, but I continue to feel a strong commitment to the suffering poor of Central America… the Church is being persecuted because of its option for the poor. Aware of numerous dangers and difficulties, we continue working with faith and hope and trusting in God’s Providence.”

“I have been a Brother of the Christian Schools for nearly 20 years now, and commitment to my vocation grows steadily stronger in my work in Central America. I pray to God for the grace and strength to serve Him faithfully among the poor and oppressed in Guatemala. I place my life in His Providence. I place my trust in Him,” he added.

Those who knew Brother Miller remember him for his kindness, his generosity and his jovial spirit.

Brother Francis Carr, who roomed with Miller while they attended St. Mary’s University, told Winona Daily News that he remembers him as “a common, good guy.”

One of his former professors remembered Miller as “attractive with an open and sociable personality, likeable, completely genuine; people were captivated by his simplicity: he was very intelligent and also very simple.”

Another fellow brother recalled Miller as “an intelligent person, although not an intellectual, jovial, easy to relate with, preferring physical work to sports, with a deep faith and love for his religious vocation, but with a certain tendency to come late to class and community prayers.”

Conway remembered his fellow brother as “big and boisterous” and “very human.”

“What's cool about him being beatified is that he was human,” Conway told the Post Bulletin. “The fact that someone so human would farm with these kids and taught them the skills to break the cycle of poverty. It speaks volumes about him.”

After his death, Miller’s body was sent back to the United States for burial in Wisconsin. Miller arrived in a dirty white robe, Conway told the Post Bulletin, because of all of the farmers who attended his funeral in Guatemala and wanted to touch his robes as they paid their respects.

Relics gathered during the exhumation of Miller’s body will be at the beatification in Guatemala, which will be celebrated on Saturday, December 7 in Huehuetenango.

Miller’s cause for canonization opened in 2009. Because Miller was officially declared a martyr by the Church, the typical requirement for proof of a miracle through his intercession in order to proceed with his beatification is waived. A miracle through his intercession will be needed before he can be canonized.

Representatives from St. Mary’s University will be present at the beatification in Guatemala, and a special concurrent commemoration ceremony will be taking place on campus.

“I think, particularly in the Catholic Church, in our faith, we highlight those who give their lives for the sake of the kingdom, the gospel, but also, in this case, as the gospel says, no one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friend,” SMU president Father James Burns told Winona Daily News.

“And so in following the example of Christ, this is what Brother James Miller did, laying down his life,” Burns added. “It’s a great honor for us to have someone for our local community being raised to this honor by the church.”

“I think people are instinctively drawn to goodness, that kind of goodness, even when it causes great sacrifice and we have to suffer. People are inspired by that.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the true Lady of the Amazon, priest says

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 6, 2019 / 10:42 pm (CNA).- Our Lady of Guadalupe is the true Lady of the Amazon, a leading expert on the apparition said, pointing to Pope John Paul II’s recognition of Our Lady of Guadalupe as Queen of all the Americas.

Fr. Eduardo Chávez is the director of the Major Institute of Guadalupan Studies and the postulator for the cause for the canonization of Saint Juan Diego. He told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language sister agency, that Our Lady of Guadalupe “takes nothing from syncretism, what she does is a perfect inculturation, as Saint John Paul II says” in his 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.

In the Guadalupe Basilica on January 23, 1999, by placing Ecclesia in America at the feet of the Virgin, he said, Saint John Paul II underscored that Our Lady of Guadalupe is “Mother and Queen of this Continent” and took the title used years prior in the Synod for America: “Patroness of all the Americas and Star of the First and New Evangelization.”

On that day, Saint John Paul II said that Our Lady of Guadalupe knows “the paths followed by the first evangelizers of the New World, from Guanahani Island and Hispaniola to the jungles of Amazonia and Andean peaks, reaching Tierra del Fuego in the South and the Great Lakes and mountains of the North.”

Chávez emphasized that for almost 500 years, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been “perfectly well known as the patroness of the entire American Continent.”

“She brings Jesus Christ Our Lord,” the priest said. “She brings the truth which is Jesus Christ, and puts it in the heart of every human being, over and above cultures, traditions and languages.”

 

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

 

FBI investigating fourth church attack this year in El Paso

El Paso, Texas, Dec 6, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The FBI is investigating the fourth case of church vandalism in El Paso this year, with authorities saying they are uncertain whether the incidents are related.

An unknown perpetrator vandalized St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on Thursday, destroying nearly half a dozen windows and doors and starting a small fire in one of the parish offices.

ABC-7 reported that FBI officials are unsure if the vandalism is related to three other attacks that took place this year in the west Texas city, which borders both Mexico and New Mexico.

No one was in the church at the time of the vandalism, but a parish fire alarm alerted authorities to the intrusion. The damaged windows and doors were replaced on the same day.

Fernando Ceniseros, a spokesman for the Diocese of El Paso, encouraged anyone with information on the crime to reach out to the police, FBI, or the local crime stoppers initiative.

“If you see something, if you know something or if you hear something we are asking our people to say something,” he said, according to ABC-7.

Three other Catholic churches in the area have been subject to vandalism and arson in the last eight months.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and St. Matthew Catholic Church were both vandalized in May. Small fires had been set outside of each church, where the FBI found incendiary devices, according to local media.

St Jude Catholic Church was then attacked in June. Another incendiary device was used, starting a fire inside the church, which led to minor smoke damage.

The FBI has issued a $15,000 reward to help track down the offender in the church attacks.

In May, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso questioned the motives behind the destruction, suggesting that the back-to-back attacks were beyond random acts of violence.

“When we see that two events happen like this in such short order it certainly concerns us that it wasn’t simply an act of random vandalism but two events targeting churches,” said Seitz, according to KTSM.

After the most recent attack, a parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church told ABC-7 that they were shocked by the offense but that the community is not intimidated.

“To whoever did it, we are not afraid of you, we will continue to come here to worship God and we will continue praying for those who did it,” the parishioner said.