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Analysis: What led to, and what will follow, ‘Lettergate’

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 01:17 pm (CNA).- A new chapter for Vatican media and communications began Apr. 30, 2015, when Pope Francis established a commission of five members to analyze and implement the suggestions of a report from a Vatican Committee for Communication, which itself had been established in July 2014.
The commission, whose establishment was seen by some as a rejection of the previous committee, was chaired by Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, who at the time was still director of Vatican Television. The members were Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, and then-Msgr. Paul Tighe, who was Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Social Communication, and Paolo Nusiner, who came from the board of the Italian episcopal conference newspaper Avvenire.
Msgr. Tighe was – along with Msgr. Ruiz – the only member of the original committee chaired by Lord Christopher Patten, which had drafted a reform proposal after a series of meetings with the staff of the Vatican media departments.
Then, the story is well known: Msgr. Tighe was promoted adjunct secretary of the Pontifical Council of Culture and ordained a bishop, Msgr. Ruiz became second-in-command at the Secretariat for Communications, while Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò was appointed prefect.

This morning, Vigano’s resignation as prefect was accepted; he will now serve as a consultor to the secretariat.
In this moment of crisis, many eyes are nowfixed on Bishop Tighe.

Vatican observers note that Tighe was received in a private audience by Pope Francis March 15, two days after the “Vatican lettergate” – as it was eventually dubbed – had exploded. Other Vatican insiders told CNA that Bishop Tighe is scheduled for another meeting with Pope Francis March 26.
Are these clues that Bishop Tighe will become the dicastery’s prefect?
On the plus side, he has been a part of the reform project since the beginning, he understands the adjustments that have been made, and he is a bishop, which gives him a status Msgr. Viganò did not have.
On the other hand, should he be called to carry on a reform that he helped to design, he will be called to ride very difficult waves.
Msgr. Viganò used to say that every reform faces resistance. In the case of the Vatican media reform, it seemed there was something more. Sources told CNA that the first leak about the doctoring of Benedict XVI’s letter came from inside the Secretariat for the Communication- this could be a sign of real internal discord.
From the time a commission was established to analyze and carry on the Patten Report, it was already clear that an internal struggle might take place: the commission had no representatives of Vatican Radio, the Vatican media department most touched by the reform. And neither were the Holy See Press Office, L’Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Publishing House represented. It is noteworthy that Gian Maria Vian, editor of L’Osservatore Romano, was a member of the Lord Patten committee, but not the subsequent commission.
The reform was carried forward, and led to the launch of the new Vatican News website, along with the Vatican media department that absorbed audio/video responsibilities previously entrusted to the L’Osservatore Romano Photo Service and to Vatican Television, while Vatican Radio ceased its legal existence and was absorbed in the Vatican News department, with a special label for Italian broadcasting called Radio Vaticana Italia.
In 2015, the motu proprio L’attuale contesto comunicativo established the Secretariat for Communication, and on Sep. 22, 2016 the statues of the new secretariat were finally published.
The statutes divided the Secretariat for Communication into five ‘directions,’ or departments: the general affairs department; the editorial direction; the technological direction; the pastoral-theological direction; and the direction of the Holy See Press Office.
The five directions were part of the Lord Patten proposal, as he explained in a lecture delivered May 28, 2015.
However, internal discussion about how to carry out the reform was open-opened.
Since the first Vatileaks scandal, back in 2012, discussion about communications issues have been intense within the Vatican. During the Vatileaks scandal, the Vatican decided to hire an advisor for communications within the Secretariat of State, American Greg Burke.
Communication strategy was important to cardinals during meeting preceding the conclave that elected Pope Francis.  

This is the reason why cardinals in conclave chose for a “change of narrative,” according to a Wall Street Journal report based on conversation with four different cardinals. When Pope Francis’ started his reform plan, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company was engaged to propose a new Vatican media strategy.
But the discussion was not just technical. It also entailed the philosophy behind the Vatican’s communication strategy, and on that front, many questions remain unanswered.
Angelo Scelzo, a long term Vatican official who ended his career as deputy Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, and for years was an official of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, explained well the issues at stake.
In 2014, Scelzo wrote a book tracing back 50 years of Vatican communications, starting with the Second Vatican Council’s Inter Mirifica, its decree on social communications.

In the book, “La Penna di Pietro,” Scelzo explained that “as any good means and tools of communications, Vatican media had always relied on an editorial perspective. This editorial line was not put together in a marketing office, but emerged from the documents that, mostly from the Second Vatican Council onward, supported the development of Vatican media as well as shaped its character.”
All of these issues loom behind “Lettergate.” The new prefect – whether Bishop Tighe or not – will be called to solve them.

Pope Francis, however, seems to want to keep the discussion alive: Msgr. Viganò is not gone, he remains part of the Secretariat for Communication as an assessor. How much he will influence is yet to be assessed. Certainly, his presence there will be a signal for his successor that the Pope’s intended reform must be carried forward.


African youth bring zeal to pre-synod gathering

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 11:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Several young people from across Africa have voiced their excitement at being able to participate in the Vatican's pre-synod meeting, which they say will give them a chance to be heard and will provide the courage to confront the challenges they face at home.

For Nigerian youth Vincent Paul Nneji, being able to participate in the pre-synod meeting in Rome makes him “feel more part of the Church.”

“I feel that my voice is very loud now, because we get to meet one on one with the Pope and we get to tell him how we feel about the faith that we've always believed in since we're born, so I feel very good and very, very energetic to go back and give more to society.”

The March 19-24 pre-synod meeting is in preparation for the October Synod of Bishops on “Young people, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Nneji is one of some 300 young people from around the world participating in the event, 31 of whom come from Africa.

CNA was able to speak with youth from Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe about their expectations for the meeting, the challenges they face at home, and what problems they want the Church to be aware of when it comes to young people.

There was a nearly unanimous recognition that young people in Africa tend to take on a lot of responsibility at an early age, and lack older role models who are able to help steer them in the right direction amid political and societal instability.

According to Nneji, “at a young age we tend to be adults [in Nigeria]. We don't have a choice but to be adults because we have so many challenges and less people to help us.”

“So here we want to talk about the challenges and how [the Church] can help us, feel our pain and feel empathetic with us, and try to connect with us even when we're far away,” he said, explaining that the biggest challenges youth face in the country are social injustice and unemployment.

In Nigeria, “an average youth has to feed, has to be financially secured to a large extent, has to feel a sense of security in order to profess his or her faith,” he said, “so that is a major challenge, because we have issues of bad governance and bad leadership, and we are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

“We're supposed to be the ones to take up the mantle of leadership in society and even in the Church,” he said, noting that there is often also a lack of role models in the Church itself.

Nneji said he wants to bring these challenges to the attention of the Pope and the synod committee so they can find ways to “help us to do better, even amid all the challenges; to do better and still be a youth.”

Tendai Karombo, a 26-year-old youth from Zimbabwe, said she wants the Church in her country to have greater appreciation for young people, many of whom become caregivers for their elderly parents as early as 12-15 years old.

“When we come to Church we do not get that respect … We are then sidelined to minor things, we cannot do a lot, we are viewed as weak, [so] we cannot do so many things,” she said.

“I [would] hope and appreciate if the Church can also see that strength in us, make us responsible, and we can save so many souls,” she said.

For Karombo, it's not so much about the individual countries as it is about learning what challenges youth face on a global level and confronting them together.

“I believe we can discuss and come up with a way that is universal to help everyone out,” she said.

“If I were living in Europe with all those challenges, how would I react to them? Maybe that way, in understanding each other, we will have a way forward in addressing the challenges,” she said.

Tinyiko Joan Ndaba, a woman from South Africa who works to raise awareness about human trafficking, told CNA a major problem she wants to address is human trafficking, and she feels a responsibility to share the knowledge she had gained about the phenomenon with her peers.

Ndaba said she learned about trafficking through workshops with the Combating Trafficking in Persons branch of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Talitha Kum anti-trafficking organization.

After starting a group with Talitha Kum to help raise awareness in parishes, Ndaba said “we noticed that people do not know about this,” so they made their campaign public, “because if people in our churches don't know, it means the public doesn't know about this.”

Trafficking, she said, is “so sad, it is inhumane,” and it “takes away from the communities; I imagine myself in that situation, and thinking how much I would have lost if I was a victim of slavery, so it’s better to prevent it before it happens to anyone else.”

Ndaba said she knows of at least one instance when a young woman in the process of being trafficked was able to realize what was happening and get out of the situation thanks to a workshop they led at her school.

“One group cannot do anything, but we need to community to carry this out, because this is a social issue,” she said, voicing her hope that young people at the pre-synodal meeting “can really contribute toward the growth of our different communities that we come from.”

Nneji also voiced hope that the youth in attendance would be able to address their challenges and find a clear way forward.

“We want to be part of decision-making, [and] the Church has given us an opportunity in the pre-synod, so this conference … is a wonderful opportunity to see ourselves and know where we are; know our strengths and our weaknesses, manage them together and see how we can help the Church and society.”

Top Vatican communications officer resigns after 'Lettergate' fiasco

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 05:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Edoardo Vigano as prefect of the Secretariat for Communications in wake of what has been dubbed by many as the 'Lettergate' scandal, which has dominated Catholic media the past week.

The announcement was made in a March 21 statement from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke, who said said Msgr. Lucio Adrián Ruiz, secretary of the Vatican communications office, will take charge until a new prefect is named.

In his letter submitting his resignation, which was dated March 19 and published March 21 alongside Francis' response, Vigano said that in recent days, “many controversies have arisen regarding my work which, beyond intentions, destabilizes the complex and great task of reform which you entrusted to me.”

He thanked the Pope for his accompaniment and generosity, and said that for the sake of avoiding the “delay” of the reform and for “love of the Church,” he tendered his resignation.  

In his letter of response, dated March 21, Francis said that after speaking with Vigano and after a “long and attentive reflection,” he accepted the prefect's resignation.

He thanked Vigano for his service, and offered his blessing, asking that he stay on in the secretariat in a different, more advisory capacity.

The fiasco began last week after the Monday, March 12, launch of the 11-book series “The Theology of Pope Francis,” published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications.

A letter from Benedict XVI praising Francis' theological and philosophical formation was read aloud at the event, however, the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications later admitted to tampering with an image of the letter that was sent to media, blurring out lines in which Benedict said that he had not read the full series, and so could not give an in-depth analysis.

Days later another twist was added to the scandal when it was revealed that further paragraphs had been left out in which Benedict questioned the inclusion in the series of a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”

After receiving pressure from the media, the Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, which they said was confidential and never intended to be published in its entirety.

Msgr. Vigano was tapped to head the secretariat for communications in 2015 with a mandate to reform and streamline the Vatican's various communications entities. The recent scandal surrounding the letter has been likened by reporters to the first “Vatileaks” scandal in 2012, when Benedict XVI's personal butler leaked some of his private letters to the press.

Holy Communion unites us to Christ, Francis says

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 04:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At Wednesday's general audience, Pope Francis said our participation in the Holy Eucharist at Mass is not a merely spiritual communion, but a sacramental one, uniting us to Christ and his Church.

“The celebration of the Mass… is ordered to sacramental Communion. It is not a spiritual communion. No, [it is] a sacramental communion,” he said March 21.

“While it unites us to Christ, tearing us from our selfishness, Communion opens and unites us to all those who are one in Him. Here is the wonder of Communion: we become what we receive!”

Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass by outlining and explaining the second part of the Communion Rite in light of the passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus says: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

When we receive Holy Communion, we must let ourselves be changed, he said, because as St. Augustine said, “every time we approach the Eucharist, we are transformed into Jesus.”

“As bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of the Lord, so those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist,” Francis continued, explaining the parts of the Mass.

After the Sign of Peace, the priest holds up the consecrated host and says: “Blessed are the guests at the Lord's Supper: here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

These words are inspired by a passage from the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” he said.

“This invitation calls us to experience the intimate union with Christ, source of joy and holiness. It is an invitation that rejoices and at the same time leads to an examination of conscience illuminated by faith.”

“If on the one hand, in fact, we see the distance that separates us from the holiness of Christ, on the other we believe that his Blood is ‘shed for the remission of sins.’”

As an aside, Francis reminded Christians that they have already been pardoned through the grace bestowed at their baptism and are forgiven again every time they approach the Sacrament of Penance, because “Jesus forgives us always,” he said.

Repeating a favorite phrase, he emphasized that “Jesus does not tire of forgiving us, it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”

The Pope also quoted St. Ambrose, who, thinking of the salvific power of the blood of Christ, said: “I who always sin, must always have the remedy.”

With the same faith, Francis said, we also turn our gaze to the Lamb of God, praying to him with the words: “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

This is the point in the Mass where we go up to receive the Eucharist, which is “a meeting with Jesus,” he said.  

He also explained that though the entirety of Christ is present under each of the two species of the Eucharist, both Body and Blood, the Church believes that the “Eucharistic banquet is expressed with greater fullness if Holy Communion is made under the two species.”

He also noted Church teaching that the faithful may receive communion either “standing up with devotion, or kneeling,” as determined by the local bishops’ conference, and that the faithful receive “the sacrament in the mouth or, where it is allowed, on the hand, as preferred.”

After receiving the Eucharist, to help acknowledge the gift, the Pope recommended spending time in silent prayer, or the singing of a psalm or hymn of praise.

The Eucharistic Liturgy concludes with the prayer after communion, where the priest “turns to God to thank him for making us his guests and to ask that what has been received transforms our life.”

He noted the significance of the final prayer for the Mass of the day, Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent: “We ask the Lord that ‘participation in his sacrament should be for us the medicine of salvation, heal us from evil and confirm us in his friendship.’”

Pope Francis will travel to Dublin Aug. 25-26 for family gathering

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2018 / 04:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his Wednesday general audience Pope Francis was presented with the official icon for the World Meeting of Families, announcing afterward that he will travel to Dublin from Aug. 25-26.

In his greeting to English-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis made special mention of a group of Irish pilgrims in attendance for the presentation of the official World Meeting of Families icon, telling them, “I intend to travel to Dublin from August 25-26.”

He then thanked authorities and all those working to prepare for the trip. The official program for the papal visit has yet to be released; however, Francis did not mention any other cities in his announcement and is expected to stay in Dublin for a short visit primarily focused on events related to the family gathering.

The theme for this year's World Meeting of Families (WMOF), which will take place Aug. 21-26, is “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World.” The topic was chosen by Pope Francis and is based on his 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia.

During the March 21 general audience, two families of Irish heritage – the Tobin family and the Bushell family – presented the Pope with the WMOF icon, titled the “Icon of the Holy Family.”

The Tobin family is from Co Derry and consists of mom and dad Brenda and Bryan, as well as their grandmother Maureen and their two children, 20-year-old daughter Emma, and 13-year-old daughter Cathel.

The Bushell family, who currently live in Rome, is originally from Ireland and is comprised of mom and dad Mary and Michael, and their two young daughters, Olivia, 7, and Molly, 5.

According to a news release on the event, the icon is intended to serve as an invitation to prayer. It is shaped like a cabinet with two doors that open to reveal the image inside, and is made of traditional seasoned wood.

Specialist icon company the Joinery Group crafted the wooden cabinet, which was then covered in several layers of a gesso primer before being painted with the ancient 'tempera' technique, in which the colored pigments are bound together with egg yolk and water.

Commissioned especially for the 2018 WMOF, the icon was written by Romanian iconographer Mihai Cucu and depicts three scenes: the Holy Family eating together at a table, the Gospel episode of the wedding feast at Cana and Jesus raising Jarius' daughter from the dead, which is recounted in the Gospel of Mark.

The icon was anointed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin at an Aug. 21, 2017, Mass marking the one-year countdown to the WMOF.

The WMOF began as the result of a request by St. John Paul II in 1994 for an international event of prayer, catechesis, and celebration for families. The first took place in Rome in 1994. It is held every three years.

It was most recently hosted in Philadelphia by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The 2015 event had approximately 20,000 attendees from 100 different countries, including Pope Francis.

As far as this year's celebrations, a “national opening” will take place in each of the 26 dioceses in Ireland Aug. 21, which will be followed by an Aug. 22-24 “pastoral congress” in Dublin that will include workshops, talks and discussion dedicated to the official theme. There will also be activities geared toward young people and children.

On Saturday Aug. 25, a “festival of families” will take place, consisting of a concert and personal testimonies given by families representing each of the five continents. The event will close with an Aug. 26 Mass, which all participants are invited to attend.

'We are the Church of hope' - Vatican youth delegates speak up

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Young people from around the world have begun a meeting at the Vatican by voicing their hopes and expectations from the Church regarding the challenges they face and the questions life poses.

Specifically, they have said they want to know they are taken seriously, and they want the Church to talk to them about difficult issues, among them same-sex marriage, euthanasia and the role of women in the Church.

The young people are delegates to a special pre-synod meeting of youth, which is taking place March 19-24 and has drawn some 300 representatives from around the world to talk about key themes ahead October’s Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

CNA spoke with several young participants at the pre-synod meeting, hailing from Japan, Australia, Mexico, Iraq and the United States.

They spoke about issues important in their countries of origin, including persecution, the refugee crisis, suicide and drugs.  


For 22-year-old Angelas Markas, a Chaldean Catholic living in Australia, youth need to “move forward, we need to be brave in addressing topics like same-sex marriage, euthanasia, sexuality – what does it mean to embrace our sexuality as Catholics, and the role of women – how important are we, how empowered are we?”

Markas was one of five young people to give testimonies in front of Pope Francis during the March 19 opening session.

In her speech, she highlighted, among other things, her life as part of the Iraqi Chaldean diaspora, her work with indigenous communities in Australia, and her hope that the Church would engage with young people on important issues, especially the role of women, who she said “need to feel our sense of empowerment.”

In comments to CNA, Markas said these are all the topics she wants to discuss during the event, and voiced hope that the stories and experiences she shares “will be embraced.”

On the role of  women, Markas said she believes they are already “embraced and empowered” in the Church, but thinks this sense of empowerment should be “more obvious.”

She also spoke of the tragedy of clerical abuse -- which has plagued Australia for years and tarnished public perception of the Church -- saying that while it is a problem, she trusts the Church “is going to find her path in this.”

“We are a Church of hope, if we aren't a Church of hope, how are we really going to grow from this?” she said. “We are the witnesses of the Resurrection, so we have to have hope that this will all heal and we have to work toward it.”

Markas also voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' appeals on behalf of migrants and refugees, which hold special significance for her because of her own heritage. The Pope, she said, “is so great in that he always addresses the littleness, the smallness of the youth from wherever we come from.”

“He's doing such a brilliant job,” she said.  Recalling a brief handshake with Francis after giving her speech, Markas said she was still in disbelief: “I can't believe I shook his hand and kissed his cheeks, I'm not going to wash my face! It was brilliant.”

Francis has a dynamic way of engaging the youth, she said, noting that many young people still crave connection with the Church, especially those who lack hope or who have experienced suffering or loss.

She challenged the Church to listen and engage more with young people, calling for a “transformation” of approach. This isn't something that will happen immediately, she said, “but we are meeting this culture that desires to be connected and we need to address it in a more universal and listening way.”

The pre-synod gathering, she said, “is the perfect example” of how this connection and listening can take place. “It's a real change, it's not something that is delusional or a fantasy. Young people want to feel a sense of value and purpose, they want to hear and understand and be able to understand.”


Shaker Youhanan Zaytouna, a 24-year-old seminarian from Iraq, told journalists March 20 that one of the biggest challenges the local Church faces is that many young people are leaving the country, opting to move abroad due to the threat of extremist violence and the country's ongoing political instability.

This presents a unique challenge for the future of the country, he said, explaining that “it's very hard to tell the Church to not allow youth to leave Iraq.” Security is a big problem, he said, because one can ask the youth to stay, but there’s no guarantee that they won’t be killed later.

A Chaldean Catholic studying in Rome, Zaytouna said the Church has a big role to play in encouraging youth to stay in Iraq and helping provide the conditions for them to stay. However, “the problem is that the government needs to initiate this step.”

Iraqi youth are being welcomed into other countries, but many want to return, he said. “[And] if the government isn't helping the heart, if they aren't providing that security, how can these youth return?” he said, adding that finding work is also a problem for many young families.

The seminarian also voiced concern over the fact that many young people, from various religions, are becoming either atheist or agnostic, calling it “a [big] a problem” for the future that will have to be addressed.

He also touched on the topic of vocations, saying the Church “must commit herself more to listening...and not only, but to learn to accompany.”

Noting that he is still a young seminarian himself, Zaytouna said better accompaniment is needed, because “if the bishop doesn't accompany us, if the priests don't accompany us, or someone else, how can I stay on this path?”

At times parents try to prevent children from pursuing consecrated vocations, he said, noting there are cultural pressures that make it difficult to accept or follow such callings. However, he said there have also been times when formators pressure someone discerning, telling them they are not cut out for religious life.

Those discerning need to be encouraged and accompanied, Zaytouna said, explaining that “listening comes first; learn to listen, accompaniment comes and then the discernment.”


Also participating in the pre-synod meeting is Yoshikazu Tsumuraya, a Japanese Buddhist from Fukushima who currently lives in Rome and works with the Japanese Buddhist Lay Movement. Before coming to Rome, he taught in a Buddhist seminary.

In comments to CNA, Tsumuraya said his organization has strong ties with the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and was invited to participate in the meeting as a representative of the Buddhist community.

“When I received this invitation, I was really happy, because having a knowledge of Christianity, it pushed me to get to know Christian youth,” Tsumuraya said, explaining that he has worked with a lot of Christians and is very committed to interreligious dialogue.

Tsumuraya said he came primarily to listen and understand the different realities of youth from around the world.

In the case of Japan, he said the major challenges for youth are a widespread competitive and consumerist mentality, as well as the immense cultural pressure to be successful. And if youth don't give into this way of thinking, they might feel estranged from their peers or that they don't fit in, Tsumuraya said.

In cases when this happens, young people react in a variety of ways, he said, explaining that one big problem is that youth who feel that they don't quite fit in “are no longer able to go to school,” due to the stigma they face, “so they stay home closed in their rooms.”

Other major problems for Japanese youth are premature death due to “excessive work,” he said, as well as suicide, which is a common phenomenon among teenagers in the country.

Tsumuraya voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' frequent references to the problem of teen and young adult suicide, which “is not just a Japanese problem, but it's a global problem.”

“So thinking about this phenomena which affects the whole world, we must face it, above all in knowing the reality, then to think about how to accompany youth to avoid this terrible [phenomena],” he said.

The Americas

Nicholas Lopez, a 27-year-old campus minister from Dallas, Texas, is also participating in the meeting as one of three representatives from the United States.

Lopez gave his testimony during the opening session, pointing to various challenges young people have faced during his experience working with youth on campus.

In comments to CNA, Lopez said the major topics he wants to bring to the table during the pre-synod meeting are “the concerns of the Hispanic Americans in the United States, and the solidarity between us and them.”

The topic is particularly timely in the U.S. as concerns continue to mount over President Donald Trump’s strict immigration policies. Many, including a high number of college students whose parents are immigrants, have voiced fear about deportation.

In addition to issues affecting the Hispanic community, Lopez said he also plans to discuss mental health issues, the higher education system in the United States and “the way young people are impacted on college campuses.”

Also participating in the meeting is 25-year-old Corina Fiore Mortola Rodriguez of Mexico. She came with a large group of other youth from Latin America, which is one of the youngest and most Catholic continents in the world.

In comments to CNA, Mortola Rodriguez said the message she wants the Church to hear this week is that young people like herself are “valid interlocutors,” and they need to be listened to and helped to go deeper in finding solutions to the problems they face, such as drugs, violence, poverty and unemployment.

Pointing to Pope Francis' visit to Mexico in 2016, she said his encouragement to youth and his appeals to avoid hopelessness and the allure of gangs was “a call not of tension, but to action.”

Her reflection echoed the Pope's March 19 opening speech, in which he told youth they need to approach problems with a “head, heart, hands” mentality. The call to “think, feel and act,” Mortola Rodriguez said, is also a call to be “unified” and to make concrete resolutions in confronting the problems they face.

As an example, Mortola Rodriguez said she helps lead a theater workshop for incarcerated youth in Mexico, which has helped them to “heal the wounds that have caused through the crime they committed.”

“[Through us] they can heal this pain that they have in order to be able to return to society and find a new form of work,” because healing is essential for a person's reintegration into society, she said.

Speaking of the contribution of the Latin American Church, Mortola Rodriguez said one thing she hopes her continent can offer the universal Church is “joy,” because Latin Americans are “ known for our joy.”

“I think youth should be more joyful,” she said, and noted how there are many young people who reflect what Pope Francis says when he talks about youth who seem old because they have lost their joy and happiness.

Another topic Mortola Rodriguez said she wants to discuss is vocation, because many people think of their vocations as only the choice of a state of life.

“But no. The vocation is a call, a call today, to the present, to be active, to be happy and to do concrete actions that benefit my society,” she said, and voiced her desire to fight against social evils such as human trafficking, and to fight to “stop the things that harm us.”



Pope Francis sends condolences for death of Cardinal O’Brien

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2018 / 07:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Tuesday Pope Francis offered his condolences for the death of Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, the disgraced former archbishop of Edinburgh, who died Monday at the age of 80 in a hospital in northern England.

The Pope's March 20 message was addressed to Archbishop Leo Cushley, who was appointed to head the archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 after O’Brien stepped down following his acknowledgment that he participated in inappropriate sexual conduct during his ministry.

In the brief message, Francis said he was saddened to hear of O’Brien’s death and offered his heartfelt condolences to his family and those who mourn him.

“Commending his soul to the merciful love of God our Father, and with the assurance of my prayers for the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ,” he wrote.

The funeral and burial arrangements for the cardinal are still being determined. Scottish newspaper The Herald reported March 20 that the Holy See will be a participant in the decision, as well as Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who the Pope appointed to manage the O’Brien scandal in 2013.

According to The Herald, an archdiocesan spokesperson said O’Brien’s funeral arrangements “will be decided in the days to come.”

“There will be consultation between the Holy See – the Holy Father will have an input – and Keith O’Brien’s family as to where his requiem Mass takes place and when and where he is buried.”
Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, O'Brien was named archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh by St. John Paul II in 1985.

From 2002-2012, O’Brien served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2003 and participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

He stepped down as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh in 2013 at the age of 74 after allegations went public that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men in the 1980s.

After the claims surfaced that February, the cardinal's request for retirement – originally submitted to Benedict XVI in November 2012 for reasons due to age and health – was accepted immediately by Benedict, going into effect Feb. 25, 2013.

O'Brien did not participate in the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, and in May 2013, after speaking with the newly-elected Pope, he left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection.

Two years later, Francis accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of cardinal – a rare circumstance which can only be approved by the pope.

If a bishop doesn't pray, he's not doing his job, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2018 / 01:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis marked Monday's Solemnity of St. Joseph by ordaining three new bishops, telling them prayer is a primary ecclesial duty, and if they do not maintain a strong spiritual life, they are not fulfilling their vocation.

“Announce the Word in every occasion: opportune and inopportune. Admonish, rebuke, exhort with all magnanimity and doctrine. And through the prayer and sacrificial offering of your people, draw from the fullness of the holiness of Christ the manifold richness of divine grace,” the Pope said March 19.

Prayer, he said, “is the first task of a bishop. A bishop who doesn't pray does not fulfill his duty, he does not fulfill his vocation.”

Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on the March 19 feast of St. Joseph, which also marks the fifth anniversary of the inauguration of his papacy.

During the ceremony, he ordained as archbishops three recently appointed nuncios, including Archbishop Waldermar Sommertag, apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua; Archbishop Alfred Xuereb, papal envoy to Korea and Mongolia; and Archbishop Josè Avelino Bettencourt, the Pope's new ambassador to Georgia and Armenia.

The pope's brief homily for the day was taken from the section for the ordination of bishops of the Roman Pontifical.

In the homily, he said that while the three men were ordained bishops, “it is Christ who in the ministry of the bishop continues to preach the Gospel of salvation and sanctify believers through the sacraments of faith.”

“It is Christ who in the paternity of the bishop increases his body, which is the Church. It is Christ who in the wisdom and prudence of the bishop guides the people of God in the earthly pilgrimage until eternal happiness,” he said.

Francis reminded the bishops in off-the-cuff comments that they were “chosen among men and for men. You are not called for business, worldliness, or politics: the episcopate is the name of a service, not an honor, as the bishop is more competent for serving than for dominating.”

He told them to love their flock with the love of both a father and a brother, especially priests and deacons.

“Closeness to the priests, please!” he said, and encouraged them to also be close to the poor and defenseless.

“Keep vigil with love on the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit places you to govern the Church of God,” he said, and told them to do this “in the name of the Father, whose image you make present; in the name of Jesus Christ, his Son, by whom you are made masters, priests and pastors. In the name of the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church and with its power sustains our weakness.”




Pope encourages young people to ask tough questions at pre-synod launch

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2018 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis opened this week's pre-synod meeting telling youth to hold nothing back and to have the courage to ask the “raw” and direct questions about life, love, and vocation.

In the March 19 opening session for the event, Francis told youth to let their questions come “without anesthetizing” them.

“The strong questions of ours can have a process of being played down in tone,” or asked in a “polite way,” he said, but urged the young attendees to “be courageous” and to “say the raw truth, to ask the raw questions.”

He spoke to French youth Maxime Rassion, who is not baptized. Rassion said he was facing doubts about his career and struggles to find a deeper meaning in life, asked what he can do to figure out where to start.

In his answer, Pope Francis noted how many youth have fears about similar questions, and said there is a need for discernment. However, “at this point, many ecclesial communities don't know how to do it or they lack the ability to discern.”

“It's one of the problems we have,” Francis said, and urged those in positions of pastoral authority not to be afraid to let youth “take everything out” that they are thinking or feeling, and to listen to the blunt questions that young people may pose.

“Accompany them so they don't err,” he said; and on the other hand, he encouraged youth to find someone they can talk to about their experiences.

Talking is important, but “you can't talk to everyone about everything,” he said, and told them to find someone “who is wise, who isn't scared and who knows how to listen” to help them sort through the questions they have.

“It's important to open everything, to open everything, not to put make up on your feelings,” he said, and cautioned against closing in on oneself, which “weighs you down and takes your freedom.”

“Let your feelings come up, don't anesthetize them, don't downplay them; look for someone wise [to talk to] and discern.”

Pope Francis spoke at the opening session of the March 19-24 pre-synod meeting, which has drawn some 300 youth from around the world to talk about major themes for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Youth in different states in life are in Rome to participate in the event. Priests, seminarians, and consecrated persons will also participate. Special attention will also be given to youth from both global and existential “peripheries,” including people with disabilities, and some who have struggled with drug use or who have been in prison.

At the end of the gathering, notes of the various discussions throughout the week will be gathered into a comprehensive concluding document, which will be presented to Pope Francis and used as part of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document,” of the October synod.

In his opening speech for the March 19 session, Pope Francis told youth that “your contribution is indispensable” for the preparation of the October synod gathering.

Too often young people are talked about without being spoken to, he said, stressing the importance of having a “face to face” meeting where they can share their thoughts and desires.

“It's not enough to exchange some messages or share some nice photos,” he said, adding that “youth must be taken seriously!” Too often youth are left alone, he said, and cautioned that in the Church, “it must never be like this.”

“We need to regain the enthusiasm of the faith and of the flavor of the search. We need to find again in the Lord the strength to recover from failures, to go forward, to strengthen confidence in the future.”

“We need to dare [to take] new paths, even if it involves risks,” he said, adding that risk is necessary because “love knows how to risk; without risk a young person grows old, and it also makes the Church grow old.”

Because of this, “we need you young people, living stones of a Church with a young face, but not using makeup: not artificially rejuvenated, but revived from within,” he said, explaining that the purpose of the synod is to accompany youth.

“Be assured: God trusts you, he loves you and he calls you,” Francis said, saying the Church, in the synod, must learn to have “new ways of presence and closeness.”

After his opening address, Francis heard testimonies from five young people: Tendai Karombo from Zimbabwe, Nicholas Lopez from the US, Cao Huu Minh Tri from Vietnam, Annelien Boon from Belgium, and Angela Markas from Australia.

The Pope was then asked questions from five youth, one of whom was a young Nigerian woman named Blessing Okoedion who was brought to Italy four years ago as a victim of human trafficking.

After suffering the “hell” of forced prostitution, she was finally able to escape and find healing with an order of religious sisters. In her question to the Pope, Okoedion said many of her clients were Catholics, and asked how youth can be made aware of the problem of trafficking, and how to fight the “sick” mentality that reduces women to being the property of men.

In his response, the pope said human trafficking is “a crime against humanity” which is ultimately “born from a sick mentality.”

“The woman is exploited,” he said, noting that “today there is no feminism that has been able to take this out of the unconsciousness” in societal thought. “It's a sickness of mentality, it's a sickness of social action, it's a crime against humanity.”

Pope Francis then asked forgiveness “for all the Catholics who commit this criminal act.”

“I think of the disgust these young women must feel when these men make them do anything,” he said. What women endure is “unbelievable,” he said, and called the practice a form of “slavery.”

In response to a question posed by Argentine youth Maria de la Macarena Segui, who asked about education initiatives and what youth can do to make their encounter with the Lord last over time, the pope stressed the need for an integral education.

Francis said there is need for educational initiatives that follow a “head, heart, hands” model, and which “harmonize” these three aspects into a solid foundation for the person that takes intellectual and charitable formation and turns them into action.

He also responded to a question posed by Ukrainian seminarian Ylian Vendzilovych, who asked how young priests should act amid the “complex realities” of modern society, and questioned how someone preparing for ordination can differentiate between what is good and what is wrong in society.

Francis stressed the importance of community in the life of a priest, and pointed to the many priests who serve their parishes alone or in remote areas. In these cases, it's important for both the priest and the parishioners to make an effort to build a communal relationship, he said.

“A priest is a testimony of Christ to the extent that he is a member of that community,” he said, adding that if there is not community in a parish, “the bishop needs to intervene.”

He also spoke out against the “terrorism” of gossip and clericalism, which he called a “sick mentality” that confuses the people and drives them away. “Attitudes that are not paternal, not fraternal, also worry me,” he said, explaining that when a priest becomes too rigid or worldly, “there is no witness of the mercy of Christ.”

“I prefer that a young person loses their vocation rather than being a bad religious,” he said.

Sr. Teresina Chaohing Cheng, a religious sister from China, asked how young consecrated people can balance their cultural formation and spiritual lives while fighting against a materialistic society.

In his answer, Pope Francis said good formation for a consecrated person is built on four pillars: the spiritual, intellectual, communal, and apostolic.

This means making sure religious are aware of cultural habits and trends, even those that are bad, while also having a solid foundation to help distinguish and discern what is harmful, he said.

Francis cautioned against keeping religious too sheltered and in the dark about what's happening in culture and society, saying to “overprotect” them is not formation, but “annuls” their understanding and does them a disservice.

He said to do this “castrates” a person and takes away their freedom, and told Cheng to fight against this in her community. “Don't overprotect,” he said, because doing so prevents people “from maturing psychologically” and from responding to people in need.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, disgraced Scottish prelate, dies at 80

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2018 / 07:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, who stepped down as Archbishop of Edinburgh in 2013 after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct throughout his ministry, died Monday at the age of 80.

In a brief statement marking the prelate's March 19 passing, the current head of the St. Andrews & Edinburgh diocese, Archbishop Leo William Cushley, offered prayer for the repose of O'Brien's soul, for his family and for all those affected by the scandal.

“In life, Cardinal O’Brien may have divided opinion,” Cushley said. “In death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down. May he rest in peace.”

Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, O'Brien was named Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh by St. John Paul II in 1985.

Ordained a priest in 1965, he had a bachelors degree in chemistry and mathematics, and served as a spiritual director of St Andrew's College in Drygrange and rector of St Mary’s College in Blairs before being named archbishop.

From 2002-2012, O’Brien served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2003, and participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

He stepped down as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh in 2013 at the age of 74 after allegations went public that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men in the 1980s.

After the claims surfaced that February, the cardinal's request for retirement – originally submitted to Benedict XVI in November 2012 for reasons due to age and health – was accepted immediately by Benedict, going into effect Feb. 25, 2013.

O’Brien, who did not participate in the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, subsequently admitted that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

In May 2013, after speaking with the newly-elected Pope, O'Brien left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection. In March 2015, Francis in a rare move accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of cardinal.

Only a Pope can approve a cardinal resigning his official status, and the move is extremely rare in Church history.

The closest parallel to the 2015 event took place in 1927 when French  Cardinal Louis Billot resigned from the Sacred College of Cardinals following a stormy meeting with Pope Pius XI. His resignation was accepted by the Pope eight days later.

The ruling by Pope Francis stems from his decision in 2014 to send Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna as his personal envoy on a fact-finding mission to Scotland. It was after that investigation – the content of which is fully known only to the Pope and Archbishop Scicluna – Francis reached his canonical conclusion.

In wake of O'Brien's resignation, Pope Francis in July 2013 named Archbishop Cushley as the next leader of the St. Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese.

According to a March 19 press release from the archdiocese, O'Brien died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after receiving last rites, and was surrounded by his family and friends.