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Pope Francis praises Lithuania’s history of hospitality

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 22, 2018 / 02:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- During his first speech in the Baltics Saturday, Pope Francis told Lithuanian authorities to take pride in their country’s history of welcoming people of different faiths and ethnicities.

“All found a place to live in this land,” the pope said Sept. 22. “Lithuanians, Tartars, Poles, Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Germans … Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Old Catholics, Muslims, Jews – lived together in peace until the arrival of totalitarian ideologies that, by sowing violence and lack of trust, undermined its ability to accept and harmonize differences.”

He encouraged Lithuanians to draw strength from their past by recovering their roots of welcoming and keeping alive “all that continues to be most authentic and distinctive about you, everything that enabled you to grow and not succumb as a nation: tolerance, hospitality, respect and solidarity.”

Pope Francis was in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, for the start of his four-day trip to the Baltic States. His visit falls during the 100th anniversary of the states’ declaration of independence. They had been previously part of the Russian Empire.

They became part of Soviet Union in 1940-1941, endured Nazi domination in 1940-1944, and were returned to the Soviet Union in 1945. In 1991, they regained democratic independence.

The centenary, the pope said, is a “particularly important moment in your life as a nation.”

“It has been a century marked by your bearing numerous trials and sufferings: detentions,

deportations, even martyrdom,” he said. “Celebrating the hundredth anniversary of independence means taking time to stop and revive the memory of all those experiences.”

“In this way, you will be in touch with everything that forged you as a nation, and thus find the key to assessing present challenges and looking to the future in a spirit of dialogue and unity with all those who dwell here, careful to ensure that no one remains excluded.”

After his meeting with the Lithuanian president, authorities, civil society, and diplomatic corps, the pope walked through the streets of the Old City to the Gate of Dawn, one of the ancient points of access to Vilnius.

There, he prayed a decade of the rosary led by Lithuanian children and gave a speech before the revered icon of Mary, Mother of Mercy.

Referring to the image, he said, “this Mother without Child, radiant with gold, is the Mother of everyone. She sees in every person who comes here what we ourselves fail so often to see: the face of her Son Jesus impressed on our heart.”

He said that because Jesus is impressed on the heart of every man and woman, in every person one encounters it is possible to encounter God, “when we close our hearts for fear of others, when we build walls and barricades, we end up depriving ourselves of the Good News of Jesus, who shares in the history and the lives of others.”

Today is felt the need to look at one another as brothers and sisters, “to discover and experience with joy and peace the value of fraternity,” he continued.

“The Mother of Mercy, like every good mother, tries to bring her family together. She whispers in our ear: ‘Look for your brother, look for your sister.’ In this way, she opens to us the door to a new dawn, a new day.”

The pope concluded his first day in the Baltics with an encounter with youth outside the Vilnius cathedral. There he also venerated the original image of Divine Mercy, usually kept inside Holy Trinity Church.

During the meeting with youth he heard testimonies from two young people, Jonas and Monica, telling them to not ever be afraid “to put your trust in Jesus, to embrace his cause, the cause of the Gospel.”

“It is true that believing in Jesus can often demand taking a leap of blind faith, and this can be frightening,” he said. “But stand firm! Following Jesus is a passionate adventure that gives meaning to our lives and makes us feel part of a community that encourages and accompanies us, and commits us to the service of others.”

“Dear young people, following Christ is something worthwhile!” he said, and stressed that they should not let the world tell them it is better to do everything on their own. “Don’t yield to the temptation of getting caught up in yourself, ending up selfish or superficial in the face of sorrow, difficulty or temporary success.”

He said identity is found in being part of a people, a culture, and though it is at times painful, it is also beautiful and encouraged those present to “aim for holiness through your encounters and your fellowship with other people; be attentive to their needs.”

After the meeting, the pope stopped inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus to pray before the tomb of St. Casimir. 

Did Pope Francis call himself 'the devil?'

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 22, 2018 / 02:36 pm (CNA).- Traveling Saturday to Lithuania, Pope Francis joked that, in the eyes of some, Pope St. John Paul II is considered a saint while he himself is considered “a devil.”

The pope’s joke came amidst a Sept. 22 conversation with journalists, the Associated Press reported, during which he was presented a book about Pope St. John Paul II, written by long-time papal photographer Grzegorz Galazka.

Francis joked as he examined the book, reportedly telling reporters “[John Paul II] was a saint, I am a devil.”

“No, you are both saints!” Galazka responded.

The pope has shown a similar penchant for self-deprecating humor in the past.

Talking with reporters in August, he said his role in securing Italy’s reception of controversial controversial migrants had been that of “the devil’s paw.”

In January, Francis joked with cloistered nuns in Peru that they had come to hear him speak only “to get out of the convent a bit to take a stroll.”

In 2015, Pope Francis reportedly joked with then-Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa. After a visit, Correa tweeted that Pope Francis had made a joke based on stereotypes about Argentine vanity. “Being Argentine, they thought I would call myself Jesus II,” Francis reportedly told Correa.

The pope’s trip to Lithuania is the start of a four-day trip through the Baltic states, during which Pope Francis will visit Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, before returning to Rome Sept. 25.

Bishop Cantu to Encuentro Catholics: Don't become spiritual tumbleweeds

Dallas, Texas, Sep 22, 2018 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Hispanic community in the United States produces many fruits, but must be careful to water the roots, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, warned the crowd at V Encuentro.

Cantú, along with Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago, and three lay speakers on a panel, spent the morning praising the unique gifts of the Hispanic community in the United States, but cautioned against growing too complacent in their faith and ignoring the potential of young people.

Bishop Cantú, who is in the process of transferring to the San Jose diocese in California, related his experience living in Las Cruces with the current state of the Church in the United States and the Latino community in particular.

In Las Cruces, Cantú encountered a tumbleweed for the first time--a plant that had dried up and detached from its root system and literally tumbled away.

“I wonder sometimes, reflecting on a very changed world, a world that is changing before our very eyes--so rapidly and so drastically, said Cantú.

“I wonder and I worry, sometimes: Are we becoming spiritual tumbleweeds?” 

One risks becoming a “spiritual tumbleweed,” he said, if their roots are not sufficiently deep during a dry season, the bishop explained. He spoke during a panel for the National V Encuentro, a gathering of Hispanic Catholics throughout the United States.

“And the dry season is here, my friends, and it will be a long one,” said Cantú. Now is the time, he said, for people to “dig deep so that our roots may find water, that our roots may find living water.”

Cantú recounted a story from his time in seminary, when he accidentally genuflected when entering a row in a movie theater. He said that people today long for something sacred within their “spiritual DNA,” and when they do not encounter this, they end up treating the non-sacred objects things as if they are in fact sacred.

“People are not finding what is truly sacred,” he said, and “because they encounter you and me, that are supposed to show signs of the sacred, and maybe they don't see it.”

People should strive to tap their roots into the “living water” in order to produce sacred fruit, Cantú advised the crowd.

“The human heart still yearns for what is beautiful, for what is truly beautiful, for what is good, and for what is true. We have that. The church has what is truly good, what is truly beautiful and good. His name is Jesus Christ.”

After Cantú spoke, he appeared on a panel with three laypeople--Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services; Brenda Noriega, Young Adults Ministry Coordinator, Diocese of San Bernardino; and Wanda Vásquez, Hispanic Ministry Director, Archdiocese of New York--where they discussed the fruits that had emerged from the four-year V Encuentro process.

Vásquez said it was “amazing” how people came together, and how the eight dioceses in her Encuentro region were able to work alongside each other during the planning stages. She particularly highlighted how the more experienced people were able to share their expertise with younger members, and that while “we are a young church, but we also are an experienced Church.”

Cantú and Noriega both said that young Hispanics need to be included in leadership positions and reminded of their particular talents. Noriega first began working in Hispanic ministry for her diocese at the age of 25, and she reiterated that it was extremely important to “make sure young people are sat at the table” and given positions on things like parish councils.

Cantú said that he often encounters discouraged youth, and that he himself felt similar growing up in a time where “it was a liability to be Hispanic.” He said that when he was applying to seminary, he was praised by a religious sister for being bilingual and fully immersed in two cultures. This sister told him that he would be “a gift to the Church,” and that he hopes the larger Latino community will “never forget that you are a blessing to the Church.”

Callahan reminded the crowd to keep their doors open to the stranger, and to also be cautious about identifying only as “Hispanic Catholics.” He believes the Latino Catholic community has the ability to lift up the entire Church, and should take steps to build bridges with the rest of the Church in the United States.

He advised people that even though the attendees of the non-Spanish Masses at a parish may look different from them, they should go out of their way to interact with them and get to know them.

“Let’s build a united church, so we can start lifting up everyone in the Catholic Church in the United States,” said Callahan, to loud applause.

Cupich, who led the morning prayer, had a slightly more optimistic look on the future of the Church than Cantú. Cupich said that he feels the Church in the United States is experiencing a “new birth,” and the Latino community is a big part of this panel. The cardinal was critical of what he called an “overly rational, logical, cerebral” approach to God in American culture, and that “faith is not only about what we hold, but it is about who holds us.”

This, explained Cupich, is where Latino culture comes in.

“The Latino experience is reminding us that faith is not only about what we hold, but who holds us,” he said.

Cupich said that while like in any birth there are “pains” and “sacrifices,” but he is convinced that the Church, as well as non-Catholic Americans, “will one day look back at the contributi you (Latinos) are making to our faith, and yes, to our nation, and rejoice at the new birth that has taken place.”

 

Pope recognizes illicitly ordained Chinese bishops

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2018 / 06:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After the signing Saturday of a provisional Vatican-China deal on the nomination of bishops, the Vatican announced Pope Francis’ recognition of seven illicitly ordained Chinese bishops.

The decision was made “with a view to sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China,” according to a Sept. 22 Vatican press brief.

Those bishops who will now be admitted to full communion with the Church are Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Rehe; Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Shantou; Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin of Jiading; Bishop Joseph Liu Xinhong of Wuhu; Metropolitan Archishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming; Bishop Joseph Yue Fusheng, apostolic administrator of Harbin; and Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Funing.

The pope also recognized Bishop Anthony Tu Shihua, who died on Jan. 4, 2017, but, according to the press release, “had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See” before his death.

The statement expressed Francis’ hope that the decision to recognize the bishops, who were ordained by the Chinese government without permission from Rome, would begin a new process “that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics.”

The Catholic Community in China “is called to live a more fraternal collaboration, in order to promote with renewed commitment, the proclamation of the Gospel,” he continued. “In fact, the Church exists to give witness to Jesus Christ and to the forgiving and salvific love of the Father.”

Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, sent a statement commenting on the provisional agreement between the Vatican and China, saying, “today, for the first time all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, with the Successor of Peter.”

“Pope Francis, like his immediate Predecessors, looks with particular care to the Chinese People,” he noted. “What is required now is unity, is trust and a new impetus; to have good Pastors, recognized by the Successor of Peter – by the Pope – and by the legitimate civil Authorities.”

Addressing the Catholic community in China, including priests, bishops, religious, and laity, he said the pope asks, “above all, the commitment to make concrete fraternal gestures of reconciliation among themselves, and so to overcome past misunderstandings, past tensions, even the recent ones.”

Parolin said the objective of the deal is pastoral and meant to create greater freedom and autonomy for the Church in China, to aid its mission of spreading the Gospel. Signing the agreement is “of great importance, especially for the life of the Church in China,” he said.

It was also announced Sept. 22 that Pope Francis has established a new diocese in China, “the Diocese of Chengde,” as a suffragan diocese of the See of Beijing, for “the pastoral care of the Lord’s flock and to attend with greater efficacy to is spiritual good.”

Its cathedral will be the church of Jesus the Good Shepherd, which is situated in the administrative division of Shuangluan, “Chengde City.”

According to the statement the diocese's territory will be defined by the civil boundaries of "Chengde City" and will require the modification of the dioceses of Jehol/Jinzhou and Chifeng, as a portion of each will become part of the new diocese.

The new diocese will be composed of roughly 15,000 square miles with a population of around 3.7 million. There are estimated to be around 25,000 Catholics in 12 parishes served by seven priests.

Encuentro Catholics ‘heartbroken’ by scandals, but unshaken in faith

Dallas, Texas, Sep 22, 2018 / 06:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While the so-called summer of scandals has hit the Church hard both in the United States and throughout the world, the faith of Catholics at the National V Encuentro in Grapevine, Texas, remains largely unshaken.

“We’re heartbroken from what we found out, because it doesn’t move my faith,” Rocio Portillo, an Encuentro participant from Las Vegas, told CNA. “It doesn’t move my belief in my Church, and I’m really proud to be Catholic and to be brought up in that faith and to bring that to my children.”

The National V Encuentro, held Sept. 20-23, is the culmination of a years-long process at the parish, diocesan and regional levels of listening to and empowering Hispanic and Latino Catholics.

The public disclosure of allegations of sexual misconduct against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick in June 2018 triggered a succession of public accusations that McCarrick had sexually assaulted or abused seminarians and priests over a period of decades, as well as a further accusation that he had sexually abused a minor.

Since then, numerous bishops in the United States and Rome have faced questions about when accusations against McCarrick had first been made known to Church authorities, and how he had been allowed to continue in ministry despite widespread rumors of his misconduct.

In the midst of this, a grand jury report detailing hundreds of cases of clerical sexual abuse in six diocese in Pennsylvania was published. While the scandals have not been the focus of the V Encuentro meeting, they have been mentioned numerous times in talks and among participants.

“My friends, we know that this is also a time of pain in our mother Church...as bishops, we have fallen short of what God expects of His shepherds,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Bishop’s Conference and head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said in his opening remarks at Encuentro on Sept. 20.

“For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed, and from you, the People of God. May God grant us the wisdom and resolve to reform and renew His Church. We will continue to support survivors of abuse in their healing. We also commit to stronger protections to ensure the evil of sexual assault and abuse of all kinds is rooted from the Church,” he said.

“Amidst this darkness, the Encuentro is a light that shines and illuminates the way forward. The enthusiasm, the passion, the love, and the joy of the Encuentro process is a means of grace, a gift to us as we rebuild the Church,” he added.

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio also addressed the scandals in his opening remarks on Thursday, telling participants that they “are right to be heartbroken by the faults of your shepherds,” he said.

“In the reading of God’s word that we have just heard, Saint Peter tells us that we ‘share Christ’s sufferings,’” he added. “Let us pray to God for the victims of the crimes that led to this crisis. Do everything you can for the healing of all the victims of these abuses. And pray also for the perpetrators and for us, your shepherds.”

Fr. José Carlos, a priest from Hobbes, New Mexico, reiterated to CNA that Encuentro delegates have to be “a light in the darkness.”

Carlos Mendez, and Encuentro delegate from Los Angeles, told CNA that the scandals “would not reduce my faith at all, because I follow the Church, I don’t follow the deeds of other people."

Alfredo Portillo, Encuentro delegate from Las Vegas, told CNA that while he is saddened by the news of scandals that seems to come “every day,” he was encouraged by what he saw at the Encuentro meeting.

“I think this came at a perfect moment,” he told CNA. “And from this something new is going to grow, and it’s much needed. This is just a great moment for the Church in the whole world.”