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Pope Francis says prayer is a refuge against evil

Vatican City, May 27, 2020 / 06:15 am (CNA).- Prayer is a refuge and protection against the evil of the world, Pope Francis said in his general audience address Wednesday.

Speaking via livestream from his library in the apostolic palace, the pope illustrated this point with several stories from Genesis, including those of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah. 

“Reading these stories, one gets the impression that prayer is both the embankment and the refuge of man before the flood of evil that grows in the world,” he said May 27. “On closer inspection, we also pray to be saved from ourselves.”

“God’s plan for humanity is good, but in our daily life we ​​experience the presence of evil: it is an everyday experience.”

Continuing his cycle of catechesis on prayer, Francis noted that the righteous person’s prayer turns them away from, not toward, violence. “In fact, prayer, when it is authentic, is free from instincts of violence and is a gaze turned toward God,” he said.

He quoted from paragraph 2569 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says “this quality of prayer is lived by a multitude of righteous in all religions.”

“Prayer,” he argued, “cultivates flowerbeds of rebirth in places where man’s hatred has only been able to enlarge the desert.”

In his address, Pope Francis also reflected on the lessons humanity can take from the stories in Genesis, starting with Adam and Eve.

“The first chapters of the Book of Genesis describe the progressive expansion of sin in human affairs,” he said.

Adam and Eve, yielding to the devil’s temptation, begin to doubt the benevolent intentions of God. They have delusions of omnipotence, the pope said. But what happens instead is their eyes are opened and they discover they are naked, they have nothing. The tempter “pays badly,” he underlined.

Turning to Cain and Abel, Francis asserted that with the next human generation, “evil becomes even more disruptive.”

Cain becomes infested with the “worm of envy” toward his brother Abel. Cain does not get command of the evil which grows in his heart, “and so, the story of the first brotherhood ends with a murder,” the pope said.

“I think, today, about human fraternity,” he added. “Wars everywhere.”

Pope Francis described what followed Cain’s evil action, explaining that from his lineage, “evil spreads like wildfire, until it occupies the whole picture.”

There is the need for a new beginning, a new creation, which will have its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, he noted. “Yet, in these first pages of the Bible, another story is written, less conspicuous, much more humble and devoted, which represents the redemption of hope.”

“Even if almost everyone behaves in a brutal way, making hatred and conquest the great engine of human affairs, there are people capable of praying to God with sincerity, capable of writing man’s destiny in a different way,” he said.

He pointed to the birth of Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth, who later had his own son, named Enos, meaning “mortal.”

In Genesis, it is written that from the birth of Enos, “people began to invoke the name of the Lord.” Enos also had a cousin, Enoch, who is a person who “walks with God,” according to Scripture.

“And finally there is the story of Noah, a righteous man who ‘walked with God,’ before whom God holds back his purpose of erasing humanity,” Francis said.

“And prayer is powerful,” he underlined, “because it attracts the power of God and the power of God always gives life: always.”

“This is why the lordship of God passes through the chain of these men and women, often misunderstood or marginalized in the world,” he said.

These men and women are not headline-makers, according to the pope, “but the world lives and grows thanks to the strength of God that these servants of his draw with their prayer.”

“The path of God in the history of God passed through them: it passed through a ‘remnant’ of humanity that did not conform to the law of the fittest, but asked God to perform his miracles, and above all to transform our heart of stone in the heart of flesh,” he concluded.

At the end of the general audience, in his greeting to Italian-speaking pilgrims, Pope Francis recalled that May 29 is the memorial of St. Pope Paul VI, who was canonized in 2018.

“May the example of this Bishop of Rome, who has reached the heights of holiness, encourage each one of us to embrace the Gospel ideals,” he urged.

American priest heading for beatification died amid a global pandemic

Vatican City, May 27, 2020 / 05:40 am (CNA).- Fr. Michael McGivney, an American priest soon to be beatified, died amid a 19th-century pandemic which may have been caused by a coronavirus. 

Fr. McGivney founded the largest world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, the Knights of Columbus, in 1882. Today the order formed in his parish basement in New Haven, Connecticut, has grown to more than two million members donating millions to charity each year.

McGivney was serving as a parish priest amid the pandemic of 1889-1890, according to a press release issued by the Knights of Columbus May 27. 

Biologists using gene-sequencing methods have attributed the pandemic to a type of coronavirus, according to a Bloomberg report. This virus, which first appeared in Russia, killed a total of 1 million people worldwide, including 13,000 in the United States.

McGivney became seriously ill with pneumonia and died on Aug. 14, 1890, at age 38.

Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession on May 26, paving the way for the American priest’s beatification.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1852, McGivney was the first of 13 children born to Irish immigrants Patrick and Mary McGivney. Six of his siblings died in infancy or early childhood. His father was a molder in a Waterbury brass mill, where the young McGivney himself worked for a brief time as a child to help support his family.

From an early age, however, he sensed a calling to the priesthood (two of his brothers also became priests). He was ordained in Baltimore’s Cathedral of the Assumption by Cardinal James Gibbons on Dec. 22, 1877, and took up his first assignment, as curate at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, the city’s first parish.

In New Haven, McGivney faced anti-Catholic prejudice. A New York Times headline in 1879 -- “How an Aristocratic Avenue was Blemished by a Roman Church Edifice” -- deplored the construction of a new stone church after the original building was destroyed by fire.

In addition to his parish duties, he ministered to a 21-year-old man who was on death row for killing a police officer while drunk, visiting him daily up until his execution. On the day he was due to be hanged, James Smith comforted the priest, saying: “Father, your saintly ministrations have enabled me to meet death without a tremor. Do not fear for me. I must not break down now.”

McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s in 1882 as a way to provide financial protection to families who suffered the death of a breadwinner -- a challenge McGivney himself faced in his youth when his father died in 1873. The priest also hoped the organization would dissuade Catholics from turning to secret societies in times of need.

The Knights were named after the explorer Christopher Columbus. The order’s original principles were “unity” and “charity,” with “fraternity” and “patriotism” added later.

Fr. O’Donnell, a contemporary in Waterbury, remembered McGivney as “genial, approachable, of kindly disposition, cheerful under reverses, profoundly sympathetic with those upon whom had fallen the heavy hand of affliction, a man of strict probity and sterling integrity in his business transactions.”

“He was charitable to a fault, if I may so speak. The poor found in him a Good Samaritan,” O’Donnell said in 1900.

Another contemporary, Fr. Slocum, said: “Fr. McGivney, though a man of unassuming character, was possessed of an indomitable will, by which, aided by the grace of God, he was able to face unkind and unjust criticism from all directions in his great effort to found a society for the benefit of young men and the glory of the Church.”

Knights of Columbus founder Fr. Michael McGivney to be beatified

Vatican City, May 27, 2020 / 04:55 am (CNA).- Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr. Michael J. McGivney Wednesday, paving the way for the beatification of the founder of the Knights of Columbus.

During a May 26 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope authorized the congregation to issue a decree recognizing the miracle.

McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. Today it is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, with nearly two million members in more than a dozen countries.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1852, McGivney played a critical role in the growth of the Church in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century. After his ordination in Baltimore in 1877, he served a largely Irish-American and immigrant community in New Haven. 

Amid an anti-Catholic climate, he established the Knights to provide spiritual aid to Catholic men and financial help for families that had lost their breadwinner.

A press release from the Knights of Columbus May 27 said the miracle recognized by Pope Francis involved an unborn child in the United States who was healed in utero of a life-threatening condition in 2015 after his family prayed to McGivney.

It added that a date would be set soon for the beatification Mass, which will take place in Connecticut.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said: “Fr. McGivney has inspired generations of Catholic men to roll up their sleeves and put their faith into action. He was decades ahead of his time in giving the laity an important role within the Church.”

“Today, his spirit continues to shape the extraordinary charitable work of Knights as they continue to serve those on the margins of society as he served widows and orphans in the 1880s.” 

“Fr. McGivney also remains an important role model for parish priests around the world and left us a transformative legacy of effective cooperation between the laity and clergy.”

McGivney’s sainthood cause officially opened in 1997 in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared the American-born priest a Venerable Servant of God in recognition of his life of heroic virtue.

In 2000, an investigation into a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession was completed. But in 2011, the Vatican ruled that the event was not miraculous in nature.

In 2012, another possible miracle was reported and placed under investigation.

Following his beatification, McGivney’s cause will require one more authenticated miracle before he can be considered for canonization.

He would not be the first member of the Knights of Columbus to be canonized. A group of six Mexican members of the organization were martyred during the Cristero War of 1926-29 and its aftermath. 

The six are St. Luis Batis, St. Rodrigo Aguilar, St. Miguel de la Mora, St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado, St. José María Robles, and St. Mateo Correa.

Holy water and Super Soakers don't mix, priests say

Denver Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 03:12 am (CNA).- After photos appearing to depict blessings or baptisms by water gun went viral online, several priests cautioned that Catholics should take care to treat sacred objects and rites with a proper sense of reverence.

“Putting holy water into a squirt gun and treating it as if it were a comedy sketch on SNL is treating both the sacrament and the blessed water unworthily,” said Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, assistant professor of canon law at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California.

He noted that the Catechism teaches that profaning sacred objects or treating them unworthily is a sin – the sin of sacrilege.

Pietrzyk spoke to CNA about a number of photos online appearing to depict priests holding water guns at people, purportedly to meet “social distancing” guidelines during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In one photo, a priest points a water gun at a baby in a baptism gown from several yards away.

The priest, Fr. Stephen Klasek, pastor of two parishes in the diocese of Nashville: St. Mark in Manchester, Tennessee, and Saint Paul the Apostle in nearby Tullahoma, took to Facebook Tuesday to explain his intentions.

Saint Mark Catholic Church said in a Tuesday Facebook post that the photo was intended to be humorous. According to the social media parish’s post, the family had asked the priest to pose for the photo in imitation of similar pictures on the internet. It said the gun did not contain holy water and was not squirted at the baby.

The parish said it felt a need to “clarify the photo that has gone viral as we have been receiving inquiries about it. It has garnered almost a million views in Twitter, has been in the news in several websites and memes. It had good and controversial comments.”

While Klasek’s photo was apparently staged, other photos have also been circulating the internet, including pictures of a priest purporting to bless parishioners with a water gun in Detroit. Fr. Tim Pelc told Buzzfeed News he had shot parishioners with holy water in a water gun as something “for the kids of the parish.”

Pietrzyk cautioned against assuming that the intention in a specific instance was to mock the sacraments. “I think we ought to proceed from the premise that it involves individuals who were attempting to make light of the difficulties of the coronavirus situation,” he told CNA.

Still, the priest said, while the intent may have been lighthearted, the photos raise serious concerns.

Holy water is a sacramental, a material object meant to help us sanctify our lives and dispose us to better receive the graces of the sacraments, he explained. Holy water reminds us of the purifying power of baptism, and of Christ, who referred to himself as living water.

“[B]lessed objects, including holy water, should be treated with respect and reverence as things set aside to build up the life of faith,” Pietrzyk said.

Fr. Daniel Cardo, who holds the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, noted that there is a liturgical instrument specifically intended for the sprinkling of water - the aspergilium – which is used during the Easter Season and in other ceremonies when holy water is sprinkled.

“We do this all the time. We bless people at a distance with holy water. We have a beautiful thing that we can use [the aspergilium]. We don’t need toys to do that,” he told CNA.

Both Cardo and Pietrzyk suggested that an actual baptism performed with a water gun would be illicit.

But even a staged photo raises the possibility of the sin of scandal, which the Church defines as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil,” Pietrzyk said.

Staging such a photo, he said, may lead others “to treat the things of God and of Divine Worship as mere objects of derision, stripping them of their sacral import and infusing them with a sense of the slap-stick.”

“It especially leads non-believers into concluding that people of faith do not take their beliefs seriously and, in extreme cases, can lead people to conclude that the priests involved think that such acts of religion are no more than superstitious nonsense.”

Cardo agreed. He said the photo, while perhaps intended to be funny, could lead to confusion about the Sacrament of Baptism and how it is conducted.

“There is definitely a risk of trivializing” the sacrament, he said, and of undermining the sacredness of the rite that the Church views as opening the door to eternal life.

Ultimately, Cardo said, it is a question of whether we believe what the Church professes about holy water – and what it means to act accordingly.

“Do we believe that this water that has been blessed is actually different than what it was before? In other words, do we believe that through the prayers instituted by the Church, that water is not the same – there is something that changed in that water, that therefore makes it capable of doing something in the object or person that receives it?”

If so, he said, “then the consequence of treating that water with the utmost love and devotion and respect would be the most natural thing.”

Research aims to quantify and explain drop in US religiosity

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 12:09 am (CNA).- The current drop in the number of people in the United States identifying with a religion may not be permanent, but it is in some ways unprecedented, according to a new research study aiming to quantify the drop in religiosity the United States has experienced over the past several decades.

“Fewer people claim to be or identify as part of a religious community of any kind,” researcher Lyman Stone wrote in an April 2020 study by the American Enterprise Institute.

“From 95 percent or higher just after World War II to around 75 percent today, there has been a seismic change in Americans’ self-identified religiosity.”

For the past 50 years or so, religious membership has been in a decline “striking in its speed and uniformity across different measures of religiosity,” he said.

One of the biggest factors on decreasing religiosity has been secularized, public education, Stone argued.

“The decline in religiosity in America is not the product of a natural change in preferences, but an engineered outcome of clearly identifiable policy choices in the past,” he said.

Stone argued that the present decline in the percentage of “religious” people in the U.S. is not all that different in pace and severity from the decline experienced post-1700— around the time period identified as The Enlightenment, when many anti-religious ideas started to gain traction in Europe and elsewhere. 

Despite the decline in numbers, the total number of religious adherents in what would become the United States actually increased post-1700— thanks largely to massive population growth— even as the share of the population declined.

Today, in contrast, the total number of “religious” people in the U.S. as a share of the population has remained flat since 2005. Just 35% of the population attends religious services weekly— nevertheless, a high percentage compared to most countries in Europe.

After that post-1700 decline, religiosity in the U.S. “rose persistently” between 1776 and the mid-20th century.

The Second Great Awakening, a wave of religious revivalism generally dated between 1790 and 1830, however, did see growth in membership, Stone wrote.

Church membership also rose between the 1850s and 1940s, thanks in large part to immigration. Data from 1906 show that at least a quarter of religious people were worshipping in languages other than English— not counting Latin— at least occasionally.

According to membership data, Stone wrote, religiosity in America peaked sometime between 1940 and 1970, with religious membership rising dramatically during and after World War II in particular. By 1960, half of all Americans attended religious services weekly.

In his research, Stone highlighted the importance of distinguishing between religious membership— or even religious attendance— and religious belief. He warns that church attendance is not the best predictor of “religiosity.”

Although over 80% of Americans will say they believe in God, only a third will actually attend church, he said.

Similarly, though not a large number of people regularly went to church before 1930, almost all would say they believed in God, Stone argued.

Stone also pointed out that church membership— the kind that is officially recorded— also is not always the best predictor of “religiosity,” though it is helpful to observe as a “minimum level of behavior.”

“A person baptized, married, and eulogized in a church is properly counted as part of a religious community, but nonetheless their experience of religion is different than someone who attends every week,” Stone noted.

Stone pointed to several U.S. policy decisions that he believes have had an effect on the post-1960 decline in church attendance.

Among the policies he identified are Blaine Amendments, which grew out of 19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment and sought to prohibit direct government aid to religious schools. Today, 39 states formally restrict using any taxpayer money for religious instruction.

It was not until the mid-20th century that public education began to become as thoroughly secularized as it is today, Stone said. The rise of secular, public schools and the decline of religious schools in the U.S. meant that students who attended public schools after the 1940s “spent much of their life in schools that were far more secularized, and these are the generations during which religiosity has declined.”

Changing family dynamics, including an increase in the average age of marriage, also have had an effect on religiosity, Stone said.

He contended that a greater emphasis on higher education— which takes years to complete— has led to more people delaying marriage or choosing not to get married at all, meaning they are less likely to form religious habits such as attending church.

Additionally, a rise in interfaith marriages plays a role, Stone said. The children of interfaith marriages are less likely to adhere to either of their parents’ religions, or any religion, than children whose parents share the same religion.