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Pope Francis: Fresh violence in Syria's Eastern Ghouta is 'inhumane'

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2018 / 04:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a week of heavy bombardment near Damascus left hundreds of civilians dead, Pope Francis has made an appeal for global leaders to rally in ending the siege, allowing civilians to evacuate and humanitarian aid to get in.

“In these days my thought is often turned to the beloved and martyred Syria, where the war has exploded again, especially in Eastern Ghouta,” the Pope said Feb. 25, noting that this month marks one of the most violent since the Syrian conflict erupted seven years ago.

Thousands of innocent lives have been claimed by the ongoing, bloody war, with several hundred more being added just this past week, many of whom are women, children and elderly, he said.

“Hospitals have been hit, people can't get enough to eat...all of this is inhumane,” Francis said, stressing that “evil cannot be fought with another evil.”

The Pope then issued “a heartfelt appeal” for global leaders to work to stop the violence, to allow humanitarian aid such as food and medicine into the area, and to ensure that the sick and wounded would be evacuated.

Francis' appeal comes a week after Russian-backed Syrian forces launched a series of deadly airstrikes and artillery fire on besieged Easter Ghouta enclave, which sits just northeast of Damascus.

Home to some 400,000 people, Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held area east of Damascus and has been a target of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces since 2013 in a bid to drive the rebels out.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the fresh eruption of conflict in the area, which began Feb. 18, has so far left more than 500 civilians dead, of whom 121 are children. Aid groups also report that several hospitals in the area are now out of commission.

After three days of deliberation to come up with a ceasefire deal, the U.N. Security Counsel yesterday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for a 30-day calm to allow residents of the suburb to evacuate, and food and medicine to enter.

However, reports indicate that just hours after the deal was accepted, the Syrian government launched a new  ground and air offensive in the area.

Pope Francis' appeal, which he made during his Angelus address for the Second Sunday of Lent, asked pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square to join him in praying that his plea would be answered “without delay.” He then led pilgrims in a moment of silence before reciting a Hail Mary.

In his address, he focused on the transfiguration of Jesus in the day's Gospel reading from Mark, saying the announcement that he would be rejected, put to death and would then rise on the third day “put Peter and the group of the disciples into crisis,” since they had been expecting a powerful Messiah who would rule the nations.

However, instead, Jesus presents himself “as a humble and meek servant of God and of men,” who was to give his life in sacrifice through persecution, suffering and a violent death.

The transfiguration, Francis said, ultimately helps the disciples to face the Passion of Christ in a positive way, “without being overwhelmed” by it. It also helps both the disciples, and us, to understand that while Jesus' Passion is “a mystery of suffering,” it's above all “a gift of infinite love on the part of Jesus.”

“The event of Jesus who transfigures himself on the mountain also helps us to better understand his resurrection,” the Pope said, explaining that if the transfiguration and God's declaration that “this is my beloved Son” had not happened before Jesus' Passion, neither this nor Jesus' rising in the Paschal mystery would be easily understood.

In order to understand these events, he said, “it's necessary to know in advance that he who suffers and who is glorified is not only a man, but the Son of God, who with his love faithful to death has saved us.”

Francis said that it's important, especially during Lent, to go up the mountain with Jesus and be with him and listen to his voice, allowing oneself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

“It's the experience of contemplation and prayer, of living not in avoidance of daily struggles, but of enjoying familiarity with God, in order to take up with renewed vigor the tiring path of the cross, which leads us to the resurrection.”

This couple gave up everything to help Sudanese refugees in Uganda

Arua, Uganda, Feb 24, 2018 / 01:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Selling everything and moving to Uganda to work with refugees is not likely on many people's to-do list. In fact, it's probably the last thing most would consider, especially young couples hoping to start a family.

But it's exactly what Rachel and Rich Mastrogiacomo did last year.

Their story began when a series of devastating events and realizations would lead the couple to the edge of a war zone in the heart of east Africa, bring them face to face with abject poverty and eventually lead them to the recent adoption of their new daughter.

Though seeds were planted in both of their lives much earlier, the story began when the two got married in 2014. Like any other couple, they were excited about their new life together and eager to start a family.

However, their initial enthusiasm was quickly replaced by pangs of sadness and disappointment as the couple slowly began to realize, after months of trying to become pregnant, that they were facing infertility.

This pain was sharpened in 2017, when three foster children living with the couple were unexpectedly returned to their birth mother.

It was after this that Rachel and Rich began to feel an inkling that they were being called to something specific – something they would discover through a process of prayer and radical openness to God's will and the signs that he provided along the way.

“It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”

Shortly after their foster children were reunited with their biological mother, Rachel and Rich attended a healing Mass. At the end, as Rachel was praying, a woman tapped her on shoulder, and told her, “I heard Jesus say, 'She will be a mother to many.' You're healed.”

Around the same time, Rich – who says he never has dreams – said he had a very vivid dream of his wife standing on brownish-reddish dirt with trees all around. In the dream, Rich said Rachel was holding a baby and was surrounded by children, and as he looked at her, she smiled at him with a peaceful expression.

After the dream, Rich began to research South Sudan, and came across multiple articles detailing the horrors of the country's ongoing conflict and the millions who, having fled war and famine in their homeland, are now living as refugees in neighboring countries. Uganda in particular has been one of the main refugee destinations.

Rich began emailing bishops in the area, and immediately got a response from Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua, in northern Uganda, saying Rich's email was an “answer to prayer,” as he had more than a million Sudanese refugees in his diocese and had been praying for lay missionaries to come from America.

The contact with Bishop Odoki – whose diocese sits closely along borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – was seen as providential by Rachel and Rich, because ever since she was 10-years-old, Rachel had a special love for Sudan – she told CNA that her father put an image of starving Sudanese children her age on the refrigerator in hopes of fostering a sense of gratitude in her.

The image stuck with Rachel and was in many ways the spark of her desire to be a missionary, and when they got married, both Rachel and Rich felt a strong call to live a missionary life.

When Bishop Odoki said he wanted them to come and serve for a month-long “trial run,” the choice was obvious. The couple sold everything and went to Arua in the spring of 2017 with the Family Missions Company.

“There are no words to describe the intense human suffering that we saw among the refugees,” Rachel told CNA Feb. 22.

“It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, unlike slum poverty. Never have we seen such a vast amount of people living in such poor conditions,” she continued.

South Sudan has been split by a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years. The conflict has so far prompted some 4 million citizens to flee the country in search of peace, food and work. In August 2017, shortly before Rachel and Rich traveled to Uganda, the African nation had taken in their one-millionth refugee, and the number has continued to climb.

Roughly 85 percent of the refugee settlements Rachel and Rich served are made up of women and children, they said, and while many humanitarian organizations on the ground try to help meet basic needs, “the overall need is absolutely overwhelming.”

They specifically visited the Palorinya refugee settlement in Uganda's Moyo region, which is the second biggest camp in northern Uganda and as of November 2017 housed some 185,000 refugees, according to Reuters.

While in Arua, Rachel and Rich were able to tour the diocese and participate in the centenary celebration of Moyo Catholic parish, which is the first parish of the diocese of Arua. They also spent time visiting orphans, schoolchildren and youth in prison, and distributed both gifts and donations.

“[We] just loved on the kids,” Rachel said, and recalled what she said is one of her favorite memories of the trip. As they were visiting a school, Rachel and Rich entered one classroom and the children immediately began singing: “The Lord is calling you. You are welcome to lead us all into His kingdom.”

The song “touched our hearts deeply,” she said, explaining that throughout the entire month “we experienced the joy of the Gospel in a fresh and new way. The faith of the people is vibrant; God is their treasure.”

While the basic needs of those living in the camps are many, Rachel said that spiritually speaking, “the greatest need we found was the need to be heard.”

“Pope Francis speaks about a ministry of listening, and this concept came alive for us while we were in the refugee camps,” she said, explaining that when they eventually return to Uganda, they plan to help with spiritual formation, since general catechesis and sacramental preparation are often lacking.

“The people are hungry for more than just food; they truly are hungry for God,” she said.

As the month drew to a close, Rachel said she, her husband and Bishop Odoki all experienced an “overwhelming confirmation” that God was inviting the couple to serve there as full time lay missionaries and live as spiritual parents to the many children and orphans in need.

So while they already see Uganda as their new home, Rachel and Rich headed back to the United States to get things in order. But the story doesn't end there.

Just three days after returning to the U.S., Rich got a phone call from a lawyer who helps facilitate private adoption, saying a woman had selected him and Rachel to adopt her baby.

“The phone call came out of left field, when we least expected it! Truly, it was wild,” Rachel said.

Rich and Rachel had been in touch with the lawyer several years before, but hadn't spoken to her since.

However, she had saved their profile, and as the mother was looking through the stack of possible adoptive parents for her unborn child, she was “moved” when she saw Rachel and Rich's profile and wanted to know more about them.

According to Rachel, when it was explained to the mother that the couple were missionaries living in Uganda, “it struck a deep chord,” as the woman herself was an orphan who had been adopted from Guatemala.

The mother had initially scheduled an abortion during the time that Rachel and Rich were in Uganda, but decided against it and reached out to a crisis pregnancy center. When she heard about Rachel and Rich, she wanted her unborn daughter to be with them, as she had fond memories of the Catholic nuns who raised her until she was adopted.

“We always felt open to adoption, but trusted that God would make it happen in His time,” Rachel said. “It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”

The little girl, who Rachel and Rich named Chiara Maria de Guadalupe Mastrogiacomo, was born Feb. 18.

Both Rachel and Rich were present when their daughter was born. “We wept tears of joy and continue to do so. She has taken our breath away,” Rachel said, adding, “truly, God has turned our mourning into dancing!”

Once the adoption is finalized and little Chiara Maria gets her passport, Rachel and Rich will return to Uganda with their new daughter and continue to serve as lay missionaries in the Arua diocese under the guidance of Bishop Odoki.

While they will wait for Odoki to give them instructions when they arrive, Rachel said she believes they will travel to the refugee settlements in order to provide catechesis, sacramental preparation and trauma counseling.

Rachel, who graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, holds degrees in theology and religious education, while Rich holds a graduate degree in theology.

Overall, Rachel said she sees their role as a “funnel of resources” from the U.S. to help this particular group and to raise awareness and funds to address the current humanitarian crisis in the area, which is “one of the most serious in the world right now.”

Pope Francis himself recently put a spotlight on the crisis by declaring Feb. 23, the Friday of the first full week of Lent, as a day of prayer and fasting for the DRC, South Sudan and Syria, all three of which have been ravaged by internal conflict for years.

Though they can cease being missionaries at any time, Rachel said she and Rich feel that their call to be missionaries is a “lifelong vocation,” and don't see themselves leaving it.

“Pope Francis dreams of a poor Church for the poor and a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything; this has become our dream,” she said. “We want to give everything for Christ in the disguise of the poor and marginalized of society. We want to be on the margins, with the marginalized.”

“That is where Jesus is,” she said, adding, “we cannot wait to return and see see how the Lord will work.” 

At Villanova, Archbishop Chaput talks faith and society

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nation-wide violence. School shootings. Political tensions. Drugs. Unemployment. Hunger.

These are some of the illness which plague the nation, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who discussed faith as the antidote to these challenges in an address Thursday at Villanova University.

 “In my experience, this moment in our country’s history is the most conflicted and divided since the 1960s,” said Archbishop Chaput during his address.

“One of the tasks of the Church, and each of us as individual believers, is to live and work in a way that does help to make the world around us better,” he continued, noting that “there’s no healing without a good diagnosis.”

Chaput’s words were addressed to students at Villanova University in Philadelphia on Feb. 22, with a speech titled “Things to Come: Faith, State and Society in a New World.” The archbishop delved into some of society’s challenges, what has led to them, and a renewal of faith as a way to heal some of the nation’s wounds.

“The United States is the most powerful market economy in the world…and most of us would probably agree that since World War II, American democratic capitalism has reshaped much of the world; in effect, created a new world of political and economic relationships,” Chaput said.

Global market economies, Chaput continued, have benefited millions around the world by improving their opportunities, standards of living, and lifespans. They have also reshaped other dynamics, such as family, political, and educational relationships, and shifted philosophies and behaviors around the globe.

However, while noting its many benefits, Chaput also highlighted capitalism’s damaging side effects.

“A consumer market economy tends to commodify everything and recast all relationships as transactional,” Chaput said.

“In practice, it depersonalizes a culture by commercializing many of our routine human interactions. It also very easily breeds a practical atheism by revolving our lives around the desire and consumption for new things,” he continued.

While many of the country’s changes and steps in progression over the years have aided Americans, especially through medical advancements, Chaput said that the pros and cons do not balance out.

“…the benefits and deficits of change have been very unequally shared. The result has been a deep dislocation in the American sense of stability, security, common purpose, and self,” he said.

Chaput particularly pointed to the lower classes, who are promised with the lures of “sexual freedom,” and yet burdened by its consequences because of a lack of wealth. He noted destroyed marriages, fatherless children, angry males, and increased poverty and crime as a result.

Chaput also underscored the nation’s other “deep and chronic problems” of drugs, unemployment, inadequate schools, and inner-city hunger.

The Philadelphia archbishop also spotlighted the rise in secularism over recent years, saying that Americans who identify as atheist, agnostic, or of no religious affiliation rose from 16 percent to 23 percent from 2007 to 2014. This shift, Chaput said, “has political and legal implications,” particularly seen in the attacks against religious freedom and human rights.

“Religious freedom – as the nation has traditionally understood it – can’t be a major concern for people who don’t respect the importance of religious faith,” Chaput said.

“Human rights, without a grounding in God or some higher moral order, are really just a matter of public consensus,” he continued.

While many leaders and politicians have promised change with various notions such as income equality and increased opportunities, or various other plans of action, Chaput believes the only antidote to the nation’s plague is a renewal of faith in God.

“The point is, God’s authority ensures human freedom,” Chaput said.

“When God leaves the stage, the state inevitably expands to fill his place. Without the biblical God, we end up in some disguised form of idolatry. And it usually involves politics,” he continued.

Despite the culture’s downfalls, Chaput said people still have the desire for beauty, relationship, and new life – all of which can be found in the treasure of the Catholic Church and its proclamation of the truth.

“People still have a need for beauty, which means that beauty has the power to evade the machinery of logic and reach right into the human soul,” he said.

According to Chaput, the nation is desperately in need of the uncompromising truth, saying that before the problem can be fixed, individuals need to wake up to the reality of its challenge.

He also encouraged Catholics to protect their identities in Christ and act as faithful witnesses to the truth, saying “this isn’t a time for Catholics to be weak or apologetic.” At the same time, Chaput also noted this proclamation of truth should be spoke with love, patience and mercy.

Ultimately, Chaput said, the nation’s future will depend on the power of “personal witness,” through every individual’s pursuit of sanctity.

“Leon Bloy, the great French Catholic convert, liked to say that, in the end, the only thing that matters is to be a saint,” Chaput said.

“So the task tonight, when each of us leaves here, is to begin that path. And may God guide us all in pursuing it.”

Pope Francis returns to Rome after week of spiritual exercises

Vatican City, Feb 23, 2018 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis returned from his week-long Lenten spiritual exercises in Ariccia, where he and members of the Roman Curia have been on their annual retreat since Sunday afternoon.

Before boarding the bus that would take him back to Vatican City, Francis thanked the priest who preached the exercises for his reflections and for encouraging members of the Curia to be open to the Holy Spirit and not stuck in bureaucratic structures.

“Thank you, Father, for having spoken of the Church, for having made us, this small flock, feel the Church,” the Pope said Feb. 23.

He thanked Fr. José Tolentino de Mendonça for reminding them that “the Church is not a cage for the Holy Spirit,” and also voiced thanks for receiving a warning “not to shrink it with our bureaucratic worldliness!”

Fr. Tolentino is a Portuguese priest, poet, and Biblical theologian who preached during the spiritual exercises, which this year focused on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”

De Mendonça is vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and has been a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011. He was ordained a priest in 1990 and completed his master's degree in Biblical Studies in Rome before later obtaining a doctorate in biblical theology from the Portuguese Catholic University, where he later taught as an assistant professor.

In his brief greeting at the end of the retreat, Pope Francis also thanked De Mendonça for helping them understand how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of non-believers and those of other religious confessions, saying the Holy Spirit is “universal, he is the Spirit of God, who is for everyone.”

Francis noted that there are many people today like the centurions and the guards at Peter's prison who live with an “an inner search” and who know how to tell when there is “something that calls” them.

He thanked De Mendonça for the call “to opening ourselves without fear, without rigidity, for being malleable in the Spirit and not mummified within our structures that close us off.”

The Pope also noted how he had declared Friday as a day of prayer and fasting for South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria, saying the spiritual retreat is extended through the offerings they will make on behalf of the war-torn countries.

Held Feb. 18-23, this year's curial Lenten spiritual exercises began Sunday evening with adoration and vespers. The rest of the week followed a basic schedule beginning with Mass at 7:30 a.m., followed by the first meditation of the day.

In the afternoon, a second meditation was preached before concluding with adoration and vespers. Friday, the final day of the exercises, consisted of only a morning meditation. Pope Francis and the curia then left the retreat house, returning to the Vatican at 11:15 a.m.

The exercises took place at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a town just 16 miles outside of Rome. Located on Lake Albano, the retreat house is just a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. It will be the fifth consecutive year the Pope and members of the Curia have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia.

While the practice of the Bishop of Rome going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago, it had been customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.

Archbishop Scicluna leaves hospital, continues abuse investigation in Chile

Santiago, Chile, Feb 23, 2018 / 10:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a gallbladder surgery left him in the hospital for three days, Archbishop Charles Scicluna has been discharged, and will continue investigating allegations of abuse cover-up by a local bishop in Chile.

According to a Feb. 23 statement from the Archdiocese of Malta, Scicluna was discharged from San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago earlier today.

He will be staying at the apostolic nunciature of Chile, where he will continue to investigate allegations from several witnesses accusing Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid of Osorno of covering up abuse committed by his longtime friend, Fr. Fernando Karadima.

In 2011, Karadima was found guilty by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of sexually abusing several minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

Scicluna is the Vatican's top man on sex abuse appeals cases. In addition to heading the Archdiocese of Malta, in 2015 he was named by the Pope to oversee the team in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

He arrived in Santiago Feb. 19 to interview victims of Karadima's abuse and those opposed to the 2015 appointment of Barros as Bishop of Osorno, whom they say not only covered up for Karadima, but also at times participated in the abuse.

Prior to arriving in Santiago, Scicluna stopped in New York to interview Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima's most high-profile victims and one of Barros' most vocal opponents. He then went to Santiago to interview additional witnesses related to the Barros case.

Scicluna was admitted to the hospital in Santiago Feb. 21 after experiencing several days of abdominal pain and underwent surgery.

By order of Pope Francis, he stayed in the hospital to recover for three days while Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who accompanied Scicluna as notary for the case, took over the interviews.

However, now that he has been discharged Scicluna will continue the investigation as normal while continuing to recover at the Chilean nunciature. He is scheduled to return to Malta Feb. 25.

What's the point of fasting, anyway?

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- God commanded it, Jesus practiced it, Church Fathers have preached the importance of it – fasting is a powerful and fundamental part of the Christian life.

But for many Catholics today, it's more of an afterthought: something we grudgingly do on Good Friday, perhaps on Ash Wednesday if we remember it. Would we fast more, especially during Lent, if we understood how helpful it is for our lives?

The answer to this, say both saints of the past and experts today, is a resounding “yes.”

“Let us take for our standard and for our example those that have run the race, and have won,” said Deacon Sabatino Carnazzo, founding executive director of the Institute of Catholic Culture and a deacon at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Mclean, Va., of the saints.

“And...those that have run the race and won have been men and women of prayer and fasting.”

So what, in essence, is fasting?

It's “the deprivation of the good, in order to make a decision for a greater good,” explained Deacon Carnazzo. It is most commonly associated with abstention from food, although it can also take the form of giving up other goods like comforts and entertainment.

The current fasting obligation for Latin Catholics in the United States is this: all over the age of 14 must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays in Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, adults age 18 to 59 must fast – eating no more than one full meal and two smaller meals that together do not add up in quantity to the full meal.

Catholics, “if possible,” can continue the Good Friday fast through Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference adds.

Other Fridays throughout the year (aside from Friday within the Octave of Easter) “are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church,” according to Canon Law 1250. Catholics once abstained from meat on all Fridays, but the U.S. bishops received permission from the Holy See for Catholics to substitute another sacrifice or perform an act of charity instead.

Eastern Rite Catholics, meanwhile, follow the fasting laws of their own particular church.  

In their 1966 “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence,” the National Conference of Catholic Bishops exhorted the faithful, on other days of Lent where fasting is not required, to “participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting.”

Aside from the stipulations, though, what's the point of fasting?

“The whole purpose of fasting is to put the created order and our spiritual life in a proper balance,” Deacon Carnazzo said.

As “bodily creatures in a post-fallen state,” it's easy to let our “lower passions” for physical goods supersede our higher intellect, he explained. We take good things for granted and reach for them whenever we feel like it, “without thinking, without reference to the One Who gives us the food, and without reference to the question of whether it’s good for us or not,” he added.

Thus, fasting helps “make more room for God in our life,” Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter/St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. said.

“And the Lord said at the well, with the (Samaritan) woman, He said that 'everyone that drinks from this well is going to be thirsty again. Why don't you let me go to work in your life and I’ll give you a fountain welling up to Eternal Life.'”

While fasting can take many forms, is abstaining from food especially important?  

“The reason why 2000 years of Christianity has said food (for fasting), because food's like air. It's like water, it's the most fundamental,” Deacon Carnazzo said. “And that's where the Church says 'stop right here, this fundamental level, and gain control there.' It's like the first step in the spiritual life.”

What the Bible says about it

Yet why is fasting so important in the life of the Church? And what are the roots of the practice in Scripture?

The very first fast was ordered by God to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Deacon Carnazzo noted, when God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17).

This divine prohibition was not because the tree was bad, the deacon clarified. It was “made good” like all creation, but its fruit was meant to be eaten “in the right time and the right way.” In the same way, we abstain from created goods so we may enjoy them “in the right time and the right way.”

The fast is the weapon of protection against demons - St. Basil the Great.

Fasting is also good because it is submission to God, he said. By fasting from the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve would have become partakers in the Divine Nature through their obedience to God. Instead, they tried to take this knowledge of good and evil for themselves and ate the fruit, disobeying God and bringing Original Sin, death, and illness upon mankind.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus abstained from food and water for 40 days and nights in the desert and thus “reversed what happened in the Garden of Eden,” Deacon Carnazzo explained. Like Adam and Eve, Christ was tempted by the devil but instead remained obedient to God the Father, reversing the disobedience of Adam and Eve and restoring our humanity.

Following the example of Jesus, Catholics are called to fast, said Fr. Lew. And the Church Fathers preached the importance of fasting.

Why fasting is so powerful

“The fast is the weapon of protection against demons,” taught St. Basil the Great. “Our Guardian Angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting.”

Why is fasting so powerful? “By setting aside this (created) realm where the devil works, we put ourselves into communion with another realm where the devil does not work, he cannot touch us,” Deacon Carnazzo explained.

It better disposes us for prayer, noted Monsignor Pope. Because we feel greater hunger or thirst when we fast from food and water, “it reminds us of our frailty and helps us be more humble,” he said. “Without humility, prayer and then our experience of God really can't be unlocked.”

Thus, the practice is “clearly linked by St. Thomas Aquinas, writing within the Tradition, to chastity, to purity, and to clarity of mind,” noted Fr. Lew.

“You can kind of postulate from that that our modern-day struggles with the virtue of chastity, and perhaps a lack of clarity in theological knowledge, might be linked to an abandonment of fasting as well.”

A brief history of fasting

The current fasting obligations were set in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, but in previous centuries, the common fasts among Catholics were stricter and more regularly observed.  

Catholics abstained from meat on all Fridays of the year, Easter Friday excluded. During Lent, they had to fast – one meatless meal and two smaller meatless meals – on all days excluding Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. They abstained from meat on Fridays and Saturdays in Lent – the days of Christ's death and lying in the tomb – but were allowed meat during the main meal on the other Lenten weekdays.

The obligations extended to other days of the liturgical year. Catholics fasted and abstained on the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost Sunday, and on Ember Days – the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of St. Lucy on Dec. 13, after Ash Wednesday, after Pentecost Sunday, and after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in September – corresponding with the four seasons.

In centuries past, the Lenten abstention was more austere. Catholics gave up not only meat but also animal products like milk and butter, as well as oil and even fish at times.

Why are today's obligations in the Latin Rite so minimal? The Church is setting clear boundaries outside of which one cannot be considered to be practicing the Christian life, Deacon Carnazzo explained. That is why intentionally violating the Lenten obligations is a mortal sin.

But should Catholics perform more than the minimum penance that is demanded? Yes, said Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., who is currently studying for a Pontifical License in Sacred Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

The minimum may be “what is due to God out of justice,” he explained, but we are “called not only to be just to God,” but also “to love God and to love our neighbor.” Charity, he added, “would call us to do more than just the minimum that is applied to us by the Code of Canon Law today, I think.”

In Jeremiah 31: 31-33, God promises to write His law upon our hearts, Deacon Carnazzo noted. We must go beyond following a set of rules and love God with our hearts, and this involves doing more than what we are obliged to do, he added.

Be wary of your motivation

However, Fr. Lew noted, fasting “must be stirred up by charity.” A Catholic should not fast out of dieting or pride, but out of love of God.  

“It’s always dangerous in the spiritual life to compare yourself to other people,” he said, citing the Gospel of John where Jesus instructed St. Peter not to be concerned about the mission of St. John the Apostle but rather to “follow Me.” (John 21: 20-23).

In like manner, we should be focused on God during Lent and not on the sacrifices of others, he said.  

Lent (is referred to) as a joyful season...It’s the joy of loving Him more.

“We will often fail, I think. And that’s not a bad thing. Because if we do fail, this is the opportunity to realize our utter dependence on God and His grace, to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and to seek His strength so that we can grow in virtue and do better,” he added.

And by realizing our weakness and dependence on God, we can “discover anew the depths of God’s mercy for us” and can be more merciful to others, he added.

Giving up good things may seem onerous and burdensome, but can – and should – a Catholic fast with joy?

“It’s referred to in the preface of Lent as a joyful season,” Fr. Lew said. “And it’s the joy of deepening our relationship with Christ, and therefore coming closer to Him. It’s the joy of loving Him more, and the more we love God the closer we draw to Him.”

“Lent is all about the Cross, and eventually the resurrection,” said Deacon Carnazzo. If we “make an authentic, real sacrifice for Christ” during Lent, “we can come to that day of the crucifixion and say 'Yes Lord, I willingly with you accept the cross. And when we do that, then we will behold the third day of resurrection.'”

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 20, 2016.

Former president of Franciscan U posthumously receives Poverello Medal

Steubenville, Ohio, Feb 22, 2018 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, former president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, will posthumously receive the 2018 Poverello Medal, the college's highest non-academic award.

The medal will be given in recognition of the achievements of Father Scanlan, who helped rejuvenate the school's Catholic spirit and advanced evangelization world-wide.

"Very few college presidents who could not only reinvigorate Catholic higher education … but also be an evangelist, a writer, [and] a Catholic media figure,” Public Relations Manager for Franciscan, Tom Sofio, told CNA.

The award will be accepted by Father Richard Davis in memory of the school's fourth president, who died in January 2017. The event will be held March 3, coinciding with school’s Mission Immersion Day - a preparation for the nearly 300 students who plan to leave on mission trips this spring.

Acknowledging individuals and organizations who have emulated the qualities of St. Francis of Assisi, the award is given in recognition of substantial Christian character and works of charity.

Father Michael Scanlan served as the school's president from 1974-2000 and aided the restoration of the university's Catholic identity. He emphasized school's theology program, making it the largest undergraduate theology program of any U.S. Catholic university today.

Having a good rapport with the students, he also created an environment for young adults to grow in their faith. He established faith based fraternity groups called households, where men and women would be formed and supported in their Catholic faith.

Under Father Scanlan, Franciscan University in 1989 became the first U.S. Catholic university or college to adopt an Oath of Fidelity - a promise from the priests and theology faculty to teach according to the Church.

Additionally, Father Scanlan was a strong supporter of the pro-life movement and the charismatic renewal, speaking at international conferences like the Franciscan Conferences, which now serves over 55,000 high school students, and Fire Rallies (Faith, Intercession, Repentance, and Evangelization), which have reached over 400,000 people.

Father Scanlan also wrote 16 books and spiritual pamphlets and was one of the first priests to get involved with EWTN, hosting the theology series Franciscan University Presents for 18 years.

“He could help rebuild a Catholic university and spearhead the move to Catholic higher education, and be preaching in front of large groups of people, leading pilgrimages, and writing books about the faith,” Sofio added.

“It was amazing how he could do all those and move from one to other so effortlessly. The Holy Spirit gave him a lot of energy and he used it well.”

Change your heart, change your abortion votes, Bishop Paprocki tells Sen Durbin

Springfield, Ill., Feb 22, 2018 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois has reiterated that U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin should not receive Holy Communion due to the Catholic lawmaker’s support for abortion, including a recent procedural vote against a bill that would bar abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy.

“Sen. Durbin was once pro-life. I sincerely pray that he will repent and return to being pro-life,” Bishop Paprocki said Thursday. “Because his voting record in support of abortion over many years constitutes ‘obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin,’ the determination continues that Sen. Durbin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion until he repents of this sin. This provision is intended not to punish, but to bring about a change of heart.”

Paprocki’s statement cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities chairman Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who said it was “appalling” that the Senate failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.

Durbin was one of the 14 self-identified Catholic senators who on Jan. 29 voted against cloture for the bill, which was needed to prevent a filibuster.

The Springfield bishop, in whose diocese Durbin resides, cited statements of previous priests and bishops of Springfield regarding the Democratic senator’s support for legal abortion. In April 2004, his pastor Msgr. Kevin Vann, who is now Bishop of Orange, said he would be reluctant to give Holy Communion to the senator because of his lack of unity with the Church’s teaching on life.

Then-Bishop of Springfield George Lucas, who now heads the Archdiocese of Omaha, said he would support that decision.

“I have continued that position,” Paprocki said.

The Springfield bishop cited Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says those who “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

He also cited the U.S. bishops’ 2004 statement on Catholics in Political Life, which said failing to protect the lives of the innocent and defenseless is “to sin against justice.”

“Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good,” the U.S. bishops’ statement said.

Backers of the bill which Durbing voted against said that fetal neural development means the unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks into pregnancy. The bill included exceptions for an abortion in the case of rape or incest, as well in circumstances in which the pregnancy threatened the life of the mother.
Twenty-one U.S. states have laws barring abortion after 20 weeks.

The federal bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives in October 2017, is opposed by most Senate Democrats. To prevent a filibuster, Republicans needed Democratic support to reach 60 votes, in addition to the votes of the 51 Republican Senators.

Democratic Senators Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly supported the motion. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski voted against it.

In France, Italy, and Germany, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The United States, China, North Korea, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Vietnam are the seven countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.

Archbishop Chaput: Catholics need faith and reason, not a new paradigm

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 22, 2018 / 02:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- St. John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et ratio will mark its 20th anniversary this year, on Sept. 14. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia reflected on the encyclical in his essay “Believe that you may Understand” in the March 2018 issue of First Things.

Making the case that the 1998 encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason was a “prophetic” document which “confronts the crisis of truth within the Catholic Church herself,” the archbishop warned against “faddish” theology. Vigorous philosophy and good theology are, rather, mutually enriching. “Knowledge of the truth expands our freedom to love,” Archbishop Chaput said.

In an interview with CNA, he spoke more about the encyclical’s relevance for today.

 


How can the average Catholic benefit from Fides et ratio, 20 years after its publication?

The first thing to know is that it’s not the sort of text you can browse like the Sunday paper. Fides et Ratio takes time to read and absorb. Most people are rightly focused on things like raising a family and earning a living. So a lot of good people may never read it. But that doesn’t lessen its importance for the average believer.

The main takeaway from Fides et Ratio is that learning how to think clearly, with the Church, in a mature and well-informed fashion, is vital. It’s every bit as crucial as feeling our religious convictions deeply. Sentiment isn’t enough, and that directly affects how we understand the role of conscience.

Christian faith is more than good will and kind intentions. Conscience is more than our personally sincere opinions. A healthy conscience needs a strong formation in the commonly held truths of the Catholic community. Without it, conscience can very quickly turn into an alibi machine. The world is a complicated place. It requires sound Catholic reasoning skills rooted in the teaching of the Church.

The trouble is that we’ve now had at least two generations of poor catechesis and very inadequate conscience formation. So when voices tell us to leave today's hot button moral decisions to the “adult consciences” of our people, we might want to agree – ideally – but before we do, we need to examine what exactly that means. We have a great many otherwise successful, credentialed adults who see themselves as Catholic but whose faith education stopped in the sixth grade. Recovering the discipline of good Catholic moral reasoning is urgent.

If someone finds himself or herself in a cultural or ecclesial environment dominated by poor philosophy and theology, how should he or she respond?

Ignore the nonsense, read, watch and listen to good Catholic material, and live your faith in conformity with what the Church has always taught. The basics still apply on marriage, sex, honesty and everything else. There are no “new paradigms” or revolutions in Catholic thought. Using that kind of misleading language only adds confusion to a confusing age.

If we’re in an environment with good philosophy and theology, what do we need to guard against?

Pride and complacency, and taking the blessing of good teachers and pastors for granted. All of us are called to be missionaries. We preach Jesus Christ best when we witness our faith well in the charity and justice of our daily actions.

Why do you think these problems of faith and reason are so recurring in our time?

Science and technology can seem – but only seem – to make the supernatural and sacramental implausible. The language of faith can start to sound alien and irrelevant. This is why we lose so many young people before they even consider religious belief. They’re catechized every day by a stream of materialist distractions that don’t disprove God but create an indifference to him.

The Church is struggling with a lot of self-doubt. It’s natural in an age of rapid change. I think many Church pastors and scholars have simply lost confidence in the rationality of faith and the reliability of God’s Word without being willing to admit it. Instead they take refuge in humanitarian feelings and social action. But you don’t need God for either of those things, at least in the short run. In the long run, God is the only sure guarantor of human rights and dignity. So we need to think our Christianity – deeply, faithfully, and rigorously – as well as feel it.

Which is why Fides et Ratio is so important. It reminds us.

A Catholic 'paradigm shift' would be corruption, not development – Cardinal Muller

Vatican City, Feb 22, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The authentic development of doctrine is about making more explicit the revealed truths of faith, not changing, or “shifting,” Church teaching – and to use this idea to defend an agenda is wrong, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said.

In an essay published Feb. 20 in First Things, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said there can be no such thing as a “paradigm shift” in the interpretation of Catholic doctrine, and to push for one is to contradict God’s commandments.

Anyone who calls a major shift in the Church's teaching in moral theology a “praiseworthy decision of conscience… speaks against the Catholic faith,” wrote the 70-year-old prelate.

The idea of a “paradigm shift” – a “fundamental change in theoretical forms of thought and social behavior” – with respect to “the form of the Church's being and of her presence in the world” is not possible,” Müller wrote, simply because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” as it says in Hebrews 13:8.

“This is, in contrast, our paradigm, which we will not exchange for any other,” Müller stated.

He also explained that the Pope and his fellow bishops have a duty to preserve the unity of faith and to prevent polarization and partisan mentalities. Therefore, it is also a duty of conscience to speak up in opposition when the term “pastoral change” is used by some to “express their agenda to sweep aside the Church’s teaching as if doctrine were an obstacle to pastoral care.”

In his essay, he explained the concept of the “development of doctrine” in the Church as taught by Blessed John Henry Newman, and how it relates to debates on the interpretation of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia.

Chapter eight of Amoris laetitia “has been the object of contradictory interpretations,” he said, stating that when a “paradigm shift” is spoken of in this context, it seems to be “a relapse into a modernist and subjectivist way of interpreting the Catholic faith.”

According to Blessed Newman, a way to identify an authentic development of doctrine is to see if the surrounding cultural environment is growing in conformity with Christianity, not the other way around.

“Thus, a paradigm shift, by which the Church takes on the criteria of modern society to be assimilated by it, constitutes not a development, but a corruption.”

The formal principle is a category within Christian theology which distinguishes the source of the theological teaching from the teaching itself.

In the Catholic Church, Müller said, the “proper method for interpreting revelation requires the joint workings of three principles, which are: Holy Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Apostolic Succession of Catholic bishops.”

He pointed out that the Protestant Reformation is an example in history of when a new formal principle was introduced, in this case, Scripture alone.

“This new principle subjected the Catholic doctrine of the faith, as it had developed up to the sixteenth century, to a radical change,” he said. “The fundamental understanding of Christianity turned into something completely different.”

Regarding debates surrounding the interpretation of Amoris laetitia, Müller noted that groups of bishops or individual bishops’ conferences have issued directives recently on the reception of the Eucharist by divorced-and-civilly-remarried people.

He pointed out the teaching of St. John Paul II in Familiaris consortio, which says that “the divorced living in a new union must resolve to live in continence or else refrain from approaching the sacraments.”

“Is there any logical continuity between John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio n. 84 … and the change of this selfsame discipline that some are proposing? There are only two options,” he said.

“One could explicitly deny the validity of Familiaris Consortio n. 84, thus denying by the same token Newman’s sixth note, 'Conservative Action upon the Past.' Or one could attempt to show that Familiaris Consortio n. 84 implicitly anticipated the reversal of the discipline that it explicitly set out to teach. On any honest reading of John Paul II’s text, however, such a procedure would have to violate the basic rules of logic, such as the principle of non-contradiction.”

Cardinal Müller added that “when cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity ask the pope for clarity on these matters, what they request is not a clarification of the pope’s opinion. What they seek is clarity regarding the continuity of the pope’s teaching in Amoris Laetitia with the rest of tradition.”

For the statements of bishops to be orthodox, “it is not enough that they declare their conformity with the pope's presumed intentions” in Amoris laetitia, he said.

“They are orthodox only if they agree with the words of Christ preserved in the deposit of faith.”