Catholic World News

Families take in refugees as Pope calls on Europe’s churches to open their doors

Rome, Italy, Sep 7, 2015 / 03:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With many European families already opening their homes to refugees, the current head of the Jesuit’s refugee agency says Pope Francis’ appeal for parishes to open their doors offers a practical way of combating what is otherwise an overwhelming crisis.

The Roman Pontiff’s call for Europe’s parishes to take in refugees  is “a very practical, concrete, manageable, idea,” said Fr. Peter Balleis, S.J., the outgoing international director for Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), in a Sept. 7 interview with CNA.

He added that the Pope’s proposal is realistic because even a small parish of a couple hundred people can find a way to take care of a single family.

“It brings down the overwhelming situation of all these images from the media … and also the negative media, who exploit that and create fear … to very practical levels of a parish.”

On Sunday, Pope Francis said all parishes, religious communities, monasteries, and sanctuaries in Europe – including the Vatican – should welcome refugee families as part of the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy.

The Roman Pontiff has frequently appealed on behalf of the plight of migrants, as hundreds of thousands of refugees continue arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

“This is something churches have always done,” said Fr. Thomas Smolich, SJ, incoming international director of JRS, in response to the Pope’s call. “Churches have always been a place of refuge.”

As the refugee crisis receives heightened attention, Fr. Smolich acknowledged reports of violence against refugees trying to cross the border into European countries. However, JRS workers on the ground have said many Europeans are welcoming the refugees.

“We are humans, and this migrant crisis, refugee crisis, brings up all of our feelings,” he said. “We have to be careful which spirit we listen to in this.”

Speaking on these media reports, and observing that the refugee crisis is apt to bring many emotions to the surface, Fr.  Smolich warned against giving into fear.
“I would say, generally speaking, a spirit of fear at this time is from the evil spirit,” he said.

“A spirit of welcome, a spirit of challenge – it isn’t easy! – but I think that’s what God is inviting us to do at this time.”

While promoting this “spirit of welcome,” Fr.  Smolich said the current refugee crisis could also serve as a motivator to governments in bringing about peace in the conflict regions.?

Among the conflicts driving people to Europe is the Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011, forcing 4 million people to flee the country.

“Most people who are forced to flee their countries want to go back,” he said. “If anything, I hope this crisis puts some pressure on the powers-that-be to say: This war in Syria has to end.”

“The best way to deal with this crisis is to find peace.”

More than 350,000 migrants have crossed into Europe in 2015, according to the BBC. Many attempt the crossing in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, leading to scores of deaths due to drowning and starvation.

Public awareness of the refugee crisis reached an apex over the past week when the photo of a drowned Syrian toddler published by the British newspaper The Independent circulated the internet.

Aylan Al-Kurdi, 3, drowned along with his mother and older brother in a failed attempt to reach the nearby Greek island of Kos from Bodrum, their most direct passage into the European Union.

JRS already offers a France-based program for families to take in refugees, and would typically receive about five inquires per week. After the photo of Aylan went viral, however JRS officials say the the requests to host refugee families has skyrocketed.

“During the summer we received about five inquiries a week from people saying they wanted to help,” said Michel Croc, head of JRS France, according to a statement. “When the picture of the little Syrian boy was published, we received hundreds of calls.”

“We have to bring Catholics from a state of emotion and urgency to the pace of welcome, to take care of people month after month,” Croc added.

The photo of Aylan has also sparked widespread outcry over government inaction to the refugee crisis. However, Fr. Ballais said the generosity of people welcoming refugees into their homes “will encourage governments also to be more generous in their law and the structure.”

“People vote with their action and their deeds,” he said. “If governments have only hostile people, it’s very hard for governments to push through refugee-friendly policy, and many governments act out of that fear of being criticized.”?

“As Christians, our response has to be love, charity, mercy” for refugees, Fr. Ballais said. “This is the only way to overcome the bad things which happen now.”  

“The Church,” he said, “as an important part of the society, an element of the European society, takes a lead, and I think we lead by example.”

Catholic World News

Papal pop-by at Roman eyewear shop draws an enthusiastic crowd

Rome, Italy, Sep 3, 2015 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Even the most ho-hum errands become extraordinary if it’s the Pope who’s running them.

And it is no different for Pope Francis, who popped in to his eye doctor on Thursday to get some new lenses and attracted a mob of onlookers in a matter of minutes.

Pope Francis visits shop in Via del Babuino and tries new glasses

— Lorenzo Totaro (@ltotaro) September 3, 2015

The Pope rolled up in his blue Ford Focus to the optometry shop, Ottica Spiezia, located along the posh Via del Babuino, the evening of Sept. 3 accompanied by a modest entourage of security guards, a witness told the Associated Press.

Even though Francis’ appointment lasted less than an hour, enthusiastic onlookers streetside scrambled to snap photos and inundate Twitter with the news that they were witnessing the Pope running an errand outside the Vatican walls.

After about 40 minutes, the Pope opened the door and briefly greeted the crowd before heading back to the Vatican.

Shop owner Alessandro Spiezia said he was surprised by the papal pop-by, since he had offered to come to the Vatican to refill the prescription himself.

“I was supposed to go to the Vatican yesterday to bring them, but the Pope told his secretary, ‘No, I don’t want Spiezia to come here, I’ll go to Via del Babuino,'” Spiezia told the AP.

Spiezia supplied Francis’ frames last year, who liked them so much he decided to be a repeat customer.

#PopeFrancis reportedly stops into #Rome optician’s shop to try on some glasses. (Photo: ANSA)

— Alan Holdren (@AlanHoldren) September 3, 2015


Spotting the Holy Father outside the Vatican but in Rome is rare, largely for security reasons, a fact that Pope Francis himself has lamented. As a cardinal in Buenos Aires, he took public transportation almost every day.

Soehe, a young German tourist visiting Rome with his father, told the AP he was excited to spot the Pope at the eye glasses shop, especially after he waited for four hours earlier in the day to climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica, to no avail.

“There were too many people, and also the president of Israel was visiting and there were so many police officers, so it was too much for us and we went back to the hotel,” Soehe said.

“I told my father, ‘Hey, that was better than going to St. Peter’s dome: Seeing the Pope in a shop trying on new glasses.'”


#PopeFrancis doesn’t often wear glasses. In public, only when he reads a text. @angelambrogetti saw these on his desk

— Alan Holdren (@AlanHoldren) September 3, 2015

Catholic World News

Rome angered over ‘Godfather’ themed funeral for alleged mob boss

Rome, Italy, Aug 22, 2015 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An outlandish funeral for an alleged Italian mob boss, complete with a horse-drawn carriage, flower petals strewn from a helicopter and a brass band playing theme music from the movie “The Godfather” was slammed by Rome’s politicians Thursday as an intolerable display of impunity.

Hundreds gathered outside the church of San Giovanni Bosco on the outskirts of Rome to pay their respects to Vittorio Casamonica, 65, who’s been identified as the leader of the Casamonica clan, which has previously been accused of racketeering, extortion and drug trafficking.

According to local authorities, Vittorio Casamonica was “on the margins” of organized crime and hasn’t surfaced as a suspect in recent mafia probes.  

Banners outside the church described him as the “King of Rome” and pictured him alongside the colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica. “You conquered Rome, now you’ll conquer paradise,” read another.

The scene was broadcast across local TV stations all afternoon and evening.  

The pastor, Rev. Giancarlo Manieri, said he had no control over what happened outside of his church, and according to ANSA news agency, the funeral ceremony inside was not atypical.

The funeral came just a day after a judge set Nov. 5th as the trial date for 59 people charged in recent mafia investigations in Rome.

Rosy Bindi, president of the parliamentary anti-mafia commission, said it was “alarming” that a funeral for someone purportedly caught up in the mob could be “transformed into an ostentatious show of mafia power,” according to reports from Fox News.

She added that it was proof of the stronghold of the mafia in Rome, and should serve as a call to action to redouble investigation efforts of corruption in government.

“Never again. Rome cannot be defaced by those who want it to became the set of the Godfather,” Matteo Orfini, president of the ruling Democratic Party, said on Twitter about the event.

Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said it was “intolerable that funerals are used by the living to send mafia messages,” according to BBC reports.

Arturo Scotto and Celeste Costantino, of the Left Ecology Liberty (SEL) party, called on Interior Minister Angelino Alfano to explain how such a funeral could take place.

“These funerals might seem like a folkloric custom, but in reality, they send a clear message of impunity on the part of the clans: we still exist and we are powerful,” they said in a statement in Italian posted on Facebook.

Several commenters also noted that the Casamonica funeral took place at the same church were, in 2006, the Archdiocese of Rome blocked a funeral for Piergiorgio Welby, who had become a symbol of the “right-to-die” movement in Italy, which contradicts Church teaching.

Catholic World News

Greece tour brings Saint Paul’s ministry to life for priests

Athens, Greece, Aug 18, 2015 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A two-week trip to Greece will let priests in Rome follow in the steps of St. Paul: all the way from his conversion in Philippi, to his preaching in Corinth and finally his overnight stop in Crete as a prisoner.

“Studying the Bible in the places where it was written – the Holy Land, Greece, Turkey – is essential for all students of Scripture, in my opinion,” Father Scott Brodeur S.J. told CNA Aug. 13.

“Of course classroom lectures and readings are essential to the learning process, but well-planned trips to the Biblical lands really help people put that knowledge into better perspective.”

Fr. Brodeur is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and a specialist in Pauline studies.

For the second year in a row he will be leading the “Paolo e il suo ambiente (Paul and his environment)” course in Greece, a two-week a licentiate-level study done through the Biblical Theology department of the Gregorian University.

Starting Sept. 7, the course is meant to introduce students to what would have been St. Paul’s world in the first century.

“After visiting the baptistery area along the river bank in Philippi, you cannot read the story from Acts about Paul’s conversion of St. Lydia in the same way,” Fr. Brodeur said. “The same with a visit to Corinth or Thessalonica – Paul’s letters make more sense and take on greater meaning.”

The 33 students who will participate in the course this year are mostly religious and diocesan priests from the Gregorian, with the exception of one laywoman and her husband, and a few students from the other pontifical universities.

A handful of non-students coming just for the experience are also numbered among the group, including the rector of Pontifical Brazilian College.

“That said, the real diversity in the group is our national makeup: many different countries from all over the world are represented, and the one language we all share, thanks to Rome, is Italian,” the priest observed.

Structured around the major places in St. Paul’s life and ministry in Greece, the course will take students to Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Crete.

The fact they will be traveling by bus will help those enrolled to appreciate the long distances Paul and the other apostles traveled by foot, which was “an extraordinary achievement for people in the first century!” Fr. Brodeur said.

After spending roughly a week and a half going around continental Greece, the group will spend their final three nights on Crete, which is the last place St. Paul – while in chains – visited before shipwrecking on the island of Malta.

Although the main goal is to visit the churches that Paul himself founded, the priest stressed that it’s also important to learn about the major pagan sanctuaries of the day.

In addition to visiting the shrines of Delphi, Olympia and Epidaurus, the students will also be taken to the Orthodox monasteries of the Meteora, which Fr. Brodeur noted are “unique in the whole world.”

St. Paul, he observed, “is the Church’s greatest evangelizer. He brought the Gospel to the nations and brought the Gentiles into the Church.”
“Thanks to his brilliant articulation of the Christian faith Christianity spread from Asia to Europe. He was a man of extraordinary intellect, courage and zeal,” he said, and expressed his admiration of the apostle for these and the many other virtues he possessed.

Since first teaching the course two years ago Fr. Brodeur said that he has seen the students who participate come back to Rome not only more enthusiastic about St. Paul, but also more interested in the New Testament.

“This renewed interest helps them to persevere in their ongoing studies as well as prepare them for their own teaching careers.” With many of the course participants likely to soon return to their home dioceses or provinces and join faculties in seminaries and Catholic universities.

Catholic World News

In UK, assisted suicide vote looms as a key moment for disabled

London, England, Aug 14, 2015 / 04:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid strong Christian opposition to the legalization of assisted suicide in the U.K., former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has broken away. He took part in a video for a group backing assisted suicide and claims that it is “profoundly Christian” to help people end their lives.

“There’s nothing noble about excruciating pain and I think we need as a nation to give people the right to decide their own fate,” the former head clergyman of the Church of England said in a video for the pro-assisted suicide campaign group Dignity in Dying.

“In my view it is a profoundly Christian and moral thing to devise a law that enables people if they so choose to end their lives with dignity,” he said, according to the U.K.-based Premier Christian Radio.

Under current law in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to encourage or to help someone attempt to take their own life. On Sept. 11 the House of Commons will debate and vote on a private member’s bill to legalize assisted suicide.

Like the Catholic Church, the Church of England opposes changes to current U.K. law. On July 16 it urged churchgoers to contact their MPs to oppose the bill. James Newcome, the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle and the group’s lead bishop on health care, said legalization would create a “very uncertain and dangerous” future for the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and the disabled.

“This is a key moment for all of us as we decide what sort of society we want to live in and what future we want for our children and grandchildren, one in which all are valued and cared for, or one in which some lives are viewed as not worth living,” he said.

The Church of England’s general synod unanimously passed a motion to oppose the bill. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called assisted suicide “mistaken and dangerous.”

The Catholic Church in England and Wales urged opposition to the bill in a July 1 Question and Answer, which stressed that every person’s life is equally worthy of respect and compassion.

Those say they wish to die, the statement said, “deserve care, support and sometimes medical treatment for depression, not assistance with suicide.” It emphasized the duty to provide good pain control and hospice care for those in need.

“The Church teaches that life is a gift from God and supports high quality care for the dying and protection for the weak and vulnerable.”

Lord Carey said he thought Parliament could craft laws that are resistant to abuse and unintended consequences.

However, the Catholic Church statement said it is “wishful thinking” to think there would be adequate safeguards once the ethical and legal principles against assisted suicide are violated. It pointed to abuses in Holland and several U.S. states where assisted suicide is legal or not prosecuted. The statement said doctors in these places often fail to diagnose clinical depression in those who would be eligible for legal suicide.

“Each year the numbers dying by assisted suicide increase and the ‘safeguards’ are taken less and less seriously,” the statement charged.

Catholic World News

Greece in crisis – and what Catholics are doing to help

Athens, Greece, Aug 6, 2015 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Greece’s financial and political situation reaches a fever pitch in complexity, Caritas has stepped up and is offering help to the growing number of poor and migrants inhabiting the country.

“Here everything is blocked, everything is difficult. There isn’t work, there isn’t anything. Also Greeks are looking for work, everyone is. It’s a very, very difficult situation,” Father Andrea Voutsinos told CNA Aug. 5.

Fr. Voutsinos is the director of Caritas Greece, which is part of the regional Caritas Europe branch and the wider, all-encompassing Caritas Internationalis.

In a July 5 referendum Greek citizens voted heavily against Europe’s latest bailout offer after the country failed to repay their creditors large amounts of their more than $300 billion debt. The vote raised concerns that the country could suffer a worse economic disaster and lose its place in the eurozone.

Greece has been in financial crisis for years. Economically the weakest nation in the eurozone, it was hit hard during the 2008 global financial crisis. Beginning in 2010, it began receiving financial bailouts, on the condition that it adopt austerity measures such as pension cuts, tax hikes and public sector layoffs.

These austerity measures were a primary motivation in the negative referendum vote, which has left Greece with an increasingly uncertain future.

Unemployment in Greece is currently 25 percent, and individuals are unable to withdraw more than $70 a day from ATMs.

Amid the country’s ongoing dilemma, including a rising number of needy families and a growing number of refugees flooding in from the Middle East, Caritas Greece has been expanding their initiatives to assist more people.

The organization recently launched a new program called “Estia,” aimed at reaching out to families who have nothing, Fr. Voutsinos explained.

In addition to helping families with basic food needs, Caritas also offers assistance in paying for bills and medical insurance, since in Greece you can’t be admitted to the hospital unless you pay, the priest said.

“If they don’t have any work, they can’t bring anything home to live on. We are sending help daily,” he noted, including funds for electric, gas and water bills.

Caritas Greece also runs a large daily soup kitchen, this year feeding nearly 300 extra mouths, including several who are elderly.

However, the country’s growing number of poor is “only half the concern,” Fr. Voutsinos said, explaining that there is also an increasing worry over what to do with the number of refugees who enter into Greece’s southeastern islands from Turkey, making their way to Athens and beyond.

More than 90,000 refugees have entered Greece from the so far this year, most of them from the Middle East, the priest said, and he expects to see even more of an increase before the end of the year. Among those who come are many from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Every day more arrive from Turkey because it’s so close,” he said. With nowhere to go the refugees often make their way to Athens and sleep on the streets or in parks.

“There is great poverty, because the people don’t have the possibility to buy what’s necessary to eat.” So Caritas tries to help feed them, he said.

In addition to their other initiatives, the charitable organization also has a special project for Syrians who come to Greece, helping them in integrate as well as offering meals through their soup kitchen, assisted by the Missionaries of Charity.

The refugees who come “are looking for a better world,” the priest said, “but when they enter it’s not a better world.”

Despite the various projects Caritas is involved in, Catholics in Greece are a minority, making it difficult to raise the necessary funds in order to meet the country’s rising needs.

With the dominating religion being the Greek Orthodox practice, only 200-300,000 Catholics live in the country, “but by now also the Greek Catholics have lost work. They also ask us for help, but we don’t always have the money because we also have to sustain the parishes,” Fr. Voutsinos said.

As a result, the Caritas branches of Europe, Italy, Latin America and North America have all donated to the Greek branch in order to ensure they have enough funds to continue assisting their needy community.
Pope Francis recently offered his solidarity with Greece ahead of the country’s July referendum, calling for prayer and an attention to human dignity when entering into political debate.

“The news from Greece regarding the economic and social situation of the country is worrying,” Vatican press director Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a July 1 statement on behalf of Pope Francis. The Pope, he said, “invites all the faithful to unite in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people.”

Fr. Voutsinos said that the Pope’s words were a consolation for them, but that difficulty remains, and “everyone is a little afraid for the future.”

Catholic World News

This 100-year-old priest still has a very important task: fighting Satan

Madrid, Spain, Aug 5, 2015 / 02:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On August 1, the oldest priest in the Diocese of Malaga, Spain turned 100 years old. After a century of life, Father Francisco Acevedo says he still has important work to do.

“St. Peter says: ‘Be sober and keep watch, because the devil as a roaring lion walks about, seeking whom he may devour,” said Fr. Acevedo in an interview published by the Bishop of Malaga.

“I still have to resist the devil, but it’s not easy. The devil does not want there to be holy priests, and it’s dangerous to not take this seriously,” he said when asked about his ongoing task.

Now living in residence at St. Patrick’s parish, the priest says he has led a normal life and does not have any “tricks” to such a long life.

Having spent most of the last century as a priest, Fr. Acevedo offered some advice to seminarians and young priests: “Seek God alone.”

He also stressed the importance of prayer, saying that it “is everything” to him and is “a permanent guard.”

Fr. Acevedo tried to be faithful in prayer, and highlighted Mary’s faithfulness in always praying for her children.

Those who see prayer time as taking away from other activities “do not know what it means to be Christian,” he continued. “They might have heard something about him, but they do not know Jesus. If they knew him, they would seek.”

Catholic World News

Meet Saint Nektarios – a philosopher, poet and miracle worker

Athens, Greece, Aug 5, 2015 / 04:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Buried in a hilltop monastery on a small Greek island, Saint Nektarios – one of the most widely known and venerated Greek Orthodox saints – draws thousands of pilgrims each year, and is known for his writings and miracles.

The Greek Orthodox Church is part of the larger body of Eastern Orthodox Churches, who share a common doctrine and form of worship with each other.

Although the majority of Greek Orthodox live in Greece and in the southern Balkans, they are also present in Cyprus, Anatolia, southern Caucasus and Turkey, where their patriarch and head – Bartholomew I – lives.

Agios Nektarios of Aegina was born Oct. 1, 1846, in Asia Minor, now a part Turkey, into a simple but pious Christian home and given the name Anastasios.

Although family funds were limited, Nektarios completed elementary school in his hometown before leaving for Constantinople (now Istanbul) at the age of 14, where he worked as a shop assistant.

He regularly attended the Orthodox Church’s Sunday Divine Liturgy, and was an avid reader of scripture, as well as the writings of the Orthodox Elders of the Church.

In 1866, at the age of 20, Nektarios went to the island of Chios, where he was appointed a teacher. After seven years he entered the local monastery. Three years later he was made a monk, taking the name Lazarus.

After a just one year he was ordained a deacon and given the name Nektarios. Having completed his studies thanks to the help of a wealthy benefactor, the deacon moved to Alexandria, where he served under the guidance of the then-Patriarch of Alexandria, Sophronios.

With the patriarch’s urging, Nektarios went on to complete his theological studies, graduating in 1885 from the School of Theology in Athens. He was ordained a priest in 1886.

After quickly becoming known for his dedication to the Church, his prolific writings and teachings and his energy and zeal, Fr. Nektarios was soon ordained bishop, overseeing the Orthodox diocese of Pentapolis in Egypt.

As a bishop Nektarios became highly admired for his virtue and purity, and was greatly loved by his flock.

However, after his popularity evoked envy in higher officials, the beloved bishop was removed from office in 1890 without an explanation or trial procedure.

Nektarios then returned to Greece to where he served as a monk and preacher, continuing to write his now-famous books.

In 1904 he founded a monastery for women on the small island of Aegina, one of the Saronic Islands of Greece located roughly 17 miles from Athens.

Named the Holy Trinity Convent, the monastery flourished and was the place where Nektarios withdrew after retiring from his teaching position at the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School in 1908, at the age of 62.

He lived the rest of his days at the monastery, serving as a confessor and spiritual guide for the nuns and also priests who would come from distant cities. Known for his holiness and piety, the bishop would receive many visits from people asking for healing.

In September 1920 he was taken to the local hospital by one of the nuns in the convent, despite his protest, due to the great pain he was experiencing linked to a long-standing illness.

Placed in the same ward as the poor, Nektarios remained among them for two months before passing away the evening of Nov. 8.

The first miracle attributed to the saint came soon after his death when a nurse came to prepare his body for its transfer to Aegina for burial.

When the nurse removed the sweater Nektarios had been wearing, she placed it on the bed next to his, which was occupied by a paralytic. As soon as the sweater touched the bed the paralytic immediately regained his strength and stood up, giving glory to God.

He was officially recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961, and his feast day is celebrated Nov. 9 in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Each year on that day services are held at the monastery and a special procession takes place in the morning, during which the saint’s remains are carried through the streets of Aegina.

Pilgrims who come to pray at Nektarios’ tomb follow the Orthodox custom of making a threefold sign of the cross and kiss icons with the saint’s image. In another Orthodox practice visitors often lay their head on the saint’s stone tomb, wet from the humidity, while offering prayers that are usually answered.

Since Pope Francis’ election in March 2013, he has met Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I on several occasions, with the aim of strengthening ecumenical ties between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

In addition to signing two join-declarations last year, the two experienced a shared moment of prayer in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher during the Roman Pontiff’s trip to the Holy Land in May 2014.

They reunited a month later at the Vatican for a June 8, 2014, invocation for peace between Israel and Palestine.

Francis and the patriarch also shared an emotional embrace during the Pope’s visit to Turkey in November 2014, which was a trip made largely upon the patriarch’s invitation to participate in the celebration of the feast of St. Andrew.

Since then Francis has spoken on several occasions about the steps that need to be done in continuing to strengthen relations between the churches, and has mentioned that finding a common date for the celebration of Easter is a priority that could happen in the near future.

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