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St. Faustina Kowalska and St. John Paul II: Patron Saints of World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow

JPIIFaustina

Pope John Paul II’s interest in Divine Mercy goes back to the days of his youth in Krakow when Karol Wojtyla was an eyewitness to so much evil and suffering during World War II in occupied Poland. He witnessed the round ups of many people who were sent to concentration camps and slave labor. In his hometown of Wadowice, he had many Jewish friends who would later die in the Holocaust. During that time of terror and fear, Karol Wojtyla decided to enter Cardinal Sapieha’s clandestine seminary in Krakow. He experienced the need for God’s mercy and humanity’s need to be merciful to one another. While in the seminary, he met another seminarian, Andrew Deskur (who would later become Cardinal), who introduced Karol to the message of the Divine Mercy, as revealed to the Polish mystic nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who died at the age of 33 in 1938.

The Pope of Divine Mercy

At the beginning of his pontificate in 1981, Pope John Paul II wrote an entire encyclical dedicated to Divine Mercy – “Dives in Misericordia” (Rich in Mercy) illustrating that the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ was to reveal the merciful love of the Father. In 1993 when Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Faustina Kowalska, he stated in the homily for her beatification mass: “Her mission continues and is yielding astonishing fruit. It is truly marvelous how her devotion to the merciful Jesus is spreading in our contemporary world, and gaining so many human hearts!”

Four years later in 1997, the Holy Father visited Blessed Faustina’s tomb in Lagiewniki, Poland, and preached powerful words: “There is nothing that man needs more than Divine Mercy…. From here went out the message of Mercy that Christ Himself chose to pass on to our generation through Blessed Faustina.”

In the Jubilee year 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina – making her the first canonized saint of the new millennium – and established “Divine Mercy Sunday” as a special title for the Second Sunday of Easter for the universal Church. Pope John Paul II spoke these words in the homily: “Jesus shows His hands and His side [to the Apostles]. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in His Heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity.”

One year later, in his homily for Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, the Pope called the message of mercy entrusted to St. Faustina: “The appropriate and incisive answer that God wanted to offer to the questions and expectations of human beings in our time, marked by terrible tragedies…. Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium.”

Again in Lagiewniki, Poland in 2002, at the dedication of the new Shrine of Divine Mercy, the Holy Father consecrated the whole world to Divine Mercy, saying: “I do so with the burning desire that the message of God’s merciful love, proclaimed here through St. Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth, and fill their hearts with hope.”

In his Regina Caeli address of April 23, 2006, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “The mystery of God’s merciful love was at the centre of the pontificate of my venerated predecessor.” Now that same Providence has desired that this year, on Divine Mercy Sunday, three years after he was beatified on this same feast, Pope John Paul II, the great apostle and ambassador of Divine Mercy, will be proclaimed a saint.

Mercy is our hallmark

We must ask ourselves: what is new about this message of Divine Mercy? Why did Pope John Paul II insist so much on this aspect of God’s love in our time? Is this not the same devotion as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Mercy is an important Christian virtue, much different from justice and retribution. While recognizing the real pain of injury and the rationale for the justification of punishment, mercy takes a different approach in redressing the injury. Mercy strives to radically change the condition and the soul of the perpetrator to resist doing evil, often by revealing love and one’s true beauty. If any punishment is enforced, it must be for salvation, not for vengeance or retribution. This is very messy business in our day and a very complex message… but it is the only way if we wish to go forward and be leaven for the world today; if we truly wish to be salt and light in a culture that has lost the flavor of the Gospel and the light of Christ.

Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, abuse has destroyed countless innocent lives, the grace of mercy is needed in order to settle human minds and hearts and to bring about healing and peace. Wherever respect for human life and dignity are lacking, there is need of God’s merciful love, in whose light we see the inexpressible value of every human being. Mercy is needed to insure that every injustice in the world will come to an end. The message of mercy is that God loves us – all of us – no matter how great our sins. God’s mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Essentially, mercy means the understanding of weakness, the capacity to forgive.

Apostle of Divine Mercy

Throughout his priestly and Episcopal ministry, and especially during his entire Pontificate, Pope John Paul II preached God’s mercy, wrote about it, and most of all lived it. He offered forgiveness to the man who was destined to kill him in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope who witnessed the scandal of divisions among Christians and the atrocities against the Jewish people as he grew up did everything in his power to heal the wounds caused by the historic conflicts between Catholics and other Christian churches, and especially with the Jewish people.

I shall never forget the stirring words of St. John Paul II spoke at the concluding mass of World Youth Day at Downsview Park in Toronto on July 28, 2002. These words keep us focused on the importance and necessity of mercy in the Church today.

“…At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit…”

“…Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.”

Let us pray with joy and gratitude:

O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that Saint John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.


 

Photo WYD Krakow

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Eminent Daughter of Israel, Faithful Daughter of the Church

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On July 29, during his Apostolic Journey to Poland for World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Pope Francis will visit the former concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. He will walk through the main gate with the grotesque Nazi motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free) and will meet with some survivors in the Auschwitz part of the former death camp that was operated by Nazi Germans in occupied Poland.

The Holy Father will pray privately at the death cell of Franciscan Fr. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a friar who offered to die for another inmate, Franciszek Gajowniczek, who survived Auschwitz. Francis will be the third pope to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, after St John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

The Pope will then pray and speak at the memorial to the victims, located in the former Birkenau camp. In addition to St. Maxilian Kolbe, the Holy Father will also remember St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Here is a brief biography of this great woman saint of the last century.

Biography

Edith Stein, the youngest of eleven children of a devout Jewish family, was born in Wroclaw, Poland, on October 12, 1891. Following the death of her father when she was only 21 months old, Edith was raised by her mother, who carried on the family business, along with her sisters. Edith eventually grew up to be counted among a small group of women to attend university when she enrolled at the University of Breslau in 1911, and later transferring to the University of Gottingen to pursue her studies under the mentorship of the renowned founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl. Husserl eventually chose Edith Stein to be his teaching assistant at the University of Freiburg, and called her the best doctoral student he ever had – even more able than Heidegger who was also a pupil of Husserl’s at the same time Edith was. In 1916 Edith completed her doctoral dissertation and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree summa cum laude.

As the draft began calling up many of her friends for service in World War I, Edith volunteered together with a number of other women students for duty in military hospitals. She requested an assignment in a hospital for infectious diseases, and lovingly cared for soldiers of the Austrian Army who were suffering from typhus, dysentery and cholera. On completion of her term as a volunteer at the military hospital, Edith was awarded the medal of valor in recognition of her selfless service.

She then became Husserl’s assistant at the University of Freiburg, where he had was promoted to a Full Professorship. It was here that her religious struggle began as, in her pursuit of truth, she turned to reading the New Testament and began her gradual movement back towards a faith which she had earlier abandoned. On January 1, 1922, Edith Stein was baptized a Catholic, taking the name Teresa as her baptismal name. She continued to attend the Synagogue with her mother, praying the psalms of Jewish prayer service.

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Following her conversion, Edith discontinued her scholarly career as a student and accepted a position teaching German at the Dominican Sisters’ school in Speyer. For eight years, she worked as a teacher, and balanced her day between work and prayer. Throughout this period, Edith continued her philosophical writings and translations, and took on speaking engagements that took her to cities such as Heidelberg, Zurich, Salzburg. In the course of her lectures she frequently addressed herself to the role and significance of women in contemporary life. Some favorite themes of her public lectures were: “The Separate Vocations of Man and Woman According to God and Nature,” “The Spirituality of Christian Woman,” “Problems of Women’s Education,” and “The Significance of Woman’s Intrinsic Value in National Life.” Edith held a radical feminist stance, manifested a strong commitment to the recognition and advancement of women, and to the value she attached to the mature Christian life of a woman as a source of healing for the world.

In 1931 Edith left the convent school to devote herself full-time to writing and the publication of her works. In 1932, she accepted a lectureship position at the University of Munster, but a year later was told that she would have to give up her position because of her Jewish background. The university administration suggested that she work on her projects privately until the situation in Germany improved, but Edith declined.

Even though she had received an invitation to lecture in South America , Edith became convinced that the time had come for her to fulfill her dream to enter the convent. On October 14, 1933, at age 42, Edith Stein entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne and took the religious name, Teresa, Benedicta a Cruce – Teresa, Blessed of the Cross, reflecting her special devotion to the Passion of Christ and her gratitude for the spiritual patronage of Teresa of Avila. In the convent, Edith continued to study and write, completing the text of her book, “Finite and Being.” her magnum opus, She also authored “Ways of Knowing God” and “The Symbolic Theology of the Areopagite,” a two-volume translation of St. Thomas’ works while working on “The Science of the Cross.”

By 1938 the situation in Germany had deteriorated significantly, and the S.S. attack of November 8 (Kristallnacht) removed any lingering doubts about the true state of affairs of Jewish citizens. The Carmelite Prioress in the German Carmel arranged for Edith to be transferred to the Dutch convent at Echt, and on December 31, 1938, Edith Stein was driven across the border under the cover of darkness to Holland. There, at the Convent in Echt, Sr. Teresa Benedicta composed three acts of self-oblation, offering her life up for the Jewish people, for peace, and for the sanctification of her Carmelite family. She then settled into a life of teaching the postulants Latin and writing a book on St. John of the Cross. Edith’s sister Rosa had become a Catholic after their mother’s death in 1936, and in 1940 she joined Edith at the Echt Carmel as a Third Order Carmelite.

While the Nazi policy of exterminating Jews was rapidly implemented once Holland was occupied, Jews who professed Christianity were initially left alone. However, when the Catholic bishops in the Netherlands issued a pastoral letter in which they sharply protested against the deportation of the Jews, the Nazi rulers reacted violently by ordering the extermination of baptized Jews as well.
On Sunday, August 2, 1942, all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland were rounded up and arrested; two of whom were Edith and Rosa Stein. As neighbors gathered in horror at the door of the convent, they heard these last words of Edith Stein to her sister Rosa as the Nazis took them away: “Come, let us go for our people.” Given an opportunity to be released through her connection to the Catholic Church, Stein faithfully refused saying that Baptism should not be used as an unfair advantage; rather, she needed to share in the fate of her Jewish brothers and sisters.
The night between 3 and 4 August, the prisoners are transported from Amersfoort to the Lager of Westerbork. One of the policemen asked Sister Teresa Benedicta, who had been beaten with a rifle, what religion she belonged to. She answered him: “I’m a Catholic.”

The officer replied: “Not at all, you’re a damned Jew.”
Then the men were separated from the women, husbands from wives, mothers from their children, and any communication was forbidden. It was from the Westerbork Camp that Sr. Teresa Benedicta sent out a last cry for help. She telephoned Utrecht and tried to obtain a temporary stay. She had hoped that the Swiss consulate in Amsterdam could save her save her. Here is the text of a telegram that she enclosed in a letter for the convent at Echt Carmel:

Drente – Westerbork
Barracks 36, 4 August 1942

Dear Mother and dear Sisters,
Tonight we left the distribution center at A. (Amersfoort) and arrived here. We were received kindly. Everything is being done so that we can be freed or at the least be able to stay here. All the Catholics are gathered together here, in our dormitory, all the nuns (two Trappists and a Dominican), Ruth (Kantorowicz), Alice (Reis), Dr. Meirowsky, and others. Two Trappist Fathers are also with us. In any case you must send us our personal papers, our ration cards and bread cards. Up to now we have been sustained entirely by the charity of others. We hope that you have found the (Swiss) Consul’s address and that you have been in contact with him. We have asked numerous people to bring us your news. With us here are also the two nice young girls from Koningsbosch (Anne-Marie and Elfriede Goldschmidt). We are nonetheless calm and content. Clearly until now no Mass or Communion; perhaps that will come later. We are arranging to be able to live only an inner life. With all my heart. We shall certainly write soon.
Yours in corde Jesu,
Teresa Benedicta
If you answer, do not mention this letter.

Written on the margin was a cross and the date August 5.

A good number of eyewitness accounts of Edith’s behavior during her days of imprisonment at Amersfoort and Westerbork spoke of her silence, her calm, her composure, her self-possession, her comforting and consoling of other women, her caring for the little ones, washing them and combing their hair and making sure that they were fed. Guards even said that she moved like an angel among those who lived in filth, squalor and unspeakable terror.

The Stein sisters were killed the same day they arrived, August 9, 1942, burned in the open air, and their ashes buried in a common grave or thrown into a nearby pond. Traveling with her, companions in suffering and martyrdom, besides her sister Rose, Carmelite tertiary and doorkeeper at Carmel in Echt, are other acquaintances: Alice Reis, born in Berlin, whom Edith sponsored at baptism; Dr. Ruth Kantorowicz, journalist and librarian, of Hamburg, whom Edith knew since childhood. Ruth wanted to become a Carmelite nun in Maastricht, but was not accepted into the novitiate. She went into the Ursuline convent in Velno as an external helper, where she was captured on August 2 1942.

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was 51 years old at the time of her martyrdom. Even though her life was snuffed out during the Holocaust, her memory stands as a light undimmed in the midst of evil, darkness, and suffering. She is a symbol of the inherent unity between Jews and Christians. Dedicated to the good of all persons, she represents a moral force for all humanity.

On May 1, 1987, Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun and a victim of the Holocaust at Auschwitz, was beatified, along with Father Rupert Mayer, a Jesuit priest known for his resistance to the Nazis, during a Mass celebrated by Blessed John Paul II in Cologne, Germany.

On October 11, 1998 in St. Peter’s Square, Blessed John Paul II celebrated Mass during which he canonized Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, discalced Carmelite and martyr. In his homily, he asked that her witness might “reinforce even more the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians.” John Paul II called her “an eminent daughter of Israel and a faithful daughter of the Church.” He said:

“From now on, as we celebrate the memory of this new saint (every August 9), we cannot fail to remember from year to year the ‘Shoah’ (the Holocaust), that savage plan of exterminating a people, which cost the lives of millions of Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Don’t accept anything as truth if it is without love. And don’t accept anything as love if it is without truth! One without the other is a harmful lie.”

“Many of our contemporaries would want the Cross to be silenced. However, nothing is more eloquent than the Cross made silent! The true message of pain is a lesson of love. Love makes pain bear fruit and pain deepens love.”

 

On October 1, 1999, Blessed John Paul II declared St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to be co-patron of Europe, along with St. Bridged of Sweeden and St. Catherine of Siena. John Paul said that together with the two great women, Teresa Benedicta represents that holiness that is for Europe “the secret of its past and the hope for its future.”

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians…”

Martyrology of Edith Stein and her companions EdithStein3(August 2-9,1942)

Sister Charitas (Resi Bock) teacher
nun of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Born June 13, 1909 in Vienna
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Mother House at Moerdijk
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Dr. Lisamaria Meirowsky
pediatrician, Dominican Tertiary
Born September 7, 1904 in Graudenz
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Trappist Abbey at Berkel-Enschot
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Brother Wolfgang (Fritz Rosenbaum) Franciscan
Born May 27, 1915 in Witten
Arrested August 2,1942 in the Franciscan convent at Woerden
Killed September 30, 1942 at Auschwitz

Alice Reis, nurse
Born September 17 in Berlin
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Convent of the Good Shepherd Sisters at Almelo
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Father Ignatius (George Löb), Trappist
Born September 25, 1909 at Hoensbroek
Arrested August 2, 1942 in Koningshoeven Abbey near Tilburg
Killed August 19, 1942 at Auschwitz

Sister Maria-Theresia (Door Löb) Trappist
Born October 22, 1911 in Sawah-Loento (Indonesia)
Arrested August 2, 1942 in Koningshoord Abbey at Berkel-Enschot
Killed September 30, 1942 at Auschwitz

Sister Mirjam (Else Michaelis)
accountant, Sister of St. Joseph at Trier
Born March 31, 1899 in Berlin
Arrested August 2, 1942 at the Franciscan convent of Nonnenwerth at Marienwaard
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Sister Judith Mendes da Costa, Dominican
Born August 25, 1895 in Amsterdam
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the convent at Bilthoven, released August 15 from the camp at Westerbork, February 25 1944 deported to Theresienstadt, transported to Auschwitz 16, May 1944
Killed July 7, 1944 at Auschwitz

Rose Stein, Carmelite tertiary, doorkeeper of the convent
Born December 13, 1883 at Lublinitz
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Carmel convent at Echt
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Dr. Edith Stein – Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce
Carmelite nun, philosopher
Born October12, 1891 in Breslau
Arrested August 2, 1942 in the Carmel of Echt
Killed August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz

Father Nivardus (Ernst Löb) Trappist
Born October 29, 1913 in Sawah-Loento (Indonesia)
Arrested August 2, 1942 in Koninshoeven Abbey near Tilburg
Killed August 19, 1942 at Auschwitz

CHALLENGES FACING SWISS CATHOLIC ACADEMIC WOMEN
Edith Stein

“…Let’s get to the point: Are we Catholic academics in contact with organized workers, the Swiss Women’s Movement, the Women’s Union, and the Christian Socialists? We are not. Why? Certainly the fault lies on both sides, but it is equally certain it is indeed on both sides. Do we grasp social problems, the burning problems of today? Do they concern us also? Or are we waiting until others find some solution or until we are submerged by the billows of chaos? Is such an attitude worthy of an academic woman? Must we not try to help in deed as well as in thought? I believe this is a theoretical matter primarily in that we should investigate connections and causes so that we may know what help is needed and how to give it. Concretely, we must proceed through Caritas, that means that our love of God must find practical expression. There are manifold ways to fit manifold needs. Let us not be stuck in a rut. We must get in touch with the social ferment of the masses and understand their physical and spiritual needs.

In Cardinal Faulhaber’s commentary on the vesper psalms, he explains the middle verse of the “Magnificat. “He writes: “Who still dares to say that politics has nothing to do with religion and that souls directed towards God, especially women, should stay far from public life? If the quiet virgin of Nazareth, her soul resting completely in God her savior, could be concerned with the happenings on the world scene (middle verse of the Magnificat), then religious people, including women of course, dare not be indifferent as to whether the arm of God is seen in world events. They must not be unconcerned as to whether the God- willed spiritual, political, and economic order is established. Nor may they be unconcerned when dogmatic intellectuals confuse the people with their knowledge when political leaders strike out God’s name from public life, or when capitalistic exploiters are upsetting the economic order. . .”

The example of Mary is relevant here. She is the ideal type of woman who knew how to unite tenderness with power. She stood under the cross. She had previously concerned herself about the human condition, observed it, understood it! In her son’s tragic hour she appeared publicly. Perhaps the moment has almost come for the Catholic woman also to stand with Mary and with the Church under the cross! Concretely: I am not asking the Swiss Catholic academic woman to decide today whether or not woman should take part in public life (it would even be childish presumption to ask for this). But I believe there is something that must be promoted in the name of sound human reason, in the interest of our families, our nation, and our Church. It is that you take an interest in the question, reflect on it, and study it objectively in the light of contemporary development.

…Perhaps through the course of the centuries, our attitude in the Church has been too passive. Perhaps we have left it to exceptional people “to prove the exception to the rule,” people like Teresa of Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, etc. The twentieth century demands more! I am thinking specifically of the atheistic movement. How can we oppose this phalanx? Pope Pius XI has already sanctioned the lay apostolate; in fact, he has summoned us to it. Should Catholic action stay a catchword and a cliché which resounds through the assemblies but does not ignite?

Do we understand what the so-called Liturgical Movement is all about? It is certainly not about aesthetics. No, it is about a deeper sharing in the life of Christ and witness to it by means of the Church…”

Taken from the works of Edith Stein as published by ICS Publications in the book “The Collected Works of Edith Stein”, Volume II “Essays on Woman”, 1987.

Feast of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – July 4

“Verso l’alto”

July 4 is the Memorial (Feast Day) of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. The following is the homily of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB preached on Monday, July 14, 2008 during WYD Sydney at the Prayer Vigil and Eucharistic Adoration with the body of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia.

Dear Friends,
Dear Wanda, niece of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati,

What an honour and privilege it is to be here with you this evening in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Australia! Led by the young adults of Canada’s Catholic Christian Outreach [CCO], one of our nation’s outstanding movements for Catholic university students, we have gathered together to adore Jesus, gift of God for the life of the world. And young people of the entire world have also come here, to pray around the mortal remains of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati during World Youth Day 2008.

We have just listened to the blueprint for Christianity in that magnificent text of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel [5:1-12]. The Beatitudes in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount are a recipe for extreme holiness. Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of holiness and a crisis of saints.

If there was ever an age when young men and women needed authentic heroes, it is our age. The Church understands that the saints and blesseds, their prayers, their lives, are for people on earth; that sainthood, as an earthly honor, is not coveted by the saints or blesseds themselves.

What was so unique and special about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati? He was born in 1901, at the turn of the last century in Turin, Italy. July 4, 2008 marked the 83rd anniversary of Pier Giorgio Frassati’s entry into eternal life. Athletic, full of life, always surrounded by friends, whom he inspired with his life, Pier Giorgio chose not to become a priest or religious, preferring to give witness to the Gospel as a lay person. He never founded a religious order or started a new ecclesial movement. He led no armies, nor was he elected to public office. Death came even before he could complete his university degree (the degree was awarded to him posthumously in 2001). He never had a chance to begin a career; in fact, he hadn’t even worked out for sure what his vocation in life would be. He was simply a young man who was in love with his family and friends, in love with the mountains and the sea, but especially in love with God.

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Through World Youth Days, Pier Giorgio Frassati has become a special patron to millions of young people around the world, and most especially to the movement “Catholic Christian Outreach” in Canada. Let us consider three highlights of this young Blessed’s life that combined in a remarkable way political activism, solidarity, work for social justice, piety and devotion, humanity and goodness, holiness and ordinariness, faith and life.

Pier Giorgio’s Devotional Life and Love of the Eucharist

Pier Giorgio Frassati developed a deep spiritual life which he never hesitated to share with his friends. His friends remember him saying: “To live without faith, without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for truth, is not to live, but to ‘plod along’; we must never just ‘plod along.’ ”

The Eucharist and the Blessed Mother were the two poles of his world of prayer. He felt a strong mysterious urge to be near the Blessed Sacrament. He followed Him in the processions, took part enthusiastically in the Eucharistic Congresses, but above everything he loved to spend long hours in nocturnal adoration. And his joy was so much greater when he managed to bring in front of the Blessed Sacrament, his friends, young people he knew, and the poor he looked after. During some Eucharistic vigils, the face of Pier Giorgio would be transfigured with joy and consolation at seeing hundreds of young men and women who were coming to communion.

His spiritual life, like ours, was based on the sacraments. But he went beyond simply doing what is “required”: Sunday Mass, the perfunctory confession before Christmas and/or Easter, and perhaps a small Lenten penance like giving up candy.

The Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, Lectio Divina and annual retreats were as much a part of his life as skiing, mountain-climbing or cycling. His life of prayer was his “daily bread,” as it should be for anyone who desires to become a saint. He was an athlete, and he knew well that in order to “reach the goal,” as he was fond of saying, he had to push himself beyond the ordinary if he wanted to be a champion.

In a letter he wrote [July 29, 1923] to the Members of “Catholic Youth” of Pollone, the mountain town north of Turin, Pier Giorgio said:

“…I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharistic Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles, the struggles against passions and against all adversities, because Jesus Christ has promised to those who feed themselves with the most Holy Eucharist, eternal life and the necessary graces to obtain it.

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And when you become totally consumed by this Eucharistic Fire, then you will be able to thank with greater awareness the Lord God who has called you to be part of his flock and you will enjoy that peace which those who are happy according to the world have never tasted. Because true happiness, young people, does not consist in the pleasures of the world and in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we can have only if we are pure in heart and in mind.”

These words demonstrate a remarkable spiritual maturity and love for the Eucharist, especially considering the fact that they were coming from a young man who was only twenty-two years old.

Pier Giorgio’s respect for life and sense of social justice

In his own life and times, Pier Giorgio dealt with some of our own contemporary problems and struggles. His love of God and his tremendous sense of human solidarity bonded him with the poor, the needy, the sick, the hungry and the homeless. Frassati had a tremendous respect for human life: all life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. He was constantly defending life wherever it was diminished and under siege.

At the age of 17, in 1918, he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and dedicated much of his spare time to serving the sick and the needy, caring for orphans, and assisting the demobilized servicemen returning from World War I. What little he did have, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his bus fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals. The poor and the suffering were his masters, and he was literally their servant, which he considered a privilege. He often sacrificed vacations at the Frassati summer home in Pollone because, as he said, “If everybody leaves Turin, who will take care of the poor?”

Pier Giorgio loved the poor. It was not simply a matter of giving something to the lonely, the poor, the sick – but rather, giving his whole self. He saw Jesus in them and to a friend who asked him how he could bear to enter the dirty and smelly places where the poor lived, he answered: “Remember always that it is to Jesus that you go: I see a special light that we do not have around the, sick, the poor, the unfortunate.”

A German news reporter who observed Frassati at the Italian Embassy wrote, “One night in Berlin, with the temperature at twelve degrees below zero, he gave his overcoat to a poor old man shivering in the cold. His father, the Ambassador scolded him, and he replied simply and matter-of-factly, ‘But you see, Papa, it was cold.’”

In that same letter written to the Members of “Catholic Youth” of Pollone, Pier Giorgio urged his peers with these words:

“The Apostle St. Paul says, “The charity of Christ needs us,” and without this fire, which little by little must destroy our personality so that our heart beats only for the sorrows of others, we would not be Christians, much less Catholics.

Finally there is the apostolate of persuasion. This is one of the most beautiful and necessary. Young people, approach your colleagues at work who live their lives away from the Church and spend their free time not in healthy pastimes, but in vices. Persuade those unfortunate people to follow the ways of God, strewn with many thorns, but also many roses.

But if every one of you were to possess these gifts to the highest degree, and did not have the spirit of sacrifice in abundance, you would not be a good Catholic. We must sacrifice everything for everything: our ambitions, indeed our entire selves, for the cause of the Faith.”

Beneath the smiling exterior of the restless young man was concealed the amazing life of a mystic. Love for Jesus motivated his actions.

Pier Giorgio’s suffering and death

Just before receiving his university degree in mining engineering, he contracted poliomyelitis, which doctors later speculated he caught from the sick for whom he cared. His sickness was not understood. His parents, totally taken up by the agony, death and burial of his grandmother, had not even suspected the paralysis. Two days before the end, his mother kept on scolding him for not helping her in difficult moments.

Not even in those desperate final days could he ever forget his closest friends, the poor. While lying on his death bed he wanted the usual material assistance to be brought to them. It was Friday, the day he visited them. On July 3, 1925, a day before his death, his hand already paralyzed from polio, Pier Giorgio asked his sister Luciana to take a small packet from his jacket and with a semi-paralyzed hand he wrote the following note to Grimaldi: “Here are the injections for Converso. The pawn ticket is Sappa’s. I had forgotten it; renew it on my behalf”.

We know that Pier Giorgio wanted to see Jesus so much that he used to say: “The day of my death will be the most beautiful day of my life.” Pier Giorgio’s sacrifice was fulfilled at seven o’clock in the evening of July 4, 1925. His funeral was a triumph. The streets of Turin were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family: clergy and students, and the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly for seven years.

God gave Pier Giorgio all the external attributes that could have led him to make the wrong choices: a wealthy family, very good looks, manhood, health, being the only heir of a powerful family. But Pier Giorgio listened to the invitation of Christ: “Come and follow me.” He anticipated by at least 50 years the Church’s understanding and new direction on the role of the laity.

In beatifying Frassati alone in St. Peter’s Square on May 20, 1990, Pope John Paul II described Pier Giorgio as the “man of the eight Beatitudes” and said in his homily:

“By his example he proclaims that a life lived in Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Beatitudes, is “blessed”, and that only the person who becomes a “man or woman of the Beatitudes” can succeed in communicating love and peace to others. He repeats that it is really worth giving up everything to serve the Lord. He testifies that holiness is possible for everyone, and that only the revolution of charity can enkindle the hope of a better future in the hearts of people. …He left this world rather young, but he made a mark upon our entire century, and not only on our century.”

Conclusion

Tonight, together with the Servant of God, John Paul II, the young mountain climber of Pollone stands at the window of the Father’s house and smiles upon us, as he intercedes for us and for the young people of the world who have come to Sydney to discover the Lord and his holy ones in the vast Communion of Saints and community of the Church. Let me conclude by speaking for a few moments directly to Pier Giorgio on your behalf.

Carissimo Pier Giorgio,

I never had the privilege of meeting you in life. Whoever has met you knows that in your eyes, in your gestures and in your actions, you always carried a little piece of heaven. You shared that with those who knew you in your lifetime, and now with those of us who have known you for the past century.

Since 1925 when you left this earth to return to the house of your father, you have continued your work on our behalf “dall’alto”, from above! In your lifetime you never had the privilege of coming to a World Youth Day. You have watched them from afar, and blessed them with countless graces.

For many years your mortal body remained hidden in the family tomb in Pollone, and then placed in a dark corner of Turin’s Cathedral. Many who visited didn’t even know you were there! I was one of those visitors several years ago. I simply couldn’t find where they had laid you to rest! Such a powerful witness and light must never be hidden, but held up for imitation and inspiration.

We Catholic Christians believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the instrument of God’s work, the frame of God’s house in our midst. And we know, with St. Paul, that “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling — if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” [II Corinthians 5:2-4]

Your presence among us this evening, both from your vantage point at the window of the Father’s home in heaven and through your mortal remains in this Cathedral, witnesses to your mortality that has been swallowed up by new life. Pier Giorgio, you almost didn’t make it to Sydney! Thank God that the Church in Australia, with the help of the Holy Spirit, prevailed over all those forces which tried to prevent you from attending your first World Youth Day down under!

As we venerate your mortal remains, we give thanks to the Lord Jesus who gave you life, inspiration, strength, hope and the crown of glory. As we reflect on your youthfulness, your simplicity, your beauty, goodness and humanity, we recognize the call given to each of us: to be men and women of the Beatitudes.

Thank you, Pier Giorgio, for listening to Jesus’ words and making them your own. Your example has moved me and hundreds of thousands of others to translate the Beatitudes into Good News with our very lives. Be with us on this great expedition to heaven!

Pier Giorgio, help us to strive for simple hearts, attentive to the needs of others, and friendships based on that pact which knows no earthly boundaries or limits of time: union in prayer. If we do not know the road, and if we often abandon the path, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

If by being superficial we have not put in our knapsack all that we need for the climb, and if we never lift up our gaze because we do not want to take the first demanding steps to set ourselves on the way, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

If we lack the strength to overcome the most difficult passes, and if we have the strength, but prefer to use it to turn back, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

If we never pause to be nourished by the bread of eternal life, and if we do not quench our thirst from the fountain of prayer, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

When we do not know how to contemplate the beauty of the gifts we have received, and when we do not know how to offer ourselves for others, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

If we have committed many sins, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

If we lost hope, show us the way “verso l’alto” upward to heaven!

Three years ago, at the opening ceremonies for World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the throng of young people from the entire world:

“Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.”

That is why we have gathered together tonight in this great Cathedral down under! May all the young people who have journeyed to Sydney, and those of us who have been young for a while, find in Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati what Jesus’ Sermon on a Galilean hillside really meant.

Pray for us, Pier Giorgio Frassati. Show us the way “verso l’alto”, upward to heaven and deep in to the heart of God. Teach us how to be Saints for the Church and for the world!

Amen.

A Unity Transcending All Differences

Peter and Paul

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul – Wednesday, June 29, 2014

June 29th marks the great solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Peter’s journey was from the weakness of denial to the rock of fidelity. He gave us the ultimate witness of the cross. Paul’s pilgrimage was from the blindness of persecution to the fire of proclamation. He made the Word of God come alive for the nations.

To be with Peter means to preserve the unity of the Christian Church. To speak with Paul is to proclaim the pure Word of God. Their passion was to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Their commitment was to create a place for everyone in Christ’s church. Their loyalty to Christ was valid to death. Peter and Paul are for us a strong foundation; they are pillars of our church.

Affirmation, identity and purpose at Caesarea Philippi

Today’s Gospel story (Matthew 16:13-19) is about affirmation, identity and purpose. Jesus and his disciples entered the area of Caesarea Philippi in the process of a long journey from their familiar surroundings. Caesarea Philippi, built by Philip, was a garrison town for the Roman army, full of all the architecture, imagery, and life styles of Greco-Roman urban civilization. It was a foreign place to the apostles who were more familiar with towns and the lakeside.

Sexuality and violence ran rampant in this religious shrine town known for its worship of the Greek god Pan. In this centre of power, sophistication and rampant pagan worship, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks what people are saying about him. How do they see his work? Who is he in their minds? Probably taken aback by the question, the disciples dredge their memories for overheard remarks, snatches of shared conversation, opinions circulating in the fishing towns of the lake area. Jesus himself is aware of some of the stories about him. He knows only too well the attitude of his own town of Nazareth, and the memory probably hurts him deeply.

The disciples list a whole series of labels that people have applied to Jesus. And these names reveal the different expectations held about him. Some thought of him as fiery Elijah, working toward a real confrontation with the powers that be. Others considered him more like the long suffering Jeremiah, concentrating more on the inner journey, the private side of life. Above all, the question asked of the disciples echoes through time as the classic point of decision for every Christian.

Everyone must at some point experience what happened at Caesarea Philippi and answer Jesus’ provocative question, “You, who do you say I am?” What do we perceive to be our responsibilities and commitments following upon our own declaration of faith in Jesus?

Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus

In the year 35 AD, Saul appears as a self-righteous young Pharisee, almost fanatically anti-Christian. We read in Acts chapter 7 that he was present, although not taking part in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr. It was very soon afterwards that Paul experienced the revelation that transformed his entire life. On the road to the Syrian city of Damascus, where he was going to continue his persecutions against the Christians, he was struck blind. Paul accepted eagerly the commission to preach the Gospel of Christ, but like many another called to a great task he felt his unworthiness and withdrew from the world to spend three years in “Arabia” in meditation and prayer before beginning his mission.

His extensive travels by land and sea are recounted in his letters in the New Testament. Paul himself tells us he was stoned, scourged three times, shipwrecked three times, endured hunger and thirst, sleepless nights, perils and hardships; besides these physical trials, he suffered many disappointments and almost constant anxieties over the weak and widely scattered communities of Christians.

The final earthly moments of Peter and Paul

According to the ancient tradition, on the morning of June 29, Peter and Paul were taken from their common cell at Rome’s Mamertine prison and separated. Peter was taken to Nero’s Circus where he was crucified upside down, while Paul was taken east of Rome to the area now known as Tre Fontane. The name records the legend of the saint’s beheading, when his severed head reportedly bounced three times, creating three fountains. Artists through the ages have dwelt on their goodbye, often depicting the last embrace between the two friends. The Golden Legend records their parting words:

Paul to Peter: “Peace be with you, foundation stone of the churches and shepherd of the sheep and lambs of Christ!”

And Peter to Paul: “Go in peace, preacher of virtuous living, mediator and leader of the salvation of the righteous!”

The connection between the two saints is also evident in their respective basilicas. Emperor Constantine built the first six Christian churches in Rome from 313 to 328, and among them were St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Paul’s “outside the walls.” Five of the churches face east, as was common in orienting churches at the time. St. Paul’s faces west, so that across the city, both basilicas watch over the sheep and lambs of their city.

A text from St. John Chrysostom is very appropriate at the end of the year dedicated to St. Paul. It comes from his final homily on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. After expressing his ardent desire to visit St. Paul’s tomb in Rome and see there even the dust of St. Paul’s body, St. John Chrysostom exclaims:

Who could grant me now this to throw myself around the body of Paul and be riveted to his tomb and to see the dust of that body which completed what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions; which bore the marks (of Christ) and sowed the Gospel everywhere … the dust of that mouth through which Christ spoke. …

Nor is it that mouth only, but I wish I could see the dust of Paul’s heart too, which one should rightly call the heart of the world, the fountain of countless blessings and the very element of our life. … A heart which was so large as to take in entire cities and peoples and nations … which became higher than the heavens, wider than the whole world, brighter than the sun’s beam, warmer than the fire, stronger than the adamant; letting rivers flow from it … which was deemed to love Christ like no one else ever did.

I wish I could see the dust of Paul’s hands, hands in chains, through the imposition of which the Spirit was given, through which this divine letter (to the Romans) was written.

I wish I could see the dust of those eyes which were rightly blinded and recovered their sight again for the salvation of the world; which were counted worthy to see Christ in the body; which saw earthly things, yet saw them not; which saw the things that are not seen; which knew no sleep, and were watchful even at midnight. …

I wish I could also see the dust of those feet, Paul’s feet, which run through the world and were not tired, which were bound in stocks when the prison shook, which went through parts populated and uninhabited, which walked on so many journeys. …

I wish I could see the tomb where the weapons of righteousness lay, the weapons of light, the limbs of Paul, which now are alive but in life were made dead (to sin) … which were in Christ’s limbs, clothed in Christ, bound in the Spirit, riveted to the fear of God, bearing the marks of Christ.

– St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 32 on the Epistle to the Romans,” Migne, Patrologia Graeca 60, 678-80

Together they built the Church

As ordinary men, Peter and Paul might have avoided each other from time to time. Peter was a fisherman from the Sea of Galilee and Paul a Greek-educated intellectual. But Jesus brought them together as a sign for his Church in which the entire spectrum of humanity would find a new place to call home. Together they worked to build the church. Together they witnessed to Christ. Together they suffered the death of their Lord, death at murderous hands. Paul died by the sword and Peter was crucified head-down. They had a unity that transcended all differences. They teach us about the depth of Christian commitment. For Peter and Paul, insight into Jesus’ true identity brought new demands and responsibilities.

At the close of the Year of St. Paul on June 29, 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invited each Catholic to hold up a mirror to his or her life and to ask, “Am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as St. Paul was?” “Is spreading the faith both by example and by my conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances even a concern for me?” “What do I perceive to be my responsibilities following upon my own declaration of faith in Jesus?”

[The readings for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul are: Acts 12.1-11; Ps 34; 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16.13-19.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2010 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

The Sacrament of Nonviolence Makes Martyrs for the Truth

Fr Jerzy cropped

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Sunday, May 29th, 2016

Four Gospels tell the wonder-filled story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that has been situated geographically at Tabgha, the place of the seven springs on the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today’s Gospel looks back to the rich theology and spirituality of Israel, and also forward to contemplate the idea of life in God’s kingdom as a banquet at which the Messiah, himself, will preside.

Mark’s readers saw this incident as an anticipation of the Last Supper (14:22) and the messianic banquet, both of which were celebrated in the community’s Eucharists. Matthew’s addition of the number of people present and fed is very important, because the total figure could well have come to 20,000 or 30,000 people. Since the total Jewish population of Palestine at the time of Jesus is estimated at half a million, Jesus is presented as feeding a tenth of the population. This gives the feeding stories a social character, which makes them different from healing stories or the accounts in the other Gospels.

Luke, of all the evangelists, immediately links this feeding account with Jesus’ prediction of his passion and his instructions about bearing one’s cross daily (9:18-27). To celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Jesus (22:19) is to share not only his mission (9:1-6) but also his dedication and destiny, symbolized by the cross (9:18-27). The Eucharist is intended to nourish and strengthen us for continuing faithfully in our way of life.

Feeding the new Israel

Let us situate today’s Gospel passage (Luke 9:11-17) in Luke’s Gospel. Chapter 9 begins with the mission of the 12: they are sent to proclaim the kingdom, to have power over demons, to bring the good news to the people, and to cure their diseases. Jesus gives his disciples who have just returned from preaching and curing God’s people, a new charge: they are to feed reconstituted Israel with the Eucharist.

Luke teaches us two important lessons in today’s Gospel. First Jesus welcomes this vast crowd of common folk, even though “the Twelve” wanted to send them away. Luke’s use of ” the Twelve” to indicate a special group of disciples, is a reflection of the significance of that number in the traditions among the people of Israel. In particular, it recalls the twelve tribes of Israel. By using the term “Twelve,” Luke indicates that being chosen to serve in a particular way is not an excuse for distancing oneself from the crowd, the common people. On the contrary, the Twelve, like Jesus, must be welcoming.

Second, Jesus teaches that the disciples are to share whatever they have. In the sharing there will be more than enough. Logic and human reason say, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish.”  But Jesus asks that these meager provisions, as well as the generosity of the disciples, be stretched to their limits. Of all the evangelists, Luke stresses the fact that salvation reaches into the practical realities of human life.

The Sacrament of Nonviolence

The Eucharist sums up all the teaching, passion and death of Jesus, and his nonviolent way must be at the heart of the Eucharist. Luke’s passion narrative is about the Lamb, who goes to his death rejecting violence, loving enemies, returning good for evil, praying for his persecutors. The Eucharist, therefore, is truly the sacrament of nonviolence. The way of Jesus to conquer evil and violence must be the Christian way: the way of nonviolence, of love and forgiveness. The nonviolent way of Jesus is historically at the heart of his teaching, and at the same time at the heart of his passion and death.

Man of the Eucharist and Martyr for the Truth

We see this how this Eucharistic reality was lived out in the life of a young Polish priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984) who was beatified as a martyr on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 6, 2010, in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square. I wish to tell you a little about this remarkable priest who has been a hero and role model to me for the past many years.

Jerzy Popieluszko was born on Sept. 14, 1947, in the village of Okopy in Eastern Poland. He was from a strong Roman Catholic family. After secondary school, Jerzy entered the seminary in Warsaw, rather than the local seminary in Bialystok. His training was interrupted by two years of military service, during which he was beaten several times for living his Christian faith.

After ordination, the young priest, who never enjoyed good health, held several appointments before his final appointment to the parish of St. Stanislas Kostka in Warsaw. He worked part-time in the parish, which enabled him to work as well with medical personnel. As a result of his close work with health care personnel, he was asked to organize the medical teams during Pope John Paul II’s visits to Poland in 1979 and Warsaw in 1983.

August 1980 saw the beginning of the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Workers from the Warsaw steel plant, who were on strike in support of the shipyards on the Baltic Sea, requested a priest to say Mass for them. The lot fell to Father Jerzy. He stayed with the workers night and day. Solidarity represented for him a vision that he had first learned from St. Maximilian Kolbe: that of spiritual freedom amidst physical enslavement. It was this vision of the truth about the vocation of every man and woman, which Father Jerzy promoted amongst the workers by his presence.

On Dec. 13, 1981, the communist authorities imposed martial law, arresting many Solidarity activists and launching a program of harassment and retaliation against others. Many who had been on strike lost their jobs, and so their ability to support their families; others were beaten up on the streets and left for dead. Father Popieluszko became an important focus in a welfare program to support families affected by martial law.

He regularly attended the trials of Solidarity activists, sitting prominently in court with their families so that the prisoners could see that they were not forgotten. It was in the courtroom that he had the idea for a monthly Mass for the country, to be celebrated for all the imprisoned and their families. It was not a political demonstration — Father Popieluszko specifically asked his congregation not to display banners or chant slogans. His Masses for the Fatherland became well known not only in Warsaw, but throughout Poland, often attracting 15,000 to 20,000 people. Father Popieluszko insisted that change should be brought about peacefully; the sign of peace was one of the most poignant moments of each Mass for the country.

Father Popieluszko was neither a social nor a political activist, but a Catholic priest faithful to the Gospel. He wasn’t a forceful speaker, but someone of deep conviction and integrity. His sanctity lay in fundamental righteousness that gave people hope even in horrendous situations. He knew that all totalitarian systems are based on terror and intimidation. The Communists saw him as an enemy because he freed people from fear of the system. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Communist regime and he taught believers how to confront totalitarianism. How often Jerzy made St. Paul’s words his own in his preaching: ” Fight evil with good.”

On Oct. 19, 1984, the young priest was kidnapped by security agents on his way back to Warsaw after a visit to a parish in the neighboring town of Bydgoszcz. He was savagely beaten until he lost consciousness, and his body was tied up in such a way that he would strangle himself by moving. His weighted body was then thrown into a deep reservoir. His killers carried out their task with unprecedented brutality, which shows their hatred of the faith that the priest embodied. Jerzy’s driver, who managed to escape, told what had happened to the press. On Oct. 30, Popieluszko’s bound and gagged body was found in the freezing waters of a reservoir near Wloclawek. Fr. Jerzy’s brutal murder was widely believed to have hastened the collapse of communist rule in Poland.

Father Jerzy’s funeral was a massive public demonstration with over 400,000 people in attendance. Official delegations of Solidarity appeared from throughout the whole country for the first time since the imposition of martial law. He was buried in the front yard of his parish church of St. Stanislaw Kostka, and since that day, 17 million have visited his tomb.

Over the past 20 years, I have been privileged to pray several times at his grave in the Warsaw working suburb, and to witness the extraordinary effect that this young priest has had on so many young people. He promoted respect for human rights, for the rights of workers and the dignity of persons, all in the light of the Gospel. He practiced, for Poland and for the whole world, the virtues of courage, of fidelity to God, to the cross of Christ and the Gospel, love of God and of the homeland. He represented patriotism in the Christian sense, as a cultural and social virtue. He was deeply devoted to the Eucharist. More than 80 streets and squares in Poland have been named after Father Jerzy. Hundreds of statues and memorial plaques have been unveiled to him; some 18,000 schools, charities, youth groups and discussion clubs have been named after him.

Because the murdered priest is being proclaimed a martyr for hatred of the faith, Popieluszko’s beatification process did not require evidence of a miracle. The formal verification of a miracle is not necessary, even though many have been reported. His beatification is an example for priests, in the light of his total fidelity to Christ. Father Jerzy provides a model for us, calling us to strive that what we say and do outwardly should always agree with our inward conscience.

Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, Man of the Eucharist, Martyr for the Truth, your life was broken and shared with the multitudes. The blood of your martyrdom has become the seed of faith for your homeland and for the Church. You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchizedek (Psalm 110). Pray for us.

[The readings for Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17]

My John Paul II Memories

JPIIFuneral

I have many memories of April 2, 2005, when St. John Paul II died after a lengthy illness and much suffering.

I remember the succession of news reports the evening before his death,  people praying in St. Peter’s Square and the shared sense of concern and sadness that most people felt; this was not limited just to the faithful.

A few days earlier, on March 30, he made his last public appearance. It was a quick glimpse with no words, but only a breath. Amid all the suffering, there was also profound dignity, as he maintained his position and role, in any way he could, until the last moment. I was at home when the news of his death was made official by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls on Saturday, April 2, after 9:30 pm.

The funeral followed six days later. There was a unanimous cry, and strong desire among people to see Karol Wojtyla made a saint. I remember this chant everywhere; in newspapers, shouting from the crowds – a continuous repetition.

Three million mourners descended upon Rome for the biggest funeral ever, and the capital city responded perfectly, with an efficiency never before seen. I remember the chaos around the city. It was impossible to take the subway enroute to school as Termini Station was sieged by pilgrims and people trying to navigate their way through the Vatican. A huge crowd converged at St. Peter’s Square, to give a final farewell to the beloved Pope. The day of the funeral, Friday, April 8th, was declared a day of mourning in Rome. Schools were closed and all eyes turned to the Vatican where the future pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, celebrated the funeral.

Among the many recollections I have of Pope John Paul II, there are two that particularly stand out from my childhood.The first dates back to 1997, a few weeks after my first communion, in the same parish where I received the Eucharist, the Holy Father came to visit. For us children, but especially for those of us who just recently received our first communion, there were special seats near the altar. What a great privilege to be in such close proximity that I had a chance to shake hands with the Pope, who greeted me with a smile on his face.

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The second moment occurred three years later, on the occasion of World Youth Day at Tor Vergata. It took place in front of the  home where I would eventually spend my  wonderful years at university.

I remember the human tide that was able to fill the vast plain of Tor Vergata, as well as the steady stream of young people who passed by me on their journey to see the Pope that night.

As residents in the area, our family had received a special pass three days earlier from mayor Francesco Rutelli, a pass that allowed us to move freely in our neighborhood without restriction and among areas designated for young faithful.
I remember that long night of August 19th at Tor Vergata,  sitting on the lawn with my father and my aunt. I remember a smiling and joyful Pope John Paul II  and  the contagious, youthful passion, music and incredible party atmosphere we took in.

For eighteen years of my life, he was Pope. He was a man, who unlike others, had such impact on contemporary history and changed the course of events. In Krakow, where the next World Youth Day will be held in his honor, the feeling of his presence is felt everywhere.  One can sense his imposing spirituality, charisma, and ability as an incredible religious leader.

In 27 years of his pontificate,  he has been able to accomplish a huge breakthrough for the Church, as well as to how to live within the church. It is hard to think that there might be someone equally decisive in so many aspects that will be a future Pope.  It is hard to believe that there may be someone who could make a mark on  world  history as Karol Józef Wojtyla from Wadowice did.


MatteoFace

Matteo Ciofi is an Italian producer for Salt + Light. Follow him on Twitter!

 

Thank you, John Paul II!

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A video tribute to a great saint who walked among us on the 11th Anniversary of his death.

Message for Saint Patrick’s Day 2016 from Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland

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March 16, 2016

Although a small number of people attempt to drag Ireland back to unrest and violence, people from across our communities are strongly committed to building bridges towards lasting peace. Following the example of Patrick, I call on Irish people, at home and abroad: open yourselves up to a personal friendship with Christ and to an experience of God’s mercy in your lives.  This experience will change your life, as it did for Saint Patrick, and it will  inspire you, in turn, to reach out in mercy and charity to those who are suffering and in need.

EamonFrom the Cathedral City of Armagh, I send warm Saint Patrick’s Day greetings to all Irish people at home and abroad and to all who join us in celebrating our patron saint.  Conscious that our National Apostle first encountered Ireland as a migrant, I offer special greetings to the ‘new Irish’ – the many migrants who have made their home among us.  Céad míle fáilte romhaibh!
Saint Patrick’s Day, Lá ‘le Pádraig is both a day of celebration and challenge. In this 1916 centenary year, as we reflect on all that we have become and achieved as a people and a nation, we have much to thank God for.  Although a small number of people attempt to drag Ireland back to unrest and violence, people from across our communities are strongly committed to building bridges towards lasting peace.  Ireland remains the land of a thousand welcomes: visitors to our shores remark on our friendliness, generosity and kindness.  We are renowned the world over for our music, dance, literature and for the breathtaking beauty of our landscapes and coasts.  Our Christian roots run deep, and Irish homes and families are largely characterised by the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.

But the Ireland of 2016 faces many challenges – including poverty, homelessness and huge pressures on family life – which can so easily lead to a sense of despair and hopelessness for many of our people.  I am reminded today of the words which Pope Saint John Paul II spoke many years ago to the late President of Ireland, Dr Patrick Hillery, when he said:

‘Modern Ireland was founded on a vision of a society capable of responding to the deepest aspirations of its people and ensuring respect for the dignity and rights of all its citizens.  That vision is linked to a profound yearning for the effective realisation of the profound human values that have never ceased to resound in the minds and hearts of the Irish people.’

As we reflect on Saint Patrick’s life and mission in the Year of Mercy, we remember Patrick’s deep personal sense of God’s mercy and his desire to spread that mercy to others.  In bringing the message of Christianity he was sustained by his friendship with God the Father and a profound sense of Christ’s presence surrounding him – so eloquently expressed in the beautiful prayer: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.  Following the example of Patrick, I call on Irish people, at home and abroad: open yourselves up to a personal friendship with Christ and to an experience of God’s mercy in your lives.  This experience will change your life, as it did for Saint Patrick, and it will  inspire you, in turn, to reach out in mercy and charity to those who are suffering and in need.saint-patrick

As Irish people, we cannot think of Patrick – the captive, the slave in exile, the undocumented, the migrant – without acknowledging the enormous humanitarian and pastoral challenges facing growing numbers of people who find themselves displaced and without status in our world.  This is so shockingly exemplified by the refugee crisis here in Europe.  I ask you to pray for refugees and for all displaced families at this time.

On the feast of our national patron, I wish to highlight in particular the plight of Irish emigrants throughout the world.  This past year, following the tragedies at Berkeley, we have become especially aware of the great work undertaken by Irish emigrant chaplaincies in the United States, Britain and Australia.  Inspired by the teaching of the Gospel, they provide essential pastoral outreach to many Irish people as they try to establish a foothold in a new society.

Guím idirghuí Naomh Pádraig ar ár lucht imirce scaite ar fud na cruinne.  Ba dheoraí Naomh Pádraig é féin tráth.  Tuigeann sé ár n’uaigneas agus ár m’briseadh chroí.  Guím beannacht, rath agus séan ár bPatrúin oraibh uilig.

Please see www.catholicbishops.ie for a special Saint Patrick’s Day feature which includes a reflection on Saint Patrick the Migrant by Father Alan Hilliard, a prayer for emigrants and immigrants and a video reflection of Lúireach Phádraig (Saint Patrick’s Breastplate).          

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444

Source:

http://www.catholicbishops.ie/2016/03/16/message-for-saint-patricks-day-2016-from-archbishop-eamon-martin/

Blessed Miguel Pro, SJ: Viva Cristo Rey!

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During the Pope’s brief meeting at the Apostolic Nunciature last evening with Jesuits in Mexico, his confrères gave Pope Francis a relic of Blessed Miguel Pro, a Martyr killed in 1927, during the anti-clerical regime of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro, S.J. (1891-1927). Born January 13, 1891, at Guadalupe Zacatecas, Mexico, Miguel “Miguelito” Pro was the son of a mining engineer and a pious and charitable mother. From his earliest days, Miguel had a special affinity for the working classes which he kept all of his life. At age 20, he entered the Jesuit novitiate and shortly thereafter was exiled because of the Mexican revolution. He traveled to the United States, Spain, Nicaragua and Belgium, where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Father Pro suffered from chronic stomach ailments and when, after several operations his health did not improve, his Jesuit superiors allowed him to return to Mexico in 1926 despite the horrible religious persecution underway in Mexico.

Churches were closed and priests fled into hiding. Father Pro spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to Mexican Catholics. He strengthened people in their faith and was deeply involved in serving the poor in Mexico City. He was known for wearing all kinds of disguises that enabled him to work quietly among the poor. Miguel would dress as a beggar and go during the night to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to wealthy neighborhoods to provide for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable executive with a fresh flower on his lapel. His was the stuff of a modern spy movie or award winning television series! However in all that he did, Fr. Pro remained obedient to his superiors and was filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King.

Miguel Pro martyrdom

He was falsely accused in the bombing attempt on a former Mexican president and declared a wanted man. Handed over to the police, he was sentenced to death without recourse to any legal process. On the day of his execution by a firing squad, Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, bravely refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, “Viva Cristo Rey”, “Long live Christ the King!”

There exists very powerful images of Blessed Miguel Pro, boldly kneeling before his executioners and forgiving them, before proclaiming the real kingship of the non-violent Lord. Christian faith is rooted firmly in Jesus of Nazareth who was declared a king at his execution. He was not a king who craved for power, nor a dictator who dominated and trampled underfoot those who encountered him. In his kingdom, his poor subjects were cherished and loved; they were his friends, the little ones, his brothers and sisters who partook in his very life. Worldly kingdoms will come and go. The kingdom of Jesus Christ will never pass away. Together with Blessed Miguel Pro of Mexico, Pope Francis and Christians throughout the world acclaim their King: Viva Cristo Rey!

St. Josephina Bakhita – Model of True Emancipation

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Called the “Madre Moretta” (the Black Mother), Josephina Bakhita was a former slave who became a Canossian Sister (Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa) in Italy. She was born in the Sudan, in northeastern Africa, about 1870, and at the age of nine was stolen by slavers. The slave traders gave her the name Bakhita, meaning “the Lucky One.” She escaped from these slavers only to be caught by another, who took her as a gift to his daughter in El Obeid. There she was treated well until she broke a vase. Then she was sold to a Turkish officer who sold her again in the market in Khartoum. She was brought by the Italian vice-council, who returned to Italy, taking Josephine with him. There she was given to a Signora Michieli in Genoa. She was sent to a convent by her new owner, to be educated in the school operated by the Daughters of Charity of Canossa. Josephina became a Christian on January 9, 1890, and was baptized by the cardinal patriarch. She refused to leave the convent after discovering her religious vocation, despite the demands of Signora Michieli, who claimed ownership. The cardinal patriarch and the king’s procurator were called upon to mediate the matter, and they decided in favor of Josephina’s vocation. Josephina was welcomed into the Canossian convent, and she made her novitiate and took religious vows. Her holiness and devotion were demonstrated in her labors as a cook, gate keeper, and keeper of linens. It was obvious that God had brought Josephina out of Africa to glorify him among the Europeans. With this in mind, Josephina, the Madre Moretta, traveled throughout Italy to raise funds for the missions. She served as a Canossian for half a century, dying in Schio, Italy, on February 8, 1947, and was revered by the people of her adopted land. She has not been forgotten by the Sudanese either. Her portrait hangs in the cathedral at Khartoum.

Pope John Paul II beatified Josephina on May 17, 1992, in the presence of three hundred Canossian Sisters and pilgrims, many from the Sudan. The Holy Father declared:

In our time, in which the unbridled race for power, money, and pleasure is the cause of so much distrust, violence, and loneliness, Sister Bakhita has been given to us once more by the Lord as a universal sister, so that she can reveal to us the secret of true happiness: the Beatitudes….Here is a message of heroic goodness modeled on the goodness of the Heavenly Father.

During his homily at her canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II said that in St. Josephine Bakhita:

We find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.
Former National Director and C.E.O., World Youth Day 2002
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada