WATCH LIVE   ·  English  ·  Français   ·   中文    

The Transformative Leadership of two Latin American Pastors

Romero preaching

Excerpt from the Concluding Address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Congress of the Angelicum Foundation of Santiago, Chile
& the University of St. Thomas (Houston)
Houston, Texas – March 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

As the last speaker of the conference, it is my duty to address the topic, Reconciliation and Community: A Call for Transforming Leadership. I will do so by considering the lives and styles of leadership of two Latin American pastors. The first is a Jesuit, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires – Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

 Francis to crowd in NaplesAs Archbishop of Argentina’s capital – a diocese with more than three million inhabitants – Cardinal Bergoglio developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people. During many years of fruitful pastoral ministry, Cardinal Bergoglio insisted, “Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave,” and the clergy “out of the sacristy.” He required parish priests to live with their people, and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty. Authentic pastors should have the “odor of the sheep” if they are to be effective and credible.

When Cardinal Bergoglio spoke of social justice, he called people first of all to pick up the Catechism and to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project was and remains very simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin.”

“My people are poor and I am one of them,” Cardinal Bergoglio said so often, explaining his decision to live in an apartment above a school and cook his own meals. He frequented the Villas Miserias, advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. One year before his election to the See of Peter, the Cardinal wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the Sacrament of Baptism to the children of single mothers.

His life was radically changed two years ago March 13 when “Padre Jorge,” as he was known by so many in Argentina, became Pope Francis. We have all witnessed and been recipients of his Petrine Ministry for the past two years. Since his election as Bishop of Rome, he has captured the mind and heart not only of the Church but also of the world. He has not changed a single doctrine of the Church but has ushered in a way of speaking, a new style of leadership that has shaken the Church and impacted the world.

Some call him a revolutionary. At the heart of his message is a transformative call to reconciliation and mercy. As leader of the Catholic Church, he asks us to let go of different forms of thinking and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs. He proposes a humble way of committed people who base their lives on Gospel living. For Francis, compassion and mercy can truly change the world. This is the Christian revolution: namely a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a true revolution of tenderness and mercy.

Listen to three sections of his “Mission Statement” or Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

88…For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.

100…It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?

229…The sign of this unity and reconciliation of all things in him is peace. Christ “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace, and peace at all times crowns and confirms the relations between the disciples. Peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflict “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). But if we look more closely at these biblical texts, we find that the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society.

An attitude that seeks dialogue, builds bridges and opens doors

Francis & elderly

Two months after his election as Bishop of Rome, in his daily homily of May 13, 2013 in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges” and not of walls. The Pope said that this is the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.

            “A Christian,” Francis said, “must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. The we receive the truth when we meet it.”

…Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15 of this year is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”

“This is scandalous to some people but Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness that does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”

Francis finds the contemporary Church at a crossroads: “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” There is “the thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person,” and “the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”

“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons.

…In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother.’”

In an address on March 14 of this year to the Union of Italian Catholic Educators, the Pope addressed them as colleagues, saying: “Indeed, the duty of a good teacher – all the more for a Christian teacher – is to love his or her more difficult, weaker, more disadvantaged students with greater intensity. Jesus would say, if you love only those who study, who are well educated, what merit have you? Any teacher can do well with such students. I ask you to love “difficult” students more … and there are some who really try our patience, but we have to love them more… those who do not want to study, those who find themselves in difficult conditions, the disabled and foreigners, who today pose a great challenge for schools.”

Pope Francis told his audience: “If a professional association of Christian teachers wants to bear witness to their inspiration today, then it is called to engage in the peripheries of the school, which cannot be abandoned to marginalization, exclusion, ignorance, crime.”

The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ

Francis Pope of Mercy

Where is Pope Francis leading the Church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers? And what is he modeling for laymen and women? For Francis the Church is first of all reconciler. In his address to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”

Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home. Pope Francis takes every opportunity he can to ask his brother bishops, priests, pastoral ministers and lay leaders: Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?

Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.

Francis kissing feet 2

For Pope Francis, authentic power is service: Power in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ. Pope Francis made this clear when he visited a youth detention center on his first Holy Thursday in Rome in 2013 and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including two young women and two Muslims. He continued that tradition last year by washing the feet of elderly women and men and those with severe handicaps. Next week he will wash the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – incarcerated women and men. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power and be effective teachers, educators and pastoral workers.

The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy. There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.

Oscar Romero

Romero Blessed image sm

The second Latin American pastor was also an Archbishop – the chief Shepherd of San Salvador – Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. After serving as a country pastor and rector of two seminaries, he became bishop then archbishop at time of great social unrest in his country. His pulpit became a source of truth when the government censored news. Romero walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”

Through his life and ministry, Archbishop Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He laid down his life for his friends.

The spirituality and faith behind his struggle for life flowed from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Romero taught us that poverty and death go together.

Oscar Romero’s life also speaks to us today by virtue of his untiring call for dialogue and negotiation. In a society that was terribly polarized, a society in which the usual way to relate to persons with whom one disagreed was to assassinate them, Romero always tried to open a space for communication, conversation, and understanding. In 1980, Romero brought the opposing sides of the government of El Salvador together for hours of talks, urging that the junta be given another chance. His example of bridge-building can be of particular importance to any nation today where change is often seen as a process of the oppressed taking on the pinstripes of the oppressors.

Oscar Romero’s untiring efforts on behalf of the poor give flesh and blood to the words of Mary’s Magnificat in the New Testament. In making her own the words of Hannah of the Old Testament’s prayer of praise to God, Mary reminds us that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” But God has not put the lowly up on the thrones of their oppressors! The problem is the thrones themselves that serve as a constant temptation to power, distortion, violence, abuse and manipulation. Romero’s life offers a completely different model of societal transformation. His plea for forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy is of paramount significance. Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.

Murdered in cold blood by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”

…Oscar Romero testified that the church must be the voice of the voiceless and the incessant defender of life. The church must passionately pursue justice, but without identifying itself with any one particular party or any one particular ideology. This can be a very difficult and challenging struggle, a veritable mine field or high wire balancing act. To walk this tightrope was especially challenging in the El Salvador of the ‘70s, which was so highly politicized that people were often not seen as persons, but instead, were identified only on the basis of their belonging to political parties or organizations.

…Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Maryknoll Missionaries and the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador were pastorsRomero with young men, university professors, teachers and lay missionaries who were brutally murdered because of the questions which they asked about justice and peace; because they sought the truth of very difficult situations of suffering and massive injustice; because they believed dearly in the value of a Catholic, critical education, which put into practice what the best elements of our Church stand for. Each person was disciple, missionary, educator and evangelist and each was killed because the education and evangelization which they shared with their students and flocks touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador.

Here in our peaceful and at times surreal environment of higher learning, we may ask ourselves if this is what Catholic Education, adult catechesis and evangelization programs are suppose to do: to kill people and make martyrs? And the ultimate answer may be yes. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic education, true evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.

Pope Francis is doing exactly the same thing for us as he leads and guides the Church. He has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission.

If we fail to understand the modus operandi of Francis of Buenos Aires and Oscar of El Salvador, we risk transforming the living realities of both Archbishops into framed diplomas, coveted degrees, documents in files, books on shelves, academic seminars, monuments, statues and holy cards to admire, and not people to imitate to emulate. We must ask ourselves at a university conference like this one, “How do faith and a Christian understanding of education transform the lives of Catholic laity in the world? How are the tenets of Catholic education and evangelization making a difference in lives of Catholics and many who are peering in from the peripheries.

Teaching and preaching is the art of leaving vestiges in students and those who listen to us, and all good teachers and preachers must ask what vestiges they wish to leave in their hearers. Good and effective teachers and preachers have usually had excellent teachers and preachers themselves. The highest compliment we can pay to our own teachers and pastors is to try to imitate them or incorporate their methods into our own lives. People may listen to us because we are good teachers and preachers, but they will truly learn from us, be inspired by us, be changed by us, and even imitate or emulate us because we are first and foremost disciples and witnesses.

Both Francis and soon-to-be-Blessed Oscar are disciples and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us learn from the examples of these two great pastors, teachers and missionary disciples from Latin America. 

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.

Deacon-structing St. Joseph

St_Joseph_1

When Joseph awoke he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him…
(From the Gospel for March 19, the Solemnity of Joseph, the Husband of Mary, Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24)

Last week, I ended by saying that I would deacon-struct Holy Week, but I can’t let this week go by without saying something about my favourite Saint. Sometimes, because it’s Lent we may overlook some feasts or solemnities that fall during the season. It’s hard to ignore the Feast of St. Patrick, but how many really pay attention to the Solemnity of St. Joseph?

There isn’t much that we know about Joseph. We know that his Father’s name was Jacob and that he was the husband of Mary. We know that before they lived together he found out she was pregnant and instead of shaming her or causing scandal, he decided to divorce her quietly. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that he was an upright man, a man of principle. We also know that he was a righteous man who followed the law: He observed religious law – we know he went to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals. He also followed civil law – he went to Bethlehem for the census. We also know that Joseph had dreams. God spoke to him in his dreams and he followed his dreams.

One thing we don’t know about Joseph are his words. In all of the Gospels, no where do we ever hear anything Joseph says. He never says anything. But he’s a man of action: He does what the angel tells him; he takes Mary as his wife; he goes to Bethlehem; he finds a place to stay for the night; he takes his family to Egypt. He’s a man of action – not a man of words.

For centuries, scholars and artists have tried to figure out Joseph’s words. One of my favourite Christmas songs is Joseph’s Song by Michael Card. In it, Joseph prays:

“How can it be, this baby in my arms, sleeping now, so peacefully. The son of God, the angel said, how could it be? O Lord I know he’s not my own, not of my flesh, not of my bone. Still Father let this baby be the son of my love.”

Then Joseph prays:

“Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours. How can a man be father to the son of God? Lord, for all my life I’ve been a simple carpenter… how can I raise a king? How can I raise a king?”

I like this song because to me it shows what Joseph models perfectly: He was a man after God’s will. He longed to know God’s will and searched to see how he fit into the Father’s plan.

And just like God had a plan for Joseph, God has a plan for each one of us. The plan does not need to be more than that He wants us to be upright and righteous. He wants us to be loving parents, loving husbands and wives. God wants us to follow the law: observe the commandments. But, just like Joseph in the song, we may feel that we don’t have anything to contribute, that we are nothing but simple carpenters. Just like Joseph we may never see the fruit of our work. We may never reap the harvest. The first reading on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, March 19, is from the Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16). In it, we hear about a promise to King David. We hear about it in Psalm 89 as well: “The son of David will live forever” or “his line will continue forever.” In the second reading for the same feast day (Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22) Paul tells the Romans about another upright man who never saw the fruit of his work: Abraham. He did God’s will, but never saw the fulfilment of God’s promise to him.

But the promise was fulfilled. St. Joseph may have been a simple carpenter, who did not amount to much during his life, but today, 2000 years later, he is venerated as one of the greatest saints in the Church. Every March 19th we celebrate the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. There aren’t a lot of Saints for whom we have solemnities. The Church has been observing this feast since the 10th century and it has been a universal feast since the 16thcentury. And Joseph gets another feast day on May 1st: Feast of St. Joseph, the Worker. Except for Mary, no other saint has more than one feast day.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, of fathers, the patron saint of families, the patron saint of homes and the patron saint of workers. Joseph is also the unofficial patron saint against doubt and hesitation, of fighting against communism and of a good and happy death. We also believe that Joseph prays for all pregnant women, for immigrants, travellers and for those buying or selling a house.

In 1870, Pope Pius IX declared St. Joseph patron of the universal Church. He is the Patron of the Universal Church! And for us in our country, we should know that St. Joseph is the principal patron of Canada. That’s a huge responsibility for a man of so few words. But it’s a perfect job for a man of action.

As we journey through Lent – especially when we gather around the Eucharistic table, let’s pray to St. Joseph. Let him guide us and help us open our hearts to God’s plan for us: that we may be upright and righteous; that we may be men and women after God’s will; that we may be able to pray, “Father show me how I fit into this plan of yours.” And dream. Let God speak to you in your dreams and then get up and do as the angel of the Lord directs you. God has a great plan for everyone. Even for a simple carpenter.

Blessed Marcel Callo 1921-1945

marcel_callo_610x343

Today is 70th anniversary of death of Blessed Marcel Callo who was one of the patron blesseds and saints of World Youth Day 2002.

Marcel Callo was born on December 6, 1921, in Rennes, France, being one of nine children. He was a happy child, who was known to be a leader and a perfectionist. He helped with his household chores and he helped take care of his younger siblings. After completing his primary studies, he became an apprentice to a printer around age 13. He did not like associating with fellow workers who swore and told many improper stories. He preferred accompanying good Catholic friends who belonged to the JOC, Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne (Young Christian Worker). He had a good sense of humor and would like to wrestle, play football, ping pong, cards and bridge.

When Marcel was 20 he fell in love with Marguerite Derniaux. He did not degrade women like his fellow worker but instead had deep respect for women. He said, “I am not one to amuse myself with the heart of a lady, since my love is pure and noble. If I have waited until 20 years old to go out with a young lady, it is because I knew that I wanted to find real love. One must master his heart before he can give it to the one that is chosen for him by Christ.” It took him about one year to declare his love to Marguerite and an additional four months before they first kissed. After being engaged, they imposed a strict spiritual rule of life which included praying the same prayers and going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist as often as they could.

blog 2On March 8, 1943, the war (World War II) had gripped their city of Rennes. That day his sister, Madeleine was killed by one of the bombs that leveled her building. When the Germans later occupied France, Marcel was ordered and deported to Zella-Mehlis, Germany to the S.T.O.,Service du Travail Obligatoire (Service of Obligatory Work). If he did not comply, his family would be arrested, so he went.

Once there, he worked in a factory that produced bombs that would be used against his own countrymen. After three months or so of missing his family and missing Mass (there was no Catholic church in that town), Marcel became seriously depressed. He later found a room where Mass was offered on Sunday. This helped change his disposition. He reported that, “Finally Christ reacted. He made me to understand that the depression was not good. I had to keep busy with my friends and then joy and relief would come back to me.”

With his morale and hope restored, he cared for his deported friends. He organized a group of Christian workers who did activities together like play sports or cards. He also organized a theatrical group. He galvanized his friends despite him suffering from painful boils, headaches and infected teeth. For his French friends, he arranged a Mass to be celebrated in their native tongue. Eventually, his religious activities attracted unwanted attention from the German officials. The Germans arrested Marcel on April 19, 1944 saying that, “Monsieur is too much of a Catholic.”

The Germans interrogated Marcel. He admitted his Catholic activities and was imprisoned in Gotha. He secretly received the Eucharist while in prison and continued to pray and help his companions. He was considered dangerous to the Germans and was moved to a different prison at Mathausen. He suffered from various ailments such as bronchitis, malnutrition, dysentery, fever, swelling, and generalized weakness. He never complained. Despite his suffering, he encouraged his companions by saying, “It is in prayer that we find our strength.” He died on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1945. The date was exactly two years from the day he left home.Pope John Paul II beautified Marcel Callo on October 4, 1987 along with two Italian martyrs, Antonio Mesina and Pierina Morosini.

Courtesty of: http://www.savior.org/saints/callo.htm

A wimpy saint?

800px-Ignatius_of_Antioch

I told the Lord, ‘You take care of me. But if your will is that I die or that they do something to me, I ask you just one favor: that it doesn’t hurt because I am a big wimp when it comes to physical pain.

Pope Francis when asked about people’s concerns for his safety

When the Pope admitted this week that he is a wimp when it came to physical pain, I breathed a sigh of relief. Phew! Even the Pope struggles with this issue.

Yeah, I’m a wimp. I admit it. I’ve read the lives of the early Christian martyrs, The Jesuit Relations, even stories of the Christians being persecuted around the globe at this very moment, and the mere thought of suffering like that fills me with horror and the fear that I’m going buckle when put to the test.

This realization also doubles my awe at those who have embraced their persecution.  For example, when the Nazi’s came to take St Edith Stein ( Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) she didn’t resist.  All she said was, “Come Rosa, let us go for Our People”. She knew what lay ahead, but she embraced her suffering with grace and serenity.

How does one get to that point? How am I going to learn to embrace suffering with grace?

Well, I got a clue this past week. I attended a talk on St Edith Stein’s prayer life, hosted by the Association of Hebrew Catholics Toronto. The speaker Mark Neugebauer, like Edith Stein was born Jewish and later became a believer.

By way of relating St Edith’s experience to us, Mark also shared some anecdotes from his own life. His family had been in Auschwitz – his father and uncle. Here’s what’s struck me though, he said that one came out of the experience hating God and the other loving God even more.The difference between the two? The one who had shaky faith before he went into Auschwitz ended up hating God.

That made me think.

In other words, the faith of the one who believed was strengthened in the face of persecution and suffering. Instead of being broken, the believer was sustained and strengthened.

The whole thing seems counter-intuitive, but the more I mulled this over, the more it seemed to explain how saints like Maximilian Kolbe could shine so brightly in a concentration camp.

So Pope Francis may be convinced he’s a wimp, but I’d be willing to bet that his Goliath-like faith will sustain him through the worst of trials.  As for myself, well, let’s just say that after reflecting on these stories I am more determined than ever to be that saint, but I’m not quite ready for the rack just yet.

Angels: Your Forgotten Friends

Guardian_Angel

weekly_news_610x53_rightGuardian_Angel

Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

Stations_of_the_crossIt’s the 4th week of Lent and I sure hope you guys are hanging in there. In addition to a really good confession, one thing that really should be on your to-do list this Lent is to take a moment to pray and reflect on the Stations of the Cross, at least once. But, ‘why?’ you are probably asking youself. Well, Pope Francis gives you 8 solid reasons here.

Here are also some great reflections on The Way of the Cross:

Here’s an interesting article that doesn’t surprise me one bit. Apparently, despite some of the opposition the Pope is getting from the extreme right or left Catholics, the Pope’s popularity continues to grow. In fact, 9-in-10 Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favourably, on par with ratings of St. John Paul II. Read about it here! With this in mind, here is an interesting article by John Allen that describes what’s really miraculous about Pope Francis.

Louis_Zelie_MartinSpeaking of Popes and Saints, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Pope Francis plans to canonize St. Therese of Lisieux’s parents’ Blesseds Louis and Marie Zelie Guerin Martin. The couple was beatified in 2008 and are believed to be the first parents of a saint to be beatified, highlighting the important role parents play in their children’s human and spiritual upbringing. It’s all here on CNS.

Angels. Let’s talk about these important, yet all to often, under-rated protectors we all have. Have a look at this interesting article on EpicPew that points out 10 facts about them that’ll blow your mind! Speaking of which, the Venerable Fulton Sheen has some interesting thoughts on the subject:

One thing you may not know about me is that I am a bit of an architectural enthusiant. So when I came across these three articles, I found them of great interest. First, check out this video of 11 beautiful Christian sites taken with drones! Second, you should see these 5 Hidden Underwater Christian Statues of the Deep. Lastly, take a moment to see this really cool full 60 minutes documentary entitled “BUILDING THE GREATEST CATHEDRALS”

Finally, if you are like many Catholics and prayer may seem like a daunting task, you should think about what kind of prayer best suits your personality type! Here is a neat Quiz that will help you find out what type of prayer is best for you.

Take the test here.

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph

St_Joseph

The Catholic Church celebrates St. Josephs’ feast day on March 19. St. Joseph is the patron saint of husbands, fathers, families, homes and workers. Joseph is also believed to protect pregnant women, travelers, immigrants and people buying or selling homes.

In 1870, St. Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church and he is also one of the principal patrons of Canada. Please join Salt + Light in a month long novena prayer to St. Joseph. We invite you to pray for our ministry and for your own special intentions. Please find the prayer below:

Glorious St. Joseph
Appointed by the Eternal Father
As the guardian and protector of the life of Jesus Christ,
the comfort and support of His Holy Mother,
and the instrument in His great design
for the Redemption of mankind,
then who had the happiness of living with Jesus and Mary
and of dying in Their arms,
be moved with the confidence which we place in you
and procure for us from The Almighty,
the particular favours which we humbly ask through your intercession.

(Here ask for favours you wish to obtain)

Pray for us, then, O Great Saint Joseph
And by your love for Jesus and Mary,
And by Their love for you,
Obtain for us the supreme happiness of living and dying in the love of Jesus and Mary, Amen.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

If you would like to share your special intentions with us, please let us know.

The ring or the veil?

CUA students enjoy group discussion while they reflect on the lives of the saints.

This past week, I was in Washington D.C. to lead the Women’s Lenten Retreat for CUA’s Campus Ministry. The girls were amazing, I loved spending time with them. Their faith and their joy was inspiring. They were like the Church’s Light Brigade!

As we reflected on the lives of saints such as Gianna Beretta Molla, Kateri Tekakwitha, Chiara Badano, Dorothy Day and Marie of the Incarnation  we also talked a lot about game-changing life decisions. The big question being, “how do we reconcile our desire to do great things, our ambition to share our gifts and talents with the world, to leave our mark, with our responsibility to be witnesses to the faith?” Particularly when we are struggling to make a choice between two goods.

For example, one of the conversations I had was with a young women who had been dating someone for several months, they were both really committed to their faith life – went to Mass together, prayed together and loved studying theology and discussing the big questions. They were growing very close to each other. He was a great person.

However, she had recently attended Mass at the Dominican Sisters. She described the experience as “the most beautiful experience she’d ever had”. She wanted to find out more, but she didn’t know what that might mean for her relationship. The good guy that he was, he was very supportive of her choice to explore a possible vocation, but the fact that he was so supportive made it even more difficult to imagine not being with him.  Eeeek!

Tough situation, right? Two good things both reinforcing and confirming how good each choice is.

This year’s Women’s Lenten Retreat was held at Marlu-Ridge. During breaks, a walk through nature was a welcome treat!

I recalled a similar experience. Early on in filming The Church Alive series, I visited a Franciscan community which blew me away. I remembered how their radical commitment to poverty, their joy, the simplicity of their lives set my heart on fire. It made me question for a split second, if I was going to have to break it to my fiancee that I was running away to a nunnery?

Dodged that bullet.

But her story also reminded me of something else, something that one of my university profs once said to me, “Don’t you know Cheridan? You are a mystery even to yourself”. He was like Yoda when he said stuff like; I’d always say to myself “what does that even mean?!”

But what I came to realize eventually, is that only God knows who we truly are.  Life then is about discovering yourself in relation to the One who made you. And I don’t know why, but that revelation took some of the pressure off. I realized that it wasn’t so much up to me to make the perfect choice, but rather to discover who I am in relation to God and the rest would fall into place.

Be on the lookout for a Catholic Focus episode featuring Campus Ministry at the Catholic University of America in the coming months.

Cardinal Tagle recently spoke at CUA to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes. To hear what Cardinal Tagle had to say about evangelization and Pope Francis’ recent visit to Asia check out Daily Perspectives starting at 1:04

Pope Francis: Chiara Lubich, luminous exemplary life

CHIARA LUBICH PICTURED IN ROME IN 1997

Recently, Pope Francis announced the cause for Chiara Lubich’s canonization opened! Definitely cause for celebration!

Chiara, a young lay women, founded the movement when she was just 23 years old. Today Focolare or Work of Mary, present in 180 countries globally, is an international community of men and women that promotes unity and universal brotherhood. What started out as an experiment among friends in the war-torn city of Trent in 1943 has since borne extraordinary fruits. In the 70 years since its founding, the movement has already yielded a Blessed! To find out more about Focolare watch our Catholic Focus episodes, Focolare: The Work of Mary. We also recommend that you check out Fr. Thomas Rosica’s Witness Interview with Maria Voce, President of Focolare.

CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

Archbishop Oscar Romero: Blessed and Defender of the Poor and Justice

RomeroParade
RomeroPortraitVatican City, 4 February 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family and postulator of the cause for the beatification of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, presented the figure of the Salvadoran archbishop assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass and whose martyrdom was acknowledged yesterday with the signing of the necessary decree by Pope Francis. Historian Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, professor of modern history at the University of Rome III and author of a biography of Oscar Romero, also participated in the conference. Extensive extracts of Archbishop Paglia’s presentation are published below.
“It is an extraordinary gift for all of the Church at the beginning of this millennium to see rise to the altar a pastor who gave his life for his people; and this is true for all Christians. This can be seen in the attention of the Anglican Church, which has placed a statue of Romero in the facade of Westminster Abbey alongside those of Martin Luther King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and for all of society that regards him as a defender of the poor and of peace. Gratitude is also due to Benedict XVI, who followed the cause from the very beginning and on 20 December 2012 – just over a month before his resignation – decided to unblock the process to enable it to follow the regular itinerary”.
“The work of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, with Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., has been careful and attentive. The unanimity of both the commission of cardinals and the commission of theologians confirmed his martyrdom in odium fidei. … The martyrdom of Romero has given meaning and strength to many Salvadoran families who lost relatives and friends during the civil war. His memory immediately became the memory of other victims, perhaps less illustrious, of the violence”.
“Following a lengthy procedure that encountered many difficulties, on account of opposition due to both the archbishop’s thought and pastoral action, and the situation of conflict that developed in relation to him, the itinerary finally reached its conclusion. Romero becomes, as it were, the first of a long line of contemporary New Martyrs. 24 March – the day of his death – became, by decision of the Italian Episcopal Conference, the “Day for Prayer for Missionary Martyrs”. The United Nations have proclaimed that day “International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims”.
Romero mural wall
The world has changed greatly since 1980, but that pastor from a small Central American country speaks powerfully. It is not without significance that his beatification will take place precisely when there is for the first time in history a Latin American Pope who wants a ‘poor Church, for the poor’. It is a providential coincidence”.
Romero the pastor
“Romero believed in his role as a bishop and primate of his country, and he considered himself responsible for the population, especially the poorest. Therefore, he took upon himself the bloodshed, pain and violence, denouncing their causes in his charismatic Sunday preaching that was listened to on the radio by the entire nation. We might say that it was a ‘pastoral conversion’, with the assumption by Romero of a strength that was indispensable in the crisis that beset the country. He transformed himself into a defensor civitatis following the tradition of the ancient Fathers of the Church, defending the persecuted clergy, protecting the poor, and affirming human rights”.
“The climate of persecution was palpable. However, Romero clearly became the defender of the poor in the face of cruel repression. After two years as archbishop of San Salvador, Romero counted thirty lost priests – killed, expelled or forced to flee from death. The death squads killed scores of catechists from the base communities, and many faithful disappeared from these communities. The Church was the main target of accusation and therefore the hardest hit. Romero resisted and accepted giving his life to defend his people”.
RomeroDeathAssassinated at the altar during Mass
“He was killed at the altar. Killing him was intended to strike at the Church that flowed from Vatican Council II. His death – as the detailed documentary examination clearly showed – was not only politically motivated, but due also to hatred for a faith that, combined with charity, would not stay silent when faced with the injustices that implacably and cruelly afflicted the poor and their defenders. His assassination at the altar – without doubt a more uncertain death as it meant shooting from a distance of thirty metres rather than an attempt from a shorter range – had a symbolic nature that resounded as as terrible warning for whoever wished to follow the same route. John Paul II himself – who was well aware of the other two saints killed at the altar, St. Stanislaus of Krakow and St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury – noted effectively, ‘they killed him precisely at the most sacred moment, during the highest and most divine act. … A bishop of God’s Church was assassinated while he exercised his sanctifying mission, offering the Eucharist’. On a number of occasions he repeated forcefully, ‘Romero is ours, Romero is of the Church!’”.
Romero and the poor
“Romero had always loved the poor. As a very young priest in San Miguel he was accused of communism because he asked the rich to give a fair salary to the peasant coffee cultivators. He told them that not only did they act against justice, but also that they themselves opened the doors to communism”.
“Romero understood increasingly clearly that being a pastor to all meant starting with the poor. Placing the poor at the centre of the pastoral concerns of the Church and therefore of all Christians, including the rich, was the new pastoral way. His preferential love for the poor not only did not attenuate his love for his country, but on the contrary supported it. In this sense, Romero was not partisan, although to some he appeared that way; rather, he was a pastor who sought the common good of all, starting however with the poor. He never ceased to seek out the way for the pacification of the country.
Romero, man of God and of the Church
Romero was a man of God, a man of prayer, of obedience and love for the people. He prayed a lot … and he was harsh on himself, a severity linked to an old-fashioned spirituality made up of sacrifices. He had a ‘linear’ spiritual life, in spite of having a character that was not always easy – rigorous with himself, intransigent, tormented. But in prayer he found rest, peace and strength. When he had to make complicated or difficult decisions, he withdrew in prayer”.
“He was a bishop faithful to the magisterium. From his papers there clearly emerges his familiarity with the documents of Vatican Council II, Medellin, Puebla, the social doctrine of the Church and other pontifical texts in general. … It has often been said that Romero was suborned by liberation theology. Once, a journalist asked him, ‘Do you agree with liberation theology?’. He answered, ‘Yes, of course. But there are two forms of liberation theology. There is the one that sees liberation solely as material liberation. The other is that of Paul VI. I am with Paul VI’”.

On the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust”

Pius-XII-Jews

Today on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration in Poland, let us recall one of the great figures in world history who quietly assisted hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Nazi reign of terror and evil. For decades, the figure of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, has been at the center of some volatile polemics. The controversy has raged over whether the Pope did and said enough in defense of the Jews and other victims of the Nazis. The Roman Pontiff who guided the Church through the terrible years of the Second World War and the Cold War is the victim of a “black legend,” which has proven difficult to combat and is so widespread that many consider it to be more true than the actual historical facts.

Popes do not speak with the idea of pre-constituting a favourable image for future ages. They know that the fate of millions of Christians can at times depend on their every word; they have at heart the fate of men and women of flesh and blood, not the applause or fleeting approval of historians.

Let us remember some key facts about this man’s story and about history. Pope Pius XII led the Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958. Immediately before his election, the then-Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was the Vatican Secretary of State. He, more than anyone else in the Vatican, knew what was happening in the world. Pius XII was not only the Pope of the Second World War, but a pastor who, from March 2, 1939, to October 9, 1958, had before him a world at war during very troubled times.

Those who attack Pius XII often do so for ideological reasons. The campaign against him was started in the Soviet Union and was then sustained in various Catholic environments. He took sides against the Communist world in a severe, strong and determined way. In such a way that we had to wait 30 years, until the Polish Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, for that style to be taken up properly in a way that was fatal for Communism.

The black legend swirling around Pacelli took shape in the bitter controversies over the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and was manipulated by forces on both sides. Pacelli cannot be the person who is blamed for something that belongs in a complex way to the world community.

Arbeit-macht-frei-gates

From the beginning, Hitler and his closest followers were motivated by a pathological hatred for the Catholic Church, which they appraised correctly as the most dangerous opponent to what they hoped to do in Germany. There was radical divergence between the Nazis and the Catholic Church.

Pope Pius XII was not concerned for his reputation, but with saving Jewish lives and this was the only just decision, which clearly required wisdom and a great amount of courage. The Pope protested vehemently the persecution of Jews, but he explained in 1943 that he could not speak in more dramatic or public terms without the risk of making things much worse than they were. His was a prophecy in action, which saved the lives of countless victims of the neo-pagan Nazi reign of terror, rather than potentially counter-productive public statements.

During the Second World War, and up until five years after his death, Pius XII was greatly praised by many Jewish organizations, chief Rabbis of diverse countries and especially from the United States. Robert Kempner, a Jewish lawyer and public official at the Nüremberg trials, wrote in 1964, after the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth’s “The Deputy”: “Any propagandistic position that the Church would have taken against Hitler’s government would have not only provoked suicide… but it would have hastened the execution of still more Jews and priests.”

One of the unpleasant “secondary” consequences of this black legend that falsely portrays Pope Pius XII as indulgent toward Nazism and indifferent to the fate of the victims of persecution has been to sideline or even obliterate the extraordinary teaching of this Pope who was a precursor of the Second Vatican Council. Pius XII must be remembered for his encyclical on the liturgy, his reform of the rites of Holy Week – the great preparatory work that would flow into the conciliar liturgical reform.

It is the same Pope who, in the encyclical “Humani Generis,” takes evolutionary theory into consideration. Pius XII also gave notable impetus to missionary activity with the encyclicals “Evangelii Praecones,” in 1951, and “Fidei Donum,” in 1957, highlighting the Church’s duty to proclaim the Gospel to the nations, as Vatican II would amply reaffirm.

Auschwitz

Papa Pacelli opened up the application of the historical-critical method to the Bible, and in the encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu,” established the doctrinal norms for the study of Sacred Scripture, emphasizing the importance of its role in Christian life. After Sacred Scripture, the Council’s documents cite no single author as frequently as Pope Pius XII.

Since Pacelli’s death the Church has taken great strides in forging closer relations with the Jewish faith. Pope John Paul II made Jewish-Christian relations a priority of his pontificate. He repeatedly defended the actions of Pope Pius XII while at the same time spoke of the silence and inaction of some Catholics during the Holocaust.

On Friday August 19, 2005, I was present in the historic Synagogue on Cologne’s Roonstraße as Pope Benedict XVI addressed the large assembly. In his moving address, Benedict XVI, the German Pope who grew up during the Second World War, spoke these words to the Jewish community of Cologne and representatives of Judaism in Germany, returning in spirit the meeting that took place in Mainz, Germany on November 17, 1980 between Pope John Paul II and members of the Central Jewish Committee in Germany and the Rabbinic Conference.

Benedict said:

“And in the 20th century, in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt, planned and systematically carried out by the regime, to exterminate European Jewry. The result has passed into history as the Shoah.

…I make my own the words written by my venerable Predecessor on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and I too say: “I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis. ” The terrible events of that time must “never cease to rouse consciences, to resolve conflicts, to inspire the building of peace” (Message for the Liberation of Auschwitz, 15 January 2005).

KZ-RR-tracks-Auschwitz

Then in New York City on April 28, 2008, the Park East synagogue gave Pope Benedict XVI a warm welcome. The visit on the eve of Passover, the Jewish holiday marking the exodus from Egypt, was only the third by a pope to a Jewish house of worship after Benedict’s visit to the Cologne Synagogue in 2005, and Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Rome synagogue in 1986.

Pope Benedict XVI ended his warm address to the Jewish assembly with these words: “I encourage all of you to continue building bridges of friendship with all the many different ethnic and religious groups present in your neighborhood.”

This Papal path from the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City to Rome’s Synagogue, Cologne’s Synagogue and New York’s Park East Synagogue was opened by Eugenio Pacelli’s heroism, courage and prophetic gestures during a dark period of world history. Pacelli has been called many names. He was also known as the “Pastor Angelicus” and “Defensor Civitatis.” He is now a Servant of God, on the path to Beatification and Canonization in the Catholic Church.

It is our hope that the Salt and Light Television documentary “A Hand of Peace: Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust” sheds light and truth on this great man’s life, prophetic actions, courageous words and his significant contribution to humanity. Let us learn from his example as we extend our hands and arms in gestures of friendship and peace to the men and women of our time. Let us continue to build bridges of justice and peace to the many different ethnic and religious groups around us.