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Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis in Cuba and US

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With one papal trip barely over, attention is already turning to the next papal trip: Cuba and the U.S. The official schedule was released at the end of June.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the theme and logo of that portion of the trip some time ago. The motto is “Love is our Mission” and the logo features a pencil sketch of the pope waving to the skyline of a city.

The Diocese of Holguin just recently released their logo for the papal visit: A stylized mitre feature representations of the sea, the land, and the sky capped off with a stylized cross. The motto for that leg of the pope’s journey: “Missionary of Mercy”.

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Meanwhile, Cuban president Raul Castro told Cuban media preparations are underway to receive the pope with the “affection, respect, and hospitality he deserves.” Castro went on to say that Pope Francis’ analysis of the problems facing humanity are cause for admiration. Castro also said he followed the recent papal visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay very closely.

Behind Vatican Walls: When in Bolivia…

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Much has been made of the messages Pope Francis delivered during his visit to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. As always, the pope made reference to local saints and historical episodes in his homilies and addresses, thrilling the locals and confusing foreigners following on television. Here’s a rundown of the some of the people and things Pope Francis referenced during his visit.

In Bolivia, during his meeting with the men and women religious of that country, Pope Francis mentioned two women whose names drew instant applause from the audience.

Blessed Nazaria Ignacia Teresa de Jesus

Born in Madrid, Spain, this religious nun worked with the poorest, smallest and weakest in Bolivia. Her work with disenfranchised Bolivians led her to found the first Bolivian religious community for women.

Early in life Nazaria was drawn to Christ. At her first communion she told Jesus “I want to follow you as closely and a human creature can.” However, her parents faith life was lukewarm and they did not understand her fervent faith. As a young woman she tried to enter the community of the Little Sisters of the Defenceless Elderly. Her father refused to give his permission. The mother superior consoled her saying “you will go to America and return with companions.” That same year her family moved to Mexico for economic reasons and Nazaria find a community of the same religious order there. She finally entered the community and after her novitiate was sent to Bolivia. There she worked with the poor elderly in small communities, but still she felt another call in her heart. She had an opportunity to talk to the Papal Nuncio to Bolivia and told him of the call she felt. He encouraged her and helped her get permission to found a new community: The Missionary Sisters of the Pontifical Crusade (today they are known as the Missionary Crusaders of the Church).

Under Nazaria’s guidance this little community worked with miners, indigenous ranch hands, women, children, and all those most oppressed by the social economic conditions in Bolivia. She went so far as to help women form the first union for female labourers. Today the community has houses and centres in Spain, France, Portugal, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.

Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardia

Pope Francis also mentioned the Venerable Virginia Blanco Tardia, a lay woman known for her untiring work with the Catholic Action movement in Bolivia. Blanco Tardia was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia and joined Catholic Action at age 16. She was studious and cultured and went on to become a teacher and catechist. All accounts of her life say she was an “exemplary catechist” educating the children of farm workers in both Spanish and Quechua.

During her lifetime he founded an “Economic Kitchen” for the poor, a prayer group called the “Prayer & Friendship Group”, and a centre that provided medical services to those who couldn’t afford healthcare anywhere else. Along side this she served as the diocesan president of the Women’s Association of the Catholic Action for many, many years. Blanco Tardio died of a cardiac arrest in 1972 in Cochabamba.

Paraguayan Women

Addressing the diplomatic corps and civil authorities in Paraguay, Pope Francis praised Paraguayan women for saving the country during its most dramatic and disastrous period of history, the Triple Alliance War (or The Great War) that lasted from 1865 to 1870.

The ruler at the time, Francisco Solano Lopez, inherited his position from his father and feels the need to prove himself as a leader. Argentina and Brazil, meanwhile, both believe they have legitimate claims over Uruguay….which is also Paraguay’s only access point to the sea. When Brazil invades Uruguay, Solano Lopez declares war on Brazil and sends troops into Uruguay through Argentine territory. Brazil and Argentina meanwhile reach an agreement regarding Uruguay and join forces against Paraguay.

This leads to a war in which Paraguay is outnumbered and up against Brazil and Argentina’s modern weapons. Solano Lopez conscripts every able bodied Paraguayan male to the front lines. Women have to step in to work the land and provide the support needed to keep the troops fighting. Still, famine and disease set in.

According to some estimates, the war wiped out 60% of Paraguay’s population and 90% of the country’s men.  For each man left alive in the country there are eight women. Even though the country is in ruins the women of Paraguay keep going. They keep working, producing food, producing goods, and tending to the needs of those who have survived the war. More importantly, despite having seen the evil that humanity is capable of, they decide to continue having children. This decision saves Paraguay as a nation, but also saves the culture and language of this fledgling nation. Pope Francis has repeatedly referred to the women of Paraguay as the most glorious women of Latin America.

“Chiquitunga”

During his meeting with the young people of Paraguay Pope Francis heard the testimony of Liz,  a 25 year old woman, a daughter of separated parents, who has become the sole caregiver for her mother and grandmother. Liz’s mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and her grandmother is bedridden. Through the generosity of her friends, fellow parishioners, and extended family, Liz was able to become a nurse. While sharing her story and her struggles with Pope Francis she said she found inspiration and strength in the example of “Chiquitunga”, who she learned of while working in a hospital.

Chiquitunga is the nickname for Maria Felicia de Jesus Sacramento (born Maria Felicia Guggiari Echeverria). Chiquitunga was born in Villarrica, Paraguay to a faithful Catholic family. At the age of 16 she joined Catholic Action and consecrated herself to the service of God. She taught catechism, provided pastoral care for young labourers and university students, and helped the poor, elderly and abandoned in the poorest areas of her city. She wrote of the great joy she felt being able to serve these people because she found Christ in their faces.

Despite the joy that she felt serving those in need, she felt called to the contemplative life. At age 30 she entered the Carmel de la Asuncion and took the habit of the Discalced Carmelites. Chiquitunga lived only four years after entering the monastery. She died on Easter Sunday 1959 of hepatitis, which had already killed other sisters in her community. The cause for her beatification was opened in 1997.

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Behind Vatican Walls: The Peripheries of Latin America

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On July 5 Pope Francis embarks on his ninth voyage outside of Italy. It will also be the second time since his election that he sets foot on on South American soil. This visit will take him to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, and have him delicately side step home country. The visit and each of his stops along the way reflect his concern for those on the social, economic and geographical peripheries. His stops along the way will also highlight the rich Catholic history in these countries and once again show the world how the World of God took root in Latin American soil among the lowliest.

Native Marian Patronesses

In Ecuador and Paraguay, the pope will visit the national shrine dedicated to the Marian patroness of those two countries: Ecuador’s El Quinche sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of El Quinche, and Paraguay shrine to Our Lady of Caacupé. Both Madonnas started out as patronesses of the local native tribes who were considered the lowest of the low in society at the time.

In Ecuador in 1594, Our Lady of El Quinche was given to local natives after the people who originally commissioned the statue of Our Lady failed to pay the artist for his work. The artist, Don Diego Robles, traded the figure to natives in exchange for a special type of wood he wanted to work with. She quickly became the protectress of the Andean natives. Yet she was not officially crowned until 1943. Her feast day is celebrated November 21.

In Paraguay the Holy Father will visit the shrine of Our Lady of Caacupe. Devotion to Our Lady of the Miracles, as she is known, goes back to the 16th century. A Guarani man who had become Christian was hiding from members of the Mbayes tribe. They were fiercely anti-Christian and vowed to kill any and all natives who converted to Christianity. The Guarani man hid in a tree and prayed to Our Lady for protection. The Mbayes walked by his hiding spot without realizing he was there. When he was certain they were gone, he took wood from the tree and carved a figure of Our Lady. In 1603, a flood devastated the Pirayu Valley. When the waters receded, the marian statue resurfaced. The shrine was obviously expanded over time, but to this day Paraguayans walk from their villages to her shrine to venerate her and thank her for favours received.

To highlight even further the important role of Latin America’s native populations in the Church, all of the papal Masses will include either readings or prayers in Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani.

Martyrs

Although the pope will not visit a marian shrine in Bolivia, he will stop at another significant site. When he makes his way from La Paz to the airport in El Alto, the motorcade will stop at the place where his confrere Fr. Luis Espinal, SJ, was killed. The Spanish-born Jesuit had degrees in Theology and Philosophy, as well as audiovisual Journalism and had been producing a weekly television program on Spanish state television called “Urgent Questions.” When he used one episode of the program to look at the realities of life in a poor area of Barcelona, the program was abruptly pulled from the schedule. Just as he was grappling with questions of what to do if he could not speak freely in Franco’s Spain, the bishop of La Paz, Bolivia offered him a position teaching at the Catholic University of La Paz. Espinal accepted and moved to Bolivia in 1968. He taught and worked for local radio station. He also founded a magazine and the Assembly for Human Rights.

Espinal’s journalism was focused on drawing attention to the conditions facing Bolivian peasants: poverty despite the presence of an abundance of natural resources, low wages for those who laboured to extract those natural resources, rural populations without access to basic services, poor health care and short life expectancy…the list went on.  His books focused on the need for people of faith to pay attention to the poorest in society, and his activism was aimed at gaining greater respect for the human rights of all Bolivians from the government. In 1977 he took part in a 19 day hunger strike alongside Bolivian miners and their families. The strike led to the creation of a formal opposition to the government. That, in turn, led to the resignation of then-president Hugo Banzer. At the same time, the hunger strike gained Fr. Espinal enemies. On March 21, 1980 Fr. Espinal was kidnapped by paramilitary forces. His badly beaten body was found the following day by members of his community.

Today, Fr. Espinal is regarded as a national hero who used his journalism and film studies to help build up Bolivia. The reality, however, is that still one out of four Bolivians live on less than two dollars a day according to the World Bank. Fr. Espinal’s work was vital but still incomplete.

The Poor and Oppressed

Also in Bolivia, Pope Francis will take part in an international gathering for Popular Movements. The first such gathering was held at the Vatican in October 2014. The meeting, being held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, is similarly sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, though the movements taking part are not religious movements. Delegates are members of unions, assemblies, community organizations, and social justice groups. The “cartoneros” – the men who collect cardboard and other recyclables off the street – that Pope Francis ministered to as Archbishop of Buenos Aires are among the groups represented at this meeting.

During his one hour visit to this meeting Pope Francis, along with Bolivian President Evo Morales, will take part in what is billed as a “dialogue” about the need for changes in society so that everyone can have access to the basics of life, and what the popular movements can and should be doing to bring about those changes.

As the meeting includes groups that are not Catholic, this stop is yet another instance of Pope Francis showing the world that some things are so urgent we must join forces across religious lines.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)


Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Synod 2015 Lineamenta

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The idea that a pope, or any pastor, would call his flock to assess how their lives are impacting the earth, caused waves and turned heads last week. Barely a week later, the Vatican has released the working document, or “lineamenta” for the upcoming Synod on the Family.

Scheduled for October 2015, the synod is expected to pick up the key discussion points raised at last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family and, hopefully, move some of those points to the stage of concrete proposals to be implemented around the church.

Many of the same issues from the 2014 working document found their way into the 2015 lineamenta, but several new topics finally made it onto the synod’s radar. Among those newly discovered topics:

  • widowhood
  • families with special needs children
  • responsible procreation
  • impact of ecology on families, especially poor families in developing countries

Grandparents and widowhood

The lineamenta focuses on the role of grandparents in several sections. First grandparents are recognized as key players in the transmission of the faith, but not only. In one paragraph grandparents are recognized as the family members who pass on family traditions and cultural customs, giving children a way to connect with their own roots and thus their identity. Those same grandparents, according to the document provide vital economic support – in cash or in kind- to young couples with growing families. I.e.: grandparents babysit their grandchildren for free.

When it comes to dealing with the loss of a long-time spouse, the lineamenta proposes that grandchildren play an important role in helping their grandparents adjust when they become widows or widowers. Having a family to direct their attention to, in a new way, helps fill the void when a spouse dies. The whole Christian community is called upon to gather around widows and widowers who, for a variety of reason, do not have family to support them in this new chapter of their lives.

Families with special needs children

Attention is given – finally- to families with special needs children. These families face countless, daily challenges that they never imagined when they were expecting their child. As many families with special needs members will tell you, they also receive tremendous blessings through that child. However, there are few resources in the church for these families: few options for the educating their children in the faith, and limited structures in the church to support them. Given medical advances the lifespan of special needs children had extended significantly. Today, parents of special needs children also find themselves asking with increasing urgency, “what happens to my child when I’m gone?”

Divorced Catholics

The thorny issue of divorce returns to the scene. Yet this time there are a few variations on the theme. Specifically, the lineamenta looks at divorced Catholics who have not remarried but believe they are in a state of sin and abstain from the sacraments. Conversely, divorced and civilly remarried Catholics who for a variety of reasons abstain from sex in their new relationship. They can, according to the lineamenta, receive the sacraments. Whatever the particular situation the lineamenta states that pastoral care and accompaniment must be given to all divorced catholics. To that end priests need to be better trained, and dioceses would do well to establish specialized pastoral program for people who find themselves in such a situation.

Starting a conversation

The guiding principle behind all of the issues brought up in the synod document is that the current global culture is not favorable to families. The church, therefore must be able to offer what the rest of the world cannot. When it comes to the difficult issues that cause estrangement from the Church, the lineamenta reminds the synod fathers that all too often baptized Catholics find themselves distanced from the Church not by choice, but by circumstance or because of things that happen to them “through the actions of third parties.” That acknowledgement is key to ensuring that a serious, open, level discussion takes place.


Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Laudato Si’

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The pope’s ecology encyclical, Laudato Si, was finally, officially released this week. The label “ecology” does not fully capture the breadth and depth of what Pope Francis discusses in the document. He does outline the problems with our planet, but shows how climate issues cannot be disconnected from human issues like poverty, migration and quality of life. Then he leads readers to the roots of the problem: humans. Human activity and a disordered view of the role humans should play in relation to the creation lead to plundering of the earth’s resources, technological advancement at breakneck speed just to have power over everything and everyone else on the planet have – according to Pope Francis – got us into our present global situation.

Better than reading my one paragraph summary, here is the link to the full text of the encyclical in English. For other languages click on the the language of your choice in the upper right corner.

This papal letter was highly anticipated not just by Catholics but the world at large. Here is a collection of articles about Laudato Si and the key themes developed in it.

The New York Times had this assessment of Laudato Si, and the tradition of popes speaking out on global issues.

The Guardian provided comprehensive coverage of the encyclical, including this assessment.

While Canadian politicians did not acknowledge the encyclical (at least, none that got media coverage) The Globe and Mail did look at both the encyclical and its expected effects.

Catholic News Service, once again, has provided all the tools the average and not so average Catholic might need to fully digest this papal document (not that Pope Francis is difficult to understand.) First, a glossary of words and phrases that come up in the encyclical.

Then, a comprehensive list of the practical tips Pope Francis offers for saving our planet.

The Catholic Herald out of the UK offered this assessment of Laudato Si from a faith perspective, and it might scare those Catholics who would prefer their faith and their life be two separate things.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below.


 

Alicia

Every week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Papal Poem ‘Martin Fierro’

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The Vatican received a who’s-who of international leaders, each one bringing their own agenda and a unique assortment of gifts. In the span of three days, leaders from Argentina, Russia, and Canada came to visit, with a delegation of bishops from Latvia and Estonia squeezing in for an Ad Limina visit.

Russian leader Vladamir Putin brought the pope a picture of the Church of Jesus Savior, which was recently rebuilt in Moscow. Argentina’s president, the highly styled Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, showered the pope with gifts. She brought a basket of Argentine foods (almost certainly Yerba mate, Dulce de Leche, and Alfajores), a picture of Blessed Oscar Romero painted by an Argentine artist, and several books: one about MercuSur, the South American common market organization, one about Argentina architecture, and a copy of the epic Argentine poem “Martin Fierro” which has been quoted by the pope on various occasions.

Given that when the pope mentions a book it becomes a best-seller, what is this “Martin Fierro”?

Written in 1872 by Jose Hernandez, the 13 canto poem traces the path of a content but poor gaucho Martin Fierro. He is taken from his quiet life on the Pampas by the government and forced to help protect the country’s border from natives because he failed to vote in the last election for the local judge. Fierro is a poor gaucho, but life in the government fort is even worse than anything he’s known before: he and his fellow gauchos live in squalor and are treated brutally. Eventually Fierro’s rebellious streak kicks in and he deserts his post. Returning home he discovered his wife, children and home are gone. With nothing left, he wanders the Pampas alone.

Eventually, while in a humble drinking establishment, Fierro gets into a knife fight and kills a man. Sought after by the police, he flees and becomes a fugitive. Along the way he meets Cruz, a police officer who more attracted by Fierro’s ideals than keeping law and order. To avoid being captured Fierro and Cruz make their home among the natives.

A second poem, “The Return of Martin Fierro” sees the two men emerge from their exile. Fierro finds his two sons who are now grown and gives them his long-overdue fatherly guidance. The lessons he teaches and the advice he gives are core Christian values: hold firm to your faith in God, help the poor and aged, work hard, respect women.

The poems are considered an expression of the Argentine national identity: God-fearing people who keep their head down, work hard, treat others well, yet are mistreated by those with power and money. At the same time the poems were considered a warning against the European ideas being introduced to the country.

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The renowned Italian composer and director Ennio Morricone has composed a Mass for Pope Francis and the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuit order.

A concert presenting the new Mass setting was held at Rome Il Gesu church this week. The concert was recorded by Italian state broadcaster RAI and will be available on the Rai5 website.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below.


AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Behind Vatican Walls: Angelo Roncalli

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On the evening of June 3, 1963, as Mass was being celebrated in the plaza below his window, Pope John XXIII quietly passed away. He had been suffering from stomach cancer for some time, although his illness had only been revealed to the public in March of that same year. Still, he faced that final year of his pontificate, his illness, and the transition to eternal life with the same simplicity and humour with which he faced his whole life.

Born November 25, 1881 in Sotto il Monte (Bergamo) Angelo Roncalli was the fourth of 13 children. His parents were sharecroppers – not even landowning farmers. The local school only went up to the third grade, after which the local children would begin working on the land with their parents – which is what happened to most of the Roncalli children.  If a family had the resources, some of their children would get further schooling in a neighbouring town or by private tutor. Some might call it providence, some might call it God’s plan, but at age ten when his friends and classmates were trading their school books for farm tools, Angelo was sent to the priest in a neighbouring town to be taught privately. Eventually he attended the Collegio Celana – an academy founded by St. Charles Borromeo – and entered the seminary at age 12. He completed his seminary studies years – and a year of military service- before the canonical minimum age for ordination, so he was invited to do further studies in Rome.

Despite the years of studies, he never considered himself anything more than a farmer’s son. In 1904, he was finally ordained. While preparing to celebrate his first Mass in his hometown he pulled the sacristan aside and gave him some very specific instructions: the sacristan was to stand behind the pulpit (think pre-Vatican II raised pulpits) out of sight of the congregation. If his homily became too complicated, too academic, the sacristan was to tug at the hem of Fr. Angelo’s alb. The sacristan never had to tug on the new priest’s alb.

Fr. Roncalli was named secretary to the bishop of Bergamo and was asked to teach at the local seminary. All proceeded quietly until 1915. He ended up serving as a military chaplain until the end of the war. After the war he turned his attention to students and continued serving as a chaplain to students and seminarians.

Eventually it became clear this humble, country priest had much more to offer. In the 1920s he was called to Rome to serve with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and in 1925 was made Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria and eventually Nuncio. Ten years later, he was named Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. It was not an easy period, by any means, but it brought him into contact with the Orthodox Church and the Muslim community. He visited Orthodox Churches and stood in awe before the icons they housed. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was in Greece, witnessing the devastation caused by fighting. From there he was made Nuncio in Paris, and eventually Cardinal Patriarch of Venice. He received his red biretta from French president Vincent Auriol who, as president of that country, had the right to bestow the cardinalatial hat on the departing Nuncio.

Cardinal Roncalli believed he would spend the final years of his doing exactly what he had always wanted to do: pastoral work with parishioners. Granted, the “parish” was all of Venice. There, in “La Serenissima” Cardinal Roncalli quickly became known for his long walks around the city during which he would stop to talk to the locals and his modest lifestyle. He made it known that his door was always open for anyone in need of a confessor. He also opened 30 parishes, helped the Catholic Action Movement grow, renovated the diocesan Basilica and re-organized the archives that contained the history of the see.

Cardinal Roncalli was convinced Venice would be his final earthly home. But when Pope Pius XII died and the cardinals were summoned to Rome, the faithful of Venice didn’t expect their patriarch to return.

Elected Pope, he did exactly what he had been doing in Venice: he listened to his parishioners. Now his parish was the whole world and his flock included the cardinals and bishops around the world. He soon noticed a recurring theme in his conversations with visiting cardinals and bishops: pastoral issues that needed answers, urgently. His faithful secretary, now Cardinal Loris Capovilla, recalls that not five days after being elected pope, during a meeting with one of the many cardinals who came to pay the respects to the new pontiff, Pope John XXIII scribbled the word “council” in Italian.

The idea had bubbled up naturally in the pope’s mind in response to what he was hearing. He mentioned it to his secretary who said nothing. If  it was an inspiration of the Holy Spirit it would have to come to fruition on its own, and Cardinal Capovilla feared anything he said might get in the way of that inspiration and God’s will. Pope John XXIII, however, wanted to know what his secretary thought and so he mentioned it repeatedly – to no avail. Finally the pope couldn’t stand his trusted confidant’s silence and asked “aAe you staying silent because you think I’m too old and it’s too big a project?” The pope went on to explain why it was not too big a project for a man of his age and eventually said if died in the process of the council another pope would be chosen who would carry on the work of the guiding the council. He foretold exactly what would happen over the next five years or so.

Pope John XXIII opened the first session of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. It ran until December of that same year. The pope was part of the preparations for the second session but died just months before the second session was to convene. As he had told his secretary, his successor dedicated himself to the work of continuing the council and seeing it through to the end.

See video of Pope John XXIII’s life below:

See this week’s Vatican Connections below:


 

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Photo: CNS/Courtesy of Archbishop Loris Capovilla

Behind Vatican Walls: Pope Francis to Visit Bosnia-Herzegovina

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Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia – Herzegovina, June 6. The one day trip is packed full significant meetings. Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told journalists this week it would be “notevolissimo” or “highly noteworthy” if the Holy Father arrives at the Sarajevo airport on time at the end of his visit. The visit is set to be noteworthy even without Pope Francis pulling off a timekeeping miracle.

In 1994 St. Pope John Paul II decided to visit the war-ravaged city. The United Nations agreed to provide the pope’s flight. Despite the ongoing fighting the pope was firm in his resolve to visit. Just days before his scheduled trip, fighting intensified in Sarajevo and UN planes carrying supplies to the area were shot at. The UN cancelled its flights and the pope had to cancel his visit.

The pope was finally able to visit Sarajevo in 1997, just two years after the war ended. Despite an end to the fighting, the situation was still not good – especially for Catholics. In 1997, Catholic News Service reported that Catholics who held state jobs lost those positions and were discriminated against in housing and relocation programs. In a meeting with the bishops of Bosnia Herzegovina, St. John Paul II told the bishops not to be “intimidated by any earthly power” but instead use any legitimate means at their disposal to speak out against such discrimination. During that same visit the pope met with Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox leaders. The Bosnian Mufti – Mustafa Cercic announced afterwards that he would call on Muslims to begin a dialogue with Catholics.

In short, the visit of St. John Paul II seemed like a shot in the arm for a nation struggling to find itself again after a war, and for Catholics who had not seen much improvement in their situation two years after the fighting ended.

Pope Francis’ visit to the city comes 20 years after Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian presidents signed the peace agreement known as the Dayton Accords. While the immediate after-effects of war are long gone, reports indicate that division along ethnic lines still exist in Bosnian-Herzegovinian society. His visit, however, has excited citizens of all ethnic and religious groups. In the town of Zavidovici, a Bosnian Muslim woodcarver offered to carve a chair for the pope. The project was financed by the local Catholic parish.

Interreligious dialogue and Ecumenism will be a key theme of this visit: the pope will meet with leaders of other religions and Christian confessions, and he will visit a youth centre that brings together young people of all religious backgrounds. The centre is dedicated to St. John Paul II.

Below is the full itinerary of Pope Francis’ visit to Sarajevo:

9:00 am – Arrival at International Airport in Sarajevo

9:30 am – Welcome Ceremony, private visit with Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Meeting with local civil authorities

11:00 am – Mass at Koševo Olympic Stadium

1:15 pm – Lunch with Bishops of Bosnia Herzegovina

4:20 pm – Meeting with men and women religious at Sacred Heart Cathedral

5:30 pm – Interreligious and Ecumenical meeting at Franciscan International Student Centre

6:30 pm – Meeting with youth at St. John Paul II youth centre

7:45 pm – Farewell Ceremony at International Airport

8:00 pm – Departure for Rome

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This week, the Institute for Works of Religions, commonly known as the Vatican Bank, released its annual report for 2014. The report is available in English on IOR’s website.

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.

Photo: CNS/Fehim Demir, EPA

Behind Vatican Walls: Latin America redefines Martyrdom

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Traditionally, the church recognizes someone as a martyr when he or she refuses  to renounce their faith and is killed as a result. The beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed, opens the door to a new, expanded definition of martyrdom.

Romero, who was gunned down while celebrating Mass, was never pressured to renounce his faith. If anything he was pressured to stick with the status quo: a system by which the poor workers were kept poor and the rich (Catholics) families kept their wealth and power.  His refusal to accept that situation drew the attention and ire of the government and its military enforcers.

Across Latin America, there are countless other men and women who died under similar circumstances:

Enrique Angelelli

Bishop Enrique Angelelli was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1923 to Italian immigrants. Like many other Italian immigrants, his parents worked the land. He entered the seminary at age 15, was sent to study in Rome and eventually returned to Cordoba as a priest. Angelelli was assigned various roles as a young priest: pastor at small chapel, pastor to the catholic youth movement, hospital chaplain. Visiting and ministering to residents in the Villas Miserias, or slums, was a key part of his work.

Angelelli was eventually named an auxiliary bishop of Cordoba and then removed from his position after getting involved in a labour union dispute on behalf of the workers. After the second Vatican Council, his beliefs and actions were seen as being in line with the teachings of the church and Angelelli was once again named auxiliary bishop of Cordoba. Later, as bishop of La Rioja he continued speaking out against ursury, gambling, and prostitution rings run by the wealthy and stood firmly on the side of workers and farmers.

During the Dirty War the military government had no use for the Church. Priests working in the slums to educate and evangelize the poor began to disappear, never to be seen alive again. In 1974, during his Ad Limina visit to Rome, it was suggested to Angelelli that it was safer for him to stay in Italy. He returned nonetheless.

On August 4, 1974 while returning to the city after celebrating the funeral of two young priests, Angelelli’s car was run off the road. Documents he had been carrying in his briefcase related to the deaths of the young priests, disappeared.  Officially his death was labelled a traffic accident. But the priest travelling with him survived the crash and told officials in 1986 that a Peugot 404 had cut them off and maneuvered brusquely in front of them. In 2014 an Argentine court found two former military officials guilty of murder.

Rutilio Grande

A contemporary of Oscar Romero, Jesuit Father Ruitilio Grande was killed March 12, 1977. Fr. Grande was born in 1928 and, shortly after his birth, his parents separated. This pushed his broken family into economic instability. They had a small plot of land they used to grow beans, corn and rice, but it was insufficient to meet their needs, so they rented more land. The amount of produce they gave the landowner was equivalent to one week’s worth of work every month. Needless to say, Fr. Grande entered the priesthood with a keen awareness of the social inequalities in El Salvador.

Unlike some priests who approached the social situation from a political point of view, Grande opted to enter into the reality of the poor through the Word of God. He sought to evangelize and form the laity, especially the poor, so they could fully participate in their mission as laypeople of the Church. This approach upset the status quo and upset the government just as much as any armed uprising. On March 12, 1977, Grande and two companions were driving along a rural road when they were ambushed and killed by military forces.

Cosme Spessotto

While El Salvador is not the only Latin American country where priests, religious and committed laypeople were martyred, it was the site of a large number of killings. Italian Friar Cosme Spessotto was one of those. Ordained in Italy, he was sent to El Salvador in the 1950s. As soon as he arrived he got to work connecting with the local community and finding a way to meet their needs as a church. In one of the first communities he worked with he found a way to rebuild a church that had been destroyed by earthquake in the 30s. In another community, he found the means to build their first church and then prevented it from being taken over by armed forces.

Yet this simple friar who walked and worked with the poor upset the social order. Spessotto managed to rally national and international support to build the churches his faithful needed. Even more worrisome for the government, he continuously denounced military abuses and refused to look the other way.

Sepessotto spared no energy ministering to his parishioners, so it came as no surprise that he landed in hospital in 1980. However, during his hospital stay it was discovered that he was suffering from Leukemia. Released from the hospital, he was sent to the minor seminary in San Salvador to recover. It was there, while waiting to celebrate Mass, that he was gunned down by military police. A cause for his sainthood is already open.

Countless others

These three names are perhaps the most high profile, best known cases that might be considered for sainthood in the future. Every country in Latin America has their own exhaustive list of people who died because they believed in the Gospel and the inherent dignity of each person created in the image of God.

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Update:

In this week’s edition of Vatican Connections, I reported that Argentine journalists have uncovered documents reportedly linking journalist Horacio Verbitsky to the military between 1978 and 1982. Verbitsky has since denied any ties to the military. He claims the newly discovered documents are false.

Verbitsky has repeatedly reported that Jorge Bergoglio turned in two Jesuits priests, Fr. Franz Jalics and Fr. Orlando Yorio, to the military regime, resulting in their kidnapping and torture.  In 2013 Fr. Jalics released a public statement saying although he once believed that Bergoglio was responsible for his kidnapping, he has since had several conversations with his former provincial and seen evidence satisfying him that Bergoglio did not play a role in the kidnapping.

If you’d like to know more, here is a good article by Ines San Martin of Crux

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Behind Vatican Walls: Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez

FrGutierrez

Caritas Internationalis began its general assembly in Rome this week. The keynote speaker for the weeklong meeting is Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian priest commonly considered the “father” of Liberation Theology. At a press conference before the start of the meeting Fr. Gutierrez spoke about why the Church and Caritas devote attention and resources to helping the poor. Of course Fr. Gutierrez was also asked several questions about Liberation Theology and his relationship with the Vatican. Here is a summary of some of his comments.

Speaking in Spanish and Italian Fr. Gutierrez answered several questions about theology, Liberation Theology, his relationship with the Vatican, and the work of helping the poor.

When asked about the role of theology, Fr. Gutierrez answered:

“There can be no charity without justice. Theological reflection must be tied to people’s daily life. Theology is not a religious mysticism but a reflection on the practice of charity, compassion, mercy and justice. Seen this way theology can help give a certain vision to those who are engaged in the practical work of justice and charity. It’s a modest role.”

He followed that by adding, “For the Christian the important thing is to follow Jesus and put into practice what he teaches, what we call spirituality. Theology is a secondary thing, less important than living the faith – but it is necessary because it helps make the practice of faith more effective. It helps, modestly.”

He emphasized his point saying, “Theology is not secondary in a derogatory sense, but I mean to say if I had not spoken of theology in the last 40 years I would still be Christian.”

Inevitably Fr. Gutierrez was asked about the Vatican’s position towards liberation theology. His answer:

“Liberation Theology was never condemned, never. If anyone said that, it was not true. There was dialogue with the congregation [for the doctrine of the faith] about Liberation Theology, a critical dialogue, that is true.”

Asked whether his appearance at the Vatican was a rehabilitation of Liberation Theology Fr. Gutierrez answered just as directly:

“Rehabilitation is not the exact word to use. At this moment the climate around this theology is different, that is true. But to say it is a rehabilitation means that as some point there was a ‘dis’ habilitation and this was never the case. It is just another time. What is important is a rehabilitation of the Gospel.”

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On Thursday Caritas members elected Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as the new president of the international confederation.

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Photo – CNS/Paul Haring

AliciaEvery week brings new, exciting, and sometimes juicy headlines from behind Vatican walls and every week Alicia delves deeper into one of those headlines. For a full run down of what’s been happening behind Vatican walls, watch Vatican Connections. Already watch the program? Come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issue, headline or person.