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Behind Vatican Walls: Latin America redefines Martyrdom

Romero_Vive

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

Watch this week’s Vatican Connections below:

Behind Vatican Walls: Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez

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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.

Watch Vatican Connections:

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.

Behind Vatican Walls: Papal Photographer

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It’s March 11, 1956 like many other young men at the time, a 16-year-old was getting ready to start his first day of work. This young man was born and raised in Rome’s Borgo neighbourhood. He really hadn’t had much chance to ever leave that neighbourhood. What’s more, his new job would only take him around the corner. His new job was at the L’Osservatore Romano Photo Service, just inside the Vatican walls he walked by every day. This young man could never have imagined that his new job would eventually take him around the world, camera in hand, to photograph six popes.

That 16-year-old boy was Arturo Mari. Today he is known as “the pope’s photographer” even though he gave up that job in 2007.

Mari learned the art and skill of photography as a young boy. At the age of six he would follow his father – and amater photographer – into the darkroom and help develop photos. He honed his skill and his eye at the Vatican newspaper’s photo desk. His first assignment: capturing an image of Pope Pius XII being carried on the “sedia gestatoria”, wearing the papal tiara, during a beatification ceremony. He took the photo and – as per protocol – quickly stepped back into the shadows.

He must have done well because he lasted through the rest of Pius XII’s papacy. He was still around when John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council. When Paul VI started making trips abroad, Mari was right there documenting his voyages. By the time Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, Mari was the official papal photographer.

“I lived side by side with that man from the first day [of his pontificate] to the last,” Mari told Salt and Light in a recent interview. Never was there a dull moment.

The long hours with nary a sick day or day off taken, meant Mari was witness to some of the moments that defined the papacy of John Paul II: in 1981 when the pope was shot in St. Peter’s Square, Mari kept snapping away. Some years later, in Italian media interviews, he said “I don’t remember how I took those photos.” In fact, the only time Mari attended a Vatican event without his camera in hand was in 2007 when his son, Juan Carlos, was ordained a priest by Pope Benedict XVI.

It was that same year Mari finally retired passing on the job of Papal Photographer to his nephew, Francesco Sforza who learned the craft acting as his uncle’s shadow.

Watch this week’s episode of Vatican Connections here:

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 Connection. Already watched the program? come back every Friday for an in-depth look at an issues, headline or person.

Vatican Connections – May 1, 2015

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This week we learned that Pope Francis’ encyclical on human ecology should be released in June. Environmental groups welcomed the news warmly while skeptics told anyone who would listen that the pope is being taken for a ride by new-age tree huggers. Whatever one’s opinion on environmental issues, the encyclical has been written and is on its way. What can we expect?

Genesis

Pope Francis’ view of creation should come as no surprise, especially if one has listened at all to any of his public talks, homilies, or messages. As described in the book of Genesis, the pope believe God created humans and gave us the job of being custodians of the earth. That means humans have very real duties related to the planet and there are very real links between what happens to the earth and what happens to humans.

Being a custodian of the earth means, according to Pope Francis, making sure growth happens in a responsible way that ensures there is enough for everyone. Concretely: making sure no one is kicked out of their “habitat” because of development, that there are enough crops to feed everyone, enough water for all, etc. Ignoring our duty to safeguard creation results in hunger, a lack of work and the development of a culture where everything and everyone is disposable, according to the Pope.

Encyclical

Why devote pastoral energy towards the environment? According to Pope Francis, if humans can accept responsibility towards creation then humans can also learn to better respect each other.

This link between what happens to the environment and what happens to humans is turning the environment into the hot button moral issue of the day, shared by many different faith groups. The environment could be the issue that provides common ground between the Church and members of other faiths, or people of no faith at all.

Opposition

Like everything Pope Francis has done during his papacy, there are people who don’t like him speaking out on environmental issues. In the United States several groups have released statements against the pope’s forthcoming encyclical. One group said Pope Francis is being misled by, among others, the United Nations. Other climate change skeptics travelled to Rome and at least one infiltrated the April 28 conference on climate change hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Science.

In response to accusations that the Vatican is unwilling to hear both sides of climate change issue Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences was quoted as saying that climate change skeptics are “the same people who defend the oil industry…its the lobby of profit.”

Human ecology and the issue of how Christians should relate to the natural world is an issue that is not going anywhere soon, no matter who doesn’t like it.

Vatican Connections: April 24, 2015

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Bigger than any financial scandal or bishops’ resignation was the story of hundreds of illegal migrants who drowned off the coast of Libya when their vessel capsized. Pope Francis used his Angelus address to draw attention to the tragedy and call on the international community to take “decisive and quick action” to prevent further tragedies. Church officials and agencies have echoed that call, but will the international community – specifically the European Union – take action?

The Promised Land

African migrants cross perilous borders and trek across the Sahara desert to reach Libya or Tunisia where they are placed on boats headed towards Italy, Malta, or even Greece. Increasingly Syrian migrants are undertaking similarly arduous voyages to get to Europe. Karolina Babicka, a migration expert for Caritas Europe told Salt + Light their journey often starts with the loss of the family home in Syria. They move to Lebanon, or Egypt and try to re-establish themselves there. When that fails they move on to Libya and, like their African counterparts they seek out people who are willing – for a price- to put them on a boat to Europe.

The Strait of Sicily, which separates Tunisia from the southern Italian region, is about 145 kilometers wide. The distance between the Libyan coast and Sicily’s southern coast is wider, about 205 kilometers. It looks like a short crossing to a land where peace and economic prosperity seems assured. In the first four months of 2015 and estimated 36,000 migrants made the crossing while aproximately 1,800 are believed to have perished.

The vessels used to smuggle people to Europe are often not seaworthy and easily take on water and get into distress. That is when the Italian Navy steps in. If the vessels do survive the crossing, a better life is far from guaranteed. Babicka says migrants who land in Greece are more than likely to end up on the streets because “the Greek asylum system is in crisis” and cannot provide migrants with the basic necessities.

Operation Mare Nostrum

In October 2013 the Italian Navy established what they called “Operation: Mare Nostrum” (appropriately, the Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea) to respond to the increasing numbers of boats and ships arriving or sinking off the southern Italian coast.

Operation Mare Nostrum involved the use of

  • 1 amphibious vessel
  • 1 -2 frigates
  • 2  second line High Seas units with fully operational medical facilities on board
  • 1 team from the San Marco Marine Brigade
  • 1 Coastal Radar network
  • 1 Atlantic patrol aircraft
  • 1 Predator A+ (a drone, it escorts navy ships and films the operation)
  • 1 MM P180 aircraft
  • 2 unmanned camcopters
  • 1 forward logistics site

At any given time there were five Italian ships or aircraft on duty. The Italian Navy says because of Operation Mare Nostrum 150,810 lives were saved and 330 people smugglers were brought to justice. The cost of running the program was an estimated nine million euros per month. Remember, around this time the Italian government was changing practically every month with each new government eventually falling over economic and financial management issues.

European Union steps in

By the fall of 2014, Italy was calling for help from the rest of European Union to step up and help. In November 2014, the EU’s border patrol department, Frontex, launched Operation Triton. It was conceived as a border patrol operation that would rely on funds from the EU and vessels and aircraft contributed by member states.

It has a budget of 2.9 million euros per month to work with. That is six million less than what it cost to run Mare Nostrum. Thanks to Finland, the Netherlands and Portugal, Operation Triton has:

  • 7 boats
  • 2 planes
  • 1 helicopter

Naturally with a smaller budget and fleet, the scope of the operation would be reduced. Operation Triton actively patrols up to 48 kilometers off the coast of Italy.

The head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri told The Guardian newspaper this week the European Union’s mandate is to patrol borders, not search and rescue. Leggeri said he would not ask for more boats, or send them out closer to the Libyan coast because doing so would simply draw more migrants and encourage people smugglers. In his view, the presence of EU vessels off the coast of Libya would be seen as a guarantee of safe passage.

Babicka says this is an example of the lack of political will that seems prevalent among politicians and bureaucrats who could develop more effective immigration policies and humanitarian based operations, but do not.

International outcry

Perhaps the international outcry or even the Pope’s appeal that moved the European Council to hold a special April 23 meeting focused on illegal migration.

In a statement after the meeting the European Council said it would triple the budget for Frontex’s Operation Triton and reinforce its assets. Members of the EC also agreed to try to stem the flow of migrants by addressing the root causes: the EC will support UN led efforts to establish a functional government in Libya and step up efforts to address the situation in Syria.

Organizations like Caritas and the United Nations are welcome the promise of more funding and resources, but say it is not enough. People use illegal immigration channels because, “there are no legal channels available,” said Babicka.

Photo: CNS/Loukas Mastis, EPA

Vatican Connections: April 17

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This week the Vatican, specifically Pope Francis, was the target of the angst of the Turkish government. While that drama played itself out on newspaper pages around the world, a couple of other things happened:

  • The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Congregation for Institutes of Religious Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a joint final report that ended about seven years of investigation and dialogue.
  • New cardinals got their appointments to various vatican dicasteries and commissions…including councils that will probably disappear when the new curial constitution is written.

The LCWR

The leaders of the LCWR and Archbishop Peter Sartain met at the Vatican on Thursday to officially present the final report about how the 2012 Doctrinal Assessment of the LCWR has been implemented. This is what we learned:

  • New statues for the LCWR approved by the membership of the LCWR in 2014, reviewed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and approved by the Congregation for Institutes for Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in February 2015.
  • Scholarly rigor will be promoted in LCWR publications to ensure theological accuracy and avoid ambiguous statements. The scope of LCWR publications is to address spiritual matters, not to further theological enquiry.
  • Speakers and presenters at LCWR events will be chosen “in a prayerful, thoughtful and discerning manner” so that the speakers chosen have healthy regard for Church teaching even if they are dealing with contemporary issues.

For more analysis on this joint statement and the end of the Vatican’s oversight of the LCWR, you might want to check out these articles:

  • CNS offers this look at the statement and the lengthy process of writing it.
  • Crux posted this article by John Allen.

Cardinal appointments

All cardinals get appointed as members of different vatican dicasteries and offices shortly after they are elevated to the College of Cardinals. This week the 15 cardinals under 80 who were created in the last consistory got their appointments.

Cardinal Dominique Mamberti 

  • Member of the Council of Cardinals of the Secretariate of State’s section for Relations with States
  • Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments
  • Congregation for the Causes of Saints

Cardinal Ricardo Bazquez Perez

  • Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • Council for Culture

Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel

  • Congregation for Oriental Churches
  • Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Cardinal John Dew

  • Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  • Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity

Cardinal Pierre Nguyên V?n Nhon

  • Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  • Council for Justice and Peace

Cardinal Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij

  • Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  • Council for Social Communication

Cardinal Arlindo Gomes Furtado

  • Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  • Council “Cor Unum”

Cardinal Soane Mafi

  • Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
  • Council “Cor Unum”

Cardinal Manuel José Macário do Nascimento Clemente

  • Congregation for Clergy
  • Council for Social Communication

Cardinal Alberto Suárez Inda

  • Congregation for Clergy
  • Council for Justice and Peace

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B

  • Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Council for Culture

Cardinal  Daniel Fernando Sturla Berhouet

  • Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated life and Societies of Apostolic Life
  • Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization

Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán O.A.R.

  • Congregation for Catholic Education
  • Council for Culture

Cardinal Francesco Montenegro

  • Council “Cor Unum”
  • Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Cardinal Edoardo Menichelli

  • Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers
  • Congregation for Oriental Churches

Photo: CNS/Mass imiliano Migliorato, Catholic Press Photo

The Sistine Chapel opens to VIPs: Vatican Connections – March 27, 2015

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This week we focus on the details of the upcoming Holy Week liturgies. Catholic News Service has details on how Pope Francis and the Diocese of Rome are helping Christians in two areas where Christians have been hit hard with persecution: Iraq and Nigeria.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Holy Week and Easter approached, Pope Francis wanted to show his ongoing concern for people persecuted and displaced by violence in Iraq and in northern Nigeria.

Although not specifying the amount, the Vatican press office said March 27 that the pope was sending aid money to people seeking shelter in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and to the Nigerian bishops’ conference to assist families in the northern part of the country where the terrorist group Boko Haram has been on a rampage.

In addition, the Vatican said, the people of the Diocese of Rome, “united with their bishop,” Pope Francis, held a special collection and will send “colomba” Easter cakes to the displaced in Iraq.

“In Holy Week,” the Vatican statement said, “these families share with Christ the experience of being unjustly subjected to violence and they participate in the suffering of Christ himself.”

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who visited refugees and displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan last August, will return for Holy Week, the Vatican said. The cardinal is prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the former nuncio to Iraq.

“Pope Francis is constantly concerned about the situation of Christian families and other groups who have been the victims of being expelled from their homes and villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and on the Ninevah Plain,” the Vatican said. Terrorists from Islamic State have been active in the region.

“The pope prays for them and hopes that they soon can return and resume their lives on the land and in the places where, for hundreds of years, they lived and wove relationships of peaceful coexistence with all,” the Vatican statement said.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Vatican Connection: March 20

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On Saturday, March 21, Pope Francis is set to spend a day visiting Pompeii and Naples. Though short, this trip is yet another reminder of the pontiff’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized.

Aside from a visit to a sanctuary in Pompeii and a meeting with the sick at Basilica of Gesu Nuovo, the pope is visiting Scampia, a bedroom suburb best known as the setting of the film Gomorrah; Poggioreale, an overcrowded prison; and meeting with youth at an iconic seaside promenade.

The suburb of Scampia is best known today as the setting of the film “Gomorrah” and home to what is considered an example of failed civic architecture. The “Vele di Scampia” or the “Sails of Scampia” is concrete house complex designed and built from 1962 to 1975. The sail shaped concrete buildings with outdoor staircases were part of a larger complex of buildings. The project incorporated large outdoor spaces between buildings that were meant to serve as piazzas and soccer fields.

The reaction to the completed complex was less than enthusiastic. Maintenance was not a priority and living conditions soon deteriorated. Instead of becoming a mini-city bursting with life, Scampia became the only place that disadvantaged families could afford to live. The mafia also moved in.

While not all residents are involved with organized crime, Scampia is not an easy place to live and residents don’t have many opportunities available to improve their situation. Given his past declaration about Mafia members being “excommunicated” or removed from God’s love, expect strong words from Pope Francis during his meeting with residents in St. John Paul II Square.

The next stop on his itinerary is scheduled to be Poggioreale Prison, home to 1900 inmates. Pope Francis will greet inmates, many of whom probably lived in Scampia at some point in their lives. The pope is scheduled to have lunch with a group of inmates at Poggioreale and give a speech.

Following his visit to the prison, Pope Francis will stop at the cathedral where he will venerate the relic of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. That relic is a vial of the saint’s coagulated blood. Three times a year the dark grains of dried blood become liquid once again and take on bright red colour. The miracle usually occurs on the first Saturday of May, the 19 of September, and the 16 of December. Studies conducted in 1988 determined that the substance contained in the two vials housed in the reliquary is indeed blood. The miracle doesn’t work like clockwork. There have been times when the blood did not liquify on those dates, or liquified just before or just after the usual days.

In a recently published book the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe, recounted the story of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Naples and the St. Gennaro’s relics. Cardinal Seppe recounts that although it seemed as though the pontiff could not pull himself away from the reliquary, the saint’s blood did not liquify. Even though there is no reason to expect the saint’s blood to become liquid before the pope, this will be a point of interest for some Neapolitans now that their expectations have been raised.

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The Scottish cardinal who resigned in 2013 after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him, has now given up the “rights and privilleges” of being a Cardinal. Pope Francis has accepted Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation.  Cardinal O’Brien will no longer serve on any pontifical councils or committees, nor will take part in consistory or an eventual conclave to elect a new pope. In a statement, the Catholic Church in Scotland said Cardinal O’Brien will be reduced to a strictly private life.

Vatican Connections: March 13, 2015

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Two Years with Pope Francis

March 13 marks the second anniversary of the day the College of Cardinals surprised the world by electing, as pope, a Jesuit from Argentina. Two years on, what effect has this Argentine pope had on the wider church?

The 78-year-old pontiff came to his new job with an acute awareness that there were two things that needed to change. First, the Church needed a spiritual renewal if it hoped to be a credible witness to the Gospel. Second, the Vatican was in desperate need of institutional reforms.

Pope Francis has admitted he didn’t plan on addressing the reform of the Vatican so soon in his pontificate, but it became unavoidable. Under his tenure two new bodies were created for financial and administrative oversight: the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy. The new offices have jurisdiction, respectively, over the curia, and all Vatican offices (including Vatican City State.)  These bodies along with the Vatican Bank and the Financial Information Authority have brought in lay professionals with extensive experience in these fields.

On the curial front, while there is still no draft of the new constitution for the Roman Curia, changes are being implemented bit by bit and several dicasteries already know what place their office will have in the revamped curia.

Priority one

But Pope Francis’ top priority is the spiritual renewal of all the Church’s members. That’s why he celebrates Mass every morning with Vatican employees, delivering a short, informal homily that gets sent out around the world via Vatican media outlets.

This is also why he keeps insisting on a couple of things. One: whenever he can he urges people to read the Gospel. He has repeatedly advised carrying a pocket-size book of the Gospels to read for a few minutes every day, even if it’s on the bus to work. The pope has gone so far as to have books distributed to the faithful during the Angelus.

Staying true to the keyword of his pontificate, “mercy,” Pope Francis announced a Jubilee Year for Mercy that will begin December 8, 2015 (which just happens to be the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.) If there is anyone who has not yet been moved to the confessional by Pope Francis’ words on God’s mercy, they probably will be during the Jubilee Year.

The other powerful element has been the normalcy of this pope. He speaks plainly, in language that is, for the most part, easily understandable and to the point. People connect with him because they understand instantly what he’s trying to say and why. Similarly, when he takes action he doesn’t do huge extraordinary things. He does normal everyday things that are huge in that he is doing them or because of the context in which they are done. For instance, making a phone call to a person in need of some spiritual counselling becomes headline news because it’s the pope making phone call.

Actions, after all, speak louder than words.

Vatican Connections: March 6, 2015

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One of the big stories this week happened in New York: Cardinal Edward Egan, the retired archbishop of New York, died suddenly at the age of 82.

Cardinal Egan collapsed at his residence and was rushed to NYU Langone Medical Centre. There he was prounced dead by doctors at 2:20pm.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current Archbishop of New York, said in a statement that Cardinal Egan “had a peaceful death, passing away right after lunch today, with the prayers and sacraments of his loyal priest secretary, Father Douglas Crawford, in his residence at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”

Cardinal Egan was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1932. He studied at Our Lady of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein and at the North American College in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1957.

Over the years, the cardinal served as Vice Rector of the North American College in Rome, a judge of the Roman Rota, and was one of six canonists who reviewed the new Code of Canon Law with John Paul II in 1982, before it was promulgated.

In 1988, Cardinal Egan was named Bishop of Bridgeport, and in 2000 he was appointed Archbishop of New York. He was made a cardinal in 2001 by Pope St. John Paul II.

His tenure in New York was not always smooth sailing. Parishioners and, at times, priests did not agree with all his decisions, especially when it came to merging or closing certain parishes.

However, during his time as head of the archdiocese, the number of parishioners increased, as did enrollment in Catholic schools. At the same time the Catholic Charities budget doubled, and Catholic agencies were debt free.

Cardinal Egan retired as Archbishop of New York in 2009 at the age of 76.

Funeral plans have yet to be announced.