Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2018 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Although China expanded its former one child policy to a limit of two children per family in 2015, decades of government-enforced population control have left China with significant gender and … […]
Vatican City, Feb 25, 2018 / 11:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday Pope Francis said Jesus never leaves his followers alone, but always prepares them for the trials they will face, just as he during his transfiguration, which helped his disciples to understand and cope with his Passion and death.
“In the transfiguration, Jesus makes himself seen as he is in heaven, glorious, luminous, triumphant,” the Pope said Feb. 25. Jesus did this, he said, “to prepare for the scandal of the cross, because the disciples couldn’t understand that Jesus could die as a criminal.”
At the time, Jesus’ disciples thought of him as an earthly authority who always triumphs, however, the faith Jesus is different: “he triumphs in the humiliation of the cross.”
“Jesus makes seen what will come after the cross, what awaits all of us,” he said, explaining that Jesus always prepares each person for the trials they will face, and gives them the strength “to go forward in trials and overcome them with his strength.”
Pope Francis marked the Second Sunday of Lent by celebrating Mass at the Roman parish of San Gelasio I Papa in Rome’s Ponte Mammolo neighborhood. The parish is home to some 250 poor in the area, and every Thursday offers breakfast and lunch to some 50 people who come to their soup kitchen.
After arriving around 4p.m., Francis met with children and young people, families, elderly and parishioners who are sick, as well as those who work in the parish’s Caritas program. After meeting with each group, the Pope met privately with two youth from Gambia, ages 18 and 25, who are housed by the parish. He then heard the confessions of several parishioners before starting Mass.
In his brief, off-the-cuff homily, the Pope said that in the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, which recounts the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, God sends a clear message when he says “this is my beloved Son, listen to him.”
“There is no moment of life which cannot be lived fully listening to Jesus,” he said, and urged parishioners to continue Lent remembering “the glory of Jesus, who is present to give us strength,” and listening to Jesus, “who always speaks to us.”
“In daily life when we have problems, let us ask ourselves: what does Jesus want of me today?” he said, noting that at the wedding feast in Cana, Mary also gave a very specific piece of advice: “do what he tells you. This is the sure way. Listen and do what Jesus says.”
Before Mass, when he first arrived to the parish, Pope Francis stopped to greet the parishioners waiting outside in the rain. Jesting about the weather, he said, “when did you arrive? You got wet, eh?”
He thanked them for having the patience to endure the bad weather, and told them that life is often like the weather: “sometimes there is sun, other times there is rain…know that in life there are good times and bad.”
A Christian, he said, must always move forward with courage. “There will be storms, (but) go forward, Jesus guides us,” he said, adding that”tis is what a Christian must do, go forward in good times and in bad.”
In his meeting with elderly parishioners, Pope Francis thanked them for everything they do for both the Church and the world, saying their witness of faith and love “is like keeping the fire (going): you are the embers of the world.”
“You are aware that you have a mission, to carry forward that hidden fire. You are the embers of the Church,” he said, and urged them to talk and listen young people. Thought it’s not always easy, “they need your experience.”
Vatican City, Feb 25, 2018 / 04:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a week of heavy bombardment near Damascus left hundreds of civilians dead, Pope Francis has made an appeal for global leaders to rally in ending the siege, allowing civilians to evacuate and humanitarian aid to get in.
“In these days my thought is often turned to the beloved and martyred Syria, where the war has exploded again, especially in Eastern Ghouta,” the Pope said Feb. 25, noting that this month marks one of the most violent since the Syrian conflict erupted seven years ago.
Thousands of innocent lives have been claimed by the ongoing, bloody war, with several hundred more being added just this past week, many of whom are women, children and elderly, he said.
“Hospitals have been hit, people can’t get enough to eat…all of this is inhumane,” Francis said, stressing that “evil cannot be fought with another evil.”
The Pope then issued “a heartfelt appeal” for global leaders to work to stop the violence, to allow humanitarian aid such as food and medicine into the area, and to ensure that the sick and wounded would be evacuated.
Francis’ appeal comes a week after Russian-backed Syrian forces launched a series of deadly airstrikes and artillery fire on besieged Easter Ghouta enclave, which sits just northeast of Damascus.
Home to some 400,000 people, Eastern Ghouta is the last rebel-held area east of Damascus and has been a target of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces since 2013 in a bid to drive the rebels out.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the fresh eruption of conflict in the area, which began Feb. 18, has so far left more than 500 civilians dead, of whom 121 are children. Aid groups also report that several hospitals in the area are now out of commission.
After three days of deliberation to come up with a ceasefire deal, the U.N. Security Counsel yesterday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution calling for a 30-day calm to allow residents of the suburb to evacuate, and food and medicine to enter.
However, reports indicate that just hours after the deal was accepted, the Syrian government launched a new ground and air offensive in the area.
Pope Francis’ appeal, which he made during his Angelus address for the Second Sunday of Lent, asked pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to join him in praying that his plea would be answered “without delay.” He then led pilgrims in a moment of silence before reciting a Hail Mary.
In his address, he focused on the transfiguration of Jesus in the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, saying the announcement that he would be rejected, put to death and would then rise on the third day “put Peter and the group of the disciples into crisis,” since they had been expecting a powerful Messiah who would rule the nations.
However, instead, Jesus presents himself “as a humble and meek servant of God and of men,” who was to give his life in sacrifice through persecution, suffering and a violent death.
The transfiguration, Francis said, ultimately helps the disciples to face the Passion of Christ in a positive way, “without being overwhelmed” by it. It also helps both the disciples, and us, to understand that while Jesus’ Passion is “a mystery of suffering,” it’s above all “a gift of infinite love on the part of Jesus.”
“The event of Jesus who transfigures himself on the mountain also helps us to better understand his resurrection,” the Pope said, explaining that if the transfiguration and God’s declaration that “this is my beloved Son” had not happened before Jesus’ Passion, neither this nor Jesus’ rising in the Paschal mystery would be easily understood.
In order to understand these events, he said, “it’s necessary to know in advance that he who suffers and who is glorified is not only a man, but the Son of God, who with his love faithful to death has saved us.”
Francis said that it’s important, especially during Lent, to go up the mountain with Jesus and be with him and listen to his voice, allowing oneself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
“It’s the experience of contemplation and prayer, of living not in avoidance of daily struggles, but of enjoying familiarity with God, in order to take up with renewed vigor the tiring path of the cross, which leads us to the resurrection.”
Arua, Uganda, Feb 24, 2018 / 01:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Selling everything and moving to Uganda to work with refugees is not likely on many people’s to-do list. In fact, it’s probably the last thing most would consider, especially for a young couple hoping to start a family.
Yet this is exactly what happened to Rachel and Rich Mastrogiacomo when a chain of devastating events and realizations eventually led the couple to undertake one of the most radical and unexpected adventures of their lives – one that would take them to the edge of a war zone in the heart of east Africa, bring them face to face with abject poverty and eventually lead them to the recent adoption of their new daughter.
Though seeds were planted in both of their lives much earlier, the story began when the two got married in 2014. Like any other couple, they were excited about their new life together and eager to start a family.
However, this initial enthusiasm was quickly replaced by pangs of sadness and disappointment as the couple slowly began to realize, after months of trying to become pregnant, that they were facing infertility.
This pain was sharpened when, after becoming foster parents with the Family Missions Company in 2017 in hopes of adopting the three little ones who came to stay with them, the children were unexpectedly returned to their birth mother, again dashing their hopes of becoming parents.
It was after this that Rachel and Rich began to feel an inkling that they were being called to something specific – something they would discover through a process of prayer and radical openness to God’s will and the signs that he provided along the way.
“It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”
Shortly after their foster children were removed, Rachel and Rich attended a healing Mass. At the end, after receiving the anointing of the sick, Rachel was praying when a woman tapped her on shoulder, and told her, “When you went up to receive the anointing of the sick, I heard Jesus say, ‘She will be a mother to many.’ You’re healed.”
Around the same time, Rich – who says he never has dreams – had a very vivid dream of his wife standing on brownish-reddish dirt with trees all around. In the dream, Rachel was holding a baby and was surrounded by children, and as he looked at her, she smiled back at him with a peaceful expression.
Immediately after the dream, Rich began to research South Sudan, and came across multiple articles detailing the horrors of the country’s ongoing conflict and the millions who, having fled war and famine in their homeland, are now living as refugees in neighboring countries. Uganda in particular has been one of the main refugee destinations.
After reading about the situation in South Sudan, Rich began emailing bishops in the area, and immediately got a response from Bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki of Arua, in northern Uganda, saying Rich’s email was an “answer to prayer,” as he had more than a million Sudanese refugees in his diocese and had been praying for lay missionaries to come from America.
The contact with Bishop Odoki – whose diocese sits closely along the border with both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan – was seen as providential by Rachel and Rich, because ever since she was 10-years-old, Rachel had a special love for Sudan after her father put an image of starving Sudanese children her age on the refrigerator in hopes of fostering a sense of gratitude in her.
The image stuck with Rachel and was in many ways the spark of her desire to be a missionary, and when they got married, both Rachel and Rich had felt a strong call to live a missionary life.
So when Bishop Odoki said he wanted them to come and serve for a month-long “trial run,” the choice was obvious. The couple sold everything and went to Arua in the spring of 2017 with the Family Missions Company.
“There are no words to describe the intense human suffering that we saw among the refugees,” Rachel told CNA Feb. 22.
“It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen, unlike slum poverty. Never have we seen such a vast amount of people living in such poor conditions,” she continued.
South Sudan has been split by a brutal civil war for the past three-and-a-half years. Driven largely by political motives, the conflict has so far prompted some 4 million citizens to flee the country in search of peace, food and work. In August 2017, shortly before Rachel and Rich traveled to Uganda, the African nation had taken in their one-millionth refugee, and the number has continued to climb.
Roughly 85 percent of the refugee settlements Rachel and Rich served are made up of women and children, and while many humanitarian organizations on the ground try to help meet basic needs, “the overall need is absolutely overwhelming.”
They specifically visited the Palorinya refugee settlement in Uganda’s Moyo region, which is the second biggest camp in northern Uganda and as of November 2017 housed some 185,000 refugees, according to Reuters.
While in Arua, Rachel and Rich were able to tour the diocese and participate in the centenary celebration of Moyo Catholic parish, which is the first parish of the diocese of Arua. They also spent time visiting orphans, schoolchildren and youth in prison, and distributed both gifts and donations.
“[We] just loved on the kids,” Rachel said, and recalled what she said is one of her favorite memories of the trip. As they were visiting a school, Rachel and Rich entered one classroom and the children immediately began singing: “The Lord is calling you. You are welcome to lead us all into His kingdom.”
The song “touched our hearts deeply,” she said, explaining that throughout the entire month “we experienced the joy of the Gospel in a fresh and new way. The faith of the people is vibrant; God is their treasure.”
While the basic needs of those living in the camps are many, Rachel said that spiritually speaking, “the greatest need we found was the need to be heard.”
“Pope Francis speaks about a ministry of listening, and this concept came alive for us while we were in the refugee camps,” she said, explaining that when they eventually return to Uganda, they plan to help with spiritual formation, since general catechesis and sacramental preparation are often lacking.
“The people are hungry for more than just food; they truly are hungry for God,” she said.
As the month drew to a close, Rachel said she, her husband and Bishop Odoki all experienced an “overwhelming confirmation” that God was inviting the couple to serve there as full time lay missionaries and live as spiritual parents to the many children and orphans in need.
So while they already see Uganda as their new home, Rachel and Rich headed back to the United States to get things in order. But the story doesn’t end there.
Just three days after returning to the U.S., Rich got a phone call from a lawyer who helps facilitate private adoption, saying a woman had selected him and Rachel to adopt her baby.
“The phone call came out of left field, when we least expected it! Truly, it was wild,” Rachel said.
Rich and Rachel had been in touch with the lawyer several years before, but hadn’t spoken to her since.
However, she had saved their profile, and as the mother was looking through the stack of possible adoptive parents for her unborn child, she was “moved” when she saw Rachel and Rich’s profile and wanted to know more about them.
According to Rachel, when it was explained to the mother that the couple were missionaries living in Uganda, “it struck a deep chord,” as the woman herself was an orphan who had been adopted from Guatemala.
The mother had initially scheduled an abortion during the time that Rachel and Rich were in Uganda, but decided against it and reached out to a crisis pregnancy center. When she heard about Rachel and Rich, she wanted her unborn daughter to be with them, as she had fond memories of the Catholic nuns who raised her until she was adopted.
“We always felt open to adoption, but trusted that God would make it happen in His time,” Rachel said. “It’s a blessing to have received this unbelievable gift when we least expected it; God’s fingerprints are all over it.”
The little girl, who Rachel and Rich named Chiara Maria de Guadalupe Mastrogiacomo, was born Feb. 18.
Both Rachel and Rich were present when their daughter was born. “We wept tears of joy and continue to do so. She has taken our breath away,” Rachel said, adding, “truly, God has turned our mourning into dancing!”
Once the adoption is finalized and little Chiara Maria gets her passport, Rachel and Rich will return to Uganda with their new daughter and continue to serve as lay missionaries in the Arua diocese under the guidance of Bishop Odoki.
While they will wait for Odoki to give them instructions when they arrive, Rachel said she believes they will travel to the refugee settlements in order to provide catechesis, sacramental preparation and trauma counseling.
Rachel, who graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, holds degrees in theology and religious education, while Rich holds a baccalaureate in Sacred Theology and a licentiate in Spiritual Theology which he obtained from different pontifical universities.
Overall, Rachel said she sees their role as a “funnel of resources” from the U.S. to help this particular group and to raise awareness and funds to address the current humanitarian crisis in the area, which is “one of the most serious in the world right now.”
Pope Francis himself recently put a spotlight on the crisis by declaring Feb. 23, the Friday of the first full week of Lent, as a day of prayer and fasting for the DRC, South Sudan and Syria, all three of which have been ravaged by internal conflict for years.
Though they can cease being missionaries at any time, Rachel said she and Rich feel that their call to be missionaries is a “lifelong vocation,” and don’t see themselves leaving it.
“Pope Francis dreams of a poor Church for the poor and a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything; this has become our dream,” she said. “We want to give everything for Christ in the disguise of the poor and marginalized of society. We want to be on the margins, with the marginalized.”
“That is where Jesus is,” she said, adding, “we cannot wait to return and see see how the Lord will work.”
A funding page for Rachel and Rich can be found here.
Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 23, 2018 / 03:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Nation-wide violence. School shootings. Political tensions. Drugs. Unemployment. Hunger.
These are some of the illness which plague the nation, said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia… […]
Vatican City, Feb 23, 2018 / 11:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis returned from his week-long Lenten spiritual exercises in Ariccia, where he and members of the Roman Curia have been on their annual retreat since Sunday afternoon.
Before boarding the bus that would take him back to Vatican City, Francis thanked the priest who preached the exercises for his reflections and for encouraging members of the Curia to be open to the Holy Spirit and not stuck in bureaucratic structures.
“Thank you, Father, for having spoken of the Church, for having made us, this small flock, feel the Church,” the Pope said Feb. 23.
He thanked Fr. José Tolentino de Mendonça for reminding them that “the Church is not a cage for the Holy Spirit,” and also voiced thanks for receiving a warning “not to shrink it with our bureaucratic worldliness!”
Fr. Tolentino is a Portuguese priest, poet, and Biblical theologian who preached during the spiritual exercises, which this year focused on the theme: “Praise of Thirst.”
De Mendonça is vice-rector of the Portuguese Catholic University in Lisbon and has been a consultant of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 2011. He was ordained a priest in 1990 and completed his master’s degree in Biblical Studies in Rome before later obtaining a doctorate in biblical theology from the Portuguese Catholic University, where he later taught as an assistant professor.
In his brief greeting at the end of the retreat, Pope Francis also thanked De Mendonça for helping them understand how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of non-believers and those of other religious confessions, saying the Holy Spirit is “universal, he is the Spirit of God, who is for everyone.”
Francis noted that there are many people today like the centurions and the guards at Peter’s prison who live with an “an inner search” and who know how to tell when there is “something that calls” them.
He thanked De Mendonça for the call “to opening ourselves without fear, without rigidity, for being malleable in the Spirit and not mummified within our structures that close us off.”
The Pope also noted how he had declared Friday as a day of prayer and fasting for South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria, saying the spiritual retreat is extended through the offerings they will make on behalf of the war-torn countries.
Held Feb. 18-23, this year’s curial Lenten spiritual exercises began Sunday evening with adoration and vespers. The rest of the week followed a basic schedule beginning with Mass at 7:30 a.m., followed by the first meditation of the day.
In the afternoon, a second meditation was preached before concluding with adoration and vespers. Friday, the final day of the exercises, consisted of only a morning meditation. Pope Francis and the curia then left the retreat house, returning to the Vatican at 11:15 a.m.
The exercises took place at the Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, a town just 16 miles outside of Rome. Located on Lake Albano, the retreat house is just a short way from the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo. It will be the fifth consecutive year the Pope and members of the Curia have held their Lenten retreat at the house in Ariccia.
While the practice of the Bishop of Rome going on retreat with the heads of Vatican dicasteries each Lent began some 80 years ago, it had been customary for them to follow the spiritual exercises on Vatican ground. Beginning in Lent 2014, Pope Francis chose to hold the retreat outside of Rome.