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Two years later, aunt of drowned refugee child pleads for action

November 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vancouver, Canada, Nov 20, 2017 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- “We’re still grieving” – these are the words of Tima Kurdi, the aunt of the young refugee boy who captured the world’s attention when he drowned trying to cross the Aegean Sea two years ago.

On Sept. 2, 2015, the haunting image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s tiny body laying face down on a Turkish beach made headlines, drawing attention to the stark reality of forced migration, and becoming a global symbol of the ongoing crisis.

 

A year on from Alan Kurdi, we continue to ignore future refugee crises https://t.co/Jegv1nPoKX pic.twitter.com/Ln1UXg5Tyz

— Brigitte Colman (@lakolman) September 1, 2016

In many ways, a global conscience seemed to be awoken as people learned of the tragic fate of Alan, his brother Ghalib and their mother, Rehanna, who decided to make the perilous, 30-minute boat ride from Bodrum, Turkey to the Greek island of Kos, along with their husband and father, Abdullah.

The dinghy, designed for eight passengers but packed with 16, capsized just a few minutes after setting sail. Abdullah lost track of his family in the confusion, and while he was able to reach safety, his wife and sons met a different fate. Only four people survived the voyage.

“After that image, the world woke up,” Tima said. “That’s when people started talking about it, and that’s when I went crying to world leaders: open your heart, open your border, my people are being forced to flee their home, not by choice.”

In wake of the event, global leaders promised the family “that our tragedy would be the last,” she said. “But of course, a few months later, everyone went back to sleep, went back to business.”

And while many countries offered to give Abdullah asylum, he refused. “To him it was, ‘Where were you when my family needed it?’” she said.

Speaking to CNA over Skype from her home in Vancouver, Canada, where she has lived with her husband and son for the past 23 years, Tima shared the story of what led her five siblings to pack up their families and seek refuge elsewhere, and how her life has changed after the death of her nephews.

Ever since the occurrence of what she calls “the tragedy,” Tima has become the public face of her family’s suffering and the plight of thousands of others like them, quitting her job in mid-2016 to advocate on behalf of refugees, raising awareness at conferences and universities.

War breaks out

When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, “it was very shocking to the whole country,” Tima said, including to her family, who is from Damascus.

Life before the war was peaceful, and people of different religions lived side-by-side without problems, she said. But once the conflict erupted, things became dangerous very quickly, and many of her siblings lived in areas that were being bombed.

“What would you do as a family if you have children and they are in danger?” she said, explaining that she encouraged her family to flee as the situation worsened. Eventually, the home of one of her sisters was bombed, further cementing the decision to leave.

Tima’s siblings and their families – each with small children – made their way to Turkey, where they hoped to stay temporarily until things in Syria calmed down. But when they got there, they found that the refugee camps were already at maximum capacity, and the family was not able to enter.

Facing the risk of homelessness, Tima’s siblings struggled to find work. Tima helped them find housing and began paying their rent. After hearing about their ongoing struggles, she decided to go in person and see if she could help.

But when she arrived in 2014, she was shocked at what she found. “What we see in the news was not what I experienced,” she said. “It was worse than I could ever have imagined. I saw my people in the streets, families, they have no home, they were in the park. I talked to them personally, I heard heartbreaking stories.”

The experience “changed me a lot,” she said, adding that watching children begging for bread shows the inhumane reality of their plight. “It broke my heart to witness it myself.”

After returning to Canada, Tima began researching how to sponsor her family to come as refugees, but was unable to do so at that time. So when Germany offered to take in some 1 million migrants in 2015, her brother Abdullah, who was struggling to afford even diapers, decided the best option for his family was to leave, and asked Tima for help.

“Of course you discuss it. It’s risky, it’s not good, but they have no choice,” Tima said. “And that’s when they were forced to take that journey.”

“I paid for it. I paid for it,” she said, wiping tears from her face. “The guilt…that’s why I want to keep my voice alive, because that guilt, I will take it to my grave, but I did it with a good intention, because I saw the desperation, I saw my family only eating rice, I saw those children being abused at work rather than being in school, and the world was silent.”

‘I want the world to wake up’

Even two years later, Tima said it pains her to talk about the experience, “and that’s why I want the world to wake up. There is no one who will leave their home and leave everything behind just because they want to take advantage of Europe or the Western world.”

She said she rarely watches the news, because she’s tired of feeling “hopeless” when she sees the reports and the lack of action.

Tima said she doesn’t like to get into politics, and her family doesn’t support either side of the war in Syria, but she does condemn the use and sale of weapons, because ultimately, weapons “are what caused those people to flee their homes, weapons killed their loved one.”

Rather than pointing fingers, she wants the world to look at the root cause, because “nobody is talking about it.”

She voiced her admiration for Pope Francis, who often speaks out on the same issues, saying “his message and my message are exactly the same thing, from day one. He is my inspiration.”

A goal of hers, she said, is to one day visit the Vatican and meet the Pope, to discuss how to promote peace.

In her time as a public speaker and advocate, Tima has been asked to speak at various conferences and universities throughout Canada, the U.S., and Europe. She has also given a TED Talk on her story.

However, her preferred venue is the university, because she wants to educate young people to think about the importance of promoting peace.

In addition to her speaking engagements, Tima and her brother Abdullah have launched the Alan and Ghalib Kurdi Foundation to raise money in support of refugee children. Each year on the anniversary of the boys’ death, she visits her brother, who is now living in Iraq, to distribute clothes and supplies to the children living in refugee camps.

Abdullah, who was offered a house with free rent in Kurdistan after losing his family, now lives in Erbil, and is still coping with the death of his wife and sons.

“The emotional (stress) really paralyzed him and he’s not doing well,” Tima said, explaining that the first year was especially difficult. When she came to visit her brother on the first anniversary of the tragedy, he didn’t want to leave the house.

She offered him $500 to buy “whatever the children wanted” in the camps. Abdullah chose to buy diapers, since he couldn’t afford them as a refugee, and often used a cloth or a plastic bag for Alan, who as a result frequently had a rash.

This year, Tima had raised $1,000 for her small foundation at a speaking event held at a Canadian university. She again contributed $500 of her own money as well, helping to buy and distribute 500 pieces of clothing to the refugee children, which she described as “the most beautiful thing we ever did.”

Since the fatal boat ride in 2015, the rest of her family has dispersed. While her father continues to live in Damascus, two of her three sisters are refugees in Turkey, one has moved to Germany, and she was able to sponsor her other brother and his family to come to Canada as refugees.

Of the two sisters in Turkey, one – who has three children – is hoping to either join her 18-year-old son in Germany, or else come to Canada.

The other sister, whose house was bombed, is struggling to move forward. Her family has no home to return to, and her husband recently suffered a stroke, leaving him half paralyzed. Good medical treatment is hard to obtain in the area.  

Tima said she has been offering her sister encouragement, and sending her information about local medical centers that may be able to help her cope with the trauma that she has experienced.

Tima herself often grows discouraged at the lack of international action to help refugees. Her advocacy work takes a tough mental and emotional toll. But it’s worth it, she said, if she is able to help people who are suffering.

“When I go to sleep at night and put my head on the pillow, I always say, ‘Thank God my voice is being heard, you give me power to help others.’ And (I) thank God every moment.”

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Pope Francis pens letter to disabled soldier he met in Colombia

November 14, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Bogotá, Colombia, Nov 14, 2017 / 02:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis sent a handwritten letter to a disabled soldier he met in Colombia this fall, thanking him for a special gesture at the Bogota airport, when the soldier gave him his military cap.

The pope told the soldier that their encounter touched him so much that he placed a photo of it in his study.

The pontiff’s letter was addressed to the special ops Marine Edwin Restrepo. Restrepo, who has been in a wheelchair for 13 years, after he stepped on an anti-personnel blast mine during a search and secure operation near the town of Zambrano.

Restrepo lost part of an arm and a leg, and he also went blind. Nevertheless, he learned to read Braille and after finishing school, began a law career. He also learned how to walk with his new prosthesis.

Restrepo briefly met Pope Francis at the Catam airport in Bogota on Sept. 10 before the pontiff left for Villavicencio during his apostolic trip to Colombia. He handed the Pope his soldier’s cap and asked the Holy Father to pray for the soldiers and police in Colombia.

The pope’s letter is dated Oct. 16 and was read and delivered to the soldier Nov. 9 by Bishop Suescún Mutis of the Colombian military diocese.

The Holy Father wrote in his letter, “Dear Brother, I don’t know your name but I haven’t forgotten the spontaneous gesture you made this past September 10 at the Catam airport before my departure for Villavicencio.”

Referring to the military cap Restrepo handed him, Francis wrote, “That gesture touched my heart, and I didn’t give your soldier’s cap to my aide (as I normally do with the things people give me). Instead I wanted to take it with me, a memento and symbol of your devotion and love for your country, as captured in the photo.”

The pope told Restrepo that “that soldier’s cap accompanied me during the trip. I thought of you often, and of so many of your companions injured fighting for your people.”

After returning to Rome,  “I couldn’t let go of it, and I placed it next to the photo and the news article that came out in L’Osservatore Romano next to the picture of the Blessed Virgin above the little altar that I have in my study that I often pray in front of. So every time I pray there, I pray for You, your fallen and injured comrades and for Colombia.”

 “And once again I say ‘Thanks!’ to you. Thanks for your gesture, thanks for your love for your country. And, please, I ask you to not forget to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and the Blessed Virgin care for you. Fraternally, Francisco,” the text concludes.

 

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Venezuela’s hate crime law seeks to silence political opposition, bishops warn

November 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Caracas, Venezuela, Nov 7, 2017 / 12:01 am (ACI Prensa).- The president of the Venezuelan bishops’ justice and peace commission has criticized a hate crimes law passed on Thursday, charging that its aim is to silence those opposed to the socialist government of Nicolas Maduro.

The Law Against Hatred and Fascism, the Nov. 2 legislation passed by the Constituent Assembly, will be used by Maduro’s government against the opposition “so we can’t even speak or protest,” Emeritus Archbishop of Coro Roberto Lückert Leon told ACI Prensa.

The Constituent Assembly’s president, Delcy Rodriguez, has said the law targets media that “promote hatred and racism.”

Lückert stated that news media critical of the government have been undercut by Maduro’s government.

“Right now they’ve hamstrung  the news media. They’re using the supply of newsprint to undermine us. The oldest newspaper in Coro is called La Mañana. The can’t print it because they’re not giving them any newsprint; on the other hand, they gave to the paper that they founded a building, machinery, and newsprint, and it comes out every day. That’s freedom of the speech? No.”

According to the Maduro government “it’s the opposition that’s violent. But when you go to  a peaceful march to hand over documents to the prosecutor’s office, you’re met with the Bolivarian National Guard, the militias and pro-government thugs on motorcycles, so you can’t fulfill a civic duty with a state agency. They’re the violent ones,” he charged.

Archbishop Lückert stated that “as a Venezuelan, the only solution for the country that I have is elections; but elections that are transparent and fair.”

However, he said that at this time the Venezuelan people are profoundly upset by the National Electoral  Council, which “is completely sold out to the government” and which manipulated recent elections so Maduro’s party would win.

“I’m really afraid that if people abstained from voting in the Oct. 15 election of governors, it’s going to be worse for the election of mayors this coming Dec. 10,” Lückert said.

The prelate also said the Constituent Assembly “is an invention Maduro brought in from Cuba,” where there are no political parties or independent news media.

The Constituent Assembly is the product of contested elections, which took place in July. The body has superseded the authority of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature.

The vice president of the National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, has been accused of encouraging violence during protests. Guevara has taken refuge at the Chilean ambassador’s residence in Caracas.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savnio of Caracas called the Constituent Assembly “fraudulent and illegitimate”  in a recent interview with El Nacional.

“It’s made up of political activists at the service of the government and it’s not going to resolve the problems with the economy. What’s needed here is to change the Marxist, totalitarian, and statist ideology that has brought the country to ruin,” he charged.

Cardinal Urosa told El Nacional that Maduro wants to “decapitate the opposition so there’s  just one political party.”

He lamented that “the situation in the country is worse than a month ago: disregard for human rights continues, there are still political prisoners and opposition leaders that won in the elections are being persecuted; childhood malnutrition has increased and diseases eradicated in the 1950s are coming back, such as  malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria. But we’ve got to keep up the fight as did Bolivar, despite the defeats.”

Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines.

Venezuela’s socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The International Monetary Fund has forecasted an inflation rate of 2,300 percent in Venezuela in 2018.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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Bishop appointed for Canada’s Chaldean eparchy

October 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Toronto, Canada, Oct 31, 2017 / 12:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Bawai Soro was on Tuesday appointed Bishop of the Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto, which serves Canada’s estimated 40,000 Chaldean Catholics.

The Oct. 31 appointment fills the vacancy left by August’s transfer of Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta to the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego.

Bishop Soro was born in 1954 in Kirkuk, Iraq, and was baptized into the Assyrian Church of the East, a non-Chalcedonian Church based in northen Iraq. His family emigrated to Lebanon in 1973, and then to the US in 1976.

He was ordained a deacon in the Assyrian Church of the East in 1973, a priest in 1982, and a bishop in 1984. Whila a priest he served as pastor of a parish in Toronto, and was bishop of the Assyrian eparchies of San José and Seattle.

He obtained a master’s degree in theology from the Catholic University of America in 1992, and a doctorate from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in 2002. While a bishop, he was actively involved in ecumenical dialogue between the Assyrian Church of the East and the Catholic Church.

Bishop Soro was received into communion with the Catholic Church in 2008, along with nearly 1,000 families of his Church.

He was received into the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is the Catholic analogue to the Assyrian Church of the East. Both Churches use the East Syrian rite. They are both derived from the Church of the East, a non-Chalcedonian Church which experienced a schism in 1552.

In 2014 he was appointed protosyncellus, or vicar general, of the Chaldean Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle of San Diego.

Bishop Soro has been outspoken about the persecution of Christians in his native Iraq, and has applauded their perseverance.

In June, he told CNA that “the story of suffering of Iraqi Christians is an ongoing phenomenon.” He reflected on his family’s perseverance in the face of the Ottoman’s Assyrian genocide, saying that “if my grandparents survived this difficulty and were able to hand their faith to the next generations, this suffering generation will do the same.”

The Chaldean Eparchy of Mar Addai of Toronto was established in 2011. It consists of 10 parishes and missions, and is served by 10 priests and two deacons.

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Memento mori – How religious orders remember death

October 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Oct 30, 2017 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- There’s an old Latin phrase that’s suddenly new again – at least in the realm of Catholic Twitter™.

The resurgence of the the Latin phrase “memento mori” (remember your death) is thanks in large part to tweeting nun Sr. Theresa Aletheia, a “media nun” with the Daughters of St. Paul, who has been recording, via tweets, what it’s like to have a (plastic) skull sitting on her desk:
 

 

Day 94 w ????on my desk:  

If we could taste the joys of heaven for even a moment, we would have no fear of death.#mementomori

— Sr. Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) October 27, 2017

 

 

The phrase, and practice, has caught on, and a quick Twitter search of #mementomori now reveals hundreds of results.

But even before nuns and Catholic millennials were tweeting about the skulls on their desks, religious orders have been “memento mori”-ing for centuries. Here’s how various religious orders have kept their mortality in mind throughout the ages.

Origins of the phrase

According to legend, the phrase “memento mori” may have originated with the Roman empire. Allegedly, when victorious Roman generals returned from battle, in the midst of their festivities, a slave or another low-ranking citizen would follow them around and whisper “memento mori,” or some other reminder that their earthly glory was temporary.

Even before the Roman empire, meditation on death and the last things was a common practice of ancient philosophers like Plato, who once said that philosophy was “about nothing else but dying and being dead”.

The phrase and the practice was then incorporated into medieval Christianity – death was especially poignant as the plague spread throughout Europe and Asia, killing millions of people within the span of just a few years.

“Memento mori” was such a popular religious theme in this period that it inspired a genre of art, music and literature.

Memento mori myths and the Brothers of the Dead

One of the most common myths surrounding “memento mori” is that the phrase is used by monks, particularly the famously-ascetic Trappist monks, as a form of greeting among brothers.

Fr. Timothy Scott, a Trappist brother and priest, said that this myth originated with a now-obsolete order of French monks called “The Order of the Hermits of Saint Paul,” who came to be known as the “Brothers of the Dead.”

According to “La Sombre Trappe,” by Fr. M. Anselme Dimier, this order “pushed its tastes for the macabre to the extreme,” wearing scapulars with skulls and crossbones, and kissing a skull at the foot of the cross before each meal.

The words “Memento Mori” were found on the seal of the order alongside a skull and crossbones, and skulls were prominently displayed in most parts of the monastery, including in each brother’s cell.

The brothers of this order were also known for greeting each other with “Think of death, dear brother,” and rumors have spread that the Trappists adopted this tradition, even after the Brothers of the Dead were suppressed by Pope Urban VIII in 1633.

“In no period of the Order’s history, in no Trappist monastery, have these words been in usage; the brothers greet one another in silence, as in the early days of the Order of Citeaux,” Dimier wrote.

Fr. Scott confirmed that a silent greeting “is the constant tradition and practice of the Order.”

How Trappists “memento mori”

Trappists are a branch of Cistercian monks, a reformed branch of the Benedictines, who desired to live the Rule of St. Benedict more authentically.

But while Trappist brothers don’t use “memento mori” as a greeting, other reminders of death have been present in the Trappist order, particularly in older monasteries, Fr. Scott said.

In his book “A Time to Keep Silence”, Patrick Leigh Fermor recalls these symbols of death, particularly present in Trappist monasteries during the 18th and 19th century.

“Symbols of death and dissolution confronted the eye at every turn, and in the refectory the beckoning torso of a painted skeleton, equipped with an hourglass and a scythe, leant, with the terrifying archness of a forgotten guest, across the coping of a wall on which were inscribed the words: ‘Tonight perhaps?’”

Fr. Scott added that he has heard of several other monasteries with various “memento mori” traditions, such as the monastery of la Val Sainte in Switzerland, which kept a white-wood cross and a skull in the middle of the refectory, or dining hall. Another Trappist monastery in France had the words “Hodie mihi, cras tibi” (Today I die, tomorrow it will be you) written above the door leading to the cemetery.

These skulls, inscriptions, and the various prayers for the dead help the brothers “to keep in mind that our time on this earth is limited and what we do now matters for eternity,” Fr. Scott said.

“We will be accountable one day before God for all that we do. It makes no sense to waste the precious time that has been allotted to us. We must use it to do good and to love others now.”

“However, the theme of memento mori, remembrance of death, needs to be set within the larger theme of the memory or mindfulness of God,” he added. “The monastic life is oriented primarily toward cultivating a living relationship with the persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who have been revealed to us in the Son, Jesus Christ, and who, through his passion, death, and resurrection have called us to full communion and fellowship with them now and in eternity.”

The bone churches of Europe

Several orders of monks, including the Capuchins, Franciscans, and the Cistercians, are also known for having built churches or crypts decorated almost exclusively with the remains of their forebearers, a stark “memento mori” for any visitors to these sites.

One of the best-known such churches, sometimes called an Ossuary, is the Capuchin crypt beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto in Rome, Italy, which includes six chapels, five of which are covered in the skeletal remains of Capuchin friars of yesteryear.

The crypt was built in the 1630s, when Pope Urban VIII ordered some Capuchin friars to set up residency at the Church, and asked that they bring the remains of their bygone brothers with them, so that they would not be abandoned.

In total, an estimated 4,000 skeletons, from friars deceased between the 1520s – 1870s, decorate the insides of the various chapels. The various crypts include a crypt of the resurrection, a crypt of skulls, a crypt of leg and thigh bones, and a crypt of pelvises. A plaque in on display in the crypt reads: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”  

Allegedly, this Roman ossuary inspired a similar “Bone Church” in Prague, in the Czech Republic. There, the Sedlec Ossuary, built by Cistercian monks, is decorated with the remains of an estimated 40,000 people.

The reason for the large number of remains dates back to the 1200s, when a Cistercian monk returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he brought back dirt from Golgatha, the hill where Christ was crucified, and sprinkled that dirt in the cemetery at the monastery.

As word of this holy dirt spread, the cemetery became a popular place in which to buried. By the time the plague hit, the number of people requesting burial in the cemetery became so great that the monks began exhuming the bones, storing them in the church, and using them for interior decoration.

The Church has been restored several times and is no longer in possession of the Cistercian order, but the popular site receives thousands of visitors annually.

A third popular “Bone Church” is the Capela dos Ossos, in Évora, Portugal, next to the Church of St. Francis.

Built by a Franciscan in the 16th century, the chapel has similar origins to the Czech Ossuary, in that it became a creative way to store the bones contained in cemeteries running out of room to house remains.

Reportedly, the monk also believed that the Church could be a force for the Counter-Reformation, and a good place for Catholics of the area to come and remember their mortality.

Like the Roman ossuary, the bone church in Portugal has several “memento mori” themed inscriptions, including Ecclesiastes 7:1 “A good name is better than good ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”

Dominicans – the best order in which to die

For Dominican friars, their “memento mori” comes every day when they recite prayers for the dead, said Fr. Aquinas Guilbeau, professor of moral theology for the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

The Dominicans pray for the dead so frequently that it’s become part of a joke, he told CNA.

“There are many reasons you want to live in the other orders – the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Jesuits – but out of all of them, you want to die with the Dominicans, because we constantly pray for the dead,” he said.  

Whenever a Dominican friar dies, all the priests in his province celebrate a Mass for him. The order also prays what is called the “De Profundis” – a daily prayer, typically before a main meal, that includes praying Psalm 130 in remembrance of all of the men of the province whose death anniversary is on that day.

Dominicans also celebrate an additional “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day” –  they celebrate these feasts with the Church on Nov. 1 and 2, but then they celebrate a second round of these feasts on Nov. 7 and 8, particularly praying for the Dominican saints and souls.

“In terms of praying daily for the dead, it is a constant reminder of our own mortality, that heaven and eternal life is the goal, and it’s also a reminder that death is something that we all face,” Guilbeau said.

“When we die, we go alone, there’s no one who accompanies us in that at that moment. But by praying for those who have gone before us in death, we get a sense of that union and community that endures into the next life, and insofar as we aid the dead by our prayers, they’re waiting for us and aiding us by their prayers. It’s a daily reminder of the common prayer that we have for each other.”

“In terms of…sleeping in our coffin or having skulls on the desk, we don’t do that,” Guilbeau said, but he added that the black cape that Dominicans wear is meant to serve as a physical “memento mori” for the order.  

The daily reminder of death isn’t something “macabre or depressing,” Guilbeau added, “but it’s something hopeful and joyful, that this veil of tears is not the end of our existence, it’s not the goal.”  

“If we live in the love of Jesus Christ and we live in the light of the Holy Spirit, there’s constant preparation  and help and grace and strength for that moment when we pass from this life to the next,” he said.

Therefore, for the saint, death isn’t something to be feared, but welcomed and embraced like a sibling, Guilbeau said, recalling the words of St. Francis who once wrote in his “Canticle of the Sun”: “Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death, from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.”

 

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He overcame prison and drug addiction – thanks to the rosary

October 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 3

Santiago, Chile, Oct 26, 2017 / 12:04 am (ACI Prensa).- A life of crime and drug addiction landed Khristian Briones, 39, in prison for ten years. During that time, he paid his debt to society, and he set out on a path of faith and conversion that began with praying the rosary.

Briones was raised by his grandparents in Chile. They lived in poverty. Alcoholism, domestic violence and drug addiction were a regular part of his home life. Lacking opportunities, and hungry all the time, he began to admire criminals who robbed food trucks and distributed the food to the people of his neighborhood.

Briones spent his childhood and adolescence in juvenile detention centers, where he became “acculturated in crime.” He stole, gambled, and tried drugs. “I became more and more addicted and violent,” Briones told ACI Prensa.

Despite their life of crime, many criminals in Chile have a superstitious devotion to Our Lady of Montserrat, whom they consider their patroness. They believe she will protect them as they commit their crimes or that she will get them released from prison.

Like others, Briones prayed to Our Lady of Montserrat for protection during his life of crime. Many nights in prison he asked God and Our Lady to spare him from death. Nevertheless, he made enemies in prison, and he ended his sentence with 20 stab wounds, two gunshot wounds and one third of his body burned.

While serving his sentence, Briones spent five years in the Rosary Workshop program run by the Paternitas Foundation, which is dedicated to the rehabilitation, job training and transition back into society for convicts. His prison workshop constructed made 3500 wood rosaries per month, earning some money the prisoners sent back to their families.

Briones told ACI Prensa that “the rosary is a light in the darkness of the prison,” since it helps “the guys to get closer to God. Most of them believe in God, in Our Lady of Montserrat, but their faith is misguided. That’s where I was; I was Catholic in my own way.”

During his time in prison, Briones did not learn to pray the rosary or understand its value. But when he got out of prison, he went to the Paternitas Foundation and worked as a cleaning assistant, began to give motivational talks, study social work, and eventually he became an instructor at the Rosary Workshop.  

It was at this time, he said, that he began to love Our Lady and understand the mystery of faith. He began to sell rosaries on buses; he shared “his job” with eight other convicts who also were getting out of prison, as a way to start supporting themselves.

Eventually, Briones spiraled into depression and fell back into drug addiction. He turned away from God and quit praying. But one day he gave someone a cigarette, and the recipient offered simple words of thanks. The words “God bless you” set Briones back on the path of faith.

“I cried, I prayed and I clung to the rosary, I started practicing my faith again,” he said. “Prayer is very powerful.”

In this reencounter with Jesus, Briones began promoting a prayer campaign, “A Million Rosaries for the Pope, the Faith, Life and the Family” in Chile “to get the people in ‘pope mode’ so we can give him a good reception and so his message reaches the hearts of Chileans” during his January 15-18 visit next year.

“Thanks to working on this campaign I’m understanding my Church more. I’ve gotten to know parishes and priests. I’m preparing to receive Confirmation and I want to get married and have children. I never thought about that before.”

“I have faith that God does exist and Our Lady is with us, and she can change you. Our Lady kept me from dying, she’s helped me move forward, to prepare myself as a person and as a professional, to bear witness. God is working on me to become a better Christian, he’s working on me, transforming a clay vessel into a new vessel,” he reflected.

Briones wants to share a message of hope with people who are in prison and to do it through “a rosary workshop about four times a week with catechesis and Mass included.”

He also wants to begin a prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration foundation. Briones is certain that “with prayer the goal can be reached.”

For now, he is continuing his motivational talks in schools so students can “become aware and make a difference in society. And if they happen to fall, they can get back up on their feet,” he said.

Also during this time, Briones is taking advantage of spreading the “Million Rosaries” campaign. He says he knows that Pope Francis’ visit will be good for the country and especially for the female inmates at the Women’s Penitentiary Center in Santiago, the prison the pontiff will visit.

“It will be a blessing for the prison to receive this visit of hope, love and joy that the pope himself represents; he’s very charismatic, close to us, always smiling. That will do a lot of good. It will do all of us good because he invites us to go out, to be close to others. With his Franciscan spirit he calls us to go out and evangelize, and to be a Church that goes out” to the peripheries, he said.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

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News Briefs

Venezuelan bishops denounce pro-government bias in elections

October 22, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Caracas, Venezuela, Oct 22, 2017 / 06:02 am (ACI Prensa).- The Venezuelan bishops’ conference has criticized bias by the National Electoral Council in favor of the government of socialist President Nicolas Maduro during last Sunday’s regional elections.

The regime took 18 out of 23 disputed governorships, amid allegations of fraud leveled by the opposition. The opposition won five states, an increase of two.

It had been expected that the opposition would win a majority of states, given the economic crisis and months of anti-socialist protests in which more than 120 people were killed.

Regional elections were held Oct. 15. The US State Department has said the elections were neither “free nor fair,” citing last-minute changes to polling station locations without public notice, manipulation of ballot layouts, and limited availability of voting machines in opposition neighborhoods.

The 18 newly elected socialist governors were sworn in by the constituent assembly Oct. 19, while the five governors of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable boycotted the event. Maduro has said the governors who will not be sworn in by the constituent assembly may not take office.

The constituent assembly is itself the product of contested elections, which took place July 30. The body has superseded the authority of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature.

The Venezuelan bishops stated Oct. 19 their denunciation of the National Electoral Council for “ignoring the appeals made by various national and international bodies, has once again shown itself to be a biased arbiter in the service of the governing  political party,” the bishops charged in an Oct. 19 statement.

Even though Venezuela’s constitution indicated regional elections should have been held in October 2016, through the National Electoral Council the government delayed the date of elections.

According to various media, this was became the regime feared losing some of the 20 states they controlled, as their United Socialist Party of Venezuela had low approval ratings. At the same time, protests in recent months had become widespread in the county due to the social and political crisis.

In its statement, the bishops’ conference pointed out that there were “multiple irregularities committed in the implementation of the electoral process: preventing political organizations from substituting candidates as provided by law, sending voters over to other polling stations at the last minute, the lack of neutral international observers, and voters being pressured into voting a certain way.”

“All this constitutes an obstacle to exercising one’s right to vote and creates mistrust in the election processes,” they charged.

The bishops also referred to “the decision to create new authorities, preventing from taking office governors elected in those states that did not support the Maduro regime in the elections.” This “is clearly ignoring and mocking the will of the people on which  the legitimacy of any election rests,” they stated.

However, despite the irregularities that led to a “pro-regime advantage,” the bishops called on Venezuelans to not lose “credibility and confidence in the power of voting as the way to a peaceful and democratic solution for the urgent and momentous changes that the country requires … We cannot do without the electoral route. Let us not lose hope!”

The bishops stated that “it is indispensable to restore justice and ethics to the electoral system” so that citizens “can freely and confidently express themselves” and that in the future, “elections supervised by neutral international bodies may restore peace and tranquility to Venezuelan society.”

The bishops’ conference reiterated “the primacy of the individual and his universal rights over and above ideologies, systems of government and special interests.” They  called upon “all institutions of social life to respect, defend and promote civil rights and to not become discouraged in claiming them,” and they urged citizens to “not be carried away by irrationality or fanaticism in the political controversy.”

“The people have the right to demand that the political leadership concern itself primarily with their most felt necessities, to know and experience them firsthand and to offer to the people a coherent plan for the country, founded on justice and the common good without exclusions,” they said.   

The statement concluded asking God to raise up hope in Venezuelans “in face of the serious problems affecting our society, which creates anxiety and discouragement in many hearts.”

“We commend ourselves to the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto and we ask her to watch over us to that we can live in harmony, freedom and peace,” the bishops’ conference stated.

Frustration in Venezuela has been building for years due to poor economic policies, including strict price controls coupled with high inflation rates, which have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers, and medicines.

Venezuela’s socialist government is widely blamed for the crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

The International Monetary Fund has forecasted an inflation rate of 2,300 percent in Venezuela in 2018.

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Five keys to Catholic education, according to Cardinal Versaldi

October 18, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Santiago, Chile, Oct 19, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, proposed last week five keys for pastoral education “to respond in depth to the current challenges of society.”

The cardinal participated in Chile’s Sixth National Congress on Catholic Education, Oct. 12-13, organized by the Chilean bishops’ conference and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

In his keynote address,  Cardinal Versaldi explained that education “must be careful to avoid  two  extreme and opposite dangers: that of an educational program imposed on the student without respecting his autonomy and requirements; and an educational program that simply goes along with whatever the  students ask for, or without any consideration for their personal growth.”

The cardinal then proposed five keys for education in Catholic schools:

Proclamation of the Christian life

“The Catholic school has both the right and duty to not only teach in consistency with its own values, but also to have an inner dynamic of  proclaiming and living the Christian life,” Cardinal Versaldi said.

“Such an educational program  becomes for believers in Christ an opportunity for  growth and the  integration of faith and reason and also for living out the life of the Church.”

For non-believers it is “an opportunity to better know the authentic Gospel message which their conscience has to then consider and  which they’re always  free to accept or not,” he said.

“It would be unjust to ask, in the name of tolerance for Catholic schools to take a neutral approach  in what they teach  and to not to be able to foster a religious way of life, while still respecting  people’s freedom, since the students  have decided to go to an  institution they already know is Catholic.”

The witness of charity

Cardinal Versaldi said a school community’s  witness must be “obviously noted for” its charity, which makes “the values conveyed through its teaching credible and attractive.”

“A Christian school community imbued with this charity is in and of itself the best means of pastoral ministry.”

Ongoing formation of teachers

The ongoing formation of professors in teaching methods and especially in “their spiritual growth  and their truly living out their faith … is not a waste of  time or effort which takes way from their actual  teaching,” Cardinal Versaldi said.

Such formation can make both the faculty and the administration able to “credibly engage with and also to be a partner in dialogue with civil society and the state schools in order to create a Chilean society founded on the  shared values of respect for cultural and religious diversity.”

Working together with the Church

Cardinal Versaldi said the school’s pastoral ministry must work side by side with the local Church and parishes so that they “mutually help each other out in their different  roles” without “imposing  on the school the responsibilities that mostly belong to the parish or vice versa.”

In addition “it is important to foster a consistent witness, including that of their lives outside the classroom, such that the Church community would think the school a living example of her realities.”

Providence as a guide

“Schools need to deepen their knowledge of what’s going on in society in both its positive and negative aspects, discerning  the signs of the times, animated not by a paralyzing pessimism but rather with Christian hope founded on the faith that human history is always guided by Divine Providence despite people’s free will,” the cardinal stated.

“It is important to maintain this faith and translate it into the work of education as an overriding way of acting in order to become protagonists in a true renewal of the social scene without letting oneself be manipulated by the various political factions.”

“Thus the Catholic school will always be on the forefront of dealing with the new challenges that the world must face such as care for the environment and immigration that politics in general tends to discount, marginalizing more people and creating dangers for future generations,” Cardinal Versaldi concluded.

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