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Argentine pastoral letter: ‘Accompaniment’ in marriage must be faithful

August 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 3

San Luis, Argentina, Aug 30, 2017 / 02:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A pastoral letter on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia by Bishop Pedro Daniel Martinez Perea of San Luis, Argentina is being welcomed as “great news” for its clarity and directness.

Bishop Martinez’ letter, issued on June 29 and sent to the priests of his diocese, is titled “Marriage, new unions, and the Eucharist in chapter 8 of Amoris laetitia.” It addressed confusion generated by some readings of the document and emphasized the importance of “helping married couples to follow God’s plans in their lives.”

“The text is very straightforward,” reflected Dr. Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America. “It’s a very well done pastoral letter with a lot of teaching opportunity; he does use Pope Francis to emphasize the teaching of the Church. I think it’s great news.”

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Martinez called Amoris laetitia “a great catechesis on love in the family, which is the cell of society” and said it is “a great message of hope during our sojourn in this secularized and earthly world.”

He added that marriage has a divinely ordered nature and purpose, and that sacramental marriage is “a public good in the Church, a common good.”

While calling Amoris laetitia “a profound catechesis,” Bishop Martinez noted that “some readings of the exhortation have aroused disquiet, perplexity, and even confusion among the faithful, especially with regard to the possibility of persons united by a previous, valid, sacramental bond and who are currently living, more uxorio, with another person in a new non-sacramental union, accessing the sacraments, in particular Holy Communion.”

To address confusion, the bishop referred to revelation and the Magisterium as “irreplaceable foundations for theological reflection in the Catholic Church,” and the essential context for understanding Amoris laetitia. To explain the exhortation, he referred to the recent Magisterium of John Paul II, and and the writings of St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Thomas Aquinas, the First Vatican Council, the Roman Curia of the early 20th century, and popes from Leo XIII to St. John XXIII.

Bishop Martinez gave criteria for a theological and ecclesial reading of the argument given in his letter, referring extensively to the text of Amoris laetitia. He wrote that “the Holy Father does not intend to manifest a new moral doctrine on Christian marriage.”

The bishop recalled that the bond of a ratified and consummated sacramental marriage “cannot be dissolved by any human power, neither civil nor ecclesiastical, neither by the passage of time after separation (culpable or not; brief or elongated), nor because love no longer exists between the spouses, nor by a personal conviction in conscience, even in good faith. Certainty of personal opinion regarding the invalidity of marriage is not a cause of nullity.”

He explained that the indissolubility of marriage is based the nature of “the union made by God in the spouses…In this is clearly manifested the priority of the existence of the Christian marriage over moral acts and their consequences.”

Bishop Martinez also wrote on the “mysterious grandeur of Christian marriage” and to encourage spouses to be faithful to their vocation in the face of difficulties. He then explained the conditions for receiving Holy Communion, and the Magisterium of Amoris laetitia on the Eucharist, new unions, and pastoral conversion.

Pope Francis encourages a “renewed apostolic zeal” in confronting challenges to married life, he wrote, adding that the complexity of situations must be taken into account so that each person can be accompanied according to God’s plan, without judgement of their subjective imputability.

Before detailing possible modes of accompaniment, Bishop Martinez noted that in every case, the faithful who are separated should be helped “to do everything possible before God to try to reconcile, with an attitude of forgiveness, thus being able to re-establish the interrupted marital life.”

If reconciliation is not possible, the primary canonical solution is to seek a declaration from the Church that the presumed marriage was, in fact, invalid.

If a declaration of nullity is granted, those who are in new unions and who have no impediments may approach the sacrament of confession, contract a marriage,and receive Communion, he taught.

Bishop Martinez laid out three possible points on a path of “accompaniment” in cases when a tribunal does not grant a declaration of nullity.

Until a judgement is found, those who are cohabiting with another person are invited to separate. If they continue to live together they “would be in an objective state of sin,” he said. This makes the reception of Communion impossible, he said, because the state of life contradicts Christ’s union with the Church which the Eucharist signifies and makes present.

If the divorced-and-remarried cannot separate but are willing to practice continence, abstaining from sexual relations, pastoral accompaniment will help them to come to the sacrament of confession and receive absolution, which will open the way to reception of Communion. “To persevere in Christian chastity it is particularly recommended that they approach frequently the sacrament of reconciliation to be fortified by that sacrament’s grace, trusting ‘in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone’ if they have failed in the commitment they have taken on,” he wrote, quoting from Amoris laetitia.

If responding to the Church’s call to continence is not possible, then “although they cannot receive Holy Communion, we must accompany them and exhort them to cultivate a style of Christian life, since they continue to belong to the Church.” Bishop Martinez explained that such persons are not to be abandoned, but to be prayed for and encouraged. He repeated the invitation of St. John Paul II that they listen to God’s word, pray, and attend Mass.

Bishop Martinez encouraged those unable to live according to the Church’s call to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, noting that the Diocese of San Luis has 12 adoration chapels which they could frequent, where they should be “accompanied to commence a path of growth in prayer, in adoration of the Eucharistic Jesus. The Sacred Heart of Jesus will work wonders in them, because he waits for everyone, to say to them as the Good Shepherd: ‘Come to me, all you who are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest’.”

In each of these ways of pastoral accompaniment, Bishop Martinez recalled that Pope Francis “encourages us to a paternal, pastoral dedication.” He wanted his priests to remember that “our accompaniment consists, precisely, in knowing at all moments that we are loved by God, who is Love and who desires that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the whole Truth and to eternal happiness through the Holy Spirit.” He added that it is a “a great work of spiritual mercy” to help form consciences well and in conformity with truth.

Martens told CNA that Bishop Martinez “basically says that Amoris laetitia doesn’t change anything of the previous teaching; and he gets back to the teaching of John Paul II in Familiaris consortio … he does use Pope Francis to emphasize the teaching of the Church. I think it’s great news.”

By omitting a “conscience ‘solution’”, and clarifying that a personal conviction in conscience that one’s marriage was invalid does not render that marriage invalid, Bishop Martinez is “on the same page” as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and the bishops of western Canada, Martens said.

“There is nothing in there in the sense of what you see in the Malta guidelines, or in what the bishops of the Buenos Aires province have said … I think it’s pretty significant that also from Argentina we’re hearing this voice.”

Most of the bishops of Argentina who have written on Amoris laetitia, have interpreted it as allowing the divorced-and-remarried, in some circumstance, to receive Communion without observing continence. The bishops of the Buenos Aires province, as well as Bishop Angel José Macin of Reconquista and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, have all offered such interpretations.

Among Argentine bishops, Bishop Martinez is joined by one of his predecessors in the see of San Luis, Bishop Juan Rodolfo Laise, O.F.M. Cap. Bishop Laise was among the first signatories of a Declaration of Fidelity to the Church’s Unchangeable Teaching on Marriage and to Her Uninterrupted Discipline which was publicized Aug. 29, 2016.

Bishop Laise, who led the San Luis diocese from 1971 to 2001, signed the declaration, which reaffirms the Church’s teachings on marriage and morality. More than 879,000 persons have signed the document, among whom are eight cardinals.

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Martinez also reflected on the possible causes of the exhortation’s “distinct interpretations.” He suggested the theological reasons for an inadequate evaluation of the ordinary Magisterium; an erroneous understanding of divine, public Revelation which sees it as a continual unfolding in history,, in which the bishops can ‘constitute’ the deposit of faith, and not merely transmit, conserve, and defend it faithfully; and a dualistic conception of the Church, mistakenly perceiving a separation between dogma and morality, or between a visible institution and a “charismatic call.”

Martens commented to CNA that understanding the nature of Amoris laetitia’s teaching authority and intended purpose is critical to its interpretation.

“You can have infallible teaching proclaimed in a less solemn document,” Martens explained,” and in solemn documents you can have teaching of several levels. An example of this is Evangelium vitae, the encyclical of John Paul II: some of the teaching in there is put at a higher level, and it’s clear from the wording of the text.”

He noted that in Amoris laetitia‘s third paragraph, Pope Francis “says he doesn’t intend to exercise his authentic Magisterium.”

“So what is he doing there? Is he giving a road map to help people, rather than to teach and confirm what the Church has always taught? That’s an important and interesting question.”

Bishop Martinez concluded by exhorting his priests to preach Church teaching faithfully and to help married persons to follow God’s will for their lives.  “Let us remember that the Church, in her mission to announce the Gospel, both today and yesterday, does not resort to adaptation to the ‘spirit of the world’ or to the ‘voice’ of a certain ‘majority’, nor to purely human consensuses.”

“Do not yield to the temptation to give a ‘pastoral pseudo-solution without truth’, so that the faithful may feel understood. Nor should you give a kind of ‘poor, rigorous, and merciless recipe’, as though though the faithful were only a number and not a dear son of God whom, as ministers of grace, we must help by demonstrating the way to eternal Beatitude,” he exhorted them.

“Let us announce God’s Message of Love … with sincere fidelity to Revelation and the words of Jesus Christ. What we are asked to do is be faithful to the ministry which God, through the Church, has entrusted to us,” he stated.


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After three years of ISIS occupation, the Mass returns to Mosul

August 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Mosul, Iraq, Aug 30, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, from the hands of the Islamic State, Christians are cautiously returning to the city. And as they return, so does the Mass.

Fr. Luis Montes, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, celebrated Mass earlier this month at Saint George Monastery. The priest traveled to Mosul to record part of a documentary entitled Guardianes de la Fe (Guardians of the Faith), which seeks to show the reality of life for Christians in Iraq and Syria.

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In a video posted on the Amigos de Irak (Friends of Iraq) Facebook page, Fr. Montes said that the Mass was celebrated Aug. 9 – a month after Mosul’s liberation – on the feast day of St. Edith Stein, who died a martyr in a Nazi concentration camp.

The priest said it was “a great gift of God” to be able to celebrate the feast day of a martyr in the monastery, which “surely gave many martyrs to the Church.”

Pointing to the damage to the monastery entrance, he said that he believes the lower level may have been “used as a prison at some time, (as) the Christians left their names there written on the walls as a witness.”

Located in the eastern part of the city, the monastery was badly damaged by ISIS militants.

“Rubble everywhere, the stone facing on walls knocked off, all the religious statues destroyed,” Fr. Montes said. “The grotto of the Virgin Mary destroyed…Crosses set into the walls were chopped off with sledgehammers so no trace would remain of anything that is Christian, of anything that is Jesus Christ.”

In the chapel where they celebrated Mass, the altar was stripped of its marble adornments, and the walls had been damaged.

The experience of celebrating the Eucharist amidst so much devastation was awe-inspiring, Fr. Montes said.

“In this place, which has been attacked for being Christian, the contemplation of the Mystery of the Cross, which is renewed in Holy Mass, had so much power,” he reflected.

“Some priests later told the young people that accompanied me that they believed that this was the first Mass” celebrated within the city of Mosul – which was among the areas hardest hit by ISIS – in the last three years, he added. “It’s really a gift from God.”

The priest said that he offered the Mass for Europe, “which suffers from having turned away from Our Lord God, so that the blood of the martyrs here in the Middle East may stir Europe, touch it, so that it awakens.”

The sight of so much desecration is painful, Fr. Montes acknowledged, and it is even more painful to think of the hatred for Christ that motivated the attacks.

But at the same time, he said, “there is such a beautiful satisfaction in knowing that one is serving a persecuted people.”


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A little bit of ‘youthful euphoria’ is healthy for Christian life, Pope says

August 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Vatican City, Aug 30, 2017 / 04:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis told pilgrims to ignore gloomy people that drag others down, and stressed the need to maintain a healthy dose of the joy experienced in our first encounter with Christ, which he said must serve as a constant motivation to spread the good news.

“Do not listen to deluded and unhappy people; don’t listen to those who cynically recommend not to cultivate hope in life,” the Pope said Aug. 30.

“Let us not entrust ourselves to those who extinguish every enthusiasm saying that no business is worth the sacrifice of an entire life, don’t listen to the ‘elderly’ of heart who suffocate youthful euphoria,” he said.

Rather, Francis told pilgrims to instead “cultivate healthy utopias.” God, he said, “wants us to be able to dream like him and with him, while we walk well aware of reality,” and if a dream goes out, “go back and dream it again, drawing with hope on the memory of its beginnings.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience. In his address, the Pope continued his catechesis on Christian hope, focusing on the specific relationship between hope and memory.

The “icon” for this relation is the calling of the first disciples, John and Andrew, he said, noting that “their memory was totally impressed by this experience.”

So strong was the impact of this moment that in the first chapter of his Gospel, John recalls the exact time they met Jesus, saying “it was around four in the afternoon.” John, the Pope said, tells the story “as a clear memory youth, which remains intact in his aged memory.”  

Noting how the two had chosen John the Baptist as their spiritual guide, Francis pointed to the moment when, as Jesus passed by, the Baptist tells the then-young men that “this is the Lamb of God.”

For John and Andrew this meeting is “the spark,” he said, noting that they then leave their first master and follow Jesus, who after some time turns and asks a key question: “what are you looking for?”

In the Gospels, Jesus “appears as an expert of the human heart,” Francis said, explaining that in this moment he met two youth who were “healthily iniquitous.”

“What youth is a satisfied youth, without a search for meaning?” the Pope asked, adding that “young people who do not search for anything are not youth, (but) they have aged before their time.”

In off-the-cuff remarks, Francis addressed the youth in the square and those watching the audience through the media, asking them “what are you looking for? What are you searching for in your heart?”

In the day’s the Gospel, Jesus appears as “an arsonist of hearts,” who with his question to John and Andrew brings out “the desire for life and happiness that every young person carries inside.”

The vocation of the two disciples begins with a friendship with Jesus “strong enough to impose a commonality of life and passion with him,” he said. In fact, they barely begin their time with Jesus and “immediately they are transformed into missionaries.”

This, Francis said, is evidenced by the fact that their respective brothers – Simon Peter and James – also begin to follow Jesus. “It was an encounter so moving, so happy, that the disciples will forever remember that day which illuminated and oriented their youth.”

Asking those present how to find one’s vocation in modern society, Pope Francis said it can happen in many ways, but, as shown in the Gospel, a first indicator is “the joy of the encounter with Jesus.”

Every vocation – whether to marriage, consecrated life or the priesthood – begins “with an encounter with Jesus who gives us new joy and hope,” he said. The Lord then brings us, even amid trials and hardship, to “an increasingly full encounter with him and to the fullness of joy.”

“Jesus wants people who have experienced that being with him gives immense happiness, which can be renewed every day of life,” he said, adding that a disciple who is not joyful “does not evangelize this world,” and is ultimately “a sad” disciple.

“You become a preacher of Jesus not by refining the weapons of rhetoric,” Francis said, noting that “you can talk and talk and talk,” but if there is no joy, it won’t be effective.

Because of this, Christians, like Mary, must “guard the flame of their ‘falling in love’: in love with Jesus.”

“Of course there are trials in life, there are moments in which we need to go forward despite the opposing cold and wind,” the Pope said. But as Christians, “we know the path which leads to that sacred fire that he has lit once and for all.”

After his address, the Pope greeted pilgrims present from various countries around the world and issued an appeal for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, celebrated September 1 to coincide with the event on the Orthodox calendar.

The event was instituted by Pope Francis in 2015, and in honor of the shared day of prayer, he and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople wrote a joint-statement calling for a merciful approach to caring for creation.

In his comments, Francis noted that in their statement both he and Bartholomew “invite everyone to assume a respectful and reasonable and attitude toward creation.”

“We also make an appeal to those who have an influential role, to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer the most from ecological imbalances.”


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How this Catholic saint might be the patron of opioid addicts

August 30, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the opioid addiction crisis rises to the threshold of a national emergency, the story of a little-known Catholic saint from the early 20th century is offering hope to those devastated by it.

Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, who suffered from an addiction to opium until the end of his life, was martyred in July of 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion – a violent anti-colonial and anti-Christian uprising that took place in Northern China around 1900.
“He gives hope in the most important way for addicts – even though you are struggling with some addictive behavior, your dignity as a human person is still intact and you are destined for greatness,” Dr. Gregory Bottaro, executive director of the Catholic Psych Institute, told CNA.

According to the New York Times, over 52,000 people died in 2015 from drug overdoses. While the official statistics have yet to be available, that number is expected to rise to 59-65,000 deaths for the following year. In a study that ranged from 2000 to 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that six out of ten drug overdoses involve opioids, and that an estimated 91 people die every day from opioid abuse.

Ji used opium to treat a severe stomach ailment, and he soon became addicted to the drug.

At the time, addiction was not understood as a disease, and there were few resources available to effectively help Ji. After repeated failure to give up the drug, Ji abstained from receiving the Eucharist for 30 years, while continuing to practice the faith, even amidst persecution.

During the Boxer Rebellion at the beginning of the 20th century, Ji and his family were martyred. Chinese nationalists known as the Boxers, or the Militia United in Righteousness, expelled missionaries and persecuted Christians across China. Thirty-two thousand Chinese Christians and 200 foreign missionaries were killed.

Ji requested to be beheaded last in his family so as not to leave any of his loved ones alone during their death.

“I think the story is a beautiful testimony to the goodness and complexity of the human heart. His struggles can give great hope to people who are suffering,” Dr. Bottaro said.

“The interesting paradox here is that he did not recover from his addiction, but he did recover from separation from God.”

He noted that those who struggle from addiction “[do] not have the same kind of freedom to avoid the addictive behavior,” and therefore their actions cannot be judged in the same way.

“However, there is a point at which the faculty of freedom is active,” he said, adding that this freedom could manifest itself in someone reaching out for help from friends, family, or a 12-step program such as Narcotics Anonymous.

“This is where we need to support and educate people who are suffering this way. Judging the actions of an addict as a personal moral failing does not support the addict when they are superficially directed only at the addictive behavior.”

According to the CDC, in 2014 nearly two million U.S. residents abused or were dependent on opiods in the form of painkillers prescribed by medical professionals.

An HIV specialist at Brown University Medical School, Deacon Timothy Flanigan said the growing abuse of opioids is connected to controversial medical guidelines, which have called for a more aggressive plan in treating chronic and acute pain.

Deacon Flanigan said that, while poorer urban neighborhoods have encountered drug abuse issues for decades, abuse has increased among the middle class because of more frequent opioid prescriptions. Since opioids have a high addiction rate, he speculated that a patient may switch to cheaper and easily accessible street versions of the drug, like heroin or meth.

The president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, released a report on drug overdoses and proposed reform on Aug. 1.

“The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled,” Gov. Christie said. “The average American would likely be shocked to know that drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined.”

The report asked President Trump to declare the opioid addiction epidemic in the U.S. a national emergency, to spur increased federal funding for prevention and recovery programs.