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The murder case of Blessed Oscar Romero has been reopened

May 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

San Salvador, El Salvador, May 19, 2017 / 01:14 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A nearly 40 year-old murder case was reopened this week to properly prosecute the suspected killer behind the Salvadorian archbishop’s martyrdom.

Because of an amnesty law that prohibited the prosecution of criminal acts stemming from the El Salvador Civil War, the alleged murderer of Archbishop Oscar Romero was never convicted of any crime. The law was lifted last year by the country’s constitutional court, reopening cases from 1980 to 1992.

Judge Ricardo Chicas reopened the case on Thursday and ordered that charges be sought against the main suspect, whose case was dismissed in 1993 because of the amnesty law.

Alvaro Rafael Saravia was a soldier and is the main suspect tied to a right-wing death squad who killed the priest at a hospital in San Salvador. Blessed Romero was killed while saying mass at the hospital’s chapel. The archbishop was well known for preaching against the country’s poverty and corruption from the pulpit.

Social and economic inequality of the 1970s resulted in demonstrations and rebellions against the El Salvador government. The protests were encountered by government repression, leading to death squads and forced disappearances. Pro-government forces fought against left-wing guerilla groups from 1979 to 1992.

The El Salvadoran Civil War claimed an estimated 75,000 lives before a peace agreement was established in 1992.

Many of the clergy spoke against El Salvador’s inhumane practices, and many Catholic leaders faced backlash once they denounced the government. Blessed Romero especially decried both the social injustices which heavily oppressed the poor and the military’s oppressive tactics.

Blessed Romero became exceedingly outspoken once a close friend and teacher to the archbishop was gunned down by military forces on the way to Mass. Before he died in 1980, 30 priests in his archdiocese were either murdered or expelled from the state, and many more lay faithful were subject to the same fate.

Investigation into Archbishop Romero’s canonization officially opened in 1993, but was delayed until the early 2000s because of complex politics and false reports. In January of 2015, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously recognized the priest as martyr due to the hatred towards the faith identified within the act, and Pope Francis approved for the beatification a month later.


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Pope Francis: Church teaching helps us avoid harm of ideology

May 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 19, 2017 / 11:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis warned that ideologues sow confusion and division in the Church in the name of false clarity, rather than relying on the Pope, the bishops, and Church councils inspired by the Holy Spirit.

“We are human, we are sinners,” he said, adding that there are difficulties even in the Church. Being sinners leads to humility and drawing closer to God who saves us.

Looking to the early Church, Pope Francis made a distinction between those who had “forceful discussions” but “a good spirit,” and those who “sowed confusion.”

“The group of the apostles who want to discuss the problem, and the others who go and create problems,” the Pope distinguished. “They divide, they divide the Church, they say that what the Apostles preached is not what Jesus said, that it is not the truth.”

The Pope’s words came in his homily at Casa Santa Martha May 19, Vatican Radio reports. He reflected on the Council of Jerusalem of 49 A.D., recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, which rejected claims that gentile converts to Christianity would have to be circumcised.

In the early Church, he charged, “there were jealousies, power struggles, a certain deviousness that wanted to profit from and to buy power.”

In the end, the apostles’ discussion came to agreement.

“They had hearts open to what the Holy Spirit said. And after the discussion ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us,’” the Pope said.

This is not “a political agreement” but “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” that led them to reject the “necessities” some would require of Christian converts, like a refusal to eat meat sacrificed to idols and a requirement to abstain from “illegitimate unions.”

The “liberty of the spirit,” however, allowed gentiles to enter the Church without circumcision.

At that first Church Council, Pope Francis said, “the Holy Spirit and they, the Pope with the bishops, all together,” gathered together in order “to clarify the doctrine,” as would be done through the centuries at successive councils so that “what Jesus said in the Gospels, what is the Spirit of the Gospels, would be understood well.”

The Pope encouraged the congregation not to be afraid in the face of “the opinions of the ideologues of doctrine.” He stressed that the Church has “its proper Magisterium, the Magisterium of the Pope, of the bishops, of the councils.” They should follow the path “that comes from the preaching of Jesus, and from the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit.” This path is “always open, always free,” because “doctrine unites, the Councils unite the Christian community” but “ideology divides.”   

Pope Francis further warned against divisive elements in the Church.

“But there were always people who without any commission go out to disturb the Christian community with speeches that upset souls: ‘Eh, no, someone who says that is a heretic, you can’t say this, or that; this is the doctrine of the Church,’” he said.

“And they are fanatics of things that are not clear, like those fanatics who go there sowing weeds in order to divide the Christian community.”

He said their “great error” results from when Church doctrine, which comes from the gospel and is inspired by the Holy Spirit, “becomes an ideology.”


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In surprise ‘mercy Friday’ visit, Pope Francis blesses homes of Rome’s poor

May 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Ostia, Italy, May 19, 2017 / 10:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Pope Francis made a Year-of-Mercy style visit to a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome, blessing the houses of a dozen people, as parish priests do every year during the Easter season.

According to a May 19 Vatican communique, the Pope wanted to continue the “Mercy Friday” visits he made during the Jubilee of Mercy, which are signs “inspired by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy” he performed during the Holy Year.

“As a sign of closeness to the families living on the peripheries of Rome, he decided to bless their houses one-by-one, as the pastor does every year during the Easter season,” the communique read.

Two days ago Fr. Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris, one of the six parishes in Ostia, posted signs on the outside of the condo building notifying families that he would be stopping by to give the annual Easter blessing.

Only lasting a few minutes, the blessing usually consists of the priest walking through the house and sprinkling holy water in each room, leading the family in a prayer and then handing them a prayer card before moving on to the next apartment.

So it was “a great surprise today when, as the bell rang, instead of the pastor the inhabitants saw Pope Francis.”

According to the communique, the Pope “with great simplicity” met with the families and blessed around a dozen apartments inside the Piazza Francesco Conteduca complex, leaving each of them with a rosary as a gift.

Francis jested at one point, apologizing to families for the disturbance, but reassured them that he had respected the time of silence during which they rest after lunch, which was posted on the sign at the entrance of the condominium.  

Located roughly 20 miles southwest of central Rome, Ostia has a population of around 100,000, among whom is “a lively community of faithful” who live and share the difficulties of a life lived on the peripheries.

The area parish and its adjunct soccer field have often become a reference point for the community and those “social and existential realities which often, suffering forms of exclusion, remain on the margins,” the communique said.

Francis’ visit to Ostia marks the second “Mercy Friday” visit he has made since the close of the Jubilee of Mercy in November 2016.

In March he visited the St. Alessio-Margherita di Savoia Regional Center for the blind in Rome, showing he doesn’t think works of mercy are just for special occasions – or years.

Pope Francis kicked off his monthly works of mercy in January 2016 by visiting a retirement home for the elderly, sick, and those in a vegetative state, and a month later traveled to a center for those recovering from drug addiction in Castel Gandolfo.

Other visits throughout the year included refugees, children, formerly sex-trafficked women, former priests, infants, and the terminally ill.


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Spaniards splurge on First Communion parties despite economic hard times

May 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Madrid, Spain, May 18, 2017 / 10:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Over the past nine years, Spain has been hit particularly hard by the worldwide economic crisis.

It was in recession from 2008-2009 and 2011-2013, and unemployment in the country is at about 19 percent, with unemployment rates twice as high for people under the age of 25, forcing younger generations to leave the country to find work.

Unfinished apartment complexes and houses stand out in the sun, sustaining years of wear and tear, a reminder of the burst property bubble at the center of the crisis.

Spaniards are cutting back on expenses everywhere, including opting for smaller, civil wedding ceremonies and celebrations rather than large church weddings, which are down 50 percent since the crisis began.

But there is one thing for which Spaniards are still willing to splurge: First Communion parties.

In a recent episode, economic podcast Marketplace explored the phenomenon of the lavish parties celebrating youngsters’ First Holy Communions, which have not declined in extravagance despite the hard times in the majority-Catholic country.

According to a 2014 study reported on by Marketplace, First Communion parties are a multimillion dollar business, with families spending almost 600 million euros (or about $640 million dollars) on these celebrations that year. Many individual families end up spending several thousand dollars on a First Communion party.

Parties include fancy, wedding-like dresses for girls, cake, food, photoshoots, and entertainment. Sometimes families will even borrow money or take out a loan in order to “have the communion that God demands,” Francesc Nuñez, sociologist at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, told Marketplace.

It’s a distinctly religious phenomenon too, he noted, as there is no secular “proxy” for a First Communion party, as there are for events like wedding ceremonies. Despite waning numbers of active churchgoers, approximately 70 percent of Spaniards still self-identify as Catholic.

May is “First Communion season” for many countries in the Church, including Spain, where restaurant owners and other related businesses can expect an uptick in revenue around that time.

Infanta Sofía of Spain, 10, who is currently second in the line of succession to the nation’s throne, received her first Communion this week at Asunción de Nuestra Señora parish in Madrid.


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Benedict XVI praises Cardinal Sarah as great ‘spiritual teacher’

May 18, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, May 18, 2017 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In an afterword to a book on silence and prayer recently authored by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Benedict XVI praised the prelate as a spiritual model given the depth of his interior life, saying the liturgy is safe in his hands.

“Cardinal Sarah is a spiritual teacher, who speaks out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us,” Benedict XVI said.

The emeritus Pope added that we ought to be grateful to Pope Francis for his 2014 appointment of Cardinal Sarah as prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The liturgy, Benedict said, has a certain type of “specialization” which ultimately “can talk right past the essential thing unless it is grounded in a deep, interior union with the praying Church, which over and over again learns anew from the Lord himself what adoration is.”

“With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer, the liturgy is in good hands,” he said.

Benedict’s afterword to Cardinal Sarah’s book marks one of the rare occasions he has spoken publicly or published any sort of document since his retirement in 2013.

Although Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, was published last month, future printings will include Benedict’s afterword, which he wrote during the Easter Octave. The full text of the essay was published by First Things May 17.

The book is in interview format, and was conducted by French journalist and author Nicolas Diat, who also collaborated on Sarah’s 2015 interview-book God or Nothing.

In his afterword, Benedict reflected on the topic of silence itself, pointing to the letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians that reads: “It is better to keep silence and be (a Christian) than to talk and not to be.”

Referring to Christ as a teacher, the text says that “even what he did silently is worthy of the Father. He who has truly made the words of Jesus his own is able also to hear his silence, so that he may be perfect: so that he may act through his speech and be known through his silence.”

Benedict then reflected on what it means to hear Christ’s silence and to know him through it, noting that in the Gospels we learn that Christ spent many nights “alone on the mountain” in prayer and conversation with the Father.

“We know that his speech, his word, comes from silence and could mature only there,” he said. “So it stands to reason that his word can be correctly understood only if we, too, enter into his silence, if we learn to hear it from his silence.”

Although historical context is necessary in order to interpret Christ’s words, that in itself is not enough “really to comprehend the Lord’s message in depth,” Benedict said.

Those who today read the “ever-thicker” commentaries on the Gospels often still end up “disappointed” he said, because they learn “a lot that is useful about those days and a lot of hypotheses that ultimately contribute nothing at all to an understanding of the text.”

“In the end you feel that in all the excess of words, something essential is lacking: entrance into Jesus’s silence, from which his word is born,” he said, adding that “if we cannot enter into this silence, we will always hear the word only on its surface and thus not really understand it.”

Pointing to Cardinal Sarah’s book, Benedict said the prelate “teaches us silence — being silent with Jesus, true inner stillness, and in just this way he helps us to grasp the word of the Lord anew.”

Although the cardinal rarely speaks of himself in the text, Benedict said his answers reveal the depth of his spiritual life.

In response to one of Diat’s questions on whether in his life he has ever felt that words were too “cumbersome” or heavy, Cardinal Sarah responds by saying, “In my prayer and in my interior life, I have always felt the need for a deeper, more complete silence…The days of solitude, silence, and absolute fasting have been a great support. They have been an unprecedented grace.”

This answer, Benedict said, makes visible “the source from which the cardinal lives, which gives his word its inner depth.”

“From this vantage point, he can then see the dangers that continually threaten the spiritual life,” he said, noting that this also goes for priest and bishops.

This threat endangers the Church as well, “in which it is not uncommon for the Word to be replaced by a verbosity that dilutes the greatness of the Word,” Benedict said.

He then pointed to another passage of the book which he said is a good examination of conscience for every bishop: “It can happen that a good, pious priest, once he is raised to the episcopal dignity, quickly falls into mediocrity and a concern for worldly success.”

“Overwhelmed by the weight of the duties that are incumbent on him, worried about his power, his authority, and the material needs of his office, he gradually runs out of steam,” Cardinal Sarah said.

Benedict said that given the depth of Cardinal Sarah’s own spiritual life, he is a “spiritual teacher” who, because of his silent prayer with God, has something to say to everyone.


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The first Catholic church in 60 years is being built in Cuba

May 18, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Tampa, Florida, May 18, 2017 / 04:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Funded by a parish in Florida, a new Catholic church is being built in Cuba and is the first the island nation has seen in 60 years.

Father Ramon Hernandez, pastor of St. Lawrence church in Tampa, said he and his parishioners are happy to see how their funds have financed the project, and said he looks forward to the inauguration Mass taking place early next year.

Saint Lawrence provided $95,000 in donations for the church’s construction in Sandino, Cuba, located in the western corner of the country.  

The new church, alongside a refurbished synagogue in Havana, shows Cuba’s progress in religious freedom since Fidel Castro ushered in communism during his revolution in the 1960s. Atheism was established as the belief system for the entire state, and many religious leaders were faced with persecution. In 1992, however, Cuba was made a secular state.  

“Cuba is changing,” Fr. Hernandez said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The priest is a native Cuban who celebrated Mass in churches hidden in the homes of faithful families. He left the country in the 1980s.

The new church will be called the Parish of Divine Mercy of Sandino, and will be led by Father Cirilo Castro. The 800 square foot building will have a maximum capacity of 200 people. An estimated 40,000 people live in the coastal town. The town’s main industries involve citrus fruits, coffee, and fish.

The idea for the project was first conceived in 2010 by St. Lawrence’s former pastor, who wanted a greater spiritual connection between Cuba and Tampa. Tampa and Cuba have already had strong ties over the importation of tobacco in the late 19th century.

During a visit to Tampa last month, Fr. Castro said that the roof was the last piece of the structure, expected to be installed by the end of June. The pews and the altar will be added over the next few months in preparation for the first mass taking place either in January or February of 2018.

The completion of Divine Mercy of Sandino marks a significant step towards religious freedom and amends to the faiths oppressed in previous years. Religions like Mormonism and Islam have also been given room to grow.

“I see the stories of persecution of freedom of religion in Cuba but we now have a mixture of religions,” said José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the United States in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times last week.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom acknowledged that churches have been dissembled and religious leaders have been arrested even within the past year. But the report reveals that nearly 70 percent of Cuba’s population is Catholic and additional five percent is Protestant, showing a greater attachment to the faith despite government meddling into religious affairs.

Religious persecution still lingers, but developments in religious freedom have notable increased, and this church is one of many planned to be erected in Cuba. Two other Catholic churches are currently under construction in Havana and Santiago.