Pope Francis makes a strong call for better marriage prep

January 21, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2017 / 09:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his annual speech to the Holy See’s main court on Saturday, Pope Francis stressed the pressing need for effective education and preparation for the sacrament of marriage – not only to guard against invalid marriages, but also to strengthen the faith of the couple as they prepare for the unique blessings and challenges of married life.

“The goal of this preparation consists, namely, in helping engaged couples to know and to live the reality of marriage as it is intended to be celebrated, so that it is possible to do so not only validly and lawfully, but also fruitfully, so that they are able to make this celebration a stage of their journey of faith,” Pope Francis said.

“In this spirit, I would reiterate the need for a ‘new catechumenate’ in preparation for marriage,” he said in his Jan. 21 address to the judges of the Roman Rota at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.

“Welcoming the guidance of the Fathers of the last Ordinary Synod, it is urgent to implement effectively what has already been proposed in Familiaris Consortio (no. 66),” he said.

“That is, as for the baptism of adults the catechumenate is part of the sacramental process, so the preparation for marriage must become an integral part of all sacramental marriage procedure, as an antidote that prevents the increase of invalid or tenuous marriage celebrations.”

The Pope delivers a speech to the members of the Rota, a court of higher instance at the Holy See, each January to inaugurate the court’s judicial year.

In this year’s speech, Francis noted that the breakdown of faith, religious values, and belief in eternal truths, particularly regarding the family, has become widespread even among Christians, which can impact the awareness and consent with which people enter into the sacrament.

At the same time, the different backgrounds and experiences of faith of those seeking Christian marriage cannot be ignored, he said. “Some participate actively in parish life; others will come for the first time; some also have a life of intense prayer; others are, however, driven by a more generic religious sentiment.”

“Faced with this situation, we need to find valid remedies,” the Pope emphasized.

The first remedy he proposed is the training of young people: “through an adequate process of preparation aimed to rediscover marriage and the family according to God’s plan,” he said.

The meetings between a priest and an engaged couple are, of course, a fundamental and important part of their preparation. But more than that, Francis said, the period of a couple’s engagement becomes “an extraordinary opportunity for mission” for the “whole community.”

“The Christian community to which the engaged turn is called to cordially announce the Gospel to these people, because their experience of love can become a sacrament, an effective sign of salvation. In this circumstance, the redemptive mission of Jesus reaches the men and women in the concreteness of their love life.”

For many young people, the approach of marriage with all of the changes involved, can be a period of increased openness to a renewal of faith and encounter with “Jesus Christ, with the message of the Gospel and the Church’s doctrine,” the Pope said.

In this regard, teaching the truth about marriage and love becomes extremely important, Francis reminded the judges.

He quoted from Benedict XVI’s last speech to the Rota on Jan. 26, 2013, in which he said that “only in being open to the truth of God […] is it possible to understand, and to achieve in the concreteness of life, even marriage and family, the truth of man…”

“The rejection of the divine proposal,” Benedict said, “in fact leads to a profound imbalance in all human relationships […], including the matrimonial one.”

Pope Francis went on to quote from Lumen fidei, his first encyclical, which says that “Love needs truth. Just as it is based on truth, love can last in time, overcome the ephemeral moment and stand firm to support a common path.”

“If love has no relationship to the truth, it is subject to the changing feelings and does not pass the test of time,” Lumen fidei continues. “True love instead unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light towards a great and full life.”

From this perspective, another vital aspect of building up the truth of marriage is in continuing to support and strengthen couples even after the wedding, Francis said.

“You need to identify with courage and creativity, a training project for young married couples, with initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of the sacrament received.”

Often, he said, a young couple is left to themselves, perhaps because they are not even seen in the parish, or the birth of children keeps them busy, “but it is in these first moments of family life they must be guaranteed greater proximity and a strong spiritual support.”

“The Christian community is called to welcome, accompany and help young couples,” by offering them opportunities and tools, aside from just Sunday Mass, he said, including programs for within the parish and within the home.

The Pope concluded his speech by wishing the judges a good new year, reminding them that “it requires great courage to get married in the time in which we live. And the many who have the strength and the joy of making this important step should feel next to them the love and concrete closeness of the Church.”


This Spanish prison ministry is helping rehabilitate inmates

January 21, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Madrid, Spain, Jan 21, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The prison ministry founded by a Spanish Jesuit in the 1960s has had such fruits as a group of inmates donating their own money to help the needy at Christmas, according to the head of the foundation.

At Christmas of 2015, a group of prisoners in the Estremera prison in Madrid did their own food drive to buy non-perishable food with their own money from the prison store, Lola Navarro, president of the Father Garralda-Horizontes Abiertos Foundation, told CNA.

“All the prisoners who participated agreed to deliver the more than 220 pounds of food to the Fr. Garralda Foundation to help those they were thinking of, because they knew that there are people who needed it more than they did.”

Helping prisoners rebuild their lives, overcome addictions, and re-enter the workforce is a challenge that the Father Garralda-Horizontes Abiertos Foundation has been working toward for 40 years.

Navarro said Fr. Jaime Garralda began to work with prisoners and now serves, through his foundation, more than 200 people in prison, halfway homes for parolees, and with workshops on re-entering the workforce.

“Fr. Jaime Garralda, S.J., lived for 16 years in in a shanty town during the ’60s. Many women there wanted to visit their husbands or children who were in prison. Fr. Garralda and some volunteers began to accompany them and began a social action work in the prisons, also addressing all those realities related to the prisons,” Navarro explained.

“We also have the figure of the ‘volunteer resident’, or prisoners who are at the end of their sentence who help others in the prison achieve their goals so they can set out on an itinerary so their stay in the prison is as bearable as possible.”

She pointed out how this is “beautiful, because that person sees that you have helped them and now they’re the ones who get involved with the other prisoners to give back what was given to them, and the horizons that were opened up for them.”

The foundation has a rehabilitation center for prisoners who are addicted to drugs where more than 100 people live, with floors for HIV patients,  and they vouch for prisoners who meet certain requirements so they can request a supervised leave.

“We call this assistance “toward freedom”  because family members or friends need to give guarantees to ensure that the prisoner’s leave from prison meets some minimum conditions and also that he will return when his permission to leave expires. We vouch for certain people who have no one to turn to and we help make this transition as good as possible,” Navarro said.

She commented that her favorite program is one they do for the children of mothers who are in prison: “We organize camps for the children, outings with the mothers, workshops to lessen the prejudices created by prison, and we help mothers and children have a little more of a normal life, at least for a few days.”


Social doctrine is about solidarity, Catholic leaders insist

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics must fight the societal ills of contempt, poverty, and unemployment through solidarity, recent speakers at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. insisted.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, quoted the Gospel of Luke in his Jan. 17 address to Catholic University students on “bringing America together.”

“We’re sought. We seek others,” he continued. “If we want to change public policy and we want to change American culture, it’s not good enough to burn a bunch of money to help poor people. What are you going to do today to need somebody at the peripheries of society?”

Brooks gave the first CEO lecture of 2017 at the Busch School of Business and Economics, in which he emphasized the importance of work in human dignity.

There are many poor or unemployed persons living “at the periphery” of society who “we prefer not to see,” he said, asking the students in attendance, “If all the poor people in Washington, D.C. suddenly disappeared, how would your life change?”

“I daresay that most of you, your friendships wouldn’t change,” he answered to the students, adding that “really, intimately,” their lives would “not change very much” without the poor nearby.

“This is a country that has split in two so much” that “we don’t need the poor,” he said. “We don’t need millions and millions of our fellow Americans in any meaningful way.”

One in six “able-bodied men” are not even looking for work, he noted, and rising rates of alcoholism, drug overdoses, and suicides among white working-class middle-aged men without college degrees are “unseen and unheard.”

Yet this phenomenon of not “needing” the poor is toxic to society, he said, because “we need every human.” Every person “has the same inherent dignity,” he insisted.

“That is the source, all the politics aside, of the divisiveness” in society, he said, of “what’s pulling us apart.” The problem of “contempt” for fellow human beings, what he described as “the utter conviction of the worthlessness of another human being” is also at the heart of societal problems.

How can Catholics fight this? By going to the peripheries, befriending those with whom they disagree, and creating jobs that give human dignity back to the poor and the marginalized, he said.

He used the example of a program of the New York -based Doe Fund “Ready, Willing & Able,” which helps formerly homeless persons by employing them.

They “get back on their feet through work, through ordinary, sanctified, hard, honest work,” Brooks said. “That’s the equalizer. Human dignity is equalized when we all work in a sanctified way.”

The previous week, on Jan. 10, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston addressed a conference on “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work.”

When global markets and institutions are divorced from morality, human dignity is threatened, they insisted. Catholic social teaching challenges the autonomy of markets by emphasizing the dignity of the worker and the right of workers to organize to protect their rights, they said.

“Increasing international trade and financial relationships, combined with rapidly advancing technological innovation and the world of the internet, have produced what we call globalization,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

“This development has produced enormous amounts of wealth but not a fair and just distribution of the proceeds,” he added.

Three current social trends are operating apart from morality and pose special dangers to the common good, Bishop McElroy observed.

“The first of these is the drive for the sovereignty of markets. The second is the technocratic paradigm which seeks dominance over the environment and culture. The third, and most worrying, is nationalism.”

“In a very real way they have been evacuated of moral substance and operate autonomously from any moral anchors as principles of politics and governance in our national life,” he said.

Globalism was said by St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus to “lack morality,” Cardinal O’Malley noted. Thus, leaders “have the responsibility to establish a moral framework which can assess and direct the purposes and the consequences of globalization.”

Human dignity is “the cornerstone” of the Church’s social teaching, Cardinal O’Malley said, citing Pope Francis.

“This means that each individual is to be protected by a moral framework of human rights and that the work a person does, whether manual labor, mining, or intellectual and professional work, is understood as an expression of their dignity.”

The Church must work with unions to ensure the dignity of workers is protected against markets that are separated from morality, Cardinal O’Malley maintained.

“The case for unions is rooted in the Catholic sense of our responsibilities to each other as members of the human family; we are not to be left alone in society and or in the economy,” he said.

“We are called to support the right of workers, all workers, private and public sector workers, to organize and be represented in the marketplace and in negotiations by an institution, the union, which gives workers leverage and a voice in the major decisions affecting them and their families.”

Pope Francis “has been a strong public advocate for the dignity of labor, including making interventions when companies were intending significant elimination of jobs,” he continued, noting that the Pope “has argued strongly that in the midst of the forces of technology and globalization, people cannot be reduced to arguments for greater efficiency.”

Health care, the minimum wage, and immigration are all present-day issues closely tied to Catholic social teaching and the dignity of the worker, Cardinal O’Malley explained.

“Debates about minimum wages are most relevant to those closest to poverty,” he said. “Catholic teaching about the option for the poor places us in support of reasonable initiatives to raise the minimum wage.”

“Affordable health care is foundational for the well-being of individuals and families and lack of health care directly threatens human dignity,” he said, emphasizing that “our moral obligation not to abandon people in their times of need is clear.”

Just this past week, the U.S. bishops’ conference asked Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having a replacement plan in place that would ensure health care coverage for those who most need it.

“While every country must balance numerous factors in determining immigration policy, particularly with regard to security, our national history and our principles call us to be a welcoming society,” Cardinal O’Malley continued.

“For decades the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has called for systematic immigration reform, including protection of undocumented individuals and families.”


Pope Francis prays for Trump on his inauguration as US president

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2017 / 10:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis congratulated Donald Trump on his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, praying that God will grant him wisdom and strength.

“At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide,” the Pope wrote in his Jan. 20 message sent to Trump.

“Under your leadership, may America’s stature continue to be measured above all by its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door. With these sentiments, I ask the Lord to grant you and your family, and all the beloved American people, his blessings of peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity.”

During his inaugural address, Trump vowed to be a voice for the “forgotten people” of the United States. “We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first – America first,” Trump stated.

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world. But we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” the new president said. “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.”

In November Trump pulled off what was for many a surprising victory in the U.S. presidential election. Though he was widely seen as the underdog, Trump came out on top with 289 electoral votes, well over the required 270 needed to win.

While the tone of Francis’ congratulatory note was warm and optimistic, many, Catholics in particular, fear there could be tension between the Pope and the new president when it comes to immigration.

Reservations about the topic trail back to comments Pope Francis made during his Feb. 19 inflight news conference en route from Juarez to Rome responding to criticism of Trump, who had called Francis “political” and threatened to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel,” the Pope had said, prompting former Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi to release a statement the next day assuring the Pope’s comment “was never intended to be, in any way, a personal attack or an indication of how to vote.”

Pope Francis has been an outspoken supporter of migrants’ rights and the need to build bridges rather than walls.

During his visit to Mexico, he celebrated Mass near the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump’s wall would go up, in a show of support to the many South and Central American migrants, including thousands of unaccompanied minors, cross each day, many of whom are seeking to escape situations of poverty, drugs and violence.

After news of Trump’s election broke in Europe, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin offered his prayers that the president-elect would promote peace in a world torn by conflict, but said that when it comes to immigration, we can’t predict the future.

“We take note with respect the will of the American people in this exercise of democracy which they tell me was characterized by a large turnout. Then we congratulate the new president, so that his government can be truly fruitful,” the cardinal told Vatican Radio Nov. 9.

He assured of his prayers, “so that the Lord illuminate him and sustain him in the service of his homeland, naturally, but also of the peace and wellbeing of the world…today it is needed for everyone to work to change the global situation, which is a situation of serious laceration and grave conflict.”

When asked how the Vatican responded to Trump’s inflammatory comments about building a wall, Cardinal Parolin said we must wait to “see how the president moves.”

“Normally they say: it’s one thing to be a candidate, it’s another thing to be president, to have a responsibility,” he said.

But when it comes to specific issues and how Trump will act on them, “we will see what choices he makes and according to that you can also make a judgment,” Parolin said, adding that “it seems premature to make judgments.”

Although Trump’s fiery campaign rhetoric has been problematic in the past, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett told CNA last week that he believes the new president will leave that sort of language behind.

“It would only be speculation, but what I do expect is that the rhetoric of the campaign will be put behind him and the reality of governing will kick in very soon,” he said.

Governing “calls you to be your best, to weigh decisions, to listen to advice, to play the role on the world’s stage that the United States has played and is capable of playing,” he said, voicing optimism that that “good will prevail” and Trump will “take the best advice that’s offered to him.”

When asked whether he anticipates the topic being problematic for relations between the Trump administration and the Holy See, Hackett said “no government agrees with another government on everything.”

However, there’s “no more dynamic, moral leader in the world than Pope Francis at this moment in time, so I think you better find a way to engage, and I’m sure the Trump administration will.”


Concert marks one year after Pope’s historic synagogue visit

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Jan 20, 2017 / 10:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- One year after Pope Francis visited the Great Synagogue in Rome, the Hebrew Choir of Rome “Ha-Kol,” and the Choir of the Diocese of Rome joined together to give a concert Jan. 19 on the theme: “Sing to the Lord a new song.”

The Pope’s attention to Jewish-Christian dialogue continues to be welcomed by the Jewish community in Rome, and events such as the concert is one way they can contribute to that dialogue, Richard Di Castro, president of the Ha-Kol Choir Association, told CNA.

“I believe that music can speed up the dialogue between all cultures and among all religions, and is a common thread that is understood in all latitudes and in all parts of the world,” Di Castro said.
“All the more so, the privileged nature of the dialogue that Jews and Christians have at this time, events like this where we can share our traditions, our musical culture, helps considerably in the dialogue.”

The concert, which consisted of musical interpretations of the Psalms in both the Jewish and Christian traditions, took place just a few days after the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ visit to the synagogue on Jan. 17, 2016.

Pope Francis was the third-ever Roman Pontiff to visit the Great Synagogue, following the example of his two predecessors. St. John Paul II visited in 1986 and Benedict XVI in 2010.

Di Castro said that he considers Pope Francis’ visit, as well as the visits of the other two popes, very important.

“All this is definitely welcomed with much attention, very welcomed by our entire community. Furthermore, I believe that Pope Francis has always shown a lot of attention to the dialogue between Jews and Christians, and this clearly was always perceived very positively by our community,” he said.

The reason the songs in the concert focused on the Psalms, he said, is because the Psalms are “something that binds us together, something common to the two religious traditions.”

This isn’t the first time the two choirs have collaborated on events, Di Castro pointed out, saying “there is nothing better than the dialogue of music that unites cultures” and helps people to know and understand each other better, and eliminate prejudice.

Jesuit Fr. Philipp Renczes, Director of the Centre for Judaic Studies and Jewish-Christian relations at the Pontifical Gregorian University, agreed.

Getting to know one another is the “first major step” to unity, he told CNA. “Because as Augustine says…we can only love what we know.”

It is essential, Fr. Renczes said, that “Christianity, being rooted in Judaism,” be in dialogue with Judaism. “It is a way for Christianity to be in continuity with itself.”

During his 2016 visit, Pope Francis referred to St. John Paul II’s reference to the Jewish people as the “elder brothers” of Christians, and said that “we all belong to one family, the family of God, who accompanies and protects us as his people.”

“Together, as Jews and as Catholics,” he continued, “we are called to assume our responsibility for this city, making our contribution, first of all spiritual, and favoring the resolution of our diverse problems.”

“I hope that the closeness, mutual understanding, and respect between our two communities of faith always continue to increase.”


World Youth Day Panama will take place January 22-27

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2017 / 08:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Friday Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama officially announced the dates of the next World Youth Day, which is set to take place in January, rather than July as is usual, due to the weather.

He made the announcement during a Jan. 20 news conference in the country’s capital, Panama City, during which he also reiterated the gratitude of the Panamanian Church to Pope Francis for choosing Panama to host WYD in 2019.

According to a communique from the archdiocese, the bishop explained that the decision to choose Jan. 22-27 for the dates of the gathering, rather than holding it in July as is traditionally done, was done for reasons primarily linked to the climate and weather.

Speaking directly to youth, Ulloa said “you are the true protagonists of this World Youth Day. Panama awaits you with an open heart and with open arms to share the faith, to feel that you are the Church!”

Pope Francis announced Panama as the setting for the next WYD at the closing Mass of the July 26-31, 2016, international gathering in Krakow.

“I am happy to announce that the next World Youth Day – after the two that will be held on the diocesan level – will take place in 2019 in Panama,” the Pope said making the July 31 announcement.

In a news conference after the announcement of Panama as the next location was made, the country’s bishops said the decision is a reflection of his attention to the peripheries and voiced their hope to be a “bridge” for those who come from all continents.

“I think that it will be an occasion a revitalization of the Church in general, and for the youth in particular … not just from Panama, but from Central America and all of Latin America,” Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of David told CNA July 31.

Panama, he said, will be an opportunity for a demographically young Latin America to “charge their battery” in living the Christian life.

He noted how the decision to hold the 2019 WYD in Panama comes just a year after he was named the country’s first cardinal, jesting that Pope Francis “made a lot of mischief, the first of which was appointing me cardinal. It was a great mischief!”

Now Panamanians “have the opportunity to show what we really are,” he said, explaining that while Pope Francis might have made “this mischief” in giving Panama the task of organizing the 2019 event, “with a big smile gives us this challenge to go forward.”

Due to its geographical location, Panama serves as “a bridge” connecting North, South and Central America, he said.

Given the fact that many youth from Central America will be able to arrive to Panama by land at a low cost, the cardinal said that though he’s not 100 percent sure, “this must be one of the reasons why Pope Francis elected Panama to be the host.”


‘We must never become accustomed’ to the Holy Land occupation

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Jerusalem, Jan 20, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The 50 year-long of occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza by Israel must be at the attention of every Christian and demands resolution, the chair of the Holy Land Coordination said Thursday.

“Our Coordination has called for justice and peace every year since 1998, yet the suffering continues. So this call must get louder. As Bishops we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action,” Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chair of the Holy Land Coordination, wrote in a Jan. 19 statement. The statement was signed by another 11 bishops, including Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces.

The communique marked the conclusion of an annual week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land by the group, made up of bishops from Europe, North America, and South Africa. The Holy Land Coordination is encouraged in its work by the Holy See as it supports the local Church in Palestine and Israel.

“For fifty years the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have languished under occupation, violating the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis,” Bishop Lang said. “This is a scandal to which we must never become accustomed”

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarising social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation,” Bishop Lang wrote. “Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity.”

The bishop also stated that we have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are home to some 600,000 Israelis. Under international law, the settlements are considered illegal, though Israel disputes this.

The settlers’ “de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the UN recently recognised, also imperils the chance of peace,” Bishop Lang stated.

Turning to the situation of the Gaza Strip, he said Gazans, “who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe,” need assistance. “They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

He continued to say apathy can never be a response to the scandal, and it is the job of every Christian to help the local Church, as well as its agencies, volunteers, and non-governmental organizations.

“We all have a responsibility to encourage non-violent resistance. This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land including the Cremisan Valley.”

The proposed Israeli security barrier route effectively confiscates Palestinian land, and compromises the ministry of Christian institutions and the rights of Christian landowners.

Bishop Lang added that “we all have a responsibility to promote a two-state solution,” noting that the Holy See has said, “if Israel and Palestine do not agree to exist side-by-side, reconciled and sovereign within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders, peace will remain a distant dream and security an illusion.”

Bishop Lang ended the communiqué with a biblical quote about the Jubilee, the ancient practice of the Kingdom of Israel of liberating slaves and forgiving debts every 50 years: “You will declare this fiftieth year to be sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the country’s inhabitants,” he said, quoting Leviticus 25:10.

“During this fiftieth year of occupation we must pray for the liberty of everyone in the Holy Land and practically support all those working to build a just peace,” he concluded.


Meet the woman who helped revive Catholic art after the Reformation

January 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Jan 20, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Baroque Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi is hailed as a ‘feminist icon’ based on her portrayal of the female ‘hero,’ who through violence enacts symbolic revenge against men, and her supposed defiance of Counter-Reformation taboos.

But the artist should actually be remembered for the significant role she played in supporting the Catholic revival of art in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, as well as for her depiction of the core Christian struggle between virtue and vice, Vatican art historian Elizabeth Lev argues.

Considered one of the most accomplished artists in the generation following Caravaggio, her work is currently showcased in an exhibit running through May 7 at Rome’s Palazzo Braschi, which brings 30 of her paintings together in a single space for the first time.

Born at the end of the 16th century, Artemisia Gentileschi’s life has become predominantly known for the unfortunate circumstance of her rape at the young age of 17 or 18, and the difficult trial which followed, Lev said.

It is this story which art historians have “hijacked” as the basis for claiming her as a feminist hero. But should they?


Many art historians “build a sort of feminist box around her,” Lev said.

“And the feminist box has no time for anything Christian, overlooking the fact that this is a young woman who is working in the heart of Counter-Reformation art. Art patrons in that period are all on board with the Counter-Reformation.”

The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation, was the Catholic Church’s efforts to revive and truly reform Catholicism in Europe following the Protestant Reformation.

One of the Church’s many reforms during this period was a renewed effort toward funding the creation of sacred art, especially in the face of Protestants’ iconoclasm, the destruction of religious images.

Artemisia’s career first took off in the Medici court in Florence, “where you have a circle of people who are deeply involved in the Church’s Catholic response to the Reformation,” Lev said.

Reforming the Church through art and beauty “is a very, very important thing to the Church” at this time. Patrons continue to commission art “in the face of the Protestant iconoclasm,” but the art they commission “can’t be part of the problem, it has to be part of the solution,” she explained.

“You need to find artists who make works of art that are inspiring, that are exciting, that are stimulating, that are new, but that are also directing the correct message in an extremely difficult time” for the Church.

One of the reasons Artemisia was so successful is because this is, in fact, what she did, Lev explained: “She’s not going to be successful in Italy if she’s producing art about how much she hates the Catholic Church.”

“And I think it’s very foolish, arrogant, and generally, not very critical, to assume that Artemisia Gentileschi is succeeding in producing all these works that are anti-Church and selling them to Church patrons.”

Caravaggio’s influence

Despite her success, Artemisia was only “in the second generation of women breaking into art,” Lev noted, “so it’s a struggle no matter how you look at it.”

This is why Caravaggio’s “innovative view, his light/dark contrast, his sense of struggle, his intense graphic passion, would appeal to her, and be kind of attractive as an art form.”

Artemisia’s paintings are also compared to Caravaggio’s in their treatment of the human form, chiefly the female: Artemisia’s women are portrayed less idealistically than many of Caravaggio’s. (Though Caravaggio himself was innovative in this respect.)

“But when you put one of her works next to Caravaggio’s works, you’ll see, that particularly in draftsmanship of hands and of anatomy, she’s superior,” Lev said, noting Artemisia’s considerable skill.

Because Artemisia was a follower of Caravaggio, it is interesting to note both their similarities and their differences. For example, it is common to compare the artists’ depictions of the Old Testament story of Judith beheading Holofernes.

In Caravaggio’s, Judith is “beautiful, she’s drop-dead gorgeous,” Lev said. The Judith by Artemisia, on the other hand, “is far puffier,” which is a more realistic representation of how women looked in the 16th century, since their diets were mainly composed of starch and sugar.

Additionally, the posture of the two Judiths differs. In Artemisia’s, the nurse is helping to hold down Holofernes, and Judith has her knee up on the bed, one arm visibly restraining him, the other struggling to cut his neck with the sword. Artemisia’s is also far messier, with blood spraying everywhere.

This isn’t to say that Artemisia’s ‘Beheadings’ (she made more than 20) are objectively better than Caravaggio’s. He had his own things to say in his paintings, Lev said.

But Artemisia’s “is really hands-on messy; blood is splattering on her robes, on her face. It’s messy, messy, messy – all of her ‘Beheadings’ are messy.”

A Catholic perspective

In the context of religious art, the image of Judith and Holofernes has always been about virtue conquering vice, Lev said. “

“That’s the whole point of the story, the whole point of the painting,” and why so many were made during the Counter-Reformation.

What Lev sees as the point of these paintings is that “to conquer vice, to conquer sin … is a messy, dirty job.”

“There is nothing easy about conquering our desire towards lust, dishonesty, power, whatever it is that we have to fight now,” Lev said. Just like Judith in the painting, “it involves rolling up your sleeves, getting splattered in the mud and fighting it down.”

“I think that’s what makes Artemisia so exciting,” she continued. “This is a woman who understands, the same way Caravaggio does, that battling sin, we don’t all get to look like St. Michael, with the perfect skin and the perfect curls.”

The repentant sinner

Another favorite subject of Artemisia’s is Mary Magdalene, Lev said. For every heroine “sawing off the head” that she painted, she also painted an image of Mary Magdalene; the number of paintings only differing by one or two.

Artemisia’s “Conversion of the Magdalene” (c. 1620)

As the image of repentance, Lev continued, St. Mary Magdalene “rises to the highest echelons of art in the Counter-Reformation, together with St. Jerome.”

While St. Jerome was preferred in Rome because he’s a model for priests, bishops, and cardinals, Mary Magdalene “becomes the model for every other person in the world.”

Lev said that she finds Artemisia’s interest in representing this model of the repentant sinner to be “savagely ignored by feminist art historians.”

“I think that that is one of the very important parts that is overlooked, but that fits in perfectly with the Catholic restoration mentality,” she stated.

Lev said that people don’t even seem to bother looking at her from that perspective today, and instead simply conclude that the content of her paintings must be connected to the tragic events in her life.

But the “real struggle is not coming to terms with an injustice that happened to her, because injustices happen to us every single day – that’s not her real struggle. The real struggle that everyone has in that period – and they make that plain to you every minute of every day – is who are you before God and who are you going to be at the last day?”

“Her paintings accompany that struggle. And particularly for women. And so she is a magnificent role model for feminists,” Lev noted, “but for feminists who want to learn to work with God’s plan, instead of railing at some Church that won’t let them be priests.”