Conjoined twins can have ‘normal lives’ after Vatican hospital performs separation surgery

July 8, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Twins who were conjoined at the head are likely to return home within months from the Vatican’s pediatric hospital where their bodies were successfully separated by doctors, and they have a high chance of living normal lives, the hospital’s chief neurosurgeon told CNA.

The Bambino Gesù Hospital announced the successful separation surgery July 7, saying it was the first operation of its kind in Italy and probably the world.


Separate due gemelle siamesi unite per la testa. È il primo intervento di questo tipo in Italia e, probabilmente, l’unico al mondo per una delle più rare e complesse forme di fusione a livello cranico e cerebrale. Oggi stanno bene e possono crescere come le bimbe della loro età

— Bambino Gesù (@bambinogesu) July 7, 2020


The final stage of surgery, which took place on June 5, lasted 18 hours and involved more than 30 medical staff. The two-year-old sisters are expected to make a full recovery.

“We have been able to accomplish an extraordinary result despite such a complex malformation, being able to separate with an optimal clinical result. From a neurological standpoint, the two little girls are doing very well and have excellent prognosis for normal lives in the future,” Dr. Carlo Efisio Marras, director of neurosurgery of the Bambino Gesù hospital told CNA July 8.

“This accomplishment is the fruit of more than a yearlong work of investigation and preparation involving several specialties and professions within the hospital. There were many difficult phases since several surgical procedures were needed, each one with its own challenges,” Marras told CNA

“But the most difficult one involved the venous system, that is, the network of vases that brings blood from the heart to the brain to bring oxygen to it. If we would have not succeeded in deal with this system shared by both babies, the result would had been catastrophic.”

“But the two little twins are well: we believe they can be released in a few months. They will have to go through a rehabilitation phase to learn the motions they were not able to perform previously. I wholeheartedly wish them a happy future. They are now in the condition to return to a normal life.” 

“I have to thank my hospital, which is known for bringing together research, development and solidarity, for this extraordinary experience,” Marras added.

The hospital said the twins, Ervina and Prefina, were born on June 29, 2018 in a village about 60 miles outside Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They were joined together with “one of the rarest and most complex forms of cranial and cerebral fusion,” known as total posterior craniopagus.

Mariella Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù, met the twins in July 2018, during a visit to Bangui, where the sisters had been transferred after their birth. Enoc was helping to oversee the expansion of pediatric services in the country, which is one of the world’s poorest, in response to an appeal from Pope Francis. She decided to bring the girls to Rome for surgery.

“When you encounter lives that can be saved, it must be done. We cannot and must not look away,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.

The twins arrived in Italy with their mother, Ermine, on September 10, 2018. Initial tests confirmed the sisters were healthy, but had different blood pressures, indicating that one of the girls’ hearts had to work harder to maintain the healthy functioning of their organs, including their brains.

The hospital said the twins were joined via the back of the head, including the nape, sharing both skin and cranial bones. But the greatest challenge for doctors was that they were joined at a deeper level, sharing membranes inside the skull as well as the venous system, through which blood used by the brain is transported back to the heart.

The hospital emphasized that the sisters had distinct personalities, describing Prefina as “playful and lively,” and Ervina as “more serious and observant.”

A multidisciplinary team, including neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, and plastic surgeons, prepared for more than a year for the operation to separate the twins. The hospital’s ethics committee contributed to a plan ensuring that the girls would have the same quality of life.

The separation took place in three stages. In the first, in May 2019, neurosurgeons started to separate and rebuild the membranes and venous systems.

The second, a month later, focused on the confluence of sinuses in the brain. The hospital said it was a critical phase of the treatment as “the operating space is a few millimeters.”

The two operations prepared the girls for the third and final phase of complete separation on June 5.

“It was an exciting moment, a fantastic, unrepeatable experience. It was a very ambitious goal and we did everything we could to achieve it, with passion, optimism and joy. By sharing each step, studying every single detail together,” Marras said.

Bambino Gesù, colloquially known as the “Pope’s hospital,” is among the most important pediatric hospitals in the world. Founded in 1869 by the Duchess Arabella Salviati, the hospital was donated to Pius XI in 1924, with the aim of giving it a more stable future. While the hospital is located in Rome, rather than Vatican City, it is situated in an extraterritorial area administered by the Holy See.

The hospital said Tuesday: “A month after the final separation, the twins are doing well. … On June 29 they celebrated their second birthdays, looking into each other’s eyes, moving their little hands to the rhythm of music, in the arms of their mother.”

“They have undergone very difficult operations; the wounds will take some time to heal; the risk of infection is still present. The neurorehabilitation program continues and for a few months they will have to wear a protective helmet.”

“But post-operative checks indicate that the brain is intact. The recreated system works, the blood flow has adapted to the new path.”

Speaking at the press conference, the girl’s mother, Ermine, said: “If we had stayed in Africa I don’t know what fate they would have had. Now that they are separate and well, I would like them to be baptized by Pope Francis who has always taken care of the children of Bangui. My little ones can now grow up, study and become doctors to save other children.”




‘Heart speaks to heart’: Benedict XVI sends message for his brother’s funeral Mass

July 8, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

Rome Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Benedict XVI watched his brother’s funeral via livestream on Wednesday as his secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein read the pope emeritus’ message of remembrance at the Mass in Germany.

“When I said goodbye to him in the morning on Monday, June 22, we knew it would be his farewell to this world forever. But we also knew that the benevolent God, who gave us this togetherness in this world, will also rule in the other world and will give us a new togetherness there,” Benedict XVI wrote in the message read aloud at the funeral on July 8.

“May God reward you richly, Georg, for everything you have achieved, for what you have suffered, and for what you have given to me,” the pope emeritus wrote.

Msgr. Georg Ratzinger died in Bavaria at the age of 96 on July 1. While the pope emeritus was unable to attend Ratzinger’s funeral in Regensburg, Benedict XVI  expressed gratitude for the time he spent with his older brother during his trip to Bavaria less than two weeks before his death.

“I would like to thank you for being with him again in the last days of his life. He didn’t ask for a visit from me. But I felt that it was the hour to go to him again. I am deeply grateful for this inner sign that the Lord has given me,” Benedict XVI wrote in the letter addressed to Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, who officiated his brother’s funeral Mass. 

Benedict XVI remembered his brother as a man of musical talent, humor, and piety. 

“Above all he was a man of God. Even though he did not put his piety on display, it was the actual centre of his life, even more so than his sobriety and honesty,” he said.

Msgr. Ratzinger was born in Bavaria on January 15, 1924, the first son of Joseph and Maria Ratzinger. He showed an early talent for music, learning to play the violin and the church organ as a child. 

He was ordained to the priesthood alongside his younger brother, the future pope, in 1951. The eldest Ratzinger son went on to serve as the choir master of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the cathedral choir of Regensburg, from 1964 to 1994.

“My brother received and understood the priesthood call as a musical call,” Benedict XVI said.

“When he finally was appointed to the position of Cathedral Choirmaster in Regensburg, it was both a moment of joy and of pain for him, as our mother had passed away almost at the same time as Cathedral Choirmaster Schrems had. Had our mother still been alive, he would not have accepted the call to be the position of choirmaster in Regensburg. This role — though bought at the price of a great deal of suffering — more and more became a joyful role for him,” he wrote.

In his homily at the funeral, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer recalled moments from Georg Ratzinger’s life from his experience in the war to his vocation as a priest and work as a church musician. The bishop emphasized his legacy with a view to the important role of church music in evangelization.

Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Nikola Eterović and Cardinal Gerhard Müller were present at the funeral Mass at Regensburg Cathedral.

Benedict XVI said that he received letters and emails from many countries upon the death of his brother. They “wrote to me in a way that touched my heart,” he said. “Each one should have a personal answer. Unfortunately I lack the time and strength to do so.”

“I can only thank everyone for taking part in these hours and days — Cardinal Newman’s sentence has come true for me right now: ‘Cor ad cor loquitur’ … heart speaks to heart. “


‘It meant a great deal to her’: the Catholic faith of the woman voted ‘greatest Black Briton’

July 8, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- She was voted the “greatest Black Briton.” A statue of her stands opposite the Houses of Parliament. Her heroic life is taught to students in England as part of the National Curriculum. Yet few people know that Mary Seacole was a Catholic convert.

There may be a good reason for that: although the 19th-century businesswoman who cared for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War is a celebrated figure today, little is known about her journey to Catholicism. 

Jane Robinson, author of a 2004 biography of Seacole, told CNA: “I was unable to find out much about Mary’s Catholic faith myself, but given that she was a convert, I can only assume that it meant a great deal to her.” 

“It’s frustrating that in this, as in many areas of her personal life, information is scant. She obviously considered it to be a private affair.”

Seacole was born in 1805 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was a Scottish lieutenant in the British Army and her mother was a Jamaican “doctress” who taught her how to treat illnesses using herbal remedies. 

She traveled to Britain in the 1820s, and worked as a nurse in the Caribbean and in Central America. She treated patients suffering in the cholera epidemic of the time.

When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Seacole tried to join a contingent of nurses but was refused. She decided to travel independently to set up an establishment called the “British Hotel,” offering “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers.”

Catholic author and broadcaster Joanna Bogle told CNA: “Mary Seacole never sought to be a nurse — she was a well-to-do business lady who ran a shop selling snacks and sweets to the officers.”

“She was certainly kind and helped sick soldiers, offering them comfort and doing what she could for them, and sometimes offered some of her family remedies, learned from her mother and grandmother in Jamaica.” 

“Above all, she offered the strength of her faith, and the warmth of her heart: there are touching accounts of her holding dying soldiers, and saying ‘Mother is here…’ She became known affectionately as ‘Mother Seacole’ and years later, living in London, would recall with tears the poor dying soldiers whose last hours she had shared.”

When the war ended in 1856, Seacole returned to England with little money and in poor health. Prominent supporters, including the Duke of Wellington and William Howard Russell, war correspondent of the London Times, raised funds on her behalf. 

Fr. Stewart Foster, the archivist of the Diocese of Brentwood in southeast England, told CNA that Seacole was received into the Church in 1860, at the age of 55. It appears that she became a Catholic in England, but because her reception occurred after the publication of her autobiography she left no record of her reasons for embracing the Catholic faith, which was remerging in Britain after centuries of suppression.

When Seacole died in 1881, she was buried in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, northwest London. Her gravestone, which was restored by the Jamaican Nurses Association in 1973, describes her as “A notable nurse who cared for the sick and wounded in the West Indies, Panama and on the battlefields of the Crimea.”

The restoration of her grave was part of a wider rediscovery of her life, which had been all but forgotten in the decades after her death. 

In 2004, Seacole came top of a list of 100 great Black Britons. The poll took place after a BBC series asked viewers to vote for the “100 Greatest Britons,” but no Black people were included in the top 100.

Following the poll, Seacole was the subject of a television documentary, several biographies, and an exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum. A portrait was discovered and placed in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A statue of Seacole was erected in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, London, in 2016. The statue, which faces the Palace of Westminster, was believed to be the first of a Black woman identified by name in Britain. 

Reflecting on Seacole’s selfless service during the Crimean War, Bogle said: “I remember reading that when men are dying they often call for their mothers. It is apparently something noted by many nurses over the years.” 

“I am rather moved by the thought of kindly Mother Seacole responding to the cry of a dying soldier, so that at least he felt loved and caressed… and perhaps somewhere in all of that is the thought that surely Our Lady heard their cries.”


Catholic builds a shrine to St. Junipero Serra on the site of destroyed Sacramento statue

July 8, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).-  

After rioters pulled down a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento on July 4, a local Catholic told CNA that she felt compelled, after prayer and reflection, to clean the spot where the statue once stood, to pray there, and to defend the 18th-century missionary’s legacy.

“I know enough about him to know that he was not a bad man, and that he doesn’t deserve the inaccurate histories that were being portrayed in our local media. I’m not going to be silent about that when given an opportunity.” Audrey Ortega told CNA.

Ortega, a homemaker from Sacramento and a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, set up a makeshift shrine to Serra on the statue’s empty plinth July 5, and led other Catholics in cleaning graffiti from the site.

On July 4, a rioter burned the face of the Serra statue with an ignited spray from an aerosol can, before a crowd pulled the statue from its base using tow straps. After the statue fell, members of the crowd struck it with a sledgehammer and other objects, dancing and jumping upon it.

Ortega said it hurt her especially that the rioters waited for the cover of darkness to destroy the statue, which according to an eyewitness took less than ten minutes to accomplish before the rioters scattered.

St. Serra’s detractors have accused him in recent years of perpetrating abuses against Native Americans. The statue, installed on the grounds of California’s state capitol in 1965, was the third figure of the missionary saint to be torn down by crowds in California in recent weeks.

Ortega was not present at the protest, but watched the coverage that evening on the local news. She resolved to go to the site to, in her words, put “something beautiful on this marred, awful place.”

Her 12-year-old son had made a simple wooden cross for their family’s door during Holy Week, she said. She decided it would be an appropriate item to use to honor Serra, along with holy water, an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle, and holy dirt from Chimayo, New Mexico.

Ortega said she was scared at first to approach the former statue site— which is now little more than a “stump” with rebar sticking up, she said— but soon had her “prayer spot” set up on the stump with a lit candle, and she began to pray the rosary and the stations of the cross.

“I was just praying for peace, and praying for the safety of everybody involved,” she said. “I’m standing on firm ground as a Catholic…I don’t want to live with anger or bitterness in my heart. That’s what caused the statue to be torn down in the first place.”

She said praying the stations of the cross at the site was particularly powerful for her.

“I felt so connected to the sufferings of Christ, and to the sufferings of St. Serra, because I do know his story of how he suffered, of the deprivation he went through and the sacrifices he made,” referring to Serra’s practices of self-mortification and the health issues he endured as a missionary in New Spain.

During the eighteenth century, Serra founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California.

Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Critics have lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Serra himself was abusive.

But Serra’s defenders say the priest actually was an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights.

While Ortega was praying at the stump July 5, a reporter from the Sacramento Bee approached Ortega and asked to interview her about why she was there. The reporter later posted the video, which shows Ortega passionately speaking in defense of Serra, online.

“Pope Francis canonized him in 2015. He’s not going to canonize a rapist. There were rapists, yes, but it was not St. Serra,” Ortega said in the Sacramento Bee video.

Serra specifically advocated for the rights of Native peoples, at one point drafting a 33 point “bill of rights” for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements and walking all the way from California to Mexico City to present it to the viceroy.

Serra often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over treatment of native people, and point to the outpouring of grief from native communities at his death.

Ortega lamented the fact that the statue was removed with due process, or a rational discussion. She said the groundskeepers have told her that the statue has been recovered, but she does not know if there are plans to put it back up again.

“The city has to decide: are we going to pretend like this isn’t happening? Or are we going to do better than this?” she said, suggesting that the city could hold a community forum to talk about the issue.

“At least people are now learning [Serra’s] story, even if it’s a little late for this statue,” she laughed.

On July 6, Ortega said she decided to go and scrub graffiti from the plinth, which she and her children did for two hours straight. She said many passers-by, including some state employees, thanked them for what they were doing.

Today, she said, the plinth looks nearly back to normal thanks to the cleaning efforts. But she worries that, because of the apparent inaction of the city government, it may be vandalized again.

A statue of Serra was torn down by demonstrators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on June 19, and one was torn down in Los Angeles on the same day. Other California cities have moved Serra statues to avoid their toppling, or plan to do so.

Ortega said she plans to pray at the statue site for a few minutes each day for as long as she can.

“Anybody can walk around the capitol grounds and pray the rosary and pray for peace. And anybody can go and pray at the Serra statue, or pray the stations of the cross like I did…you can do that without a permit and without drawing…counter protestors.”

In a July 5 statement, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said that while “the group’s actions may have been meant to draw attention to the sorrowful, angry memories over California’s past,” their “act of vandalism does little to build the future.”

“All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America’s founding ideals. The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down,” the bishop added.