Ten years ago, after my meditation on Europe, The Cube and the Cathedral, had appeared in several languages, I was invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels. There, I pointed out what […]
Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017 / 10:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a visit with Pope Francis Wednesday, Ivanka Trump met a group of human trafficking survivors, calling them examples of strength and addressing various legislative ways the U.S. government can help victims.
Ivanka met with a dozen victims of human trafficking from Nigeria and Eritrea. She described them as “remarkable women,” who are “testaments to strength, faith and perseverance in the face of unspeakable adversity and challenge.”
Ivanka is currently accompanying her father, U.S. President Donald Trump, on his first international tour, which also included stops in Saudi Arabia and Israel. Earlier in the day, Trump and Pope Francis had their first highly anticipated meeting.
The encounter between Ivanka and human trafficking victims took place at the headquarters of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.
Founded in 1968 by Italian layman Andrea Riccardi, a historian and former minister in the Italian government, the community focuses their mission on service to the poor and refugees, conflict resolution, and both ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue.
Sant’Egidio is a favorite of Pope Francis, who often praises the community for their work. It has long been involved in campaigns to combat human trafficking – also an important topic for Pope Francis – and has partnered with the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See for several events.
Ivanka thanked the community for their work, which she said “resonates strongly” not just in Italy, “but throughout the world.”
She said that in her meeting with representatives of Sant’Egidio, they were able to discuss several programs “that have been successfully launched and developed over many, many years now.”
These programs, she said, “have provided support and help to those who need it most, whether it’s the elderly or the disadvantaged, and also victims of human trafficking throughout Africa and the whole world.”
“So it was a great privilege to be able to be here and the hear firsthand from these tremendous thought leaders about the work that’s being done, what has worked and what has the potential to work better and to be better executed in the future,” she said, adding that she looks forward to further collaboration.
In comments to journalists following the meeting with Ivanka, two women from Sant’Egidio who work with the trafficking victims said it was an “intense” and “moving” encounter.
Some of the women told their stories, including how they were rescued, how their lives have changed and the situations they are in now.
There was “a lot of interest” on the part of Ivanka, they said, noting that she “listened very carefully” to their stories, but also asked questions about possible legislative initiatives on the part of the government to stop human trafficking, specifically when it comes to women.
Trafficking in the Mediterranean and Africa was mentioned specifically, including the trafficking of children, and a strong emphasis was placed on how the process begins in the countries where the victims originate.
According to the women from Sant’Egidio, Ivanka referred to her brief meeting with Pope Francis earlier that morning, telling the women that he is “a great advocate of your stories” of success and integration.
Ivanka then asked the victims what could be done. They said there is a greater need for communication and the sharing of information in their countries of origin, since many women are tricked into a trafficking ring under the false pretense that they will be moving to Europe for legitimate work, in many cases as a cook or maid.
They said that “public campaigns” are needed, because most women “never imagined” they would end up being trafficked.
In addition to the trafficking of persons, organ trafficking was also discussed, as well as the role of religion in ending violence and achieving peace, the freedom of women and the education of children.
In brief comments to journalists, Sant’Egidio founder and president Andrea Riccardi noted that Ivanka made a strong reference to collaboration with the organization’s projects in Africa, specifically in terms of helping to get legal documents for the continent’s “ghost children,” meaning children who are not registered and therefore have no legal identity, making them extra vulnerable and easy prey for traffickers.
Riccardi said Ivanka also showed a strong interest in an initiative the community is currently trying to push forward in Italy to get legal documents for women rescued from forced prostitution.
Before leaving with her father on his first international tour, Ivanka hosted an anti-human trafficking roundtable discussion at the White House May 17. The event gathered a swath of bipartisan lawmakers and representatives of numerous organizations that deal with human trafficking.
According to reports, Ivanka spoke during that discussion about the Trump administration’s efforts to combat trafficking not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, telling attendees that “combatting human trafficking and modern slavery is both a moral and strategic interest domestically and abroad.”
That particular roundtable was a follow-up to a February discussion on the same topic, which was also organized by Ivanka. At the time, President Trump said he would use the “full force and weight” of the U.S. government to fight against trafficking.
Umbria, Italy, May 24, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Italian brides are finding wedding dresses at an unusual spot hidden in the Umbrian hills, where they are able to pick out their special gown – all for the cost of a donation.
Sister Maria Laura at the Augustinian monastery of St. Rita in Cascia, Italy began running the thrifty wedding dress service out of a surplus of donated wedding dresses.
“It gives me great joy to see a young woman who can fulfill her dream of love with a dress appropriate for the happiest day of her life,” said Sister Maria Laura, according to the DailyMail.
Since about 1950, brides have been making pilgrimages to St. Rita’s to ask for her special intercession in marriage, and would leave their wedding dresses at the monastery in gratitude. Over the years, the monastery has collected hundreds of dresses.
Sister Maria Laura entered monastic life at the age of 28, having previously been a seamstress and designer in Tuscany. She has been running the bridal dress collection at the monastery for the past few years with the help of other nuns, and uses her skills to alter the dresses to fit each and every bride that comes through.
The sewing sister only sees brides-to-be by appointment, who often bring family members and bridesmaids for their opinion. But, Sister Maria Laura noted her special intuition about each of the dresses.
“I know which one she will take; you can tell from their faces,” she said, according to the New York Times. “If you have a dream and we can make it come true, we’ll do our best.”
Currently, they have about three women a week visit to pick out wedding dresses, while up to 10 dresses a month are donated. All of the dresses are offered for free, but they do ask for a simple donation. According to the New York Times, one donation amounted to $1,200.
The Augustinian monastery is a special spot for brides, as St. Rita is the patron saint of difficult marriages. When Rita was 12, her parents forced her into a marriage with a husband who abused her for years.
After her husband died, Rita entered the monastery of St. Mary Magdalene in Cascia at the age of 36, which is now the same place where brides visit to pray for their own marriages, and try on wedding dresses.
As Italy continues in their recession, the monastery considers their service a charity for economical brides who are getting married but trying to keep costs down.
One bride explained that the second-hand gown service was her only option to buy a dress, saying that “if I can’t find it here, I simply can’t afford to buy one.” Another bride explained how she had “felt at home here from the very first minute.”
Rome, Italy, May 23, 2017 / 03:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When U.S. President Donald Trump stops in Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis Wednesday, both his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka will have their own schedules, which include stops at a Vatican hospital and a round-table on human trafficking.
Ivanka serves in her father’s administration in an unpaid position as an assistant to the president.
Pope Francis and Donald Trump will meet at the Vatican May 24 at 8:30 a.m., before the Pope’s General Audience. Melania and Ivanka will both be present for the public portion of the visit, but will each follow their own itinerary after.
Once the meeting is finished, the First Lady will a visit the Vatican-owned pediatric hospital Bambino Gesu. During her tour of the facility, Melania is expected to greet patients and visit one of their playrooms as well as the chapel.
While Melania visits Bambino Gesu, Ivanka, a high-profile adviser to her father, will make her way to the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere to meet with the Community of Sant’Egidio to discuss efforts to oppose human trafficking.
The Sant’Egidio Community is often praised by Pope Francis for their work, in particular for the projects they lead aimed at helping the poor and refugees.
During her meeting with Sant’Egidio, Ivanka is expected to meet with several women who are victims of trafficking, and discuss various ways in which the Church and the U.S. government can collaborate on the problem.
Before leaving with her father on his first international tour, Ivanka hosted an anti-human trafficking round-table at the White House May 17 that hosted a swath of bipartisan lawmakers and representatives of numerous organizations that deal with human trafficking.
According to reports, during the discussion Ivanka spoke about the Trump administration’s efforts to combat trafficking not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, telling attendees that “combatting human trafficking and modern slavery is both a moral and strategic interest domestically and abroad.”
That particular round-table was a follow-up to a February discussion on the same topic, which was also organized by Ivanka. At the time, according to reports, President Trump said he would use the “full force and weight” of the U.S. government to fight human trafficking.
Both stops highlight key priorities for Pope Francis, who after his election in 2013 personally requested that the Pontifical Academy of Sciences study the issue of human trafficking. As a result, the institution has held at least two symposiums or conferences on the topic each year.
Francis has also mentioned several times that he is bothered by the suffering of children, saying it is one of life’s mysteries that he still fails to comprehend.
Rome, Italy, May 19, 2017 / 06:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Apostolic nuncios attended a crash course last year on gender from an expert in the field, who stressed the need for the Church to develop a unified strategy, based on the faith’s basic principles, in fighting gender ideology.
First, “we Christians, and certainly our bishops and nuncios, need to be convinced about our principles, the principles of our faith,” Fr. Robert Gahl told CNA May 16. “We also need to have a thought-through understanding of those principles, also regarding the human body.”
He stressed the importance of remembering that “humanity has been saved fully, that we are redeemed also in our sexuality.”
This implies a daily struggle and fight with original sin, he said, explaining that “the redemption of our own embodiment and therefore of our own sexuality and complementarity” is a task each person must carry out daily.
Secondly, he said, “the Church needs to act together, so that it be in concert, because we’re more powerful when we act together.”
Acting together doesn’t mean that everyone has to do the same thing, but rather that by seeking guidance from the Church on how to handle modern issues such as gender, individuals will be able “to act in a way that will be more effective in the public square.”
Fr. Gahl emphasized that the present time “is a crucial moment for the bishops to help to intervene and to help coordinate so the market can produce sound alternatives that also agree with our conscience and our religious belief.”
Both individuals and institutions “need to have instruction and guidance” from bishops, he said, noting that “many people are waiting for that and at times, unfortunately, it’s missing, because the bishops aren’t sure what to do because things are changing too rapidly.”
Fr. Gahl, a priest of Opus Dei, is an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross who has authored numerous publications on sexual ethics and moral action, among other topics.
He was chosen to lead a course for some 140 apostolic nuncios held during a Sept. 15-17, 2016, jubilee weekend dedicated to them, during which they met with the Pope and had several rounds of catechesis.
One of the courses the nuncios attended was that on gender offered by Fr. Gahl, who spoke about the rising threat gender ideology poses throughout the world, its political and ecclesial implications, and the strategy the Church must develop to effectively oppose what is often a very savvy communications strategy from the other side.
“This is really fascinating … the challenge the nuncios have,” Fr. Gahl said, explaining that he tried to give them space in the course to reflect critically on their work, in which they both coordinate among bishops and serve as diplomats.
“Gender ideology is threatening the freedom of religious expression, religious belief, and the freedom of the Church as an institution in many places, and in the places where it’s not being threatened, it probably will be threatened very shortly,” the priest explained.
Therefore, the nuncios have the challenge “of observing, addressing and helping to guide and instruct the bishops in each country so the Church can have a concerted strategy” in defending the Church as an institution and all believing Christians against this “wave of manipulation of human dignity.”
However, Fr. Gahl said he disagrees with those who claim the push for gender ideology comes from “some malicious political strategy or that it’s motivated by some evil intent, or people who claim that there is some kind of material gain from it.”
Instead, he voiced his belief that most of the pushing is being done by people with “a good intention” who are truly convinced it is for the betterment of humanity. “I see it as being rooted in a view of the human being … that comes out of post-modern philosophy,” he said.
This notion, the priest said, is what Benedict XVI described as “a nihilistic understanding of freedom, such that we are each our own creator.” In this view, God is replaced and we can each create ourselves in the image of whatever we would like to be, rather than receiving our nature from another as a given.
“What’s really horrible about this is it means we have no intrinsic dignity. No one has intrinsic dignity, no one should be respected for who they are, but they should be respected for who they think they are,” Fr. Gahl said.
The priest said it was providential that he gave his talk during the Jubilee of Mercy, because he was able to contextualize it within Pope Francis’ emphases on tenderness and compassion.
“My entire conference was infused by this effort to say we should be understanding toward people, we should be compassionate to them … especially people who are suffering from some form of gender dysphoria,” he said.
Rather than being condescending, the priest said we ought to try to understand and appreciate the view of the other, showing compassion in order to “help them in some way to achieve a full flourishing and health according to who they are.”
Fr. Gahl said his course provided a unique space for the nuncios to ask questions and exchange ideas.
Because of their position, nuncios typically come to the Vatican on an individual basis and “basically never have the opportunity to all get together and discuss important issues,” he said.
While his course was in many ways an exceptional opportunity for nuncios because of the jubilee, Fr. Gahl said he believes it would be useful to have nuncios come together more often to discuss timely problems the Church is facing today.
Even if they come in smaller groups divided by region or language, “perhaps there’s some way … in which that could be done in the future,” he suggested.
During discussion after the course had ended, nuncios brought up various concerns, Fr. Gahl said, noting that at least one comment was made on the need to convey “an awareness and a savvy” on the issue to seminarians.
It must be now taken into consideration that “men going into seminary today are already influenced by this [gender ideology] in the culture, so they need to receive a formation that is going to help them be mature in their own masculinity in order to help them become spiritual fathers.”
Fr. Gahl said he was impressed by the resonance among the nuncios in recognizing the importance of the gender issue, and noted that he often emphasized the need to utilize new media better, given its influence.
Pope Francis “is very concerned about what he calls ‘ideological colonization,’” the priest said. “He’s especially concerned about the educational process of how there are schools that are indoctrinating children with propaganda that is ideological that is contrary to even a scientific or Christian understanding of the human person.”
In Francis’ view, “this as an intrusion or a violation of the rights of the parents, who are the principle educators,” Fr. Gahl said, noting that this is evidenced in many of the Pope’s writings.
“He sees gender promoted as an ideology,” the priest said, clarifying that when he refers to ideology, “not everything gender is ideology. But it is an ideology when it puts people in categories that conflict with their biology and boxes people in and forces people at times to become something that they’re not.”
“It imposes upon other people styles of life that are contrary with reality. Contrary with the understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said, adding that “the Pope is very concerned about this,” and is emphasizing the need for complementarity.
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.
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.
Rome, Italy, May 18, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the center of the first joint exhibit between the Vatican Museums and the Jewish museum in Rome is the Magdala Stone, a large decorated stone block from a first century Galilean synagogue which has shed light on synagogue worship before the destruction of the Second Temple.
The Magdala Stone was found during the excavation of an synagogue on the site of what is believed to be Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene. The 4.2 cubic feet limestone block may have been used as a bema, on which the Torah was read.
It is carved on four sides and its top with decorative symbols, most prominently the Menorah which was found in the Jewish Temple – a seven-branch menorah described in Exodus, distinct from the nine-branch menorah associated with Hannukah and the Maccabees.
The stone is the centerpiece of the exhibit “Menorah: Worship, History, and Legend”, shown simultaneously at the Jewish Museum and the Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum in the Vatican, located under the left colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.
The exhibit runs May 15-July 23 and includes roughly 130 pieces, including menorahs from various periods and depictions of them in paintings, sarcophagi, sculptures, and medieval and Renaissance drawings and manuscripts.
This is the first time the Magdala Stone has left Israel or been displayed publicly, and its presence at the Vatican is just “one more sign of the collapsing of the walls between Christianity and Judaism,” in the opinion of Fr. Juan Solana, L.C., General Director of the Magdala Project.
Fr. Solana told CNA that the stone’s presence at the exhibit marks not only an interreligious effort between the Vatican Museums and the Jewish museums in Rome, but also collaboration between Vatican City and the State of Israel.
“I know that it was a lot of work behind the scenes to make it happen,” he explained. “I think it really shows the importance of interreligious dialogue and especially dialogue and friendship between Catholics and Jews.”
Magdala “is very close to Capernaum, in the old area where Jesus preached and taught and performed many miracles,” Fr. Solana said. “So we believe that Jesus went to Magdala and eventually he went to the synagogue and preached there.”
While they can’t know for sure, it is even possible that Christ used the Magdala Stone himself to display scrolls of the Torah.
The town and synagogue were first discovered in 2009 during excavations in preparation for building a Catholic center in Israel. Stalled by the discovery of the site, the Magdala Center, as it is called, is still in the works.
“We found the whole town of Mary Magdalene,” Fr. Solana said; and the cherry on the top, so-to-speak, was the Magdala Stone.
There are seven synagogues known of from the period of Christ’s life and more or less 50 years before and after, but in no other synagogue have they found this kind of block, he said.
Archaeologists found a total of three stone blocks in Magdala: one from what was probably a school of the synagogue and one which had been reused as a chair of Moses, the place of authority from which the scribes and Pharisees interpreted the Jewish law. The Magdala Stone was at the center of the synagogue.
The stone is considered important for Judaism because Jewish scholars believe it marks a change within Judaism itself, brought about by the influence of Christianity, Fr. Solana explained.
This is because “Jesus destroyed the idea of the Temple as the center of Judaism,” he said, “and it was confirmed by the destruction of the Temple” in AD 70.
The Magdala Stone and the synagogue both pre-date the destruction of the Temple, which has been confirmed by coins found inside which range from AD 5 to 63 – the time of Christ’s life and the first generation of Christians.
Of course, this makes them very important pieces historically, Fr. Solana continued, explaining that the stone itself is a model of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Covered in carvings of Jewish symbols, more even than the Temple itself, it also displays the oldest-known carving of a menorah in Israel.
Fatima, Portugal, May 15, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said that this weekend’s celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima can teach us all about the universal call to holiness and conversion.
“I’ve always had a great devotion to Our Lady of Fatima,” he told CNA, adding that he’s been involved in Portuguese ministry for many years.
“I had a Portuguese parish for 20 years and was bishop of Fall River for 10 years, where half the Catholics are Azorean, and in Boston we have so many Cape Verdians and Brazilians – Portuguese speaking.”
The cardinal was the only U.S. bishop to attend the Feb. 13 festivities surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions in Portugal.
He said that the shrine at Fatima is among his favorite, and said that “it’s very moving to be here but especially be here with the Holy Father, for the hundredth anniversary and the canonization of Francisco and Jacinta. It’s just an unbelievable occasion.”
Particularly touching for him was the offertory at the canonization Mass, when the gifts were brought up by the family of the young boy whose miraculous healing was attributed to the intercession of two of the Fatima shepherd children, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, paving the way for their canonization.
The young Brazilian boy, named Lucas, was just five years old when he fell out of a window from a height of 20 feet. His head hit the ground, and he sustained serious injuries and a loss of brain tissue.
Doctors told the family that the boy’s chance of surviving was low, and if he did survive, he would have severe cognitive disabilities or even remain in a vegetative state. However, after the family and a nearby religious community prayed to the young shepherd children, Lucas suddenly made a full recovery, with no lasting effects of the injury.
“I had heard the interview on the television, and he was given up for dead and the cure was so obviously miraculous,” Cardinal O’Malley reflected, “and to see that child come up and give the Pope a hug. It was…very moving and it reminded us that the canonization is about the holiness and the goodness of little children.”
Francisco and Jacinta are the youngest non-martyrs to be canonized, a fact which Cardinal O’Malley saw as significant.
“I think the lesson is that children are called to holiness…when they were beatified, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins who was the Prefect of the Congregation of Saints talked about how modern families entrust their children to professional teachers in schools for 15-20 years of formal academic formation but sometimes they’re not really prepared for life.”
“And these children, their parents were probably illiterate peasants but they taught them how to lead a good life, how to have a deep faith in God, how to love, how to serve, how to work,” he continued. “And in such a short life, they achieved great sanctity and holiness and the fact that the Blessed Mother chose them is very significant.”
Cardinal O’Malley said that the canonization is a reminder “a reminder of how precious children are and that they too are called to sanctity and parents have a great responsibility to transmit the faith to their children and prepare them for life – this life and eternal life.”
And beyond parents and children, the message of Fatima is a call to conversion for all people, he said.
“Jesus is calling us to conversion, calling us to discipleship, calling us to follow him to a life of holiness, to mission, to announce the kingdom by our lives,” the cardinal said, adding that “this is the message of Fatima and it’s very, very relevant and very important.”
Fatima, Portugal, May 15, 2017 / 11:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Jose Antonio dos Santos, an immigrant from Venezuela now living in Barcelona, made his way to Fatima for the centenary of the Marian apparitions with a special request for Our Lady: a solution for the dire crisis unfolding in his homeland.
Dos Santos, who held a large Venezuelan flag, told journalists May 13 that he came to Fatima to raise “the cry of a people and to ask the Virgin of Fatima the same thing that has come from her message 100 years ago, which was peace in Portugal and the freedom of a country that was oppressed.”
When Mary appeared to three young shepherd children in 1917, she came in the midst of a world embroiled in war – both on a global scale during World War I, and on a more local scale in Portugal itself, which was in a period of instability after the revolution and coup d’état leading to the establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910.
Roughly 220,000 Portuguese civilians died during the war, thousands due to food shortages, and thousands more from the Spanish flu.
“Now the same thing is happening in Venezuela,” Dos Santos said, explaining that as he participates in the centenary celebrations of the Fatima Marian apparitions, he brings with him the petition for “a solution, above all for a country that is without medicine, without food.”
“It’s completely neglected in the entire country,” he said, adding that he hoped his flag would be a visible appeal to Pope Francis, who “who knows what it is to work on the peripheries.”
Dos Santos is originally from Madeira, Venezuela, but has been living in Barcelona for 10 years. He was forced to immigrate to Spain along with his ailing mother and two sisters when the family could no longer access medicine for his mother’s illness.
Riots have spiked in Venezuela in recent years, resulting from unemployment, food and medicine shortages, and President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian policies.
Price controls in 2003 caused inflation rates to skyrocket on basic necessities, barring the access of food and medicines to the people. Poor socialist policies have affected many products, and while they remain affordable on the shelf, they are under-produced and are soon swept off and sold on the black market at a triple digit inflation rate.
Violent riots have fluctuated since the death of the previous president Hugo Chavez in 2013, but gained even more traction after opposition leaders were arrested last year and Maduro’s attempt for more power by dissolving the legislature in March of this year.
Now working as a crewman for an airline company, Dos Santos said the situation in Venezuela has become “impossible.”
The conditions that Venezuelans are living in today is inconceivable, he said, adding that “what the world knows about what is happening there is practically nothing” due to strict control of the media.
Javier Pereira, one of Dos Santos’ three companions, said he appreciates the concern Pope Francis has shown for Venezuela, but voiced doubt that the nation’s government is listening.
“The Pope always asks through prayer and dialogue, but unfortunately the government of Venezuela pretends to agree with what the Pope says, but what is really happening in Venezuela (is) completely different,” Pereira said, explaining that the government is able to keep up the façade because they control the media.
“People don’t know because the media is closed, and they don’t publish. What is published is that yes, they want dialogue to be done, but what is happening, is not (dialogue),” he said.
Giving an example, Dos Santos said that Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino of Caracas was once beaten inside the basilica of Santa Teresa for suggesting that opposition and government forces come to an understanding.
The cardinal had been celebrating Mass for the feast of the Nazareno de San Pablo, one of the biggest devotions in Venezuela, and simply said he hoped “there would be an understanding between people of the opposition and the government,” Dos Santos said.
After Mass, a group of people came to into the sacristy and “they hit him inside the basilica and he had to be escorted out.”
Media don’t report on this type of incident, Dos Santos said, and so the only way people find out about it is through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, “because the people are the ones using social communication.”
What he wants to ask Our Lady of Fatima, then, is “for freedom and the peace of Venezuela,” and that she would inspire “the governments of the countries that do not intervene” to help.
He said that should he get the opportunity, he would ask Pope Francis “to intercede as an authority, as an important figure, and to mediate, at least for now, a channel for medicine and food.”
“This is why we wanted to come early and be first in line, so that form the altar he can understand the message,” he said, pointing to his flag, which isn’t merely a banner for Venezuela, but “it’s a message from an entire country that cries out for freedom.”
Pope Francis recently sent a message to the country’s bishops, urging them to continue promoting a culture of encounter.
“Dear brothers, I wish to encourage you to not allow the beloved children of Venezuela to allow themselves to be overcome by distrust or despair since these are evils that sink into the hearts of people when they do not see future prospects,” he said in a May 5 letter.
“I am persuaded that Venezuela’s serious problems can be solved if there is the desire to establish bridges, to dialogue seriously and to comply with the agreements that were reached.”