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Cupich, Tobin appointed by Pope Francis to October synod on young people

Denver, Colo., Sep 17, 2018 / 10:44 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has appointed several Americans to participate in October’s Vatican synod on young adults, the faith, and vocational discernment. They will join the bishops elected as delegated to the synod by the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In an announcement Saturday, the Vatican said that Francis had appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark as delegates to the synod. They are among 29 bishops appointed personally by Pope Francis to participate in the synod, to complement those who had been elected by national and regional bishops’ conferences and those who will participate because of other roles they hold in the Church.

CNA reported Tobin’s appointment last month.

In addition to Cupich and Tobin, the bishops appointed by the pope include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany, Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, Canada, and Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Pope Francis also tapped several priests to participate, among them Fr. Antonio Spadaro, director of the influential Italian journal La Civilta Cattolica, and Fr. Robert Stark, director of the office of social ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu.

Several Americans were also appointed U.S. Catholics as auditors to the synod, who will be invited to participate in some of the meeting’s deliberations, but are not given a vote in its proceedings. Those Americans are Sr. Sally Marie, CSJ, superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery, Jonathan Lewis, Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns in the Archdiocese of Washington, Fr. Robert Panke, rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in Washington, DC, Sr. Briana Regina Santiago, of the Apostles of the Interior Life, and Yadira Vierya, a researcher on families and immigration at the University of Chicago.

A Greek Orthodox American bishop, Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanellia, will also attend the synod as an observer.  

Tobin will join Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop José H. Gomez, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, and Bishop Robert E. Barron, who, according to a July 23 USCCB press release, were elected by the U.S. bishops’ conference to attend the conference, after which their election was ratified by Pope Francis.

Chaput is officially listed by the Vatican among those delegates who are members of the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, rather than listed among those elected by the U.S. bishops’ conference, although the USCCB had previously reported that he was elected to attend. Chaput was elected in 2015 by U.S. bishops to serve on the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops for a three year term.

Archbishop William Skurla, leader of the Ruthenian Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, will participate as an ex officio member of the synod.

The synod is scheduled Oct. 3-28. According to its preparatory document, the synod’s purpose is to reflect on the Church’s call “to accompany all young people, without exception, towards the joy of love.”

Archbishop McCarrick’s unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 / 08:05 am (CNA).- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the country, attention has turned to the role of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in fostering Vatican-China relations over the last two decades.

Over 20 years, Archbishop McCarrick traveled to China on at least eight occasions, sometimes staying in a state-controlled Beijing seminary, often serving as an unofficial bridge between the Vatican and Chinese government-appointed bishops until 2016.

Prior to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment becoming public this summer, the former cardinal had been an outspoken proponent of a deal between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Church under Pope Francis, according to Chinese reports.

“I see a lot of things happening that would really open many doors because President Xi and his government are concerned about things that Pope Francis is concerned about,” McCarrick told The Global Times, in an exclusive interview in Feb. 2016.

The interview quoted McCarrick as saying that the similarities between Pope Francis and Xi Jinping could be “a special gift for the world.”

The the state-approved Chinese newspaper also reported that McCarrick traveled to China in Feb. 2016 -- “a trip in which the cardinal said he would visit some ‘old friends.’”

“His previous visits included meetings with Wang Zuo'an, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs and late bishop Fu Tieshan, former president of Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), an organization not recognized by the Holy See,” The Global Times reported.

In June 2014, David Gibson reported in the Washington Post that McCarrick had traveled to China “in the past year” for “sensitive talks on religious freedom.”

This detail aligns, in part, with the 11-page “testimony” of former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. Viganò recounted a meeting with McCarrick in June 2013, during which Vigano claims he was told by McCarrick, “The pope received me yesterday, tomorrow I am going to China.”

McCarrick was hosted by the Beijing seminary during at least two trips to China, according to a 2006 State Department document made available via Wikileaks.

The vice-rector of a Communist-approved seminary, Fr. Shu-Jie Chen, described twice hosting McCarrick in an account found in a cable from Christopher Sandrolini, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Chen described himself as “king” of the seminary, saying that he “could do what he wanted within its walls.”

Sandrolini also noted that the vice rector “downplayed persecution of the underground Church,” calling the underground church “uneducated” and “elderly.”  He said that Chen seemed “unconcerned” that “evangelization was not an option for official religious personnel.

A cable from U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Francis Rooney in March 2006 noted that Archbishop Claudio Celli, who was at that time the Holy See’s principal China negotiator, insisted that McCarrick was not in a position to negotiate with China and that his visits to China were “unofficial.”

There appears to be a gap between McCarrick’s trips to China between 2006 and 2013, though McCarrick’s influence was still active.

In 2009, the archbishop had a message relayed to a friend in China through Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House of Representatives. Pelosi conveyed McCarrick’s greetings to Bishop Aloysius Jin of Shanghai, formerly a leading Chinese Jesuit.

“She [Pelosi] relayed Cardinal McCarrick's good wishes to Bishop Jin. Bishop Jin said he and Cardinal McCarrick had exchanged visits, beginning when the latter was Bishop of Newark,” the State Department cable reads.

During McCarrick’s time as Archbishop of Newark, Aloysius Jin Luxian was not recognized as a bishop by the Vatican. He was ordained a coadjutor bishop of Shanghai without papal approval in 1985, his position was not recognized by the Vatican until 2004. Bishop Jin died in 2013.

A 2007 article in The Atlantic described the close friendship between McCarrick and Jin, and how McCarrick claimed to have relayed messages from the Chinese government-appointed bishop to the pope in the 1990s.

Both the State Department and Chinese media recorded a 1998 visit to China by Archbishop McCarrick. On that trip he was one of three American clerics to visit China to discuss religious freedom, meeting with Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, vice-chairman of the Chinese Communist Party’s Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress.

Fu was made a bishop by Beijing 1979 without approval of the pope.

Chinese media reported that McCarrick paid a visit to the National Seminary in Beijing in 1998.

In Aug. 2, 2003, the South China Morning Post reported that McCarrick “spent three days in Beijing earlier this week on what was ostensibly a private visit.”

McCarrick was “the first cardinal from a western country to visit the mainland since relations between China and the Vatican turned frosty after a dispute over canonisation in October 2000,” the article continued.

In a Dec. 2003 State Department cable, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson wrote that Vatican Office Director for China Monsignor Gianfranco Rota-Graziosi “did not expect concrete improvement stemming from the informal trip last summer of Washington Cardinal McCarrick to China.”

On Sept. 14, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Holy See could be about to enter a deal with China which would include the recognition of seven illicitly consecrated bishops serving in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association - a state-sponsored form of Catholicism whose leaders are chosen by Communist authorities.

Reports of the Holy See and Chinese government working towards a formal agreement on the appointment of bishops have been circulating since January, 2018. At the same time, China has launched an increasing crackdown on religious practice in the country, demolishing churches and harassing worshippers.

The Siena Option: What one saint did in the face of a troubled Church

Siena, Italy, Sep 16, 2018 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- When St. Catherine of Siena was alive in 14th century in what is now Italy, it looked like it was the end of the world.

The Bubonic plague was sweeping through Europe in waves, which would ultimately wipe out 60 percent of the population. The Papal States were divided and at war. Rich churchmen were buying their positions; bishops were making sure their family members would succeed them. The pope had been living in France for 70 years, and though he would return to Rome, the Western Schism happened shortly after, with three claimants to the See of Peter.

“She lived in really terrible times,” Fr. Thomas McDermott, O.P., a St. Catherine of Siena scholar, told CNA. “And people really did think it was the end of the world.”

The state of the world, and the Church today, is different, though in some ways no less troubled. The new wave of sex abuse scandals and their alleged cover-ups have rocked anew the Church throughout the world.

When St. Catherine talked about the Church, she often referred to it as the Body of Christ, in the tradition of St. Paul, McDermott noted.

“She says the face of the Church is a beautiful face, but we’re pelting it with filth,” he said. “It has a beautiful face, that’s the divine side of the Church, but we human beings are pelting it; we’re disfiguring the body of Christ through our sins.”

While the current abuse crisis and related scandals have left many lay Catholics wondering how to respond, some Catholics have suggested looking to the saints - like Catherine of Siena - for guidance.

Who was Catherine?

Catherine was born March 25, 1347, the 25th child born to middle-class parents in Siena; about half of her siblings did not survive childhood.

At a young age, she became very devout, and resisted her parents when they attempted to have her marry the husband of one of her sisters who had died. Instead, she chose to fast and cut off her hair to make herself less desirable. She would ultimately vow her virginity to Christ, and experienced a mystical marriage to him around the age of 21.

Instead of entering a convent, however, Catherine chose to live a life of prayer and penance at home as a tertiary, or third order, Dominican. She spent several years in near-seclusion, in a cell-like room under the steps in her parents' house, spending her days in dialogue with Christ.

After several years of this at-home novitiate of sorts, while in her mid-20s, she heard Christ telling her to lead a more public life.

“He said now you have to go out and share the fruits of your contemplation with others,” McDermott said. “That’s very Dominican, it’s from the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas.”

Catherine obeyed, and rejoined her family in their daily activities. She also began to serve the poor, and soon became renowned for her charitable works. She gathered a following of young men and women - many of them from rich families of high social status - because they enjoyed her warm personality and her holiness.

Catherine goes public - and gets political

Once she stepped back into a more public life, she became more connected and in tune with the happenings in the Church.

At the time, Gregory XI was living in Avignon and was at war with the Republic of Florence. He placed it under interdict; essentially the equivalent of excommunicating a city - they were cut off from receiving the sacraments, among other sanctions.

Through her life of prayer and her consultation with her spiritual directors, Catherine began corresponding with papal representatives and the pope himself, attempting to broker peace in Florence and advocating for reform where she saw corruption.

“The papal nuncio to Florence in Catherine’s time is grossly hated by the powerful families in Florence, and he’s hated because the powerful families feel that they’ve been mistreated by the Pope,” said Catherine Pakaluk, an associate professor of economics at Catholic University of America and a devotee of St. Catherine.

“She’s writing to the nuncios, she’s writing to the pope, and she’s trying to prevent this internal Catholic war between these parts of the Papal States,” she said. “And this is before the Great Schism when things get really bad.”

Tempers and tensions were so high that the papal nuncio of Florence was eventually skinned alive in the streets.

“So when we think about things today and how shocking and horrifying (they are), you know, things were pretty bad then,” Pakaluk noted. “The nature of the particular crimes is different, but the tensions were really high and these folks were quite violent.”

Catherine was drawn into the Church politics of her time not because of a misplaced sense of ambition, McDermott said, but because she loved the Church as she loved God.

“It wasn’t her motive to be involved in the politics of the Church, but what was best for everyone and for the church led her into politics,” he said. “But it’s not like she was interested in politics itself.”

As part of her attempts at solving the problems of the Church, Catherine joined the call of many other Catholics of the time for the Pope to return to Rome.

After some correspondence, Catherine set out on foot with her followers to go meet with the pope in person.

“It was a remarkable thing for Catherine who was a homebody to take off on foot for France with her disciples, but she was prepared to do anything for the Church because the Church was the Body of Christ,” McDermott said.

After scores of people pleading with the pope to return to Rome between 1309 and 1377, St. Catherine seemed to prove most persuasive.

During her visit, Catherine referenced parts of the pope’s dream, about which he had told no one.

“It was astounding to him (that she knew about the dream) and he took that as a clear sign from God that he was speaking to him through this woman,” McDermott said. So after decades of exile, within a few weeks of Catherine’s visit, the pope packed up his things and headed back to Rome.

“She’s a great example of a laywoman who had strong convictions about the Church and was not timid about expressing them,” said Dr. Karen Scott, an associate professor of Catholic Studies and History at DePaul University in Chicago.

“It was a very different situation from today, so it would be a mistake to think that it’s an automatic equivalent” to the problems of the current Church, Scott told CNA.

“She was living a long time ago and it was a different time and a different Church and different historical set of circumstances...but she was aware of all sorts of problems with the clergy and she believed they ought to be reformed.”

The legend of the opinionated laywoman

What Catherine excelled at in her correspondence with the pope and other clergy was her ability to balance her no-punches-pulled critiques with her profound respect for the Church and the papacy, Scott said.

“There’s a beautiful balance between clear thinking and the ability to see the flaws...but at the same time to be enormously respectful of the Church and the papacy in particular and to base all of this on her deep spiritual life, a life of deep prayer,” Scott said.

“She’s a laywoman who had strong opinions and views on (Church matters) and took action, and amazingly they paid attention,” Scott added. Amazingly, because she was an uneducated lay woman from a modest background who wasn’t particularly well-known.

“They listened to her because what she was saying was so obviously right and sincere and coming out of her prayer and the Gospel,” Scott said.

In total, Catherine wrote at least 381 letters in her lifetime. Three years before her death, she also began dictating “Il Libro” (“The Book”), a collection of her spiritual teachings and conversations with God that became known as “The Dialogue”.

A significant portion of her Dialogue, chapters 110-134, gives insight into her thoughts on the Church reforms needed at the time. Catherine relayed that the “Eternal Father” (how she frequently refers to God the Father) had told her that the biggest problem facing the secular priests of her time was money, while the biggest problem facing priests in religious orders was homosexuality.

Her frank critiques were considered so indelicate that they were excised from many of the English translations of her book, McDermott said.

“She was writing this in the 1300s, she believes it was dictated to her by the Eternal Father, and she’s always a direct hitter, she doesn’t hold anything back,” McDermott said.

But while her dialogues contain punchy critiques of the clergy, she also urged respect for them at the same time, as they are “Christs” on earth who bring Jesus to the world through the Eucharist.

“You should love them (priests) therefore by reason of the virtue and dignity of the Sacrament, and by reason of that very virtue and dignity you should hate the defects of those who live miserably in sin, but not on that account appoint yourselves their judges, which I forbid, because they are My Christs, and you ought to love and reverence the authority which I have given them,” the Eternal Father told Catherine, as recalled in her Dialogue.

While Catherine was successful at bringing the papacy back to Rome and brokering peace between Florence and the Eternal City, the period known as the Great Schism, or the Western Schism, would begin just two years before her death.

“It wasn’t crystal clear who the real pope was,” McDermott said, noting that even some saints who are now canonized had sided with opposing claimants at the time. “So that must have also seemed like the end of the world.”

“St. Catherine was totally horrified,” Scott said, “because for her, Church unity was really essential.”

During this time, French cardinals had elected a leader as the Pope, and later on, the Council of Pisa also elected a claimant. St. Catherine sided with the claimant residing in Rome, Urban VI, and moved there in the last few years of her life to advocate for him and offer intense prayer and penance for the Church.

When she died in 1380, a result of illness brought on by her extreme penances, the western Church was still in schism, and would remain that way until the conclusion of the Council of Constance in 1418.

“Some historians, I think specifically less faithful ones or who don’t have a life of faith...will say well Catherine really failed, because her goal was to bring the Pope back to Rome to heal the divisions in the Church, but how could she have succeeded if the greatest schism of the Western Church occurs after she dies?” Pakalu said.

“I don’t know that’s quite the right view. We never know the hypothetical of history, we never know what would have happened without Catherine’s influence, and she does at least initially bring the Holy Father back to Rome before she died and that was pretty important,” she said.

“My guess is that the Church was able to survive the Great Schism because she got certain things lined up before she died.”

Catherine’s lessons for Catholics today

“What would she say today? I think that’s a dangerous question,” Scott said, “because we can’t say how she would relate to the current issues and complex questions, except that she would know very well what the moral stance is, that bishops and priests and lay people should all follow.”

Catherine would set the highest of standards for honesty and integrity and pastoral concern for the laity, Scott said, as well as the highest standards “for avoiding schism and being close to the papacy.”

“Beyond that I think she would advise people to take the time to pray and discern and not have knee-jerk reactions to things,” she added.

Pakaluk said that she thinks there are three lessons to be learned from Catherine’s life and example, with the first being that any activist role in Church politics must be rooted in deep prayer and love for the Church.

“I wouldn’t say don’t get involved until you’re as holy as Catherine … but to do activism or public ministry without that deep commitment to prayer would be completely absurd and would not be faithful to her life or her example,” she said.

The second lesson, she said, would be to take the long view of history. The Church has survived hard times and scandal before, and she can survive them again.

“I am horrified at outraged at what I’m seeing and hearing about” regarding the current scandals, Pakaluk said.

“But I’m not personally disturbed, my faith isn’t challenged, because I’m so familiar with (ages) in the Church’s past, particularly and especially the one that Catherine lived through, in which there was so much corruption and so much disappointment on the part of the faithful with respect to the hierarchy and some members of the clergy,” she said.

“So it doesn’t disturb me because I think well, why would it be different? Why would we think we’re better? Why do we think we’re completely immune to some of the things that have occurred in the past?”

The third thing Catholics can learn from St. Catherine is that it is possible to be a saint even in the most trying times in the Church, Pakaluk said.

“She’s there in Heaven, she ran the race, she made it,” she said. “We can look at her not only like ‘we can do it too’, but she’s our older sister, and we can follow her and ask her to intercede for us.”

McDermott said that Catholics should be heartened by St. Catherine’s witness because even while she prolifically wrote about the problems of the Church, she never once hinted that she was thinking about leaving.

“She would’ve said don’t leave the Church, this is the human, sinful side of the Church that is being reflected. And the good of the church - stay and purify it,” he said.

“Our love for Christ and the Church - the two are inseparable - is shown in hard times when it doesn’t feel very good to be a Catholic, that we keep on walking with Christ and the Church.”

‘Holy Foods Market’ brings customer service to local pantry

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2018 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Northeast Washington, D.C., has seen rapid gentrification over the past decade. What was once a very poor neighborhood is now home to many high-end businesses, including a Whole Foods Market--and an innovative food pantry inspired in part by the upscale grocery store.

While the Whole Foods Market is open seven days a week, the “Holy Foods Market,” run by the Holy Name of Jesus Parish, located on K Street NE, is open twice a month.

Instead of a traditional food pantry, where those in need would receive a bag of food, clients who visit the Holy Foods Market are able to “shop” through the shelves and pick out what food items they would like.

The pastor at Holy Name of Jesus, Fr. Bill Carloni, said that he wanted to replicate the experience he had visiting Whole Foods in his parish’s food pantry. The idea grew into Holy Foods Market, which began operations in May, a little more than a year after the Whole Foods opened down the street. 

The pantry serves about 80 to 100 families a month, Carloni told CNA in an interview. Unlike many food pantries, few of the clients at Holy Foods Market are homeless. Most of the people served by the Market retirees, single parents, or the elderly. Each client is paired with a volunteer who assists them with the process of “shopping” for food.

Clients choose for themselves how much or how little food they need, within a certain limit. No one is required to take any particular food item, and some “customers” may only want certain things like milk, cereal, or peanut butter, Carloni said.

The setup of Holy Foods Market helps to preserve the clients’ dignity, the pastor told CNA. The pantry does not verify the income of its clients, though it does request that they either live within the approximate geographic boundary of the parish, or else have some sort of interaction with the church, either spiritually or as a volunteer.

"I've had feedback from a person, who said, 'You know, I'm so thankful that you treat me like a human being,’” said Carloni.

“I think that often they say 'beggars can't be choosers,' but that's the whole point. We don't want people to feel like beggars, and I think this does help humanize what we do. It does make them feel like they're shopping."

Allowing people to choose their own food items also has other benefits, Carloni explained to CNA. Because clients only pick items they actually want, no donated food is wasted.

The system also allows the Market to better accommodate clients with special diets or food allergies.

The previous system of distributing pre-packed bags of food resulted in many items going to waste, said Carloni, noting that cans of food were often found discarded outside of the pantry.

"There was one person who said specifically that she used to come, every month, to get food. But then when she would get home, she would empty the bag and she would keep about half the contents and then she would re-donate the other half back to the pantry, ” said Carloni.

“So she was trying not to waste it, actually, but what would end up happening is that she'd get the same stuff back the next month.”

Caroni told CNA that he believes sometimes people can approach ministries like a food pantry with a  “wrong mentality” and that those who are less fortunate “should be grateful and they should just take whatever they get.”

Fr. Carloni said that for many of the clients at the Market, it is extremely humbling to have to ask for a handout or for food assistance, and they strive to make the process of “shopping” as dignified and “customer oriented” as possible.

"I think a lot of people at one point or another have been in need of charity. Receiving love shouldn’t come at the cost of your dignity."

Pope Francis: Discipleship takes sacrifice

Vatican City, Sep 16, 2018 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A fundamental rule of being a disciple of Christ is the necessity to make sacrifices and deny one’s self, Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Sunday.

“Jesus tells us that in order to follow him, to be his disciples, one must deny oneself – that is, the claims of one’s own selfish pride – and take up one’s very cross,” the pope said Sept. 16. “Then he gives everyone a fundamental rule. And what is this rule? ‘Whoever wants to save his life will lose it.’”

To have faith, he said, must go further than mere words – it must lead to concrete actions and choices, “marked by love of God, by a great life, by a life with so much love for neighbor.”

The pope explained that for many reasons, people may end up on the wrong path, “looking for happiness only in things, or in the people we treat as things.”

“But we find happiness only when love, real [love], meets us, surprises us, changes us. Love changes everything! And love can change us too, each of us. The testimonies of the saints demonstrate this,” he said.

Francis said that the Lord wants his disciples to have a personal relationship with him and to make him the center of their lives. Like Jesus asks to his disciples in the day’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

“Everyone is called to respond, in his own heart, letting himself be illuminated by the light that the Father gives us to know his Son Jesus,” he said. And like Peter, one might confirm enthusiastically, that he is Christ.”

“But when Jesus tells us clearly what he said to the disciples, namely that his mission is accomplished not in the broad road of success, but in the arduous path of the suffering, humiliated, rejected and crucified Servant,” then it can be easy to want to protest and rebel, like Peter did, he said.

He said: In these moments, Christians deserve the same reproof Jesus gave Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

After the Angelus, in honor of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated by the Church on Sept. 14, Pope Francis distributed small metal crucifixes to those present in St. Peter’s Square.

“The crucifix is the sign of God’s love, which in Jesus gave life for us. I invite you to welcome this gift and bring it into your homes, your children’s room, or your grandparents..., in any part, but in the house,” he said.

Emphasizing that the crucifix is a religious sign for contemplation and prayer, not a merely ornamental object, he said “looking at Jesus crucified, we look at our salvation.”

He added that the cross “is a gift from the pope,” and is free, so to beware if anyone asks them to pay. The crucifixes were handed out by religious sisters, poor, homeless, and refugees. “As always, faith comes from the little ones, from the humble ones,” Francis noted, thanking them.

According to the pope’s charity office, the silver-plated crucifixes, packaged in a transparent envelope, included a card with a quote from Pope Francis in Italian, English, and Spanish. From July 2013 during World Youth Day in Brazil, it says: “In the Cross of Christ there is all the love of God, there is his immense mercy.”

After handing out the 40,000 crosses, the around 300 volunteers and needy were given a sack lunch by Pope Francis.