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New documentary tells the story of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, and friendship

Denver, Colo., Mar 22, 2018 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The French documentary “Summer in the Forest” depicts the lives of four disabled men and their unlikely friend: a philosopher born into a powerful and distinguished Canadian family, Jean Vanier.

Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a federation of international communities for people with disabilities.

The film tells the stories of four L’Arche community members, Philippe, Michel, Andre, and Patrick, while asking viewers what it means to be human, and what it means to be happy.

“What is it to be a human being? Is it the power? If it’s power then we would kill each other,” Vanier said in the film, which opens in New York on March 23, and will have select showing across the country.

“See the wise and powerful lead us to ideologies, where as the weak are in the dirt. They’re not seeking power. They’re seeking friendship. It’s a message for all of us. It’s about all of us.”

Founded in France in 1964, L’Arche was among the first residential communities for people with disabilities, who at the time were often placed in insane asylums or other institutions. Today, the organization has 147 residential communities in 35 countries.

The film offers insight into the daily lives of people who were once labeled “idiots,” like Michel, a man wounded from childhood experiences during WWII, and David, a young man with Down syndrome.

Set at a L’Arche community in a forest near Paris, the film invites its viewers to take up the challenge of opening themselves to friendship amidst diversity.

After the completion of the film, Pope Francis sent a personal message to the film’s producers, offering his support for an initiative intended to break down barriers standing between friendship with the intellectually disabled.

“His Holiness Pope Francis wishes to affirm his warm support of all initiatives to foster and integrate at the heart of our societies the mentally disabled.”

Now 89, Jean Vanier was born in Geneva to the Canadian diplomat, Georges Vanier, and his wife, Pauline Vanier. Georges Vanier eventually became Canada’s Governor General.

After serving in the British and Canadian Royal Navies, Vanier took up philosophy studies in 1950. He received a doctorate in philosophy, focusing his thesis on the Aristotelian view of happiness.

According to L’Arche’s website, Vanier focused his research on the experience of “loving and being loved.”

L’Arche began when Vanier was introduced to two men with disabilities through a priest friend, Father Thomas Philippe. Vanier asked the men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to move from the institution where they were living to his house in Trosly-Breuil, France.

More people came, more homes were established, and as the community grew, the members showed Vanier a beautiful perspective on life: “that strength is revealed through weakness and human vulnerability, which given to grow in trust, creates community.”

US pre-synod delegates: Youth need authentic Catholic witnesses

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2018 / 11:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States delegates to a pre-synod gathering in Rome this week have said they think young Catholics in the nation need – and desire – faithful and authentic accompaniment in order to live the faith and to form a relationship with Christ.

“The common thread that we kept going back to… was the need for companionship for young people, and how there’s this real desire to meet authentic people who are authentic witnesses,” delegate Katie Prejean McGrady told CNA.

“That word [authentic] came up frequently. And then the whole concept that it didn’t matter where you were from, and it didn’t matter what the state of the Church was, young people respond far better to personal relationships and one-on-one interactions with people of faith.”

Prejean McGrady, a wife, mother, youth minister, and speaker from Louisiana, is one of four representatives – all in their 20s – who were chosen by the U.S. bishops as delegates to the Vatican’s pre-synod gathering happening ahead of the October Synod of Bishops on young people.

Prejean McGrady spoke to CNA March 21 alongside Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, a LaSallian Brother who teaches religion in El Paso; Nick López, a single young adult who is the director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Chris Russo, a Byzantine Catholic who works as a research technologist at a hospital in Boston.

The pre-synod gathering has included discussion among young people from all over the world as they help to prepare and edit a document which will serve as a guide for bishops during the synod. The final document will be presented Saturday, and given to the Pope at Palm Sunday Mass.

Speaking to CNA, all four delegates said that the growing number of young Americans not practicing the faith they were given is one of the major concerns they brought to the meeting, and something they would like to see addressed.

Prejean McGrady said that she thinks one reason for the disaffiliation is that many Catholics in the US were catechized in a way that merely presented “bullet points to learn or these things to do”, rather than integrating these as part of the basis for a relationship with Christ.

She also noted that it is her belief that having “companions on the journey” makes it “much easier to build that relationship.”

Delegates also expressed frustration at feeling that older generations often place the blame of youths' disengagement from the faith on the young people themselves, and do not admit their own share in the responsibility.

Russo said that people to whom he’s spoken are “very distressed about disaffiliation in the Church,” but those “who ask why young people are no longer involved in the Church, are the same people who then criticize, saying, ‘oh, well, you’re too young to understand or to express an opinion.’”

Lopez agreed that it often feels like older generations think young people “don’t care” or are “too distracted,” but he takes hope in the fact that bishops are making an effort to listen to young people. He also expressed his desire that adults outside the hierarchy will also be inspired to listen more.

The four acknowledged that disaffiliation is also a problem in other parts of the world, and that it is not the only challenge young Americans have in common with youth in other parts of the globe.

They noted the increase in mental illness, the effects of media, and pornography use, in particular.

Because the meeting's participants come from different backgrounds, including different religions, Prejean McGrady said that not everyone in attendance has had a positive view of the Church. But in general, the discussions have been instructive and focused on cooperating with the Church, not tearing it down.

She said that she thinks there’s great hope “because we were already brought to the table. I think that’s the bishops appealing to us, saying we want to know how to meet you face-to-face.”

Br. Javier expressed the desire that the same sort of discussions happening at the pre-synod meeting could take place on a national or local level, creating a conduit for communication with young people.

In the end, the delegates all emphasized that young people are both the future of the Church and the Church now.

Russo also requested that the world continue to pray for everyone involved in the Synod. “This is only an initial step – this isn’t the be-all-end-all,” he said. “This isn’t ending, this is something so, so much bigger. We have to talk to our communities… we’re the Church.”

Meet Sister Jean: 98-year-old nun and March Madness Twitter celebrity

Chicago, Ill., Mar 22, 2018 / 10:55 am (CNA).- In the first weekend of the March Madness tournament, the most tweeted-about person might not have been a basketball player, but a 98-year-old religious sister.

Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, BVM, is the chaplain of the Loyola University Chicago Men’s Basketball team, and the unlikely breakout star of the college tournament.

Sister Jean burst onto the scene when her beloved Ramblers upset the University of Miami in the first round of the tournament with a down-to-the-wire three-point basket.



— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 15, 2018


Following this win, Twitter featured Sister Jean in a Twitter moment, and she received shout outs from high profile accounts including ESPN and former President Barack Obama. The New York Times also ran a profile on her.

Sister Jean leads the team in prayer before each game, and she prays for her players to be safe, for the referees to be fair, and for God’s assistance during the game. She also admitted to praying for the opposing team, but “not as hard.”

Sister Jean provides more than just spiritual support for the team: in 2011, when the Ramblers hired Head Coach Porter Moser, she presented him with a stack of scouting reports for each of his players. She still compiles notes on Loyola-Chicago’s opponents and will warn the team about different players during their pregame huddle. Until she broke her hip this past November, Sister Jean had only missed two home games over the past 23 years--and still followed the team on an iPad while she was recovering from surgery.

The Ramblers proved they weren’t one-and-done when they proceeded to upset the University of Tennessee and move on to the Sweet 16. This is their first time advancing to this round of the tournament since 1985. Sister Jean was thrilled.



— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) March 18, 2018



I’m gonna tell myself that Sister Jean saw this crying girl on the Jumbotron and this was her reaction idc idc

— Clemzingis (@TheClemReport) March 18, 2018


Loyola-Chicago will continue its Cinderella run through the tournament on Thursday night, against Nevada.


Where 'no religion' is default, a look at Europe's young Catholic minority

London, England, Mar 22, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young Catholics in Europe live in a culture where religious affiliation, church attendance, and regular prayer are generally at low levels, according to a sociological study of their demographic across most of the continent.

“Twenty-three percent of French young adults identify as Catholic, compared to only ten percent   in the U.K.,” said the report, which classifies 16- to 29-year-olds as young adults.

“Notably, however, in both France and the U.K. Catholicism is the dominant Christian identity,” the report continued. “Both countries have a significant minority – around one in every ten 16-29 year-olds – of members of non-Christian religions, with Islam being the largest contributor. Yet overall, ‘no religion’ is the default identity of French and British young adults alike, accounting for around two-thirds of each.”

Catholics have a few strongholds in the young adult demographic: they make up 82 percent of young Poles, 71 percent of young Lithuanians, 55 percent of young Slovenians, and 54 percent of young Irish.

The report, “European Young Adults and Religion”, primarily aims to inform the Synod of Bishops, which in October will hold a general assembly on the theme “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Its author is Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, a suburban town of London. He is director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, which issued the report jointly with the Catholic University of Paris.

The report uses data from the European Social Survey to consider religious affiliation and religious practice in 22 countries for those aged 16-29. It considers religious practice and affiliation among Catholics and other young adults across Europe, specifically examining religiosity among young adults in France and the U.K.

Young Polish Catholics report relatively high weekly Mass attendance, with 47 percent of these Catholics going to Mass each week. This compares to 27 percent in Portugal, 24 percent in both the Czech Republic and Ireland, 17 percent in Britain, and seven percent in France. Weekly Mass attendance ranged from 2-6 percent among young Catholics in Belgium, Hungary, Austria, Lithuania and Germany.

In the U.K., 21 percent of young adults identify as Christian, including seven percent who are Anglican. Another six percent are Muslim. In France, 26 percent of young adults identify as Christian, including two percent who identify as Protestant. Ten percent identify as Muslim.

Youth with no religious affiliation make up a super-majority in the Czech Republic, where 91 percent are unaffiliated. In Estonia, the figure is 80 percent, in Sweden 75 percent. U.K. young adults are 70 percent religiously unaffiliated, while in France their proportion is 64 percent.

In Lithuania, only 25 percent state no religious   affiliation, while the figure is 17 percent in Poland and only one percent in Israel.

Among the non-affiliated in France and the U.K., four fifths reported growing up with no religion. Among the 20 percent who grew up with a religion, most come from a Christian background, with former Catholics making up much of this section in France.

French women were significantly more likely to identify with any religion than men, with 55 percent professing no religion; about 72 percent of French men profess no religion. The divide by sex was present in the U.K., but not nearly so significant. Similarly, about 60 percent of young French churchgoers who attend once a month or more are women, while the numbers are somewhat more even in the U.K.

Religious attendance was also considered in the report.
“In only four countries do more than one-in-ten 16-29-year-olds claim to attend religious services on at least a weekly basis: Poland, Israel, Portugal, and Ireland,” said the report. “Our other eighteen countries are distinctive, despite significant variability in their numbers of religious affiliates, by their relative uniformity of (non) practice. All rank in the single digits, within a narrow range between two and nine percent.”

“With only three exceptions, ‘never attenders’ account for between a tenth and a quarter of all Catholic young adults across our sample of countries,” the report continued.

In France, one in four young Catholics say they never attend religious services, compared to one in five for the U.K.

Two-fifths of Spanish Catholic youth do not go to church, a very high proportion compared to self-identified Catholics in other countries. In Belgium, 31 percent of young Catholics never attend church.

The report noted a high level of weekly prayer among young Catholics in the Netherlands and the U.K., about 43 percent of whom reported praying at least once a week—similar figures to those in Ireland. This percentage was exceeded only by Czech and Polish young Catholics.

One third of French Catholics say they never pray, and under 40 percent say they pray once a month or more. In the U.K., only 14 percent never pray, and close to 60 percent say they pray at least monthly.

Affiliated believers are not necessarily the only ones praying. About five percent of the religiously unaffiliated say they pray at least monthly.

Analysis: Benedict XVI’s letter - what the reaction revealed

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA).- The story of Benedict XVI’s letter and the communication issues it raised, dubbed “Lettergate,” has led to the resignation of a curial prefect, among other things.

But it also had the effect of revealing the agenda behind some discussion, namely, pieces of a strategic plan for undermining the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, especially regarding Humanae Vitae.
Reactions to Saturday’s publication of the full text of the letter reveal a certain resentment among the supporters of the “agenda of mercy,” those in Rome pushing for a change in the doctrine of the Church.
A particular example is a blog post from Italian theologian Andrea Grillo, written after the publication of the full text of the letter by the Holy See Press Office.
Grillo, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Sant’Anselmo Univerity, titled his blog post “The letter of discord: too many unjust words and the silence of the innocent”
In 2017, Grillo criticized Benedict XVI for speaking out in a public context after his resignation. After the Pope Emeritus wrote the foreword to a popular book by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Grillo said in an interview that “for the future, in case of resignation of the pope, norms that more sharply and safely regulate the ‘institutional death’ of the predecessor and the full authority of the successor will be required.”

Grillo mentioned that criticism at the beginning of his recent blog post. He continued to criticize Benedict, this time for his remarks about a theologian who authored one of the books about Francis.
Grillo said that Benedict XVI’s letter shows “acrimony and one-sidedness of judgment on a theologian like Father Huenermann, of whom he presents a distorted and unjust profile.” He criticized the Pope Emeritus for “judging the great theologian only with the measure of censorship.”
(As a side consideration, it must be said that Benedict XVI knew very well what he was saying about Fr. Huenermann: as former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he knows well how Fr. Huenermann’s books had been monitored and checked. Plus, he did not describe Fr. Huenermann as an ‘enemy of popes’, as Grillo wrote, but as a man who virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the pope. That is, of any pope in any era.)
Grillo’s post also criticized Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect of the Secretariat for the Communication, mostly because he asked Benedict XVI to break his silence, and then because he used only part of the Pope Emeritus’ response.
But it was the final part of his post that was the most revealing. Grillo praised Francis for “having broken the silence”, overcoming the “awkward silence that had paralyzed the magisterium for three decades,” while the Church was “making believe that the magisterial authority ‘had no power’ to change anything in matrimonial, ministerial, liturgical, ecumenical, juridical and curial field.”

Grillo criticized what he called “the still Church” of the past to the current lively Church, which needed “lively theologians” like Fr. Huenermann, who “continued to speak even when the magisterium wanted from theologians only silence or applause.”
The blog post ended with a critical note about the Pope Wmeritus, who, he said “solemnly promised be silent,” but “spoke without prudence.”

The post, on the whole, seems to be a protracted criticism of the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It takes pains to suggest that Pope Francis is permitting renewal of a progressive theological agenda, even without any actual support for that claim.

A curious analysis, in a discussion started to show an intellectual continuity between Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
But by calling for a “new theological discussion,” Grillo suggests an intention to advocate for theological positions in discontinuity with the Church’s traditional teaching.

In short, Grillo’s reaction epitomized all the current issues at stake: a sort of “vindication” of the self-proclaimed “conciliar theology” that looks at the Second Vatican Council through the lenses of discontinuity; a fear of the Pope Emeritus’ words, whose judgment is always heard, even by Pope Francis; a push to overturn Catholic teaching, which turns into bitterness when the discussion takes an unexpected turn.
If this was just the point of view of one theologian, it would be one thing. But Grillo is a kind of rising star in Italian academic circles, gaining always more traction in public debate, and also in academia.
In particular, Grillo has been tapped as one of the teachers of a High Formation Course on “Family Counseling with Pastoral specialization.”
The course is organized by the Ecclesia Mater Institute of the Pontifical Lateran University and it is sponsored by the Italian episcopal conference’s National Office for the Pastoral of the Family.
The course takes over three summers, in the picturesque Madonna di Campiglio in northern Italy.
Grillo will teach “History of the Family in the History of the Church,” addressing Familiaris Consortio and Amoris Laetitia.
The course is a sort of replica of another summer school, that one sponsored by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the “Diploma in Pastoral Family Ministry.”
That summer school, like the new one, was offered to people without theological degrees, took place over three summers, and was sponsored by the Italian bishops conference.
While John Paul II Institute is in a period of transition, being retooled as a Pontifical Theological Institute, this new course backed by the Italian Bishops Conference will likely cannibalize the old summer institute. But the theological method will be quite different.
This move shows the struggle behind the curtain to reframe Catholic teaching.

The teachers of the John Paul II Institute are not going to back down. The presentation of the book “Karol Wojtyla and Humanae Vitae” was a clear theological battlefield, and it was no wonder that Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was sharp enough to say that “overturning Humanae Vitae’s teaching is a crime against the Church.”
Following the discussion on the book, Msgr. Livio Melina, former president of the Institute, penned an article to denounce the strategy of contrasting a ‘good and flexible” depiction of Paul VI with a “rigid and doctrinal” depiction of John Paul II
In the end, the miscommunication drama following the publication of the full text of the letter of Benedict XVI’s had the effect of revealing a theological strategy that seems to be taking place without Pope Francis’ knowledge.

How this will strategy will unfold remains to be seen. But it bears watching in the months to come.