Browsing News Entries

Why Archbishop Wester says prayer to Santa Muerte is 'really wrong'

Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 25, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Santa Fe said recently that people praying to “Saint Death” won’t find the answers they’re looking for.

Archbishop John Wester told the Associated Press recently that Catholics praying to the skeletal figure, popular in Central America, may be fooled into thinking that “Santa Muerte” is an approved devotional practice in the Church.

But the practice of praying to “Saint Death” is not consistent with Catholic teaching, the archbishop said.

"It's really wrong," Wester told the AP.

"I think in part, it's (because) people are looking and searching. It's a symptom of a search looking for answers."

"Our devotion is to the God of life," he added.

In 2013, a Vatican official condemned devotion to “Santa Muerte,” equating it to “the celebration of devastation and of hell.”

“It’s not every day that a folk saint is actually condemned at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Andrew Chesnut, a Santa Muerte expert, told CNA in 2016.

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint," the only English academic book to date on the subject.

Despite her condemnation from on high, Santa Muerte remains increasingly popular among criminals, drug lords and those on the fringe of society, as well as cultural Catholics who maybe don’t know (or care) that she is condemned by the Church.

“She’s basically the poster girl of narco-satanic spirituality,” Chesnut said.

According to Chesnut’s estimates, Santa Muerte is the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas - and it’s all happened within the past 10-15 years.

“She was unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans before 2001, when she went public. Now I estimate there’s some 10-12 million devotees, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America,” he said.

Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgemental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions.

“If somebody is going to be doing something illegal, and they want to be protected from the law enforcement, they feel awkward asking God to protect them,” Fr. Andres Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Helen parish in Rio Hondo, Texas, explained to CNA in 2016.

“So they promise something to Santa Muerte in exchange for being protected from the law.”

Devotees also feel comfortable going to her for favors of vengeance - something they would never ask of God or a canonized saint, Chesnut said.

“I think this non-judgemental saint who’s going to accept me as I am is appealing,” Chesnut said, particularly to criminals or to people who don’t feel completely accepted within the Mexican Catholic or Evangelical churches.

The cultural Catholicism of Mexico and the drug wars of the past decade also made for the perfect storm for Santa Muerte to catch on, Chesnut explained. Even Mexicans who didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday still have a basic idea of what Catholicism entails - Mass and Saints and prayers like the rosary, all things that have been hi-jacked and adapted by the Santa Muerte movement.

“You can almost see some of it as kind of an extreme heretical form of folk Catholicism,” he said. “In fact, I can say Santa Muerte could only have arisen from a Catholic environment.”

This, coupled with the fact that Mexican Catholics are suddenly much more familiar with death, with the recent drug wars having left upwards of 60,000 - 120,000 Mexicans dead - makes a saint of death that much more intriguing.

“Paradoxically, a lot of devotees who feel like death could be just around the corner - maybe they’re narcos, maybe they work in the street, maybe they’re security guards who might be gunned down - they ask Santa Muerte for protection.”

Her familiarity and appeal is actually part of the danger of this devotion, Fr. Gutierrez said.

“(Santa Muerte) is literally a demon with another name,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

In his own ministry, Fr. Gutierrez said he has witnessed people who “suffer greatly” following a devotion to the folk saint.

Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA in 2016 that he has also prayed with people who have had demonic trouble after praying to Santa Muerte.

“I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe,” he said.

Fr. Gutierrez noted that while Catholics who attend Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis tend to understand this about Santa Muerte, those in danger are the cultural Catholics who aren’t intentionally engaging in something harmful, but could be opening the door to spiritual harm nonetheless.

Besides her demonic ties, “Santa Muerte” is also a perversion of what the practice of praying to saints is all about, Fr. Ryan Kaup, a Nebraska priest active in Hispanic ministry, told CNA in 2016.

“What we venerate as saints are real people who have chosen this life to follow the will of our Lord and have done great things with their lives, and now they’re in heaven forever, and so that’s why we ask for their intercession,” Kaup said.

“So taking this devotion and this practice that we have of asking for this saint’s intercession and twisting it in such a way as to invoke this glorified image of death is really a distortion of what we believe is true intercession and truly the power of the saints.”

 

 

Pope Francis: Marriage and family have 'an essential mission'

Loreto, Italy, Mar 25, 2019 / 06:38 am (CNA).- On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of family and marriage for society. He also called the Virgin Mary a model for every vocation.

“It is necessary to rediscover the plan drawn by God for the family, to reaffirm its greatness and irreplaceability in the service of life and society,” the pope said March 25, during a visit to the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy.

The Shrine of the Holy House preserves the building where tradition holds the Virgin Mary was born, raised, and greeted by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Historic documentation shows that the Holy House was brought from Palestine to Italy in the 13th century. The Holy House also holds the statue of Our Lady of Loreto.

The Holy House of Mary is the “home of the family,” Pope Francis said during his visit, noting that “in the delicate situation of today’s world, the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman takes on an importance and an essential mission.”

He said the Holy House is also the home of the young, “because here the Virgin Mary, the young woman full of grace, continues to speak to the new generations, accompanying each one in the search for his vocation.”

“Mary is the model of every vocation and the inspirer of every vocation ministry,” he continued. “Young people who are looking for, or wondering about their future, can find in Mary She who helps them to discern God’s plan for themselves and the strength to adhere to it.”

Mary was a daughter, a betrothed, a bride, and a mother, he noted, and “for this reason, every family, in its different components, finds a refuge here…” in the Holy House.

The pope added that the domestic experience of Mary shows that pastoral care of the family and of young people should not be kept separate, but “must walk closely together,” because young people are highly impacted by their experience of family in their formative years.

During the day-long visit to Loreto, Pope Francis celebrated Mass inside the Holy House, gave a speech and led those present in praying the Angelus.

“The Mother of God does not cease to obtain spiritual benefits in those who, with faith and devotion, come here to pause in prayer,” he said about the Holy House.

After Mass, the pope signed the post-synodal exhortation written following October 2018’s Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment. The document, which is addressed to the young people of the Church, is titled Christus vivit (“Christ lives”) and will be published April 2.

He later greeted the sick and the Capuchin Friars who run the Shrine of the Holy House, thanking them for their devotion to hearing Confessions in the Loreto basilica and for their work at the Loreto St. John Paul II youth center.

He also expressed the desire for John Paul II youth centers to be “relaunched” throughout Italy and around the world and asked the friars to extend the opening hours of the Basilica of the Holy House into the late evening and early night, when groups of young pilgrims are present, so that the place may be available for prayer and vocational discernment.

The pope said: “I think of Loreto as a privileged place where young people can come in search of their vocation, at Mary’s school!”

At the Annunciation, Mary demonstrated the steps one should take to respond to God’s call of vocation: listening to the Word of God, discernment, and decision, he said.

First, Mary listened to the message of the Angel Gabriel. And in response to what the Angel said, she asked, “how can this be?” The pope explained that Mary’s question did not come from a lack of faith, but from a deepening discernment of the Lord’s will and her cooperation in it.

And finally, Mary gives her “yes,” he said, “the ‘yes’ of full trust and total availability to the will of God.”

“There is a need for simple and wise people, humble and courageous, poor and generous. In short, people who, at Mary’s school, welcome the Gospel without reserve in their lives,” Pope Francis said.

“Thus, through the holiness of the people of God, testimonies of holiness in every state of life will continue to spread in Italy, in Europe and in the world, to renew the Church and animate society with the leaven of the Kingdom of God.”

Pope Francis tells Catholics not to abuse God's mercy

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2019 / 07:09 am (CNA).- The mercy of God is not an invitation to “spiritual laziness,” but requires a sincere and prompt response from those who want to grow in holiness, Pope Francis said Sunday.

“Despite the barrenness which sometimes marks our existence, God has patience and offers us the possibility of changing and making progress on the path of good,” the pope said March 24.

However, the chance for conversion is not limitless, he said. “We can rely heavily on God’s mercy, but without abusing it. We must not justify spiritual laziness but increase our commitment to respond promptly to this mercy with sincerity of heart.”

In his address before the Angelus, the pope reflected on the call to conversion, as depicted in the parable of the fig tree in the day’s Gospel.

In the parable, a man decides to cut down a fig tree in his vineyard because it has not produced any fruit in three years, and he does not want to expend the resources of the land on this barren tree.

But when the man speaks to the farmer who works in the vineyard about cutting down the tree, the farmer asks him to wait one year more and that during that time, he will cultivate and fertilize the land around the fig tree so that it may have the possibility to bear fruit in the future.

“What does this parable represent?” Francis asked. The owner of the land represents God the Father, and the farmer represents Jesus, while the fig tree “is a symbol of indifferent and arid humanity,” he said.

Like the farmer, Jesus intervenes on behalf of humanity, asking for a little more time for “the fruits of love and justice” to grow.

“The fig tree that the owner of the parable wants to uproot represents a barren existence, without fruit, incapable of giving, of doing good,” he said. “It is the symbol of one who lives for himself, satisfied and calm, laid down in his comfort, unable to turn his eyes and heart to those who are close to him and find themselves in a state of suffering, in a state of poverty, of discomfort.”

This state of “spiritual barrenness” is countered by the great love of the farmer for the fig tree, he stated. “He has patience, he knows how to wait, he dedicates his time and his work to it. He promises his master to take special care of that unhappy tree.”

Francis explained that this parable “manifests the mercy of God,” which gives us time for conversion.

“God is the Father and does not extinguish the weak flame, but accompanies and cares for those who are weak so that they may be strengthened and bring their contribution of love to the community,” he said.

Lent, in particular, is a time in which the Lord invites his children to conversion, he said, adding that, “each of us must feel challenged by this call, correcting something in our lives, in our very way of thinking, acting and living relationships with others.”

“We can think in this Lent, what should I do to get closer to the Lord?” he said, adding to not be tempted to put conversion off until “next Lent,” because no one is guaranteed another year.

“Each of us, think today: what should I do before this mercy of God that awaits me, and that always forgives? What should I do?” he asked.

He concluded by asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to help Catholics live Lent “as a time of spiritual renewal and trusting openness to the grace of God and to his mercy.”

After the Angelus, Pope Francis prayed for the success of the discussions underway in Nicaragua since the end of February and focused on resolving the “serious socio-political crisis facing the country.”

“I accompany the initiative with prayer and encourage the parties to find a peaceful solution for the good of all as soon as possible,” he said.

Francis also recognized the Church in Italy’s celebration of the “Day of Remembrance for Missionary Martyrs” and the many bishops, priests, religious sisters, and lay faithful who have been victims of violence.

Forty missionaries were killed in 2018, he said, noting that the number is almost double the number of missionaries killed the previous year.

It is “a duty of gratitude” for the whole Church to remember the sacrifice of those killed for their faith in Jesus, even in these times, he stated.

Recalling recent attacks in Nigeria and Mali, the pope also prayed a ‘Hail Mary’ for the dead, the wounded, and their families, and for the conversion of hearts.

Pope Francis accepts resignation of Chilean cardinal accused of cover-up

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2019 / 09:21 am (CNA).- Pope Francis Saturday accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, who has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of several abusive priests.

Cardinal Ezzati’s resignation was originally submitted to Pope Francis in May 2018, along with the rest of the Chilean bishops. The pope March 23 named Bishop Celestino Aos Braco, OFM Cap., to oversee the Archdiocese of Santiago as apostolic administrator until the appointment of Ezzati’s successor.

Ezzati, 77, is the eighth Chilean bishop to have his resignation accepted since last May. The cardinal has come under scrutiny by Chilean authorities for the possible cover-up of the crimes of abusive priests Fernando Karadima, Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz, and Oscar Munoz Toledo. He denies covering up any abuse.

In an interview with Informe Especial this month, Cardinal Ezzati denied knowing and giving money to Daniel Rojas Alvarez, who was about 40 when he was sexually assaulted by Fr. Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz in a room of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in 2015.

Rojas claims he told Cardinal Ezzati of the attack during a confession, and that the archbishop asked him to pray for the abuser, gave him 30,000 pesos ($45), and asked him not to share what had happened.

In the Informe Especial interview, Ezzati said: “I hear confessions in the cathedral, especially during the time of Holy Week, but I am not aware of having heard his confession, because I don’t know him and still less am I aware of giving him a hug and telling him that a priest would give him some money in my name, that’s not it, this is all very unfortunate, but that’s not the case.”

Asked if he ever had contact with Rojas, the cardinal said “no.”

Chilean police raided several archdiocesan offices last summer after Rivera Munoz was linked to a suspected network of 14 abuser-priests in the neighboring Diocese of Rancagua, approximately 40 miles south of Santiago.  

During one of the searches, authorities discovered a 2013 letter from a former bishop of Rancagua to Ezzati criticizing the cardinal for his response to victims of Fr. Fernando Karadima. Karadima was a serial abuser of minors whose relationship with Bishop Juan Barros triggered a scandal that has engulfed the Chilean Church for months.

Ezzati later invoked his legal right to silence after being summoned for questioning by a state prosecutor.

The intended questioning was likely to have been focused on what the cardinal knew about his former archdiocesan chancellor, Fr. Oscar Munoz Toledo, who was arrested in July 2018 following allegations he sexually abused seven minors.

Munoz has already admitted to sexually abusing one minor, but investigators believe the archdiocese may have been aware of as many as four of his victims. Ezzati was called as prosecutors consider his involvement in a potential cover-up of Munoz’s crimes.

According to Crux, Ezzati's replacement to manage the archdiocese of Santiago, Aos Braco, was charged in 2012 with investigating abuse allegations by former seminarians against five priests of the Diocese of Valparaiso, Chile.

As the diocesan promoter of justice, Aos Braco reportedly spent three months looking into the allegations before dismissing them on a lack of evidence. One of the accused priests has since died and the others have either been suspended from ministry or are being investigated for abuse, Crux reports.

Pope: Education, encounter are key in furthering access to clean water

Vatican City, Mar 22, 2019 / 11:13 am (CNA).- In a message for World Water Day, Pope Francis stressed the need to remember the suffering of billions of people who do not have reliable access to clean water in their homes.

“Joint work is essential to eradicate this evil [of a lack of access to clean water] that afflicts so many of our brothers and sisters,” the pope said.

“It will be possible if we join efforts in the search for the common good, when the other has a real face, takes center stage and is placed at the center of debate and initiatives. This is when the measures adopted will take on the flavor of encounter, and the value of responding to an injustice that needs to be healed.”

Pope Francis sent a message to Professor José Graziano da Silva, director general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization on March 22, World Water Day.

Observed annually by the United Nations to highlight the need for access to safe water, the theme of this year’s World Water Day is “Leaving no one behind.”

One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015 is ensuring clean water and sanitation for all people by 2030. Currently, up to 2.1 billion people lack safe water at home, according to the United Nations. Nearly two-thirds of the global population struggles to find water during at least part of the year.

In his message, Pope Francis noted that water is crucial “for the balance of ecosystems and human survival, and it is necessary to manage it and take care of it so that it is not contaminated or lost.”

All people are called “to value and defend this good,” the pope said.

He emphasized the need for education, in order to create an awareness of the suffering caused by those who lack clean water or experience other environmental challenges.

“This task of raising awareness is a priority in a world in which everything is discarded and disdained, and which in many cases does not appreciate the importance of the resources we have at our disposal,” he said.

With environmental challenges growing, Pope Francis said, “the disadvantaged of the earth challenge us to find a remedy for the lack of water in their countries; they also challenge us, from their poverty and limits, to accord the just value to this good, essential for the development of all peoples.”

He called for financing plans, long-range water projects, and a new vision of water that is seen as a good for humanity, not just a commodity governed by laws of the market.

The pope voiced prayers that World Water Day may contribute to the good of people currently suffering from a lack of clean water.

“Access to this good is a fundamental human right, which must be respected, because the life of the people and their dignity are at stake,” he said.

Pope Francis invites pediatricians to help shape culture

Vatican City, Mar 21, 2019 / 11:08 am (CNA).- Meeting with pediatricians at the Vatican on Thursday, Pope Francis encouraged the medical professionals to be “promoters of a culture of solidarity and inclusive health.”

“In our time, in fact, increasingly often prevention and treatment become the prerogative of those who enjoy a certain standard of living, and therefore can afford it,” he told members of the Italian Federation of Primary Care Pediatricians during a papal audience.

“I encourage you to work to ensure that this inequality is not added to the many others that already afflict the weakest, but rather that the health system assure assistance and preventative care to all, as rights of the person.”

The pope met with the group, which has been active in the country for some 40 years and offers support to over 5,500 family pediatricians.

Noting the range of talent and training required to care for children from birth through adolescence, Pope Francis praised those present for their commitment to remain constantly up-to-date with developments in the medical field, while also promoting “a culture more capable of protecting the health of people, especially little ones.”

“In our time, where the many comforts and technological and social developments are paid for with an increasingly invasive impact on the natural dynamics of the human body, it becomes urgent to implement a serious program of health education and lifestyles that respects the body, so that progress does not come at the expense of the person,” he said.

The pope encouraged the doctors to frequently read the Gospel passages in which Jesus encounters and heals the sick, seeing in these a constant source of inspiration.

“By virtue of the faith you have received, you are always called to regard Jesus, source of closeness and tenderness, as a model of humanity and dedication to others,” he said.

He recalled how Jesus welcomed the children who came to him and even pointed to them as a model for those who wish to enter the Kingdom of God.

Pope Francis reminded the doctors always to be attentive to the person they are encountering, whether it be the parent entrusting them with the health of a child, or patients receiving care.

Children in particular, the pope said, “have powerful antennas, and rapidly grasp whether we are well disposed to them or if we are distracted, because maybe we wish we had already finished the shift, would like to work faster, or find a patient who screams less ... You too are men and women, with your worries, but we know that you are also trained to smile, necessary to give courage and open a gap of trust in the little ones; and even medicines are more effective.”

Pediatricians can play a role in shaping the culture, and their work “represents a real mission, which involves both the mind and the heart,” he said, noting that while they may take vacations from their work, “your profession will always accompany you, and involves you for far longer and more deeply than during the hours you are at work.”

“With this style, you give Christian witness, because you seek to practice Gospel values and your sense of belonging to the Church,” the pope said, “but also for the breadth of your gaze, for the ability to imagine the social context and the health system most appropriate for the future, and for your desire to be at the service, with humility and competence, of every person entrusted to you.”
 

Will Pope Francis meet the Chinese president this week?

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2019 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- As Chinese President Xi Jinping travels to Rome this week, there has been much speculation as to whether his trip will also include an unofficial visit with Pope Francis.

Ahead of the Chinese president’s arrival in Italy March 21, the AP reported that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said, “Our door is always open.”

“The proclamation of the Gospel in China cannot be separated from a stance of respect, esteem, and trust toward the Chinese People and their legitimate state authorities,” Parolin wrote in his introduction to the book, The Church in China: A Future Yet to be Written, published this week to coincide with Xi’s visit to Italy.

Parolin wrote that the provisional agreement signed by the Holy See and China in September was “not so much a point of arrival as a starting point.”

Italian media have been speculating about a possible meeting, noting that Pope Francis’ schedule does not have many appointments planned for the dates when Xi will be in Italy March 21-23.

However Chinese sources have expressed that a potential meeting between the pope and the Chinese leader is unlikely.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was “not aware” of a potential meeting between the pope and the president, but said that China is ready to meet the Vatican halfway through “constructive dialogue” to “accumulate mutual trust.”

Since China severed diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951, a potential meeting between the pope and the Chinese leader would have to be an unofficial meeting.

Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy beginning March 21 will focus on the two countries' economic ties with the Chinese hoping to secure Italian support for their Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to expand commerce through infrastructure investments.

The Chinese president will then travel to Monaco and meet with President Emmanuel Macron in Nice, France before returning March 26.

A Vatican source told the National Catholic Register that it is unlikely that a meeting will occur, but said that “last-minute decision is possible.”

The source added that the Vatican has been planning a papal trip to China for at least two years and hopes that it will take place by 2020.

The Vatican-China provisional agreement, signed Sept. 22, 2018, is still confidential in nature. The deal reportedly allows the Communist government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to choose a slate of nominees for bishop. One effect of the agreement, the Holy See recognized seven illicitly consecrated Chinese bishops and entrusted them with the leadership of Chinese dioceses.

At the moment all of China’s bishops have recognition of both the government and the Holy See. Since the deal, no new bishops have yet been appointed to China.

“History often forces religious matters and political issues, ecclesial themes and cultural discussions, moral questions and social drama, into inextricable knots,” Cardinal Parolin wrote.

“The path of unity is not yet entirely complete and the full reconciliation between Chinese Catholics and the respective communities to which they belong remains a primary objective. It is more than ever necessary, therefore, that in China a serious path of purification of memory begin progressively,” he said.

With prayer, good can overcome evil, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Mar 20, 2019 / 09:59 am (CNA).- To pray is to believe in God’s power to replace the evil in the world with goodness, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

“If we pray it is because we believe that God can and wants to transform reality by overcoming evil with good,” he said March 20. This is why it makes sense to “obey and abandon one’s self” to the will of God, even in moments of difficulty and trial.

“The Christian does not believe in an unavoidable ‘fate,’” he stated. “There is nothing haphazard in the faith of Christians: there is instead a salvation that waits to manifest itself in the life of every man and woman and to be fulfilled in eternity.”

Pope Francis pointed to the ‘Our Father’ as one prayer that demonstrates a belief that God’s will desires the good of the world. The Lord’s Prayer, he said, “ignites in us the same love of Jesus for the will of the Father, a flame that drives us to transform the world with love.”

Continuing his catechesis on the ‘Our Father,’ the pope reflected on the line, “Thy will be done,” using the example of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, he said, prayed for the Father to take away his suffering, but also said, “still, not my will but yours be done.”

In that moment, “Jesus is crushed by the evil of the world, but trustingly abandons himself to the ocean of the love of the Father’s will,” Pope Francis said.

And the will of God, he emphasized, is what brings real freedom. Therefore, praying, “thy will be done,” is not a “slavish” act; obeying the Lord is not like obeying a slave master, or bending the will to an unchangeable destiny. “On the contrary, it is a prayer full of ardent trust in God who wants good for us, life, salvation,” he said.

God wants his children to be free and it is his love that gives that freedom, he noted, adding that: “In fact, the ‘Our Father’ is the prayer of children, not slaves; but of children who know the heart of their father and are certain of his design of love.”

He pointed to the story of Zacchaeus, stating that the love of God is like that experienced by the tax collector and sinner. Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus but did not know that the Lord was, in fact, searching for him long before he knew.  

“God with his love knocks on the door of our hearts. Why? To attract us; to attract us to Him and carry us forward on the path to salvation. God is close to each of us with his love, to take us by hand to salvation. How much love is behind this!” Pope Francis said.

In the world, there are many things not in conformance with the will of God, he said, and encouraged people, in the face of evils like war, abuse of power, and exploitation, to pray with the awareness of the Lord’s will of good for his people and world, and to beg of him: “your will be done!”

“Thus is the Lord, thus he loves us…” the pope concluded.

Seven 20th-century Romanian bishops declared martyrs

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis declared Tuesday the martyrdom of seven Greek-Catholic bishops killed by the communist regime in Romania in the mid-20th century.

Bishops Valeriu Traian Frentiu, Vasile Aftenie, Ioan Suciu, Tito Livio Chinezu, Ioan Balan, Alexandru Rusu, and Iuliu Hossu were declared to have been killed “in hatred of the faith” between 1950 and 1970, during the Soviet occupation of Romania and the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Each of the bishops was arrested and held in prisons and camps until he died, often from isolation, cold, hunger, disease, or hard manual labor. Most were never tried or convicted and were buried in unmarked graves, without religious services.
 
A year before his death, Bishop Iuliu Hossu was named a cardinal “in pectore.” After spending years in isolation, he died in a hospital in Bucharest in 1970. His last words were: “My struggle is over, yours continues.”

In addition to imprisonment and isolation, Bishop Vasile Aftenie was tortured at the Interior Ministry, later dying from his wounds May 10, 1950.

After meeting March 19 with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis gave his approval for the publication of the decrees of martyrdom of the seven bishops, and of another seven people on the path to sainthood.

The pope approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Maria Emilia Riquelme y Zayas, foundress of the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of the Most Holy Sacrament and the Blessed Immaculate Virgin Mary (1847-1940), who will now be called ‘blessed.’

He also recognized the martyrdom of Italian missionary Alfredo Cremonesi, a religious priest of the Pontifical Institute for External Missionaries, who was born in Italy and killed in Burma in 1953.

The Servants of God declared to have heroic virtue, and who can now be called ‘venerable,’ are: Francesco Maria Di Francia, priest and founder of the Congregation of Capuchin Sisters of the Sacred Heart (1853-1913); Maria Hueber, foundress of the Congregation of the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis (1653-1705); Maria Teresa Camera, foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Pieta (1818-1894); Maria Teresa Gabrieli, co-foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor - Palazzolo Institute (1837-1908); and Giovanna Francesca of the Holy Spirit, foundress of the Institute of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Word Incarnate (1888-1984).

Kazakhstan bishops issue statement supporting Archbishop Chullikatt

Astana, Kazakhstan, Mar 19, 2019 / 10:55 am (CNA).- The bishops’ conference of Kazakhstan issued a statement of support Tuesday for Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, apostolic nuncio to that country, who has recently been accused of financial and personal misconduct during his time of service as the Vatican’s chief diplomat at the United Nations.

“Archbishop Chullikatt has been working very earnestly for the good of the people and the Church in Kazakhstan,” the conference said in a communique issued March 19.

“Immediately after his arrival, with zeal and joy he started visiting all the parishes of Kazakhstan. He has been working very hard for the good of all of us here and we are particularly grateful for all the assistance he gives to the Bishops’ Conference. Besides, he is involved in good projects at various levels (educational, social, charitable etc.) for the people of Kazakhstan.”

“For us, Archbishop Chullikatt is the kind of Nuncio, we Bishops in Kazakhstan would like to have with us at least for a few more years,” the statement continued.

Chullikatt led the Holy See’s permanent observer mission at the U.N. from 2010 until 2014. He became apostolic nuncio to Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in 2016.

On March 15, Catholic News Agency reported allegations from former officials and employees of the Holy See’s U.N. mission office that Chullikatt had mismanaged some financial matters, especially those concerning the payment of employees and contractors, and that he had reportedly engaged in an inappropriate romantic relationship while he led that office.

That report detailed allegations made by three priests who had been in service to the U.N. mission during Chullikatt’s tenure. Since publication, an additional priest, also a former official of the U.N. mission, confirmed to CNA his knowledge of the misconduct which had been reported.

Crux first reported the allegations of financial misconduct March 11, in a report that also said information about the archbishop’s alleged financial misconduct was reported to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State in 2013, and that the archbishop remained in his post for another six months after those reports were filed.

The communique from the Kazakhstan bishops said that “all these almost past three years of his presence in Kazakhstan we heard only good things about Archbishop Chullikatt from the priests, religious sisters and from our lay people, as well from those who work at the Apostolic Nunciature in Astana.”  

“There was not noticed the slightest suspicion about Archbishop Chullikatt’s moral conduct or any improper behavior towards women. According to our information, his dealings and treatment towards his collaborators and employees in the Nunciature is marked by kindness, courtesy and tact. We never heard any complaint in this regard.”

On March 11, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. issued a statement saying that during the time Chullikatt led the mission, “the visa status of all members of the diplomatic, technical and service staff of the Mission, whether religious or lay, was fully in line with the applicable provisions of U.S. State Department regulations.”

“The remuneration received by the members of the service staff of the Mission at the time was higher than the minimum salary required at the time by the laws of New York and included a generous compensation package (contributions on a pension fund, health and dental insurance, a 13th month benefit, a fully furnished apartment, a full month’s paid vacation and daily meals),” the statement added.

The statement from the Kazakhstan bishops’ conference, signed by Bishop Jose Luis Sierra, president of the conference, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, its secretary general, said that “we are pleased to recognize the Statement from the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations...which states that the employment conditions and the visa status of all members of the diplomatic, technical and service staff of the Mission during the tenure of Archbishop Chullikatt were fully in line with the laws of New York and the applicable provisions of U.S. State Department regulations.”

“Thereby the relevant accusations" reported in the Crux and CNA articles “against Archbishop Chullikatt have been proven to be unfounded with regard to this concrete issue.”

“We also wish to recognize with sincere gratitude the important role played by Archbishop Chullikatt during his mission at the United Nations as a staunch defender of the unborn, of the traditional marriage and the institution of the family, often in close collaboration with many friendly Muslim-majority countries, including Kazakhstan,” the bishops’ statement added.

“We express our hope that Archbishop Chullikatt can continue his exemplary apostolic work in Kazakhstan with many spiritual fruits and we wish him strength and abundant Divine blessings.”