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U.S. Eastern Catholic bishops thank pope for lifting ban on married priests

 

U.S. Eastern Catholic bishops thank pope for lifting ban on married priests

Pope Francis meets with U.S. bishops from the Eastern Catholic Churches in the United States during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican Feb. 20, 2020. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media.)

ROME - Pope Francis “is a father who knows very well his daughters and sons,” including those who belong to the Eastern Catholic churches, said the Armenian Catholic bishop of the United States and Canada.

Bishop Mikael A. Mouradian of the California-based Armenian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg was one of 15 bishops from eight Eastern Catholic churches who spent close to three hours conversing with Pope Francis Feb. 20.

The meeting was part of the bishops’ “ad limina” visits to Rome to report on the status of their eparchies or dioceses. They were the last group of U.S. bishops to complete the visits, which are required regularly of every bishop in the world.

 
 

Mouradian had made an “ad limina” visit in 2012, meeting with Pope Benedict XVI. Both popes “were very fraternal” and very much teachers, but Pope Francis’s advice and counsel came from a place “much more near to the heart,” the bishop said.

The Armenian bishop and others who spoke to Catholic News Service said they thanked Pope Francis for his decision in 2014 to lift an 85-year-old Vatican ban on ordaining married priests for the Eastern Catholic churches outside their traditional homelands where married priests are common.

“I ordained my first married priest two years ago,” the bishop said. “He is our first American-born vocation to the priesthood, and he’s doing an amazing job.”

 

Mouradian said the pope’s decision to lift the ban did not open any floodgates because the bishop has conditions candidates must meet: “I always request that they have at least five years of experience in matrimony” and have children; and they must have at least a master’s of divinity degree. In addition, “the wife should agree that the husband will be a priest.”

 

When he was named bishop in 2011, he said, all the priests of the eparchy were from the Middle East. He was told, “Don’t look for vocations in the States; you will not find them.”

But, he said, the Gospel says to pray that God would send workers for the vineyard. “That’s what I did. I prayed. And worked a little bit for it.”

The bishop is still praying, though, because there are Armenian Catholic communities spread throughout the United States and Canada, and he would like to open more missions to serve them and help them preserve their spiritual traditions.

Bishop John M. Botean of the Romanian Catholic Eparchy of St George, based in Canton, Ohio, was making his fourth “ad limina” visit to Rome. The meeting with Pope Francis, he said, “was unlike anything I have ever experienced in Rome. Really. Seriously.”

 

“The positive public perception that the pope has is a shadow of the sense of him that you get from a personal encounter,” the bishop said. “He is everything I used to dream about for the leadership of the church.”

“It was wonderful,” said Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. “It’s not every day that you get a chance to have a conversation with somebody who’s a fatherly figure, who has a world perspective, a broad heart and a good sense of humor, and who happens to be the successor of Peter, the pope of Rome.”

The bishops, he said, “received great encouragement” and “gentle prodding” from the pope.

The discussion was wide open and touched “all the neuralgic issues,” Botean said, including clerical sexual abuse, priestly ministry, ecumenism, evangelization and the situation of Catholics in their home countries, especially the suffering Christians of the Middle East.

 

Pope Francis also gave the bishops the impression that in the upcoming reform of the Roman Curia, the renamed Dicastery for Eastern Churches would continue to expand its role of serving their churches rather than trying to control them. Botean said in the past the congregation would be referred to jokingly as “the colonial office.”

One problem the bishops brought to the pope’s attention, he said, is that in some parts of Europe, the local Latin-rite bishops “are not very hospitable” about allowing married Eastern-rite priests to serve migrants of their communities, yet they will give the migrant Orthodox community a church to use.

“Pope Francis knew about that,” Botean said. “He said, ‘You’re Catholics. We have to treat you as one of our own.”

For decades, Eastern Catholics were encouraged to focus only on members of their own ethnic group and even to discourage Latin-rite Catholics from becoming involved in an Eastern-rite parish.

But when one of the Ukrainian Catholic bishops told the pope that one of his U.S. parishes is Hispanic, the pope reminded the bishops that, like any Catholic, they have an obligation to welcome people, reach out and evangelize, the bishop said.

“He was very positive about that,” Botean said. “He said people have to go where they feel welcomed and accompanied, and if they are attracted to the liturgy, they should go there.”

While Mouradian obviously is proud of the liturgy and liturgical heritage of the Armenian church, he said that “faith is not only tradition.”

Latin-rite Catholics who go to one of his liturgies almost always remark that the rites and the “beautiful hymns” of the traditional Armenian liturgy “have much more mystery” than the modern Mass, he said.

But, he said, a Catholic “should believe profoundly in what is going on during the liturgy, especially during the holy Mass, whether in the old tradition or the new tradition. But when you understand very well that that’s the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the true body and blood of our Lord, that’s the biggest mystery - that’s what comes with faith.”

Being open to “those who do not come from the tribe” is not totally new, Gudziak pointed out. Bishop Kurt R. Burnette of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey, was among the bishops in the group. “He’s not Burnettski, he’s Kurt Burnette from Texas.”

Gudziak said Pope Francis was “very open” with the bishops, told them a few things he asked them not to share, “was in no way putting up facades, spoke about what might be weaknesses in the church, the Holy See.”

Vatican sees intense interest in opening of Pius XII archive

 

Vatican sees intense interest in opening of Pius XII archive

FILE - In this file photo dated Sept. 1945, Pope Pius XII, wearing the ring of St. Peter, raises his right hand in a papal blessing at the Vatican. The Vatican’s chief librarian and archivists said Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 that all researchers _ regardless of nationality, faith and ideology _ were welcome to request access to the soon-to-open Vatican’s apostolic library on Pope Pius XII starting March 2. (Credit: AP Photo, File)

ROME - More than 150 historians and researchers have signed up to access the soon-to-open Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII, evidence of the intense scholarly interest into the World War II-era pope and his record during the Holocaust, officials said Thursday.

Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, the Vatican’s chief librarian, told reporters that all researchers - regardless of nationality, faith and ideology - were welcome to request permission to use the Vatican’s Apostolic Library, which will open the archive on March 2.

“The church has no reason to fear history,” he told reporters.

 
 

Some Jewish groups and historians have said Pius, who was pope from 1939-1958, stayed silent during the Holocaust and didn’t do enough to save lives. His defenders at the Vatican and beyond say he used quiet diplomacy and encouraged convents and other religious institutes to hide Jews.

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, a great defender of Pius, accelerated the process to open the archives ahead of schedule so that researchers could have their say. Pope Francis announced the archive would be ready March 2.

One of the historians who plans to be here for the opening is David Kertzer of Brown University, author of several books about Pius’ predecessors and their relations with Jews. One about Pius XI, The Pope and Mussolini, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2015.

 

In an email, Kertzer said the imminent opening of the Pius XII archives, and the light it will shed on the role played by the pope during the war, had “generated tremendous excitement in the scholarly world, and beyond.”

 

“Much of historical importance will also become clearer for the postwar years, when the pope, among other challenges, worried that the Communist Party would come to power in Italy and played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in blocking it,” he said.

Calaça de Mendonça warned that the process of studying the millions of pages of documents from six different archives will be measured in years, not days, weeks or months, and will require patience.

No “scoops” are expected in the near term, stressed Monsignor Sergio Pagano, the prefect of the archive.

The documentation includes the archives from the Pius secretariat of state - the main organ of church governance, which includes the Vatican’s foreign relations with other countries - as well as those of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Vatican office responsible for mission territories.

 

Jewish groups and historians have argued for years that the Vatican had no business moving forward with Pius’ beatification cause until the Vatican’s full archives were opened. They have also asked that any beatification be put off until the generation of Holocaust survivors have died.

The American Jewish Committee, which has expressed such appeals, welcomed the opening.

“We trust that the independent scholarly review of these archival materials will provide greater clarity as to what positions and steps were taken during this period by the Holy See, and help resolve the persistent debates and controversy in this regard”, said Rabbi David Rosen, in charge of the group’s interreligious affairs.

He said the “necessary transparency” would also enhance already strong Catholic-Jewish relations.

 

Benedict moved Pius one step closer to possible sainthood in December 2009, when he confirmed that Pius lived a life of “heroic” Christian virtue. All that is needed now is for the Vatican to determine a “miracle” occurred.

Pope Francis said in 2014 that the miracle hadn’t been identified, suggesting that the process would remain on hold, at least for now.

Although far from home, Pope Francis still shows his closeness to Argentina

 

Although far from home, Pope Francis still shows his closeness to Argentina

Graciela Sosa and her husband Silvino Baez cry for their dead son Fernado Baez Sosa outside of Argentina's Congress, where a multitude gathered to call for justice a month after the murder of the 19-year old. Picture taken Feb. 18, 2020. (Credit: AP /Natacha Pisarenko.)

ROME - Though he hasn’t gone back home since being elected as the Successor of Peter in March 2013, Francis is still close to Argentina, and that the Argentine Church is close to him, with several examples of this relationship in the past week.

Closeness to the family of a murdered young man

A month after the murder of 18-year old man Fernando Baez Sosa in Argentina by a group of rugby players, Pope Francis sent a letter to the family of the victim read at a Mass celebrated at the doors of the nightclub where the murder took place Jan. 18.

“Dear brothers, I know that you will celebrate a Mass in Villa Gesell on the one-month anniversary of the murder of Fernando Baez [Sosa],” says the letter written in Pope Francis minuscule handwriting. “I want to assure you of my spiritual closeness on this day. I too will celebrate the Eucharist for Fernando and his parents.”

 
 

Baez Sosa was murdered by a mob of 10 rugby players in the coastal city of Villa Gesell, some 250 miles south of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital. The motive of the attack is not known.

After the Mass, Bishop Gabriel Mestre asked for “an end to violence; let’s all of us say ‘yes’ to being artisans of peace, something Pope Francis often asks of us.”

The pontiff had personally reached out to the family days after the murder, calling Baez Sosa’s parents. Though both the family and the Vatican said the Feb. 2 call was a private conversation, the parents acknowledged the pope’s outreach was a “gesture against violence.”

 

The accused, all aged 18-21, are from a rugby team based in the city of Zarate, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

 

Not all of the players - identified in the local press as “The Rugbiers” - had the same level of participation in the crime: One of them kicked Baez Sosa in the head when he was already unconscious, and several others participated in the beating.

Witnesses identified others as accessories to the crime, as they either deterred Baez Sosa’s friends from helping him, cheered as the young man was beaten, or chased the victim before the attack.

On Tuesday, as the country marked the first month anniversary of the crime, the family of Baez Sosa led a rally of thousands in front of the national Congress, demanding justice and an end to violence. Smaller rallies were held throughout the country, as well as in London and Barcelona.

Support for Querida Amazonia

Last week the Vatican released Pope Francis’s post-synodal exhortation on the Amazon region.

 

In the wake of the document’s release, the Argentine bishops’ conference ministry for indigenous people released a message to denounce the malnutrition and death of indigenous children in the country’s northern region.

RELATED: Pope ducks debates over married priests, women deacons in Amazon doc

In the first months of the year, at least 8 children from the Wichi indigenous community died from malnutrition in Argentina’s province of Chaco, and dozens of other children are currently hospitalized.

The health minister of the region, Josefina Medrano, simply said that it’s “not new” that children from this community die at this time of the year, due to the severe heat that affects the region during the Southern hemisphere summer.

 

“In the light of the Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia, we want to invite you to look at the distressing reality that the original peoples and communities of the region of our Argentine Chaco live, due to malnutrition and death of children, lack of drinking water and other scourges,” reads the Feb. 14 bishops’ statement.

“We cannot give immediate answers to the social and health emergencies in which many communities live, but we can assume a merciful attitude that frees us from indifference and media sensationalism and makes us complicit with the suffering of the most forgotten,” they wrote.

Quoting from Francis’s document, they compare the situation of the indigenous in the Amazon region to that of the indigenous populations in Chaco: “The imbalance of power is enormous; the weak have no means of defending themselves, while the winners take it all … local powers, using the excuse of development, were also party to agreements aimed at razing the forest with impunity and indiscriminately.”

A society that doesn’t know how to take care of its children and the most vulnerable groups runs serious risks of implosion and death, the statement says: “We cannot mortgage our future or let our hope be stolen, since it is not possible to ‘starve to death in the blessed land of bread’.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez - often labeled as the ghostwriter of Francis’s environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’ - said he regretted the media’s focus on the ordination of married men into the priesthood when discussing Querida Amazonia.

In a statement released Feb. 13, the archbishop of La Plata warned that those who continue to exploit the Amazon rainforest will “rub their hands” at the fact that Catholics continue to fight over inter-ecclesial matters instead of focusing on addressing the enormous disparity in the region.

According to Fernandez, those who are focused on Francis not speaking about the ordination of the so called viri probati, either because they were in favor or against the proposal, continue to ignore the pope’s words contention that it’s a clericalist solution for a problem affecting society and the Church in the Amazon.

The discussion about married priests, the archbishop said, was a distraction from “boldly imagining a Church that is markedly lay.”

In his statement, the archbishop also notes that Francis warns against equating priesthood with power.

Bishops double down on the defense of life

Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the Argentine bishops conference, gave an interview to Radio Maria on Tuesday urging people to participate in the March 8 Mass for the defense of women and the unborn child to be held in the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lujan, Patroness of Argentina.

As the government of President Alberto Fernandez continues to push not only for the decriminalization of abortion, wanting for it to be “free, available and safe” in every health facility in the country, the bishops called on Catholics and all people of good will to attend the Mass, taking place on International Women’s Day.

The theme of the celebration is: “Yes to women, yes to life.”

Ojea said that the goal of the Mass is to defend life and to defend the women of Argentina, and also urge the protection of the right to life of the elderly, the infirm and those who are in prison.

He called for the “defense of life in all stages of its development, in all its way. It would be a betrayal to the message of the Gospel to only defend the life at the moment of conception.”

“On the occasion of International Women’s Day, and given the many words of the pope addressed to the defense of the dignity of women, speaking of the enormous violence that is exercised many times against women through chauvinistic attitudes and a false authoritarianism; this is an excellent opportunity to make this call to all the brothers of the motherland, to defend life and defend our women,” Ojea added.

Though he didn’t mention it, Argentina is facing high instances of violence against women perpetrated by their partners, known as “femicide.” Statistics vary, but some claim that a woman is killed by her male partner every 40 hours in the country.

Ojea said in the interview that the Catholic Church is not “anti-rights,” and called on all Christians to be “brave” and live the whole message of the Gospel.

Quoting Laudato Si’, Ojea said that the right of life must always be defended; if it’s not, then the lives of the weakest in society will be discarded.

“Just as we defend the smallest [creatures] of nature, so that no species be extinguished, that no being of God’s creation be extinguished because he knows why he has created it, much more so a human person [needs to be defended],” Ojea said.

26-year-old twins ordained to the priesthood side by side on the same day

 

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Their decision was “personal, autonomous, and free,” but it led to the same path.

Twin brothers Giacomo and Davide Crespi have always been together, and May 25, 2019, was no different: side by side, along with three other seminary classmates, they received the sacrament of holy orders from their bishop, Gianfranco Agostino Gardin, in the diocese of Treviso, northern Italy.

 

Fr. Giacomo relates how when they were 11 years old and in 5th grade, the twins came into contact with the vocational ministry of the seminary of Treviso along with other classmates in their catechism class. At the time, neither of the brothers had considered the priesthood. In an interview with Famiglia Cristiana, Fr. Giacomo says, “Certainly, at the age of 11, you don’t ask yourself if you want to become a priest or not. It begins a bit like a new adventure. Then as we grew up, each of us reached the time to start the path of discernment, of moving on to the period of studying theology, and the choice to become priests.”

Although it’s a path they walked together, they both emphasize that each one’s discernment was “personal, autonomous, and free.” Fr. Giacomo explains, “My brother David and I never confronted each other, asking, ‘What are you going to do?’ We simply shared the same path.”

They also acknowledge the fundamental role of the support they received from their parents, Agnese and Giampietro, and their sisters, Irene and Maria. According to the newly ordained priests, “Throughout these years, we always felt that we weren’t alone, that we were accompanied and sustained, especially by our parents. Thanks to their first ‘yes’ and to their witness, we’ve been able to say our own ‘yes’” each step of the way.

That support was very concrete. In an interview with the SIR news agency, their father explains, “[The seminary] was 26 miles away, which was very far for us. I bought a new car so we could visit them every week, and so we could participate in the formation and spirituality events designed for parents, because in a certain sense, the entire family ‘enters’ the seminary.”

Although they entered the seminary program very young, their high school studies were typical of ordinary teens. In Italy, high schoolers already chose a specialization; Giacomo focused on science, and Davide on communication.

 
 

Fr. David says that now, at the end of the path that led them to priestly ministry, their “yes” to the Lord has brought them great interior peace:

“Now, I have a feeling of interior peace I’ve never experienced before, thanks to this definitive ‘yes.’ … I know I’m where God has placed me. And I have the fortune of having my brother at my side, who understands perfectly the depth and the importance of everything we are experiencing.”

In his homily during the ordination Mass (quoted by SIR), Bishop Gardin expressed his confidence that the newly ordained priests will be “normal and happy priests. Indeed, in their search for happiness, they’ve discovered that it is found in an intense and fascinating relationship with Jesus, in giving of themselves to help others to get to know Him.”

After their first Mass, concelebrated by the twins at their home parish, Fr. Giacomo thanked his brother in words that reveal the strength of their bond as twin brothers and as priests: “[Thank you,] because for me, you are a brother, my twin, my companion on the road, and my true friend; because if, as [Blessed] Fr. Pino Puglisi said, ‘God loves, but always through someone in particular,’ for me you are one of those people. Thank you, because you’ve walked beside me with discretion and freedom throughout these years. I’ve prayed for you during this, our first Mass. Look to the Lord, the only rock: it is He who lives in you, and it is for Him that you are called to live, with all of your might.”

Hitler’s propaganda efforts were met with strong resistance from Vatican

 

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Nazi jamming was sometimes so bad that Vatican Radio had to change frequencies.

“Fake news” is a concept that has circulated in American politics for the past several years, but the use of propaganda is as old as the history of international relations, perhaps. It was certainly a tool used by the National Socialists of Germany as Hitler took over parts of Europe between 1939 and 1945.

 

Now, 75 years after the end of World War II, a scholar is detailing the ways the Nazis’ “fake news” was countered — agressively, he says — by another news outlet on the European Continent: Vatican Radio.

“The reach of Vatican Radio … was huge,” said Nathan Morley, author of Radio Hitler: Nazi Airwaves in the Second World War, which is due out in August. “It beamed daily newscasts, which followed the war with painful attention, alongside a ‘discourse’ discussion program in English beamed to India, North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In early 1940, an account on Vatican Radio about the ‘horror and inexcusable excesses’ inflicted on Poles under Nazi rule obviously irked [Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister] and other leading Nazis.”

“The following year, Vatican Radio was critical of the measures taken by the Nazi authorities aiming to suppress Catholicism in Alsace Lorraine and other parts of Occupied France,” Morley continued, in an interview with Crux. “Unsurprisingly, the station came under electronic attack by jamming. … [When] the jamming was so bad, Vatican Radio had to change frequency.”

The Nazis broadcast propaganda to Europe, the British Isles, the Middle East and even the United States, Morley said. And they often feigned devotion to Christian faith in order to appeal to foreigners’ religious sensibilities.

“In typical twisted form, the Nazis pretended to support the Church on their overseas radio services, especially after [the Battle of] Stalingrad, said Morely, a Cyprus-based journalist and author. “An attempt to win the support of American communities was made by playing on their religious sentiments. A service devoted to Ireland — called the Gaelic program — saw Professor Muhlhausen, who occupied the Chair of Celtic Studies at the Berlin University, often waxing lyrical on ‘Nazi devoutness to the Christian faith’ and the partiality of Nazi leaders for the Catholic Church.”

 
 

The author said that Goebbels deployed an American journalist named Jane Anderson to appeal to Catholics in the United States. Anderson used the slogan, “Always remember progressive Americans eat Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and listen to both sides of the story.”

“She compared the invasion of Russia in 1941 to a religious crusade backed by 50 million members of the Catholic Church of Germany — which, of course, had been persecuted and bullied by Hitler since 1933,” Morley said. “She said Catholics stood united and as one against Russia. ‘The Catholic Church in Germany will support the Führer by word and deed in the crusade against the Communist enemies of the Christian world.’”

The Nazis also set up fake radio stations, one of which, purporting to be broadcasting from inside the British Isles, was called the Christian Peace Station and came across as an apostle for peace.

“On one occasion it accused every female working in the armaments industry as committing a crime against God,” Morley said. “Transmissions usually wrapped up with hymns and a prayer.”

But apparently none of this was a match for Vatican Radio, and Goebbels disliked it so much that he demanded almost daily transcripts of its broadcasts.

“He never really understood how an independent radio station could beam from what he viewed as the capital of Germany’s greatest ally,” Mussolini’s Fascist regime, Morley told Crux. “For him, the whole Vatican Radio operation was totally perplexing.”

Vatican Radio was officially inaugurated on February, 12, 1931, with Pope Pius XI delivering the first ever radio message by a pope.

That was two years and a day after the birth of Vatican City State on February 11, 1929, following the signing of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, Vatican News pointed out. “Just four days after the creation of Vatican City, Pope Pius XI officially commissioned the Italian-born radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi to build the radio station inside the new state,” Vatican News said. “The first signal that was sent out from Vatican Radio on Feb. 12, 1931, was however in Morse code.”

The Vatican anticipated the need for a way to speak directly to Catholics and others of good will living under regimes such as National Socialism.

“To talk freely across borders in an age when totalitarianism was spreading — there was Bolshevism in the East, there was Nazism on the horizon, there was fascism and so on,” former Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told Rome Reports in 2011. “Being able to speak freely with people around the world, in particular, also in churches that were experiencing difficulty or being persecuted, was absolutely vital.”

Rome Reports said that during World War II, Vatican Radio delivered 250,000 messages to prisoners of war from their families.