IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler OrsburnBy Carol ZimmermannWASHINGTON
(CNS) -- Maureen Orth, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine who has
written about music icons, world leaders and Hollywood celebrities, tackled
a completely different subject for National Geographic magazine: the Virgin
For the magazine's December
cover story, "Mary the most powerful woman in the world," Orth
visited several countries and interviewed dozens of people with strong devotional
ties to the Mary -- including from those who claim to have seen her, those who
believe her intercession has healed them and those seeking her spiritual
guidance and intercession.
In the magazine's Washington
office Nov. 24, Orth, widow of Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the
Press,'' who died in 2008, said what made the biggest impression on her while
interviewing people for the article was Mary's universal appeal across diverse
"It was a huge journey all
over the world," she said, noting that what particularly stands out after a
year of visiting Marian devotional sites in Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Mexico,
Egypt and Rwanda is that Mary is the "hope and solace of so many people
The Muslim appreciation of Mary,
as a "holy woman of God," she told Catholic News Service, "is a bridge that ought to
be explored," especially in this time of strife caused by religious
Orth, a practicing Catholic, who
certainly knew about Mary before this assignment, said she learned a great deal
from talking with scholarly experts and reading mystics who wrote about the
life of Mary but whose observations didn't make it into the article.
She came away with a "more
personal relationship" with Mary than an intellectual one, saying she
understood Mary more as a person after talking with so many who are devoted to
She also witnessed the deep
faith of many who have traveled great distances to be where apparitions of Mary
are said to have taken place such as Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where six
village children said they first saw Mary in 1981 and continue to see apparitions
there. A Vatican doctrinal congregation is still studying these claims.
In the small village, Orth met four
stage-4 cancer victims last November: Two have since died, one is under
treatment and another shows no signs of the disease. All four spoke of spiritual
conversions and inner peace, she said.
A 59-year-old hockey dad from
Boston told Orth that in 2000 one of the Medjugorje visionaries prayed with him
for a cure of the cancer that riddled his body, giving him only months
left to live. During the prayer, he felt a sensation of heat in his body. When
he went back to Boston a week later, a CT scan at Massachusetts General
Hospital revealed that his tumors were almost gone.
Since then, he's been back to Medjugorje
The editors at National
Geographic wrote in the margin by Orth's account of his story: "Why do
miracles happen to some people and not others?" Orth, who doesn't have an
answer to that theological query, noted the challenge of explaining spiritual accounts
in a scientific magazine.
One of Orth's most inspiring
stops for the story, primarily because she had not been unaware of it, was the
small village of Kibeho, Rwanda, described as the place where Mary appeared to three
young girls in the 1980s and foretold the genocide that took place in that
country in 1994.
In 2001, that Vatican verified
the claims of the three girls. One had been killed in the genocide, one became
a monastic sister in Italy and the third fled to the Democratic Republic of the
Congo and then Kenya during the three-month onslaught when the majority Hutu
attacked the minority Tutsi and more than 800,000 people were killed.
The girls, Orth writes, "said
they spent countless hours in conversations with the Virgin, who called herself
Nyina wa Jambo, Mother of the Word. Mary spoke to the girls so often that they
called her Mama."
But even though Mary is said to
have spoken of the love of Jesus and gave these girls motherly advice, she is
also said to have shown them images of heaven, hell and purgatory along with
horrific images of genocide that she warned could happen if Rwandans did not
renew their hearts and dispel evil.
Orth said that the people she
spoke with who said they saw apparitions all seemed genuine. She approached
them as she would an investigative journalist. Their stories have been
consistent throughout the years and they also have undergone extensive
questioning from Vatican officials.
Orth pointed out that very
little is known about Mary from the Bible, but as her story reveals, the lack
of details about Mary has not stopped people from reaching out to her in prayer
and devotion as a way to better understand and approach God.
"The number of people who use
her as their guide and their way to a higher meaning, that was impressive across
the board," Orth said.- - -Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS photo/Georgi Licovski, EPABy Dennis SadowskiWASHINGTON (CNS) -- The extensive vetting process that all refugees undergo before arriving in the United States "screens out any possible threat of terrorism," said the executive director of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services."We believe the risk is nil and certainly when we look at this (process) under a microscope, these are the most vetted people that come into our country," William Canny told Catholic News Service.The director said the State Department screening procedure -- which the White House posted on its website Nov. 20 -- is comprehensive and makes security its highest priority."We're highly confident that it's well done, that it screens out any possible threat of terrorism. Based on that, we're very comfortable receiving these families, which by the way, are mostly women and children," Canny said.Questions about the possible entry into the U.S. by extremists tied to Islamic State militants who control large swaths of Syria and Iraq have been raised since a string of violent attacks in Paris Nov. 13 and the downing of a Russian jetliner over Egypt's Sinai desert Oct. 31, all claimed by the organization.Members of Congress, presidential candidates, state legislators and at least 31 governors have called for the federal government to stop the resettlement of Syrians, saying they feared for Americans' security.Republicans in the House of Representatives Nov. 19 secured a veto-proof majority, 289-137, on the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act that would block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S. unless they undergo strict background checks. The Senate was expected to vote on the bill the week of Nov. 30.MRS helped resettle 376 Syrians nationwide between Aug. 15, 2012, and Nov. 24. The agency reported that it also has resettled 13,110 Iraqis since 2008.The agency is under contract with the State Department to resettle about 30 percent of the 70,000 refugees the country accepts annually. In 2014, MRS resettled 20,875 refugees from around the world in the U.S. It is the largest nongovernmental resettlement agency in the world.Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said at a Nov. 19 media briefing that the U.S. resettled 1,682 Syrian refuges in year ending Sept. 30.Overall, more than 4 million Syrian refugees have fled their homeland since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011.President Barack Obama has directed the State Department to prepare to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees during fiscal year 2016, which ends Sept. 30.Henshaw called the effort a "modest but important contribution to the global effort to address the Syrian refugee crisis."Streams of Syrians have fled to Europe this year as their country's civil war showed no signs of ending. Hundreds of thousands of people have made their way to Germany while other European nations have opened their borders, but to lesser numbers. Other countries, however, have denied entry to the refugees.Religious and civil rights leaders in the U.S. have prevailed on federal officials to realize that providing humanitarian assistance to the refugees, including their resettlement, is a moral obligation.The concerns raised by some U.S. elected officials focus almost exclusively on security. They point to the possibility that an extremist could get through the vetting process and eventually team up with other like-minded people to attack innocent civilians.Henshaw said the refugee resettlement program prioritizes admitting the most vulnerable Syrians, including female-headed households, children, survivors of torture and people with severe medical conditions."We have, for years, safely admitted refugees from all over the world, including Syrian refugees, and we have a great deal of experience screening and admitting large numbers of refugees from chaotic environments, including where intelligence holdings are limited," Henshaw said.Jane E. Bloom, head of the U.S. office of the International Catholic Migration Commission, told CNS that many of the refugees her agency is resettling are severely injured and have been devastated by the war."We're seeing a high number of cases that are burn victims, lost limbs, shrapnel injuries needing operations," she said. "Most of the Syrians are traumatized by an act of war. They've lost family and friends.Refugees initially are selected for resettlement by the staff of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The ICMC -- based in Geneva and with its U.S. office at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- is one of the worldwide agencies working with UNHCR in processing people chosen for resettlement.ICMC has worked in two refugee support centers in Istanbul and Beirut during the Syrian crisis. Another agency, the International Office of Migration, works with refugees at support centers in Jordan and Egypt.Before the ICMC gets involved with any Syrians, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducts its own screening, Bloom said. After that step ICMC staff members begin vetting under State Department rules, collecting biographical and family information, and learning why a family fled their home in the first place, she explained."When it comes to vetting, refugees -- and in particular Syrian refugees -- are the most vetted I have come to work with in the last 30 years," Bloom told CNS."Resettlement is the most powerful protection tool that we've got in our toolbox. So ICMC uses that very wisely and very preciously for those that are very vulnerable, those who are not officially protected within Lebanon and Turkey," Bloom added.In 2014 ICMC helped resettle 7,365 refugees to the U.S. from the support center for Turkey and Middle East, according to the agency's annual report. The agency did not provide data on how many of those refugees were Syrians.The screening process for any refugee can take 18 to 24 months or more to complete, according to the State Department. It involves gathering identifying documents, personal information and an explanation why a person or family fled in addition to a series of interviews. Iris scans and biometric data are gathered for Syrians and other Middle East people, the White House graphic showed.Refugee families are fingerprinted and undergo a security screening that involves four U.S. agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and State Department. Any one agency can deny entry for any reason.Medical checks also are completed.Once cleared, applicants are required to complete cultural orientation classes. They then are assigned to a U.S.-based nongovernment organization for resettlement. One such NGO is the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, which works in turn with local diocesan resettlement agencies, commonly run by Catholic Charities.Locations selected for permanent resettlement are based on family reunification needs or the presence of an existing community of people from a given country, Canny said.In total, the Syrian-born U.S. population stood at about 86,000 people in 2014, representing about 0.2 percent of the nation's 42.4 million immigrants, according to a fact sheet released Nov. 24 by the Migration Policy Institute.Using U.S. Census data, the institute found that the Syrian population grew by about 43 percent between 2010 and 2014. It attributed the increase primarily to the country's civil war.- - -Editor's Note: Information about the resettlement work of Migration and Refugee Services is online at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/index.cfm. Information about the International Catholic Migration Commission is online at www.icmc.net. The federal process for screening refugees is outlined at 1.usa.gov/1OYqOfD.- - -Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS photo/Dai Kurokawa, EPABy Cindy WoodenNAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- With
security concerns looming over his visit, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Nov. 25
urging tolerance and respect among people of different religions and different
During the less than seven-hour
flight, Pope Francis told reporters the only thing he was worried about were
the mosquitoes, and after greeting each of the 74 reporters individually the
pope took the microphone again and said, "Protect yourselves from the
Speaking to a small group of
reporters as he made his way around the plane, the pope also confirmed he would
visit four cities, including Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexican border, when he
visits Mexico in February.
In his brief remarks to the
whole group, the pope did not mention the security concerns or the travel
advisories issued by many governments after the terrorist attacks Nov. 13 in
Pope Francis was greeted at
Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers,
women ululating and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation's first
president, for whom the airport is named. After the brief arrival ceremony Pope
Francis traveled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came
out and lined the road to greet him.
The formal welcoming ceremony
took place at Kenya's State House, where the pope met with the president, government
and civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.
In his speech, the pope focused
on the values needed to consolidate democracy in Kenya and throughout Africa,
starting with building trust and cohesion among members of the different ethnic
and religious groups on the continent.
"Experience shows that
violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of
poverty and frustration," he said. "To the extent that our societies
experience divisions -- whether ethnic, religious or economic -- all men and
women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness
Kenyatta told the pope that
colonization left Africa with artificial borders dividing communities, which
has created tensions, but war and violence on the continent also has been
fueled by "our own selfish politicization of our ethnic and religious
As the U.N. Climate Conference
was about to begin in Paris, Pope Francis also spoke of the traditional African
value of safeguarding creation and of the need to find "responsible models
of economic development" that will not destroy the earth and the future.
"Kenya has been blessed not
only with immense beauty in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests,
savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources,"
the pope said.
Kenyans recognize them as gifts
of God and have a "culture of conservation," which they are called to
help others embrace as well, the pope said.
"The grave environmental
crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship
between human beings and nature," he said. "We have a responsibility
to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an
obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received."
On a continent where the population
is predominantly young, but unemployment among young adults is high, Pope
Francis also urged the Kenyan government officials and representatives of other
countries to recognize that the young, too, are a gift from God to be assisted
"To protect them, to invest
in them and to offer them a helping hand is the best way we can ensure a future
worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which
are the very heart and soul of a people," the pope said.
Knowing that he was speaking in
front of the country's political and economic leaders, Pope Francis reminded
them that the Gospel insists that "from those to whom much has been given,
much will be demanded."
"Show genuine concern for
the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young and a just distribution of
the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your
country," he told them.
Follow Wooden on Twitter:
@Cindy_Wooden.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese oBy SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) -- To
mark the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea and the Year of Mercy, the
Archdiocese of Seoul launched a prayer movement, "North Korean Church in
Seoul Cardinal Andrew Yeom
Soo-jung, who serves as apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, North Korea, said
the people there "have always been in my prayers."
Before a Mass at Myongdong
Cathedral Nov. 24, the cardinal said: "Pope Francis has announced the Jubilee
of Mercy; I believe the Korean Peninsula is one of the regions that need most
the mercy of God. I invite everyone to join me in this prayer movement, to bear
in mind the Catholic Church of North Korea, and to show our love and concern
with continuous prayers," he said ahead of the opening Mass for the
After the liberation of Korea,
there were 57 parishes and about 5,200 Catholics in North Korea. After the
Korean War, however, the Catholic Church of North Korea underwent persecutions by
the government. Only a few hidden Catholics are believed to be in North Korea
The archdiocese said "North
Korean Church in My Heart " is open to anyone who wants to pray for the
North Korean Church.- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Mission of Life, LebanonBy Doreen Abi RaadBEIRUT (CNS) -- Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the
Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, visited hospitalized victims of twin suicide
bombings in Beirut and said Lebanon's "message of coexistence" needs
to be preserved, despite the crises the country is enduring.
The Nov. 12 bombings in Beirut's southern suburbs killed
at least 46 people and wounded more than 200. The attacks, for which Islamic
State claimed credit, occurred a day before the terror attacks in Paris.
"We came here today to
express our friendship and brotherhood to the injured in Beirut's bombing,"
Archbishop Caccia said Nov. 23, while visiting the wounded, all Muslim, in two
The tour was part of an outreach
of union and solidarity with those injured in the attack, organized by the Lebanese
religious order Mission de Vie
(Mission of Life), devoted to serving the poorest of the poor in Lebanon.
The nuncio was accompanied by Maronite Archbishop Paul Matar of
Beirut; Father Wissam
Maalouf, founder and superior of Mission of Life; men and women
religious members of the order as well as volunteers.
"God loves tolerance, and he
is bigger than any desire for vengeance," Archbishop Caccia said during
the visit. "Lebanon's message of diversity should be preserved" and
it should prevail "despite all crises."
The nuncio said Pope Francis
"is close to all the oppressed and the needy in the world."
Mission of Life missionaries are
easily recognized throughout Lebanon by their royal blue habits, with
volunteers wearing T-shirts in the same color, affixed with the order's logo
depicting helping hands. Archbishop Caccia recently participated in one the group's
Visiting the victims in a
hospital, Father Maalouf said: "Faced with the evil and injustice
affecting our country, we are called to spread the culture of love and
nonviolence. Thus, we can overcome all barriers and deal with any
injustice."- - -Copyright © 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.