IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praying is not like taking an aspirin,
something one does just to feel a little better, Pope Francis told thousands of
members of Padre Pio Prayer Groups from around the world.
Prayer is not a business negotiation with God, either, the
pope told more than 60,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square Feb. 6. Prayer
is a "work of spiritual mercy," a time to entrust everything to the
heart of God, he said.
The pilgrims were in Rome for the Year of Mercy and a week
of special events that included veneration of the relics of St. Padre Pio and
St. Leopold Mandic, both Capuchin friars who often spent more than 12 hours a
day hearing confessions.
Although many faithful believe the body of Padre Pio, who
died in 1968, is incorrupt, church officials have never made such a claim. When
his body was exhumed in 2008, church officials said it was in "fair
condition." Chemicals were used to ensure its long-term preservation and
the face was covered with a silicone mask.
Pushed through the center of Rome Feb. 5 in glass coffins on
rolling platforms, the relics of Padre Pio and St. Leopold were escorted by
Italian military police, dozens of Capuchin friars and thousands of faithful.
When the procession reached St. Peter's Square -- the
boundary of Vatican City State -- the Italian police stood at attention and the
Swiss Guard took over the honor-guard duties. Cardinal Angelo Comastri,
archpriest of St. Peter's, welcomed the relics, blessed them with incense and
accompanied them into St. Peter's Basilica where they were to stay for
veneration until Feb. 11.
At the papal audience, joining members of the Padre Pio
Prayer Groups from around the world were staff members of the hospital he
founded, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering),
whose work is supported by the prayers and donations of the prayer groups.
Pope Francis told them that their devotion to Padre Pio
should help them rediscover each day "the beauty of the Lord's forgiveness
With his long hours in the confessional, the pope said,
"Padre Pio was a servant of mercy and he was fulltime, carrying out the
'apostolate of listening' even to the point of fainting."
"The great river of mercy" that Padre Pio
unleashed, he said, should continue through the prayers and, especially, the
willingness to listen and to care for others shown by members of the prayer
If prayer were just about finding a little peace of mind or
obtaining something specific from God, then it would basically be motivated by
selfishness: "I pray to feel good, like I'd take an aspirin," the
"Prayer, rather, is a work of spiritual mercy that
carries everything to the heart of God" and says to him, "You take
it, you who are my father."
Padre Pio, he said, used to tell people prayer is "a
key that opens God's heart."
"God's heart is not armored with all sorts of security
measures," the pope said. "You can open it with a common key --
prayer."- - -Copyright © 2016 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/David MaungBy David AgrenCIUDAD
JUAREZ, Mexico (CNS) -- Esteban Alanis, 23, once ran with a local gang known as
"Los Parqueros," which would accost people for their cash and cellphones in a working-class neighborhood of southeast Ciudad Juarez. He called
the crimes "easy money," while gang activities offered a sense of
belonging and an adolescence of parties, girls and underage drinking.
Alanis survived a shootout in 2010 outside his home -- and he turned his life
to God, got out of the gang and likely saved himself from further involvement
in the cycle of violence consuming Ciudad Juarez.
when my conversion started," he said recently outside Corpus Christi Parish,
where he teaches catechism classes. "I prayed to God that if I survived, I
would give up gang life."
Pope Francis visits Ciudad Juarez Feb. 17, he is expected to address issues
such as migration, victims of violence and conditions in the factory economy.
Alanis and others working with young people expressed hopes the pope will have positive
words for them, too, as they go about working with a population still somewhat
scarred by the violence that claimed more than 10,000 lives between 2008 and
Juarez was once murder capital of the world, an image now out-of-date,
according to statistics from the citizen-run Security Roundtable of Ciudad
Juarez, which shows a 92 percent decline in the homicide rate since 2010.
drug cartels once clashed over a corridor for trafficking contraband to the
United States. Gangs in the city previously preyed on the local population,
carrying out crimes such as kidnapping, robbery and extortion, likely to
finance the conflicts' cost, security officials say. They also preyed on young
people, who became "cannon fodder" for a conflict. An attack by
gangsters on a birthday party in 2010 killed 15 young people, an atrocity that
outraged the country even more after then-President Felipe Calderon erroneously
said the victims were mixed up in illegal activities.
crime attracted a lot of young people," said Mario Dena, the roundtable
president, who said he believes that so many people were killed or imprisoned that it partially
caused the crime rate to plunge. "They wrongly thought it would be easy
money. That's why there were so many victims."
officials say the problem persists, though at a lesser level.
see that there are kids, probably 12 years, who are being approached by them (organized crime),"
said Salesian Father Juan Carlos Quirarte, who also participates in the security roundtable.
"don't see many other options, and they mythologize these figures,"
he added. "They (criminals) always have access to easy money, they have
power, it's seductive. Hence, it's not easy to say, 'Study, if you do, there's
Corpus Christi Parish, crime was so problematic that thieves stole the bell and
cars were robbed during Sunday Mass. Father Roberto Luna responded to the
rising insecurity in the neighborhood of factory workers -- 80 percent originally
from other Mexican states -- by doubling down on outreach. It including getting
to know young people in the parish area.
way to promote belonging is to make people feel that this is their home and
they are in their home," Father Luna said, adding the approach is so
successful he recently removed the bars protecting the building and leaves the
doors unlocked. "Pope Francis spoke of a church with open doors. I said, 'That's
it! I'm going to open up the church.' ... And nothing has happened."
also put a priority on catechism classes, which are no longer scheduled just on
Saturdays, when many workers were having a hard time taking their children to
have no excuse for missing catechism with me, because I have catechism every day
to accommodate the varying factory schedules," he said.
pastoral approach of creating a sense of belonging and Father Luna's incessant outreach
and fondness for informality keep people coming to church.
always attends our youth meetings," said engineering student Daniel
Terrazas, who helps teach catechism classes.
says Mass in a way that's dynamic, that isn't boring," said Francisco
Ramos, 20, who credits the youth ministry for his return to high school after he
dropped out. He said it also helped improve his relationship with his parents
after a rebellious childhood.
a recent Sunday, 23 young people attended catechism classes for confirmation
led by Alanis, who now studies industrial engineering and works in an auto
life was not always so ordered. Alanis recalls seeing gangs on every corner of
was a situation of be the aggressor or be the victim," he recalled. "All
my friends were in the gang. They were popular and admired."
went through an initiation of fighting another person, then started robbing
people in the neighborhood.
they resisted, we put the boots to them," he recalled.
wasn't a priority, though he showed up initially for "girls" in the
youth group. Then the shootout occurred, and he became committed to church
life. Like many in Ciudad Juarez, he's eagerly awaiting the pope's arrival.
hope the pope will give me more encouragement in my work with young people,"
Alanis said.- - -Copyright © 2016 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.
By Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Russian Orthodox officials said the
planned meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is not a
signal that decades of tension have been resolved, but emphasizes the need to
work together on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
As the Vatican was announcing the Feb. 12 date for the
meeting of the pope and patriarch in Cuba, the Russian Orthodox also held a
news conference to speak about it.
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk,
director of foreign relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, told reporters the
activity of the Ukrainian Catholics that prevented the Russian Orthodox from
agreeing to a meeting in the past is still a problem today.
In a statement on the website of Metropolitan
Hilarion's office, he referred to the Ukrainian Catholics with the pejorative
term "uniates," and said, "Regrettably, the problem of the uniates
is still there, with uniatism remaining a never-healing, bloody wound that
prevents the full normalization of relations between the two churches."
At Orthodox urging, the Catholic Church rejected
"uniatism" -- the uniting of a segment of an Orthodox Church with
Rome -- as a model for future Catholic-Orthodox union, but at the same time it
affirmed the authenticity of Eastern Catholic churches formed in the past under
such a model.
Metropolitan Hilarion said that despite Orthodox
reservations about the Eastern Catholic churches, with the serious problem of
religious persecution of Christians in the Middle East calling for action on
the part of all Christians worldwide, "urgent measures and closer
cooperation" are necessary. "In the present tragic situation, it is
necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving
Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe
As for the choice of Havana, Metropolitan Hilarion recalled
that in the late 1990s serious efforts were made to arrange a meeting in Vienna
between St. John Paul and then-Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow; the meeting never
In the current discussions, the metropolitan said, "Patriarch
Kirill, from the very beginning, did not want it to take place in Europe, since
it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between
Christians is associated. The coincidence of the date of Patriarch Kirill's
visit to Latin American countries with that of the pope of Rome's visit to
Mexico has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and
we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two churches."- - -Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.- - -Copyright © 2016 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/Sergei Chirikov, EPABy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After almost three decades of tense
Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations, Pope Francis will meet Patriarch Kirill of
Moscow Feb. 12 in Cuba on the pope's way to Mexico.
It will be the first-ever meeting of a pope and Moscow
patriarch, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told reporters
As Pope Francis travels to Mexico and as Patriarch Kirill makes an official visit to Cuba, the two
will meet at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport and plan to sign a joint
declaration, Father Lombardi said. The pope will leave Rome earlier than planned to allow time for the
meeting without forcing any changes to his schedule in Mexico, he added.
The meeting "will mark an important stage in relations
between the two churches," said a joint declaration on the meeting.
Cuba meeting was not an "improvisation," Father Lombardi said; it took
two years of intense planning and negotiations to schedule. Even when the idea
of a meeting was just a vague hope, both Catholic and Orthodox officials
insisted it would have to take place on "neutral" territory rather
than at the Vatican or in Russia.
the first ever meeting of a pope and Russian patriarch, he said, "is an
event that, in the ecumenical journey and in the dialogue between Christian
confessions, has an extraordinary importance."
meeting will come as representatives of Orthodox churches from around the world
are preparing for a pan-Orthodox Council meeting in Crete in June. Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians,
"naturally, has been informed" of plans for the pope and Patriarch
Kirill to meet and expressed "his joy for this step forward," Father
Holding a simple meeting with a Moscow patriarch, spiritual
leader of the world's largest Orthodox church, was a failed dream of St. John
Paul II and an opportunity that escaped retired Pope Benedict XVI as well.
Repeatedly after the Soviet bloc began dissolving in 1989
and the once-repressed Eastern Catholic churches began functionally publicly
again, Russian Orthodox leaders insisted there could be no meeting between a
pope and a patriarch as long as Catholics were "proselytizing" in
what the Orthodox considered their territory.
The Vatican insisted the Catholic Church rejects proselytism,
which it defines as actively seeking converts from another Christian community,
including through pressure or offering enticements. The Russian Orthodox had
insisted such types of proselytism occurred in both Russia and Ukraine,
although the Vatican said that when asked, the Orthodox provided no proof.
St. John Paul re-established the Latin-rite Catholic
hierarchy of Russia in 2002, which led to the Russian Orthodox withdrawing from
dialogue with the Vatican for several years. Even as tensions over the Catholic
presence in Russia waned, the Russian Orthodox insisted a bigger example of
proselytism was the loss of its churches in the newly independent Ukraine.
The Vatican recognized there were some instances of
excessive zeal early on, but rejected the use of the term
"proselytism" as a blanket description for the re-establishment of
the Ukrainian Catholic Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was outlawed by
the Soviet government in the 1940s and its property was confiscated by the
government, which in turn gave some churches to the Russian Orthodox. Byzantine-rite
Catholics who once could worship only in a Russian Orthodox church, returned to
Catholic services and sought the return of church property.
Lombardi said the fact that a meeting has been scheduled "allows one to
think that on various points dialogue has matured and allowed some things that
were once seen as obstacles to be overcome."
step toward dialogue, understanding, a will to draw closer to each other,
understand each other and walk together" after "a past of distancing
themselves and even of polemics and division is a positive sign for
everyone," especially considering the huge numbers of Catholics and
Russian Orthodox in the world, the spokesman said.
Jesuit Father David Nazar, rector of Rome's Pontifical
Oriental Institute and a Ukrainian Catholic from Canada, told Catholic News
Service, "If this were to take place, it would be big news in the Year of
Mercy. To make a step in this direction is beautiful, but also irreversible."
Especially for Catholics in Russia and Ukraine, he said,
relations with the Russian Orthodox are complicated, including because of the
close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian
government, which annexed the Crimea and is supporting fighting in Eastern
Father Nazar described his reaction to the news as
"cautiously optimistic" and said he hoped it would mark "a new
beginning" in Catholic-Russian Orthodox relations.- - -Copyright © 2016 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/Yara Nardi, ReutersBy Cindy WoodenROME (CNS) -- Thousands of people waited hours outside a
Rome church to glimpse the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold
Mandic, two Capuchins popular as miracle workers and known particularly for the
long hours they would spend hearing confessions.
Pope Francis asked the Capuchins to bring the relics of St.
Padre Pio and St. Leopold to Rome for the Year of Mercy, particularly the Feb.
10 celebration of Ash Wednesday and the commissioning of the official
"missionaries of mercy."
The hearse carrying Padre Pio's crystal coffin was about 90
minutes late getting to Rome's Basilica of St. Lawrence Feb. 3 because pockets
and clusters of faithful repeatedly forced it to slow down as it drove from San
Giovanni Rotondo, 235 miles to the southeast.
Posters pasted up all over the center of Rome giving the
detailed schedule for Masses, prayer services and other devotions feature a
large photo of Padre Pio and a smaller photo of St. Leopold.
In the celebrations, St. Leopold "is given the
backseat, but that's been his life," said Capuchin Father Clayton
Fernandes, secretary-general of the order. St. Leopold was a Croatian-born
friar who ministered in Padua, Italy, and died in 1942. Father Fernandes said, "He
was 4-feet-5-inches tall," and was known to prophesy and to levitate.
While St. Leopold is well known in Croatia and around Padua,
his fame pales in comparison to that of Padre Pio, who was born in 1887 and
died in 1968.
From 1918 to the very end of his life, Padre Pio bore the stigmata,
wounds similar to those inflicted on Christ when he was crucified.
"For 50 years, he bore the marks of Christ," Father
Fernandes said, yet the marks disappeared as soon as he died. There were
accusations that they were self-inflicted, but the Capuchin said doctors examined
them when he was operated on for appendicitis and said they did not believe
they were self-inflicted.
"People realized that this was not just an ordinary
guy; he had special gifts," Father Fernandes said. His primary gift was
the ability "to read hearts, he could tell you what you were going through
before you told him." He also was said to bilocate.
"Padre Pio is special for all these reasons and more,"
Father Fernandes said. "Padre Pio has won the hearts of the people because
he spoke to their reality, the reality of a family that struggles because of
economic difficulties, because they have someone who is sick."
"We need more Padre Pios today: priests, confessors,
even laypeople who just take the time to listen to another and say, 'I'm
interested in what you are going through. Maybe I can't do much, but remember,
I think about you and pray for you.' This is precisely what Padre Pio did and
continues to do," Father Fernandes said.
At the same time, there are stories of Padre Pio yelling at
people and being harsh with penitents. While Padre Pio was not always gentle,
Father Fernandes said, he seemed to know what was needed to bring each
individual to conversion.
"He was tough," Father Fernandes said. People
would flock to him, expecting him to work a miracle, "but they didn't want
"Conversion is a process that starts with me," he
said. Padre Pio or any good confessor, spiritual guide or friend can help
people on the path, but it takes a personal decision.
"This is the secret to his success, you could say: He
was able to look deep into people and say, 'Look, what you are asking for is
not really what you need. You need something more' or 'you need something
different,'" Father Fernandes said. He was like any good father, who knew
that sometimes what a child asks for is not what the child really needs.
The Capuchin also insists that Padre Pio "was not a
one-man show." The other friars in his community and in his province
supported his work and assisted him, especially in replying to the thousands of
letters that would arrive each week. "They believed that he had a special
gift from God, not that he was perfect."
"There is one precise reason why Pope Francis wants
Padre Pio and St. Leopold (at the Vatican for the jubilee)," he said:
"It's because they are missionaries of mercy. And mercy as encountered in
confession. These are two friars who spent the big part of their life in the
confessional."- - -Copyright © 2016 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.