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Archbishop Gomez: Church needs to 'return to Guadalupe'

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2018 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Los Angeles wrote this week that Our Lady of Guadalupe, a messenger of reform and renewal, has important lessons for contemporary Catholics.

“In the Church today we face new challenges to our fidelity to Jesus Christ, both personally and institutionally,” wrote Archbishop Jose Gomez in a Dec. 10 column in Angelus.
 
“In this moment, I am more and more convinced that we need to ‘return to Guadalupe,’ to the original vision, the original path that Christ wanted for us in this country and throughout our continent. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the messenger who is sent to lead us to renewal and reform in our time.”

The archbishop noted that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared “at a time of confusion and discord — and a time of immense cruelty and suffering, corruption, and infidelity.”

She appeared in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, a poor indigenous man, on a hill near what is now Mexico City. She identified herself as the Mother of the True God.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the local bishop build a church on the site, and famously left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a cactus-cloth tunic. The image has survived to this day. Several million pilgrims journey each year to see that tilma.

Gomez wrote that the apparition occurred less than two decades after the start of the Protestant Reformation, at a time when the Church in Europe was “confronting decadence and corruption and the need for renewal and reformation.”

There were debates among theologians in the so-called Old World about whether indigenous peoples in the Americas were even people with souls, the archbishop wrote.

At the same time, the economy of the New World was being developed on the backs of slaves, and “the greed and ambition of Spanish colonizers led to unspeakable horrors” and the destruction of many native peoples and their ways of life.

Gomez noted that Mary appeared as a “mestizo,” a brown-skinned mixture of European and indigenous peoples, and spoke to Juan Diego in his own indigenous language.

“She reminds us that beyond the color of our skin or the countries where we come from, we are all brothers and sisters,” the Archbishop reflected.

“We are — every one of us, without exception — children of one heavenly Father and we have the Mother of God as our mother...a profound icon of the unity of humanity and the Church’s mission to create one family of God out of all the world’s nations and races, peoples, and languages.”

Today, as in Juan Diego’s time, there are new forms of inhumanity and cruelty, Gomez wrote. “Selfishness and greed” lead to injustices like abortion and the persecution of religious minorities.

The archbishop recalled the words Mary spoke to Juan Diego: “Do not let your heart be disturbed. Do not fear. ... Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the folds of my arms? What more do you need?”

In her role as our mother, Mary “guides us along the pathways that lead us to her Son,” Gomez wrote.

“In leading the mission to the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe was showing us the vision of a way forward — to a new humanity, a new Church, a new world.”

“Authentic reform and renewal are always based on a return to the origins — to the purity of first beginnings. That is what distinguishes reform and renewal from revolution, which always seeks to destroy the old in order to build the new.”

“In these troubling times, we need to go always forward with joy and confidence. May we lay our fears and hopes at the feet of the Virgin. And may we contemplate these times we are living in under the gaze of her loving eyes,” Gomez concluded.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

Iran, China detain hundreds of Christians

Tehran, Iran, Dec 11, 2018 / 02:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While religious leaders marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this week by saying that more should be done to preserve human rights, both Iran and China detained upwards of 100 Christians.

The United Nations declaration, which was proclaimed Dec. 10, 1948, affirms that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom … to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Pope Francis told a conference meeting on human rights Monday that everyone is “called to contribute with courage and determination, in the specificity of their role, to the respect of the fundamental rights of every person.”

And ahead of the declaration's anniversary, the Holy See's representative to the United Nations said the occasion presented an opportunity to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” while also warning that parts of the world are experiencing the consequences of failing to uphold those rights.

Thus, according to Open Doors UK, 114 Christians were arrested last week in Iran. And the New York Times reports that in China's Sichuan province, a Protestant pastor and more than 100 members of his congregation were detained Dec. 9.

In China, the Sunday raid was conducted at Early Rain Covenant Church, an underground community in Chengdu, which is led by Wang Yi. Some members of the ecclesial community were released Dec. 10, but were then put under house arrest.

Wang is a prominent human rights activist; he met with US president George W. Bush in 2006 to discuss religious freedom in China.

Sam Brownback, the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, tweeted about the raid, saying, “we're deeply concerned” about the government “crackdown on house churches.”

“We call on China to release leaders/congregants & allow members of unregistered churches to exercise their #ReligiousFreedom rights,” Brownback wrote.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. President Xi Jinping has in recent years pushed for the Sinicization of religion and strengthened government oversight.

China has practiced greater repressions of Muslims in recent years; it is believed that as many as 1 million Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnoreligious group in China's far west, are being held in extra-legal detention.

The Telegraph reported Dec. 10 that many of the Christians detained in Iran last week were converts from Islam. They were instructed to cut off ties with Christian groups and to relate the story of their Christian activities.

Shia Islam is the state religion of Iran, though several religious minorities are recognized and granted freedom of worship. However, conversion from Islam is strictly prohibited.

Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, told the Telegraph that the reinstatement of sanctions on Iran by the US “has contributed to the government’s ever-increasing dependence on hardline Islamic ayatollahs, who naturally see Christianity as a threat to their power. For this reason, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in Christian persecution.”

An Open Doors spokesperson, Zoe Smith, commented that the increase in arrests of Christians “follows an established trend of the Iranian government – as the number of converts to Christianity increase, so the authorities place greater restrictions on churches,” adding that “the restrictions are worse for churches seen to be attended by Christians who have converted from Islam.”

 

What is a lay 'Parish Life Coordinator'? A CNA Explainer

Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Last week the Diocese of Bridgeport announced the appointment of a lay “parish life coordinator” in the parish of St. Anthony of Padua.

Dr. Eleanor Sauers has been placed in charge of the day-to-day administration of the parish, following the untimely death of the parish’s former pastor, Fr. John Baran.

The appointment has led some to ask: What is a parish life coordinator? What does such a lay person do?

In Bridgeport the arrangement, announced in a letter from Bishop Frank Caggiano, will see Sauers “work with the parish community to develop and foster its pastoral vision and mission.”

It is the first appointment of its kind in Bridgeport, though similar appointments have been common in other American dioceses for some years.

When such an appointment is made, it can strike some parishioners as a novelty. In fact, the possibility of lay “parish life coordinators” exists in the Code of Canon Law, and has been an option available to bishops since in 1983.

Canon 517 of the Code of Canon Law gives the diocesan bishop options for dealing with circumstances in which it is not possible to assign to a parish a priest who is able to serve as its resident and full-time pastor.

The first option offered by the canon is for a parish, or several parishes, to be given into the care of a team of priests, with one of them serving as the “moderator,” of leader of the team, responsible for coordinating the pastoral care of the people.  

The second option the canon presents is for a deacon “or some other person who is not a priest” to be given “a share” in the “exercise of the pastoral care of the parish.” This is only to be done, according to canon law, because of a shortage of priests; it is a remedy for exceptional circumstances and not something the Church allows to be done for its own sake.

In addition to the sacramental life which is the heart of their existence, modern Western parishes are busy places, often requiring leadership and coordination on the ground.

There are clear advantages to placing a lay person in charge of the day-to-day coordination of the parish’s activity, rather than a team of priests who could be spread across a number of other parishes and have many other demands on their attention.

Overseeing finances, religious education programs, the maintenance of buildings and other facilities, even a school in some places, is a complex set of responsibilities - one that, in the judgment of some bishops, cannot be overseen effectively by even a well-intentioned and well-organized team of non-resident priests.  

In the case of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua, this would seem to be the role Caggiano has in mind, noting in his letter to parishioners that Sauers will “oversee the day-to-day operations of the parish.”

She will also be “working with a team of priests who will provide the sacramental ministries at St. Anthony,” while having decision-making authority in the parish itself.

Arrangements like these often leave some Catholics with the impression that the priests are working “for” or “under” a lay person (which would be a novelty in a parish setting, but not unusual in other ecclesiastical settings). However, there is a distinction in canon law, and in the teaching of the Church, between collaboration and a hierarchical relationship.

Finding the right balance in ecclesial collaboration is important. Bishops are enjoined to promote and authentic expression of the gifts of all members of the Church, and to avoid any blurring of roles and responsibilities, that might obscure the unique dignity of the different members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

St. John Paul II issued in 1997 an authoritative instruction on lay and clerical collaboration, Ecclesiae de mysterio.

The pope instructed that arrangements like the one at St. Anthony of Padua should only be made in “exceptional cases” and because of a shortage of priests. The possibility of such arrangements is not, St. John Paul said, to be used for “convenience or ambiguous ‘advancement of the laity.’”

The faithful have the right, expressed in c. 213, to receive the administration of the sacraments, the preaching of the Word of God, and other means of obtaining sanctity from the pastors of the Church - that is from the priests and bishops. When lay parish life coordinators are appointed, they are not given charge of the spiritual care of the community: the “care of souls” is explicitly reserved to the clergy.

For that reason, while canon 517 creates the possibility for a lay person to be given “a share” in the running  of a parish, it also requires that there be a priest designated responsible for the pastoral care of the the people. Whenever a deacon or lay person is appointed to such a role, “the bishop is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a pastor [parish priest], will direct the pastoral care” of the people, canon law explains.

This condition, Ecclesiae de mysterio affirms, must be followed with “strict adherence” in order to safeguard both the care of the faithful of the parish, and the distinction of the roles between a lay collaborator and a priest.

“Directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone,” the instruction explains.

In Ecclesiae de mysterio, St. John Paul taught that the impetus of Vatican Council II “opens vast horizons, some of which have yet to be explored, for the lay faithful.”

As the Church responds to the changing landscape of society in different parts of the world, new ways for the laity to work together with the clergy will continue to emerge.

St. John Paul II taught that as those new modes of collaboration are developed, it is important for bishops to promote the role of lay people in the Church, while ensuring among Catholics “the correct understanding of true ecclesial communion.”

Cobblestones honoring Holocaust victims stolen in Rome

Rome, Italy, Dec 11, 2018 / 12:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Twenty bronze-capped cobblestones, commemorating members of two Italian Jewish families who were deported during the Holocaust, were stolen in Rome in the early hours of Monday morning.

The memorials were set into the street in front of the former homes of the two families, in Rome’s Monti neighborhood, not far from the Colosseum.

Police are investigating the Dec. 10 theft, which has left a gaping hole in the street, as a hate crime.

The cobblestones marked the name, date of deportation or arrest, and if known, the place and date of death, of 20 Italian Jews. Among those memorialized in the stolen stones were 18 members of the Di Consiglio family and two members of the Di Castro family.

Fifteen were deported to Auschwitz during World War II, dying either there or in an unknown place.

The other five were killed by the occupying Nazis in the Ardeatine Massacre, carried out in caves outside Rome. They were among 335 Italian men and boys assassinated in March 1944 in retaliation for partisans having killed 33 German policemen.

At a news conference Monday, Italy’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, called it an act of “repugnant anti-Semitism” and said he would work to stop similar acts.

The group of plaques were incorporated into the classic Italian “sampietrini” stones which make up the side and pedestrian streets of cities. There are around 200 of these memorials in Rome, sometimes called “stumbling stones” because of their ability to provoke thought in passers by.

German artist Gunter Demning started the initiative of placing these memorials, called Stolpersteine, outside the homes or workplaces of Holocaust victims in Europe in 1992.

The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, said in a tweet Dec. 10 that the theft of the stones was “unacceptable” and “a gesture that I condemn with force and deep indignation. Memory demands respect.”

Five dead in Brazilian cathedral shooting, cathedral priest asks for prayer

Campinas, Brazil, Dec 11, 2018 / 11:46 am (CNA).- A gunman killed at least four people people Tuesday, inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Conception in Campinas, Brazil. After opening fire inside the cathedral, the gunman took his own life.

The man entered the cathedral at the conclusion of a midday Mass on Dec. 11 and began firing, according to the Military Police of Campinas. In addition to those killed, at least four people were injured during the attack.

According to local fire department officials, the man was carrying two handguns, at least one of which was a .38 caliber revolver.

He reportedly committed suicide directly in front of the cathedral’s altar.

Father Amauri Thomazzi, who celebrated Tuesday’s 12:15 Mass in the cathedral, published a video on his Facebook page, in which he requested prayer.

“At the end of the Mass, a person came in firing and took lives. Nobody could do anything,” the priest said.

“To you, friends, I ask only that you pray for the [attacker]. He killed himself after the situation. He shot people and there were over 20 shots in here, then he killed himself. So we pray for him and for those who have been injured, there are some fatalities,” he said.

The names of the victims and the attacker have not yet been disclosed.

On its Facebook page, the Archdiocese of Campinas also urged Catholics to pray.

“A shooting left at least five people dead and four others injured in the early afternoon of Tuesday, inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Campinas, in the city center, according to information from the fire department. The motive is not yet known,” the Facebook post said.

“The cathedral remains closed for the care of the victims and the investigation of the police. Once we have more information, we will make it available. We count on the prayers of all in this moment of deep pain,” the post concluded.

Major Paulo Monteiro of the Campinas Fire Department told reporters that the motive for the crime is not yet known and that at the moment the main concern is the care of the survivors.

The wounded were taken to local hospitals; their condition has not been disclosed.

“Let us ask Our Lady Immaculate to intercede for this cathedral, for these people and for these families,” Thomazzi urged.

This story was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Digital. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.