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What US Catholics see as Pope Francis' most notable action

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2018 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- What has been Pope Francis’ most notable action so far in his papacy?

A group of some 300 U.S. Catholics was recently asked this question in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, drawing a multitude of responses.  

Participants were asked to explain in their own words the most noteworthy thing Pope Francis has accomplished during his past five years as pope, despite their personal opinions of him.  

Nine percent said that Pope Francis has set a solid example of humility and overall Christian behavior. Another 9 percent believes he has made the Church more accepting and welcoming.

“He seems to get the idea across that all people are important and worthy of attention and rights,” said one participant, according the Pew Research.

Eight percent noted the pontiff’s particular focus on the poor, while 7 percent said he is noteworthy for his attention towards the LGBT community. Six percent applauded the extent of his global travel, through which he has made himself available to people all around the world. Another 5 percent believes he has united the Catholic community through dialogue.

Other categories receiving 1-4 percent each said that the Holy Father’s most significant action has been environmental care, peacemaking, addressing sex abuse, welcoming the divorced and remarried, spreading the faith, reforming the Vatican, or addressing immigration.

Similarly, 4 percent said the pope’s most notable action was a negative or neutral action, 3 percent said the answer is unclear, and 4 percent said that he has not yet done anything noteworthy.

One participant said that Pope Francis “gets too involved in things that don’t concern the Church,” while another said he is “more liberal than the popes before him.”

The largest group of respondents, 29 percent, declined to answer or did not come up with a response.

Pope Francis marked the fifth year of his pontificate this week, and he continues to receive an overall favorable opinion from U.S. Catholics, at around 84 percent.

The majority of U.S. Catholics, approximately 58 percent, also believe the pope is making major changes to benefit the Church, while around 94 percent view him as compassionate.


Letter reveals Benedict’s praise for Francis booklets came with previously unmentioned caveats

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 12:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid accusations of concealment, the Vatican's communications department has released the entirety of a letter written by Benedict XVI, revealing a previously unpublished paragraph which contains Benedict’s comments about a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
The Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, after questions were raised following the letter’s presentation during a press event March 12 for the release of a newly-published series of booklets on the theological formation of Pope Francis.
The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the secretariat.


#Vatican has now released the full contents of Benedict XVI's letter to +Vigano, saying there was no intention to censor but parts were left out as it was confidential. Earlier today it emerged that more had been omitted from the letter (see end here:

— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) March 17, 2018


The secretariat’s press release on the letter quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but included neither Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full, nor the final paragraph published today.
In the paragraph, Benedict notes his “surprise” that an author of one of the new booklets is the German theologian Peter Hünermann, who, Benedict notes, “was highlighted for leading anti-papal initiatives” during the two preceding papacies.
In the letter, dated Feb. 7 and addressed to the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Vigano, Benedict also notes Hünermann's involvement in the release of the 1989 Cologne Declaration, which “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on matters of moral theology.”
The previously undisclosed paragraph reads, as translated by Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, in full: “Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had been shown to have led anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the ‘Kölner Erklärung’, which, in relation to the encyclical ‘Veritatis splendor’, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the ‘Europaische Theologengesellschaft’, which he founded, initially came to be thought of as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, making that organization a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”
“I am sure that you will understand me for my denial and I greet you cordially,” the letter concludes. Earlier in the letter, Benedict acknowledged that he could not write a requested reflection on the booklets because he had not read them and had other, more pressing, commitments.
A March 17 press release from the Secretariat for Communications said there had been “much polemics” around its “alleged censorial manipulation of photography.”

“What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.”

“The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship,” the secretariat added.

The Vatican office wrote that it had now chosen to publish the letter in its entirety “in order to dispel any doubts.”
The National Catholic Register requested March 14 a copy of the letter Vigano sent to Benedict, but the request has not been answered.
Controversy about the letter heightened March 14 when the Associated Press reported that the Vatican had acknowledged obscuring two lines of the letter in a photo released to the press.
The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

Prayer is about being with God, not stress relief, Francis says

San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, Mar 17, 2018 / 07:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis asked Catholics if they try to pray as Jesus did – out of love for God – or if they only pray when they need something from God or want a ‘shot’ of stress relief.

“Prayer can be born as a request, even as a prompt intervention, but matures in praise and adoration. Then it becomes truly personal, as it was for Jesus,” the Pope said March 17.

“We ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble that of Jesus or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls? ‘I need something...’ And when you do not need [something], what do you do? Or do we mean them as tranquilizers to be taken in regular doses, to get some relief from stress?”

“No, prayer is a gesture of love, it is being with God and bringing him the life of the world: it is an indispensable work of spiritual mercy,” he continued.

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of prayer during Mass with around 30,000 people at the shrine of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where St. Padre Pio spent most of his life as a Capuchin priest.

It was the second stop in his day trip to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, the towns in Italy where Padre Pio lived.

In his homily he emphasized that if Christians do not pray for their brothers and sisters, for difficult situations, no one will. “Who will intercede, who will bother to knock on the heart of God to open the door of mercy to a humanity in need?” he asked. “We can ask ourselves: do we Christians pray enough?”

Francis noted that it is easy to make excuses about prayer, putting it aside for things we think are more urgent. But this, he said, is putting aside “the best part,” as Jesus told Martha in the Gospel of Luke, when she was upset that her sister Mary was speaking with Jesus instead of helping her.

Padre Pio knew the importance of prayer, he said, and even 50 years after his death and entrance into heaven, left us the legacy of the prayer groups he started, and which continue today.

He quoted the saint, who said in a message he gave at the International Conference of Prayer Groups in 1966: “Pray a lot, my children, pray always, never get tired.” Unless we open ourselves to praise and adoration, “we do not know the Father,” he said, and encouraged those present to “resume prayers of adoration and praise.”

Before Mass Pope Francis stopped to visit children with cancer who are being treated in the pediatric oncology department of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House of relief of the suffering) hospital, founded by Padre Pio, in San Giovanni Rotondo.

He said in his homily that the “small are those who have a humble and open heart, poor and needy, who feel the need to pray, to entrust themselves and to be accompanied,” and that the hearts of little ones like the children he visited are “like an antenna, which captures the signal of God immediately.”

He also said that God is especially present at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, which is an internationally-recognized hospital and research center, because of the many sick and suffering present inside.

Padre Pio “called it ‘a temple of prayer and science,’ where all are called to be ‘reserves of love’ for others,” Francis said.

“Now we can ask ourselves: do we know how to look for God where he is? Here there is a special sanctuary where he is present because there are many little ones preferred by him.”

The theological formation of Pope Francis

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A recent letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the subject of controversy, after a Vatican office admitted to releasing a photo of the letter blurring some lines.

The letter responded to an invitation to review a series of books detailing the theological perspective of Pope Francis. While Benedict declined the invitation, saying he wouldn’t have time to read the books, he noted “that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation.”

The Pope Emeritus praised the series as an effort to “oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation.”

While the letter remains the center of debate, it does raise an important question: what exactly is Pope Francis' theological formation?

Those who know Bergoglio well are quick to point out that he is not a “systematic theologian,” and that he cannot be called a theological expert in the academic sense of the word.

However, despite a lack of formal academic experience, biographers note that Francis has a sharp mind and an extensive knowledge of influential Catholic thinkers, especially in the Latin American context.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told CNA that the first Latin American pope cannot be identified exclusively with any particular theological movement or approach.

“People knew where John Paul II's philosophy school was, they could situation him because of his thesis, and because of his scholarly life, and the same with Benedict; Benedict could easily be located as part of a particular school,” Ivereigh said. But Bergoglio “is not a systematic theologian, so you can't really identify him with any particular school.”

However, Ivereigh, author of the authoritative English-language papal biography, “The Great Reformer,” told CNA that as a seminarian, studying at the Jesuit-run Colegio Maximo in Argentina, Bergoglio was the only student to ever get full marks in his classes.

“He was brilliant. Everybody recognized that he was intellectually brilliant from the beginning,” Ivereigh said.

Ivereigh said when Bergoglio was named seminary rector, years later, many of his students also commented that “he was incredibly widely read in literature of the world, European and Latin American, poetry, classics, the novels. He was very, very cultured in that broader sense of the word.”

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of CNA and editor of the papal biography “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” said Bergoglio was “a Jesuit of the old-school,” and as such “he definitely had that very rounded formation, with several interests,” including poetry, classical literature, and writings from the influential thinkers of the day.

However, after being placed into administrative and leadership roles at a young age, the future pope “spent a lot of time doing practical things and in a practical position” which took him away from academic endeavors.

“The truth is, he did not have enough time to get into a deep theological formation,” Bermudez said.

“I'm not saying he's a lightweight,” he said, adding that Francis “has a well-rounded theological formation for sure.”

Bergoglio was tapped as the Argentine Jesuit provincial in 1973 at the age of 36, during a tumultuous period in which the nation was led by a violent military dictatorship. In 1980 he was named rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty at San Miguel Seminary in Buenos Aires, where he taught theology and oversaw Jesuit novices until 1986. He was removed from that role when his emphasis on traditional theology and spirituality clashed with the Jesuits' then-Superior General Hans Kolvenbach.

He was sent to the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany to begin doctoral studies, which were based on the writings of German-Italian theologian Romano Guardini. However, after just a few months he was sent back to Argentina as a confessor in Cordoba.

By the time he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, he still had not finished his doctoral thesis. Bergoglio continued to ascend the ranks of Church hierarchy, taking on increasingly administrative roles that plunged him further into political and practical affairs, and farther away from his doctorate, which remains unfinished to this day.

However, according to Ivereigh, simply because Francis can't be attached to a particular theological school, “that doesn't mean that he's difficult to pin down, because actually his intellectual trajectory is very clear.”

Intellectual Influences

The Pope’s intellectual influences include several prominent 20th century thinkers.

Bergoglio was familiar with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be among the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was also familiar with Gaston Fassard, a French Jesuit priest and theologian who died in 1978, as well as other influential Jesuit thinkers of the time such as German-Polish theologian Enrich Przywara and Frenchman Henri de Lubac.

The Italian-born German priest Romano Guardini, whose theology formed the basis for the future Pope's unfinished doctoral thesis, was also influential on Bergoglio.

Guardini, who lived from 1885-1968, also influenced Pope Benedict XVI, who referenced Guardini frequently.

However, despite the frequent references to Guardini and the decision of Bergoglio to focus his thesis on Guardini's writings, Bermudez stressed the need to have caution when it comes to just how much influence Guardini had, since Bergoglio's thesis was never finished.

“We just know that he was incredibly impacted to the point that he wanted to do his doctoral thesis on him. But there is no trace of the Pope explaining himself in any kind of writing or interview or whatever about how much or how Guardini impacted him.”

Latin American Influences

Bergoglio's biographers say he was impacted especially by several prominent Latin American theologians who were influential in “teologia latinoamericana,” or Latin American theology, an approach that emphasized the Church’s closeness to ordinary people and their expressions of popular devotion.

According to Bermudez, those who had the biggest impact on Francis' thought were Jesuit Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone – who is still alive and was a professor of the young Fr. Bergoglio – as well as Argentinian Fr. Lucio Gera and Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferre, who Bermudez said was “super influential on a whole generation of Latin Americans.”

Bermudez explained that the “teologia latinoamericana” intellectuals had a clear vision for the need to develop a theology “that would line up with the idea that Latin America, as a large continent with one language and one religion, had some kind of a 'manifest destiny.'”

“These were the people who understood that Latin America had a huge contribution to make to the world of theology, considering that close to half of Catholics were living on the continent,” he said.

This approach emphasized the preferential option for the poor, and that popular piety and devotion would play a major role in unifying Latin American, and in preserving and transmitting the faith across the continent.

“That's where the Pope's preference for the importance of Marian shrines, and processions and events of massive faith comes from,” Bermudez said, explaining that because of the way in which people gathered to celebrate their faith in this “popular” way, the approach later became known as the “teologia del pueblo.”

“What is known today as the ‘teologia del pueblo’ didn't exist at that time,” Bermudez said, explaining that the “theology of the people” was a later evolution of Latin American theology,

Bermudez stressed that these ideas were different from liberation theology, which sprung up in Latin America in the 1970s, and often emphasized a Marxist interpretation of the Gospel, viewing faith through the lens of class struggle, rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

He explained that liberation theology largely rejected popular piety, believing it to be “some kind of backwards approach to religion that would keep people away from social change and structural change.”

Liberation theology was not relevant in Argentina at the time of Bergoglio's formation, Bermudez said.

When Bergoglio was being formed, Bermudez said, “there was a lot of hope in a Latin American future in which Latin America would play a huge role in the world,” he said, but noted that in the years since, “crisis and corruption and political squabbles pretty much put an end to any hope that Latin America would raise up as one single nation.”

However, the influence of the “teologia latinoamericana” can clearly be seen in Francis' words, actions and personal style, above all in his emphasis on community and solidarity, which Bermudez said stems from the belief that popular devotion “was a richness that allowed the people of Latin America to preserve and persevere in their faith.”

Another manifestation of this formation is the hope Francis has for Latin America’s role Church, since it covers such large swaths of territory, from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

“You can hardly find any other place in the planet when you can go through such a large territory and be celebrating the same faith and speaking the same language,” Bermudez said, adding that while he's not sure if Pope Francis has a specific belief in the “great future” of Latin America, he still has a tremendous hope for the continent.

Likewise, Ivereigh said this influence can be seen even from Bergoglio's time as rector of the San Miguel seminary in Buenos Aires, where he kept a strict spiritual and academic regime for the Jesuit novices, while also encouraging them to pray the rosary together and sending them out to minister in parishes on the weekends.

“His vision of the Church, I think, derives from his reading of the Spanish missionary experience in the colonial era of Latin America. He makes frequent references, particularly in Latin America, to that era,” Ivereigh said.

Bergoglio wanted the seminarians to “get out of their heads and have contact with the people; so study was important, but on weekends they were out there with the people ministering in the parishes,” which was unusual for Jesuits at the time, who typically placed a heavy emphasis on academics.

After the Second Vatican Council, Bergoglio was “very skeptical of progressive attempts to depart from core Catholic traditions,” such as, in his view, downgrading the importance of popular piety, Ivereigh said.

“He was very strong on maintaining that,” Ivereigh said, explaining that Bergoglio's approach was consistently about “going back to the original charism of the 16th century Jesuits,” which placed a strong emphasis on missionary outreach.

“He certainly didn't want to go back to the former time before the Council, but he didn't want a modernization that would dilute the Catholic tradition, and he wanted a deeper reform that returned the Jesuits to their deeper traditions.”

How his formation shapes his papacy

Both biographers noted that, while the Pope has limited formal theological training, his formation and intellect can be seen in his daily words and actions.

For Ivereigh, Francis' entire 5-year pontificate has so far been “one big lesson in what they call in Latin and Italian 'pastoralita' – it's one big lesson in how to be pastoral...putting people first, spending time with them, showing that everybody is valuable, showing that God cares about everybody.”

This is seen in Francis' homilies and travels, but also in his interaction with media and his general approachability, Ivereigh said, explaining that in his view, the Pope is constantly trying to remove “unnecessary blockages” getting in the way of reaching the people.

“Some of those blockages are the result of social and cultural change, which lead people for example to be suspicious of institutions or to see institutions as distant. But some of those blockages are also part of the Church's culture,” he said. “So the proclamation has to be simpler, humbler and more kerygmatic. That's been his big message of these last five years.”

In his view, Bermudez said the influence of Latin American theology, in particular, can be seen clearly in the Pope's continuous encouragement for priests to take on the “smell of the sheep,” as well as his ideas about how the priesthood and episcopate should be based on the “conviction that the faith of the people is very powerful.”

Since the beginning, Francis has preached the importance of popular devotions, the need for greater hope and solidarity, the importance of truth, a sense of good and evil and an emphasis on divine intervention, Bermudez said.

“All that has been influenced by this experience of the common people, your day-by-day Catholic who lives from Church feast to Church feast and experiences their faith [in this way],” he said, adding that this approach has “completely impregnated his preaching and his vision of how to live our faith.”


Pope Francis in Pietrelcina: Padre Pio loved Mother Church

Pietrelcina, Italy, Mar 17, 2018 / 04:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking Saturday in Pietrelcina, the town where St. Padre Pio was born, Pope Francis encouraged devotion to Holy Mother Church, explaining how despite the imperfection of its members, it was beloved by Padre Pio.

“Here [in Pietrelcina, Padre Pio] began to experience the motherhood of the Church, of which he was always a devoted son,” the Pope said March 17.

“He loved the Church, he loved the Church with all its problems, with all its troubles, with all our sins. Because we are all sinners, we are ashamed, but the Spirit of God has called us into this Church that is holy.”

“And he loved the holy Church and sinful children, all of them. This was Saint Pio.”

Pope Francis spoke to faithful during his day-long visit to the town of Pietrelcina in the Archdiocese of Benevento, Italy during a day trip to the two towns where Padre Pio lived.

Francis made the visit to the towns of Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo to mark the 100th anniversary of Padre Pio receiving the visible stigmata and the 50th anniversary of the saint’s death.

Upon arriving in Pietrelcina, the Pope greeted the archbishop of Benevento and the mayor of Pietrelcina. He then stopped to pray in the Chapel of St. Francis, which holds the “elm of the stigmata,” a tree under which Padre Pio used to pray, and where his stigmata appeared for the first time.

In his speech, Francis spoke about the spiritual torments Padre Pio underwent during his time in Pietrelcina. This was the town where the saint was born, but he also spent time there during a period of bad health.

“This was not an easy time for him,” the Pope said. “He was strongly tormented in his heart and he feared falling into sin, feeling assaulted by the devil.”

Departing from his prepared speech, Pope Francis asked those present if they believe that the devil exists, adding that, if they are not so convinced, he will ask the bishop to do some catechesis on the subject.

“Does the demon exist, or does he not exist?” he asked, the crowd responding, “yes!” He continued, saying that the devil “torments us, he deceives us,” and that Padre Pio “was afraid that the devil would attack him, push him to sin.”

Francis noted that in the face of these fears, however, what Padre Pio did was pray: “In those terrible moments Padre Pio drew vital life from the continuous prayer and trust he placed in the Lord.”

When these temptations from the devil would come, Padre Pio said he would confidently abandon himself into the arms of Jesus and they would disappear, the Pope said.

“Here is all theology!” he continued. “You have a problem, you are sad, you are sick: abandon yourself in the arms of Jesus.”

He pointed out how prayer was vital to Padre Pio for discernment of God’s will, and how he especially loved the Mass and the sacraments.

“Padre Pio immersed himself in prayer to adhere ever better to the divine designs. Through the celebration of Holy Mass, which was the heart of every day and the fullness of his spirituality, he reached a high level of union with the Lord,” he said.

In his speech the Pope also reflected on the challenges faced by the community of Pietrelcina and the surrounding areas, which have aging populations, especially as young people are forced to move elsewhere to find work.

He said that he hopes the territory “will be able to draw new life from the teachings of the life of Padre Pio in a difficult time like the present one.”

“Pray to Our Lady to give you the grace that young people find work here, among you, close to the family, and are not forced to leave to look for another way.”

At the same time, he emphasized the importance of the elderly, who he said he would award the Nobel Prize if he could, because they “give memory to humanity.”

After his speech, the Pope spent a period greeting faithful before departing by helicopter for San Giovanni Rotondo.   

Ohio AG will appeal to maintain law banning Down syndrome abortions

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 16, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge has blocked a law from taking effect next week which bans abortions after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

After the law was blocked by Judge Timothy Black March 14, the Catholic Conference of Ohio expressed disappointment in decision but also hope that it may be overturned after an appeal by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

“We are disappointed, we do think that it was an appropriate first step to point out, specifically, that so many Down syndrome children are aborted,” said Jim Tobin, Associate Director of the Department of Social Justice at the Catholic Conference of Ohio.

“We are still hopeful that there are other appeals that are available here and that we may be able to yet overturn this decision,” he told CNA.

The law, which was due to go into effect March 23, bans abortions solely due to a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. It imposes criminal penalties on medical professionals, but women procuring abortions are not penalized.

The law was signed by Governor John Kasich in December 2017.

On behalf of Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in February against the Ohio Department of Health, county prosecutors, and members of the state medical board.

Black blocked the law's implementation as a privacy violation: “It violates the right to privacy of every woman in Ohio and is unconstitutional on its face,” he wrote.

Supporters of the law have questioned Black’s impartiality. He had served as president of Cincinnati’s Planned Parenthood in 1988 and as its director from 1986-1989.
He recused himself from a case involving Planned Parenthood in 2014.

Tobin lamented the blocking of the law, calling it a tragic case disrespectful to human life.

“It’s just tragic that, particularly in the case of Down syndrome, folks would decide that [these babies] are better off aborted than lovingly cared for or placed for adoption,” he said, noting these cases show “a loss of respect for the dignity of all human life and their value.”

In a March 15 statement, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said will appeal Black’s decision.

“I strongly disagree with the district court's ruling that there is a categorical right to abortion that prevents even any consideration of Ohio's profound interests in combatting discrimination against a class of human beings based upon disability. We will be appealing.”

How the Irish built Catholic America

Denver, Colo., Mar 16, 2018 / 04:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The history of Catholic America is, in many ways, an Irish story, with immigrant congregations and their descendants putting their stamp on many churches across the country.
“It was the Irish who made the Church grow,” said Michael McCormack, National Historian of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-American Catholic fraternity, noting the early anti-Catholicism of America’s British colonies.

Christopher Shannon, a Christendom College history professor, said the Irish were “the most powerful ethnic group in the Catholic Church” in the U.S. during a wave of mass migrations from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century.
“They were disproportionately represented among the clergy, and especially over-represented among the episcopacy,” Shannon told CNA. “By the mid-nineteenth century, Irish clergy had taken the lead in church building to serve the immigrant populations of the industrial cities of the East Coast and the Midwest.”
“Except for churches founded explicitly by non-Irish groups seeking to maintain their distinct ethnic traditions, every church in the immigrant city was a little Irish,” he continued. “The great cathedrals of these cities—the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, and of course, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City—were most certainly Irish-built.”
McCormack, a Long Island resident, also cited the Irish role in raising New York City’s famous cathedral named for Ireland’s patron saint.
“They weren’t very rich, they settled in the poorest part of the city, but their pennies built St. Patrick’s Cathedral,” he said.
For Shannon, Old St. Patrick’s Church on West Adams Street in Chicago is “an example of one of the most Irish churches in America.” For his part, McCormack invoked the work of Irish-born frontierswoman and gold prospector Nellie Cashman, who helped build churches from Tombstone, Ariz. to Anchorage, Alaska.
Several years ago the Ancient Order of Hibernians launched a project to gather information on what Irish-Americans had donated to the Catholic Church.
“We got a slew of information from churches that had been built by the Irish all across the country,” said McCormack. “Railroad workers, canal diggers, whatever you want to call them, they built the Church. We started collecting photographs of stained glass windows donated by the Irish to the churches that they built. We were absolutely floored by the numbers that came in.”
They collected over 500 photographs of windows in churches that had been donated by Hibernian groups.
“This was a significant indication that it was the Irish who not only built but supported the churches, but continued ongoing support of the churches,” said McCormack.
Churches served as community centers when Irish-born immigrants and their families were low in social and economic status and faced prejudice.
“The church provided a gathering place for them, to get together and socialize. It brought communities together, to a large degree,” McCormack said.
“For the Irish, the parish was the center of their lives, and the church building was the center of the parish,” Shannon explained. “The church was far more than just a place to go to Mass on Sunday. It was a social center with a full range of activities—from devotional societies and charity organizations to sports and recreation. And of course, many parishes also had parochial schools.”
Shannon noted that before the dominance of the automobile, the parish was “a walkable community.”
“Between church and school, Irish children could grow up largely within a fairly self-contained, local Catholic community,” he said. “If this could for some appear oppressive and claustrophobic, for most the immigrant and ethnic parish provided a sense of security, community and identity that few parishes, indeed few social institutions of any kind, can claim in America today.”
McCormack finds these communities endure in the small towns of upstate New York.
“Those parishes are funded by fundraisers that are run by Irish organizations and Irish people. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, for one, is a strong Irish Catholic organizations that donates and continues the food drives at the Catholic churches across the states,” he said.
Shannon said the strength and vitality of urban parish life was the foundation of Catholic vitality in America from 1850s to the 1950s.
“We should welcome the new emphasis on personal spirituality that has grown since the Second Vatican Council, but the historic experience of the urban ethnic parish is the most powerful reminder that the Church is not simply a collection of individual seekers, but a communion of saints, the Body of Christ,” said Shannon.  
“The poor still realize this in their daily struggle to survive. Middle-class Catholics who have achieved a degree of material security may not need the parish in the way that immigrants once did, but one does not have to look too far to see the spiritual and cultural poverty that have accompanied middle-class prosperity.”
McCormack said the unity of these immigrant Irish parishes is a lesson for today.
“We are one people, we are one community. The unity that holds the community together is largely centered around the faith,” he said.
While many young people are starting to lose that sense, McCormack said that the Ancient Order of Hibernians finds that as young people get older they start to accept their faith and heritage and start to come back.
“They mature in their faith, they mature in their heritage, and when they do that they head straight to the church. And that’s a good thing,” he said.
Speaking ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, McCormack lamented that the media and the general public use the day to “poke fun at the Irish, thinking it’s a big joke.” He noted the “nasty Irish jokes” such as Irish-themed T-shirts with “Drunk-meters” on them, “which are really not the Irish people” and “really not the Irish heritage.”
Shannon suggested that contemporary Catholics should learn from the experience of the Irish and other immigrants “a desire to commit themselves to making the parish the center of their lives, encompassing the full range of life activities, from the serious to the trivial.”
The ability to walk to one’s parish church can be very important, he suggested: “Community will never survive or thrive as a state of mind—it must be a physical place.”


Philly archdiocese responds after city halts foster care placements

Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 16, 2018 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After the City of Philadelphia announced it has stopped using Catholic Social Services’ foster care program because it does not place children with same-sex couples, the archdiocese has said it hopes to resume a partnership with the city.

On March 15, Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced a resolution authorizing the city’s Public Health and Human Services to investigate the city’s partnership with organizations that do not place foster children with LGBTQ people, calling it discriminatory.

Due to the resolution, the city’s Department of Human Services ceased new foster care child intakes with Catholic Social Services and with another faith-based agency, Bethany Christian Services. Earlier this month, Philadelphia officials issued a public service announcement expressing the city’s urgent need for 300 foster families.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia's chief communications officer, Kenneth Gavin, told CNA that Catholic Social Services hopes the foster care partnership with the city will resume.

“Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) recognizes the vital importance of the foster care program in our city and is proud to provide safe and nurturing foster environments to young people in need,” said Gavin. “We hope to continue our productive relationship with the City of Philadelphia to serve those among us in need.”

“CSS is, at its core, an institution founded on faith based-principles. The Catholic Church does not endorse same-sex unions based upon deeply held religious beliefs and principles. As such, CSS would not be able to consider foster care placement within the context of a same-sex union,” Gavin said.

Catholic Social Services provides foster care services to any young person in need of assistance regardless of background and without making inquiry as to their sexual identity or orientation, according to Gavin. “That’s important to note as it is also a deeply held religious belief for us to provide care for all those in need with dignity, charity, and respect,” he explained.

“Given its affiliation with the Archdiocese, CSS cannot provide services in any manner or setting that would violate its institutional integrity, core values, and Catholic beliefs. That fact is a well-established and long-known one in our relationship with DHS,” continued Gavin.

In a CSS annual report released in 2016, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia remarked that “I’ve been blessed on numerous occasions to witness firsthand how Catholic Social Services (CSS) promotes the dignity of the persons they serve, particularly the weak and vulnerable.”

“The long history of CSS foster care and adoption services is replete with stories of their paving the way for new parents to open the doors of their hearts to children,” Chaput continued.

Catholic Social Services will continue to care for the 241 children that it has currently placed in foster arrangements due to child referrals from the city.

Legalizing divorce would devastate families, warn Philippines bishops

Manila, Philippines, Mar 16, 2018 / 01:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Philippines considers legalizing divorce, the nation’s bishops are speaking out against the measure, warning that it would be detrimental to couples and families, especially children.

“In a context in which divorce is presented as an easy option, marriages and families are bound to break up more easily,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“Divorce, while it may indeed provide quick legal remedies for some seemingly ‘failed marriages,’ might end up destroying even those marriages that could have been saved by dialogues or the intervention of family, friends, pastors and counselors,” Archbishop Valles continued.

Valles’ words came in a pastoral statement on behalf of the country’s bishops, released on March 13.

A strongly Catholic country, the Philippines is one of the only nations where the practice of divorce is not legal, along with Vatican City. The new divorce bill, which was authored by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, would change the country’s laws against divorce and make the practice legal throughout the nation.

Currently, annulments are allowed within the Philippines, although the process of obtaining one can be time consuming and costly. The country also allows for legal separation, which does not allow an individual to remarry.

The divorce bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. It is unclear how it will fare in the Senate.

While the divorce bill is pending, Archbishop Valles urged lawmakers to consider the “social costs” which accompany the “easy recourse to the dissolution of marriage,” especially when couples face difficulties in their marriage.

Valles pointed to “progressive countries,” such as the United States, where he said 4 out of 10 marriages are ending in divorce. The archbishop urged against taking this same path, noting that every marriage will go through its own set of trials and challenges.  

“Even couples in seemingly successful marriages would often look back and recall the countless challenges that had almost brought their relationship to a breaking point if they had not learned to transcend personal hurts through understanding and forgiveness, or sometimes through the intervention of a dialogue facilitator such as a marriage counselor,” the archbishop said.

He also emphasized the “emotional and psychological toll” that divorce imposes on children, warning that should the bill pass, “More children will grow up disoriented and deprived of the care of both parents.”

The archbishop’s words were echoed by a group of 24 other lay organizations and movements throughout the Philippines, who released a Feb. 21 statement against the divorce bill.

Signatories included the Couples for Christ Global Mission Foundation, Prayer Warriors of the Holy Souls, Alliance for the Family Foundation, and Educhild Foundation.

“Couples who overcome trials in marriage together grow in virtue and happiness,” the statement read.

“That is why decent peoples of the world accompany couples and families toward reconciliation and healing.”


Saint Patrick

Sculpture of Saint Patrick of Ireland | Saint Augustine church, Baden-Württemberg, Germany | photo by Reinhardhauke
Image: Sculpture of Saint Patrick of Ireland | Saint Augustine church, Baden-Württemberg, Germany | photo by Reinhardhauke

Saint Patrick

Saint of the Day for March 17

(c. 386 – 461)


Saint Patrick’s Story

Legends about Patrick abound; but truth is best served by our seeing two solid qualities in him: He was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s instrument for winning most of Ireland for Christ.

Details of his life are uncertain. Current research places his dates of birth and death a little later than earlier accounts. Patrick may have been born in Dunbarton, Scotland, Cumberland, England, or in northern Wales. He called himself both a Roman and a Briton. At 16, he and a large number of his father’s slaves and vassals were captured by Irish raiders and sold as slaves in Ireland. Forced to work as a shepherd, he suffered greatly from hunger and cold.

After six years Patrick escaped, probably to France, and later returned to Britain at the age of 22. His captivity had meant spiritual conversion. He may have studied at Lerins, off the French coast; he spent years at Auxerre, France, and was consecrated bishop at the age of 43. His great desire was to proclaim the good news to the Irish.

In a dream vision it seemed “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. He understood the vision to be a call to do mission work in pagan Ireland. Despite opposition from those who felt his education had been defective, he was sent to carry out the task. He went to the west and north–where the faith had never been preached–obtained the protection of local kings, and made numerous converts.

Because of the island’s pagan background, Patrick was emphatic in encouraging widows to remain chaste and young women to consecrate their virginity to Christ. He ordained many priests, divided the country into dioceses, held Church councils, founded several monasteries and continually urged his people to greater holiness in Christ.

He suffered much opposition from pagan druids and was criticized in both England and Ireland for the way he conducted his mission. In a relatively short time, the island had experienced deeply the Christian spirit, and was prepared to send out missionaries whose efforts were greatly responsible for Christianizing Europe.

Patrick was a man of action, with little inclination toward learning. He had a rock-like belief in his vocation, in the cause he had espoused. One of the few certainly authentic writings is his Confessio, above all an act of homage to God for having called Patrick, unworthy sinner, to the apostolate.

There is hope rather than irony in the fact that his burial place is said to be in County Down in Northern Ireland, long the scene of strife and violence.


What distinguishes Patrick is the durability of his efforts. When one considers the state of Ireland when he began his mission work, the vast extent of his labors, and how the seeds he planted continued to grow and flourish, one can only admire the kind of man Patrick must have been. The holiness of a person is known only by the fruits of his or her work.

Saint Patrick is the Patron Saint of:


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Saint of the Day