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Pope Francis names 4 new bishops for US dioceses

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has appointed four new bishops to serve in American dioceses. The appointments, announced Thursday, include three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, and one new auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of San Diego, California.

The appointments include a Benedictine monk who currently leads the American-Cassinese Congregation.

The Vatican announced Feb. 27 that Fr. Ramon Bejarano will be consecrated as auxiliary bishop for San Diego, the three new auxiliary bishops for the Newark archdiocese are Msgr. Gregory Studerus, Fr. Michael Saporito, and Abbot Elias Lorenzo.

Abbot Lorenzo, 59 is a monk of St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey, who was previously prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Lorenzo has served as abbott president of the American-Cassinese Congregation, an association of 25 Benedictine monasteries, since 2016.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Lorenzo entered the Benedictine monastery in 1983 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Don Bosco College Seminary. He went on to earn a license in canon law from Catholic University of America, and master’s degrees in counseling psychology and in liturgical theology. After his ordination in 1989, Lorenzo served as a director of liturgy for the abbey, vice president of Delbarton School, and president of the International Commission for Benedictine Education.

Msgr. Gregory Studerus, a priest of the Newark archdiocese, has served as episcopal vicar of Hudson County since 2015. Before entering seminary, Studerus worked as an elementary school art teacher and served in the National Guard. He holds a Master of Divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary.

Msgr. Studerus, 71, has been pastor of St. Joseph of the Palisades Church, the largest Hispanic parish in the Newark archdiocese, for 15 years. 

The other auxiliary bishop-elect for the Archdiocese of Newark is Fr. Michael Saporito, who currently serves as pastor of St. Helen Parish in Westfield, NJ.

A native of Newark, Saporito, 57, has served six parishes in the archdiocese since his ordination in 1992, including St. Joseph in Maplewood and St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff. Saporito studied accounting at Rutgers University before entering Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, welcomed the appointments, and said that the pope had shown a “special concern for the life and the mission of Archdiocese of Newark.” 

“In selecting Msgr. Studerus, Abbot Lorenzo, and Father Saporito for service as bishops, the Holy Father gives new impetus to this local Church as we continue to walk forward in faith.”

“I am delighted to share my responsibilities with these three dedicated missionary disciples,” Tobin said.

Pope Francis also appointed a new auxiliary bishop of San Diego Feb. 27, Fr. Ramon Bejarano, who currently serves as pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish in Modesto, CA.

Born in Laredo, TX, Bejarano, 50, spent much of his childhood in Chihuahua, Mexico, before moving with his family to California, where he was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Stockton in 1998. The bilingual priest earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the Diocesan Seminary of Tijuana, and a Master of Divinity from Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon. He previously served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Turlock, CA and as founding pastor of Holy Family Parish in Modesto. 

The four new auxiliary bishop appointments come one week after all of the current U.S. bishops completed their ad limina visits to Rome to meet Pope Francis and pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.

'Slight' sickness keeps Pope Francis close to home, Vatican says

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2020 / 07:36 am (CNA).- Pope Francis did not attend a scheduled meeting with Rome priests Thursday morning due to a “slight indisposition,” a Vatican spokesman said.

The pope’s other appointments took place as usual Thursday; he offered his morning Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta guesthouse and later met with members of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

“Due to a slight indisposition,” Pope Francis “preferred to remain in the rooms close to Santa Marta,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director told journalists Feb. 27. Santa Marta is where Francis lives at the Vatican.

Bruni added that the pope’s “other commitments proceed regularly.”

The encounter with Rome’s priests was to take place as part of a penitential Lenten liturgy at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran across Rome.  

In his absence at the liturgy, the pope’s prepared remarks were read to clergy by Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the vicar general of the Diocese of Rome.

Pope Francis, who is 83 years old, is generally healthy, though he suffers from sciatica and had eye surgery for cataracts last year. When he was young he had a portion of one lung removed because of an infection.

The pope had a full schedule Feb. 26 with a procession and the celebration of Mass for Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, as well as his weekly general audience held in St. Peter’s Square.

Francis’ illness comes at the same time as the novel coronavirus afflicts several hundred people in Italy, mostly in the north.

During the audience, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to those who are sick with the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, and with the healthcare workers tasked with treating them and with stopping the contagion.

As of noon, on Feb. 27, cases of coronavirus in Italy had reached more than 500, with 14 deaths. In Rome’s region of Lazio there have been just three cases: an Italian who has recovered and two Chinese tourists who are being treated in the hospital.

 

Relics of Ss. Louis, Zelie Martin find home in parish named for daughter Therese

Lansing, Mich., Feb 27, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Fr. John Fain is getting the 19th-century family of St. Therese back together.

Well, sort of.

First-class relics of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the recently canonized parents of St. Therese, have found a new home in a parish named for their daughter in Lansing, Michigan.

Fr. John Fain of St. Therese parish told CNA that the relics will be encased in a display case along with a relic of St. Therese, and a print of the whole family. All five of the children who survived childhood became religious sisters.

Fain said he hopes the relics inspire greater devotion to St. Therese herself, along with devotion to her family.

“What St. Therese is known for is The Little Way, and it's doing small things with great love,” Fain said. “Her parents, I think, taught her that.”

“They were people who went to daily Mass, they practiced fasting, they regularly checked out for the neighbors, people in the neighborhood that were struggling. They would take them food and other things. They comforted the sick of their neighborhood and just lived a very joyful family life,” he added.

Fain said he was inspired to ask for relics of Louis and Zelie after ordering a print of an icon of the Martin family.

“I happened to buy a picture of the family of St. Therese of Lisieux and her parents and the entire family, including the children who had died. It just sort of occurred to me, 'Wow, this would be really neat to have the relics here too.'”

But obtaining relics is no easy process. Fain petitioned Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing to see if he could get relics of Louis and Zelie for the parish, thinking it would take several years.

Boyea put the chancellor of the diocese, Michael Andrews, on the task of obtaining the relics, Fain said. Andrews, who speaks several languages, contacted the head of Carmelite order in Rome to ask about obtaining relics of Louis and Zelie.

“That's the only place you could get the relics from. It's actually very hard to get relics anymore. It used to be somewhat easy, but there's been so many abuses and trafficking in relics that basically you can only get one,” Fain said.

Fain said he believes his parish is one of the only places in the world to have first-class relics of Louis and Zelie, as they are recently canonized saints, and relics are a rarity.

First-class relics are fragments of the body of the saint, such as bone, flesh, or hair. Fain said he thinks the relics of Zelie and Louis are pieces of bone.

Anything touched to a first-class relic of a saint, like a rosary or a holy card, becomes a third-class relic. Fain added, “I think that's pretty exciting in itself.”

Before they were married, both Louis and Zelie desired religious vocations. But both were turned away - Louis was rejected from seminary because he didn’t know Latin, and Zelie from a religious community because she had poor health. Louis then became a watchmaker, and Zelie a lacemaker. They had nine children, only five of whom survived childhood.

Zelie died from cancer at the age of 46, leaving Louis to care for the children alone, including Therese, who was four at the time. Louis died in 1894, after suffering two strokes in 1889.

The couple’s desire for holiness despite being turned down from religious vocations can be observed in the way they lived their family life, Fain said, and in a way, their home became “like a small convent in a lot of ways.”

“It's just obvious that that's what God's intention was for their vocation was to be a married couple who shared their family life with their children,” Fain said.

Sts. Louis and Zelie were canonized Oct. 18, 2015 by Pope Francis - the first-ever married couple to be canonized together. Another married couple, Bl. Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi, were beatified together in October 2001.

Fain said he hopes the relics and life of the Martin family can show his parishioners that “spirituality doesn't have to be a complicated thing. A lot of people are overwhelmed by the great saints and sometimes have a hard time relating to them, but St. Therese is one that I think everyone can relate to.”

He said he also hoped that couples were inspired to see their marriages as holy vocations as well.

“I think a lot of times married couples don't see themselves as living a vocation. When they think of vocations, they think of priests or deacons or religious men and women, but they don't really consider being married a religious vocation,” Fain said.

“The state of marriage is definitely in crisis. It's in crisis in our country, but it's also in crisis in the Church itself. I think by looking at a couple such as Louis and Zélie and by learning from their merits and example...again that it doesn't have to be an extraordinary thing. It can just be living a good saintly life in a simple way. That's ultimately how they made it to heaven. I think that can be a great hope for married couples,” he said.

Fain added that Bishop Boyea plans to visit the parish on Corpus Christi to bless people individually with the relic. The relics can also be removed from their display case by request for those hoping to touch rosaries, holy cards, or other objects to the relics.

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Stained glass of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows in church of Brioux-sur-Boutonne | photo by Havang(nl)
Image: Stained glass of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows in church of Brioux-sur-Boutonne | photo by Havang(nl)

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Saint of the Day for February 27

(March 1, 1838 – February 27, 1862)

 

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows’ Story

Born in Italy into a large family and baptized Francis, Saint Gabriel lost his mother when he was only four years old. He was educated by the Jesuits and, having been cured twice of serious illnesses, came to believe that God was calling him to the religious life. Young Francis wished to join the Jesuits but was turned down, probably because of his age, not yet 17. Following the death of a sister to cholera, his resolve to enter religious life became even stronger and he was accepted by the Passionists. Upon entering the novitiate he was given the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Ever popular and cheerful, Gabriel quickly was successful in his effort to be faithful in little things. His spirit of prayer, love for the poor, consideration of the feelings of others, exact observance of the Passionist Rule as well as his bodily penances—always subject to the will of his wise superiors— made a deep impression on everyone.

His superiors had great expectations of Gabriel as he prepared for the priesthood, but after only four years of religious life symptoms of tuberculosis appeared. Ever obedient, he patiently bore the painful effects of the disease and the restrictions it required, seeking no special notice. He died peacefully on February 27, 1862, at age 24, having been an example to both young and old.

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was canonized in 1920.


Reflection

When we think of achieving great holiness by doing little things with love and grace, Therese of Lisieux comes first to mind. Like her, Gabriel died painfully from tuberculosis. Together they urge us to tend to the small details of daily life, to be considerate of others’ feelings every day. Our path to sanctity, like theirs, probably lies not in heroic doings but in performing small acts of kindness every day.


Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows is the Patron Saint of:

Clergy
Students
Young People


The post Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows appeared first on Franciscan Media.

Denver archbishop requests fasting, prayer for victims of sexual abuse

Denver, Colo., Feb 26, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- For the second year, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver is inviting all the faithful of the local Church to offer prayers and fasting for victims of sexual abuse on the first Friday of Lent, Feb. 28.

“We have made significant progress in addressing this grave evil within the Church, but we cannot let that progress cause us to forget the psychological, physical and spiritual wounds it has caused,” Aquila wrote in a recent letter.

“On this designated day once per year, I would urge you to also fast and set aside some extra moments of prayer and penance.”

The Catholic bishops of Colorado announced during October 2019 an independent reparation and reconciliation program that will provide for victims of clerical abuse in the dioceses who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

The program followed the release of a report issued after a seven-month investigation conducted by a former U.S. Attorney, Bob Troyer. Colorado’s bishops and the state’s attorney general decided mutually to support the investigation, which was funded by an anonymous donor.

In a letter to priests issued Oct. 22, Aquila wrote that after reading the report, “my feelings have ranged from deep sadness for the victims, to anger at the perpetrators, to compassion and solidarity for the victims, and profound sorrow for the Church and her clergy to have to experience this. It has led me to understand in a deeper way the reality of sin and evil, which can affect any one of us at any time.”

In a letter to Denver Catholics, Aquila praised “the courage of the survivors who have shared the stories of their abuse.”

The Catholic Bishops of Australia during February 2018 called on the Catholic community to make the first four days of Lent a period of fasting and reparation in sorrow for the “tragedy” of child sex abuse within the Church, Vatican News reported at the time.

Pope Francis called during 2018 for every member of the Catholic Church to pray and fast in penance for the evil of clerical sex abuse, and to be involved in needed change within the Church.

“The only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God,” Francis wrote Aug. 20, 2018.

Florida man tackles deacon during anticipated Mass

Miami, Fla., Feb 26, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- It took ten parishioners to restrain Thomas Eisel after he attacked a deacon during an anticipated Mass on Saturday.

Deacon George Labelle was tackled by Eisel, 28, while the clergyman offered a homily Feb. 22 at St. Coleman Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, about 40 miles north of Miami.

“The Archdiocese is grateful no one was seriously injured during this frightening incident. The immediate response from parishioners allowed the deacon to continue with the Mass,” the Archdiocese of Miami said, according to the Miami Herald.

“Hopefully, the young man receives the care and help he needs.”

According to security footage, Eisel stood up from a front-row pew and charged the deacon with his head down. It took at least 10 people to separate Eisel from Labelle and then subdue the attacker, the Miami Herald reported.

Eisel has been arrested and charged with an account of battery and disturbing the peace. Because of a probation violation in Volusia County, a Broward County judge has ordered that Eisel be held without bond. The attacker had previously been convicted of battery after attacking a 65-year-old in 2017.

The deacon is reportedly okay and only left with a few bruises. According to the Miami Herald, he said the attack “blind-sided” and surprised him, but that he was grateful for the parishioners’ intervention.

“It’s great, so comforting to know there were people there ... it was a relief,” he said.

According to the Miami Herald, deputies said that Eisel admitted to trying to hurt the deacon, but no information about an incentive behind the attack has been released.

Steve Feeley, an off-duty Broward County officer, was sitting a few rows behind the perpetrator. He told WSVN that Eisel had looked suspicious and agitated.

“You know, he was very [fidgety],” Feeley said. “He was giving thumbs up to people, giving thumbs up during the service to the priest on the altar. He was just rocking back and forth. He stood up and made a beeline for the deacon. I didn’t anticipate him going over and literally tackling the deacon right in the middle of the service, but that’s what he did, and myself and a bunch of other people from St. Coleman’s were able to get him down.”

After Eisel was separated from the deacon, the parishioners held down the 28-year-old man. Feeley, his wife, and Tim Gilmore, another parishioner attending the service, were a few of these men and women who provided help, WSVN reported.

“We were not going to let him up under any circumstances, and there were people that were sitting on him,” Feeley said. “My wife was sitting on his legs.”

“Naturally they want [to] try to defend him. You don’t know what’s going through the guy’s mind,” Gilmore said. “You don’t know whether he’s got a knife or something.”

Infant boy removed from ventilator after controversial 'brain stem death' ruling

London, England, Feb 26, 2020 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- Despite his parents’ protests that he showed “signs of life,” a four-month old boy who was severely brain damaged was legally declared dead and has been removed from a ventilator in the U.K.

Midrar Ali was disconnected from his ventilator sometime after judges agreed with doctors this month that the boy’s brain stem was dead. But the criteria used in the U.K. case is controversial, and “bran stem death” is not accepted for a diagnosis of death in many parts of the world. 

A Catholic bioethicist says Ali’s case deserves careful medical and ethical judgment, and warns that the U.K. has adopted a “problematic” approach to defining death and proper medical care for the severely brain damaged.

“Brain stem death does not necessarily equal death,” said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., a bioethicist and director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“Britain has adopted an unorthodox and problematic approach whereby they try to classify somebody with irreversible brain stem damage as ‘dead’ even if other, higher centers of the brain manifest integrative functionality.”

“The medical profession outside of Britain does not widely share this perspective, and certainly the medical profession in the U.S. does not,” Pacholczyk, who holds a Ph.D in neuroscience from Yale University, told CNA Feb. 26.

In September 2019, newborn Midrar Ali suffered severe brain damage during birth, when complications involving his umbilical cord starved him of oxygen. He was treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.

News that the boy was disconnected from his ventilator was reported by the BBC Feb. 26. His father called for an inquest and a coroner’s investigation, BBC News reports.

On Feb. 14 an appellate court rejected the legal appeal from the boy’s parents, 35-year-old Karwan Ali and Shokhan Namiq, 28. The court sided with a high court judge who in January ruled that the baby, Midrar, was “brain stem dead.” This meant that doctors could withdraw treatment.

Judges declared that from the court’s perspective, Ali had actually died Oct. 1, 14 days after he was born.

The boy’s father, 35-year-old Karwan Ali, said the judgment was “terrible.”

“They can’t be 100% sure he is dead. He’s still growing. His eyes move. I’ve seen them move,” he said, according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

In December, Ali said the hospital had failed to convince the family of its position.

“We have evidence of him responding,” he said.

“No doctor, no biologist can keep a dead person alive for three months,” Ali said, according to BBC News. “The body does not work without the brain.”

“I’m a biologist, I know that. The body does not work without the brain,” he repeated.

Pacholczyk said there could be merit to the father’s claims.

“To the extent that these observations are a manifestation of upper brain coordinated functioning, the child cannot properly be declared ‘dead’ or ‘deceased’,” he said.

In January, high court Justice Nathalie Lieven had ruled that the boy’s parents did not have an arguable case and doctors could cease the use of mechanical respiration.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said that Midrar no longer had a recognizable brain and there was no other conclusion to be reached other than to withdraw life support.

“The factual and medical evidence before was more than sufficient to justify the findings,” McFarlane said.

Manchester University National Health Service Foundation said the boy’s organs were deteriorating. He had never breathed independently. The foundation said continuing treatment was undignified and said the boy should be allowed a “kind and dignified death.”

Lawyers for the foundation said three tests confirmed brain stem death.

Pacholczyk noted that the U.K. diagnostic focus on brain stem death differs from other medical standards around the world. He said “brain death, understood as the complete and irreversible loss of all integrated neurological function (including brain stem function) is a reliable way medical professionals can determine that a patient has died.”

The parents’ own attorney has noted that the diagnosis of death in the U.S., Canada, Australia and elsewhere is based on “whole brain death,” and not “brain stem death.”

The appellate court’s Feb. 14 ruling cited the testimony of a doctor which said the key point about the U.K. diagnosis criteria is that “no patient has ever regained consciousness or awareness following brain stem death” and that when the brain stem dies it is “impossible for a patient to breathe unassisted.”

Pacholczyk reflected on the standards of care in such cases.

“Brain-damaged individuals are deserving of full respect, and partake fully of human dignity, equally as individuals whose brains are not damaged,” he said. “They deserve to receive reasonable (‘proportionate’) treatments as much as anyone else.”

At the same time, it must be “carefully assessed” whether certain interventions were “extraordinary” in Midrar’s case. Catholic ethics does not require extraordinary medical care.

“The question of whether he eventually will, or maybe already has stabilized in his condition, such that only minor additional treatments beyond the ventilator will be required, will also be important to assess carefully,” Pacholyczyk said ahead of news that the boy’s ventilator was disconnected.

Pacholczyk also questioned the hospital’s stated focus on maintaining the boy’s “dignity.” The hospital “appears to be using discriminatory and judgmental language when it declares that continuing to treat Midrar is ‘undignified’,” he said.

“The first role of a hospital is not to be bargaining in ‘dignity assessments’ about a particular patient’s life, nor trying to pass subjective judgments regarding somebody's ‘quality of life,’ but instead to provide care for patients, and to assist in facilitating productive dialog among family, medical professionals and others so that reasonable interventions can be offered to patients,” Pacholczyk told CNA.

Catholic thought on end-of-life care and the medical diagnosis of death is summarized in a February 2015 National Catholic Bioethics Center document “Brain Death.”

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society, Pope St. John Paul II stated that “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem) … if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

Thus, these criteria can be used to arrive at moral certainty that death has occurred, the pope said.

This moral certainty is considered “the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action,” the bioethics center’s summary said.

The Catholic bioethics center noted that determining death by these neurological criteria typically involves bedside testing to assess absence of response or reflexes, apnea testing to assess the absence of the ability to breath, and “possible confirmatory tests to further assess the absence of brain activity (for example, an EEG) or the absence of blood flow to the brain.”

Similarly, the U.S. bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services indicate that “the determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

In a 2008 statement on brain death, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death … ‘is’ death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences said that after brain death “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body.”

“Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life,” the academy continued. “In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”
 

 

Wear black to protest anti-Christian violence, Nigerian Catholics told

Benin City, Nigeria, Feb 26, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Nigeria have told the nation’s Catholics to wear black on Ash Wednesday to protest the ongoing persecution of Christians in the country.

In a letter read in all the country's parishes on Feb. 26, Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze of Benin City, said that the black clothing would be a show of solidarity with victims of violent crime, as well as a display of mourning for the murder of seminarian Michael Nnadi. Akubeze is the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN).

Nnadi, was killed in late January, weeks after he and three other seminarians were abducted from their seminary. The seminarians kidnapped with Nnadi were released, one with life-threatening injuries.

Also in January, Rev. Lawan Andima, a local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the married father of nine children, was beheaded by Boko Haram.

Akubeze has previously said Andima was killed “simply because he was a Christian.”

In the Ash Wednesday letter, the archbishop called for Catholics to join in a “Day of Prayer Procession” across the country against “the repeated barbaric executions of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom linked to the same group.”

The secretary general of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, the administrative headquarters of the CBCN, also issued a request for Catholics around the world to pray for peace in Nigeria and security for the nation’s Christians. 

“I have been directed by the administrative board of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) to communicate to you that in the face of the current security situation, the Church needs to speak out in word and action against the level of insecurity in the country,” said Fr. Zacharia Nyantiso Samjumi on Tuesday to Nigerian press. 

Samjumi also announced that Sunday evening Masses on March 1 would be cancelled. Instead of Mass that evening, churches will hold “peaceful prayer protests against the incessant killings and insecurity in our country.” 

Despite the sadness and grief amongst Nigerian Catholics, Samjumi said that they are “confident that the light of Christ, which shines in our hearts, will brighten the dark corners of our Nigerian society.” 

Samjumi said that the majority of Nigerians throughout the country live in a constant state of fear, and there is a ever-present state of insecurity. In Nigeria, Christians are subjected to “repeated barbaric executions” and “incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom” by the Islamist group Boko Haram, and other terrorist organizations. 

The violence has “traumatized many citizens,” he said. 

In a Feb. 7 interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Akubeze warned that the situation was deteriorating.

“How can he be surprised at this time? After some of us have attended mass burials of Christians killed by Boko Haram?” he asked. 

“The government is certainly not doing enough to protect both Christians and Muslims.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, has been active in Nigeria for years. While the group has attacked both Muslims and Christians in the past, the archbishop said that recent attacks have focused on the killing and kidnapping of Christians.

Akubeze said that the situation is dire and getting worse.

“One area that I think the Western nations and the media can be of great help is to cover the stories of these atrocities in Nigeria,” Akubeze said.

“The number of killings is just mind boggling. Maybe with significant Western coverage, the Government of Nigeria may be put under pressure to act.”

Accompaniment central to priestly formation in Cuba, spiritual director says

Camagüey, Cuba, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Accompaniment for seminarians is critical in Cuba, a priest has said, reflecting that Cubans are “a tired people, a people without hope, it's a people that really feels helpless.”

Fr. Alberto Reyes Pías, a priest of the Archdiocese of Camagüey and spiritual director for the archdiocesan seminary, told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language new partner, that “The two words Cubans live with are survive or leave.”

“There are a lot a people for whom the Church is the only thing that gives them some hope, gives them some meaning. There are lot of people going through an interior process in the Church, which gives them meaning."

Pias spoke to ACI Prensa at the Feb. 18-22 Night of Witnesses event organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need in Mexico to draw attention to persecuted Churches.

He emphasized that “there's a feeling of stagnation” in Cuba, but that “there's this feeling that 'I can count on the Church'” among Cubans, which “is something that means a lot to the Cuban people.”

Turning to priestly formation in particular, he said there is a particular need to accompany seminarians, since “often there are really good, nice people, but sometimes guys also come who are very broken.”

He lamented that “the situation of the family in Cuba is quite disastrous. They come to us very broken. I believe the most important thing is 'we're going to live what one day you will have to help others experience.' Then it's to accompany them, to listen to them.”

“One thing I usually say is 'don't hold anything back.' I'm not here to judge you, I'm here to accompany you, but you also have to heal things yourself if you want to be a healer later on. You've got to go through a process.”

“The seminary can't be a tunnel, something you go through to become a priest, because the problem is not becoming a priest, what's at stake here is your happiness, your fulfillment. You've got to go through a process. And processes are painful,” the spiritual director noted.

Pías explained that “we would like them to have done some previous work, so they don't come to the seminary to discern, although it's true that the seminary is a time of confirming what you have seen. We try to have them have done some previous work, of accompaniment, of working with the priests.”

“We meet with them ahead of time such that we don't admit anyone to the seminary who doesn't have a certain level of discernment. Because there are things it's better to do on the outside, beforehand,” he added.

Pías explained that “the majority of the seminarians don't come from Christian families. In fact, it Cuba there's a very interesting phenomenon going on. In many places in the world children are brought to the Church by their parents, but not in Cuba. In Cuba a lot of children go to catechism class, adolescents, young people, go on their own, and in fact there are parents who have started coming to church because of their children.”

“Most of our vocations are young people who one day encountered Jesus Christ and are fascinated,” he said.

He also noted that Cuba is marked by emigration.

“I'm in a parish where I've been for 15 years now. Out of that community I was with 15 years ago, I think 95% of them are in the United States. In fact, when I have gone to the United States, to Miami, they tell me, 'Father, come here, because we're all here.'”

“What's beautiful is that very many of these people are still practicing, they've become catechists in the United States, they're leading couples' groups, so the seed has borne fruit. But there's continual emigration,” he said.

The priest also reflected that in Cuba, “we've lived in a system in which the absolute value has been fidelity to the system.”

“In fact there are young people whom I would not say are immoral, I'd have to say they're amoral. They don't know where there's good and where there's evil,” he noted.

For Pías, “one of the greatest works of the Church, obviously besides evangelization, that you  encounter Jesus Christ, is to discover values, so that whatever happens, you can be a person who can later build something with his life.”

“Something very beautiful is how there are guys who enter the Church broken and you see them continue on the journey and they end up having a Christian family, where values are lived and a different kind of education is given to the children, giving them something that was never given to them. When you see something like that, you say it's all worth it,” he concluded.

Pope Francis prays for Iraqis as Vatican confirms no papal visit in 2020

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he is praying for the people of Iraq, and repeated his desire to visit the country.

Speaking to pilgrims from the Middle East during his general audience address, the pope gave a special welcome to people from Iraq, who he said were present in a “nice group.”

“Citizens of Iraq, I tell you I am very close to you. You are in a battlefield, you suffer a war, from one side and the other,” Francis said Feb. 26.

The pope said he is praying for peace in Iraq and referred to his hope to visit the country in 2020.

“I pray for you and I pray for peace in your country, which it was planned that I visit this year,” Francis said. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni subsequently confirmed to CNA that a papal visit to Iraq will not take place this year.

Pope Francis said in June he would like to visit Iraq in 2020 and two Catholic bishops from the country had also referred to the possibility of a papal trip there.

Francis has wanted to visit Iraq throughout his pontificate, but it has not yet been possible due to the Iraqi Civil War, Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, and continued security concerns in different parts of the country.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited Iraq during the Christmas season in 2018, and concluded at the time that the country was still unsafe for a papal visit.

If Francis does eventually travel to Iraq, he would become the first pope to visit the nation.

Since the beginning of October, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been protesting government corruption, a lack of economic growth, and proper public services. They have also objected to foreign influence over their country’s internal affairs.

Government forces have used tear gas and bullets against protesters in what are the largest demonstration Iraq has seen since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. 

As of Jan. 13, more than 660 people had been killed in the demonstrations, according to the Iraqi War Crime Documentation Centre.

On Feb. 1, Iraq appointed a new prime minister, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, after the previous prime minister resigned in November in response to the protests.

Allawi praised the protests soon after his appointment. The prime minister-designate is now forming a government, which is scheduled for a parliamentary vote of approval Feb. 27.