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Pope: Bishops must handle Communion debate as shepherds, not with censures

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM SLOVAKIA (CNS) ─ The debate about denying Communion to politicians who support abortion must be handled in a pastoral way, not by public condemnations that seek to "excommunicate" Catholics who are not in line with church teaching, Pope Francis said.

During his return flight from Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 15, the pope said that while there is no question that "abortion is homicide," bishops must look take a pastoral approach rather than wade into the political sphere.

"If we look at the history of the church, we can see that every time the bishops did not act like shepherds when dealing with a problem, they aligned themselves with political life, on political problems," he said.

The pope told journalists that when defending a principle, some bishops act in a way "that is not pastoral" and "enter the political sphere."

"And what should a shepherd do? Be a shepherd. Not going around condemning," the pope added. "They must be a shepherd, in God's style, which is closeness, compassion and tenderness."

"A shepherd that doesn't know how to act in God's style slips and enters into many things that are not of a shepherd."

The pope said that he preferred not to comment directly on the issue of denying Communion in the United States "because I do not know the details; I am speaking of the principle" of the matter.

During their virtual spring general assembly in June, 75% of U.S. bishops approved the drafting of a document, addressed to all Catholic faithful, on eucharistic coherence. During long discussions on the document before the vote, several bishops specifically pointed to President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who are Catholic, for not actively seeking to end legal abortion, and they said such politicians should be denied Communion.

When asked if he had ever publicly denied Communion to someone, Pope Francis emphatically said, "No, I have never denied the Eucharist to anyone; to anyone! I don't know if someone came to me under these conditions, but I have never refused them the Eucharist, since the time I was a priest."

But, he added, "I was never aware of anyone in front of me under those conditions that you mentioned."

Recalling his apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium," the pope said that "Communion is not a prize for the perfect," but rather "a gift, the presence of Jesus in his church and in the community. That is the theology."

However, Pope Francis also said he understood why the church takes a hard stance because accepting abortion "is a bit as if daily murder was accepted."

"Whoever commits an abortion, murders," he said. "Take any book on embryology, those books on medicine. At the third week of conception, many times before a mother even realizes it, all the organs are there. All of them, even their DNA.

"It is a human life. Period," the pope added. "And this human life must be respected. This principle is very clear."

Pope Francis said that those "who don't understand" this principle must ask themselves whether it is "right to kill a human life to solve a problem."

He also recalled the reaction to his apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," and the debates surrounding giving Communion to divorced or remarried Catholics.

Some called it, "heresy, but thank God for Cardinal (Christoph) Schönborn, a great theologian, who cleared a bit the chaos," he said.

Nevertheless, "there was always this condemnation," the pope said. "These are poor people who are temporarily outside, but they are children of God and need our pastoral action."

The pope was also asked about his recent public service announcement in August encouraging people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and whether his statement that "vaccinations are an act of love" would alienate Catholics who are skeptical about taking the vaccine.

Pope Francis said he found "a little bit strange" because "humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines."

He also said that doubts about the vaccines may be a consequence of "the uncertainty of the pandemic, of the vaccine itself," or the notoriety of some vaccines in the past that were practically "distilled water."

"Even in the College of Cardinals there are some deniers. One of these, the poor guy, recently recovered from the virus," the pope said, alluding to American Cardinal Raymond L. Burke.

In Slovakia, recent legislation requiring vaccinations sparked protests in the country, causing divisions and tensions, including within the Catholic Church.

Although the government initially mandated all participants of papal events to be vaccinated, authorities relaxed their initial regulations and allowed participants who presented a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery from coronavirus.

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Three men prepare to serve the Lord and his faithful as permanent deacons

Charles Dault, Richard Kliemann Jr. and Michael Merlo will be ordained for the Archdiocese of Detroit on Saturday, Oct. 2, at cathedral

DETROIT — Service at the altar of God as a permanent deacon is a special calling in the 21st century Church, and three men of the Archdiocese of Detroit are set to take up that calling Oct. 2.

On that day, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron will ordain Charles Dault, 60, Richard Kliemann Jr., 61, and Michael Merlo, 64, during a Mass at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The three men — each of whom is married and has adult children — have spent the past several years studying, praying and discerning at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in preparation for service as deacons in parishes and ministries in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

While God has called each in different ways, all three men share a desire for service and will devote themselves to caring for Christ’s faithful in the years ahead. Here’s a little more about the 2021 permanent diaconate candidates:

Charles G. Dault

Charles Dault, 60, of Van Buren Township, is a parishioner of St. Anthony Parish in Belleville. He is married to Deborah (Childress) and has two adult children: Anthony, 28, and Mary, 24.

Dault was born in Alpena and attended high school in the northern Michigan city. Having earned business degrees from the University of Phoenix (2002) and Davenport University (2005), Dault is employed as an aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He enjoys motorcycling and arts and crafts in his spare time.

Dault’s journey to the diaconate has taken a winding path.

“There is so much wisdom we can learn from (the elderly), and they hunger to give it away but are thwarted by a society that has pushed them aside, treated them as a burden, liability or inconvenience. Many elderly Catholics carry their cross with a catechesis of ‘pay, pray and obey,’ but have not experienced the love found in a personal relationship with our Lord, Jesus.”

“In my 20s, I felt a call to do more in service of the Church. I thought it might be a call to the priesthood but after meeting my wife, Deb, I concluded it was something else,” Dault said. “The call continued, and I soon learned the Church had deacons. Being a cradle Catholic, it was interesting to me that I had never heard they had been reinstituted (after the Second Vatican Council) nor had I ever met one.”

After a first attempt to learn about the diaconate ended in discouragement, Dault returned to the thought later in life, but his spiritual advisors again decided the timing wasn’t right.

“Years later, I was urged to apply again. After much discernment I did re-apply and was accepted as an aspirant,” Dault said. “They say good things come in threes, and I can attest that what I’ve been called to is truly good.”

Dault has served in various ministry roles, including hospital and homebound ministry, prison ministry, substance abuse counseling and as a volunteer in soup kitchens, food pantries and in religious education and Bible study programs.

He’s also assisted at Mass as an altar server and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. His pastoral internship was completed at St. Thomas a’Becket Parish in Canton.

Dault has a special heart for the elderly, he said, whom he views as too often neglected, mistreated or taken advantage of.

“There is so much wisdom we can learn from them, and they hunger to give it away but are thwarted by a society that has pushed them aside, treated them as a burden, liability or inconvenience,” Dault said. “Many elderly Catholics carry their cross with a catechesis of ‘pay, pray and obey,’ but have not experienced the love found in a personal relationship with our Lord, Jesus.

“Finding an inner peace as they await the move to an eternal glory is wearisome and sometimes depressing,” Dault added. “I feel a call to change that and help them deepen their relationship with our Lord by having them experience the love, concern and mercy of his Church.”

Richard Kliemann Jr. 

Richard Kliemann Jr., of Marysville, is a parishioner of St. Christopher Parish in that St. Clair County city. He is married to Carol Annette (Cummings) and has three adult children: Christopher, 39, Matthew, 37, and Stacie (Ferres), 33.

Kliemann was born in Port Huron and attended St. Clair High School, graduating in 1978. He attended St. Clair County Community College and today is retired from his occupation as a power plant operator for DTE Energy.

In his spare time, Kliemann enjoys building and flying radio-controlled airplanes, practicing Tae Kwon Do — in which he’s earned his black belt — running, camping and biking.

“In the years of formation I have come to see the importance of reaching out to the poor and marginalized, to share not only my faith with them, but to bring the people we encounter in our outreach ministries and their prayers and suffering and to offer them at the sacrifice of the Mass. Most of the people we encounter may not come to the Mass, so we can bring what they share with us to the Mass in service for them.”

Kliemann’s interest in the diaconate began when he was invited to a weekend men’s retreat, “Christ Renews His Parish,” he said.

“During the weekend, I listened to several men share their personal faith witness and how their experiences changed them. From their experiences, they grew in their faith and began to share Jesus Christ and became more devoted to prayer and ministry,” Kliemann said. “This brought me closer to Jesus, which led to my own experience of faith sharing, which was a beginning of this journey to the diaconate.”

A member of Knights of Columbus Council 9526 in Marysville, Kliemann has a passion for ministry to those suffering from substance abuse and mental health disorders, serving as a volunteer at Sacred Heart Rehabilitation in Port Huron, Clearview Recovery and Recovery House of Port Huron. He’s also served with McLaren Hospice Ministry.

“In the years of formation I have come to see the importance of reaching out to the poor and marginalized,” said Kliemann, who completed his pastoral internship at Holy Trinity Parish in Port Huron, “to share not only my faith with them, but to bring the people we encounter in our outreach ministries and their prayers and suffering and to offer them at the sacrifice of the Mass. Most of the people we encounter may not come to the Mass, so we can bring what they share with us to the Mass in service for them.”

Kliemann’s wife, Carol, also is active in their church community, having taught religious education and serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, as well as serving on the parish pastoral council. The couple also help lead a Small Church Community group at St. Christopher in Marysville, which meets regularly to share and reflect upon the Gospel.

Michael J. Merlo

Michael Merlo, of Rochester Hills, is a parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in Auburn Hills. He is married to Mary Alice (Gall), and has five children: Matthew, 37, Joshua, 28, Michaella, 22, the late Jerimiah, and the late Anthony (stillborn).

Merlo was born in Pontiac and attended Rochester High School, graduating in 1975. He earned a degree in mathematics from Lake Superior State University (1979) and in geography from the University of Michigan (1981). Today, Merlo is retired from his career as a program and business manager for the U.S. Department of Defense. He enjoys fishing, gardening and strategic games in his spare time.

Merlo’s interest in the diaconate began when he was studying the writings of St. Paul, who urged people to be “imitators of Christ.”

“The goal of my ministry is bring Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to all situations and opportunities the Lord places me in. For example if working at a soup kitchen, or helping a St. Vincent de Paul client, or praying with those in a hospital or nursing home, my goal is to bring the Lord to the situation by showing compassion, mercy and caring for the needs of those around me.”

“I asked the Lord, ‘How does this apply to my life?’” Merlo said. “One of several answers I received was to become a deacon and share the joy, love and mercy of Jesus and the grace of the Holy Spirit with all I minister to and with. I questioned the Lord, ‘Why a deacon?’ and his response was ‘Trust me.’”

Merlo said the Lord validated this initial prompting with “signs” in his life that pointed the way toward his becoming “all in” on the permanent diaconate program.

Merlo completed his pastoral internship at St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Rochester Hills, and has field experience as a volunteer with St. Paul Street Evangelization, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Gleaner’s Food Bank, Mary’s Mantle and in spiritual care at Beaumont Hospital in Troy.

At the parish level, Merlo has served as a pastoral associate, marriage prep coach, religious education director and teacher, and on the Christian service commission and adult education commission. He’s also coordinated efforts to bring the Eucharist to homebound and nursing home residents.

“The goal of my ministry is bring Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to all situations and opportunities the Lord places me in,” Merlo said. “For example if working at a soup kitchen, or helping a St. Vincent de Paul client, or praying with those in a hospital or nursing home, my goal is to bring the Lord to the situation by showing compassion, mercy and caring for the needs of those around me.”

Merlo’s wife, Mary Alice, also is involved in parish volunteer activities as a member of the St. Vincent de Paul council and Christian service commissions, as well as in various pro-life, marriage and NFP ministries.

Merlo said he hopes his future parish ministry can “bring hope and love to all I serve through my trust in the Lord.”

“Within my assigned parish, the goal is to create opportunities for parishioners to become evangelical partners in charity,” Merlo said. “To provide them opportunities to serve those in need and then learn to share the why — the kerygma — in what they are doing. To help families discover their mission of being a domestic Church.”

Watch the ordination live

The diaconal ordination Mass will be livestreamed on the Archdiocese of Detroit's Facebook page at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. 

To learn more about becoming a permanent deacon, or to inquire about discernment events, contact Deacon Christopher Beltowski, associate director for permanent deacons, at [email protected]

After 9/11 attacks, local judge’s Catholic faith inspired ‘Patriot Week’ celebration

Grassroots initiative has received recognition from Congress, challenges country to rediscover its roots, founding principles

LAKE ORION  Since 2009, Judge Michael Warren has been trying to encourage Americans to rediscover their roots as a people and the founding principles that built the nation. 

Americans once had a robust civic calendar, Judge Warren notes, marked with key events such as George Washington’s birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and Armistice Day, but now those dates have either been largely forgotten or relegated to occasions to have a mattress sale. 

Lamenting this lack of civic virtue — and a diminishing knowledge of civics itself — the Oakland County Circuit Court judge and his daughter, Leah, founded Patriot Week

“Patriot Week is meant to renew the spirit of America,” Judge Warren, who became Catholic in 1993, told Detroit Catholic. “We do that through a deepening of our appreciation and understanding of our founding principles that are articulated in our Declaration of Independence, such as the rule of law, the principles of limited government, the right to free association, the social construct of equality and the right to alter or abolish oppressive governments.” 

Patriot Week is celebrated from Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to Sept. 17, Constitution Day, with each day designated with a specific founding principle for participants to read and reflect upon.

By tying these principles to specific dates, Judge Warren hopes Patriot Week reinvigorates the civic calendar. 

“The civic calendar has become gutted of its real meaning and has become empty excuses for three-day weekends and appliance and carpet sales,” Judge Warren said. “I was explaining this to my 10-year-old daughter at the time (in 2009), and she got very upset. She pounded on the table and demanded a new celebration for America. We wanted tp react in a positive way, so we set about to make Patriot Week.” 

Patriot Week has received recognition from Congress and various state legislatures and municipal governments in promoting the nonpartisan celebration dedicated to patriotism and civic knowledge. 

“We spend a lot of time fighting and really trying to tear down our history or shame our history, and we forget about the unique blessings in this country,” Judge Warren said. “I think we need to make sure that we never forget that we are a country that is united; we need to remind people what makes our country great, the freedoms we have.” 

With the recent commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Judge Warren this year is especially one to acknowledge the sacrifices others have made to preserve freedom. 

“Those of us who were alive and really understood what happened (on 9/11) know of the major impacts which are still felt today,” Judge Warren said. “We realized we are vulnerable to attacks. This was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. It exposed to us that just because we live in America doesn’t mean we’re safe and secure.” 

Judge Warren particularly recalls what many dubbed the “9/12 effect,” the days after Sept. 11 when the country put aside its partisan differences and conflicts to come together and grieve and remember what unites us as a country.  

“For a significant period of time after the attacks we put aside our petty disagreements and unified around what unites us, which are our founding principles,” Judge Warren said. “We realized we shared more in common than we normally think.” 

Disagreements and debates will be around as long as there is democracy — that is part of what makes America great, Judge Warren says, but Patriot Week can be a reminder of what keeps this country together. 

“Can we keep the spirit of America alive in whatever form it takes?” Judge Warren said. “For us as Catholics, I think that prayer is powerful and works. So let’s pray for our country, pray for the victims and those who still suffer because of 9/11. And I think if people would set some time away and silently pray for our country, for our first responders, for those who have been affected by 9/11, I think that would make all the difference in the world.” 

For more information on Patriot Week, visit patriotweek.org.

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Pope reminds Roma community, young people that church is their home

KOŠICE, Slovakia (CNS) ─ Pope Francis made sure that while the world often disregards the young and the marginalized, in the Catholic Church, "no one ought ever to feel out of place or set aside."

He met with members of Slovakia's Roma community and with more than 20,000 young people Sept. 14, during his Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.

"The church is indeed a home; it is your home," the pope told the Roma community living in the Luník IX neighborhood of Košice.

"Always feel at home in the church, and don’t ever worry about whether you will be at home there. Nobody ought to ever keep you or anyone else away from the church!"

According to the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, the Roma, also known as Gypsies, make up roughly 9% of the population, or about 500,000 people.

An estimated 4,300 people are believed to be living in Luník IX neighborhood, one of the highest concentrations of Roma in Slovakia.

According to the Vatican, the Luník IX neighborhood is plagued with notable infrastructure problems, including limited gas and running water and lack of heating. Several apartment buildings were also razed due to structural deterioration. Despite the circumstances, the Catholic Church has maintained a steady presence under the care of Salesian priests since 2008. The mission aided the material and spiritual needs of the community, including the building a church and a pastoral center.

Salesian Father Peter Bešenyi welcomed Pope Francis and said his visit to the neighborhood would encourage the residents, priests as well as lay and religious volunteers "to achieve greater unity despite their differences and walk along the path toward a more peaceful coexistence."

Ján Hero, 61, along with his Slovak wife, Beáta, spoke to the pope about the challenges faced by the Roma community, especially due to the coronavirus pandemic that affected the community due to inadequate hygiene coupled with crowded living conditions.

"We see your visit as a manifestation of interest and (it) confirms the unconditional love of God for the Roma community in Slovakia and for the Roma people around the world," Hero said.

"We have the hope that your mission here today, in our midst, in this place, will help ignite a greater faith and a more stable determination to transform our personal and spiritual lives for the better," he said.

Speaking to Hero and his wife, the pope said the couple's marriage and the dream of having a family was "more important than the differences in your backgrounds, cultures and customs."

"More than mere words, your marriage itself shows how the concrete experience of living together can overcome many stereotypes that might otherwise seem insurmountable," he said.

Noting the prejudice members of the Roma community are often subjected to, the pope said such unjust judgments, along with the marginalization of vulnerable people, have made humanity "poorer."

"Judgment and prejudice only increase distances. Hostility and sharp words are not helpful. Marginalizing others accomplishes nothing. Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger. The path to peaceful coexistence is integration," he said.

After departing the neighborhood, Pope Francis made his way to Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice where more than 20,000 young people spent the day singing and celebrating the anticipated arrival of the Roman pontiff.

Bernadeta Hrebenarova, 28, told Catholic News Service said she found it "incredible that the pope decided to visit my beloved city of Košice."

"It's just unbelievable; I cannot describe the feeling," Hrebenarova said. "I really hope that the pope will bring a message to us, to the young people, on how we should follow Christ in the current world and how to bring the light to the world."

Young people in Slovakia, she said, "need to hear that we are needed, that Jesus is with us and that whatever path we are on, we are in his plans, and that he has his own plan for each and every one of us."

For 20-year-old Filip Bacskai, the pope's visit to his country "was a really huge surprise for me."

Nevertheless, Bacskai told CNS he expected to be equally surprised by Pope Francis' speech to young people. He also said he hoped the pope would address "controversial themes" with his usual candor and "come with something that no one expects."

"I think we need to hear that we should be brave," Bacskai said. "That's what he's always talking about, the bravery to catch the opportunities that God gives us; the energy that should always be a part of a young person's life."

In his address, the pope encouraged young people to rebel against "the culture of the ephemeral" that seeks only momentary pleasures that come and go.

"Dear friends, let us not trivialize love, because love is not simply an emotion or feeling, even though it may start that way. Love is not about having everything now; it is not part of today’s throwaway culture. Love is fidelity, gift and responsibility," he said.

Love and heroism, he continued, go hand-in-hand as evidenced by the life of Blessed Anna Kolesárová.

Known as the "Slovak St. Maria Goretti," Blessed Kolesárová was killed in 1944 at the hands of a Soviet soldier after she refused his unwanted sexual advances.

Calling her a "heroine of love," Pope Francis encouraged young people to "aim high" and not "let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera."

He also urged them to "dream of a beauty that goes beyond appearances" and dared them to shun "the fads of the moment" that prevent them from finding true happiness and true love.

"Dream fearlessly of creating a family, having children and raising them well, spending your life in sharing everything with another person," he said. "Don't be ashamed of your faults and flaws, for there is someone out there ready to accept and love them, someone who will love you just as you are."

The pope also called on young people to not forget their roots and to not yield to the persistent self-absorbed culture that turns people into "spreaders of negativity" and "professional complainers."

"Pay no attention to them, for pessimism and complaining are not Christian. The Lord detests glumness and victimhood. We were not made to be downcast, but to look up to heaven," he said.

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National shrine's Mass ends 100th anniversary celebration

WASHINGTON (CNS) ─ During the closing Mass of the centennial year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the placing of the foundation stone of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory encouraged Catholics to reflect on Mary as the Mother of God and the entire church.

"This great basilica is a brick-and-mortar tribute to that mother who is perfect in every fashion. For a century, American Catholics have helped to build and then traveled as pilgrim children to this place to honor the mother of the church, God's own mother, and the mother of countless children who all claim that she is uniquely their own," he said.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, hundreds of local Catholics gathered in the basilica's upper church for a liturgy celebrated by Cardinal Gregory who was joined by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector of the basilica, Msgr. Vito Buonanno, the basilica's director of pilgrimages and several other priests.

A year ago, Cardinal Gregory was the principal celebrant of a Mass to inaugurate the jubilee year. During his Sept. 12 homily, he said throughout the past century the shrine has drawn countless people from all over the country and the world.

While there are many churches and holy sites in the United States devoted to the Blessed Mother, Cardinal Gregory said the basilica "embodies both our national identity and the various tributes that people offered to Mary from the rich cultural, ethnic and racial classes that belong to us."

The basilica's many chapels, statues and shrines "remind us of the rich legacy of faith that we share when we honor the one who is mother to all of her children and God's very own mother as well," he said.

In welcoming people to the Mass, Msgr. Rossi said other than a few virtual lectures, Lenten reflections and choir concerts, many of the planned events for the centennial year were thwarted due to the pandemic but he said there were also some blessings.

"For us here at Mary's Shrine, the pandemic led us into a new virtual ministry by livestreaming our noon Mass each Sunday," he said, noting that it reached 3.5 million people since March 2020 and extended the shrine's reach around the world.

Msgr. Rossi said 2024 marks the next centennial celebration for the shrine, when it will be the 100th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated there. "Hopefully by then, the world will be back to normal, we won't have to wear face masks and this great upper church will be filled with our friends," he said.

He also noted the closing Mass took place on the day after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as the nation paused over the weekend to remember the horrific events of that day. He urged the faithful to pray for those who died and those who continue to mourn their loss.

In tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11, the American flag flies from the shrine's Knights Tower.

As he did at last year's opening Mass, Cardinal Gregory carried the pastoral staff of Bishop Thomas Shahan, the first rector of the basilica, a crosier which was also used by Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons as he blessed and placed the foundation stone in place on Sept. 23, 1920.

A chalice used during both the opening and closing jubilee year Mass was the first chalice of the shrine, also used 101 years ago at the foundation stone placing Mass and created from jewelry donated to the shrine from the faithful throughout the United States in 1917.

The basilica is home to more than 80 chapels and oratories that honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and represent the peoples, cultures and traditions that are the fabric and mosaic of the Catholic faith in the United States.

Josephine Ntchanleu and Marian Mua, friends from Cameroon, attended the anniversary Mass together and are weekly Massgoers at the basilica which they consider their parish home.

Ntchanleu credits the shrine's Masses and hearing homilies about Mary there for her conversion to Catholicism. "Mother Mary is everything to me. That's what made me Catholic," she said. "I'm so happy to be here."

Mua said: "The Shrine has done so much for me in my life. I love it so much, and it has made me grow spiritually."

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Boyle writes for the Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington.

New Swiss Guard barracks will allow room for families, maybe female guards

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A complete rebuild and expansion of the living quarters for the Swiss Guard will not only improve life for guards and their families, it will also allow for the future possibility of recruiting women.

Currently, applications to serve in the 515-year-old corps are open only to Swiss male citizens who served in the Swiss Army and are Catholic, under 30 years of age and athletic, stand at least 5 feet 8 inches tall and boast an "unblemished reputation.”

But, at least since the new millennium, the overriding obstacle that stood in the way of opening the door to women had been housing, not gender. There is one barracks with most men living in cramped and shared spaces.

"Sixty percent of our corps is under the age of 25; women in the same barracks (as the men) would create big problems," Col. Elmar Mäder, then-commander of the Swiss Guard, said in 2004, explaining why he would never allow women in the guard at the time.

The succeeding commander, Col. Daniel Anrig, told reporters in 2008 that he would love to allow female recruits, but such a move could be considered only "when the circumstances change," specifically, the housing situation.

Those circumstances are now set to change in the coming years after a massive rebuilding project breaks ground with a projected completion by 2026 -- the 520th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Guard. It is scheduled to be inaugurated May 6, 2027 -- the 500th anniversary of the Sack of Rome, when 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement VII.

Jean-Pierre Roth, director of the "Foundation for the Renovation of the Barracks of the Papal Swiss Guard in the Vatican," told Catholic News Service by email Sept. 13 that the new project plans for 123 single rooms distributed over four different floors. Today there are only 12 single rooms, he said.

The new layout and design will make things "flexible enough to allow for a separate women's section adapted to the number of guards-women," he said, adding that it is up to the Vatican to decide and approve of having female guards. Women have been allowed to serve voluntarily in all military functions in the Swiss army since 2001, while service is mandatory for able-bodied men.

The new project for a modern-day barracks "makes it possible for the Vatican to integrate women in the guard if it decides to do so," Roth told CNS.

"We have foreseen individual rooms for all guardsmen. But the creation of a women's section in the Pontifical Guard will be a decision of the Vatican, not of our foundation. So far, nothing has been decided in this respect and, to my knowledge, nothing is in the pipeline," he added.

The current building is 150 years old and has multiple problems that call for constant and considerable repair. After Pope Francis decided in 2018 to increase the number of guard members from 110 to 135, that put even more pressure on the need for more and roomier housing.

The new barracks, designed by a Switzerland-based architectural firm, will have more modern living quarters with spacious meeting areas. It will meet current building and safety codes and environmental efficiency standards.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be $60 million, including the costs for housing the guard elsewhere while the old barracks are demolished and the new one built. The foundation was created to fundraise those costs from outside donors.

Lt. Urs Breitenmoser of the Swiss Guard told CNS by email Sept. 13 that the primary purpose of building a whole new barracks was to provide "safe and modern new buildings with enough space and privacy for the 135 Swiss Guards -- single rooms with bathroom -- as well as additional apartments for the families who live outside the Vatican walls, as there are no more vacant apartments available in the current barracks.”

The Vatican had relaxed rules regarding marriage for guards, which had been reserved only for the leadership level, from corporal on upward. While candidates may not be married when they join the guard, they are now allowed to marry earlier and start a family.

The new facilities would allow families to live onsite and maintain a close-knit community, according to the foundation's website.

The Vatican approved the latest preliminary plans for the new building in 2020, and approval also will be needed from the city of Rome and UNESCO, since the Vatican is considered a World Heritage Site.

The Swiss Guard's main duties are providing security services, protecting the pope and his residence and offering honor guard duty at the main entrances to Vatican City State, at public audiences, Masses and diplomatic receptions.

Pope Francis said, "The life I lead would be inconceivable without the Swiss guardsmen. They are always at my side -- day and night.”

"It is all the more important that they can rely on modern and secure accommodations at the Vatican, which becomes a second home for their wives and children, too," he said on the foundation's website.

Dante Alighieri: 700 years of searching for ‘Paradiso’

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- Sept. 14 marked the 700th anniversary of the 1321 death of Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, whose epic poem, "The Divine Comedy," continues to resonate today with its perceptive and reflections on the human condition and on humanity's seemingly endless search for God.

For Jesuit High School alumnus Daniel Fitzpatrick, who as a teenager first read the poetic travelogue of a man wandering through hell, purgatory and heaven, the date also will mark a significant professional achievement.

Fitzpatrick, 30, recently finished a massive undertaking -- translating all 14,000 lines of Dante's work. His literary efforts will supplement 100 bronze sculptures by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz – one for each canto in the poem -- on display on "Dante Day," Sept. 14, in Florence, Italy.

The irony, Fitzpatrick notes, is that the city of Dante's birth is the same city that also cast the esteemed writer into exile for the last 20 years of his life, the result of his being on the wrong side of a bitter feud between two warring political factions, those who sided with papal authority in governmental affairs versus those who favored imperial authority.

"Dante was more in favor of imperial authority, and because of his political views, he was exiled in 1301," Fitzpatrick said. "He was basically told, 'All your land, all your property is confiscated. You are never to come back to Florence, and if you come back, you will be burned alive.'”

Not quite paradiso.

There's even a 21st century battle for Dante's remains, Fitzpatrick said. Dante was buried in Ravenna, 65 miles away, which has rebuffed recent efforts by Florence to reclaim its native son's remains.

Fitzpatrick, who taught for three years at Jesuit High School in New Orleans and is teaching this year at Jesuit High in Tampa, Florida, said Dante's bitter exile provided an inescapable backdrop for his poem, which asks questions about humankind's ultimate home.

"He writes about the pain of tasting another man's bread, the pain of walking up and down on another man's stairs," Fitzpatrick said. "For the last 20 years of his life, he was wandering around Italy.”

Wandering such as Dante experienced, Fitzpatrick said, produces a pain "of not quite being in the place where we ultimately belong.”

There are about eight major translations of Dante's Italian poem -- written in a three-line ("terza rima") style with an A-B-A rhyme scheme. Fitzpatrick, himself a poet, decided to do his own translation after reading a suggestion from Ezra Pound that one of the ways to improve as a poet was to translate a great poetic work from a different language.

Since he had studied Italian at the University of Dallas and also had a chance to meet Robert and Jean Hollander, who had produced an excellent translation of "The Divine Comedy," he felt it was "kind of an easy choice.”

"The text I was familiar with already," he said. "It was just something I started to try to get to be a better poet.”

Through a philosophy professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, Fitzpatrick got connected with Schmalz, the Canadian sculptor, who on his own was crafting the 100 bronze "Divine Comedy" sculptures.

The result of their collaboration is a three-volume book based on the three themes of Dante's poem -- The Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso -- which includes pictures of the 100 sculptures. The online version is also available at www.helpdantehelpitaly.com, with proceeds going to help with Italy's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The sculptures also can be viewed at www.dantesculpture.com.

The sculptures are approximately 18-by-18 inches, and Fitzpatrick said there are hopes to create Dante sculpture gardens in different cities around the world.

"There will be the whole ‘Divine Comedy' set up in a garden so that you can walk through the whole poem," Fitzpatrick told the Clarion Herald, archdiocesan newspaper of New Orleans..

In the end, he said, the poem uses simple conversations to discuss humans' "fear, uncertainty and desire for ultimate rest in the contemplation of God.”

"It's very easy to see ourselves in Dante, to see all of our brokenness and also the whole trajectory of where we aspire to be as Catholics," Fitzpatrick said. "Along with that, Dante has a very stable vision of what human beings should be. All the suffering of Dante as the lost pilgrim at the start of the poem comes from a sense of knowing that there's something better that we're meant for -- a sense of heaven.

"Even if people don't articulate that, it's really easy to identify with. From our own experience, we want to be happy, but then there is our sinfulness and anxieties. The poem is such a powerful vehicle for conversion and for constant renewal and for our striving for holiness.”

With three young children, Fitzpatrick doesn't know if he will be able to attend "Dante Day" in Florence, but he does know there should be one very interested spectator.

"Even from the beginning with Dante, there was a tradition of people having huge sections of the poem memorized, just by word of mouth," Fitzpatrick said. "That's continued even to today. The most famous individual is a butcher in Florence who pretty much has the whole poem memorized. So, you go into his butcher shop, and he can quote Dante and make it relevant to anything you want to talk about.”

Exulting in the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

“We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee. Because, by Thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world!”
    —Antiphon from the Liturgy the Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday

Twenty-some years ago, proposing a lecture on the Holy Cross to a director of religious education at a parish in California’s San Fernando Valley, I touched on allusions to the Cross in the Old Testament. She stopped me: “My professor at Mount Saint Mary’s in West LA said Christians have no business imposing their imagery and beliefs into Hebrew Scripture.”

Either she misremembered what her professor taught, or the principle was taught poorly. Truly, Christians have no need to suppose that Isaiah, Malachi, Amos or any other prophet knew when or how God would fulfill their inspired oracles, let alone knowing anything about Jesus of Nazareth. And that wasn’t what I was suggesting. 

Not wishing to contradict her directly, I chuckled pleasantly, “Well, Jesus described how Moses raised the serpent in the desert to prefigure His crucifixion, so I guess I’m in pretty good company.” 

Alas, the good people of that parish were deprived of hearing my presentation.

In his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-40), Simon Peter declared that the prophecy of Joel (3:15), “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood,” was fulfilled 52 days before, “as you yourselves know” (verse 22), when darkness at noon was joined to the blood moon known to astronomers as having risen over Jerusalem during the early evening of April 3, the day Jesus died.

Selecting several prophecies regarding resurrection composed by King David, notably Psalm 13:35, “You will not abandon My soul to the netherworld, nor will You suffer Your Holy One to see corruption,” the fisherman of Galilee, now a fisher of men, confidently cried out, “Therefore let the whole House of Israel be certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

So, throughout 1,988 years, Catholics have searched the Hebrew Scriptures to find Jesus Christ in prophetic utterances, prototypical incidents, and images prefiguring Gospel events in order to exclaim, “Oh, that’s what it means!” Thus, Elisha’s multiplying bread portends Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes; both the Tree of Life in Eden and Isaac bearing on his shoulders the wood of his sacrifice, suggest the Cross, and so on.

St. Paul explains how the Cross, the instrument of ignominy, became the triumphant sign of God’s overwhelming love: 

“He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to death on3 a cross. For which God has both exalted Him and has given Him a name which is above all other names” (Philippians 2:8, 9);

“God forbid that I should boast, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14);

“God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us … And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:8, 11).

In like manner, reporting the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, St. John the Evangelist shows Jesus making a distinction in language.

In Numbers 21:9, the bronze serpent was “lifted up” — the Hebrew שׂוּם הַנֵּס literally meaning: “put it upon a pole.” In other words, Moses simply mounted the serpent on a piling so it could be seen from a distance. 

St. John reports Jesus saying, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Our Lord contrasts His raising by employing the Greek word ὑψόω (hupsŏō), meaning: “to exalt, to raise to dignity, honor and happiness,” showing “that everyone who believes in Him may have life everlasting” (verse 15).

While Wisdom 16:10 states, “Not even the fangs of poisonous serpents overcame your children, for Your mercy came forth and healed them,” during the last week of His earthly life Jesus jubilantly proclaimed, “Now is the prince of this world cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, shall draw all things to Myself” (John 12:31, 32).

Gazing on the bronze serpent, Israelites who looked upon it were saved from the fiery bites of seraph serpents in the wilderness. Gazing with love upon Jesus crucified, the faithful can be saved from the fiery bite of the Ancient Serpent, the Devil.

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“The Cross is at the center of history” is a well-known adage reflected in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14), on which Christians joyfully exult Our Savior and consider the triumphant exaltation of the Cross. Nevertheless, the liturgical celebration of the Holy Cross has a complicated history.

In 326, the recently converted Empress Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, journeyed to Israel. She wanted to verify the historical nature of the Gospels by certifying places associated with the life and ministry of Jesus. Eusebius, the Church historian of the mid-300s, relates that Helena, although in her 70s, “was fired by youthful vigor.” 

The original celebration of the Discovery of the Holy Cross was assigned to May 3, the date on which three crosses were found buried in an old cistern. St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (350-386), wrote that, relying on God’s power, a dying woman was brought to Calvary. She touched each cross. With the last she was cured. St. Macarius, Jerusalem’s bishop in 326, thereby declared it the True Cross. 

St. Ambrose of Milan and St. John Chrysostom of Constantinople, contemporary with St. Cyril, know a less dramatic tale. Those two bishops claimed the True Cross was recognized because the titulus, the death warrant in three languages written on a board by Pontius Pilate, was still attached to it. 

Constantine caused two new churches to be built on the sites of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. At one end of a great courtyard stood the massive basilica, the Martyrium on Calvary; at the other end a great rotunda, the Anastasis, surrounded the tomb of Christ. A chapel devoted to the Holy Cross stood next to the rock of Calvary. 

On Sept. 13, 335, the Martyrium was consecrated. The relic of the True Cross, in a special silver reliquary, solemnly carried into the church on the 14th, was raised on high to receive the veneration of the faithful. An annual liturgical remembrance was composed for Sept. 14.  

Persian Shah Khosrau II conquered Jerusalem in 614 during the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602-628. The large portion of the Cross was stolen along with the half of the titulus left in Jerusalem by St. Helena.

In 629, Byzantine emperor Heraclius recovered the Cross from the Persians, placing it over the altar in the rebuilt church in Jerusalem on Sept. 14. This event caused the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross to take on greater solemnity in the Eastern Church. A few years later, violent forces within the recently emerged Islamic religion prompted Heraclius to bring the portion of the Holy Cross in its reliquary to Constantinople, where history loses sight of it.

The Latin Church also celebrated both the Discovery of the Holy Cross on May 3 and the Exaltation of the Cross on Sept. 14. 

In 1955, Venerable Pope Pius XII made May 1 the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker as a Catholic response to the May Day parades of atheistic Communism, and Pope St. John XXIII abolished the May 3 feast of the Discovery of the Cross so the ancient feast of the Apostles Sts. Philip and James, displaced by Pius, could have a new home.

“We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection: through him we are saved and made free.” –The entrance antiphon for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Sean M. Wright, MA, an Emmy-nominated television writer, is a Master Catechist in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and an instructor for his parish’s RCIA team. He answers comments sent him at [email protected].

How do we solve analysis paralysis? By focusing on God’s choice of us

In a talk to freshmen at The Catholic University of America this fall, Mrs. Jeanne Garvey, who, along with her husband, university president John Garvey, becomes a beloved support for the students over their four years, began at an unusual starting point. 

She quoted Esther Greenwood’s musing in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar about the difficulty of choosing. Esther imagines her life like a fig tree: “from the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor.” Esther goes on: “I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Many young people relate deeply to this feeling of paralysis in the face of choice; Mrs. Garvey provided a refreshing commentary: you do not need to know right now what to choose, because God knows. Shifting the perspective from our own narrow vision to the eternal, loving vision of God reminds us that His choice of us is the stable ground on which we stand and from which we make any choice.

God does not struggle with commitment, as many of us do. Pete Davis writes in Dedicated that we fear choice because we fear regret, or missing out on other things, or association with something that turns out badly. God’s commitment to us is free of any of this. He knows us fully and loves us unconditionally.

We can hear Him saying to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” (Jer 1:5). “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and appointed you to go bear and fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). As St. John Henry Newman wrote,

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. … He has not created me for naught. … I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him: whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.

The key here is, “if I do but keep His commandments.” And the greatest of these is love of Him. He is the “one thing necessary.” If I simply choose Him each day, the vision of my future as an impossibly branching fig tree yields to the reality that I myself am called, here and now, to be a tree nourishing others with the fruits of His peace and truth.

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks, OP, is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Horrors of Holocaust must not be forgotten, pope tells Slovak Jews

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (CNS) –– The violence of the Holocaust and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people are tantamount to blasphemy, Pope Francis said.

"The divine name, the Lord himself, is blasphemed whenever the unique and distinctive dignity of the human person, created in his image, is violated," the pope said Sept. 13 at a meeting with members of Slovakia's Jewish community.

The meeting took place in Rybné námestie Square, site of a memorial tribute to the 105,000 Slovak Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

The memorial includes a black wall with an etching of the Neolog synagogue that once stood in the square before it was destroyed by communist authorities in 1969 to make way for a bridge.

A bronze abstract sculpture topped with the Star of David with the word "Remember," inscribed in Hebrew and Slovak, stands at the center of the square.

Daniel Feldmar, a 19-year-old member of the Jewish community in Bratislava, told Catholic News Service he saw Pope Francis' visit not only as an acknowledgment of "the tragedies of the Holocaust but also to acknowledge that the Jewish presence in Bratislava and in Slovakia is still strong.”

"I am so happy that a person who is considered to be holy in the Christian religion decided to come and walk through the parts where this synagogue once used to be," he said.

Feldmar said that although the Jewish community is small, it is still strong. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism is still alive in Slovakia, due in part to "a lack of communication.”

"People usually don't know or have never met a Jew so, of course, they will be prone to those prejudices, and they will be happy to find a scapegoat," Feldmar told CNS.

"However, that is one of the reasons why I am happy that the pope came here today to meet with us. This dialogue will break the barriers between the Catholic Church and Judaism," he said.

During the meeting, Pope Francis heard several testimonies, including from Holocaust survivor Tomáš Lang, who recalled the anti-Jewish persecution in his country and the death of his parents.

He also noted that one of the few to openly speak out against anti-Semitism in Slovakia was the late Archbishop Giuseppe Burzio, who served as chargé d'affaires at the apostolic nunciature.

Archbishop Burzio, Lang said, "tirelessly sought to end the anti-Semitism of the deadly regime of that time. No Slovak politician at the time opposed that regime.”

In his address, Pope Francis recognized the importance of the synagogue that once stood alongside the Cathedral of St. Martin.

The presence of both spiritual edifices, he said, was "an expression of the peaceful coexistence of the two communities, an unusual and evocative symbol, and a striking sign of unity in the name of the God of our fathers.”

The pope remembered the victims of the Holocaust and said it was "the worst form of blasphemy" that violated the second Commandment, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

"Here, in this place, the name of God was dishonored, for the worst form of blasphemy is to exploit it for our own purposes, refusing to respect and love others.”

Noting the word "Remember" etched on the memorial, Pope Francis said that the memory of the horrors of the Holocaust "must not give way to forgetfulness," indifference and "forms of manipulation that would exploit religion in the service of power or else reduce it to irrelevance.”

"I repeat: let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned," the pope said.