Browsing News Entries

Retired Pope Benedict XVI is ‘extremely frail’ after visit to Germany, author says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An author with a long and close relationship to retired Pope Benedict XVI told a German newspaper that the 93-year-old retired pope is “extremely frail.”Peter Seewald, the author who has published four wide-ranging book-length interviews with the retired pope, was quoted in the Aug. 3 edition of the Bavarian newspaper Passauer Neue Presse.Seewald said he visited with Pope Benedict Aug. 1 to present him with a copy of the authorized biography, “Benedict XVI: A Life.”The retired pope lives in the Mater Ecclesia monastery in the Vatican Gardens. Seewald said he visited with the former pontiff there in the company of Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Pope Benedict's personal secretary.Passauer Neue Presse reported Seewald describing Pope Benedict as “extremely frail,” and as saying that while he is mentally sharp, his voice is barely audible.The Vatican press office said late Aug. 3 that Archbishop Ganswein insisted there was no reason “for particular concern” over the retired pope's health “other than that of a 93-year-old who is overcoming the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, illness” — herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles.Pope Benedict had traveled to Regensburg, Germany, in late June to visit his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who was ill and died July 1. Seewald reportedly told the newspaper that Pope Benedict returned to the Vatican “seriously ill” and that he was suffering from a painful case of shingles on his face.The newspaper also reported that, according to Pope Benedict’s spiritual testament, he wants to be buried in the grotto under St. Peter’s Basilica in the chapel where St. John Paul II originally was laid to rest before being moved upstairs to the St. Sebastian Chapel in the basilica after his beatification in 2011.In 1981, Pope John Paul had called him to serve as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The two worked closely for the next 24 years, until St. John Paul's death in 2005.

State’s Catholic leaders encourage voters to ‘Civilize It’ this election season

In a year of heated arguments over pandemic, race relations and electoral politics, campaign seeks to bring human dignity back to debateLANSING — Tomorrow is primary day in Michigan, when voters select candidates on partisan ballots to appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.Besides the candidates and proposals, voters have a lot to think about this year. Many voters are submitting absentee ballots through the mail or in person at their local clerk’s office, while others consider safety precautions when they visit the polls in person.But the state’s Catholic leaders are asking voters to remember one more thing this election season: their dignity.In a year of strife in the midst of a pandemic, economic anxiety, heightened racial tensions and a debate over police-community relations, the Michigan Catholic Conference is encouraging voters to remember that while the debates might be passionate, they don’t need to be nasty.That’s why the conference is promoting the nonpartisan “Civilize It: Dignity Beyond the Debate” campaign, which “encourages Catholics and others to go through this 2020 election season in a way that recognizes the human dignity of other persons,” said Dave Maluchnik, vice president of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference. The campaign is a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that seeks to encourage participation in the political process without resorting to divisive personal attacks.“We are called to bring the best of ourselves and our faith to the public square — and yet today, many shy away from such involvement because our national and local conversations are filled with vitriol and harsh language, often directed at people themselves,” according to the campaign’s website, CivilizeIt.org. Video: Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron takes the “Civilize It” pledge.The campaign invites people to take a three-part “pledge” to model civility, clarity and compassion during the election season, Maluchnik said.People can visit the “Civilize It” page on the Michigan Catholic Conference’s website to take the pledge and receive resources from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on promoting respectful civic dialogue and engagement.“With everything that has been taking place in the last few months, from the virus to protests against police brutality, it has led to a certain amount of pent-up frustration going into this election season,” Maluchnik said. “The effort calls for people to participate in the democratic process in a way that seeks to have dialogue through a spirit of peace and healthy conversation.”Each of Michigan’s seven diocesan bishops is participating in the campaign by recording a video of themselves taking the pledge, and those videos will be combined with videos of lay faithful doing the same, Maluchnik said.Maluchnik said the conference plans to release the videos throughout the election season as part of its “Faithful Citizenship” guide, which highlights elements of Catholic teaching people should consider before voting.“We want to set a tone and show leadership in what is likely to be a very acrimonious election season,” Maluchnik said. “We are very grateful for the participation of the bishops and their interest in helping set the tone for the months leading up to the general election in November.”To learn more about the “Civilize It” campaign and to take the pledge, visit www.CivilizeIt.org.

After challenging California officials, Catholic home for trafficked girls set to open

Denver Newsroom, Aug 2, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic charity that has prepared to open a home for underage victims of human trafficking has reached a resolution with California authorities after it was allegedly pressured to affirm LGBT sexuality, to inject sex hormones into any beneficiaries who identify as transgender, and to agree to drive minors to abortion clinics.

“We were able to meet the state regulations in a way that did not compromise our conscience as a Catholic agency,” Grace Williams, founder and executive director of Children of the Immaculate Heart, told CNA.

The San Diego-based Children of the Immaculate Heart, which has served adult victims of human trafficking since 2013, had aimed to open a house for girls age 12-17 who had been victims of human trafficking. The charity has sought a license for the project for three years.

In November 2019 it filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of delaying the license for the project and violating its constitutional rights. The charity had invested $600,000 in the project and was paying rent and maintenance costs of $15,000 a month.

“It was a big financial hit. It’s a one more year delay. We rented an empty facility for three years,” said Williams, who described the lawsuit as “extremely time-consuming.”

“It’s a loss for girls that couldn’t be home sooner, but we’re happy we are where we are,” she said.

The charity and the government settled outside of court after California requested the process go to mediation. On June 10 the California Department of Social Services issued the organization a provisional license to operate The Refuge as a short-term residential therapeutic program.

The provisional license means Children of the Immaculate Heart may now provide therapeutic services and support for trafficked young people referred to it by the San Diego County Department of Probation and Child Welfare Services.

In November 2019 the organization sued the California Department of Social Services and the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, alleging violation of its constitutional rights in the licensing process. The lawsuit accused government officials of ignoring the charity’s multiple requests for a final decision on its application or for clarification regarding religious objections. They tried to force the charity to agree to facilitate “religiously objectionable” practices such as driving teens to abortion clinics or to LGBTQ-affirming activities, the lawsuit alleged.

At a meeting with state and county authorities, one official reportedly told the charity’s leaders, “You’re just going to have a problem with that religious thing,” according to the lawsuit.

The charity objected that licensing officials appeared to assume that because the charity is Catholic, it would discriminate against self-identified LGBTQ youth. The officials also wrongly questioned the non-profit’s stated mission of restoring victims’ relationship with Christ.

After the lawsuit was resolved, staff training at The Refuge starts next week.

“As an organization our staff is doubling in size,” Williams said. “It’s a big push, operationally, financially, and everything.”

The home plans to open to girls referred from probation and child welfare officials in the third week of August.

The organization was founded to help girls and women “heal from their trauma and to provide opportunities for them,” said Williams, “because, honestly, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for them.”

“We want them to become economically self-sufficient and, of course, we want them to encounter the love of Christ, which gives meaning and direction to all of our lives, and eternal life,” she said.

The Refuge works out of a four-bedroom home on two acres in Escondido in San Diego County.

It can house up to six girls who may stay for up to two years “so that they can have the best opportunity possible for healing and healthy integration into society,” the organization’s website said. The home provides targeted mental health treatment, family relationship building, life skills development like self-care and job readiness, and individualized academic coursework.

For Williams, the Catholic faith brings a deeper vision to helping victims.

“Catholic organizations are the most equipped for service,” she added, saying the Catholic understanding of human dignity can combine with professional training.

“We just have so much to offer,” said Williams, who co-chaired the San Diego Board of Supervisors’ Human Trafficking Advisory Council Victim Service Committee from 2015 to 2019.

Though there are increasing questions about difficulties for Catholic organizations operating under U.S. law, Williams had advice.

“It’s really a question of ’do not be afraid.’ I think a lot of Catholics avoid doing anything in the public square because it’s hard,” she told CNA.

“We’re going to be misunderstood, we’re going to be judged, people are not going to want us around,” she said. “However, we have everything to offer, and nothing to lose.”

“Maybe the cultural milieu is not on our side, but the constitution is on our side, which is why we felt comfortable filing the lawsuit,” she added. “In the end, we didn’t even have to finish it in court.”

The Refuge project was backed by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. In a 2017 letter to state officials, she called Children of the Immaculate Heart a “strong partner” and a “constant presence in the fight against human trafficking.” She urged officials to issue the license, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

The organization has a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women survivors of sex trafficking who have children. As of December, it was serving 13 women and their 18 children.

Officials’ feedback to the group’s application for the young girls home questioned how the charity would serve non-religious youth.

Licensing officials voiced concern that the organization did not detail how it would ensure transportation to LGBTQ programs or would ensure procedures for “gender transition” medication. The state said the nonprofit did not provide an explanation or a procedure to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Children of the Immaculate Heart said its nondiscrimination policy is adequate and that there is no rule requiring caregivers to administer medication in transgender procedures.

While California law requires the caregivers of foster youth to provide transportation to medical appointments, and to provide “age-appropriate, medically accurate information about reproductive and sexual health care,” there could be alternatives that would not involve the Catholic charity.

A state guide for foster youth case managers addresses a similar hypothetical situation, the San Diego Union-Tribune said. If a minor in foster care were to seek an abortion, and the caregiver refused to aid this effort, the minor’s case manger would have to arrange alternative transportation, for instance.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund represented the charity, with the Thomas More Society as co-counsel.

“The extraordinary women at Children of the Immaculate Heart just want to take care of commercially sexually exploited girls without being forced to violate their faith,” Daniel Piedra, executive director of the Freedom of Conscience Defense fund, said in November. “This case does not endanger the personal rights or health of girls. It only deals with a discriminatory mandate imposed by anti-Christian government officials.”

“The longer government bureaucrats place radical identity politics over saving innocent prostituted teen girls, the more money traffickers can make,” Pedra charged, claiming the government’s actions were “not just unconstitutional; they’re downright evil.”

Warsaw cardinal laments ‘desecration’ of Christ statue with rainbow flag

CNA Staff, Aug 2, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A Polish cardinal has urged protesters to respect religious sensibilities after they attached a rainbow flag to a historic statue of Christ in the capital, Warsaw.

In a statement published on the Polish bishops’ conference website July 29, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz deplored the protesters’ decision to target the statue outside Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of the city’s best-known streets.

The statue, which depicts Christ carrying the cross and pointing to the sky, sits on a plinth inscribed with the words “Sursum corda” (Lift up your hearts) -- a message that has encouraged Poles during some of the darkest times in their history.

Placed outside the church in 1858, it remained standing during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Nazis, who destroyed up to 90% of the city’s buildings in response to the Uprising, eventually toppled the statue.

A photograph from the time shows the broken statue lying amid rubble with its finger pointed to the “Sursum Corda” inscription above, which was seen as a sign of God’s providence amid the Nazi occupation.

Nycz, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw, said: “The desecration of the historic statue of Christ ‘Sursum corda’ at Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw caused pain to believers, parishioners of the Holy Cross Church and many residents of the capital, for whom the statue of the Savior carrying the cross became a symbol of hope in the most difficult days of the Uprising.”

“I appeal for respect for the religious feelings of believers regardless of their views. Let us stop using acts of vandalism and crossing borders in public debate.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was pictured praying at the foot of the statue on July 29. In a statement on his Twitter account, he wrote: “There is no consent to profaning national and religious symbols in the name of any ideology. The values they symbolize, important to millions of Poles, are a heritage that is subject to special protection. You cannot become an aggressor under the guise of supposed equality.”

 

Nie ma zgody na profanowanie symboli narodowych i religijnych w imię żadnej ideologii. Wartości, które symbolizują, ważne dla milionów Polaków, są dziedzictwem, które podlega szczególnej ochronie. Nie można pod płaszczykiem rzekomej równości stawać się agresorem. pic.twitter.com/E4NPgn2mWr

— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) July 29, 2020  

On the night of July 28-29, activists dressed in black attached a rainbow flag to the statue’s arm and a scarf with an anarchist symbol across Christ’s face, leaving behind a card containing their LGBT rights manifesto. Protesters also targeted other prominent monuments in the city.

The incident took place weeks after a hard-fought presidential election narrowly won by the incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).

On June 10, Duda signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s vice-minister of justice, referred the statue incident to the prosecutor’s office, arguing that it broke laws related to offending religious feelings and profaning national monuments. 

The Polish daily newpaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported July 30 that the prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation.

Pope Francis tells youth at Medjugorje: be inspired by the Virgin Mary

Vatican City, Aug 2, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has urged young people gathered in Medjugorje to imitate the Virgin Mary by abandoning themselves to God.

He issued the appeal in a message to an annual youth meeting in Medjugorje, read out Aug. 1 by Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto, Apostolic Nuncio in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“The great example of the Church that is young in the heart, ready to follow Christ with new freshness and fidelity, always remains the Virgin Mary,” the pope said in the message, sent in Croatian and released by the Holy See press office Aug. 2.

“The power of Her ‘Yes’ and Her ‘Let it be unto me’ which she said before the angel, delights us at all times. Her ‘Yes’ means to participate and take risks, without any guarantee except knowing that she is the bearer of the promise. Her ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’ (Luke 1:38), the most beautiful example that tells us what happens when a man, in his freedom, surrenders himself into God’s hands.”

“Let this example inspire you and be your guideline!”

Pope Francis approved Catholic pilgrimages to Medjugorje in May 2019, but he has not made a deliberation on the authenticity of the alleged Marian apparitions reported at the site since 1981. 

His message to young people gathered at the site did not mention the alleged apparitions, which began June 24, 1981, when six children in Medjugorje, a town that was then part of communist Yugoslavia, began to experience phenomena which they have claimed to be apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to the “seers,” the apparitions contained a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.

The alleged apparitions at the site in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been a source of both controversy and conversion, with many flocking to the city for pilgrimage and prayer, and some claiming to have experienced miracles at the site, while others claim the visions are not authentic.

In January 2014, a Vatican commission concluded a nearly four-year-long investigation into the doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the Medjugorje apparitions, and submitted a document to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

When the congregation has analyzed the commission’s findings, it will finalize a document on the site, which will be submitted to the pope, who will make a final decision.

In his message to youngsters at the 31st International Prayer Encounter of the Youth in Medjugorje, which takes place Aug. 1-6, Pope Francis said: “The annual encounter of the youth in Medjugorje is the time filled with prayer, reflections and fraternal meeting, time that gives you the opportunity to meet the living Jesus Christ, in a special way in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

“It thus helps you discover a different way of life, different from the one offered by the culture of the temporary, according to which nothing can be permanent, the culture that knows only the pleasure of the present moment. In this atmosphere of relativism, in which it is difficult to find true and sure answers, the motto of the Festival: ‘Come, and you shall see’ (John 1:39), the words used by Jesus to address his disciples, are a blessing. Jesus is also looking at you, inviting you to come and stay with Him.”

Pope Francis visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in June 2015 but declined to stop in Medjugorje. En route back to Rome, he indicated that the process of investigation into the apparitions was nearly complete.

On the return flight from a visit to the Marian shrine of Fatima in May 2017, the pope spoke about the final document of the Medjugorje commission, sometimes referred to as the “Ruini report,” after the head of the commission, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, calling it “very, very good,” and noting a distinction between the first Marian apparitions at Medjugorje and the later ones.

“The first apparitions, which were to children, the report more or less says that these need to continue being studied,” he said, but as for “presumed current apparitions, the report has its doubts,” the pope said.

Pilgrimages to Medjugorje have declined in numbers due to the coronavirus crisis. Radio Free Europe reported March 16 that the pandemic had diminished significantly the number of visitors to the town, especially from Italy.

The pope concluded his message to the youth meeting by quoting from Christus vivit, his 2019 post-synodal apostolic exhortation to young people. 

He said: “Dear youth, ‘keep running attracted by that face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. May the Holy Spirit urge you on as you run this race. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith.’”

“In this race for the Gospel, inspired by this Festival as well, I entrust you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoking the light and the power of the Holy Spirit so that you may be true witnesses of Christ. Therefore, I pray and I bless you, asking you to pray for me, too.”

Pope Francis urges Catholics to follow ‘God’s logic’

Vatican City, Aug 2, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis urged Catholics Sunday to follow “God’s logic” by taking responsibility for the welfare of others.

In his Angelus address Aug. 2, he reflected on Sunday’s Gospel, the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21).

He noted that at sundown the “practical” disciples had urged Jesus to send away the hungry crowd to find food. But Jesus replied: “You give them something to eat.” 

“Jesus wants to use this situation to educate His friends, both then and now, about God’s logic,” the pope said, according to an unofficial translation provided by the Holy See press office.

“And what is God’s logic that we see here? The logic of taking responsibility for others. The logic of not washing one’s hands, the logic of not looking the other way.” 

“No. The logic of taking responsibility for others. That ‘let them fend for themselves’ should not enter into the Christian vocabulary.”

Pope Francis recalled that, after the disciples had presented Jesus with five loaves of bread and two fish, Christ performed a miracle enabling everyone to eat as much as they wanted. 

He said: “With this gesture, Jesus demonstrates His power; not in a spectacular way but as a sign of charity, of God the Father’s generosity toward His weary and needy children. He is immersed in the life of His people, He understands their fatigue and their limitations, but He does not allow anyone to be lost, or to lose out: He nourishes them with His word and provides food in plenty for sustenance.”

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, the pope pointed out the connection between the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and the Eucharist.

“It is noteworthy how close the link is between the Eucharistic bread, nourishment for eternal life, and daily bread, necessary for earthly life,” he observed. 

“Before offering Himself to the Father as the Bread of salvation, Jesus ensures there is food for those who follow Him and who, in order to be with Him, forgot to make provisions. At times the spiritual and the material are in opposition, but in reality spiritualism, like materialism, is alien to the Bible. It is not biblical language.”

He continued: “The compassion and tenderness that Jesus showed towards the crowds is not sentimentality, but rather the concrete manifestation of the love that cares for the people’s needs.” 

The pope said that Catholics should approach the Eucharist with the same compassionate attitude that Jesus displayed during the feeding of the 5,000. 

“Compassion is not a purely material feeling; true compassion is ‘patire con’ (to suffer with), to take others’ sorrows on ourselves,” he said. 

“Perhaps it would do us good today to ask ourselves: Do I feel compassion when I read news about war, about hunger, about the pandemic? So many things... Do I feel compassion toward those people? Do I feel compassion toward the people who are near to me? Am I capable of suffering with them, or do I look the other way, or ‘they can fend for themselves’?” 

He concluded: “Let us not forget this word ‘compassion,’ which is trust in the provident love of the Father, and means courageous sharing.” 

After reciting the Angelus, the pope expressed his sorrow at a firebomb attack on a cathedral in Nicaragua on July 31.

He also highlighted the feast of the Pardon of Assisi, which is celebrated on August 1-2. The Pardon of Assisi, or Porziuncola Indulgence, enables Catholics to gain a plenary indulgence, removing all of the temporal punishment due to sin.

Describing the indulgence as a spiritual gift that St. Francis of Assisi received from God through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Pope Francis noted the conditions for obtaining the indulgence. They consist of Confession, reception of the Eucharist, visiting a parish or Franciscan church, recitation of the Creed and Our Father, and prayer for the pope and his intentions. The indulgence may be applied to the living or the dead. 

He said: “How important it is to always put God’s forgiveness, which ‘generates heaven’ in us and around us, back at the center, this pardon that comes from God’s heart who is merciful!”

Looking at pilgrims gathered in the square below, the pope greeted a group from Palosco, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, Brazilians holding their national flag, and those devoted to Mary Immaculate. 

He said he hoped that in the coming days everyone would be able to rest, spend time in nature, and be spiritually refreshed.

“At the same time I hope that, with the converging commitment of all political and economic leaders, work might resume: families and society cannot continue without work. Let us pray for this,” he said. 

“It is and will be a problem in the aftermath of the pandemic: poverty and lack of work. A lot of solidarity and creativity will be needed to resolve this problem.”

Pope Francis deplores firebomb attack on Catholic cathedral in Nicaragua

Vatican City, Aug 2, 2020 / 04:35 am (CNA).- Pope Francis deplored a firebomb attack on a cathedral in Nicaragua Sunday.

Speaking after his Angelus address Aug. 2, he condemned the incident in which an unidentified man threw a firebomb into a chapel of Managua’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, severely damaging the chapel and a devotional image of Christ more than three centuries old.

The attack took place July 31 amid rising tensions between the Church and the Nicaraguan government. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua described the attack as “a terrorist act.”

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, the pope said: “I am thinking of the people of Nicaragua who are suffering because of the attack in the Cathedral of Managua, where an image of Christ that is highly venerated, that has accompanied and sustained the life of the faithful people for centuries, was greatly damaged -- almost destroyed.”

“Dear brothers and sisters in Nicaragua, I am near you and am praying for you.”

On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence

New York City, N.Y., Aug 2, 2020 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Today's feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola and its associated indulgence is a way to focus on the importance of Mary and the Franciscan tradition in the Church, said one friar.

The Aug. 2 feast is found in the Franciscan tradition, and marks the dedication of the parish church, called Porziuncola or “little portion,” which is one of those Italy's St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”

“The Porziuncola is at the heart of the Franciscan journey,” Father David Convertino, the development director for the Holy Name Province of the Observant Franciscans, told CNA.

“For Francis, it was his most beloved place. He lived near it with the early followers … and he loved the Porziuncola, as it was part of his devotion to Our Lady.”

An indulgence is the remission of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, and it can be plenary or partial.

 

A plenary indulgence requires that the individual be in the state of grace by the completion of the acts, and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion, up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

Anyone who visits a Catholic church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and recites the Creed, the Our Father, and prays for the Pope's intentions, may receive a plenary indulgence on Aug. 2.

“Any kind of a prayer form that helps people come closer to God is obviously a good prayer form, and certainly an indulgence is one way,” Fr. Convertino said.

“It helps us focus on, in this case, the meaning of the Porziuncola and the Franciscan tradition, how it's situated in the greater idea of the Church.”
 


Porziuncola located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Credit: emmav674 via Flickr (CC BY_NC_SA 2.0)

The Porziuncola was built in honor of Our Lady of the Angels in the fourth century, and by St. Francis' time had fallen into disrepair. The church, which was then located just outside of Assisi, became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscan orders.

“Although Francis realized that the kingdom of heaven is found in every dwelling on earth … he had learned nevertheless that the church of Saint Mary at Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and visited more frequently by heavenly spirits,” says the life of St. Francis written by Friar Thomas of Celano, read today by Franciscans.

“Consequently he used to say to his friars: 'See to it, my sons, that you never leave this place. If you are driven out by one door return by the other for this is truly a holy place and God’s dwelling.'”

Fr. Convertino added that the Porziuncola “was the place he chose to lie next to on his deathbed, and at that time of course you could have looked up to the city of Assisi, which he also loved so well.”

The Porziuncola, a rather small chapel, is now located inside a large basilica which was built around it, to enclose and protect it.

“You have this large basilica built over this teeny tiny little chapel,” Fr. Convertino reflected. “If that chapel wasn't there then the basilica wouldn't be there, but if the basilica wasn't there, the chapel probably wouldn't be there either, given 800 years of war, weather, and turmoil.”

For Fr. Convertino, the duality of the big church and the little church is a reflection of the relationship between the world-wide Catholic Church and the smaller communities which make it up.

“We feel the Franciscans kind of convey, we're the ones at the heart of the Church, the little church there.”

He said that each time he visits Assisi, the “experience” of the Porziuncola is “compounded more and more,” and added that “it's such a magnificent place, and the friars there are wonderful.”

Fr. Convertino also discussed the fresco now painted around the entrance of the Porziuncola, which shows St. Francis, together with some of his followers, receiving the indulgence from Christ and Our Lady.

“The idea behind the story is that Francis is asking Jesus for a Porziuncola indulgence, and Jesus is saying to Francis, 'Well, you really better ask Mary, ask my mother.'”

This article was originally published Aug. 2, 2013.

Covid-19 spike pushes Mexico to third place in infections

Mexico now ranks as the nation with the third-highest number of Covid-19 cases, with experts estimating the death toll could rise as high as seven million.

Europeans struggling with heatwave and coronavirus lockdowns

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Europeans are crowding beaches and other areas amid a massive heatwave. That has added to deaths at sea, including in the Netherlands.