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Detroit Stories Episode 20: ‘Visions of a Better Life’ (PODCAST)

John Daraban was homeless, addicted and away from the Church, until visions of the Blessed Mother and Solanus Casey led him back to Christ

(00:10) The narrator gives a preface to the story being shared on the Detroit Stories podcast, accrediting the production and hard work all to John Daraban, who will be sharing his testimony.

(2:02) John describes what his home and faith life looked like during his upbringing, from his brother’s diverging interests of the faith to his breakup with a high school sweetheart.

(04:29) John’s brother Rick begins to turn his life around for his son, Cody. Tragically, John gets into a devastating car accident that claims Rick’s life, and begins to cling to destructive coping mechanisms. This leads to the destruction of a mentally, physically and spiritually healthy life.

(06:14) As drugs began to take over, John’s soul became more and more lost. He began tirelessly searching for something to give meaning to his life, but looking in the wrong places: the bottom of a bottle, or the next high. He quickly began to lose everything, submitting to self-induced homelessness as his addiction habits became more demanding.

(08:09) One freezing night spent homeless, John experiences an intense spiritual awakening. John’s life was spared that night, and he had a vision that he was inside of St. Lawrence Church. Although he had never been there or even knew how to get there, his heart yearned to find a way to live “to be more.”

(10:54) John’s experience led him to desire sobriety, struggling to control his addictions in Alcoholics Anonymous for several years. One night spent at his parents’ home, the Blessed Mother appeared to him saying, “Your mother cannot lose another son.” From that moment, he never touched drugs or alcohol again.

(15: 58) Sober John was doing better, but still was struggling to return to church, until one day, Fr. Solanus Casey appeared to him in a dream saying, “Come find me.” Shortly after, John saw Fr. Solanus on television and decided to venture out to his center in Detroit.

(17:47) John enters the doors of the Solanus Casey Center for the very first time, and was seldom seen outside church after. Going forward, John strives to live his life “all for Jesus.”

Reporting by Gabriella Patti; narration and production by Ron Pangborn

Listen to ‘Detroit Stories’ on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Fireside. Podcasts also will be posted biweekly on DetroitCatholic.com

U.K. bishops fight assisted suicide bills, plan novena to St. John Paul

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) ─ Catholic bishops of England and Wales are planning a novena to St. John Paul in the nine days before the second reading of an assisted suicide bill in the House of Lords, because the legislation will be considered Oct. 22, the saint's feast day.

Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster, lead bishop for life issues, said in a Sept. 21 statement that the timing was "providential."

"The novena, asking the intercession of St. John Paul II, who spoke courageously about the infinite worth of each human person and witnessed to the cross in his final illness, calls upon Catholics and all who share our view that assisted suicide is wrong, to pray with perseverance that this bill will be defeated," Bishop Sherrington said.

The bishops have written the laity to encourage them to actively oppose the legislation.

Similarly, bishops of Scotland said Catholics must make politicians aware of the "serious dangers of assisted suicide" ahead of a debate over new Scottish legislation, said the church's parliamentary liaison officer.

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said Catholics must engage with elected representatives to warn them of "the deadly and irreparable consequences of its legalization."

His Sept. 22 statement came as the Assisted Dying Bill of Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament, began a three-month public consultation before it is considered by the Scottish Assembly next year.

"We are once again being confronted with the frightening proposal that doctors be legally permitted to help patients kill themselves by providing them with a lethal cocktail of drugs," Horan said.

Such a law, he said, would put "immeasurable pressure on vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, to end their lives prematurely for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden on others."

"Incremental extensions and the removal of protections and safeguards are inevitable," he added.

In a Sept. 22 statement announcing the consultation, McArthur said he believed "the time is right for Scotland to look again at providing our dying people with more choice at the end of life."

The bill proposes assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with mental capacity and with the authorization of two doctors following a period of reflection.

China allows Catholic university in Macau to recruit students from mainland

The University of Saint Joseph in Macau. / Doraemon.tvb via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Macau, China, Sep 22, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic university in Macau has been permitted to recruit students from mainland China on an “experimental basis” and only for four graduate programs.

Macau is a special administrative region of China. It was integrated into China in 1999, having previously been a Portuguese colony, and it is operated under the “one country, two systems” principle, like Hong Kong.

“I am very conscious of the responsibility that the Central People’s Government has placed in USJ through this permission, and want to give every assurance of our gratitude and sincerity. We will closely observe the detailed regulations concerning this permit and will spare no effort in seeking to repay the trust and confidence of the Ministry of Education, as we seek to demonstrate that we are a university in, of and for Macao, in of and for China,” Stephen Morgan, rector of the University of Saint Joseph, said in a Sept. 13 statement.

Morgan characterized the university as a “unique platform” for “co-operation between Chinese and Portuguese-speaking countries and as an example of Macao as a base for the harmonious exchange between the culture of the East and the West.”

The University of Saint Joseph, which is affiliated with the Catholic University of Portugal, is being run by the Macau diocese.

Morgan expressed his gratitude to Macau’s officials for “the constant advocacy of our case.”

In the first phase of the program, the university will enroll students in postgraduate courses in architecture, business administration, information systems, and science.

The authorization was granted Sept. 9 after years of cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding between the university and other institutions and offices in China.

Morgan said the openness shown by the Chinese government is “an opportunity to deepen partnerships, which until now have not been possible.”

“As with all higher education institutions in Macau, the University of Saint Joseph is working hard to offer a concrete response to the call made by [government officials] to diversify the economy through the development and application of our research work,” he said.

“We understand that there is enormous potential in this area,” said Morgan, citing cooperation efforts with the Institute of Oceanography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Qingdao, among others.

In August, Morgan embarked on a tour of several Chinese provinces to explore “new opportunities for cooperation” and to strengthen existing memoranda of understanding, said the report in the diocesan paper.

The University of Saint Joseph was founded in 1996 as the Macau Inter-University Institute by the Catholic University of Portugal and the Diocese of Macau.

In 2019, the Diocese of Macau expressed disappointment in a patriotic light-show that had been projected on the remains of a famous Catholic church on the peninsula.

For three consecutive nights beginning Sept. 29, 2019, the Macau Government Tourism Office projected government principles and symbols onto the Ruins of St. Paul's.

The event was named the "Glorious Splendor in Celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China." It projected pro-government statements, including Macau's integration into China 20 years ago, and Chinese symbols, such as the country's flag.

In an October 2019 statement, Father Cyril Jerome Law, the diocese's chancellor, said the remains are an important symbol of the Church despite the property currently being under government control. He said the light show should complement the church's historical origin.

"[The] faithful of the Diocese have expressed strong views over the matter," he said.

"The show in question evoked reactions of discontent from quite a number of faithful of different nationalities, since it is deemed that the use of the historical monuments ought to correspond to its intended character," he added.

In response to the chancellor's statement, a Macau official said many people were happy with the light show. Alexis Tam Chon Weng, secretary for social affairs and culture, told Macau News that since its beginning, the program has not received any push back.

"I don't think there was any problem with the contents of the mapping show," Tam said. "There have never been any problems since the Macau Light Festival started five years ago."

Both parties have expressed the need for more communication between the diocese and the government. Tam said he would strengthen dialogue with the Church in Macau. He expressed the need for mutual "tolerance" and understanding, Macau News reported.

Former USCCB president Bishop Pilla dies at 88

The late Bishop Emeritus Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland. / Diocese of Cleveland

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

Bishop Anthony Pilla, who led the Diocese of Cleveland for 25 years and served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, died Tuesday, Sept. 21. He was 88. 

“It is with deep sadness that I share with the Catholic community of the Diocese of Cleveland the news of the passing this morning of Bishop Anthony M. Pilla,” said Bishop Edward Malesic of Cleveland on Tuesday. “Bishop Pilla died peacefully at his personal residence.” 

Malesic described his predecessor as a “very warm, kind-hearted and deeply faithful shepherd” who was “generous with his time and sharing his knowledge and concern for the diocese with me.” 

Pilla, said Malesic, was dedicated to the people he served in Cleveland, and served as an inspiration to him throughout his priesthood and episcopate. “As a leader in the community and a friend to so many, he will be greatly missed,” Malesic said. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), echoed Malesic’s sentiment in a Wednesday statement on Pilla’s death.

“[Pilla] led the bishops’ conference in the 1990s as president, and those who worked with him have expressed that his deep love for the Church was evident through his faithful commitment and desire for unity within the Church which he expressed through his pastoral leadership of the Conference,” said Gomez. He offered prayers for Pilla’s family and friends. 

“May the Lord grant him eternal rest,” said Gomez.

A native of Cleveland, Pilla was born on Nov. 12, 1932, and discerned a vocation to the priesthood while in high school.  He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland at the age of 26 on May 23, 1959.

Almost exactly 20 years later, on June 30, 1979, Pilla was named as an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland by Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated as a bishop on Aug. 1, 1979, and, after just under a year, was named the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland after Bishop James Hickey was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Washington. 

Pilla was officially named the bishop of Cleveland on November 13, 1980, becoming the first native of the city to lead the diocese. He was installed as the ninth bishop of Cleveland on Jan. 6, 1981. 

In November 1995, Pilla was elected president of the USCCB. At the time, he was just the second bishop to be elected president; typically, the role went to an archbishop. He served his three-year term until 1998. 

Throughout his time as bishop of Cleveland, Pilla was known for his desire to unite the Church, and for his deep love for the people of his hometown. He started a program called “Church in the City,” which aimed at partnering people who lived in the urban, suburban, and rural parts of the diocese to work together. 

Pilla retired from the episcopacy in 2006, at the age of 73, reportedly for health reasons. He spent the entirety of his episcopacy, and his priesthood, in the diocese of his birth. 

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced. 

Cardinals’ council discusses synod on synodality with Pope Francis

Pope Francis takes part in an online meeting of the Council of Cardinals at the Vatican, Sept. 21, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis and his cardinal advisers discussed the upcoming synod on synodality on Tuesday.

The meeting of the Council of Cardinals took place at 4 p.m. on Sept. 21, according to the Holy See press office.

Joining the virtual meeting from his residence, the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis referred to two addresses in which he set out his vision of synodality.

The first was his 2015 speech marking the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, in which he described synodality as the path that “God expects of the Church of the third millennium.”

The second was last Saturday’s address to Catholics from the Diocese of Rome. In that discourse, he said that the two-year process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality is not about “gathering opinions,” but “listening to the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy See press office said that the pope told the cardinals “how at the heart of the reflection is not so much the deepening of this or that theme as the learning of a way of living the Church, marked at all levels by listening to one another and by a pastoral attitude, particularly in the face of the temptations of clericalism and rigidity.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.

The third, universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023 with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”

Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, and Congolese Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu took part in Tuesday’s meeting from their home countries, the Holy See press office said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the outgoing president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and Bishop Marco Mellino, the secretary of the Council of Cardinals, joined the meeting from the Vatican.

The cardinals last met with the pope in June, when they discussed synodal processes around the world.

A month earlier, they held a virtual discussion of revisions to a draft of the new constitution to govern the Roman Curia, known as Praedicate evangelium.

The group of cardinal advisers, sometimes referred to as the C9 because it previously had nine members, was established by Pope Francis in 2013, to “assist him in the governance of the universal Church,” as well as to revise the text of the 1988 apostolic constitution Pastor bonus.

At one of the council’s first meetings, it was decided that projected revisions to Pastor bonus would be substantial enough to warrant an entirely new constitution.

The cardinals have been working on drafting and revising the text since 2014, soliciting feedback from bishops’ conferences last year. An updated draft was presented to Pope Francis last summer and suggestions from Vatican departments are being evaluated. But the Vatican has given no projected date for the constitution’s publication.

The Holy See press office said on Wednesday that the seven cardinals offered reflections on the synodal path, highlighting the need to “overcome sectarianism and partisan interests.”

The next meeting of the Council of Cardinals is scheduled for December. The Vatican hopes the meeting will take place in person, rather than on screen.

Cardinal Parolin: The Vatican is ‘worried’ about AUKUS nuclear rearmament

Cardinal Pietro Parolin during a visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2017. / Shutterstock.

Rome, Italy, Sep 22, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican’s Secretary of State commented Wednesday on the new security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States to deploy nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific region.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin told journalists at the sidelines of a Sept. 22 event that “the Holy See is opposed to rearmament.”

“All the efforts that have been made and are being made” by the Vatican are “to eliminate nuclear weapons, because they are not the way to maintain peace and security in the world, but they create even more dangers for peace and even more conflict,” Parolin said. “Within this vision, one cannot but be worried.”

The AUKUS trilateral security pact, announced Sept. 15, will add to the Western military presence in the Pacific amid concerns about China.

The pact’s first initiative will be to help Australia’s navy procure a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

Cardinal Parolin responded to a question about AUKUS after giving a speech during a meeting of the Bureau of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in Rome.

The EPP Group is a European political group with Christian democratic, conservative, and liberal-conservative member parties. It is the largest political group in the European Parliament, the European Union’s law-making body.

Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, were also present at Wednesday’s session.

“Today is dedicated to listening to the Church. The presence of representatives of the Holy See and COMECE is placed in this perspective: the fact that [the EPP Group] want to hear what the Church is proposing and what she is asking of them,” Parolin told journalists.

Parolin also highlighted the risk of exploiting religion “for political purposes.”

“It is important to make a global choice: in Christianity, you do not choose what you like best or what suits you best. In Christianity, you have to accept everything,” he said.

“And therefore,” Parolin said, “both the defense of life is part of Christianity -- in all its phases from the beginning of natural conception to natural death -- but love of neighbor is also part of it, which manifests itself as attention to the phenomenon of migration, according to those four verbs that the pope has always indicated to us: to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate.”

“At the level of principle, for me the thing is very clear,” he added. “Christianity is all this, you cannot go to the supermarket and take this, this other, this other again…”

8 elderly nuns in Manila succumb to COVID-19; outbreak hits seminary

Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary motherhouse, Quezon City, Philippines / RamonFVelasquez/Wikimedia (CC0)

Manila, Philippines, Sep 22, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

The Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary in Manila announced the death of eight elderly nuns who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The nuns were between 80 and 90 years old, and were among the 62 sisters earlier reported to have been infected with COVID-19 at a convent in Quezon City in the Philippine capital.

Sister Ma. Anicia Co, RVM, the congregation’s spokesperson, said that 52 convent staff and personnel were also positive for COVID-19.

“The personnel are still young so they are on the road to recovery,” said Sister Co in an interview over Church-run Radio Veritas 846.

“Some sisters are moving from symptomatic to asymptomatic. Eight of the sisters, aged 90s and 80s, afflicted with COVID-19 returned home to our Heavenly Father,” she said.

The nun also clarified reports that the reason for the COVID-19 “outbreak” inside the convent was due to the refusal of the nuns and the personnel to get vaccinated.

She said that some of the nuns and the personnel were already vaccinated in May. The eight nuns who died were not vaccinated because they were already sick, Sister Co said.

“It was not the decision of the congregation, nor the leaders nor the Sister Administrator of the St. Joseph Home, that they would not be vaccinated,” she said.“The Sister Administrator actually followed up later for their vaccination but it did not come soon.”

“Please pray for us, especially our Sisters in St. Joseph Home,” Sister Co appealed to the public.

“May our sisters come to full recovery. May God grant strength to our other sisters in the communities in the compound strength to continue serving the affected community,” she added.

Meanwhile, a COVID-19 outbreak also hit a seminary of the Society of the Divine Word in Manila this week. At least 25 of the 59 residents of the Christ the King Mission Seminary were reported to have contracted the disease, including nine priests and 16 employees.

Government health officials reported that one of the priests, one of the first two recorded infections in the seminary, had died.

But Father Pablito Tagura, rector of the seminary, clarified that the COVID cases were only recorded among retired priests and their caregivers in one of the seminary compound’s four facilities.

“All of them do not need hospital care and most of them are asymptomatic,” he told a local television station. The priest said all those reported infected are under quarantine.

Earlier, local authorities placed three religious facilities in the Philippine capital under lockdown - the Stella Maris Convent, the Religious of the Virgin Mary convent, and the Convent of the Holy Spirit.

The Philippines on Wednesday posted 15,592 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 2,417,419. Of the cumulative total, 162,580 - or 6.7% - are active cases, said the country’s health department.

The Philippines is fighting one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks, as it struggles to contain the growth of new infections likely driven by the COVID-19 Delta variant. 

The positivity rate in the country is 24.9%, based on the test results of 53,349 individuals screened for the disease on Monday. COVID-related deaths increased by 154 to 37,228. It is the 11th straight day with more than 100 newly announced fatalities. 

Archbishop Cordileone calls abortion bill ‘child sacrifice,’ urges prayer and fasting

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco / Catholic News Agency

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Archbishop of San Francisco warned that an abortion bill to be voted on in Congress this week amounts to “child sacrifice.” He called on Catholics to pray and fast for the defeat of the bill. 

“This proposed legislation is nothing short of child sacrifice,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a Tuesday statement regarding the Women’s Health Protection Act (H.R. 3755). 

The bill, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), recognizes the “statutory right” of women to have abortions. It also states the “right” of doctors, certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners and doctor’s assistants to perform abortions. It prohibits many limitations on abortion, such as state pro-life laws requiring ultrasounds or waiting periods before abortions.

“Any reasonable person with a basic sense of morality and inkling of decency cannot but shudder in horror at such a heinous evil being codified in law,” Cordileone said.

The bill overrides prohibitions on “pre-viability” abortions, and would also allow for late-term abortions without “meaningful” limits, the U.S. bishops’ conference has warned, calling it “the most radical abortion bill of all time.” The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House this week.

“This deceptively-named, extreme bill would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute,” wrote Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, in a Sept. 15 letter to members of Congress.

“It would force all Americans to support abortions here and abroad with their tax dollars,” he added, and “would also likely force health care providers and professionals to perform, assist in, and/or refer for abortion against their deeply-held beliefs, as well as force employers and insurers to cover or pay for abortion.”

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said the bill “shows to what radical extremes the supposedly ‘Pro-Choice’ advocates in our country will go to protect what they hold most sacred: the right to kill innocent human beings in the womb.”

He expressed support for Archbishop Naumann’s warning about the bill, and advocated for members of Congress to instead pass legislation supporting both mothers and children.

Cordileone called it “especially shameful that any self-professed Catholic would be implicated in such an evil, let alone advocate for it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Catholic who resides in the San Francisco archdiocese, announced the House vote on the bill earlier this month after a Texas pro-life law went into effect restricting most abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat. She vowed to “enshrine into law reproductive health care for all women across America.” 

Cordileone pointed to Pope Francis’s recent statements calling abortion “murder,” during a press conference on a papal flight. 

“This principle is so clear, and to those who cannot understand, I would ask two questions: is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?  Scientifically, it is a human life.  The second question: is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem?’” Pope Francis said. 

Archbishop Cordileone on Tuesday said that the Women’s Health Protection Act “is surely the type of legislation one would expect from a devout Satanist, not a devout Catholic.”

He concluded with a call for “all Catholics in our country immediately to pray and fast for members of Congress to do the right thing and keep this atrocity from being enacted in the law.”

“A child is not an object to be thrown away, and neither is a mother’s heart,” he said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the answer to a woman in a crisis pregnancy is not violence but love.  This is America.  We can do better.”

Catholic University president says he will step down next year

Dr. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, discusses religious freedom at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2013 / CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 22, 2021 / 09:05 am (CNA).

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., will be stepping down from his role as of June 30, 2022, the school announced today. 

Garvey revealed his decision in a Sept. 22 letter to the university community. He is the university’s third lay president, and has served in the role since 2010.

“The time has come to turn the responsibility over to those younger minds and stronger lives,” Garvey said. He noted that conversations with university board members about his decision began around six months ago.

Garvey said that he largely achieved the goals he set for his presidency, having entered the role “hoping I could contribute something to building up the institution.” 

“I did not foresee how much I would fall in love with it. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as President of this University,” he said. 

Garvey described his tenure leading the university as “a time of tremendous growth” that had “reinvigorated our Catholic intellectual life.” During his time as president, Catholic University established the Busch School of Business and the Conway School of Nursing. 

“We have greatly increased the wealth of the University by raising more than half a billion dollars and nearly doubling our total assets,” said Garvey in his letter. “And we have made much of this possible by changing our form of corporate governance to ensure episcopal oversight while entrusting the laity with leadership.” 

Prior to his time as president of the university, Garvey served as dean at Boston College Law School. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School. 

“Living on campus has allowed Jeanne and me to see students at Mass in the morning and in the President’s Office during the day,” said Garvey. “Students come to Nugent to borrow our sleds and walk our dog. We attend their concerts and games, work with them on service days, and march with them for life and other worthy causes. These are daily occurrences, and every day they give me just a little more pride in our University.”

Leading the school has been “an honor and a privilege,” he said, noting he was “grateful to the bishops, and to the board of trustees, for their support and collaboration in building a strong foundation for the University’s future.” 

The Catholic University of America is a pontifical university and is the only college or university in the United States to have been founded by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The school was established in 1887. 

The university has already begun its search to replace Garvey, and the new president is expected to be hired by July 1, 2022.

Pope Francis meets Afghan Christian whose parents were killed by the Taliban

Pope Francis meets with a group of Afghan refugees at the Vatican on Sept. 22, 2021. / Vatican Media/CNA

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met Wednesday with three Afghan refugee families at the Vatican, including a Catholic family of four children and a man whose parents were killed by the Taliban.

In the joyful encounter, seven refugee children presented the pope with some of their drawings and Pope Francis prayed with the Afghan families.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

“It was beautiful,” Ali Ehsani told CNA after the meeting on Sept. 22.

Ehsani, an Afghan Christian who escaped the Taliban after the murder of his parents in 1997, had appealed to the pope to help a Catholic family that was stranded at the Kabul airport in August.

At the time, thousands of Afghans had crowded the airport seeking asylum after the capital of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban Aug. 15.

The father of the Catholic family of four children had gone missing and the family feared that his disappearance was linked to their Christian identity amid reports that the Taliban was going door-to-door to find targets.

“We remained closed in the cellar for four days and four nights for fear of everyone being arrested, probably someone denounced us as Christians,” Pary Gul Hasan Zada, the mother of the family, told L’Osservatore Romano.

Italy offered asylum to this mother, her three daughters and one son, and the family arrived in Rome on Aug. 21.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

The mother said that she has had no news of the status of her husband since his arrest last month.

The pope met with this Catholic family and two other families that had children between the ages of one years old and 14 before his general audience.

Upon their arrival in Italy, the Hasan Zada family who had lived their faith in secret for so long, were finally able to attend Mass.

Afghanistan is over 99% Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. There are small groups of Christians, including about 200 Catholics, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and Baháʼís.

Vatican Media/CNA
Vatican Media/CNA

Living in Christian community has been particularly difficult in Afghanistan because most families are forced to conceal their identity as Christians out of fear for their lives.

“The first time they were able to attend Mass, they were so overcome that they could only cry,” Ehsani told Aid to the Church in Need.

“It was deeply moving to have the freedom to openly acknowledge their faith. And they said, ‘After having lived in the dark for so many years as secret Christians, it is like being reborn.’”