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Pope makes surprise telephone call to sick children in Genoa

(Vatican Radio) On Saturday, May 27th, Pope Francis will travel to the northern Italian city of Genoa for a one-day apostolic visit.

One of the highlights of the day will undoubtedly be represented by his meeting with sick children and their families in the “Giannina Gaslini” Paediatric Hospital.

Awaiting Francis’ visit, many of the little patients have been busy preparing small gifts and messages, but meanwhile,  the Pope himself decided to surprise them ahead of time with a personal greeting.

Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:

Linking-up live via telephone to a parish radio in Genoa that broadcasts a Wednesday weekly programme especially dedicated to the children’s hospital, Pope Francis told the little patients that it is with joy that he is preparing to be with them.

“Dear children of the Gaslini Hospital in Genoa, I greet you all with affection” he said.

The Pope said he is coming to be close to them, to listen to them, and to bring the caress of Jesus.

“He is always close to us especially when we are in difficulty and in need. He always gives us trust and hope” he said.

Pope Francis concluded his call with assurances that he is praying for the sick children and their families, and as he always does, he asked them to pray for him!
       
Established in 1931, the Istituto Giannina Gaslini is a tertiary level paediatric hospital affiliated with the University of Genoa. It is considered one of the foremost children’s hospital in Europe and it is formally recognized as a Scientific Institute for Research, Hospitalization and Healthcare.

(from Vatican Radio)

Signs that Egypt may have been a papal trip that mattered

Since Blessed Paul VI was dubbed the “Pilgrim Pope” for becoming the first pontiff to leave Italy since 1809, and the first ever to visit the Western Hemisphere, Africa and Asia, popes so far have made 157 foreign trips — 104 of those, for the record, belonging to St. John Paul II alone.

To be brutally honest, not every one of those trips actually has changed the world.

It’s not clear that Pope John Paul’s 1982 outing to San Marino, for instance, left any deep historical imprint, and it would be hard to find many non-Czechs, and perhaps relatively few of them, with acute memories of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 two-day visit to the Czech Republic. (That’s with the exception, of course, of a video showing a spider crawling across the pope’s cassock during one of his speeches.)

Every now and then, however, a trip does appear to make a difference — changing conditions on the ground, emboldening a transition already under way or shining a spotlight on some reality that had been previously overlooked or minimized.

Examples of such momentous outings include Pope John Paul’s first homecoming to Poland in 1979, from which many observers believe you can date the beginning of the end of Soviet Communism; his unforgettable 2000 trip to the Holy Land, climaxing in a stop at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, where he left behind a moving note condemning anti-Semitism; and Pope Benedict’s contentious 2006 visit to Regensburg, Germany, which sparked protest, but also kick-started a process of reflection in the Islamic world about the need to confront religious violence.

It’s still too early to judge in which category Pope Francis’ brief trip to Egypt in late April belongs, but recent days have brought intriguing signs that the pontiff’s message may have captured a moment.

The April 28-29 trip unfolded under the shadow of Palm Sunday bombings of two Coptic churches in Egypt that left 45 people dead, a reminder of the religious extremism and violence that has become part of the landscape in many zones of the Middle East. In that context, the pope delivered a strong call for political and religious leaders to “unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity.”

Pope Francis also issued a robust defense of the Christian minority in the Middle East, calling them “light and salt in these lands.”

The last time a pontiff delivered even a gentle rebuke to Egypt over the plight of its Christians, which came under Pope Benedict in 2011, the country’s political and religious establishment expressed outrage, freezing diplomatic relations and interfaith dialogue with the Vatican. This time, however, Pope Francis was celebrated as a moral hero, suggesting that something may be shifting.

At least two recent developments in Egypt lend credence to that perception.

The first is the opening of a new Coptic Christian church in the village of Ismailia, located in the province of Minya, dedicated to St. George and the Virgin Mary. One point that makes this case remarkable is how the church came to be.

The village of Ismailia is one-third Christian, two-thirds Muslim, and in the past it’s occasionally been marked by the same sectarian strife that’s engulfed other parts of the country. In keeping with Egyptian custom, it has a “reconciliation committee” that’s supposed to arbitrate disputes, though in many cases Christians have complained that the deck on these panels is stacked against their interests.

This time, however, the committee not only voted overwhelmingly to approve the construction of a new church, but the local Muslim population actually contributed a significant share of the funding to build it.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, the local mayor presented the outcome as an example of “national concord” and also a welcome relief from reliance on foreign capital to build places of worship, which is often a smokescreen for one group or another seeking to expand its influence.

The development also marks a break from what had been a highly restrictive policy in Egypt on the building of new churches. Here’s how Coptic Solidarity, an advocacy group for Egyptian Christians, characterized the situation: “Over the past 60 years, an average of two churches a year have been approved. Egypt has less than 2,600 churches total, which works out to about 1 for every 5,500 Egyptian Christians. (By comparison, there is about 1 mosque for every 620 Muslims in Egypt.)”

On another front, a well-known Islamic cleric, Sheikh Salem Abdul Jalil, who is also an undersecretary in the Egyptian ministry for “religious allocations,” recently went on television to denounce Christians and Jews as “infidels” and their doctrines as “corrupt.” In the past, that sort of rhetoric might have passed without comment or even been applauded, but not so this time around.

Instead, the minister for whom Jalil works, Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, swiftly put out a statement disowning the remarks and stating that Jalil would be banned from preaching in mosques. Various jurists in the country charged Jalil with an “outrage against religion,” which is a crime under Egyptian law, and he now is set to appear before a court on June 25.

The Catholic news agency Fides quoted Boutros Fahim Awad Hanna, the Coptic Catholic bishop of Minya, who said, “Here in Egypt, there have been processes against Christians or Muslims for offending Islam, but this could be the first process against a Muslim accused of having offended Christianity and Judaism.”

Jalil has apologized for his choice of words, though he hasn’t retracted the substance of his position.

One can certainly debate the wisdom of criminalizing statements of religious belief, but the willingness to actually prosecute a powerful Muslim cleric for offending the sentiments of minority groups is nevertheless an intriguing hint of a change in climate.

To be clear, it’s not that the pope’s brief two-day trip caused any of this. In truth, the basic force at play probably is that most ordinary Egyptians are simply sick of sectarian conflict, not to mention terrified that, unless checked, the sort of fundamentalist chaos that has engulfed Iraq and Syria could strike them as well.

Nevertheless, the pope’s visit caught that mood and, at least arguably, encouraged and augmented it. If Egypt does turn a corner in the fight against religious violence and extremism, Pope Francis’ trip, and the message it delivered, could be remembered as an important part of that transition.

Whether that actually happens, of course, is still a huge unknown — but, if it does, then Egypt clearly would go down as another papal trip that truly mattered.

 

This article originally appeared at the Catholic news site cruxnow.com 

Loyola, Notre Dame, Bishop Montgomery reach volleyball semis

Three Catholic school teams have reached the semifinals of the Division 1 CIF-Southern Section boys’ volleyball tournament after posting quarterfinal wins May 13.

The semifinal matches to be played May 17 include Loyola hosting Newport Harbor in Division 1, Notre Dame hosting South Torrance in Division 2, and Bishop Montgomery at Crean Lutheran in Division 3. Winners advance to the finals on May 20.

In the quarterfinals, Loyola (26-1) defeated Arnold Beckman of Tustin, Notre Dame (28-7-1) beat El Segundo, and Bishop Montgomery (17-8) stopped Tustin, all in straight sets. Paraclete was beaten by Crean Lutheran in Division 3.

In boys’ tennis, J. Serra of San Juan Capistrano --- the only Catholic school which reached Round 2 in post-season play --- reached the quarterfinals against Etiwanda, after defeating Garden Grover 12-6 in Round 2.

Baseball

Post-season play in seven divisions will commence this week in baseball beginning with wild-card affairs on May 16 and 17, and first-round games on May 18 and 19.

The May 16 wild-card games for baseball involving Catholic schools include Santa Monica at La Salle (Division 3): Anaheim at Salesian (Division 5); and Rosemead at Don Bosco Tech (Division 7). On May 17, Alemany is at Oaks Christian (Division 2) and Santa Clara is at Ganesha (Division 6).

The first-round games in Division 1 include Servite at Cypress, Damien at South Hills, Mater Dei at Millikan, Foothill/Santa Ana at J.Serra, Chaminade at Bishop Amat, and San Clemente at Notre Dame. In Division 2, Thousand Oaks is at St. Bonaventure, and St. John Bosco hosts a wild-card winner.

In Division 3, Paraclete hosts a wild-card winner and Cantwell-Sacred Heart hosts Paso Robles. Schurr is at Serra and Calvary Chapel/Santa Ana at Bishop Montgomery in Division 4.

Division 6 features St. Margaret Episcopal at St. Anthony, Providence at Foothill Technology, and St. Bernard at St. Monica Academy. Bishop Diego is at Lennox Academy in Division 7.

Softball

Softball wild-card action begins May 16, with Hillcrest at Mary Star in Division 6, and Serra at Mayfield, and California School of the deaf at Bishop Conaty-Loretto in Division 7.

First-round play in all seven division takes place May 18, with Bishop Amat at Mater Dei among the Division 1 contests, and four games involving Catholic schools in Division 2: St. Lucy’s Priory at Glendora, Rosary at Gahr, St. Paul at Santa Monica, and Millikan at Santa Margarita.

The Division 3 games include Long Beach Wilson at St. Bonaventure and California at Paraclete, while St. Joseph.Lakewood hosts a wild-card winner in Division 4. Among the Division 5 first-round games are La Quinta/Westminster at Alverno, Chaminade at Calvary Chapel/Downey, Barstow at Pomona Catholic, and Temple City at Alemany.

In Division 6, St. Anthony and Notre Dame/Sherman Oaks each host wild-card winners, while Notre Dame Academy hosts Azusa. And in Division 7, Providence is at Ramona Convent, Southland Christian at St. Mary’s Academy, and St. Genevieve and Cornelia Connelly each host wild-card winners.

Swimming & Diving

In the CIF-SS Swimming and Diving Championships held May 10-13 at the Riverside Aquatics Complex, Catholic schools were well represented in most divisions of the boys’ and girls’ team competitions.

Santa Margarita led the way by winning the girls’ team title with 461 points, more than double that of runnerup Tesoro. Other Catholic schools placing in Division 1 were Mater Dei (11th, 106 points), J.Serra (20th, 38), Notre Dame/Sherman Oaks (23rd, 28) and Flintridge Sacred Heart (30th, 15).

In boys’ Division 1, Loyola placed second with 282 points, 10 behind champion Dana Hills. Also earning points were Santa Margarita (5th, 163), Crespi (6th, 120), Mater Dei (11th, 110), Notre Dame/Sherman Oaks (24th, 30), and Servite (32nd, 5).

Damien finished just four points from the Division 2 boys’ title, placing second (209) behind Foothill. In Division 3 girls, Mayfield finished tied for 26th (34) to earn top Catholic school honors ahead of Marymount and Immaculate Heart (tied for 32nd, 23 points each), La Reina (40th, 8) and Louisville (44th, 3). In Division 3 boys, Villanova Prep was the lone Catholic school earnings points (3, 41st).

Among Division 4 girls’ results, Bishop Amat tied for tenth (95 points), followed by La Salle (13th, 72), St. Monica Academy (25th, 35), St. Joseph/Lakewood (32nd, 13), Mary Star (36th, 7), and St. Anthony (45th, 2.5). In Division 4 boys, La Salle placed fifth with 103 points, ahead of Bishop Amat (24th, 29), St. Anthony (30th, 20), St. Bonaventure (35th, 10), and Serra (39th, 4).

Individual results (including top 8 finishers) will be reported in an upcoming issue.

Golf

In boys’ golf, Loyola and Zervite captured team titles in divisional play held May 15, qualifying for the Southern California Team Qualifying Tournament May 18 at Rancho San Marcos in  Santa Barbara.

Loyola won the Central Regional at Lakewood Country Club, its 369 aggregate score eight shots better than runnerup Chaminade, whose Will Draper posted the best individual score (68). St. Francis finished third (379), led by David Emerson whose 71 tied him for third individually with Loyola’s Parker Lestz and Connor Bown.

Servite, led by individual champ Jack Rahon (68), won the Western Regional at Whispering Lakes Club with a 360 total that featured Kyle Kinnane’s 70 and Brendan Gonzalez’ 71. Mater Dei finished third at 377, led by Robert Compean (69).

Sr. Alessandra Kubasta, OP, taught at St. Thomas More in Alhambra

SINSINAWA, Wis.—Sister Alessandra Kubasta, OP, died May 18, 2017, at St. Dominic Villa. The funeral Mass was held at the Sinsinawa Dominican motherhouse, Sinsinawa, May 24, 2017, followed by burial of the cremains in the Motherhouse Cemetery.

Sister Alessandra made her first religious profession as a Sinsinawa Dominican Aug. 7, 1941, and her final profession Aug. 7, 1944. She was an elementary teacher for 26 years, principal for 12 years, and postmaster at the U.S. post office at Sinsinawa for 11 years. Sister Alessandra served the Sinsinawa Dominican congregation in various ministries for 14 years and was an avid gardener. She served in Illinois, Wisconsin, California and New York.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Sister Alessandra taught at St. Thomas More, Alhambra, 1952-1953.

Sister Alessandra was born July 10, 1921, in Oshkosh, Wis., the daughter of John and Mary (Matschi) Kubasta. Her parents and three sisters, an infant, Margaret Randall, and Natalie Mattioli, preceded her in death. She is survived by two sisters, Jacqueline Knutowski and Elaine Statz; a brother, Gene Kubasta; nieces; nephews; and her Dominican Sisters with whom she shared life for 75 years.

Memorials may be made to the Sinsinawa Dominicans, 585 County Road Z, Sinsinawa, WI, 53824-9701 or online atwww.sinsinawa.org by clicking on "Donate Now."

Repeat broadcasts of the wake and funeral for Sister Alessandra are available online at www.Sinsinawa.org/liveClick on the “on demand” tab.

CIF baseball, softball quarterfinals feature 12 Catholic school teams

Quarterfinal action in the CIF-Southern Section baseball playoffs on May 26 will feature five Catholic schools still in the title hunt, following second round victories on May 23.

Additionally, seven Catholic schools advanced to quarterfinal play May 25 with second-round wins on May 23. Semifinal play in baseball and softball takes place May 30, with finals set June 2 and 3.

Baseball: Round 2

Second-round action in Division 1 saw Mater Dei crush Dos Pueblos 12-2, Huntington Beach beat Servite 3-0, Notre Dame lose to Redlands East Valley 5-4, and El Toro edge Bishop Amat 3-2. Mater Dei (20-11) plays at Redlands East Valley in the quarterfinals.

Division 2: St. John Bosco downed Woodbridge 9-2 while St. Bonaventure lost 7-3 to Capistrano Valley. St. John Bosco (25-7) hosts Glendora in the quarterfinals

Division 3: Paraclete (18-6-1) got by Canyon/Anaheim 5-4, earning a quarterfinal berth at Don Lugo

Division 4: Serra was beaten 10-6 by Nogales in Round 2.

Division 5: Oak Hills beat Salesian 12-1, after the Mustangs had beaten Rolling Hills Prep 11-7 in the first round.

Division 6: Big Bear outscored St. Anthony 14-6, but St. Bernard (14-12-1) reached the quarters with a second round 7-2 win over Hesperia Christian, and will host Moreno Valley.

Division 7: Bishop Diego (11-12) beat Hillcrest Christian of Thousand Oaks 7-1, and hosts Carnegie/Riverside in the quarterfinals.

Softball: Round 2

In Division 1 second-round action on May 23, Grand Terrace stopped Mater Dei 8-6.

Division 2: St. Lucy’s (18-6) beat Gahr 10-4, and hosts Villa Park in the May 25 quarterfinals. Santa Margarita (24-5) blanked Warren 8-0, and next hosts Poly/Riverside.

Division 3: Hart blanked Paraclete 7-0, and St. Bonaventure was edged 3-2 by Ruben Ayala.

Division 4: St. Joseph/Lakewood (19-9) belted Savanna 14-1, and hosts Rubidoux in the quarterfinals.

Division 5: Alemany clobbered Coachella Valley 14-0, but West Torrance beat Alverno 3-1, Heritage Christian edged Chaminade 3-2. Alemany (20-7) hosts Godinez in the quarterfinals.

Division 6: Notre Dame whitewashed Academy Careers 3-0, and St. Anthony bested Whittier Christian 5-3. In the quarterfinals, Notre Dame (16-9) is at Schurr, and St. Anthony (21-7) is at Culver City; the winners of those contests meet in the semifinals May 30.

Division 7: Unbeaten Connelly (18-0) outscored St. Mary’s Academy 12-8, and plays at Santa Ynez in the quarterfinals. Also in Round 2, Century beat St. Genevieve 10-0, Carnegie of Riverside beat Mayfield 3-0, and Village Christian beat Ramona Convent 11-0.

US bishops welcome Trump administration's reprieve for Haitian migrants

Washington D.C., May 23, 2017 / 04:38 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration’s decision to allow 50,000 Haitian earthquake victims to remain in the United States prompted gratitude from the U.S. bishops’ conference, which stressed the need for continued work to aid Haitians here and in their home country.

“While this extension is helpful, it still leaves many Haitian families in the United States in an insecure and vulnerable position, particularly with respect to ensuring legal work authorization,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said May 23.

The Department of Homeland Security’s decision extended the Obama administration’s protections for Haitians who had arrived in the U.S. within a year of the massive 2010 earthquake. They may remain with work authorizations until January 2018. Sources in the department told Reuters that Secretary John Kelly of the Department of Homeland Security believes that conditions in Haiti are improving, but Haitians in the U.S. still need protections.

At the same time, there is no commitment to extending protections past January. Officials recommended that Haitians with temporary protective status begin seeking travel documents to return to Haiti. In a May 23 letter to Secretary Kelly, Bishop Vasquez said that extending temporary protective status serves an important humanitarian role by promoting the safety and stability of Haitian families in the U.S.

“We encourage our government to work proactively with the Haitian government to provide life-saving aid and recovery assistance,” he said. “Haiti will continue to struggle to receive back those who are temporarily protected, even those who may be returned in the near future.”

The bishop said that Catholic service networks in the U.S. will continue to aid Haitian families and the rebuilding process in Haiti. These networks will also look for opportunities to collaborate with the Church in Haiti and with the U.S. and Haitian governments.

The earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 people and affected over 3.5 million more. Temporary protected status may be provided to citizens of countries that are suffering from severe violence, disease and natural disasters. At present countries designated for that status include Sudan, Somalia, Syria, El Salvador, Nepal, and Yemen, Reuters reports.

Cardinal Zen urges prayer for Christians in China

Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017 / 12:43 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As Chinese Catholics celebrate the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, Cardinal Joseph Zen has asked for prayers on behalf of Christians in the country, who often face difficulty and even persecution for their faith.

“In the history of the Church, Our Lady, Help of Christians always came to help the Church in difficulty,” Cardinal Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, told CNA in an interview, adding that this help has always been particularly strong when attached to the rosary. Noting how the Church is celebrating the centenary year of the apparitions in Fatima, he noted that in her appearances there Mary “came to ask for prayer.” “Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady, Help of Christians, they are really interested, concerned or maybe even worried about the situation of the Church, especially in the places where there is no freedom of religion,” he said. “So please intensify your prayer – this is only thing we can do, and the only thing most useful and efficacious.”

Cardinal Zen, 85, is one of the most prominent Catholic voices in China, and is outspoken when it comes to the country and it’s Christian population. He spoke ahead of the May 24 feast of Mary, Help of Christians, who is highly venerated among Chinese Catholics. Sheshan Basilica in Shanghai is dedicated to her, where she is also known as Our Lady of Sheshan.

Cardinal Zen recalled that in a letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, Benedict XVI “composed a wonderful prayer” to Our Lady of Sheshan, suggesting that May 24 could become her permanent feast, and asking that it be a day of prayer dedicated to the Church in China. In his letter, Benedict said the day is “an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China.”

As the feast is celebrated, then, Cardinal Zen voiced his hope that Catholics throughout the world would pray for Christians in China, who often face persecution for their beliefs while living in an atheistic culture. When it comes to Vatican relations with China, ever since the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, the Holy See has had a reduced diplomatic presence in Beijing, with the nunciature being moved to Taiwan in 1951. China-Vatican relations have been cool ever since, but with some apparent thaws.

After Benedict XVI’s letter in 2007, a series of bishops’ appointments approved both by the Chinese government and the Holy See took place. The Church in China, however, is still in a difficult situation. The government of the Chinese People’s Republic never recognized the Holy See’s authority to appoint bishops. Instead, it established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (PA), which is a sort of ecclesiastical hierarchy officially recognized by the Chinese authorities.

In his letter, Benedict said the PA was “incompatible with Catholic doctrine,” since in their assemblies, held every few years, both legitimate and illegitimate bishops were treated equally by the PA, particularly regarding the sacraments. For this reason, Chinese bishops recognized by the Holy See entered a clandestine state, thus giving life to the so called “underground Church” that is not recognized by the government. But despite the hiccups that still exist, the Vatican has been working diligently to come to an agreement with the Chinese government, particularly regarding the appointment of bishops.

Talks with China are currently centered on bishop appointments, but as of now haven’t touched the possibility of establishing diplomatic ties. The deal currently on the table would essentially allow the government to pick a list candidates for the episcopacy and propose them the names to the Pope for approval or denial. For Cardinal Zen, the danger of this that it leaves open the possibility that the Pope will either be forced to approve a “bad bishop,” or his denial could be vetoed by the Chinese government.  

Whereas currently the Vatican sends a list of potential candidates to China to approve or deny, in the new deal it would be the clergy who elect candidates, and the Pope giving the final word on people who may or may not be government stooges. Cardinal Zen said that while accurate information on the deal is hard to find, at the moment “it seems to be stopped,” which in his opinion is good news, because “the whole initiative starts from the government of China and the Holy Father has only the last word. But the last word may not be enough.”

Right now in China “there is no freedom, so people cannot speak out, and those who speak out, it means they have too good of a relationship with the government,” he said, adding that those vocally in favor “seem to hope in this agreement which may confirm their situation of privilege.”

“So I try to tell the people that no deal is better than a bad deal,” he said. “They should really consider the real good of the Church and not just to have an agreement at any cost.”

His recent comments echoed those he made to CNA earlier this year. Cardinal Zen said he would “never criticize the Pope,” and that what he wants above all is for “everybody to be rational.” “But I hope the people around the Pope stop giving him bad advice, because the Pope really needs to know the reality, and the reality is that there is no freedom, the reality is that we cannot see any goodwill on the part of Beijing government,” he said. “They are still controlling the Church and they want to control it even more.”

“To the Chinese Catholics I say: let us raise our gaze to Mary our Mother, so that she help us to discern the will of God regarding the Church’s concrete path in China and sustain us in welcoming with generosity her project of love.” “May Mary encourage us to offer our personal contribution for communion among believers and for the harmony of society as a whole,” he said, urging Chinese Catholics not to forget to “bear witness to the faith with prayer and with love, always remaining open to encounter and dialogue.”

Pope Francis: Even in the darkest moments, Jesus walks with us

Vatican City, May 24, 2017 / 08:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that no matter what trials we might face, we have hope because Jesus is always by our side, just like he was for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. “All of us, in our lives, have had difficult, dark times; moments in which we have walked sad, thoughtful, without horizons and (with) only a wall in front,” Pope Francis said May 24.

However, even in these moments “Jesus is always beside us to give us hope, warm the heart and say, ‘Go ahead, I'm with you. Go ahead,’” the Pope said, adding that “the secret of the road leading to Emmaus is all here: even through unfavorable appearances, we continue to be loved.”

The Pope met with thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience, immediately following his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. Francis said that no matter what, God always wants the best for us and “will walk with us.” “Even in the most painful moments, even in the worst moments, even in moments of defeat: the Lord is there. And this is our hope. Let's go ahead with that hope! Because he is next to us and walks with us always!”

The Pope reflected on hope as it is found in the story of Christ’s appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when they feel sad, discouraged and defeated because Jesus has been killed, but they do not yet know about his Resurrection. All of their hopes from before the crucifixion have been shattered, but this is because they “cultivated only human hope,” Francis said.

It is on this scene that Jesus appears. “This scenario – the road – had already been important in the accounts of the Gospels,” he explained, but “now it will become even more, as they begin to recount the story of the Church.” This encounter of Jesus with the disciples seems “fortuitous,” he said, in the way it resembles the many times we are carrying our own crosses or burdens of sorrow and disappointment.

But Jesus joins them, even though they do not recognize him, and he begins what Pope Francis called a “therapy of hope.” The first step in this therapy, he said, is to “ask and listen: our God is not an intrusive God. Even though he already knows the reason for the disappointment of those two, he leaves them time to be able to gauge the depth of the bitterness that he has undergone.”

Then, listening to their words, we hear “a chorus of human existence: ‘We hoped, but…We hoped, but….’” “How much sadness, how many defeats, how many failures there are in each person's life!” the Pope said, noting that “we are all a bit like those two disciples.” “How many times in life we hoped, how many times we felt a step away from happiness, and then we found ourselves disappointed,” he asked.

“But Jesus walks with all discouraged people who go forward with head down. And walking with them, in a subtle way, he succeeds in returning hope.” When he does speak to them, Jesus does it first through the Scriptures. In the Bible, you will not find stories of “easy heroism, thunderous campaigns of conquest,” the Pope said. “True hope is never cheap: it always goes through defeats.” In fact, Francis said,

Jesus models this for us by not being the kind of leader that drags his people to victory by violently destroying his opponents. Instead, he takes a position of disdain himself. Later that same night, when the disciples have invited him to eat dinner with them, they recognize him when he breaks the bread, repeating the gesture of the first Eucharist.

“In this series of gestures, is there not the whole story of Jesus? And is there not, in every Eucharist, the sign of what the Church must be? Jesus takes us, blesses us, ‘breaks’ our lives – because there is no love without sacrifice – and offers it to others, offers it to everyone.”

Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is quick, he said, but in it we find “the fate of the Church.” “He tells us that the Christian community is not locked up in a fortified citadel, but walks in its most vital environment; namely, the road. And there it meets people, with their hopes and their disappointments, sometimes heavy.”

“The Church listens to the stories of everyone, as they emerge from the depths of personal conscience, in order then to offer the Word of Life, the testimony of love, faithful love to the end,” he concluded. “And then, the hearts of people return to burning hope.”

Coming full circle: From storybooks to spirituality

My first love was literature: novels and poetry. As a child, I loved storybooks, mysteries and adventures. In grade school, I was made to memorize poetry and loved the exercise. High school introduced me to more serious literature — Shakespeare, Kipling, Keats, Wordsworth, Browning. On the side, I still read storybooks, cowboy tales from the Old West, taken from my dad’s bookshelf.

During my undergraduate university years, literature was a major part of the curriculum and I learned then that literature wasn’t just about stories, but also about social and religious commentary. It was also about form and beauty, as ends in themselves. In classes we then read classic novels: “1984,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Heart of Darkness,” “The Heart of the Matter,” “East of Eden.” The curriculum at that time in Canada heavily favored British writers. Only later, on my own, would I discover the richness in Canadian, American, African, Indian, Russian and Swedish writers. I had been solidly catechized in my youth and, while the catechism held my faith, literature held my theology.

But after literature came philosophy. As part of preparation for ordination we were required to earn a degree in philosophy. I was blessed with some fine teachers and fell into first fervor in terms of my love of philosophy. The courses then heavily favored Scholasticism (Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas), but we were also given a sound history of philosophy and a basic grounding in Existentialism and some of the contemporary philosophical movements. I was smitten; philosophy became my theology.

But after philosophy came theology. After our philosophical studies, we were required to earn a four-year degree in theology prior to ordination. Again, I was blessed with good teachers and blessed to be studying theology just as Vatican II and a rich new theological scholarship were beginning to penetrate theological schools and seminaries. There was theological excitement aplenty, and I shared in it. In Roman Catholic circles, we were reading Congar, Rahner, Schillebeeckx, Schnackenburg and Raymond Brown. Protestant circles were giving us Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr and a bevy of wonderful Scripture scholars. The faith of my youth was finally finding the intellectual grounding it had forever longed for. Theology became my new passion.

But after theology came spirituality. After ordination, I was given the opportunity to study for a graduate degree in theology. That degree deepened immeasurably my love for and commitment to theology. It also landed me a teaching job, and for the next six years I taught theology at a graduate level. These were wonderful years; I was where I most wanted to be — in a theology classroom. However, during those six years, I began to explore the writings of the mystics and tentatively launch some courses in spirituality, beginning with a course on the great Spanish mystic John of the Cross.

My doctoral studies followed those years, and while I focused on systematic theology, writing my thesis in the area of natural theology, something had begun to shift in me. I found myself more and more, both in teaching and writing, shifting more into the area of spirituality, so much so that after a few years I could no longer justify calling some of my former courses in systematic theology by their old catalogue titles. Honesty compelled me now to name them courses in spirituality.

And what is spirituality? How is it different from theology? At one level, there’s no difference. Spirituality is, in effect, applied theology. They are of one and the same piece, either ends of the same sock. But here’s a difference: Theology defines the playing field, defines the doctrines, distinguishes truth from falsehood and seeks to enflame the intellectual imagination. It is what it classically claims itself to be: faith seeking understanding.

But, rich and important as that is, it’s not the game. Theology makes up the rules for the game, but it doesn’t do the playing or decide the outcome. That’s the role of spirituality, even as it needs to be obedient to theology. Without sound theology, spirituality always falls into unbridled piety, unhealthy individualism and self-serving fundamentalism. Only good, rigorous, academic theology saves us from these.

But without spirituality, theology too easily becomes only an intellectual aesthetics, however beautiful. It’s one thing to have coherent truth and sound doctrine, it’s another thing to give that actual human flesh — on the streets, in our homes and inside our own restless questioning and doubt. Theology needs to give us truth; spirituality needs to break open that truth.

And so I’ve come full circle: From the storybooks of my childhood, through the Shakespeare of high school, through the novelists and poets of my undergraduate years, through the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, through the theology of Rahner and Tillich, through the Scripture scholarship of Raymond Brown and Ernst Kasemann, through the hermeneutics of the Post-Modernists of my postgraduate years, through 40 years of teaching theology — I’ve landed where I started: still searching for good stories that feed the soul.

 

Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. 
His website is www.ronrolheiser.com

 

ISIS ally in Philippines storms Catholic cathedral, takes hostages

Marawi, Philippines, May 24, 2017 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Islamic State-allied militants in the Philippines have taken a Catholic priest and a group of church-goers hostage, threatening to kill them if the nation’s military does not cease its current offensive against them. The hostages were taken during a militant siege in the southern Philippines city of Marawi on Tuesday and Wednesday. Militants also burned the Catholic cathedral of Marawi.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounced the hostage-taking. He said the priest and the hostages had no involvement in the conflict between the military and the militants. “He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none,” the archbishop said. “His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict.” The country’s Catholic bishops have urged prayers for the captured priest and the other hostages in the area.

While the majority of the Philippines is Catholic, they make up only a small percentage of the population in Marawi, a mostly Muslim city of about 200,000 people, located on the island of Mindanao. About 100 armed militants moved through Marawi on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. They beheaded a police chief and burned buildings, including the bishop’s residence. They raised the black flag of the Islamic State group while also taking the hostages.

Responsible for the attack is the Maute group, a clan-based group with members in Marawi. It is one of under a dozen new armed Muslim groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIS. The groups have formed a loose alliance, reportedly led by Isnilon Hapilon, a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group. The militants’ siege of Marawi followed an army raid on the hideout of Hapilon. The militant leader has pledged allegiance to ISIS and the United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Bishop Edwin de la Peña of Marawi was not at home at the time of the attack, but his secretary is reportedly among the hostages. He received a phone call from a militant who used his secretary’s phone. The militant introduced himself as a member of ISIS and demanded a unilateral ceasefire. “They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise, they will kill the hostages,” Bishop de la Peña told CBCP News.

The bishop reported that he was allowed to speak with Fr. Chito Suganob, the captive priest who is the vicar general of the Territorial Prelature of Marawi, in order to make their demands clear. In addition to the priest, hostages include three church staffers and ten worshipers, the Associated Press said. Bishop de la Peña himself barely missed being taken hostage. “I was supposed to go to Marawi yesterday but I was asked to cancel my trip because of the siege,” he said.

Archbishop Villegas, the Catholic bishops’ conference president, urged prayers for peace and asked the militants to show mercy. “We call on the Maute group that claims to bear arms in the name of a Merciful and Benevolent God – the very same God we Christians worship and adore – to do the One God true honor by the mercy and benevolence that are two of our God’s most exalted attributes,” he said.

The archbishop also addressed the response of government forces, saying, “We beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration.”

President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been heavily criticized for a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs, has cut short his trip to Russia and placed all of Mindanao island under martial law. The president has sought peace talks with two large Muslim rebel groups in the country’s south but has ordered the military to destroy smaller extremist groups like the Maute. “It is difficult to root out because they are from there,” political analyst Ramon Casiple told the Associated Press. “The Mautes are embedded in the population.”

The group was blamed for a September 2016 bombing that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, the president’s hometown. A military raid on their jungle camp last month reportedly found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms, and passports of suspected Indonesian militants.