03 May 2016

Discovering Damien on EWTN

The Little J Production Company has produced "Discovering Damien: Saint of Moloka'i," a program in which Father Nathan Cromly, C.S.J. and twenty college students set out to encounter the Leper Priest:

At one point, the  Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was going to air the hour-long program on May 10th, his feast day, but I do not now see it on the programming schedule for May 10th. It is, however, scheduled to air on Sunday, May 15th.

Be sure to check your local listings for the time of the broadcast!

6th grade student wins Tolton essay contest

The Black Catholic Initiative recently held an essay contest in the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago in which students were asked to address this topic: "Why I think or believe Father Augustus Tolton should be a saint."

The winner of the essay contest - Andre Sherley, a sixth grade student at Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy - received a tablet computer on which he can continue to write.

The Catholic New World - the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago - printed Andre's excellent essay, the conclusion of which reads as follows:
Andre Sherley
A saint is a person who helps people and continues to do God’s work — even if people try to do things to stop him. Father Tolton went through a lot of suffering during his lifetime.

He displayed patience, courage and humility while trying to live his life’s dream of becoming a priest. He is someone we can be proud of.

As an African-American Catholic, I am very proud to say he is someone I can look up to. Father Tolton was devoted to his dream and to the dream of the church. Even though it was hard, even though it was difficult, Father Tolton completed his task and continued doing the plan that God had for him.
Clearly, Andre has learned well from Father Tolton!

To preach the Gospel, consider the Beatific Vision

He preaches the Gospel of the kingdom to every creature, who in the secrecy of his heart considers how great will be the glory of standing before the Creator's face, with the blessed spirits; with them to praise him without end, and with him who is Life ever to live, and continuously rejoice with an inexpressible joy.
- Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon on the Ascension of the Lord, 5

02 May 2016

Called and Sent: Missionary Discipleship Training

When I served as Associate Director of the Office for Vocations of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, the Office for Vocations took over, for lack of a better phrase, the Catholic Leadership Institute, which had previously been the Christian Leadership Institute. We made various changes to CLI and discerned more changes were needed to better help high school-aged Catholics grow deeper in their faith.

With this in mind, Father Brian Alford, Director of the Office for Vocations, together with Mrs. Becky Bauerle and Mrs. Missy Mark, reformatted the Catholic Leadership Institute into Called and Sent: Missionary Discipleship Training and incorporated various aspects from Bishop Thomas John Paprocki's pastoral letter Ars crescendi in Dei gratia on building a culture of growth in the Church.

A promotional video for Called and Sent was released just a few days and is worth a few minutes of your time:

Called and Sent will be held this coming July 10-15 at the Villa Maria Catholic Life Center in Springfield, Illinois, for which you can download a brochure here.

01 May 2016

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - May 2016

Previous Updates: April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016 | January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015  | June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015  March 2015 | February 2015

2 May 2016
1 May 2016

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - May 2016

Previous Updates: April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016 | January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015 | June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015 | March 2015 | February 2015 | January 2015 | December 2014 | November 2014 | October 2014 | April - November 2014

4 May 2016
 3 May 2016
2 May 2016
1 May 2016

What can we do?

His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, recently published a book titled, To the Martyrs: A Reflection on the Supreme Christian Witness. I have not yet read this book, but I am looking to reading it when I find it (ordering things to be sent to Rome isn't always worth the frustration and delay that comes with it).

That said, Patti Armstrong has read the book and wrote a review of it in the National Catholic Register. The part of her review that most interests me concerns what we can do to assist those members of the Body of Christ suffering for the name of Jesus:
“When atrocities happen, there are many guilty parties,” Wuerl stated. “There are perpetrators, and there are those whom Thomas Merton called “guilty bystanders.”

He reminds us that St. Paul taught: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (Corinthians 12:26-27).

Rather than feeling powerless, Cardinal Wuerl’s book has inspired me to do more.  He offers suggestions on how every Christian can act on behalf of the suffering members of the body of Christ.
  • Pray for them Daily.  “This is the most pressing need. Are we praying that persecuted Christians will remain strong in the face of unimaginable pressures to abandon the Faith?”
  • Write Legislators and media.  Where are the voices of parliaments, congresses, campuses, business networks, community leaders talk show hosts, news programs, editorial columns, etc.?  “Each of us simply needs to use whatever forum available to make our voices heard.”
  • Contribute financially.  Give to one of the many organizations that help Christians in persecuted lands.
  • Seek out refugees in our cities and help them settle in their new home.
  • Pray for the persecutors.
  • Leave no spiritual stone unturned.  Light a candle, have Masses said, have a group rosary, offer up your own suffering, and pray the Chaplet of Mercy.  These latter suggestions are my own, but the point is, that we can pour our spiritual energy into supporting persecuted Christians.
Good recommendations, all. For your financial contributions, I recommend Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land, and the Knights of Columbus.

Please, do not forget our brothers and sisters!

More people signed a petition against Target than against the persecution of Christians

The Catholic News Agency reported yesterday that a petition with more than 400,000 signatures was presented on Friday to the office of Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations. CNA quotes the president of CitizenGO, Ignacio Arsuaga, who said the petition implores the United Nations "to declare what’s happening right now with ISIS in Syria and Iraq a genocide."

Now, you might think that such a petition with so many signatures should be a sign of hope that something may actually soon be done to stem the growing tide of persecution against Christians throughout the world. You might thank that people's hearts might finally be feeling compassion for the more than 200 million Christians enduring persecution throughout the world.

However, if you consider that more than 700,000 people signed a petition against Target for its decision to allow customers to use the restroom of their choice, one has to wonder if Christians - at least in the United States - have actually embraced the teaching of the Apostle Saint Paul that "if one member suffers, all suffer together" (I Corinthians 12:26). How can it be that more 300,000 people signed a petition against Target than signed one against the global persecution of Christians?

N.B.: I am not suggesting here that people's concerns about public restrooms is unwarranted; I think it is justified and I share some of these same concerns. However, I do not think this issue more important or of greater significance the persecution happening before our very eyes. The images and the stories are not all difficult to find, some of which the Catholic News Agency shared two days ago.

For more than two years now I've been trying not to think that the majority of people simple do not care about what is happening throughout the world. I can't understand how people could be more concerned about which celebrity is dating whom more than they care about Christians - and others - being crucified, drowned, beheaded, starved, and driven from their homes. But this seems to be the sad reality of the day, as demonstrated in one simple picture I took Friday night while the Bishop of Aleppo spoke at the Fontana di Trevi of the terrible plight of his flock:

What occupies the concerns of modern man? Himself. What will it take before our we hearts away from ourselves toward others? May it please God to so touch our hearts that our apathy turns to true compassion!

30 April 2016

The reddening of the Trevi Fountain in honor of Christian Martyrs

The international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need lit the Fontana di Trevi in red last night to draw attention to the horrific persecution many of our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus are enduring today because of their faith in the only Savior of mankind:

The color red was used to signify the blood of the martyrs. Since I mentioned the event yesterday afternoon, I thought it would be good to share something of the evening with you today.

As the evening began, the famous Trevi Fountain was bathed not in red, but in blue:

The color blue was chosen to call mind the waters that so many seeking to flee persecution must cross.

The hour-long program consisted largely of a series of brief speeches given by those who either work to assist the persecuted Christians or whose lives have been directly impacted by persecution.

We were first welcomed by Monica Mondo, a journalist who served as the Master of Ceremonies and host for the evening:

Doctor Francesco Paolo Tronca, Extraordinary Commissioner of the Capital of Rome, and Doctor Alfredo Mantovano, President of Aid to the Church in Need, offered a few words of welcome. For one reason or another, there were technical difficulties while they spoke to us and their images were not shown on the walls of the fountain.

His Eminence Paulo Cardinal Piacenza, International President of Aid to the Church in Need, next addressed us:

Following the various words of welcome, we listened to testimonies from four people who have known firsthand the persecution endured by many Christians culminating in their martyrdom. First, we heard from a Sister of the Missionaries of Charity, four of whom were killed in Yemen:

We next heard from Professor Shahid Mobeen, Founder of the Pakistani Christian Association in Italy and a friend of Shabaz Batti, who was martyred in 2011:

Maddalena Santoro, the sister of Father Andrea Santoro who was martyred in Turkey in 2006, next shared her testimony with us:

Finally, we heard from Luka Loteng, a student from Kenya who represented many of his peers studying in Garissa were many students were martyred in 2015:

After these testimonies the Fontana di Trevi was illuminated in red while a brief piece of recorded music was played in the piazza:

Once the fountain was bathed in the color of the martrys' blood, His Excellency the Most Reverend Antoine Audo, Bishop of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Aleppo, gave a powerful address, the text of which I hope to find and translate:

As each of the various speakers addressed us, people continued to come into the piazza, take their photograph of the Trevi Fountain and continue on their way. Most of the tourists paid absolutely no attention to what was happening which, if they did not understand Italian, could have been clear from the images projected onto the fountain.

One group of young Italian women posed with happy and excited expressions for their selfie while Bishop Audo addressed us about the suffering endured in Syria. Regrettably, I wasn't ready for a photograph at the time, but it would have shown a stark contrast.

This photograph shows something of the contrast, though not as clearly as the scene I mentioned would have shown:

Never mind the persecution; let me take my selfie
As the evening's program came to a close, we recited a Prayer of Blessed Pope XII for "the Church of Silence," the Italian text of which was projected in three slides on the facade of the fountain in Italian, which more or less translates into English as follows:
Blessed Pope Pius XII
O Lord Jesus, King of Martyrs, Thou art the comfort of the afflicted and firm support of all who suffer for love of Thee and by reason of their loyalty to Thy Spouse Holy Mother the Church. In Thy mercy give ear to our fervent prayers in behalf of our brethren of the "Church of Silence" that they may never be disheartened in the struggle nor waver in the faith; rather may they taste the sweetness of the consolations reserved by Thee for those souls whom Thou dost vouchsafe to number among Thy companions on the hill of the Cross.
To those who must suffer torment and violence, hunger and fatigue, be Thou the invincible strength sustaining them in their trials and assuring them of the rewards pledged by Thee to those who persevere unto the end.

Many, on the other hand, are exposed to moral constraints, which oftentimes prove much more dangerous inasmuch as they are more deceitful; to such then be Thou the light to enlighten their mind, so that they may clearly see the straight path of truth; be Thou also to them a source of strength for the support of their will so that they may triumph in every crisis and never yield to any vacillation or weakness.

Finally, there are those who find it impossible to profess their faith openly, to lead a normal Christian life, to receive the holy Sacraments frequently, and to converse familiarly with their spiritual guides. To such be Thou Thyself a hidden altar, an invisible temple, a plenitude of grace and a fatherly voice, helping and encouraging them, providing a remedy for their aching hearts and filling them with joy and peace.

May they be helped by our fervent prayer; let our fraternal solidarity assure them that they are not alone. May their example redound to the edification of the whole Church; especially may it be profitable to us who regard them with so much affection.

Grant, O Lord, that their period of trial be shortened and that very soon all, including also their converted oppressors, may enjoy the freedom of serving and worshipping Thee, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.
Special thanks to a minor friar for his help not only in tracking down the Italian text of the prayer, but also for providing a link to the English translation given above.

Once the evening program was finished, I stayed around for a few moments to take a few more pictures, my favorite of which is this one because it shows a nun next to a security guard:

The security presence for the evening was more than it normally is at the Trevi Fountain, but not what I expected it to be given the four arrests made on Thursday.

As I walked back toward the Casa Santa Maria, which is very near the Fontana di Trevi, I turned back for one last photograph:

29 April 2016

Trevi Fountain to be lit in red to stir people to concern for persecuted Christians throughout the world

For reasons I will never quite understand, the Fontana di Trevi is among the principle stops tourists make on their visits to Rome (it wouldn't be on my list of the top ten things to see). Though they rarely make a visit to the beautiful Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (which is on my list), they always make a stop at the Trevi Fountain:

Certainly the Fontana di Trevi is a beautiful monument and an impressive work of sculpture, but, to my mind, it's just an oversized fountain. Tonight, however, it will be more than just a fountain; it will be a wake-up call as it is bathed in red light.

The illumination of the Fontana di Trevi is a project of the Italian branch of Aid to the Church in Need. Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the direction of the Holy Father to provide material and spiritual assistance to persecuted Catholics throughout the world. It is my favorite charity and one I implore you to support

The purpose of illuminating the Fontana di Trevi is to call attention to the great suffering of Christians throughout the world because of their faith:
The announcement of tonight's event also expresses  "so many of our persecuted brothers are forgotten they will be grateful, because your presence will represent them, giving them full visibility in the public arena. Many voices will merge into a single choir, and our choir in the background of the magnificent Roman Fountain purpled [the Italian original uses the color purple instead of red], hopefully can sing the prelude to a lasting and concrete reaction at each location, so that the persecuted of the twenty-first century can return as soon as possible to enjoy full of their natural right to religious freedom.
We help the Church in need!
As Aid to the Church in Need is joined by other non-governmental organizations to draw the attention of everyone who passes by to the suffering of so many people, the call will be heard to heed the words of the Apostle Saint Paul - who suffered and gave his life for his faith in Jesus Christ in this very city: "Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good" (Romans 12:21).

The situation is much worse than most people have any idea of (only because they aren't really paying attention). Nina Shea recently summarized the suffering endured by our brothers and sisters worldwide:
This threat has become existential for various Christian communities in Asia and Africa. In northern Nigeria, worshippers are slaughtered in their churches and in their living rooms. In Kenya, Christians have been hunted out and killed for their religion in their university dorm rooms, at shopping malls, and on public buses. In Libya, it was the Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian Christian migrants who were singled out and beheaded. In Pakistan, Christian families were blown up while celebrating Easter in a park. In Yemen last month, the nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity were tied up, shot to death and mutilated; their staff was murdered and their priest, the last surviving Christian in the port city of Aden, was kidnapped. For the past three days, at the outset of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Christian quarter in Aleppo has come under jihadi siege though there are no military installations there—only defenseless civilians.

And then there is the religious genocide facing Christians throughout ISIS controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, where, for the first time in two millennia, no functioning church, cleric, or intact Christian community—whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—can be found. While all faith groups are suffering in these conflicts, the Christian communities are being wiped out in targeted attacks [more].
The program will begin at 8:00 p.m. with a series of speeches by those involved in the assistance of persecuted Christians (including the Bishop of Aleppo), a full list is available here (in Italian). At 8:40 p.m. the fountain will be illumined in red, which will be accompanied by music and images of persecuted Christians. I expect a great many couples out for a romantic stroll will be somewhat taken aback. Indeed, Nina Shea rightly suggests that Aid to the Church in Need hopes "that the coin tossing, selfie-taking throngs of tourists, as the frivolous Western public at large, will be given pause, if only briefly, to contemplate the surging pattern of mass murder of Christians purely for reasons of faith, largely by Islamists."

The program will conclude with the Prayer of Blessed Pope Pius XII for the persecuted Church. I have not been able to find an explicit prayer composed by Pius XII for the persecuted Church, so I suspect what will be recited tonight is the later part of his Encyclical Letter Meminisse iuvat on prayers for the persecuted Church.

Ordinarily I avoid going by the Fontana di Trevi like the plague, especially on weekends when it is even more crowded and congested than usual. Tonight, however, I will make a exception.

Please, join me in helping the Church in need!

Four arrested for Islamic State terror plot against Rome and the Vatican

Italian authorities arrested four people yesterday in Northern Italy for plotting attacks against Italy and the Vatican City State under the direction of the Islamic State. Those arrested were
  • Abderrahim Moutahrrick, a Moroccan kick boxer with Italian citizenship who received a message that read, "Dear brother Abderrahim, I send you... the bomb poem... listen to the sheik [Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi] and strike";
  • Salma Bencharki, Moutahrrick's wife;
  • Abderrahmane Khachia, a 23-year-old Moroccan who said "I want to hit Israel in Rome"; 
  • and the sister of Mohamed Koraichi, a Moroccan who was in communication with Moutahrrick and is believed to be in Syria with his Italian wife (arrest warrants have been issued for Koraichi and his wife).
Commenting on the arrests, Maurizio Romanelli, a Milan-based prosecutor, explained the significance of the plot that led to the arrests:
This is a new profile, because it was not a generic indication, but an indication given to a specific person who was invited to act within the territory of the Italian state [more].
Romanelli also called the attacks "very strong, very serious and very efficient."

This acknowledgement - and the arrests - came just two days after Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University, claimed, "There's not really a 'jihadist scene' in Italy...there are no big recruitment areas for Isis [sic]." I suppose this only shows the so-called experts do not always know everything.

It was only four days ago that James R. Clapper, Jr., Director of National Intelligence, warned of the Islamic State's growth in Europe.

The arrests also come just nine days after German authorities warned of possible attacks at Italian beaches this summer, which Italian authorities quickly denied.

Yesterday's arrests also follow a series of other arrests in recent months and several threats made against Rome and the Vatican, about which I have written previously.

For more details about the arrests, you can consult these articles:

27 April 2016

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - April 2016

Previous Updates: March 2016 | February 2016 | January 2016 | December 2015 | November 2015 | October 2015 | September 2015 | August 2015 | July 2015  | June 2015 | May 2015 | April 2015  March 2015 | February 2015

28 April 2016
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26 April 2016
23 April 2016
22 April 2016
20 April 2016
18 April 2016
17 April 2016
14 April 2016
13 April 2016
12 April 2016
6 April 2016
4 April 2016
2 April 2016