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Vatican City, Apr 21, 2019 / 04:56 am (CNA).- Christ’s resurrection ushers in a new world – one of peace, love, and fraternity, Pope Francis said on Easter Sunday, as he prayed for the many people who are suffering throughout the world.
“Christ is alive and he remains with us. Risen, he shows us the light of his face, and he does not abandon all those experiencing hardship, pain and sorrow,” Pope Francis said April 21.
“Yet Easter is also the beginning of the new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death: the world open at last to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love, peace and fraternity.”
Pope Francis gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica following Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
He forwent giving a homily at Mass this year, and instead paused for a moment of silent reflection following the Gospel.
“Urbi et Orbi” means “To the City [of Rome] and to the World” and is a special apostolic blessing given by the pope every year on Easter Sunday, Christmas, and other special occasions.
Christ’s resurrection is “the principle of new life for every man and every woman,” the pope said in his blessing, explaining that “true renewal always begins from the heart, from the conscience.”
Francis prayed for the many people throughout the world living in places experiencing conflict, tension, and violence.
Beginning with Syria, he said there is a risk of becoming resigned and indifferent to the ongoing conflict in that country and emphasized that now is the time for a renewed commitment to a political solution for the humanitarian crisis in the country.
People there are hoping for “freedom, peace and justice,” he said, urging solutions for a safe re-entry to the country for those who have been displaced, especially in Lebanon and Jordan.
The pope prayed for Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, that they would continue to “patiently persevere in their witness to the Risen Lord and to the victory of life over death.”
“May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability,” he stated.
He begged for an end to conflict and bloodshed in Libya, and for peace on the entire African conflict, particularly in the countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan.
Recalling the spiritual retreat held at the Vatican earlier this month for several religious and political leaders of South Sudan, he prayed for the opening of “a new page” in the history of the country.
Francis prayed for the peace of Easter to bring comfort to the people of the eastern regions of Ukraine.
For the American continent, he invoked the joy of the resurrection for all those experiencing difficult political and economic situations.
Underlining the situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, he asked the Lord to “grant that all those with political responsibilities may work to end social injustices, abuses and acts of violence, and take the concrete steps needed to heal divisions and offer the population the help they need.”
Let there be an end to the arms race and to the “troubling spread of weaponry,” he added.
“Before the many sufferings of our time, may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent. May he make us builders of bridges, not walls,” Francis stated.
He added: “May the Risen Christ, who flung open the doors of the tomb, open our hearts to the needs of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, and all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity.”
“Today the Church renews the proclamation made by the first disciples: ‘Jesus is risen!’ And from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, there resounds a call to praise: ‘Alleluia, Alleluia!’” he rejoiced.
Quoting from Christus vivit, his recently-published apostolic exhortation on young people, the pope said “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you.”
“However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for your to return to him and start over again.”
At the end of the blessing, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for several bombings which took place in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka Sunday morning. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in explosions at three luxury hotels and three churches.
St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Catholic parish in Negombo were targeted, as well as the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo.
Francis entrusted to the Lord those who have died and been wounded, and all who are suffering because of the attack: “I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.
The pope wished all those gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and all those participating via radio or television, a happy Easter, noting that it was on Easter Sunday 70 years ago that a pope spoke for the first time on television.
Venerable Pope Pius XII addressed the viewers of French TV, “underlining how the eyes of the Successor of Peter and the faithful could also meet through a new means of communication,” he said.
“This occasion offers me the opportunity to encourage Christian communities to use all the tools that the technique makes available to announce the good news of the risen Christ.”
Francis also thanked the donors of the flowers in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, which came from the Netherlands and Slovenia.
“Enlightened by the light of Easter, we carry the scent of the Risen Christ into the solitude, into the misery, into the suffering of so many of our brothers, reversing the stone of indifference,” he concluded.
A plenary indulgence, or the remittance of temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, is granted to those who participate in the Urbi et Orbi blessing in person or through radio, television, or the internet.
The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence must be met: the individual must be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also pray for the pope's intentions and sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.
Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 21, 2019 / 01:45 am (CNA).- At least 200 people were killed in explosions Easter morning, detonated in churches other sites across Sri Lanka. Hundreds more are reportedly injured.
At 8:45 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.
St. Anthony’s Shrine was the Catholic church targeted in Colombo, and St. Sebastian’s is the Catholic parish in Negombo.
Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The shrine is the most well-known Church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the Church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.
There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo, and explosions outside a zoo and a private home Sunday afternoon.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, called on Sri Lankans to remain “united and strong” in the face of “cowardly attacks on our people today.”
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. In recent weeks, there has been concern that Sri Lankans who had been part of the Islamic State could become a threat, as they have begun returning to the country from the Middle East, according to the BBC.
The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal; its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lanka’s Christians.
In a January 2015 visit to the country, Pope Francis urged peace and reconciliation among the country's rival factions.
“In this difficult effort to forgive and find peace, Mary is always here to encourage us, to guide us, to lead us,” the pope said Jan. 14, 2015, at the Our Lady of Madhu shrine in Sri Lanka's Mannar district.
“Just as she forgave her son's killers at the foot of his cross, then held his lifeless body in her hands, so now she wants to guide Sri Lankans to greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God's pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”
This story is developing and will continue to be updated.
Vatican City, Apr 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis said that the Risen Christ desires to “roll back the stone” that blocks the entrance to one’s heart, so that God’s light and love can enter.
“The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica April 20.
“Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?” he asked.
Pope Francis said the “stone of sin” blocks many hearts. “Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away,” he explained.
“Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death,” he said, adding that with Christ we can pass “from self-centredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence.”
“Why not prefer Jesus, the true light, to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?” Francis asked.
The Vatican Easter Vigil Mass began with the blessing of the new fire in the atrium and the blessing of the paschal candle. The pope then processed into the dark church carrying the lit candle to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness.
“Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts with his word,” he said.
Francis warned against having a “museum faith” instead of a living, “Easter faith.” Christ is “a person living today,” he said, not only a person from the past. “We encounter him in life.”
“Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Christ. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged,” he said.
Pope Francis described Christ’s love as the “one non-negotiable certitude we have in this life.”
“The Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it,” he said.
“In Easter he shows you how much he loves that life: even to the point of … experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge triumphant to tell you: ‘You are not alone; put your trust in me!’” he continued.
During the Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis administered the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist -- to eight people, from Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Albania, and Indonesia.
“Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives,” Pope Francis said. “Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.”
Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Twenty years ago, two teenagers opened gunfire outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Their massacre was premeditated and devastating; the boys also unsuccessfully planned to bomb the school with homemade explosives. They murdered 13 and wounded more than 20 others; finally they shot and killed themselves.
Twelve students and one teacher died the morning of April 20, 1999. The victims included at least four Catholics.
It was the most devastating school shooting in the United States up to that point, and would remain so until April 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, now of Philadelphia, was the shepherd of Denver at the time. More than 1,000 mourners turned out for the first three students’ funerals, over which Chaput presided.
"[Chaput] was very prompt in understanding the need to get to the scene and get to the families, the Catholic families, to provide them with support," Francis Maier, who was archdiocesan chancellor and special assistant to the archbishop at the time, told CNA in an interview.
The massacre happened at a time when school shootings were relatively rare, Maier emphasized. Columbine is in an upscale neighborhood, he noted, and it was a place where no one anticipated something like that could happen.
Maier said both secular and Church officials responded well when the shooting happened, but there were some moments at the beginning when people asked: "What do we do? How do we respond?"
“[Chaput] was engaged immediately. [The shooting] caught everyone by surprise, obviously, but he responded very promptly."
The archbishop stayed in touch with the parents of at least one of the victims for years afterward, thanks to the relationship forged in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Maier said he thought the archbishop was prepared by having been a pastor in the diocese before he was its archbishop, which he had been for 2 years in 1999.
"He had a long-lasting linkage to the event and the families that were involved," Maier said.
Maier said after the tragedy the Church was often asked how the shooting could be reconciled with the idea of a good and merciful God, and how the perpetrators— two kids— could do something like that?
"Delivering that message of God's presence and God's continuing love, obviously, was the archbishop's task,” Maier said.
“And in the funeral homilies that he preached, the counseling he gave to the families— a lot of counseling in a situation like this is just being present. Because what are you gonna say, you know? You can't say 'I know how you feel?' because you don't. And I think the archbishop understood that his presence and the presence that it represented as the Church's concern.”
The Columbine shooting prompted a national conversation about gun control and school safety.
Chaput testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on May 4, 1999. He addressed violence in media and popular culture— a widely-discussed topic in the wake of the shootings.
“The reasonable person understands that what we eat, drink, and breathe will make us healthy or sick. In like manner, what we hear and what we see lifts us up or drags us down. It forms us inside,” Chaput told the committee.
He noted that “The Matrix,” a film in theaters at that time hugely popular with teenagers, featured a great deal of firearm violence. Chaput wondered if the shooters had seen the film; and if so, he mused that “it certainly didn't deter them” from committing their violent act.
“People of religious faith have been involved in music, art, literature, and architecture for thousands of years, because we know from experience that these things shape the soul, and through the soul, they shape behavior,” Chaput said.
“Common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films, and our television has to go somewhere. It goes straight into the hearts of our children, to bear fruit in ways we cannot imagine until something like [Columbine] happens.”
Chaput emphasized his view that tragedies like Columbine emerge out of a culture in which people are not being taught to value human life.
“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes our universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes?” he wondered.
“When we multiply and glorify guns, are we surprised when kids use them? When we answer murder with more violence in the death penalty, we put the State’s seal of approval on revenge.”
“When the most dangerous place in the country is a mother’s womb, and the unborn child can have his or her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born, the body language of that message is that life is not sacred and may not be worth much at all.”
Maier agreed with Chaput’s diagnosis of the problem.
"Young people are not being formed properly in the dignity of life, and older people, adults, are deeply into self-satisfaction and license."
"The disease needs to be addressed, not the symptoms,” he said.
“Fixing it is not going to be removing one particular way of committing an evil act. People will find other means to do those things if they are committed to doing evil things. So I think the underlying culture that produces Columbine is still with us, and, if anything, it’s worse."
Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr 19, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- While the Stations of the Cross are a worldwide Lenten devotion for Catholics, the faithful in Vietnam have an additional practice that blends ancient traditional chants with Catholic prayer and meditation on the Crucifixion.
“The ‘Ngam Nguyen’ are…a unique Vietnamese Catholic practice of intoning a series of meditations recounting the Passion of Christ,” said Fr. Anthony Le Duc, national chaplain for the Vietnamese community in Thailand.
Fr. Duc told CNA that the intoned meditative chants, called “Ngam,” describe the suffering of Jesus. Designed to help people enter more deeply into the experience and emotions lived out by Christ during his Passion, they have been adapted from folk traditions integrated with prayers prepared by missionaries who came to Vietnam in the early 16 -17th century.
There are a total of 15 Ngam meditations recounting the excruciating pain and suffering that Jesus underwent as he was arrested, put on trial, and crucified at Golgotha.
These meditations differ from the traditional Stations of the Cross because they focus mainly on what occurs at the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and on the Cross at Calvary, while the stations focus largely on what happens in between these two events.
Beginning with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and concluding with Jesus’ side being pierced by a spear, the Ngam meditations seek to immerse participants into Christ’s passion.
The intoning is melodic, in accordance with the tonal nature of the Vietnamese language. Since the meditations recount the pain and suffering of Christ, the tone is extremely melancholy, which can well up emotions and often bring the listener to tears.
When intoning the meditations, the reader must follow strict rules, depending on whether there is a comma, semicolon, period or other punctuation. If the reader comes upon the name of Jesus in the text, he must bow his head.
The recitation of the Ngam meditations – either in whole or as part of a series – takes place in many Vietnamese churches every day throughout the Lenten season, either as part of a post-Mass liturgy, or as a liturgical service on its own. The devotion starts with common prayers of the Church, followed by the meditations. Between meditations, an Our Father and 10 Hail Marys are recited. On Good Friday, the liturgy concludes with a Lamentation and other prayers. The entire liturgy can take over two hours to complete.
The Vietnamese take this tradition very seriously, viewing it as both liturgy and art form. During the Lenten season, many parishes organize competitions, which only the most skilled readers dare to enter.
The reciter chants without any instrumental accompaniment. The person who goes up to intone, often stands or kneels in front of the altar with the book placed before him. On both sides, there are people to follow his reading. If the intoner makes a mistake, the judge strikes a wooden instrument. If he makes three mistakes, he must leave the competition and someone else will go up to reread the meditation.
“The meditation also represents a creative adaptation of the spirituality and the liturgy of the Church to a local context,” Fr. Duc said. “And it speaks to the great collaboration between foreign missionaries in Vietnam and the local faithful in inventing this Lenten tradition that has been going on for centuries.”
European missionaries accompanying merchants on newly discovered sea routes brought the Catholic faith to Vietnam in 1533. Later in the 16th century, the arrival of many members of the Society of Jesus (SJ), Order of Preachers (OP), Order of Friars Minor (OFM) and the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) boosted evangelization efforts in the east.
These missionaries taught the truths of the Catholic faith to converted native Vietnamese catechists, who came from various religious background and cultural traditions. The natives then taught the locals Christian prayers using the local educational method of intonation of religious texts, which was used in temples and during devotional folklore chants.
In previous centuries, these meditations were written in the Vietnamese “Nôm” script, a derivation of the Chinese script. However, in the 20th century, the meditations were printed in the Vietnamese Latin script “(quoc ngu)” which made them easier to read.
Different dioceses have their own versions that may have minor differences in the wording, matching their local dialect. Apart from these differences, the texts have undergone few revisions in recent decades.
Fr. Duc explained that “Ngam Nguyen” texts employ mostly ordinary speech, even colloquial in places, done “perhaps in order to make it easy for the average faithful to understand.”
The Ngam tradition is present throughout Vietnam, as well as in migrant communities in the United States, Australia, and Thailand, among other countries.
There are more than 5.5 million Catholics in Vietnam today. In past centuries, Christians in the country have faced persecution. In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Blessed Martyrs of Vietnam, including both clergy and laity.
This article was originally published on CNA March 25, 2016.