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Pope adds teen to list of saints to be declared during synod on youth

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis added an Italian teenager to the list of people he will formally recognize as saints Oct. 14 during the monthlong meeting of the world Synod of Bishops on young people.

During an "ordinary public consistory" July 19, Pope Francis announced he would declare Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio a saint the same day he will canonize Blesseds Oscar Romero, Paul VI and four others. An ordinary public consistory is a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process.

Sulprizio was born April 13, 1817, in the Abruzzo region near Pescara. Both of his parents died when he was an infant and his maternal grandmother, who raised him, died when he was nine.

An uncle took him under his guardianship and had the young boy work for him in his blacksmith shop. However, the work was too strenuous for a boy his age and he developed a problem in his leg, which became gangrenous.

A military colonel took care of Sulprizio, who was eventually hospitalized in Naples. The young teen faced tremendous pain with patience and serenity and offered up his sufferings to God.   

He died in Naples in 1836 at the age of 19. He was declared blessed in 1963 by Blessed Paul VI, who will be canonized together with the teen.

During the ceremony, Blessed Paul had said, "Nunzio Sulprizio will tell you that the period of youth should not be considered the age of free passions, of inevitable falls, of invincible crises, of decadent pessimism, of harmful selfishness. Rather, he will rather tell you how being young is a grace."

Together with Blesseds Paul and Romero, Sulprizio will be canonized along with: Father Francesco Spinelli of Italy, founder of the Sisters Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament; Father Vincenzo Romano, who worked with the poor of Naples, Italy, until his death in 1831; Mother Catherine Kasper, the German founder of the religious congregation, the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ; and Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, the Spanish founder of the Congregation of the Missionary Crusaders of the Church.

The Oct. 14 date for the canonizations had already been announced during an ordinary public consistory in mid-May.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Chairman of U.S Bishops’ Conference Committee on Pro-Life Activities Calls for National Prayer Effort That Every Human Being is Protected In Law And Welcomed in Life

 WASHINGTON— Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement today inviting all people of good will to join in a prayer campaign that the change in the U.S. Supreme Court will move our nation closer to the day when every human being is protected in law and welcomed in life.

Cardinal Dolan's full statement follows:

"As soon as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, pro-abortion groups began lobbying the U.S. Senate to reject any nominee who does not promise to endorse Roe v. Wade. While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does not support or oppose the confirmation of any presidential nominee, we can and should raise grave concerns about a confirmation process which is being grossly distorted by efforts to subject judicial nominees to a litmus test of support for Roe v. Wade. And we must pray.

Each Friday, from August 3 - September 28, 2018, I urge all people of good will to join me in prayer that this change in the U.S. Supreme Court will move our nation closer to the day when every human being is protected in law and welcomed in life. The USCCB Call to Prayer network will share prayers and educational resources and an invitation to fast on Fridays for this intention.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe intercede for the healing of our nation and our people from decades of abortion on demand."

Call to Prayer materials will be accessible at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/take-action-now/call-to-prayer/legal-protection-of-human-life.cfm. Those wishing to join this nine-week prayer effort can sign up at www.usccb.org/pray to participate in this and subsequent Call to Prayer initiatives via email or text message.

Media Contact:

Judy Keane

202-541-3200


Texas bishops join event to support migrants, highlight church teaching

IMAGE: CNS photo/Loren Elliott, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During a time when immigrants around the country have come under attack, the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, and representatives from other dioceses in Texas and nearby New Mexico are joining a variety of faith groups in a show of support and solidarity for migrants in their communities.

"Be a light in the times of darkness," said El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz in a YouTube video posted July 18 announcing an interfaith procession in El Paso on July 20, which will be joined by faith leaders from the Presbyterian, Unitarian, Lutheran, Muslim, Baha'i and indigenous Tigua traditions. A vigil following the procession will feature testimony from separated families.

The second day, which focuses on the church's teaching on migrants, will begin with a Mass celebrated by the bishops in attendance and includes a keynote speech by a Vatican representative, a social justice drama by the youth of the diocese, as well suggestions for how to offer hospitality to migrants.

Father Robert Stark, of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, will participate as a keynote speaker. Other Catholic bishops from dioceses nearby plan to attend, including Bishop Edward J. Burns and Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of Dallas, as well as Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

"You may have heard in the news about the pain, the violation of human rights and the suffering of our migrant brothers and sisters in our border communities," said Bishop Seitz in the video. "I'm calling on all our parishes, parishioners and clergy to put their faith into action."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Alvare: Society needs church's 'gorgeous prescriptions for human love'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Dan Rogers

By Valerie Schmalz

NAPA, Calif. (CNS) -- Americans continue to pursue "this ridiculous path" of "unlinking sex and marriage and kids, while calling what is actually falling apart 'flying,'" said one of America's foremost Catholic feminist thinkers.

"All the while (they're) hurtling toward a collision with the ground," said Helen Alvare, founder of the activist movement Women Speak for Themselves and a law professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia.

"Kids are hitting rock bottom with suicide and opioid use" as serial cohabitation and plummeting numbers of marriages signal the disintegration of a relational society, she said in a talk July 12 at the Napa Institute's eighth annual conference in Northern California's wine country.

But there are signs of hope in the "huge growth of hashtags, movements ' straining toward solidarity," Alvare said.

"There are opportunities for the church to narrow the gap between our current contemporary situation and the church's gorgeous prescriptions for human love," she said.

Movements such as Black Lives Matter, those that work for immigrant rights and #MeToo demonstrate we live in a "society that wants diversity and solidarity next to each other. I hope we can see these are a reflection of the radical need for solidarity, the need to love -- a message we can endorse," Alvare said.

"Where do we get the first message about solidarity and diversity? I don't know -- Genesis?" said Alvare, referring to the creation of man and woman in the first book of the Bible.

Effective Catholic communication needs to meet people where they are and it must discard "church talk," arcane terms such as "procreative and unitive," Alvare said in her keynote address at the July 11-15 Napa Institute conference.

"We have to give plainspoken answers," for instance, about contraception, said Alvare.

"If you disassociate where God chose to put babies" from a committed marriage, "do you realize what that does to the relationship between you and the man -- it severs tomorrow," Alvare said.

"Contraception severs sex from tomorrow and that's why we oppose it," said the law professor. She noted that in reversing the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate, the Trump administration lifted 30 paragraphs of her law journal article disproving the factual underpinnings of the mandate.

Alvare's audience included German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller, who was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017; John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America in Washington; and Bishop Steven J. Lopes of the Houston-based Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Catholic Church's U.S. ordinariate for former Anglicans.

The Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges posed by a secular America, according to its website. Alvare's talk was inspired by the day's theme of the 50th anniversary of Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae."

There are signs all around that people are concerned about the fallout from the sexual revolution, Alvare said. "The sexual revolution is not itself a reasoned revolution. The people who invented it did not invent it out of reason," said the married mother of three children, now teenagers and young adults.

"Children are speaking up," wearing T-shirts "My Daddy's name is donor," she noted. "Hook-up" books are a genre of teen literature that talk about how bad it feels, she said.

Both the left-leaning Brookings Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation acknowledge the harms of family instability, she said. "Too many smart academics have pointed out that family structure ' is actually the largest part of the social and economic gap between rich and poor, between white and black," and even between men and women.

Several recent academic studies indicate boys suffer more than girls if raised by a single mother, said Alvare, citing separate works by economists Raj Chetty of Stanford University and David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Autor found that especially black boys raised by a single mother in a poor neighborhood tend to fall behind their sisters by kindergarten and the achievement gap widens as they go through school, Alvare said, surmising "girls are looking at Mom and seeing Mom does it all."

"Today we are seeing that Americans are not willing to adopt the claim that the sexual revolution was a complete hands down win," Alvare said. "Nobody thought we would reach the possibility of a fifth justice with as much of the country on our side as we have," Alvare said.

She was referring to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring.

To counter the falsehoods of the sexual revolution, "the winning argument is relationship," Alvare said. To say: "You think that is the way to get there, but this is not going to get you there." That is because, Alvare said, "ultimately our desire is for the love of an infinite God."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Amigos for Christ continues work in Nicaragua amid political turmoil

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Amigos for Christ

By Priscilla Greear

BUFORD, Ga. (CNS) -- The Buford-based Amigos for Christ nonprofit serving Nicaragua's poorest has canceled all summer mission trips due to an upsurge in violence in the Central American country.

Yet, several Nicaraguan churches near the organization's Chinandega headquarters have stepped in to serve their neighbors and partner with Amigos to finish construction of 100 modern bathrooms and a clean water system for El Pedregal village.

"We normally have about 1,800 people come down each year, and we've had to postpone the trips until we can tell people it's going to be OK to travel," said executive director John Bland from the group's headquarters, a three-hour drive from the capital, Managua.

Human rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the country's social security system. Catholic clergy have been attacked and anti-government protesters are besieged by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries.

Despite the turmoil, conditions remain relatively calm and peaceful around Chinandega and daily operations continue.

"Here in Chinandega we're able to get around without any problems," and Amigos asked local churches and organizations if they would be interested in doing one-day mission trips to help in El Pedregal, said Bland. "It's been phenomenal to see people ' taking time away from their work, which is tough, to come and work in other communities."

El Pedregal is the 18th community in Nicaragua served by Amigos. Families had no running water and their hand-dug shallow wells all contained E. coli, contaminated from nearby latrines. While treating residents for diarrhea, intestinal parasites and severe dehydration, Amigos also is providing clean water.

"We drill a deep well about 160 feet, and we've got good clean water so we're going to pump that into a tank and distribute through pipes and gravity to everybody's home," said Bland, who lives in Nicaragua with his family.

Visiting his home parish in Atlanta in late June, Bland said there are some "basic things that are barriers in people's lives to growth," such as having clean water or a school to go to.

"When the local people are able to serve other people to eliminate those barriers, they in turn get to see people grow," he said at Marietta's Transfiguration Church, which had to cancel its planned mission trip with nearly 60 participants.

"We're trying to model Jesus, and his model was to make disciples and those disciples go out and make other disciples, and we're doing the same thing through service," he said.

Thinking long term, Amigos has always invested first in local community leadership to make projects sustainable, said Bland. And they've either built schools or supported existing schools in partnership with Nicaragua's ministry of education with a goal to get kids to complete at least high school. Amigos stays apolitical amidst the protests.

"Whenever we work with a community with no school ' one of the first projects we do is to build a school," said Bland. Amigos focuses on attractive physical structures "so that the kids really want to go" to school, "because we know that education is going to change the country for the long term."

Also, farmers are going greener through crop diversification and organic certification. "We're growing dragon fruit, a lot of papaya, getting farmers access to capital and helping them have access to market," he said. "We're going to be investing heavily in that over the next 10 years."

Amigos has come a long way since Bland, a former software engineer, established the nonprofit in 1999 as an outgrowth of a youth mission project through Prince of Peace Church in Flowery Branch. The nonprofit now has 116 employees, a $3.6 million operating budget and an extensive network of churches across the United States. About 80 percent of Amigos' workers are Nicaraguan, which is a key to growth and sustainability, said Bland.

Board member and Prince of Peace parishioner Sue LaFave has participated in mission trips to Nicaragua every year since 2002, most recently leading a team from her parish over spring break.

She even owns a home a few blocks from the nonprofit's headquarters and eagerly awaits a return to Chinandega.

On her first trip, LaFave accompanied her teen daughter and others from Prince of Peace. Since then she has taken her niece and nephews and many parish teens.

It is the Nicaraguan people who inspire her to continue service.

"Their humility and their strong faith set such a great example for my daughter when we first went and for me always. They are so grateful for the hand up that we give them. ' We are the Lord's hands and feet when we go to Nicaragua," she told The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

LaFave, who said she has never felt unsafe in Chinandega, first met the Narvaez family when they lived in a plastic shack with a tin roof near the city trash dump. She worked side by side with the family and other Amigos to relocate them to a new home in Villa Catalina. Now living in a decent home with running water, the mother has a small business and her children attend an afterschool program called Teatro Catalina.

"I now see them being very successful in their daily lives, and it makes me very happy," said LaFave.

And she sees firsthand the difference having clean running water makes to the 18 communities served by Amigos. Parents would spend half their day fetching water instead of looking for employment, and children would babysit siblings instead of attending school, she recalled.

Sharing faith through action has profoundly impacted LaFave.

"Every shovel full of dirt that I've dug ' helps me to understand that we can't always do big things, but every little thing adds up to something big. I see the Lord there," she said.

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Greear writes for The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pulled from the sea, migrant's rescue puts spotlight on Italian policy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Juan Medina, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Tweeting with hashtags that translate as "Closed ports" and "Open hearts," Italy's interior minister disputed claims that the Italian government was complicit in leaving a migrant to die in the Mediterranean Sea as she clung to a board from a destroyed fishing boat.

Matteo Salvini, the minister, has given strong support to Italy's policy of having the Libyan coast guard patrol its own shores, pushing back refugee boats or taking the migrants and refugees back to camps in Libya.

He also has worked to prevent rescue boats from docking in Italy until other European countries agree to take a share of the migrants onboard.

Salvini and others credit the Italian policy with leading to a sharp decline in the number of migrants and refugees arriving on Italy's shores. The 17,838 migrants and refugees who arrived between Jan. 1 and July 18 represent an 86.5 percent decline from the number of arrivals in the same period in 2017 and an 84.8 percent decline compared to the same period in 2016, according to figures compiled by the Department of Public Security and posted on the Interior Ministry website July 18.

But the numbers did not bump from the front pages of Italian newspapers the photographs of Josefa, a migrant from Cameroon, being pulled from the Mediterranean July 17 by rescuers from the Spanish organization Proactiva Open Arms. The organization said it also pulled from the water the dead bodies of a woman and a child.

The organization accused the Libyan coast guard of attacking the boat the refugees were on and leaving some of the migrants to die.

A Libyan official said it intercepted a boat with 158 people on board July 16; the migrants were transferred to a coast guard vessel, given food and medical attention and returned to Libya. The boat was destroyed to prevent other smugglers from using it, the Libyans said.

After Proactiva accused the Italian government of being complicit in the abandonment of Josefa and in the deaths of the two people pulled from the sea, Salvini on Twitter accused the organization of "lies and insults" and said that what happened "confirms we are right: reducing the number of departures and arrivals means reducing deaths, reducing the earnings of those who speculate on clandestine immigration."

Salvini, who has been deputy prime minister and interior minister since June 1, has insisted on a hardline policy limiting immigration. The policy relies both on turning migrants and refugees back to Libya and on forcing member countries of the European Union to contribute to the care of migrants and refugees, who tend to reach land in Italy, Greece, Malta or Spain.

Like other church commentators, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, the Geneva-based secretary-general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, noted how Salvini's actions and comments came so close to the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' first trip outside of Rome as pope. The pope visited the island of Lampedusa, a major port for migrants and refugees, and he prayed there for the thousands of people who lost their lives at sea in the search for peace and a better life.

"I am left with the haunting question cited by Pope Francis, 'Cain, where is your brother?'" Msgr. Vitillo said in an email response to questions July 18. "While states and civil society have spent countless hours in consultations and negotiations, how many more precious and invaluable lives are being lost? While we continue to fight over 'burden sharing,' how much do we recognize the contributions of refugees and migrants to host populations who welcome them? Why aren't we talking about 'resource sharing' instead of 'responsibility sharing'?"

As for the claim that Proactiva and other NGOs rescuing the migrants at sea actually entice people to set out and make smugglers' jobs easier since they increase the possibility of a safe passage, Msgr. Vitillo suggested people making that claim need to speak with some of the migrants and refugees "who felt forced to leave their homelands in order to seek safety, security, freedom and dignity elsewhere."

Ordained in 1972 for the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, Msgr. Vitillo said he has worked with hundreds of refugees and migrants in his 46 years as a priest.

"I spent much time in refugee camps and migrant processing centers," he said. Most of the people "have told me how much they would have preferred to stay at home. Many of the refugees have shared with me the horrors of their frequent and unsuccessful attempts to leave their home countries because they saw no other way to survive."

Today, he said, "forced migrants reveal the same circumstances --- they are responding to basic needs for survival, not any lure of 'search and rescue' boats!"

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Nicaraguan bishops to pray for exorcism as violence continues

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters

By

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNS) -- Police and paramilitaries in Nicaragua have attacked another parish in an indigenous community as churches and clergy come under attack for trying to protect populations protesting authoritarian rule.

Gunfire and was directed at Mary Magdalene Parish in Monimbo, "where the priest is seeking shelter," tweeted Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez July 17.

Later in the day he tweeted, "I have suffered and I have prayed intensely for my city of Masaya and the beloved barrio of Monimbo. There still is not clear news. What is clear is that Monimbo, even hurt, lives and today obtained a great moral victory of courage and love of the homeland."

Father Augusto Gutierrez, pastor at Mary Magdalene Parish, told Spanish radio: "It's been four hours of attack with heavy military weapons, destroying churches. ' It's genocide. There's no other name for it."

Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua, said in an message July 17: "Violence cannot solve the political crisis and guarantee future peace in Nicaragua. Crying for the dead and praying for their families, I call the consciences of everyone to truce and a return to the national dialogue."

As attacks on Catholic clergy continued and anti-government protesters were besieged by Nicaraguan police and paramilitaries, the country's bishops said they would pray an exorcism prayer.

The bishops said July 20 would be a day of prayer and fasting "as an act of atonement for the profanation carried out in recent months against God." On that day, "We will pray the prayer of exorcism to St. Michael Archangel."

On July 15, the vehicle of Bishop Juan Mata Guevara of Esteli was shot as he traveled to the city of Nindiri, where he had hoped to stop an attack by police and paramilitaries. The bishop escaped unharmed, but the vehicle's tires were shot out and windows broken, said Father Victor Rivas, executive secretary of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference.

An attack July 14 at the nearby National Autonomous University of Nicaragua campus in Managua left two students dead and injured 15 more. Some of the fleeing protesters sought shelter in Divine Mercy Church, where the injured were being treated, but armed assailants stopped ambulances from reaching the church.

A Washington Post reporter was among those trapped in the parish, which churchmen said had been "profaned," and pictures posted to social media showed the church had been pockmarked by bullets.

"They are shooting at a church," Father Erick Alvarado Cole, a pastor at the parish, told The Washington Post. "The government says it respects human rights. Is this respecting human rights?"

On July 9, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes Solorzano of Managua, Bishop Baez and Archbishop Sommertag were among clergy from Managua pummeled as they attempted to protect St. Sebastian Basilica in the city of Diriamba from an incursion by a pro-government mob. Bishop Baez and at least one other priest were injured. Journalists also were attacked and had cameras and other equipment stolen.

A July 14 statement from the bishops said: "In recent days, the repression and violence carried out by the pro-government paramilitaries against the people who protest civically has gotten worse. ... Today, like never before, human rights are being violated in Nicaragua. ... Members of the national dialogue" -- convened by the bishops' conference -- "defenders of human rights and independent media have been the objects of campaigns of defamation by the government."

In their statement, the bishops said brokering a deal through dialogue has proved difficult.

"We have been witnesses to a lack of political will of the government to dialogue in a sincere way and look for real processes that will lead us to a true democracy" and not carrying out "the urgent dismantling of the armed pro-government forces," the bishops' statement said. "Government representatives have twisted the principal objective for which the national dialogue was established."

Human rights groups put the death toll in Nicaragua at more than 350 since April 18, when protests erupted over reforms to the Central American country's social security system. Protests later demanded the ouster of President Daniel Ortega, who has dismissed proposals for early elections and repressed protests with violence.

Churches in Nicaragua have served as centers for treating the wounded and allowing the work of human rights groups. Priests toll church bells to warn local populations of the police and paramilitaries arriving.

Covenant House, known as Casa Alianza in Latin America, issued an urgent call for donations, saying staff were forced to sleep in the shelters due to security concerns and its homes had to buy months of supplies such as food and medicines in advance. Casa Alianza works with homeless and trafficked children.

A Catholic analyst in Nicaragua, who preferred not to be named for security reasons, said the dialogue has been interpreted as an attempt by Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, to buy time. The bishops also run the risk of being blamed for the collapse of the talks if they withdraw as mediators, the analyst said.

"(The government) and vice president have been appropriating religious language for some time and now are saying the government is doing God's work," the analyst told CNS.

The bishops said they would continue working as mediators, but their role goes beyond sitting at the negotiating table.

"Given the prophetic dimension of our ministry we have seen the urgency of going to the places of conflict to defend the lives of the defenseless, to bring comfort to the victims and mediate with the goal of a peaceful solution to the situation," the bishops said. "The Nicaraguan church will continue to use all of the means it is able to. Our mission as pastors and prophets does not contradict our role as mediators and witnesses, given that what we seek is peace and justice as Nicaraguans."


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Dark to light: Buried under scaffolding, Holy Stairs set for resurrection

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With large sheets of plain plywood blocking public access to the Holy Stairs, one woman lovingly touched a large color photograph of the stairs, made the sign of the cross, lowered her head and prayed.

For centuries, the faithful have climbed up the 28 steps in prayer on their knees.

But the popular devotion has been put on hold for an entire year, and the tall placard depicting the staircase is all the public can see as a team of Vatican restorers complete the final phase of a 20-year effort to repair the sanctuary of the Holy Stairs and clean its 18,300 square feet of frescoes.

According to tradition, the Holy Stairs are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified. It's said that Constantine's mother, St. Helen, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

In 1589, Pope Sixtus V had the sanctuary specially built and decorated for the stairs and the Sancta Sanctorum above, which houses some of the oldest relics of Rome's early Christian martyrs and a silver- and jewel-covered Byzantine image of Christ.

The 16th-century pope wanted the sanctuary not only to preserve the important relics, but also to express the essentials of the faith through an abundance of vivid, colorful images describing key events in the Old and New Testaments, said Mary Angela Schroth, a Rome art gallery curator who has been involved in the restoration project.

"Since the faithful often did not read or write, the stories came to life" through images, she told Catholic News Service in mid-July. And so, "every square inch" of the sanctuary -- its two chapels, five staircases, vaulted ceilings and broad, high walls -- were covered in frescoes and decorative art.

"This was meant to amaze and attract the public," she said.

But the illustrative gems slowly vanished over the centuries as dirt, grime, water damage and primitive or aggressive restoration techniques discolored or covered up what lay beneath. Add poor lighting to the mix and the dingy, gloomy space no longer did what it was designed to do: be a completely immersive physical, spiritual experience with visual cues accompanying the faithful on their journey toward the Sancta Sanctorum, said Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' top expert in fresco restoration.

With initial help from the Getty Foundation in 2000 and then through the generosity of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, both the St. Lawrence and St. Sylvester chapels and the four stairwells -- two sets on either side of the central stairwell of the Holy Stairs -- have been fully restored.

With the central staircase restoration planned to be completed by the end of the year and the front atrium at the end of 2019, it will have taken 11 modern-day restorers nearly two decades to resurrect what 40 artists created in less than two years in the 16th-century. But the careful craft of restoration has paid off, allowing today's visitors the privilege of seeing, after 400 years, the original decorative beauty Pope Sixtus' painters had conceived, Violini said.

People barely glanced at the darkened surfaces before the restoration, Schroth said, but now with "these glorious colors" and proper lighting, visitors are doing more than just looking, "they are observing and studying these stories" and recalling their meaning.

The sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told CNS that Christian art in sacred spaces is not just some extraneous, decorative flourish, but is a medium as powerful as the spoken and written word, created to explain and share the faith and bring the faithful into a deeper, closer relationship with God.

The sanctuary, which is entrusted to the care and protection of the Passionist fathers, powerfully exemplifies this visual catechism, which exists in so many churches and shrines, but needs "re-evaluating" and re-emphasizing today, he said.

Paul Encinias, director of the Rome-based Eternal City Tours, told CNS that when he has taken groups to the Holy Stairs, their focus is inward -- on their individual prayers and intentions -- as they climb each step on their knees.

"Twenty-first century Catholic pilgrims are far removed from artistic narratives," he said, and they are "not used to these visual cues" that surround them, so the purpose and meaning of such artwork would probably have to be explained.

Nonetheless, some of the visitors Encinias brings to pray on the Holy Stairs often have "a strong emotional" experience as they pray and reflect on life's problems or trials.

"We're usually afraid of suffering," and most homilies don't dwell on it, he said. But because the Holy Stairs tour encourages people to connect with Christ's passion, "something hits home" and people realize "Christ is with us always, even in our suffering."

Even though while the Holy Stairs are closed the sanctuary has offered a side staircase for the same devotional practice of praying on one's knees, there were only about a dozen people using the alternative staircase late morning on a July weekday. On average, about 3,000 people visit the sanctuary each day.

Father Guerra said Pope Francis has underlined the importance of traditional, popular devotions and pilgrimages to sanctuaries and sacred places. People are made up of "spirit and intellect, but we are also flesh, emotions, feelings," he said.

In the Bible, when Jesus performs a miracle, "he touches the person, he puts his fingers in the ears of the deaf man" and takes the hand a dead girl to bring her back to life, the priest said.

This physical contact, which is an inseparable part of one's humanity, is a key feature of the Holy Stairs, he said. By climbing the stairs on one's knees and reflecting on Christ's passion, "people feel in union with Jesus, they feel understood by Jesus, they feel loved by God."

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Prosperity gospel' props up policies lacking compassion, journal says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The "prosperity gospel" that U.S. President Donald Trump and many of his advisers and followers seem to espouse does not promote solidarity for the common good, but sees God as giving his blessings to the rich and punishing the poor, said an influential Jesuit journal.

The philosophy "is used as a theological justification for economic neo-liberalism" and is "a far cry from the positive and enlightening prophecy of the American dream that has inspired many," said the article in La Civilta Cattolica, a journal reviewed at the Vatican before publication.

The article was written by the journal's editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and by Marcelo Figueroa, an evangelical pastor, who is director of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In an email, Father Spadaro described the article as "what I consider the second part of our article on the relationship between politics and fundamentalism in the United States."

The first article, published in July last year, was titled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism" and examined what the authors saw as growing similarities in the rhetoric and world views adopted by some evangelical fundamentalists and some "militant" Catholic hardliners.

They decried what they saw as an "ecumenism of hate" resulting from the political alliance in the United States of Christian fundamentalists and Catholic "integralists."

The article set off widespread debate, ranging from criticism that it was a superficial reading of the U.S. reality from the outside to praise for shining a light on ways that some tenets of the Christian faith have been manipulated for political gain.

The new article describes the "prosperity gospel" as a theological current that emerged from neo-Pentecostal evangelical communities in the United States and is thriving now in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, South Korea, China, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

"At its heart is the belief that God wants his followers to have a prosperous life, that is, to be rich, healthy and happy," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote. In such a view, opulence and well-being are "the true signs of divine delight."

The modern "prosperity gospel" owes much, they said, to E.W. Kenyon, a U.S. pastor who lived 1867-1948, and "maintained that through the power of faith you can change what is concrete and real," the Civilta article said. "A direct conclusion of this belief is that faith can lead to riches, health and well-being, while lack of faith leads to poverty, sickness and unhappiness."

"In the United States millions of people regularly go to the megachurches that spread the prosperity gospel," the article said. Preachers including "Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and others have increased their popularity and wealth thanks to their focus on knowing this gospel, emphasizing it and pushing it to its limits."

They see the purpose of faith as being to win God's favor, which is demonstrated in material wealth and physical health, a position that is "far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote.

The teachings of the prosperity gospel have obvious implications for how a believer in that philosophy views and treats others, they said. "There can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God."

The philosophy, they said, promotes policies that are "unjust and radically anti-evangelical."

"One of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effect on the poor," the authors wrote. The philosophy "not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook," which allows them to wash their hands of the obligation to work for justice and accept sacrifices for the common good.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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