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Pope: Christians without tenderness, respect are serpents who divide

IMAGE: CNS/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- The sin committed most frequently in Christian parishes and groups is bad-mouthing and backstabbing each other, which not only divides the community, it drives away people who come seeking God, Pope Francis said.

"Truly, this pains me to the core. It's as if we were throwing stones among ourselves, one against the other. And the devil enjoys it; it's a carnival for the devil," he told parishioners in his homily during an evening Mass at a parish on the outskirts of Rome May 21.

Pope Francis told parishioners at the church of San Pier Damiani how important their use of language was. As baptized members of the church, every Christian has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, he said.

People must continue to pray for and safeguard that gift, which includes using a "special language," not Latin, he said, but something else. "It is a language of tenderness and respect" that is also mirrored in one's behavior.

"It is so awful to see these people who call themselves Christians, but they are filled with bitterness" or anger, he said in a homily that was off-the-cuff.

The devil knows how to weaken people's efforts to serve God and safeguard the Holy Spirit's presence inside them. "He will do everything so our language is not tender and not respectful," the pope said.

"A Christian community that does not safeguard the Holy Spirit with tenderness and with respect" is like the serpent with the long, long tongue, who is depicted in statues as being crushed under Mary's foot.

Pope Francis said a priest once told him about some people in a parish whose tongues were so long from wagging gossip that "they could take Communion from the front door; they could reach the altar with the tongue they have."

"This is the enemy that destroys our communities -- chatter," he said, adding it was also "the most common sin in our Christian communities."

A language that boasts or shows off "out of ambition, envy, jealousy" not only divides those already gathered, it drives off newcomers, he said.

How many people step inside a parish in search of God's peace and tenderness, but instead they encounter gossip, competition and "internal fighting among the faithful."

"And then what do they say? 'If these are Christians, I'd rather stay pagan.' And they leave, disappointed," he said. "We are the ones pushing them away."

Before celebrating Mass in the parish, the pope heard the confessions of four penitents, greeted the sick, met with members of the Neocatechumenal Way and spent time with people receiving assistance from the local Caritas.

While poverty or not having enough to get by "is a terrible cross," the pope said, it is the way Jesus chose to come into the world and live.

"We have to pray for the wealthy, for the wealthy who have too much and do not know what to do with the money and want more. Poor things," he said.

It's not about hating the rich, because that is not Christian, but praying for them so they will not become corrupt and they will recognize the wealth "is not theirs, it is God's that he gave them to administer" by being generous, working honestly and living simply and austerely, he said.

Pope Francis also told them he understood why, because of all the red tape, their pastor built without legal permits the kitchen they use to make meals for those in need. Sometimes things are made so complicated as a way to bring in bribes, he said, since "bureaucracy, usually, loosens with payoffs."

Earlier, the pope sat down with children and young adults at the parish-run sports center for a brief Q&A outside in the warm sun.

He reminisced about growing up as one of five children who knew how to have fun.

Wanting to illustrate the happy times they had, he also had to preface his anecdote with a "Don't try this at home" warning, as he told them about a parachuting contest they had which involved jumping off a balcony with an umbrella. One brother went first, and escaped harm by a hair's breadth.

"These are dangerous games, but we were happy," he said, emphasizing how they should cherish having a family and relatives who care about them. They should also obey their parents, he added, because they make many sacrifices for their well-being.

"It's a beautiful thing, it is a beautiful vocation, to have a family," he said.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter @CarolGlatz

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Ways to Find Comfort After Losing a Pet

Ways to Find Comfort After Losing a Pet

It’s the little things that get me. Like folding laundry fresh from the dryer — Lucky Dee would jump straight into the basket of warm…

The post Ways to Find Comfort After Losing a Pet appeared first on Busted Halo.

Pope announces new cardinals from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos, Salvador

IMAGE: CNS photo/Octavio Duran

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis announced he will create five new cardinals June 28; the new cardinals-designate come from Mali, Spain, Sweden, Laos and El Salvador.

Unusually, the group of prelates announced by the pope May 21 includes an auxiliary bishop whose archbishop is not a cardinal; he is Cardinal-designate Gregorio Rosa Chavez, 74, the current auxiliary bishop of San Salvador.

The other churchmen who will receive red hats are: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; and Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73.

After briefly talking about the day's Gospel reading, leading the crowd in St. Peter's Square in reciting the "Regina Coeli" prayer and greeting various groups present, instead of wishing everyone a good Sunday and a good lunch -- the normal procedure at the noon prayer -- Pope Francis made his announcement.

The five new cardinals coming from "different parts of the world demonstrates the catholicity of the church spread across the globe," Pope Francis said. And the practice of assigning to each of them a church in Rome "expresses that the cardinals belong to the Diocese of Rome," which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch explained, "presides in charity over all the churches."

Pope Francis said that June 29, the day after the consistory and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the new cardinals would concelebrate a Mass with him, the entire College of Cardinals and new archbishops from around the world.

"We entrust the new cardinals to the protection of Sts. Peter and Paul," Pope Francis said, praying that with St. Peter they would be "authentic servants" of communion in the church and that with St. Paul they would be "joyful proclaimers of the Gospel."

The pope also prayed that "with their witness and their counsel," the new cardinals would "support me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, pastor of the universal church."

With five new cardinals, the College of Cardinals will have 227 members, 121 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave. The number of electors exceeds by one the limit of 120 set by Blessed Paul VI. The next cardinal to turn 80 will be Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, who will celebrate his birthday Feb. 3.

The Vatican released brief biographical notes about the five who will be inducted into the college in June:

-- Cardinal-designate Zerbo was born Dec. 27, 1943, in Segou and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1971. He earned a license in Scripture studies from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and then returned to Mali as a pastor and professor at the seminary in Bamako.

Ordained a bishop in 1988, he served first as auxiliary bishop of Bamako and then was named bishop of Mopti. He has led the Archdiocese of Bamako since 1998.

According to the Vatican, "he played an active role in the Mali peace negotiations" and has worked for solidarity and reconciliation among the nation's citizens.

-- Cardinal-designate Omella was born in the small town of Cretas April 21, 1946, and did his seminary studies in Zaragoza as well as Louvain, Belgium, and Jerusalem. He was ordained in 1970. In addition to parish work in Spain, he spent a year as a missionary in then-Zaire, now Congo.

Ordained a bishop in 1996, he served as auxiliary bishop of Zaragoza and later as bishop of Barbastro-Monzon, then bishop of Calahorra and La Calzada-Logrorio. Pope Francis named him archbishop of Barcelona in 2015.

He has long been a member of the Spanish bishops' commission for social questions and served two terms as commission president. He is a member of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.

-- Cardinal-designate Arborelius hosted Pope Francis' visit to Sweden in October as part of an ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Born in Sweden Sept. 24, 1949, he joined the Catholic Church at the age of 20. A few years later, he entered the Discalced Carmelites, took vows in 1977 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1979.

Ordained bishop of Stockholm in 1998, he became the first native Swedish bishop in Sweden since the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, according to the Vatican.

-- Cardinal-designate Mangkhanekhoun was born April 8, 1944, in Laos. The Vatican did not say in what city, but did say he was educated and did seminary studies in Laos and Canada.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1972 by the apostolic vicar of Vientiane, he was instrumental in training catechists and was known for his pastoral visits to remote mountain villages.

In October 2000, he was named apostolic vicar of Pakse and was ordained a bishop six months later. Since February, he also has served as apostolic administrator of Vientiane, which currently is without a bishop.

-- Cardinal-designate Rosa Chavez was born Sept. 3, 1942, in Sociedad, El Salvador. He studied at San Jose de la Montana Seminary in San Salvador, earned a degree in social communications and studied at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 in San Miguel and served overlapping -- and sometimes simultaneous -- terms as the bishop's secretary, pastor of a parish and director of the diocesan radio station. From 1977 to 1982, he served as rector of San Jose de la Montafia Seminary in San Salvador, a position that brought him into regular contact and close collaboration with Blessed Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980.

He was named auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1982. Currently, in addition to his duties as auxiliary bishop, he serves as pastor of the Church of St. Francis in the capital, president of Caritas El Salvador and president of Caritas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Bishops tell lawmakers to focus on poor in upcoming budget

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Decrease military spending and help the poor, said the U.S. bishops in a May 19 letter addressed to Congress, before lawmakers prepare to work on the federal budget for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.

The budget requires difficult decisions, but lawmakers must "give central importance to 'the least of these,'" said the letter sent to all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and signed by the chairmen of six USCCB committees.

The letter urged lawmakers to "promote the welfare of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity."

Increasing funding for defense and immigration enforcement while cutting "many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling," said the letter signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishops Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, and Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas.

Respectively, they chair the bishops' committees on pro-life activities, international policy, communications, domestic policy, Catholic education and migration.

Decisions should be "guided by moral criteria that protect human life and dignity," said the bishops in the letter, and making deep cuts to programs that help the poor "would harm people facing dire circumstances."

"When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker," the bishops said in the letter.

An early budget proposal unveiled in March by President Donald Trump's administration called for a $54 billion increase in military spending and cutting nonmilitary programs by an equal amount. The proposal also asked for more money for immigration enforcement, while seeking deep cuts in social safety-net programs as well as environmental programs and dramatically reducing funding for the State Department and its foreign aid programs.

The early draft of Trump's proposed budget, called the "skinny budget" because of its drastic proposed cuts to certain departments, included slashing by 37 percent the $50 billion budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. Both departments have anti-poverty programs to help foster democratic societies abroad.

"It is hard to reconcile the need for diplomacy and political solutions with significant cuts to the State Department budget," they said.

The bishops said in the letter that diplomacy and international development are "primary tools" for peace, regional stability and human rights and lawmakers should "not adopt deep cuts to these budgets." As it is, the U.S. spends more than any other country on military and its spending is about a third of worldwide military spending, the bishops said.

"Our nation continues to increase spending on nuclear weapons, despite the moral imperative to verifiably disarm from this class of indiscriminate weapons," they said. "Military force should only be employed in a just cause as a last resort within strict moral limits of proportionality, discrimination and probability of success."

Although there isn't enough money to fund everything, spending money elsewhere, or saving money in the budget shouldn't be done by cutting health care, nutrition or other anti-poverty programs, the bishops said.

"The human consequences of budget choices are clear to us as pastors," they said, calling the federal budget "a moral document with profound implications for the common good of our nation and world."

"Our Catholic community defends the unborn and the undocumented, feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless, educates the young, and cares for the sick, both at home and abroad," their letter said. "We help mothers facing challenging situations of pregnancy, poor families rising above crushing poverty, refugees fleeing conflict and persecution, and communities devastated by wars, natural disasters and famines."

And in that fight, "we are partners with government," they said, adding that church institutions around the world help the most marginalized of communities.

"The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates," the bishops said. "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good."

It's unclear when Congress will take up talks on the budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Both parties expressed criticism of the president's initial proposal. The White House said it would release a full budget for the 2018 fiscal year May 23, while Trump is away on his first foreign trip as president and a day before he meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Pope goes door to door, blessing the homes of the poor

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like parish priests throughout Italy do during the Easter season, Pope Francis spent an afternoon May 19 going door to door and blessing homes.

Continuing the "Mercy Friday" visits he began during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis chose a public housing complex in Ostia, a Rome suburb on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Vatican press office said Father Plinio Poncina, pastor of Stella Maris parish, put up signs May 17 announcing a priest would be visiting the neighborhood to bless houses. The signs, which indicate a date and give a time frame, are a common site in Italy in the weeks before and after Easter.

"It was a great surprise today when, instead of the pastor, the one ringing the door bells was Pope Francis," the press office said. "With great simplicity, he interacted with the families, he blessed a dozen apartments" and left rosaries for the residents.

"Joking, he apologized for disturbing people, however he reassured them that he had respected the hour of silence for a nap after lunch in accordance with the sign posted at the entrance to the building," the press office said.

The pope's Friday visits to hospitals and hospices, homes for children, rehab centers and other places of care were planned for the Year of Mercy as tangible ways for the pope to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Although the Year of Mercy ended in November, the pope restarted making Mercy Friday visits in March when he visited a home and educational center for the blind and visually impaired.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Search for common ground will be key to pope's meeting with Trump

IMAGE: CNS

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite a few pointed comments in the past and fundamental differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy, military spending and climate change, sparks are not expected to fly May 24 when Pope Francis welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to the Vatican.

The two will have a private conversation, with interpreters present, and while anything is possible, protocol dictates that the joint statement issued after the meeting will describe it as "cordial."

Going into the meeting, Pope Francis made it clear he hoped it would be.

On Pope Francis' flight back to Rome from Portugal May 13, a reporter asked him, "What are you expecting from a meeting with a head of state who seems to think and act in a way contrary to your own?"

The pope replied, "I never make a judgment about people without hearing them first. It is something I feel I should not do. When we speak to each other, things will come out. I will say what I think; he will say what he thinks. But I have never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person."

Pope Francis said he would look first for areas of agreement and shared principles -- his basic recipe for creating "a culture of encounter."

"There are always doors that are not closed," the pope said about his meeting with Trump. "We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward. Step by step."

The key, he said, is "respect for the other, saying what we think, but with respect, walking together. Someone sees things in a certain way: say so, be honest in what each of us thinks."

Honesty, even if not completely diplomatic, characterized a couple of pointed remarks Pope Francis and then-presidential candidate Trump made in reference to the other's positions.

Flying in February 2016 to Rome from Mexico, where he had just paid homage to people who have lost their lives trying to cross into the United States, Pope Francis was asked about candidate Trump's promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

"A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian," the pope said. He added that he would not tell anyone how to vote and that he would "have to see if he said these things, and thus I will give him the benefit of the doubt."

Trump responded by saying that the Mexican government had given Pope Francis only "one side of the story" and was "using the pope as a pawn."

Also, he said, "for a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now."

Efforts to protect freedom of conscience for employers and health-care workers and the need to defend religious freedom are likely to be a starting point for finding common ground.

A discussion about religious persecution could open the door to Pope Francis restating his conviction of the moral obligation to welcome strangers, especially those fleeing persecution, terrorism, war and abject poverty.

Protecting the unborn is another common concern and would provide an opening for Trump to talk about his Supreme Court nominee and his steps to halt funding of abortions overseas. It also would give Pope Francis an opening to talk about the protection of all life -- especially the weakest -- with health care, education, job opportunities and a clean environment where people can thrive.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Ideological fanatics divide the Christian community, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians who turn doctrine into ideology commit a grave mistake that upsets souls and divides the church, Pope Francis said.

From the beginning, there have been people in the church who preach "without any mandate" and become "fanatics of things that aren't clear," the pope said May 19 in his homily during Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"This is the problem: When the doctrine of the church, the one from the Gospel, the one inspired by the Holy Spirit -- because Jesus said, 'He will teach you and remind you of what I have taught!' -- when that doctrine becomes ideology. And this is the greatest mistake of these people," he said.

The pope reflected on the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (15:22-31), in which, after much debate, the apostles and presbyters send representatives to allay the concerns of the gentile converts after they were ordered by overzealous believers to follow Jewish practices if they wished to be saved.

However, the apostles ruled that "it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond" abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols and from strangled animals, blood and unlawful marriages.

The initial debate about how to deal with the gentiles, the pope said, was between "the group of the apostles who wanted to discuss the problem and the others who go and create problems."

"They divide, they divide the church, they say that what the apostles preach is not what Jesus said, that it isn't the truth," he explained.

Those who sow discord and "divide the Christian community," the pope said, do so because their "hearts are closed to the work of the Holy Spirit."

These individuals, he added, "weren't believers, they were ideologues."

Pope Francis said the exhortation sent to the gentiles by Peter and the other apostles encourages all Christians to be unafraid before "the opinions of the ideologues of doctrine."

"The church has its own magisterium, the magisterium of the pope (and) the bishops," and it must follow along the path "that comes from Jesus' preaching and the teaching and assistance of the Holy Spirit," the pope said.

Doctrine, he said, unites the Christian community because it is "always open, always free" while "ideology divides."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Did Mary Ever Perform a Miracle?

Did Mary Ever Perform a Miracle?

It’s good to clarify that Mary herself does not perform miracles; all miracles are an act of God. That said, Catholics do believe that Mary…

The post Did Mary Ever Perform a Miracle? appeared first on Busted Halo.

Convocation 'great opportunity' for U.S. church, says religious sister

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dominican Sister Marie Bernadette Thompson can't help but see things through a teacher's eyes after spending eight years teaching elementary and high school students and belonging to an order whose charism is education and the faith formation of young people.

But the 42-year-old sister, who has been council coordinator for the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious since 2014, also is not opposed to being a student particularly when it comes to learning new ways to engage others in the faith and spread the Gospel message.

She hopes to pick up some pointers from other church leaders from around the country this summer at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida.

The convocation, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an invitation-only event meant to give the 3,000 participants expected to attend a better understanding of what it means to be missionary disciples in today's world through workshop presentations, keynote addresses and prayer.

Sister Marie Bernadette will attend the event as part of a Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious delegation with more than 20 major superiors representing orders, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, School Sisters of Christ the King, Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and Sister Marie Bernadette's order, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. These women religious cover the spectrum of serving the poor and elderly, working in parish ministry and education or devotion to contemplative prayer and new evangelization.

She believes the council's delegates have a lot to bring to the table and also will have plenty they can take away from it.

She said the sisters' presence "will be a powerful expression of our union with the bishops and the daily commitment to the new evangelization," adding that these women religious are "on the peripheries of the new evangelization every day."

Personally, she said she's "delighted to be able to go" to the convocation, describing it as "an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to really bring us all together to share best practices, to share struggles, insights with others that we may not even know and may never have come in contact with."

She sees it as an important encouragement boost for faith leaders to continue the work they're already doing but she also views it as a challenge for all participants to take a responsible role leading the global church.

In a May 9 interview with Catholic News Service, she said the convocation delegates have a great opportunity with this event, noting that most countries don't have this chance to bring their Catholic leaders together. "I think we have a responsibility to take it seriously and to listen so we can not only help our own people but help the universal church in this worldwide mission of evangelization," she said.

Sister Marie Bernadette, who grew up in Long Island, New York, views evangelization as a key tool for the church moving forward and says the root of this missionary work needs to be based in prayer and listening and walking with others.

She knows a little bit about evangelization from being on the other side of it when she was just out of college and wasn't sure of her next step. A newly ordained priest at her home parish was "on fire for the faith" and urged her never to be afraid to show her faith in public.

Sister Marie Bernadette certainly shows this faith now, wearing a full-length white habit and living in community with other sisters in Washington where together they begin and end each day with prayers.

She is convinced prayer is behind any success in drawing others to the church. As she put it: "The message we're bringing gives life to people and to us; we're best witnesses of that when we are spirit filled."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Prudence, pastoral concern guided Medjugorje commission, member says

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Catholic Church recognizes as "worthy of belief" only the initial alleged apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje, it would be the first time the church distinguished between phases of a single event, but it also would acknowledge that human beings and a host of complicating factors are involved, said a theological expert in Mariology.

Servite Father Salvatore Perrella, president of the Pontifical Institute Marianum and a member of the commission now-retired Pope Benedict XVI established to study the Medjugorje case, said that although Pope Francis has not yet made a formal pronouncement on the presumed apparitions, "he thought it was a good idea to clear some of the fog."

The pope's remarks to journalists May 13 on his flight from Portugal to Rome "were a surprise, but he told the truth," Father Perrella told Catholic News Service May 18. "For four years, the commission established by Pope Benedict investigated, interrogated, listened, studied and debated this phenomenon of the presumed apparitions of Mary" in a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"The commission did not make a definitive pronouncement," he said, but in discussing the apparitions that supposedly began June 24, 1981, and continue today, the commission opted to distinguish between what occurred in the first 10 days and what has occurred in the following three decades.

"The commission held as credible the first apparitions," he said. "Afterward, things became a little more complicated."

As a member of the papal commission, Father Perrella said he could not discuss specifics that had not already been revealed by Pope Francis to the media. But he did not object to the suggestion that one of the complicating factors was the tension existing at the parish in Medjugorje between the Franciscans assigned there and the local bishop. In some of the alleged messages, Mary sided with the Franciscans.

In addition to cardinals, bishops and theologians, the papal commission also included several experts in psychology and psychiatry, a recommended component of any official investigation of presumed apparitions. A host of human factors and outside pressure -- not just mental illness -- can play a role in leading alleged visionaries astray.

Just as Jesus chose men, not saints, to be his apostles, God does not choose saints to be visionaries, Father Perrella said. The apostles were called to grow in faith and holiness and become saints, just like visionaries are called to conversion and to follow the Gospel more closely each day, he said.

The Catholic Church's evaluation of alleged apparitions sees them as "a gift of God and a sign of God's presence at a certain time, in a certain place and to certain seers," Father Perrella said. "The mother of Jesus who appears, if it is real, as the pope says, does not and cannot add anything to the revelation of Christ, but she reminds people and calls them back to the Gospel."

Authentic messages are "simple and in line with the Gospel," he said. If they are "banal, superficial" they cannot be truly from God.

Father Perrella again said he could not discuss details about Medjugorje, but said the doubts Pope Francis expressed May 13 about a Mary presenting herself as "a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time" show his skepticism about an alleged apparition in which Mary is "verbose."

Throughout history, the Servite said, the church has reacted to reports of apparitions with extreme caution and even "painful reserve," but its first obligation is to protect the integrity of the faith and uphold the truth that no messages or revelations are needed to complete what Christ revealed.

The Medjugorje commission also recommended that Pope Francis lift the ban on official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje and that he designate the town's parish Church of St. James as a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight.

Such decisions would be "an intelligent pastoral choice," Father Perrella said, and they could be made whether or not the church officially recognizes the apparitions as "worthy of belief." Allowing pilgrimages and designating the church as a shrine would be a recognition of the prayer, devotion and conversion millions of people have experienced at Medjugorje.

At the same time, he said, it would ensure that "a pastor and not a travel agency" is in charge of what happens there.

Alleged apparitions of Mary have been reported since the early days of Christianity, he said, and long before the church became "preoccupied with documenting and investigating" whether a certain apparition was true, it allowed time to pass. And, if devotion there continued, a church or shrine was built.

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