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Who is Benedict XVI? Cardinal Filoni shares his testimony

Cardinal Fernando Filoni. Photo credits: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA. / null

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Who is Benedict XVI? This is the question that has emerged in the minds of many in recent days; days of great suffering for him and for the Church.

At the beginning of his pontificate in 2005, he wanted to say that he saw himself as a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord, thinking of the parable found in the Gospel of Matthew (21:33-43). In that parable, Jesus criticized the behavior of those who, by their infidelity, ruined the vineyard planted with sacrifice and devotion. In that vineyard, loved by God, the owner had sent workers to ensure it was well cultivated. It belonged to him and the workers should have taken care of it and not taken possession of it.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Paul Badde/CNA.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Paul Badde/CNA.

I have known Benedict XVI personally above all because at the beginning of his papal ministry, he called me to Rome from the Philippines, where a year earlier he had assigned me as his papal representative.

I remember well our first meeting; it was at the beginning of July 2007. He had appointed me Substitute (Sostituto) of the Secretariat of State, that is, one of his closest collaborators. This allowed me to visit him at least once a week to talk about the issues that were close to his heart and receive appropriate guidance on many aspects of the life of the Curia and the Church.

The office of substitute was also entrusted with the organization of papal trips, so that during the four years that I remained in office, before being appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, I had the opportunity to accompany him to the various countries where he made his apostolic journeys.

In those years, the issue of pedophilia emerged with virulence in the Church. It was not known in the terms with which it has since gradually emerged. But it was always clear to me that Benedict XVI was willing to face it with determination.

In this, I can testify first of all to his profound and very high moral and intellectual honesty.

This is unquestionable, even if there is no shortage of those who today are railing against him. They are free to do so, but I can affirm that I have never found in him any shadow or attempt to hide or minimize anything. Nor can his sensitivity in dealing with things with a profound moral sense be mistaken for uncertainty or anything else.

I also know well his immense distress in the face of serious ecclesial questions, and I clearly remember an expression he used to utter with a deep sigh: “How inscrutable is the abyss into which we fall because of human misery!” This distressed him intimately and he sometimes remained silent for a long time. All the more so if these human miseries touched men of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. .  L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. . L'Osservatore Romano.

He had a noticeable sensitivity for the victims. When, in preparation for apostolic trips (to the United States, Australia, etc.), he received requests for meetings with victims of abuse, he told me about them; he wanted to know my thoughts on how to accommodate these requests.

I can affirm that he advised two things that were very important to him. 1) Deep respect for the victims whose identity had to be safeguarded; therefore, he wanted the meetings to take place far from the gaze of cameras or other visual instruments. He did not want any spectators, but he wanted me to be among the very few who were discreetly present.

2) He did not want the meeting to be a sort of “audience” with a simple handshake and a quick glance, but a real prayer meeting; it should have a spiritual dimension and take place in front of God from whom one should implore mercy.

For this reason, he accepted the idea that the meetings should take place in the chapel, in front of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, after a few minutes of prayer with the victims, after some heavy emotional moments, he would pray the Our Father with them; he paid attention to each of them, listened with visible and palpable emotion, and, at the end, he entrusted a rosary to each one.

Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 11, 2005. .  © L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 11, 2005. . © L'Osservatore Romano.

In those encounters, there was not only the sense of the humiliation suffered by the victims, but also the humiliation of a man of the Church who could never have imagined that such degrading actions could happen, and yet now offered the balm of a prayer and the relief of solidarity in the name of that God who had humbled himself and taken on his shoulders the human condition and its sins.

In every encounter there was always a true recognition that the human and spiritual had been violated. There was always the entrustment to God made by deeply moved brothers and sisters; there was a request for forgiveness from the whole Church to God, and there was a commitment that would see Benedict XVI combine mercy and justice. That he did through steps that previously had not existed.

This is the Benedict XVI who I have known up close. A “pastor,” a “worker” in the vineyard of the Lord, who had in his heart — always — a profound “solicitude for all the Churches” and for an afflicted, fallen, and godless humanity, in accordance with what he said when he visited, on that distant afternoon of April 25, 2005, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, where the Apostle of the Gentiles reposes.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni is the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This article was first published by ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

Catholic charity calls for day of prayer for Myanmar on coup anniversary

Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng begs police not to shoot protesters during Myanmar unrest. / Myanmar local media.

Königstein, Germany, Jan 28, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic charity has called for a day of prayer for Burma on the first anniversary of the military coup in the Southeast Asian country.

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) invited Catholics on Jan. 27 to observe the day of prayer on Feb. 1, the day in 2021 when the armed forces seized power in the country officially known as Myanmar.

“With this day of prayer, ACN wants to remember the dead and intercede for the innocent civilian population, especially for internally displaced persons including children, women, elderly, and the sick in the afflicted areas, regardless of ethnicities and faiths,” the charity said.

“Let us pray for all these thousands on the move, many of them at risk of starving.”

ACN called attention to a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) on Jan. 14.

“As the CBCM stands for justice, peace, reconciliation, it strongly demands all concerned to facilitate humanitarian access to suffering and internally displaced peoples in order to provide them the basic humanitarian assistance,” the bishops said.

“Human dignity and the right to life can never be compromised. We strongly demand respect for life, respect for the sanctity of sanctuary in places of worship, hospitals, and schools. All those who reach out to help the people must be protected.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s elected civilian leader, was detained along with the country’s President Win Myint after the military seized power in the early hours of Feb. 1, 2021.

Soldiers attempted to repress mass protests that followed the coup. According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, almost 1,500 people have been killed in the crackdown and nearly 12,000 arrested as of Jan. 28.

In addition to repression, Burma’s 54 million population is facing steep rises in food and fuel prices. The United Nations World Food Programme reported last year that up to 3.4 million more people will go hungry as a result of pre-existing poverty, the coronavirus crisis, and political instability.

Since the coup, Pope Francis has called repeatedly for harmony in the country, which borders Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand.

The pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica last May for Burmese Catholics, urging them not to lose hope as their homeland is engulfed by violence.

Although Catholics only constitute around 1% of the population, which is majority Buddhist, they have been caught up in the violence.

A video of a religious sister kneeling before police, begging them not to attack protestors in northern Burma, went viral in March 2021.

Military forces are reported to have shelled churches and arrested Catholic priests.

“One year after the military coup in Myanmar, let us pray to God to move the hearts of those who can facilitate access to suffering and internally displaced peoples, to provide them basic humanitarian assistance,” said ACN.

“Let us pray also for the respect for life and for the inviolability of sanctuaries of worship, hospitals, and schools.”

Pope Francis appoints new Catholic bishop of Fatima

Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho. / Santuário de Fátima.

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal António Marto on Friday and named a new bishop of Leiria-Fátima.

The pope appointed Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho to lead the Portuguese diocese containing one of the world’s most famous Marian shrines on Jan. 28.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. .  Kate Veik/CNA.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. . Kate Veik/CNA.

Ornelas has led the diocese of Setúbal, southwestern Portugal, since 2015 and was elected president of the Portuguese bishops’ conference in 2020.

“José Ornelas brings with him enormous and unique wealth to give new impetus to the pastoral renewal of the diocese and the Shrine of Fátima,” Marto said in a video message after the appointment was announced.

“He is a bishop with ‘the smell of the sheep,’ with a close and affectionate relationship with God’s faithful people, laity, priests, and members of the consecrated life, open to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as well as to non-believers.”

Marto said that he had submitted his resignation before he turns 75 on May 5 due to his “limitations of physical and mental strength to adequately exercise the office, given the pastoral demands of the diocese and the Shrine of Fatima.”

Cardinal Antonio Marto makes the consecration prayer before the Virgin of Fatima in Portugal. .  Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
Cardinal Antonio Marto makes the consecration prayer before the Virgin of Fatima in Portugal. . Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

The Portuguese cardinal served as bishop of Fatima for almost 16 years. Pope John Paul II first made him a bishop in 2000 and Benedict XVI appointed him to lead the Leiria-Fátima diocese in 2006. Pope Francis named him a cardinal in 2018.

Marto will serve as the diocese’s apostolic administrator until Ornelas is installed in a Mass at the cathedral in Leiria on March 13.

Ornelas, 68, was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira, located 320 miles west of Morocco.

He entered the diocesan minor seminary at the age of 10. With dreams of becoming a missionary, he later entered the Missionary College of the Congregation of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus and continued his studies in mainland Portugal at the Missionary Institute in Coimbra.

In his early 20s, Ornelas spent two years as a missionary with the Sacred Heart congregation in Mozambique before returning to Lisbon to complete a theology degree at the Catholic University of Portugal.

Ornelas was ordained to the priesthood in 1981 at the age of 27. He holds a doctorate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

He went on to serve as the superior general of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart from 2003 to 2015, until Pope Francis made him bishop of Setúbal.

Thousands of young Catholics are expected to travel to Portugal next year for World Youth Day, which will be held in Lisbon in August 2023.

Marto said that Ornelas, as a missionary priest and a superior general, brings with him “an enriching vision and universal experience of the Church and the world in the diversity of the five continents.”

“As bishop of Setúbal and president of the episcopal conference, he has given evidence of a pastoral experience allied to the missionary dynamism of a nearby and outgoing Church,” he said.

Holy Land’s Catholic bishops invite Orthodox leaders to contribute to synodal path

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa blesses the congregation at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on April 4, 2021. / Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jan 28, 2022 / 09:10 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in the Holy Land invited their Orthodox counterparts this week to contribute to the consultation process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

In a letter dated Jan. 24, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) explained that Catholics in the region were taking part in the local stage of a two-year synodal path launched by Pope Francis last October.

“We would be delighted to share with you what we are learning and also learn from you, listening to your wisdom and experience,” they wrote.

“Pope Francis has said and written repeatedly that Catholics have much to learn from the Orthodox regarding the exercise of synodality. As we set out on this way, we are more aware than ever that we, all together, as disciples of Christ in this Land, which is His home, are called to witness to him. We remember that his dearest wish was that we should be one (cf. John 17).”

The letter to the heads of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land was signed by ACOHL president Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and secretary-general Father Pietro Felet.

The Assembly comprises leaders of the Latin Church, Greek Melkite Catholic Church, Maronite Church, Armenian Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church and Chaldean Catholic Church in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus.

The bishops issued their invitation as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an annual event that Pope Francis concluded this year on Jan. 25 at an ecumenical service in Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

The Holy Land’s Catholic bishops explained that the synodal process was seeking to renew the Church as it faced “so many crises at every level.”

“The pandemic has had tragic effects on the life of the Church. The political situation continues to create innumerable obstacles to our mission and in the lives of our faithful,” they wrote.

“Our faithful are exhausted and often despair, seeing little or no future for Christians in our region. We all need to renew our energies, recommit to our faith and believe that walking with Christ leads to a horizon of hope.”

The bishops concluded their letter with a “Synodal Prayer on the occasion of the week for Christian Unity,” whose theme this year was “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship him,” inspired by Matthew 2:2:

Heavenly Father,
as the Magi journeyed towards Bethlehem led by the star,
so by your heavenly light,
guide the Catholic Church to walk together with all Christians during this time of synod.
As the Magi were united in their worship of Christ,
lead us closer to your Son and so to one another,
so that we become a sign of the unity that you desire for your Church and the whole creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Pope Francis: Being ‘properly informed’ on COVID-19 vaccines is a ‘human right’

Pope Francis meets members of the Catholic Factchecking consortium at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Jan. 28, 2022 / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that it is a human right to be “properly informed” with scientific data, rather than “fake news,” in a meeting with a Catholic fact-checking group focused on COVID-19 vaccines.

“To be properly informed, to be helped to understand situations based on scientific data and not fake news, is a human right,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 28.

“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” he said.

The pope met with the International Catholic Media Consortium on COVID-19 Vaccines, which runs the website catholic-factchecking.com.

“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news,” the pope said.

“Contributing, often unwittingly, to this climate is the sheer volume of allegedly ‘scientific’ information, comments and opinions, which ends up causing confusion for the reader or listener.”

The consortium includes Aleteia, I.Media, Verificat, and Our Sunday Visitor. It receives scientific consulting from the Barcelona-based Institute for Global Health. The group was awarded a grant in 2021 from the $3 million COVID-19 Vaccine Counter-Misinformation Open Fund sponsored by the Google News Initiative.

In a Jan. 20 post, Aleteia responded to reports about the project’s funding sources, saying that allegations that Aleteia had ties to George Soros or Bill Gates were “unfounded.”

“Aleteia has never solicited funds from either the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Open Society Foundation. Aleteia accepted the Google grant only on the condition that we would maintain our editorial independence. As a result, the grant has not directed or influenced our editorial line,” it said.

In its most recent article — posted four months ago — catholic-factchecking.com provides “the opinion of the WHO and the FDA” in response to a question about an article claiming that nasal irrigation could reduce the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

Another fact-checking entry posted in August 2021 states: “An article asserts that deaths from Covid-19 ‘are increasing’ in the United Kingdom, and that ‘the vast majority of the people who allegedly died from covid-19 had been vaccinated’. This is DECEITFUL.”

“Although the official data show that the majority of deaths recorded are of vaccinated people, this has nothing to do with an alleged ineffectiveness of the vaccine, but because Scotland has fully vaccinated 65.5% of the population, so it is to be expected that more and more of the deceased will be vaccinated (because there will be hardly any people who are not). This is because the efficacy of the vaccine against the most severe forms of the disease and death is never 100%.”

Some Catholic commentators have expressed skepticism about the phenomenon of fact-checking. Writing about the consortium on Jan. 14, Phil Lawler, the editor of Catholic World News, argued that fact-checking is a “practice in which self-appointed watchdogs claim to have refuted a statement, when in fact they have merely offered another opinion.”

The pope told the group that in its mission to combat disinformation and fake news, “the fundamental distinction between information and people must never be overlooked.”

He underlined that a Christian communicator should be a “builder of bridges” in the search for truth, rather than inciting conflict with “an attitude of superiority.”

“His or her approach … does not simplify reality, so as not to fall into a kind of ‘fideism’ when it comes to science,” Pope Francis said.

“Science itself is a constant process of advancing towards the solution of problems. Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns, and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them. A dialogue with those who have doubts.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly encouraged Catholics to be vaccinated and has promoted the fair distribution of vaccines throughout the world.

He said in a public service announcement produced in collaboration with the Ad Council last August that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is “an act of love.”

The Vatican underlined its support for COVID-19 vaccines shortly before Christmas amid the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Pope Francis told the fact-checking group that “the search for truth” should not yield to the “commercial interests of the powerful.”

“Being together for truth also means seeking an antidote to algorithms projected to maximize commercial profit,” he said.

He added that the “antidote to every type of falsification is to let ourselves be purified by the truth.”

“For Christians, truth is never merely a concept having to do with judgment about things. Truth regards life as a whole,” Pope Francis commented.

“The only reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves as the loyalty and trustworthiness of the one who loves us,” he said.

Peter’s Pence donations fell by around 15% in 2021, says Vatican

Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves. / Office of Communication Society of Jesus.

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 05:33 am (CNA).

Donations to Peter’s Pence fell by around 15% in 2021, the Vatican announced on Friday.

In an interview with Vatican News published on Jan. 28, Father Juan A. Guerrero, S.J., prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, said that, while donations were still arriving from some countries, there was a marked decrease compared to 2020.

He also disclosed that the sale of a London property at the center of a landmark Vatican finance trial would be concluded in June.

Commenting on Peter’s Pence, he said: “Roughly speaking, I can say that in 2021 there has again been a decrease compared to the previous year, which I would venture to quantify at no less than 15%.”

“If in 2020 the total collection of the Peter’s Pence was 44 million euros [around $49 million], in 2021 I do not think it will amount to more than 37 million euros [approximately $41 million].”

“The decrease in 2021 is in addition to the 23% decrease between 2015 and 2019 and the 18% decrease in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.”

Peter’s Pence is the Holy See’s annual collection to finance the pope’s charitable works and other priorities, including the Roman Curia.

The annual collection is usually taken up in Catholic churches around the world on a weekend close to the June 29 Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

“We are very dependent on uncertain income, which we see decreasing every year in this time of pandemic,” Guerrero said.

“It has to be this way, since the way we receive most of the donations from the faithful is through the collection of the Peter’s Pence in the churches, and the attendance in times of COVID has been reduced.”

“This should make us think about other methods of soliciting the help of the faithful and receiving donations.”

Guerrero, who was appointed prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2019, succeeding Cardinal George Pell, said that he would present the final 2021 figures for Peter’s Pence after the accounts are closed at the end of February.

The priest told Vatican News that 60 Sloane Avenue, the controversial London building at the heart of the recent financial scandal, was being sold above its valuation price.

“Sixteen bids were received, four were selected; after a second round of bids the best one was selected,” he said.

“The contract of sale has been signed, we have received 10% of the deposit and it will be concluded in June 2022.”

“The loss from the alleged swindle, which has been much talked about and is now being judged by the Vatican courts, was already taken into account in the balance sheet.”

“The building has been sold above the valuation we had in the balance sheet and the appraisal made by the specialized institutions.”

The interview with the Spanish Jesuit was published as the Vatican released more information about its budget for 2022. The Vatican said that it had calculated this year’s “mission budget” in a different way to previous years as it had added “30 new entities” to its balance sheet, increasing the number from 60 to 90.

Guerrero explained that Secretariat for the Economy took the step “because we are concerned about not having a vision of the risks outside the budget, which fall on the Curia when there are problems.”

The total deficit expected for 2022 is €33 million (around $37 million), compared to the €42 million ($47 million) shortfall budgeted for 2021.

The prefect noted that the Vatican’s Council for the Economy (CpE) approved the 2022 budget in December 2021.

He said: “It is understandable that the CpE has had difficulty in approving a budget with such a deficit for another year and has asked us to make plans to further reduce expenditures and increase revenues. According to our forecasts, we expect a somewhat lower deficit than budgeted in 2021.”

Guerrero underlined that cost-cutting alone would not guarantee financial stability and the Vatican needed to seek new sources of donations.

“The first requirement is transparency and clear accountability, and I think we have taken many steps in this direction,” he said.

"Apart from giving an annual account of the budget and the balance sheet, this year we hope to give an account of the inflow and outflow of the Peter’s Pence collection and to send the accounts of the Holy See to the bishops’ conferences for their information.”

"We have to make the local churches more aware of the needs of the Holy See; the Curia is at their service and must be largely maintained by them. There is a great difference in the commitment of the various Churches to the support of the Roman Curia. And [we also need] to enlist the help of the faithful, who want to support the pope in his mission of unity in charity, which is after all what the Roman Curia does.”

Religious leaders mark Auschwitz liberation anniversary

Religious leaders mark the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau at the death camp, Jan. 27, 2022. / Wojciech Grabowski/www.auschwitz.org.

Oświęcim, Poland, Jan 28, 2022 / 03:37 am (CNA).

Religious leaders gathered at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Thursday to mark the 77th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation.

Bishop Piotr Greger, auxiliary bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec diocese, southern Poland, took part in the live-streamed Jan. 27 commemoration at the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp where more than 1.1 million people died in 1940-1945.

Greger recited prayers at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, the largest of the camps that formed the Auschwitz complex, along with Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Polish Lutheran Bishop Adrian Korczago, and Hieromonk Aleksander Mokriszczew of the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

The prayers were part of a program that focused on the beginning of the mass killing of Jews in gas chambers in 1942. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the commemoration was attended by a small number of guests, including survivors of the camp.

Former prisoners spoke during the ceremony, including the 92-year-old writer Halina Birenbaum.

“In all the long years since my liberation from these hells on earth, I have not stopped telling what I experienced then, what I was a victim of and an eyewitness to,” she said.

She expressed concern that new generations would not learn the historical truth about the Holocaust.

She said: “New generations are born and grow up for whom this history is distant, old, as if it did not concern them. Especially since these events are so nightmarish, and one would like to escape from the sorrows and tragedies rather than immerse in them.”

“One wants to forget, to belittle, to deny their existence — to falsify history. And to forget the criminal facts of this war and Holocaust is simply to rehash this terrible threat.”

Bogdan Bartnikowski, 90, who was sent to Auschwitz as a 12-year-old boy after the Warsaw Uprising, recalled a recent encounter with students.

“At the meeting, the question was asked, ‘Was there a school in Birkenau?’ I burst out laughing. Birkenau? A school? But after a moment I thought to myself: yes, there was a school. It was a school for survival,” he said.

“A school where they wanted to make slaves out of us, where they wanted to deprive us of hope for any kind of life, to prepare us to march in fives like animals to the gas chamber. In accordance with the purpose of this camp.”

Among those listening to the survivors’ testimonies in the auditorium of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust were members of a French delegation led by Prime Minister Jean Castex, representatives of the Polish authorities, and ambassadors from many countries.

The commemoration concluded with the laying of candles at a monument in the Birkenau grounds.

The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army on Jan. 27, 1945, is marked worldwide as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The commemoration, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, honors the six million Jews murdered by the forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Pope Francis marked the day with an hour-long meeting with the Holocaust survivor Edith Bruck.

He also highlighted International Holocaust Remembrance Day at his general audience on Jan. 26.

He told pilgrims: “It is necessary to remember the extermination of millions of Jews, and people of different nationalities and religious faiths. This unspeakable cruelty must never be repeated.”

“I appeal to everyone, especially educators and families, to foster in the new generations an awareness of the horror of this black page of history. It must not be forgotten, so that we can build a future where human dignity is no longer trampled underfoot.”

Bishop Rafał Markowski, chairman of the Polish bishops’ committee for dialogue with Judaism, paid tribute to those who perished.

“We remember their tragic fates, firmly believing that God is the God of Life, and man lives forever in God,” he said in a Jan. 27 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

“We also commemorate the heroic actions of many people, known and unknown by name, who, like St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, did not let themselves be overcome by evil, but overcame it with the power of good.”

“May their stories motivate us to responsibly strive for peace, for respect for life, dignity and freedom of every person and nation.”

From Denver to Uganda, St Joseph facilitates an unexpected connection

null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Denver, Colo., Jan 27, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

When Daniel Campbell saw an email in his inbox last spring from Soroti, Uganda, his first thought was: Am I being scammed?

Campbell, who directs Denver’s St. John Vianney Seminary Lay Division, had recently announced plans to teach a six-week online course that summer on St. Joseph. 

The email in question was, purportedly, from a Catholic priest, who said he wanted to take the course but couldn’t afford to pay. 

Campbell was understandably sceptical at first. But after a few rounds of Googling, Campbell realized the priest was legit. 

That priest, Father Samuel Okiria, serves in the rural eastern part of Uganda, a small country in East Africa. Okiria has served in various capacities in his diocese, including as a teacher, parochial vicar, the bishop's private secretary, and vice-chancellor of the diocese, and will soon serve as a professor at a national seminary. 

Okiria told Campbell in his email that he had heard about the course from an April 2021 article on CNA, and he very much wanted to take the course, but could not afford the $100 fee. 

"He told me, it's ok, I'll be given free access to the class," Okiria told CNA. 

"And then I had the boldness to ask him: I have some other brother priests….could [they] also have access to this St. Joseph class?"

Campbell was more than happy to oblige. In no time, he had granted ten more Ugandan priests access to his online course. 

“Either this is serious, or it’s the most elaborate scam ever,” Campbell recalled to CNA. 

Father Samuel Okiria. Courtesy photo
Father Samuel Okiria. Courtesy photo

The course that Campbell taught during summer 2021 was billed as an intensive, in-depth study of Christ's foster father, based primarily on Scripture, working through the basic chronology of St. Joseph’s life and explaining the theological significance of events involving him. The impetus for the course was the Year of St. Joseph, which Pope Francis declared for the Church at the end of 2020. 

Campbell told CNA that the course attracted 643 people, about 10% of whom tuned in from outside of Colorado, with about 20 U.S. states represented. 

And of course, 11 of those out-of-staters were participating from ten time zones away, in eastern Africa. The Ugandan priests were young, too— some in their 20s and 30s. 

Okiria said part of the reason he so much wanted to pursue the St. Joseph class, and to share it with his fellow priests, is that many of his fellow priests in his diocese are doing their pastoral work alone, with little or no assistance, and needed encouragement. 

He said taking the course and learning more about St. Joseph has helped to rekindle his fatherly heart, and to encourage him to reach out to the underprivileged, the forgotten, and the hopeless. 

Father Okiria’s parish is in an especially poor part of a largely agrarian region, where cattle farming and crops such as potatoes and cassava dominate. He said the people he serves have found it difficult to access healthcare during the pandemic. 

"The St. Joseph class reawakened in me the priestly consciousness of being humble and being relevant to the people, and giving my life to the people in obedience to God's will…to speak less, and act more,” Okiria said. 

"You know, St. Joseph in the Bible is a silent figure...who now speaks to us in his spirituality, in his silence, in his being a guardian."

Father Okiria told CNA that the 10-hour time difference, combined with internet connectivity problems, made it difficult for some of his priest friends to join the classes consistently. But they made the most of the situation, he said, with those who were able to access the course sharing the information they learned with others at clergy meetings. 

Campbell said he received a lot of positive feedback from participants in the course. In particular, he said, people expressed amazement at how much information can be drawn out about St. Joseph— who famously does not say a single word in the Bible— from Scripture. 

But mainly, he said, Campbell sought to convey what an amazingly heroic life St. Joseph lived, in the hopes of encouraging people to emulate him. 

"You realize, hey...this is an incredibly virtuous man. This is a real hero…what kind of graces and what kinds of gifts and virtues must he have actually had to actually do this in such a beautiful way?" Campbell said. 

For those interested in accessing the course now that it is finished, audio recordings of the lectures are available now for purchase for $50 in total

Both Campbell and Okiria said that the experience of connecting with one another despite the vast distance and cultural differences has illustrated for them the universality of the Catholic faith. 

"We are all fragile. We need one another. We need to support and listen to one another," Father Okiria said. 

"Let us live in peace and harmony, and let us be true Catholics in terms of charity and practice."

Grotto vandalized at parish in Northern Virginia

Removal of the remains of statues destroyed at the grotto of Nativity parish in Burke, Va., Jan. 25, 2022. / Diocese of Arlington

Arlington, Va., Jan 27, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Police are investigating after a grotto at a Catholic parish in Burke, Virginia was vandalized Tuesday evening. 

Nativity Catholic Church, is vowing to raise money to replace the statues, which were damaged beyond repair Jan. 25. The parish’s grotto depicted Our Lady of Fatima speaking to the three child visionaries.

In a Jan. 26 letter to his parish, Fr. Bob Cilinski said he was “so saddened” when the vandalism was discovered.  


“The police were notified and came out to document the vandalism and begin their investigation.  Unfortunately, the statues damaged are not repairable,” said Cilinski. “The statues will be removed and we will work to replace them.” 

The statues have since been removed from the grotto, and the parish and diocese are working with the Fairfax County police to investigate the vandalism. Details about any security camera footage or potential suspects were not made available.  

Cilinski encouraged his flock to “be people of peace who value and respect one another,” and to pray for the person who vandalized the grotto. He described the grotto as “a place of prayer, peace, and healing.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington echoed Cilinski’s sentiments in a statement provided to CNA. 

“The vandalism of a statue of Our Blessed Mother at the Church of the Nativity is a tragic and senseless defacing of the sacred. Mary stands as a symbol of peace in a world that needs her now more than ever,” said Burbidge.

“I ask that others join me in prayer for the perpetrator, as any motive behind such an act reflects a troubled soul in need of Our Lord,” said the bishop. 

A local authority condemned the vandalism as an attack on the Catholic community of Fairfax County. Burke is an unincorporated section of Fairfax County, about 15 miles southwest of Arlington.

“I have been recently made aware of a vandalism that took place at the Nativity Catholic Church in Burke,” Jeffrey McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said in a Jan. 26 statement. 

“This destruction of property and disrespect to our Catholic community is alarming because, at its core, it makes people feel unsafe,” he said. “In Fairfax County, we know our diversity is our strength and we always look to bring more people into our community and make sure they are heard and represented.” 

“Under all circumstances, we reject this hateful action,” said McKay. “I can assure you we will continue to make Fairfax County a community that is safe for everyone.” 

Church and local officials are encouraging anyone with information regarding the vandalism to contact the Fairfax County Police Department.

Pope Francis to speak with Loyola University Chicago students, others in global livestream

null / Vatican Media.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 27, 2022 / 15:11 pm (CNA).

Loyola University Chicago will host a livestream conversation between Pope Francis and college students from around the world next month as part of the Catholic Church’s preparations for the Synod on Synodality.

“I am honored to share news of an historic event involving Pope Francis as he reaches out directly in dialogue with young people across the Americas, facilitated by Loyola University Chicago faculty,” Jo Ann Rooney, president of Loyola University-Chicago, said in a Jan. 26 internal announcement the university provided to CNA.  

“The Pope and the students will address salient issues facing the Church and the world in our times—communion and participation, migration, and care for the planet,” said Rooney. “We look forward to an energetic and inspiring global conversation and are humbled to play a small part in the journey.”

The event, “Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter Between Pope Francis and University Students” will be a “direct conversation” between the Pope and university students from North, South, and Central America. The event will be livestreamed Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. Central Time. It will be translated live in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.

Those interested may watch the livestream event by registering at the university’s website.

Hosting the event are the university’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, the Department of Theology, and the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage. 

“Loyola University of Chicago is honored to welcome Pope Francis, the first Jesuit and Latin American pope, and university students from across the Americas committed to social justice, serving others, and finding God in all things,” the university said.

It comes as the Catholic Church is engaged in two-year global consultation process to prepare for the 2023 Synod on Synodality. When Pope Francis launched this process at an Oct. 10, 2021 Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, he said it means “taking time to encounter the Lord and one another.”

According to the university, the event with the pope originated when it reached out to Dr. Emilce Cuda, head of the Office of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, to lead a dialogue on the synodal process. At the university’s suggestion, Cuda invited Pope Francis to participate, and he accepted the invitation.

“The Pope will dialogue with these university students, highlighting the contributions of students who are themselves migrants and children of migrants,” the university said. “The students will share concrete educational projects that seek to justly transform environmental and economic realities and the manifold ways their educational commitments can contribute to integrate and empower existential peripheries.”

The university said more information on the event will be forthcoming.

Loyola University of Chicago, affiliated with the Society of Jesus, has about 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Its spring semester classes are being held online through Jan. 31 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.