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Pope names long-time Vatican diplomat as deputy of Secretariat of State

Vatican City, Aug 15, 2018 / 04:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Wednesday named Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, a member of the Vatican diplomatic corps for over 25 years, the ‘sostituto,’ or ‘substitute,’ of the Secretariat of State.

Apostolic nuncio to Mozambique since 2015, Pena will start in the position of substitute Oct. 15, according to a Vatican statement Aug. 15.

Pena, 58, began diplomatic service to the Holy See on April 1, 1993, and has served in Kenya, Yugoslavia, the United Nations Office in Geneva, and in apostolic nunciatures in South Africa, Honduras, and Mexico. He was nuncio to Pakistan from 2001 to 2014.

Born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, he was ordained a priest in 1985, and made a bishop in 2011. He studied canon law and speaks Spanish, Italian, English, French, Portuguese and Serbo-Croatian.

Pena takes over the position from Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who resigned June 29 in anticipation of beginning his assignment as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints later this summer.

Becciu, 70, who was elevated to the cardinalate June 28, served in the Secretariat of State, under both Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, beginning in 2011. He will start at the congregation for saints Aug. 31.

It is yet unknown if Pena will join Pope Francis as part of the papal entourage on his trip to Dublin Aug. 25-26.

The Secretariat of State is the central governing office of the Catholic Church and the department of the Roman Curia which works most closely with the pope.

Since the publication of Pastor Bonus, Pope John Paul II's 1988 apostolic constitution which introduced a reform of the Roman Curia, the Secretariat of State has been divided into two sections: the Section for General Affairs and the Section for Relations with States.

The substitute, who must be a bishop, acts as head of the Section for General Affairs, which is responsible for the everyday affairs and service of the pope, including overseeing the facilitation of appointments within the Roman Curia, the duties and activity of representatives of the Holy See, and the concerns of embassies accredited to the Holy See.

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher is the secretary for Relations with States, often described as the Vatican’s “foreign minister.”

As of November 2017, Pope Francis established a third section of the Secretariat, specifically to oversee the Vatican’s diplomatic corps, stationed around the world.

Archbishop Jan Romeo Pawlowski is at the helm of the third section, called the “Section for Diplomatic Staff.” Previously apostolic nuncio to Gabon, in 2015 Pawlowski was appointed head of the Office for Pontifical Representations, a sort of human resources office within the Secretariat of State.

Holy Snakes! A Marian feast day's strange, stunning miracle

Athens, Greece, Aug 15, 2018 / 03:03 am (CNA).- Every year, on the Orthodox feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, a monastery on a Greek island experiences a miracle – dozens of snakes come to 'venerate' an icon of Mary.

In a phenomenon that has reportedly been happening for hundreds of years, black snakes begin appearing on the Greek island of Kefalonia between Aug. 5 and Aug. 15, the days when the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the dormition of the Theotokos (celebrated in the Western Church as the Assumption of Mary).

According to tradition, the miracle of the snakes began in 1705, when nuns of the monastery were about to be attacked by pirates.

Legend has it that the nuns prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary, asking her that she turn them into snakes to avoid capture. Other versions say that the nuns prayed that the monastery be infested with snakes so as to scare away the pirates. Either way it happened, they were spared.

Since then, the small black snakes, known as European Cat Snakes, appear every year just before the feast, and make their way to the walls and entryways of the Church to 'venerate' the silver icon of Mary known as the Panagia Fidoussa, or the Virgin of the Snakes.

The snakes' patterning can produce a small black cross on their head, and they have a forked tongue, adding to the legend that these snakes are marked by the sign of the Cross.  

In recent years, the faithful have taken to transporting snakes to the church in jars and bags, to protect them from being run over by unwitting motorists.

The usually-aggressive snakes are reportedly docile and calm during these days, when they are welcome in the church for Mass and prayers, and disappear from the island completely after the feast until the next year.

Reportedly, the only years the snakes have not appeared on the island were during World War II, and in 1953 - the year of a massive earthquake. Locals now take the lack of the snake's appearance as a bad sign.

Every year, the island celebrates the Theotokos and the miracle with a Snake Festival.

Benedict XVI Institute At San Quentin

San Francisco, Calif., Aug 15, 2018 / 01:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When the Benedict XVI Institute in San Francisco formed a choir to teach Gregorian chant and sacred music to interested parishes, they landed the most unlikely of first gigs – a concert at San Quentin State Prison.

“God works in his mysterious ways,” Maggie Gallagher, executive director of the institute, told CNA.

The traveling and teaching sacred music choir (schola) from the Benedict XVI Institute put on a concert and sacred music workshop for the inmates in the San Francisco-area prison Aug. 5.

The concert was a hit, Gallagher said, and many of the men flocked around the singers at the end of the concert to talk more about sacred music. Twenty-five inmates signed up to join the prison’s own schola, which will perform at a Traditional Latin Mass celebrated about once a month at the prison.

The Benedict XVI Institute was founded by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco in 2014, with the mission of providing practical resources to help parishes have more beautiful and reverent liturgies, and to promote a Catholic culture in the arts.

“The important thing about our primary mission is that its practical resources, so we’re not a think tank about the liturgy,” Gallagher noted.

While the institute has existed for four years, the traveling, teaching schola only began this March, with the goal of teaching parishes how to use Gregorian chant and sacred music for more beautiful Masses.

“The archbishop kept emphasizing that until we were getting into parishes we were not succeeding,” Gallagher said.

Archbishop Cordileone was also a driving force behind the schola’s gig at San Quentin, a place he goes “fairly regularly” to celebrate Mass with the inmates. While celebrating Mass at the prison over Mother’s Day, Cordileone was approached by the prison’s chaplain, Fr. George Williams, who said he was interested in having the teaching choir come to San Quentin.

On Aug. 5, music director Rebekah Wu and a number of singers performed for and trained the men in chant. The twenty-five men who now form the prison’s schola will officially perform for the first time on Aug. 25, when the Traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated at San Quentin for the first time in three generations.

“This is our brand-new teaching choir and you are our first gig!” Cordileone told the men on Aug. 5, a comment met with “thunderous applause,” Gallagher said.

“I love telling people our first teaching gig is the San Quentin Schola!” Cordileone added.

Gallagher said the concert and formation of the schola had an overwhelmingly positive response from the inmates, some of whom are practiced musicians in their own right.

“They have a number of talented musicians with good voices, and as the archbishop said, they like to sing and they worship well,” she said.

"One young man told me that he felt the Holy Spirit buzzing in his soul while he joined the choir in some chanting during the concert. I was especially delighted to see that so many men want to learn Gregorian chant and classical sacred choral music, and help bring the Latin Mass to San Quentin,” Wu said after the concert.

Gallagher said she heard another man tell the choir: “I really don’t want to be in (prison), but if I have to be in here, I want to be in here listening to music like that.”

After the concert, Cordileone told Gallagher that through the music, he saw the inmates “lifted up to God by sacred beauty and given new hope.”

“The Benedict XVI Institute teaching choir is clearly fulfilling an important need in ordinary parishes but also for those at the margins of society,” Cordileone added.

The large turnout and positive response to the concert showed Williams that “the men at San Quentin have a hunger for beauty and prayer. The concert by the Benedict XVI Institute was clearly enjoyed by those who attended. They also appreciated the support and presence of Archbishop Cordileone who has made it a point to visit the prison often.”

The schola has been positively received by a number of different parishes and groups throughout the diocese that have expressed interest in learning sacred music, Gallagher said.

There’s something about Gregorian chant and polyphony “which for many many people just blows them away, just blows them up towards heaven,” Gallagher added.

Gallagher said she has often found that even for the most trained musicians, chant and sacred music is a new and powerful spiritual experience.

She added that sacred music also has an effect that seems to transcend typical ideological boundaries when it comes to the liturgy, and that it especially resonates with younger to middle-aged audiences who are tired of the so-called “liturgy wars.”

“I think this has a reach that gets beyond the normal ideological categories and that a lot of people are hungry for,” Gallagher said.

“We like to say if you’re being brought closer to God by the Mass that you’re experiencing, bless you, we’re not trying to take that away from anyone that’s being well fed. But there is a hunger out there that is not being fed, and it’s exciting to watch the interest (in sacred music and chant) unfold.”

The history of the Assumption – and why it's a Holy Day of Obligation

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2018 / 12:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Today, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven. But while the feast day is a relatively new one, the history of the holiday – and the mystery behind it – has its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian belief.

“As her earthly life comes to an end, the Assumption helps us to understand more fully not just her life, but it helps us to always focus our gaze to Eternity,” said EWTN Senior Contributor Dr. Matthew Bunson.

“We see in Mary the logic of the Assumption as the culmination of Mary’s life,” he continued. “A Eucharistic requirement for that day is very fitting.”

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – has its roots in the early centuries of the Church. The Catholic Church teaches that when Mary ended her earthly life, God assumed her, body and soul into heaven.

This belief traces its roots back to the earliest years of the Church. While a site outside of Jerusalem was recognized as the tomb of Mary, the earliest Christians maintained that “no one was there,” Bunson said.

According to St. John of Damascus, in the 5th century, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, Roman Emperor Marcian requested the body of Mary, Mother of God. St. Juvenal, who was Bishop of Jerusalem replied “that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven,” the saint recorded.

By the 8th century, around the time of Pope Adrian, the Church began to change its terminology, renaming the feast day of the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary, Bunson noted.  

The belief in the Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition, and a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However it was not defined officially until the past century. In 1950, Pope Pius XII made an infallible, ex-cathedra statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory,” the pope wrote.

Within the decree, which was passed beforehand to dioceses around the world, Pope Pius XII surveys centuries of Christian thought and the writings of a number of saints on the Assumption of Mary.  

“We have throughout the history of the Church an almost universal attestation of this,” Bunson said of the Christian tradition’s testimony to Mary’s Assumption.

“We have this thread that runs throughout the whole of the history of the Church in support of the dogma. That’s significant because it supports the tradition of the Church, but it also supports a coming to a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church of how we rely upon the reflections of some of the greatest minds of our Church.”

What’s also notable about the dogma, he added, is that it “uses the passive tense,” emphasizing that Mary did not ascend into heaven on her own power, as Christ did, but was raised into heaven by God’s grace.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption is marked as a major feast day and a public holiday in many countries. In most countries, including the United States, it is a Holy Day of Obligation, and Catholics are required to attend Mass. Dr. Bunson explained that on major feast days, it’s important to mark the significance of the feast as especially vital by emphasizing the necessity of celebrating the Eucharist that day.

“What is more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother to, once again, focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he reflected.

 

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 15, 2017.

Why these Catholics are taking the slow boat to Panama

Paris, France, Aug 14, 2018 / 09:00 pm (CNA).- To get to World Youth Day 2019 in Panama this January, most Catholics will board flights a day or two before events begin. Some will drive, and spend a few weeks along the route on pilgrimage. A few might even spend weeks walking to Panama. But a crew of almost two dozen Catholics will take more than five months to get to World Youth Day, and that’s so long as they have calm seas and fair winds.
 
A French crew of 17 men and women, four skippers, and a chaplain will sail from France to the Central American country, arriving at World Youth Day under sail, and from the sea.

Though a majority of the group has never sailed before, the crew will take three boats and gain hands-on-experience along the way. Stopping at many European pilgrim sites, the crew will spend time as pilgrims, in prayer and reflection as they travel.  The boats will carry a statue of Santa Maria La Antigua, the patron saint of Panama.  

The voyage is expected to depart from the Gulf of Brest, located in the north of France, on August 31. On behalf of all the country’s bishops, the crew will receive a blessing from Bishop Marc Aillet of Bayonne.

According the Vatican News, the team has labeled the journey a “spiritual, human, and missionary adventure.” The crewmates cited a variety of reasons for their lengthy journey. Some members are using the trip as a time to discern a vocation, better understand life’s purpose, or to focus on prayer.  

The pilgrims also expressed desires to immerse themselves in the cultures of other nations, listening to the stories of local people and learning from shared experiences.

Until September 15, the crew will sail through France, Portugal, and Spain, stopping at pilgrim sites like Santiago de Compostela and the apparition site of Our Lady of Fatima. The boats will reach Morocco by September 30 to retrace the steps of Blessed Charles de Foucault.

In October, the crew will sail to the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago, and then to Senegal. The crew will be leading a mission trip in Senegal’s capital city, Dakar.

After an estimated 20 days of travel over the Atlantic Ocean, the pilgrims will arrive at the Caribbean islands around Christmas. The crew will sail to Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. They plan will arrive in Panama before Jan. 22.