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What does a traveling evangelist do during the coronavirus lockdown?

Denver, Colo., Apr 2, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- What does a traveling evangelist do when a global pandemic keeps him at home? He goes online!

One Catholic evangelist said that lessons he’s learning about online evangelization during the coronavirus pandemic could make some Catholic ministries far more effective than they once were.

Chris Stefanick, who hosts EWTN’s “Real Life Catholic,” also travels the country, speaking to more than 80,000 people each year. His travels are the way he spreads the Word of God, and the way he makes a living.

Stefanick told CNA that preaching during the pandemic has meant a slew of personal and practical challenges. But he said those challenges could compel the Church to develop and refine effective use of technology for evangelization.

“This is not a time for the Church to slow down its ministry. It's time to aggressively pivot and quickly pivot. This hasn’t changed what we do at that core,” Stefanick said.

In the past, even the recent past, Stefanick said, his evangelization work has focused mostly on events at which he speaks about how the Gospel, and the Church, have transformed his life and the lives of others.

His ministry has “able to leverage my gift for speaking with 40 parishes a year and that makes an impact,” he said.

But those events, however effective they are, have impact limited by attendance.

“Taking that same thing and doing it digitally,” Stefanick explained, broadens the reach of his ministry.

“If this succeeds, we can work with hundreds and hundreds of parishes. Whereas the events were limited by how many places I can get to.”

The pandemic will “make us more effective because this will strengthen the whole digital component of our ministry. So instead of being 75% about events, 25% digital, now it's 100% digital. By the time we are out of this, we [will] strengthen that component,” he said.

Stefanick pointed to “I AM,” a virtual coaching program that was released by his ministry, Real Life Catholic, on Ash Wednesday. He said the initiative aims to help users replace negative self-thoughts with positive reflections on the Word of God. Drawing from struggles in his own life, he said, “I AM” is a program that is relevant to everyone, even non-Catholics.

“We have a 30-day coaching program and it’s [one] of the most effective ministr[ies] we've ever done, based on the responses of people [and] how it's hitting their hearts. It's a program about helping people rewire how they talk to themselves and replace self-talk with the uplifting Word of God,” he said.

“I've been with the Lord for a long time and I wrote some of this out of personal experience of the things that I struggle with negative self-talk.”

The coronavirus lockdown has changed Stefanick’s daily work schedule and brought about some own personal concerns, including worries about finances and the fragility of society. He said, though, it is also a blessing to spend so much time with family. 

“I can perceive the good for me in that I haven't been home this much in 10 years and it's the Sabbath that's made me relook at life. We'll never get this chance again. God willing. We will never get the chance again to pause on so many of our activities,” he said.

“So it led to a lot of reflection, self-correction, repentance, prayer, silence and family time. Doing things like taking walks with kids, things I never did before that I regret not having done. Very simple things that you lose track of when life is going 300 miles an hour.”

Stefanick said the pandemic is also an opportunity to trust in the Lord.

“It also forces a real look, not theoretical, but a very real [look] at life and death,” he said. “We're delusional in the Western world. We forget … how fragile the whole system is that insulates us from our need, from death, from everything,” Stefanick said.

“I found myself in moments of fear when going to the grocery store and seeing everything [going] totally nuts, “ he said. “[It’s ] forced me to come back to, ‘Lord, you are really my provider and whatever happens to me, your only motive is love.’ And that's where my peace comes from. Not [from] having enough to pay bills and enough stuff out there to get what I need.”

Stefanick said the pandemic requires a different kind of courage than many people might have expected, adding that members of the Church are all called to a sort of monastic lifestyle at the moment. He said it would be potentially hazardous for people to break the quarantine, and should focus on an important work of mercy - prayer.

He pointed to a challenge from Pope Francis, who has offered a plenary indulgence to people suffering from COVID-19 and their caretakers, including healthcare workers, along with their benefactors in prayer.

The pandemic will lead to more death in the upcoming weeks and those in the hospitals need to know that prayers are being offered for them, Stefanick said..

“What's being asked of us during this time is withdrawal, silence, and the life of a Carthusian monk …  not the life of an evangelist missionary. So that's a different kind of heroism and it's no less difficult. Frankly. I think it would be easier for me if I knew I could go out and help people and risk my life going to Mass,” he said.

“We really have to pray for the world right now … We should be praying a lot for people who are facing death. It's going to be a lot of bad news in the month ahead. A lot of people are gonna lose their lives and they need prayers.”


Texas AG: Planned Parenthood not singled out by coronavirus order

Washington D.C., Apr 2, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has disputed Planned Parenthood’s claim that the state targeted abortion clinics in an order prohibiting non-essential medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Interview an interview that will air Thursday on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, Paxton said that the abortion provider was itself demanding special treatment in a legal challenge to the executive issued last month by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott issued the executive order (GA 09) on March 22, halting non-essential surgeries and medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic, in order to free up resources and medical personnel to treat COVID patients.

Abbott clarified that the order would apply to “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

“What they are actually asking to be singled out,” Paxton said Thursday. “[They want] to be treated better than everybody else during this crisis, so they could be doing elective abortions, when those resources could otherwise be used to save somebody’s life.” 

Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups filed litigation over the executive order, claiming Abbott singled out the procedure. A federal district court initially blocked the order, but the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on that ruling March 31, permitting Abbott’s order to go into effect.

In a statement Tuesday, Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called Abbott’s order “heartless,” adding, “No other form of health care is being targeted this way — only abortion.”

During the interview on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, Paxton argued that the Texas order does not single out abortion clinics, but is “a ban on elective procedures which also includes abortion.”

“It includes orthopedic surgeries, it includes dental procedures, it includes dermatological procedures, it includes all kinds of elective procedures, they are not being singled out, they are just being treated like everybody else,” Paxton said.

Paxton argued that any type of nonessential medical procedure “had to be stopped” in an effort to conserve personal protective equipment for health care professionals battling the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We’re trying to conserve those because there’s a shortage of them, and conserve resources like hospital beds, and even the focus of doctors’ time,” Paxton said.

Paxton argued that through its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood is asking for special treatment.

“We didn’t want anybody treated any differently but apparently Planned Parenthood and the abortion providers felt like they should be given an exception to how other people and how other providers are being treated,” he said.

The order, Paxton said, “applies to everyone.”

The full interview with Paxton will air Thursday at 10:00 PM EST on EWTN.


Texas Attorney General @KenPaxtonTX explains how Governor Greg Abbot's order was designed to conserve medical supplies during the #coronavirus pandemic. He also discusses the ongoing legal battle with @PPact.
Watch the full interview tonight. #prolife pic.twitter.com/lzTeao1gH3

— EWTN Pro-Life Weekly (@EWTNProLife) April 2, 2020  


Kate Scanlon is a producer for EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

Spatula baseball: L’Arche ‘leans into creativity’ during lockdown

Washington D.C., Apr 2, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- While sports around the country have seen their seasons suspended due to COVID-19, spatula baseball season is in full swing at one of the L’Arche community houses in Washington, D.C.

Faced with quarantines and stay-at-home orders, the four houses of L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. (GWDC) were forced to adjust to a whole host of changes to keep the members of the community safe. 

But, according to Luke Smith, executive director and community leader of L’Arche Greater Washington, the changes have meant that the L’Arche homes are doing what they do best: embracing creativity. 

“We're very creative as a community,” Smith said, noting that there are many artists within the organization. “We're intentional communities, so we're intentional about how we share our gifts--and we're full of gifts--and so, and we've taken time to kind of lean into our creative energies.” 

L’Arche GWDC is part of L’Arche International, “a worldwide federation of people, with and without intellectual disabilities, working together for a world where all belong.” L’Arche communities consist of “core members,” who have intellectual disabilities, and “assistants,” who generally do not have intellectual disabilities, and who live in community with core members. There are 14 “core members” in the Washington area.
Part of L’Arche’s “leaning in” to creativity involves devising new ways to pass the time. One home is having community members give “TED Talks” each night about topics they are interested in, and residents at another home invented “spatula baseball”--a game that has proven to be quite popular. 

Unlike traditional baseball, which uses a bat and a ball, “spatula baseball” is designed to be played indoors--Smith said it is typically played in the kitchen and living room--and uses a spatula in place of the bat and a paper ball instead of a baseball. Once batters hit the ball, they proceed to walk around the bases. 

Smith said that while community members are flexing their creative muscles at this time, others have tried to stick to a routine, even though they can no longer attend day programs or go to work due to the coronavirus. 

“People are still getting up to have breakfast as they would do normally, still getting dressed to go to work,” he said. “Charles, who's a member of the community, is still wearing a tie every day, as he would do normally.” 

The core members understand why they cannot go to their jobs or programs and, Smith said, they have learned on the news about the coronavirus and why it is important to practice social distancing and handwashing. Being part of an international federation means that L’Arche GWDC can see how the homes abroad were dealing with the virus.

“We know that other members in other communities are experiencing this too,” he said. “So that reality of ‘we are doing this together, not just as a national population of people here in the U.S., but also as people of L'Arche across the world,’ has helped to set the tone.”

Even though Washington and Virginia are both under some variation of stay-at-home directives, the world of L’Arche’s community continues, albeit with modifications, said Smith. This Tuesday’s prayer service, which is normally held in-person, will instead be done via Zoom. 

He added that there has been an “unintended benefit” of a new reliance on technology--being able to reconnect with past community members. 

“Technology is a wonderful way of ensuring that we remain an intentional community, where we continue those mutual relationships or we are able to flourish--even in the midst of this,” said Smith.

Smith said that other measures, such as new screening procedures and temperature checks for any guests to the homes, as well as changes to who is permitted to go grocery shopping and when, are to ensure the health of the core members and assistants, many of whom are considered to be medically vulnerable. 

“People with intellectual disabilities are often the most impacted by this,” said Smith. “And we have people in our community who are no longer at work. They are people with intellectual disabilities who are no longer receiving a paycheck and they are no longer engaged in, what is being meaningful and is meaningful for them.” 

Smith also raised concerns about the potential quality of medical care that the core members would receive if they were to fall ill as extra motivation to introduce additional safety steps. He noted several states have been accused of issuing disaster preparedness plans that, should the situation arise, could prioritize giving care to people without intellectual disabilities if there were a shortage of ventilators. 

“I am particularly mindful of that, in light of some personal experiences in  my own community here in DC, where we've had issues in the past in terms of communicating the dignity of someone with their medical provider or the medical system,” said Smith. 

Smith praised the “great work” of the assistants of L’Arche GWDC, as they have made “sacrifices in limiting what they are doing, to make sure that our homes are safe and healthy and protected.”

An obstacle facing L’Arche GWDC is the cancelation of their fundraising breakfast, as well as the challenges they face in obtaining common household supplies, which typically sell out very quickly. Smith said the communities have a wish list where people could support them financially if they wish. 

As the DC-area concludes its third week of coronavirus-related restrictions, Smith told CNA that he has been careful to work to maintain a strong sense of community and cooperation within the homes. 

“One of the things that we practice every day at the L'Arche community is the reality of forgiveness and celebration are daily parts of our reality,” he said. 

“I've been sharing with the community that we need to be gentle with ourselves and gentle with others and that it's okay to be frustrated with the coronavirus, but we don't need to be frustrated with each other.” He said his community has “really leaned in” to this mentality.

“We’ve been able to lean into each other, and ask each other for support, and ask each other for space and time,” he added. 

Smith told CNA that he hopes the L’Arche community is able to be a sign of hope and community for not only each other, but also for other members of the greater DC area--particularly those who have been impacted in one way or another by the coronavirus. 

“We are praying with you,” said Smith. “We are thinking of ways we can support you. L’Arche wants to give, too; we as a community want to be supportive.”

Australian High Court to issue Cardinal Pell decision next week

CNA Staff, Apr 2, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The High Court of Australia will hand down its decision in the case of Cardinal George Pell next week. The justices are considering Cardinal Pell’s petition for special leave to appeal his 2018 conviction for sexual abuse.

The court announced Thursday that a decision would be issued by the seven justices in the case Pell v. The Crown on April 7 at 10 am. By the time the decision is handed down, the bench will have considered the cardinal’s case for just over three weeks, after hearing two days of arguments in the case last month.

Pell is seeking to appeal the 2-1 split decision of the Court of Appeal in Victoria to sustain his 2018 conviction on five counts of child sexual abuse over two separate instances.

The High Court heard arguments from Pell’s legal team and from state prosecutors March 11-12, after which the justices reserved judgment.

At issue in the appeal is whether the jury that convicted Pell in December 2018 of sexually abusing two choristers could have plausibly found Pell guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, after having heard the case presented by the prosecutors and the defense mounted by Pell’s lawyers.

The High Court could quash the guilty verdict against Pell, uphold it, or send the case back to the Victoria appellate court which upheld the conviction last year.

During the March hearings, Pell’s lead lawyer, Brett Walker SC, outlined a case for appeal grounded in the findings of Victoria Justice Mark Weinberg, whose dissenting opinion at the Victoria Court of Appeal in August found that the cardinal had been convicted on the evidence of a single alleged victim, despite the exculpatory testimony of as many as 20 witnesses, and that the jury could not have found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Pell was convicted of committing acts of sexual assault on two choir boys simultaneously for five to six minutes in the cathedral sacristy, while he was fully vested after Mass. Walker suggested that would be practically impossible. 

Walker also pointed out changes and inconsistencies in the narrative of the sole witness-accuser to give evidence against Pell. The second alleged victim died in 2014, before the trial began; before his death he told his mother that he was not a victim of sexual abuse.

Australian state of Victoria’s chief prosecutor, Kerri Judd, was grilled by the justices, who took issue with the state’s handling of key pieces of evidence in the case against Pell, most especially the evidence of Monsignor Charles Portelli, an aide to Pell.

Portelli’s testimony placed the cardinal outside his Melbourne cathedral at the time he was alleged to be sexually abusing two boys in the cathedral’s sacristy, on the Sunday in 1996 when that crime is alleged to have taken place. 

At one point during the hearing Thursday, Judd conceded the Portelli’s testimony undermined the allegations of the prosecution, but urged the High Court justices to look past that fact in its deliberations, citing some inconsistencies in Portelli’s recollection of the Sunday, now 24 years ago, in question.

Judd told justices that “I do accept that when you look at Monsignor Portelli on his own, we may not be able to negate [reasonable doubt] to the standard we need to. But in my submission, when you look at the whole of the evidence, it does.”

The justices also considered the actions of the three-judge panel of the Victoria Court of Appeals, which upheld Pell’s conviction August last year. The Victoria judges chose to watch a video of the single victim-accuser’s testimony instead of reading the transcript. Pell’s legal team argued that this made them unable to dispassionately weigh the “reasonableness” of the jury being able to exclude reasonable doubt on the basis of his evidence alone. 

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said “It’s very difficult to say how [the video] affected an intermediate appellate court judge in terms of how they read the transcript.” 

“That’s why you really shouldn’t do it [watch the video] … unless there is a forensic reason to do it. To what extent is this court to determine the extent to which the court of appeal was influenced by the video?” Kiefel asked.

Whatever the final outcome of Pell’s criminal appeal, the cardinal will likely face a canonical proceeding, overseen by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, soon after the Australian case reaches a definitive resolution.

Pell has told friends he remains faithful to God’s providence and committed to living his time in prison in the spirit of a monastic retreat.

Statue of Christ carrying the cross will process Holy Wednesday in Caracas

CNA Staff, Apr 2, 2020 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- The statue of the Nazarene of Saint Paul will be processed April 8 through the streets of Caracas to help the faithful observe Holy Week.

It will be atop a popemobile used by St. John Paul II when he visited the country in 1985.

According to local tradition, the striking image was brought to Caracas from Seville in 1674. The wooden sculpture depicts Christ dressed in an ornately embroidered purple robe carrying his cross.

According to accounts, the image was processed in the city with prayers during a plague that broke out in Caracas in 1696, and the devotional act was credited with ending the pestilence.

The image was originally kept in a church dedicated to Saint Paul the Hermit, whose intercession was attributed to ending a plague in 1579. The wooden sculpture is now reserved in Saint Teresa Basilica, as Saint Paul’s church was demolished and replaced with a municipal theater by an anticlerical president in 1881.

The procession is held annually on Holy Wednesday.

Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Archbishop of Merida and apostolic administrator of Caracas, said the “route will cover a great part of the city for veneration by its devotees,” and asked for understanding as the route itself has not yet been finalized and will be announced later.

According to local media, the prelate said in a letter that the image should be transported in accordance with safety and hygiene regulations to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Porras said that the image should not be carried by people but transported by vehicle only and there should be another vehicle for a priest and assistant along with sound equipment for the prayers.

The archdiocese said that parishes can join the initiative and organize such a procession in their own areas as long as they observe the proper health precautions.

Finally, the archdiocese asked the faithful devotees of the Nazarene of Saint Paul to offer their prayers from their homes and to wait for the end of the coronavirus lockdown to visit the image in Saint Teresa Basilica.

Italian bishops offer Mass for coronavirus victims, including 87 priests

Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Bishops throughout Italy visited cemeteries last week to pray and offer Mass for the souls of those who died after contracting the coronavirus. Among the 13,915 coronavirus deaths in Italy, at least 87 have been priests.

“Hear Lord the pain that rises from this land that we still believe blessed … We believe that in the death on the cross of your Son Jesus and in his burial, every cross, every death, every burial is redeemed from abandonment, from darkness, from nothing,” Bishop Francesco Beschi said March 27 in a cemetery in Bergamo, a hard-hit northern Italian city where 553 people died in March.  

In Beschi’s diocese of Bergamo alone, 25 diocesan priests have died after contracting COVID-19.

“This week I went to the cemetery with the desire to become a voice of prayer and pain that has no chance to express themselves and remains enclosed not only in our homes, but above all in our hearts. In some ways … it is as if our cities had become a large cemetery. Nobody is seen anymore. Disappeared. We can see each other through the media and social media, fortunately, but the city is deserted,” Beschi said in his homily via livestream March 29. 

Italy has entered its fourth week of a national mandatory lockdown. On April 1, the Prime Minister  Giuseppe Conte announced that the country’s quarantine deadline has been extended to April 13, but noted that the lockdown will not end until “the curve subsides.”

There have been more than 115,000 documented cases of coronavirus in Italy and 13,915 mortalities as of April 2 according to the Italian Ministry of Health.

Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian bishops conference, reported a total of 87 priest mortalities as of March 31. However, this number could be higher; some religious orders, such as the Xaverian Missionary Fathers in Parma, did not test the 16 elderly priests who died in their residence last month.

Three quarters of the diocesan priests reported dead were over the age of 75. The youngest priest to die was 45-year-old Fr. Alessandro Brignone of Salerno. The Southern Italian priest had participated in a Neocatechumenal Way retreat in early March after which many participants tested positive for COVID-19.

The Diocese of Milan reported two new deaths attributed to coronavirus last weekend: Fr. Cesare Terraneo, 75, and Fr. Pino Marelli, 80, bringing the diocesan death toll for priests to 10. 

The Diocese of Bolzano, on Italy’s border with Austria, has lost four priests to COVID-19, most recently Fr. Heinrich Kamelger, 85, Fr. Anton Matzneller, 83, and Fr. Reinhard Ebner, 71, who had served as a missionary in Brazil.

New deaths were also reported in the Italian dioceses of Vercelli, Turin, La Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato, Nuoro, Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Udine, and Cremona.

The Bishop of Cremona, Antonio Napolioni, was hospitalized for pneumonia caused by COVID-19 for ten days but was released on March 17. 

After returning home to continue recovering, the bishop spoke with Pope Francis over the phone, and said he made a joke with the pope about the consequences of being “shepherds who smell of their sheep,” according to Vatican News.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, tested positive for coronavirus on March 30, and the Diocese of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso reported that Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo had a confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 31.

Other bishops in Italy, France, Burkina Faso, China, and the United States have also tested positive for COVID-19, and Bishop Angelo Moreschi, 67, died in the Italian city of Brescia on March 25 after contracting the coronavirus.

Philippines parish cancels planned 'online general absolution'

CNA Staff, Apr 2, 2020 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- A parish in the Philippines has canceled an “online general absolution.” Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish in Quezon City, Philippines had advertised the event would be available by livestream, and was set to take place on April 3. 

On Thursday, the parish issued a retraction and an apology. 

“Fr. Nelson wants to correct himself. General absolution cannot be given via online,” said a statement issued by the parish. 

“The penitent must be physically present— meaning, the priest who absolves and the penitent who receives the absolution must be in the same place,” the statement clarified. 

According to the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, which has authority over the sacrament of confession and matters falling under the sacramental seal, general absolution without prior individual confession may only be imparted where the imminent danger of death occurs, when there is not enough time to listen to the confessions of individual penitents, or there is a serious need. 

Amid the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and many dioceses worldwide suspending Masses and confessions, the Vatican has clarified that if a general absolution is done, it must be approved by the bishop, and it must be done in person. 

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, clarified on March 19 that priests giving general absolution in particular cases must explain the conditions of general absolution, and also must be physically present to those receiving it, at least to the point of penitents being able to hear the priest’s voice.

Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, chair of pastoral studies at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California, told CNA Thursday that the sacraments must be an encounter between the priest and the person receiving the sacrament.

In the same way that a penitent could not confess sins to a priest over the telephone— which would remove the person-to-person encounter of the sacrament— offering general absolution online removes the unity between the priest and the penitents, and therefore is not valid, he said. 

"This kind of virtual presentation of the sacrament is not what the Church understands a sacrament to be," he said. 

"They need to understand that what they are doing is not a sacrament."

In addition, the law is abundantly clear, he said, that if general absolution is given, the bishop must give the parameters. Parishes must get permission from the bishop to offer general absolution, he said. 

A parish employee at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish was unable to confirm to CNA whether the cancelation of the planned online general absolution was the result of an intervention on the part of the bishop. 

Another Philippines parish, Our Lady of Sorrows in the Diocese of Tarlac is, as of press time, going forward with a livestreamed general absolution for its viewers “with the explicit permission of the Bishop of Tarlac.” 

The Diocese of Tarlac and Bishop Enrique Macaraeg did not reply to CNA’s request for comment by press time. 

Cardinal Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, Archbishop of Jakarta, reportedly led an online general absolution on Monday. 

Cardinal urges that amid coronavirus the poor be released from 'tomb' of loans, debt

Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for the wealthy, and wealthy countries, to forgive the debt of poor persons and countries, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples preached Sunday.

“Where are the tombs of society right now? Where are we lifeless?” Cardinal Luis Tagle asked during his homily in a Mass said March 29 at the Pontificio Collegio Filippino in Rome, reflecting on Christ's raizing of Lazarus to life.

“Where do we smell, where is our stench?” he continued. “There are many people who are losing their jobs, especially the daily wage earners. And that lack of resources and the poverty could be one tomb right now of many poor people. Could those who can afford it, go to those tombs and release the poor people who owe them money? Release them from their loans, release them from their debts.”

“And we even appeal to rich countries, at this moment, can you forgive the debts of the poor countries, so that they could use their dwindling resources to support their communities, rather than to pay the interest that you impose on poor countries? Could the coronavirus 19 crisis lead to a jubilee, forgiveness of debt, so that those who are in the tombs of indebtedness could find life? Untie them, release them,” he exhorted.

Cardinal Tagle said that the day's Mass points to that fact that Christ “will triumph over death.”

“Let me reflect on this part of the Gospel: this illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God. Jesus said this when he had been told of the sickness of Lazarus … Can we say the same thing now?  Can we with Jesus say, this coronavirus pandemic is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God? Even when we see the rising number of dead people. And we are in solidarity with those who are grieving, grieving. But Jesus is inviting us to faith.”

He recalled the resurrection of the dead, prophesied by Ezekiel, and asked, “how do we find life in the midst of signs of death?”

“Who will open our eyes to see signs of life when there are so many signs of death? It is God, Jesus, but we need faith. I thnk one good thing about this Covid-19 virus – I say again with all sympathy to those who are grieving – but with the eys of faith we see also life. Many of us think that if we pay the highest premium of insurance? No. your insurance cannot ensure everlasting life.”

“This virus is making us aware that all our successes and inventions, good as they are in themselves, they do not guarantee life. So people are now turning to faith, to God,” the cardinal reflected.

Cardinal Tagle noted that Christ went to Lazarus' family “to express solidarity, sympathy, but beyond that, Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus. And in the creed, we say he went the place of the dead. This going to the tomb of Lazarus is a prefiguration of his own entry to the place of the dead. We even say he descended into hell, the place of the dead, in order to restore life, commnion with God; the place of isolation becomes a place of communion.”

Martha, he recalled, was embarrased to let Christ go to Lazarus' tomb, saying there would be a stench.
“But Jesus can stand our stench. Jesus says I can handle that; where is he buried? Don't worry. And he goes to the tomb and calls him out back to life.”

“My brothers and sisters, what are your tombs?” Cardinal Tagle asked. “Where do we stench? Where do we smell?”

After discussing debt forgiveness, the cardinal likened spending on armaments to a tomb: “Many countries spend so much country for arms, for weapons, for their national security, can we stop wars please? Could we stop producing weapons please? Could we get out of that tomb and spend the money for real security?

“Now we we realize we don't have enough masks, when there are more than enough bullets. We don't have enough supplies of ventilators, but we have millions of pesos, dollars, euros, spent on one plane that could attack people. Could we have this permanent ceasefire, and in the name of the poor, let us release money for real security, education, housing, food?”

Cardinal Tagle exhorted: “Those of us who have been living more than four days in the tombs of anger, jealousy, lack of forgiveness, por favor, get out of that. And start talking, untie your mouth, but not for gossip, but for a word of love, a word of forgiveness. Time is short. We don't know how long life will last. So get out of that tomb, meet your friends, meet people and utter words of forgiveness, understanding. Untie your heart, let it beat again. Let the heart of stone now be a heart of flesh, let it live.”

“And like Jesus, weep, because we love. And if we with Jesus visit our tombs and the tombs of other people, bringing life because of faith, we hope his tears would become tears of rejoicing. And Lazarus will sing again. It is true. This illness is for the glory of God. For today, please share with your families and your loved ones, your tombs, and see how Jesus is leading you out of the tomb, leading us to life.”

John Paul II embraced his suffering with love: Cardinal reflects 15 years after saint’s death

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Pope St. John Paul II embraced suffering with love, even during his illness, a cardinal and the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica said on the 15th anniversary of the saint’s death.

The spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and the growing number of infected and dying people “has fallen on an unprepared society, highlighting the spiritual emptiness of many people,” Cardinal Angelo Comastri told Vatican News April 1.

“Pain undoubtedly frightens everyone,” he stated. “But when it is enlightened by faith it becomes a way to cut back selfishness, banalities and frivolities.”

Pope St. John Paul II died at the Vatican on April 2, 2005, 15 years ago, after months of illness and a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Comastri recalled one of the pope’s final “appearances” before his death, when, unable to attend, he watched the Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum via video from his private chapel.

“The image we saw on television is unforgettable,” Comastri said. “The pope, who had lost all his physical strength, holding the Crucifix in his hands, gazing at it with pure love. One could sense he was saying: ‘Jesus, I too am on the Cross like you. But together with you I await the Resurrection.’”

According to Comastri, “John Paul II was a true master of pain redeemed by love and transformed into an antidote to selfishness: a redemption of human selfishness. This is possible only by opening one’s heart to Jesus: only with Him can one understand and give value to pain.”

“John Paul II,” he said, “knew that life is a race towards God’s Banquet: the Feast of God’s embrace, His infinite glory and happiness.”

“John Paul II lived his suffering with this spirit: even in the hardest moments,” he noted, adding that “he never lost his serenity. Why? Because before him he always had the purpose of life.”

According to Comastri, “today many people no longer believe in that purpose. That’s why they live pain with despair: because they can’t see beyond the pain.”

“We Christians live pain in communion with the Crucified Jesus: clinging to Him, we fill our pain with love and transform it into a force that challenges and overcomes the selfishness that is still present in the world.”

The cardinal recalled an interaction he had with Pope St. John Paul II in March 2003. The pope had asked Comastri to be the preacher for his Lenten spiritual exercises with the Roman Curia that year.

“Afterwards, he received me with great kindness and said: ‘I thought of giving you a cross like mine.’ I reflected on the double meaning of the word, and replied: ‘Holy Father, it would be difficult for you to give me a cross like yours.’”

“John Paul II smiled and said: ‘No, this cross,’ and he pointed to a pectoral cross he wanted to give me. Then he added: ‘You too will have your cross: transform it into love. This is the wisdom that illuminates life.’”

Comastri said “I have never forgotten this wonderful advice given to me by a saint.”


Damage to miraculous crucifix during pope's blessing 'not serious'

Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- The 16th-century crucifix which was present in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi blessing last week was reportedly damaged by rain, but the priest in charge of the church where the cross traditionally hangs said it has not been seriously harmed.

Fr. Enrico Maria Casini, who is in charge of San Marcello al Corso in Rome, told CNA April 2 the damage to the miraculous crucifix from rain “is not serious,” from what he understands, and is expected to be returned to the church for Easter.

According to a Vatican source, the crucifix was not as badly damaged as some initially suggested and will be on public display again during the pope’s Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica April 5, as well as during the pope’s other Holy Week liturgies.

The wooden crucifix was moved from San Marcello al Corso to the Vatican March 25. Pope Francis prayed before the crucifix during his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing in St. Peter’s Square March 27 for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the holy hour and blessing, which was broadcast live, rain could be seen running down Christ's body on the crucifix.

One Italian report characterized damage to the crucifix as including swollen wood, peeling paint, and eroding plasters.

The crucifix was venerated as miraculous by Romans after it was the only religious image to survive unscathed from a fire that completely gutted San Marcello al Corso May 23, 1519.

Fewer than three years later, Rome was devastated by the “black plague.”

Upon the request of Rome’s Catholics, the crucifix was taken in procession from the convent of the Servants of Mary in Via del Corso to St. Peter’s Square, stopping in each quarter of Rome.
The procession continued 16 days, August 4-20, 1522. When the crucifix was returned to San Marcello, the plague had disappeared from Rome.

The crucifix has since processed to St. Peter’s Square every Roman Holy Year – around every 50 years – and the crucifix has engraved on its back the names of each pope to have witnessed those processions. The last name engraved is that of St. John Paul II, who embraced the crucifix during the “Day of Forgiveness” during the Jubilee Year 2000.