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Everything you need to know about the Advent wreath

Advent wreath / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

During the holidays, nativity scenes and Christmas trees decorate most Catholic homes, but what about Advent wreaths? 

Advent wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen branches and have four candles. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent—three candles are purple, and one is a rose color. 

The purple represents prayer, penance, and preparation for the coming of Christ. Historically, Advent was known as a “little Lent,” which is why the penitential color of purple is used. During Lent, we prepare for the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Similarly, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both on Christmas and at the second coming. 

The rose candle is illuminated on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. At Mass on the third Sunday, the priest will also wear rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing and joy as the faithful draw near to the birth of Jesus, and it marks the midpoint of Advent. 

“The progressive lighting of the candles represents the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead,” says the USCCB.

During the Advent season, the faithful will also notice a common theme in the Gospel readings. The readings focus on preparation or “making straight the path of the Lord,” penance, and fasting. All of these things remind us of the importance of preparing our hearts for the Lord and making room for his presence in our lives. 

Did you know?

The Advent wreath originated from a pagan European tradition, which consisted of lighting candles during the winter to ask the sun god to return with his light and warmth.

The first missionaries took advantage of this tradition to evangelize to people and taught them that they should use the Advent wreath as a way of preparing for Christ’s birth, and to celebrate his nativity and beg Jesus to infuse his light in their souls.

The circle of the Advent wreath is a geometric figure that has neither a beginning nor an end. It reminds us that God does not have a beginning or an end either, which reflects his unity and eternity. It is a sign of the unending love that the faithful should show the Lord and their neighbors, which must be constantly renewed and never stop.

The green color of the wreath represents hope and life. The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us, and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth, and hope during Advent. 

Bless your Advent wreath

The blessing of an Advent wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent.

When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family.
To bless your Advent wreath at home, follow our guide, “How to bless your Advent wreath at home.

Pope Francis to visit Greece and Cyprus ‘in the name of the Gospel’

The official logo of Pope Francis’ visit to Cyprus on Dec. 2-4, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 27, 2021 / 08:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis released a video message on Saturday about bringing the joy of the Gospel to Greece and Cyprus, where he will travel Dec. 2-6.

“I am preparing to come as a pilgrim to your magnificent lands, blessed by history, culture and the Gospel,” the pope said in the message published Nov. 27.

“I come with joy, precisely in the name of the Gospel, in the footsteps of the first great missionaries, especially the Apostles Paul and Barnabas,” he added. “It is good to return to the origins and it is important for the Church to rediscover the joy of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis asked for prayers as he prepares for the five-day journey to the cities of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus; and Athens, the Greek capital; as well as the Greek island of Lesbos.

He will first travel to Cyprus, where on Dec. 2 he will meet Catholic clergy and lay people at the Maronite Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace. He will also visit the president and other political authorities.

On Dec. 3, the pope will visit His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, and meet the Orthodox Holy Synod of bishops. The same day, he will celebrate Mass and hold an ecumenical prayer service with migrants.

In Athens on Dec. 4, Francis will meet Greece’s political leaders, Catholic clergy, a group of Jesuits, and another Orthodox leader: His Beatitude Ieronymos II, archbishop of Athens and All Greece.

Before offering Mass in Athens on Dec. 5, the pope will fly to the island of Lesbos, where he will visit refugees at a reception and identification center in Mytilene.

His trip will conclude with a gathering of young Catholics, before flying back to Rome on Dec. 6.

It will be Pope Francis’ second visit to Lesbos, also known as Lesvos, home to the infamous Moria refugee camp that was damaged in a fire last year.

In his message ahead of the trip, the pope reflected on the Mediterranean Sea, which has both welcomed many people at its ports, but also become the unintentional cemetery of the many migrants and refugees who died while trying to reach a new life in Europe.

“As a pilgrim to the wellsprings of humanity, I will go to Lesvos again, convinced that the sources of common life will only flourish again in fraternity and integration: together. There is no other way and with this vision I go to you,” he stated.

Francis said he is looking forward to meeting all the people of Cyprus and Greece, not only Catholics, and highlighted his meetings with the two Orthodox leaders as fostering “an apostolic fraternity that I desire a lot.”

“As a brother in the faith, I will have the grace to be received by you and to meet you in the name of the Lord of Peace,” he said.

Both Cyprus and Greece have populations that are majority Greek Orthodox. Around 72% of people in Cyprus are Christians and 25% of the population is Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center.

Cyprus has about 11,000 Catholics, according to its national statistical service, and Greece is home to about 50,000 Catholics (0.5% of the population).

Addressing the countries’ small Catholic populations, Pope Francis said: “I come to you, dear Catholic sisters and brothers, gathered in those lands in small flocks which the Father loves so tenderly and to which Jesus the Good Shepherd repeats: ‘Fear not, little flock’ (Luke 12:32). I come with affection to bring you the encouragement of the whole Catholic Church.”

The countries of Cyprus and Greece are also linked through the Apostle Paul, who traveled to both areas. The Acts of the Apostles records that St. Paul stopped in Cyprus and converted the Roman Proconsul Sergius Paulus to Christianity. The Apostle also famously preached on the streets of Athens.

Award-winning artist David Troncoso on life in a camper van, the Renaissance, and learning from the masters

David Troncoso stands in his art studio with an altarpiece he recently completed. / Courtesy of David Troncoso.

Kingston, New York, Nov 27, 2021 / 07:42 am (CNA).

Sacred artist David Troncoso paints in the Renaissance style with DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael as his guides. His art, he says, draws him closer to God and has deepened his prayer life. 

Troncoso, 35, a some-time resident of Long Island, produces large oil paintings with gesso and frames he makes by hand. When not at his physical studio in Kingston, N.Y., he travels and works from a camper van, which he renovated during the pandemic.  

His dedication to the daily craft of producing art led recently to a 2nd place award in the Catholic Art Institute’s Sacred Art Competition. The winning piece? A dramatic depiction of St. Michael slaying the devil on a golden background in a frame he built from scratch.  

Troncoso was featured on BYUtv’s series artFUL earlier this year, a series, which according to their website, is “about the inner workings of the creative spirit and how personal faith influences artists and their art.” 

CNA had a chance to talk with Troncoso about his art, his faith, and his plans for the future. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you discover art? Is it something you’ve always done or did you find it later in life?

I’ve always been drawing, ever since I was a little kid. I loved drawing Looney Tunes, and from there, I went to superheroes and comic book characters. I was constantly drawing portraits and making comic books. Then, as I got older, I learned more and more about artists of the past, and eventually what it means to be a renaissance artist. I wanted to learn from the best.

What has been the most meaningful experience in terms of your training as an artist? 

The most meaningful was that I studied at the Grand Central Atelier in New York City and that’s where I really learned how to refine my drawing technique to be more realistic. When I left there, I started going to all the museums in the city, especially the MET. I would spend every day copying and sketching old master paintings and drawings, and then do an exact replica of the paintings from the museum. 

What do you find beautiful or intriguing about Renaissance art?  

There’s many things; I look at it from so many aspects. First, there’s the craftsmanship involved, and how long it takes to make these great works of art. I know all the time that the artists put into it to learn anatomy, and how to draw correctly, how to paint forms. They studied for years and years under their masters, so there's just so much craft and technical knowledge that I love about it. 

Then, there’s the colors that I love that you maybe don't see in contemporary work. Then, what the paintings are actually made of — like the wood — all these paintings start from freshly dried wood and glue to make a panel. Then, you make the gesso out of rabbit skin and powdered pigment. You’re making it from scratch, you even make your paint. I like the idea that everything you are doing, you are making it yourself. 

Then, also, it's the spiritual aspects of it. I find, in these paintings, they're searching or they speak about higher things that contemporary work or modern work doesn't really do.

That actually leads into my next question: Would you mind telling us a little bit about your personal faith journey and what that means to you?

It goes along the same lines as I discovered Renaissance work. I became obsessed with wanting to make Madonnas, and at some point, I had to question, “Why do I want to make these beautiful paintings of Mary or Christ?” and it just led me down the path of questioning my spirituality and religion. I learned more and more about being a Catholic. 

The more I learned about Renaissance work and these Christian symbols, I began to pray more and pray to be able to paint beautiful things or to have beautiful ideas. It led me to, in the morning before I start, I would pray and ask God to guide me to make something beautiful for him.

My artwork and my faith is so wrapped up into each other, and it's this very personal experience. I have this feeling that your creativity, your imagination, it comes from the divine. It doesn't come from this world. It comes from the heavens. So, as an artist, it's like God speaking through you as a medium, and that's how I like to think about it.

Have you ever faced any kind of resistance or misunderstanding when you tell somebody that you enjoy painting religious art?

In the art world, I never feel like I really fit in. I never wanted to be an artist where I’m talking about myself or my ego. I never wanted to be that artist or “this show is about me.” I always wanted to make work for beauty, for God, for higher aspirations. 

The art world today, I don’t understand it. I can’t connect with it. Medieval Renaissance all the way up until the 19th century were, for me, the best painters, and they were all producing work about and for the Church. You had beautiful narrative paintings about biblical subjects. At some point, society turned away from history, religious narratives, and beautifying spaces. It’s moved away from trying to talk about the divine God, our spirituality, and our place in this world.     

What does a typical day look like for you in your line of work? 

I like to wake up early, have my coffee, and get into the studio early. My studio is in this old building from 1742 — it predates the Revolutionary War — and it has beautiful Gothic windows. It almost feels like I’m in a monastery. It's so quiet. As soon as I go there, I feel like it’s this very sacred sort of space. I like to say a prayer, focus, and get into my zone. 

Every day for the last seven or eight years, I’ve listened to the same music, these classical composers. I start the day, every day, with John Field’s “Nocturnes,” and then it eventually leads into baroque and medieval music. 

I’ll work on a painting for a few hours, and then I’ll have to put it aside so I don’t overdo it. Then, I might work on a new idea or finish up some old ones. I’m also a woodworker, so I build and carve all the frames that I have for my artwork. So, some days will be spent in my wood shop, carving and building elaborate frames that I gesso and guild myself as well. 

Beyond your studio, what does home look like for you? 

Well, I’ve been living in a camper since the beginning of COVID. My fiancé and I renovated a 24-foot camper and have been living in it and traveling in it. I have a mini studio for when I’m on the road. It’s so much fun, it just felt like the time was right. There’s so much of the country we want to see. We got it [the camper] from our aunt, gutted the inside and rebuilt everything, so it’s very homey inside. 

We park it at campsites or at family’s property if we’re in upstate New York. If we go down to Long Island, we park it at my parents’ house. We spent the whole summer at the beach. I can bring portable tools with me while I’m doing that, and I use hand tools as well, so I don’t need any power for that.  

I’m jealous! Of all the places you’ve traveled, which has been the most inspiring for your creativity? 

I don't know if it's because I grew up by the ocean, but I'm drawn to the sea very much. We love to go up to rocky, treacherous coastlines. We spent an amazing time up in Newfoundland for a few weeks, and that was an incredible experience with its rocky coasts. Also, Iceland was incredible. It was just out of this world, it was just such a special, amazing landscape. Rocky, stormy coastlines really gets me, and I feel that power of nature. When you feel that power of nature, then you also feel the power of God in a way.

In thinking a little bit about the many years you’ve produced art, have you ever come across a mental block or a time when it was really challenging to create? If so, what was that like?

Yeah, I feel like I go through that all the time. Being an artist, it’s like one of those things you just accept. It’s like this rollercoaster — sometimes you're producing a lot of work and you feel this creative spirit. There’s new ideas coming to you. 

Then, you work on a project, but when the project is over, you can fall into a depression sometimes. It’s almost like being in a relationship; you’re in a relationship with this painting, with this idea, and then once you close the book on that, it’s done. So, you could feel empty at times. 

It happens a lot, but once you get into those lows, I think those are the moments when you question things more or you question life more. It’s a time to rethink things. It could be a daily thing, it could be monthly, but it happens all the time. 

What are some ways or techniques you have to break through those creative blocks?

I find meditation and prayer works a lot, and then sometimes I just have to do something completely different from art. I’m really into vintage motorcycles, so something like that where you get away from your art world and you go onto something different. I’ll get one, strip it apart, take the engine apart, gut it, and clean it, and it’s sort of meditative. All the parts have to go back in the right place, and all your hard work when you try to start it up, and it starts up. It’s an amazing feeling. 

Also, I play a lot of instruments, so that’s something I might do. I’ll grab a banjo, ukulele, or a guitar and strum on that.    

Of all of the different pieces of art that you've created, what is the one that stands out the most to you or that you're most proud of?

I'd say the most proud of is this one I just finished up, the altarpiece I've been working on for the last few years. That's sort of the accumulation of everything I've learned, from everything I've studied at school, classical painting, old master works, and woodworking. I put a year of planning into it, making blueprints and sketches and bigger sketches. I built the panel that you paint on. I got raw lumber from a lumberyard — I cleaned it and jointed it, and learned how to glue up a large panel and made everything from scratch. It was everything I’ve been striving for as an artist.

The large piece you mentioned was temporarily installed in a church. What was it like to have a piece like that of yours installed in a sacred space?

I didn’t even know it was going to happen. When the artFUL crew came to film, I had the piece set up in my studio. They said, “No, this really belongs in a church,” and they worked some magic. They called up the church and they said we could install it there for a bit. We got a U-Haul and carried it around the block.  

It was all set up — they had the lights on, and I went into the church to see it. I became emotional. I didn’t realize it would affect me that much. I get hard on myself about my own work, but seeing it in a church was like it was at home. It was everything that I had been working so hard for all these years. It was a very special moment.

Tell me more about artFUL. I heard they just showcased your work. Can you tell us about how you got connected with BYUtv for the episode? 

I got an email one day and they were like, “Hey, we really like your work and we’d love to see if you would be a good fit for the show.” I had a phone interview, and a couple weeks later, they said, “We’ll be there in a month.” 

It was such a fun experience. They filmed for about two and a half days, from 7 in the morning to 9 or 10 at night, some interviews and some art. They got a taste of my life and whatnot. I’m a very private person, so it was very out of my element, but it was such a cool experience. 

David Troncoso was recently featured in artFUL, a series produced by BYUtv. Courtesy of David Troncoso

What advice would you give other budding artists, or perhaps, a younger David Troncoso?

Definitely study the old masters to the fullest — see what they did and try to learn from them. Then, the biggest thing is perseverance. I failed so many times and on so many projects, and I tried to give up art many times. You are an artist and you can’t give it up. Don’t doubt yourself, keep working hard, and have faith. 

What’s next for you? What other pieces can we expect to see in the future? 

I’m working on a whole new body of work right now, so that’s pretty exciting. There's a few Virgin Mary commissions, which will be paintings and frames, and some other work that incorporates a lot of woodworking as well.

I'm also starting to work with the architects and designers to make paintings for churches and cathedrals. My main ambition is to keep connecting with people and to keep making beautiful things for the church. 

Pope Francis names Vatican diplomat next papal envoy to Medjugorje

St. James the Greater Church in Medjugorje / level75 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Vatican City, Nov 27, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Saturday appointed a longtime Vatican diplomat to be his papal envoy to Medjugorje, following the death of Polish Archbishop Henryk Hoser in August.

Hoser had overseen the pastoral situation in Medjugorje, the site of alleged Marian apparitions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, since 2017. He died in Warsaw at age 78 after a long illness.

Pope Francis on Nov. 27 named Archbishop Aldo Cavalli, 75, special apostolic visitor to the parish community of Medjugorje for an indefinite period.

Cavalli has been apostolic nuncio to the Netherlands since 2015. He is from the northern Italian diocese of Bergamo and entered the diplomatic service of the Vatican in 1996.

His first post was apostolic delegate to Angola, where he later served as apostolic nuncio. He has also been apostolic nuncio to São Tomé and Príncipe, Chile, Colombia, Malta, and Libya.

Pope Francis first appointed a papal envoy to Medjugorje in 2017, with the directive to oversee pastoral needs at the site of the alleged Marian apparitions.

In the Netherlands, Cavalli helped resolve issues around another alleged apparition, associated with the Marian title of “Lady of All Nations.”

The apparition is alleged to have occured 56 times to Ida Peerdeman in Amsterdam from 1945 to 1959. In 1956, the local bishop ruled that there was no evidence the alleged apparitions and revelations were supernatural in origin. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) confirmed this position the following year and in 1972 and 1974.

In 2002, Bishop Jozef Marianus Punt broke with the decision of his predecessor and declared the apparitions to have a supernatural origin, sparking a debate about whether he had the authority to overturn a decision which had been affirmed by the CDF.

In 2020, the Vatican re-affirmed its 1974 ruling about the apparitions’ authenticity, and in January, the Vatican’s doctrinal office urged Catholics not to promote “the alleged apparitions and revelations” associated with the Marian title of “Lady of All Nations,” according to Bishop Johannes Hendriks.

Since their beginning, the alleged apparitions at Medjugorje have been a source of both controversy and conversion, with many flocking to the city for pilgrimage and prayer, and some claiming to have experienced miracles at the site, while many others claim the visions are not credible.

The purported apparitions originally began June 24, 1981, when six children in Medjugorje, a town in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, began to experience phenomena which they have claimed to be apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to the alleged visionaries, the apparitions conveyed a message of peace for the world, a call to conversion, prayer and fasting, as well as certain secrets surrounding events to be fulfilled in the future.

These apparitions are said to have continued almost daily since their first occurrence, with three of the original six children – who are now young adults – continuing to receive apparitions every afternoon because not all of the “secrets” intended for them have been revealed.

In January 2014, a Vatican commission ended a nearly four-year-long investigation into the doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the Medjugorje apparitions and submitted a document to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope Francis granted Catholics permission to organize pilgrimages to Medjugorje in 2019, though the Church has not yet given a verdict on the authenticity of the apparitions.

Paris archbishop asks Pope Francis to decide his future

Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. / Ibex73 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Paris, France, Nov 26, 2021 / 12:12 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Michel Aupetit has asked Pope Francis to decide whether he should remain as the Catholic archbishop of Paris, according to French media reports.

The 70-year-old archbishop, who was installed in the French capital in 2018, told the Catholic daily La Croix that he had written to the pope out of a concern to preserve the unity of his archdiocese.

“The word ‘resignation’ is not the one I used,” he said. “Resignation would mean that I am abandoning my office. In reality, I am handing it over to the Holy Father because it is he who gave it to me.”

He added: “I did it to preserve the diocese, because as a bishop I must be at the service of unity.”

Aupetit, who had a late vocation to the priesthood after working as a doctor, was speaking after the French weekly magazine Le Point published a report portraying him as an authoritarian and divisive figure.

The report also raised concerns about Aupetit’s contacts with a woman dating back to 2012, when he was vicar general of Paris archdiocese.

Aupetit told Le Point that he was not in a relationship with the woman.

He said: “My behavior towards her may have been ambiguous, thus suggesting the existence between us of an intimate relationship and sexual relations, which I strongly refute … I decided not to see her again and I informed her.”

Aupetit told La Croix that he had spoken to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, about his situation, as well as to Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the apostolic nuncio to France.

“This is not because of what I should or should not have done in the past — otherwise I would have left a long time ago — but to avoid division, if I myself am a source of division,” he said.

The story behind the new Our Lady of Arabia cathedral in Bahrain

The statue of Our Lady of Arabia will be a focal point of Bahrain’s new cathedral. / bahraincathedral.org.

Awali, Bahrain, Nov 26, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

On Dec. 10, a joyous Catholic event will take place in Bahrain, a predominantly Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will consecrate the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, an ark-shaped structure seating 2,300 people.

It will be the end of a journey that began on Feb. 11, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when the decision to build the cathedral was taken, reported ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

The land was a gift of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain since 2002, who will inaugurate the cathedral on Dec. 9, the day before its consecration.

The king’s special envoy, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, had an audience with Pope Francis on Nov. 25. According to Agenzia Fides, the envoy invited the pope to visit the country on the king’s behalf.

Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, special envoy of the King of Bahrain, meets Pope Francis. Vatican Media.
Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, special envoy of the King of Bahrain, meets Pope Francis. Vatican Media.

The king personally presented a model of the cathedral to the pope in 2014.

The cathedral is part of a complex of around 95,000 square feet in Awali, a small municipality in the center of the country, which has a population of 1.7 million people and is located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar.

The Bahrain cathedral’s website says that as soon as Bishop Camillo Ballin, the Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia, heard that the king had given the land for a cathedral, his “immediate reaction on hearing the good news was to thank our Blessed Mother for her miraculous intercession and [he] decided that the new cathedral would be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia.”

A focal point of the cathedral will be a polychrome statue of Our Lady of Arabia.

The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948. A small chapel in Ahmadi, Kuwait, was dedicated in her honor on Dec. 8 that year.

In 1957, Pius XII issued a decree proclaiming Our Lady of Arabia the main patron saint of the territory and of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.

In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the patron saint of the vicariates of Kuwait and Arabia.

Later that year, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.

Ballin’s episcopal see moved from Kuwait to Bahrain, which has a significant Christian presence, estimated to be around 15% of the population.

There are an estimated 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India.

At the consecration, there will be one notable figure missing: Bishop Ballin, who died on April 12, 2020, at the age of 75, before he could see his dream of a cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia realized in Bahrain.

In a 2014 interview with CNA, the Italian bishop asked that supporters “pray for us and our spiritual life and that the Virgin Mary would send benefactors” to fund the cathedral’s construction.

Bishop Camillo Ballin (1944-2020), Vicar Apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Jyrejoice via Wikimedia (CC0).
Bishop Camillo Ballin (1944-2020), Vicar Apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Jyrejoice via Wikimedia (CC0).

The Bahrain cathedral’s website includes a prayer to Our Lady of Arabia in the run-up to the consecration:

O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Arabia and our Patroness! To you, we offer up our prayers for the needs of the Church here and throughout the world.

Help us to remain one with your Son Jesus and united amongst ourselves, so that we may be true witnesses for Christ in our daily lives and that the Lord's blessings of peace and harmony be within our families and communities always.

Trusting in your maternal intercession, we beseech you to hear our humble prayers and grant us the graces we seek... so that we may give glory to God forever. Amen.

Our Lady of Arabia, pray for us!

Pope Francis meets French President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican

Pope Francis meets French President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican, Nov. 26, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis received President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican for an hour on Friday as France prepares to take on the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The French president met privately with the pope on Nov. 26 before heading into discussions with officials from the Vatican Secretariat of State on “France’s commitment in Lebanon, the Middle East, and Africa,” according to a brief statement from the Vatican.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In the course of the talks, a number of international issues were discussed, including environmental protection in the light of the outcome of the recent COP26 [climate summit] in Glasgow. There was also an exchange of views on the prospects for the forthcoming French Presidency of the European Union,” the Holy See press office said.

While in Rome, Macron also had a meeting with a delegation from the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio at the Palazzo Farnese on the eve of his papal audience.

The Catholic movement proposed collaboration during the French EU presidency on an international event to promote the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

Sant’Egidio also advocated for its humanitarian corridors for people fleeing the Syrian, Libyan, and Afghan crises and reported that Macron had assured it that France “will continue its efforts in this direction.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Macron’s papal audience took place as French Catholics continue to reel from an independent report published last month estimating that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.

A French government official had said that the pope had also scheduled a meeting with the Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which produced the report, but a French news agency in Rome, I.Media, reported that the meeting is being delayed.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Macron arrived at the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard shortly after 11 a.m. on Friday after signing a new treaty with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier that day.

“[As] founding countries of the EU ... we defend a more integrated, more democratic, more sovereign Europe,″ Macron said at the press conference, according to AFP.

The Italian prime minister highlighted how the treaty will strengthen cooperation in the area of defense.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“To be sovereign, Europe needs to know how to defend its borders. We need to create a real defense,″ Draghi told journalists.

Pope Francis and Macron met privately in the pope’s library before exchanging gifts. A video released by the Vatican showed that when the president asked the 84-year-old pope how he was doing, Francis replied: “I’m still alive,” according to Reuters.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The French president gave the pope a historic first edition of the biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Giovanni Pietro Maffei published in 1585, as well as a modern biography of the Jesuit founder by François Sureau, a member of the Académie Française.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Macron’s Vatican meeting took place a little over a month after French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s Oct. 18 meeting with Pope Francis, in which Castex gifted the pope a jersey signed by Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, along with an 1836 edition of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Following his meeting with the pope, Macron also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Earlier this year, Macron visited Iraq for a trip that followed a similar itinerary to Pope Francis’ Iraqi visit, including a meeting with Iraqi Christians at a Catholic church in Mosul that was heavily damaged by the Islamic State.

The French president also met in Baghdad with Iraqi Nobel Prize laureate Nadia Murad, two days after she met with the pope at the Vatican.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Macron echoed Pope Francis’ call for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries.

Macron previously visited the Vatican in 2018 for a conversation that touched on Europe’s migrant crisis.

Pope Francis creates commission to assess reform of marriage nullity process in Italy

Pope Francis addresses the Italian bishops’ conference in Rome, Nov. 22, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis created a commission on Friday to assess how the Catholic Church in Italy is implementing the reform of the marriage nullity process he introduced in 2015.

The pope established the pontifical commission with an apostolic letter issued motu proprio (“on his own impulse”) on Nov. 26.

He explained that he was taking the step to “directly support the Churches that are in Italy in receiving the reform of the canonical process for the cases of declaration of nullity of marriage, giving new impetus to the application of the motu proprio Mitis Iudex.”

A declaration of nullity — often referred to as an “annulment” — is a ruling by a tribunal that a marriage did not meet the conditions required to make it valid according to Church law.

Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Gentle Judge, our Lord Jesus”), issued in 2015, made changes to canon law intended to streamline the process by which Church tribunals assess requests for declarations of the nullity of marriages. The text also emphasized the local bishop’s role in the process.

The pope said that the commission’s task will be “to ascertain and verify the full and immediate application of the reform of the process of matrimonial nullity.”

The commission will be chaired by Msgr. Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the court of higher instance at the Apostolic See.

Pope Francis asked the new commission to suggest “whatever is considered opportune and necessary to support and help the fruitful continuation of the reform.” It will conclude by drawing up a “detailed report” on the situation in Italy.

Referring to the 2014 family synod, the pope said that the new step was necessary to enable Italy’s Churches to “show themselves to the faithful as generous mothers in a matter closely linked to the salvation of souls, as was requested by the majority of my Brothers in the Episcopate at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.”

The motu proprio appeared days after the pope held a private meeting with the Italian bishops in Rome. Sources said that the pope announced the commission’s creation during the closed-door meeting with the bishops, gathered for their plenary assembly.

According to one source, the pope said that he wanted to “help the bishops to act as judges,” referring to the emphasis in Mitis Iudex that the bishop is “the judge of those faithful entrusted to his care.”

Pope Francis made a similar point in his address to officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year in January.

He said: “I take this opportunity to exhort every bishop — constituted by Christ the Father, Shepherd and Judge in his own Church — to be increasingly open to the challenge of this issue.”

“It is a matter of tenaciously pursuing and completing a necessary ecclesiological and pastoral path, aimed at not leaving to the sole intervention of civil authorities the faithful who suffer due to judgments not accepted but endured.”

In the speech, the pope acknowledged that the reform, “especially the brief process, has encountered, and still encounters, a lot of resistance.”

He said: “I must confess that after its promulgation I received many letters, I don’t know how many, but a lot. Almost all of them were lawyers who were losing their clients. And there is the problem of money. In Spain they say: ‘Por la plata baila el mono’: the monkey dances for money. The saying is clear.”

“And sadly, this too: in some dioceses I have encountered resistance from some judicial vicars who, perhaps, lost some power with this reform, because he realized that the judge was not he, but the bishop.”

The pope signaled his concern over the implementation of the reforms in Italy as early as 2016, when he established a bilateral working group on the reform, composed of experts from the Vatican and the Italian bishops’ conference.

Italy has a strong tradition of regional tribunals, established after Pius XI’s 1938 motu proprio Qua cura. Mitis Iudex repealed or derogated elements of Qua cura, prompting Italian bishops to ask for clarification.

The Roman Rota issued a vademecum to Italian dioceses, requiring that diocesan tribunals be established “as soon as possible.”

Coupled with the request for smaller tribunals, the pope asked in Mitis Iudex that processes be free of charge. But Italian bishops worried that replacing the country’s 15 regional tribunals with more than 220 diocesan tribunals would be economically unviable.

The new motu proprio underlined that, although canon law allows a diocesan bishop to have access to other courts, “this faculty must be understood as an exception and, therefore, every bishop who does not yet have his own ecclesiastical tribunal must seek to found one or at least strive to make this possible.”

It added that “the reforming impetus of the canonical matrimonial process — characterized by the proximity, speed and gratuitousness of the procedures — necessarily passes through a conversion of structures and persons.”

Pope Francis attends student play on how the pandemic has affected young people

Pope Francis meets young people of the Scholas Community at Rome’s Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae, Nov. 25, 2021 / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Nov 26, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis left the Vatican on Thursday to attend a theatrical performance in Rome by students on how the pandemic has affected young people.

The pope met with the Italian Minister of Education Patrizio Bianchi and a group of young people from 41 countries at the International Pontifical College Maria Mater Ecclesiae in Rome on Nov. 25.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

During the visit, the pope watched a show called “The faces of the pandemic,” in which performers covered their faces with decorated white masks to illustrate “the ‘face’ that the pandemic has left on young people,” according to a short statement from the Holy See press office.

Many of the students involved had participated in weekly virtual meetings organized by Scholas Occurrentes to share how they were coping with uncertainty and isolation when their schools were closed amid pandemic lockdowns.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis also listened to testimonies and answered a few questions from the young people.

A Rwandan boy whose parents fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 1994 genocide asked what the international community can do to help refugees.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“Refugees who are fleeing have only one thing on their mind: leaving,” Francis said, according to Vatican News.

The pope underlined that refugees are not people who leave their country for economic reasons, but those who “escaped so that they could live.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He asked the young people present to reflect on what lessons can be learned from the stories of refugees.

“Do you let your feelings grow so that you can discern them later, or do you cover them up?” the pope asked.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“If you let your feelings come out, you have the obligation to discern them and confront them,” he said.

The gathering was organized by Scholas Occurrentes, a pontifical foundation established in 2015 and charged with supporting poor and underserved communities around the world through education.

Christian-Muslim dialogue needs a foundation in everyday friendship, French Dominican says

People in Strasbourg, France, hold placards reading "Catholics, muslims, jews all are Charlie" during a unity rally on Jan. 11, 2015 following a mass shooting by Muslim terrorists at the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 26, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Progress in Christian-Muslim dialogue ultimately must come from Catholics and others who deliberately make efforts to befriend and understand Muslims, said the French-born Father Jean Druel, O.P. 

Druel, the longtime head of a Cairo-based Dominican institute on Islam in the Arab world stresses the need to have friendships, study and self-understanding that crosses religious lines.

“Maybe I’m very naïve but I’m a scholar in the end. I believe that intelligence and studying and reason, rationality, is the best weapon against stupidity, against violence,” Druel told CNA.

“Once you know why the other person says this, once you know why you say this, where this and that rule comes from, you get more freedom,” he said. “Freedom is the opposite of fear. If you know it, you gain freedom, you lose your fear, and you begin to engage with your own tradition freely, with a free mind.”

Druel is originally from the countryside of the Anjou region in western France. As a Dominican brother, he was sent to Cairo in 1994 for his two years of military service. He returned to Egypt in 2002 and specialized in Islamic studies, especially the Arabic language. He received a doctorate in Arabic grammar in 2012 from the Netherlands’ University of Nijmegen.

From an Islamic perspective, Druel noted, Arabic is a theological topic that belongs to religious studies. From 2014 to 2020, the priest served as the director of the Cairo-based Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies. The institute, also called by its French acronym IDEO, studies Arab Islam and cultivates academic and interreligious dialogue.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings about what dialogue is, with lots of very, very high expectations from everybody. There is a lot of frustration because of those very high expectations and misunderstandings,” he said.

In Druel’s view, high-level meetings between popes, other churchmen, and leading Muslim clergy are significant in importance, but only in a symbolic or diplomatic sense. For him, the basis for progress must include more Christians who actively seek out Muslims as friends and collaborators.

“You can never talk together, work together, if you’re not friends. That’s very basic,” he said. “If you put a Christian and Muslim in a room who don’t know another and you ask them to talk, nothing would happen.”

“If you don’t have a Muslim friend, you can talk about Islam for hours and hours but it does nothing. It’s a theoretical question. It’s absolutely pointless,” said the priest.

When Druel teaches a classroom of Christians, he sometimes deflects questions about Islam back on his students.

“You should ask your Muslim friends,” he likes to answer. “This results in silence, because no one has Muslim friends.”

“The day every Christian has a real Muslim friend, and the day every single Muslim has a real Christian friend, will be a big step forward,” said Druel.

“Usually people would wait for the pope to meet with an imam, but don’t do anything on their own level,” he said. “You can complain over and over that Christians are being persecuted in Pakistan. OK, but what are you doing with your neighbors? Are you visiting a mosque?” he asked.

Father Jean Druel (second from left) says friendship is the best foundation for inter-religious dialogue. Courtesy of Father Jean Druel
Father Jean Druel (second from left) says friendship is the best foundation for inter-religious dialogue. Courtesy of Father Jean Druel

'Do you think we are like that?'

For Druel, one of his most moving experiences with Muslims came in the wake of the horrific atrocities of the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the mid-2010s. Students from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, one of the most prominent in the Muslim world, came to him and the other Dominicans of his community to ask their thoughts about ordinary Muslims and Muslim extremists.

“They came out and talked to us,” he recounted. They asked questions such as “Do you see us like that? Do you think we are like that?”

Another question they asked, he said, was this: “How do you do it? How can you at the same time be so religious, priests and monks, and so open-minded at the same time, and liberal?”

“For them it was a contradiction,” Drool said. “What they see in the media about Islam, just like everybody does, is you have to choose between jihad and atheism. And they said ‘we refuse to choose between the Islamic state and atheism. We want to be faithful Muslims and open-minded.’”

Druel’s advice for them? To study, to engage with religious traditions, texts, and interpretations, and to deepen one’s religion beyond the level of mere “identity.”

“Once you enter into this discussion, you become part of the discussion. You’re not at an identity level anymore. You gain some freedom and some empowerment in the discussion itself,” he said.

Christians, too, could follow this advice to get past the false dichotomies of their societies, Druel believes.

Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, sign a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019. .  Vatican Media.
Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, sign a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019. . Vatican Media.

Druel has his own analysis of prominent Christian-Muslim dialogue, such as when the pope meets a high-level Muslim leader, or a priest and an imam take pictures together, or a Christian woman and a Muslim woman appear on stage for a joint talk.

“This is very much symbolic. To be honest, there is no content. You can’t expect any content from these meetings,” he said. “For many people it’s the only thing they see of inter-religious dialogue, and they don’t understand why there is no progress, because that’s not the point.”

Pope Francis’ own recent collaboration with Muslims includes the February 2019 joint signing of a document on human fraternity, world peace, and coexistence with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar. The grand imam heads the mosque linked to the university of the same name and is considered a major leader of Sunni Islam.

Such encounters are “diplomatic,” in Druel’s view.

“When the pope and Sheik el-Tayeb sign a document in common, the biggest thing they can say is ‘we are brothers,’” he said.

“We have not waited until 2019 to discover that we are brothers,” Druel said. While people can find this frustrating because they have such high expectations, these meetings are nonetheless very important.

“It is great progress in itself that most Christian and Muslim leaders are willing to meet,” Druel said. “This level of dialogue is extremely important, extremely needed. But it only brings symbolic results. If you don’t accept this you feel extremely frustrated.”

Scholarly interaction also key

For Druel, academic dialogue between Christian and Muslim scholars is “an extremely important part of interreligious dialogue.” This dialogue is not very visible, but these scholars deal with specific topics and benefit from not needing to serve as representatives of their religion. This work is “extremely rich in terms of content,” but “invisible,” he noted.

These efforts aim to reach agreement on definitions and history. They seek to answer questions like “Can we describe together the same events? Can we talk, on an academic level, about the history of the Quran and the history of Mohammed?”

Druel lamented that some academics, especially in France, show “a very anti-religious tendency” and have reservations about religious or theological studies. Only private French universities have theology departments. The German academic situation is somewhat better, where some academies have Christian or Muslim specialties.

Another way to think about Christian-Muslim dialogue is how to undertake common endeavors such as Druel’s institute, which employs people of both religions.

“We have to run a library. We have to publish a journal,” he said. “We don’t talk of religion, because nobody is a specialist. It would be dangerous to deal with religious topics. But we have actions in common. We learn about one another through doing things.”

He referred to the young adult association in France called Coexister, dedicated to bringing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists to take community action together. One of its principles is not to talk about religion.

“It seems paradoxical: They do things like help the poor, distribute food in the streets, talk about citizenship, you’d expect them to talk about religion,” said Druel.

Similarly, the Dominican institute’s Christian and Muslim employees never talk religion because, in Druel’s words, “they do not have the tools, the epistemology, the experience, and knowledge to deal with this topic peacefully.”

“Any discussions would devolve into sentiments like ‘we are right, you are wrong’,” he said.

Nonetheless, their collaboration helps Christians and Muslims get to know one another.

“We go to their festivities, they come to ours,” said the priest.

From his work, Druel has learned of the need to hire both Christians and Muslims, through practicing what he called “positive discrimination,” roughly equivalent to what Americans know as affirmative action. This practice is against his first instincts.

“As a Frenchman I’m very much against it,” he said, but in the context of Egypt “one would end up in a ghetto very quick” without being intentional about seeking out religiously diverse employees. If the center only asked its Christian employees for recommended candidates for a cook or a gatekeeper position, they would only recommend other Christians.

He suggested Christians can think about this in seeking to rent an apartment to someone.

“Are you expressly going to look for a Muslim or are you going to spontaneously rent to a Christian guy?” he asked.

“How willing am I to rent my flat to a Muslim family? How willing am I to hire a Muslim employee?” he asked, adding, “Muslims should ask themselves the same about Christians.”

He suggested that those who read his remarks to CNA introduce themselves to Muslim neighbors or seek out Muslims to befriend. They should go to a mosque themselves.

“But if they are not willing to do this, then there is no point in talking about Christian-Muslim dialogue, and criticizing it. There is no point, at all,” he said. “This is a very realistic expectation, very easy to do, and it’s very rewarding. You can’t be disappointed. You will have an experience, I promise.”

Marriage between Christians and Muslims is also an area for inter-religious dialogue, and a large focus of Catholic-Muslim dialogue in France.

“Interreligious marriage is beautiful and very rich and amazing, until you have children,” the priest said. “Then when you have children it explodes. Because you have to transmit something, you have to transmit your values.

“This is where most marriages would just explode, when children come,” he said. “Are they going to be Christian? Are they going to be Muslim?” 

People should not reject a friend or family member’s fiancée for being Muslim, but they should be realistic with the engaged couple about the difficulties of religious differences about their children’s future, Druel advised. These engaged couples should know that “most of these marriages fail because of the children,” he said.

The priest warned against a “rather fake” concept of Christian-Muslim interaction, as when people claim to know about Islam because they live in an apartment or a neighborhood with Muslim neighbors.

“But you don’t talk to them. And then you draw conclusions,” he said. Whether Christians live in predominant Muslim countries or in predominantly Muslim suburbs of French cities, many claim to know Muslims and Islam and “believe they are specialists” but “they have no Muslim friends, they have never been to a mosque, they never talk to Muslims or work with them.”

Secularism and ignorance can be a barrier, too, according to Druel.

“In France we have a problem with religion, not with Islam. Because people are so ignorant of their own religion — Christians and Muslims alike, and atheists, too. There is an illiteracy about religion.”

He continued: “Everything becomes ‘identity.’ You have to dress as a Muslim, or as a Christian; it’s nothing related to faith, or understanding, or intention. People fight over crosses in school rooms or halal meat at school just for the sake of identity.”

Druel reiterated that simply visiting with Muslims is the best way to overcome obstacles and misunderstanding.

“I’ve been to mosques every week for years. I’ve been taking non-Muslim friends to mosques. They’ve been frightened, worrying that something will happen, but nothing happens,” he said. “We’ve always received very positive reactions.”