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Named for Father Michael McGivney, Catholic high school eager to celebrate beatification

Denver Newsroom, Oct 25, 2020 / 04:04 pm (CNA).- The upcoming beatification of American priest Father Michael McGivney is a time for celebration and reflection for southern Illinois’ Father McGivney Catholic High School, named for the founder of the Knights of Columbus who lived a life of service before dying in a pandemic.

“After the first couple of years teaching about (McGivney), I realized just how much this school is set up in a way that sees him as a model for what we do,” Craig Brummer, faith formation director at the high school, told CNA Oct. 23.

“His care, particularly for widows and orphans, has been a constant reminder that the most vulnerable always need our help,” Brummer added. “His example helps me remember what I am called to do, and his intercession continues to help this school work towards its vocation of helping shape committed followers of Jesus Christ.”

McGivney will be beatified October 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut.

Pope Francis approved McGivney’s first miracle in May. The miracle involved an unborn child in the United States who was healed of a life-threatening condition in utero in 2015 after his family prayed for McGivney’s intercession.

Following his beatification, McGivney’s cause will require one more authenticated miracle before he can be considered for canonization.

The priest founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882, with an eye towards providing spiritual aid to Catholic men and financial help to the widows and orphans of its members. Today it is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, with close to two million members worldwide.

Father McGivney Catholic High School opened in fall 2012 with just 19 students, after seven years of preparations. It is located in Glen Carbon, Illinois, a town of some 12,000 people about 15 miles northeast of St. Louis.

For the high school's president, Fr. Jeffrey Goeckner, V.F., the success of the school is itself a miracle.

“To date, Father McGivney Catholic High School has successfully educated and faithfully formed over 400 students while promoting ‘A Culture of Life’. Truly a miracle,” Goeckner said in a statement.

Brummer said the beatification is “uniquely special for us,” as the high school is the only U.S. Catholic high school to have McGivney as a namesake.

McGivney, who was born in Waterbury, Conn. in 1852, played a critical role in the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century. After his ordination in Baltimore in 1877, he served a largely Irish-American and immigrant community in New Haven.

He was serving as a parish priest during the pandemic of 1889-1890 when he became seriously ill with pneumonia. McGivney died on Aug. 14, 1890, at the age of 38. His contemporaries remembered him for his charity towards the poor, his sympathy to those suffering afflictions, his approachability, his cheerfulness and his integrity.

Brummer said McGivney’s own life offers lessons for students.

“When we offer the life of Fr. McGivney as an example of Christian discipleship, they can see that the life that he lived, as a Catholic, a child of immigrants, a priest, and a son of a deceased father, had plenty of points of connection,” he told CNA. “One year, I presented a lesson that asked students to choose someone in their life who reminded them of Fr. McGivney. Of course, the people themselves were a wide variety, but even the reasons why they reminded them of McGivney were just as varied.”

The school closes each day with a final prayer for McGivney’s canonization, Brummer said. This daily prayer calls him “an apostle of Christian family life” and invokes his work caring for “the needy and the outcast.”

“If the people who pray the prayer listen to the words, it would be hard to not be edified by the life of the man for whose intercession we are praying.”

Elizabeth Moody, the high school’s development and marketing director, said the school will celebrate McGivney’s beatification during “an intimate, socially distanced event,” live streamed to the internet.

“Father McGivney spent his entire priesthood in parish ministry and died of pneumonia on August 14, after falling ill amid a pandemic,” Moody said. “Our students can relate to Fr. McGivney on so many levels: he was young, he was rooted in service, he lived during a pandemic, and he followed the path the Lord set for him. What a wonderful reminder to our students that they too should work towards becoming saints.”

The high school will host a virtual beatification celebration Oct. 31 via Facebook Live at 7 p.m. Central Time. A video presentation will begin the event, following exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and evening prayer. Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. will deliver a homily, and the event will close with benediction at 8 p.m.

The high school in a statement said its founders chose McGivney as a namesake because they “wanted to honor a person who was committed to the same values they hoped to instill in its future graduates.”

“Fr. McGivney was an idealist whose youthful vision and commitment to families led to the creation of his legacy – the Knights of Columbus,” said the school.

The high school works closely with the Knights of Columbus.

“[The Knights’] pillars of Unity, Charity, Fraternity, and Patriotism are the foundation of Father McGivney Catholic High School’s mission,” said the high school’s principal Joe Lombardi. “We are very proud of what our school has accomplished and we know that Fr. McGivney’s intercession helped get us here.”

Brummer, the faith formation director, joined the Knights of Columbus not long after his 18th birthday. After he became a high school theology teacher he took part in its second- and third-degree ceremonies, a membership initiation now merged into a single public ceremony for new members.

“At the time, I didn’t know much of Fr. McGivney other than his general biography,” said Brummer. “In the past few years, now working at a school named after him, I have felt an obligation to teach about him more so our school community understands his patronage better.”


Polish archbishop speaks out as protesters disrupt Masses after abortion ruling

CNA Staff, Oct 25, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The president of Poland’s bishops’ conference has urged critics of a landmark abortion ruling to express their opposition “in a socially acceptable way” after protesters disrupted Sunday Masses.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki issued the appeal Oct. 25, after the country’s constitutional court ruled Thursday that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

In a highly anticipated ruling, the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw declared that the law introduced in 1993 was incompatible with Poland’s constitution.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, could lead to a significant reduction in the number of abortions in the country. 

Videos on social media showed protesters interrupting Sunday Masses while holding signs supporting abortion.

“Profanity, violence, abusive inscriptions, and the disturbance of services and profanations that have been committed in recent days -- although they may help some people to defuse their emotions -- are not the right way to act in a democratic state,” the archbishop of Poznań said.

“I express my sadness that in many churches today believers have been prevented from praying and that the right to profess their faith has been forcibly taken away.”

Gądecki’s own cathedral was among the churches targeted by protesters.

The archbishop emphasized that it was not the Church that decides whether laws comply with Poland’s constitution.

“For her part, the Church cannot cease to defend life, nor can she fail to proclaim that every human being must be protected from conception until natural death. On this point, the Church, as Pope Francis often says, cannot compromise, because it would be guilty of the culture of rejection that is so widespread today, always affecting the most needy and vulnerable,” he said.

The constitutional court was asked to examine the law last year by a group of 119 MPs belonging to the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), as well two smaller parties. 

Polish president Andrzej Duda, who is associated with PiS, welcomed the court ruling Friday.

“I have said it many times and I have never concealed it, that abortion for so-called eugenic reasons should not be allowed in Poland. I believed and believe that every child has a right to life,” he said in an interview with Dziennik Gazeta Prawna Oct. 23.

Abortion will continue to remain legal in cases of rape or incest and risk to the mother’s life.

Gądecki said: “I am asking everyone to express their views in a socially acceptable way, respecting the dignity of every human being. We need a conversation, not confrontational attitudes or feverish exchanges of opinions on social networks.”

He continued: “Once again, I encourage everyone to a dialogue on how to protect the right to life and women’s rights. I am asking journalists and politicians not to escalate tensions, in a sense of responsibility for social peace.”

“I am asking all the faithful for prayers for unborn children, for parents expecting children, and for the conversion of those who use violence.”

Benedict XVI distances himself from embattled Catholic community

CNA Staff, Oct 25, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Benedict XVI has distanced himself from a Catholic community with which he had maintained close ties for decades. 

The German magazine “Herder Korrespondenz” reported Oct. 25 that the Pope Emeritus had taken the step regarding the Catholic Integrated Community.

Referring to the group by its German initials, IG, Benedict told the publication: “Obviously I was not informed about some things in the inner life of the IG, or even deceived, which I regret.” 

He had given the group ecclesiastical recognition during his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising, from 1977 to 1982.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Benedict also said: “At first I did not realize that in the attempt to shape the things of daily life integrally from faith, terrible distortions of faith were also possible.”

"I deeply regret that this gave the impression that all activities of the community had been approved by the archbishop.”

The Catholic Integrated Community, founded in 1948, was intended to be, according to its own description, “a place for an enlightened and unabridged Christianity.” 

The community achieved ecclesiastic recognition in 1978 by the archbishops of Paderborn and Munich -- Johannes Degenhardt and Joseph Ratzinger respectively -- and in 1985 it was established as a public association of the Christian faithful under Church law. 

As CNA Deutsch previously reported, the archdiocese of Munich and Freising published an interim report in November 2019 in which ex-members of the group described interventions in their private life. These included the choice of a place of residence and the number of children in a family, as well as the exertion of psychological pressure on relatives.

A spokesperson for Munich and Freising archdiocese informed the group that the decision to investigate the community in greater depth was taken after IG had obtained the archbishop’s confirmation of a chairperson for its executive committee. This step, which is required of public church associations and is scheduled every six years, took place in November 2010.

In addition, the archdiocese had been in contact with former members who had made accusations against the group, which is also known as the KIG.

A spokesperson said at the time: “These talks are currently being continued and their results so far have been included in the interim report of the visitation. At two reconciliation meetings in 2016 and 2018, initiated by former members and the archdiocese, none of the active KIG members took part, despite being invited to do so.”

Also in November 2019, a former member welcomed the investigation, telling CNA Deutsch that it was “a stroke of good fortune and a blessing for the Church and for the last members of the IG itself, whom one can only feel sorry for.”

Regarding the potential consequences of a possible refusal on the part of the group to contribute to clarifying the situation, the archdiocese said that the IG, as a public church association, was still called upon to cooperate with the visitators. 

“Should it continue to evade this in the future, we will take appropriate steps that could extend to dissolution,” the spokesperson said.

On the IG’s website -- which appears to have gone offline -- the community had described the accusations in the interim report as “completely groundless.”

According to Herder Korrespondenz, a member of the group said that the community had decided to completely cease its “activity as a church association and has since done so.” Research by the Herder Korrespondenz shows, however, that the group apparently plans to continue its work “in a new legal form.”

Pope Francis prays for peace and justice in Nigeria

Vatican City, Oct 25, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis appealed for an end to violence in Nigeria after reciting the Angelus Sunday.

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square Oct. 25, the pope said he prayed that peace would be restored “through the promotion of justice and the common good.” 

He said: “I follow with particular concern the news coming from Nigeria about the recent violent clashes between law enforcement agencies and some young protesters.” 

“We pray to the Lord that all forms of violence will always be avoided, in the constant search for social harmony through the promotion of justice and the common good.” 

Protests against police brutality erupted in Africa’s most populous country Oct. 7. Demonstrators called for the abolition of a police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The Nigerian Police Force said Oct. 11 that it would disband SARS, but demonstrations continued. Armed men opened fire on protesters Oct. 20 in the capital, Lagos, killing at least 12 people, according to Amnesty International. Nigeria’s army denied responsibility for the deaths. 

Nigerian police said Saturday that they would “use all legitimate means to halt a further slide into lawlessness,” amid looting and further street violence.

Around 20 million of Nigeria’s 206 million population are Catholics. 

In his reflection before the Angelus, the pope meditated on the day’s Gospel reading (Matthew 22:34-40), in which a scholar of the law challenges Jesus to name the greatest commandment.

He noted that Jesus replied by saying “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The pope suggested that the questioner wanted to draw Jesus into a dispute about the hierarchy of laws. 

“But Jesus establishes two essential principles for believers of all times. The first is that moral and religious life cannot be reduced to an anxious and forced obedience,” he explained. 

He continued: “The second cornerstone is that love must tend together and inseparably toward God and toward neighbor. This is one of Jesus’ primary innovations and it helps us understand that what is not expressed in love of neighbor is not true love of God; and, likewise, what is not drawn from one’s relationship with God is not true love of neighbor.”

Pope Francis noted that Jesus ended his reply by saying: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

“This means that all the precepts the Lord has given to his people must be related to love of God and neighbor,” he said. 

“In fact, all the commandments serve to implement and express that twofold indivisible love.”

The pope said that love for God is expressed above all in prayer, especially adoration. 

“We neglect the adoration of God so much,” he lamented. “We make the prayer of thanksgiving, the supplication to ask for something... but we neglect adoration. Worshiping God is the very core of prayer.”

The pope added that we also forget to act charitably towards others. We fail to listen to others because we find them boring or because they use up our time. “But we always find time to chat,” he observed.

The pope said that in Sunday’s Gospel Jesus directs his followers to the source of love. 

“This wellspring is God himself, to be loved completely in a communion that nothing and no one can break. A communion that is a gift to be invoked each day, but also a personal commitment not to let our lives become enslaved by the idols of the world,” he said.

“And the proof of our journey of conversion and holiness always consists in love of neighbor ... The proof that I love God is that I love my neighbor. As long as there is a brother or sister to whom we close our hearts, we will still be far from being disciples as Jesus asks us. But his divine mercy does not allow us to be discouraged, but rather calls us to begin anew each day to live the Gospel consistently.”

After the Angelus, Pope Francis greeted the residents of Rome and pilgrims from around the world who had gathered in the square below, spaced out to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He singled out a group called “Cell of Evangelization,” attached to the Rome Church of St. Michael the Archangel. 

He then announced the names of 13 new cardinals, who will receive the red hat at a consistory on Nov. 28, the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent.

The pope concluded his Angelus reflection by saying: “May the intercession of Most Holy Mary open our hearts in order to welcome the ‘great commandment,’ the twofold commandment of love, which encapsulates all of God’s Law and on which our salvation depends.”

Pope Francis to create 13 new cardinals, including Washington Archbishop Gregory

Vatican City, Oct 25, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Sunday that he will create 13 new cardinals, including Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory, at a consistory on Nov. 28, the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent.

The pope announced his intention to add to the College of Cardinals from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, after leading the Angelus Oct. 25.

Gregory, who was appointed Archbishop of Washington in 2019, will become the first Black cardinal of the United States. 

Other cardinals-designate include Maltese Bishop Mario Grech, who became secretary general of the Synod of Bishops in September, and the Italian Bishop Marcello Semeraro, who was named prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints earlier this month. 

Also receiving the red hat is the Italian Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980. Aged 86, he will not be eligible to vote in a future conclave.

Others appointed to the College of Cardinals include Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco of Santiago, Chile; Archbishop Antoine Kambanda of Kigali, Rwanda; Archbishop Jose Fuerte Advincula of Capiz, in the Philippines; and Bishop Cornelius Sim, Vicar Apostolic of Brunei.

Also elevated to the rank of cardinal are Archbishop Augusto Paolo Lojudice, former Rome auxiliary bishop and current Archbishop of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino, Italy; and Fra Mauro Gambetti, Custos of the Sacred Convent of Assisi.

Alongside Cantalamessa, the pope named three others who will receive the red hat but be unable to vote in conclaves: Emeritus Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico; Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, Permanent Observer Emeritus to the United Nations Office and Specialized Agencies in Geneva; and Msgr. Enrico Feroci, parish priest of Santa Maria del Divino Amore at Castel di Leva, Rome.

Cardinal-designate Gregory hit the headlines in June this year, when he strongly criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to the John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., amid clashes between police and protesters.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” he said.

“St. Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” he added.

It later emerged that Gregory had been aware of Trump’s visit to the shrine days before he had initially appeared to be.

Gregory served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004. He was the archbishop of Atlanta from 2005 to 2019.

Context of pope’s ‘civil union’ documentary comment reported

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 04:42 pm (CNA).-  

A fuller context of remarks from Pope Francis on civil unions in a recent documentary has emerged, while questions continue to surround the documentary, and the Vatican has not responded to requests for comment.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope is seen to say in a documentary released Wednesday, during a scene in which he talks about pastoral care for those who identify as LGBT.

“I stood up for that,” Pope Francis is seen to add.

The documentary, “Francesco,” made global headlines because of the pope’s apparent call for civil union legislation, a contrast to the position of his papal predecessors on the question.

While filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky told CNA and other journalists that Pope Francis made comments calling for the passage of civil union laws directly to him, it later emerged that the comments were actually part of a 2019 interview of Pope Francis conducted by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

It was subsequently revealed that several sentences spoken by the pope in the documentary were spliced together, out of context, from the 2019 interview, and journalists have since then asked questions about the precise nature of the pope’s remarks on civil unions.

The civil union remark was not contained in the published version of Alazraki’s interview, and has not been available to the public. But America Magazine published Oct. 24 the apparent context of the pope’s remark on civil unions.

During a discussion on the pope’s opposition to a same-sex marriage proposal when he was an archbishop in Argentina, Alazraki asked Pope Francis if he had adopted more liberal positions after becoming pope, and if so, whether that was attributable to the Holy Spirit.

Alazraki  asked: “You waged a whole battle over egalitarian weddings, of couples of the same sex in Argentina. And later they say that you arrived here, they elected you pope and you appeared much more liberal than what you were in Argentina. Do you recognize yourself in this description that some people who knew you before make, and was it the grace of the Holy Spirit that gave you a boost? (laughs)”

According to America Magazine, the pope responded that: “The grace of the Holy Spirit certainly exists. I have always defended the doctrine. And it is curious that in the law on homosexual marriage…. It is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage. But what we have to have is a law of civil union (ley de convivencia civil), so they have the right to be legally covered.”

The last sentence was omitted when Alazraki's interview was broadcast in 2019.

It is not clear when the pope said “I stood up for that,” or if that sentence references the remark on civil unions. The magazine also did not indicate how it had obtained the footage omitted from the publicly aired interview.

A CNA analysis found that comments from the pope presented in the documentary before his remarks on civil unions were heavily edited, with various phrases from the 2019 interview strung together as presented as a cohesive whole.

The translation of the pope’s phrase “convivencia civil” has also been disputed.

Some commenters have suggested that the pope’s Spanish phrase is not properly translated as “civil union.” However, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, a long-time theological advisor to Pope Francis, posted on Facebook October 21 that civil unions is the correct translation. That post has since been deleted.

The Vatican press office has not responded to requests for clarification about the pope’s comments.


The Order of Malta: Serving in a time of crisis 

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2020 / 12:25 pm (CNA).-  

On October 23, CNA interviewed HE Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, Grand Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, about the religious order’s international work and ongoing process of constitutional reform. This is part one of that interview.

Doctors, hospitals, and governments across the world have struggled to respond to the still-unfolding coronavirus pandemic. Taking the strain along with them is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta – the thousand-year-old Catholic religious order, medical aid organization, and international diplomatic entity.

Present in 120 countries, with over 2,000 projects in the medical-social field, and more than 120,000 volunteers and medical staff, the order functions as an emergency relief organization in many developing areas and crisis zones.

As the order works to cope with increasing need for its services, it is also grappling with an ongoing process of internal reform. A years-long process to change the order’s governing constitution has been put on hold, following the death of the Grand Master, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre, earlier this year, and the recent fall from grace of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom Pope Francis had named in 2017 as his personal delegate to oversee the order’s “moral and spiritual” renewal.

This week, CNA spoke to the order’s Grand Chancellor – effectively the chief operating officer - Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, about a crucial period for the historic order and its work.

Boeselager told CNA that, while it is in a time of flux at the top, the order remains focused on its medical mission during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The order fortunately is organized in a very horizontal way,” he said. “The situation [in the order’s headquarters in Rome] does not affect in any way the ongoing, many different services of the order – which as you can imagine are in many countries under great stress due to the corona crisis.”

During the pandemic, many national associations and relief corps of the order have scaled up or even launched new projects to help treat COVID-19 patients.

“It’s very, very different,” Boeselager said, explaining that the order has tried to retool its medical missions to respond to the global health crisis.

In Italy, coronavirus wards and hospitals have been set up by the order’s relief corps, and many facilities in Germany, France and other European countries are now dedicated to patients with coronavirus.

Boeselager said that most of the Order’s entities are supporting national health authorities in triage operations, transportation of patients, and in test administration. In Africa and Asia many other projects have been converted into health, sanitation and virus prevention schemes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We had to change many of our projects,” he said. “Even if Africa is not so much affected by the incidence of the illness, the precautionary measures [taken by local governments] are quite similar – in many countries we have the great challenge to get food to children who would normally have one or two meals a day in schools, which are now closed. These were the only substantial meals for many, many of those children.”

Working in Italy, where a second wave of the virus has caused a surge in cases, the order’s volunteer corps set up two dedicated field hospitals for coronavirus patients which came online towards the end of the first peak in the spring.

“When they were first opened [at the end of the first wave],” Boeselager told CNA, “they were not much needed anymore, but they may be needed again now. The hospital in Milan is already being prepared to receive patients again.”

Further from its base in Rome, but closer to its historical roots in the Middle East, Boeselager explained that the order remained deeply committed to its work in Lebanon, where overflow from the Syria civil war has taken a rolling toll on the country and triggered an ongoing refugee crisis. More recently, a massive explosion in the capital Beirut decimated large parts of the city, triggering further economic crisis and the resignation of the government.

“The crisis in the Middle East is the core of our concern,” Boeselager told CNA. “We have huge activities in Lebanon, Iraq, and also some in Syria.”

Boeselager said the order’s Lebanese association is “probably the only organization with good contacts with all of the eighteen other confessions in the country.”

“We run nine clinics, some of them as formal joint ventures with Sunnis, Shi’ites, and the Druze. In the south, we have a clinic in cooperation with the Shi’ites, where the nurses are Muslim and wear the burqa, but on the burqa is the cross of the order!”

The still-ongoing civil war in neighboring Syria has had a deep impact on Lebanon. Boeselager told CNA the order had set up a clinic in a heavily Sunni area on the northern border with Syria.

The order is unique in that, while it has no territory, it is a sovereign entity under international law – with its own passports, diplomatic relationships, and permanent observer status at the United Nations. Boeselager said that this diplomatic independence was crucial to is ability to work in war-torn regions like the Syrian border, without be perceived as a tool of any side of government.

“We were warned about going there,” he told CNA, “because it was said it would be too dangerous for Christians, and we were advised not to put the cross of the order on the mobile clinic.”

In fact, after the order established its presence in the region, it found that its Christian presence was not only accepted but adopted as an essential part of bringing peace to the area.

“After four weeks of operation, the elder of the local village asked us to put the cross up on the clinic to have it better visible and protected because the order is so respected. And then we were told that in the small waiting room, one day they found leaders of three different rebel groups meeting under pretext of needing medical care to discuss ceasefires.”

Boeselager said the order’s diplomatic neutrality and Christian identity among the different Muslim groups, is essential, not just for delivering its humanitarian aid but also for fostering peace.

“People in armed conflict have a sixth sense,” he said. “They know somebody is there only to help, or whether there is a hidden other agenda.”

“This is where you see our status in international law becomes so important,” he said. “You can see also how the religious identity is important, because in most Muslim countries – not in all – it is easier to work for a Christian organization than a secular organization.”

“Historically, the service to the poor is first,” said Boeselager, “this has always been in the foreground for us.”

“This and the order’s call to promoting, witnessing, protecting the faith are two sides of the same coin. It is creating a space where the faith can be promoted and is possible. The way the order promotes the faith is in combination in its work.”

“We are not theologians, we are not liturgists, our vocation is to promote the faith and serve the poor together.”


Financial and operational questions surround Scholas Occurentes pontifical foundation

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).-  

The Pontifical Foundation Scholas Occurentes, which is charged with promoting education in underserved and poor communities, has received millions in donations and agreements with organizations in recent years, without having built any schools in underserved neighborhoods.

The Scholas Occurentes foundation was formally established in 2015, with backing from Pope Francis, who has encouraged throughout his pontificate a “poor Church for the poor.” In 2015 two arms of the foundation were registered, one in Argentina and one in Spain, and were recognized by Pope Francis with the title “Foundation of Pontifical Law.”

Among the foundation’s purposes are “to promote, improve education and achieve the integration of communities, with a focus on those with fewer resources", as well as "promote awareness campaigns on human values."

The organization, focused on education, has not erected or established any schools. It has instead established numerous headquarters offices and reached agreements giving it a presence in schools and universities.

The “University of Sense,” one of Schola Occurentes’ most recent projects, has among its exhibitors well-known supporters of the legalization of abortion and promoters of gender ideology in the world.

The University of Sense project is designed, according to its website, “ to educate in the ultimate responsibility of every human being: to listen to what surrounds us - to listen to the other, to the earth, to life - to give to each moment an original response - that of a new story, that of a new culture. To educate on the possibility of jumping into the open, to fulfill the call of life: the unfolding of its mystery that offers us meaning. Sense that each one names unique and, therefore, that each one embodies beauty.”

Among presenters in the project are the writer Luisa Valanzuela and the philosopher Darío Sztajnszrajber, who have publicly spoken in favor of abortion, and a priest, Fr. Hugo Mujica, who has lamented that Pope Francis has not lived up to expectations of liberalizing sacramental discipline in the Church.

At the end of September, the Catholic University of Valencia in Spain agreed to be the official headquarters of the University of Sense.

The University of Sense is one part of a very broad Scholas Occurentes network.

According to its website, Scholas Occurrentes has offices in Argentina, Chile, Vatican City, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Haiti, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal and Romania. Its presence extends to a “network in 190 countries, integrating more than 400,000 educational centers and reaching more than one million children and young people around the world,” the website says.

The Scholas Occurrentes board of trustees consists of José María del Corral as president, the Argentine member of the Vatican curia Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo as vice president, Enrique Adolfo Palmeyro as secretary, and Marta Simoncelli as vice secretary.

The support of Pope Francis has allowed Scholas Occurrentes , despite its short existence, to enter into agreements and receive donations from large companies and high-level public institutions.

In each of its public financial statements for 2016, 2017, and 2018 there is an agreement with Football Club Barcelona, ​​Lionel Messi's team, valued each year at 30,000 euros. In the 2019 economic report, the 30,000 euros from FC Barcelona were recorded as a donation. Another Spanish sports team, Club Atlético de Madrid, donated 460,000 euros in 2017.

In the organization’s 2015 financial statement, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is recorded to have made a donation of about 324,000 euros.

In 2019 the organization  also registered an agreement with the Ministry of Education of Haiti, for 323,951 euros. In the same year, it also received a donation from the Air Europa airline for about 735,000 euros,

Scholas also has an agreement of almost one million euros with Origen Worldwide, a marketing and communication company based in Madrid, Spain.

Other public and private organizations with which Scholas has entered into agreements or received donations include Paul David Hewson, the singer and vocalist of the rock band U2 known as Bono; the Santander Bank; the Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires; PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world's leading consulting firms; Disney Worldwide; the Mexican Agency for international cooperation for development; the Office of the First Lady of the Dominican Republic; the Inter-American Development Bank; Mercedes Benz Argentina; Microsoft and the San Pablo CEU University Foundation.

According to reports not included in the officially published financial statements, Scholas Occurrentes has used millions to pay unspecified fees, and hundreds of thousands to support its offices and the travel of its workers.

According to the document entitled “Fundación Scholas Ocurrentes - Scholas Consolidado (USD): Scholas Argentina. Statement of income and expenses from Jan 2016 to Dec 2016," the organization spent in that year, only in the Argentine headquarters, almost $5.2 million dollars in "professional fees " and another million in "temporary fees."

The document also indicates that more than $448,000 were used for "salaries and social charges."

In “office rentals”, Scholas Occurrentes spent more than $324,000 that year. Another $300,000 went to mobile telephone expenses.

As total income, “gross profit”, the pontifical foundation registered that year in its Argentine headquarters more than $12 million.

In its "Abbreviated Report as of December 31, 2017", which is not published on the group’s website, Scholas Occurrentes indicates that it allocated 903 thousand euros to "travel expenses" in 2016 and more than 912 thousand euros in 2017.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 30.8% of the population of Latin America lives in poverty, below the threshold of $1.90 per day.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 14 million children and adolescents between 7 and 18 years of age are out of the educational system in Latin America.

It is not clear how the projects offered by Scholas Occurents intend to address those populations.

Among the events that can be found in the 2019 Scholas yearbook are concerts, camps, a project “Programming for Peace” that does not explain how students from low-income schools could access technology, as well as an “Online Marathon on Bullying and Cyberbullying.”

The organization’s projects, including the University of Sense, offer online programs, but do not address how those in the world’s poorest groups, which disproportionately lack internet access, should participate.

A UNICEF report from August this year revealed that " at least a third of school-age children around the world did not have access to distance education during the closure of schools due to COVID-19."

One of the main causes for the lack of access to distance education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mexico, one of the countries where Scholas Occurrentes has installed a headquarters, was “ the lack of a computer or internet ”, according to a study carried out by the Universidad Iberoamericana .

According to UNICEF, the “minimum percentage of school-age children without access to distance education” is above 40% in Africa, while in South Asia it is 38%. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia it is at 34%, while in Latin America and the Caribbean at 9%.

In total, the United Nations organization indicated, there are 463 million minors who cannot access distance education around the world.

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contacted Scholas Occurrentes on September 15 , through Virginia Priano, director of communications for the pontifical foundation.

After two weeks, with several exchanges of emails, WhatsApp messages and phone calls, the organization's executives did not respond to questions from ACI Prensa about pro-abortion and gender ideology speakers convened for the University of Sense.

On September 29, after the publication of an article on the organization’s classes, ACI Prensa sent new questions to Virginia Priano, this time about the financial management and considerable expenses of Scholas Occurrentes in fees, travel, offices and telephony.

Priano sent a brief greeting message to ACI Prensa on September 30 via WhatsApp, but was not in contact with ACI Prensa again. Days later, the Argentine telephone number through which the communication had been made became inactive. Calls and messages to the Italian telephone of the director of communications of Scholas Occurrentes have not been answered, as well as the various emails sent this month.

ACI Prensa asked Scholas Occurentes how it would explain to poor families with limited access to education that an organization encouraged by the pope to undertake education initiatives has spend millions on fees, and hundreds of thousands on offices and telephones.

ACI Prensa also asked whether the group will develop a specific program for the construction of schools and access to education for poor minors or a scholarship program. It also asked the cost of the University of Sense, and how much Scholas Occurrentes paid to the consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers design of the Ágora Project.

Among other internal documents of Scholas Occurrentes to which ACI Prensa had access is the “Ágora Project. Creation of a World Social Network based on Education: Scholas,” which dates back to 2015 and is marked “strictly private and confidential.”

The Ágora Project proposes a growth and financing model for Scholas Occurentes that sheds light on its current operation.

In 2015, PriceWaterhouseCoopers pointed out that the Scholas fundraising model had been generated “spontaneously and opportunistically”, which is why it proposed new mechanisms to achieve “continue with Scholas' activity, consolidate the countries in which they are present and invest in the generation of other sources of financing. ”

In one of its first pages, the project acknowledges that “the pope is a key asset for Scholas and therefore a development model is necessary that allows Scholas Global to have broad control over the use of his image in all its chapters / venues.”

For this reason, the document indicates, it is important "to maintain control over the image and reputation of the Foundation and the Pope."

"Avoiding reputational risk is, for Scholas (...) a priority task," the confidential document reads.

A version of this report was first published as a series by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Pope Francis meets with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Vatican City, Oct 24, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis met with Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the Vatican Saturday.

The Vatican said Oct. 24 that the pope received the Socialist leader in a private audience for approximately 35 minutes at the Apostolic Palace. 

In improvised remarks that were captured on video, the pope reflected on the vocation of politicians and highlighted the dangers of ideological thinking.

“It is very sad when ideologies take over the interpretation of a nation, a country, and disfigure the homeland,” he said.

Sánchez later held talks with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister.

“The talks in the Secretariat of State focused on bilateral relations and issues of common interest that concern the Holy See and Spain,” the Holy See press office said.

“The opportunity for constant dialogue between the local Church and government authorities was also emphasized.”

“Finally, some international issues were discussed, such as the current health emergency, the process of European integration, and migration.”

Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, has previously clashed with the Church in Spain over religious instruction in schools and euthanasia, among other issues. 

In July, he claimed that Pope Francis had intervened to help the government carry out the controversial exhumation of the body of Francisco Franco, Spain’s ruler from 1939 to 1975, from the Valley of the Fallen on Oct. 24, 2019.

This prompted the Holy See to issue a statement insisting that it had never “made any declaration on either the exhumation or the place of burial, because it is not part of its competency.”

“On the question of Francisco Franco’s exhumation, [the Holy See] has repeated on various occasions its respect for the legality and the decisions of the competent governmental and judicial authorities,” it said.

During his audience with Pope Francis, Sánchez gave the pope a facsimile of a Book of Hours by Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, a counselor to Ferdinand and Isabella, the 15th-century Catholic Monarchs of Spain.

The pope gave Sánchez a copy of his encyclicals, as well as a bronze relief. The artwork, by Daniela Fusco in collaboration with Michele Palazzetti, expresses the themes of mercy, welcome, and fraternity, according to the Vatican.

Pedro Sánchez ha regalado al Papa un facsímil del Libro de horas del obispo Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca. Y el #Papa una copia de sus Encíclicas y este relieve de bronce con “mensaje”, símbolo de misericordia, acogida y fraternidad.

— Eva Fernández (@evaenlaradio) October 24, 2020  

The relief depicts a mother with a child in her arms at the entrance to the colonnades of St. Peter’s Square. Behind her, there are other migrants in a boat on the water. Two hands are joined in front of the mother and child. 

Beneath are written the words “Riempiamo le mani di altre mani” (“Let’s fill our hands with other hands”), which the Vatican said referred to the pope’s appeals to welcome others and show mercy.

After the audience, Sánchez expressed gratitude for his meeting with the pope. 

“We agreed to address the crisis caused by COVID-19 from a multilateralist perspective and with a social outlook; protecting the most vulnerable and moving forward, all of society united, towards a more just and solidary world,” he wrote on Twitter. 

Camden diocese dedicates youth center to Blessed Carlo Acutis

CNA Staff, Oct 24, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- The Bishop of Camden blessed a retreat center earlier this month, naming it for newly Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who dedicated his talents to sharing his love for the Eucharist.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan led the inauguration of the Blessed Carlo Acutis Youth Center in Absecon, 50 miles southeast of Camden, Oct. 8. He was joined by numerous students from Holy Spirit High School.

The event also involved Father Perry Cherubini, the president of Holy Spirit; Father Joshua Nevitt, the school’s director of Catholic identity; and Father Cosme de la Pena, pastor of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.

Located across the street from the high school, the Blessed Carlo Acutis Youth Center was previously used as a convent.

Bishop Sullivan said Acutis’ example is a demonstration that senior citizens, “goody-two-shoes,” or priests are not the only people who can lead a life of holiness. He focused on the young saint’s youthful and humble piety as well as his dedication to the Eucharist and the poor.

“Holiness is possible for you,” the bishop told the high school students, noting that the young Italian was buried wearing sneakers and jeans. He stressed the value of using modern communication means to spread the faith.

Blessed Acutis died from leukemia at the age of 15 in 2006, and was beatified at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi Oct. 10. Born in 1991, Acutis is the first millennial to be beatified.

The beatification drew an estimated 3,000 people to Assisi, including Acutis’ friends, family, and pilgrims inspired by his witness. The feast day of Carlo Acutis will be observed Oct. 12.

The young Italian had enjoyed computer science and video games. However, he also used his computer programming skills to spread devotion to the Eucharist and offered his suffering from cancer for the Church.

“Since he was a child … he had his gaze turned to Jesus. Love for the Eucharist was the foundation that kept alive his relationship with God. He often said ‘The Eucharist is my highway to heaven’,” Cardinal Agostino Vallini said in his homily for the beatification.

“Carlo felt a strong need to help people discover that God is close to us and that it is beautiful to be with him to enjoy his friendship and his grace.”