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Convocation 'great opportunity' for U.S. church, says religious sister

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dominican Sister Marie Bernadette Thompson can't help but see things through a teacher's eyes after spending eight years teaching elementary and high school students and belonging to an order whose charism is education and the faith formation of young people.

But the 42-year-old sister, who has been council coordinator for the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious since 2014, also is not opposed to being a student particularly when it comes to learning new ways to engage others in the faith and spread the Gospel message.

She hopes to pick up some pointers from other church leaders from around the country this summer at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida.

The convocation, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an invitation-only event meant to give the 3,000 participants expected to attend a better understanding of what it means to be missionary disciples in today's world through workshop presentations, keynote addresses and prayer.

Sister Marie Bernadette will attend the event as part of a Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious delegation with more than 20 major superiors representing orders, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, School Sisters of Christ the King, Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal and Sister Marie Bernadette's order, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. These women religious cover the spectrum of serving the poor and elderly, working in parish ministry and education or devotion to contemplative prayer and new evangelization.

She believes the council's delegates have a lot to bring to the table and also will have plenty they can take away from it.

She said the sisters' presence "will be a powerful expression of our union with the bishops and the daily commitment to the new evangelization," adding that these women religious are "on the peripheries of the new evangelization every day."

Personally, she said she's "delighted to be able to go" to the convocation, describing it as "an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to really bring us all together to share best practices, to share struggles, insights with others that we may not even know and may never have come in contact with."

She sees it as an important encouragement boost for faith leaders to continue the work they're already doing but she also views it as a challenge for all participants to take a responsible role leading the global church.

In a May 9 interview with Catholic News Service, she said the convocation delegates have a great opportunity with this event, noting that most countries don't have this chance to bring their Catholic leaders together. "I think we have a responsibility to take it seriously and to listen so we can not only help our own people but help the universal church in this worldwide mission of evangelization," she said.

Sister Marie Bernadette, who grew up in Long Island, New York, views evangelization as a key tool for the church moving forward and says the root of this missionary work needs to be based in prayer and listening and walking with others.

She knows a little bit about evangelization from being on the other side of it when she was just out of college and wasn't sure of her next step. A newly ordained priest at her home parish was "on fire for the faith" and urged her never to be afraid to show her faith in public.

Sister Marie Bernadette certainly shows this faith now, wearing a full-length white habit and living in community with other sisters in Washington where together they begin and end each day with prayers.

She is convinced prayer is behind any success in drawing others to the church. As she put it: "The message we're bringing gives life to people and to us; we're best witnesses of that when we are spirit filled."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Prudence, pastoral concern guided Medjugorje commission, member says

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Catholic Church recognizes as "worthy of belief" only the initial alleged apparitions of Mary at Medjugorje, it would be the first time the church distinguished between phases of a single event, but it also would acknowledge that human beings and a host of complicating factors are involved, said a theological expert in Mariology.

Servite Father Salvatore Perrella, president of the Pontifical Institute Marianum and a member of the commission now-retired Pope Benedict XVI established to study the Medjugorje case, said that although Pope Francis has not yet made a formal pronouncement on the presumed apparitions, "he thought it was a good idea to clear some of the fog."

The pope's remarks to journalists May 13 on his flight from Portugal to Rome "were a surprise, but he told the truth," Father Perrella told Catholic News Service May 18. "For four years, the commission established by Pope Benedict investigated, interrogated, listened, studied and debated this phenomenon of the presumed apparitions of Mary" in a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"The commission did not make a definitive pronouncement," he said, but in discussing the apparitions that supposedly began June 24, 1981, and continue today, the commission opted to distinguish between what occurred in the first 10 days and what has occurred in the following three decades.

"The commission held as credible the first apparitions," he said. "Afterward, things became a little more complicated."

As a member of the papal commission, Father Perrella said he could not discuss specifics that had not already been revealed by Pope Francis to the media. But he did not object to the suggestion that one of the complicating factors was the tension existing at the parish in Medjugorje between the Franciscans assigned there and the local bishop. In some of the alleged messages, Mary sided with the Franciscans.

In addition to cardinals, bishops and theologians, the papal commission also included several experts in psychology and psychiatry, a recommended component of any official investigation of presumed apparitions. A host of human factors and outside pressure -- not just mental illness -- can play a role in leading alleged visionaries astray.

Just as Jesus chose men, not saints, to be his apostles, God does not choose saints to be visionaries, Father Perrella said. The apostles were called to grow in faith and holiness and become saints, just like visionaries are called to conversion and to follow the Gospel more closely each day, he said.

The Catholic Church's evaluation of alleged apparitions sees them as "a gift of God and a sign of God's presence at a certain time, in a certain place and to certain seers," Father Perrella said. "The mother of Jesus who appears, if it is real, as the pope says, does not and cannot add anything to the revelation of Christ, but she reminds people and calls them back to the Gospel."

Authentic messages are "simple and in line with the Gospel," he said. If they are "banal, superficial" they cannot be truly from God.

Father Perrella again said he could not discuss details about Medjugorje, but said the doubts Pope Francis expressed May 13 about a Mary presenting herself as "a telegraph operator who sends out a message every day at a certain time" show his skepticism about an alleged apparition in which Mary is "verbose."

Throughout history, the Servite said, the church has reacted to reports of apparitions with extreme caution and even "painful reserve," but its first obligation is to protect the integrity of the faith and uphold the truth that no messages or revelations are needed to complete what Christ revealed.

The Medjugorje commission also recommended that Pope Francis lift the ban on official diocesan and parish pilgrimages to Medjugorje and that he designate the town's parish Church of St. James as a pontifical shrine with Vatican oversight.

Such decisions would be "an intelligent pastoral choice," Father Perrella said, and they could be made whether or not the church officially recognizes the apparitions as "worthy of belief." Allowing pilgrimages and designating the church as a shrine would be a recognition of the prayer, devotion and conversion millions of people have experienced at Medjugorje.

At the same time, he said, it would ensure that "a pastor and not a travel agency" is in charge of what happens there.

Alleged apparitions of Mary have been reported since the early days of Christianity, he said, and long before the church became "preoccupied with documenting and investigating" whether a certain apparition was true, it allowed time to pass. And, if devotion there continued, a church or shrine was built.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Illness a reminder of life's value, pope tells Huntington's patients

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The frailty associated with illnesses like Huntington's disease is not a reason to shun the sick but a reminder of the value of life, Pope Francis said.

Jesus came to tear down the walls of stigma and marginalization and proved through his love that disease and sickness are "never an obstacle to encountering people," the pope said May 18 during a meeting with 1,700 people -- those with the fatal genetic disorder and their families.

"Fragility is not an evil. And disease, which is an expression of fragility, cannot and must not make us forget that, in the eyes of God, our value is always priceless," he said.

The meeting was sponsored by HDdennomore (pronounced "Hidden no more"), a coalition of neuroscientists, research experts and institutes with the goal of "ending the stigma and shame around the disease."

Huntington's disease results in the death of brain cells and causes problems with a person's mental abilities, body coordination and movement.

Since the disease's discovery in 1872, the uncontrollable movements that characterize the disease have led to the marginalization of those afflicted.

Acknowledging the "shame, isolation and abandonment" faced by those with the disorder, the pope said that, for too long, people with Huntington's disease have been met with "misunderstandings and barriers, truly excluding them."

However, he added, the organizing coalition's motto, "'Hidden no more' is not simply a slogan so much as a commitment that we all must foster," and Huntington's disease can become "an opportunity for encounter, for sharing, for solidarity."

Pope Francis also encouraged the families who care for their loved ones "with self-sacrifice and steadfastness" to not give in to "the temptation of the sense of shame" and accompany their family members "on this difficult path" that can, at times, "be an uphill climb."

"The family is the privileged place of life and dignity, and you can cooperate to build that network of solidarity and of help that the family alone can guarantee, and which the family is first called to live," the pope said.

The work of doctors, health care workers and volunteers, he continued, gives "tangible shape to the hope and motivations" of patients and their families while also protecting the dignity of those entrusted to their care.

"You are like the hands that God uses to sow hope. You are the voices that these people have to claim their rights," the pope said.

Pope Francis also thanked the work of scientists and geneticists who dedicate their lives to researching and studying Huntington's disease.

He also urged them to pursue their goal of finding a cure without resorting to practices that fuel a "throwaway culture," particularly through the use and destruction of human embryos.

"We know that no ends, even noble in themselves, such as a predicted utility for science, for other human beings or for society, can justify the destruction of human embryos," he said. 

The Catholic Church opposes destroying embryos for embryonic stem-cell research.

After his speech, the pope spent nearly one hour individually greeting 150 Huntington's disease patients seated in the front rows along with their families. Many of them were overcome with emotion as he laid his hand on their head or kissed their cheek.

Maria Esther, Franklin and Yosebly, three siblings from Venezuela who inherited the disease, wept as the pope blessed them and embraced them. According to HDdennomore, the siblings were often victims of "cruel stares" and "isolation" after their symptoms manifested.

Jesus' closeness to the suffering, Pope Francis said in his speech, gave hope to the sick and the marginalized because "they felt they were listened to, respected and loved."

"May none of you ever feel you are alone; may none of you feel you are a burden; may no one feel the need to run away," the pope said. "You are precious in the eyes of God; you are precious in the eyes of the church."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Papal celebration of Corpus Christi moves to Sunday

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ and the Corpus Christi procession on a Sunday -- June 18 -- and not on the traditional Thursday feast day, which is June 15 this year.

Throughout Italy and in most other countries, the feast was transferred to the following Sunday years ago. The pope celebrating on the Sunday "can strengthen the participation of the faithful in this solemn, public act of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament," said Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the papal vicar of Rome.

Announcing the change in a letter May 1, the cardinal said he hoped changing the date of the celebration to a non-work day would allow more people to participate in the traditional procession through Rome from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

The date of the papal celebration was announced by the Vatican May 18 along with a list of Pope Francis' other public liturgical celebrations for June.

Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Square on Pentecost June 4 and he will mark the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul with Mass June 29 in St. Peter's Basilica and the blessing of palliums to be given to new metropolitan archbishops.

The pallium is a band made from lamb's wool, which is worn over the shoulders and symbolizes both an archbishop's role as the shepherd of the archdiocese and his communion with the pope.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Remains of priest exhumed, verified as part of beatification process

IMAGE: CNS photo/Diane Clay, Sooner Catholic

By Diane Clay

OKARCHE, Okla. (CNS) -- Early on the morning of May 10, the remains of Father Stanley F. Rother were exhumed from Holy Trinity Cemetery in Okarche and transported to Oklahoma City.

As required by the Catholic Church for the beatification process, his remains were examined by medical professionals and re-interred in the chapel at Resurrection Cemetery in northwest Oklahoma City.

In March, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced that Father Rother, one its native sons who worked in Guatemala and was brutally murdered there in 1981, will be beatified Sept. 23 in a ceremony in downtown Oklahoma City.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes, will celebrate the beatification Mass along with Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City. Thousands of cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons and other Catholics from across the United States are expected to attend.

Pope Francis recognized Father Rother's martyrdom last December, making him the first martyr born in the United States and clearing the way for his beatification.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City sent Father Rother, who grew up on a family farm in Okarche, to its mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, in 1968. He served a poor and indigenous community in the area, helping build a small hospital, a school and its first Catholic radio station. But he also helped the agricultural community with its crops and to build an irrigation system.

Many Guatemalans in his community were kidnapped, disappeared or murdered as the government accused them of sympathizing with rebels during the decades-long conflict that plagued the Central American nation from the 1960s until the late 1990s.

By early 1981, Father Rother had been placed on a hit list along with several members of his parish staff and catechists for their continued aid, education and preaching of the Gospel to the poor population of Tz'utujil Indians.

Father Stanley, known as Father Francisco because his name was hard for the locals to pronounce, was 46 when a group of men entered the rectory and fatally shot him. His assailants were never identified but were believed to be government soldiers.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, then headed by Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, opened the priest's sainthood cause in 2007. At the request of his parishioners in Guatemala, Father Rother's heart is enshrined inside the Guatemalan church.

"The witness of Father Rother's life and death has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to me as a seminarian, priest and now as a bishop. I consider it a great gift to be entrusted with overseeing the continuation of his cause for beatification and canonization begun by Archbishop Beltran," Archbishop Coakley said in a statement.

"His beatification is an unexpected blessing for Oklahoma and for the United States as we celebrate this ordinary man from humble beginnings who answered the call to serve an extraordinary life," he said. "His witness will continue to inspire us for generations."

Before the exhumation of Father Rother's remains in Okarche, his family led a procession to the gravesite and participated in a prayer.

Once the vault was removed from the gravesite, it was transported to Oklahoma City where his remains were removed, examined and verified. He was placed in a new casket with golden vestments alongside a document signed by those in attendance. A red ribbon was wrapped around the casket and sealed with a wax seal of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Archbishops Coakley and Beltran led the priests in the singing of "Salve Regina," a Gregorian chant hymn, before the casket was lowered into a crypt at Resurrection Cemetery.

A closing prayer service wrapped up the solemn process.

"It was a holy day. Father Rother's presence was felt by many, and we are blessed as the Catholic Church in Oklahoma to present Father Rother's life to the world," Archbishop Coakley said.

A temporary sign marks the gravesite at Holy Trinity Cemetery in Okarche where the original vault and casket were reburied. A permanent memorial marker will be placed. His remains will stay in the chapel at Resurrection Cemetery until his shrine is completed.

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Clay is editor of the Sooner Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.