Browsing News Entries

'Godmothers for Life' serve vulnerable moms in Uruguay

Montevideo, Uruguay, Mar 18, 2018 / 03:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An Uruguayan non-profit organization called “Godmothers for Life” has been serving mothers in crisis pregnancies for more than 17 years, working out of a facility at Saint Jerome Chapel in Montevideo.   

Offering talks, one-on-one conversations, and job training, these “godmothers” help vulnerable moms face their pregnancies with dignity and hope, and not to see abortion as the only way out of their situation.

Being chosen as a godparent is a significant honor in Latin America, where godparents are typically highly involved in the lives of their godchildren, which gives the group’s name a special meaning.

The organization has its origins in 2000 at Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Marta Grego and her husband traveled from Uruguay to visit the shrine where they experienced in prayer what they described as “Our Lady of Guadalupe's call” to dedicate themselves to the cause of life.

Marta felt in her heart that God was asking her to fight abortion and save babies when she got back to Uruguay. However, she did not see a clear path forward at the time, because she was working and supporting her family. Nevertheless, she felt God telling her, “You take care of my things and I'll take care of yours.”

When the couple returned to Uruguay, a pregnant woman rang their doorbell asking for food. She had made up her mind to get an abortion. That encounter was how Godmothers for Life got its start, with Marta Grego as its founder and director.

Although the original purpose of the organization was to help women decide to keep their babies, Teresa Rodriguez, the group’s current president, explained that they eventually saw “that besides the girls who wanted to abort, there were pregnant girls who were not thinking of aborting but were in a very vulnerable situation.”

In response, the group expanded its work by providing free job training courses and workshops on Christian and human formation, “always focusing on the mom and her baby, helping her to value motherhood, but also helping the family,” so they can find their way out of poverty. Currently, Godmothers for Life is serving about 60 at-risk women in Montevideo, relying solely on donations for their work.

“A bond is created between us and the mothers which is not based on dependency but on affection. We are one big family,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to their main location in Montevideo, Godmothers for Life has a place at Saint Eugene Chapel in the administrative district, where they care for an additional 60 women. They hope to extend the project to other areas of Uruguay. They have already begun plans in several other districts.


What US Catholics see as Pope Francis' most notable action

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2018 / 04:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- What has been Pope Francis’ most notable action so far in his papacy?

A group of some 300 U.S. Catholics was recently asked this question in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, drawing a multitude of responses.  

Participants were asked to explain in their own words the most noteworthy thing Pope Francis has accomplished during his past five years as pope, despite their personal opinions of him.  

Nine percent said that Pope Francis has set a solid example of humility and overall Christian behavior. Another 9 percent believes he has made the Church more accepting and welcoming.

“He seems to get the idea across that all people are important and worthy of attention and rights,” said one participant, according the Pew Research.

Eight percent noted the pontiff’s particular focus on the poor, while 7 percent said he is noteworthy for his attention towards the LGBT community. Six percent applauded the extent of his global travel, through which he has made himself available to people all around the world. Another 5 percent believes he has united the Catholic community through dialogue.

Other categories receiving 1-4 percent each said that the Holy Father’s most significant action has been environmental care, peacemaking, addressing sex abuse, welcoming the divorced and remarried, spreading the faith, reforming the Vatican, or addressing immigration.

Similarly, 4 percent said the pope’s most notable action was a negative or neutral action, 3 percent said the answer is unclear, and 4 percent said that he has not yet done anything noteworthy.

One participant said that Pope Francis “gets too involved in things that don’t concern the Church,” while another said he is “more liberal than the popes before him.”

The largest group of respondents, 29 percent, declined to answer or did not come up with a response.

Pope Francis marked the fifth year of his pontificate this week, and he continues to receive an overall favorable opinion from U.S. Catholics, at around 84 percent.

The majority of U.S. Catholics, approximately 58 percent, also believe the pope is making major changes to benefit the Church, while around 94 percent view him as compassionate.


Letter reveals Benedict’s praise for Francis booklets came with previously unmentioned caveats

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 12:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid accusations of concealment, the Vatican's communications department has released the entirety of a letter written by Benedict XVI, revealing a previously unpublished paragraph which contains Benedict’s comments about a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
The Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, after questions were raised following the letter’s presentation during a press event March 12 for the release of a newly-published series of booklets on the theological formation of Pope Francis.
The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the secretariat.


#Vatican has now released the full contents of Benedict XVI's letter to +Vigano, saying there was no intention to censor but parts were left out as it was confidential. Earlier today it emerged that more had been omitted from the letter (see end here:

— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) March 17, 2018


The secretariat’s press release on the letter quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but included neither Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full, nor the final paragraph published today.
In the paragraph, Benedict notes his “surprise” that an author of one of the new booklets is the German theologian Peter Hünermann, who, Benedict notes, “was highlighted for leading anti-papal initiatives” during the two preceding papacies.
In the letter, dated Feb. 7 and addressed to the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Vigano, Benedict also notes Hünermann's involvement in the release of the 1989 Cologne Declaration, which “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on matters of moral theology.”
The previously undisclosed paragraph reads, as translated by Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, in full: “Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had been shown to have led anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the ‘Kölner Erklärung’, which, in relation to the encyclical ‘Veritatis splendor’, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the ‘Europaische Theologengesellschaft’, which he founded, initially came to be thought of as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, making that organization a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”
“I am sure that you will understand me for my denial and I greet you cordially,” the letter concludes. Earlier in the letter, Benedict acknowledged that he could not write a requested reflection on the booklets because he had not read them and had other, more pressing, commitments.
A March 17 press release from the Secretariat for Communications said there had been “much polemics” around its “alleged censorial manipulation of photography.”

“What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.”

“The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship,” the secretariat added.

The Vatican office wrote that it had now chosen to publish the letter in its entirety “in order to dispel any doubts.”
The National Catholic Register requested March 14 a copy of the letter Vigano sent to Benedict, but the request has not been answered.
Controversy about the letter heightened March 14 when the Associated Press reported that the Vatican had acknowledged obscuring two lines of the letter in a photo released to the press.
The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

Prayer is about being with God, not stress relief, Francis says

San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, Mar 17, 2018 / 07:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis asked Catholics if they try to pray as Jesus did – out of love for God – or if they only pray when they need something from God or want a ‘shot’ of stress relief.

“Prayer can be born as a request, even as a prompt intervention, but matures in praise and adoration. Then it becomes truly personal, as it was for Jesus,” the Pope said March 17.

“We ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble that of Jesus or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls? ‘I need something...’ And when you do not need [something], what do you do? Or do we mean them as tranquilizers to be taken in regular doses, to get some relief from stress?”

“No, prayer is a gesture of love, it is being with God and bringing him the life of the world: it is an indispensable work of spiritual mercy,” he continued.

Pope Francis spoke about the importance of prayer during Mass with around 30,000 people at the shrine of St. Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, the town where St. Padre Pio spent most of his life as a Capuchin priest.

It was the second stop in his day trip to Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, the towns in Italy where Padre Pio lived.

In his homily he emphasized that if Christians do not pray for their brothers and sisters, for difficult situations, no one will. “Who will intercede, who will bother to knock on the heart of God to open the door of mercy to a humanity in need?” he asked. “We can ask ourselves: do we Christians pray enough?”

Francis noted that it is easy to make excuses about prayer, putting it aside for things we think are more urgent. But this, he said, is putting aside “the best part,” as Jesus told Martha in the Gospel of Luke, when she was upset that her sister Mary was speaking with Jesus instead of helping her.

Padre Pio knew the importance of prayer, he said, and even 50 years after his death and entrance into heaven, left us the legacy of the prayer groups he started, and which continue today.

He quoted the saint, who said in a message he gave at the International Conference of Prayer Groups in 1966: “Pray a lot, my children, pray always, never get tired.” Unless we open ourselves to praise and adoration, “we do not know the Father,” he said, and encouraged those present to “resume prayers of adoration and praise.”

Before Mass Pope Francis stopped to visit children with cancer who are being treated in the pediatric oncology department of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House of relief of the suffering) hospital, founded by Padre Pio, in San Giovanni Rotondo.

He said in his homily that the “small are those who have a humble and open heart, poor and needy, who feel the need to pray, to entrust themselves and to be accompanied,” and that the hearts of little ones like the children he visited are “like an antenna, which captures the signal of God immediately.”

He also said that God is especially present at the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, which is an internationally-recognized hospital and research center, because of the many sick and suffering present inside.

Padre Pio “called it ‘a temple of prayer and science,’ where all are called to be ‘reserves of love’ for others,” Francis said.

“Now we can ask ourselves: do we know how to look for God where he is? Here there is a special sanctuary where he is present because there are many little ones preferred by him.”

The theological formation of Pope Francis

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A recent letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the subject of controversy, after a Vatican office admitted to releasing a photo of the letter blurring some lines.

The letter responded to an invitation to review a series of books detailing the theological perspective of Pope Francis. While Benedict declined the invitation, saying he wouldn’t have time to read the books, he noted “that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation.”

The Pope Emeritus praised the series as an effort to “oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation.”

While the letter remains the center of debate, it does raise an important question: what exactly is Pope Francis' theological formation?

Those who know Bergoglio well are quick to point out that he is not a “systematic theologian,” and that he cannot be called a theological expert in the academic sense of the word.

However, despite a lack of formal academic experience, biographers note that Francis has a sharp mind and an extensive knowledge of influential Catholic thinkers, especially in the Latin American context.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told CNA that the first Latin American pope cannot be identified exclusively with any particular theological movement or approach.

“People knew where John Paul II's philosophy school was, they could situation him because of his thesis, and because of his scholarly life, and the same with Benedict; Benedict could easily be located as part of a particular school,” Ivereigh said. But Bergoglio “is not a systematic theologian, so you can't really identify him with any particular school.”

However, Ivereigh, author of the authoritative English-language papal biography, “The Great Reformer,” told CNA that as a seminarian, studying at the Jesuit-run Colegio Maximo in Argentina, Bergoglio was the only student to ever get full marks in his classes.

“He was brilliant. Everybody recognized that he was intellectually brilliant from the beginning,” Ivereigh said.

Ivereigh said when Bergoglio was named seminary rector, years later, many of his students also commented that “he was incredibly widely read in literature of the world, European and Latin American, poetry, classics, the novels. He was very, very cultured in that broader sense of the word.”

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of CNA and editor of the papal biography “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” said Bergoglio was “a Jesuit of the old-school,” and as such “he definitely had that very rounded formation, with several interests,” including poetry, classical literature, and writings from the influential thinkers of the day.

However, after being placed into administrative and leadership roles at a young age, the future pope “spent a lot of time doing practical things and in a practical position” which took him away from academic endeavors.

“The truth is, he did not have enough time to get into a deep theological formation,” Bermudez said.

“I'm not saying he's a lightweight,” he said, adding that Francis “has a well-rounded theological formation for sure.”

Bergoglio was tapped as the Argentine Jesuit provincial in 1973 at the age of 36, during a tumultuous period in which the nation was led by a violent military dictatorship. In 1980 he was named rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty at San Miguel Seminary in Buenos Aires, where he taught theology and oversaw Jesuit novices until 1986. He was removed from that role when his emphasis on traditional theology and spirituality clashed with the Jesuits' then-Superior General Hans Kolvenbach.

He was sent to the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany to begin doctoral studies, which were based on the writings of German-Italian theologian Romano Guardini. However, after just a few months he was sent back to Argentina as a confessor in Cordoba.

By the time he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, he still had not finished his doctoral thesis. Bergoglio continued to ascend the ranks of Church hierarchy, taking on increasingly administrative roles that plunged him further into political and practical affairs, and farther away from his doctorate, which remains unfinished to this day.

However, according to Ivereigh, simply because Francis can't be attached to a particular theological school, “that doesn't mean that he's difficult to pin down, because actually his intellectual trajectory is very clear.”

Intellectual Influences

The Pope’s intellectual influences include several prominent 20th century thinkers.

Bergoglio was familiar with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be among the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was also familiar with Gaston Fassard, a French Jesuit priest and theologian who died in 1978, as well as other influential Jesuit thinkers of the time such as German-Polish theologian Enrich Przywara and Frenchman Henri de Lubac.

The Italian-born German priest Romano Guardini, whose theology formed the basis for the future Pope's unfinished doctoral thesis, was also influential on Bergoglio.

Guardini, who lived from 1885-1968, also influenced Pope Benedict XVI, who referenced Guardini frequently.

However, despite the frequent references to Guardini and the decision of Bergoglio to focus his thesis on Guardini's writings, Bermudez stressed the need to have caution when it comes to just how much influence Guardini had, since Bergoglio's thesis was never finished.

“We just know that he was incredibly impacted to the point that he wanted to do his doctoral thesis on him. But there is no trace of the Pope explaining himself in any kind of writing or interview or whatever about how much or how Guardini impacted him.”

Latin American Influences

Bergoglio's biographers say he was impacted especially by several prominent Latin American theologians who were influential in “teologia latinoamericana,” or Latin American theology, an approach that emphasized the Church’s closeness to ordinary people and their expressions of popular devotion.

According to Bermudez, those who had the biggest impact on Francis' thought were Jesuit Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone – who is still alive and was a professor of the young Fr. Bergoglio – as well as Argentinian Fr. Lucio Gera and Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferre, who Bermudez said was “super influential on a whole generation of Latin Americans.”

Bermudez explained that the “teologia latinoamericana” intellectuals had a clear vision for the need to develop a theology “that would line up with the idea that Latin America, as a large continent with one language and one religion, had some kind of a 'manifest destiny.'”

“These were the people who understood that Latin America had a huge contribution to make to the world of theology, considering that close to half of Catholics were living on the continent,” he said.

This approach emphasized the preferential option for the poor, and that popular piety and devotion would play a major role in unifying Latin American, and in preserving and transmitting the faith across the continent.

“That's where the Pope's preference for the importance of Marian shrines, and processions and events of massive faith comes from,” Bermudez said, explaining that because of the way in which people gathered to celebrate their faith in this “popular” way, the approach later became known as the “teologia del pueblo.”

“What is known today as the ‘teologia del pueblo’ didn't exist at that time,” Bermudez said, explaining that the “theology of the people” was a later evolution of Latin American theology,

Bermudez stressed that these ideas were different from liberation theology, which sprung up in Latin America in the 1970s, and often emphasized a Marxist interpretation of the Gospel, viewing faith through the lens of class struggle, rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

He explained that liberation theology largely rejected popular piety, believing it to be “some kind of backwards approach to religion that would keep people away from social change and structural change.”

Liberation theology was not relevant in Argentina at the time of Bergoglio's formation, Bermudez said.

When Bergoglio was being formed, Bermudez said, “there was a lot of hope in a Latin American future in which Latin America would play a huge role in the world,” he said, but noted that in the years since, “crisis and corruption and political squabbles pretty much put an end to any hope that Latin America would raise up as one single nation.”

However, the influence of the “teologia latinoamericana” can clearly be seen in Francis' words, actions and personal style, above all in his emphasis on community and solidarity, which Bermudez said stems from the belief that popular devotion “was a richness that allowed the people of Latin America to preserve and persevere in their faith.”

Another manifestation of this formation is the hope Francis has for Latin America’s role Church, since it covers such large swaths of territory, from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

“You can hardly find any other place in the planet when you can go through such a large territory and be celebrating the same faith and speaking the same language,” Bermudez said, adding that while he's not sure if Pope Francis has a specific belief in the “great future” of Latin America, he still has a tremendous hope for the continent.

Likewise, Ivereigh said this influence can be seen even from Bergoglio's time as rector of the San Miguel seminary in Buenos Aires, where he kept a strict spiritual and academic regime for the Jesuit novices, while also encouraging them to pray the rosary together and sending them out to minister in parishes on the weekends.

“His vision of the Church, I think, derives from his reading of the Spanish missionary experience in the colonial era of Latin America. He makes frequent references, particularly in Latin America, to that era,” Ivereigh said.

Bergoglio wanted the seminarians to “get out of their heads and have contact with the people; so study was important, but on weekends they were out there with the people ministering in the parishes,” which was unusual for Jesuits at the time, who typically placed a heavy emphasis on academics.

After the Second Vatican Council, Bergoglio was “very skeptical of progressive attempts to depart from core Catholic traditions,” such as, in his view, downgrading the importance of popular piety, Ivereigh said.

“He was very strong on maintaining that,” Ivereigh said, explaining that Bergoglio's approach was consistently about “going back to the original charism of the 16th century Jesuits,” which placed a strong emphasis on missionary outreach.

“He certainly didn't want to go back to the former time before the Council, but he didn't want a modernization that would dilute the Catholic tradition, and he wanted a deeper reform that returned the Jesuits to their deeper traditions.”

How his formation shapes his papacy

Both biographers noted that, while the Pope has limited formal theological training, his formation and intellect can be seen in his daily words and actions.

For Ivereigh, Francis' entire 5-year pontificate has so far been “one big lesson in what they call in Latin and Italian 'pastoralita' – it's one big lesson in how to be pastoral...putting people first, spending time with them, showing that everybody is valuable, showing that God cares about everybody.”

This is seen in Francis' homilies and travels, but also in his interaction with media and his general approachability, Ivereigh said, explaining that in his view, the Pope is constantly trying to remove “unnecessary blockages” getting in the way of reaching the people.

“Some of those blockages are the result of social and cultural change, which lead people for example to be suspicious of institutions or to see institutions as distant. But some of those blockages are also part of the Church's culture,” he said. “So the proclamation has to be simpler, humbler and more kerygmatic. That's been his big message of these last five years.”

In his view, Bermudez said the influence of Latin American theology, in particular, can be seen clearly in the Pope's continuous encouragement for priests to take on the “smell of the sheep,” as well as his ideas about how the priesthood and episcopate should be based on the “conviction that the faith of the people is very powerful.”

Since the beginning, Francis has preached the importance of popular devotions, the need for greater hope and solidarity, the importance of truth, a sense of good and evil and an emphasis on divine intervention, Bermudez said.

“All that has been influenced by this experience of the common people, your day-by-day Catholic who lives from Church feast to Church feast and experiences their faith [in this way],” he said, adding that this approach has “completely impregnated his preaching and his vision of how to live our faith.”