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In Japan, Church finds 16 cases of child sex abuse

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2020 / 11:39 am (CNA).- A Japanese news agency reported Thursday that an investigation by the country's bishops' conference has found 16 cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics, which occurred from the 1950s to 2010s.

The findings have not yet been made public, but sources familiar with the matter spoke with Kyodo News April 2.

Acts of abuse occurred in rectories, church buildings, and foster homes.

The Japanese bishops announced the inquiry a year ago, and committees were established in each of the 16 dioceses to receive claims and consultations about abuse.

In 2002 an internal survey made inquiries with the leading priest in each diocese. This resulted in two reported cases of sex abuse.

A 2012 survey aimed to be a reference point in a manual for internal use. It did not aim to investigate facts or to resolve sex abuse. Five sex abuse cases were reported then.

A 2004 survey on sexual harassment found 17 cases of “coercive physical contacts,” mostly by priests. The victims included minors. That survey had 110 respondents.

In February 2019 Pope Francis held a meeting with bishops from around the world on the sexual abuse of minors.

“Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes. The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,” he said in his 2018 Christmas greetings to the Roman curia.

Analysis: Policy and pastoral leadership in a time of crisis

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 10:49 am (CNA).- Across the U.S., and around the world, bishops are struggling to adjust to the pastoral emergency which has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.

In entire countries, the public celebration of Mass has been suspended, as local governments ban gatherings of even a handful of people. 

And at the same time, the pandemic and ensuing economic collapse have led many to consider seriously their mortality and the state of their soul, with even the supposedly irreligious turning to prayer in increasing numbers.

Among many Catholics, there is a hunger for the sacraments, and for the faith. Catholics are looking to their bishops for leadership. Bishops, in response, are forging attempts to address a complicated situation that few, if any, ever thought they might face. 

The results have been mixed.

Some American dioceses are, for now, allowing pastors to try to meet the needs of their flocks while conforming with government rules. Drive-through confessionals have sprung up in many parishes, as have drive-in Eucharistic adoration and benedictions. And some bishops have taken to preaching online with regularity, adoring the Eucharist on cathedral steps, or making plans for the next stage of the pandemic

But other bishops have opted to err on the side of extreme caution, locking every church building and attempting to bar the administration of all sacraments except in danger of death, even if not required by law or public health recommendation to do so.

In some dioceses, priests have been told they cannot hear confessions, at least not unless death is imminent, that they can not baptize, except in an emergency, or that, in at least one diocese, they can not anoint anyone who is dying. 

As bishops look for the right ways to lead, at least some of their priests have been struggling to adjust to the ever-tightening web of restrictions on their sacramental ministry. 

Some priests have begun to wonder, in quiet consultations and conversations, whether they’re really prohibited from offering the sacraments of mercy and healing now, when they seem most needed.

And some priests have begun considering a question they never expected to find themselves asking: ‘Should I obey my bishop?’

The patchwork of policies and guidelines circulated by chancery officials seems to have varying degrees of clarity and authority for priests, and can risk appearing pastorally distant to Catholic laity.

The orders raise a number of as-yet-unanswered canonical and pastoral questions. For example, it is not immediately apparent that a memorandum circulated by the vicar general of the diocese meets the canonical criteria to effectively suspend the faculty of every priest in the diocese to hear confessions. Nor is it clear that a bishop has the authority to prohibit the anointing of the sick. 

And lay people, at least some lay people, have begun to ask why they shouldn’t baptize their own newborn babies, or even invoke a little-used canon that would permit them to marry outside of canonical form when circumstances warrant it.

This week, a group of lay people called for bishops to find whatever ways are possible to continue the administration of the sacraments. How bishops will respond remains to be seen.

But the situation could become contentious.

Priests with whom CNA has spoken in recent days have said they want to make every effort possible to be obedient to their bishops. But some have said they’re not sure what they’ll do if a person comes to them in mortal sin seeking forgiveness, or a parishioner calls about a loved one dying at home, especially from causes that are not coronavirus, and seeking anointing. 

Even a sense that disobedience might become morally necessary could become demoralizing to priests, and lead to ecclesial dissension at a time when faithful unity seems critical. 

And the situation would become even worse if priests looking for attention or validation decide to make a spectacle of disobedience to norms they finds problematic. Such a thing would be unfortunate, but in the contemporary social media and ecclesial climate, completely unsurprising.

Priests in many places are left feeling conflicted: trying to balance a commitment to their flock with the desire to conform to the will of their bishop. 

At the same time, the impression that some bishops are out of touch with the reality facing the faithful is not helped by pastoral letters that seem more concerned with fundraising than spiritual leadership. 

Catholics are, more than ever, looking for true shepherds in a time of crisis. Responding with an approach that is too policy-heavy may leave bishops at risk of appearing to legislate from a bunker, as priests and laity struggle with spiritual and physical isolation.

Pope Francis has urged against “drastic measures,” and said he is praying that bishops will “provide measures which do not leave the holy, faithful people of God alone, and so that the people of God will feel accompanied by their pastors, comforted by the Word of God, by the sacraments, and by prayer.”

The pope also intervened in the Diocese of Rome, reopening the churches for private prayer after they were initially closed completely, and commanded international attention when he offered a special Urbi et Orbi benediction to an empty St. Peter’s square.

St. Charles Borromeo is an historical example being cited by many as a model for bishops in times of pandemic. The Archbishop of Milan closed the churches of his diocese against the plague in the sixteenth century, though he delivered the sacraments to quarantined houses himself, preached holy hours, and processed through the city with the Eucharist.

Around the world, some bishops have sought to lead by personal example, even as they scrupulously observe public health rules.

In Cologne this week, Cardinal Rainer Woelki reopened the archdiocesan seminary as a temporary center for the city’s homeless, offering shower facilities and hot food. Overseen by health workers from Malteser International, the cardinal personally welcomed guests into the center.

Meanwhile, in China, where public health restrictions have been at least as dramatic as parts of the U.S., Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang of Macau sat outside his house last week, wearing a surgical mask and hearing confessions from behind a screen.

Examples like the pope, Cardinal Woelki, and Bishop Lee, seem to have helped local Catholics, priests and laypeople, to feel both loved by their bishop and led in faith and service to each other, while at the same time setting examples about conforming to local regulations on social distancing.

To ensure that a public health emergency does not become a pastoral crisis, American bishops face two pressing challenges. The first is to find some coherent path forward for sacramental ministry that is neither negligent of legitimate health concerns nor heedless of real pastoral needs, and the genuine priestly desire for the administration of the sacramental life. 

The second is to reflect on how to become more visible in their ministry as shepherds, in solidarity with their people, and eager for their spiritual care. 

While doing everything necessary to prevent contagion, it may become increasingly urgent that bishops be seen to stand with Catholics and their pastors, not between them.

Bergamo bishop: In coronavirus, churches as mortuaries an 'act of tenderness'

Rome, Italy, Apr 3, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- The bishop at the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak has said churches are serving as makeshift mortuaries as there are so many dead bodies “you do not know where to put them anymore.”

In an interview with CNA’s Italian-language partner agency ACI Stampa, Bishop Francesco Beschi of the Diocese of Bergamo said the use of churches “is an act of tenderness towards people who die alone and [whose] bodies are likely to remain piled up.”

The presence of the bodies in the church “is a gift of respect and concern,” he added.

The confirmed number of COVID-19 deaths across Italy as of April 2 was 13,915, according to Italian health officials. Of these, 2,060 deaths confirmed to be from the coronavirus occurred in the wider Bergamo province during the month of March.

The bishop said deaths are “multiplying,” and while many people are dying in hospital, there are also many who die at home, and who are not registered in official coronavirus death counts. 

According to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal April 1, the number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy is likely much higher than official counts show.

Especially in the hardest-hit northern regions of the country, many people who have died outside the hospital were not tested for the coronavirus, especially large numbers of elderly living in nursing homes.

According to the WSJ report, in the city of Bergamo in March 2020 there were 553 deaths overall, among these, 201 confirmed coronavirus deaths. By comparison, in March 2019 there were only 125 total deaths in Bergamo.

“All of this is accompanied by very deep feelings,” Beschi noted.

He said one of the priests of his diocese confided in him the difficulty of losing his father to the coronavirus while his family is separated and under quarantine: “there is no funeral, he will be taken to the cemetery and will be buried, without anyone being able to participate in this moment of human and Christian piety which is now so important because it is missing.”

“Furthermore, when the patient is taken away from home with an ambulance and hospitalized among the infected or placed in intensive care, family members no longer see him, no longer hear from him, they cannot even speak to him by phone,” he added. 

“The sorrow is immense.”

Among the many victims of COVID-19 in Bergamo are priests, the bishop said, stating that at least 25 priests of his diocese have died from the virus since March 6.

He said he finds it a comforting sign, however, that 60 priests with the coronavirus seem to be on the mend.

The Bergamo diocese has more than 700 priests and Beschi said he is “in constant contact” with them through messages of support and paternal affection.

“There is an inner force even wider and deeper than evil: this is the faith that is the sap in the roots of the people of Bergamo,” the bishop said, addressing Catholics and victims of the coronavirus.

The faith, he said, “will be the firmness on which to rebuild families, on which to restart work, on which to force the lever to lift an economy crushed to the ground, on which to have the strength to heal emotional wounds, on which to lean to revisit a grief that has only been swallowed up, on which to stand to look toward the horizon and start again.”

Offering a word of hope, Beschi said “these days extend shadows of death over our common life and our families and, at the same time, we cannot help but recognize the signs of spring.”

“The resurrection is the flower that blooms and anticipates the joy of being able to taste its fruit one day. It is the bud that is blooming.”

“To die like Christ and with Christ, in the events of our life, is to make the power of love dwell in our dead,” he stated. “We do not have the strength of the love of Christ but he confers it on us.”

The bishop said Italy has been through many crises, and people always say “we must learn from mistakes, we must not repeat them.”

He added that he does not have an answer for the many losses the families of his diocese are facing and will face after this pandemic.

The two decisive elements, he said, are solidarity in sharing and the exercise of personal responsibility. “If we manage to grow, at least a fruit will have come from this terrible story.”

Vatican extends lockdown measures through Easter Monday

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The Holy See has extended its lockdown measures through April 13, the Monday of the Octave of Easter, in accordance with Italy’s recently extended national lockdown, the Vatican announced Friday.

St. Peter’s Basilica and square, the Vatican Museums, and several other public offices in the Vatican City State have been closed for more than three weeks. Originally scheduled to last through April 3, these measures have now been extended an additional nine days.

A total of seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed among Vatican employees to date. 

According to a statement from Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See press office, departments of the Roman Curia and of the Vatican City State have continued working only “in essential, obligatory activities which cannot be deferred.”

The Vatican City State has its own legal order that is autonomous and separate from the Italian legal system, but the Holy See press office director has repeatedly said that Vatican City is implementing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in coordination with the Italian authorities.

During the Vatican lockdown, which went into effect March 10, the city state’s pharmacy and supermarket remain open. Instead the mobile post office in St. Peter’s Square, the photo service office, and bookstores are closed.

The Vatican continues “to ensure essential services to the Universal Church,” according to a March 24 statement.

Cardinal Parolin says he hopes closed churches will reopen soon

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State said Friday that he hoped churches closed because of the coronavirus crisis would be reopened “as soon as possible.”

In an interview published on the Vatican News website April 3, Cardinal Pietro Parolin also said he was disturbed by reports of Catholics dying without the Sacrament of the Sick and expressed concern about the disease’s impact on impoverished countries. 

The cardinal said: “The suspension of celebrating the liturgy was necessary to avoid large gatherings. However, in almost every city, churches remain open. I hope those that may have been closed will reopen as soon as possible. Jesus is present there in the Eucharist; priests continue to pray and celebrate Holy Mass for the faithful who cannot participate there. It is nice to think that the doors to God’s house remain open, just as the doors of our houses remain open, even though we are strongly encouraged not to go out except for essential reasons.” 

Parolin acknowledged the suffering of Catholics who are currently deprived of the Sacraments because they are living under lockdown.

“I would like to say that I share their sorrow,” he said. “But I would like to recall the possibility of making a spiritual communion, for example.” 

“Moreover, Pope Francis, through the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the gift of special indulgences to the faithful, not only to those affected by COVID-19, but also to healthcare providers, family members and all those who care for them in various ways, including through prayer.” 

“In a vigil like this one, there is also another aspect that must be highlighted and reinforced. This is possible for everyone: to pray with the Word of God; to read, to contemplate, to welcome the Word who is coming. With His Word, God has filled the void that frightens us in these hours. God communicated Himself in Jesus, the complete and definitive Word. We must not simply fill time, but fill ourselves with the Word.”

The cardinal said he was troubled by stories of Catholics dying alone without the consolation of the Sacraments. 

“This is one of the consequences of the epidemic that, in a certain sense, upsets me,” he said. “I have read and heard dramatic and moving stories. When, unfortunately, a priest cannot be present at the bedside of a person who is dying, every baptized person can pray and bring comfort by virtue of the common priesthood received with the Sacrament of Baptism.”  

“It is beautiful and evangelical to think that at this difficult time, in some way, even the hands of doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, who every day comfort, heal or accompany the sick in their last moments, become the hands and words of all of us, of the Church, of the family that blesses, says goodbye, forgives and comforts. It is God's caress that heals and gives life, even eternal life.”

Parolin said that he was especially worried about how coronavirus would affect developing countries. 

He said: “Unfortunately, we are facing a pandemic and the virus is spreading like wildfire. On the one hand, we see how many extraordinary efforts are being made by developed countries. Many sacrifices have been made by ordinary individuals, families and national economies, to effectively tackle the health crisis and combat the spread of the virus.” 

“On the other hand, however, I must confess that I am even more concerned about the situation in the less developed countries. There, healthcare facilities are not able to ensure necessary and adequate care for the population in the event of a more widespread diffusion of the COVID-19 virus.”  

“The Holy See’s vocation is to consider the entire world. It seeks not to forget those who are farthest away, those who suffer the most, those who perhaps struggle to gain the attention of the international media.”

He continued: “There is a real need to pray and to commit ourselves, all of us, so that international solidarity never fails. Despite the emergency, despite the fear, now is not the time to shut ourselves off from others.”

Parolin confirmed that there were currently seven coronavirus cases among Vatican employees. All of them had passed the critical phase and were now improving, he said.

The cardinal, who works closely with Pope Francis, said that the pope was searching for new ways to reach out to people suffering around the world. 

“Pope Francis is seeking every way possible to be close to people throughout the world,” he said. “Contact with people has always been fundamental for him, and he intends to maintain this, even if in a new and unprecedented way.” 

“The daily live broadcast of the Holy Mass from Santa Marta is a concrete example. The constant prayer for the victims, their families, healthcare personnel, volunteers, priests, workers, families is another. All of us collaborators are trying to help him maintain contact with the Churches in all the countries of the world.”

He explained that Vatican officials were seeking to ensure that as many people as possible could follow the liturgies of the Easter Triduum while confined to their homes.

“We have studied different options than the traditional ones,” he said. “In fact, it will not be possible to welcome pilgrims, as has always been the case. In full respect of the regulations to avoid infection, we will try to celebrate the great Rites of the Easter Triduum in order to accompany all those who, unfortunately, will not be able to go to church.”

Pope Francis names new bishop of Belleville, Illinois

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, and named his successor.

Bishop Braxton submitted his resignation when he turned 75 in June 2019. His successor is Fr. Michael G. McGovern, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. 

Bishop Braxton was appointed as the eighth Bishop of Belleville in 2005, replacing Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, who is now Archbishop of Washington. 

Bishop Braxton’s tenure at times has been marked by controversy. In 2008, he issued a public apology for spending restricted mission funds on liturgical vestments, altar linens, and office furniture. He said he had mistakenly believed he had discretionary power over the money he used. He has also been criticized over his handling of clerical abuse, but has defended his record. 

Considered one of the leading voices in the United States Church on racial issues, the bishop has written many articles on African American Catholics, which have been translated and published abroad. 

According to a biography on Belleville diocese’s website, his hobbies included whale watching, inline skating and white water rafting.

Fr. McGovern, 55, has served as pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel parish in Old Mill Creek, Illinois, since 2016. In February this year, he was named interim episcopal vicar of Vicariate I of the Chicago archdiocese, which comprises 51 parishes. 

According to a biography on the website of Vicariate I, he grew up in a large Catholic family in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. After graduating from St. Ignatius College Prep and Loyola University, he entered Mundelein seminary in 1990. He was ordained by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1994. He has served as a member of the presbyteral council and college of consultors of the Chicago archdiocese.

Jesus, livestreamed: Priests, bishops to offer 40 Hours Devotion via Facebook Live 

Denver, Colo., Apr 3, 2020 / 04:33 am (CNA).- When the plague struck the Italian city of Milan and the surrounding area in the 1570s, St. Charles Borromeo, then a cardinal, became well-known for his efforts to remind people of their faith in a time of sickness and death.

According to multiple accounts, St. Borromeo would process the streets of his diocese barefooted, carrying a cross, as an act of penance. He also visited the sick with a relic of one of the nails of the Cross, and promoted the practice of 40 Hours Devotion, in which people take turns praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament for 40 straight hours.

“St. Charles Borromeo actually is one of the (clerics) who is often associated with the 40 hour devotion during the plague,” Fr. Jonathan Meyer, a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in Indiana, told CNA.

The history of this devotion is part of the reason Meyer and a group of priests and laypeople in the U.S. are hosting a Virtual 40 Hours Devotion streamed on Facebook starting this Friday, just before the start of Holy Week.

The devotion comes at a time when much of the world is experiencing another pandemic, and when most public Masses and other services are closed to slow its spread.

The number of hours of devotion comes “from the 40 hours from our Lord being in the tomb from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning,” Meyer explained.

“So there's 40 hours of darkness, of very few people believing. And we're at a period of darkness in the Church,” he said. The number 40 frequently signifies a time of darkness in the bible - the 40 days of Jesus in the desert being tempted, the 40 years of the Jewish people wandering in the wilderness, the 40 days of rain Noah experienced on the ark.

“But at the end of all of those, the story of hope.” Meyer said. “And so (we) gather around our Lord for 40 pray and petition and to be a people of hope. Our Lord is in the Blessed Sacrament, he is our hope. And so, God willing, our ability to gather with him and spend time with him as a Church will bring people hope.”

The idea, Meyer said, originated on a Facebook group of priests who were sharing best practices of how to bring Christ to people during the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

Once Meyer and a former classmate of his, Fr. Thomas Szydlik, came up with the idea, they sent out emails to other priests and bishops, asking them to sign up and take an hour, during which they would livestream a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament in their respective churches, during which they can preach or pray the rosary or offer other prayers.

Meyer said he’s been struck by the eager response of so many priests.

“I think it just shows a lot about the generosity of our priests,” Meyer said, “and how they want terribly for our people to gather around our Lord, and to pray in prayers of petition, prayers of reparation for what's happening right now in our world.”

Each hour will be posted to the Facebook page, Virtual 40 Hours. Meyer will kick off the Virtual 40 Hours with a live-streamed Mass starting at 6 p.m. Central on Friday, April 3.

Joan Watson, who works as the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Nashville, was recruited by Szydlik and Meyer, friends of hers, to help with the project. Watson helped establish the Facebook page and to recruit more priests and bishops to take hours.

Each priest will be streaming their hour on the 40 Hours Facebook page, Watson said, so “people don't need to leave that page, which is going to be really nice. There's no need to jump around. It'll all happen on that page.”

The devotion has even gone international.

“We have a group from the Notre Dame Newman Center in Dublin that's going to be doing some Taizé worship music. So I'm really excited for that,” Watson said. “Each hour might look a little different depending on the spirituality of the priest.”

Watson said she hopes the 40 Hours is a time for Catholics to unite as a Church in prayer and focus on the prayers they can offer and the graces they can receive during this time.

“I think rather than kind of dwelling on what we don't have, this gives us an opportunity to unite our hearts...and really unite that yearning for the Blessed Sacrament, and turn that itself into a prayer,” she said.

“I think there's so much grace there. And learning how to pray as a Church - I think that's one thing that maybe this time has given us an extra grace not to be divisive and not to find ourselves picking fights where there shouldn't be fights, but rather really uniting with our Church and uniting across the country as a Catholic Church. I think it's really beautiful to see what's coming out of all this.”

Kate Johnson, the sister of Fr. Szydlik, was recruited to help with Virtual 40 Hours as one of the page “watch dogs”, who will be taking turns moderating the Facebook page to make sure the Blessed Sacrament is being respected and the livestreams are running smoothly. 

Johnson said she is grateful for the idea to do the Virtual 40 Hours because it focuses on what Catholics can do at this time even while public Masses and services are closed.

“There's so much you can do. And this is something that you can help people that are hurting in one way or another, but also to beg the Lord's mercy and grace upon our nation and upon the world” she said.

Johnson, who lives in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said she has been grateful to be able to attend adoration in her church with her mother, but that she misses receiving the Eucharist at Mass.

She encouraged Catholics who feel that same hunger for the Eucharist to participate in the Virtual 40 Hours.

“This is something you can do. It's easy. You can get dressed up. You can come in your pajamas. If you're an insomniac, you can do this in the middle of the night,” she said.

“It's an opportunity to hear some fantastic's an opportunity to experience the bigness of the Church, because this is a very old devotion, so we're going back in time but we're also spreading it out around the world. So, it's an opportunity to pray with others who are as hungry and sad as we are, as I am.”

There are at least four bishops who will be offering an hour of adoration in the Virtual 40 Hours, including Bishop Edward Rice of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico.

Wall told CNA that he will take the 8:00 a.m. Central hour on Sunday, and that he plans to preach for about half the time and have silent adoration for the rest of the time.

“I'm going to preach on the Eucharist, and I'm going to preach on sacrifice, and the sacrifices that many people are invited to make right now, and how sacrifice is related to our baptismal call,” he said. “Because when we're baptized, we're made priest, prophet, and king. What does a priest do? A priest offers sacrifice. Obviously this is different from ordained priesthood, but we're all called to offer sacrifice.”

As a bishop during this time of pandemic, Wall said it has been a sacrifice for him to offer Mass without an assembly, and that not only as a bishop but also as an extrovert, he’s really missed interacting with his people.

“It's a little difficult, but again, it's a sacrifice, and if we receive the sacrifice well, if we unite it to the sacrifice of Christ and the cross, we know that Christ will bring glory out of it. So I think the word that's been just coming up to me over and over and over is ‘sacrifice’ and how we can imitate the sacrifice of Christ on the cross,” he said.

Wall said when he was invited to join the Virtual 40 Hours by a friend, he was “really excited and grateful that they called me and asked me to participate in this endeavor. I've been thinking of ways that we could bring our Lord to people and I think this is a great way. We have to be creative, and I think this is one of the ways we’re being creative.”

He encouraged Catholics to not let the opportunity for spending some time with the Lord, even virtually and during a pandemic, to pass them by.

“Think about in the scriptures where Jesus is passing by and the cripple cries out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ And what a courageous thing he did by calling out to the Lord, not letting him pass by,” Wall said.

“I think we, as we're at home too…(let’s) not let this pass by. (Let’s) see Jesus and cry out to him, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ And we can do that from our homes as we watch our Lord and adore our Lord, virtually adore our Lord, in the Eucharist.”


Colombian kidnapping victim says God is faithful

Bogot√°, Colombia, Apr 3, 2020 / 04:04 am (CNA).- Diana María Toro Vélez was kidnapped on a September day, as she drove home from Mass in the Colombian city where she lived. She spent 453 days in captivity. And she says that God’s grace kept her hope alive during the ordeal.

“I left Mass one Thursday and was driving home in my car and when I got home they assaulted me. They asked me a few questions and took me away. They sold me to the guerrillas,” Toro told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner.

Toro, the mother of three, told ACI Prensa that during her captivity, she was sometimes forced to march a lot, one time for up to 15 days in a row.

“I clung to God. I cried and prayed a lot. I really held fast to God. I taught the kidnappers how to read and write. We prayed. There was a certain coexistence, and good things came out of the bad,” she said.

Toro, 41, was kidnapped Sept. 27, 2018, in Amagá, about an hour’s drive from Medellin. Her captors were criminals, members of a gang called “The Sorcerers,” who handed her over to Marxist guerrillas from the the National Liberation Army (ELN) for 48M pesos, about $12,000. The ELN reportedly asked 3 billion pesos, about $745,000 for her return.

Toro was released from captivity on Christmas Eve, 2019.

The Catholic Church in Colombia had appealed for her release, and the release appeared to be a goodwill gesture toward achieving some kind of peace agreement between the ELN and the country’s government. Public officials credited the Church with arranging the release.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, the young mom said that she was “very devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe. When I was kidnapped I made a rosary and prayed it every day, praying a lot to the Virgin that she would allow me to be returned to my children. And God heard me, because I was released on Dec. 24, 2019.”

It was difficult, Toro said, to be “separated from my three children, one of them 3, another 4 and one 14 years old. Separated from my husband, my parents, my siblings, my family members, relatives and friends.”

“These were 453 days of anxiety, grief, sadness and despair. 453 days of living in the middle of the jungle, sleeping under a canopy, on branches, with snakes, scorpions, mosquitos and many other animals around,” she said.

Toro told ACI Prensa she subsisted on parrot, pasta, cooked banana, and rice. She had only two sets of clothes and infrequently bathed. 

“These were really hard days without knowing anything about my family, just with the certainty that God was with me, filling me daily with his strength and fortitude and firmly believing that if I woke up okay, my family was okay too,” she said.

“And God brought me out of that really hard situation. I saw that his glory and his mercy are immense.”

Toro said the ordeal has filled her with gratitude.

“I want to tell those people who in these times feel alone or in despair because of the situation we’re going through in Colombia and the entire world, that God is with us, he never has left us alone, especially now.”

“Let’s pray the rosary, let’s pray as a family. The power of prayer is immense,” she added.


This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


Pope Francis: Reflect on the seven sorrows of Mary, our Mother

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2020 / 02:45 am (CNA).- It is good to think about the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who freely accepted her calling to be the Mother of God and our mother, Pope Francis said during his daily Mass on Friday.

Offering Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta April 3, he said: “Today it will do us good to stop a little and think about the pain and sorrows of Our Lady. She is our mother.”

The Friday before Palm Sunday is sometimes called the Friday of Sorrows in remembrance of the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary.

“And how she bore [the sorrows], how she bore them well, with strength, with tears: it was not a false distress, it was just the heart destroyed by grief,” Francis explained.

He spoke about the veneration of Our Lady of Sorrows, listing her “seven sorrows.”

“The first, just 40 days after the birth of Jesus, is the prophecy of Simeon, who speaks of a sword that will pierce her heart,” he explained.

The second sorrow of Mary is the flight into Egypt; the third is the “three days of anguish” when the child Jesus was in the temple, lost to her and St. Joseph.

Meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary is the fourth sorrow. “The fifth sorrow of Our Lady is the death of Jesus, to see her Son there, crucified, naked, who dies,” the pope said.

The sixth sorrow is the removal of Jesus’ dead body from the cross, “and she takes him in her hands as she had taken him in her hands more than 30 years earlier in Bethlehem,” Francis reflected.

The seventh sorrow is Jesus’ burial. “And so, Christian piety follows this path of the Madonna who accompanies Jesus,” he said.

“It will do us good to stop a little and say to Our Lady: ‘Thank you for accepting to be Mother when the angel told you and thank you for accepting to be Mother when Jesus told you.’”

He encouraged Catholics to honor the Virgin Mary as their mother, noting that Jesus himself gave her that role.

Jesus “did not make her prime minister or give her titles of ‘function,’” he said. “Only ‘Mother.’”

According to Francis, Mary accepted the title and duties of being our mother but did not take any titles for herself.

“She did not ask herself to be a quasi-redeemer or a co-redeemer: no. The Redeemer is one and this title does not double,” he said.

The pope added that “in the motherhood of Our Lady we see the motherhood of the Church which receives everyone, good and bad: everyone.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis is offering his daily Mass for the victims and their families.

He noted at the start of Mass April 3 that people are now beginning to think about the “aftermath of the pandemic, to all the problems that will come: problems of poverty, work, hunger...”

Pope Francis invited everyone to pray “for all the people who help today, but who also think about tomorrow, in order to help us all.”