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Nuns who feuded with Texas bishop say they will defy Vatican order on monastery’s governance

The Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2024 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

As the Vatican tries to settle a chaotic yearlong dispute between a Carmelite monastery and Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson, the nuns at the center of the controversy announced they will defy a Vatican decree that delegates their governance to an outside religious association.

The dispute centers on Olson’s investigation into the former prioress of the Arlington-based Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity: the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach. The prioress, who is now defrocked, admitted to sexual misconduct occurring over the phone and through video chats with a priest — a confession she has since retracted and claims was given when she was medically unfit and recovering from an operation.

After nearly a year of back-and-forth — which included a failed civil lawsuit against the bishop for how he handled the investigation and allegations from the bishop that the nuns may have been engaging in drug use — the Vatican ordered that the monastery’s governance will be delegated to the Association of Christ the King, which is a Carmelite monastery association.

This governance was meant to be in place until the monastery can hold new elections to replace its leadership, which would be overseen by the bishop. The Vatican also ordered the monastery to regularize its relationship with the bishop, whom the nuns forbade from entering the premises and alleged did not have authority over their governance — a claim rejected by the Vatican.

Rather than following the Vatican’s orders, the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity is going in the opposite direction. The monastery rejected the Vatican’s decree and banned Association of Christ the King President Mother Marie of the Incarnation, along with any delegates of the association, from entering the monastery.

“Neither the president of the Association of Christ the King, nor any delegate of hers, is welcome to enter our monastery at this time,” a statement from the monastery read.

The nuns referred to the Vatican’s order as “a hostile takeover that we cannot in conscience accept” and accused Rome of making this decision without the “knowledge or consent” of the monastery. 

“To accept this would risk the integrity of our monastery as a community, threatening the vocations of individual nuns, our liturgical and spiritual life, and the material assets of the monastery,” the statement read.

“This outside authority could easily disperse us, impose its agenda in respect of our daily observance and dispose of our assets — even of the monastery itself — as it wishes, contrary to our vows and to the intentions of those who founded our community and our benefactors,” the statement added.

The four-page statement, issued by the monastery in response to the Vatican decree, rehashed its grievances with Olson, particularly the accusation of an “illegal seizure of the personal property of the monastery and copying of private information.” A judge dismissed these claims in a civil trial.

In the statement, the nuns also protested the restrictions that Olson put on the monastery after the nuns filed a civil lawsuit against him. This included temporary measures limiting Mass to only Sundays, banning lay participation in their Masses, and limiting their access to regular confessions. The Vatican, however, sided with the bishop and formally recognized his authority in these matters.

The monastery also directed some of its frustrations toward how the Vatican has handled the dispute. In its statement, the nuns said they are still awaiting a response from Rome about their complaints related to the bishop’s conduct during the investigation. They alleged that the Vatican has fallen short of its stated objective to ensure that “every effort should be made to preserve the spiritual health and longevity” of the monastery because the Vatican has not engaged in “active and ongoing dialogue” with the monastery.

“If Rome wishes to ‘save face’ and to sweep the issue of the abuse of the bishop under the carpet and move on regardless, this is unacceptable,” the monastery complained. “In justice, the issue of Bishop Olson must be dealt with for our good and for the good of the Diocese of Fort Worth as a whole.”

The monastery further argued that the problem posed by the expiration of terms of office could be solved in other ways, such as an extension of the terms during the monastery’s appeal of the bishop’s actions. The nuns claim that “nothing is to be changed and the status quo is to be preserved” when matters are under appeal. 

“We hope and pray that Rome will engage in dialogue with us directly to find a suitable way of moving forward that respects the integrity of our life and monastery,” the nuns wrote in their statement.

While openly defying the Vatican order, the monastery emphasized that it is not rejecting the legitimacy of the offices of either the pope or the bishop: “The Holy Father, Pope Francis, is the pope and enjoys full papal authority [and] … Olson is the legitimate current bishop of Fort Worth with all the authority that this office confers.”

“We remain open to any initiative from higher authority that seeks to repair the damage that has been done to us and that respects the integrity of our life, vocation, and monastic community,” the nuns added. “We are not ‘things’ to be traded or given away in back-room deals but women vowed to the exclusive love and service of Almighty God, whose integrity is to be respected and protected for the good of their souls and for the good of the Church.”

The Vatican order, however, is not a mere suggestion to the monastery. The order informed the nuns that they were “instructed to cooperate fully” with Mother Marie, who the Vatican declared is now “the lawful major superior of the monastery.”

Indian bishops condemn Hindu group’s attack on Catholic school and priest

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Bangalore, India, Apr 22, 2024 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops have condemned a recent attack by a radical Hindu group on a Catholic school in southern India.

On April 16 a mob of activists assaulted a priest and vandalized the Mother Teresa English Medium School in Telangana state after school administrators reprimanded students for wearing Hindu religious clothing instead of the school uniform.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) released a statement on April 16 following the violent attack.

“The assault, carried out by a mob of antisocial elements, is a reprehensible act of violence against an educational institution and its staff,” the CBCI said.

Father Jaison Joseph, who serves as principal of the school, which is run by the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, described the attack to CNA on April 20.

“When I saw some students wearing saffron clothes instead of the school uniform, I told them to change or ask the parents to come and inform us,” Joseph said.

“After some time, people wearing saffron clothes started coming in. In an hour, the mob had swelled from 50 to over 500, and they surrounded and started beating me. They put a saffron shawl on my neck and applied tilak [saffron vermillion] on my forehead,” the priest recounted.

News outlets carried the shocking visual of the priest being forced to chant “Jai Sri Ram” (“Hail Lord Ram”) while the mob vandalized the school building and attacked teachers and staff.

Prior to that, the mob shouted “Jai Shri Ram” and threw stones at the statue of St. Teresa of Calcutta installed at the school’s main gate. The attackers damaged the security office of the school, where more than 1,000 students are enrolled  — 80% Hindu, 10% Christian, and 10% Muslim.

“All [political] parties were involved. It was a religiously motivated attack,” said Bishop Prince Antony Panengaden of the Adilabad Diocese of the Syro-Malabar Church.

“We requested the authorities to ensure the safety of the fathers and [take] actions against the perpetrators,” Panengaden said.

Shortly after the attack, police sparked outrage among Christians after filing a criminal case against the Catholic school and the school’s management, accusing them of “offending religious sentiments and promoting enmity between different groups on grounds.”

However, following widespread protests from several Christian groups and viral media coverage of the incident, police on April 18 announced the arrest of nine people in connection with the attack.

Leading the protest was the Telangana State Federation of Churches, which deplored the attack as “despicable” before police announced arrests of the alleged attackers.

The ecumenical Christian forum said it “condemns with great sorrow and deep concern” the “atrocious attack.” 

“We request the Christian community to be united and pray for peace and unity at this hour of distress to the peace-loving community,” said Father Alex Raju, secretary of the forum, in the statement.

The CBCI also urged “all communities to resist the propagation of misinformation and divisive rhetoric. We are all integral parts of this great nation, and our unity in diversity is a cornerstone of our identity.”

“We implore our fellow citizens, irrespective of faith, to stand together against any attempts to exploit our diversity for narrow, selfish agendas. Let us reaffirm our commitment to peace, mutual respect, and the collective prosperity of our beloved country,” the CBCI statement urged through its spokesperson, Father Robinson Rodrigues.

Pew Research: Biden in trouble with Catholic voters

President Joe Biden leaves after attending Mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 27, 2023. / Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Pittsburgh, Pa., Apr 22, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Incumbent U.S. President Joe Biden, a Catholic, is battling a high unfavorability rating among his fellow Catholics, according to survey data released by the Pew Research Center.

According to the data, neither Biden nor his Republican rival, former president Donald Trump, are viewed favorably by a majority of Catholics surveyed, but Biden is the more unpopular of the two.

The findings were part of a presentation on “Religion and Politics Ahead of the U.S. Elections” by Pew’s associate director of research, Greg Smith, at the 2024 annual conference of the Religion News Association, which concluded over the weekend.

Included in the data provided by Smith, Pew’s late February survey of 12,000 U.S. adults found that only 35% of Catholics hold a favorable view of Biden while 64% have an unfavorable view of the incumbent president.

In contrast, this year’s presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump, is viewed favorably by 42% of Catholics, while 57% hold an unfavorable view of the former president.

Trump’s edge over Biden among Catholics is fueled by white Catholics, a majority of whom (54%) hold a favorable view of the former president. Trump is considerably less popular, however, with Hispanic Catholics, among whom only 32% view him favorably. 

As Pew reported earlier this month, the country’s population of 52 million Catholics constitute 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. Among American Catholics, 57% are white, while 33% are Hispanic, Pew reported.

Other Catholic-specific survey results highlighted by Smith included mounting Catholic preference for the Republican Party. Overall, 52% of American Catholics surveyed either identify as Republican or lean Republican. The number climbs to 61% among white Catholics.

Meanwhile, 35% of Hispanic Catholics align themselves along the Republican side of the political spectrum. The latest trendline for Republican affiliation by the Hispanic subset, however, is higher than the one observed among white Catholics, registering an uninterrupted uptick since 2020.

Perhaps most importantly, Pew’s data reveals a marked difference in political affiliation between Catholics who attend Mass at least monthly or more and those who do not.

Regardless of ethnicity, among all Catholics who attend Mass monthly or more often, 61% identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican. This includes a majority (67%) of both white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics (52%).

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan organization that conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, and other social science research. It does not advocate for or against particular policy positions.

5 Catholic ways to celebrate Earth Day 

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CNA Staff, Apr 22, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Since 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated yearly on April 22 to demonstrate support worldwide for environmental protection. The Catholic Church has a long tradition of calling for proper stewardship of the earth.

In May 2015, Pope Francis published Laudato Si’, an encyclical focusing on care for the natural environment and includes topics such as global warming and environmental degradation. He then released a follow-up document to the encyclical on Oct. 4, 2023, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, to address current issues.

In honor of Earth Day and in response to the Holy Father’s message urging the faithful to take action in protecting the environment, here are five ways Catholics can celebrate Earth Day.

1) Spend time with God in nature. 

Consider going on a hike or simply take a walk outside and spend time in prayer thanking God for his beautiful creation. You can also find a nice spot to sit and contemplate nature while resting in God’s presence. The whole family can participate in this one. 

2) Create a Mary Garden.

A Mary Garden is one filled with plants, flowers, and trees that honor Our Lady and Jesus. Examples include baby’s breath to represent Mary’s veil, lilies to represent Mary’s queenship, poinsettia to represent the Christmas story, and chrysanthemum for Epiphany. You might also consider placing a statue of Mary in your garden. If you don’t have enough space outdoors, consider creating an indoor garden using a terrarium and smaller plants and mosses.

3) Read Laudato Si’.

Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ second encyclical after becoming pope, translates to “praise be to you.” This is in reference to St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” where the saint praises God for the goodness of natural forces such as the sun, wind, and water. The encyclical not only focuses on care for the environment and all people but also looks at broader questions about the relationship between God, humans, and the earth.

4) Take the St. Francis Pledge.

The St. Francis Pledge, initiated by the Catholic Climate Covenant, asks Catholics to commit to honor God’s creation and advocate on behalf of people in poverty who face the impacts of climate change around the world. The pledge includes praying and reflecting on the duty to care for God’s creation, analyzing how each of us contributes to climate change, and advocating for Catholic principles in discussions on the topic.

5) Learn more about the lives of the saints who had a connection to nature.

There are several saints who are known for their love of God’s creation including St. Francis of Assisi, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and St. John Paul II. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Kateri Tekakwitha are considered the patron and patroness of ecology. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was known for his love of hiking in the mountains and encountering God in nature. St. John Paul II was also known for taking spiritual retreats to the mountains and his love for the outdoors.

Pope Francis: Christ the Good Shepherd ‘looks for us until he finds us’ when we’re lost

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on April 21, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 21, 2024 / 09:36 am (CNA).

Pope Francis reflected on the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd during his Regina Caeli address Sunday, noting that it is a role characterized by his sacrificial love.

“Jesus explains that he is not a hired man who cares nothing for the sheep but a man who knows them,” the pope said on April 21, the fourth Sunday of Easter, which is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday because it is the theme of the day’s Gospel. “It is true, he knows us, he calls us by our name and, when we are lost, he looks for us until he finds us.”

Pope Francis explained that Christ’s role as a shepherd introduced a new logic, observing that he is not acting as a guide or “the head of the flock” but is instead “living in symbiosis” with his people.

“This is what the Lord wants to tell us with the image of the Good Shepherd: not only that he is the guide, the head of the flock, but above all that he thinks of each of us as the love of his life,” the pope said to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ address and Regina Caeli prayer on April 21, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ address and Regina Caeli prayer on April 21, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis emphasized the sacrificial component of the role of the shepherd, observing that Jesus “is not just a good shepherd who shares the life of the flock” but “is the Good Shepherd who has sacrificed his life for us and has given us his Spirit through his resurrection.”

The pope asked the faithful to meditate upon this sacrificial dimension of the shepherd so that we bear in mind that “for Christ, I am important, irreplaceable, worth the infinite price of his life.”

“It is not just a way of speaking,” the pope added, “he truly gave his life for me, he died and rose again for me because he loves me and he finds in me a beauty that I often do not see myself.”

The pope also cautioned against the temptation to measure our value based on “trivial things,” such as “the goals we achieve” or “on whether we succeed in the eyes of the world, on the judgments of others.”

“In order to find ourselves, the first thing to do is to place ourselves in his presence, allowing ourselves to be welcomed and lifted up by the loving arms of our Good Shepherd,” the pope said.

The Holy Father also drew attention to Sunday’s celebration of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which he observed as an “opportunity to rediscover the Church as a community characterized by a polyphony of charisms and vocations at the service of the Gospel.”

Following the recitation of the Regina Caeli, the pope renewed his appeal for peace in the Middle East, imploring leaders not to “give in to the logic of vengeance and war” but instead to let “the paths of dialogue and diplomacy prevail, which can do a lot.”

“I pray every day for peace in Palestine and Israel and I hope that those two peoples can soon stop suffering,” he said.

Vocations Day in Spain: The Church supports 725 seminaries in mission lands

Father Nicéforo Obama from Equatorial Guinea was able to be trained as a priest thanks to the Pontifical Mission Societies. / Credit: OMP

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

On Sunday, April 21, in addition to celebrating the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Catholic Church in Spain also celebrates what it calls “Native Vocations Day” to support and provide formation for those who feel called to the priesthood and consecrated life in other countries so that no one is prevented from pursuing a vocation due to lack of resources.

The Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle is in charge of this effort, one of the four Pontifical Mission Societies that in different ways provides the resources to maintain 725 seminaries around the world.

In Asia, these seminaries (152 minor, 13 preparatory, and 62 major) serve more than 15,000 candidates for the priesthood. In Africa, more than 67,000 seminarians attend the 225 minor, 116 preparatory, and 142 major seminaries. In Asia, thanks to the Pontifical Mission Societies, 112 future priests are undergoing formation in five major seminaries, while in the mission lands of the Americas, 157 seminarians are in formation, distributed across one minor seminary, two preparatory, and seven major seminaries, according to data from the Pontifical Mission Societies.

To support these seminaries, in 2023 the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle allocated more than 16 million euros (about $17 million), which helped support more than 83,000 seminarians and 2,000 formators.

The aid is intended to cover an annual subsidy for living and enrollment expenses, which represents the largest item (78% of the total). The rest is used for the construction and maintenance of the buildings, with means to self-finance, support for formators, scholarships, and to support the first year of formation for the novitiates of religious congregations originating in mission territories.

One priest’s story

Father Nicéforo Obama learned to read with the Spanish Carmelite missionaries of Charity of St. Joaquina de Vedruna, who went to spread the Gospel in Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s. As a young child, he discovered his priestly vocation and soon entered the minor seminary. He was ordained a priest a decade ago.

During a meeting held April 16 in Madrid, Obama explained that the first thing he noticed when he reached the age of reason was the Church and the charitable works of the nuns, which made him wonder: “Why do these young girls leave Spain, their people, to work here; what will they be gaining from it?”

All of this was causing him inner anxiety. In primary school, he could see the vulnerability of the human condition and found that “Jesus is the one who gives meaning to life and the one who has the answers to the great questions that human beings have,” he explained. This led him to decide to become a priest, not only “to find the answer in Jesus but to help others find these answers.”

After going through the minor seminary, he attended the interdiocesan major seminary, which was run by the Diocese of Ávila in an agreement with the Spanish Bishops’ Conference.

“If your parents don’t have enough to eat, how are they going to support a vocation?” he asked, to give an example of the typical mentality in mission lands where people don’t always understand “how you can invest in a student who isn’t going to generate income for the family.”

The priest explained that unlike the governments in developed countries, in mission lands the Church also provides health care, education, and charitable assistance in addition to its mission to catechize and provide the sacraments.  Thus, “supporting one of these vocations is helping many people.”

The Pontifical Mission Societies has a website (in Spanish) dedicated to vocations in other countries where testimonies are shared, specific details of different projects are explained, and there is an opportunity to make a donation.

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

Historic New York church with link to John Paul II struggles to stay open

The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. / Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A historic Polish Catholic church in Buffalo, New York — one with a unique connection to St. John Paul II — is facing tens of thousands of dollars in bills that threaten to close the nearly-century-old structure.

Father Czeslaw Krysa, SLD, the parochial vicar of St. Casimir, said the Buffalo Diocese has given the church a deadline of August to pay its outstanding accounts. Among those is $55,000 in annual insurance costs, up recently from $32,000.

Joe Martone, a spokesman for the Buffalo Diocese, said that the diocesan vicar for renewal and development, Father Bryan Zielenieski, “communicated in February to the pastor of the family of parishes [of which] St. Casimir is a member that the church had entered a one-year evaluation period to determine its financial viability.”

“Our diocese is in a family of parishes model, and the families are currently evaluating all aspects of parish life including financial sustainability,” Martone said.

The Buffalo Diocese in 2020 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of compensation for victims of clergy sex abuse. The diocese in March announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo after nearly 40 years at that location. 

The exterior of St. Casimir church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
The exterior of St. Casimir church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

Supporters of St. Casimir recently launched a GoFundMe effort to preserve the historic church and its worship community. Krysa said the church itself has “been in the black for nine out of the last 12 years,” in part because it is entirely volunteer-run. The church is also in the process of selling its social center, formerly the parish school, located several blocks away.

Krysa, who was first introduced to the church as a seminarian years ago, said St. Casimir operates “more like a shrine” than a traditional parish. 

“We have a core group that runs the place and worships each Sunday,” he said. “And then we have what we call ‘event liturgies,’ which draw people like they were coming to a shrine.”

“These are liturgies that are not available at other parishes in the diocese,” he said.

‘An exquisite example of old Byzantine architecture’

The cornerstone of Buffalo’s St. Casimir Catholic Church was laid in 1927 and the structure was completed in 1929. It has stood for nearly 100 years, displaying what one local architecture critic calls “an exquisite example of old Byzantine architecture” reminiscent of the world-famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The cornerstone of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa
The cornerstone of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

The church’s richly adorned exterior includes multiple cupolas, a towering 65-foot dome, and a large rose window on a facade set off by eight stone millions. Visible on the facade is a terra cotta mural depicting Christ the King, St. Casimir, St. Stanislaus, and St. Hyacinth.

The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa
The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

The interior of the church, meanwhile, includes murals by Marion Rzeznik, a Polish native born in 1899. Among its architectural features are a fully preserved ambo including the original abat-voix, a barrel-vaulted and coffered ceiling, statuary lining both sides of the pews, and the original ad orientem high altar over which is a rendering of the coronation of Mary, the Mother of God. 

Interior details and confessionals of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
Interior details and confessionals of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

Krysa told CNA that the church offers Masses that employ the “five senses” — sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.  

“During every single worship, liturgy, or devotion, all the five senses are engaged in praising and experiencing God,” the priest said.

The altar of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
The altar of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

“Our main mission is to continue our heritage, which is an ethnic Roman Catholic heritage,” the priest added. He explained that though the church started out as a Polish parish, “we’re diversifying.”

St. Casimir was first made an oratory in 2009 before receiving its present free-standing designation in 2011, Krysa said.The free-standing designation means that the church “is canonically aligned with the diocese,” Martone told CNA. “Other churches in New York are separately incorporated. So, St. Casimir is a free-standing church under the administrative jurisdiction of the diocese.”

The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

Hosting the future Pope John Paul II

The church’s Polish roots became known around the country in 1976 when St. Casimir was paid a visit by then-Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła. The prelate in two years’ time would go on to be elected Pope John Paul II.

Wojtyła was visiting the United States as part of that year’s International Eucharistic Congress; during his visit he traveled across the country, stopping in Buffalo to visit the city’s large population of Polish immigrants. 

“He was awestruck about this church. He loved it,” David Grzybek, a lifelong member of the parish, told the Buffalo News last month.

Wojtyła stayed two days at the parish. The bedroom in which he stayed has since been preserved as a memorial to the historic pope, its spartan interior remaining identical in appearance to when the cardinal slept there nearly 50 years ago. The room is used by the faithful for prayers, Krysa told CNA.

Catholic Church in Cuba offers to facilitate dialogue between government and opposition

People queue to buy food in Havana on March 27, 2024. Claims of lack of food coupled with long blackouts, which affected almost the entire Cuban population in recent weeks, led hundreds of people to demonstrate on March 17 in at least four cities in the country, in the largest protests recorded since the historic anti-government marches of July 11, 2021. / Credit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 20, 2024 / 10:30 am (CNA).

The deputy secretary of the Cuban Bishops’ Conference, Father Ariel Suárez, said that the Catholic Church is available to facilitate dialogue “if the different political actors” would agree to it in order to find a solution to the crisis in the country.

In an interview with NBC News, the priest referred to protests that once again shook the country, this time in March on the eastern end of the island.

“In the protests of last March 17, this pain turned into a cry, in a cry that was heard and that has been accepted, shall we say, by all the levels of the country,” Suárez said.

The deputy secretary of the Cuban Bishops’ Conference said that “at least everyone has agreed to consider that this cry reflected anguish, reflected desperation, and that people were asking obviously for a different situation than the one they were going through.”

On March 17, thousands of people took to the streets due to the shortage of food, medicine, and the constant power outages that make daily life more difficult. Despite the promises from the communist regime, the energy supply problems have continued, and on Thursday there were power outages lasting about six hours.

According to the Diario de Cuba, the cause is supposedly eight generators that are out of service either for breakdowns or for maintenance and another 32 that were out for lack of fuel.

In addition, there is the constant emigration of Cubans from the country, mainly to the United States.

Given this scenario, Suárez noted that “the bishops have called for prayer so that solutions can be found, so we can find a way out of this distressing situation, so that those in power may have the wisdom and the boldness when making decisions that will benefit people’s lives.”

The bishops “have noted the pain people are in and have also asked the Church, if the different political actors agree, to offer a space for dialogue, a meeting place” between all “these different but not necessarily contradictory positions.”

The priest expressed his desire that these different positions “won’t be hostile” to one another and that “they can help find the concrete solutions that this people needs.”

“We Cubans can love Cuba with different visions, with different perspectives,” the deputy secretary stated, asking citizens “to put above all those differences the love for Cuba and the desire to improve the life of its people now and in the future.”

In addition to the serious economic situation, the nongovernmental organization Prisoner Defenders noted that the communist regime — in power since 1959 — currently holds 1,092 political prisoners, a situation that has also been denounced by the opposition inside and outside Cuba.

On several occasions, the leaders of dissident organizations — not legally recognized by the government and therefore constant victims of acts of repression — have indicated that the solution lies in a peaceful transition of Cuba toward a democracy that guarantees human rights and civil liberties for the people.

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

Jesuit priest: Stories of Rwandan women ‘scarred by genocide’ must be told

Father Marcel Uwineza. / Credit: Sister Olga Massango/Daughters of St. Paul

ACI Africa, Apr 20, 2024 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Women who were sexually assaulted, infected with diseases, and forced into exile, among other brutalities during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis, remain deeply scarred three decades later, and their stories must be told, a Rwandan-born Jesuit priest has said.

According to Father Marcel Uwineza, telling the stories of the women, “who have endured deep wounds and carried heavy burdens all their lives,” gives a voice to the women who, he said, “were practically silenced by the genocide.”

In an April 14 interview with ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, Uwineza, who serves as principal of the Nairobi-based Hekima University College, said that Rwandan women have wounds that manifest today as the country marks 30 years since the April 7–July 19, 1994, genocide against the Tutsis.

“Many women in Rwanda have had to carry with them long years of suffering because of bringing up children who were conceived through rape,” Uwineza said. “Others were infected with HIV and have had to live with the condition all their lives. Many carry scars on their bodies because of the beatings they endured. Others had to carry the burden of their families because their husbands were killed. They not only carry the wounds of history but the burden of having to tell the story of their resilience as well.”

Some of the women, for fear of reprisal, have not shared about their horrifying encounters in the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed and millions displaced. An estimated 75% of the Tutsi population are said to have died in the mass killings.

Other women who were sexually molested also preferred to keep silent fearing that they would never find a husband if they opened up about the rape, Uwineza said, adding that others feared that they would be rejected by their families. Still, he said, others were afraid that by speaking about the abuse, they would be asked to testify in public.

Uwineza said it is important that the stories of resilience of women who suffered the genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus be told “because 30 years is a big milestone.”

“It is important that the world knows how women can turn a test into a testimony, and a mess into a message,” he said.

Alluding to title of his book “Risen from the Ashes: Theology as Autobiography in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” he added: “In what had appeared as complete brokenness, resurrection has happened for many of these women.”

Uwineza recalled that in Rwanda’s 100 days of genocide against Tutsis, many women went into exile. Some, he said, joined the armed struggle in their effort to come back home when they felt they had no rights in their host countries.

According to Uwineza, women in Rwanda still carry with them wounds from a Church that abandoned them, where many were killed after they went to seek solace.

Rwanda’s story of affliction is better told by those who experienced it, Uwineza, who also lost his parents in the 1994 genocide, shared with ACI Africa. “History is often told from the perspective of winners,” he said. “But it is important to listen to the stories of the wounded.”

“Survivors are often the best authority when stories of struggle and resilience are told. When we speak, we give voice to those who were meant to be silenced in the genocide. Speaking is giving witness to their lives,” he said.

Those who suffered in the genocide also “left an unfinished agenda,” he said. “Telling their stories is joining their fight for dignity.”

Uwineza said the story of the genocide against the Tutsis must also continuously be told to counter the narratives of genocide deniers, who he said are on the rise, especially on social media platforms.

It is also important that other countries learn from Rwanda that violence leaves behind deep wounds, and some of these wounds never heal, Uwineza further said.

“Unfortunately, the only lesson we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything; we don’t seem to have learned from what happened in Rwanda,” he lamented.

Uwineza underlined the need for Rwanda to engage with its history, painful as it may be. 

“After the genocide, we stopped teaching the history of Rwanda because the history we had was very divisive. But we can’t continue ignoring our past if we have to move forward,” he said. “Messy as it has been, it is our past. We therefore must engage it and own it. We all were wounded, and therefore, we need constructive history that will unite us.”

To heal, Rwanda also needs “a prophetic Church,” he told ACI Africa. 

“At the time of the genocide, the Rwandan population was around 80% Christian. Yet all these merciless killings happened, some at religious places. As a Church, we must stop and ask ourselves what went wrong,” Uwineza said. 

“We must develop a theology of hope and reparation that looks back to where we went wrong and one that envisions a better future so that these things are not repeated,” he continued.

“We must also acknowledge that some leaders in the Church made mistakes and that they do not represent the Church. We must also recognize Christian heroes who were killed trying to save lives,” he said.

According to Uwineza, a prophetic Church must also look at who is missing at the table of dialoguing into a better future. “Are women included at this table, given that they have made a lot of contributions in the civil society spaces?” he asked.

On April 11, Uwineza gave an address at Villanova University on the topic “Women Peace-builders in Rwanda Since Genocide,” highlighting how a section of the Rwandan women affected by the genocide have risen above their wounds to contribute to the healing process of the country.

He said that since the genocide, the status of Rwandan women has improved. 

“Alongside their male counterparts, women chose to look beyond the horizon of tragedy. Women’s participation in associations, credit groups, and farm cooperatives has grown greatly,” Uwineza said, noting that women in the Rwandan Parliament have promoted laws that protect women against gender-based violence.

Additionally, after the genocide, women joined support groups and organizations such as Pro-Femmes, an advocacy organization for women; Abasa, an association of women who were the sole survivors of the genocide in their families; and Ineza, a sewing cooperative of women living with HIV as a result of the genocide.

“These women created a new landscape where they could breathe new air through their work and sharing of experiences. Others forged a new future for their children,” Uwineza told ACI Africa on April 14.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis to canonize new female saint known as ‘an apostle of the Holy Spirit’

Blessed Elena Guerra. / Credit: Oblates of the Holy Spirit

Rome Newsroom, Apr 20, 2024 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Elena Guerra, paving the way for the canonization of a new female saint known as “an apostle of the Holy Spirit.”

A friend of Pope Leo XIII and the teacher of St. Gemma Galgani, Elena Guerra (1835–1914) is known for her spiritual writings and her passionate devotion to the Holy Spirit.

Guerra wrote more than a dozen letters to Pope Leo XIII between 1895 and 1903 in which she urged him to exhort all Catholics to call upon the Holy Spirit in prayer.

The pope heeded Guerra’s request and published three documents on the Holy Spirit during their correspondence, including a letter asking the entire Church to pray a novena to the Holy Spirit leading up to Pentecost in 1895 and his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus, in 1897.

“Pentecost is not over,” Guerra wrote. “In fact, it is continually going on in every time and in every place, because the Holy Spirit desired to give himself to all men and all who want him can always receive him, so we do not have to envy the apostles and the first believers; we only have to dispose ourselves like them to receive him well, and he will come to us as he did to them.”

Guerra is the foundress of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit, a religious congregation recognized by the Church in 1882.

Pope John XXIII called Guerra “a modern-day apostle of the Holy Spirit” as he beatified her in 1959.

The life of Elena Guerra

Born into a noble family in Lucca, Italy in 1835, Guerra was well-educated and formed in her faith.

For much of her 20s, Guerra was bedridden with a serious illness, a challenge that turned out to be transformational for her as she dedicated herself to meditating on Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.

Guerra felt the call to consecrate herself to God during a pilgrimage to Rome with her father after her recovery. She attended the third public session of Vatican I in St. Peter’s Basilica in April 1870 and later met Pope Pius IX on June 23, 1870.

“At the sight of Pope Pius IX she was so moved that, upon returning to Lucca, she vowed to offer her life for the pope,” according to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Against the wishes of her family, in her mid-30s Guerra formed a religious community dedicated to education, which eventually became the Oblates of the Holy Spirit.

One of her students, St. Gemma Galgani, wrote in her autobiography about the strong spiritual impact of her education by the Oblate sisters. Guerra personally taught Galgani French and Church history and exempted Galgani from the monthly school fee when her father fell into bankruptcy.

During her correspondence with Pope Leo XIII, Guerra also composed prayers to the Holy Spirit, including a Holy Spirit Chaplet, asking the Lord to “send forth your spirit and renew the world.”

The religious founder faced difficulties in the last years of her life when some of her sisters accused her of bad administration, leading her to resign from her duties as superior.

Guerra died on Holy Saturday on April 11, 1914. Her tomb is located in Lucca in the Church of Sant’Agostino. The Oblate sisters whom Guerra founded continue her mission today in Italy, Cameroon, Canada, Philippines, and Rwanda.

The miracle

Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to Guerra’s intercession that involved the healing of a man named Paulo in Uberlândia, Brazil, in 2010 after he fell from a tree and ended up in a coma with a serious brain injury. After undergoing a craniotomy and decompression surgery, the man’s situation worsened, and 10 days after his fall the protocol was opened to declare brain death, according to the Vatican.

While he was in a coma, members of the Charismatic Renewal organized prayer for Paulo’s recovery, asking everyone to pray for his healing through the intercession of Blessed Elena Guerra. On the 10th day after they began praying to Blessed Elena, doctors found an unexpected improvement in his condition, and within less than a month he was discharged from the hospital in good condition.

The pope officially approved the miracle during an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on April 13.

During the audience, the pope also approved the martyrdom of Servants of God Cayetano Clausellas Ballvé, a diocesan priest, and Antonio Tort Reixachs, a layman and father, both killed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of Sister Teresa Lanfranco, an Italian religious from the Congregation of the Daughters of Santa Maria di Leuca, who died in Rome in 1989.

The Vatican will announce the canonization date of Blessed Elena Guerra at a later time.