Saturday, January 21, 2017

Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus

V. Lord, have mercy on us.
R. Christ, have mercy on us.
V. Lord, have mercy on us. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.
V. God the Father of Heaven
R. Have mercy on us.
V. God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. God the Holy Ghost,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. Holy Trinity, one God,
R. Have mercy on us.
V. Jesus, Son of the living God, R. Have mercy on us.
Jesus, splendor of the Father, [etc.]
Jesus, brightness of eternal light.
Jesus, King of glory.
Jesus, sun of justice.
Jesus, Son of the Virgin Mary.
Jesus, most amiable.
Jesus, most admirable.
Jesus, the mighty God.
Jesus, Father of the world to come.
Jesus, angel of great counsel.
Jesus, most powerful.
Jesus, most patient.
Jesus, most obedient.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart.
Jesus, lover of chastity.
Jesus, lover of us.
Jesus, God of peace.
Jesus, author of life.
Jesus, example of virtues.
Jesus, zealous lover of souls.
Jesus, our God.
Jesus, our refuge.
Jesus, father of the poor.
Jesus, treasure of the faithful.
Jesus, good Shepherd.
Jesus, true light.
Jesus, eternal wisdom.
Jesus, infinite goodness.
Jesus, our way and our life.
Jesus, joy of Angels.
Jesus, King of the Patriarchs.
Jesus, Master of the Apostles.
Jesus, teacher of the Evangelists.
Jesus, strength of Martyrs.
Jesus, light of Confessors.
Jesus, purity of Virgins.
Jesus, crown of all Saints.

V. Be merciful unto us, R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Be merciful unto us, R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.

V. From all evil, R. deliver us, O Jesus.
From all sin, deliver us, O Jesus.
From Thy wrath, [etc.]
From the snares of the devil.
From the spirit of uncleanness.
From everlasting death.
From the neglect of Thine inspirations.
Through the mystery of Thy holy Incarnation.
Through Thy Nativity.
Through Thy Infancy.
Through Thy most divine Life.
Through Thy labors.
Through Thine agony and passion.
Through Thy cross and dereliction.
Through Thy faintness and weariness.
Through Thy death and burial.
Through Thy Resurrection.
Through Thine Ascension.
Through Thine institution of the most Holy Eucharist.
Through Thy joys.
Through Thy glory.

V. Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
R. spare us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
R. graciously hear us, O Jesus.
V. Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
R. have mercy on us, O Jesus.

V. Jesus, hear us.
R. Jesus, graciously hear us.

Let us pray.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who saidst, "Ask and ye shall receive, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Grant, we beseech Thee, to us Thy suppliants, the gift of Thy most divine love, that we may love Thee with our whole heart, and in all our words and works, and never cease from praising Thee.

O Lord, give us a perpetual fear as well as love of Thy Holy Name, for Thou never ceasest to govern those Thou foundest upon the strength of Thy love. Who livest and reignest world without end.

R. Amen.

The vanishing tribe -- Ireland's Jewish community fades further every year

The Chief Rabbi of Ireland once told a joke about three European Jews who were discussing their emigration plans.

One said he would go to America for comfort and security, the second to Israel because it was the land of his ancestors and the third said he would go to Ireland.

Shocked, his two friends asked him why. 

“Because,” he said, “Ireland is the last country the Devil will look to find a Jew!”

Despite the Chief Rabbi’s joke, there have been Jews in Ireland for centuries. The earliest known reference dates back to 1079 and a small community had been established by at least 1232 when the English King Henry III sent them a sum of money.

Ireland’s great Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, made common cause with the small Jewish community and although best remembered for his fight for Catholic emancipation he did not forget the needs of his Jewish constituents. When asked about religious freedom he said, “No man can admit the sacred principle without extending it to the Jew as to the Christian.”

The community’s population swelled dramatically during the Russian pogroms in the 19th century. 

Whereas the 1881 census had recorded only 394 Jews in Ireland the number soared by 282% to 1,506 in 1891. 

And although not the main destination for Jews fleeing persecution, by 1911 there were 3,805 Jews in Ireland. An astonishing tenfold increase in only 30 years.

Unfortunately many refugees quickly found that their new home was not entirely free of the Antisemitism they had fled from. 

In 1904 Fr John Creagh launched a vicious attack on the small Jewish community in Limerick, warning his parishioners they had come "to fasten themselves on us like leeches and to draw our blood". 

The result was a two year boycott of Jewish business by many of the city’s Catholics, forcing the all five of Limerick’s Jewish families to leave for Cork or America.

Generally, Jews in Dublin or Cork were nationalists or republicans, whereas Belfast Jews remained pro-union. One such man was Sir Otto Jaffe, a German-born former Mayor of Belfast but naturalized British subject. 

A stalwart of the Irish Unionist Party, he and his wife had together founded the Jaffe School for the Jewish Children of Belfast and had a son serving in the British Army but felt so unwelcome in Belfast after the outbreak of the Great War they moved to London.

On the republican side Dubliner Robert Briscoe became a Captain in the IRA and was adamant that being “Hebrew” did not make him any less of an Irishman. Two sisters Fanny and Molly Goldberg were active in Cumann na mBan (the women’s IRA) and did everything from hiding soldiers to marching.

Most famous of republican Jews was Belfast’s Rabbi Isaac Herzog who was described as “an open partisan of the Irish cause.” 

He learned to speak Irish fluently, was a personal friend of de Valera and by the time he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Ireland in 1919 he had well and truly earned his reputation as “the Sinn Féin Rabbi”.

His son Chaim was educated at Wesley College in Dublin and was later elected President of Israel in 1983. Reflecting on his Irish childhood in a Dublin accent he never lost Herzog said, “Ireland had no history of anti-Semitism, and while I did not feel outcast, I did feel different.”

Politics clearly runs in the family and his son Isaac is the current leader of Israel’s opposition Labor Party.

The rise of Hitler was closely followed by Ireland’s Jews, and whereas many Irish people felt antipathy towards Britain when war broke out in 1939, the Jews harbored no doubts as to whose side they were on.

Jews were heavily represented among Irish volunteers to the British Armed Forces and those that remained all made contingency plans for what they could do if a Nazi invasion of Ireland ever succeeded. They were right to be fearful; the infamous Wannsee Conference of 1942 which planned the Final Solution had noted Ireland’s population of some 5,000 Jews and earmarked them for death.

After the liberation of Europe the community was faced with trying to organize entrance into Ireland for Jewish refugees. Their efforts were mostly thwarted by a skeptical Government. Minister for Justice Gerald Boland bluntly admitted that, “It has always been the policy of the [Department] for Justice to restrict the admission of Jewish aliens, for the reason that any substantial increase in our Jewish population might give rise to an anti-Semitic problem.”

Nevertheless one hundred Jewish children from Poland were brought to Meath for recuperation in 1946 and in 1948 Taoiseach Éamon de Valera personally overruled Boland to bring a further 150 into the country.
But despite the small post-War influx the community could not evade the affliction of two centuries old curses - one Jewish, the other Irish - that of assimilation and emigration and the second half of the 20th century saw the community go into steep decline.

Whereas the 1946 census recorded 1,474 Jews in Northern Ireland, by 1991 this had dipped to a mere 410. Such a story can be seen across Ireland; in the Republic there were 3,907 but by 1991 it had plummeted to 1,581.

And the decline was particularly dramatic outside of Dublin. Where once there been a small but vibrant community concentrated around an area in Cork City called Jewtown by 1981 there were 62 left in a county that in 1946 had been home to 252. In neighboring Waterford the decline was even worse; in 1946 there had been 23 Jews in the county but by 1981 they had all died or moved. 

As one historian lamented in 1987, “Today when one speaks of the Jewish community in Ireland, the reference is almost exclusively to Dublin.” In February this year Cork’s synagogue held one final service and reluctantly shuttered its doors closed for good.

In Cork the community’s decline was attributed mostly to assimilation but emigration was a significant factor too. Many observant Jews simply moved to Israel or Britain where there are larger number of Jews to live among.

In Belfast the shooting of a prominent community member by the IRA in 1977 and the kidnap of another in 1980 left the community feeling vulnerable and many simply packed up, never to return.

Steven Jaffe who grew up in Belfast told IrishCentral, “The decline of the Jewish community in Northern Ireland pre-dates the Troubles and it is true that every regional Jewish community throughout the UK has also declined, except for Manchester. But I believe the Troubles did accelerate the process.”

He added that a desire to live in a larger Jewish community was also a factor in the community’s decline, “For young people looking for Jewish marriage partners and facilities such as Jewish schools, kosher restaurants and social and cultural opportunities, a larger Jewish community in London or Manchester was going to be attractive. A number of Jewish families from Northern Ireland also made aliyah - the term for emigrating to Israel.”

The community is too small to play much of a role in the politics of the province and most would lean towards unionist parties in part at least due to the their pro-Israel politics. 

However the community was on occasion used as an important intermediary between the orange and green traditions.

“During the worst of the Troubles the Belfast synagogue was seen as a neutral space where Protestants and Catholics could meet sometimes under a Jewish chair to discuss local issues,” Jaffe told us.

Numbers have since stabilized and the last three censuses in the Republic have even shown moderate increases, fueled by emigration during the Celtic Tiger.

Among the remaining community members attitudes can veer from gallows humor to optimism. “Children go away for university now, and they don’t come back,” Belfast’s Norma Simon told Her fellow worshiper, Michael Black agreed, “I am saddened,” he said, “that my generation will, likely, be the last that can offer a Jewish way of life in Belfast.”

But lifelong Dubliner Natalie Wynn is more cheerful, telling the Times of Israel, “The Jewish Chronicle archives show that, in the 1870s, observers considered the community to be on its last legs, little realizing that a large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe was just around the corner.  So you never know what may happen in the future.”

Is the “Catholic method” of contraception just for ‘holies’ and ‘hippies’?

Off the chart: nowadays couples are more likely to use natural methods to enhance their chances of conceiving rather than to prevent a pregnancy. Pope Francis will visit here next year, and 2018 will also mark the 50th anniversary of Humane Vitae, the missive by Pope Paul VI which enforced the Church’s prohibition of all forms of artificial contraception. 

In this document, the Pope suggested that “medical science should, by the study of natural rhythms, succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring”.

Limitation of offspring, chaste or otherwise, is practised by the vast majority of sexually active people in Ireland today. 

Indeed, with the most recent data from 2010 showing that more than 94 per cent of sexually active people in Ireland use some form of contraception, it’s difficult now to recall the days of a blanket ban on contraception. 

In those days, natural family planning, or condoms smuggled from England, were all that couples had to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

The same 2010 study showed that roughly 3 per cent of people were using a natural method of contraception, such as Billings or the calendar method.

Yet failure rates for such methods vary wildly, as there are multiple factors involved in using them perfectly. 

And nowadays they are being increasingly used for the opposite of what they were originally intended, as couples employ them to enhance their chances of conceiving.

Dr Deirdre Gleeson, a specialist in occupational health who is also a course director with the Natural Family Planning Teachers Association of Ireland (NFPTAI), is the first to admit these methods aren’t for everybody. 

“You have to be realistic: a natural method won’t work for everyone, but those it does work for are delighted and wish they had come to it sooner. But they need to be very motivated and disciplined. The main reason it will not work is lack of motivation, or if the woman’s husband or partner is not supportive.”

She estimates that roughly 5 per cent of couples are using these methods, and attributes this to a “resurgence” in interest in the natural approach. 

“Natural family planning fell off the proverbial cliff for about 20 years – people didn’t want to know about it. But we have seen a growing interest in recent years. There are very devout Catholic couples, but there are also people with no religious affiliation whatsoever who are looking for a green or eco approach to family planning.”

Green method

According to Gleeson, natural family planning is the traditional “Catholic method” which relies on abstinence during the fertile phase, while fertility awareness is the “green method” for couples who are against hormonal and other artificial contraceptives but will accept the use of barrier contraceptives such as condoms or the diaphragm during the fertile phase. 

“I like to refer to the groups as the ‘holies’ and the ‘hippies’ . . . and they all get on very well,” she laughs. Gleeson admits to having “a foot in both camps”, as a member of the Irish Catholic Doctors’ Association. 

The NFPTAI is secular, however, and has members of all faiths and none, she explains. “We teach it from the scientific aspect, and then you can take it or leave it. The point of it is to identify as accurately as you can the beginning and end of the fertile phase.”

The association uses a combination of the three classic natural family planning methods: calendar, body temperature, and Billings, in the symptom-thermal double-check method they teach. 

It is an education-based method and requires three or four sessions of one hour’s duration in training for the woman or couple, although Gleeson explains there are now lots of smartphone apps available which make this slightly easier “and much more interesting”.

“If a woman wants the pill, or the coil, or the implant, they just go to their GP and submit to the doctor and have something inserted or a prescription written. This method is a lot more holistic and is a lot more woman-centred and couple-centred. The knowledge of your cycle is empowering whether you chose to use natural family planning or not.”

According to Gleeson, studies have shown that couples who use natural family planning have far more sex than couples who use artificial methods. “You do have abstinence for about a week each month, but we think they make up for lost time.”

As knowledge of the fertility cycle improves, modern methods have evolved greatly from original efforts at natural family planning, notes Gleeson.

“The older rhythm method was based on a regular 28-day cycle, which didn’t work for an awful lot of women. There were jokes like ‘what do you call a couple who use natural family planning? Mammy and Daddy’.”

Research carried out by Swedish biophysicist Erik Odeblad in the 1960s and 1970s changed this, however; he found that the cervix is as responsive as the pupil of the eye and his work on changes in the cervical mucus forms the basis of the Billings method.

Ita McDonnell of Naomi-Billings Ireland explains that the organisation has been running pre-marriage courses for more than 35 years, and says their services are as popular as ever.
“There is such choice out there in terms of contraception but we are finding a huge lack of knowledge, just of the very basics of what is happening. Most people don’t even know that the egg only lives for 24 hours. At the moment we find that the age profile has risen – the couples we speak to now are around 33 or 34.”
McDonnell asserts that the method is highly sensitive and says that not only is it effective in delaying pregnancy, hundreds of couples have been able to plan their families by using it.

“It can be used to monitor your reproductive health, and that is a new area for us. Somebody who has been charting with us might note something slightly different and know that it isn’t what they should be seeing in that particular part of their cycle. Reproductive health is quite a big area with the use of the Billings method. For example, we can tell someone who is having difficulty in that perhaps their fertile phase is a bit short, and then they can go into their consultant with that information.”

Failure rates

Billings is based on changes in the cervical mucus, and McDonnell says the method becomes intuitive after some time. “Women get to know their developing, changing patterns, and that the cervix is now open. Couples can show love in other ways during this time. The cervix then closes after ovulation has occurred and the couple can have intercourse as much as they want during the next phase.”

Naomi-Billings have been collecting statistics since 1972 and the latest trial, carried out in China, showed a zero pregnancy rate. Ireland was part of a WHO trial during the 1970s, along with El Salvador, India and New Zealand, and the failure rate here was shown to be 2.8 per cent. Other studies have shown much higher failure rates, however.

“Billings are very honest about their figures but it may be that the couple have decided to instead go for a pregnancy,” says McDonnell.

On the reverse side, trials in couples with proven subfertility have shown significant success – 34 per cent of couples involved in one trial in Rome had become pregnant within 3-6 months, and in another trial 78.3 per cent became pregnant in between four and seven months.

“We can’t help everybody because some people might have another problem, but we will pick up polycystic ovaries and help with diagnosing endometriosis. Because we can monitor clients’ reproductive health, it may mean that they get the help they need a little bit sooner.”

Naomi-Billings sees a few hundred couples each year, on average, says McDonnell. “Couples may come back after three or four years to ‘brush up’ on the method. We work on the premise that we would upgrade our training every few years.”

The organisation receives no funding from the Catholic Church. 

“We have never asked the Church for anything because Billings taught that this method is for every woman. We would never ask anyone what religion they are. It is so popular but the thing is that there is no money in it. We are supported by the HSE so our services are completely free to people. There is that mentality out there that if something is free then it is not worth anything. But we don’t want to charge anything because we feel this is knowledge that everyone should know and every couple should know.”

Diaphragms and coils

Dr Shirley McQuade is medical director of the Well Woman clinics, which have about 30,000 consultations every year.

She explains that while it is several years since someone sought advice on natural family planning, there is a certain proportion of women who will only request non-hormonal methods of contraception, such as diaphragms and copper coils.

“We often get people coming in to say they have googled non-hormonal methods and copper coils are what came up so they want one.”

McQuade lectures medical students in University College Dublin on contraception. 

“That does include natural family planning methods but there is very much a Cinderella aspect to it – students need to know it is there, but in practical terms, the the vast majority of doctors are never going to need to use it.”

She explains that the Persona system has been around for a few years now. This is a system that uses urine sticks, and gives a red, amber or green light for intercourse based on the “safety” of the timing.

“Quite a few women use that as a fertility monitor, which is the opposite of what it’s supposed to be used as,” she says.

A new fertility monitor called “Daysy” uses body temperature as a guide, harnessing new technology to provide an algorithm based on more than a million women’s menstrual cycles.

At almost €300, it isn’t cheap, and McQuade adds that she is not confident in the use of body temperature as an indicator.

“In the second half of the cycle after ovulation happens, progesterone goes up and body temperature goes up by 0.6 degrees. You can plot this out and note the rise but the problem is that the rise may not coincide exactly with ovulation. Also, your temperature needs to be taken before you get up in the morning, so before you even get out of bed. If you’ve had a late night the night before, that will upset the reading, or if you have a cold or anything, that too.”

Women can have quite regular cycles most of the time, but for several reasons their cycle can change. This is typically stress-related, such as the many college students that McQuade sees. She adds that women in their 40s will also encounter problems with natural family planning methods, as their cycles begin to change and vary.

McQuade keeps a chart in her consultation room based on recent research carried out in the US that looked at the failure rates of all contraceptive methods. To see in black and white that the failure rate of the pill with typical use is 9 per cent often startles women. With condoms, that jumps to 18 per cent.

“All contraceptive methods are really good in laboratory circumstances but once you take them out into the community, they aren’t as good. The best are those that have no user input, such as the coil, and the implant – those work. But everything else, where a person is involved who has to make a decision as to whether they do something or take something – the real-life use is very different.”

McQuade agrees that there are problems with natural family planning methods, much as there are with other contraceptive options. “Your choice of method depends on what stage you are at in your life and how big of a disaster a pregnancy would be.”

Cardinal Caffarra: the dubia matter because people’s salvation is at stake

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra (CNS)Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, one of the four cardinals who have asked the Pope to clarify Amoris Laetitia, has said that it matters because people’s eternal salvation is at stake.

Speaking to the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, Cardinal Caffarra said: “We are talking about questions that are not secondary. It is not a discussion of whether [eating] fish violates or does not violate abstinence. These are most serious questions for the life of the Church and for the eternal salvation of the faithful.”

The cardinal went on: “Never forget, this is the supreme law of the Church: the eternal salvation of the faithful, not other concerns. Jesus founded His Church so that the faithful would have eternal life and have it in abundance.”

In the interview, translated by Andrew Guernsey, Cardinal Caffarra says that the confusion and anxiety in the Church, in the aftermath of Amoris Laetitia, is so obvious that “only a blind man” could miss it.

“On these fundamental questions regarding the sacramental economy (matrimony, confession and Eucharist) and the Christian life, some bishops have said A, others have said the contrary of A, with the intention of interpreting well the same texts,” the cardinal said.
He explained that this was why he and the other three cardinals – Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner – had submitted their “dubia”, asking for clarification of the document.

The archbishop said that the actual text of Amoris Laetitia could be read in continuity with Catholic doctrine. But there were widespread interpretations which conflicted with Church teaching on Communion and moral absolutes.

On Friday, when Cardinal Caffarra’s interview was published, the bishops of Malta published guidelines for priests. These state that a remarried Catholic can receive Communion if they come “with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God”. 

Similar guidelines have been published in San Diego. Other bishops, such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, have reaffirmed the Church’s longstanding doctrine.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI affirmed the traditional teaching that the remarried cannot receive Communion unless they endeavour to live “as brother and sister”.

Cardinal Caffarra said that the most important of the five dubia was the fifth, on conscience. 

“It is where we meet and clash with the central pillar of modernity,” the cardinal said.

The fifth dubia asks the Pope to clarify that St John Paul II’s teaching on conscience is still valid. St John Paul’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor teaches that conscience can never find exceptions to absolute moral prohibitions. 

As the cardinals put it, Veritatis Splendor “excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and … emphasises that conscience can never be authorised to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object”.

Cardinal Caffarra told Il Foglio that the conscience must refer to moral absolutes: “every reasoned judgment is exercised in the light of criteria, otherwise it is not a judgment, but rather something else”. This was, the cardinal said, at odds with a modern, subjective understanding of conscience. Caffarra pointed out that the martyrs had refused to apostatise even in extreme cases – for instance, St Thomas More’s wife pleaded with him not to abandon his family.

Elsewhere in the lengthy interview, Cardinal Caffarra explained the cardinals’ reasoning for submitting the dubia. He said that many laity and clergy had been saying: “‘But you cardinals in a situation like this one have the obligation to intervene with the Holy Father. Why do you exist, if not to assist the Pope in questions so grave as this?’ A scandal on the part of many of the faithful was beginning to grow, as though we cardinals were behaving like the dogs who did not bark, about whom the prophet speaks.”

The cardinal said the four had been careful not to show any disrespect to the Pope, and had therefore sent the letter privately. He says they only decided to make it public when they were sure the Pope would not respond.

Cardinal Caffarra told a story of one priest who had written to him about his difficulty in giving spiritual direction. The priest had a penitent who was in a relationship with a divorced woman. When the priest explained how the man could correct his situation, the man replied: “Listen, Father, the Pope said that I can receive the Eucharist, without the resolution to live in continence.”

The priest told Cardinal Caffarra that he found the situation unbearable. The cardinal said that many parish priests were in a similar predicament: “they find themselves carrying a load on their shoulders that they cannot bear. This is what I am thinking of when I talk about a great disorientation. And I am speaking of parish priests, but many [lay] faithful are even more confused.”

Guinea’s president meets with Pope

Pope Francis meets President Alpha Condé of the Republic of Guinea - AFPPope Francis received President Alpha Condé of Guinea in a January 16 audience.

Condé also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States.

According to the Holy See Press Office, the parties discussed the work of Catholic institutions in the largely Muslim nation and also discussed human development, the environment, social injustice, poverty, migration, and regional conflicts.

The West African nation of 12.1 million is 87% Muslim and 9% Christian.

Cardinal Gilberto Agustoni - RIP

Image result for Cardinal Gilberto AgustoniCardinal Gilberto Agustoni, the prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura, died on January 13 at the age of 94.

Born in 1922 in Switzerland, the prelate was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Basel and Lugano in 1946. He spent much of his priesthood in the Roman Curia and was appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy in 1986.

From 1992 until his retirement in 1998, he led the Apostolic Signatura, the highest ecclesiastical court. In 1994, Pope St. John Paul II created him a cardinal.

In his telegram of condolence to the deceased cardinal’s niece, Pope Francis called Cardinal Agustoni a “sincere and diligent collaborator of the Holy See,” one who bore “witness to priestly zeal and loyalty to the Gospel.”

“I raise fervent prayers to the Lord Jesus that, by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, he may grant to the departed cardinal the eternal reward promised to His faithful disciple,” the Pope added.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, will celebrate Cardinal Agustoni’s funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 17.

With Cardinal Agustino’s passing, there are now 226 members of the College of Cardinals, of whom 120 are eligible to take part in a papal election.

Russian cathedral, converted to ‘museum of atheism,’ returning to religious use

A Russian Orthodox cathedral that was converted to a “Museum of Atheism” under the Communist regime will be restored to use as a cathedral.

As a museum, St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, built in 1818, has been a major tourist attraction, drawing nearly 4 million visitors last year. 

But over 100,000 people signed a petition asking for the building to be returned to religious use, and this week the petition was approved.


Knights of Malta row morphs into test of Papal authority

A row over the sacking and suspension of the Grand Chancellor of Catholicism’s most venerable chivalric order is ballooning into a full-scale battle with the Vatican. 

The sacking of a senior knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, in a row about the distribution of condoms, has created a major crisis inside Catholicism’s oldest and best-known chivalric order.

Its aristocratic members, whose leaders take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, are now at each other's throats.

But the dispute goes much deeper than a ferocious internal row among the Knights of Malta: it has laid bare the bitter divisions inside the Church between those supporting Pope Francis’ vision for a more flexible, compassionate Catholicism rooted in discernment and dialogue and their opponents, who are determined to return to a Church of unbending rules.

On the one hand we have the Grand Master of the Order of Malta, Matthew Festing, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, the knights’ patron and prominent Francis critic: they are the driving force behind the sacking of the order’s Grand Chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, who is accused of overseeing the distribution of condoms in the order’s development programs designed to help prevent the spread of HIV-Aids in Burma.

He was removed from his role, effectively the number three in the order, because of this breach with Catholic doctrine and, according to the German-born von Boeselager, because he was regarded as a “liberal Catholic” and “unwilling to accept the teaching of the Church”.

The Pope has made it clear that he opposes von Boeselager’s dismissal. 

The Vatican has insisted that it urged Festing to address the crisis in a spirit of dialogue. 

The Pope’s wishes have, however, been ignored. 

As a result, a papal commission has been set up to investigate the saga.

This commission is looking into the chain of events that reached a dramatic climax on December 6, when the Grand Master, in the presence of the papal representative to the order, Cardinal Burke, asked von Boeselager to resign. 

After the respected German knight refused, Festing sacked him for breaching his vow of religious obedience and suspended him from the order.

According to von Boeselager, the Grand Master, who is the son of a former British Army field marshal and a former Sotheby’s representative in Northumberland, told him that the demand for his resignation was in accordance with the wishes of the Holy See: Cardinal Burke’s presence in the room with Festing backed this up.

But in a letter, leaked to The Tablet, the Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, told Festing that his actions did not have Francis’ support: “I wish first of all to reiterate that these measures [the sacking and suspension of von Boeselager] must not be attributed to the will of the Pope or his directives,” Cardinal Parolin wrote in a letter dated December 21.

Historic church transformed into MacKillop museum

Historic significanceThe church in southern NSW that St Mary MacKillop twice visited and where her Sisters attended Mass and used as classrooms has been restored and transformed into a museum hall, to recount the life and work of the saint and her Sisters.

St Mary taught and inspected St Joseph’s students in the hall at Eden on the far South Coast of NSW during her stays in 1899 and 1901.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse has announced the museum as an official pilgrim centre of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn with a vision for it to become a national pilgrim centre.

The place holds special significance for the local Catholic community due to its connection to the MacKillop family.

When St Mary’s mother, Flora, was drowned in the wreck of the steamer the Ly-ee-Moon in 1886, her body was taken to Eden and cared for by the women of Eden.

Her body, largely unmarked despite the turbulent waters of Greencape at the northern end of Disaster Bay, was lovingly laid out in a room at the Pier Hotel.

The only item still on her body was a scapular, identifying her as a Catholic. St Mary’s cousin, John, came to Eden to identify the body which was taken to Sydney for burial. 

Seventy-one of the 86 passengers and crew on the steamer died in the disaster.

St Mary was appreciative of the care and love shown to her mother by the people of Eden decided to send sisters to establish a school there.

Fear grows among Egypt’s Christians after a Coptic doctor was stabbed in the throat the past two weeks, several Copts have been murdered in Egypt. 

Even before the dust settled over the murder of a Coptic merchant in Alexandria (220 km north of Cairo) on 3 January, Egyptian security forces found the body of a Coptic doctor killed last Friday at his home, stabbed in the throat. 
Dr Bassam Safouat Zaki was general surgeon in Asyut (370 km south of Cairo). 

Initial findings indicate that he was stabbed in the neck, chest and back and bled to death through his mouth, nose and ears.

A few days earlier, on 5 January, security forces discovered the bodies of a Coptic couple, Gamal Sami Guirguis and Nadia Amin Guirguis, stabbed to death in their home as they slept, in Monufia Governorate, northern Egypt, about 85 km from the Egyptian capital.

Following the investigation, local law enforcement arrested some suspects but did not announce the reasons for the double murder.

Two days earlier, an Alexandria merchant had his throat cut by an alleged Islamist in the middle of the street in front of passers-by and residents of his neighbourhood. As he stabbed Youssef Lamaei, the attacker shouted “Allah Akbar". 

During his interrogation, he said "I told him several times not to sell the alcohol, but he did not listen to me".

These three attacks come only a month after the suicide bomber  blew himself up on 11 December against the Church of SS Peter and Paul (El-Botroseya), which is located next to see of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Cairo. Some 29 people were killed, and dozens wounded.

"Every time I go out, I am afraid of being the next victim,” said Adel Ishak, a 30-year-old accountant who knew three of the victims of the December attack.

Still, “In the end, I am able to overcome this feeling of fear and I go to church, " said the father of one speaking to AsiaNews.

BRAZIL - Mgr. Vieira: "It is urgent to address the problems of our prison system"

The Archbishop of Natal (Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil), His Exc. Mgr. Jaime Vieira Rocha, released a statement on the massacre that took place on Saturday night, January 14, in which at least 26 prisoners were killed during a fight among gangs in the Penitentiary of Alcaçuz State, in Nísia Floresta, metropolitan region of Natal.

"No doubt, we need an urgent reflection on the conditions of our prisons. We beseech the good Lord to calm these brothers and to renounce violence, and call on society and the State to seek dialogue and find ways to address the problems that plague our prison system", the statement said.

According to data collected by Fides, twenty-six inmates were killed, most of them beheaded, in the revolt which broke out in the Penitentiary Alcaçuz, which has become the most violent in the history of Rio Grande do Norte. The incidents began in the afternoon and ended only in the morning of the following day. This is the third case with dozens of deaths in the country's prisons in 2017, in early January similar massacres in Manaus and Boa Vista took place. 

The biggest problem for the coexistence within prisons is the lack of space for prisoners, both as individuals and as groups or gangs. According to data of the Secretariat for Justice and Citizenship (SEJUC), the body responsible for the prison system in Rio Grande, the prison of Nísia Floresta is the largest prison in the state, it has a capacity of 620 prisoners, but is home to about 1,150. In this State there are 33 prisons with 3,500 places, but the prison population exceeds 8,000 inmates.

INDIA - The Jesuits committed to social harmony

To overcome ignorance and prejudice and above all to educate young people to promote peace and social harmony, peace which is an urgent need today: this is what the Indian Jesuit theologian Michael Amaladoss, director of the Institute for dialogue with cultures and religions at Loyola College in Chennai and consultant for mission and evangelization of the World Council of Churches says to Agenzia Fides.

"We need to build relationships and help people not only to tolerate, but to celebrate difference as a creative gift from God. 

We have to build a multi-religious coalition to counter any type of fundamentalism and communalism in all religions. We should especially take care of the formation of young people, so that they grow by acquiring a mentality that overcomes prejudice and promotes social harmony", the Jesuit told Fides.

According to Amaladoss, "the use of new digital media and social media is needed to reach a growing number of people and form networks. We could disseminate information, provide training programs and also facilitate meetings through the Internet", he notes.

On the theme of dialogue, Fr. Vincent Sekhar, another Jesuit, underlines the importance of the ministry of inter-religious dialogue in India, starting from the current religious-political situation of the country, useful to discern new paths: "This is why we must be proactive and resist what hinders the values of pluralism and secular India, cultivating all possible ways to promote love and friendship, trust and cooperation.

At present it is urgent to build bridges to reconcile different communities", he notes.

"Policy that exploites religion, the challenges of religious fundamentalism and provocation of communalism seriously affect the two pillars of democracy and secularism in India", said Fr. Sekhar.

"We must recognize - he continued - that the essence of all religions is love, service, peace and harmony. The recognition that every human person is the home of a Supreme Being leads to mutual respect. We also believe that the respect and appreciation of the teachings of the scriptures of all religions lead to the appreciation and acceptance of each other, helping us to live peacefully".

In this spirit, the Jesuits organize prayer meetings and the celebration of religious festivities in collaboration with members of different religions, encouraging understanding and solidarity and pledge to bringing reconciliation and harmony in contexts where there is violence.