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The story behind the new Our Lady of Arabia cathedral in Bahrain

The statue of Our Lady of Arabia will be a focal point of Bahrain’s new cathedral. / bahraincathedral.org.

Awali, Bahrain, Nov 26, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

On Dec. 10, a joyous Catholic event will take place in Bahrain, a predominantly Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, will consecrate the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, an ark-shaped structure seating 2,300 people.

It will be the end of a journey that began on Feb. 11, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when the decision to build the cathedral was taken, reported ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

The land was a gift of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain since 2002, who will inaugurate the cathedral on Dec. 9, the day before its consecration.

The king’s special envoy, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, had an audience with Pope Francis on Nov. 25. According to Agenzia Fides, the envoy invited the pope to visit the country on the king’s behalf.

Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, special envoy of the King of Bahrain, meets Pope Francis. Vatican Media.
Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, special envoy of the King of Bahrain, meets Pope Francis. Vatican Media.

The king personally presented a model of the cathedral to the pope in 2014.

The cathedral is part of a complex of around 95,000 square feet in Awali, a small municipality in the center of the country, which has a population of 1.7 million people and is located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar.

The Bahrain cathedral’s website says that as soon as Bishop Camillo Ballin, the Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia, heard that the king had given the land for a cathedral, his “immediate reaction on hearing the good news was to thank our Blessed Mother for her miraculous intercession and [he] decided that the new cathedral would be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia.”

A focal point of the cathedral will be a polychrome statue of Our Lady of Arabia.

The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948. A small chapel in Ahmadi, Kuwait, was dedicated in her honor on Dec. 8 that year.

In 1957, Pius XII issued a decree proclaiming Our Lady of Arabia the main patron saint of the territory and of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.

In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the patron saint of the vicariates of Kuwait and Arabia.

Later that year, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.

Ballin’s episcopal see moved from Kuwait to Bahrain, which has a significant Christian presence, estimated to be around 15% of the population.

There are an estimated 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India.

At the consecration, there will be one notable figure missing: Bishop Ballin, who died on April 12, 2020, at the age of 75, before he could see his dream of a cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia realized in Bahrain.

In a 2014 interview with CNA, the Italian bishop asked that supporters “pray for us and our spiritual life and that the Virgin Mary would send benefactors” to fund the cathedral’s construction.

Bishop Camillo Ballin (1944-2020), Vicar Apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Jyrejoice via Wikimedia (CC0).
Bishop Camillo Ballin (1944-2020), Vicar Apostolic of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Jyrejoice via Wikimedia (CC0).

The Bahrain cathedral’s website includes a prayer to Our Lady of Arabia in the run-up to the consecration:

O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Arabia and our Patroness! To you, we offer up our prayers for the needs of the Church here and throughout the world.

Help us to remain one with your Son Jesus and united amongst ourselves, so that we may be true witnesses for Christ in our daily lives and that the Lord's blessings of peace and harmony be within our families and communities always.

Trusting in your maternal intercession, we beseech you to hear our humble prayers and grant us the graces we seek... so that we may give glory to God forever. Amen.

Our Lady of Arabia, pray for us!

Pope Francis meets French President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican

Pope Francis meets French President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican, Nov. 26, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis received President Emmanuel Macron at the Vatican for an hour on Friday as France prepares to take on the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The French president met privately with the pope on Nov. 26 before heading into discussions with officials from the Vatican Secretariat of State on “France’s commitment in Lebanon, the Middle East, and Africa,” according to a brief statement from the Vatican.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In the course of the talks, a number of international issues were discussed, including environmental protection in the light of the outcome of the recent COP26 [climate summit] in Glasgow. There was also an exchange of views on the prospects for the forthcoming French Presidency of the European Union,” the Holy See press office said.

While in Rome, Macron also had a meeting with a delegation from the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio at the Palazzo Farnese on the eve of his papal audience.

The Catholic movement proposed collaboration during the French EU presidency on an international event to promote the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

Sant’Egidio also advocated for its humanitarian corridors for people fleeing the Syrian, Libyan, and Afghan crises and reported that Macron had assured it that France “will continue its efforts in this direction.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Macron’s papal audience took place as French Catholics continue to reel from an independent report published last month estimating that hundreds of thousands of children were abused in the Catholic Church in France over the past 70 years.

A French government official had said that the pope had also scheduled a meeting with the Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), which produced the report, but a French news agency in Rome, I.Media, reported that the meeting is being delayed.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Macron arrived at the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard shortly after 11 a.m. on Friday after signing a new treaty with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi earlier that day.

“[As] founding countries of the EU ... we defend a more integrated, more democratic, more sovereign Europe,″ Macron said at the press conference, according to AFP.

The Italian prime minister highlighted how the treaty will strengthen cooperation in the area of defense.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“To be sovereign, Europe needs to know how to defend its borders. We need to create a real defense,″ Draghi told journalists.

Pope Francis and Macron met privately in the pope’s library before exchanging gifts. A video released by the Vatican showed that when the president asked the 84-year-old pope how he was doing, Francis replied: “I’m still alive,” according to Reuters.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The French president gave the pope a historic first edition of the biography of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Giovanni Pietro Maffei published in 1585, as well as a modern biography of the Jesuit founder by François Sureau, a member of the Académie Française.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Macron’s Vatican meeting took place a little over a month after French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s Oct. 18 meeting with Pope Francis, in which Castex gifted the pope a jersey signed by Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, along with an 1836 edition of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Following his meeting with the pope, Macron also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Earlier this year, Macron visited Iraq for a trip that followed a similar itinerary to Pope Francis’ Iraqi visit, including a meeting with Iraqi Christians at a Catholic church in Mosul that was heavily damaged by the Islamic State.

The French president also met in Baghdad with Iraqi Nobel Prize laureate Nadia Murad, two days after she met with the pope at the Vatican.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Macron echoed Pope Francis’ call for debt relief for the world’s poorest countries.

Macron previously visited the Vatican in 2018 for a conversation that touched on Europe’s migrant crisis.

Pope Francis creates commission to assess reform of marriage nullity process in Italy

Pope Francis addresses the Italian bishops’ conference in Rome, Nov. 22, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 26, 2021 / 06:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis created a commission on Friday to assess how the Catholic Church in Italy is implementing the reform of the marriage nullity process he introduced in 2015.

The pope established the pontifical commission with an apostolic letter issued motu proprio (“on his own impulse”) on Nov. 26.

He explained that he was taking the step to “directly support the Churches that are in Italy in receiving the reform of the canonical process for the cases of declaration of nullity of marriage, giving new impetus to the application of the motu proprio Mitis Iudex.”

A declaration of nullity — often referred to as an “annulment” — is a ruling by a tribunal that a marriage did not meet the conditions required to make it valid according to Church law.

Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (“The Gentle Judge, our Lord Jesus”), issued in 2015, made changes to canon law intended to streamline the process by which Church tribunals assess requests for declarations of the nullity of marriages. The text also emphasized the local bishop’s role in the process.

The pope said that the commission’s task will be “to ascertain and verify the full and immediate application of the reform of the process of matrimonial nullity.”

The commission will be chaired by Msgr. Alejandro Arellano Cedillo, Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the court of higher instance at the Apostolic See.

Pope Francis asked the new commission to suggest “whatever is considered opportune and necessary to support and help the fruitful continuation of the reform.” It will conclude by drawing up a “detailed report” on the situation in Italy.

Referring to the 2014 family synod, the pope said that the new step was necessary to enable Italy’s Churches to “show themselves to the faithful as generous mothers in a matter closely linked to the salvation of souls, as was requested by the majority of my Brothers in the Episcopate at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.”

The motu proprio appeared days after the pope held a private meeting with the Italian bishops in Rome. Sources said that the pope announced the commission’s creation during the closed-door meeting with the bishops, gathered for their plenary assembly.

According to one source, the pope said that he wanted to “help the bishops to act as judges,” referring to the emphasis in Mitis Iudex that the bishop is “the judge of those faithful entrusted to his care.”

Pope Francis made a similar point in his address to officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the inauguration of the judicial year in January.

He said: “I take this opportunity to exhort every bishop — constituted by Christ the Father, Shepherd and Judge in his own Church — to be increasingly open to the challenge of this issue.”

“It is a matter of tenaciously pursuing and completing a necessary ecclesiological and pastoral path, aimed at not leaving to the sole intervention of civil authorities the faithful who suffer due to judgments not accepted but endured.”

In the speech, the pope acknowledged that the reform, “especially the brief process, has encountered, and still encounters, a lot of resistance.”

He said: “I must confess that after its promulgation I received many letters, I don’t know how many, but a lot. Almost all of them were lawyers who were losing their clients. And there is the problem of money. In Spain they say: ‘Por la plata baila el mono’: the monkey dances for money. The saying is clear.”

“And sadly, this too: in some dioceses I have encountered resistance from some judicial vicars who, perhaps, lost some power with this reform, because he realized that the judge was not he, but the bishop.”

The pope signaled his concern over the implementation of the reforms in Italy as early as 2016, when he established a bilateral working group on the reform, composed of experts from the Vatican and the Italian bishops’ conference.

Italy has a strong tradition of regional tribunals, established after Pius XI’s 1938 motu proprio Qua cura. Mitis Iudex repealed or derogated elements of Qua cura, prompting Italian bishops to ask for clarification.

The Roman Rota issued a vademecum to Italian dioceses, requiring that diocesan tribunals be established “as soon as possible.”

Coupled with the request for smaller tribunals, the pope asked in Mitis Iudex that processes be free of charge. But Italian bishops worried that replacing the country’s 15 regional tribunals with more than 220 diocesan tribunals would be economically unviable.

The new motu proprio underlined that, although canon law allows a diocesan bishop to have access to other courts, “this faculty must be understood as an exception and, therefore, every bishop who does not yet have his own ecclesiastical tribunal must seek to found one or at least strive to make this possible.”

It added that “the reforming impetus of the canonical matrimonial process — characterized by the proximity, speed and gratuitousness of the procedures — necessarily passes through a conversion of structures and persons.”

Pope Francis attends student play on how the pandemic has affected young people

Pope Francis meets young people of the Scholas Community at Rome’s Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae, Nov. 25, 2021 / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Nov 26, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis left the Vatican on Thursday to attend a theatrical performance in Rome by students on how the pandemic has affected young people.

The pope met with the Italian Minister of Education Patrizio Bianchi and a group of young people from 41 countries at the International Pontifical College Maria Mater Ecclesiae in Rome on Nov. 25.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

During the visit, the pope watched a show called “The faces of the pandemic,” in which performers covered their faces with decorated white masks to illustrate “the ‘face’ that the pandemic has left on young people,” according to a short statement from the Holy See press office.

Many of the students involved had participated in weekly virtual meetings organized by Scholas Occurrentes to share how they were coping with uncertainty and isolation when their schools were closed amid pandemic lockdowns.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Pope Francis also listened to testimonies and answered a few questions from the young people.

A Rwandan boy whose parents fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 1994 genocide asked what the international community can do to help refugees.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“Refugees who are fleeing have only one thing on their mind: leaving,” Francis said, according to Vatican News.

The pope underlined that refugees are not people who leave their country for economic reasons, but those who “escaped so that they could live.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He asked the young people present to reflect on what lessons can be learned from the stories of refugees.

“Do you let your feelings grow so that you can discern them later, or do you cover them up?” the pope asked.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“If you let your feelings come out, you have the obligation to discern them and confront them,” he said.

The gathering was organized by Scholas Occurrentes, a pontifical foundation established in 2015 and charged with supporting poor and underserved communities around the world through education.

Christian-Muslim dialogue needs a foundation in everyday friendship, French Dominican says

People in Strasbourg, France, hold placards reading "Catholics, muslims, jews all are Charlie" during a unity rally on Jan. 11, 2015 following a mass shooting by Muslim terrorists at the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 26, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Progress in Christian-Muslim dialogue ultimately must come from Catholics and others who deliberately make efforts to befriend and understand Muslims, said the French-born Father Jean Druel, O.P. 

Druel, the longtime head of a Cairo-based Dominican institute on Islam in the Arab world stresses the need to have friendships, study and self-understanding that crosses religious lines.

“Maybe I’m very naïve but I’m a scholar in the end. I believe that intelligence and studying and reason, rationality, is the best weapon against stupidity, against violence,” Druel told CNA.

“Once you know why the other person says this, once you know why you say this, where this and that rule comes from, you get more freedom,” he said. “Freedom is the opposite of fear. If you know it, you gain freedom, you lose your fear, and you begin to engage with your own tradition freely, with a free mind.”

Druel is originally from the countryside of the Anjou region in western France. As a Dominican brother, he was sent to Cairo in 1994 for his two years of military service. He returned to Egypt in 2002 and specialized in Islamic studies, especially the Arabic language. He received a doctorate in Arabic grammar in 2012 from the Netherlands’ University of Nijmegen.

From an Islamic perspective, Druel noted, Arabic is a theological topic that belongs to religious studies. From 2014 to 2020, the priest served as the director of the Cairo-based Dominican Institute for Oriental Studies. The institute, also called by its French acronym IDEO, studies Arab Islam and cultivates academic and interreligious dialogue.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings about what dialogue is, with lots of very, very high expectations from everybody. There is a lot of frustration because of those very high expectations and misunderstandings,” he said.

In Druel’s view, high-level meetings between popes, other churchmen, and leading Muslim clergy are significant in importance, but only in a symbolic or diplomatic sense. For him, the basis for progress must include more Christians who actively seek out Muslims as friends and collaborators.

“You can never talk together, work together, if you’re not friends. That’s very basic,” he said. “If you put a Christian and Muslim in a room who don’t know another and you ask them to talk, nothing would happen.”

“If you don’t have a Muslim friend, you can talk about Islam for hours and hours but it does nothing. It’s a theoretical question. It’s absolutely pointless,” said the priest.

When Druel teaches a classroom of Christians, he sometimes deflects questions about Islam back on his students.

“You should ask your Muslim friends,” he likes to answer. “This results in silence, because no one has Muslim friends.”

“The day every Christian has a real Muslim friend, and the day every single Muslim has a real Christian friend, will be a big step forward,” said Druel.

“Usually people would wait for the pope to meet with an imam, but don’t do anything on their own level,” he said. “You can complain over and over that Christians are being persecuted in Pakistan. OK, but what are you doing with your neighbors? Are you visiting a mosque?” he asked.

Father Jean Druel (second from left) says friendship is the best foundation for inter-religious dialogue. Courtesy of Father Jean Druel
Father Jean Druel (second from left) says friendship is the best foundation for inter-religious dialogue. Courtesy of Father Jean Druel

'Do you think we are like that?'

For Druel, one of his most moving experiences with Muslims came in the wake of the horrific atrocities of the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the mid-2010s. Students from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, one of the most prominent in the Muslim world, came to him and the other Dominicans of his community to ask their thoughts about ordinary Muslims and Muslim extremists.

“They came out and talked to us,” he recounted. They asked questions such as “Do you see us like that? Do you think we are like that?”

Another question they asked, he said, was this: “How do you do it? How can you at the same time be so religious, priests and monks, and so open-minded at the same time, and liberal?”

“For them it was a contradiction,” Drool said. “What they see in the media about Islam, just like everybody does, is you have to choose between jihad and atheism. And they said ‘we refuse to choose between the Islamic state and atheism. We want to be faithful Muslims and open-minded.’”

Druel’s advice for them? To study, to engage with religious traditions, texts, and interpretations, and to deepen one’s religion beyond the level of mere “identity.”

“Once you enter into this discussion, you become part of the discussion. You’re not at an identity level anymore. You gain some freedom and some empowerment in the discussion itself,” he said.

Christians, too, could follow this advice to get past the false dichotomies of their societies, Druel believes.

Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, sign a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019. .  Vatican Media.
Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, sign a joint declaration on human fraternity during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Feb. 4, 2019. . Vatican Media.

Druel has his own analysis of prominent Christian-Muslim dialogue, such as when the pope meets a high-level Muslim leader, or a priest and an imam take pictures together, or a Christian woman and a Muslim woman appear on stage for a joint talk.

“This is very much symbolic. To be honest, there is no content. You can’t expect any content from these meetings,” he said. “For many people it’s the only thing they see of inter-religious dialogue, and they don’t understand why there is no progress, because that’s not the point.”

Pope Francis’ own recent collaboration with Muslims includes the February 2019 joint signing of a document on human fraternity, world peace, and coexistence with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar. The grand imam heads the mosque linked to the university of the same name and is considered a major leader of Sunni Islam.

Such encounters are “diplomatic,” in Druel’s view.

“When the pope and Sheik el-Tayeb sign a document in common, the biggest thing they can say is ‘we are brothers,’” he said.

“We have not waited until 2019 to discover that we are brothers,” Druel said. While people can find this frustrating because they have such high expectations, these meetings are nonetheless very important.

“It is great progress in itself that most Christian and Muslim leaders are willing to meet,” Druel said. “This level of dialogue is extremely important, extremely needed. But it only brings symbolic results. If you don’t accept this you feel extremely frustrated.”

Scholarly interaction also key

For Druel, academic dialogue between Christian and Muslim scholars is “an extremely important part of interreligious dialogue.” This dialogue is not very visible, but these scholars deal with specific topics and benefit from not needing to serve as representatives of their religion. This work is “extremely rich in terms of content,” but “invisible,” he noted.

These efforts aim to reach agreement on definitions and history. They seek to answer questions like “Can we describe together the same events? Can we talk, on an academic level, about the history of the Quran and the history of Mohammed?”

Druel lamented that some academics, especially in France, show “a very anti-religious tendency” and have reservations about religious or theological studies. Only private French universities have theology departments. The German academic situation is somewhat better, where some academies have Christian or Muslim specialties.

Another way to think about Christian-Muslim dialogue is how to undertake common endeavors such as Druel’s institute, which employs people of both religions.

“We have to run a library. We have to publish a journal,” he said. “We don’t talk of religion, because nobody is a specialist. It would be dangerous to deal with religious topics. But we have actions in common. We learn about one another through doing things.”

He referred to the young adult association in France called Coexister, dedicated to bringing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists to take community action together. One of its principles is not to talk about religion.

“It seems paradoxical: They do things like help the poor, distribute food in the streets, talk about citizenship, you’d expect them to talk about religion,” said Druel.

Similarly, the Dominican institute’s Christian and Muslim employees never talk religion because, in Druel’s words, “they do not have the tools, the epistemology, the experience, and knowledge to deal with this topic peacefully.”

“Any discussions would devolve into sentiments like ‘we are right, you are wrong’,” he said.

Nonetheless, their collaboration helps Christians and Muslims get to know one another.

“We go to their festivities, they come to ours,” said the priest.

From his work, Druel has learned of the need to hire both Christians and Muslims, through practicing what he called “positive discrimination,” roughly equivalent to what Americans know as affirmative action. This practice is against his first instincts.

“As a Frenchman I’m very much against it,” he said, but in the context of Egypt “one would end up in a ghetto very quick” without being intentional about seeking out religiously diverse employees. If the center only asked its Christian employees for recommended candidates for a cook or a gatekeeper position, they would only recommend other Christians.

He suggested Christians can think about this in seeking to rent an apartment to someone.

“Are you expressly going to look for a Muslim or are you going to spontaneously rent to a Christian guy?” he asked.

“How willing am I to rent my flat to a Muslim family? How willing am I to hire a Muslim employee?” he asked, adding, “Muslims should ask themselves the same about Christians.”

He suggested that those who read his remarks to CNA introduce themselves to Muslim neighbors or seek out Muslims to befriend. They should go to a mosque themselves.

“But if they are not willing to do this, then there is no point in talking about Christian-Muslim dialogue, and criticizing it. There is no point, at all,” he said. “This is a very realistic expectation, very easy to do, and it’s very rewarding. You can’t be disappointed. You will have an experience, I promise.”

Marriage between Christians and Muslims is also an area for inter-religious dialogue, and a large focus of Catholic-Muslim dialogue in France.

“Interreligious marriage is beautiful and very rich and amazing, until you have children,” the priest said. “Then when you have children it explodes. Because you have to transmit something, you have to transmit your values.

“This is where most marriages would just explode, when children come,” he said. “Are they going to be Christian? Are they going to be Muslim?” 

People should not reject a friend or family member’s fiancée for being Muslim, but they should be realistic with the engaged couple about the difficulties of religious differences about their children’s future, Druel advised. These engaged couples should know that “most of these marriages fail because of the children,” he said.

The priest warned against a “rather fake” concept of Christian-Muslim interaction, as when people claim to know about Islam because they live in an apartment or a neighborhood with Muslim neighbors.

“But you don’t talk to them. And then you draw conclusions,” he said. Whether Christians live in predominant Muslim countries or in predominantly Muslim suburbs of French cities, many claim to know Muslims and Islam and “believe they are specialists” but “they have no Muslim friends, they have never been to a mosque, they never talk to Muslims or work with them.”

Secularism and ignorance can be a barrier, too, according to Druel.

“In France we have a problem with religion, not with Islam. Because people are so ignorant of their own religion — Christians and Muslims alike, and atheists, too. There is an illiteracy about religion.”

He continued: “Everything becomes ‘identity.’ You have to dress as a Muslim, or as a Christian; it’s nothing related to faith, or understanding, or intention. People fight over crosses in school rooms or halal meat at school just for the sake of identity.”

Druel reiterated that simply visiting with Muslims is the best way to overcome obstacles and misunderstanding.

“I’ve been to mosques every week for years. I’ve been taking non-Muslim friends to mosques. They’ve been frightened, worrying that something will happen, but nothing happens,” he said. “We’ve always received very positive reactions.”

Pope Francis: Prayer is ‘the most important means of communication’

Pope Francis meets members of the Pauline Family in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Nov. 25, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis urged members of the Pauline Family on Thursday to remember that prayer is “the most important means of communication.”

The papal audience in the Vatican’s Clementine Hall marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the group’s founder, Bl. James Alberione, who sought to spread the Gospel through modern media.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Fifty years after his birth into heaven, the celebrations for your founder offer you the opportunity to recognize even better the prophetic value of his witness,” the pope said.

“Following his example and through his intercession, you too choose the media as your ‘pulpit,’ so that, as he himself said, you may make Jesus Christ known to the people of our time by the means of our time.”

“I thank you for your commitment and, above all, pray. Do not forget prayer. It is the most important means of communication: communicate there,” the pope said, pointing heavenwards.

He added: “If I communicate with the whole world and not with the Lord, it does not work. Work and prayer, so that God’s holy people may feed more and more on the Word of God.”

Pope Francis recalled his predecessor Paul VI’s description of Alberione when he conferred an award on him in 1969.

The Italian pope said: “There he is: humble, silent, tireless, always vigilant, recollected in his thoughts, which run from prayer to action; always intent on scrutinizing the ‘signs of the times,’ that is, the most creative ways to reach souls.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Paul VI visited Alberione shortly before the priest’s death on Nov. 26, 1971, kneeling by his bedside, praying and offering his blessing.

The 50th anniversary of Alberione’s death is being marked by events throughout November in Rome.

The Pauline Family is composed of five religious congregations, four secular institutes, and a lay association.

Pope Francis praised the organization’s many apostolates. But he also encouraged its members to keep in face-to-face contact with people.

“Technological development has indeed led the entire ecclesial community to take on the modern tools of communication as elements of ordinary pastoral care,” he said.

“Nevertheless, your presence is still necessary today — indeed, I would say increasingly so — animated by your own charism and enriched by the experience of working ‘in the field.’ This is decisive.”

Here’s what Italy’s Cardinal Zuppi said at the launch of a book on the papacy’s future

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy, in St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 5, 2019. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome, Italy, Nov 25, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

No, it does not seem as if Pope Francis is going to resign. Indeed, his dynamism and desire to do things, working to bring the Church closer to the people, should be appreciated.

That is how Cardinal Matteo Zuppi responded when asked if the Pope Francis era was about to come to an end.

The questions, however, were legitimate because they were asked at the launch of a book explicitly addressing the papacy’s future.

Zuppi was on a panel for the Nov. 18 presentation of the book “Cosa Resta del Papato? Il futuro della Chiesa dopo Bergoglio” (“What Remains of the Papacy? The future of the Church after Bergoglio”), by the Italian Vaticanist Francesco Antonio Grana.

The book examines what the institution of the papacy is and what it can become after the resignation of Benedict XVI and the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It reconstructs the last part of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, revealing that among the few people aware of the forthcoming resignation was Italy’s then president, Giorgio Napolitano. The book also offers a glimpse of what the next conclave might look like.

Returning from Slovakia in September, Pope Francis had complained about the prelates who were allegedly already seeking to identify his successor. For this reason, the presence of a cardinal at the launch of a book that also looks at the papal succession risked being viewed as part of a “hidden electoral campaign.”

This is especially the case as Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna, northern Italy, is seen by many as one of the possible papabili in a future conclave.

A leading figure in the Community of Sant'Egidio, and known internationally also for his role as a peace mediator in Mozambique, Zuppi has nevertheless always maintained a low-key and ascetic profile. This approach made him a beloved parish priest, first at the Rome church of Santa Maria in Trastevere and then in a parish on the city’s outskirts.

His hierarchical ascent began with his appointment as an auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2012. He was then called by Pope Francis to be archbishop of Bologna, a major Italian see, in 2015, receiving the cardinal’s red hat in 2019.

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi receives the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi receives the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019. Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Zuppi’s presence at the book launch was all the more striking because he is a cardinal loved by Pope Francis, who gives little indication of wanting to detach himself from the legacy of the reigning pope and always defends his pastoral activities. (The one exception might be his decision not to clamp down severely on the Traditional Latin Mass in his archdiocese following the motu proprio Traditionis custodes.)

The 66-year-old cardinal’s words at the book launch were cautious. He began by reflecting on the book’s title. He then focused on the Statio Orbis of March 27, 2020: the solitary prayer in St. Peter’s Square in which Pope Francis asked for an end to the pandemic. Zuppi said that on that occasion, “for the first time, Ecclesialese — the language spoken among us priests — became the common language.”

Speaking of the crisis in the Church, Zuppi said that “we can spend a lifetime arguing among ourselves, fueling an internal conflict. But the point is that it is a crisis, generative of something new.”

He stressed that John XXIII was considered “a simpleton, who seemed to impoverish the greatness of the Church,” and that Benedict XVI “defined himself as a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard.”

In short, Francis is not, according to Zuppi, a pope who is diminishing the institution’s importance. Rather, he is giving it a new impetus. So much so, that there is “anything but an air of resignation,” Zuppi said. “In the many decisions he has made, and in the processes he has initiated, there is a great awareness and sense of the future.”

He added: “Pope Francis tells us that there is so much to do now, and he helps us not to have a renunciatory attitude, as a retreating minority. His significant reform is pastoral and missionary conversion.”

“He allows us to place ourselves in an evangelical, straightforward way, close to the people, and shows us some priorities for a Church that speaks to the heart. He helps us to be more Church, in a world that makes identity fade.”

There was also talk of the Zan bill, a proposed anti-homophobia law discussed in the Italian Senate. The Holy See presented a formal diplomatic note to the Italian state, highlighting that the bill violated the Concordat between the Holy See and Italy as part of the freedom of education.

It was not an opinion of the Holy See, but rather a diplomatic initiative to avoid the violation of a treaty. One of the panelists, Peter Gomez, director of IlFattoquotidiano.it, suggested erroneously that the Holy See expresses an opinion and the secular state is free to make its own decisions. But this was not the focus of the discussion.

Zuppi has repeatedly refused to address the controversy publicly. Many have interpreted this as a tactical move. The general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference is currently discussing who should be its next president. Zuppi is one of the leading candidates to succeed Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Città della Pieve.

Then there is the question of the next conclave that continues to hang over Zuppi. It was the author of the book himself, Francesco Grana, who sought to damp down any speculation. He explained that, despite its arresting title, the book was not presenting a manifesto.

He referred to a book recently published by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the community with which Zuppi is closely associated.

“Andrea Riccardi, the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, wrote the book ‘The Church burns.’ And if the Church burns, how can we not ask ourselves about the papacy of the future?” he asked.

Pope Francis to disabled people: The Church needs you

Pope Francis embraces a man in a wheelchair at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on June 10, 2015. / L'Osservatore Romano.

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

In his message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church needs the participation of everyone, and the disabled must not be excluded from the sacraments.

“As we celebrate your International Day, I would like to speak directly to all of you who live with any condition of disability, to tell you that the Church loves you and needs each of you for the fulfillment of her mission at the service of the Gospel,” the pope said on Nov. 25.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities will be celebrated on Dec. 3. Pope Francis’ message marking the day was released in print, as well as in video form with translations in American Sign Language and Italian Sign Language.

Quoting his 2013 exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he said: “The worst form of discrimination ... is the lack of spiritual care.”

“Sometimes, as certain of you have unfortunately experienced, this has taken the form of denying access to the sacraments,” he said in his message.

“The Church’s magisterium is very clear in this area, and recently the Directory for Catechesis stated explicitly that ‘no one can deny the sacraments to persons with disabilities.’”

The theme of Pope Francis’ message for the day is friendship with Jesus, which he said is “an undeserved gift” that all have received and that can help those experiencing discrimination.

Friendship with Christ “redeems us and enables us to perceive differences as a treasure. For Jesus does not call us servants, women and men of lesser dignity, but friends: confidants worthy of knowing all that he has received from the Father,” he said.

Antonietta Pantone, 31, a Rome resident who uses a wheelchair, told journalists it was clear to her from the pope’s message that he considers it important that people with disabilities be part of the Church and not leave the Church.

She shared her personal journey of faith, which included finding a community in the Christian disability group Fede e Luce.

Pope Francis meets with Foi et Lumière members on Oct. 2, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA
Pope Francis meets with Foi et Lumière members on Oct. 2, 2021. Vatican Media/CNA

Fede e Luce is the Italian branch of the French association Foi et Lumière (known as Faith and Light in the English-speaking world), which began 50 years ago with a pilgrimage for people with disabilities to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France. The movement has now expanded to five continents.

“I always say: In the eyes of God, we are all equal,” Pantone said, noting that in her journey of faith, friendship has been fundamental.

Friendship with others “demonstrates the closeness of God,” she said.

Pantone also explained how losing physical contact with friends because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very hard for her and other disabled people, especially her friends who live in residences and not with family.

In his message, Pope Francis addressed the difficulty of the coronavirus outbreak for the disabled.

“I think, for example, of your being forced to stay at home for long periods of time; the difficulty experienced by many students with disabilities in accessing aids to distance learning; the lengthy interruption of social care services in a good number of countries; and many other hardships that you have had to face,” he wrote.

He mentioned in particular those who live in residential facilities, separated from loved ones. “In those places, the virus hit hard and, despite the dedication of caretakers, it has taken all too many lives,” he said.

He also emphasized the importance of confronting these challenges by finding consolation in prayer and friendship with Jesus.

“I would like to speak personally to each of you, and I ask that, if necessary, your family members or those closest to you read my words to you, or convey my appeal,” he said. “I ask you to pray. The Lord listens attentively to the prayers of those who trust in him.”

“Prayer is a mission, a mission accessible to everyone, and I would like to entrust that mission in a particular way to you. There is no one so frail that he or she cannot pray, worship the Lord, give glory to his holy Name, and intercede for the salvation of the world. In the sight of the Almighty, we come to realize that we are all equal,” he stressed.

Pope Francis also noted the continued presence of discrimination, ignorance, and prejudice at all levels of society, assuring people with disabilities that through baptism they are “a full-fledged member of the Church community, so that all of us, without exclusion or discrimination, can say: “I am Church!’”

“The Church is truly your home!” he said.

At a Nov. 25 press conference, Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello said that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life is trying to do more to improve pastoral care for those with disabilities.

“This message, in recognizing that people with disabilities have their place in the holy faithful People of God, is a great invitation, for us in the dicastery, but above all for parish, diocesan and associative realities to take new paths with pastoral creativity,” Awi Mello said.

Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. Gianluca Teseo/CNA.
Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, speaks at a Vatican press conference, May 18, 2021. Gianluca Teseo/CNA.

“It is a door that opens to think of pastoral care no longer for, but with…”

On Dec. 6, the dicastery will launch a video campaign with the hashtag #IamChurch. In five videos, Catholics with disabilities from different parts of the world will share about their experiences in the Church.

Pantone, who participated in one of the Vatican’s videos, told CNA that she would like to see the Catholic Church do more to develop courses that allow people with all kinds of disabilities to participate in parish life, such as formation courses to become a catechism teacher.

“I still had some ways to study [to become a catechist],” she said, “but it depends on the type of disability, so if another disabled person wants to be a catechist, the Church should give him all the appropriate tools.”

Pantone said that the Church can do a lot for the disabled, but the recently begun Synodal Journey “is already a step forward which the world of disability sees positively.”

Pope Francis said in his message that “having Jesus as a friend is an immense consolation. It can turn each of us into a grateful and joyful disciple, one capable of showing that our frailties are no obstacle to living and proclaiming the Gospel.”

“In fact, a trusting and personal friendship with Jesus can serve as the spiritual key to accepting the limitations that all of us have, and thus to be at peace with them,” he said.

Parents who lost daughter in accident find joy in adoption ‘God has always been there’

Lisa, Katharine, and Bruce Alexander. / Screenshot EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Biological parents to two daughters and two sons, Bruce and Lisa Alexander first considered adoption after their youngest was born. However, it was not until the 2012 March for Life that the Catholic couple decided to proceed. 

At the time, Lisa was thinking about adoption and decided to ask her husband about it. He was thinking the same thing. 

“From then on, the Holy Spirit was with us,” she said in a 2018 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that CNA is highlighting for National Adoption Month. 

Bruce recalled, “The fact that things lined up as quickly as they did, and what were typical … delays where the process normally drags on or gets held up — we didn’t experience that.” 

Realizing that they were older in age than most adoptive parents, the Alexanders decided to adopt an older child by making a switch from the infancy program to the early child program. On Jan. 14, 2014, they made their decision but, that same day, they received a call from the adoption agency. 

“She told me … ‘I know you’re interested in maybe switching but I’d like to tell you that we have a baby girl,’” Lisa explained. “Neither one of us needed to take any time. We knew that God had just placed this girl, even at that point, we thought that this was the child that was for our family.”

The little girl’s name was Katharine.

Holding back tears, Bruce added, “Even at the call, it was intuitively obvious we were being called.”

Throughout the adoption process, the Alexanders had been set on adopting a little boy. When they found out it was a little girl, they considered it to be a sign from above.

That sign came in the wake of tremendous heartache. In 2009, the Alexanders’ oldest daughter, Codi, was riding her bike home when she was hit by a car. Five days later, Codi died at the age of 16. 

“Our older daughter, who is with Jesus in Heaven, is who I prayed to and the Blessed Mother,” Lisa explained. “And I had a feeling that Codi had something to do with bringing this little girl to our family.”

This little girl, though, was born facing an increasingly common problem. Her birth mother was addicted to oxycodone. The adoption agency assured the Alexanders that she was weaned off, but did suggest contacting their pediatrician. 

“Their response was that there simply just isn’t enough research,” said Lisa. “We just thought that we would be provided for if Katharine needed something that later on in life that was tied with this addiction.”

Fast forward ahead and nothing is stopping little Katharine, or as she prefers being called, “Peanut.” 

Big brothers Chase and Brandon Alexander have embraced their new roles from playing baseball to tackling the playground with Katharine and welcomed the new energy that has filled their home. 

“A lot of the new creativity comes from her,” said Chase. 

While Katharine, now 7, brings a new energy into their home, there is also a sense of familiarity.

“It was the wittiness, I thought, that both Katharine and my older sister Codi had that they share,” explained Chase. “Not so much cracking a joke but more of like the comment at the right time that you wouldn’t expect from a four year old but just kind of fits in.”

“It’s not coincidence,” expressed Bruce. 

Lisa added, “I have always believed that Katharine was heavenly sent. … If you knew Codi, she definitely had her way with deciding who was going to come to our family.”

“There have been some tough times in our family, but God has always been there,” she concluded. 

Cardinal calls for action after 27 migrants drown in English Channel

Cardinal Nichols at Westminster Cathedral on April 18, 2019. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

London, England, Nov 25, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).

A cardinal said on Thursday that the death of 27 migrants attempting to cross the English Channel is “a tragic summons to action.”

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, appealed on Nov. 25 for “focused international cooperation” to prevent further deaths in the waters between France and the U.K.

“The terrible loss of so many lives in the Channel is a tragic summons to action. This event illustrates graphically both the ruthless evil of the traffickers and the desperation of those trying to escape poverty, conflict, or persecution in search of a better life,” the archbishop of Westminster said.

“Every one is a child of God, with an innate dignity and worth. Focused international cooperation, safe routes to sanctuary and joint efforts to tackle poverty are all needed in the face of a global flood of desperate humanity.”

The BBC reported that 17 men, seven women, and three children died on Nov. 24 when their boat sank near the French port of Calais. It was the deadliest incident in the Channel since the International Organization for Migration began collecting data in 2014.

French police have arrested five people in connection with the deaths amid an ongoing dispute between the British and French governments over a surge in migrants attempting to make the treacherous crossing.

Responding to the deaths, French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to meet Pope Francis on Friday, said: “France will not let the Channel become a graveyard.”

The port in Dover, southeast England. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
The port in Dover, southeast England. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

More than 25,000 people have crossed the Channel in small boats this year — three times last year’s number.

Catholic leaders in the U.K. and France have repeatedly called for greater efforts to stem the crisis.

Four bishops of northern French dioceses issued a joint statement expressing indignation at the migrants’ deaths.

“Once again children, women, and men who have left everything behind in search of a better world have been crushed by the sea,” they said on Nov. 25.

“How can we not mourn them? How can we not be heartbroken? How can we not revolt against the ignominy of those who take advantage of their fragility and their hope for a better life for their families and themselves, to rob them before sending them in fragile boats to certain death?”

“How can we believe that closing borders and reinforcing security can provide a lasting solution to this migratory crisis?”

Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Lille, Archbishop Vincent Dollmann of Cambrai, Bishop Olivier Leborge of Arras, and Lille auxiliary Bishop Antoine Herouard said that emotions were “running high” in the Catholic community and among groups assisting migrants.

A memorial plaque for migrants who have died in the English Channel in Dover, Kent. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.
A memorial plaque for migrants who have died in the English Channel in Dover, Kent. Mazur/cbcew.org.uk.

“The challenges of contemporary migration are certainly complex, and we Catholics are also very small in the face of this,” the bishops said.

Citing the pope’s words at a 2018 Mass for migrants, they said that “with Pope Francis, we believe in the response ‘of solidarity and mercy’; ‘a response less concerned with calculations, than with the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities, an honest and sincere assessment of the alternatives and a prudent management.’”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, told the French radio station Europe 1 on Nov. 25 that migrants’ deaths represented a “triple betrayal.”

“Young people from Africa are being taken away from their country, their understandings, their lifeblood,” the Guinean cardinal said.

“Then, these young people are presented with Europe as an Eldorado. They are told that they will have everything, when this is not true.”

“And finally, we do not react against the smugglers who take advantage of their naivete and make them die in the middle of the sea. We should fight this evil at its roots and present Europe as it is, with its difficulties too.”