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‘Newman converts’ come home to Rome for canonization

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The canonization of St. John Henry Newman Sunday drew “Newman converts” to Rome from throughout the English-speaking world, all of whom followed Newman’s writings across the Tiber River and into the Catholic Church.

Elayne Allen, 24, is one such “Newman convert.” She came into the Catholic Church in December 2017. Allen decided to become a Catholic after a friend loaned her a copy of Newman’s “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.”

Allen traveled to Europe for the first time so that she could be present at Newman’s canonization Oct. 13.

“It was ... deeply personal and gratifying to see someone who’s impacted my thinking and prayer life so much become a saint. The grace God has given me through this saint made me think of the beautifully intricate and various ways God chooses to reveal himself to us,” Allen told CNA after the canonization Mass.

Newman was canonized by Pope Francis along with Mariam Thresia, Marguerite Bays, Giuseppina Vannini, and Dulce Lopes, during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square, with an estimated 50,000 people in attendance.

“The Church’s universal mission kept returning to my mind. I thought it a splendid image of the Church’s catholicity that Mother Vannini, who grew up as an Italian orphan, and John Henry Newman, widely considered among the Church’s greatest theologians since Thomas Aquinas, honored side by side,” she said.

Allen, who had been had been raised attending non-denominational evangelical churches, was introduced to the writings of Newman as a student at Baylor University during a class on 18th and 19th century literature.

“I had never even heard of Newman … the existence of a formidable Catholic intellectual tradition was completely alien to me,” she said.

“I quickly found Newman to be a demanding but electrifying writer. He is known for sentences that occupy an entire page, piling one qualifying or descriptive clause after another. His lucid, crisp but recondite prose utterly absorbed me.”

Allen credits Baylor’s Great Texts program for providing her with an introduction to Catholicism and Church history. By the time she reached graduation, she was reading early Church history on her own with an eye on both Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

“My reading pointed to Rome or Constantinople. It seemed evident that the Church is an institutional body protected the Holy Spirit to safeguard doctrine, but I wasn't certain which communion was most consistent with Scripture and early ecumenical councils,” she said.

That is when a friend gave her a copy of “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine.”

Allen said she was “elated by the...simplicity and vigor” in “Newman’s groundbreaking explanation of the way ideas crystallize over time through contact with various circumstances, contexts, and even errors.”

“He says the ‘deposit of faith,’ the earliest revelations of Christianity, imply a variety of interconnected doctrines that require time and contact with living reality to be realized. Newman crucially argues that, while the power of human reason can detect and discern these developments, Christ promises the Holy Spirit as the ultimate protector against error,” she explained.

“I soon became convinced that the Catholic Church, even with all its excesses and eccentricities, is the only communion where doctrine actually develops and knew that I wanted to become Catholic,” Allen said.

She was received into the Catholic Church on Dec. 6, 2017. She continues to ask regularly for Newman’s intercessions and has “not been able to stop reading his work.”

“I read ‘The Grammar of Assent’ earlier this year, a challenging but rewarding book. His ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua’ revealed to me his spiritual sensitivity and the turmoil he faced before and after his conversion,” she said.

As a recent convert, Allen says she has also enjoyed discovering the beauty of the Church in Rome for the first time this weekend.

“It’s positively overwhelming and enchanting to be here. It’s made me realize the ways in which God chooses to use human artifice and genius to demonstrate His glory. Breathtaking artwork and written works crafted by men and women to glorify Him are ever-displayed throughout Rome,” she said. “It has been a treasure to behold!”
 

 

Marathon man: The Catholic faith, and family, of Eliud Kipchoge

Nairobi, Kenya, Oct 13, 2019 / 08:02 am (CNA).- On Saturday, Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge broke a finishing tape, and a barrier long-thought to be completely unbreakable. Kipchoge became the first person to run a marathon in less than two hours, finishing a 26.2 mile course in Vienna in 1 hour 59 minutes 40 seconds.

 

HISTORY! pic.twitter.com/qjLfofhL5s

— Eliud Kipchoge (@EliudKipchoge) October 12, 2019  

Sometime after the run was over, away from the spotlight, Kipchoge did what he is reported to do after every race: he knelt down, bent his forehead to the ground, and made the sign of the cross, in thanksgiving for a good run.

In his hometown, his friends and family say that Kipchoge’s extraordinary accomplishment might have something to do with his deep Catholic faith.

Kipchoge’s cousin, Fr. Kennedy Kipchumba, told ACI Africa Saturday that the runner’s accomplishment was “a moment of joy and jubilation, with a summary of: God fulfills His promise.”

“I was part of the close to 3,000 people who were following the race from a big screen and with all of them, we ended up bowing to God to thank him for this much he offered to us,” Fr. Kipchumba said.

After Kipchoge’s feat, his family, included several priests, celebrated Mass in thanksgiving.

“Everybody came to Church, to say thank you to God. We celebrated Mass to thank God. We celebrated as a community; we had the family, Fr. Benjamin Oroiyo who is also a family member, Fr. Benedict Rono and we were also joined by the Deputy Governor of Nandi County, area Member of Parliament, among other local leaders,” Fr. Kipchumba said.

The Mass was celebrated in a small village chapel, St. Peter's Kapsisiwa, an “outstation” of St. Joseph’s Sangalo Parish in the Diocese of Eldoret.

Kipchoge, 34, was raised in the small village of Kapsisiwa, 200 miles from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. The area around Kapsisiwa is a highland of rolling green hills, where Kipchoge began running as a child. The runner now lives with his wife in the west Kenyan city of Eldoret, close to his hometown.

“The main person in the family is the mother, whom we brought from her house” for the Mass, Kipchumba explained.

Kipchoge’s mother, Janeth Rotich, is seen as a moral and spiritual supporter of her son.

“I wake up at 3 a.m. every day to pray for Kipchoge. I pray the rosary,” she has told local reporters.

Kipchoge left Kenya on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Monday, Oct. 7 to attempt a sub-2 hour marathon in Vienna. But before he left, the parish he attends when in Nairobi offered Mass for him.

On the eve of his departure, special prayers were offered for him by the congregation of St. Paul’s University Catholic Church.
 
“Kipchoge is a friend of students’ choir at St. Paul's University Chapel. Last Sunday we had Mass celebration for Eliud Kipchoge,” the chaplain of Nairobi University, Fr. Peter Kaigua told ACI Africa Saturday.

Kaigua described the historic marathoner, Kipchoge as “an inspiration to the youths, a mentor to the young people and a humble man; through him the young people get to know that their dreams can be met.”

“Before offering Mass for him last week, we used to talk about him in the university with students. We therefore opted to offer him Mass before going for the marathon race so that God can help him realize his dream,” Kaigua added.

“The day for Mass, young people had t-shirts printed in his name,” Kaigua told ACI Africa.

During the Mass, Kaigua said that Kipchoge’s run “will push his body and his mind to unknown levels and if he ever needed God, and Mother Mary and all the Saints, this is the time -- that is why we are here, praying hard. As Eliud also famously said, 'you cannot train alone and expect to make a fast time... 100 percent of me is nothing compared to one percent of the team.' We are, therefore, going to be Eliud's pacemakers in prayer."

“The university acted as his ‘spiritual pacesetter.’ His winning is a sign that prayer for young people has been answered,” the priest told ACI Africa.

When Kipchoge crossed the finish line, he said that felt himself to be “the happiest man to run under two hours to inspire many people; to tell people that no human is limited, you can do it.”

“I am expecting more athletes from all over the world to run under two hours,” he added.

Priest, religious, and laity in his native Kenya have praised Kiphchoge as a man of great inspiration. Some interpreting his success in the context of the Church’s “Extraordinary Missionary Month,” whose theme is “Baptized and Sent.”

“Eliud Kipchoge, baptized and sent! I saw his mother with a white Rosary on her neck. This is just how faith is handed on in the family set up. The mother passes it on to the child,” Fr. Samuel Nyattaya of Kenya’s Kisumu Archdiocese told ACI Africa.

The priest said he felt “so happily surprised at the demonstration of his Catholic faith!”

“I believe that God is happy to see us putting efforts to maximize our potential. God must have been so happy to see this courageous Kenyan encouraging the entire world with his belief,” Sr. Sr. Margaret Mutiso, a member of the Daughters of Sacred Heart, told ACI Africa.

Kipchoge “is advocating for a peaceful world where all live together in harmony and we're not limited to do that,” she added.

For his part, Kaigua said that the university parish in Nairobi is already “planning to celebrate another Mass for him in his presence immediately, as soon as he is back in the country.”

The priest, and the marathoner, surely have something to thank God for.

 

 

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis prays for ‘beloved and tormented’ Syria

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2019 / 06:10 am (CNA).- As Turkish-led forces began the fifth day of their move against Kurdish militias in northeastern Syria Sunday, Pope Francis appealed for dialogue, especially as families in the region are forced to flee from warfare.

“My thoughts go once again to the Middle East. In particular, to the beloved and tormented Syria, from which dramatic news arrives again about the fate of the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13.

“To all the actors involved and to the international community, I renew the appeal to commit sincerely on the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions,” the pope said.

Pope Francis expressed his concern for the many Christian families among the affected populations in Syria.

Before the Syrian crisis and the violence inflicted by the Islamic State, there were an estimated 130,000 Christians in northeastern Syria. There are now only 40,000 Christians in that area, according to In Defense of Christians, a human rights group with expertise in the region.

Kurdistan is a disputed area with territory in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, and Iran. Kurdish nationalists in Turkey have been the focus of sustained government oppression, and some Kurdish militias are considered terrorist groups by the Turkish government.

The U.S., by contrast, has allied with Kurdish militias in its protracted campaigns against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

On Oct. 6, the White House announced that Turkish forces would take over some security responsibilities in northern Syria and that the U.S. would no longer maintain its military forces in the region. The announcement has caused widespread concern among Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq, and some human rights advocates have accused Trump of abandoning Kurdish allies while implicitly sanctioning a Turkish military offensive.

After the U.S. announcement, Turkish military forces moved into Syria, with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house two million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has claimed that nine civilians, including a female politician, were killed by Turkish-backed militias on a road in northern Syria Oct. 12. Some reports say that as many as 50 civilians have died on both sides of the border.

Following nearly a week of the Turkish offensive, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces has said that they will no longer be able to prioritize guarding the prisons which hold thousands of Islamic State fighters. 950 IS supporters escaped from the Ain Issa camp Oct. 13, SDF said, along with other detainees.

Pope Francis prayed for the people of Syria in his Angelus address following the canonization Mass of St. John Henry Newman and four other saints.

 

'Lead, kindly light' - Pope Francis names Newman a saint

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2019 / 03:20 am (CNA).- Nearly two centuries ago, John Henry Newman was England’s most well-known Anglican priest, until he risked everything to become a Catholic. Today he has become a saint.

As Pope Francis named Cardinal John Henry Newman a saint Sunday, he told Catholics that the goal of life is a transforming encounter with Jesus.

“The ultimate goal is not health or wellness, but the encounter with Jesus … He alone frees us from evil and heals our hearts. Only an encounter with him can save, can make life full and beautiful,” Pope Francis said at the canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 13.

Pope Francis officially recognized John Henry Newman, Mariam Thresia, Marguerite Bays, Giuseppina Vannini, and Dulce Lopes as saints.

 

#NewmanCanonisation #NewmanCanonization pic.twitter.com/y16Q9aXXZZ

— JD Flynn (@jdflynn) October 13, 2019  

The canonization was attended by Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, along with delegates from the Church of England.

“Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession,” he said.

Pope Francis read a quote from one of  Newman’s sermons describing the holiness of daily life: “The Christian has a deep, silent, hidden peace, which the world sees not... The Christian is cheerful, easy, kind, gentle, courteous, candid, unassuming; has no pretence... with so little that is unusual or striking in his bearing, that he may easily be taken at first sight for an ordinary man.”

 

More photos from the #NewmanCanonisation. Newman was named a saint along with four holy women:

Photos: Daniel Ibanez/CNA pic.twitter.com/0MfteCAdyL

— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) October 13, 2019  

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Born in 1801, he was before his conversion a well-known and well-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual.

Newman’s 1845 conversion to the Catholic faith was controversial in England, and resulted in the loss of many friends, including his own sister who never spoke to him again.

He became a priest in 1847 and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. He was particularly dedicated to education, founding two schools for boys and the Catholic University of Ireland. His “Idea is a University” became a foundational text on Catholic higher education. He was a prolific author and letter writer. Newman died in Birmingham in 1890 at 89.

St. John Henry Newman is Britain’s first new saint since the canonization of St. John Ogilvie in 1976.

“Let us ask to be … ‘kindly lights’ amid the encircling gloom. Jesus, ‘stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as Thou shinest: so to shine as to be a light to others,’” Pope Francis said in his Oct. 13 homily, quoting parts of Newman’s “Meditations on Christian Doctrine.”

 

Along with Newman, Pope Francis canonized four women.

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926) was an Indian mystic and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. The Syro-Malabar Catholic foundress received the stigmata and would sometimes levitate during prayer.

Giuseppina Vannini (1859-1911) religious sister from Rome known for founding the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus dedicated to serving the sick and suffering. Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes (1914-1992) founded the largest charitable organization in Brazil providing healthcare, welfare, and education service. Nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, she is the first Brazilian-born female saint.

Pope Francis said that these three religious women saints show us that the consecrated life is “a journey of love at the existential peripheries of the world.”

“Saint Marguerite Bays, on the other hand, was a seamstress; she speaks to us of the power of simple prayer, enduring patience and silent self-giving,” the pope said. “That is how the Lord made the splendour of Easter radiate in her life.”

When Bays (1815-1879) was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 1853, she prayed to the Virgin Mary to be able to suffer with Jesus rather than to be healed. However, on the day that Bl. Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 8, 1854, she was miraculously healed.

“On the journey of life, purification takes place along the way, a way that is often uphill since it leads to the heights,” Pope Francis said.

“Faith calls for journey, a ‘going out’ from ourselves, and it can work wonders if we abandon our comforting certainties, if we leave our safe harbours and our cosy nests. Faith increases by giving, and grows by taking risks,” he said.

The canonizations took place as the Church celebrates an “Extraordinary Missionary Month” dedicated to prayer and reflection on the missionary work of the Church, as well as the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian Region, taking place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27.

“The Lord sets our hearts free and heals them if only we ask him, only if we say to him: ‘Lord, I believe you can heal me. Dear Jesus, heal me from being caught up in myself. Free me from evil and fear,’” Pope Francis said at the canonization.

In Philippines, bishop calls for mental health approach to drug problems

Manila, Philippines, Oct 12, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Amid a United Nations investigation into a brutal “war on drugs” by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, a Catholic bishop is calling for the country’s Department of Health (DOH) to take a more active health-centered approach to tackling the nation’s drug problem.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, a city in metro Manila, said this week that intimidation and killings will not stop the problem of drugs in the country.

“I’ve been challenging the DOH to be more involved in drug rehabilitation because drug addiction is a mental health issue,” he said, according to Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News.

David is a vocal critic of Duterte’s harsh tactics against drug users and dealers, and the government’s tactics have been a major point of contention with Catholic leaders for several years.

In 2017, the country’s bishops called for both a 33-day rosary campaign and a 40-day prayer campaign for peace.

Over the past three years, Duterte has been heading a brutal war on drugs in the Philippines. The campaign against drugs has drawn significant international criticism for its reported extrajudicial killings and death squads. Nearly 500 deaths have been reported this year alone, and more than 6,000 people were killed in the six months after he took office.

By the beginning of 2017 alone, police reported at least 2,250 drug suspects killed, while at least 3,700 others were murdered by unknown suspects who sometimes accused their victims of being drug dealers or addicts, according to AFP.

Human rights organizations now put the total death toll since 2016 at more than 27,000— a figure that includes those killed by vigilantes, Rappler reports.

Jerome Secillano, public affairs chief for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, has said that many priests and bishops, as well as Catholic laity, are afraid to speak out against the killings.

Duterte made the war on drugs a major part of his 2016 political campaign, and continues to enjoy high levels of approval in the Philippines.

In July 2019, the UN Human Rights Council narrowly approved a resolution to launch an investigation into the drug war. The resolution does not go as far as to create a full commission to examine the matter, but instead authorizes an investigation to examine alleged crimes against humanity, including reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, will present the findings in a report next year.

Bishop David said he is also concerned about an increase in suicide, and stressed the need for the government to give more attention to mental health problems in the country, CBCP News reports. According to the country’s DOH, some 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depressive disorders.

Bishop in Brazil says he will ordain women to diaconate if pope permits it

Vatican City, Oct 12, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- A bishop participating in the Vatican’s Amazon Synod said Saturday he would ordain women in his communities as deacons if the idea is recommended by the synod and permitted by Pope Francis.

Bishop Dom Adriano Ciocca Vasino of the prelature of São Félix, Brazil said Oct. 12, there are women in his community who are already trained in theology, and “they know that if this synod, with the [permission] of the pope, opens up the possibility of the diaconate for women… I will ordain them.”

Ciocca spoke at a press briefing which took place during the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian Region, an Oct. 6-27 meeting on the Church’s life and ministry in the region.

The bishop described to journalists a model of formation he uses in the prelature of São Félix, with a theology school open to both men and women.

After the completion of the four-year course, those men who wish to become priests are asked to spend several years living and working in local community, after which they are considered for ordination as deacons or priests, based in part on the recommendation of the community in which they live.

The idea that women could be ordained or commissioned in some way as deacons in the Church has been under discussion since Pope Francis appointed a commission to study the matter in 2016. The Church teaches definitively that only men can be ordained as priests or bishops, but some theologians suggest that women were ordained as deacons in the early centuries of the Church.

Other theologians suggest that ordination is a sacrament reserved to men, and that while women might be commissioned in some form of “diaconate,” a Greek word that means “service,” their commissioning would not be sacramental.

In May, Pope Francis told reporters that some on the Vatican commission have concluded that the historical “female diaconate” was different from the role of male deacons, namely becaue it did not include sacramental ordination.

“For example, the formulas of female diaconal ‘ordination’ found until now, according to the commission, are not the same for the ordination of a male deacon and are more similar to what today would be the abbatial blessing of an abbess,” he said.

The pope added that others in the commission hold that there was “a female deacon formula,” but it is not clear whether it was a sacramental ordination or not.

A permanent deacon from Brazil, Francisco Andrade de Lima, told reporters that he is not opposed to the idea of women deacons, but that he thinks the question should be thought about in terms of the issue of vocations, rather than simply as a potential solution to a problem.

According to the Oct. 12 briefing participants, the topic of formation is important for the Church in the Amazon.

Proper formation of priests and lay people is a major challenge in the region, Bishop Rafael Cob García of the vicariate of Puyo, Ecuador, said.

Cob said he thinks the key to evangelization in the Amazon is inculturation and understanding lived reality. He also pointed out that the approach to evangelization in the cities must be very different to the approach taken in more remote areas.

To have “a Church with an Amazonian face,” new paths of formation and evangelization must be found, he said. For a Church with an Amazonian face, he noted, they also need vocations to come from the local communities, but the major challenge right now is a lack of formators and good formation at a local level.

Questioned about the importance of evangelization versus the importance of protecting minority indigenous communities from outside bad actors, Cob said both are important, but that these minority communities, like everyone, have a right to know about the salvific mission of Christ.

They need to be evangelized in a direct way, he said, pointing to the Church’s missionary mandate to bring Christ to all people.

Cob also said there is a need to protect indigenous from “greedy” multinational corporations that come into a space without concern for that space’s inhabitants. Their lives are threatened by this, he stated.

 

UK's Prince Charles praises Cardinal John Henry Newman

Vatican City, Oct 12, 2019 / 06:10 am (CNA).- The Prince of Wales said Saturday that the canonization of Cardinal John Henry Newman is a cause for celebration among all Britons, those who are Catholic and those who “cherish the values by which he was inspired.”

“His faith was truly catholic in that it embraced all aspects of life. It is in that same spirit that we, whether we are Catholics or not, can, in the tradition of the Christian Church throughout the ages, embrace the unique perspective, the particular wisdom and insight, brought to our universal experience by this one individual soul,” Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, wrote in an Oct. 12 column for L’Osservatore Romano.

“Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry,” the prince wrote.

Newman will be canonized by Pope Francis Oct. 13. He was born in 1801, converted to Catholicism in 1845, and died in 1890. Before his conversion, he was a well-known and well-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual. After his conversion, he founded the Birmingham Oratory, a religious community of priests, and was Britain’s most well-known, though sometimes controversial, Catholic. He was a prolific writer of books, poetry, and letters; an educator; an orator; and, more quietly, a minister to the poor in working-class Birmingham.

He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI during the former pope’s 2010 visit to the United Kingdom.

Prince Charles will attend Newman’s canonization in Rome.

“In the age when he lived, Newman stood for the life of the spirit against the forces that would debase human dignity and human destiny.  In the age in which he attains sainthood, his example is needed more than ever – for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion,” Prince Charles wrote.

“At a time when faith was being questioned as never before, Newman, one of the greatest theologians of the nineteenth century, applied his intellect to one of the most pressing questions of our era: what should be the relationship of faith to a sceptical, secular age? His engagement first with Anglican theology, and then, after his conversion, Catholic theology, impressed even his opponents with its fearless honesty, its unsparing rigour and its originality of thought,” he added.

The prince noted the anti-Catholicism Newman faced after his conversion.

“And perhaps most relevantly of all at this time, when we have witnessed too many grievous assaults by the forces of intolerance on communities and individuals, including many Catholics, because of their beliefs, he is a figure who stood for his convictions despite the disadvantages of belonging to a religion whose adherents were denied full participation in public life. Through the whole process of Catholic emancipation and the restoration of the Catholic Church hierarchy, he was the leader his people, his church and his times needed.”

Prince Charles concluded by noting Newman’s capacity for friendship, and his devotion to his friends.

“As we mark the life of this great Briton, this great churchman and, as we can will shortly say, this great saint, who bridges the divisions between traditions, it is surely right that we give thanks for the friendship which, despite the parting, has not merely endured, but has strengthened,” he wrote. 

“In the image of divine harmony which Newman expressed so eloquently, we can see how, ultimately, as we follow with sincerity and courage the different paths to which conscience calls us, all our divisions can lead to a greater understanding and all our ways can find a common home.”

 

How a miracle through Cardinal Newman saved a mother and baby in a dangerous pregnancy

Chicago, Ill., Oct 12, 2019 / 04:01 am (CNA).- Melissa Villalobos spoke to our podcast, CNA Newsroom, for our Cardinal Newman episode, which can be found here. This article is an adaptation of that conversation.

 

 

 

When Melissa Villalobos first heard about Cardinal John Henry Newman, she had no idea the pivotal role he would play in her life, nor the pivotal role she would play in his cause for sainthood. The Catholic wife and mother from Chicago stumbled into a show about Newman on EWTN “just by accident” in 2000, while she was getting ready for work and ironing her clothes. She was struck by what the show had to say about him.

 

“These priests and scholars were talking about him and his life and what a holy man he was, and what a tremendous influence he had on the church and on other people in his life,” Villalobos told CNA.

“I was really taken by it and I thought, ‘This man is so amazing,’” she said. But it wasn’t until a year later, when her husband brought home two holy cards of Cardinal Newman, that Villalobos’ devotion to him really began.

She displayed one of the cards in the living room, the other in her bedroom, and “I would pass by his image every day, and I would look into his eyes and I would pray to him and I would just talk to him as a mother,” she said. “And I felt like his expression was matching my emotions at the time. If I felt sad for some reason he looked sympathetic, if I felt joy, he looked pleased, and I just felt like we were really living life together,” Villalobos recalled. She invoked Cardinal Newman often, and considered him one of her closes spiritual friends. Eventually she started looking up his writings online, and described the experience like “finding gold in the backyard.”

“He was every bit as holy and loving as I had suspected he was by looking at his face. He had such a tremendous affection for ordinary people, which I discovered by reading his letters, and I felt like I could be one of those ordinary people in his life.”

Born in 1801 in London, John Henry Newman was originally an Anglican priest before his conversion to Catholicism in 1845 at the age of 44. He would soon become a renowned Catholic priest, theologian, poet, homilist, and, in 1879, a cardinal. His works are considered among the most important contributions to the thought of the Church in recent centuries.

His conversion to Catholicism was controversial in the birthplace of Anglicanism, and he lost many friends as a result, including his own sister, who refused to speak to him again. Newman was also a devoted educator and founded the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England in two locations. He died in Birmingham in 1890 at the age of 89. The Vatican announced his Oct. 13 canonization date in July. The more Villalobos learned about Newman, the closer she felt to him, and she would eventually come to rely on his intercession in a major way. In 2013, more than a decade after first hearing about Newman on EWTN, Villalobos was pregnant with her fifth child and was experiencing serious complications. In her first trimester, Villalobos started bleeding continuously, and she learned she had a condition called subchorionic hematoma, a blood clot between the placenta and the uterine wall that causes the placenta to be “partially ripped and detached from the uterine wall.” “It was a life-threatening problem because I could hemorrhage to death,” Villalobos recalled. 
The prognosis was grim. There was no cure to be found in medicine or surgery. Villalobos was ordered to be on strict bed rest to give her baby the best possible chance. She did the best she could, but Villalobos was still caring for her other four young children in the meantime. On the morning of May 15, less than a week after being diagnosed with the condition, Villalobos woke up in a pool of her own blood.
With her husband away on a work trip, Villalobos debated when she should call 9-1-1. She decided to give her kids some breakfast first, and then she locked herself in the bathroom to figure out what to do. But by then, Villalobos had lost so much blood that she collapsed on the floor.

“Unfortunately though, somehow I did not have my cellphone with me,” she recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”

She considered shouting for one of her kids to bring her phone, but worried that the shouting would cause more bleeding or a miscarriage. Desperate, she called out to her old friend, Cardinal Newman. “I said, ‘Please Cardinal Newman, make the bleeding stop.’ And just then, immediately it stopped. And I stood up and I smelled roses that filled the bathroom air.”
The smell of roses is often considered the “scent of holiness”, with many stories of saints leaving a rosy scent in places where they have intervened in prayer. “And I said, ‘Oh Cardinal Newman, did you just make the bleeding stop? Thank you!’ And then there was this second burst of roses. And I knew I was cured, and I knew Gemma my daughter was ok,” Villalobos said. Villalobos had an ultrasound scheduled for that afternoon, and the doctor found what Villalobos attributes to Cardinal Newman’s intercession: the bleeding had completely stopped.

“The doctor saw that there was no more bleeding and he was amazed, and he said, ‘the baby looks perfect.’”

It was vastly different than Villalobos’ previous experience in the pregnancy. 

“The doctors (had) said you will probably miscarry if you’re lucky, the placenta could barely hold up to the third trimester, and she’ll be born but she’ll be really small and she’ll have medical problems,” Villalobos recalled. “Thanks be to Cardinal Newman and to God that I was cured and Gemma was born completely healthy.”

Villalobos said she waited until after Gemma was born to report the miracle to Fr. Ignatius Harrison, the postulator for Newman’s cause for canonization. After receiving her letter, Fr. Harrison came to Chicago to meet with Villalobos, her husband, Gemma, and the doctors. He examined medical records and conducted interviews, and told Villalobos to keep the potential miracle a secret until it could be investigated by the Vatican. She got brief updates about twice a year, she said, but for the most part, she did not really know how the cause was advancing, she just prayed with her family that Newman would soon be canonized.

“There was really no one to ask to say, ‘Well how does this usually work?’ You know sometimes if you’re going through something in your life you say ‘Oh, well how did it work for you?’ But there was no one to ask to say ‘Well, when you were miraculously cured, how long did it take to hear from the postulator?’” she said.

Then in February 2019, Villalobos received the news that Pope Francis signed the degree recognizing the miracle.

“I’m surprised at how many people tell me that they’re happy to know that God still performs miracles,” Villalobos said, “I’m glad they know that. I feel like I’ve known that, and I want other people to know that God has never abandoned us. I know it’s hard to believe in miracles because we don’t always get what we want, but we know that God the Father in his love always gives us what’s best for us.” Villalobos, Gemma, and the rest of the family traveled to Rome to be there for Newman’s canonization, which will take place this Sunday.

“I just love him dearly and I hope that anybody who needs help, whether you’re a mother, or a student...or a convert, he can really touch the lives of so many people. I just hope they’ll reach out to him and see a friend in him. He’s so loving and amazing.”

 

Kate Veik contributed to this report.

Millionaire pornographers charged with sex trafficking in California

San Diego, Calif., Oct 11, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The owners and two employees of two related pornography websites were charged in federal court with sex trafficking on Thursday, Oct. 10. 

Michael James Pratt, 36, Matthew Isaac Wolfe, 37, and Ruben Andre Garcia, 31, are all charged with “Sex Trafficing by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which carries a minimum of 15 years in prison and maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and a woman named Valorie Moser, 37, are additionally charged with “Conspiracy to Commit Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud and Coercion,” which also has a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pratt and Wolfe are the owners of two pornographic websites, GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys. Garcia is described in the release as an “adult film performer and producer,” and Moser is an administrative assistant. 

According to the release from the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, Garcia was arrested on Wednesday, Wolfe was placed into custody by immigration officials and transferred into federal custody on Tuesday, and Moser will be arranged on Friday. Pratt is described as a “fugitive” who is at large. On Wednesday, the FBI raided the websites’ office in San Diego. 

The four are accused of placing ads for “modeling jobs” that would pay $5,000. In fact, the jobs were for pornographic films. The complaint alleges that Pratt, Wolfe, Garcia, and Moser told the women they could remain anonymous and that their videos would not be shared online. The charges allege that this was not true, and that the videos were made exclusively for the internet. 

Financial records show that the two websites earned more than $17 million for Pratt and Wolfe. 

The complaint alleges that instead of a modeling job, women were “pressured” into signing documents they were not given the chance to read thoroughly, and were threatened with legal action or “outing” if they did not “perform” in a video. Others alleged victims say they were not allowed to leave the location of the shoot until a video was complete, and that their families and friends saw their videos online, which resulted in harassment and estrangement from their families. 

The complaint also says that at least one performer was raped during a shoot, and others were sexually assaulted. The complaint states that performers would be forced to perform things they did not want to, or else they would not receive payment for their work or be allowed to leave. 

The FBI in San Diego is requesting that any additional victims come forward and share their experiences. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes pornography as a “grave offense.”

It “offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” and does “grave injury to the dignity of its participants,” the Church teaches.

“Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials,” the Catechism says.

The Amazon synod, by the numbers

Vatican City, Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s Amazon synod began this week. Over 200 people are gathered in the Vatican to discuss the life and ministry of the Church in the Pan-Amazonian region, an area surrounding the Amazon River which spans nine countries.

Here are a few facts about the Amazon synod, as told by the numbers:

 

2, 260, 87,000

Pope Francis announced a meeting of the Synod of Bishops to discuss matters of importance to the Pan-Amazonian Region in 2017. The two years since that have been spent planning for this month’s gathering.

According to the head of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, around 260 events were held in the Amazon to prepare for the synod. Most of those events were listening and consultation sessions, attended by approximately 87,000 people.

 

147, 22, 2/3

The synod’s working document, or Instrumentum laboris, guides the process. The document is 147 paragraphs long. According to Baldisseri, it is the product of listening to the thoughts, questions, and concerns of people in the Amazon. He said it is a starting point for discussion.

The document is controversial, and some Church leaders have criticized its theological approach. Pope Francis himself, at the synod’s opening session, called the document a “martyr text destined to be destroyed.”

How much of the Instrumentum laboris gets incorporated into the final document depends on the work of the assembly, which will produce a final document of recommendations to give to Pope Francis.

The actual synod assembly is taking place in Vatican City over 22 days. The synod began with an opening Mass said by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 6 and continues through Oct. 27, concluding with a closing Mass.

During those 22 days, the synod’s bishops, experts, observers, and other advisers are meeting inside the Vatican’s Synod Hall to hear presentations, and to work in small groups that discuss aspects of the assembly’s Instrumentum laboris.

The synod’s final document, essentially a set of recommendations to Pope Francis, is approved by the synod fathers toward the end the synod. It will require a 2/3 majority to pass.

 

185, 145, 34, 20

There are 185 synod fathers participating in the Amazon synod. A synod father is the name given to the bishops, or in some cases, priests and religious brothers, who make up the voting members of a synod assembly. More than 145 of the members of the 2019 synod come from, or serve in, places in South and Central America.

Women are also participating in the synod in the capacity of auditors or experts. Baldisseri said last week that the 34 women is a record number to participate in a synod. Of  the 34 women, 20 are members of religious orders.

 

50, 438,373, 134,435, 10,000, Zero

Baldisseri has proposed to make a “symbolic gesture” of commitment to ecological friendliness by buying bonds that would reforest 50 hectares (nearly 124 acres) of land in the Amazon basin.

This purchase would be, he said, to offset the CO2 emissions caused by the synod, of which it is calculated that 438,373kg is caused by the air travel of participants in the assembly, and 134,435kg by other emission-causing activities, such as the use of energy, water, and transportation in Rome.

The cost of the 50 hectares is “very low,” Baldisseri said – just 10,000 euros.

This and other initiatives, including the use of glass and metal water bottles, along with biodegradable cups instead of plastic, are intended to make it a “synod at ‘Impact Zero,’” Baldisseri said.

 

2,400,000, 34,000,000, 79+26+3

The Amazon River basin, most of which is covered by the Amazon rainforest, encompasses 2.4 million square miles, mostly in Brazil, but also in the countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname.

According to statistics provided by the Vatican, due to large migration from forest villages, now an estimated 70 to 80% of the Pan-Amazonian population, around 34 million people, live in cities. Because of this, many cities in the Amazon face urban crowding and lack of infrastructure and resources, making urban poverty one of the major issues facing the region, and one of the many topics to be addressed over the next three weeks.

There are 79 Catholic dioceses, 26 apostolic vicariates, and three prelatures in the Amazon basin. The apostolic vicariates and prelatures are supported financially by the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is under the jurisdiction of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

$$??

As with any major international event, the synod takes a sum of money to prepare for and to conduct. Expenses include international and domestic transportation, lodging, food, personnel, and interpreters, among many others. Information about how much money has been spent has not been made public. Both the Vatican press office and the office of the Synod of Bishops declined to provide that information to CNA.