The mystery of confession probed

In the third installment of a 10-part series on reconciliation in The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Father Michael Van Sloun gives a detailed explanation about the sacrament and the significance of including a priest in the cleansing process.

I definitely recommend this to any Catholic who struggles with the need for confession.

Pastor sits in jail following a demonstration in front of an abortion clinic

Here’s an interesting posting on the Web site of the National Catholic Register about a pastor who is sitting in jail following a demonstration in front of an abortion facility.

The author calls the priest’s incarceration an injustice, considering, he says, that a Kansas doctor who performs abortions, Dr. George Tiller, “remains free” while on trial “for allegedly flouting the legal requirements for late-term abortions” in his state.

This article also contains a video.

Gianni Giansanti, photojournalist at the Vatican

Gianni Giansanti (Catholic Press Photo)

Gianni Giansanti (Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY — While in Africa with Pope Benedict XVI, the papal press corps received word that longtime colleague and internationally known photographer Gianni Giansanti had died in Rome March 19 of bone cancer.

Gianni, who was 52, was probably best known to the Catholic world as the man who magnificently captured on film the historic and private moments of Pope John Paul II’s 26-year pontificate. His book, “John Paul II, Portrait of a Pontiff” was published in 1996, and he provided a steady stream of news photos of unforgettable JPII moments: his first appearance in St. Peter’s Square, his meeting with would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca in a Rome prison, his prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and many more.

I traveled with Gianni on papal flights to many places, from Sarajevo to Havana. Papal trips are grueling work for photogs, but he was always a fun and helpful colleague. In 1999, when CNS photographer Nancy Wiechec came aboard to cover the pope’s trip to Mexico and St. Louis, I remember that Gianni went out of his way to show her the ropes and make sure she was welcomed into the papal photo corps.

When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Gianni’s beautiful and candid portrait of the pontiff graced the cover of Time magazine.  Jeff Israely has a nice article in Time this week along with a photo gallery of Gianni’s work at the Vatican and elsewhere. Other stunning photos are also online at Gianni’s own Web site, including his 1978 photo of slain Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro and his more recent shots of life in Africa and Italian portraits. We’ll miss his work, and we’ll miss him.

Report: Bishop D’Arcy plans Notre Dame statement

THIRD UPDATE: OSV has it on its blog.

It’s coming Tuesday morning, says this post on the Our Sunday Visitor blog site. (Both Notre Dame and Our Sunday Visitor are in Bishop D’Arcy’s Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.)

UPDATE: We’ve just learned the statement now will not come until Wednesday.

SECOND UPDATE: Now (Tues., 11:45 a.m. EDT) we’re hearing it could be today after all.

Full voice mail and 270 signatures an hour

Happy Monday to officials at the University of Notre Dame!

The organized opposition to the university’s announcement last Friday that President Barack Obama would speak and receive an honorary degree at commencement May 17 is filling the voice mail message boxes of all the school’s top officials and shows no sign of abating. The American Papist blog reports that the messages boxes of the university’s president, vice president, provost, assistant provost and public relations director were all full and refusing to take any more messages by the end of the day Friday.

An online petition asking the university’s president to rescind the invitation is receiving 270 signatures an hour, according to its co-sponsors, the Cardinal Newman Society and

The National Review Online organized a symposium today on the topic: “A moral exemplar? Should the University of Notre Dame honor our most anti-life president?” and got contributions from George Weigel, Jesuit Father James Schall and others. Catholic newspapers, including the National Catholic Register and National Catholic Reporter, are contributing to the debate as well. Comments were still coming in today on our blog as well.

Notre Dame has not yet issued an official response to the protest, but Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, the university president, talked about it with a reporter from The Observer student newspaper yesterday.

The tortoise and the Herr Papst

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM ANGOLA — Non-cardinal passengers on the papal plane have to be onboard well before the pope or they get left behind — at least that’s the threat used to keep journalists moving.


Father Lombardi carries the pope's tortoise down the aisle of the papal plane during the flight from Cameroon to Angola Friday. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

But speed seems to have nothing to do with the fact that Pope Benedict XVI’s tortoise was not onboard when the pope’s Alitalia chartered jet took off from Luanda, Angola, this morning.

The turtle tortoise, a symbol of wisdom, was a gift from a group of Pygmies from the Baka ethnic group. They gave the pope the turtle tortoise Friday as the pope was leaving Cameroon for Angola.

The eight-inch long brown turtle tortoise made Friday’s papal flight from Cameroon to Angola. But when all the reporters, cardinals and papal aides were onboard this morning for the flight back to Rome, there was no turtle tortoise in sight.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told the reporters that the tortoise was left “in good hands” at the apostolic nunciature in Luanda, Angola’s capital.

While there had been some discussion about bringing the turtle tortoise back to the Vatican gardens with its dozens of fountains, in the end, Father Lombardi said, it was decided that the turtle tortoise belonged in Africa.

The papal spokesman promised that a good home in the proper habitat would be found.

Honoring youths as ‘Hands of Christ’

In the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., Bishop Matthew H. Clark is honoring 800 high school seniors with Hands of Christ awards for their service to church, home, school and community. Winners are selected from nominations submitted to the diocesan youth office by their parish.

According to a story in the Catholic Courier, the diocesan newspaper, this year’s honorees are being recognized for a range of service,  from working with people who have special needs to Scouting involvement, from “helping folks in crisis to various types of liturgical ministry.”

At one of the award ceremonies, teens gave testimony about how their service changed them. One recipient, Seth Walters, said serving others can come in acts that seem “unextraordinary” but are still important to God, such as helping someone with his or her groceries or even simply saying hello.

Pope takes aim at superstition in Africa

LUANDA, Angola — Pope Benedict XVI urged African Catholics to help eradicate widespread superstitious beliefs, saying they have left many people living in fear of evil spirits.

The pope’s words hit a nerve in Africa, where belief in witchcraft and sorcery has led to killings and discrimination, especially against children.

At a Mass March 21 in Luanda, the pope said Angolan Catholics should tackle the problem of superstition with the spirit of the country’s early missionaries.

“Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers,” he said.

“In their bewilderment they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers?” he said.

In Angola, police recently discovered a large group of children held by religious fanatics because they were suspected of being “possessed,” prompting new awareness of the problem.

“It’s a cultural mentality that is causing divisions, hatred and the consolidation of ignorance,” Angolan Bishop Jose Manuel Imbamba of Dundo said.

“Families are being destroyed, and it’s getting worse because children themselves are being accused of being witches,” he said.

Church leaders throughout Africa say belief in witchcraft is common in many areas of the continent. “Witchcraft is tearing villages and urban societies apart,” declared the working document for next October’s Synod of Bishops for Africa, which was released during the pope’s trip.

Witches and wizards are often blamed for misfortune, illness, infertility and natural catastrophes. Young children and older women are especially suspect, and some have been hacked to death by villagers in recent years.

On March 18, Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 people have been rounded up in Gambia in a government-sponsored witch-hunt ordered by President Yahya Jammeh.

Botswanan Bishop Franklyn Nubuasah, vice president of the Interregional Meeting of Bishops in Southern Africa, said after the papal Mass that even Catholics are affected by milder forms of superstition.

“In southern Africa, many of our people who are sick go to traditional healers who claim to have relationships with ancestors. These ancestors then direct the treatment of the illness,” he said.

“We in the church have recently discovered that this has become a problem for us, because some of our priests and religious have also veered into this healing ministry. They claim to have communication with ancestors,” he said.

He said South African bishops issued a pastoral document to correct the problem, condemning the practice and sanctioning the priests and nuns involved. The issue remains for the church, however, since many people believe that traditional healing practices and ancestor communication really work, he said.

The pope celebrated the Mass in the Church of St. Paul, where an overflow crowd of nuns, priests and catechists spilled out onto an adjacent lawn. The pope was on the fifth day of his weeklong trip to Africa. He looked tired at the beginning of the Mass, but delivered his homily in a strong voice.

The pope’s comments on superstition underlined a broader point: that the church’s missionary effort must know no bounds, and should reach those with traditional beliefs.

The pope dismissed the argument that such people should be left in peace, on the grounds that “they have their truth and we have ours.” If Christians are really convinced they have a message that can save, he said, they are bound to present it to others.

“Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life,” he said.

‘Browbeating’ pope’s comments on condoms

Is anybody surprised that the secularists poured on the criticism of the pope for his comments about condoms? asks Our Sunday Visitor’s blog.

Under the headline “Can you handle the condom browbeating,” Russ Shaw, a contributing editor for the weekly national Catholic paper, talks about the response to the pope’s remarks on the fight against HIV and AIDS that he delivered during his Africa trip.

“Surprise! Surpise! The pope said something about sex and the secular culture went bonkers,” begins Shaw.

President Obama to address Domer grads

The White House announced this afternoon that President Obama will address the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class May 17.

It will be one of three graduation ceremonies the president will attend, starting with Arizona State University May 13 and rounding out the trio May 22 at the U.S. Naval Academy.

As Notre Dame’s press release notes, Obama will be the sixth U.S. president to address a graduating class there.

UPDATE: It didn’t take long for someone to question the Notre Dame invitation to Obama. The National Catholic Register headlined its blog item on the move “Notre Dame Honors Obama” and quoted from the U.S. bishops’ document which says that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”


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