In Argentina, a different kind of Francis bump

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The San Lorenzo soccer club stumbled toward the final of its Argentine season in December. It drew its final match, but the other clubs finished in such a way that San Lorenzo won its 12th first-division soccer title.

Some fans found the outcome improbable and credited a figure far from the field: Pope Francis, whose election has coincided with the climbing fortunes of his favorite soccer franchise, Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro.

Pope Francis holds a jersey of Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis holds a San Lorenzo jersey during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“It was a miracle from Francisco,” said Juan Carlos Pais, a lifelong fan from suburban Buenos Aires.

San Lorenzo has lived misery and miracles since being founded in 1908, at least according to fans, who speak painfully of losing their stadium in the 1970s during the military dictatorship. The club is one of the five giants of Argentine soccer and has won more titles than most.

But the election of Pope Francis has allowed San Lorenzo to stand out among Argentine teams and move somewhat out of the shadow of the better-known clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors. It now attracts international interest, and fans feel as if the pontiff intervenes on their behalf.

“The fan base believes that Francis brings luck,” said sports writer Pablo Calvo, author of the book, “Dios es Cuervo,” on San Lorenzo and its origins. “They became champions with his arrival.”

The club makes no secret of its unofficial affiliation with Pope Francis — to the point it put the pontiff’s picture on special edition jerseys shortly after his March 13, 2013, election. Putting religious images on jerseys is a no-no, Calvo says, but the club currently has a halo hanging over the logo on its red-and-blue striped kit.

Pope Francis, who used to listen to matches via the radio, has made no secret of his affection for San Lorenzo. He even played basketball with the San Lorenzo team in his youth.

In December, the pope welcomed club directors and players to the Vatican, where they presented him a jersey and brought the championship trophy.

San Lorenzo put the pope's name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

San Lorenzo put the pope’s name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Religion runs through the history of San Lorenzo, even though its fans are from all faiths. The club traces its origins to a parish priest, Father Lorenzo Massa, who provided kids with a place to play soccer. The team is known as “the Crows,” a nickname for priests in Argentina.

Actor Viggo Mortenson, another San Lorenzo fan, funded construction of a chapel, named for Father Massa, near the team’s stadium, the El Nuevo Gasometro.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis celebrated services at the chapel. He also celebrated Mass for the 100th anniversary of San Lorenzo in 2008, after which he bought a membership in the member-owned and operated team.

“It’s an Argentine version of the Green Bay Packers,” says pollster Sergio Berensztein, director of Poliarquia Consultores in Buenos Aires.

A ‘Top Ten’ list about Jesus

Unlike David Letterman’s “Top Ten” lists, this list starts with the smallest number and then proceeds from there.

The list is from Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large of America magazine and author of the new book “Jesus: A Pilgrimage,” which documents his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land as part of his preparation to write a book about Jesus.

Jesuit Father James Martin on pilgrimage in Holy Land (Photo courtesy Fr. Martin)

Jesuit Father James Martin on pilgrimage in Holy Land. (Photo courtesy Fr. Martin)

Father Martin is no stranger to comedy, what with his being the chaplain to “The Colbert Report”; host Stephen Colbert, even when he isn’t using the French-sounding affectation of his surname, is a honest-to-goodness Catholic.

But Father Martin plays it straight with his own “Top Ten,” driving home some essential points about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry while deflecting some of the suppositions others tend to make about Jesus.

Take a look for yourself. It’s a deft four-minute video.

Notes on Peace and Justice

Newsletter broadens awareness of efforts to end human trafficking

(CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

(CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

A newsletter that serves as an exchange among religious congregations and their collaborating organizations offers news and information on the growing front to end the scourge of human trafficking.

Stop Trafficking! has been published online for almost 12 years and continues to gain new readers as awareness about trafficking  grows.

Sponsored by about 70 religious congregations, the online publication promotes awareness of human trafficking, serves as an exchange for best practices in advocacy for and empowerment of survivors of human trafficking and recommends actions to counter trafficking.

Sister Jean Schafer, a member of the Sisters of the Divine Savior and newsletter editor, told Catholic News Service that she started the newsletter when she finished her term as general superior of her order. She and a friend also staff a safe house located in San Diego for women who were able to escape their trafficking situation. The safe house, opened in 2008, is supported by the newsletter sponsorships.

Since starting the newsletter, Sister Jean said she has come across increasingly sophisticated networks of traffickers.

One concern is the growing black market for human body parts. She described a growing trend to con unwitting victims into thinking they are being hired for work who then are drugged and operated on to remove an eye, kidney or other organ.

“Doing this newsletter, I think I’ve heard it all and then I hear something else and I say ‘I can’t believe this is happening,'” she said.

But she also noted that there is growing awareness among average Americans of the existence of sex and labor trafficking.

“A lot of Americans have awakened that their kids are in danger,” she said. “We’re not just talking about poor families, but we’re talking about all sorts of middle-class kids who get sucked into prostitution and all that.”

The March issue highlights Women’s History Month and the efforts women are taking to end the trafficking scourge. Send an email to Sister Jean at srjeanschafer@aol.com to subscribe.

Dominican sisters call upon Congress for responsible gun control laws

gunThe Dominican Sisters of Peace and their associates say it’s time for the United States to adopt responsible legislation on gun ownership to reduce deaths and violence.

Citing statistics that show 31,000 people die and another 500,000 are injured annually because of gun violence, the Dominicans adopted a corporate stance calling for “common sense” gun control laws.

“Our effort is to try to be a positive influence on the issue,” Dominican Sister Judy Morris, the order’s promoter of justice, told CNS. “While saying we do not try to interfere with Second Amendment rights, we simply want to call for common sense legislation to protect lives.”

In adopting the stance, the congregation’s 575 members and 550 associates called for conducting universal background checks before gun purchases, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, promoting gun violence prevention efforts, and providing adequate funding for mental health programs for victims and perpetrators and prevention programs for people at risk of violence.

The religious order is dedicating time and personnel to support the stance. Members and associates will be urged to address the issue in their parishes and locales.

“Our work on this is a tribute also to all those who lost their lives to gun violence,” Sister Judy said.

Catholic Mobilizing Network offers death penalty scavenger hunt

The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End Use of the Death Penalty has developed an scavenger hunt type of resource to help young people 11 to 18 years old better know about the church’s teaching on the capital punishment.

The resource is designed to help teachers, pastors and youth ministers guide students through research on the death penalty and how it is applied in their state and throughout the country. It also helps young people learn about the Catholic catechism and Catholic social teaching with references to important statements from a variety of church leaders.

Sample questions can be found here.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network also offers a wide array of resources that can be used in adult religious education programs and campus ministry activities as well as in the development of liturgies and prayer services on the sanctity of human life.

Launched in January 2009, the network grounds its work in the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty and their 2005 pastoral letter “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” It helps spread the word of the efforts to end the use of the death penalty of state Catholic conferences across the country.

The network also publishes a monthly email newsletter. Subscribe on  the organization’s home page.

“St. Francis Slept Here” in need of repair

ROME — A community of Franciscan friars are “taking it to the streets,” appealing to the general public — and not strapped government coffers —  to finance the restoration of a darkened cell where St. Francis of Assisi stayed during his visits to Rome.

st. francis a ripa

The Church of St. Francis at Ripa in Rome.

The Franciscans in charge of Rome’s Church of St. Francis at Ripa have turned to the Kickstarter “crowd-funding” platform in the hopes of raising $125,000 in 40 days. As of this writing, they had just $7,800 pledged with only 24 days left for the campaign.

The friars turned to Kickstarter, they said, because they wanted it to be a grassroots effort so “the highest number of people around the world” could join their efforts and have a stake in the restoration project.

Also, given today’s severe economic crisis, the friars didn’t want to ask for funding from the government, which is facing a continued budget crisis, and whose resources, they said, should be dedicated to urgent and basic public assistance.

cell entrance 1

Doorway of the cell where St. Francis used to sleep when he visited Rome. (Screengrab from the Franciscan’s Kickstarter webpage)

All donors will have their names inscribed on panels near the entrance of the restored cell as well as receive a certificate that’s “suitable for framing.”

Depending on the amount pledged, donors receive an additional gift, such as a wooden Tau key chain, a St. Francis mousepad, T-shirt or mug, or a DVD of the Franco Zeffirelli film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”

Larger contributions can get you four-star hotel accommodations in Rome and a private tour of the restored cell.

St. Francis first stayed in the tiny room when he came to Rome in 1209 to meet Pope Innocent III to get official approval for the Franciscan order.

He stayed in the same cell on several occasions, using — for a pillow — a slab of stone, which can still be seen by visitors.

st francis pillow

The stone “pillow” St. Francis used to rest his head can be seen behind the metal grate. (Screengrab from the Franciscan’s Kickstarter webpage).

The Franciscans hope the room, with its soot-covered walls, rotting wooden ceiling, scuffed floors and flaking frescoes, can be restored in time for this year’s  Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis. His namesake, Pope Francis, has been invited to the restoration’s unveiling that same day, they said.

A Polish priest, a pistol and a plane

VATICAN CITY — In an era of such heightened airport security, it seems impossible a regular passenger would ever be allowed to board a plane with a handgun.

the priest

Polish Father Dariusz Ras, director of the John Paul II museum in Wadowice, Poland. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

But if you’re on a flight tonight from Rome to Poland, that young blond priest with an unusual black carry-on case just might be packing a pistol — the very same pistol Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, used in his assassination attempt of Blessed John Paul II.

Polish Father Dariusz Ras is the director of the John Paul II museum, which is located in the pope’s childhood home in Wadowice.

He was in Rome today to attend a formal handing-over ceremony to receive the gun Ali Agca used to shoot the pope May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square.

During a visit to the Vatican press office, the priest told a small group of us journalists that he’ll be circled by special agents at the airport and will have to hand the case over to the pilot, who will keep it locked up during the flight.

It took a year to get permission and the necessary permits to receive and transport the gun over national borders. The gun will be on a three-year loan to the museum, which will celebrate a special April 9 inauguration ceremony.

The museum’s 16 exhibits each focus on a particular aspect of the Polish pope’s history, helping visitors “get inside the life” of Pope John Paul, Father Ras told me. They were “very interested,” he said, in having the gun on display in the section on the assassination attempt.

the gun

A photograph taken of a photograph — courtesy of Italian journalist Franco Bucarelli — of the handgun used by Ali Agca to shoot Pope John Paul II.

The gun is in the custody of the Italian Ministry of Justice in its archive of criminal evidence. According to the Lateran Pacts, any crime committed in St. Peter’s Square, an open area that borders on Italian territory, falls to the Italian police, which is why Italians took over the investigation and trial of Ali Agca.

Father Ras said the Gemelli hospital, where popes go for hospitalized treatment and care, is donating the hospital room furniture, including hospital bedsheets, used by Blessed John Paul during his time there.

Biggest downside of being pontiff is the paperwork, Pope Francis says

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

(CNS/Paul Haring)

(CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The thing Pope Francis dislikes most about his job as pontiff is the paperwork, he told residents of an Argentine slum in which he used to minister.

“Paperwork, office work, it’s the thing I always struggled with,” the pope said in response to the question, “What’s the thing you like least about your mission as pope?”

The pope’s remarks came during a pre-recorded televised video message to the residents of Village 1-11-14 — a Buenos Aires’ shantytown inhabited mostly by South American immigrants.

Members of the community radio station, Radio FM 88 of Bajo Flores, conducted the interview with the pope at the Vatican before he left for a Lenten retreat outside of Rome March 9.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published small portions of the interview March 14.

The station broadcast the question-and-answer interview for residents on large screens after a March 13 Mass celebrating the one-year anniversary of the pope’s election.

As Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, the pope used to minister in the slums of the city: sharing simple meals with residents, celebrating the sacraments in their parishes and taking Communion to the elderly in their homes.

He encouraged and supported priests to minister in the “peripheries” where the city’s poorest and most marginalized lived, the newspaper said.

The pope was asked in the interview about the work of these “curas villeros,” or priests ministering in the shanties, and whether they represented leftist ideals.

The pope said the priests’ work “wasn’t something ideological but rather (is) an apostolic mission.”

In reference to a question about a priest slain in 1974 and other priests similarly accused of being communist, the pope said, “They were not communist.” Instead, they were “great priests who fought for life: They worked to bring the Word of God to the marginalized. They were priests who listened to the people of God and fought for justice.”

The pope also pointed out the need to have an approach “of poverty, service and helping others” while also letting oneself be helped by others. He asked his audience to pray for him, saying he “needed the support of the people of God, especially through prayer.”

Teach your children well: The Pope Francis guide to education

VATICAN CITY — Among his many traits, retired Pope Benedict XVI is well-known as a brilliant professor. But how many people know about Pope Francis’ early ties to teaching and education?

Pope Francis smiles as he meets with students from Jesuit schools at Vatican

Pope Francis smiles as he meets with students from Jesuit schools at the Vatican June 7, 2013. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Teaching is a normal part of the Jesuit vocation, and the future pope started out teaching high school literature and psychology right after he got his degree in philosophy. Then, after getting his theology degree, he continued teaching, this time theology and philosophy, and served as a rector of a major seminary in Buenos Aires.

The pope’s experience and insight inspired him to always encourage educators and teachers.

And now a new book, released this month, compiles the reflections, messages and talks he gave to teachers and educators in Argentina between 2008 and 2011.

The book, “Education for Choosing Life,” is being published in English by Ignatius Press. It shows how the pope sees education as “an act of hope” and how faith and the Christian vision of humanity fuel that hope.book cover

He also expresses the need for passion and creativity as added weapons against the spirit of the “mundane” that’s seeking to numb, distract or discourage our youth.

The book is available in other languages through other publishers, but the Ignatius Press’ English-version can only be sold in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, according to the publishers’ website.

Pope Francis’ unique approach to teaching made a huge impact on at least one of his former students, and you can read our story about it right here.

Pope Francis reacts to children during special event for families in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis reacts to children during a Year of Faith family life celebration at the Vatican Oct. 26, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

The same March 1 “La Civilta Cattolica” article with Jorge Milia included an article the young Father Bergoglio wrote for the high school’s annual publication for the students, parents and alumni in 1965.

The piece focuses on the importance of teaching young people to discern truth from rhetoric and “the song of the Sirens.”

Pope Francis reacts to children during special event for families in St. Peter's Square

Pope Francis at a Year of Faith celebration of family life Oct. 26, 2013. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

He wrote that we are accomplices in “the tragedy of truth being welcomed just halfway” unless we are sure young people are prepared to go out into the world with the full guidance and expression of the truth.

He asked:

When graduates go on to university or elsewhere, will they know how to use “the sword” of truth expressed clearly, forcefully and completely against “the noisy skylarks of eternal students, the huge bigmouths at the service of error, who are like giant pots: the emptier the vessel, the more sound they make?”

Rhetoric and lies can be “brilliant and seductive,” Father Bergoglio wrote. Too often when trying to teach about truth, teachers and adults stop halfway “with ice cold timidity, incapable of addressing the message to others with the luminosity of the whole truth.”

The future pope wrote that the problem isn’t just knowing what the truth is and being dedicated to it, it’s also knowing how to express it “with brilliance and fruitfulness.” And that can only be done, he wrote, by trying to live like Jesus — reflecting deeply on the truth and expressing it definitively, courageously and clearly as an act of love.

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