The more personal side of a patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered first among equals of all Orthodox patriarchs, arrived in the Holy Land May 23. As he was waiting for his historic visit with Pope Francis, the patriarch visited Bethlehem, West Bank, and led a service at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Several U.S. Catholic journalists traveling with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism got a more personal glimpse of the patriarch, as described by John Feister, editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

“One of the interesting moments yesterday happened in the hotel lobby before the Holy Sepulcher meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew,” he wrote.

“We were waiting for our journalist group to assemble and couldn’t help but notice a small group of Eastern Orthodox clergy, along with some camera-laden laypeople. A videographer was waiting, camera in hand, on a nearby chair, not far from the elevators. Something was about to happen.

“The folks with the cameras were American visitors; the priests were part of Patriarch Bartholomew’s party. The elevator doors opened, Patriarch Bartholomew emerged and headed for his waiting caravan, along with American Archbishop Demetrios.

“As Patriarch Bartholomew was whisked through the lobby, he spotted a mother, with two babies in a stroller, coming in the doorway. He split with his group, went over to talk with the mother, and blessed her babies. Then he raced off for the event with Pope Francis. He would drive a few blocks from the hotel to the Sepulcher; the Holy Father was on his way from Tel Aviv by helicopter.

“I ran into the woman a few moments later. ‘What a thrill!’ she exclaimed she headed down the hallway.”

Sowing survival in Central African Republic

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was filed May 8.

By Kevin Clarke

BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic — The truck lurches and weaves with every rut and gully — and there are many of them on the bush trail — in slow, but steady progress through to the outlying. The day before, two large lorries broke down repeatedly during the same exercise through these small villages that surround this northern Central African Republic city, and this morning an adroit mechanic cannibalized parts from a third vehicle to ensure that the others would make it into the bush and back again. The cargo it carries each patient kilometer, corn and peanut seed meant to salvage the growing season, is a precious, life-saving weight.

Tents for displaced people are seen on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, Nov. 25, 2013. (CNS/Reuters)

Tents for displaced people are seen on the grounds of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, Nov. 25, 2013. (CNS/Reuters)

“We could be looking at a famine in the Central African Republic in August,” says Kyla Neilan, a program manager for Catholic Relief Services based in Bossangoa, a community hard-hit by the months of disorder and communal violence in the country. “It’s make or break this harvest season. If people have food to eat in August, they can start to recover. If people don’t have seeds in the ground now, and they have no crop in August … people will start to die.”

The church’s international relief and development agencies, Catholic Relief Service/Caritas, aim to get seed along with cultivation tools to as many as 10,000 families in the subsistence farming villages that surround Bossangoa. There is no small amount of haste to these efforts, and each day that a truck breaks down and reduces the reach of the relief agencies is a frustrating worry. They have to get seed and tools to all these families by the end of May. The rainy season has already begun; soon these hard, copper-colored trails will become essentially impassable, red mud that will leave truck wheels spinning futilely. By then it will be too late to sow.

The hunger is already upon these villagers. In nearby Bamzenbe, Doctors Without Borders is treating children suffering from acute malnutrition or opportunistic infections that their hungry bodies are too weak to resist, Neilan reports. People are languishing without the strength to plant crops or find work because of malnutrition.

Read more here.

 

In Bangui, an evening with the general

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, is reporting from Central African Republic and is touring programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blog posts are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This post was written May 7.

By Kevin Clarke

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Coming from such a large and imposing figure, the soft voice of the general is a surprise. One has to lean in and listen closely to hear Mohamed-Moussa Dhaffane speak, sharing the high drama of the moment in something close to a whisper.

As acting president of Seleka in the Central African Republic and a former minister of water and forests for the ousted government, Dhaffane still haunts the capital, Bangui, in discussions with local government officials, NGO leaders and representatives of the international community.

His life is essentially in mortal peril each day as he makes his rounds for dialogue and courtesy calls. Many have urged him to leave Bangui for his own safety; his family has already fled the country entirely. But Dhaffane is determined to remain in the capital.

“Leaders should stop saying one thing and then doing something else,” says the general. “When I told the Muslims to turn back, I continued to stay myself in Bangui despite all the risks I am running.”

People hide from gunfire near a church during a Feb. 18 firefight between African peacekeepers and fighters from the Anti-Balaka militia in Bangui, Central African Republic.  (CNS/Reuters)

People hide from gunfire near a church during a Feb. 18 firefight between African peacekeepers and fighters from the Anti-Balaka militia in Bangui, Central African Republic. (CNS/Reuters)

He travels with two stone-faced Seleka guards in crisp jungle camouflage uniforms and AK-47s slung from their shoulders. The general says he keeps his own “Kalashnikov” with him in the car as the small squad moves across Bangui’s sometimes invisible and sometimes thoroughly barricaded borders, demarcations of districts no Muslim is safe to pass.

Despite the clear divisions that have erupted between the nation’s Christians and Muslims because of the conflict, Dhaffane echoes Christian leaders of Bangui in insisting that the struggle “is not religious, though politicians are trying to manipulate this as a religious conflict.”

“But if we are not careful it could become a religious conflict,” he quickly adds.

Of the state of the nation now, he says, reconciliation is still possible. “The situation is difficult, but we are allowed to hope.

“We can fix the problem quickly with the engagement of all religious leaders,” he says. “Let’s separate religions from the movements. Let’s put religions aside and have Seleka and anti-Balaka talk together because, in reality, Islam does not encourage people to go and kill civilians, and Islam does not encourage people to loot houses — it’s not in the Quran or in the words of the prophet. And in reality the Bible and the life of Jesus do not encourage people to eat the flesh of others and to kill others. When Jesus took the wine and said, ‘This is my blood,’ it was a symbol meant to unify people.

“What anti-Balaka has done is not in the Christian religion,” he says, “and what Seleka has done is not in Islam.

“Reconciliation is possible if the religious leaders are consistent in saying Seleka is one thing; Islam is something else. Anti-Balaka is one thing; Christianity is something else.”

Read more about this interview here.

Planting seeds of hope

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Screengrab of Vatican TV footage of today’s private audience between Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama.

VATICAN CITY — One of the many moments pool reporters look forward to when a head of state meets the pope is the gift exchange.

The Vatican most often offers a unique piece of artisan art with a spiritual or Vatican theme. But when it comes to gifts from visiting dignitaries, it’s anything goes: chess sets, sacred or secular art, traditional and native crafts, books and rare manuscripts or teddy bears.

Today U.S. President Barack Obama gave Pope Francis a small chest full of fruit and vegetable seeds that are used in the White House Gardens.

“If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well,” the president said.

“Como no!” the pope replied in Spanish, “Why not?” or “Of course.”

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The seeds were inside individual blue velvet pouches.

“These I think are carrots,” the president said as he opened one of the pouches.

The president said the idea for the seeds came after he heard that Pope Francis had decided to open to the public the gardens at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

The custom-made box the seeds came in is made from reclaimed wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore — the first cathedral in the United States and an international symbol of religious freedom.  [UPDATE: read this story by the Archdiocese of Baltimore's The Catholic Review for more interesting background on the box!]

The basilica’s cornerstone was laid by Jesuit Father John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States.

According to the White House, the inscription on the chest reads:

Presented to His Holiness Pope Francis
by Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
March 27, 2014

In addition to the seeds for the papal gardens, the U.S. president was also passing on a donation from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which is donating enough seeds to yield several tons of produce to any charity the pope chooses.

“The gift honors the commitment of your Holiness to sow the seeds of global peace for future generations,” a White House statement said.

 

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The gifts the president received from the pope included a large bronze medallion of an angel representing solidarity and peace. The angel is “embracing and bringing together the northern and southern hemispheres of the earth, while overcoming the opposition of a dragon,” the Vatican said.

However, Pope Francis specified that the gift was actually a personal gesture from him, “from Jorge Bergoglio. When I saw it, I said: ‘I’ll give it to Obama; it’s the angel of peace,” he told the U.S. president.

The other medal, which the pope said, “is from the pope,” is a replica of a 17th-century medallion commemorating the laying of the first stone of Bernini’s colonnade in St. Peter’s Square.

“I will treasure this,” Obama said.

He also received a copy of the pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, “Evangelii Gaudium,” a gift the pope has been giving visiting heads of state.

The president said with a smile: “I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I’m deeply frustrated. I’m sure it will give me strength and calm me down.”

When the remark was interpreted for the pope, he smiled, said “I hope,” and chuckled, too.

 

 

Second International Human Trafficking Conference to take place in April in Rome

By Emily Antenucci
Catholic News Service

DELEGATE ATTENDS INTERPOL ASSEMBLY IN ROME

The world’s largest international police organization and government ministers from around the world met in Rome Nov. 2012 to address human trafficking and terrorist activities. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — To enhance cooperation between the Catholic Church and law enforcement agencies working in the field, the Second International Human Trafficking Conference will take place in Rome April 9-10.

The conference will bring together church leaders and the heads of police services from at least fourteen countries, including Brazil, India, Albania, Australia, and Germany.

NEWLY APPOINTMENT ARCHBISHOP OF WESTMINISTER GESTURES DURING NEWS CONFERENCE IN LONDON

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster at a news conference in London in 2009. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

As Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster explained to reporters in Rome Feb. 24, “it is something very important to us as the church in England that here are very hopeless victims, and by attending to their needs, we can actually make a huge contribution with the police to tackle this problem.”

The conference will highlight the church’s distinctively victim-driven approach to the problem. Because victims of trafficking typically feel trapped and helpless, they often turn to the church as a safe haven: both as a place providing refuge and a comfortable environment where they can feel enough at ease to open up about their experiences. Finally, when the victims are ready, the church works towards their reintegration, either in their native countries or in England.

Cardinal Nichols said the church should not be satisfied with helping only victims who have escaped trafficking. Law enforcement agencies depend on information from church agencies, which in turn depend on the support and protection of the police.

In the words of Cardinal Nichols, “This is a really important initiative…it’s not the only initiative with regard to human trafficking , but it is a unique initiative because it talks about the practice, the day by day work to counter real scourge around the world, of commercial trafficking of human beings.”

Emily Antenucci is an intern in the CNS Rome bureau while she attends Villanova University’s Rome program.

Taking it to the street: the pope’s birthday party guest list

VATICAN CITY — We know from the pope’s sister that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would skip family dinners and picnics to spend special days, like Sundays and holidays, with the poor.

Pope Francis celebrates birthday with men who live on streets near Vatican

Pope Francis talks with three men Dec. 17 who live on the streets near the Vatican. The pope had breakfast with the men as part of a low-key celebration of his 77th birthday. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Now as Pope Francis, he started his own special day — his 77th birthday — having breakfast with some of Rome’s homeless.

Since he is no longer really free to go as he pleases to those in need, he had to send his almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, out to find them.

According to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, the archbishop went out early this morning, and didn’t have to go far to find people living on the street.

The first group he found were three men in their forties, who were sleeping under the large portico in front of the Vatican press hall on the main boulevard in front of St. Peter’s Square.

“Would you like to come to Pope Francis’ birthday party?” the Polish archbishop asked the men, who were from Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

When they realized the invitation was for real, they immediately packed their belongings into the archbishop’s car, including their faithful dog, who rode in the middle, the paper said.

The four (counting the dog) got to greet the pope right after his morning Mass and, together with the archbishop, gave the pope a bouquet of sunflowers because the flowers always turn to the sun just as the church always turns toward its sun, Christ, the archbishop explained.

The pope invited the men to have breakfast with him in the residence dining room where they talked and had a few laughs.

Apparently one of the men joked with the pope that it was “worthwhile being a vagrant because you get to meet the pope.”

Today the pope gave a clue in a letter he sent today commemorating the 800th anniversary of the death of St. John of Matha (whose feast day is today) as to why he always wants to be close to the poor.

The pope told the religious order the saint founded that “I like to think that you, in your prayers, put the Bishop of Rome together with the poor.” Being among the poor, he said, “reminds me that I cannot forget about them just like Jesus never forgot them.”

An intern’s farewell to CNS & Rome

By Caroline Hroncich

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During my first week in Rome, I attended Pope Francis’ Prayer for Peace in Syria (CNS Photo/ Caroline Hroncich)

VATICAN CITY — When I got off the bus before heading into the office on Thursday, I walked down Via della Conciliazione and ended up in St. Peter’s Square. I stopped for a while in front of the Christmas tree, and looked around the square. Over the past four months I’ve been in St. Peter’s Square on many occasions, but there’s something about doing it for one last time that really makes you think.

It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in my professor’s office at Villanova University discussing the possibility of interning with the Catholic News Service Rome bureau for the semester. I’d never so much as been outside of the United States before, and was unsure what to expect when I set foot in Rome for the first time. But four months later, I can safely say I’ve learned so much about journalism, the Vatican and myself.

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My “paparazzi” photo of Jennifer Lopez leaving a store near the Vatican (CNS Photo/Caroline Hroncich)

I felt truly welcomed by the CNS staff and honestly felt like this was a place where I could be creative and explore my own ideas. I’ve met so many wonderful people and explored so many new things I could go on for hours about how great each opportunity has been. I took paparazzi shots of Jennifer Lopez, I sat in the ‘VIP’ section at the papal audience, I helped out with the office move, just to mention a few of my many adventures.

When I arrived at Villanova two and a half years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to be. With so much pressure to decide, the infamous “undeclared” loomed on my transcript until about the last possible second. Once I decided on communications I faced a bigger challenge: What exactly did I want to do with my life? I’d tried my hand in a few areas, but none seemed to fit.

Writing has always been something that I’ve enjoyed, and interning at CNS really helped me realize that. With the help of the entire CNS staff, I conducted my first interview, wrote my first news story, and my first blog post.

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A photo I took of Pope Francis arriving at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 20 (CNS Photo/Caroline Hroncich)

This semester has made me realize that regardless of what I end up doing in the future, if I don’t get to write, I won’t truly be happy. I’m thrilled that I’ve been one of the lucky few to have had this experience.

When I board my flight back to the United States on December 21, I will be filled with many mixed emotions. When I think about the things I will miss about Rome (most of which will involve food), CNS trumps it all. In the future, if I return to Rome, I know one of the first places I will visit is the CNS office on Via della Conciliazione.

Editor’s note: Caroline Hroncich is a student at Villanova University and she interned at Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau for the semester.

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Be sure to check out some of the other stories Caroline wrote during her time here:

English photographer strives to capture spirituality of the homeless

A Jesuit promotes human dignity, from Central America to the Holy See

Vatican official says not to expect papal encyclical on poverty

From New Jersey to the Vatican, opening a dialogue with the Gospel

A trip down under: Exploring the Vatican necropolis

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