God is still #1 for the nun who wants to have fun

ROME — Who would have thought there could be room for God in a Cyndi Lauper song, much less her 1983 hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

But 25-year-old Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia found it when she pointed and looked up to heaven as she sang: “Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one!” before a packed studio audience on the talent-show The Voice of Italy last night

number 1 daddy

As she did with her March 19 performance of Alicia Keys’ “No one,”  Sister Cristina wowed the crowds as they stood and cheered in unison, “sorella, sorella, sorella…” [sister!]

She easily won the round against 23-year-old Luna Palumbo in their “battle” duet. While the two starkly contrasted in looks — one towering tall, curls flying, gold necklaces flashing, the other petite, hair tucked undercover, silver cross swaying — they were united in talent and a love for song.


Sister Cristina has said she is on a mission to share her gift and her joy for God, and last night’s show was another evangelizing moment as the four Italian super star “coaches” found themselves talking about faith and spirituality.

Be sure to watch the episode. And while the YouTube video has closed captions in English (which aren’t that great), our *ahem* much better CNS translation of last night is below.


The M.C.: It’s a great battle between two unique voices, incredible stuff.


Now speaking of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” those girls over there had a lot of fun, the sisters who came to accompany you dear Sister Cristina [points to Ursuline sisters in crowd].

Luna, come here. How amazing, guys. A fantastic performance! J-ax…

J-ax: No, don’t make me say anything for the next three hours. Let the others talk because I have to pull myself together for a second.

MC: Piero, there was some real rock & roll in this performance, don’t you agree?

piero2Piero Pelu’: Well, for me it was like something from a (Luis) Bunuel film. Maybe a lot of people don’t know who he was but he was a director who made movies that were totally insane, where every rule was broken.

MC: How do you two feel? Because you brought the house down.

Luna: Look, don’t ask me how I feel because I’m… I tell you, I feel like a wreck as usual.

Suor Cristina: Super excited, incredibly thrilled. Thank you!

MC: Raffaella, I’ll ask you how you felt about the performance.

raff2Raffaella Carra’: Luna completely bowled me over, I have to be honest. Sr. Cristina sang very well. You have amazing energy, you really own the stage, which is what I tell my team members to do, but you already know to do it. But I’m convinced that J-ax will choose you because if he doesn’t he’ll go to hell. Right?
MC: Noemi, what do you think?

noemi1Noemi: Great stuff! It’s fabulous because it reminded me of the movie Sister Act where there’s this renewal, this move toward people who live the modern world of today that I think is fabulous because to bring that here…

Plus, I believe in God and I think to bring God to something of this sort is something that’s really beautiful. Because it’s kind of missing a little today, this spiritual dimension. Thank you! It’s wonderful!

MC: Thanks to J-ax who formed this duo, which has truly turned this studio audience upside down. Right now I don’t know what is churning around in your head but the decision you have to make is really, really complicated because one of these two women will leave your team.

J-ax: Well, first of all, I thank my girls for having given me again such a thrill. I’m going to engage in a little gratuitous satire. No one asked me, but, when I came on The Voice, I was shooting wisecracks all over the place even about the 1980s.

jaxInstead I wanted to choose a song from the 1980s, the early ‘80s, which I think was the best period where there was still hope. And so this song spoke about girls who wanted to have fun just like boys had. So, for me, I nonetheless saw this  as being a spiritual song.
Luna, you are amazing, you have superpowers, like, when you sing, your hair grows, you’re like [a Japanese animation] the Super Saiyan from Dragon Ball with curls. Like, that’s you.

I’m afraid that for Sister Cristina, the others here will accuse me of ‘divine doping.’ I mean, after this performance you’ve unlocked the next level, like in role playing games, you’ve become the Mother Superior for real.

Ax-isms [My wisecracks] aside. I noticed something, something that is very rare. When Sister Cristina sings, she has a gift: the ability to radiate joy. I saw it, looking at the coaches, looking at the audience. It’s instantaneous. I am, how can I say this, really sorry to have to choose [interminable pause]
But I’m going ahead with Sister Cristina.

MS: Sister Cristina wins this amazing battle, she will go on to the next ‘Knock Out’ round with her coach, J-ax. This means the joined forces of the devil and holy water will go on. Congratulations! Sister Cristina, ladies and gentlemen!

[crowd cheers for the sister]

Sorella, sorella….


Stay tuned for her next debut!


A glance at Auschwitz and Blessed John Paul II

By Emily Antenucci

OSWIECIM, Poland — Imagine you are standing, eyes closed, in a field stretching for miles. It’s green with grass and trees, colorful with flowers, the air filled with the songs of birds chirping their favorite tune. Now you open your eyes and you see: debris, which is burnt black and stacked tall in piles; barbed wire fences enclosing you from the rest of the world; and the ruins of wooden and brick barracks occupying the green fields around you.

That’s what Oswiecim looks like, although the beauty and blooming nature are painted over with an atmosphere of darkness and despair. The fields and ruins are infamously known as the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, site of the two largest concentration camps developed by the Nazis in World War II. I was there this past weekend. Yes, they are notorious and yes, it is very emotional to be there, but I highly recommend visiting because, truth be told, no words can express the experience.



The view from the stairs of Block 10-11 in Auschwitz I. (CNS photo/Emily Antenucci)

As someone who learned about World War II in school, I knew it would be impossible to truly fathom the magnitude of the horrors that took place at Auschwitz. Having walked along the train tracks where the prisoners were dropped off and having been inside the blocks and barracks where the prisoners lived, I realized that my previous thinking was a massive understatement. Where in school, we learn by memorizing terms and statistics, after this past weekend I can now place meaning behind those definitions and stories behind those numbers. An informative, powerful experience, I still found myself leaving the camps even more distraught and confused than when I first arrived.

photo1 (1)

The view from the train platform where prisoners were dropped off inside Birkenau. (CNS photo/Emily Antenucci)

Constant questions popped into my head during my visit. One of my immediate thoughts while walking the grounds was: Where was the church when this was happening? While I know this controversial topic has been discussed and debated for decades, it still plagued me. Almost immediately, I thought of Blessed John Paul II, who was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla and was archbishop of Krakow before being elected pope. He grew up miles from these camps during that fear-filled period and was influenced by the Holocaust and World War II in many ways.

Living and working so closely with those affected, he carried his experiences with him when he was elected pope. For example, he was the first pope to visit Auschwitz and the first pope in memory to enter a synagogue. He repeatedly asked forgiveness for Catholics’ past acts of antisemitism in an effort to move in a new direction of friendship.

Set to be canonized at the end of April, Pope John Paul set the standard for his successors to continue the tradition of spreading peace and understanding between Catholicism and Judaism. While there are still many unanswered questions in my mind revolving around the church and World War II, focusing my thoughts on how Pope John Paul took it upon himself to take action is something that helped ease my mind a bit.

photo4 (1)

A written background of Blessed John Paul II presented in the Oskar Schindler’s Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Emily Antenucci)

Visiting Auschwitz and Krakow, I was reminded not only of the horror people are capable of committing, but I was also in the place where Blessed John Paul began his journey of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation and I was there just two weeks before his canonization.

Now imagine you are standing in that same green field, eyes closed, knowing the unspeakable brutality that went on in the exact place where you stand. How can we imitate the growing flowers that are bringing new life from a place of death? Who is working today to make sure such atrocities never happen again? What work is there left to do?

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


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Any birthday surprises in store?


Pope Benedict received a birthday cake at the White House April 16, 2008, when he turned 81. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has yet to reveal what retired Pope Benedict has planned for his 87th birthday today.

It will definitely be low key and most probably include a friendly phone call from Pope Francis, who is always picking up the phone on people’s birthdays.

While Pope Benedict usually liked to keep celebrations simple, the people around him liked to splurge, especially when he visited Washington, D.C., in 2008.

April 16 was his first full day in the United States, and the White House presented him with a gorgeous four-tier lemon cake after opera star Kathleen Battle belted out the “Happy Birthday” song.

Things got really raucous when a group of Bavarians came to the apostolic palace on April 16, 2012. A small band treated the pope to ”oomppah” music and kids did the skirt-swirling, shoe-stomping, thigh-slapping “Schuhplattler” dance.


Children in traditional Bavarian dress danced for Pope Benedict on his 85th birthday in the Clementine Hall in 2012. (CNS photo/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters)

Dressed in traditional costume, the children presented the pope with white flowers and a maypole covered with colorful ribbons and recited a German birthday poem.

Remember, you can send greetings and well-wishes to:

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Mater Ecclesiae monastery

00120 Vatican City State

Touchdown! Franciscans reach goal with a winning kick.


ROME — Bypassing strapped government funding, a community of Franciscan friars in Rome was able to raise more than a quarter of a million dollars in 30 days through the crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter.

francis cell

The small cell where St. Francis of Assisi used to sleep when he came to Rome. (Screengrab from the Franciscans’ Kickstarter webpage)

The Franciscans in charge of the Church of St. Francis at Ripa will be using the money to restore the darkened, crumbling cell where St. Francis of Assisi stayed during his visits to Rome.

More than 1,100 people, mostly from the United States, contributed to the Franciscans’ Kickstarter account, raising $130,000.

Organizers said the largest donation ($20,000) came from William Doty, the son of Catholic philanthropists, the late George Doty and his late wife, Marie, of New York City.   While most donors were from the United States, contributions also came from Italy, the UK, Singapore, Dubai, Russia and Latin America.

The Franciscans turned to private donations through Kickstarter as a way to let people from around the world get involved in the project. They also didn’t want to approach the state for funding because they preferred scarce government funds be earmarked for needed social programs.

We here at Catholic News Service posted the story about the restoration project and the need for funding in mid-March — about half-way through the fundraising campaign. We reached more than 4,000 people with that post, but it was an April 1 article in The New York Times that gave the campaign its most effective fundraising source. Organizers said they got 171 offers and more than $23,000 from the link in the NYT’s story.

Work on the room’s soot-covered walls, rotting wooden ceiling, scuffed floors and flaking frescoes will start soon. The Franciscans would like it 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.


The long & winding road…to sainthood!

VATICAN CITY — Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a saint?

Pope Francis gave us a thorough list of the secrets to holiness on the Feast of All Saints last year.

“Saints aren’t superheroes nor were they born perfect,” he said. It’s just that “when they experienced the life-changing encounter with God,” they never left his side.

But what about “the bureaucratic” aspect of saint-making? What needs to happen to declare someone a blessed, a martyr or a saint?

Well, we drew up a handy, super simplified flowchart to walk you through the sainthood process.

Click here or on the image below to get a large-screen view.


sainthood flowchart

Remembering murdered Jesuit confrere, pope appeals for peace in Syria

UPDATE: Full story on the pope’s remarks and more.

VATICAN CITY — Here is our translation of Pope Francis’ remarks today about the murder of Jesuit Father Frans van der Lugt and the continuing war in Syria:

Monday in Homs, Syria, Father Frans van der Lugt, my 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit confrere, was assassinated. He arrived in Syria about 50 years ago and always did his best for everyone with graciousness and love, and so was loved and held in esteem by Christians and Muslims.

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

Father Frans van der Lugt (CNS/Reuters)

His brutal murder filled me with with deep sadness and made me think again of all the people who suffer and are dying in that martyred country, already too long a victim of a bloody conflict that continues to sow death and destruction. I also remember the numerous people who have been kidnapped — Christians and Muslims, Syrians and people from other countries, among whom there are bishops and priests. We ask the Lord to grant that they may quickly return to their loved ones and families and communities.

From my heart, I ask you all to join my prayer for peace in Syria and in the region, and I launch a heartfelt appeal to Syrian leaders and to the international community: Silence the weapons! Put an end to the violence! No more war! No more destruction! May there be respect for humanitarian law, care for the people who need humanitarian assistance and may the desired peace be reached through dialogue and reconciliation.”

Papa’s got a brand new bag

VATICAN CITY — Parishioners in Rome gave Pope Francis a brand new black bag in the hopes that it would hold up for many years of traveling and serving as the successor of St. Peter.


An unidentified parishioner at the church of St. Gregory the Great presents Pope Francis April 6 with a new leather bag, similar to the one he already uses for trips outside the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We hope that you have a long and fruitful pontificate, therefore, we thought that the bag you have may not be enough,” Father Renzo Chiesa told the pope.

The pope got the gift when he went to hear confessions and celebrate Mass at the church of St. Gregory the Great in the outskirts of Rome this Sunday.

Father Chiesa told the pope that they stuffed the bag full of letters and notes from parishioners so as “not to clog up the Vatican post office” with more mail for the pope.

Pope Francis holds personal bag as he boards plane at airport in Rome

Pope Francis holding his personal bag as he boarded a plane at airport in Rome July 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

The bag is practically identical to the one the pope carries along with him on trips outside the Vatican.

He revealed to journalists on the plane to Brazil last July, what was inside:  “It wasn’t the key for the atom bomb,” he told them. There was a razor, a breviary, an appointment book, a book to read (about St. Therese).

He said, “I have always taken a bag with me when traveling — it’s normal.”

Should the term ‘war on poverty’ be dropped?

Michael Gordon, warehouse and procurement manager for a furniture bank run by Caritas, an agency providing services to homeless people in Richmond, Va., is shown in January. The program is one of thousands started  during the last 50 years in the country's renewed push to end poverty. (CNS/Jay Paul)

Michael Gordon, warehouse and procurement manager for a furniture bank run by Caritas, an agency providing services to homeless people in Richmond, Va., is shown in January. The program is one of thousands started during the last 50 years in the country’s renewed push to end poverty. (CNS/Jay Paul)

This week’s National Poverty Summit got a lot of people thinking about the language used when referring to people living in poverty.

New language is needed to build broader support to help people and families on their path to build a stable life, many of the 120 attendees agreed.

But Steven Bresnahan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., did not want the discussion to stop there.

Near the end of the April 2 summit convened by Catholic Charities USA, Bresnahan asked the group if the term “war on poverty” was appropriate.

“Now think of the war in Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq,” Bresnahan said deliberately and carefully.

“We’re taking a term at the time, when President (Lyndon) Johnson (in 1964) declared the ‘war on poverty,’ that was probably appropriate,” he continued. “But is that what we want to do to beat poverty? We want to overwhelm the hoards? We want to roll in with massive power? Think of all of those illustrations.”

Bresnahan afterward told Catholic News Service the same could be said about how social service workers are “fighting” poverty and working “on the front lines” and “in the trenches.”

The Catholic Charities executive didn’t expect an answer. He said was simply raising a question for people to consider.

“We’ve been talking about reframing and what language we use and it just struck me that the word ‘war’ implies that you settle something with violence and with having greater power,” Bresnahan explained. “If the other side doesn’t agree with you, part of the game of war is making them out to be evil so you can feel better.

“So that’s the language we’re using when we want to build relationships and bring about fundamental change in the country? It’s the wrong, wrong idea in my mind.”

Bresnahan had no immediate alternative. But he offered an idea from which a new image can be developed: the Marshall Plan under which Europe was rebuilt after World War II to ensure the peace, political stability and a healthy world economy. “We rebuilt Europe and we let Europe be themselves. So we walked with them, didn’t we?

“We need another word and I don’t know what it is.”

He then referenced Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) as a place to start.

“The war on poverty is an old term. It’s time to get a new one.”

Bishops walk a small portion of migrant journey

By Nancy Wiechec

NOGALES, Ariz. — About 30 miles north of the border with Mexico, seven U.S. bishops and two priests piled out of a small bus just off of I-19 in Arizona.

Jesuit Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative was taking them on a short hike in the Sonoran Desert.

“How far are we going?” asked one. “Is this illegal?”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under barbed wire as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under barbed wire as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Carroll led the way. First they negotiated a steep incline from the road. Then they crouched to scoot through a short tunnel underneath the road. Out of the culvert, they ducked under a barbed-wire fence, careful not to catch their shirts. One bishop lost his balance and took a little spill into tiny pebbles. They continued walking down a bone-dry wash.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Just a few steps down the uneven, gravelly path, they spotted discarded backpacks and socks — remnants from migrants who had passed this way.

The bishops and priests maneuvered past thin thorny branches of the desert brush and over spiny cactuses. Prickles of burr sage attached to pant legs and socks.

Climbing over the edge of the wash, the group stood in the open desert sun. It was only 72 degrees that morning. Even so, skin can burn if it’s not protected and you can quickly dehydrate. In the summer the temperature can soar past 110 degrees.

Father Carroll explained how migrants — many trying to make their way to work or to be with family — lose their lives out here.

Men, women and children from Mexico, other parts of Latin America and beyond perish in the Arizona desert from exposure, dehydration or injury. One advocacy group counts at least 200 who die in such ways each year.

It can take three to five days to walk across the unforgiving desert to pickup points beyond the usual range of the Border Patrol’s monitoring. Many move at night to avoid the extreme heat and to minimize the chances of being caught. But traveling on foot in the dark brings other risks.

A group of U.S. bishops pray for immigrants at the end of their hike through part of the Sonoran Desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A group of U.S. bishops pray for immigrants at the end of their hike through part of the Sonoran Desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

As the bishops made their way back to their bus, they stopped for a moment, held hands and prayed for the people who make such dangerous and arduous journeys.

Back on the asphalt, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said their short hike “brings home the reality” that many migrants face. “It’s very rough territory.”

* * *

Nancy Wiechec is former visual media manager at Catholic News Service.

* * *

Editor’s Note: Click here for more photos. Also see a related story and photos on a Mass celebrated by the bishops one day later at the border.

Professor reflects on autism’s impact

Today, World Autism Awareness Day, is a fitting time to consider the impact of autism on family life as acutely by Mark Osteen, an English professor at Loyola University Maryland, and highlighted here in the university’s magazine.

autismtrythisoneOsteen, is the author of  “One of Us: A Family’s Life with Autism,” a 2010 book which chronicles the challenges of raising his autistic son Cameron.

The Loyola magazine notes that one of the book’s “most searing passages focuses on Osteen’s realization that he had long valued people based entirely on their intellectual achievements. How then, should he value his own son, who at 21 years old now, cannot read, perform simple math, or speak more than a few words?”

In his book, Osteen said he was forced to wonder what “intellectual capacity really means.”

” Does it make you better, more human? I realized that to accept Cameron fully, as a human, was to reassess my measuring stick. He is still valuable, still worthy of our love.”

A message released today by a Vatican official said the the church must find ways to support families with autistic children.

The message, in today’s CNS story, says the church’s efforts must be “directed toward ensuring that hope is not extinguished” in either persons with an autism disorder or in their family members, according to Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

He also announced that his office’s annual international conference in November would be dedicated to autism-spectrum disorders and would bring together doctors, scientists, researchers, pastors, parents and volunteers to discuss practical ways to help people with autism and their families.



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