It’s #TimetoAct to stem sexual violence in conflict

The four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict kicked off today in London, and actress Angelina Jolie, special envoy to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was among celebrities participating. But although church officials were not in the spotlight, many religious groups are helping those facing sexual violence.

Women flee Nam Lim Pa village for the jungle in northern Myanmar in this 2011 handout photo released by the aid group Partners Relief and Development, which said government soldiers were committing serious human rights abuses, including rape, in a campaign against guerrillas. (CNS/Partners Relief and Development via Reuters)

Women flee Nam Lim Pa village for the jungle in northern Myanmar in this 2011 handout photo released by the aid group Partners Relief and Development, which said government soldiers were committing serious human rights abuses, including rape, in a campaign against guerrillas. (CNS/Partners Relief and Development via Reuters)

Nigel Baker, Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, highlighted the role of Catholic agencies in this blog.

“Very often it is the missionaries, religious sisters and organisations like Caritas Internationalis that are the most-trusted long-term partners for communities facing conflict and trauma, because of their long-term, unconditional presence on the ground,” he wrote.

Church workers have helped victims of sexual violence in places like Congo, where one nun has said the trauma to which women are subjected “cripples them in all their activities.” Pope Francis has met victims of human trafficking, often one of the side effects of conflict. And during war in places like Central African Republic, women risk rape to venture to the fields to get food for their families.

The summit has some good ambitions, including introduction of an international protocol that might or might not be enforceable. But as Britain’s Baker says: “Perhaps the most important role that Catholics can play is support for the survivor. This might be the moral support provided by awareness raising, and insisting that stigma must attach to the perpetrator, not the victim. Or that very basic, fundamental role of accompanying the survivor and their community during the essential post-trauma restorative process. At the level of global leadership, or through on the ground, sleeves-rolled-up activism, Catholic networks are well placed to make a difference. It’s #TimeToAct.”



Thy will be done…even on The Voice!

ROME — Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia’s landslide victory on The Voice of Italy last night wasn’t as big a surprise as much as what she did with her winner’s platform.


She thanked everyone on the talent show for their help and support, but left her highest praise for God.

“My final and most important thanks go to the one who is up there,” she said to applause.

thank him

She said her presence on The Voice wasn’t to walk away a winner or a music star, but to show people a different kind of victory:

“My dream is to recite the Our Father together, maybe we can all hold each other’s hands and pray. I want Jesus to come right here inside!”

It left most people perplexed and unsure, but Sister Cristina was in charge, telling the band to strike up a soft melody to set the mood.

Half-joking, the MC said, “She’s taking over!” So he let her lead the prayer, but without the band.

Her rapper, atheist coach, J-Ax, warned her that he and the other bad-boy coach on stage, Piero Pelu, “will burst into flames.”


“Oh, come on!” she replied. Once a lapsed Catholic herself, Sister Cristina wasn’t intimidated and off she went, leading people in prayer on the finale of the highly popular TV show.

The sister won 62% of the popular vote, crushing her closest competitor — a very talented hard rock singer, who did a pretty decent “Stairway to Heaven.”


Here are the four songs she sang last night.

The first, “Beautiful That Way,” is from the movie “Life is Beautiful.” J-Ax chose the tune, she said, because “I came in smiling and he wants me to end (the TV series) smiling.”



She did a duet with her coach called “Gli Anni — The Years” as a retrospective tribute to the past season together:



The third part was to sing a never-before-performed song. J-Ax gave Sister Cristina a rousing Italian tune called “Lungo la Riva — Along the Shore,” which was about going on a journey and following a light that will “lead me to you,” to which Sister Cristina always pointed to heaven:



The finale was a reprisal of the song each competitor performed for their first blind audition.

That first video of Sister Cristina doing Alicia Keys’ “No one,” garnered worldwide attention, including from Keys, who praised the sister’s performance.

J-Ax said that video, which has more than 51 million views, should be proof of the sister’s talent because “to paraphrase Elvis, 50 million people can’t be wrong!”


And what does the Vatican have to say?

Last night, during the competition, the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture tweeted a quote from an ancient Roman statesman, who was a Christian writer and great supporter of monastic communities:


“If we continue to commit injustice, God will leave us without music.”


And his advice?

This morning the cardinal tweeted a saying from Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav:

“Even if you can’t sing well, sing. Sing to yourself. Sing in the privacy of your home. But sing!”



The Roman Miracle: A look back 70 years ago today

VATICAN CITY — Today, taxis, tourists and food carts line the wide piazza in front of St. Peter’s.


Pius XII Square in front of St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

But exactly 70 years ago this week, it was teeming with American tanks, trucks and jeeps, forcing the occupying German troops north and liberating Rome.

June 4, 1944, was the day U.S. troops and Allies reached the Eternal City, freeing it from the insecurities of wartime — hunger, persecution and fear.

A bright floral wreath of yellow and white was quietly hung today under a commemorative plaque on the side of the building that houses the Vatican press office.


A stone plaque commemorating the role Pope Pius XII played in saving Rome from bloodshed and havoc as the Germans abandoned the city and retreated north on June 4, 1944. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The plaque commemorates the role Pope Pius XII played during and after World War II, but specifically in preventing Rome from becoming a killing field as the occupying Germans fled from advancing American troops.

small sign

Street sign for Piazza Pius XII. The wartime pope was declared “defender (or protector) of the city” by the city of Rome. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The city of Rome declared Pius XII, “protector of the city,” and named the enormous piazza at the end of the Via della Conciliazione after him.



The late Arcangelo Paglialunga, eyewitness to the liberation of Rome. (CNS photo/John Thavis)

Of the people who were in that square 70 years ago, not many are still alive today.

One eyewitness I interviewed 10 years ago, died in 2011 at the age of 91.

A Vatican reporter for half a century, Arcangelo Paglialunga possessed incredible journalistic accuracy and attention to detail.

His story of that first week in June deserves to be retold — to give sight, sound and the human emotion behind what that wreath of flowers is paying tribute to today:



Veteran Vatican journalist says Pope Pius was WWII savior of Rome

By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, June 4, 2004

ROME (CNS) — While the U.S. 5th Army led by Gen. Mark Clark is remembered for being the first Allied troops to march into a Rome free from Nazi occupation, Pope Pius XII is recalled by many Romans as the man who spared the Eternal City from wartime destruction.

When Clark and his troops trundled through Rome on June 5, 1944, the streets were choked with residents cheering and celebrating the end of nine months of a city under siege. But more than 100,000 people later that same day thronged St. Peter’s Square, calling for the pope to come to his window and receive their accolades; Pope Pius XII, they said, was the miraculous savior of Rome.

“Pope Pius XII had done so much. Just think, the last Germans left Rome the evening of June 4th right at the same time the first Americans were coming in. It seemed like a miracle that not a shot had been fired. Nobody died. This was the miracle of Rome,” said Arcangelo Paglialunga, eyewitness to Rome’s liberation 60 years ago and a Vatican journalist for the past half century.


Pope Pius XII writing a wartime Christmas radio messages at the Vatican in this undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy of Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Pope Pius had done two things, said Paglialunga: He worked tirelessly convincing Allied leaders to spare Rome from its bombing campaigns, and he called on both the Americans and the Germans to not turn Rome into a killing field by keeping ground combat out of the city.

Through letters, speeches, appeals to (U.S. President Franklin D.) Roosevelt, phone calls, diplomatic maneuverings … the pope did everything to convince both sides to spare the city,” Paglialunga said in an interview with Catholic News Service.


Pope Pius XII wrote this letter to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking the president to spare Rome and its civilian population from further bombings during World War II. (CNS photo/courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

Though the Allies did bomb Rome twice in targeting German positions, ground combat during the Americans’ advance and the Germans’ retreat in June of 1944 was minimal. Also, the rampant vandalism and destruction that marked the Nazi evacuation of Naples had not been repeated.

Paglialunga said the pope was key in the aftermath of the occupation since there was no authority who could deal with the return of Romans who had fled the city.

He said the Vatican organized “by papal order a caravan of trucks that brought people back to their homes.”

The Vatican also “loaded the trucks with grain and foodstuffs from the countryside to alleviate the hunger” that still racked the city, he said.

Paglialunga grew up a few blocks away from the Vatican. His closeness to the church and local religious helped give him an insider’s view into how the Holy See helped Rome during those long months of occupation.

“During the Nazi occupation, the pope had asked Christians to help protect the Jews. I knew the priest at a church nearby who had helped get an older Jewish family hidden in the home of a parishioner. On the morning of the 5th, the priest told me to go to the house and tell the family that the Americans had come — that they were free,” he said.

The young Paglialunga was at first met with incredulity when he brought the family the good news.

“They didn’t believe me. I told them it was true that the Americans were right outside and if they still didn’t believe me I’d go out and bring one back to show them,” he said.

At that point, he said the older Jewish man, his wife and her sister all burst into tears of joy and relief.


This historic photo shows the Knights of Columbus’ San Lorenzo playground in Rome after a U.S. airstrike during World War II. (CNS photo/courtesy of Knights of Columbus)

Paglialunga, 18 years old at the time, remembers clearly, vividly and with journalistic accuracy those days of Rome’s liberation.

He remembers that on June 5 at 4:30 a.m. “a massive line of tanks came rumbling up the Via della Conciliazione headed toward St. Peter’s.”

Residents, used to long, citywide curfews, spilled into the streets. The main avenue leading to St. Peter’s Square had become a highway of American tanks and troops all driving north in pursuit of the retreating Germans.

“From the tanks, the American soldiers tossed us packs of Chesterfields cigarettes. And then they threw down cans of meat — wieners. It was incredible. After so much hunger you have no idea what it was like to suddenly eat meat from those cans,” he said.

But one of the tanks took a pit stop and parked right in St. Peter’s Square.

“The drivers were obviously Catholic. Instead of following the others up the road north, they came to the square with the tank. They had gone to the basilica to see the church and pray,” Paglialunga said.

The pope, however, did not approve of an armored tank flanking the square.


Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII, is seen in this 1929 file photo. (CNS photo)

“According to a Vatican memoir, the pope went to his studio, wrote a letter to the American command asking them to move the tank. After a while the tank left, but another one had come and parked in its place,” he said.

After months of intense fighting and many grueling battles to reach Rome, surely there were many soldiers wanting to give a prayer of thanks. Hundreds later turned out for Mass on the first Sunday after the liberation.

“I went to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and I saw in the apse what must have been about 400 American soldiers at Mass with their chaplains. When it came time for the collection, two sacristans came out with their small collection canisters. But they didn’t get three yards before the canisters were overflowing with dollars,” he said.

“They had to return to the back of the church and they came out this time with two huge sacks slung around their shoulders. They made the rounds and it was incredible. Those sacks were spilling over with green banknotes,” he said.

In his tiny cubicle in the Holy See press office where he writes for Italian dailies in Venice and Brescia, Paglialunga still proudly displays the first Rome newspaper published after the German occupation ended. On the front page dated June 6, 1944, there is a large black-and-white photo of Clark greeting seminarians from North America in St. Peter’s Square. Just below is a photo of Pope Pius XII delivering his blessing from the central loggia to the tens of thousands of people below.


“I remember (the pope) said, ‘Yesterday, Rome was still trembling for the lives of its sons and daughters. … It can now look with new hope and a renewed faith toward its salvation,'” Paglialunga said.


For hardcore oral history fans, feel free to read the transcript from the June 3, 2004, interview with Arcangelo Paglialunga at this link: CNS_Paglialunga_memoryof_6_4_44


Allowed to Hope? Stark choices confront Central African Republic

Editor’s Note: Kevin Clarke, senior editor and chief correspondent for America magazine, has reported from Central African Republic and has toured programs operated by Catholic Relief Services. His blogs and stories are being published by Catholic News Service under a special arrangement with the magazine. This story and an accompanying video were filed May 29.

Clarke videoBy Kevin Clark

Green doors and green porch trim mark the small shops that are — or were — owned by Muslims in the Point Kilometer 5 quarter of Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic. Many of them are open this morning in early May — more as you cruise closer to the city’s central mosque — and foot traffic seems strong at these small, roadside shops. But just as many doors are shuttered, and many green-trimmed shops are damaged or completely demolished. And closer to the informal border watched over by twitchy anti-balaka “militia,” the shops and the streets are sullen and empty. The Muslims who have taken refuge behind the mosque’s high walls since December know that to go down these empty side streets risks a sudden and brutal death.

Read more here.

Bethlehem University students engage in service through Catholic Charities program

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON (CNS) – A group of students recently arrived in the U.S. from Bethlehem University in Palestine in order to participate in a one-of-a kind program with Catholic Charities.

Fostered by a two-year partnership between the Catholic university and Catholic Charities USA, selected students travel to America every year and participate in a six-week summer internship program that allows them to use the skills they have developed within their prospective majors in Catholic Charities agencies nationwide.

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

By learning how the organization combats the problem of poverty within the United States and developing a newfound understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the U.S., participants are encouraged to use everything they learn throughout the experience in order to enact social change after returning home.

As many of the interns have never left Palestine before this trip, the participants were excited to experience a new culture, grow in knowledge, and gain a new form of insight into the problems that plague our world today.

One of this year’s 10 participants, Sarah Hasanat, described how the program will benefit many of the students.

“Many of us … have never been to the U.S. or even traveled outside of our home country so this is an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture.”

Dina Rishmawi explained that all 10 students escort tourists or visiting students around Palestine as part of an ambassador program through the university and being able to come to America allows them to continue serving as ambassadors who represent their own country. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to not only work in the field we study but also to continue to serve as ambassadors of our country in another place.”

Amjaad Musleh, who will be working at the Catholic Charities agency in Camden, N.J., elaborated on how this experience will allow her to promote the culture of Palestine throughout the U.S. “Some people do not have a clue where Palestine is or even if it exists so this is an opportunity for us to share information regarding our country and our culture.”

Although the students were still unsure exactly what to expect out of the program during their initial four-day orientation in Washington, almost all of them recognized that they would be changed in some way by the experience.

Hasanat said, “A lot of people are poor and are in need and I think that, to experience that, to live with them and try to help them, will teach and help all of us as well. I know this program will definitely change my perspective.”

The program has already inspired new ways of thinking for Mariana Bahnan Nazi, who described how she was affected by a trip the students took to visit the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“After going to the PLO yesterday, I really loved the idea of serving my country as an ambassador for Palestine in the United States or in another country,” she said. “I began thinking more about how I can represent the Palestinian people and help others around the world.”

I am sure that these students will find new ways to serve those in need throughout the rest of their time in the U.S. and look forward to seeing what they are able to accomplish in the future.

In Kentucky, landowners await pipeline developers’ next step

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among several members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among many members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)


Although the developers of a controversial 1,100-mile natural gas liquids pipeline passing through Kentucky have suspended investment in the project, opponents of the plan said they don’t believe it has been abandoned yet.

Sister Claire McGowan, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace in St. Catharine, Ky., and coordinator of an organization called New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, told Catholic News Service that until the companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline formally end the project, those opposed to it must stay vigilant.

“Any new infrastructure that is designed to expand the use of fossil fuels is absolutely the wrong way to go,” Sister Claire said.

“The real issue is that we need to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and we need to make it very soon,” she said.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, all in an environmentally sensitive rural area an hour south of Louisville, joined environmental advocates and individual landowners in a campaign earlier this year to protect property rights. The coalition worked with the Kentucky legislature to enact a law that prevents pipeline companies from using eminent domain to secure rights of way when property owners do not want to sell those rights.

In December the religious congregations released a statement on energy usage and conservation. Titled “An Energy Vision from the Heart of Kentucky’s ‘Holy Land,’” more than 130 faith-based organizations and 1,000 individuals have since signed on.

Representatives of Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, the developers, said in late April in a posting on a website touting the project that the companies are “exercising capital discipline and not investing additional capital at this time.”

The posting indicated that potential customers are looking at other sources to move natural gas liquids, or NGLs. The statement did not mention the grassroots outcry against the pipeline in Kentucky. There has been little, if any, opposition to the project in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the natural gas and NGLs are being tapped from deep shale formations through a complex procedure known as hydraulic fracturing.

Catholic News Service first wrote about the Bluegrass Pipeline in September.

Sister Claire said the momentum of the movement must continue.

“It is such a bad deal all the way around to think we’re so oriented toward profit that we cannot look at all to the values of protecting the environment that really matter for the future and our children and grandchildren,” she said.

Sister Cristina will face the final judgment… on The Voice



ROME — Regardless of all the jokes that voting for anyone other than #SuorCristina would incur excommunication, it seemed to be a given that Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia would make it to the finals of The Voice of Italy.

Even her Team J-Ax “opponent,” Dylan Magon, said in a behind-the-scenes preview that he was looking at the semi-finals show last night as his last hurrah.

o want an italy reax

Sadly, Dylan and Sister Cristina — the two final contestants on J-Ax’s team — had been the targets of widespread and often vicious criticism on social media for weeks.

Racist comments were directed against 21-year-old Dylan who was born in Palermo, Sicily, and whose parents are from the island of Mauritius,  and “haters” looked at 25-year-old Sister Cristina’s continued presence on the show, not as a sign of her promising talent, but as a showbiz gimmick to pull in viewers.


On each show, J-Ax delivered a heartfelt appeal for people to rise above the prejudice and pettiness.

“I want to live in an Italy like this: where I — an atheist rapper, can showcase, with all due respect, a nun being embraced by an Italian with Mauritian roots. I want to live in this kind of Italy,” he said last night to great applause.


He also addressed criticism that Sister Cristina shouldn’t be wearing her habit on stage, but should assume a more “neutral” presence.

J-Ax condemned assertions that her religious dress was some kind of costume put on for show, and said it was an authentic part of her true and full identity.


“It’s like Superman,” whose pretend costume is the normal everyday clothing of Clark Kent, to blend in with the crowd and cover up his true super hero essence, J-Ax said.

Sister Cristina shouldn’t hide her true nature as a religious, was his message: “If  you want the voice, you have to take the whole package.”

jaxAn unexpected, but endearing part of that package has been her ability to make this tattooed rap star get teary-eyed every time she sings.

He said on a talk show this week that Sister Cristina has been “one of the most wonderful and wholesome things that has ever happened in my career.”

While Sister Cristina’s rendition last night of  “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life” got the most attention on YouTube, her cover of Vasco Rossi’s “Sally” in her later round was exceptional.

It’s a song about a woman who has suffered at the hands of others. But despite all the ill-will and the mistakes she’s made, she finds the inner strength to rise above the “madness” and carry on. She bravely accepts the sometimes cruel reality (the rain), while the critics and weak-kneed hide in their homes, content and wrapped-up in the pretend world of TV.







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