The pope stopped outside their house

VATICAN CITY — Pamela Mauro thought it was unlikely Pope Francis would stop at her house, “but seeing how he is, I decided to try anyway.”

Mauro’s parents, and her sister Roberta, who is severely disabled, live in Calabria, just outside Sibari on the main road Pope Francis traveled Saturday on his way to a Mass with an estimated 250,000 people.

She and her family put up big signs on the road, asking Pope Francis, “Stop.” Another said, “There’s an angel waiting for you here.” And yet another said, “Dear Pope, bless and embrace little Roberta.”

Shortly before the pope was due to pass, the family went to the edge of the road, brining Roberta with them on a reclining wheelchair.

Pope Francis did indeed stop his car. He got out of the car and blessed and caressed Roberta.

He blessed the others, shook hands, posed for photos and put up with some ear-piercing shouts of approval, mostly “Bravo, Francesco.”

The Italian newspaper Il Gazzettino posted a story and photographs on their website and Ivan Parfenie posted a video on YouTube.

Supreme Court’s inaction signals bad news for heavily indebted poor countries

A man walks next to his makeshift home in 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Argentina in a case in which a hedge fund has sued the country for $1 billion, meaning the country will be forced to turn over information about financial assets in New York banks and face the possibility of not providing development aid for the country's poorest residents. (CNS/Cezaro De Luca, EPA)

A man walks next to his makeshift home in 2008 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  (CNS/Cezaro De Luca, EPA)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision yesterday not to hear an appeal from Argentina after being sued by a hedge fund for $1 billion has upset advocates for debt relief.

The inaction by the Supreme Court lets two lower federal court rulings stand and Argentina now must turn over information about its U.S. bank holdings to the hedge fund.

Catholic News Service recently reported on the case and the work of Jubilee USA to advocate for debt relief for poor countries.

Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA, told CNS this morning that the case means it is open season on the assets of other heavily indebted poor countries.

“It has incredible impacts in terms of how the financial system operates, how poor countries have the ability to become middle income countries,” he said. “There are few winners and lots of losers.

“A small group of hedge funds, less than 100 engage in this predatory behavior, are the winners. The losers, it’s most of us. The U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, legitimate Wall Street investors, who supported Argentina and any poor country that would qualify for debt relief are the losers,” LeCompte explained.

“It affects all of us because debt relief is brokered using U.S. taxpayer money. Essentially the ultimate money that these predatory hedge funds will collect is U.S. taxpayer money.”

Because the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case, LeCompte fears that the floodgates could open for other hedge funds to recover the assets of defaulting countries to the detriment of poor citizens. He identified Ivory Coast, Zambia and some Eastern European countries as “on the chopping block.”

The Argentine case dates to 2001 when it defaulted on its loan payments and subsequently was sued by the hedge fund firm NML Capital. The hedge fund won in both in U.S. District Court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Argentina had resisted the requests and appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the matter.

The court offered no comment on its decision to decline the case.

Debt relief advocates call companies like NML Capital “vulture funds” because they swoop in to buy up debt for pennies on the dollar and then sue for full repayment. Some of the claims result in huge profits for the funds.

The International Monetary Fund, Wall Street firms and the governments of the U.S., France, Mexico and Brazil sided with Argentina because of the potential impact on debt restructuring programs, access to credit by poor countries and global financial stability.

“These are the actors that Pope Francis described as savage,” LeCompte said of the hedge funds. “These are the type of actors he was speaking about because these are people who profit off the backs of the poor.”

Lessons from a #WorldCup friendly

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON — Walking around the grounds of FedEx Field, I came to realize why sportscasters deemed the June 7 match between the Spanish national team and El Salvador a “friendly.”

Surrounded by fans sporting T-shirts, flags, and even instruments representing the colors of their favorite teams, I was amazed to see how many Salvadoran fans eagerly invited individuals sporting Spain’s red and yellow paraphernalia to chat about the upcoming game or share some prepared food.

Having grown up in a household that became visibly depressed and bitter after a favorite team lost a championship game, I could not understand what I was seeing. Why were fans of opposing camps becoming friends before one of the most publicized matches on the Road to Brazil? Although El Salvador is no longer eligible to play in the World Cup, didn’t these fans realize that they were associating with the enemy, the defending World Cup champions?

As I talked with many of the fans from both camps, I began to realize that the World Cup represents a chance to bond with people of all nations over a common love for the game of soccer.

Daniel Garcia-Donoso, assistant professor of Spanish at The Catholic University of America, explained how he is able to experience the same camaraderie that is maintained within his home country of Spain when he attends games like this.

“I am far away from my country, from Spain,” said Garcia. “I wear this jersey once or twice a year when watching the Spanish team, and I feel part of a community. I see other people wearing shirts from Spain or shirts from El Salvador, and we all form a community when we watch the game.”

Another Spanish fan, Daniel Lledo, shared similar sentiments.

“In a game like this, to be playing against El Salvador, our brothers from across the pond, it’s a friendly,” said Lledo. “Everyone is here to have fun and enjoy the game together.”

Salvadoran soccer fans gather outside Washington for a friendly with Spain before the World Cup. (CNS/TylerOrsburn)

Salvadoran soccer fans gather outside Washington for a friendly with Spain before the World Cup. (CNS/TylerOrsburn)

‘We want to be Barnabas’

NEW ORLEANS — At the June 11 opening Mass of the U.S. bishops’ spring meeting in New Orleans, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the church leaders who had gathered for two and a half days of meetings “want to be Barnabas.”

By that, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, meant the bishops want to be men of encouragement to Catholics, society and each other.

St. Barnabas, whose feast day is celebrated June 11, was given the name Joseph at birth but then was renamed Barnabas by the early apostles after he sold his property and gave them the proceeds, the archbishop explained.

The new name, which he said means “son of encouragement,” aptly describes the characteristics of this early apostle who encouraged the Christian community and even introduced Saul — before he also had a name change to Paul — to this group. Barnabas also went on to Antioch to preach the Gospel message to an audience that was not very receptive.

Archbishop Kurtz said he and his fellow bishops in their time together in New Orleans want to focus on how they can encourage the faithful to take up the task of being new evangelists and to also consider how to encourage the larger society, noting that faith is good for everyone “not just the faithful.”

He added that bishops also need to encourage each other, pointing out that certain bishops “have that knack.”

In his case, the bishop who provided this constant encouragement — with a phone call, a note, or a pat on the back —  was the late Bishop David B. Thompson, who headed the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, from 1990-1999. He died last fall at the age of 90.

“He was a true friend,” the archbishop noted.

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond attends session on opening day of bishops' spring assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Kurtz thanked New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond for the “truly warm New Orleans welcome,” which could very likely be interpreted literally that sunny and humid afternoon.

Archbishop Aymond indeed welcomed his fellow bishops to the city and St. Louis Cathedral, established as a parish in 1720. He also welcomed the city’s mayor, Mitch Landrieu, to the afternoon Mass.

A handful of protesters stood outside the cathedral prior to Mass holding signs in favor of women’s ordination to the priesthood. By the middle of Mass they were gone and the area outside the church was instead dotted with tourists taking pictures and children chasing each other.


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



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