A year in review & where to send anniversary greetings

Argentina's flag seen as crowd in St. Peter's Square reacts to white smoke

The flag of Argentina is seen as the crowd in St. Peter’s Square reacts to white smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney March 13, 2013 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — As the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election draws near, many initiatives have kicked off to help celebrate that memorable day.

The Vatican Internet office has put together a beautiful picture-book online that captures vivid images and memorable quotes from Francis’ pontificate, and includes links to the original, complete texts.

World Youth Day Rio 2013 organizers created a video compiling highlights of the first Latin American pope’s first year.

They also are asking people to send their prayers, greetings and reflections via Facebook, Twitter or direct message using the hashtag #ThankYouFrancis. Messages are being posted on their site at www.graziefrancesco.com and delivered to Pope Francis in person.

thankyoufrancis logo

Screen-grab of http://www.graziefrancesco.com message feed March 11.

Pope Francis’ popularity with young Catholics clear, but previous popes’ styles offer lessons for the young, too

By Katherine Talalas
Catholic News Service    

         WASHINGTON (CNS) — The producers of Canada’s Catholic TV channel, Salt + Light, visited The Catholic University of America Feb. 27 with a special message for youth and young adult leaders. While Pope Francis has been extraordinarily popular among millennials, past popes also have lessons to share — and their example can help win young souls for Christ.

                Basilian Father Thomas M. Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light, and producers Sebastian Gomes and Cheridan Sanders spoke to a group of students on “The Significance of Messages and Contributions of John XXIII, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis to Youth/Young Adult Ministry.”

                Each speaker shared four lessons that youth and young adult ministers could take from each pope.               

Blessed John XXIII (CNS photo)

Blessed John XXIII (CNS photo)

                Gomes spoke about Blessed John XXIII, whom many compare to Pope Francis. Born into poverty, he had great compassion for the poor. Most of all, “he sought to be like the saints and care for souls,” Gomes said.

                Four lessons from Blessed John XXIII:

                1. He showed young Catholics the value of slowly progressing in holiness. Blessed John XXIII’s diary, “Journey of a Soul,” documents his daily struggles with pride, gossip, and failure in his prayer life. Said Gomes, “a lot of people are searching, and we give them this idea that Christianity is a light-bulb moment.” Blessed John reminds us that faith is a journey, and that individuals can gradually grow into holiness.

                2. He was devoted to dialogue and reconciliation with people of diverse backgrounds and faiths. While serving as an apostolic delegate representing the church in several non-Catholic countries, Blessed John XXIII encountered beliefs and traditions that most Catholics had never heard of. He was eager to engage people of all faiths, and was the first pope to address an encyclical to “all people of goodwill,” rather than specifically to Catholics.

                3. Blessed John XXIII had a great love of history. “History is a gift, but also a reference book,” said Gomes. The pope was passionate about history and was determined to learn from the past. As Catholics, we have tremendous history to draw from, which can guide us and strengthen our witness to others.

                4. His example helps us to move beyond political categories. Labels such as “liberal” or “conservative” are limiting for Catholic believers, and can even be destructive. Blessed John XXIII did not fit into either category. “It is really only the great conservatives who can make progressive decisions,” Gomes noted.               

Blessed John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Blessed John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Father Rosica discussed the legacy of Blessed John Paul II, whom he had known personally through his work for World Youth Day. This pope’s famous love and sympathy for young people made him a champion for youth ministers.

                Four lessons from Blessed John Paul II:

                1. He focused on the centrality of Jesus Christ. According to Father Rosica, his papacy could be summed up with a simple statement: “God is rich in mercy.” The most important goal of youth and young adult ministry is to guide young people to Christ, and His mercy is available to all.

                2. He reaffirmed the meaning of orthodoxy. “Orthodoxy must go hand in hand with orthopraxy,” explained Father Rosica. “Christianity requires corresponding behavior for beliefs.” Youth and young adult ministers must support Catholics in living their faith — even when obeying Catholic doctrine distinguishes them from their peers.

                3. He provided an authentic example of individual holiness. Blessed John Paul II is universally remembered as a deeply holy man. He believed that “holiness has many faces from all corners of the world,” says Father Rosica, and deeply respected holiness in others.

                4. He was an excellent example of forgiveness. Famously, he forgave his assassin. Many Catholics remember how Blessed John Paul II visited with and extended compassion to the man who tried to kill him.

                Cheridan Sanders spoke about retired Pope Benedict XVI, whose intelligence and reason make him a powerful guide for young people seeking the truth. Sanders unpacked the generalization that Pope Benedict was “the conservative pope,” or “the pope of aesthetics.” “This does not really explain him,” Sanders said.

                Four lessons from Pope Benedict:               

Retired Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Reuters)

Retired Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Reuters)

               1. He had a deep and profound sense of awe. Though we live in a cynical age, gratitude and wonder open our eyes to God. “Pope Benedict loved created order, the environment, all human life, and beauty,” said Sanders. “Awe puts us in the right relationship with God, which makes us receptive to his revelations.”

                2. He was a student of life. “Even though Benedict was one of the most brilliant people in the world, he knew he didn’t have all the answers,” Sanders said. Pope Benedict respected reason, including the reason of those with whom he disagreed. Most of all, he was a curious person who enjoyed learning from others.

                3. He was gentle in correction. While Pope Benedict “was engaging and loved the world, he also wanted what was best for it,” Sanders said. He was unafraid to correct errors in thinking, albeit gently. 

           4. He had great humility. Sanders reminded youth ministers that Pope Benedict’s goodbye address had a profound lesson for them: “If you unable to do something anymore, the Holy Spirit will find someone who can.” While not always successful, Pope Benedict had a strong spirit of reconciliation, as shown by his outreach to critics of the church, including the Society of St. Pius X.      

On April 27, the feast of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II in ceremonies in Rome.

Argentine politicos and pope: If you can’t beat him, join him

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — As archbishop of the Argentine capital, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio clashed with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner.

Shortly after being the cardinal was elected pope, however, posters blanketed Buenos Aires proclaiming Pope Francis an “Argentine and Peronist,” with the president’s supporters claiming Pope Francis as one of their own. They said he was part of the Peronist project to which they belong and which has dominated Argentine politics.

A 2013 poster for midterm elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, features a photo of Pope Francis with Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Martin Insaurralde, mayor of Buenos Aires' Lomas de Zamora district. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A 2013 poster for midterm elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, features a photo of Pope Francis with Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Martin Insaurralde, mayor of Buenos Aires’ Lomas de Zamora district. (CNS photo/Reuters)

“Pope Francis has always been a fellow Peronist,” says Carlos Luque, one of the thousands of government supporters streaming from the Plaza del Congreso after the president delivered a three-hour address to Congress in early March.

Church observers say Pope Francis was at one time an adherent of Peronism, a political movement founded by former President Juan Peron and his wife, Eva Peron. The movement has had strains stretching from left to right on the political spectrum.

“Bergoglio always came across as allied with Peronism. Why? Because Bergoglio probably saw in Peronism a non-Marxist force and sensitive to people’s needs,” says Jose Maria Poirier, director of the Catholic magazine, Criterio.

“In the 1960s, Bergoglio was against the Peronism of the left that ended up in guerrilla movements. He instead stayed closer to a Peronism that was more to the right.”

Then Nestor Kirchner came to power after the political and economic crisis of 2001, when Argentina defaulted on its debts of nearly $100 billion. Supporters speak of both Kirchners’ spending on social programs, students and the poor.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greets worshippers after celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (CNS/Reuters)

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio greets worshippers after celebrating Holy Thursday Mass in 2008 at a church in the Parque Patricios neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (CNS/Reuters)

But in the capital, the cardinal expressed suspicions of their populist politics and promotion of patronage groups among the poor. He criticized corruption during the traditional Te Deum Mass, celebrated on the May 25 national holiday and attended by the president.

The Kirchners took the criticism personally and stopped attending. Poirier figures they disliked the pope’s style as much as substance.

“One of the problems for Cristina Kirchner is that she’s not credible,” Poirier says.

“She has a certain charisma and political popularity, but her discourse often changes, and there’s a distance between the enrichment of many ministers and real life,” he adds.

“There’s a discourse that is not accompanied with a lifestyle. One of things that bothered them most about Bergoglio was his austerity.”

But with election of Pope Francis, priests and observers say both sides have made improving the relationship a priority. It’s improved to the point that Fernandez is expected to attend the Te Deum Mass this year, instead of heading for the provinces.

“Bergoglio has seen many people from Argentina now that he’s pope,” said Poirier. “He’s seen many politicians, union leaders, economic directors, and what generally leaks out is that he says: ‘Tend to Cristina. She has to finish her term. Institutions must be looked after. She’s the president.’”

A special blessing in Rome

VATICAN CITY — Catholic News Service was proud to have U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford bless the new office of the Rome bureau, which is now just a short sprint from St. Peter’s Square.

CNS' new office at Via della Conciliazione 44

CNS Rome bureau’s new office on the Via della Conciliazione near the Vatican in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS has had a presence in Rome since the 1920s and the bureau’s new location, with a view of the basilica, places us “on the final leg of the pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Peter,” the cardinal said, a pilgrimage in search of the truth and communicating that truth.

Here is a an excerpt from the cardinal’s lovely and reflective remarks to us during the office blessing March 3. His full text will be republished by CNS’ documentary service, Origins.

“You are engaged in communication. Within the church your work on behalf of the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops would be described as ministry, a holy calling, a response to a divine welcome. Communications is your sacred profession. It requires an inner spiritual maturity and a search for more than hard facts. It requires a seeking after the truth.”

– Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, retired head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, former bishop of Baltimore, Memphis and archbishop of Denver

office blessing stafford

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford blessing the CNS Rome bureau’s new office March 3. He is surrounded by CNS director and editor-in-chief Tony Spence, the staff of the Rome bureau and family members. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)


After the blessing, CNS hosted a small party, inviting Vatican officials, religious involved in communications, journalists and friends from the United States and around the world.

Here is one of the many distinguished guests who stopped by:

cardinal burke spence rocca

From left, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signature; Tony Spence, CNS director and editor-in-chief; Francis X. Rocca, Rome bureau chief.

Pope Francis’ appeal to the younger generation

By Emily Antenucci

VATICAN CITY — A warm sun and clear blue skies made for the perfect atmosphere at the papal audience today, where Pope Francis spoke about this first week of Lent. Posters, flags, flowers, hats and more were waved in the air as Pope Francis made his way around St. Peter’s Square in his shiny, white popemobile.

Pope Francis greets the  cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis greets the cheering crowd as he rides around St. Peter’s Square in the popemobile before his general audience this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Waiting for him to come my way, I couldn’t help remembering the papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI I attended just four years ago. Although I was only 16 at the time and my memory of that day is a bit faded, the first difference I noticed was the audience’s attitude and tone. The energy this morning was high — there was excitement in everyone’s eyes and there was a clear eagerness in the crowd to see and be blessed in person by the genuine, down-to-earth man that dons all white. While I remember young people were the audience four years ago, their number has now skyrocketed.

What is it exactly about Pope Francis that brings in the “young” population? As the one year anniversary of the pope’s election March 13 approaches, I thought I would stick around after the audience to ask a few people their opinion.

“Pope Francis is not only wonderful and down-to-earth,” Ruth Figura of Belleville, Ill., told me, but his energy “will bring young people back to the church while renewing the faith of others as well.”

I spoke to a few Fairfield University alumnae (Maya Abinakad, Ariana Michaloutsos, Ashley Doran, and Kelly Mahon) who were visiting for a few days. They told me, “Pope Francis is modernizing things. He is pulling in young people because he makes connections and is more likeable.”

Pope Francis waves the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Pope Francis waves to the crowd this morning. (CNS/Emily Antenucci)

Almost everyone I spoke to use the words “loving,” “likeable” and “human” to describe Pope Francis. They see young people being influenced by Pope Francis and finding or restoring their faith in the church. On the other hand, those who are considered “older” or have been involved in the church for years expressed their respect for Pope Francis, particularly as a pope who can appeal to young people.

What do you think? Why is Pope Francis drawing more people to his audiences? If you could describe his first year as pope in one word, which word would you chose?

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

Fast facts for fasting and Lent

VATICAN CITY — Ash Wednesday today begins the penitential season of Lent.

Woman prays on Ash Wednesday at New York church

A woman praying on Ash Wednesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York in 2013. Ash Wednesday marks the start of the penitential season of Lent, a time of reflection, prayer, fasting and charity before Easter. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Today and Good Friday are the two days of the year when the church requires fasting and abstinence for Catholics. Fridays during Lent are also obligatory days of abstinence from meat.

Sometimes there is some confusion about what this entails so here’s what’s required in a nutshell:

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59.

When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but combined they should not equal a full meal. Catholics may, of course, eat less, but this is considered the minimum required.

The norms concerning abstinence from meat (on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays during Lent) are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.

Exemptions are also made for those who are physically or mentally ill, diabetic or are pregnant or nursing.

– USCCB Liturgical Resources for Lent

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, FOCUS, has created a number of great resources like this handy illustrated guide created by Jonathan Teixeira:

fasting guide

An illustrated guide created by Jonathan Teixeira for FOCUS. More here: http://www.focus.org/blog/posts/an-illustrated-guide-to.html

And  a “Lent Sanity” app that delivers daily reflections and reminders about meatless Fridays.


LentSanity is a Lenten campaign launched by FOCUS — Fellowship of Catholic University Students

When it comes to the penitential aspect of Lent and Ash Wednesday, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has a very good post here about the practice of penance. Here’s a snippet:

Most Catholics are familiar with the concept of giving up something for Lent, but what is not well understood is that these sacrifices, these acts of penance, have value because they teach virtue, not because the things sacrificed are bad.

Giving up sweets, coffee, alcohol or listening to music is good because it helps us grow in our ability to turn away from something we desire. Fasting is also important because it helps us focus the eyes of our heart on Jesus, just as he focused the eyes of his heart on the Father in the 40 days he spent fasting. Our heart, made for God, longs for deeper intimacy with the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Fasting strengthens our ability to turn toward the good when we are faced with a temptation to sin.

– Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Be sure to check out the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ list of resources to help people “Give Up, Take Up and Lift Up!”  during Lent through fasting, alms-giving and prayer.

This site is meant to help people rediscover confession — something Pope Francis has urged people to do and “not lose even one more day. Go!”


People spreading ashes during a prayer service in front of the White House in Washington on Ash Wednesday in 2012. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)

Lent is about real conversion and change, not just fulfilling obligations. So don’t forget to read Pope Francis’ Lenten message for inspiration on the importance of confronting the spiritual and material poverty in the world as well as his audience talk today about using Lent to launch a spiritual makeover and turn our lives around.

U.S. bishops’ president asks for Ash Wednesday prayers for Ukraine

Pictures of victims of the recent protest violence in Kiev, Ukraine, are displayed near the altar during a morning prayer service at the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in New York City March 4. (CNS/Reuters)

Pictures of victims of the recent protest violence in Kiev, Ukraine, are displayed near the altar during a morning prayer service at the St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in New York City March 4. (CNS/Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — U.S. Catholics stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as their country struggles with political tensions, said a statement from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., said in the March 4 statement that the U.S. bishops, “together with tens of millions of U.S. Catholics of Eastern European descent join Pope Francis in solidarity and prayers for the people of Ukraine for an end to the current tensions and troubling events which continue to unfold there.”

He lauded the heroic witness of Ukrainian Greek and Latin Catholic leaders “who stand firm for human rights and democracy,” which gives hope that peaceful means to rebuild civil society may prevail.

Archbishop Kurtz noted that Catholics in Ukraine have a history of being persecuted, and pleaded for religious liberty to be protected there. He asked U.S. Catholic communities gathered for the Ash Wednesday services to pray for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, “one that secures the just and fundamental human rights of a long-suffering, oppressed people.”


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