Prayer to Mary: Pope doesn’t leave Rome without it

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis entrusted his upcoming apostolic journey to the Holy Land to Our Lady when he visited a Marian icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning.

Icon of Mary, Salvation of the Roman People, seen during service at Basilica of St. Mary Major in 2011

This icon of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani,” is at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He brought roses and prayed in silence before the icon for about 15 minutes, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told us today.

The unannounced morning visit marks what has become a Pope Francis tradition: visiting the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people)  to pray for Mary’s protection and care before a major trip.

He did the same thing before heading to Brazil last year when he prayed that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day and for all young people around the world:

File photo of Pope Francis praying in front of Marian icon in Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

Pope Francis praying in front of the icon of “Salus Populi Romani,” at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome July 20, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


He also visited the day after his election, at the start of his new journey as supreme pontiff:

Newly-elected Pope Francis leaves flowers in front of icon at Rome basilica

The day after his election in 2013, Pope Francis visited the icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


The icon has special significance for the pope and he has visited it often on different occasions to pray. He has said that the Basilica of St. Mary Major was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the “Theotokos” — was venerated.

According to tradition, this image of Mary embracing Jesus as a young boy was the work of the evangelist St. Luke, who painted it on a tabletop made by Jesus himself in St. Joseph’s carpentry shop. Many centuries later, Jesuit missionaries distributed reproductions of the image to promote Marian devotion around the world.




Tight security, traffic jams concern Israelis, Palestinians

By Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Pope Francis’ Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem will be the only opportunity for local faithful to participate in the papal visit.

Pilgrims filled Manger Square for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 13, 2009. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Pilgrims filled Manger Square for Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 13, 2009. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

While there is room for about 9,000 people in the square, locals are wondering about the need for tickets to attend the Mass.

Despite the complaints, Jamal Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate seminary in Beit Jalla and a spokesman for the pope’s visit, said tickets are necessary to maintain order.

The precious tickets have been distributed throughout different geographical areas, including about 1,000 in Galilee, where both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated large-scale Masses. Church officials also requested permits for about 600 Christian families from Gaza to attend.

One of the families from Gaza will be lucky enough to lunch with Pope Francis after the liturgy. Another will be present at the Presidential Palace during a courtesy visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Of note is that the Gaza parish has a unique connection with the pope: both Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor, and one of the sisters serving the parish are from Argentina.

Palestinian Christians also will be faced with what they called a “possible curfew” in Jerusalem during the pope’s visit. Some have sent a letter voicing their concerns to Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, papal nuncio to Israel and Cyprus and apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

The Vatican’s Fides news agency reported that some members of St. Savior Parish in the Old City of Jerusalem wrote to the nuncio opposing any steps that would prevent them from greeting Pope Francis in the streets.

“We see attempts by the Israeli occupation to impose a curfew on the streets, including the Christian Quarter, during the visit,” the letter said, according to Fides. “The curfew is yet another attempt by the occupying power to deny our existence. It is unacceptable for the pope to pass along the narrow streets of the Christian Quarter, yet find it devoid of any signs of life and the faithful. As local church communities we are the hosts of the Holy Fathers in our city. We do not want to be excluded from a historic religious event, and want to offer our good will and cooperation towards the visit’s success.”

Some Jewish residents of Jerusalem have been grousing about the expected traffic jams and travel delays they will encounter when the pope arrives. As has become his custom, Pope Francis has requested not to travel in a security vehicle but rather in a simple car.

Israeli police have said that security precautions will be tight during the visit.


Whooah, she’s halfway there! Sr. Cristina is “Livin’ On A Prayer”

opening closer

ROME — A religious sister singing a Bon Jovi mega-hit with a British boy band for backup?

“Never say never,” Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia told her audience last night before she was swept into the semifinals by popular vote.



The 25-year-old sister from Sicily is now one of the eight contestants left on the Italian version of the TV talent show The Voice vying for the final win.

jax happy

Screengrab of Italian rapper, J-Ax — Sr. Cristina’s coach on The Voice of Italy.

Her coach, Italian rap-star J-Ax (who’s been choosing Sister Cristina’s repertoire since her Blind Audition debut) said he’s really sorry he’s turned her into his personal “jukebox,” making her sing his favorites from his “sulky adolescence.”

He said he’s been pushing her “to go to the next level” and conquer every genre: blues, pop, Italian ballads and now big-hair 1980s rock&roll.


Screengrab of Sr. Cristina with members of the British band, The Vamps.

But on top of that, she got to have the emerging British band, The Vamps, provide the music and a group hug after the their performance.

She said it was “beautiful to have young people, well, kids, singing together with me.”

In fact, she spent her novitiate working with kids and young adults in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and used music to build trust and bring them together.

On those city streets, “I rediscovered singing as a way to praise the Lord, as something my soul needed, and as an instrument for touching people’s hearts,” she said in a 2013 interview.

Now she’s using her singing talents to touch people’s hearts via television, Internet and social media — saying she has a gift to give and a message that God takes nothing away, but rather gives you even more.

In case you missed her performance from last week, she did Gianni Morandi’s ballad, “Uno su Mille,” which is about how only “one in a million” has the inner strength to tough it out in the sometimes cruel world of entertainment (“You don’t know how hard ‘easy listening’ is…”).



She got a thumbs-up from the artist himself after her show, saying he watched her sing, thought she was great and that whoever has a gift and gives it will make the cut!

gianni morandi

You say, ‘Potato,’ they say, ‘Not a white one’

At a time when much of the nation seems to be getting with the campaign for better nutrition, big potato growers are pushing Congress to ignore the USDA guidelines that keep white potatoes off the list of fresh vegetables eligible for a part of the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program to provide fresh produce in poor families’ diets.

It’s leading to an odd battle in the Senate appropriations process: Organizations worried about nutrition in subsidized food programs for the poor are digging in against the potato industry’s efforts to destigmatize white potatoes. If nothing else, the issue has brought together allies across partisan lines in the Appropriations Committee.Image

A letter sent May 19 to members of Congress signed by 18 religious organizations – including Catholic Charities USA, Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, and two orders of religious women – warns against revising nutrition standards in the appropriations process.

Over the past several decades, federal child nutrition programs have played a critical role in preventing hunger and promoting health among some of our nation’s most vulnerable children.  One of the reasons for their success is that the programs, including the WIC Program and the School Lunch Program, have been guided and informed by non-partisan scientific processes. Congress has appropriately set broad policy parameters for the programs, but has left program design and details to the Department of Agriculture, which typically relies on the scientific expertise of organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences.

But recently, this scientific process has come under attack as outside groups have increasingly sought to use the appropriations process to compel changes to federal nutrition programs.  For example, several years ago, special interests successfully used the appropriations process to weaken the National School Lunch Program to the advantage of potato and frozen food interests.  Last year, similar efforts were undertaken to attack proposed rules pertaining to school meals standards and the WIC food package.

The religious groups’ letter is one volley in an effort that has been playing out in op-ed pages over the last couple of weeks. A vote is expected in the Senate Appropriations Committee May 22 as it marks up the appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture.

As a May 11 editorial in USA Today observed,

 The potato exclusion, like every other decision about WIC’s menu of the last 40 years, is based on nutritional science — which is exactly the way things like this ought to be done. In 2005, the Institute of Medicine specifically recommended excluding white potatoes because low-income people were already eating plenty of them. The Agriculture Department accepted the advice.

But that riled the potato industry, which insists the issue isn’t money but image. “We can’t let our federal government perpetuate those negative stereotypes,” says Mark Szymanski of the National Potato Council.

So in a classic case of a special interest trumping the public interest, potato growers and their allies are fighting back the Washington way, boosting campaign donations and enlisting potato-state politicians to force the Agriculture Department to let potatoes into WIC.


The potato industry counters that white potatoes have an inaccurate bad rep as nutritional bad boys. (Their cousins, sweet potatoes and yams, are accepted in WIC and other nutrition programs.) In an opposing view to the USA Today editorial, two senators from Top 10 potato growing states — Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado — said the nutritional data used by the USDA is out of date, that baked potatoes get unfairly tarnished by the inarguably unhealthy nature of french fries.

               Because some people don’t differentiate between french fries and baked potatoes, the potato has gotten a bad rap. We believe a balance can be found that preserves the integrity of programs such as WIC while also ensuring that the most updated facts are being used to determine the best nutrients for Americans — including from the potato.

Meanwhile, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has been rallying opposition to giving potatoes a pass into the nutrition program. Among the arguments its advocates raise is that letting Congress — instead of food science agencies including the USDA — change policy about what qualifies for nutrition programs opens the door to advocates for all kinds of other foods to try to get similar back-door approval for the programs.

Another letter, from nutrition-focused groups — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Bread for the World and the American Public Health Association  — focused on the angle in a letter from March. They warned that the appropriate way to ensure the WIC program remains science-based is to conduct another review of the science “including consumption data.” The letter noted that such a review is under way.


Nadine’s journey into pornography

Compared to all the professional types who were on the program at the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation 2014 Summit in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, Nadine was relatively obsequious. She just sat in a chair along with a couple of other women for a late-morning panel last Friday, one of several presentations that day.

But Nadine’s story was truly compelling. Compared to the other women who spoke with their professional research about pornography and its effects, Nadine’s story was personal. She had actually been in pornographic movies.

Nadine — she didn’t use her last name during her remarks — looked to be in her 70s. See appeared to be quite unassuming, but that could be because she was conditioned to be that way.

“My mom was a product of the 1940s, when you went to college to get your ‘MRS’ degree,” Nadine said. But then Nadine came along. “I was the stone in her puddle. She couldn’t be who she wanted to be now that she had me.”

It left the little girl emotionally starved -– “no conversation, no touching, no nothing at all,” Nadine said. It got to the point that her mother would develop a list of offenses she had committed each day to tell her father, who would then spank her when he came home from work. “I remember my dad really being angry when I stopped crying” after being hit, she added.

Nadine went to a Catholic school, where she was regularly bullied, including what she called mental torment and abuse. “The nuns turned a blind eye” to it, she said, adding that her father told her, “If you cooperate with the boys, it won’t hurt so bad.” She did cooperate, but it still hurt.

“By the time I got to high school, I was an emotional wreck,” she recalled. “I graduated high school, I don’t know how.” After graduating, Nadine moved to another town to get away from her family.

“I went to a dance, and the man came down from the bandstand and asked me for a date,” Nadine said. On that first date, she remembers, “I got into a Porsche. We went back to the big city, dinner, dancing. He asked me to marry him on the first date.” She declined.

As they continued dating, though, she was told, “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to that man.” “I hate when you get referred to as a ‘thing,’” she said. However, “he was taking care of me. He wasn’t hurting me,” but now she understands that this new boyfriend of hers was grooming her to appear in porn movies. “He spotted me, he groomed me, and he married me.”

CNS image created using

CNS image created using

One day, not long after she turned 21, Nadine’s husband told her they were going to go to a friend’s house for dinner and drinks. “The man who was to film me for the next three years and three months showed me” the things he had in his basement, which would double as his studio. “I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but this man was a friend of my husband,” so she figured he couldn’t harm her, she said.

But then “I got a shot in my arm. He drugged me,” she recounted. “The first time (she was filmed)I remember almost everything,” Nadine said. But they kept returning to the house. “I was filmed every two or three months, several sessions at one time.” Nadine never put up any protest to her husband. But to cope, she added, “I was drinking water glasses full of liquor.” Because of the harshness of the sexual activity, Nadine noted, “it took me two or three weeks before I could be intimate with my husband.”

Her husband never said anything about Nadine’s prolonged absences from the dinner parties. They went on summertime yacht trips. He also fathered three children with her. But when the porn business beckoned, according to Nadine, “he would drop in on me and say, ‘You can go shopping with’ — the pornographer’s wife. It was just an excuse to get me over there.”

What happened to Nadine, she told her attentive audience, “was a lot of violence, being in a bedroom and being raped and locked in — a lot of bad stuff. … I learned to cooperate. If I saw it happening to someone else, I just” — here she clicked her tongue -– “checked out.”

“(The pornographer) told me I was a star. So I guess you could say I was a porn star,” Nadine said, pausing before she gave a cheerless, quiet “Yay.”

She admitted, “I compromised. But I was young and wanted to live.” Even so, Nadine noted, “I had a suicide plan.”

At one point she decided she had had enough. “I left a note, took a bag and my hair dryer, and I left,” Nadine said. “I went to work. I got a sleeping bag and a pillow and rented an apartment.” But the day after she got her apartment, “my husband found me, strangled and beat me.”

She got a divorce — and got nothing in the settlement, suspecting that her lawyer had been bought off by her husband’s attorney — “but the threats and the stalking continued,” Nadine said.

At one point in her hard-won freedom, the pornographer’s wife offered to meet her one last time. She, too, had been sickened over what had gone on in her house, and over the course of a weekend she filled in a lot of blanks for Nadine. One of the revelations: “My husband did know what was going on. He was the (film) editor.” Another revelation: “One of the girls from the pornographer’s house was in my house four days after I left.”

What’s it like for Nadine now, decades after all this? “It’s really bad,” she said. “I have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder. Panic attacks. I hate when I have to throw up” because it reminds her of some of the scenes she had to act in in the porn movies. And “don’t ask me to make a decision about anything,” she advised. “It’s just a horrendous experience.”

She remarried. “On the honeymoon I knew something was wrong. He was gay, and he only wanted children,” Nadine said.

The pornography also had a negative effect on her now-grown children. All three have chronic health conditions, brought on by the drugs she was injected with while pregnant so she would act in porn movies.

“I’m in isolation. It’s self-imposed,” Nadine said. “The last several years, the Lord my God, the king of the universe, he sent good people to be with me.

Nadine considers herself lucky in that she never caught a sexually transmitted disease during her brief but all-too-long career.

What disgusts Nadine is the apparently true prophecy of the pornographer. “The main filming me said, ‘You are setting precedent. Someday what you are doing now will be normal.’ And then I look at music and TV and video games …” Her voice trailed off, a tacit acknowledgment of how on the mark he had been.

In their words: Hopes for Pope Francis’ Holy Land visit

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis has emphasized that the main purpose of his May 24-26 visit to the Holy Land is ecumenical, but many in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories are hoping he will use his diplomatic savvy to make some strong political statements. Here, in their own words, are what some people are hoping for:

A Syrian refugee in Jordan uses are to help process memories. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

A Syrian refugee in Jordan uses art to help process memories. (CNS/Dale Gavlak)

“We hope he will say a word of faith to the Christians, that he will address us with his words to encourage us like his pope predecessors. The second word (we hope to hear) is of justice and peace, addressing the political situation. We are waiting for a word of justice for Israel and Palestinians alike, and then we will pray as well. He will make out of this wish a prayer for all, Jews, Christians, Muslim and Druze and all who live in the Holy Land so this Holy Land will truly become the Holy Land, a land of holiness, of security and peace and reconciliation to all those who live here.” — Jerusalem’s retired Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah

“Everything is political here. We would like for the pope, who is also a high political figure, to use his diplomatic capacity in a situation when the peace process is almost completely halted … so that world governments will respect international law which should be … a point of reference for the process.” — Hind Khoury, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center executive board member and former Palestinian minister for Jerusalem affairs

“All Palestinians are waiting to welcome the pope. We need a message of justice, of peace of encouragement of hope for the future. We are living in a difficult situation politically with nothing going on but (Israeli) settlements, and with no near perspectives for peace. … We need … the pope is to strengthen us and to encourage us.” — Father Jamal Khader, Beit Jalla seminary rector, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

“We hope the pope will bring peace and stability to our troubled region. We long to see Syria return to normal. We Christians want to find encouragement from the Holy Father being in our midst.” — Abu Reda, Syrian businessman from Damascus living in Jordan

- – -

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Al-Um-Kundun, Jordan.

The size of God’s love in Lourdes: you can find it in ‘Small’ and ‘Extra Large’


A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes facing the Rosary Basilica in Lourdes, France. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

LOURDES, France — Love comes in many sizes, and here in Lourdes, it’s everywhere — big and small.

From the huge Rosary Basilica perched over the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to the small gestures of kindness from residents, volunteers and pilgrims.

Those who are sick, elderly or struggling with difficulties find compassion and care, and special lanes are dedicated just to those in wheelchairs.

As I watched dozens of people being wheeled along the busy streets in the village or the quiet lanes near the sanctuary, what struck me was how all of them had colorful hand-knit or croqueted blankets draped across their legs, around their shoulders or tucked behind them.


Pilgrims needing assistance find compassion and care, as well as handmade blankets from volunteers. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

I wondered how could it be all these visitors were expert knitters or had loved-ones making them such nice wrappings to bring on their pilgrimage?


Carla Zanoner, a volunteer from the Trentino region in Italy, shows off a handmade blanket loaned to pilgrims visiting Lourdes. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Turns out volunteers make the blankets of every style and color to help stave off the chill from the cool mountain air.

Carla Zanoner, a volunteer from Trentino, Italy, showed off some of the blankets they loan out while people are in Lourdes.

“When we pick people up at the train station, lots of times it’s cold or it’s raining, so this helps them keep warm,” she told me. “They get here exhausted. One group from Sicily spent two and a half days on the train,” and volunteers are there to meet them after what is often a very long journey to get to this small town in southern France near the Pyrenees.

Carla, who was working at the shrine’s “lost and found” center May 16, says she comes to Lourdes 10 days a year, every year, to help out. “Pilgrims find strength and energy here and so do we” by helping them. “We get a boost and we head home renewed,” she said.

This weekend was dedicated to an international pilgrimage of military men and women, and their families.


Representatives of the Knights of Columbus lead a procession of wounded U.S. soldiers to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

More than 36 nations were represented and the Knights of Columbus sponsored 125 wounded active duty or retired troops and family members to come to Lourdes for a weekend of fellowship, prayer and healing.

An Irish volunteer traveling with a pilgrim group was handing out military rosaries — rosaries made by knotting camouflage military cord “for the safety of our brave soldiers” wherever they may find themselves, the enclosed brochure said.

military rosary

A military rosary, knotted out of camouflage military cord. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Bishop Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services was in attendance along with dozens of military chaplains from around the world.


Bishop Richard Spencer is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services. He hands out “little miracles” to troops he visits abroad and people he meets. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Bishop Spencer, who has served in Bosnia, South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, was handing out “little miracles” — a special calling card with his contact information and an inspirational saying hidden inside.

It’s a novel way, when visiting troops around the world, to open the door to dialogue about God with people who are not Catholic or don’t belong to any faith.

He said he asks people if they would like “a fortune cookie.”

Almost everyone says ‘Yes,” and he hands them the tiny card.  My inspirational saying said: “You are more, much more, than what you have.”

He said he’s handed out thousands of the cards since he started doing it in 2006. It gets the conversation going, he said, and people come back to him for more — more support, more inspiration, more dialogue.

“They’re hungry for something, for a little touch of grace” in their lives, he said.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 707 other followers