Not a baptism by fire

Father Joseph Illo, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Modesto, Calif., has been happy to talk to reporters in recent weeks about a member of his parish community, Heidi Sierras, one of a handful of people to be baptized by the pope during the April 11 Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica.

His parishioners are well accustomed to media folks hanging out after Mass, not just for this story, but also when the pastor made headlines of his own in November.  The story back then was over a letter he sent to parishioners urging them to “go to confession before receiving Communion” if they had voted for Barack Obama for president.

Soon after the letter gained media attention, his bishop issued a statement to clarify the issue. Stockton Bishop Stephen E. Blaire said the sacrament of reconciliation was not obligatory for Catholics who voted for Obama. He also stipulated that if a Catholic voted for a candidate “with a pro-abortion record with the motivation of supporting that abortion stance, then that is a grave moral matter.”

Now, as reporters are catching on to the story of Heidi’s upcoming papal baptism, Father Illo said his parishioners are glad to have some “noncontroversial”  parish news in the media spotlight.

And the priest told Catholic News Service he was more than happy to have the opportunity to talk about something dear to his heart:  “promoting conversion.”

Pope: Youths must be witnesses of hope


Pilgrims from Spain cheered when Pope Benedict XVI announced that Madrid would host the next international celebration of World Youth Day, scheduled for 2011. He made the announcement at the close of last summer's WYD celebration in Sydney, Australia. (CNS photo/Will Burgess, Reuters)

The Vatican today published the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s message to the world’s young Catholics, who will celebrate World Youth Day this year in their own dioceses. In the pope’s Diocese of Rome, and in most dioceses around the world, the celebrations will take place on Palm Sunday, April 5.

The 2009 theme is: “We have set our hope on the living God.” Here is an outtake from the papal message:

My dear friends, follow the example of Paul and be witnesses to the Risen Christ! Make Christ known, among your own age group and beyond, to those who are in search of “the great hope” that would give meaning to their lives.

If Jesus has become your hope, communicate this to others with your joy and your spiritual, apostolic and social engagement. Let Christ dwell within you, and having placed all your faith and trust in him, spread this hope around you. Make choices that demonstrate your faith. Show that you understand the risks of idolizing money, material goods, career and success, and do not allow yourselves to be attracted by these false illusions. Do not yield to the rationale of selfish interests. Cultivate love of neighbour and try to put yourselves and your human talents and professional abilities at the service of the common good and of truth, always prepared to “make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).

True Christians are never sad, even if they have to face trials of various kinds, because the presence of Jesus is the secret of their joy and peace.”