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.”

Notes on peace and justice

A heron flies over the Guarapiranga reservoir in Sao Paulo during sunrise, Feb. 13. (CNS/Reuters)

A heron flies over the Guarapiranga reservoir in Sao Paulo during sunrise Feb. 13. (CNS/Reuters)

Lenten calendar offers fasts of a different sort

Lenten fasts can take many forms and usually involved food, time or money. So how about carbon?

One of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen is the Archdiocese of Washington’s Caring for Creation Lenten calendar, with ideas for adopting practical actions to lower your carbon footprint as a way to help protect the environment.

The calendar offers different kinds of fasting options, such as considering the cost of buying water in disposable plastic bottles to both the environment and your pocketbook or carrying your lunch to work in reusable containers. The ideas presented can easily be carried over from Lent into everyday life.

Also included are biblical verses on some of the days and quotes from statements on creation care from Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI.

The calendar will help people learn that the church has a wealth of teaching on protecting the environment and bring those teachings to people who may not be familiar with them, said Anthony Bosnick, director of the Department for Charity and Justice in the archdiocese.

“We see it as a tool for the new evangelization,” he explained.

Thanks to the staff of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change for spreading the word about the calendar through its weekly email. Sign up here to receive it.

Connecting Sunday readings to the world’s marginalized

If you are looking to connect the Sunday Scripture readings to action in the world, the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns offers weekly reflections that help connect those of us living in an affluent culture to the realities of people living in developing countries.

Authors from Maryknoll’s worldwide network of missionaries and ministers offer their thoughts on the situations in which they live and the lives of people in their local communities. Current offerings take readers through the first several weeks of Lent, including Ash Wednesday. Some of the reflections throughout the year also mark holy days.

The reflections are written to create a better understanding of how people struggle against injustice with the goal of moving the reader to advocate for change.

The current listing of reflections extends back nearly two years and covers parts of the three liturgical cycles in the Lectionary.

Pope Francis opens gates of private papal gardens to the public

VATICAN CITY — People visiting or living in Rome now have another jewel of nature and architecture to visit: the Pontifical Gardens in Castel Gandolfo.


A view of the papal gardens at Castel Gandolfo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis came up with the idea to open these private papal gardens to the general public, starting March 1.

The papal property at Castel Gandolfo covers almost 136 acres, which is more territory than Vatican City’s 108 acres. The walled grounds include a papal summer residence, the summer residence of the Vatican secretary of state, the Vatican observatory, extensive formal gardens, woodland, hay fields, a working farm, a dairy and beehives.

Papal beekeeper displays honeycomb covered with worker bees at papal villa at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome

Papal beekeeper Marco Tullio Cicero, right, shows honeycomb covered with worker bees making honey at the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The papal villa, which is built atop the ruins of a Roman emperor’s country residence, has been a second-home for popes since 1626. Perched in the Alban Hills overlooking a volcanic lake, the papal residence south of Rome has served as a quiet and cool place to escape from Rome’s intense crowds and summer heat.


One of the many fountains in the papal gardens of Castel Gandolfo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

But last year, Pope Francis made just a few brief visits to the villa and there are no signs he plans on using it as a vacation getaway like his predecessors have. Not letting a good thing go to waste, he has decided to throw the gates open to the public for organized tours.

People will need to book ahead online through the Vatican Museums’ website.

Ticket price per person is 26 euro ($36)  and visitors will need to get to the entrance of the pontifical villas on their own before the tours start at 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. A special combo ticket of 42 euro ($58) will get you a Saturday garden tour (which has an additional Italian language-only tour starting at 10:30 a.m.)  along with a “no-line” special entry to the Vatican Museums on the following Monday.

There are a number of restrictions involved with the tour. For example, a lot of walking is involved so it is not recommended for people with limited mobility nor is it wheelchair accessible. Also, modest dress is mandatory so people wearing shorts, miniskirts or tank tops will not be permitted entrance.


A number of special restrictions apply: click on the photo above to learn more.

However, it’s not the first time the papal grounds and villa have been opened to the public. During World War II, Pope Pius XII opened the doors of the villa to thousands of people fleeing the Nazi army. He also gave up his bedroom to expectant women among the refugees and fifty babies were born there during the war.

When Blessed John Paul II stayed there, he used to play hide-and-seek with the children of the gardens’ employees. Pope Benedict XVI liked to use his time there to write and, in the evenings, play his favorite works of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven on his piano, to the delight of the staff who’d overhear the tunes through the open windows.