To be blessed by those who suffer, one must walk with them

Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home April 7 to attend a church-run preschool in Ankawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home April 7 to attend a church-run preschool in Ankawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

By Paul Jeffrey

IRBIL, Iraq — Every morning, as her son prepares to leave for preschool, the mother of 4-year old Luis Firas takes a stick of oil and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead.

Blessing is important for this Christian family, which fled from Mosul during the 2014 takeover of the area by Islamic State militants and today — like tens of thousands of other displaced — live in a small modular temporary shelter in Irbil, a town in northern Iraq controlled by Kurds.

As I photographed their morning ritual, Luis grabbed the stick and marked a cross on his mother’s forehead, also blessing her.

Luis Firas, 4, marks the sign of the cross on his mother's forehead April 7 at their home in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Luis Firas, 4, marks the sign of the cross on his mother’s forehead April 7 at their home in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

When the displaced families arrived in Irbil, a booming oil town fallen on hard economic times and the looming threat of Islamic State they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees — they had crossed no international border — they weren’t eligible for assistance from a variety of international agencies. Neither the governments of Iraq nor the autonomous Kurdistan offered much. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from ISIS, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile.

As almost 20 months have gone by, the church continues to be the de facto manager of aid. The displaced camps are managed by priests-turned-mayors, the schools run by nuns who are themselves survivors of what many consider genocide, the clinics staffed by volunteer doctors who go home at the end of the day to a tiny prefabricated house in a camp for the internally displaced.

Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with students April 7 in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with students April 7 in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

To be blessed by those who suffer, one must walk with them. It’s the essence of accompaniment, which comes from the Latin words “ad companis” that could be translated as “breaking bread together.” Here the church has broken bread together with those suffer, and yet I heard no complaints from those who continue to work tirelessly to keep bodies alive and souls fueled with hope. Rather I witnessed joy and radiance and laughter as the faithful served their neighbors, and as they sang hymns in their makeshift chapels. It’s the same look that I glimpsed on the face of Luis’ mother as her son turned her act of love back into a blessing for her.

– – –

Paul Jeffrey’s photos from around the world can be viewed on Instagram.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 10, 2016

"At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing." -- Psalms 30:6

“At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.” — Psalms 30:6

 

April 10, Third Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41

      Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13

      2) Revelation 5:11-14

      Gospel: John 21:1-19 or John 21:1-14

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

Most moms have their favorite proverbs that, repeated often enough, become embedded wisdom in their children’s brains. One of my mother’s sayings was, “This too shall pass,” and it still pops up into my head whenever I feel stuck in a rut or am going through a tough time. It reminds me that trials are temporary and that there is always hope.

I imagine that in those days following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, his disciples must have been grasping for some way to make sense of their situation. Words alone, while comforting, could not suffice. Jesus’ continued presence — which he had promised them at their last supper together — would be the only thing to sustain them.

At first, Jesus made himself known by way of post-resurrection appearances, usually accompanied by a meal. Today’s Gospel narrative describes one of those appearances in superb detail, noting that the disciples didn’t recognize him immediately. Once Jesus’ identity became apparent, however, Peter literally jumped out of the boat to meet him. The ensuing meal and conversation would serve to strengthen him in the days ahead.

When Peter is later confronted by the Sanhedrin for speaking in Jesus’ name, he boldly counters their accusations with the words, “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” Therein lies the key: We are never asked to be witnesses (literally, “martyrs” in Greek) by ourselves. Even if it takes us a while to recognize it, the promised Holy Spirit has already been poured out, ensuring that Jesus is always present to us.

This same Holy Spirit gives us the hope to carry on in the midst of trial. As the psalmist writes, the weeping of nightfall will enter in — it’s part of living. But just as surely as dawn follows night, rejoicing will come. Jesus’ abiding presence isn’t simply a platitude. It’s a promise. And the sacred sustenance he provides isn’t simply a meal. It’s himself.

QUESTIONS:

Is there a favorite saying or proverb that you rely on when you are in need of comfort or renewed hope? When has the presence of the Holy Spirit brought you from discouragement to joy?

Roadmap for the future of children with HIV

By Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo*

 

Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage for HIV positive children in Lopburi province, Thailand

Twelve-year-old orphan named Mos during exercise time at the Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage in Lopburi province, north of Bangkok, Thailand. The orphanage cares for children with HIV. March 7, 2016. (CNS photo/EPA/Diego Azubel).

 

VATICAN CITY  — Massive progress has been made in relation to the diagnosis and treatment of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, since the 1980s. In 2015, UNAIDS announced we reached the milestone of getting 15 million people on anti-retroviral treatment  (ARVs).

Timely diagnosis and effective treatment mean that many people are living with HIV rather than dying from it. However, only 42 percent of children with HIV were receiving ARVs in 2014.

Pregnant women are now diagnosed earlier and receive timely treatment. There’s less mother-to-child-transmission but once women see that their children are born healthy, many may go off treatment and this leaves the child open to infection with HIV through breastfeeding.

Caritas Internationalis cares deeply about the fates of these children and we want them to have a fighting chance of living a long and healthy life. We have joined efforts with UNAIDS, the U.S. President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Vatican’s pediatric hospital Bambin Gesù to organize the conference “Strengthening the engagement of faith-based organizations in the early diagnosis and treatment for children living with HIV.”

At the conference we plan to build the groundwork for a roadmap to improve the diagnosis and treatment of children with HIV.  We will share information with grassroots faith-based organizations (FBOs) so they promote or provide HIV testing for infants born to HIV-positive mothers and get children into treatment early.  Many FBOs are doing this already, but the goal is to have no new HIV infections among children.

We’ve been able to bring HIV rates down in a number of countries across the world. But there are still a number of countries where we need to make progress in reducing mother-to-child-transmission.  It’s not only a case of improving care and treatment but also we need to tackle issues such as stigma and ensure men support mothers when they are on treatment so they continue taking it.

A greater number of medicines have become available for children living with HIV, but we still need greater research on more child-friendly formulas. In some parts of the world certain medicines require refrigeration. For families in low-income countries who barely have enough money for food or schooling, buying a refrigerator is simply beyond their means. Even if they did, they may not have a constant electricity supply.

 

Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage for HIV positive children in Lopburi province, Thailand

HIV-positive orphans saying a prayer before eating their meal in the dining room at the Baan Dek Thammarak orphanage in Lopburi province, north of Bangkok, Thailand. The orphanage cares for 54 children, most of whom have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. All of the children living in the orphanage are themselves HIV positive with either no family members alive or willing to care for them. March 7, 2016. (CNS photo/EPA/Diego Azubel)

Beyond the practical HIV programs that Caritas runs around the world, we reach out to governments and pharmaceutical firms to urge them to create affordable child-friendly medicines. We developed HAART for Children, a campaign which focuses specifically on creating broad access of child-friendly HIV and TB medicines.

The Holy See has played import role in advocating for the opening up of intellectual property so that affordable medicines are available to a greater number of people. This is a vital issue in saving the lives of children with HIV.

The UN goal is to end AIDS as a public health emergency by 2030. Caritas and FBOs from around the world are putting their hearts and minds into working together to achieve this and ensuring that children living with HIV in 2015 are still healthy and strong when this goal is reached and far beyond.

*Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo works for Caritas Internationalis as both Head of Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva and special advisor on HIV/AIDS and Health.

 

Wildcat pride in Rome

By Gaby Maniscalco*

FINAL FOUR CHAMPIONS

While some Villanova students watched from Rome, Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins celebrates with the student section April 4 after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Houston.  (CNS photo/Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

ROME — Feelings of hope and anticipation fill the air each year as students at Villanova University, a Catholic university in Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, gather on campus to cheer on the Wildcats at the start of basketball season.

Avid sports fan or not, any Villanova University student can tell you the tale of the 1985 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game, which was the last time the Wildcats took home the NCAA tournament trophy.

The students embrace Villanova basketball as a part of campus culture that is instilled in them the moment they step on campus, and while the Cats have made the NCAA tournament the past few years, it’s been more than 30 years since they actually won the tournament or even made the Final Four. Yet, optimistic students consistently place Villanova at the center of their brackets.

So imagine what ran through my mind as a student abroad in Rome this semester while watching the Wildcats win game after game on a low-quality streaming service on my laptop when I’m used to being at games in person.

I mean, while we were truly happy that the team was doing so well, my friends abroad and I couldn’t help but feel pangs of jealousy as our friends at Villanova packed their bags to follow the team to Houston when the Cats progressed to the Final Four and ultimately the championship.

We wanted to complain that the team got this far the one semester we chose to go abroad, and at times we desperately wished that we could be there in person. But then we remembered that we’re living in Rome, having amazing experiences traveling, exploring and interning, and that we really shouldn’t be complaining at all.

Some of my friends studying in other countries felt the need to travel all the way home for the weekend to see the game. But in Rome, my classmates and I found that the deep-rooted sense of community at Villanova isn’t confined to campus borders. The hope and determination to win was felt strongly here, and we all came together as a Villanova family to watch the Cats however we could (even if that did mean spotty streaming services). We created our own Villanova home away from home.

By researching some local pubs, we were able to find a bar in the area that was willing to play the championship game for us. The Highlander Pub agreed to keep its doors open, even though the game was at a ridiculous hour. They even provided free popcorn!

The energy in the room was electric, as more than 30 of us piled into the pub clad in Villanova gear with painted faces at 3:19 in the morning, eager to watch our favorite team make history. The game was a wave of emotions, and with so many Villanova fans in one room sporting blue war paint it felt like we had never left campus. Everyone exploded when we won the game with a three-point buzzer-beater.

novaRoma

The Villanova-Rome watch party.

The staff at the Highlander allowed us to make their pub feel like home, and it was one of my favorite nights this semester. It made me realize how strong the Villanova spirit and culture really are, and although part of me would have loved to be in Houston or Villanova for the game, I am truly lucky to have experienced it Rome, as my abroad classmates and I will forever share unique memories from the historic game.

We realize just how blessed we are to be able to feel such a connection to our school even from over 4,000 miles away, and it’s something none of us will ever take for granted.

Besides, who says the Wildcats can’t do it again next year when I’m a senior and back on campus?

*Gaby Maniscalco is a junior majoring in communications at Villanova University. She hails from New Jersey and loves yoga, traveling and her mini-labradoodle. She is currently studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome Bureau.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 3, 2016

"These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." -- John 20:31

“These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” — John 20:31

 

April 3, Second Sunday of Easter

      Divine Mercy Sunday

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 5:12-16

      Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

      2) Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19

      Gospel: John 20:19-31

 

By Jeff Hensley
Catholic News Service

Jesus is risen! He is risen, indeed! And that seems to be much of what today’s readings reflect.

The Gospel relates the account of Thomas coming to faith when Jesus appears before him and the other disciples. Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to put his finger on his hand, to put his hand into his side. But Thomas doesn’t need the proof he had earlier said he required. His response to Jesus is, “My Lord and my God!”

The chapter closes with the writer saying, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”

When I came into the Catholic Church in 1974, I had already witnessed many great things Jesus had done in my life. In the intervening decades, I have seen him act again and again in my own life and the lives of those around me, often in amazing ways. Prayers have been answered, difficult situations that should not have worked out well did.

For example, once on ice-coated streets, moving downhill at 20 miles per hour, the pickup I was driving went from sliding sideways on a collision course with the trunks of five substantial cars into the one open lane on the far right side of the intersection and coming smoothly to a stop, as though there were no ice on the road at all.

I believe my experiences and similar ones of those who read this are part and parcel of those books that the next chapter of John refers to as being more than the whole world could contain. It was all brought about by the obedience of the son of God, who laid down his life to take it up again in its resurrected form, that we too might have life in his name.

QUESTIONS:

Have you experienced God’s saving mercies in your own life and that of your family? Are those stories part of your personal or family lore?

Picture-perfect St. Patrick now is in high school

By Jim Lackey

If you’ve visited our new website, you may have seen the cute promo pictured here for our saints section.

Yesterday we learned the backstory of the boy in the photo dressed as St. Patrick for an All Saints’ Day Mass.

  • Yes, his name also is Patrick, partly because he missed being born on St. Patrick’s Day by one day.
  • Yes, St. Patrick still is his favorite saint.
  • And yes, he’s still active in his Georgia parish.

Patrick Jackson’s backstory comes courtesy of The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Georgia Bulletin photographer Michael Alexander, who shot the photo of Patrick dressed as Patrick in 2006, caught up with young Patrick in time for St. Patrick’s Day last month.

And yesterday the paper tweeted about it:

Today, Patrick Jackson is a freshman at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta. He’s on the track team, he wrestles on the varsity squad,  he’s been involved in his parish altar server program since third grade, and he’s a lector at parish youth Masses.

There’s more fun stuff in Alexander’s story (such as how the young Patrick thought in kindergarten that, because of his first name, he was having two birthday parties on two consecutive days). Read the rest of Alexander’s account here.

Pope Francis’ prayer, “O Cross of Christ”

 

POPE GOOD FRIDAY COLOSSEUM

Pope Francis presides over the Way of the Cross outside Rome’s Colosseum March 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — Here is the Vatican’s English translation of Pope Francis’ prayer last night at the conclusion of the Via Crucis service at Rome’s Colosseum:

O Cross of Christ, symbol of divine love and of human injustice, icon of the supreme sacrifice for love and of boundless selfishness even unto madness, instrument of death and the way of resurrection, sign of obedience and emblem of betrayal, the gallows of persecution and the banner of victory.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you raised up in our sisters and brothers killed, burned alive, throats slit and decapitated by barbarous blades amid cowardly silence.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the faces of children, of women and people, worn out and fearful, who flee from war and violence and who often only find death and many Pilates who wash their hands.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in those filled with knowledge and not with the spirit, scholars of death and not of life, who instead of teaching mercy and life, threaten with punishment and death, and who condemn the just.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in unfaithful ministers who, instead of stripping themselves of their own vain ambitions, divest even the innocent of their dignity.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the hardened hearts of those who easily judge others, with hearts ready to condemn even to the point of stoning, without ever recognizing their own sins and faults.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in expressions of fundamentalism and in terrorist acts committed by followers of some religions which profane the name of God and which use the holy name to justify their unprecedented violence.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in those who wish to remove you from public places and exclude you from public life, in the name of a pagan laicism or that equality you yourself taught us.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the powerful and in arms dealers who feed the cauldron of war with the innocent blood of our brothers and sisters.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in traitors who, for thirty pieces of silver, would consign anyone to death.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in thieves and corrupt officials who, instead of safeguarding the common good and morals, sell themselves in the despicable marketplace of immorality.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the foolish who build warehouses to store up treasures that perish, leaving Lazarus to die of hunger at their doorsteps.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the destroyers of our “common home,, who by their selfishness ruin the future of coming generations.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the elderly who have been abandoned by their families, in the disabled and in children starving and cast-off by our egotistical and hypocritical society.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas which have become insatiable cemeteries, reflections of our indifferent and anesthetized conscience.

O Cross of Christ, image of love without end and way of the Resurrection, today too we see you in noble and upright persons who do good without seeking praise or admiration from others.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in ministers who are faithful and humble, who illuminate the darkness of our lives like candles that burn freely in order to brighten the lives of the least among us.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the faces of consecrated women and men — good Samaritans — who have left everything to bind up, in evangelical silence, the wounds of poverty and injustice.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the merciful who have found in mercy the greatest expression of justice and faith.

POPE GOOD FRIDAY COLOSSEUM

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in simple men and women who live their faith joyfully day in and day out, in filial observance of your commandments.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the contrite, who in the depths of the misery of their sins, are able to cry out: Lord, remember me in your kingdom!

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in the blessed and the saints who know how to cross the dark night of faith without ever losing trust in you and without claiming to understand your mysterious silence.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in families that live their vocation of married life in fidelity and fruitfulness.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in volunteers who generously assist those in need and the downtrodden.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in those persecuted for their faith who, amid their suffering, continue to offer an authentic witness to Jesus and the Gospel.

O Cross of Christ, today too we see you in those who dream, those with the heart of a child, who work to make the world a better place, ever more human and just.

In you, Holy Cross, we see God who loves even to the end, and we see the hatred of those who want to dominate, that hatred which blinds the minds and hearts of those who prefer darkness to light.

O Cross of Christ, Arc of Noah that saved humanity from the flood of sin, save us from evil and from the Evil One. O Throne of David and seal of the divine and eternal Covenant, awaken us from the seduction of vanity! O cry of love, inspire in us a desire for God, for goodness and for light.

O Cross of Christ, teach us that the rising of the sun is more powerful than the darkness of night. O Cross of Christ, teach us that the apparent victory of evil vanishes before the empty tomb and before the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God which nothing can defeat, obscure or weaken. Amen!

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