At Romero’s beatification, offertory includes document of war’s atrocities

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – One of the offertory items at Saturday’s beatification ceremony of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero is a copy of a document generated during the peace accords that ended the country’s 12-year civil war in 1992.

“De la locura a la esperanza,” or “From madness to hope,” chronicles some of the greatest human rights atrocities committed by both sides of the armed conflict in the Central American nation.

The document lists the numerous disappearances as well as massacres, such as the one in the town of El Mozote, where about 800 unarmed civilians, including many children, were murdered in 1981. It also tells of the 1980 murder and rape of four women religious from North America.

The report was written by the Commission for Truth for El Salvador.

It will be offered “as our commitment to continue to work toward peace so that it can firmly be established in our country,” said an official from the Archdiocese of San Salvador.

Other items in the offertory include flowers and what’s called a “basic basket” filled with goods essential for a person to meet his or her basic needs each day, what he or she needs for a healthy life, physically and mentally. It is something that still eludes many Salvadorans.

For more on the Saturday beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, follow @CNS_Rhina on Twitter

A report about the atrocities committed during El Salvador's 12-year civil war will be one of the offertory items at the beatification ceremony for Archbishop Oscar Romero this Saturday.

A report about the atrocities committed during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war will be one of the offertory items at the beatification ceremony for Archbishop Oscar Romero this Saturday.

Changing locations: An intern’s final reflection on his time in Rome

By Elliot Williams*

VATICAN CITY — This is my last post for CNS — at least for the time being — so I’m going to get sentimental. I want to compare the first time I attended Pope Francis’ general audience in March to my most recent attendance, which was yesterday.

The first time I went to the audience, I found myself nestled in the crowd, vision blocked by a young man taking a selfie:

first time seeing Francis

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims during his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 13. (CNS/Elliot Williams)

Two months later, I was past the barricades at the very front of the crowd with a team of professional photojournalists:

Pope Francis audience

Pope Francis walking past photojournalists at his Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 13. (CNS/Elliot Williams)

How was this change in location possible, you ask? Well, it took months of learning about the Vatican and how it operates, writing stories about all things Catholic, and developing a journalistic persistence that I observed in every journalist at the Vatican.

Usually quite reserved, this professional confidence didn’t come naturally to me, but is the product of dedicated guidance from my wonderful colleagues at Catholic News Service. I am sad to say goodbye, even though I cannot wait to return home Saturday. This bittersweet feeling comes from a realization that these past three months working in Rome have changed me.

I have become more spiritual, in the sense that I study sacred Scripture more often, and know significantly more about the Catholic Church than when I arrived.

I am also unafraid of being the new guy in a new place anymore. In fact, I’ve grown to appreciate newness, that feeling of temporary discomfort that is often more exciting than being completely familiar with a situation.

Changing locations teaches you a lot about yourself and makes you appreciate things you might never have realized you had access to. Peanut butter, for instance, isn’t nearly as available in Rome as it is in America. However, you quickly learn to love everything the city does have to offer, such as Rome’s selection of every Nutella product you can think of.

At Pope Francis’ audience on Wednesday, he spoke of three phrases that can improve family life, one of which is “Thank You.” Thank you, he said, expresses gratitude, and helps maintain meaningful relationships. Thankfulness is “the language of God,” he said.

In this light, I am so grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with this semester abroad. I don’t know when I’ll ever have an experience so meaningful again, but if there’s one thing I learned from this trip, it’s that anything is possible when you believe in yourself. As a friend at CNS once told me, as soon as you convince yourself that you’re capable of something, it’s much easier to convince others of the same. (Pope Francis clearly waving to me:)

wave Francis

Pope Francis in the popemobile during the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square May 13. (CNS/Elliot Williams)

So with that, here’s “goodbye” and “thank you” Rome, Vatican City, and Catholic News Service. Arrivederci!

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. 

Red vestments, and a bloodstained relic at Oscar Romero’s beatification

Organizers of the beatification of slain Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero say they expect 200,000 to 260,000 to attend the May 23 event in El Salvador.

Archbishop Romero was fatally shot March 24, 1980, as he celebrated Mass. Often invoking the Gospel, he called for a stop to the violence and killing of civilians during the country’s civil war. More than 70,000 died in the conflict, which lasted from 1979 until 1992.

Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, looks at the vestments bishops and priests will wear for the beatification of El Salvador's Archbishop Óscar Romero on May 23.  (Photo courtesy of Beatificación Romero)

Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador, looks at the vestments bishops and priests will wear for the beatification of El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Romero on May 23. (Photo courtesy of Beatificación Romero)

In February, Vatican officials said Archbishop Romero was killed “in hatred of the faith” and officially declared him a martyr.

The beatification ceremony will be at 10 a.m. local time at the Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo (or Divine Savior of the World Plaza) in the bustling city center of the country’s capital, San Salvador.

The altar will have a relic, part of the shirt Archbishop Romero wore when he was fatally shot and which subsequently soaked up some of the martyr’s blood, officials said. The stage also will have a large image of Our Lady of Peace, the patroness of El Salvador. Organizers said they have arranged a VIP area for the poor, for peasants, for the country’s indigenous people — all those Archbishop Romero favored.

Televisión Católica de El Salvador, the country’s Catholic TV station, will livestream the ceremony at Catholic News Service will tweet live here at 8 a.m. Eastern time.

Organizers say they expect 200 bishops, 1,200 priests and six cardinals to attend. They will wear red vestments, signifying martyrdom, with Archbishop Romero’s episcopal motto: “sentir con la iglesia,” or “feel with the church,” also translated as “to think with the church.”

The pope up close

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — Since arriving at the Vatican to begin my internship at Catholic News Service many a friend from home has asked the same question sarcastically, “So, did you meet the pope yet?”

I play along, and respond with something along the lines of, “Oh, of course! We grabbed cappuccinos at his favorite coffee bar just yesterday.”


Pope Francis and President James Alix Michel.

Pope Francis and President James Alix Michel.

While I’ve never actually shared a coffee with the Holy Father, I did have the experience of a lifetime last Thursday when Pope Francis held a private audience with the president of Seychelles.

Pope Francis welcomed Col. James Alix Michel of the Republic of Seychelles into his private library in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, where they quietly spoke in both French and English. I know because I was there.

Intermingled with a squad of about 12 photographers and journalists — all pushing and shoving each other for a spot with the best angle — we watched as gifts and words were exchanged between the pope and the president.

A broadcast journalist who traveled from Seychelles to cover the gathering told me this was a very timely meeting because the president is trying to reinstate traditional values of family and spirituality into his predominantly Christian country.

My behind-the-scenes Vatican visit began as I joined the team of journalists and went through the metal detectors in St. Peter’s Square, past the Swiss Guards at the Bronze Doors and into a large hall directly to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Walking up to the Bronze Doors.

Walking up to the Bronze Doors.

We were escorted to the heart of the Vatican — the San Damaso Courtyard, where a troop of Swiss Guards were lined up. After about five minutes of waiting outside the Apostolic Palace, in we went!

Met by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, we passed countless Swiss Guards, stationed around the palace.

Speaking of Swiss Guards, I’ve never seen so many blue, orange, red, and yellow tailor-made uniforms in my life, all complemented with swords and halberds. The ones who were allowed to make eye contact and talk to us were all very friendly and accommodating. I only wish I’d asked to take a selfie with one of them, which I’ve occasionally seen tourists do.

The process then became very chaotic and confusing, especially for someone who has never been to a meeting so important in his entire life.

President Michel entered with seven fellow politicians, and met Pope Francis in the pope’s private library. We journalists were led through a less obvious hallway to reach the library where we took pictures until the pope and the president’s private meeting began. We crowded around the pope, something I never thought I would do, and observed until the press secretary shooed us out of the room.

President Michel and Pope Francis exchange gifts right in front of me!

President Michel and Pope Francis exchange gifts right in front of me!

Twenty minutes passed, and aides gave us rosaries blessed by the Holy Father before they let us back into the library.

Between the Swiss Guards saluting us at every corner, and the gentlemen escorting us through secret hallways connecting each chamber, I believe I witnessed a part of the Vatican that few people get the chance to see — especially people my age. (Editor’s note: Elliot is 21.)

This world became smaller for me during Thursday’s meeting. Although the pope and the president of Seychelles come from very different places, they seemed to be closely connected through faith.

I doubt I will have the opportunity to scurry through the private halls of the Vatican again before I leave for my home of Philadelphia in two weeks, but this was certainly an important encounter to witness, one that I will take with me and share for the rest of my life.

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. The photos here were taken with a little cell phone since Elliot was a “print only” member of the press pool for the president’s visit.

Amman hospital patients have special needs, including ways to meet up with family

By Mark Pattison

AMMAN, Jordan –- The Italian Hospital in Amman has more refugee patients than Jordanian patients. In addition to their physical problems, many have psychological needs that stem from their being terrorized in their homeland.

One patient sat curled up in his bed while a friend stood at his bedside. The patient gave no evidence that he was aware of all the people milling around.

Adnan Adnidihad, 62, a refugee from Iraq, is recovering from psychological problems at the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

Adnan Adnidihad, 62, a refugee from Iraq, is recovering from psychological problems at the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

Among the patients were two residents of Mosul, Iraq, who had sought refuge in Jordan.

Agnan Adnidihad is 62 years old, but looks a couple of decades older. With Dr. Khalid Shammas, the hospital’s chief physician, interpreting, Adnidihad said he has family in the United States, including a daughter in San Diego, but the nation’s doors are not open to him at this time.

Adnidihad is a member of the Assyrian Orthodox Church, and it was nearly a week after the Orthodox Easter when he was interviewed. “It is the same everywhere” for Easter, Adnidihad said. Shammas added, “Of course, being away from his own country, it is different for him.”

“They took everything away,” Shammas added, a reference to the Islamic State, which has terrorized Mosul since late last summer. “His money, his jewelry, gold. Everything. They left Mosul without anything.”

Arshad Daghdoni, 30, a refugee from Iraq, rests at the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

Arshad Daghdoni, 30, a refugee from Iraq, rests at the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

If he were to gain entry to the United States, Adnidihad thinks he would quickly find gainful employment. In Mosul, Shammas said, “he used to have a place where he would renovate machines — cars.”

Then there is the situation of Arshad Daghdoni. Already by age 30, he has had a stroke and a heart attack. The Assyrian Catholic also broke his ankle late last year.

Daghdoni, who learned English while in high school in Mosul, worked for more than a year for the U.S. military in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad as an interpreter. Despite this on his resume, he cannot get to the United States.

His family lives in near New Haven, Connecticut, but he can’t get to them –- his appeals to the United States and United Nations have to this point fallen on deaf ears —  and they can’t get to him.

“They don’t even all have green cards,” he said.

The men were just two of the patients. A third was a newborn baby whose parents were refugees from the civil war in Syria. The child’s father could not speak English, and the baby’s mother did not want to be photographed.

– – –

I will continue to blog from time to time about things I encountered on my #holyjordan journey. Also, look me up on Twitter at @MeMarkPattison.

For all who labor and are burdened

By Michelle Hough*

VATICAN CITY — Tomorrow, May 1, many countries will mark International Labor Day to celebrate the workers of the world. It is a public holiday here in Italy and in many other nations. But there are millions of people who rarely get days off. These are the estimated 21 million people who are the victims of trafficking.

You don’t have to go to “the peripheries,” in the words of Pope Francis, to meet these victims, because often they are “hiding in plain sight” in our societies. They’ve picked and packaged our food, they’ve made our cheap clothes, they’re looking after our children and parents and they are walking the streets in our cities.

With the support of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, COATNET — Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings — made this short film about trafficking.

Here are 10 things you may not know about trafficking:

  1. Trafficking is another name for modern slavery. Trafficking is the exploitation of people who may be trafficked into prostitution, forced labour or domestic servitude through deception or kidnapping. Sometimes they are transported across borders.
  2. Trafficking is said to be the third largest criminal industry in the world.
  3. The demand for cheap clothes, cheap sex and cheap, illegal and informal labor is at the roots of trafficking.
  4. Victims are often women from poor backgrounds and with little education. They end up being abused as domestic workers or being forced into prostitution.
  5. Children are also vulnerable to trafficking. They may end up in sexual exploitation or bonded or domestic labor, or made to become camel jockeys, drugs couriers or child soldiers.
  6. Men are trafficked, too. They are heavily exploited in agriculture or construction, often live in inhuman conditions and are sometimes sexually abused.
  7. It is not necessarily men who are traffickers. Women sometimes befriend other women of their country and lure them into a situation where they are trafficked. There are “madams” who ensure a constant supply of sex workers from Africa and Eastern Europe to richer countries.
  8. Some traffickers make people believe they will have better life in another country, but once they get them abroad they take away their passport, their rights and their freedom. Sometimes recruitment agencies facilitate the trafficking.
  9. People are sometimes trafficked and killed for their organs and their heads, which are used in traditional medicine.
  10. People who escape a trafficked situation may end up being a slave again because they have no documents and they can’t find other work. Other former victims of trafficking don’t want to return to their kin because they feel ashamed that they’ve been duped and that they’ve failed their family.

*Hough is a communications officer for Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based confederation of more than 160 national Catholic charities from around the world.

Getting the most out of a visit to the Vatican Museums

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — If you plan on visiting the Vatican Museums, one of the most visited attractions in all of Rome, and one of the most visited art museums in the world, it is important to have some valuable information beforehand.

A school group enters the Vatican Museums. (CNS/Paul Haring)

A school group enters the Vatican Museums. (CNS/Paul Haring)

With 4.4 miles of exhibit halls that display some of the world’s most famous masterpieces, this is an admittedly exhausting, but must-see location on your trip to Vatican City. You will want to eat a big breakfast — perhaps three cornetti (Italy’s version of the croissant) — beforehand to make it through the museums, which spread throughout two Vatican palaces.

Here are the basics:

— First and foremost, the museums are open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm, but the ticket office closes at 4 pm. The museums are typically closed on Sundays.

However, on the last Sunday of each month — except when a holiday falls on a Sunday — the public can enter for free from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. On the free Sundays, the museums close at 2 p.m. It must be noted that the queue on these free Sundays extends almost to the Colosseum (I’m exaggerating, but you will be waiting quite a while) so plan accordingly.

In addition, the Vatican Museums have announced their seasonal night openings. On Friday evenings from April 24 until Oct. 30 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (except during the month of August) you can visit the Vatican treasures and, perhaps, be lucky enough to catch some live music. To visit the museums at night, it is obligatory to purchase the tickets online in advance.

— For a calendar of the Vatican Museums’ opening hours for 2015, holidays and special events, you can click here.

— Of course, the wise pilgrim wants to know how this visit will fit into the budget. The basic prices are:

General admission: € 16,00

Children (up to 18 years of age): € 8,00

— You can — and really should — purchase tickets online in advance so you can skip the line. You cannot purchase these tickets more than 60 days in advance of your visit.


There no doubt will be ladies and gentlemen throwing tour offers your direction if you are walking toward St. Peter’s Square wearing anything remotely touristy. Do not be alarmed. With any tour agency you are taking a chance. These experiences get mixed reviews -– some participants wait for hours on a coach bus, leaving them with little time to see the museums themselves, while others have a great time and learn plenty, getting their full money’s worth.

My advice is to do your research well in advance, and read plenty of reviews. Your overall best bet is to book an official tour through the museums website, either with a group larger than 16 people, individually or with an exclusive tour guide for groups of up to 15 people.For an extra fee, there also are guided tours with options to see both the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Gardens, or the Santa Rosa necropolis, also known as the necropolis of Via Triumphalis.

A detail of the Santa Rosa necropolis. (CNS/Vatican Museums)

A detail of the Santa Rosa necropolis. (CNS/Vatican Museums)

Whatever you choose, you are going to need plenty of time to see the museums (at least two hours); it took me three hours to go through all the exhibits by myself with an audio guide (which costs € 7).

The Sistine Chapel alone makes the whole visit to the museums worth it. This 15th-century masterpiece is certainly the most famous building in all of the museums. It served as a private chapel for Pope Sixtus IV, with frescoes by the reluctant Michelangelo who didn’t consider himself a painter when Pope Julius II commissioned him for the work in 1508.

The Sistine Chapel. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Sistine Chapel. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Yet, if his “Creation of Adam,” the ceiling’s centerpiece, doesn’t expand your belief in what is humanly possible, nothing will. Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” on the wall behind the altar is just as awe-inspiring; it took the artist five years to complete (1536-1541) and covers 200 square meters with 391 figures. The frescoes that adorn the other walls were completed by famous painters Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli in the late 1400s and depict scenes from the lives of Moses and Christ.

If you’re looking for a quiet place to pray, however, the Sistine Chapel is not the place for you. As the museums’ main attraction, one can imagine why this chapel becomes packed quicker than you can say Giovannino de’ Dolci (who was involved in the actual construction of the chapel). Despite the attendants shouting into a microphone, “SHHH, Be quiet!” every few minutes, the chapel is so beautiful that most visitors (including me) can’t keep their spiritual reflections to themselves. You also will be kindly, or sometimes unkindly, reminded that there is no photography allowed in the chapel. But don’t worry, pictures don’t do the paintings justice, so hopefully your aunt back home won’t be too upset if you can’t send a ‘Sistine-selfie’ to her.

By the time you reach the stunning ceiling frescoes in the final and longest gallery of the Vatican Museums, the Gallery of Maps, you will most likely be craving a large bowl of carbonara and quite possibly a nap. Luckily for you, you’ve just seen some of the world’s greatest artistic achievements.

For more Vatican Museum Tips, click here.

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.


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