U.S. student choir livens things up in Vatican press hall

By Laura Ieraci

VATICAN CITY — The usual frenetic sound in the Vatican press hall of journalists hammering away at their computer keyboards was briefly muted yesterday by the powerful and soulful voices of the Walsh University Chamber Singers.

The 26 students, who travelled to Rome from North Canton, Ohio, popped into the press hall after the papal audience for an impromptu concert.

The Walsh University Chamber Singers gather for a photo in the John Paul II Conference Room at the Vatican press office yesterday. (Photo Danilo Mori/Walsh University)

The Walsh University Chamber Singers gather for a photo in the John Paul II Conference Room at the Vatican press office yesterday. (Photo Danilo Mori/Walsh University)

The journalists welcomed the change of pace; some recorded the students’ performance of a Gospel hymn and of Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria in four-part harmony on their cell phones. The choir is directed by Britt Cooper, an associate professor of music at Walsh.

At the papal audience earlier that morning, the students belted out a 45-second tune for Pope Francis when the master of ceremony announced their presence in St. Peter’s Square. Somewhat bittersweet, Pope Francis rode into the square on his popemobile at that very moment, and the cheers of excited pilgrims blotted out their voices.

Their enthusiasm, however, seemed hardly dampened during their performance in the press hall, which took place after a spontaneous request by Danilo Mori, the director of the university’s Italy campus.

The singers were in Rome on their May 2015 Italy Tour; the choir’s first Italy tour was in 2011.

The 2015 tour schedule included several performances at sacred sites, including at Mass at the basilicas of Santa Maria Novella in Florence for Pentecost, May 24, and St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome May 26. They were also to perform at a Memorial Day event at the American Cemetery in Nettuno, about 40 miles outside Rome.

But the choir has welcomed every opportunity to sing — planned or not — performing spontaneously at different sites they have visited, said Mori.

Mori said the choir members are not necessarily music majors, but they are committed to music, practicing six hours per week and polishing their repertoire, which includes songs in English, Italian, French and Latin.

Walsh is a Catholic university, located in the Diocese of Youngstown and founded by the Brothers of Christian Instruction in 1960. It has about 4,000 students.

The university opened a campus in Italy in 2007, located on 10 acres of land in Castel Gandolfo in the hills outside Rome. About 100 students from Walsh come to Italy each year to take part in the fall, spring and summer programs, which offer them an opportunity to “come into contact with the Catholic world and the Catholic identity close-up,” said Mori.

 

 

A beatification for the 21st century

Father Estefan Turcios, a Salvadoran priest, is interviewed about Archbishop Oscar Romero via Skype by a TV station in Quito, Ecuador. (CNS photo by Rhina Guidos)

Father Estefan Turcios, a Salvadoran priest, is interviewed about Archbishop Oscar Romero via Skype by a TV station in Quito, Ecuador. (CNS photo by Rhina Guidos)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — If you can’t be in El Salvador for Saturday’s beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, not to worry. The Internet will bring it right to you. From Instagram photos, to blogs and tweets, Facebook updates and free downloadable prayer cards and posters, the event will reach a global audience bigger than the 200,000 to 260,000 expected to attend the ceremony in this Central American nation of 6 million.

Karla Orozco, of the beatificacionromero.org office at the Archdiocese of San Salvador, has handled much of the social media preparation of the event, including getting priests, religious and journalists credentialed online. There have been inquiries from places such as Switzerland, Rome, London, as well as from many neighboring countries, about the event, she said. Using www.beatificacionromero.org, a small team of four, as well as young volunteers who trickle in and out, have handled online inquiries from abroad, she said, getting out information about how to watch in online, what feeds to follow, posting photos and videos about the goings-on.

The office instituted hashtags, in English and Spanish, educating digital natives interested in the beatification months before the event, and almost as soon as news that the beatification would take place went out.

Elsa Flores Portillo, of Washington, D.C., and a native of El Salvador, said she keeps up with news about the event by following @MonsRomeroBeato, the beatification office’s Twitter feed. She plans to watch a livestream at her parish on Sunday, along with others who can’t make it to El Salvador for the event.

The use of the modern media being used to move news of his beatification might be a fitting tribute to Archbishop Romero. Though he lived simply, among the few remaining belongings left in a room where he lived as archbishop, visitors will notice a tape recorder. He kept an audio diary — high technology for those days, and an instrument to transmit the Gospel to a mass audience.

To follow the beatification via Twitter, you can follow the #BeatificacionRomero hashtag in Spanish, #RomeroBeatification in English.

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

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 http://tvcaelsalvador.org. 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.

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