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Pope Francis to Slovakia’s young Catholics: Confession is the ‘sacrament of joy’

Pope Francis addresses young people at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, Slovakia, Sept. 14, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Kosice, Slovakia, Sep 14, 2021 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis told young Slovakian Catholics on Tuesday that Confession is an “infallible remedy” for the times when they are feeling down.

Speaking at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, eastern Slovakia, on Sept. 14, the pope advised young people who felt downcast to receive the sacrament.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Responding to a question from Petra Filová, a 29-year-old student, about how to overcome obstacles to encountering God’s mercy, he said: “Today, there are so many disruptive forces, so many people ready to blame everyone and everything, spreaders of negativity, professional complainers.”

“Pay no attention to them, no, for pessimism and complaining are not Christian. The Lord detests glumness and victimhood. We were not made to be downcast, but to look up to heaven, to others, to society.”

“But when we feel downcast -- because everyone in life is a little down at certain times, we all know this experience -- what are we to do? There is one infallible remedy that can put us back on our feet. Petra, it is what you said: Confession.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The 84-year-old pope, who is making his first international trip since undergoing surgery in July, began his four-day visit to Slovakia on Sept. 12.

He arrived in the country after a seven-hour visit to Budapest, in neighboring Hungary, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress and met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope spoke at an ecumenical gathering in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, on the evening of his arrival.

On Sept. 13, his first full day in the country, he addressed political leaders, offered encouragement to the Catholic community, and visited a homeless center run by Mother Teresa’s nuns on the capital’s outskirts.

In his first public engagement on Tuesday, he presided at a Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Prešov, 20 miles north of Košice. In the afternoon, he met with members of the minority Roma community in Košice’s Luník IX district.

He traveled directly from Luník IX to Lokomotiva Stadium, which was built in 1970 and usually hosts soccer games.

The live-streamed event, attended by an estimated 25,000 exuberant young people, began with an introduction by Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, followed by three testimonies.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope encouraged youngsters to see that God’s mercy, not their sins, is what lies at the heart of Confession.

He said: “I will give you a little piece of advice: after each Confession, sit still for a few moments in order to remember the forgiveness you received. Hold on to that peace in your heart, that inner freedom you are feeling; not your sins, which no longer exist, but the forgiveness that God has granted you, the caress of God the Father. Just hold on to that; don’t let it fade.”

“And the next time you go to Confession, remember: I am going to receive again the embrace that did me so much good. I don’t go to a judge to settle accounts, I go to Jesus who loves me and heals me.”

He added: “In Confession, let us give God first place. If God is the protagonist, everything becomes beautiful and Confession becomes the sacrament of joy. Yes, joy; not fear and judgment but joy.”

As the pope spoke, he was frequently interrupted by applause. He paused several times to ask the crowd questions, pretending at times not to hear their answers so they would answer more loudly.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Continuing his reflection, he urged priests who heard Confessions to be merciful and never “curious or inquisitorial.”

To those who are embarrassed to enter the confessional box, the pope said that feeling ashamed was positive because it indicated regret.

“Feeling ashamed is a good sign, but like any other sign, it asks you to move beyond it,” he said. “Don’t let shame imprison you, because God is never ashamed of you. He loves you in the very place where you feel ashamed. And he loves you always.”

To those who are concerned that they always commit the same sins, he said: “Listen, is God ever offended? Is he offended if you go to him and ask for forgiveness? No, never. God suffers when we think that he can’t forgive us, because that is like us telling him: ‘Your love is not strong enough.’”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He continued: “Instead, God rejoices in forgiving us, time and time again. Whenever he picks us up, he believes in us as if it were the first time. He never grows discouraged. We are the ones who get discouraged, not he. He does not label us as sinners: he sees us as children to be loved. He does not see us as lost causes, but as beloved and hurting children; and then he feels all the more compassion and tenderness.”

“And every time we go to Confession -- never forget this -- there is a party in heaven. May it also be so on earth.”

The pope also answered a question about the value of chaste love, posed by Peter Lešak, a 37-year-old company manager who is married with three daughters.

Francis said: “Love is our greatest dream in life, but it does not come cheap. Like all great things in life, love is beautiful, but not easy.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

While love may begin with an emotion, he noted, it should not be reduced to a mere feeling.

“Love is not about having everything now; it is not part of today’s throwaway culture. Love is fidelity, gift, and responsibility,” he commented.

“Today, being truly original and revolutionary means rebelling against the culture of the ephemeral, going beyond instinct, beyond the instant, and loving with every fiber of your being, for the rest of your life.”

He urged his listeners not “just to make do, but to make something of our lives,” striving for both love and heroism, like Jesus when he gave his life on the Cross.

A portrait of Blessed Anna Kolesárová at Lokomotiva Stadium. Vatican Media.
A portrait of Blessed Anna Kolesárová at Lokomotiva Stadium. Vatican Media.

The pope also offered the example of a local blessed, Anna Kolesárová, who was beatified in Lokomotiva Stadium on Sept. 1, 2018.

In May that year, Pope Francis recognized Kolesárová as a martyr killed “in hatred of the faith.”

Born in present-day eastern Slovakia in 1928, she was killed by a drunken Soviet soldier in 1944, near the end of the Second World War.

At the time, Soviet troops were passing through Kolesárová's district. When a soldier entered her home and found the family in hiding, he attempted to rape Kolesárová, threatening her with death if she did not comply. Kolesárová refused, and the soldier shot her in front of her family.

The pope told young people that Kolesárová, who died at the age of 16, taught youth to “aim high,” describing her as a “heroine of love.”

He said: “Please, don’t let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera. And when you dream of love, don’t go looking for special effects, but realize that each of you is special. Every one of us is a gift and make life, your own life, a gift. Others, your communities, the poor, are waiting for you.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He encouraged youngsters to “dream fearlessly” of creating a family and having children.

He urged them not to be ashamed of their frailties, “for there is someone out there ready to accept and love them, someone who will love you just as you are.”

He said that, for love to be fruitful, it was essential that young people remembered their roots, honoring their parents and, especially, their grandparents.

“Cultivate your roots, visit your grandparents; it will do you good. Ask them questions, take time to listen to their stories,” he suggested.

“Today, there is a danger of growing up rootless, because we feel we always have to be on the go, to do everything in a hurry. What we see on the internet immediately enters our homes; just one click and people and things pop up on our screen. Those faces can end up becoming more familiar than those of our own families. Bombarded by virtual messages, we risk losing our real roots.”

“To grow disconnected from life, or to fantasize in a void, is not a good thing; it is a temptation from the evil one. God wants us to be firmly grounded, connected to life. Never closed, but always open to all.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Finally, the pope answered a question about how young people can be encouraged to embrace the crosses in their lives. The question was asked by Peter Liška, 33, and his wife, Lenka, 35, who have three children.

In his testimony, Liška described his troubled youth and a five-year illness as an adult that only lifted after the family received a relic of Blessed Anna Kolesárová.

The pope said: “When we are embraced, we regain confidence in ourselves and also in life. So let us allow ourselves to be embraced by Jesus. Because when we embrace Jesus, we embrace hope again.”

He added: “When we embrace Jesus, joy is reborn. And the joy of Jesus, in pain, is transformed into peace. More than anything, I want this joy for you. I want you to bring it to your friends. Not sermons, but joy. Bring joy. Not words, but smiles, fraternal closeness.”

He urged the young people to pray for him and then led the crowd in reciting the Our Father.

On Sept. 15, his final day in Slovakia, the pope will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín, western Slovakia.

The basilica contains a revered image of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, the patroness of Slovakia, that has attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II.

The pope’s visit will coincide with the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

CMMB provides medical relief, long-term recovery in Haiti after 7.2 magnitude earthquake

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Aug. 14, 2021. / Catholic Medical Mission Board

Les Cayes, Haiti, Sep 14, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

On August 14, Josette lost everything. A single mother, she had gone to the supermarket to sell items to support her four children when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti. She returned home to find her house collapsed, with her mother and her children crushed beneath the rubble. Without hesitation, she began assisting her neighbors and went to the local church to ask the priest what he needed.

“She lost everything in less than a minute, but she helped her neighbors,” said Dr. Dianne Jean-François, program director for Haiti for Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB). “That struck me. The people have lost their loved ones, but they will go immediately, moving the rubble to take out children, women, men who are under the rubble, to save lives. That’s the resilience of these people.” 

According to a USAID report released Sept. 7, at least 2,207 people have died and more than 12,260 people sustained injuries since the earthquake struck in mid-August. Two days after the quake, Tropical Storm Grace made landfall in Haiti overnight, flooding the country with as much as 15 inches of rain in a single day in certain areas. 

People were also immediately without drinking water as mountains collapsed, preventing the passage of rivers and streams. Approximately 130,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, and more than 650,000 people are in need of humanitarian aid.

“It was already difficult for the people, and they were already living in terrible conditions—no jobs, no income-generating activities, depending on others, they had to survive,” said Jean-François, who has been working for CMMB for 18 years. “The earthquake came and destroyed what they had as their home and more. Then, you have [tropical storm] Grace, falling in the same ward, the southern part of Haiti, causing more problems.”

Haiti has long suffered from political turmoil and gang activities, while also facing the financial impacts of COVID-19, Jean-François said. The recent back-to-back natural disasters left the already-vulnerable country desperate for international assistance. 

Within six hours of the earthquake, CMMB had medical supplies, including antibiotics, pain killers, antiseptics, orthopedic supplies, and bandages on the ground in Haiti. The organization, which provides medical and development aid to communities affected by poverty and unequal access to healthcare, has been a stable presence in Haiti for the last 100 years. 

The day after the earthquake, CMMB sponsored a local team of two orthopedic surgeons and five anesthesiologists to provide surgeries.

“When you have an earthquake, either you die or you are crushed with bone injuries and internal bleeding,” Jean-François said. “You will have a lot of injured people. We sent antibiotic painkillers, anesthetic medicine, supplies for wounded care, and plaster.” 

With the medical supplies, the doctors were able to operate quickly and stabilize those with injuries soon after the earthquake occurred, Jean-François said. 

Additionally, CMMB began to mobilize at their headquarters in New York City, gathering supplies from pharmaceutical companies and benefactors. 

“We looked at what we had on hand, and within a week, we had two 40-foot containers going down,” said Dick Day, senior vice president for programs for CMMB.

CMMB employs nearly 150 people, most of whom are Haitian. In the aftermath of the disaster, they worked closely with the local ministry of health in Haiti to determine what supplies would be helpful, noting that their in-country colleagues are the decision-makers when it comes to what supplies to send.

“It's really the people on the ground that are in the best place to define what those needs are,” Day said. “The international community should always be trying to fill gaps. There was a lot of coordination that took place with Dianne in those first couple of days to make sure that we were mobilizing resources from here that she and our partners on the ground could use.”  

Coordinating efforts, Jean-François said, was something they learned following the 2010 earthquake, during which time many relief programs were operating independently, instead of working together or with the local government. 

“We talk with the Ministry of Health because they are the ones coordinating the response, the medical emergency,” she said. “That's a lesson learned from the earthquake in 2010. There was no real coordination, and that created a lot of issues later.” 

Two weeks ago, Jean-François traveled to the southern part of the country to assess the current situation and begin planning longer-term recovery efforts. 

“We’re working with the priests and sisters in the different communities because they live in the community,” Jean-François said. “They know our vulnerable [people]. The really vulnerable will not be able to rebuild their homes. They will not have funds to live for daily living.”

“With the sisters and the priests, we will move forward, identifying the kind of infrastructure, a home that will be adapted to respond to any hurricane with winds of 150 kilometers and an earthquake of the same magnitude we had,” she said. 

After homes and rural health facilities are rebuilt, CMMB will help Haitians identify and work toward income-generating activities to establish a more secure financial situation. CMMB is also actively working with the local priests to encourage parishioners to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, an effort sidelined by the earthquake. 

“We're not fundamentally an emergency relief organization,” Day said. “We're more of a long-term public health organization, but we have a very demonstrated capacity, which has been developed over years in Haiti, because of the necessity of responding.” 

“We want to make sure we balance those two—that we have excellence in our emergency response, but also in our long-term public health programs,” he said.

Upcoming shipments from CMMB will include hygiene kits and additional medications. They will also provide water-purification systems for families to have access to clean drinking water.

As a native of Haiti herself, Jean-François is committed to helping her country with longer-term recovery, she said, beyond the current earthquake relief efforts. 

“I would like to see my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters, living a better life,” she said. “Give them opportunities so things can change for them. That is my motivation. It’s the wellbeing of everyone living in Haiti.”

Unity can only come from God, bishop tells prayer breakfast

Bishop Steven Lopes / Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

True unity comes from God and is not something created by man, the bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter stressed at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. 

Bishop Steven Lopes, in his Sept. 14 keynote address to the audience of Catholics, said that both Catholics and Americans must be mindful of where unity comes from in order to attain true peace. God revealed Himself to humanity as “a communion of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he said.  

“The Father who sent his Son, the Word made flesh, and the Holy Spirit to save his people precisely by drawing them into communion with himself,” he said. At Pentecost, Jesus Christ is “made present and active,” he said, and through the baptized, Christ’s mission is carried out.

It is the sacrament of baptism, said Lopes, that “informs and secures all other forms of authentic unity and communication” with Christ. 

And it is here where the Church must inform society, he added, particularly in the American vision of “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one.” 

People of faith working in the “civil realm” are the ones that ask “hard and necessary questions about human dignity, the inherent goodness of the created order, the nature of the human person,” said Lopes. 

“And without these questions, these annoying questions, political discourse devolves into empty slogans or worse, totalitarian imposition. We’ve seen that again and again.”

Lopes delivered his remarks at the 17th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering of Catholic clergy, leaders and public officials. 

Scripture scholar Jeff Cavins also addressed the prayer breakfast on Tuesday, urging Catholics to integrate the Word of God into their daily lives.

“If we’re going to change America, I truly believe that we have to live as disciples,” Cavins said, urging attendees to fight for their faith. “I would encourage you to fight like the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s Ark,” he quipped. 

The event’s organizers also honored Jimmy Lai, an imprisoned pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, with the Christifidelis Laici Award, named after Pope John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the mission of the laity in the world. 

In his keynote address on unity, Lopes suggested that his own diocese, the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, is an example of how unity works in the Church and in the world.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI created a new diocese in the United States and Canada for former Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. There are 40 parishes in the Ordinariate throughout the United States and Canada. 

In the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, or “Anglican Ordinariate,” as is commonly known, Mass is celebrated according to a unique missal, and other Anglican customs are observed. 

Lopes said his diocese is proof that unity with the Church does not mean that previous traditions must be abandoned. 

“My little diocese exists because unity is not just important, because it is what the Lord himself prayed for on the night before he died,” he said. “So, our experience of bridging this new life in the Catholic Church can perhaps give some insight on how unity and diversity work.” 

The bishop explained that “real unity” is “something more than the superficiality of a group of like-minded individuals acting in roughly the same way at approximately the same time.” 

Humanity was made to be in union with others, explained the bishop. 

“And, the Catholic would add, in baptism, we have received a vocation to make our Lord and God present in the world by manifesting the holiness of God who is One and Three,” he said. 

Unity, explained Lopes, is also “magnanimous.” 

Again drawing from the example of his diocese, he explained that even those who petitioned the Vatican for what would eventually become the Ordinariate “were surprised by the extent of Pope Benedict’s offer.” 

“A diocese with its own way of celebrating Mass is hugely generous and sparked comment in some corners that the Pope was ‘bending over backwards’ to accommodate people who might as well be called apostate,” he said. 

“The generosity of the gesture did not accord with a vision of the Church which would say: If you want to be in the Catholic Church, get in line with everyone else.”

This is false, said Lopes. He said that what the pope offered was not simply generosity, it was the “virtue of magnanimity.”  

“No less a figure than Abraham Lincoln built his second inaugural address around this same virtue, because he too saw it as the key to national unity,” said Lopes. “Magnanimity is part of the glue that holds communities and societies together and fosters an enrichment of those communities by integrating new people,” both in the Church and in the United States.

“The American idea works because it is not an idea,” he said. “It is a civic virtue, disposition of soul requiring real conversion and real action to embrace the other as good because we embrace the other as an equal.”

“Only then can it be a unifying force, not just a blending of diverse and divergent bodies into exterior uniformity,” said Lopes.  Lincoln’s words are engraved on his memorial just a few blocks from here serve as a summons. They are not merely meant as nostalgia.” 

What a Dominican priest from the Midwest has learned about Catholic-Muslim dialogue since 9/11

Pope Francis participates in an interreligious meeting at the site of Ur, outside Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 6, 2021. / Vatican Media

Denver, Colo., Sep 14, 2021 / 10:53 am (CNA).

Real-life relationships and a “holy curiosity” must be the basis for Catholic-Muslim dialogue, says a Dominican priest whose college discussions with Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks strengthened his own faith and set him on a path that took him to Egypt for in-depth academic study of Islam.

“American Catholics must avoid the temptation to reduce Muslims to an abstract,” Father Luke Barder, O.P., told CNA Aug. 26. “I think our charity and the teachings of the Church, particularly from John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council, require us to always maintain the dignity of our partner, even if they are of a different faith, and (to see) that their experiences are real.”

Fr. Barder, who was born in Illinois, joined the Dominicans in 2007 after working at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. For several years he lived in Cairo and studied Islamic studies and Arabic studies at the Dominican Institute for Oriental studies, receiving a graduate diploma in Islamic Studies from the American University in Cairo. He is now pastor at St. Dominic Catholic Parish in Denver.

Catholic-Muslim dialogue, he said, often raises the same question.

“The question everybody wants to ask is: is dialogue possible?” said Fr. Barder. He likes to use the answer he heard from a friar in Cairo: “No. Not Yet.”

Dialogue presupposes some common encounter or language, he explained.

“The biggest barrier right now between Christians and Muslims has less to do with religion, and more to do about a lot of other things, whether that’s economic, societal, history, etc., and the perceptions that we have of each other,” said Fr. Barder.

“One of the biggest problems is that we think we know who the other is or what they believe but in reality we have zero idea,” he said. “Before we can have substantive dialogue, we first need substantive encounters with each other. That can take a long time. But we’re doing that work.”

He advised Catholics who discuss religion with Muslims “to have the openness and the curiosity – I would call it a ‘holy curiosity’ –about how people experience life, how they hope, and how their faith informs them.”

“It’s not about a matter of who’s right and wrong, at first,” he said. “Before true dialogue and the issues of who’s right and who’s wrong have to happen, we should really not be afraid to encounter one another.”

Fr. Barder’s freshman year of college marked a turning point for his life and the world. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked four planes, attacking the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., with three of them. Passengers regained control of the fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, and diverted it from its intended target. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and have had a lasting impact on the U.S. and the world. The American responses included the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, with combined death tolls in the hundreds of thousands.

Up until the Sept. 11 attacks, Fr. Barder said, “I knew what my faith was and what Catholicism was but I rarely met a person of another faith. All of a sudden 9-11 drove this question: ‘what is religion and its role in society’?”

Barder, then a student at Purdue University in Indiana, had an academic interest in religion. However, he particularly benefitted from his participation in a group of Christian and Muslim students through Dialogues International.

“I got to meet a lot of Muslims and learn from them,” he said. “I always attribute my encounter with Dialogues International, particularly the Muslims there, as one of the major reasons I started going back to daily Mass and fell in love with daily prayer and a reverence for the divine, as they talked about it. It was a really beautiful encounter.”

Catholics should approach dialogue with Muslims from the perspective “that there is something to be gained or learned from your partner.” Alluding to Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions, Fr. Barder said, “the Catholic Church will not deny any ray of truth wherever it is found, and seeks to be able to realize what is the impulse of faith.”

“There’s so much more to our faith experience than the simple content of the faith,” he said.

Many Catholics do not necessarily hold their faith because of a particular doctrine, according to Fr. Barder.

“We practice our faith because we have had an encounter with Christ and the sacraments. And that allows us to continue to move forward and ‘pushes’ our faith,” he said. “It is the same on the other side. Their experiences of God, prayer on a daily basis, is the ‘push’ of their faith. That is something that we can certainly begin to see, to start with, and not deny that they’ve had encounters with God because they’re not Christian.”

As Fr. Barder learned through his fellow Dominicans’ encounter with a Cairo man, both Muslims and Catholics have misconceptions about each other, sometimes from a very young age.

“We had a good, good friend who, when he first met us, was deathly afraid to come into our priory,” he said. “His friends and his family discouraged him from coming over to the invitation for dinner, because they thought that Christian monks were witch doctors and practiced devil worship. That was a genuine, palpable fear he had of Christians.”

Fr. Barder encouraged Catholics in the U.S. to have self-awareness about their own cultural context and limitations. Religion is always “incarnated” in a people, and one’s own cultural moment, historical background, and formation means a great deal for how one’s religion is expressed.

“We often align ourselves with identity with religion and faith because it is also so tied to culture and our experience and identity and community. But we have to make sure that we don’t confuse the two wholeheartedly, to say that this community, a temporal expression of Catholicism, is the only way that it can be,” he said.

“The Catholic Church is so much more than what we experience in our parish. There is a greater expression of faith and religion that involves the people, place and culture in which it’s in.” Faith can “transcend all of that and find a variety of expressions.”

As a Latin rite Catholic in Cairo, Fr. Barder was a minority even among Egypt’s Catholics, most of whom are Coptic. For their part, Egyptian Muslims mainly encounter Coptic Orthodox Christians, and this forms how they think of Christianity.

“Muslim expression is as diverse as Catholic expression,” said the Dominican priest. “What we say of Saudi Arabia is not the same thing at all that we would say of Iraq.” In addition to the regional diversity, Islam is split between Sunni and Shia branches.

“We too quickly and easily equate Islam with the Middle East,” he added, noting that the most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is in southeast Asia. At the same time, even in the Middle East Islam is going through a unique expression based on the last 50 to 100 years of its history.

“There are many more people of good will than not, and I truly encountered that in Egypt, living among the Muslim population,” said Fr. Barder. “The goodwill that they expressed and offered to me, and the goodwill that the Dominicans there and the Christian community there has offered to their neighbors have been quite impressive. There is a virtue that I encountered there that inspired me to go deeper in my own faith and rely on God even more.”

For Fr. Barder, both the Catholic and Muslim religions impel their adherents to “encounter and encourage the true charity which is inherent in every single human being, because we are created in God’s image.” They also seek to identify reasons “why people lose good will.”

He also acknowledged negative trends. There is a “minority voice” that makes the most notice and even has “the biggest destructive impact.”

“What we have found is that not everybody is of good will,” said Fr. Barder. “In some very dramatic and public ways like the terrorist attacks, the lack of good will towards one’s neighbor, and even our reaction to it at times, has not always been demonstrative of good will.”

Mohamed Atta, considered the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, was from Egypt, though most hijackers were of Saudi Arabian nationality. Atta and several of his collaborators, however, had spent years in Germany and it was there that Atta began to pursue a strict version of Islam and seek out links with al-Qaeda.

Fr. Barder said any discussion of Atta was beyond his expertise, but he noted that some Muslims who commit terrorist acts in Europe were raised in immigrant enclaves there. He worried that the experience of some Muslims living in areas without a large Muslim community can make them feel rejected or lacking in “a sense of dignity or place and identity” that can feed extremism.

Concrete local engagement between Catholics and Muslims is also possible, said Fr. Barder.

“Go and see,” he said. “On a local level organize a group of parishioners and make a visit to a mosque. Invite a Muslim leader or a group to come and speak to you. Everybody loves food. Make a meal. Go and observe. Welcome them to come in.”

He encouraged discussion questions and topics like “what impels your faith? What do you believe? tell me the story of your faith, how it helps you through your day. What are your biggest worries in life?”

“That’s the beginning on a local level,” said Fr. Barder. “For us to be able to foster dialogue, it will only be able to happen on a foundation of mutual respect and friendship.”

Pope Francis visits impoverished Roma minority in Slovakia

Pope Francis speaks to the Roma community in the Lunik IX district in Košice, Slovakia, on Sept. 14, 2021. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday visited a ghetto in Slovakia to speak to the country’s marginalized and impoverished Roma minority.

During the Sept. 14 meeting, he told the Roma people, also known as the Romani, that the Catholic Church is their home and they should never “worry about whether you will be at home there.”

“Nobody ought ever keep you or anyone else away from the Church,” the pope emphasized, as he addressed Roma from throughout Slovakia, a nation of 5.5 million people bordering Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Austria.

The live-streamed gathering took place in the Luník IX district of the Slovakian city of Košice, where an estimated 7,500 Roma people live in buildings built to hold just 2,500.

Housing is in a state of degradation, with no working gas, electricity, or other services. The community is nearly all unemployed and the close living quarters have led to the spread of disease and other health problems.

People wait for Pope Francis to arrive in the Lunik IX district of Košice, Slovakia on Sept. 14, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA
People wait for Pope Francis to arrive in the Lunik IX district of Košice, Slovakia on Sept. 14, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA

During the encounter with Pope Francis, the Roma from Luník IX were required to stay inside or around the buildings, which police had roped off. About 300 Roma from other parts of Slovakia and other visitors were in seats facing the platform from which the pope spoke, according to information gathered by journalists present at the event.

Košice spokesman Vladimir Fabian said residents of Luník IX who did not register for the event either online or through paper registration were told to stay in nearby buildings for security reasons.

Roma first arrived in the district in 1979, after their village next to a landfill was destroyed. By the mid-1980s, Roma made up half the population of the neighborhood, which they now entirely occupy.

Salesian priests and sisters moved into the area in 2008 to serve the poor ethnic minority subjected to prejudice for centuries.

Pope Francis arrived at the Sept. 14 visit to lively music, dancing, applause, and cheers. In his address, he spoke about Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not judge.”

“The Gospel must not be sweetened up or watered down. Do not judge, Christ tells us,” he said. “How often are our judgments really prejudices, pre-judgments? How often do we rest content with labels. In this way, we disfigure by our words the beauty of the children of God, who are our brothers and sisters.”

“Our knowledge and appreciation of others,” he added, “must be grounded in our acknowledgment that each of them possesses the inviolable beauty of a son or daughter of God, a reflection of the Creator’s image.”

In the Luník IX district, the Salesian community consecrated a Catholic church, the Church of the Risen Christ, in 2010, and since 2012 has operated a youth center. The Catholic sisters run a center for women and a kindergarten.

In a video that the Salesians published earlier this month about their work in the district, Fr. Peter Bešenyei said their service in the community was “always about relationships. Once a relationship is established, mutual prejudices are broken down.”

“We Salesians offer immediacy, friendship. Simply, as people, we enter the Roma community,” Bešenyei continued. “Many people ask us: ‘How can we help you?’ I always answer: ‘Come and join us for Sunday Mass.’ The more we isolate ourselves, the more tensions and prejudices will grow. On the contrary, the more we live common positive experiences, the closer we will get.”

In his address, Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, all too often you have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures. As a result, we are all poorer, poorer in humanity.”

“Restoring dignity means passing from prejudice to dialogue, from introspection to integration,” he continued, explaining that this can be carried out through concern, pastoral care, patience, and concrete efforts.

“All these things will bear fruit,” he underlined. “Not immediately, but in due time those fruits will be seen.”

Košice, which has a population of around 240,000, is the second-largest city in Slovakia after the capital, Bratislava. It is the largest city on the country’s less-developed eastern side.

A new mural was created for Pope Francis’ visit to the Luník IX district depicting flowers growing from the cracks of a building. The design was created in collaboration with local Roma children and funded by the city of Košice.

A mural created for Pope Francis' visit to the Lunik IX district in Košice, Slovakia. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA
A mural created for Pope Francis' visit to the Lunik IX district in Košice, Slovakia. Andrea Gagliarducci/CNA

Mayor Jaroslav Polaček told local media that the city of Košice also funded some repairs in the neighborhood prior to the pope’s visit, “so that we are not ashamed of the city quarter because many visitors will come here.”

But he added that “other special requests, which came directly from the Vatican,” were not completed.

“It is not easy to leave prejudice behind, even for Christians,” the pope said in Luník IX. “It is not easy to value others, especially if we see them as problems or enemies; if we pass judgment without making any effort to get to know them and to listen to their stories.”

“Marginalizing others accomplishes nothing. Segregating ourselves and other people eventually leads to anger,” he stated.

“The path to peaceful coexistence is integration: an organic, gradual, and vital process that starts with coming to know one another, then patiently grows, keeping its gaze fixed on the future. And what is the future? It is our children. The future belongs to them; they are the ones to guide us: their great dreams must not collide with barriers that we have erected.”

“Courageous decisions must be made on behalf of our children: to promote their dignity, to educate them in such a way that they can grow up solidly grounded in their own identity and be given every opportunity they desire.”

At the beginning of the encounter, Pope Francis listened to two short testimonies from Roma people.

The 61-year-old Ján Hero, a father of five with his wife, Beáta, recalled visiting Rome six years ago with other Roma for a meeting with Pope Francis.

“We have the hope that your mission here today, among us, in this place will help us to ignite a greater faith and a more stable determination to transform our personal and spiritual life towards the better,” he said.

René Harakaly, 29, grew up in the Luník IX neighborhood along with her husband, Nikola. She said that thanks to the help of the Catholic Church and the Salesians, they lived their adolescence “in a more beautiful and meaningful way.”

“[The Salesians] dedicated themselves to us, they trusted us, and this has influenced our desire for education, even though this was often difficult,” she said. “Our parents also encouraged us to go against the grain.”

Harakaly said that she and her husband received the sacraments from the Salesians, who also baptized their two young children. With their support, they have managed to move to a new part of the city to better integrate into Slovakian society.

Nikola and René Harakaly, former residents of the Linuk IX district, and their two sons spoke to Pope Francis on Sept. 14, 2021. Vatican Media
Nikola and René Harakaly, former residents of the Linuk IX district, and their two sons spoke to Pope Francis on Sept. 14, 2021. Vatican Media

Fr. Bešenyei, who is the director of the diocesan center for the Roma mission in Košice, told Pope Francis that “the Catholic Church is very committed to the Roma, even if by the state this commitment of the Church is ignored and not appreciated.”

“Holy Father, we believe that his presence in this place contributes to us all achieving greater unity despite diversity and walking the path towards a more peaceful coexistence, through mutual esteem, reconciliation, and forgiveness,” he said.

The pope concluded the meeting by leading everyone in praying the Our Father.

“I ask all of you to overcome your fears and to leave behind past injuries, confidently, step by step: in honest work, in the dignity born of earning our daily bread, in fostering mutual trust, and in praying for one another,” he said. “That is what guides our steps and gives us strength. I encourage you, I bless you and I bring you the embrace of the whole Church.”

Unvaccinated clergy in Lexington, Kentucky barred from ministering to the sick and homebound elderly

null / Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Priests of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 may not minister to the sick, elderly, and homebound, Bishop John Stowe has directed. 

The policy was announced during a Saturday vigil Mass Sept. 11 that Bishop Stowe celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington.

At the end of the liturgy, Deacon Tim Weinmann read a statement from the cathedral’s rector, Father John Moriarty, that both Fr. Moriarty and Father David Wheeler, the parochial vicar, have not been vaccinated.

“The bishop has asked that Fr. David and I, Fr. John – I’m speaking for Fr. John – make an announcement that we are not vaccinated, so people can decide if they wanted to attend Mass where they were celebrating,” the deacon read, according to a video of the Mass posted by the Cathedral of Christ the King.

“And if also the priests – and this has been done throughout the diocese – those priests that are not vaccinated are to follow the COVID protocol in the liturgy, and they are not allowed to visit the sick or elderly that are homebound,” the announcement continued. “Fr. John and Fr. David, again, have not been vaccinated.” Bishop Stowe stood beside Deacon Weinmann while the announcement was read but did not comment afterward.

You can watch the announcement in the video below, at the 1:07 mark.

It is not clear from the announcement Saturday whether other priests in the diocese must publicly disclose that they have not received a COVID-19 vaccination. A spokesperson for the diocese was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Trish Collier, a parishioner in the diocese, attended one of the weekend Masses at the Cathedral when the announcement was again made about Moriarty's and Wheeler's vaccination status.

"I couldn't believe it," Collier told CNA in a phone call on Tuesday. "I think everybody around us was surprised. The only thing that brought me some comfort for them was the fact that when he [Fr. John Moriarty] said, 'so I'm here to say that I am not vaccinated.'"

Collier said that, after Moriarty's announcement, "there were several people who started to clap and one fella yelled out, 'good for you. Stay strong.' And I know that helped him [Fr. John]."

On. Aug. 17 Bishop Stowe mandated that all employees of the Catholic Center, the diocese’s administrative headquarters, be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1 as a condition of employment.

“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety,” Bishop Stowe said in a statement detailing the Aug. 17 mandate.

“There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” he said. 

“The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”

The mandate does not apply to clergy not working at the Catholic Center, though Bishop Stowe has encouraged pastors to adopt the same policy in their parishes. In an interview Aug. 17 with America magazine, the bishop said the interests of "the common good" made the mandate necessary.

“We have to be promoting the common good, and this is the one of the ways that we do it,” Bishop Stowe told the magazine. “And the individual reasons for not accepting [vaccinations]—the conspiracy theories and all the other stuff that keeps people from getting the vaccine and even the confusion that’s been put forth by many Catholic sources — is just not a good enough reason to not accept the vaccine for the common good.”

Video footage of the announcement at Saturday's Mass touched off a heated debate on social media. Critics of the policy said it violates the privacy rights of clergy and is insensitive to the rights of the seriously ill to receive the sacraments.

"This unfortunately is my bishop and I attended the Mass where this was announced," one commentator posted on Instagram. "It was a complete public shaming and absolutely a violation of privacy!"

Others, however, applauded the move, saying it was justified in light of the pandemic's threat to public health.

"You get the vaccine to protect and care for others, as Jesus taught us, so that you greatly reduce the risk of contracting the virus and passing it to those who will suffer horribly," another commentator wrote on Twitter. "Some will die. God sent us this miracle of science."

Others argued that the diocese's policy prohibiting unvaccinated clergy from ministering to the sick, elderly, homebound is consistent with guidance provided by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

"Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent," the CDF statement reads. "In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable."

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday that Kentucky currently ranks third in the nation for the highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases per capita, with a seven-day average of approximately 90 new cases reported per 100,000 people.

This article has been updated with additional information on Sept. 15.

Pope Francis names new Catholic archbishop for Belarus capital

Archbishop-elect Iosif Staneuski of Minsk-Mohilev, Belarus. /

Minsk, Belarus, Sep 14, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday named a new Catholic archbishop for the capital city of Belarus.

The Vatican announced on Sept. 14 that the pope had chosen Bishop Iosif Staneuski, general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Belarus, to lead the archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev.

The appointment comes at a challenging time for the Catholic Church in Belarus, a country of 9.6 million people bordering Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

The country has seen widespread protests since longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of a presidential election in August 2020 with 80% of the vote.

That month, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Staneuski’s predecessor as archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev, was barred from returning to Belarus after traveling to Poland.

Kondrusiewicz, then president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference, had prayed outside of a prison where detained protesters were reportedly tortured and demanded an investigation into reports that riot police blocked the doors of a Catholic church in Minsk while clearing away protesters from a nearby square.

The authorities claimed that he was turned away at the border because his passport was “invalid,” inviting him to appeal against the decision.

The Vatican tried to overcome the impasse by sending Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, to Belarus to discuss the situation with Belarusian officials. But the talks did not result in an immediate breakthrough.

After months of further Vatican diplomatic activity, Kondrusiewicz was permitted to return to his homeland on Dec. 24.

Pope Francis accepted the archbishop’s resignation on Jan. 3, his 75th birthday, shortly after he arrived in Belarus after his four-month enforced exile.

On the same day, the pope named Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec as apostolic administrator of Minsk-Mohilev archdiocese.

Speaking at a farewell Mass in Minsk, Kondrusiewicz said: “Changing a bishop after he reaches the age of 75 is a normal thing. I leave as a ruling bishop, but as a bishop I remain.”

“It is important that, despite the change of bishops, the Church remains, operates and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

The Church has continued to encounter difficulties since Kondrusiewicz’s departure. It recently protested after a regional government newspaper published a front-page cartoon of a priest wearing a swastika.

An estimated 1.6 million civilians, including around 500,000 Jews, died during the three-year Nazi occupation of Belarus.

Aleksandr Rumak, Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs of Belarus, later assured the Church that the cartoon did not reflect the state’s official position and was unacceptable.

The state-owned news agency BelTA reported on Sept. 9 that Archbishop Ante Jozić, the apostolic nuncio to Belarus, met with the country’s foreign minister Vladimir Makei.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “The minister emphasized the inviolability of the official approaches towards the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus, the inadmissibility of inciting religious intolerance and the importance of preserving ethno-confessional harmony in the country in general.”

“In this context, one should not attach any importance to individual, solely subjective attempts to present the situation differently.”

Bishop Iosif Staneuski, 52, has served as an auxiliary bishop of Grodno, western Belarus, since 2014.

He was born on April 4, 1969, in the village of Zanevich, near Grodno. He was ordained a priest of Grodno diocese on June 17, 1995.

In 1999, he earned a Licentiate in Canon Law from the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.

He served as a lecturer, prefect, and ultimately rector of the major seminary in Grodno. He oversaw the pastoral formation of young priests of Grodno diocese from 2007 to 2013.

He was elected general secretary of the Belarusian bishops’ conference in 2015 and for a second time in April this year.

The archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev dates back to 1798 and took on its present form in 1991. In addition to a cathedral in Minsk, the archdiocese has a co-cathedral in Mohilev (also known as Mogilev), a city in eastern Belarus.

Christianity without the Cross is ‘sterile,’ says Pope Francis at Byzantine Divine Liturgy

Pope Francis presides at the Byzantine Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in Prešov, Slovakia, Sept. 14, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Pope Francis celebrated the Byzantine Divine Liturgy and called Christianity without the Cross worldly and sterile.

“Crucifixes are found all around us: on necks, in homes, in cars, in pockets. What good is this, unless we stop to look at the crucified Jesus and open our hearts to him, unless we let ourselves be struck by the wounds he bears for our sake, unless our hearts swell with emotion and we weep before the God wounded for love of us,” Pope Francis said in Slovakia on Sept. 14.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Witnesses of the Cross have but one strategy, that of the Master: humble love. They do not look for triumphs here below, because they know that the love of Christ bears fruit in the events of daily life, renewing all things from within, like the seed that falls to the ground, dies and produces much fruit,” he said.

The pope presided over a live-streamed Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Rite in Prešov, eastern Slovakia, and delivered a homily in which he posed the question: Why did Jesus die on the Cross?

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Why did he do this? He could have saved his life, he could have kept his distance from the misery and brutality of human history,” Pope Francis said.

“Instead, he chose to enter into that history, to immerse himself in it. That is why he chose the most difficult way possible: the Cross. So that no one on earth should ever be so desperate as not to be able to find him, even there, in the midst of anguish, darkness, abandonment, the scandal of his or her own misery and mistakes.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“There, to the very place we think God cannot be present, there he came. To save those who despair, he himself chose to taste despair; taking upon himself our most bitter anguish.”

Pope Francis said that Jesus even experienced abandonment so that no one would ever be alone in their trials.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

At the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, the pope spent a moment in prayerful veneration of the Cross.

A large Byzantine cross with three transverse arms hung above the outdoor altar in Prešov, flanked by an icon of Mary, Mother of God, and the Christ the Teacher icon.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“‘We proclaim Christ crucified … the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ So St. Paul tells us, but he does not hide the fact that, in terms of human wisdom, the Cross appears as something completely different: it is ‘scandal’ and ‘foolishness,’” the pope said in his homily.

“The cross was an instrument of death, yet it became the source of life. It was a horrendous sight, yet it revealed to us the beauty of God’s love. That is why, in today’s feast, the people of God venerate the Cross and the Liturgy celebrates it.”

The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross dates back to the 4th century, when the solemn consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre took place on Sept. 13, 335, at the site of Christ's crucifixion in Jerusalem.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“We can fail to accept, except perhaps in words, a weak and crucified God, and prefer instead to dream of a God who is powerful and triumphant. This is a great temptation,” Pope Francis said.

Papal trip pool.
Papal trip pool.

“How often do we long for a Christianity of winners, a triumphalist Christianity that is important and influential, that receives glory and honor? Yet a Christianity without a cross is a worldly Christianity, and shows itself to be sterile.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Francis arrived at the Divine Liturgy in Prešov in the popemobile, which passed through crowds of people standing along the streets waving Vatican flags. Around 40,000 people attended the liturgy, according to local authorities.

Prešov was part of the Kingdom of Hungary until the mid 20th century and is home to many of the country’s more than 200,000 Ruthenian Byzantine Catholics.

The Ruthenian Catholic Church is one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In April, Byzantine Catholics in Slovakia and around the world celebrated the 375th anniversary of the Union of Uzhhorod, an agreement that brought the Ruthenian Orthodox Church into communion with the pope after nearly six centuries of schism.

Papal trip pool.
Papal trip pool.

Since the Union of Uzhhorod, eparchies have been created to shepherd Ruthenian Catholics wherever they live, including the Metropolitan Eparchy of Pittsburgh and its three suffragan eparchies in the United States, and the Metropolitan Eparchy of Prešov in Slovakia with its suffragans, as well as a Slovakian eparchy in Canada.

At the Divine Liturgy in Prešov, Pope Francis recalled the witness of Byzantine Catholic priests and bishops of the eparchy of Prešov who were imprisoned and martyred by the communist regime in the 1950s.

“Here I think of the martyrs who in this nation bore witness to the love of Christ in troubled times, when everything counseled silence, taking cover, not professing the faith. Yet they could not help but testify,” the pope said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“How many generous persons suffered and died here in Slovakia for the name of Christ! Theirs was a witness borne out of love of him whom they had long contemplated. To the point that they resembled him even in their death.”

Pope Francis said that there is no lack of opportunity for bearing witness today if Christian witness is not weakened by worldliness and mediocrity.

“Dear brothers and sisters, you have seen such witnesses. … Lowly, simple persons who gave their lives in love to the end. These are our heroes, the heroes of everyday existence, and their lives changed history. Witnesses generate other witnesses, because they are givers of life,” he said.

“That is how the faith is spread: not with worldly power, but with the wisdom of the Cross; not with structures but with witness. Today the Lord, from the eloquent silence of the Cross, is asking all of us … Do you want to be my witness?”

PODCAST: An Afghan Christian’s plea: “You are my last hope”

Taliban fighters gather along a street during a rally in Kabul on August 31, 2021 as they celebrate after the U.S. pulled all its troops out of the country to end a brutal 20-year war. / Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

Denver Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

Last month, as Americans and Afghans scrambled to find a way to escape Afghanistan, a seemingly innocuous email appeared in CNA’s inbox. Being a news agency, we get a lot of mail, and this email might have slipped through the cracks, if it hadn’t caught the attention of Kelsey Wicks, Catholic News Agency’s operations manager. The message turned out to be a desperate plea for help. 

“Please help me,” the email read. 

“I have no one without you. You are my last hope.”

This week on CNA Newsroom, we share the story of an Afghan Christian, whose tragic situation is, like the situation of his home country, still unfolding. His story provides a glimpse into the experience of the people of Afghanistan these past several weeks, as their country fell back into the hands of the Taliban.

Listen here, or on any podcast platform:

It's time to start telling the truth about St. Junípero Serra

Statue of St. Junipero Serra in Golden Gate Park. / scupperssf/wikimedia. BY CC 2.0.

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 13, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Misinformation and deliberate disinformation continue to surround the memory of St. Junípero Serra, the Apostle of California. 

Most recently, the California legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that essentially declares Serra to be a kind of moral monster: “Enslavement of both adults and children, mutilation, genocide, and assault on women were all part of the mission period initiated and overseen by Father Serra.”

Assembly Bill 338, which passed 66–2 in the Assembly and 28–2 in the Senate, has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom. It repeats the unsubstantiated allegations found in online petitions and other misinformation spread last summer by Black Lives Matter and other activist groups to justify vandalizing statues of the saint in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and at the Capitol in Sacramento.  

The legislature’s claims are a “slander” against Serra and push a “false narrative” about the missions, say Archbishop José H. Gomez and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco in a new opinion essay published in the Wall Street Journal. “None of that is true,” they write. “While there is much to criticize from this period, no serious historian has ever made such outrageous claims about Serra or the mission system.”

Pope Francis canonized St. Junípero Serra personally in Washington, D.C. on September 23, 2015, the first-ever canonization on American soil.

It is rare for popes to celebrate canonizations outside of Rome. But Francis, an immigrant’s son and the first pontiff from the New World, emphasized Serra’s holiness, his historic significance as America’s first Hispanic saint, and called him “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”

Prior to the canonization, Pope Francis took part in a day-long symposium hosted by the Pontifical North American College and organized by the Knights of Columbus, that included presentations by Archbishop Gomez and top scholars from the United States.

St. Pope John Paul II, who beatified Serra in 1988, prayed at his tomb at Mission San Carlos Borroméo in Carmel, and praised his “heroic spirit and heroic deeds,” and called him a “defender and champion” of the indigenous Californians.

“Very often at crucial moments in human affairs,” the pope said, “God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church. … So it is with Junípero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the Apostle of California, and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of this land and its people, whatever their religion might be.” 

The best biographers of Serra and historians of California’s early history are Robert Senkewicz, Professor of History Emeritus at Santa Clara University and his wife, Rose Marie Beebe, Professor of Spanish Emerita at Santa Clara University.

Their book, “Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary,” is the definitive academic study and includes original translations of Serra’s letters.

Beebe and Senkewicz were featured participants in the symposium on the legacy of St. Junípero Serra hosted by Pontifical North American College May 2, 2015.

The leading archeologist of the California missions is Rubén Mendoza, Professor of Archaeology and Social and Behavioral Sciences at the California State University, Monterey Bay. Mendoza, a Yaqui Indian and Mexican American, is a prolific author and has spoken movingly about his “conversion” on Serra, based on his academic research at the missions.

Mendoza discovered the so-called “Serra chapels” at the Royal Presidio of Monterey in 2008, the rectangular adobe buildings located directly in front of the present San Carlos Cathedral, built in the early 1790s. The Serra chapels mark the spot where, in 1770, St. Junípero celebrated the earliest Mass in a church on the California coast.

In addition, Mendoza’s research has discovered that Mission San Juan Bautista and at least 12 of the California missions were designed according to an ancient practice of enabling the sun to illuminate specific areas of the sanctuary during the winter or summer solstice.  

Mendoza was a featured participant in the symposium on the legacy of St. Junípero Serra hosted by Pontifical North American College May 2, 2015.

Gregory Orfalea, a noted journalist and essayist, has written a fine biography, Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra's Dream and the Founding of California, and an excellent book for students and families, Junipero Serra and the California Missions: A Family Guide.

A version of this article first appeared at Angelus News. It has been adapted and reprinted with permission.