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Why Blessed is She's founder says she's blessed

Denver, Colo., Apr 22, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Jenna Guizar grew up without any sisters.

But these days, Guizar relishes having a "sisterhood" of digital and physical communities of Catholic women around the world.

Guizar presides over a growing international women’s ministry, Blessed is She, which will mark its fifth year in September. The ministry began as a web-based devotional for Catholic women based on the day’s Mass readings.

“I loved what some of the Protestant women’s ministries were doing with Scripture study, inviting women to spend time daily in the Word. I wanted that for Catholic women, too,” Guizar, 35 and the mother of four daughters, explained.

“I saw an opening for this kind of content for women, and a hunger in the Church. I was hungry for it, too, and I didn’t see it happening in the Church, but I never thought of going elsewhere, I wanted to be fed in the Catholic Church.”

Now Guizar, along with a small staff and a national team of writers, whose contributions are vetted by theological editors, is feeding more than 60,000 women around the world with a daily email that delivers reflections on the Mass readings, along with a link to the readings themselves on the USCCB website.

On social media, tens of thousands follow along in regional Facebook groups, forming virtual communities that have morphed into hundreds of physical communities around the world.

On Blessed is She’s Instagram account, which has more than 100,000 followers, retreat director Beth Davis hosts a popular segment called ‘Teachable Tuesday,’ where she gives instruction different Catholic methods of prayer, wisdom from the lives of the saints, and deeper dives into Scripture.

Participants pop on at the beginning of the segment and announce their geographical locations: Ireland, Australia, Tanzania, Mexico, and the United States.

“Basically my whole adult life has been spent working for the Church,” says Davis, “but I’ve never experienced what we experience with these women every day, on retreats, on Instagram, in regional groups.

“There’s almost too much to choose from, she said, when asked for stories about her experience. “[We have] stories of women coming home to the Church, of becoming Catholic, of encountering Jesus for the first time in spite of years of knowing Him on an intellectual level.”

“What makes Blessed is She different is that it’s not about one person, there is no cult of personality. It’s all focused on Christ.” Davis explained, and Guizar agreed, when asked what she thought was driving the ministry’s growth.

“We’re just here walking alongside the women we serve, as women who are experiencing deeper conversion in their own lives,” added Guizar, explaining that she doesn’t see herself as doing anything extraordinary, apart from being available and willing to answer a need to which she herself felt drawn.

“My own personal, daily conversions happen in large part because of Blessed is She. I feel a great responsibility and honor to be given this ministry by the Lord. I feel a great responsibility to draw closer and closer to Him so that I can be the leader and woman He wants me to be,” Guizar said.

Guizar recalls one of the first times she realized Blessed is She might become something bigger than she’d envisioned:

“It was getting close to Advent during our first year, and I thought I’d like to make a little prayer journal and offer it to our subscribers. I had no idea whether it would sell, I just created it in a computer program and self-printed them. But we ended up with more than 800 presales. That’s probably the first time I started to realize this was going to be a lot bigger than me.”

Both Guizar and Davis said that working for the ministry has deepened their spiritual lives.
“I get to come to work every day with someone who prays with me, asks me about my prayer life, who really lives an example of personal holiness,” said Guizar of Davis, “it’s so good for me.”

She continued, “My spiritual life has changed dramatically through the discipline of prayer. I feel drawn to live a life of integrity. If I'm asking a woman to do something in her life, I better be doing it as well... like I have to be living this out in order to talk about it.”

Guizar recounts growing up in a dynamic youth group in the Diocese of Phoenix: “After youth group there was nothing to fill that void of community in my life as an adult. We had good friends and we had a good parish, but we didn’t feel like we were growing in our faith, and we didn’t feel like our relationships were really rooted in Christ.”

“I needed this community for my own conversion” Guizar said.

She recalls feeling a growing sense of isolation as a young mother, struggling to find her place in the Church.

“I wasn’t homeschooling my kids or doing liturgical crafts. I was fascinated by that experience when I read about it, but it wasn’t my life. I felt like I had more questions than answers. I didn’t have any wisdom or experience to offer.”

That’s when Guizar conceived of a daily Bible devotional modelled after some of the Protestant women’s ministries she admired. “I knew of all these Catholic bloggers, women with a deeper knowledge of Scripture and with more formation than me, so I reached out and invited them to contribute.”

That was back in the fall of 2014. The first Blessed is She devotion went out on September 1, 2014. By the end of the year, more than 200 women had signed up to receive the emails. By 2015, that number had increased to more than 2,000 women. And by early 2019, that number had risen to more than 60,000.

50% of Blessed is She participants are millennials - or younger - falling between the ages of 18 and 35. Women between 36 and 65 make up another 35% of the demographic.

Blessed is She brunches and retreats now make up a significant portion of the ministry’s focus, with more than 400 member-hosted brunches logged in 2018. So far in 2019, more than 500 women have attended a Blessed is She retreat somewhere in the US or abroad. Still to come this calendar year: retreats in Nashville, Texas, and Ireland.

If you ask for stories of how Blessed is She is impacting women’s lives, the answers come back to a common theme: community.

Oliva Spears, a Blessed is She writer who manages the site’s blog content recounts “dozens of messages” from women who are coming back to the Church through their involvement with Blessed is She:

“Faithful Catholic women who are lacking community in real life and who’ve felt like they’re the only Catholic left on the planet” are finding out they’re not alone, and being encouraged by other women who are following Christ.

Nell O’Leary, Blessed is She’s managing editor, remarks on the community built in the regional Facebook groups that becomes “real, in-the-flesh friendship.”

O’Leary said, “One older woman had prayed specifically for a young mom who was moving to her city to find the perfect house. When those two met at my Blessed Conversations group, they embraced like old friends. The bonds of sisterhood transcended age, location, and even the internet."

Bonnie Engstrom, another contributing writer, told the story of re-watching an old ‘Teachable Tuesday’ recording on Instagram with her small group in her parish:

“Beth talked about how God’s not finished until He is finished. She specifically said that to older moms whose children have left the Church and there were so many grandma’s present who felt so reassured by that. These are women who are in church every day, praying for their children. They felt heard by God through Beth’s words.”

Guizar touched on the theme of community repeatedly in an interview with CNA, emphasizing its significance to the heart of the ministry.

“I want women to know that the Lord loves them right where they’re at, and that He wants to bring restoration and healing, that He will bring it.”

When asked about how her four young children fit into the mission, Guizar acknowledged the tension between being open to life and leading an international ministry,

“Mike [my husband] is great about it, he is always saying, ‘If the Lord wants it right now, it’s going to happen.’ We don’t shy away from having more kids, because we want more kids to know the Lord, to live as missionaries in a secular culture.”

Guizar says she doesn’t have a plan for Blessed is She, but is just trying to be faithful.

“The Lord gave me Blessed is She to save my soul every day,” she said. “I really believe it was as much for me as for the women who we serve.”

“I have no idea where Blessed is She will be in five years. I had dreams at the beginning that I think have evolved now, into an acknowledgement that even if I had a plan, He would surprise me anyway. So I'm just along for the ride.”

 

 

Editor's note: In addition to her work at CNA, Jenny Uebbing is a periodic freelance contributor to Blessed is She.

 

Easter can correct society's 'bitterness and intolerance' – English bishop

Shrewsbury, England, Apr 21, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Easter is not a time for political debate, but is rather an opportunity to encounter the pinnacle of the faith – Christ’s death and resurrection, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury said in his homily for the feast.

At the April 21 Mass said at Shrewsbury Cathedral, Bishop Davies referred to increasing political bitterness and an indifference to Easter's significance.  

“Everything rests on the witness given by those who, on that first Easter morning, came to ‘see and believe'; on the witness of the Apostles and their Successors who stand with Peter in testimony that ‘God raised Jesus to life',” he said.

“In Christ’s Resurrection, we see how human life is no longer destined for death but for everlasting life and happiness. This is the joy of Easter that never fades.”

Easter is a celebration of the Christian foundation, he said, but it is not an excuse for clergyman to criticize on passing political opinions nor is it a time when political sentiments should be prioritized.

“All of our Christian faith and the whole of Christian civilisation depends on this Day,” he said.

“[Political] choices ought not to concern us on this greatest day in the Christian Calendar,” he further added.

This Easter has come at a time of much political strife, he said, noting that English society has seen a deterioration in people’s civility toward those who hold opposing beliefs. As tolerance has declined so has the culture’s comprehension of Easter and truth, he said.

“A deepening bitterness and intolerance in British society must surely be a concern for us all. It might even mark a change in our national character as disagreement and difference now too often leads to anger; enmity; no-platforming; and even threats of violence and death to those in public life.”

“We might trace this breakdown in our civility and gentle tolerance to the loss of the greater horizons which Easter celebrates. In many western societies, we see a descent into an irrationalism in which there is only ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth,’ with no hope of basing our lives and society on what is enduringly and always true. Yet, passing questions of public policy must always be seen from the perspective of what is lasting.”

He pointed to the 2010 visit of Benedict XVI to England, in which the then-pope “observed that if the only thing underpinning our democracy is an ever-changing social consensus, then the real challenge to democracy and social cohesion lies in our losing hold of the very truths which made our civilisation and society possible.”

“It is in Christ – the only person ever to have said, ‘I am the truth’ – that we find the enduring truth about the human person which has long formed the basis of our civility, our understanding of human rights and of a rule of law worth defending.”

As the British Parliament takes a break for Easter, pausing debate on Brexit, Bishop Davies applauded the respite. He expressed hope that this Easter would “return to the foundations that should always underpin our national debates.”

“On this Easter Day, we hear Saint Paul urge the first believers to cast out everything that is malice and to seek 'sincerity and truth'. This is surely the path we, too, should take for the healing of society and the recovery of our tolerance.”

“May the light of this Easter Day lead us gently as a nation to ‘see and believe’ God’s great purpose for us, and so to recognise anew the truth by which we and all of human society can be saved,” he said.

 

Sri Lanka Easter attacks draw international condemnation, prayer for victims

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 21, 2019 / 12:40 pm (CNA).- Religious and civil leaders have responded with condolences, prayer, and calls for justice after several explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more on Easter Sunday.

Calling it “a very, very sad day for all of us,” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, canceled all remaining Easter Masses for the day in the Colombo district.

He expressed his “deepest sorrow and sympathy to all those innocent families that have lost someone, and also to those who have been injured and rendered destitute,” Vatican News reported.

“I condemn – to the utmost of my capacity – this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people,” Ranjith said. He called for a strong and impartial inquiry to find those responsible for the attacks.

At the conclusion of his Urbi et Orbi address on Easter Monday, Pope Francis said the violence in Sri Lanka has brought “grief and sorrow” to the people there.

“I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

“I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished,” he said, adding his prayers for those who are injured and suffering from the attacks.

Shortly before 9 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at Catholic churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The Catholic shrine is the most well-known church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the Church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.

There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo, and explosions outside a zoo and a private home Sunday afternoon.

In a post on Twitter, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the attacks “in the strongest terms.”

“These attacks demonstrate the brutal nature of terrorists whose sole aim is to threaten peace & security,” he said. “We offer our deepest condolences and stand with the government & people of #SriLanka.”

A spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres voiced outrage at the attacks and calls for justice for perpetrators.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, the people and the Government of Sri Lanka, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He commends the leadership demonstrated by the authorities and unity of the people of Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks,” the spokesperson said, adding that Guterres “reiterates the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka in this difficult moment for the nation.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but a police spokesman said seven people have been arrested in connection with them, according to the AP. Some reports suggested that an additional six suspects were later arrested.

The island nation, which is home to a population of more than 21 million, has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lanka’s Christians.

Easter brings a 'new world,' Pope Francis says in Urbi et Orbi

Vatican City, Apr 21, 2019 / 04:56 am (CNA).- Christ’s resurrection ushers in a new world – one of peace, love, and fraternity, Pope Francis said on Easter Sunday, as he prayed for the many people who are suffering throughout the world.

“Christ is alive and he remains with us. Risen, he shows us the light of his face, and he does not abandon all those experiencing hardship, pain and sorrow,” Pope Francis said April 21.

“Yet Easter is also the beginning of the new world, set free from the slavery of sin and death: the world open at last to the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love, peace and fraternity.”

Pope Francis gave the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica following Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

He forwent giving a homily at Mass this year, and instead paused for a moment of silent reflection following the Gospel.

“Urbi et Orbi” means “To the City [of Rome] and to the World” and is a special apostolic blessing given by the pope every year on Easter Sunday, Christmas, and other special occasions.

Christ’s resurrection is “the principle of new life for every man and every woman,” the pope said in his blessing, explaining that “true renewal always begins from the heart, from the conscience.”

Francis prayed for the many people throughout the world living in places experiencing conflict, tension, and violence.

Beginning with Syria, he said there is a risk of becoming resigned and indifferent to the ongoing conflict in that country and emphasized that now is the time for a renewed commitment to a political solution for the humanitarian crisis in the country.

People there are hoping for “freedom, peace and justice,” he said, urging solutions for a safe re-entry to the country for those who have been displaced, especially in Lebanon and Jordan.

The pope prayed for Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, that they would continue to “patiently persevere in their witness to the Risen Lord and to the victory of life over death.”

“May the light of Easter illumine all government leaders and peoples in the Middle East, beginning with Israelis and Palestinians, and spur them to alleviate such great suffering and to pursue a future of peace and stability,” he stated.

He begged for an end to conflict and bloodshed in Libya, and for peace on the entire African conflict, particularly in the countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Recalling the spiritual retreat held at the Vatican earlier this month for several religious and political leaders of South Sudan, he prayed for the opening of “a new page” in the history of the country.

Francis prayed for the peace of Easter to bring comfort to the people of the eastern regions of Ukraine.

For the American continent, he invoked the joy of the resurrection for all those experiencing difficult political and economic situations.

Underlining the situations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, he asked the Lord to “grant that all those with political responsibilities may work to end social injustices, abuses and acts of violence, and take the concrete steps needed to heal divisions and offer the population the help they need.”

Let there be an end to the arms race and to the “troubling spread of weaponry,” he added.

“Before the many sufferings of our time, may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent. May he make us builders of bridges, not walls,” Francis stated.

He added: “May the Risen Christ, who flung open the doors of the tomb, open our hearts to the needs of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the unemployed, the marginalized, and all those who knock at our door in search of bread, refuge, and the recognition of their dignity.”

“Today the Church renews the proclamation made by the first disciples: ‘Jesus is risen!’ And from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, there resounds a call to praise: ‘Alleluia, Alleluia!’” he rejoiced.

Quoting from Christus vivit, his recently-published apostolic exhortation on young people, the pope said “Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you.”

“However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for your to return to him and start over again.”

At the end of the blessing, Pope Francis expressed his sorrow for several bombings which took place in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka Sunday morning. More than 100 people were killed and hundreds injured in explosions at three luxury hotels and three churches.

St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Catholic parish in Negombo were targeted, as well as the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo.

Francis entrusted to the Lord those who have died and been wounded, and all who are suffering because of the attack: “I wish to express my affectionate closeness to the Christian community, struck while it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” he said.

The pope wished all those gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and all those participating via radio or television, a happy Easter, noting that it was on Easter Sunday 70 years ago that a pope spoke for the first time on television.

Venerable Pope Pius XII addressed the viewers of French TV, “underlining how the eyes of the Successor of Peter and the faithful could also meet through a new means of communication,” he said.

“This occasion offers me the opportunity to encourage Christian communities to use all the tools that the technique makes available to announce the good news of the risen Christ.”

Francis also thanked the donors of the flowers in St. Peter’s Basilica and Square, which came from the Netherlands and Slovenia.

“Enlightened by the light of Easter, we carry the scent of the Risen Christ into the solitude, into the misery, into the suffering of so many of our brothers, reversing the stone of indifference,” he concluded.

A plenary indulgence, or the remittance of temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven, is granted to those who participate in the Urbi et Orbi blessing in person or through radio, television, or the internet.

The usual conditions for a plenary indulgence must be met: the individual must be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also pray for the pope's intentions and sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about twenty days before or after the indulgenced act.

Sri Lanka Easter church and hotel bombings kill at least 200

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 21, 2019 / 01:45 am (CNA).- At least 200 people were killed in explosions Easter morning, detonated in churches other sites across Sri Lanka. Hundreds more are reportedly injured.

At 8:45 a.m., explosions were detonated during Easter Mass at churches in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, and in Negombo, a city 20 miles to its north. At the same time, a bomb exploded at a service at the evangelical Zion Church in Batticaolo, on Sri Lanka’s east coast.

 St. Anthony’s Shrine was the Catholic church targeted in Colombo, and St. Sebastian’s is the Catholic parish in Negombo.

Pews were shattered by the blast at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, and floors and ceilings were covered in blood. The shrine is the most well-known Church in Sri Lanka, and is designated the country’s national shrine. The first chapel on the Church property was built during Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonial period, when Catholicism was mostly forbidden on the island.

There were also explosions Sunday morning at three luxury hotels in Colombo, and explosions outside a zoo and a private home Sunday afternoon.

Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, called on Sri Lankans to remain “united and strong” in the face of “cowardly attacks on our people today.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but a police spokesman said seven people have been arrested in connection with them, according to the AP. Some reports suggested that an additional six suspects were later arrested.

In recent weeks, there has been concern that Sri Lankans who had been part of the Islamic State could become a threat, as they have begun returning to the country from the Middle East, according to the BBC.

The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.  

Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal; its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of the Sri Lanka’s Christians.

In a January 2015 visit to the country, Pope Francis urged peace and reconciliation among the country's rival factions.

“In this difficult effort to forgive and find peace, Mary is always here to encourage us, to guide us, to lead us,” the pope said Jan. 14, 2015, at the Our Lady of Madhu shrine in Sri Lanka's Mannar district.

“Just as she forgave her son's killers at the foot of his cross, then held his lifeless body in her hands, so now she wants to guide Sri Lankans to greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God's pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all.”

This story is developing and will continue to be updated.

 

Pope Francis at Easter Vigil: Ask Christ to roll back the stone blocking your heart

Vatican City, Apr 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In his Easter Vigil homily, Pope Francis said that the Risen Christ desires to “roll back the stone” that blocks the entrance to one’s heart, so that God’s light and love can enter.

“The Lord calls us to get up, to rise at his word, to look up and to realize that we were made for heaven, not for earth, for the heights of life and not for the depths of death,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica April 20.

“Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones. So let us first ask: What is the stone that I need to remove, what is its name?” he asked.

Pope Francis said the “stone of sin” blocks many hearts. “Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away,” he explained.

“Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death,” he said, adding that with Christ we can pass “from self-centredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence.”

“Why not prefer Jesus, the true light, to the glitter of wealth, career, pride and pleasure? Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?” Francis asked.

The Vatican Easter Vigil Mass began with the blessing of the new fire in the atrium and the blessing of the paschal candle. The pope then processed into the dark church carrying the lit candle to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness.

“Today, let us remember how Jesus first called us, how he overcame our darkness, our resistance, our sins, and how he touched our hearts with his word,” he said.

Francis warned against having a “museum faith” instead of a living, “Easter faith.” Christ is “a person living today,” he said, not only a person from the past. “We encounter him in life.”

“Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Christ. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged,” he said.

Pope Francis described Christ’s love as the “one non-negotiable certitude we have in this life.”

“The Lord loves your life, even when you are afraid to look at it,” he said.

“In Easter he shows you how much he loves that life: even to the point of … experiencing anguish, abandonment, death and hell, in order to emerge triumphant to tell you: ‘You are not alone; put your trust in me!’” he continued.

During the Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis administered the Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist -- to eight people, from Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Albania, and Indonesia.

“Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the centre of our lives,” Pope Francis said. “Let us seek him in all things and above all things. With him, we will rise again.”

How Denver’s archbishop responded to Columbine

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Twenty years ago, two teenagers opened gunfire outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Their massacre was premeditated and devastating; the boys also unsuccessfully planned to bomb the school with homemade explosives. They murdered 13 and wounded more than 20 others; finally they shot and killed themselves.

Twelve students and one teacher died the morning of April 20, 1999. The victims included at least four Catholics.

It was the most devastating school shooting in the United States up to that point, and would remain so until April 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, now of Philadelphia, was the shepherd of Denver at the time. More than 1,000 mourners turned out for the first three students’ funerals, over which Chaput presided.

"[Chaput] was very prompt in understanding the need to get to the scene and get to the families, the Catholic families, to provide them with support," Francis Maier, who was archdiocesan chancellor and special assistant to the archbishop at the time, told CNA in an interview.  

The massacre happened at a time when school shootings were relatively rare, Maier emphasized. Columbine is in an upscale neighborhood, he noted, and it was a place where no one anticipated something like that could happen.

Maier said both secular and Church officials responded well when the shooting happened, but there were some moments at the beginning when people asked: "What do we do? How do we respond?"

“[Chaput] was engaged immediately. [The shooting] caught everyone by surprise, obviously, but he responded very promptly."

The archbishop stayed in touch with the parents of at least one of the victims for years afterward, thanks to the relationship forged in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Maier said he thought the archbishop was prepared by having been a pastor in the diocese before he was its archbishop, which he had been for 2 years in 1999.

"He had a long-lasting linkage to the event and the families that were involved," Maier said.

Maier said after the tragedy the Church was often asked how the shooting could be reconciled with the idea of a good and merciful God, and how the perpetrators— two kids— could do something like that?

"Delivering that message of God's presence and God's continuing love, obviously, was the archbishop's task,” Maier said.

“And in the funeral homilies that he preached, the counseling he gave to the families— a lot of counseling in a situation like this is just being present. Because what are you gonna say, you know? You can't say 'I know how you feel?' because you don't. And I think the archbishop understood that his presence and the presence that it represented as the Church's concern.”

The Columbine shooting prompted a national conversation about gun control and school safety.  

Chaput testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on May 4, 1999. He addressed violence in media and popular culture— a widely-discussed topic in the wake of the shootings.

“The reasonable person understands that what we eat, drink, and breathe will make us healthy or sick. In like manner, what we hear and what we see lifts us up or drags us down. It forms us inside,” Chaput told the committee.

He noted that “The Matrix,” a film in theaters at that time hugely popular with teenagers, featured a great deal of firearm violence. Chaput wondered if the shooters had seen the film; and if so, he mused that “it certainly didn't deter them” from committing their violent act.

“People of religious faith have been involved in music, art, literature, and architecture for thousands of years, because we know from experience that these things shape the soul, and through the soul, they shape behavior,” Chaput said.

“Common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films, and our television has to go somewhere. It goes straight into the hearts of our children, to bear fruit in ways we cannot imagine until something like [Columbine] happens.”

Chaput emphasized his view that tragedies like Columbine emerge out of a culture in which people are not being taught to value human life.

“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes our universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes?” he wondered.

“When we multiply and glorify guns, are we surprised when kids use them? When we answer murder with more violence in the death penalty, we put the State’s seal of approval on revenge.”

“When the most dangerous place in the country is a mother’s womb, and the unborn child can have his or her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born, the body language of that message is that life is not sacred and may not be worth much at all.”

Maier agreed with Chaput’s diagnosis of the problem.

"Young people are not being formed properly in the dignity of life, and older people, adults, are deeply into self-satisfaction and license."

"The disease needs to be addressed, not the symptoms,” he said.  

“Fixing it is not going to be removing one particular way of committing an evil act. People will find other means to do those things if they are committed to doing evil things. So I think the underlying culture that produces Columbine is still with us, and, if anything, it’s worse."

This unique chant brings Vietnamese Catholics deeper into Christ's Passion

Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr 19, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- While the Stations of the Cross are a worldwide Lenten devotion for Catholics, the faithful in Vietnam have an additional practice that blends ancient traditional chants with Catholic prayer and meditation on the Crucifixion. 

“The ‘Ngam Nguyen’ are…a unique Vietnamese Catholic practice of intoning a series of meditations recounting the Passion of Christ,” said Fr. Anthony Le Duc, national chaplain for the Vietnamese community in Thailand.

Fr. Duc told CNA that the intoned meditative chants, called “Ngam,” describe the suffering of Jesus. Designed to help people enter more deeply into the experience and emotions lived out by Christ during his Passion, they have been adapted from folk traditions integrated with prayers prepared by missionaries who came to Vietnam in the early 16 -17th century.

There are a total of 15 Ngam meditations recounting the excruciating pain and suffering that Jesus underwent as he was arrested, put on trial, and crucified at Golgotha. 

These meditations differ from the traditional Stations of the Cross because they focus mainly on what occurs at the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and on the Cross at Calvary, while the stations focus largely on what happens in between these two events. 

Beginning with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and concluding with Jesus’ side being pierced by a spear, the Ngam meditations seek to immerse participants into Christ’s passion. 

The intoning is melodic, in accordance with the tonal nature of the Vietnamese language. Since the meditations recount the pain and suffering of Christ, the tone is extremely melancholy, which can well up emotions and often bring the listener to tears. 

When intoning the meditations, the reader must follow strict rules, depending on whether there is a comma, semicolon, period or other punctuation. If the reader comes upon the name of Jesus in the text, he must bow his head.

The recitation of the Ngam meditations – either in whole or as part of a series – takes place in many Vietnamese churches every day throughout the Lenten season, either as part of a post-Mass liturgy, or as a liturgical service on its own. The devotion starts with common prayers of the Church, followed by the meditations. Between meditations, an Our Father and 10 Hail Marys are recited. On Good Friday, the liturgy concludes with a Lamentation and other prayers. The entire liturgy can take over two hours to complete. 

The Vietnamese take this tradition very seriously, viewing it as both liturgy and art form. During the Lenten season, many parishes organize competitions, which only the most skilled readers dare to enter.

The reciter chants without any instrumental accompaniment. The person who goes up to intone, often stands or kneels in front of the altar with the book placed before him. On both sides, there are people to follow his reading. If the intoner makes a mistake, the judge strikes a wooden instrument. If he makes three mistakes, he must leave the competition and someone else will go up to reread the meditation.

“The meditation also represents a creative adaptation of the spirituality and the liturgy of the Church to a local context,” Fr. Duc said. “And it speaks to the great collaboration between foreign missionaries in Vietnam and the local faithful in inventing this Lenten tradition that has been going on for centuries.”

European missionaries accompanying merchants on newly discovered sea routes brought the Catholic faith to Vietnam in 1533. Later in the 16th century, the arrival of many members of the Society of Jesus (SJ), Order of Preachers (OP), Order of Friars Minor (OFM) and the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) boosted evangelization efforts in the east. 

These missionaries taught the truths of the Catholic faith to converted native Vietnamese catechists, who came from various religious background and cultural traditions. The natives then taught the locals Christian prayers using the local educational method of intonation of religious texts, which was used in temples and during devotional folklore chants. 

In previous centuries, these meditations were written in the Vietnamese “Nôm” script, a derivation of the Chinese script. However, in the 20th century, the meditations were printed in the Vietnamese Latin script “(quoc ngu)” which made them easier to read. 

Different dioceses have their own versions that may have minor differences in the wording, matching their local dialect. Apart from these differences, the texts have undergone few revisions in recent decades. 

Fr. Duc explained that “Ngam Nguyen” texts employ mostly ordinary speech, even colloquial in places, done “perhaps in order to make it easy for the average faithful to understand.”

The Ngam tradition is present throughout Vietnam, as well as in migrant communities in the United States, Australia, and Thailand, among other countries.

There are more than 5.5 million Catholics in Vietnam today. In past centuries, Christians in the country have faced persecution. In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Blessed Martyrs of Vietnam, including both clergy and laity.  
 

This article was originally published on CNA March 25, 2016.

Commentary: What he's done for us at Easter

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2019 / 10:53 am (CNA).- I’ve been married for 13 Easters now. I’ve been a dad for seven of those.

And every year, Easter sneaks up on our family. It shouldn’t. Lent is a long and penitential season, and the fair warning the Church gives us that Easter is coming. But a few weeks into Lent, it becomes normal- the sacrifices and penances become part of our routine- and I begin to forget that Easter is coming.

And then, it’s the Triduum.

Then it’s Good Friday, and we’re kneeling in the Church, and processing forward to kiss the cross.

Then it’s Holy Saturday, and some years we’re putting the kids in pajamas to let them sleep in the pews during Easter Vigil.

Then it’s Easter, and we’re celebrating with our family, and cooking a roast, and drinking champagne.

And every year, I find myself wondering if I’ve led my family well through Lent. Every year, I see the ways in which I might have invited my wife more often to prayer. Every year, I ask if I’ve taught the kids enough about Jesus and his sacrifice, if I’ve opened the Scripture often enough in our home.

Every year, I conclude I haven’t done enough. I haven’t really lived the Lent I should have, I decide. I haven’t really lived for Christ.

But all of that is folly.

We’re called, of course, to order our lives and homes and families to Jesus Christ. We’re called to be his disciples. We’re called to place him above all things.

But Easter reminds us that we’re also called to let him- and him alone- accomplish the transformation of our lives.

Not one of us can conquer death. Not one of us can atone for sin. Not one of us can transform a heart, ordering it to the unreserved love of God and neighbor.

Only he can do that.

We can put ourselves in his presence. We can offer ourselves to him. We can try to follow the examples of the saints. We can try to put the sacraments at the center of our lives.

But after that, we need to trust him. Easter tells us that we become saints through the work that he, and his grace, do in us, and through us, and for us. We are participants, but he is the source of life.

“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,” St. Paul tells the Romans, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

Our newness of life comes through him. And it takes time to be fully manifested. And we have to trust.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out a kind of Pelagianism among many practicing Catholics today. A sense that we can do it ourselves: that if we manage to carry the burden of moral perfection, and apostolic life, and evangelical zeal, that we might get ourselves to heaven.

But we won’t, and we can’t. That’s not sufficient. The doors to heaven are open to us because he loved us enough to be scourged at a pillar, to hang on a cross, to be buried, and to conquer sin and death.

And in baptism, he makes us a part of his life, death, and resurrection.

The evil one wants to make us think we can do it alone. And when we fail, he leads us to despair.  But an empty tomb will always be beyond our own powers and abilities.

This Easter, I’ll give thanks to the Lord for the ways I’ve grown closer to him this Lent. I’ll ask him to help me follow him more closely. I’ll repent of my sins, and confess them. I’ll continue to walk with him on the lifelong journey to holiness.

This Easter, I’ll try to remember that alone, I can’t be good enough, strong enough, or powerful enough to be free from my own sins, or from my impending death.

And I’ll celebrate that, because of what he did for me, I don’t have to be.

At Colosseum Stations of the Cross, Pope Francis prays for abused minors

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ prayer at Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum included a plea for abused youth and for the Church, whom he said is continually under attack.

 “Lord Jesus, help us to see in Your Cross all the crosses of the world … the cross of little ones wounded in their innocence and in their purity,” Pope Francis said in his prayer to conclude the Way of the Cross April 19.

 Francis also prayed for “the cross of the Church, your Bride, who feels herself continually attacked from inside and outside.”

The meditations for this year’s Way of the Cross at the Colosseum — written by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, founder of “Slaves No More” —  included reflections on the suffering endured by victims of human trafficking today.

“Like the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children,” the meditation for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, stated.

“Cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children,” the prayer that followed stated. “Little ones used as cheap goods, bought and sold at will. Lord, we ask you to have mercy and compassion on this sick world. Help us rediscover the beauty of our dignity, and that of others, as human beings created in your image and likeness.”

Pope Francis personally selected Sister Bonetti to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross. Bonetti, 80, is a Consolata Missionary Sister from northern Italy, who aids women and girls in Italy to leave prostitution and trafficking.

“Lord Jesus, it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes. It is less easy to encounter and acknowledge today’s newly crucified: the homeless; the young deprived of hope, without work and without prospects; the immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering,” Bonetti wrote in her Way of the Cross meditations.

Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum – a Roman practice that dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.

After a pause, the tradition was revived by St. Pope Paul VI in 1964. During St. John Paul II’s papacy, the Colosseum stations became a worldwide television event; the pope himself used to carry the cross.

“We have gathered in this place where thousands of people once suffered martyrdom for their fidelity to Christ,” Bonetti wrote in her introduction to her station meditations.

“We want to walk this via dolorosa in union with the poor, the outcast of our societies and all those who even now are enduring crucifixion as victims of our narrowmindedness, our institutions and our laws, our blindness and selfishness, but especially our indifference and hardness of heart,” she continued.

Pope Francis prayed to see Christ in “the cross of consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love” and “the cross of our common home that seriously withers under our eyes, selfish and blinded by greed and power.”

This year’s stations of the cross meditations also included prayers for children who are exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, and for migrants who died in shipwrecks.

Human trafficking is an important topic to Pope Francis, who has spoken out against human exploitation throughout his pontificate. The pope has often invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, once a slave herself, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.”

While in the past, the pope himself used to carry the cross from station to station around the Colosseum, it is now carried by individuals and families.

This year cross-bearers included priests from Syria and the Holy Land, several religious sisters, and a man in a wheelchair accompanied by volunteers with the Italian National Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar General of Rome, carried the cross for the first and last stations.

In his prayer at the end of the Via Crucis, the pope prayed for “the cross of your children who, believing in You and trying to live according to Your word, find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their relatives and their peers.”

“Lord Jesus, revive in us the hope of the resurrection and your definitive victory against every evil and every death,” Pope Francis prayed.