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University to host center for study of Polish Catholics and Jews who saved lives under Nazism and communism

The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in eastern Poland. / KUL.

Lublin, Poland, Dec 8, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A university in Poland will host a center for the study of Polish Catholics and Jews who saved lives under Nazism and communism.

The development was announced by Father Mirosław Kalinowski, rector of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in eastern Poland.

“In the coming weeks, the Center for Research on Poles Saving Jews and Jews Saving Poles during the Second World War and under communism will be set up at the Catholic University of Lublin,” he said.

The center will consist of an independent research unit within the structures of the university, known by its Polish initials, KUL.

“Publications on mutual assistance between Poles and Jews in times of totalitarianism have already been written, but there is a need for a comprehensive approach to this issue, using scientific methodology and with in-depth research,” Kalinowski said.

“These are fundamental issues in the history of both peoples in the 20th century. Our university will take up these issues, also in response to requests that we receive.”

More Poles have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, than any other national group.

Before the Nazi German invasion in 1939, Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe, numbering about 3.3 million. Only around 10% survived the Nazi occupation.

Yad Vashem estimates that “about 30,000 to 35,000 Jews, around 1% of all of Polish Jewry, were saved with the help of Poles and thanks to the devotion of Righteous Among the Nations.”

Wiktoria Ulma with six of her children. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.
Wiktoria Ulma with six of her children. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.

The Nazis executed hundreds of Poles suspected of helping Jews. Among those killed were Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, along with their six children, after they were found to have helped eight Jewish people in Markowa, southeast Poland, in 1944.

Since 2018, Poland has held a National Day of Remembrance for Poles Saving Jews Under German Occupation on March 24, the day that the Ulma family was massacred.

After the Second World War, Poland was governed by an oppressive communist regime until 1989.

Kalinowski said that the Center for Research on Poles Saving Jews and Jews Saving Poles would work with other organizations in Poland and abroad, translating its publications into English and Hebrew.

“We want the results of the center’s research work to reach young people as well, hence new communication technologies will be used, so that the way of conveying information is in line with contemporary trends,” said the university rector.

“One of the first projects will be a multimedia Encyclopedia of Poles Saving Jews and Jews Saving Poles, published in traditional and online versions.”

He noted that the initiative is backed by Bishop Rafał Markowski, chairman of the Polish bishops’ committee for dialogue with Judaism.

Members of the Jewish community will be invited to sit on the center’s scientific and program boards.

The Catholic University of Lublin was founded by the Polish bishops in 1918. It was shut down during the Nazi occupation and many of its professors and students were executed.

In 1954, Karol Wojtyła, the future John Paul II, began to lecture on ethics at the university. He was appointed to the Chair of Ethics in the university’s Department of Christian Philosophy, forming a link to the institution that lasted until he was elected pope in 1978.

He visited KUL in June 1987, giving a speech in which he said that academic institutions were called to “build up a community of people free in the truth.”

Months after the pope’s death in 2005, KUL adopted its present name: the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin.

Switzerland’s Catholic Church approves independent abuse study

The flag of Switzerland. / Eberhard Grossgasteiger.

Zurich, Dec 8, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Switzerland has announced that it is commissioning an independent study of abuse.

A research team of historians from the University of Zurich will investigate sexual violence, abuse, and cover-ups in the Swiss Church since the mid-20th century, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The decision was taken jointly by the Swiss Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the country’s conference of religious orders (KOVOS), and the Central Roman Catholic Conference of Switzerland (RKZ), an association of regional Church groups.

Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked central European nation of around 8.5 million people, 37% of whom are Catholic.

By approving an independent study, Swiss Catholic leaders are following the Church in France, which commissioned a landmark report concluding that 330,000 children were abused over a 70-year period.

The Swiss probe will begin in March 2022, with researchers guaranteed independence, the bishops’ conference said on Dec. 6.

The final report is expected to be published by summer 2023 at the latest in German, French, and Italian, three of the country’s official languages.

Two Zurich professors, Monika Dommann and Marietta Maier, will oversee the investigation, which will be carried out by three postdoctoral students and two assistants, according to the project’s website.

“The year-long pilot project lays the foundation for future research on the history of sexualized violence that Catholic clerics, Church employees, and members of religious orders have practiced in Switzerland since the middle of the 20th century,” the website says.

“The focus is on the structures that enabled the sexual abuse of minors and adults, and made it difficult to detect and punish it. All language regions are taken into account.”

Meier, an affiliated professor of modern history, has a background in researching “the history of knowledge and science, the history of psychiatry, and the history of emotions, as well as methods and theories of historical studies.”

She has focused on “structurally applied violence,” as well as the role of “order” and “force” in modern psychiatry.

The research interests of Dommann, a modern history professor, include “media history, economic history, legal history, and the history of knowledge and science.”

Dommann told the Swiss German-language daily Der Bund on Dec. 6 that the investigation would show whether Church authorities were truly committed to granting free access to archives.

She said: “We are not naive. As historians, we have a great deal of experience with the fact that when it comes to sensitive issues, there is often little willingness to face the past. We almost expect files to disappear or the archives not to be opened everywhere.”

“But working with gaps and problematizing them is part of our everyday life. In addition, the possible destruction of files is also an important subject of investigation.”

Bishop Joseph Bonnemain, who is responsible for the Swiss bishops’ conference department focusing on abuse in the Church, said in a Dec. 6 interview that the study would focus on historical abuse because “everything indicates that there are not only individual but also systemic causes for the attacks in the Church context.”

“It is not just individual acts that are of interest, but the big picture. The pilot project will begin with basic historical research to clarify and create the prerequisites for further research work,” the bishop of Chur, eastern Switzerland, said.

“The comprehensive study is another important step with which we follow up our confession of guilt with concrete measures. The deeper examination of the past will, I hope, encourage further victims to address and, if necessary, report any attacks they have suffered.”

“And it provides the basis for us as an institution to take on our responsibility even more resolutely and to adapt structures in such a way that they make sexual exploitation as impossible as possible.”

Pope Francis: Sagrada Familia’s new star shines for Barcelona’s poor, ill, elderly, and young people

The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary is lit up for the first time. / Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

Barcelona, Spain, Dec 8, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said that a star lit up for the first time on Wednesday atop Sagrada Família Basilica shines for the poor, ill, elderly, and young people of Barcelona.

The 12-pointed star at the peak of the basilica’s soaring Tower of the Virgin Mary was lit up at 7:50 p.m. local time on Dec. 8.

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

In a video message, Pope Francis said: “Peace and all good! And with this cordial Franciscan greeting, I join you all from Rome at this moment when the star on the Tower of the Virgin Mary in the Sagrada Família Basilica is being lit.”

“I would also like to extend my greetings in a special way to the poorest people of this great city, to the sick, to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to the elderly, to the young people whose future is being jeopardized by various situations, to those who are experiencing moments of trial. Dear friends, today the star of the Tower of Mary shines for all of you.”

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

The star’s illumination transforms the skyline of Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain, with a population of 1.6 million people.

The glass and steel star is around 20 feet in diameter. The star will shine by day in the sunlight and be illuminated from within at night. Its structure has been tested to resist lightning and shocks up to 100 kilograms (around 220 pounds).

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

The unfinished basilica, dedicated to the Holy Family, is expected to be completed in 2026, the centenary of the visionary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s death.

In his video message, the pope referred to the portals of faith, hope, and charity on the Nativity facade of the Sagrada Família, one of the earliest parts of the basilica to be finished.

He said: “Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary Immaculate. She is indeed a masterpiece! In perfect harmony with God’s plan for her, the Virgin Mary became the most holy, humble, docile, and transparent before God.”

“Gaudí wanted this mystery to crown the portal of faith — the first one he built — so that, as we unfold the prayer to the Holy Trinity, which he rewrites throughout the basilica, we would learn to be, like Mary, a temple of this mystery, and to worship God in spirit and in truth.”

Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.
Screenshot from Basílica de la Sagrada Família live stream.

“The Gospel of Luke refers to her as ‘full of grace’ (Luke 1:28). We too address her in this way in every Hail Mary we pray, always feeling her maternal and dear presence. She is filled with the presence of God, who has become flesh in her womb.”

“This is why Gaudí also places her at the center of the portal of charity, offering us the Divine Child under the watchful eye of St. Joseph, so that we may enter his church inflamed with love for God and for mankind.”

He went on: “I encourage you too to follow the example of the Virgin Mary with daily gestures of love and service. The immaculate beauty of our Mother is inimitable. And, at the same time, it attracts us.”

“May this star that shines from today enlighten you so that, as you unravel the beads of the rosary, you may say ‘yes’ once and for all to the grace of the Lord and give a resounding ‘no’ to sin.”

The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary. Sagrada Família Basilica.
The 12-pointed star of the Sagrada Família Basilica’s Tower of the Virgin Mary. Sagrada Família Basilica.

The Sagrada Família was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Benedict XVI on Nov. 7, 2010.

The church was forced to close to tourists from March to July 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis.

Xavier Martinez, the basilica’s general director, said that this October the church received only 40% of the number of visitors in October 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Tower of the Virgin Mary stands next to the central Tower of Jesus Christ, which is surrounded by four smaller Towers of the Evangelists.

At 450 feet, the Marian tower will be the basilica’s second-highest after the Tower of Jesus Christ, which will rise to around 570 feet. The Tower of Mary is the first of the six central towers to be completed.

Sagrada Família Basilica.
Sagrada Família Basilica.

Twelve wrought-iron stars that surround the tower’s crown were set in place on Nov. 9.

The lighting of the 800 windows that form the tower and the star took place in three stages. On Dec. 4, the lower part was lit up, followed by the upper part on Dec. 6, and finally the whole tower and star on Dec. 8.

The full illumination was preceded by a live-streamed Mass celebrated by Cardinal Juan José Omella of Barcelona. The pope’s video message was played inside the church. The cardinal then exited the basilica, where he greeted a crowd gathered to witness the illumination and gave a blessing.

The inauguration featured the premiere of a forceful new work, “Magnificat,” by composer Marc Timón, performed by Orfeó Català. The music resounded as the star was lit up for the first time.

Antoni Gaudí, a devout and ascetic figure, began working on the project in 1883. In 1914 he stopped all other works to focus exclusively on the basilica, to which he dedicated himself until his unexpected death.

He was struck by a tram in 1926, at the age of 73, while walking to Barcelona’s St. Philip Neri church for confession. Passersby did not recognize the famed architect because of his worn-out clothes and lack of identity papers.

He died three days after the accident and was buried in the crypt of his unfinished basilica. His cause for canonization was opened in Rome in 2003.

Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona. Credit: Jacques van Niekerk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Other pics: YouTube screengrabs.
Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona. Credit: Jacques van Niekerk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Other pics: YouTube screengrabs.

The basilica finally received an official building permit in 2019, 137 years after its construction began.

Progress was initially slow as the works depended on private donations. Building work was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, during which combatants set fire to the crypt and destroyed some of the architect’s designs and plaster models.

Gaudí created numerous celebrated works in Barcelona using his distinctive style inspired by natural forms and eschewing the sharp angles associated with modernist architecture.

He summed up his approach by saying, “The straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”

When questioned about how long it would take to build the basilica, he reputedly said, “My client is not in a hurry” — referring to God.

Man attacks DC basilica's Our Lady of Fatima statue by cutting off hands, hammering face

Security personnel reported damage to the Our Lady of Fatima statue located outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2021. / Courtesy of Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2021 / 11:21 am (CNA).

Security-camera footage shows a man attacking a statue of Our Lady of Fatima by cutting off her hands and hammering at her face, according to a statement by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

“We have contacted authorities and, though we are deeply pained by this incident, we pray for the perpetrator through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Fatima,” Monsignor Walter Rossi, the rector of the basilica, said of the Dec. 5 incident.

The statue, formed out of Carrara marble, is located in the basilica’s Rosary Walk and Garden. Security personnel discovered the damage when opening up the basilica on Monday morning, Dec. 6.

“Subsequent to reviewing security camera footage, a male was found to have entered the locked garden by scaling its fence Sunday night,” Rossi said. “He then proceeded to cut off the hands of the Blessed Mother and attack her face with a hammer. As he left, he took her hands.”

According to EWTN correspondent Mark Irons, this person also cut off the cross from the top of Mary’s crown and wore a mask. The basilica is not releasing the surveillance video at this time.

In October, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) found 100 incidents of vandalism reported at Catholic sites in the U.S. since May 2020.

At the time, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairmen of the USCCB’s religious liberty and domestic justice committees, condemned the “acts of hate,” but stressed the importance of reaching out to the perpetrators with prayer and forgiveness.

“There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace,” they said.

5 facts to know about the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at night in Washington, DC. / Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Dec 8, 2021 / 10:37 am (CNA).

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Located in Washington D.C., the Minor basilica is one of the ten largest churches in the world. Here are 5 facts you should know about this incredible Catholic landmark.

Over 100 years in the making

The basilica, which began construction in 1920, was not actually completed according to its original architectural and iconographic plans until 2017. 

The construction, which began with a ceremonial blessing of the land in May 1920 and concluded with the dedication of the Trinity Dome four years ago, had to be halted in the 1930s due to the Great Depression, the years and events surrounding World War II, and the death of Bishop Thomas Shahan, who was overseeing the process.

It took over 20 years to begin construction again, which resumed with the building of the Upper Church and superstructure of the shrine in 1953 and 1954. Those two structures were finished in 1959, while the Knights of Columbus financed the 329-foot bell tower, “The Knights Tower,” which was completed in 1963. 

Finally in 2017, a huge mosaic in one of the basilica’s domes, rendered the “Trinity Dome,” was dedicated, featuring the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, a procession of saints, and the four evangelists, encircled by the Nicene Creed.

Saints and the Shrine

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and St. Pope John Paul II both visited the shrine on more than one occasion. In addition, the construction plans for the church were approved by another Saint, then Pope Pius X.

In 1913 Saint Pope Pius X approved the plans for building the shrine in honor of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. He also made a donation to help the project get off the ground.

St. Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to ever visit the shrine and he did so the first time in 1979. In his first two visits, he was still archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. In 1979, as Pope John Paul II, he was welcomed to the shrine by cheers and crowds of people.

During his final visit to the shrine, the saint said that the shrine “speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from various countries of the Old World.”

“When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love of the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands,” he said. “These people speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a mother they all had in common.”

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta made her first visit to the shrine in 1972, the first of many visits she would make before her death in 1997. There is a large statue of the saint in the Hall of American saints in the Crypt level of the church. She is also one of the saints depicted in the new Trinity Dome in the Upper Church. Saint Mother Teresa has spoken at the pulpit at the shrine and many of the saints’ Missionaries of Charity have made their vows at the shrine.

Over 80 Marian chapels and oratories

The shrine houses more than 80 Marian chapels and oratories which represent different cultures and peoples all over the world. 

Some of the nationalities and ethnicities represented in the shrine include: African, Austrian, Chinese, Cuban, Czech, Filipino, French, German, Guamanian, Hungarian, Indian, Irish, Italian, Korean, Latin American, Lebanese, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, Slovenian, and Vietnamese.

Many religious communities are also represented including: Augustinians, Carmelites, Claretians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Montfort Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Redemptorists, Salesians, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Providence, and Vincentians.

Five Landmarks that could fit in the basilica

With an interior length of 399 feet, the basilica is longer than many well known landmarks. Here are five that the basilica surpasses in length.

Sheen: Shrine a force against Communism

Venerable Fulton Sheen studied at the Catholic University of America, the home of the Shrine, and then became a professor teaching theology and philosophy. A dynamic speaker, Sheen’s words were often captured in the university’s student newspaper, the Tower.

An article from The Tower in 1953 recorded then Bishop Sheen as campaigning for the refunding of the Shrine in his capacity as a Bishop, after the more than 20 year halt. 

To a television audience who would view later and a live audience of over 1,400 people in the basilica’s Crypt church, Sheen asked the people “to manifest love for God through honoring His mother by completing the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,” The Tower reported.

Sheen pleaded with the audience to donate because “this National Shrine belongs to all Americans and everyone is interested in preserving the spiritual and moral foundation of the country,” The student paper reported.

In order to preserve the foundation, Sheen said, “one must go to God through His mother, to whom the United States is dedicated under the title of the ‘Immaculate Conception,”’ The Tower wrote.

Sheen said another reason to fundraise for the Shrine was to gain strength in order to “resist the forces of communism which can be overcome even as the serpent's head was crushed by Mary Immaculate,” The Tower reported.

Knights of Columbus release St Joseph documentary online

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2021 / 06:01 am (CNA).

Inspired by Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of St. Joseph, the Knights of Columbus have released a documentary on the Head of the Holy Family, which can now be accessed for free on their website

The 60-minute documentary “St. Joseph: Our Spiritual Father,” which premiered Oct. 10 for a six-week run on ABC-affiliated stations across the country, features reenactments, interviews with scholars, and testimonies of people with a devotion to St. Joseph.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, with more than 2 million members in over 16,000 councils worldwide. 

A statement from the Knights of Columbus said that the documentary is meant to help the faithful in deepening their devotion to St. Joseph. 

“Since its launch,” the statement said, “the film has received raving reviews and is rich in inspiring testimonials, including these powerful words from Most Rev. James Wall, Bishop of Gallup, New Mexico.”

Wall said, “If you have a devotion to St. Joseph, strengthen that devotion. If you don't, you should have one.” The release of the now-free documentary on Dec. 8 coincides with the conclusion of the Year of St. Joseph that lasted from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021.

CNA spoke to the film’s director, David Naglieri, about the film in October. 

Naglieri, the director of film and digital media for the Knights of Columbus, told CNA that the film highlights devotion to St. Joseph through six stories. 

One of the stories focuses on the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, where many Catholic priests became prisoners.

Fearing for their survival, the priests prayed a novena to St. Joseph for protection. The people in the camp were liberated at the culmination of their novena, and discovered that the day of their liberation was originally the day of their scheduled execution, Naglieri said.

Naglieri told CNA that Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly’s strong devotion to St. Joseph is what initiated the creation of the film. Kelly asked him to consider producing a documentary film to highlight St. Joseph’s life and his importance as a role model for modern times, according to Naglieri.

In the statement Kelly said that “the example of St. Joseph teaches us that we really find ourselves when we live for others.”  

Kelly was installed as the head of the organization in June, and consecrated his new administration to St. Joseph. 

At the state deputies’ semi-annual meeting on Nov. 6 and 7 in Nashville, Tennessee, Kelly introduced the order’s new pilgrim icon prayer program, which features an icon, made by Elizabeth Bergeron and based on a drawing by Alexandre Sobolev, of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus from St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada.

Pope Francis hails ‘the beauty of Mary’s heart’ on Immaculate Conception feast

Pope Francis delivers his Angelus address at the Vatican, Dec. 8, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Dec 8, 2021 / 05:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis highlighted “the beauty of Mary’s heart” in his Angelus address on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The pope said on Dec. 8 that the Blessed Virgin Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel, described in St. Luke’s Gospel, revealed her deep humility.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“Within the domestic walls, a person reveals him or herself better than elsewhere. And it is precisely within that domestic intimacy that the Gospel gives us a detail that reveals the beauty of Mary’s heart,” he said.

“The angel calls her ‘full of grace.’ If she is full of grace, it means the Madonna is void of evil: she is without sin, Immaculate.”

The pope was giving his live-streamed address at a window overlooking a windswept St. Peter’s Square on a day marked by a public holiday in Italy.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854.

In the decree, Ineffabilis Deus, he wrote: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his address, Pope Francis noted that Mary was “greatly troubled” by the Angel Gabriel’s words.

He said: “The angel’s greeting seemed too grand for her. Why? Because she feels her littleness within, and that littleness, that humility attracts God’s eyes.”

“Within the walls of the house of Nazareth, we thus see a marvelous characteristic of Mary’s heart: having received the highest of compliments, she is troubled because she hears addressed to her what she has not attributed to herself.”

“In fact, Mary does not credit prerogatives to herself, she does not hold claim to anything, she accounts nothing to her own merit. She is not self-satisfied, she does not exalt herself. For in her humility she knows she receives everything from God.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He added that Mary was able to completely direct her life toward God and others.

“Mary Immaculate does not look on herself. This is true humility: not looking on oneself, but looking toward God and others,” he said.

Pope Francis made an early morning visit on Wednesday to the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope made the private visit shortly after 6 a.m., days after the Vatican announced that, for the second consecutive year, he would not make his customary public afternoon trip to the site due to the pandemic.

The Holy See press office said on Dec. 8 that the pope left a bouquet of white roses at the base of the column, before asking for the Virgin Mary’s intercession for the healing of the sick and respite for those affected by wars and the climate crisis.

He also prayed for the grace of conversion for “those who build walls to distance themselves from the pain of others.”

The press office said that the pope left at around 6:20 a.m. and traveled to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary Protection of the Roman People, before returning to the Vatican shortly after 7 a.m.

In his Angelus address, the pope noted that the angel appeared to Mary in her house, not in Nazareth’s main square.

Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

He said: “In that little house of Nazareth beat the greatest heart that any creature has ever had. Dear brothers and sisters, this is extraordinary news for us! Because the Lord is telling us that to work marvelous deeds, he has no need of grand means and our lofty abilities, but our humility, eyes open to Him and others.”

“With this annunciation, within the poor walls of a small house, God changed history. Even today, he wants to do great things with us in our daily lives: in our families, at work, in everyday environments. God’s grace loves to operate there more than in great historical events.”

The pope urged Catholics not to view holiness as a “utopia” or “pious illusion” at odds with everyday life.

He said: “Let us ask the Madonna for a grace: that she free us from the misleading idea that the Gospel is one thing and life is another; that she enkindle enthusiasm in us for the ideal of sanctity which has nothing to do with holy cards and pictures, but is about living humbly and joyfully, like the Madonna, what happens each day, freed from ourselves, with our eyes fixed on God and the neighbor we meet.”

Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.
Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis noted that he returned on Monday from a five-day visit to Greece and Cyprus. He thanked God for the trip, as well as Catholics who had prayed for a successful journey.

He recalled the high points of his visit, beginning with Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea where he spent two days.

He said: “My wish for Cyprus is that it will always be a laboratory of fraternity, where encounter prevails over confrontation, where we welcome our brothers and sisters, especially when they are poor, discarded, emigrants.”

“I repeat that in the face of history, in the face of those who emigrate, we cannot remain silent, we cannot turn away.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Turning to his three days in Greece, the pope highlighted his meetings with Ieronymos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Athens and All Greece.

“First he welcomed me into his home and the next day he came to visit me. I cherish this fraternity in my heart,” he said.

“I entrust to the Holy Mother of God the many seeds of encounter and hope that the Lord has scattered on this pilgrimage. I ask you to continue to pray that they may germinate in patience and flourish in trust.”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The pope noted that Wednesday marks the end of the Year of St. Joseph, which began on Dec. 8, 2020.

He also observed that the Jubilee Year of Loreto closes on Dec. 10. The jubilee year, which began Dec. 8, 2019, and was extended due to the pandemic, marks the 100th anniversary of the official proclamation of Our Lady of Loreto as the patroness of pilots and air passengers.

He said: “May the grace of these events continue to work in our lives and in the lives of our communities. May the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph guide us on the path to holiness.”

After greeting groups of pilgrims from Italy, Spain, and Mexico, the pope concluded: “Please do not forget to pray for me, and I will for you. Enjoy your lunch and arrivederci.”

Syro-Malabar Catholic Church leaders want a uniform liturgy. Why are they facing resistance?

A St. Thomas Christian cross at the installation of Mar Joseph Srampickal at Preston North End stadium, England, on Oct. 9, 2016. / Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

London, England, Dec 8, 2021 / 03:10 am (CNA).

The leaders of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church want to introduce a uniform liturgy — but the process is not going smoothly.

It’s difficult for Catholics who are unfamiliar with the Syro-Malabar Church to understand what’s happening and why it’s proving to be so controversial.

Mar Joseph Srampickal is consecrated Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain at Preston North End stadium on Oct. 9, 2016. Photo .
Mar Joseph Srampickal is consecrated Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain at Preston North End stadium on Oct. 9, 2016. Photo .

So CNA turned to Mar Joseph Srampickal, the first bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain, to help explain what’s at stake.

What is the Syro-Malabar Church?

The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Based in the Indian state of Kerala, the Church has more than four million members worldwide. That makes it the second-biggest Eastern Catholic Church after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

It is the largest of the churches that trace their origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who is believed to have traveled as far as southern India during his missionary journeys after his life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus. The members of these churches are known collectively as the “St. Thomas Christians.”

The Syro-Malabar Church’s name is a combination of the words “Syriac,” referring to its East Syriac Rite liturgy, and “Malabar,” an older name for Kerala. The vernacular language of its liturgies is Malayalam.

A Syro-Malabar priest celebrates the Eucharistic liturgy at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Lee, London, England. Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.
A Syro-Malabar priest celebrates the Eucharistic liturgy at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Lee, London, England. Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Why are there differences between Syro-Malabar liturgies?

Srampickal told CNA via email that the drive for a uniform liturgy stems from the Church’s unique history. The Syro-Malabar Church emerged from the world of Syriac Christianity, an important but lesser-known branch of Eastern Christianity whose ancient liturgies are in the Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.

What happened next is complex, but to greatly simplify the Church’s history, its members affirmed their communion with the pope after contacts with the Latin Church and experienced a strong Latinization of their devotional life from the 1500s onward.

In more recent times, Rome gradually granted Syro-Malabar Catholics a more clearly defined status as a distinct group within the worldwide Catholic Church.

“From time immemorial, the Church of St. Thomas Christians and later, its continuation as the Syro-Malabar Church in the Catholic communion, celebrated the Eucharistic Liturgy ad orientem (facing the East/altar) as the Western Latin Rite also did,” Srampickal explained.

“After Vatican II, the Western Church adopted the celebration of Eucharistic liturgy ad populum (facing the people). During this period, the Syro-Malabar Church functioned only as a few eparchies [dioceses] practicing the East Syriac Rite without sui iuris [autonomous] status or a bishops’ synod. But there was a Syro Malabar bishops’ conference.”

Srampickal noted that some of the eparchies began to celebrate the liturgy facing the people, following the example of the Latin Church. He said that this change took place “without any proper discussions or deliberations with other eparchies,” while the majority of liturgies continued to be celebrated facing East.

“I would say that this is the background of the liturgical divide,” commented the bishop, who has overseen the pastoral care of Syro-Malabar Catholics in England, Scotland, and Wales since 2016.

The Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church is known as the Holy Qurbana. When Pope John Paul II visited India in 1986, he inaugurated the restored Holy Qurbana of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Srampickal said that this act returned the liturgy to its original form, but it continued to be celebrated both ad populum and ad orientem despite Rome’s desire for uniformity.

Cardinal George Alencherry preaches at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Ernakulam, India, on Palm Sunday 2021. Esthappanos Bar Geevarghese via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Cardinal George Alencherry preaches at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Ernakulam, India, on Palm Sunday 2021. Esthappanos Bar Geevarghese via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Why did efforts at compromise fail?

In 1992, John Paul II elevated the Syro-Malabar Church to a major archiepiscopal Church. This meant that it was now governed by a major archbishop, assisted by a synod of bishops. This decision underlined the Church’s status as a sui iuris, or self-governing, body.

The Syro-Malabar Church is today one of four major archiepiscopal churches recognized by Rome, alongside the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (which follows the West Syriac Rite), and the Romanian Greek Catholic Church. Cardinal George Alencherry is the current Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Srampickal said that the Church’s synod of bishops held extensive talks about the uniform mode of celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy.

“After long discussions and deliberations, in the year 1999, a unanimous formula was agreed upon: the Liturgy of the Word facing the people and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Anaphora) facing the altar,” he said.

“This compromise formula was a mix of two customs existing until then. However, unfortunately, this compromise formula failed due to some sectarian divides. In short, this compromise formula could not be implemented in all the eparchies.”

“To worsen the situation, the bishops and clergy who did not follow the 1999 decision did not seem to make any further efforts to educate and form the faithful and clergy to accept the compromise formula gradually.”

Pope Francis meets bishops of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church for their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit on Oct. 3, 2019. Vatican Media.
Pope Francis meets bishops of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church for their “ad Limina Apostolorum” visit on Oct. 3, 2019. Vatican Media.

How did Pope Francis become involved?

Today, the Church extends well beyond India, with eparchies in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia and New Zealand serving diaspora communities.

Srampickal explained that the “dissimilarities in the Eucharistic celebrations became a pastoral care issue” among Syro-Malabar Catholics outside India. This heightened the sense among bishops that they needed to renew their efforts for a uniform mode of celebration.

The bishops turned to Pope Francis, who intervened with a letter in July to all members of Syro-Malabar Church. The pope exhorted “all the clergy, religious and lay faithful to proceed to a prompt implementation of the uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, for the greater good and unity of your Church.”

A liturgy at St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church, Arakuzha, India. Achayan via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
A liturgy at St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church, Arakuzha, India. Achayan via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

What happened next?

In August, the Holy Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church approved the introduction of the uniform liturgy, agreed upon in 1999, in all eparchies. It hoped to implement the change on the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 28, completing the transition by Easter Sunday, which falls on April 17, 2022.

But when the November deadline passed, three eparchies decided not to make the change due to strong opposition from priests. The Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly announced that it had obtained permission from the Vatican Congregation for the Eastern Churches to temporarily maintain the status quo.

But the Media Commission of the Syro-Malabar Church, based at St. Thomas Mount in Kerala, suggested that the dispensations from the synod’s decision granted by some eparchies were contrary to the guidance given by the Vatican congregation.

The latest twist underlines that the decades-long dispute is not over yet.

Members of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain. Courtesy of Mar Joseph Srampickal.
Members of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain. Courtesy of Mar Joseph Srampickal.

Will Syro-Malabar Catholics outside India adopt the uniform liturgy?

Srampickal said that synod’s decision applied to the Syro-Malabar Church across the world.

Referring to his own jurisdiction, he said that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales had already addressed the question in 2014, urging Syro-Malabar missions to follow the decisions of the Holy Synod of 1999.

“So at present, in the Catholic Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain, we follow the synodal formula of the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Qurbana,” he noted.

The installation of Mar Joseph Srampickal at Preston North End stadium, England, on Oct. 9, 2016. Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.
The installation of Mar Joseph Srampickal at Preston North End stadium, England, on Oct. 9, 2016. Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Is the dispute only about which direction the priest should face?

Media reports say that the difference between the uniform liturgy and the other existing liturgies is about when the priest faces the congregation and when he turns away.

Srampickal said that this “may be true from an external point of view,” but there are other underlying factors. He identified what he called “sectarian, regional issues.”

But perhaps at the deepest level, the dispute is about the Church’s historical identity.

“A tiny minority in the Church wants the whole Eucharistic liturgy celebrated as ad populum, whereas the remaining majority agrees with the compromise formula of 1999,” Srampickal said.

“The whole issue, at present, is about a small group of clergy who, unfortunately, do not understand the real identity and the glory of the traditions of St. Thomas Christians; they, to a large extent, do not recognize that theirs is a sui iuris Church.”

He added: “Unfortunately, there exists certain regional groupism and ego-centered sectarianism in the Syro-Malabar Church.”

“Some argue that it took place because of the deficiency in the formation of the clergy. Whereas according to some others, a few bishops and clergy had not been much trained in Oriental tradition, and thus they fail to appreciate the glorious traditions of their own Mother Church.”

Srampickal cited the Belgian Jesuit missionary Édouard Hambye, who in his essay “The Eastern Churches in India and the Syriac Tradition” lamented the “negative effects of 400 years of systematic Latinization.”

“More than any other Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, the Syro-Malabar Church had almost entirely lost its basic character as an Oriental reality,” Hambye wrote.

“That loss affected not only the Liturgy, but also the spirituality, theology, and law. Its own people hardly knew that they were ‘oriental.’ After having been told during so many centuries that everything oriental was wrong, backward, unworthy of Catholics, one wonders how some clergy and laity could still hope for a restoration...”

Srampickal said that the Jesuit’s observations “may be true.”

Hambye went on to say that the long eclipse of the Church’s oriential identity explains why attempts at restoration advance “so slowly, so hesitantly, with much inner tensions, discussions, personal oppositions.”

“For the ordinary faithful, there is no issue at all,” Srampickal reflected. “Most ordinary faithful are proud of their oriental liturgical heritage. But some clergy feel that they are Roman Catholic, I mean the Latin Catholics. Thus, they resist all the aspects of an Oriental sui iuris Church.”

Did you know the Immaculate Conception is patroness of the United States?

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Denver Newsroom, Dec 8, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, has been patroness of the United States since the mid-19th century. But her protection of the nation dates back to its earliest history. 

One of the first Catholic churches in what is now the United States was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in 1584: the now-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, in Jacksonville, Fla. 

John Carroll, the first bishop in the United States, had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1792, he placed the diocese of Baltimore— which encompassed the thirteen colonies of the young republic— under her protection.

Over the next fifty years, seven more dioceses were created, including New Orleans, Boston, Chicago and Oregon City.

“The colonies were now the USA, and Baltimore was not the only diocese – so, the American hierarchy felt a need for a national protectress for this new republic,” said Dr. Geraldine M. Rohling, archivist-curator emerita for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.

U.S. bishops unanimously named Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the nation in 1846, during the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore. 

“We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves, and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose immaculate conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic church.... To her, then, we commend you, in the confidence that ... she will obtain for us grace and salvation,” the bishops wrote in a letter at the time.

Bl. Pius IX approved the declaration in 1847.

The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary being conceived without original sin. Today, it is a dogma of the Catholic Church. But back in 1846, it was not. B. Pius IX would promulgate the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and many believe the U.S. bishops’ declaration may have influenced the pope’s decision. 

The largest Marian shrine in the United States is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception— the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. The first public Mass for the National Shrine was celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1917, though the shrine was not yet constructed. 

The Immaculate Conception is also patroness of several other countries, including Spain, South Korea, Brazil, and the Philippines. 

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated Dec. 8, nine months before the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. It is a Holy Day of Obligation in some places, including the United States, Ireland, and the Philippines.

Pope Francis makes early morning visit to Immaculate Conception statue in Rome

An Italian firefighter places a wreath of flowers on the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna, Dec. 8, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Dec 8, 2021 / 01:17 am (CNA).

Pope Francis made an early morning visit on Wednesday to the statue of the Immaculate Conception in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna.

The pope made the private visit shortly after 6 a.m. on Dec. 8, days after the Vatican announced that, for the second consecutive year, he would not make his customary public afternoon trip to the site on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception due to the pandemic.

The Vatican said on Nov. 27 that, in place of a public visit, Pope Francis would mark the feast day by asking the Virgin Mary in prayer “to protect the Romans, the city in which they live, and the sick who need Her maternal protection everywhere in the world.”

The Holy See press office said on Dec. 8 that the pope left white roses at the base of the column, before asking for the Virgin Mary’s intercession for the healing of the sick and respite for those affected by wars and the climate crisis.

He also prayed for the grace of conversion for “those who build walls to distance themselves from the pain of others.”

The press office said that the pope left at around 6:20 a.m. and traveled to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where he prayed before the icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary Protection of the Roman People, before returning to the Vatican shortly after 7 a.m.

After Pope Francis departed the Piazza di Spagna, a firefighter ascended a ladder to place a wreath of flowers over the statue’s arm.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The statue of the Immaculate Conception sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column. It was dedicated Dec. 8, 1857, three years after Pope Pius IX promulgated a decree defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Since 1953, it has been a custom for popes to venerate the statue for the feast day. Pope Pius XII was the first to do so, walking nearly two miles on foot from the Vatican.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Rome’s firefighters are usually in attendance at the prayer, in honor of their role at the 1857 inauguration of the statue. The mayor of Rome and other officials also attend.

In past years, Pope Francis left floral wreaths for the Virgin Mary, one of which was placed on the outstretched arm of the statue by firefighters. The pope also offered an original prayer for the feast day.

As is customary for Marian solemnities, Pope Francis will still lead the Angelus prayer from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 8.