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‘This is Francis:’ A Vatican photographer’s call from the pope

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Imagine that your cell phone rings, and the display says the call is from a “private number.” You expect it to be a telemarketer. But instead, when you answer, you hear a man with an Argentine accent say: “This is Francis. I received your letter.”

That phone call happened to Daniel Ibanez, the CNA and EWTN News Vatican photographer, on an ordinary weekday morning in December 2018.

“I effectively stayed frozen, because I was speaking with the pope,” Ibanez told CNA. “He said: ‘I would like to invite you to the Mass at Casa Santa Marta on Dec. 20, 2018, which will be the last I publicly celebrate in the Vatican [before Christmas].’”

Ibanez had sent a letter to Pope Francis two months prior, in October 2018, telling him about his experience as a young Catholic from Palencia, Spain, living and working in Italy as a photographer for a Catholic media organization.

He had also expressed his desire for the opportunity to experience Pope Francis as an ordinary Catholic, since Ibanez is always working – that is, taking photos – during papal Masses and events.

The 27-year-old Ibanez said he was touched and surprised that during their phone call, which lasted about five minutes, Pope Francis asked his pardon for not responding to his letter sooner.

The pope also gave him the directions for what to do in two days to attend the private Mass at the Vatican’s guesthouse.

“He repeated what I should do four times, like a grandfather. Because I was not understanding. My brain was really frozen... I was speaking with the pope on my cellphone!” Ibanez said.

On Dec. 20, 2018, the photographer went through all the security to arrive at the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta. He said at first he sat at the very back, but the priests made him move to the front: “From a photographic perspective, the best seat.”

Ibanez said he remembers one part of Pope Francis’ homily that day in particular: “God enters history and does so in his original style: a surprise. The God of surprises, surprises us.”

After the Mass, the pope greeted each person individually. Ibanez introduced himself as a photographer for CNA and EWTN and gave him two photos he had taken of him.

He also gave the pope some letters from his friends and family, including one from a young woman who wrote about her elderly uncle, a retired priest in Spain. Pope Francis called this priest a few months later, speaking to him for about an hour.

Ibanez also told the pope about his friend, a wife and mother who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a few days prior. Francis put his hand over the woman’s photo, staying in silence for some seconds. In that moment, “I felt that he is a very empathetic person, who listens,” he said.

Then, before the pope left, Ibanez asked if he could give him a hug, and the two embraced.

Ibanez is the youngest fully Vatican-accredited photographer, and the only one from Spain. He explained that he originally came to Rome to study, but he finds the words of St. Josemaria Escriva relatable, that one should “dream and your dreams will fall short.”

He only expected to be in Rome for six months, and instead he has been here for almost six years, he told CNA.

“This work is beautiful, even if it is a little tiring. But I am a Catholic and above all it is an honor to do this work,” he stated.

“It is true that the negative part is that [Pope Francis] is a person who never gets tired. So, if you follow the pope, the agenda of the pope is very complicated, very complex too. That is, to work on Sundays and holidays...”

Ibanez’ newest project has been to create a 2020 wall calendar, available for free from EWTN, featuring his photos. Each month showcases a full-page photo he took at the Vatican, in Rome, or in other places important to Catholicism, such as the Holy Land and the Shrine of Our Lady in Fatima.

Ibanez said the calendar is a way of helping people see the Vatican, and the Church, from their homes.

“It is a way of making these places present in the homes of American families.”

 

Two guards injured in attack at Washington basilica

Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 09:35 am (CNA).- Police have ended a standoff with a suspect after an attack at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception left two people injured.

Two security guards at the shrine are reportedly “conscious and breathing” after one was stabbed and another was struck by a vehicle shortly after 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10. 

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, a 911 call was recieved at 9:14 a.m. after a female security guard was struck by a car in the parking lot east of the basilica. The suspect’s SUV also hit several other cars that were parked in the lot. The suspect then chased a male security guard before stabbing him inside the shrine itself. 

The suspect then fled the scene in a Lincoln Navigator, which was later found in Northwest DC. Metropolitan police said that the suspect then barricaded himself inside his home before emerging and being taken into police custody. He was taken to a hospital where he will be treated for minor injuries, including lacerations. Police confirmed that charges will be filed.

An update from Assistant Chief of Police Jeffery Carroll stated that police were able to establish communication with the suspect, who then gave himself up. Carroll said that it is believed that the suspect had some sort of domestic relationship with the female security guard.

“There’s no information there’s any actual connection to the Shrine, other than the individuals worked at that location,” said Carroll. “The motivation that we have, preliminarily, is that it appears to be domestic in nature.” 

Carroll also provided a more details on the attack, saying that the female security guard is believed to have been struck “at least” twice by the suspect’s vehicle, and was “pinned” between his car and another car for a period of time. The male security guard was stabbed “several times” inside the basilica after the female guard was hit by the car. 

Both of the victims are “stable at a local hospital,” said Carroll.

No further information about the suspect was released. It is not clear if he had any criminal history or if he was ever employed at the Shrine.

Jacquelyn Hayes, director of communications for the National Shrine, told CNA that “the suspect was known” to both security guards, and that no other information was being released at this time. 

No visitors or pilgrims to the shrine have been reported as injured. 

This story is developing and is being updated.

Pro-life group: Curtailed study on abortion pill reversal is misleading

Sacramento, Calif., Dec 10, 2019 / 03:31 am (CNA).- A small case study on the safety of the abortion pill reversal procedure that was cut short due to safety concerns does not accurately represent the safety and efficacy of the procedure to the public, a pro-life group has said.

“Pro-abortion researchers would rather continue to mislead women about the real risks of the abortion pill regimen Mifeprex than protect them from the risks of this dangerous drug,” Dr. Tara Sander Lee, senior fellow and director of life sciences for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said in a statement.

Earlier this year, a group of researchers from the University of California at Davis attempted to study whether administering high doses of the hormone progesterone can successfully override the effects of the progesterone-blocking drug, mifepristone, the first of two pills taken in a medically induced abortion. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

This abortion pill reversal procedure is administered to women who have taken the first pill, mifepristone, but have changed their minds and do not want to continue with the abortion. Creators of the protocol say it has saved hundreds of babies whose mothers changed their minds about aborting.

According to an NPR report, while the researchers at UC Davis were hoping that 40 women would enroll in the study, only 12 did. Of those 12, three women were transported to the hospital for serious vaginal bleeding - one of those women had been given progesterone, the others had received a placebo.

Of the remaining participants, six of the women had a fetal heartbeat detectable on their subsequent ultrasounds, evidence of a continued pregnancy - four of them in the progesterone group, and two in the placebo group. Two women left the study and had surgical abortions.

The researchers stopped the study in July due to the lack of participants and safety concerns.

“Encouraging women to not complete the regimen should be considered experimental,” Dr. Mitchell Creinin, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Davis and the lead researcher on the study, told NPR. “We have some evidence that it could cause very significant bleeding.”

“It's not that medical abortion is dangerous,” he added. “It's not completing the regimen, and encouraging women, leading them to believe that not finishing the regimen is safe. That's really dangerous.”

Creinin, who has a long history of performing abortions, also told NPR that because the study was smaller than expected and cut short, it cannot answer the question it was intended to answer.

“Does progesterone work? We don't know,” he said. “We have no evidence that it works.”

Lee, however, said in her statement that the UC Davis study does not prove the dangers of the progesterone protocol, but rather the dangers of mifepristone, as two of the three women who experienced bleeding had not even been given progesterone.

“Long before this study was published, it was a known fact that Mifeprex (brand name of mifepristone) can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections, excessive bleeding, and incomplete termination requiring follow-up surgery. This study does nothing but further prove these serious, life-threatening risks when taking the abortion pill,” Lee said.

“The study was ended early because of severe hemorrhage in 25% (3 out of 12) of women, requiring emergency ambulatory care, because they took the abortion pill. Even the authors highlight that this is a rate much higher (42% higher) than previously reported. In fact, the bleeding was so bad for one woman, described as ‘significant brisk bleeding,’ that she needed a blood transfusion. She also developed hypotension and tachycardia.”

The progesterone protocol for an abortion pill reversal is available at several pro-life clinics throughout the United States. While the procedure has not been approved by the FDA, many pro-life medical professionals consider it safe, as progesterone is a hormone that naturally occurs in and helps sustain pregnancy, and is used to treat some pregnancies at high risk of miscarriage.

Teresa Kenney, a women's health nurse practitioner with the Sancta Familia (Holy Family) Medical Apostolate in Omaha, Nebraska, previously told CNA that because progesterone is safe for pregnant women and their unborn babies, and the benefit of reversing a medical abortion is so great, the procedure “makes complete sense” from a scientific standpoint.

“If I give a medicine that decreases or blocks progesterone to stop a pregnancy, then it makes perfect logical medical sense to give progesterone to help reverse that,” Kenney told CNA in September.

She added that the benefits are “overwhelmingly positive,” as the procedure in a sense saves two lives - that of the unborn child, and that of the mother who regretted her decision to have an abortion.

“Just because there hasn't been a randomized controlled double-blind study on abortion pill reversal doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to implement it in medicine, because there is already scientific support for progesterone in early pregnancy in the prevention and miscarriage,” she said.

“Do we need more research? Absolutely. But to withhold treatment when, again, we know that it does no harm...we know that it medically makes sense, it scientifically makes sense, and the benefits are overwhelmingly positive, why wouldn't we do it?”

Dede Chism, a nurse practitioner and co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care in Englewood, Colorado, told CNA in 2018 that a recent case study had shown that the progesterone protocol was significantly more effective in helping women keep their pregnancies after taking mifepristone than if nothing was done.

That study, published in Issues in Law and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal, examined 261 successful abortion pill reversals, and showed that the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Both procedures significantly improved the 25% fetal survival rate if no treatment is offered and a woman simply declines the second pill of a medical abortion. The case study also showed that progesterone treatments caused no increased risk of birth defects or preterm births.

That study was authored by Dr. Mary Davenport and Dr. George Delgado, who have been studying the abortion pill reversal procedures since 2009. Delgado also sits on the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Medical abortions make up a significant portion - roughly 30-40% - of total abortions in the United States. At least seven states, including Nebraska, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho and South Dakota, have laws mandating that women undergoing medical abortions or who are questioning their decision in the process be informed in some way of the option for a medical abortion reversal.

A North Dakota judge in September granted a temporary injunction against a proposed law in the state that would have required doctors to tell their patients that a medically-induced abortion could be reversed if the patient acted quickly.

 

St. John Henry Newman’s meditations on the Litany of Loreto

Loreto, Italy, Dec 10, 2019 / 12:28 am (CNA).- Morning Star. Mystical Rose. Tower of Ivory. House of Gold. For centuries, Catholics have recited these titles of Mary in the Litany of Loreto prayer.

One of the Church’s newest saints, St. John Henry Newman, wrote a series of meditations in 1874 elucidating the meaning behind each Marian title in the litany.

For Newman, many of these titles of Mary link back to her integral identity as the Immaculate Conception, born without the stain of original sin. Thus, the British saint connected a dogma declared 20 years prior by Pope Pius IX to a litany prayer approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587.

“We must recollect that there is a vast difference between the state of a soul such as that of the Blessed Virgin, which has never sinned, and a soul, however holy, which has once had upon it Adam's sin; for, even after baptism and repentance, it suffers necessarily from the spiritual wounds which are the consequence of that sin,” Newman wrote. “She never committed even a venial sin, and this special privilege is not known to belong to anyone but Mary.”

The Marian title, “Mater Amabilis,” today translated as “Mother most amiable,” is connected to Mary’s sinlessness, Newman explained: “Sin is something odious in its very nature, and grace is something bright, beautiful, attractive.”

“There was a divine music in all she said and did—in her mien, her air, her deportment, that charmed every true heart that came near her. Her innocence, her humility and modesty, her simplicity, sincerity, and truthfulness, her unselfishness, her unaffected interest in everyone who came to her, her purity—it was these qualities which made her so lovable,” Newman wrote.

Mary is particularly loveable “to the children of the Church, not to those outside of it, who know nothing about her,” Newman said.

A convert himself, Newman’s own thoughts on Mary developed from praising the holiness of the Mother of Christ as an Anglican preacher to defending Mary’s role as intercessor in “Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching Considered.”

Newman was a 19th century theologian, poet, Catholic priest and cardinal. Born in 1801, he was before his conversion a well-known and well-respected Oxford academic, Anglican preacher, and public intellectual.

In October, Pope Francis declared Cardinal John Henry Newman a saint. That same month, the pope elevated the Dec. 10 feast of Our Lady of Loreto to the Church’s universal Roman Calendar.

In his Loreto meditations, Newman sheds light on titles of Mary whose meaning may not immediately evident to a modern reader.

Tower of Ivory

While an ivory tower is colloquially understood today as a privileged shelter from the practicalities of the real world, Newman connect’s Mary’s title, “Tower of Ivory,” to her courageous presence at the execution of her son.

“When we say a man ‘towers’ over his fellows, we mean to signify that they look small in comparison of him,” he wrote. “This quality of greatness is instanced in the Blessed Virgin. Though she suffered more keen and intimate anguish at our Lord's Passion and Crucifixion than any of the Apostles by reason of her being His Mother, yet consider how much more noble she was amid her deep distress than they were.”

“It is expressly noted of her that she stood by the Cross. She did not grovel in the dust, but stood upright to receive the blows, the stabs, which the long Passion of her Son inflicted upon her every moment,” Newman wrote. “In this magnanimity and generosity in suffering she is, as compared with the Apostles, fitly imaged as a Tower.”

Mirror of Justice

Newman explained that the Marian title “Mirror of Justice” needs clarification to fully understand how Mary reflected Christ.

“Here first we must consider what is meant by justice, for the word as used by the Church has not that sense which it bears in ordinary English. By ‘justice’ is not meant the virtue of fairness, equity, uprightness in our dealings; but it is a word denoting all virtues at once, a perfect, virtuous state of soul—righteousness, or moral perfection; so that it answers very nearly to what is meant by sanctity,” Newman wrote.

“Therefore when our Lady is called the ‘Mirror of Justice,’ it is meant to say that she is the Mirror of sanctity, holiness, supernatural goodness,” he continued.

Newman further posited: “Do we ask how she came to reflect His Sanctity? —it was by living with Him. We see every day how like people get to each other who live with those they love … Now, consider that Mary loved her Divine Son with an unutterable love; and consider too she had Him all to herself for thirty years. Do we not see that, as she was full of grace before she conceived Him in her womb, she must have had a vast incomprehensible sanctity when she had lived close to God for thirty years?”

Morning Star

Newman divided the titles of Mary in the Litany of Loreto into four categories: Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, Our Lady of Sorrows, and the Assumption.

For example, Newman compares the “Morning Star” to Mary’s Assumption into heaven: “Mary, like the stars, abides for ever, as lustrous now as she was on the day of her Assumption; as pure and perfect, when her Son comes to judgment, as she is now.”

“It is Mary's prerogative to be the Morning Star, which heralds in the sun. She does not shine for herself, or from herself, but she is the reflection of her and our Redeemer, and she glorifies Him. When she appears in the darkness, we know that He is close at hand,” he wrote.

By papal decree, the feast of Our Lady of Loreto will be celebrated for the first time as an optional memorial in the Roman calendar this year on Dec. 10. Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said in the October decree:

“This celebration will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of that perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the Head of the Church also accepted us as her own.”

 

In scandalized Buffalo diocese, bishop seeks victims’ voices  

Buffalo, N.Y., Dec 9, 2019 / 08:19 pm (CNA).- Efforts to recover from clergy sex abuse scandals in Buffalo require listing to victims and others affected by the diocese’s handling of abuse, the apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese Bishop Edward Scharfenberger has said.

“I know there’s a lot of pain. I know that pain sometimes presents itself first as anger,” Bishop Scharfenberger said in opening remarks at a Dec. 7 symposium at Canisius College in Buffalo.

“We can’t deny the fact that there is a lot of anger and frustration. Maybe in our personal lives but also in those who expect much of us as leaders to be able to help them find a way out of the darkness that they have experienced,” he continued.

“The darkness of fear is absolutely chilling,” he said. “Remember, Jesus tells us that fear is useless. It’s faith that counts. The more we trust in him, that he’s with us…. He accompanies us wherever we go.”

“We can do this together,” he said, adding that Jesus Christ is the “ultimate healer.”

“People are not giving up,” he said. “And there are reasons for hope too, because God is with us, and we’re going to get through this.”

Scharfenberger became apostolic administrator of the diocese December 4, following Pope Francis’ acceptance of the early resignation of 73-year-old Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, who has faced a year of controversy over his handling of sexual abuse by clergy.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.

Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.

That was the background for the Dec. 7 symposium, held by the Movement to Restore Trust. The group’s organizing committee is comprised mostly of business and non-profit Catholic leaders.

“The biggest thing that we need is that trust,” Michael Whalen, a survivor of clergy sex abuse who advocates on behalf of victims, said at the symposium, the NBC affiliate WGRZ reports.

Whalen made suggestions for the bishop administering the diocese.

“How do we go about getting that trust back? I think by him making big changes in the diocese, getting rid of the old garb, people who've been there decades, who knew about the abuse, and didn't do anything about it,” he said.

The bishop praised Whalen’s comments, Scharfenberger said to reporters, according to audio published by the Buffalo AM radio station WBEN.

“His heart is so full of a desire to help, and to help us heal,” Scharfenberger said. “I thanked him, because I believe that our victim-survivors are an essential part of our mission.  They’re our family. Their experience and the experience of every one of us is very, very valuable.”

“We have to be able to feel that we have a safe space, that we can come together and talk about that and learn from one another, and hear our stories and share our pain, and our vision,” said the bishop.

For Scharfenberger, who will serve as both Bishop of Albany and apostolic administrator pending further decisions by the Vatican, the restoration of trust is ultimately a matter of proving oneself trustworthy and hoping that this is recognized. Though he thought the good faith displayed at the symposium was “heartwarming,” he compared it to a honeymoon period. Upcoming decisions might not be popular.

“I just want everybody to know that whatever I do, I will do with a spirit of justice and charity and openness and listening,” he said. “I don’t want to make any decision that does not take into account and does not show respect for all of those that these decisions affect.”

Whalen, the survivor of sexual abuse, has advocated for the release of the diocese’s confidential files.

The bishop pledged transparency but also said clarity was needed in the release of records which might not give the full context or accurate knowledge.

“I want to be transparent. I want everybody to know what they have a right to know but I want to do it in a way that is clearly understood,” he said.

The possible financial bankruptcy of the diocese was a topic at the symposium. University at Buffalo Law School Vice Dean Todd Brown said if the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy it would not liquidate, but rather reorganize.

The Movement to Restore Trust’s organizing committee members include John Hurley, the lay president of Canisius College, a Jesuit school in Buffalo.

Hurley said bankruptcy would represent “the fairest option” because court cases would be done all together. He said “everyone will be treated equitably and all at the same time, and it won't be who has the better lawyer, or who can get the first trial.”

In comments to reporters, Scharfenberger said there are many different sides to the arguments for and against bankruptcy. He stressed the need to make the right decision and the need to help people to know why he made that decision.

“It has to be done with deliberation,” he said.

“Ultimately this is a spiritual crisis… People did unholy bad things, evil things, and the only way to eradicate evil is by returning to holiness and to return to God, and to live according to the way our faith teaches us to live,” the bishop continued.

“It’s in God’s time when that happens. God has been trying to restore trust with the human race since the Fall of Adam and Eve,” he said. “We keep turning away. And God keeps coming back.”