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Myanmar Catholic nun says Eucharistic adoration gave her strength to kneel before police

Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng begs police not to shoot protesters during Myanmar unrest / Myanmar local media

Rome Newsroom, May 13, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The image of Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng kneeling before police urging them not to use violence against protesters captured the world’s attention after Burma’s military coup.

The religious sister said Thursday that the Holy Spirit prompted her to kneel between the police and protesters and that she drew her strength from prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

“I deeply felt the action of the Holy Spirit,” she told journalists in Rome via video call from Burma, the Southeast Asian country officially known as Myanmar.

Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng speaks to journalists via video call from Burma. / Screenshot.
Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng speaks to journalists via video call from Burma. / Screenshot.

Speaking in Burmese with live translation provided by a priest and a seminarian from Burma on May 13, she said that prayer had been fundamental in sustaining her during this difficult time for her country.

“Even as we are experiencing a moment of persecution, it has really helped me above all to say prayers of praise,” she said.

“Prayer in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has given me this strength. From there, I drew the strength to help the people and to act like this.”

Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis Xavier in northern Burma. The video of her kneeling before police officers in the city of Myitkyina on March 8 even touched the pope.

“I too kneel in the streets of Myanmar and say: ‘stop the violence.’ I too stretch out my arms and say: ‘may dialogue prevail,’” Pope Francis said on March 17.

Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, has experienced some of the worst violence as security forces continue to crack down on protesters of the Feb. 1 military coup.

The religious sister said that she views kneeling as a “gesture of reconciliation” that also communicates forgiveness of one’s enemies.

She said that March 8 was the second time that she knelt before the police in this way. Later that day she recalled that she also helped take wounded protesters to the hospital.

“In three months, more than 800 people died,” she said. “I am very worried about the future.”

She spoke at the launch of a new book, “‘Kill me, not the people.’ The courageous nun of Myanmar tells her story,” recently published in Italian by Editrice Missionaria Italiana.

She expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for the many times that he has spoken out about the situation in Burma.

The pope has repeatedly called for harmony in the country, which has a population of 54 million people and borders Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. Francis became the first pope to visit the Buddhist majority nation in November 2017.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, has also provided ongoing support to protesters, while urging the movement to remain “non-violent and peaceful.”

Pope Francis will offer Mass for Rome’s Burmese community in St. Peter’s Basilica May 16.

Fr. Maurice Moe Aung, a member of the Missionaries of Faith Congregation, said that Rome’s Burmese community is made up mostly of students, including members of religious communities.

The priest, originally from Burma, told journalists May 12 that he was worried by the mounting death toll and arrests as protests continue across the country.

May 11 marked 100 days since the Myanmar military seized control of the country in a sudden coup. The United Nations rights office has expressed concern about “gross human rights violations” in the country, where security forces have killed at least 782 people in their attempt to suppress street protests.

“The world must make its voice heard. It must make a more decisive contribution. We cannot wait. We cannot wait or there will be many more deaths,” the priest said.

‘We took the family for granted’: Leaders grapple with Italy’s accelerating birth crisis

Empty wooden crib. Image via Shutterstock

Rome, Italy, May 13, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Leaders in Italy’s public and private sectors will meet Friday to discuss the country’s dismal birth rate in a high-profile event including Pope Francis and Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The country faces a demographic crisis, as experts predict that the already low European birth rate will be further affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already hit the Italian economy especially hard.

The situation “is no longer sustainable,” commented Gigi De Palo, president of the Family Associations Forum, the group organizing the March 14 event.

The association promotes pro-life and pro-family policies at the governmental level, and De Palo has been an outspoken advocate for relief of the Italian tax burden on families.

“It’s true that Italians love the family and that Italians love children, but it’s difficult,” he told CNA. “In Italy, the primary cause of poverty is job loss by one member of the family. The second is the birth of a child.”

Statistics from 2015 show that Italian families with two children have higher rates of poverty than families with one.

De Palo noted that the number of children that Italian women say they want -- more than 80% say two -- is not being played out in actual births, which is at a rate of around 1.29.

The association president said he thought that if Italy had the same level of public family assistance as Germany and France, it would have a higher birth rate than those countries because the desire for children is so strong.

“Only we took the family for granted,” he said.

At the March 14 meeting, called “The General State of the Birth Rate,” Gian Carlo Blangiardo, president of Istat, Italy’s national statistics institute, will present previously unpublished data and projections on where the country’s fertility is headed in the coming decades.

Blangiardo told CNA ahead of the event that “the diagnosis is clear.”

“There’s no need to repeat ourselves [about] why people are having few children in Italy,” he said, explaining that the reasons behind the country’s near-steady 50-year decline in births can be summed up as: “children cost, children cause limitations, children make work more difficult for mothers, children sometimes do not have a place in which to be cared for -- the preschool, the daycare and other things of this kind -- and the cultural climate does not reward families that have children.”

Blangiardo wants the state to take advantage of the European Union’s post-pandemic recovery fund to lighten these obstacles to parenthood, calling it “maybe the only opportunity we have.”

“So, these are the points on which to act, the levers on which to intervene,” he said. “We know what the cure is, we have, as I said before, fortunately, for the first time perhaps in 10 years, the opportunity to have some resources with which to buy the ‘medicine.’”

After Pope Francis and Draghi, Friday’s event will also feature company executives, journalists, actors, athletes, and Italy’s family and education ministers.

Elena Bonetti, Minister of the Family and Equal Opportunities, called the low fertility rate a “primary challenge for Italy and for Europe.”

She said “The General State of the Birth Rate initiative has come at the right time to put pro-family policies in place in the state, especially those which promote having children, education, and the participation of women in the workforce.”

Less than half of Italian women have work, even part-time, while the country’s salaries tend to be low, making it difficult for families to meet even basic monthly expenses on just one income.

The government’s latest effort at raising the fertility rate is the Family Act, which will be mostly funded by the EU recovery plan. The Family Act includes a long list of measures to incentivize families to have children and to help young couples get on their feet.

The legislation’s major policy is a monthly universal child benefit paid from two months before a child’s birth until age 21. It also includes funds to improve the scarcity of preschools in the country.

Putting the legislation into action is one of the priorities for Bonetti’s department in the coming months.

In Blangiardo’s estimation, Italy should aim to raise the birth rate by a very modest 0.6 at the end of 10 years, which would lead to roughly an additional 100,000 births per year.

“Obviously it’s not a radical transformation, it is not an absolute change,” he said, “however, it’s a contribution which is absolutely extremely important, because -- let’s not forget -- the alternative is the continued decrease in birth rate.”

A family policy expert told CNA last year that the Italian government’s past efforts at pro-birth policies, such as a “baby bonus” and subsidized leave, have had little success in raising the birth rate.

According to Vincenzo Bassi, people do not decide to have more children because they will receive a financial bonus -- it requires something more drastic.

If we want to encourage people to take on the sacrifice of having children, the family needs to be valued by society at large, he said.

Philip Jenkins, a historian who published a book last year on fertility rates and religion around the world, said that pro-family policies can raise the birth rate, but they work very slowly and are very expensive.

With Italy’s $315 billion from the EU, “we have the resources” to put policies in place which will “resolve some of the problems blocking fertility,” Blangiardo said.

Pope Francis has described Europe’s low birth rate as a result of a “disregard for families” and “a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present.”

Da Palo said that he invited the pope to give a greeting at Friday’s meeting because he wanted someone “who would also speak about hope, because having a child today is also connected to having hope, desires, a sense of beauty for the future.”

“This is why we invited the Holy Father.”

Cardinal Pell leads Eucharistic procession in Rome

Cardinal George Pell at the annual Eucharistic procession at the Angelicum in Rome, May 13, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

CNA Staff, May 13, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal George Pell led a Eucharistic procession Thursday at the Angelicum in Rome.

The former Vatican finance czar led the annual procession on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, at the institution formally known as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, located on Rome’s Quirinal Hill.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

This was the first time that the cardinal had led the procession, which was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Speaking to EWTN News, Pell said: “I’m very pleased to be here. I gather it’s a student initiative, led by students, a wonderful example of faith in practice.”

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He continued: “I think it’s important after COVID to get back to a regular church routine of prayer and worship. I’m not sure in the long run that COVID will change too much, but it might have given another excuse for us to get a little bit slack, a little bit relaxed, in our approach to our prayer and worship, and we’ve got to battle against that.”

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The event began with a reflection by the 79-year-old Australian cardinal at the Angelicum’s Church of Sts. Dominic and Sixtus, one of Rome’s titular churches assigned to cardinals.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The university church is the titular church of Portuguese Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, archivist and librarian of the Holy Roman Church.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The Angelicum is a Dominican institution that traces its history back to 1222, shortly after Pope Honorius III officially approved the Order of Preachers, founded by the Spanish priest Dominic de Guzmán.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The cardinal’s address was followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The monstrance was then carried beneath a golden processional canopy through the university grounds, followed by hundreds of people.

Cardinal Pell, the former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, arrived in Rome on Sept. 30, 2020, on his first visit to the city since he left in 2017 for Australia to prove his innocence of abuse charges.

The cardinal was imprisoned in 2019 but ultimately acquitted in April 2020 after 404 days in prison.

He was unable to celebrate Mass in jail because he wasn’t allowed access to wine. He said that this deprivation heightened his appreciation for the Eucharist.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

He said: “I had 13 months in jail. I was unable to celebrate Mass and attend Mass. I listened to many Protestant preachers, and I became even more aware of the centrality of the liturgical celebration. It’s a making present of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s an explicit act of adoration. It involves the whole of our persons. It needs faith to be practiced.”

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

“It’s the high point of Catholic life, and we have to learn that, get into it. Most of us do that as we grow up. It’s beautiful and enriching and absolutely central.”

The cardinal will turn 80 on June 8, losing his right to vote in a future conclave.

/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
/ Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Ignatius Press released the second book in his three-volume prison journal on May 3. The book covers the rejection of his first appeal and his efforts to bring his case before the High Court of Australia, the country’s top court.

The cardinal told EWTN News: “What is interesting for a person of my age is to see the enthusiasm for silent prayer and adoration among so many young people, young adults, and I think it’s, one, a thirst for transcendence, but also a search for a little bit of quiet and peace because their lives are very, very distracted, very noisy.”

Metuchen seminarian killed in hit-and-run accident in New York City

Ngu Quoc “Peter” Tran, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident on May 11, 2021. / Diocese of Metuchen

Metuchen, N.J., May 13, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

A seminarian for the Diocese of Metuchen was killed Tuesday evening in a hit-and-run accident in Manhattan.

Ngu Quoc “Peter” Tran, 29, was a first-year theology student at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. 

Tran was reportedly crossing the street in Manhattan’s East Side around 10:15 pm on May 11 when he was hit by a suspected drunk driver. Tran was rushed to hospital, where he died soon after. 

“Any time we hear of the sudden loss of life, especially the loss of someone so young, it is heartbreaking,” Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen said May 12. 

“But the tragic loss of Peter – the loss to his family, to his brother seminarians and to our local Church – is immense and would be insufferable without our Catholic faith and trust in our Heavenly Father, so I ask you to please join me in praying for Peter, his family and the many affected by this terrible loss.”

The driver fled the scene and was arrested and charged later that night when his car was involved in another collision. 

Tran was born and raised in An Giang Province in the south of Vietnam, and was one of six siblings. He came to the United States in 2017 after earning a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and working as an English and religion teacher in Vietnam.

According to the diocese, Tran served in summer assignments at Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish, South Plainfield, N.J.; Saint James the Less Parish, Jamesburg, N.J.; Saint Bernard of Clairvaux Parish, Bridgewater, N.J.; and the Parish of the Visitation, New Brunswick, N.J.

“From every interaction with Peter, even from his application to become a seminarian for our diocese, it was evident that he had a strong friendship with Jesus Christ, a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and a love for our Blessed Mother,” Bishop Checchio said. 

Bishop Checcio celebrated Mass at the seminary soon after Tran’s death.  

“He was a prayerful and faithful man, so even through this challenging time, I know he would encourage prayer. Through our sorrows and pain, our Blessed Mother is with us and is undoubtedly accompanying Peter to the merciful embrace of her son, Jesus,” Bishop Checcio concluded.

As Pentecost approaches, EWTN publishes Holy Spirit novena e-book

Jean II Restout's Pentecost (1732)

Birmingham, Ala., May 13, 2021 / 10:55 am (CNA).

The feast of Pentecost falls May 23 this year, and the Eternal Word Global Catholic Network has made available an e-book about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Novena to the Holy Spirit set to begin Friday.

 

“The Novena in honor of the Holy Spirit is the oldest of all Novenas, since it was first made at the direction of our Lord Himself when He sent His apostles back to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost,” said EWTN’s Pentecost webpage.

 

“It is still the only Novena officially prescribed by the Catholic Church,” said EWTN. “Addressed to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, it is a powerful plea for the light, strength and love so sorely needed by every Christian, especially in these challenging times.”

 

Interested readers may receive the e-book “The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit” by submitting a form available on the EWTN website’s Pentecost webpage, located in a section dedicated to Seasons and Feast Days.

 

Pentecost, one of the most important feast days of Christianity, marks the end of the Easter season and celebrates the beginning of the Church.

 

It celebrates the person of the Holy Spirit coming upon the apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Christ, who were gathered together in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. A “strong, driving” wind filled the room where they were gathered and tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, allowing them to speak in different languages so that they could understand each other.

 

Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church. Peter, the first pope, preached for the first time and converts thousands of new believers. The apostles and believers, for the first time, were united by a common language, and a common zeal and purpose to go and preach the Gospel.

 

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are traditionally understood to be wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.

 

Pentecost occurs 50 days after the resurrection of Christ, and ten days after his ascension into heaven. Because Easter is a moveable feast without a fixed date, and Pentecost depends on the timing of Easter, Pentecost can fall anywhere between May 10 and June 13.

 

The timing of these feasts is also the origin of the Catholic concept of the novena, nine days of prayer. In the first book of the Acts of the Apostles, Mary and the apostles prayed together “continuously” for nine days after the Ascension leading up to Pentecost. 

 

Typically, Catholic priests will wear red vestments on Pentecost, symbolic of the burning fire of God’s love and the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles.

 

The name of the day itself is derived from the Greek word "pentecoste," meaning 50th.  a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavu`ot, which falls 50 days after Passover. 

 

This year, some American dioceses have set Pentecost as the date to end the dispensation, that is, a temporary exception, for the Catholic obligation to attend Sunday Mass. The dispensations were issued due to the coronavirus pandemic. In dioceses where the dispensations end, Catholics must attend Sunday Mass and other days of obligation unless sickness or another grave reason, such as a need to care for someone at high risk of illness, prevents them from being able to attend.

 

The EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. Its website is one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S. and it reaches millions through television, radio and internet broadcasting. Its news services include Catholic News Agency and the National Catholic Register, while EWTN Publishing is its book division.

No shrine from China in the 'rosary marathon' against the pandemic

Credit: FreshStock/Shutterstock

Vatican City, May 13, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

There was some hope that the Marian Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Sheshan, in the People's Republic of China, would be included among the shrines of reference for one of the daily rosaries for the end of pandemic called by Pope Francis during May. 

But the final list did not have that shrine, nor any other one in China. 

The Marian shrine of Sheshan is a reference point for Catholics in China. Every year, during May, the shrine is the destination of pilgrimages from all over the country, especially on her May 24 feast.

The shrine of Sheshan is located in the Diocese of Shanghai, where Bishop Taddeo Ma Daqin has been under house arrest since 2012.

For the second consecutive year, authorities have suspended pilgrimages to Sheshan arguing COVID-related restrictions.

The diocese said that "since the pandemic at home and abroad is not yet under control, and measures for the prevention of the pandemic are still in place in the nation, to comply with the requests and regulations of the municipal government [of Shanghai] … The annual May pilgrimage to Sheshan has been canceled."

This year restrictions, however, appeared to be arbitrary since the massive amusement park in Sheshan has reopened; and since March, places of worship have been reopened in many other provinces, albeit amid strict health measures.

Benedict XVI composed in 2008 a prayer for Our Lady of Sheshan and set the day of prayer for the Church in China on May 24. This decision followed his 2007 letter to the Catholics in China.

Fr. Gianni Criveller, an Italian missionary who lived in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and the People's Republic of China between 1991 and 2017, stressed with CNA that "since Benedict XVI established the day of prayer for the Church in China and indicated the shrine of Sheshan as a reference point, the Chinese government made the pilgrimages increasingly more difficult."

He added that the difficulties in getting to Sheshan varied according to the state of the Beijing – Holy See relations: when there were fewer tensions, the pilgrimages were more manageable, when tensions escalated, the pilgrimages were incredibly hard.

However, he said, "things were under increasing control of the Chinese government. Before, going from Hong Kong and Shanghai, and from there to Sheshan, was easy, while after establishing the day of prayer for the Church in China, it was not anymore."

In the first draft of the list of shrines involved in the Rosary Marathon, May 24 had no shrine indicated, just a "to be confirmed." This raised hopes that the shrine of Sheshan would be joining others around the world.

A source from China told CNA that there were "informal contacts" to explore if “things could happen” in Sheshan. But at the end, the Chinese shrine was not included. 

"The pandemic – said Fr. Criveller – “is an easy alibi, so the government can keep the shrine closed and at the same time not say that it does not want pilgrimages and prayer to take place."

Yet there is, on May 24, a feeble connection with China. The shrine of the day is that of Our Lady of Lourdes in Nyaunglebin, in Burma. The shrine is almost 160 kilometers from Yangon, whose archbishop is Charles Maung Cardinal Bo. Cardinal Bo, amid a severe crisis in his country, also had the strength to proclaim a week of prayer for the Catholics of China.

China is the "big absentee" in this extraordinary Rosary marathon. The Vatican has shown many signs of goodwill to China, and it renewed last year the agreement ad experimentum for the appointment of bishops. So far, China has not reciprocated.

The measures on religious staff announced by the State Administration for Religious Affairs in February of this year entered into force on May 1 in China.

The new regulations present several restrictions for religions. The UCA News agency stressed that "indirectly, the regulations state that the election of a Catholic bishop will be done by the system approved by the state under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party, while Pope Francis or the Holy See will have no role in the process."

Devotion to Mary in China dates back to the time of the mission of Jesuit Matteo Ricci. Received by the emperor Jan. 22, 1601, Matteo Ricci brought 12 gifts, including the copy of the image of Maria Salus Populi Romani, kept in Santa Maria Maggiore in the chapel where St. Ignatius of Loyola celebrated his first Mass.

The Jesuits were also the proponents of the Sheshan devotion. In 1863, Jesuits acquired the shrine's hill, and in 1870 they vowed to build a basilica on that hill if Our Lady saved the diocese from destruction following a bloody revolt.

Our Lady listened to the prayer, and a year later, the first stone of the first Marian Basilica in Asia was laid. In 1874, Bl. Pius IX granted a plenary indulgence to pilgrims who visited the sanctuary, and in 1894 there were so many pilgrimages that it was decided to build a new church.

In 1924, the first Chinese synod, convened in Shanghai by the then apostolic delegate Celso Costantini, established that Our Lady of Sheshan be proclaimed "Queen of China."

U.S. bishops pray for peace as Israel-Hamas conflict rages

Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 13, 2021 / 09:01 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops’ conference offered prayers for peace in the Holy Land on Thursday, as conflict between Israel and Hamas flared up this week.

“We are greatly saddened that simmering tensions erupted into violence in the Holy Land this week,” stated Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, on Thursday.

“It is a cycle we have unfortunately witnessed and spoken out against many times, but because of our great love in Christ Jesus, we remain ever present and close to the people of this land until the Peace of God reigns in its fullness forever,” Bishop Malloy stated.

According to Reuters, 83 have died in Gaza this week as a result of conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. Hamas has fired rockets at Jerusalem and other cities in Israel, while the Israeli military has conducted airstrikes on Gaza, including on residential buildings, reports have claimed.

Incidents of mob violence have occurred between Jews and Arabs in other Israeli cities. In the city of Lod, southeast of Tel Aviv, the city's mayor has warned of a "civil war" breaking out and a "Kristallnacht" campaign conducted against Israeli civilians. He has asked for the Israeli military to intervene.

On Friday, May 7 – the last Friday of Ramadan – thousands of Palestinian Muslims clashed with police at al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. More than 150 Palestinians and six Israeli police officers were injured, according to the BBC. On May 10, Hamas began firing rockets into Jerusalem.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stated on May 10 that “peace requires justice. Insofar as far as the rights of everyone, Israelis and Palestinians, are not upheld and respected, there will be no justice and therefore no peace in the city.”

Palestinians had been denied access to Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan, the Patriarchate said. “These demonstrations of strength wound the spirit and soul of the Holy City, whose vocation is to be open and welcoming; to be a home for all believers, with equal rights and dignity and duties,” the Patriarchate said.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa added that “the violence used against the worshippers undermines their safety and their rights to have access to the Holy Places and worship freely.”

The Holy Father mentioned the conflict on the Temple Mount in his Sunday Regina Coeli prayer on May 9.

“With particular concern I am following the events that are happening in Jerusalem. I pray that it may be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace,” he said.

“I invite everyone to seek shared solutions so that the multireligious and multicultural identity of the Holy City is respected and brotherhood prevails. Violence begets violence. Enough with the clashes,” he said.

Bishop Malloy on Thursday also called on all parties in the conflict to stop the violence.

“We call on all parties to cease the violence,” Bishop Malloy stated. The maiming and killing of one’s neighbor only serves to demonize one’s adversary and deepen passions that divide and destroy.”

The USCCB, he continued, has called for the “upholding the Status Quo of the Holy Places, including the Al-Aqsa Compound, the site of much of this week’s violence.” He also appealed to international law “in settling these disputes.”

Pope Francis meets Argentine president for first time since abortion legalization

Argentine President Alberto Fernández meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican, May 13, 2021 / Vatican Media.

CNA Staff, May 13, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis received Argentine President Alberto Fernández in a private audience Thursday for the first time since his homeland legalized abortion.

The Holy See press office said that the pope received the 62-year-old member of the center-left Justicialist Party in the study of the Paul VI Audience Hall, but did not say what the two men discussed.

/ Vatican Media
/ Vatican Media

Fernández, who was elected president in October 2019, championed a bill that legalized abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy. The law went into effect on Jan. 24.

Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina, offered support to opponents of the bill.

The president, a baptized Catholic, said in November 2020 that he hoped the pope wouldn’t be angry about the change, which abortion supporters hailed as historic because Argentina is the largest Latin American country to legalize the practice.

On Jan. 31, 2020, months after he won the presidential election, Fernández traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis, who has not visited Argentina since his election in 2013.

The Holy See press office said that after Thursday’s papal audience, Fernández met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.

/ Vatican Media.
/ Vatican Media.

It said: “During the cordial talks with the superiors of the Secretariat of State, appreciation was expressed for the good bilateral relations that exist and the intention to further develop collaboration in areas of mutual interest.”

“They also discussed the situation in the country, with particular reference to some problems such as the management of the pandemic emergency, the economic and financial crisis and the fight against poverty, noting, in this context, the significant contribution that the Catholic Church has offered and continues to ensure.”

“Finally, a number of regional and international issues were mentioned.”

Everything you need to know about Fatima (Part 1)

Our Lady of Fatima. / Ricardo Perna / Shutterstock.

Fatima, Portugal, May 13, 2021 / 07:01 am (CNA).

It’s the most popular and well-known Marian apparition in the recent history of the Church.

One hundred years ago, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in a field in Fatima, Portugal. She brought with her requests for the recitation of the rosary, for sacrifices on behalf of sinners, and a secret regarding the fate of the world.

Every local bishop since has approved the apparitions and deemed them worthy of belief, the highest recognition a Marian apparition can receive from the Church.

Miracle researcher Michael O’Neill told CNA that the Fatima apparitions could be considered the “gold standard of Marian apparitions.”

“It has everything you’ve ever wanted to look for in a Marian apparition. It’s got these secrets, the prophecies... you also have a feast day in the general Roman calendar, the approval of the local bishop, and of every pope afterwards, you have the canonization of the visionaries and the basilica that was built, so all the hallmarks of a Marian apparition are there,” he said. O’Neill records the details of Fatima, other Marian apparitions and all things miraculous on his site, miraclehunter.com.

This year, Pope Francis visited the apparition site on May 12-13, the 100th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition. The visit included the canonizations of two of the child visionaries, who died just a few years after the visions.

But even though it’s been 100 years, “the messages of Fatima are as relevant today as they were in 1917,” O’Neill said.

“The essence of the message is a call to conversion, and that’s something that’s as important in our life in modern times as it was when Mary appeared in 1917. I think this 100 year anniversary is a great opportunity for us to revisit the devotion and to re-incorporate it into our lives today.”

Historical context

In 1917, the country of Portugal, like most of the rest of the world, was at war.

As World War I raged throughout Europe, Portugal found itself unable to maintain its initial neutrality and joined forces with the Allies, in order to protect colonies in Africa and to defend their trade with Britain. About 220,000 Portuguese civilians died during the war; thousands due to food shortages, thousands more from the Spanish flu.

Besides the hardships of war, Catholics in the country were also facing a strong wave of anti-clericalism.

Begun in the 18th century during the term of statesman Marquês de Pombal, anti-Catholicism reared its head again after the establishment of the Portuguese First Republic in 1910.

Catholic churches and schools were seized by the government, and the wearing of clerics in public, the ringing of church bells, and the celebrating of popular religious festivals were banned. Between 1911-1916, nearly 2,000 priests, monks and nuns were killed by anti-Christian groups.

This was the Portugal the Blessed Virgin Mary entered into when she appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima in 1917, delivering messages about war, peace, suffering, and conversion.

An angel announces Mary’s coming

In the summer of 1916, Lucia dos Santos, the youngest of a family of seven children, began shepherding her family’s flock along with three of her friends, Teresa Matias and her sister Maria Rosa, and Maria Justino. During this time, an angelic figure appeared before the girls three different times as they were praying the rosary in the fields, but did not speak to them. Lucia’s mother dismissed the incident as “childish nonsense.”

Some time later, Lucia was shepherding with her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. One day, eager to play, the children sped through their lunchtime rosary by saying only the titles of the prayers on each bead.

Shortly after they began to play a game, an angelic figure appeared, this time speaking to the children. Over three different appearances, he asked the children to pray and sacrifice. He told them he was the “Guardian Angel of Portugal,” and informed them that Jesus and Mary had “plans of mercy” for them. On the last visit, he gave the children Holy Communion.

“That is pretty unique,” O’Neill said. “There have been thousands of accounts of angels appearing on their own; it’s a rare thing when they come to trumpet the coming of Mary.”

The first appearance of Mary

The next year, on May 5, 1917, Pope Benedict XV wrote a pastoral letter to the world, asking the faithful to petition Mary to bring an end to the war, “that her most tender and benign solicitude may be moved and the peace we ask for be obtained for our agitated world.”

Eight days later, Mary appeared for the first time, on May 13, to three shepherd children - Lucia, 10 years old, and her two cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, 9 and 7 years old, respectively.

She appeared as “a lady dressed all in white, more brilliant than the sun” on top of a small tree in an open field called the Cova de Iria (The Cove of Irene) in the countryside of the small but faithful town of Fatima, and she asked that the children come back to that same spot on the 13th day of the next month.

While she did not reveal her full name right away, the lady did tell the children: “I am of Heaven.” When asked, she promised that all three of the children would go to heaven, though Francisco would have to say “many rosaries” in order to get there.

Aside from the three children, no one was present during the first apparition; but as word spread, the crowds would grow.  

The second apparition: the children’s fate

For the second apparition on June 13, dozens of onlookers testified that they were able to see a cloud above the tree where the children saw Mary. This time, she showed the children her Immaculate Heart, pierced with thorns representing the sins of mankind.

Lucia asked Mary for the healing of a sick person, which Mary said would be granted with his conversion. Lucia again asked Mary to take the children to heaven, and while Mary promised to take Jacinta and Francisco soon, she told Lucia that she must stay on earth “some time longer.”

“Jesus wishes to make use of you to make me known and loved,” Mary told her. “He wants to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. I promise salvation to those who embrace it, and those souls will be loved by God like flowers placed by me to adorn His throne.”

The children kept the revelation of the image of the Immaculate Heart secret for some time, until Lucia became a nun. Mary again asked the children to return on the 13th day of the next month.

The third apparition: The Great Secret is given

On July 13, Mary revealed what has been come to be known as the “Great Secret” of Fatima, a secret that Lucia divided into three parts and slowly revealed to the public over time. Two parts of the secret were revealed in 1941, when Lucia was asked to record her memoirs by the local bishop. The rest was not revealed until the year 2000, per Mary’s instructions, initially, and then later instructions of the Holy See.

Mary also told the children to continue praying the rosary daily, and to come back to the same spot on the same day of the next month. When Lucia asked the lady to reveal her identity, she again promised the children that she would reveal herself fully in October, and perform a miracle on that day “for all to see and believe.”

She also asked the children to help sinners: “Sacrifice yourself for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O my Jesus, it is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

The growing crowds who came with the children to see the apparition witnessed several things during this apparition. Many were able to hear a faint, indescribable sound, believed to be Mary’s voice. Witnesses also recounted a change in atmosphere - when the Lady appeared the sky darkened, and the humid, hot summer air of Portugal suddenly became cool and pleasant.

The crowd also heard a large clap of thunder that shook the ground at the time of Mary’s departure.

The fourth apparition: the kidnapping

With anti-Catholic sentiment still prevalent in the country, the mayor in the district of Fatima had grown suspicious of the growingly popular apparitions, and had unsuccessfully tried to get the children to renounce their story.

Wanting to stop the children from seeing the fourth apparition, Artur Santos, an apostate Catholic and high Mason who was the local mayor, offered the children and their parents a ride in his car to the Cova on August 13. However, he devised a ruse to abandon the parents and to take the children alone to the district headquarters in Vila Nova de Ourem, about 9 miles away. Despite bribes, threats of death by burning oil, and threatening to lock them in a cell with criminals, the children never recanted their story.

Frustrated, and fearing retaliation from the faithful who had grown to love the apparitions, the mayor had the children taken back to Fatima after two days, much to the relief of their parents.

Mary then appeared briefly to the children privately a few days later, repeating her request to pray the rosary daily for the reparation of sins, and asking them to come back on the 13th of the next month.

The fifth apparition: a pillar of clouds and a shower of flowers

Rather than discourage onlookers, the kidnapping incident in August led to an even greater crowd for the September apparition. This time, the visible signs of Mary’s presence became even more pronounced to the crowd. Several witnesses said they were able to see a globe of light, and then a pillar of cloud about 16 feet high by the tree where Mary always appeared.

Many onlookers also described a shower of small white objects - thought to be snowflakes or rose petals - that fell from the sky but disappeared before they touched the ground.

Mary again repeated her promise to the children that she would come again next month and tell the children who she was and what she wanted, and that she would perform a miracle “so that all may see and believe.”

The final apparition: the Miracle of the Sun

On October 13, 1917, the crowds of witnesses had grown to 70,000 - faithful and skeptics alike gathered for what would be the last Marian apparition to the children in the Cova, eager to see the sign from heaven that Mary had promised.

The crowds started to gather at 11:30, not realizing that Mary would appear at solar noon, rather than at noon according to local time. The children, however, knew when to expect Mary, and arrived at 1:00 p.m., shortly before 1:30 (solar noon) when Mary would appear.

As many witnesses described, a steady rain fell on the night of October 12 through the morning of the 13th. The freshly-plowed ground of the field of the Cova was transformed into a muddy wet mess, through which the crowds plodded and waited in waning hope for something miraculous to occur.

Dr. Joseph Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University, was present for the miracle of the sun and wrote down his eyewitness account, included in the book “Fatima in Lucia’s own Words: The Memoirs of Sister Lucia.”  

Because he had arrived too early to the scene, expecting the miracle at noon by the clock instead of by the sun, he waited in the shelter of his car, “looking rather disdainfully towards the place where they said the apparition would be seen, not daring to step on the sodden and muddy earth of the freshly-ploughed field.”

Finally, at about half-past one, a pillar of smoke rose up and disappeared repeatedly at the spot where the children were. The clouds indicated Mary’s arrival, and once she came, Lucia asked the lady what she wanted.

Mary again repeated her request for daily rosaries, and asked that a chapel be built at the apparition site honoring the Lady of the Rosary, which she revealed to the children as her identity. She also promised that the war would soon end and the soldiers would return home. She said she would heal some of the people the children had recommended, but said that people must “amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins.”

The Lady of the Rosary then departed, Lucia recounted, and reappeared to the children, first with Joseph and the child Jesus, and then dressed as Mary under different titles – namely, Our Lady of Sorrows, and then Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.

Then, Mary “cast her own light upon the sun.” The rain stopped, the clouds dispersed and the sky cleared, catching the attention of onlookers.

What happened next has been described as the “miracle of the sun” or “the time the sun danced.”

“We looked easily at the sun, which did not blind us. It seemed to flicker on and off, first one way and then another. It shot rays in different directions and painted everything in different colors...What was most extraordinary is that the sun did not hurt our eyes at all. Everything was still and quiet; everyone was looking upwards…” recalled Ti Marto, the father of visionaries Jacinta and Francisco Marto.

O Dia, the newspaper in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, reported that “at midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly grey in color, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eye could easily be fixed on it. The grey mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were parted and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees in the muddy ground…”

Even O Seculo, an anti-Catholic, Masonic newspaper in Lisbon, reported the miracle of the sun from the perspective of the paper’s editor-in-chief, Avelino de Almedia, who witnessed the miracle for himself.

“...one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared at its zenith, coming out of the clouds,” he wrote.

“Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled, the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos, and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced’.”

Dr. Garrett added that the sun seemed “to be a living body...It looked like a glazed wheel made of mother-of-pearl.” He also recalled a moment when the sun whirled “wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth, as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.”

Numerous witnesses corroborated the phenomenon of the whirling, dancing colorful sun which at one moment seemed to be terrifyingly plunging toward earth, with the crowds “expecting the end of the world to come at any moment” one witness reported. After that moment, the once-soggy and muddy crowd discovered that they were completely dry.


This is part one of a two-part series. Part two will cover the secrets of Fatima, Vatican recognition of the apparitions, and the deaths of the visionaries.

This article was originally published on CNA May 8, 2017.

Court hears pro-life challenge to German municipality’s prayer vigil ban

Pavica Vojnović, who has led pro-life vigils in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. / ADF International.

CNA Staff, May 13, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A German court began Wednesday to hear a challenge to a municipality’s decision to ban a prayer vigil in front of a pre-abortion advisory center.

The hearing started on May 12 in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. The plaintiff is Pavica Vojnović, who led the prayer vigils, organized by the group 40 Days for Life, outside the Pro Familia advice center in the city.

Pro Familia is a member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

In 2019, the local municipality, in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, denied the prayer group permission to hold vigils near the center.

Twice a year, around 20 people had gathered to pray for 40 days for women facing abortion and their unborn children. Vigil participants did not prevent anybody from entering the building or block the pavement in the surrounding area.

When the advisory center asked police to monitor the activists, they found no violations. But the center’s management asked that the vigil be moved some distance away or banned altogether.

Vojnović’s legal challenge is supported by the group ADF International, which believes that the ruling violates the freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.

Felix Böllmann, legal counsel for ADF International, told CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, that for several years the municipality had not considered the prayer vigils’ proximity to the center a problem.

He said: “Even the city’s legal department initially took the position -- as evidenced by internal correspondence -- that this should be allowed. Only after massive intervention by the abortion organization and after ‘no-protest zones’ were even installed around abortion counseling centers in the state of Hesse, did the city of Pforzheim impose this requirement.”

“The proceedings are about establishing the illegality of this requirement and securing the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and the free exercise of religion.”

He added: “Freedom of opinion and belief enjoys strong protection in Germany under the Basic Law and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“Freedom must be exercised, and we would like to expressly encourage this. And that is what Ms. Vojnović and the members of the 40 Days for Life group are doing. We are expecting that the administrative court will help her right to prevail.”

Speaking earlier this year, Vojnović said: “I want to be there to pray, not for myself, but for the vulnerable women contemplating abortion, and for their unborn children.”

“This topic really touches my heart, as I know the pain of losing a child. Our society must offer better solutions to mothers in difficult situations. Every life is valuable and deserves protection. Surely a simple prayer for the vulnerable cannot be banned?”

David Bereit founded 40 Days for Life in 2004 as a local pro-life advocacy group in Bryan-College Station, Texas. The group has grown into an international organization, holding Christian campaigns of prayer and activism to end abortion.

Over the course of 40 days, participants hold a 24/7 prayer vigil outside of a single abortion facility in the community. The organization also engages in community outreach, through partnerships with churches and door-to-door petitions.

Bereit was received into the Catholic Church in 2018.

The court in Pforzheim is expected to give its judgment on Friday.