Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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From New Jersey to the Vatican, opening a dialogue with the Gospel

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VATICAN CITY — Mentoring inner-city youths is hardly the most obvious way to prepare for working at the Vatican, but Father Geno Sylva says the lessons he learned in a low-income New Jersey community have served him abundantly well in his current job as an official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

PICTURED: U.S. Father Geno Sylva of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization is seen at the Vatican Oct. 22. He is pictured in front of a poster advertising events for the Year of Faith, which was planned by the council. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Ordained in 1993, the New Jersey native has long had a passion for spreading the Gospel. He worked as a teacher, chaplain and president at DePaul Catholic High School in the Diocese of Paterson, as well as a mentor at Young Prophets, a program for inner-city teenagers there.

"Those wonderful years in Paterson taught me that the first step in the new evangelization is listening, truly listening to the other and not simply waiting for a break to respond," he said.

"It is in listening that trust and credibility are gained, both of which are necessary before one can propose anything to another person."

The new evangelization is a project, launched by Blessed John Paul II and continued by his successors, that seeks to revive the faith in traditionally Christian but increasingly secular countries, particularly in the West.

Father Sylva spent three years studying theology in Rome, returning to his diocese in 2008, and two years later established St. Paul Inside the Walls, a center whose focus he describes as engaging people in a dialogue with the Gospel and calling them to be evangelizers themselves.

Among the center's outreach activities, one that Father Sylva remembers as especially inspirational combined reading Scripture with a 12-step program in the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous.

"Each Sunday morning, people from near and far, those who were either battling with an addiction or journeying with someone confronting an addiction, gathered together to reflect upon one of the 12 steps through the lens of sacred Scripture," he said. "The depth of reflection and discussion, the complete personal transparency and the desire to be healed in Christ made each of these gatherings a true time of blessing in my own life and journey of faith."

During a pilgrimage to Rome in 2011, Father Sylva met the president of the council for the new evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who hired him the next year as the office's designated English-speaking official.

The council has overseen many of the activities of the 2012-13 Year of Faith, and is increasingly focusing its work on catechesis, which Father Sylva says goes "hand in hand" with the new evangelization.

His office also serves pilgrims to Rome by making arrangements for them to go to confession and receive catechesis in their own languages, participate in eucharistic adoration, and visit the tomb of St. Peter.

Father Sylva was specifically responsible for organizing the "Evangelium Vitae" (Gospel of Life) celebration in June 2013, which celebrated pro-life efforts around the world, and a Year of Faith event for seminarians and novices the following month.

The Year of Faith will conclude Nov. 24, but the council's work will continue, he says, noting that Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of the missionary service that is the office's focus.

"The idea of going out of our churches, out of ourselves, and engaging with other people" is central to the pope's message and to the new evangelization, Father Sylva said, summing up their common task as that of "inviting people to come to know Christ."

— Caroline Hroncich, Catholic News Service

Bringing home 'dirty money' starves one's family of dignity, pope says

VATICAN CITY — Despite the perks and high living they may bring, bribery, corruption and dishonest work are serious sins that rob people and their children of their dignity, Pope Francis said.

"Devotees of the goddess of kickbacks" bring home "dirty bread" for their children to eat, the pope said Nov. 8 during his early morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives.

"Their children, perhaps educated in expensive colleges, perhaps raised in well-educated circles, have received filth as a meal from their father," rendering them "starved of dignity," he said in his homily, according to Vatican Radio.

The number one enemy is the devil, the pope said, because "it is he who causes harm" with his love for a worldly atmosphere, values and lifestyles.

Worldly habits, taking short cuts and choosing the easiest way to make money are part of "the habit of bribery;" a way of living that is "intensely sinful," he said.

"God commanded us to bring home bread (made) with our honest work," the pope said. But when people engage in dishonesty, they "give their children dirty bread" and "filth" to eat because they have lost their dignity. "And this is a serious sin!" he said.

"Perhaps it starts out with a small envelope (of cash), but it's like a drug," he said, and "the bribery habit becomes an addiction."

The pope asked that people pray "for the many children and young people who receive dirty bread from their parents: They too are hungry, starved of dignity."

"Pray so that the Lord brings a change of heart to these devotees of the goddess of kickbacks and that they realize dignity comes from dignified work, honest work, from working day in and day out and not from taking the easy way, which in the end, take everything from you."

— Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service

Pope chooses beatitudes as themes for coming World Youth Days

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has asked Catholic young people around the world to read, meditate and act on the beatitudes as they celebrate World Youth Day in their dioceses in 2014 and 2015 and as they prepare to join him in Poland in 2016.

Taking the text of the beatitudes from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Pope Francis has chosen the themes for World Youth Day celebrations for the next three years, the Vatican announced Nov. 7.

PICTURED: Pope Francis kisses an infant as he makes his way to Copacabana beach for the World Youth Day Way of the Cross service in Rio de Janeiro July 26. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

World Youth Day is celebrated annually on a local level and every two or three years with an international gathering with the pope. At the end of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis announced the next international gathering would be held in Krakow, Poland, in 2016.

The annual Rome diocesan celebration with the pope is held on Palm Sunday each year; the date of the celebration in other dioceses varies.

The themes chosen by the pope, the Vatican said, were:

—  For 2014: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:3).

—  For 2015: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Mt 5:8).

— For 2016: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." (Mt 5:7).

In addition to being the former see of Blessed John Paul II, the Archdiocese of Krakow is home to the Shrine of Divine Mercy, encouraging the devotion promoted by St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun. The saint said she had a vision of Jesus, who said he would show mercy to those who pray for it and who share that mercy with others.

Announcing the themes, the Vatican noted that during World Youth Day in Rio, Pope Francis asked young people to read the beatitudes and make them a blueprint for their lives.

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Vatican to put St. Peter's relics on display for first time

VATICAN CITY — For the first time, the bones traditionally believed to be the relics of St. Peter the Apostle will be on public display for veneration.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said the veneration of the relics at the Vatican is a fitting way to conclude the Year of Faith Nov. 24.

Writing in the Vatican newspaper Nov. 8, the archbishop, whose office organized many of the Year of Faith events, said millions of pilgrims marked the Year of Faith by making a pilgrimage to St. Peter's tomb and renewing their profession of faith there.

"The culminating sign" of the year, he said, "will be the exposition for the first time of the relics traditionally recognized as those of the apostle who gave his life for the Lord here."

The bones were discovered during excavations of the necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica in the 1940s near a monument erected in the fourth century to honor St. Peter.

No pope has ever declared the bones to be authentic. However, after scientific tests were conducted on the bones in the 1950s and '60s, Pope Paul VI said in 1968 that the "relics" of St. Peter had been "identified in a way which we can hold to be convincing."

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Marriage tribunals must provide justice and pastoral care, pope says

VATICAN CITY — Members of a marriage tribunal, including the official responsible for defending the bond of marriage, must aim to provide justice but also pastoral care to the couples involved, Pope Francis said.

"Workers involved in the ministry of church justice" act "in the name of the church," the pope said Nov. 11 during a meeting with members of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, the church's highest tribunal.

"The service of justice is a commitment of apostolic life," he said, and "must be exercised with one's gaze kept fixed on the icon of the Good Shepherd, who bends down toward the lost and wounded sheep."

The Apostolic Signature, in addition to hearing appeals of lower court decisions and administrative decisions by Vatican congregations, oversees the functioning of church tribunals and procedures.

Part of that responsibility, Pope Francis said, is to help diocesan bishops identify and train "ministers of justice," including the marriage tribunal official known as the "defender of the bond."

The advocates of those seeking annulment must present evidence that the marriage was null from the beginning; the defender of the bond, on the other hand, seeks to prove that an indissoluble marriage bond exists.

While Pope Francis has been seeking advice from bishops on making the annulment process quicker and more merciful, he told members of the Apostolic Signature that truth and justice must be protected.

"The defender of the bond who wants to serve well cannot stop at a quick reading of the acts, or at bureaucratic and generic responses," the pope said. "In his delicate task, he is called to harmonize the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law with the concrete situations found in the church and society."

Pope Francis asked members of the Apostolic Signature, which is headed by U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, to "persevere in the search for a transparent and correct exercise of justice in the church in response to the legitimate desires that the faithful address to their pastors, especially when they ask for an authoritative clarification of their status."

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service