Catholic News Service

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  1. IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people want trusted guides as they explore their faith and their vocation, said five young adults from the United States attending the Vatican's pre-synod meeting.

    The U.S. delegates to the Vatican meeting March 19-25 also said the 305 young adults from around the world want to see young people consulted more often in their parishes and dioceses. And, one said, in conversations with other delegates, he discovered that Catholics in other countries are not experiencing the sharp divisions that U.S. Catholics are.

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent three delegates to the meeting: De La Salle Christian Brother Javier Hansen, who teaches at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas; Nick Lopez, director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Katie Prejean-McGrady, a wife, new mother, youth minister, and a popular speaker from the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

    Chris Russo, a 23-year-old working in Boston, represented the Ruthenian Catholic Church. And Nicole Perone, director of adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, represented Voices of Faith, an international group that highlights the contributions of women in the church.

    A topic that came up consistently at the meeting, Prejean-McGrady said, was young people's desire "to find companions on the journey, to look for people to walk with them."

    "When you have personal relationships with people who are vibrantly living their faith, then you yourself are inspired to live your faith," she said. And the relationship also provides a trusted source for dealing with concerns about topics such as sexuality or church teachings that may be difficult to understand, she said.

    "'Here's a book; believe it' -- that doesn't work with young people anymore, and we know that because they are consuming far too much media to where they are not going to read that book," Prejean-McGrady said. "You have to talk with them, you have to walk with them, you have to love them and really spend time with them."

    Lopez noted that Pope Francis opened the meeting March 19 by telling the delegates that the church wanted to hear their opinions and their questions, even those they thought might make church leaders uncomfortable.

    In ministry to young people, they need to know they can ask those questions and that "we are going to discuss them. Nothing is too radical. Nothing is out of left field," he said. If a young person is struggling with something, that is all the reason needed to discuss it.

    "Human issues are church issues, and we aren't going to get anywhere unless we begin the conversation," Lopez said.

    "Young people seem to live in this age of anxiety, meaning that in a world of seemingly endless possibilities, they are almost paralyzed because they have all of these different options and they want to go forth, but they want to make the right decision, and they want to do so without the fear of failure," Russo said. "My hope is that just as Christ walked with the apostles, the church will walk with young people as they are discerning all these different thoughts and considering different paths."

    The accompaniment discussion was key for Perone, who counts herself blessed to have had the guidance and friendship of "a number of people, but especially women, really bright, faithful women who love the church and have dedicated their lives in service to the church."

    The preparatory document for the synod, which will be held in October, talks about "role models, guides and mentors," she said, but a lot of young people do not know how to ask for such accompaniment, and many people do not realize they can offer that to young people.

    Faith mentors to young people, she said, first must be "faithful Christians, people who are living their lives faithfully and are committed to walking the journey of holiness."

    And, she said, "it has to be a person who is not afraid to acknowledge they are human and make mistakes. The words 'authenticity' and 'vulnerability' have come up constantly this week. Those are the two characteristics young people crave, desire and are drawn to" because they make a mentor both trustworthy and approachable.

    The young adults said their experience in Rome -- meeting with the pope and formulating suggestions for the bishops who will meet in October -- is an amazing, global example of what young people would like to see at least a hint of in their parishes and dioceses.

    "All young people within the Catholic Church want to be heard," Russo said. "They want to have their thoughts expressed as they journey closer to Christ."

    In formulating suggestions for the bishops, Lopez said, "one of the main ones was having things like this pre-synod gathering more common in the parishes," for example, by including young adults on the parish or diocesan council or creating parish or diocesan advisory committees of youth and young adults "and having those councils meet often."

    "In the U.S., we're blessed to have very passionate young adults who take the initiative to form independent Catholic groups for young adults to meet, outside the church and outside the parish," he said, "but we need to integrate them into parish life to show we are not a separate group, that we're actually part of that community."

    The delegates spent most of the week in small groups, working on their suggestions for the synod. Brother Hansen said he told his group that "one of the characteristics of the American church is this extreme polarization between liberal and conservative Catholics, and I was surprised that one thing I found was that that is more or less uniquely American."

    The delegates from the wealthy Western nations would talk about "church teaching on controversial issues" or the need to be present on the digital platforms where young people spend their time, but "we have to move beyond these First World problems," Perone said, adding that she was touched by the witness of delegates coming from places where Christians experience violent persecution.

    In the United States, she said, "it's easy for us to get bogged down in this division and discord and soundbites -- all these things that really drive us apart, and we don't quite focus on the unity we really should be focusing on: the beauty of our faith, the joy of the Gospel, the beauty of the truth that unites us and not the nuances that divide us."

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  2. IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Catholic Church at every level -- and governments, too -- would listen to young people and give them a voice in decision-making, they could unleash great potential, said two African young adults.

    Vincent Paul Nneji of Nigeria and Tinyiko Joan Ndaba from South Africa were among the 305 young adults participating in a weeklong meeting designed to allow young people -- involved Catholics and others -- to provide input for Pope Francis and the world's bishops, who will meet in a synod in October to discuss "young people, faith and vocational discernment."

    Nneji told Catholic News Service March 20 that the preparatory meeting offers a chance for young Catholics in his country who are considered "a minority voice" to speak out on important issues.

    "When the pope sent a letter on this meeting, we said, 'Finally, the church in Rome has decided to give us a platform; they decided to give us a listening ear,'" Nneji said.

    While struggles with "social injustice, bad leadership, poverty and financial insecurity" are just some of the difficulties facing young Nigerian men and women today, Nneji said, "the major challenge is trying to be a Catholic youth and a light for other people, even in the midst of the conflicts we face in Nigeria."

    African youths today, Nneji added, have "so many things in our hearts we want to express and want to say," yet they often feel disregarded. Too many, he said, then resort to violence in the hopes of provoking change.

    "Sometimes when you're not allowed to say these things, it's like a volcano and when it gets so big," it blows up, he said.

    Nneji told CNS he hopes that, through the pre-synod meeting, the whole world "may see a reason for allowing youths to be heard, for allowing (young people) to be part of decision-making, even in society."

    "If we were allowed to express ourselves, we would have less violence, we would have more peace in our society and in our world," he said.

    "And of course, in various parts of the world where youths are being exploited and used for various forms of violence, those things will reduce, those things will stop because this time around they will say, 'We have a platform where we can talk, so we don't need to carry guns, we don't need to carry machetes. We just have to go and dialogue,'" Nneji said.

    Ndaba told CNS, "I hope that young people can be given a chance to change society because I think we have so much potential."

    "But we can't do it on our own," she said. "We need support from the people who have been there before and who can give us direction where to go."

    Ndaba was chosen to attend the meeting by Talitha Kum, the anti-human trafficking organization where she works. The organization is an international network of consecrated men and women in 75 countries promoting initiatives against human trafficking.

    While the Catholic Church in South Africa is doing its best to prevent future cases of human trafficking, she said, the church also must warn young people of the harm inflicted by those who exploit women, especially when "the demand is coming from Catholics."

    During the opening session of the pre-synod meeting March 19, Blessing Okodion, a young Nigerian rescued from forced prostitution in Italy, asked Pope Francis what could be done to increase awareness of human trafficking.

    Pope Francis noted that since the vast majority of Italians are Catholic, the majority of men who use prostitutes in Italy also must be.

    "One who goes to a prostitute is a criminal, a criminal," Pope Francis told the young people. "This is not making love. This is torturing a woman. Let's not confuse the terms. This is criminal."

    As one of many men and women working a to prevent human trafficking in Africa, Ndaba told CNS she was happy to hear the pope speaking frankly about a "hidden crime" that is "not talked about so much."

    Human trafficking is an important topic for a youth gathering, she said, "because most victims of human trafficking are young people who are trying to find better jobs, a better life so they migrate and traffickers take advantage of that, most especially with young people.

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    Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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  3. IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After a very public controversy involving the use of a letter by retired Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Msgr. Dario Vigano as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication.

    Announcing the move March 21, the Vatican published Msgr. Vigano's letter to Pope Francis asking to resign and Pope Francis' reply accepting it.

    However, Pope Francis asked Msgr. Vigano, 55, to remain at the secretariat as "assessor" to "make your human and professional contribution" in assisting whoever is named the new prefect as the Vatican continues its long and complicated work of unifying its communications efforts and various media outlets.

    The controversy began March 12 at the presentation of a 11-volume series of books, "The Theology of Pope Francis." Msgr. Vigano had asked the retired pope for a theological reflection on the series.

    At the book presentation, Msgr. Vigano read selected sentences from Pope Benedict's letter declining to write the reflection. The Secretariat for Communications also published a photograph showing the first page of the letter, with several lines purposefully blurred, and the second page, except for the signature, covered by a book.

    An uproar ensued over the intentional blurring of the photograph and questions were raised in the media about what exactly the letter said. In the end, the Vatican released the full text March 17. It showed that not only had Pope Benedict said he was unable to read the full series, but that he objected to one of the authors chosen to write one of the volumes.

    In his letter of resignation, Msgr. Vigano told Pope Francis that although it was not intentional, his actions had "destabilized the complex and great work of reform" with which the pope had entrusted him.

    "I think that for me stepping aside would be a fruitful occasion for renewal," the monsignor wrote.

    Pope Francis had named Msgr. Vigano prefect of the secretariat when it was created in June 2015. The monsignor had been director of the Vatican Television Center. The new secretariat was charged with unifying into one the offices and tasks previously handled by nine entities: the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Vatican press office; the Vatican internet office; Vatican Radio; the Vatican television production studio, CTV; the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano; the Vatican printing press; the Vatican photograph service; and the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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  4. IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In oral arguments before the Supreme Court March 20, justices seemed skeptical about a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers in the state to visibly display information about abortions to their clients that the centers say violates their right to free speech.

    A few of the justices asked about the state's motivation to put the law in place, wondering if it was more about educating women about state-provided services or if it was meant to specifically target centers offering pregnancy-related services that clients might assume are medical facilities.

    Justice Elena Kagan said it would be a problem and a First Amendment issue if the law was "gerrymandered" to only apply to certain types of service providers.

    The law's requirement that licensed and unlicensed centers disclose their status in advertisements in large type and in many languages was seen as an "undue burden" by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked if this would apply -- and was told it would -- to an unlicensed facility that wanted to have a "choose life" or "pro-life" billboard. Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed that aspect of the law, in some cases, was "burdensome and wrong."

    The case is the first abortion-related one to be heard by the court with President Donald Trump's appointee, Neil Gorsuch, on the bench. The oral arguments drew people from both sides outside the court in the freezing rain on the first day of spring. Some signs, held aloft in between umbrellas, said "Patients want care not coercion" and "Give free speech life."

    After the hourlong argument, Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, the group representing the pregnancy centers, told the crowd outside that he felt "very optimistic" about the outcome of this case.

    California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, tweeted right after the arguments: "Information is power and all women should know the full range of their #healthcare options! A great morning with my team at #SCOTUS."

    In a March 20 statement, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said he prayed the court would "do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case."

    "Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child," said Cardinal Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

    He noted that some government officials, instead of "applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers" want to "force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment."

    The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, is about the constitutionality of the Reproductive FACT Act, a state law which says pregnancy centers must post notices in their facilities about available low-cost abortion services and also must disclose if they have medical personnel on staff. The Christian-base centers provide counseling and often offer supplies of diapers, formula, clothes and baby items. Centers that failed to comply with the law have been subject to fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

    Three pregnancy centers challenged the law in court saying it infringed on their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

    The law was upheld last October by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that said the state could regulate professional speech because of its interest in safeguarding public health and to ensure that "citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion."

    Last October, a California Superior Court judge granted a permanent injunction against the state attorney general preventing him from enforcing the FACT law.

    Justice Stephen Breyer said during the oral arguments that if abortion providers must tell pregnant women about other options, then pregnancy centers should similarly tell their clients about outside services. "In law, as you well know, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," which he explained as coming down to this: "If a pro-life state can tell a doctor you have to tell people about adoption, why can't a pro-choice state tell a doctor, a facility, whatever it is, you have to tell people about abortion?"

    The USCCB and several other groups including the California Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, in friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers, stressed that the government can't force people to say things they don't believe.

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    Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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  5. IMAGE: CNS photo/Christina Lee Knauss, The Catholic Miscellany

    By Christina Lee Knauss

    WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNS) -- Mary Burkett never had formal art lessons. Drawing was something she resolved to try as a hobby in January 2017.

    She decided to sketch the face of a little boy she saw in a black and white photo on the internet.

    To her surprise, Burkett was able to produce his image on the paper with amazing ease.

    "It was like he was already there waiting for me, like he just peeked out at me," she told The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston. "I was entirely amazed. I didn't feel like I had drawn him. I felt like he was hidden in the page."

    The image is of a boy with a wide-open gaze, fair hair spilling from under a vintage-style cap cocked back on his head. He looks bemused, as if he was forced to pause for a portrait on his way out the door to play.

    It wasn't until later that she discovered the photo was of a Romanian Jewish boy named Hersch Goldberg. He died at Auschwitz in 1944, one of millions of children who were victims of the Holocaust.

    Burkett had a visceral and emotional reaction to the innocent yet haunting face of Hersch. The fact that his life had been cruelly ended before it ever really began led her to search out images of other children with similar fates.

    She felt as if she knew Hersch after drawing him and she wanted to learn the stories of other children like him. Eventually, she decided she wanted other people to learn their stories too.

    A year later, that first drawing of the photo of Hersch Goldberg has blossomed into a collection Burkett calls "Beloved: Children of the Holocaust."

    It features Burkett's sketch portraits of 25 other children killed in the Holocaust, as well as one of Janusz Korczak, a Polish pediatrician who ran an orphanage for Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto and was eventually killed at the Treblinka concentration camp.

    "I wanted to give these children a chance to speak to the world," Burkett said. "I wanted to honor their precious little lives."

    That first sketch launched a journey she never dreamed of when she first put pencil to paper. She has displayed the collection at churches and synagogues, colleges and universities. Several schools have asked her to speak to classes that are studying the Holocaust and she has traveled halfway across the country to share her work with others.

    Burkett, who attends St. Peter Church in downtown Columbia, lived in Belgium for several years as a child, where she learned firsthand of the suffering and death that European Jews and other groups suffered at the hands of the Nazis. That perspective, and a lifelong love of children built through motherhood and a 40-year career as a pediatric nurse, likely are part of the reason her portraits of the children are so riveting.

    To look at them is to briefly feel as if you have touched a tiny soul. Their eyes, especially, reach out with a spark of life.

    Five-month-old Alida Baruch, who died at Auschwitz in 1942, looks like a Gerber baby. Fani Silberman, with dimples and tiny hoop earrings, has the twinkling innocence of a child movie star. Abraham Henselein, although he died at 6, already had an intense gaze. Perhaps he would have been a future scholar or national leader.

    Burkett said their expressions convey so much because they were captured in an era when photos were more rare than today.

    "Children weren't used to posing all the time back then, so we get to see more of who they really were," she said.

    Burkett said her skill can only come from God. As she is quick to explain, she had no formal training prior to that January day when she first started to work. Her artist's tools are spare and simple.

    What she calls her toolbox is a Ziploc bag with a few simple items. She uses a pencil in a shade of reddish-brown called sanguine, and smooths edges and lines with cotton balls and swabs. Burkett does most of her sketch work at a large table on the second floor of her West Columbia home, before a window where sunlight spills in on nice days and she can look out at a span of green hills and trees.

    Just as she did not expect the "Beloved" collection would exist a year ago, Burkett says she does not know what the future will bring. All she knows is that the children who reached out to her from photos have been given a new life through her pencil.

    "I just try to be faithful to what God is telling me and what he is doing in my life," she said. "I feel like through this work the children are being honored and God is being honored. My job now is to shepherd them on the journey. They have a path in front of them. I think part of that path is to show people the sanctity of all life and the true love of God."

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    Editor's Note: To view the Beloved collection and learn more about Burkett's work, visit

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    Knauss is a reporter at The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston.

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    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

  6. IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

    By Carol Glatz

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Publicly apologizing on behalf of the whole archdiocese for the "grave harm" caused by former Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes said a new chapter of humility, repentance and healing has opened for the Catholic Church in Guam following a Vatican verdict against his predecessor.

    "I called and still call upon all Catholics on Guam to intensify their prayers and with great humility, offer sacrifice for the grave harm and sins which we have experienced or have enabled in our church," Archbishop Byrnes said during a news conference in Guam March 18.

    "We hang our heads in shame for the grave evil one member inflicted upon others, in this case the most vulnerable," he said in remarks, which were later released in a written statement.

    "Our prayers for the victims of child abuse by Bishop Apuron and all victims of abuse here and worldwide continue; so shall our efforts to bring healing and restoration to all victims of clergy sexual abuse and to ensure this never happens again," he said.

    Archbishop Byrnes, who has been leading the archdiocese since 2016, made his comments after a Vatican tribunal announced March 16 it found Archbishop Agana guilty of some of the accusations made against him, including the sexual abuse of minors.

    After a canonical trial conducted by the apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican judges imposed the following sanctions on the 72-year-old archbishop: the removal from office and a prohibition from residing in Guam. The archbishop can and will appeal.

    During the news conference, Archbishop Byrnes said he did not know on what charges the former archbishop had been found guilty and which ones had been dismissed. In fact, he told local reporters, he had received no communication about the trial's findings other than "I got a phone call saying to go to this site" to read the Vatican's public announcement.

    He said there had been no follow-up from the Vatican either as of March 17 and he assumed the former archbishop was now to be called Bishop Apuron, since losing the office of archbishop meant also losing the title associated with it. 

    "We'll see with the appeal" what the final situation will be, he added.

    Archbishop Apuron released a statement March 17 through his lawyer, Jacqueline Taitano Terlaje: "While I am relieved that the tribunal dismissed the majority of the accusations against me, I have appealed the verdict.... God is my witness; I am innocent and I look forward to proving my innocence in the appeals process."

    Supporters of the archbishop, conversing anonymously with journalists, claimed the archbishop was found guilty on only two of six charges and that the sentence implies those charges were not the most serious ones. Generally, clerics found guilty of sexually abusing minors face either removal from the priesthood or are sentenced to a life of prayer and penance and banned from any public ministry.

    Archbishop Byrnes said while there is much work and consultation to do in regard to local legal issues, he felt "a sense of relief" when the Vatican verdict had been announced.

    He said his reaction upon hearing the news was, "OK, good. Something's happened and they're not just stringing us along." The announcement of the verdict from the Vatican investigation, which began in February 2017, had been expected last year, the archbishop had said.

    Archbishop Apuron is among the highest-ranking church leaders to have been tried by the Vatican for sexual offenses.

    In a statement released March 16, the Vatican tribunal said, "The canonical trial in the matter of accusations, including accusations of sexual abuse of minors, brought against the Most Reverend Anthony Sablan Apuron, O.F.M.Cap., Archbishop of Agana, Guam, has been concluded."

    "The apostolic tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, composed of five judges, has issued its sentence of first instance, finding the accused guilty of certain of the accusations and imposing upon the accused the penalties of privation of office and prohibition of residence in the Archdiocese of Guam." U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a noted canon lawyer, was the presiding judge in the canonical investigation of Archbishop Apuron.

    The statement did not specify the number of charges the archbishop faced, how many of them he was found guilty of or even the nature of the offenses for which he was convicted.

    "The sentence remains subject to possible appeal," the Vatican statement said. "In the absence of an appeal, the sentence becomes final and effective. In the case of an appeal, the imposed penalties are suspended until final resolution."

    Archbishop Apuron had been accused of sexually abusing several boys in the 1970s, and, in early January, one of the archbishop's nephews publicly claimed the archbishop had sexually abused him in 1990. Archbishop Apuron continually has denied the abuse allegations.

    Pope Francis placed Archbishop Apuron on leave in June 2016 after the accusations were made public. The pope named an apostolic administrator to run the archdiocese for several months and then named Coadjutor Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, a former auxiliary bishop of Detroit, to take over.

    Until the Vatican court handed down its sentence, Archbishop Apuron had continued to hold the title of archbishop of Agana, but did not hold the faculties, rights or obligations pertaining to the office, because they had been granted to Archbishop Byrnes.

    The former archbishop greeted Pope Francis at the end of a general audience February 7 in Rome. The Italian website, Vatican Insider, claimed former Archbishop Apuron told the pope, "Holy Father, I wanted to see you before I die."

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    Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

  7. IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

    By Junno Arocho Esteves

    SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy (CNS) -- Many people admire St. Padre Pio, but too few imitate him, especially in his care for the weak, the sick and those who modern culture treats as disposable, Pope Francis said during Mass at Padre Pio's shrine.

    "Many are ready to 'like' the page of the great saints, but who does what they do?" the pope asked March 17. "The Christian life is not an 'I like,' but an 'I give myself.'"

    Pope Francis celebrated the Mass outside the Shrine of St. Pio of Pietrelcina with about 30,000 people after visiting children in the cancer ward of the hospital St. Pio founded, Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering).

    In his homily, the pope reflected on three words that both summarized the day's readings and, he said, the life of Padre Pio: prayer, smallness and wisdom.

    Smallness, he said, calls to mind those whose hearts who are humble, poor and needy like the young patients cared for in Padre Pio's hospital and those who in today's world are unwanted and discarded.

    Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he remembers being taught in school about the Spartans, who, "when a boy or girl was born with malformations, they would take them to the top of the mountain and throw them over."

    "We children would say, 'How cruel,'" the pope said. But, "brothers and sisters, we do the same. With more cruelty and more knowledge. Whatever isn't useful, whatever doesn't produce, is thrown away. This is the throwaway culture. The little ones are not wanted today."

    "Those who take care of children are on the side of God and defeat the throwaway culture, which, on the contrary, prefers the powerful and considers the poor useless," he said. "Those who prefer the little ones proclaim a prophecy of life against the prophets of death of every age."

    Only with wisdom, motivated by love and charity for others, can true strength be found, he said. Christians aren't called simply to admire great saints like Padre Pio, but rather to imitate their way of fighting evil wisely "with humility, with obedience, with the cross, offering pain for love."

    Prayer, he said, is "a gesture of love" that is often stifled by excuses and leads to Christians forgetting that without God "we can do nothing."

    "We must ask ourselves: do our prayers resemble that of Jesus or are they reduced to occasional emergency calls? Or do we use them as tranquilizers to be taken in regular doses to relieve stress?" the pope asked.

    Padre Pio recognized throughout his life that prayer "heals the sick, sanctifies work, elevates healthcare and gives moral strength," he said.

    Pope Francis began his day of tribute to St. Pio with an early morning visit to Pietrelcina, where the Capuchin saint was born in 1887.

    Thousands waited outside the square of the Chapel of the Stigmata which houses a piece of the elm tree Padre Pio sat in front of when he first received the stigmata -- wounds on his feet, hands and side corresponding to those Jesus suffered at the crucifixion -- in September 1918.

    Pope Francis entered the chapel where he prayed privately for several minutes before making his way to the square to greet the faithful.

    Standing in front of an iconic image of a young Padre Pio bearing the wounds of Christ's crucifixion in his hands, the pope said that it was in Pietrelcina that the future saint "strengthened his own humanity, where he learned to pray and recognize in the poor the flesh of Christ."

    "He loved the church, he loved the church with all its problems, with all its woes, with all its sins -- because we are all sinners; we feel shame -- but the spirit of God has brought us here to this church which is holy. And he loved the holy church and its sinful children, everyone. This was St. Pio," Pope Francis said.

    Recalling the time in Padre Pio's life when he returned to Pietrelcina while he was ill, the pope said the saintly Capuchin "felt he was assailed by the devil" and feared falling into sin.

    Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope asked the people if they believed the devil existed. When only a handful of people responded, he told them it didn't seem "they were totally convinced."

    "I'm going to have to tell the bishop to give some catechesis," he said jokingly. "Does the devil exist or not?"

    "Yes!" the crowd responded loudly.

    Christians, he continued, should follow the example of the Capuchin saint who did not fall into despair but instead found refuge in prayer and put his trust in Christ.

    "All of theology is contained here! If you have a problem, if you are sad, if you are sick, abandon yourself in Jesus' arms," the pope said.

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    Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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  8. IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Media

    By Greg Erlandson

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- What was meant to be an intellectual tribute to Pope Francis has instead become the backdrop to the latest tempest over transparency and this pontificate.

    On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, the Vatican publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, unveiled a series of 11 books focusing on the intellectual roots and thought of Pope Francis.

    Numerous theologians contributed to the volumes, and they are being published in several languages.

    In a news conference attended by Catholic News Service, Msgr. Dario Vigano, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication who oversees LEV, explained that he had asked retired Pope Benedict XVI to "write a page or a page and a half of dense theology in his clear and punctual style that (we) would have liked to read this evening."

    Pope Benedict responded with "a beautiful, personal letter," Msgr. Vigano said. The retired pope explained that he could not write a theological reflection on the 11 volumes because he had not read them and would be physically unable to do so in time for the March 12 presentation. However, he expressed the hope that the series would contradict "the foolish prejudice of those who see Pope Francis as someone who lacks a particular theological and philosophical formation '"

    Pope Benedict said the books "reasonably demonstrate that Pope Francis is a man with profound philosophical and theological formation and are helpful to see the interior continuity between the two pontificates, even with all the differences in style and temperament."

    So far, so good.

    However, when the Secretariat for Communication released a photo of the first page of the letter, two lines at the end of the first page were blurred out, making it look as if someone had intentionally obscured the fact that Pope Benedict had not read the series, and leaving only the words defending his successor.

    Two days later, some Vatican watchers began writing about the blurred photo.

    At this point, the blurring, not the book series, became the story. As reported by the Associated Press' lead Vatican reporter, Nicole Winfield, "The Vatican admitted Wednesday that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter of retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards."

    Sources at the Vatican explained that the letter itself was never intended to be made public, which was why the second page was obscured in the carefully staged photo. One source called it a "photo illustration."

    U.S. photojournalists adhere to strict standards regarding any sort of manipulation of a photographed image. AP norms, which are followed by Catholic News Service, state that "no element should be digitally added or subtracted from any photograph."

    Whatever the intention on the part of the Vatican Secretariat for Communication, the obscuring of a portion of the letter suggested something they did not want everyone to see. Read in this context, Pope Benedict could be seen to be qualifying his generic support for the publication of the series.

    For those who attended the news conference, the context of Pope Benedict's comments was clear, and the fact that Msgr. Vigano read out loud the lines that were subsequently obscured in the image makes the incident sound more like a matter of poor judgment than deception.

    The controversy comes on the heels of the publication of Pope Francis' World Communications Day message, which criticized the phenomenon of "fake news," defining the phrase as "false information based on nonexistent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader."

    The entire incident is a reminder that in a media-sophisticated age, with a media-omnipresent pope, the Vatican communications apparatus must be committed both to transparency and to best journalistic practices. Anything less is a disservice to the church.

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    Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service.

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  9. IMAGE: CNS photo/Lilian Muendo, courtesy GSR

    By Beth Griffin

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Mely Lenario quietly described her harrowing journey from ambitious, naive rural girl trafficked to hopeless, drug-fueled urban prostitute, through slow rehabilitation to a new life as an outreach worker.

    After she finished her story, hundreds of people in a U.N. conference room jumped to their feet in a sustained ovation.

    Lenario spoke March 13 on "Preventing Human Trafficking Among Rural Women and Girls," a panel co-sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

    As an 8-year-old, Lenario was abused by her stepfather in the Philippines. He threatened her at knife point after she watched him rape her sister. When she confronted her mother and neighbors about it, she was placed into a Jesuit-run orphanage for seven years.

    As a teen, she accepted an offer of work and a free education from an elegant woman visitor who arranged transportation to Cebu, a city distant from her hometown. In Cebu, she was prostituted and forced to use drugs to stay awake all night and improve the glum demeanor that discouraged customers.

    Lenario begged for release but was told she had to pay for the transportation and other expenses incurred by her traffickers.

    She resigned herself to a life of prostitution. "I felt hopeless and worthless. I felt already ruined," Lenario said.

    Ultimately, she met compassionate women and men religious who introduced her to the Good Shepherd Welcome House in Cebu. With their help and five years of effort, she overcame her drug habit, finished high school and trained to be a nurse's aide.

    "I had to learn how to forgive myself and the people who caused me pain," she said.

    Lenario now studies social work and serves as an outreach counselor to trafficked women and girls at the Good Shepherd Welcome House.

    "I want to give them hope. I want to be an inspiration and give voice to all the abused women out there. I want to show them that if I could change my life, they can, too," she said.

    The U.N. panel was a side event to the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

    It focused on the contributions of women religious to prevent trafficking by providing educational and employment opportunities for rural girls, women and their families, disrupt the "supply chain" of the trafficking business, and help survivors tell their stories.

    Trafficked women are "marginalized by an environment that can't meet their needs," Mercy Sister Angela Reed said. Therefore, anti-trafficking strategies must address the root causes of the problem, which include poverty, unemployment, discrimination, violence, rural isolation and lack of access to education, she said. Sister Reed is the coordinator of Mercy Global Action at the United Nations.

    "Human trafficking is one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today," said Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, Vatican deputy ambassador. Vulnerable rural women and girls suffer "compounded marginalization" and are at a "cumulative disadvantage prior to being trafficked," he said. "Their dignity and rights are not adequately respected before they're trafficked, something that makes them more susceptible to much worse violations of their dignity and rights later."

    Religious sisters are "going to the existential peripheries" to do heroic work, but they cannot do it alone, Msgr. Grysa continued. Trafficking is "a global phenomenon that exceeds the competence of any one community or country. To eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself."

    Sister Annie Jesus Mary Louis, a Franciscan Missionary of Mary, is executive director of Jeevan Jharna Vikas Sanstha in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh. She said, "Sexual exploitation is big business, governed by the same principles of supply and demand as any commercial activity."

    The sex industry treats people like products and the sex trade has a supply chain of exploitation driven by demand and fueled by greed, vulnerability and deception. It is an illusion that women and girls freely choose prostitution, she said.

    The supply chain can be disrupted and trafficking prevented when families have opportunities and feel like society cares about them, Sister Louis said. Families need loving accompaniment and rural women and girls should be protected with at least the same level of investment that is put into labor exploitation, she said.

    The rural population is disproportionately affected by trafficking, said Mercy Sister Lynda Dearlove, founder of Women at the Well in London. Religious groups with long-term enduring local relationships have an advantage over large organizations in preventing trafficking, she said.

    "Individuals hold the key to empowering women and girls," she said. Large international funding groups sometimes create an unnecessary layer between donors and those in need, she said.

    Sister Reed said women must be seen as anti-trafficking advocates. The Religious Sisters of Mercy help women share firsthand accounts to bring women's voices into public policy discussions and prevention efforts. "We need to change the dominant narrative that trafficking is a random act" to an understanding that it is a sign of systemic marginalization and oppression, she said.

    Successful preventive approaches counter the vulnerability of potential trafficking victims, Sister Reed said. They include providing an adequate standard of living and quality education, fostering human attachment and a sense of belonging in adolescents, and supporting decent work and full participation in society for adults.

    Sister Sheila Smith, a Sister of the Sacred Heart, who is co-founder of Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans in Ottawa, Ontario, described the mutual relationship between human rights and human dignity in the context of rural trafficking.

    "We work tirelessly for prevention because we value each other," she said.

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  10. IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Media

    By Carol Glatz

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praying for God's intercession takes courage, dogged persistence and patience, said Pope Francis.

    "If I want the Lord to listen to what I am asking him, I have to go, and go and go -- knock on the door and knock on God's heart," the pope said in his homily March 15 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

    "We cannot promise someone we will pray for him or her and then say an 'Our Father' and a 'Hail Mary' and then leave it at that. No. If you say you'll pray for another, you have to take this path. And you need patience," he said.

    Pope Francis' homily focused on the day's reading from the Book of Exodus (32:7-14), in which God tells Moses how angry he is that his people have created a golden calf to worship as their god. God threatens to unleash his wrath on them and promises Moses, "Then I will make of you a great nation."

    Pope Francis said Moses does not take the bait or get involved in "games of bribery." Moses sticks by his people and does not "sell his conscience" for his own gain, the pope said.

    "And God likes this. When God sees a soul, a person who prays and prays and prays for something, he is moved."

    Moses had the courage to speak "face-to-face" and truthfully to the Lord, he said, and successfully implored God to relent and not punish his people.

    "For prayers of intercession, you need two things: courage, that is, 'parrhesia,' and patience," he said.

    People's hearts must be truly invested in the thing or person they are praying for; otherwise not even courage and patience will be enough to keep going, he added.

    People should ask God for the grace to pray frankly and freely to God, as sons and daughters would talk to their father, knowing that "my father will listen to me," Pope Francis said.

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