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December 14, 2017
Archive of March 17, 2017

Patrick: the saint who knew what it was like to be a slave

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Many know that Saint Patrick, bishop and missionary to Ireland, was once a slave – but few know of his heartfelt plea on behalf of girls and boys abducted into slavery.

“The pathos of St. Patrick’s description of the fate of his victims is something I think we can identify with now,” said Jennifer Paxton, a history professor who teaches at The Catholic University of America’s Irish Studies program. “The girls stolen by Boko Haram are very similar in their fates, I think, to captives of Coroticus.”

St. Patrick’s Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus was intended to shame the fifth century general whose raiding soldiers the saint declared to be “blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.” He denounced those who “divide out defenseless baptized women like prizes.”

Patrick said he did not know what grieved him more: those who were slain, those who were captured, or the enslavers themselves – “those whom the devil so deeply ensnared.”

The plea is all the more poignant because St. Patrick was himself a former slave. In his letter he wrote that Irish raiders once took him captive and slaughtered the men and women servants of his father’s household.

“He would have known acutely what these slaves were going through, because he was the victim of just such a raid,” Paxton told CNA. “In the fifth century this kind of raiding was endemic, all around the British Isles. He was stolen from someplace, we’re not sure where, in western Britain, and taken to captivity in Ireland.”

He spent six years tending sheep for his master.

“Obviously he did not enjoy his time as a slave and wanted it to end,” Paxton said. “So he would have definitely identified with these victims.”

The saint’s letter is a unique witness in medieval history.

“We do not have any other first person account of someone who was captured by barbarians and survived,” the history professor explained. “We have nothing else quite like it.”

The letter was written to be read aloud elsewhere, with the hope that Coroticus and his men would eventually hear of it and come under popular pressure. St. Patrick said those who hear the letter should “not fawn on such people” and should not share food or drink with them until they release their captives and “make satisfaction to God in severe penance and shedding of tears.”

Paxton said St. Patrick’s style is “somewhat defensive” because “he is up against tremendous odds, and he knows it.”

“He does not, as far as we know, ever get these captives back,” Paxton continued. “What we have is this cri de coeur that has resonated down through the ages. But he doesn’t manage to save them.”

She speculated that St. Patrick must have felt “the tragedy of seeing these people newly saved from damnation by baptism, and (then) taken away into slavery.”

Modern slavery is an enduring problem. Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria have enslaved Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. In Nigeria, where St. Patrick is a patron saint, the militant Islamist group Boko Haram became infamous for the April 2014 abductions of several hundred girls from a school in the country’s northeast.

In December 2014 major religious leaders including Pope Francis signed a joint declaration at the Vatican urging the eradication of modern slavery. A 2014 report from the organization Walk Free estimated that almost 36 million people worldwide suffer some form of slavery, with 61,000 people held in slave conditions in the United States.

As for St. Patrick, his letter seeking the release of slaves was not widely circulated. It was preserved in a few places, including the Book of Armagh. Paxton said the letter played little role in Christian debates over slavery, which was taken for granted for centuries.

Slavery’s decline in Europe doesn’t owe much to Church efforts, she said. “It was more economic forces that led to its decline, I’m sad to say,” Paxton remarked, adding that Coroticus himself was probably a Christian.

St. Patrick became known for his life of sacrifice, prayer and fasting. Although he was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he is widely regarded as the most successful.

Paxton noted that St. Patrick’s letter and his other known work, the Confession of St. Patrick, are “steeped in the scriptures.”

“He basically writes in scriptural quotations. That’s the way Patrick thinks,” she said.

St. Patrick’s use of the Bible is rare in a medieval text because he quotes from many different sections of the Bible: the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and numerous prophetic books.

Paxton said she found Patrick “a really fascinating figure.” In later legends he became a “wonder-working superhero” who expelled the snakes from Ireland and defeated druids in battle.

“But the real St. Patrick of his own words is really a far more moving and inspiring example for Christians of today,” she added.

“Ireland was never the same as a result of what he did. That’s something I think we should all be impressed by, somebody who himself was very marginal, who was not a major figure in his own Church, persevered in the face of all these obstacles and achieved something really wonderful.”

This article was originally published on CNA March 17, 2015.

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Here's what Pope Francis is doing for Holy Week

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - With Easter only a month away, plans have already been set in the Vatican for the celebrations surrounding the big day, and the lead-up to Holy Week will be filled with several papal daytrips, Masses, and liturgies.

The Pope began Lent with his March 5-10 spiritual exercises alongside members of the Curia in Ariccia, a small town just outside of Rome.

Next on the schedule is a March 17 penitential service in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which several individuals will go to confession with the Pope as part of his annual “24 Hours for the Lord” event, which this year takes place the third Friday and Saturday of Lent.

A worldwide initiative led by Pope Francis, the event was launched in 2014 under the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and points to confession as the primary way to experience God's mercy.

On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, Francis will make a daylong pastoral visit to Milan, where he is scheduled to say Mass, meet with youth who recently received Confirmation, and visit the city’s cathedral and a prison.

After his visit to Milan, the Pope will start the month of April by making another daylong visit to the northern Italian town of Carpi, during which he will commemorate the nearly 20 people who died when an earthquake struck the region in 2012.

One week later Pope Francis will say Mass for Palm Sunday at 10 a.m. in St. Peter’s Square April 9, during which he will process with palms from the obelisk in the middle of the square to the main altar, as is tradition.

During the Mass, the World Youth Day Cross will be handed over from Poland to Panama, signaling the location of the next international encounter in 2019. As is customary, the Pope will also deliver his message for WYD at a local level, which this year holds the theme “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” taken from Lk 1:49.

On April 13, Pope Francis will offer the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at 9:30 a.m., which will be concelebrated with the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and priests present in Rome.

Then in the afternoon he will say the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the traditional washing of feet. The location of this year’s Holy Thursday liturgy has yet to be announced, but Francis has typically chosen to hold it either in prisons or centers for the sick and disabled. Last year the celebration was held at a refugee welcoming center on the outskirts of Rome.

On Good Friday the Pope will preside over an afternoon liturgy commemorating the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica at 5 p.m., with the papal preacher Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., delivering the homily, as usual.

Later that night he will make his way to the Colosseum to pray the Via Crucis with the faithful at 9:15 p.m., extending his blessing to all present. The name of person writing this year’s meditations has yet to be announced.

The following night, Holy Saturday, Francis will celebrate the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:30 p.m. In previous years he has baptized and confirmed several individuals during the celebration, and is expected to do so again this year.

On April 16, Easter Sunday, the Pope will hold a public Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10 a.m. Immediately after, he will give his special “urbi et orbi” blessing, “to the city and to the world.”

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Texas advances bill on transgender bathrooms, but fate unclear

Austin, Texas, Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Texas Senate has passed a bill that would require people to use bathrooms based on the sex on their birth certificate, but it faces significant opposition from influential corporations and LGBT activists.

The Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 6 by a vote of 21-10 on March 15. It has been characterized as a “bathroom bill.”

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said the bill “reflects common decency and common sense and is essential to protect public safety.”

He said the bill “codifies what has always been common practice in Texas and everywhere else – that men, women, boys and girls should use separate, designated restrooms, locker rooms and showers in government buildings and public schools.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has not taken a clear stand on the bill. Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has been critical and said its passage could harm jobs and be bad for business, the Associated Press reports.

State Sen. John Whitmire objected that the bill would require self-identified transgender women who are “as feminine as any woman on the Senate floor” to use men's restrooms, the Texas Tribune reports.

The bill has opposition from corporations including Google, Amazon, American Airlines, Microsoft, Intel and Hilton. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association have said passage of the bill could cause them to decline to schedule events such as the Super Bowl and the All-Star Game in the state, Texas' ABC 13 reports.

In some parts of the U.S., anti-discrimination laws and policies that protect gender identity have required facilities to allow people who identify as the opposite sex to use the restrooms or locker rooms they identify with.

The Obama administration had begun to implement a rule requiring schools to implement transgender bathroom policies or lose federal funding, but the Trump administration withdrew the rule.

The Texas bill's author, State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, cited the Obama administration's push as a justification for the bill.

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Confession must be a pastoral priority, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis told priests Friday to make confession a priority in their parishes, and, if they want to be good confessors, to have a strong prayer life focused on growing in humility and closeness to the Holy Spirit in order to evangelize.

“The confessor, in fact, is called daily to go to the peripheries of evil and sin,” the Pope said March 17, adding that “this is an ugly periphery,” but the priest is called to go “and his work represents an authentic pastoral priority.”

“To confess is a pastoral priority,” he said. “Please, may there not be those signs (that say): ‘confessions only Monday and Wednesday, from this time to this time.’”

“Confess each time they ask you,” he said, telling priests that if they are sitting in the confessional praying, “you are there with the confessional open, which is the open heart of God.”

Pope Francis spoke to participants in the Apostolic Penitentiary’s annual course on the internal forum.

The Internal Forum branch of the Apostolic Penitentiary is one of the three tribunals of the Roman Curia and is responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church, particularly sins involving some types of grave matter which require a special form of absolution that only certain priests can administer.

Taking place March 14-17, the course is held every year in Rome and is designed to educate attendees on canon law regarding Confession, as well as what the internal forum does. It is attended by around 500 seminarians in their third year of studies and by priests who wish to participate.

In his speech, the Pope said that to be a good confessor, a priest must be a man of prayer, who is attentive to the Holy Spirit and knows how to discern well, and who also is a good evangelizer.

They must be “a true friend of Jesus the Good Shepherd,” he said, adding that without this friendship, “it will be very hard to mature that paternity which is so necessary in the ministry of Reconciliation.”

This friendship is cultivated primarily through prayer, he said, whether it's a personal prayer “constantly asking for the gift of pastoral charity,” or a special prayer for “ the exercise of the duty of confessors toward the faithful … who come to us looking for God’s mercy.”

A ministry of confession that is “wrapped in prayer” will be a “credible reflection of God’s mercy” and will help to avoid the “bitterness and misunderstandings” that can at times happen in the confessional.

Confessors must also pray for themselves, the Pope said, specifically to understand well that they themselves are sinners who have been forgiven.  

“One cannot forgive in the Sacrament without the knowledge of having been forgiven first,” he said, adding that prayer is “the first guarantee of avoiding every attitude of harshness, which uselessly judges the sinner and not the sin.”

Francis also stressed the need for priests to pray for the gift of “a wounded heart,” which is able to understand other wounds “and heal them with the oil of mercy,” like the Good Samaritan did to the man on the side of the road.

A priest must also pray for humility and invoke the Holy Spirit, who is the spirit “of discernment and compassion” that allows him to accompany others with prudence.

A confessor must also be “a man of the Spirit, a man of discernment,” who knows how to listen to the Holy Spirit in trying to discern the will of God.

“How much harm is done to the Church from the lack of discernment! How much harm comes to souls from an act that is not rooted in humble listening to the Holy Spirit and the will of God,” he said.

“The confessor does not act according to his own will and does not teach his own doctrine. He is called always to do the will of God alone, in full communion with the Church, of whom he is the minister, that is, a servant.”

Discernment, the Pope said, allows the priest to distinguish individual cases instead of generalizing and putting everyone together in the same category, which helps the penitent to open “the shrine of their own conscience” in order to receive light, peace and mercy.  

This discernment is necessary above all because many people who come to confession find themselves in “desperate situations.” They could also be “spiritually disturbed,” he said, explaining that these cases have to be discerned well, keeping all of “the existential, ecclesial, natural and supernatural” causes in mind.

“When the confessor becomes aware of the presence of genuine spiritual disturbances – that may be in large part psychological, and therefore must be confirmed by means of healthy collaboration with the human sciences – he must not hesitate to refer the issue to those who, in the diocese, are charged with this delicate and necessary ministry, namely, exorcists. But these must be chosen with great care and great prudence.”

Confession must also be a true place of evangelization, Pope Francis said, stressing that “there is no more authentic evangelization than the encounter with the God of mercy, with the God who is mercy.”

“The confessional is then a place of evangelization and therefore of formation,” he said, explaining that in the brief dialogue with the penitent, the confessor is called to discern “what is most useful and what is even necessary for the spiritual path of that brother or sister.”

At times this will mean re-explaining the most basic fundamentals of the faith, “the incandescent core, the kerygma,” without which the experience of God’s love and mercy would be “mute.” Other times it will mean explaining the basics of the moral life, “always in relation to the truth, to the good and to the will of the Lord.”

“It involves a work of ready and intelligent discernment, which can be of great benefit to the faithful,” the Pope said, urging the priests to be good confessors who are “immersed in relation with Christ,” and who are capable of careful discernment and attentive evangelization.

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A year after genocide declaration, Knights donate nearly $2 million

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Last year, in a nearly unprecedented event, the United States declared that Christians, Yezidis, Shi’a Muslims, and other religious and ethnic minorities are victims of ISIS genocide.

It was only the second time the State Department has used the label to describe ongoing atrocities committed by a state or non-state actor. Genocide is the “crime of crimes,” according to the United Nations, because it involves the intentional destruction, “in whole or in part,” of an entire people.

Marking the one-year anniversary of that declaration, the Knights of Columbus are continuing their work to assist persecuted Christians in the region by contributing nearly $2 million in new assistance.

In a statement announcing the new aid, the fraternal organization’s CEO Carl Anderson said that “words are not enough” to protect Christians and other targeted populations.

“Those targeted for genocide continue to need our assistance, especially since many have received no funding from the U.S. government or from the United Nations. The new administration should rectify the policies it found in place, and stop the de facto discrimination that is continuing to endanger these communities targeted by ISIS for genocide.”

Many others have also called on the Trump administration to do more to help Christians and other minorities in the Middle East on the anniversary of the declaration. This week, Professor Robert Destro of the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America announced a joint statement of “recommended actions” for the administration to take to protect genocide survivors.

The document was a call “to stand up constantly” for minorities “who are being targeted today by ISIS and all of its affiliates around the world” and was signed by numerous political and religious leaders.

The Knights of Columbus played a key role in lobbying for the declaration of the Christian genocide last year, as they compiled and presented a 278-page report to the State Department, documenting evidence of Christian genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Since 2014, they have donated more than $12 million to aid Christians in the Middle East, which has gone to medical clinics in Iraq, Easter food baskets for displaced Christians under the care of the Archdiocese of Erbil, general relief for the Christians of Aleppo, Syria, via the city’s Melkite Archdiocese, and support for the Christian refugee relief programs of the Syriac Catholic patriarch.

Anderson said 2017 may be “the decisive year in determining whether many Christian communities throughout the Middle East will continue to exist,” and has called for aid from the U.S. government and the international community.

The Knights of Columbus are also leading a Novena (nine days of prayer) from March 12 to 20 for grace and solidarity with Christians in the Middle East. Donations to support Christian refugees and other religious minorities can be made at


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Pope Francis goes to confession

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the end of his annual Lenten penitential service on Friday, Pope Francis was the first to go to the sacrament of confession, afterward hearing the confessions of seven laypeople, three men and four women, in attendance.
Instead of giving a homily during the service, which he has done in years past, Pope Francis led people in a lengthy silence following the readings in order to reflect and pray prior to receiving the sacrament of confession.
Earlier on March 17, Francis spoke with participants of the Apostolic Penitentiary’s annual course on the internal forum about the importance of confessors being available to people and spiritually well-formed.
In his speech, the Pope said that to be a good confessor, a priest must be a man of prayer, a man who is attentive to the Holy Spirit and knows how to discern well, and who also is a good evangelizer.
Held in St. Peter's Basilica, the penitential service usually takes place on the fourth Friday of Lent, in anticipation of the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative held yearly on the fourth Friday and Saturday of Lent.
This year, however, the Pope's penitential service was moved to the week prior, March 17. In addition to going to confession and hearing the confessions of seven others, the service included prayers, songs and readings from Scripture.
Afterward, almost 100 priests and bishops were available to hear the confessions of those in attendance.
Led by Pope Francis, “24 Hours for the Lord” is a worldwide initiative which points to confession as a primary way to experience God's merciful embrace. It was launched in 2014 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Taking place on Mar. 24-25, this year's theme is “I Desire Mercy” (Mt. 9:13). The theme is taken from the verse in Matthew which says: “Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Starting in the evening on March 24, churches throughout Rome will remain open for 24 hours to give pilgrims the opportunity to go to confession and take part in Eucharistic Adoration.
While parishes in Rome will be open overnight, churches elsewhere in the world are invited to participate as well, adapting the initiative to suit their local situations and needs.
Additional information on the “24 Hours for the Lord” can be found at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization's website,

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Catholic priests, religious face wave of violence in DR Congo

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Following recent attempts at brokering peace between the government and political opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Catholic priests and religious are facing violent backlash around the country.

According to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic aid society that works in the country, Catholics have experienced a slew attacks on churches and convents. In particular, a Carmelite Convent and a Dominican Church were both ransacked in late February.

Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, told the organization that the incidents “lead one to believe that the Catholic Church is being targeted deliberately, in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.”

“Along with all bishops, we denounce these acts of violence, which are likely to plunge our country further into unspeakable chaos,” he said.

The attacks follow recent attempts by the Catholic Church in the DRC to mediate between talks between the government of  President Joseph Kabila and the opposition. The opposition to President Kabila and claims of a constitutional crisis follow after his refusal to step down from office at the end of 2016.

Since then, the Congolese Bishops' Conference has helped to broker a peace deal that would arrange for the peaceful transition of power. However, after delays for the funeral of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi and other conflicts, the peace agreement has all but dissolved, according to some reports. Presidential elections are now expected to take place at the end of 2017.  

“Politicians ought to acknowledge with humility, before their nation and the international community, their political tendencies and the immorality of their self-serving decisions,” Cardinal Monswengwo said in a statement about the elections.

The attacks have continued into March. According to Crux, 25 Catholic Seminarians in Malole in the south of the country had to be evacuated by UN peace-keeping forces by helicopter after armed troops attacked the seminary. The attackers were part of a militia loyal to former tribal leader Kamwina Nsapu, who died in August 2016.

For the Catholics, the violence has been terrifying.

“They systematically broke down the doors to different rooms and destroyed everything inside. They entered the teachers' rooms and burned their belongings,” Father Richard Kitenge, rector of the seminary, told Agence France-Presse.

Recently, the Church has also lead anti-corruption initiatives in the province and local area. The animosity towards the Church also extends outside of the church or convent walls.

“In the street, it's not unusual to hear threats against the Church,” Father Julien Wato, the Dominican priest of Saint Dominic's Church, the Kinshasa church vandalized in February said in a statement after the event.

Nearly half of the Congo's 67.5 million people are Catholic. Previously, nearly 6 million people died in the 1996-2003 conflict over the nation’s transfer of power.

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