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July 21, 2017
Archive of July 16, 2017

In new school, Byzantine spirituality meets Montessori method

Denver, Colo., Jul 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - With the goal of encountering children on a more personal level to meet their academic and spiritual needs, a Montessori school influenced by the Byzantine Catholic tradition is opening in Denver, Colorado.

Pauline Meert, who co-founded Sophia Montessori Academy along with Irene O'Brien, said the two “wanted to combine Montessori and Catholicism because it just made so much sense.”

Meert said the school aims to help children fulfill their God-given potential, and that “the Montessori message really makes that possible for each child, not just for a classroom as a whole, but for each individual.”

Students in Montessori schools work in periods of uninterrupted time – ideally three hours – having the freedom to choose from an established range of options. The Montessori Method uses hands-on techniques in presenting concepts to individual children, rather than a group oriented, lecture-based approach to learning. The student's involvement in his or her own work then gives the teacher the freedom to spend time with each child and cater to each of their needs.

Sophia Montessori of Denver is in its final stages of its development, pending licensing and a few business inspections. But classes for children aged between three and six are expected to start in the fall of this year, and both Meert and O'Brien hope the school, currently with 11 families enrolled, will grow in number and into the high school level.  

When asked about the origin of the school's idea, Meert discussed her connection to children and her dream helping bring about a child’s full potential. She began her Montessori training in high school, and later envisioned Catholic teaching and the Montessori Method together.

Meert said the school has been four years in the making, but that she added the Byzantine spirituality aspect within the past year after she became a parishioner at Holy Protection Parish in Denver.

“The Byzantine faith is going to be the foundation,” she said, noting that the day will begin with a form of the Jesus prayer.

Montessori schools often begin the day with the “silence game,” in which children learn how to be calm and quiet in a time period of about 30 seconds to two minutes. Many schools have interpreted this freely, but she expressed a desire to tie this into the Byzantine's Jesus Prayer.

“The beauty about being Byzantine is that we do that through the Jesus prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on us, your children,’ she said, “You know because it’s kind of hard to call them sinners right away.”

The school will also have the kissing of icons and will teach according to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

“The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a very hands-on way of teaching the children about who Jesus is in time and space: through the parables, through infancy narratives, and through learning the nomenclature of the church.”

Children want to be a part of the world of adults and understand the liturgy, she said, and so the teachers aim to give them direct experiences related to the tabernacle and liturgical seasons.

“If we just tell them to be quiet and read a book during mass and during liturgy then we are not meeting their needs. They just want to know, they just want to be a part, they want to be welcomed by the church.”

She said many people would be surprised at the theological discussions she's had with four-year-olds as well as the harmony created in the classroom. The environment is “surprisingly peaceful and calm, even though there are 20 three-to-six year-olds together.”

Meert also described the trust needed to allow children the freedom to make choices within prescribed limitations. “Three year-olds can do so much!” she said.

Meert defined this freedom as “not the freedom to do whatever you want, but…the freedom that Saint Thomas Aquinas talks about – having freedom within responsibility, within boundaries and within awareness of other people.”

In her interview with CNA, she also voiced her hope to establish afternoon classes for homeschooled kids and support for parents.

“We want to give parents tools and support. Some of the Montessori approach is common sense, but sometimes it's a little trickier and parents just need extra support (or) someone to bounce ideas off of,” she said.

“We really want to be that support with those tools, and create a community that is often missing in our life.”

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As US hits refugee cap, bishops ask Trump administration to do more

Washington D.C., Jul 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - With the United States government’s cap on refugees having been reached for the year, the nation's bishops have issued a plea to the Trump administration to increase the limit in a time of a global refugee crisis.

“Now, these vulnerable populations will not be able to access needed protection and will continue to face danger and exploitation,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin July 14.

“Pope Francis reminds us that ‘refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.’ We must be mindful that every refugee is more than just a number, they are a child of God.”

Speaking in his role as chair the US bishops' conference Committee on Migration, Bishop Vasquez said he reacted with sadness to the news that the new refugee admissions cap of 50,000 people had been reached for this year.

“While certain refugees who have ‘bona fide relationships’ will still be allowed to arrive, I remain deeply concerned about the human consequences of this limitation and its impact on vulnerable refugees such as unaccompanied refugee children, elderly and infirm refugees, and religious minorities,” the bishop said.

The bishops’ conference added that this year’s cap was “historically low.”

Bishop Vasquez urged the cap for the next fiscal year to be increased to 75,000 individuals.

In March 2017, Bishop Vasquez and the U.S. bishops criticized an executive order of President Donald Trump that reduced the numbers of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. to 50,000 from 110,000 per year.

His latest statement repeated those words, saying such a limit “does not reflect the need, our compassion, and our capacity as a nation.”

“We firmly believe that as a nation the United States has the good will, character, leadership, and resources to help more vulnerable people seek refuge,” he said. He voiced the Catholic Church’s continued willingness to serve refugees and show solidarity with them.

Bishop Vasquez said the Church would welcome and accompany them “on their journey to protection and safety.”

There are about 22.5 million refugees seeking protection around the world.

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Jesus not only sows the seed, he’ll pull the thorns, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Sunday, Pope Francis said that in the parable of the seed and the sower Jesus invites us to reclaim the ‘soil’ of our hearts by bringing to him, in prayer and Confession, the stones and thorns in need of healing.

"Jesus invites us today to look inward: to give thanks for our good ground and to work on the ground not yet good,” he said July 16.

"Let us ask ourselves if our heart is open to welcome with faith the seed of the Word of God. Let us ask ourselves if the rocks of laziness are still large and numerous within us; we identify and we call by name the brambles of our vices."

"We find the courage to make a beautiful reclamation of the land, bringing to the Lord in Confession and in prayer our stones and our stumps. In doing so, Jesus, a good sower, will be happy to do an extra work: to purify our hearts, removing the stones and thorns that stifle his Word.”

Pope Francis addressed the crowds in St. Peter's Square before leading the Angelus Sunday, reflecting on the day's Gospel of the Parable of the Sower and the Seeds.

When Jesus used parables, he noted, as in today's Gospel, he uses simple language and imagery from everyday life to help explain the mystery of the Kingdom of God in terms that can "easily be understood by everyone."

"That's why they listened willingly and appreciated his message that came straight to their heart."

In the parable, we know that Jesus is the sower, and in this image he doesn't impose, but proposes, the Pope said. He throws the seed, attracting us not by conquering us, but by giving himself to us.

And this seed, "how can it bear fruit?" he asked. "If we welcome him."

"Therefore the parable concerns above all us: it speaks, in fact, of the soil rather than of the sower. Jesus performs, so to speak, a 'spiritual radiography' of our heart, which is the ground upon which the seed of the Word falls.”

“Our heart, like soil, can be good and then the Word brings so much fruit, but it can also be hard, impermeable. This happens when we hear the Word, but it bounces off of us just like on a road: it does not enter,” he said.

He pointed out that between the good soil and the road of asphalt or 'sanpietrini' – the name of the rounded cobblestones that can be found in St. Peter's Square and around Rome – there are two intermediate terrains: the stony and the thorny.

In the stony ground the seed germinates, but doesn't put down deep roots, the Pope said.

"So is the superficial heart that welcomes the Lord, wants to pray, love and testify, but does not persevere, tends to wear and never "takes off". It is a thick heart, where the rocks of laziness prevail over the good land, where love is inconsistent and passable."

What do the thorns in the thorny ground represent? "'The world's concern and the seduction of wealth', so Jesus says explicitly," he said.

We all have these brambles in our hearts, such as making idols out of worldly wealth or power, or only living for ourselves. "You need to tear them away, otherwise the Word will not bear fruit, Francis emphasized.

July 16 is also the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The Pope concluded his message by saying that the Blessed Virgin Mary is "unsurpassed in welcoming the Word of God and putting it into practice."

May she help you "to purify your heart and preserve the presence of the Lord."

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Benedict XVI: Cardinal Meisner died a 'cheerful' man

Vatican City, Jul 16, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a letter sent for the funeral of the late Cardinal Joachim Meisner, retired Pope Benedict XVI praised the prelate as a passionate pastor, who died a happy man at peace with the Lord and his will for the universal Church.

“What particularly impressed me in my last conversations with the now deceased Cardinal was the serene cheerfulness, the inner joy and the confidence at which he had arrived,” Benedict said in the letter, read aloud by Archbishop Georg Ganswein at the prelate's July 15 funeral in Cologne.

Benedict, who had known Meisner personally, noted that the late prelate, a “passionate shepherd and pastor,” had found it difficult to leave his post in Cologne upon retirement, especially at a time when the Church needs persuasive priests “who resist the dictatorship of the Zeitgeist and who live and think the faith with complete determination.”

“However, what moved me all the more was that, in this last period of his life, he learned to let go and to live all the more deeply with the conviction, that the Lord does not abandon His Church, even when sometimes the boat has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.”

Cardinal Meisner, archbishop emeritus of Cologne, died July 5 while on vacation in Bad Füssing, Germany, at the age of 83. His funeral was celebrated July 15 in the cathedral of Cologne.

Archbishop of Cologne from 1989-2014, he retired with the permission of Pope Francis in February 2014, at the age of 80, the same year his age made him ineligible to vote in a conclave.

Meisner, alongside Cardinals Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Leo Burke, submitted five "dubia," or doubts, about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia to Pope Francis on Sept. 19, 2016.

The letter, made public in November, asked for clarification on Chapter 8 of the document, which touches on the reception of communion for divorced and remarried couples.

In May, the four – dubbed the "dubia cardinals" – sent a letter to the Pope requesting a private audience to discuss the content of the "dubia," since they have not yet received a response.

Cardinal Meisner, considered a leading conservative Catholic figure in Germany, stood in contrast to other German prelates who have propagated one of the more liberal interpretations of Chapter 8 of the post-synodal document.

In his letter, Benedict said that when he first received the news of Cardinal Meisners death, he couldn't believe it, as they had spoken over the phone the day before.

In the conversation, Benedict recalled that Meisner was “audibly grateful” to be on vacation, and to have participated in the beatification ceremony of Bishop Teofilius Matulionis – a Lithuanian priest who was consecrated a bishop in secret during Soviet persecution, and who spent the majority of his episcopate in prison before being poisoned by the USSR – the day before.

For Benedict, Meisner's whole life “was ingrained both with a love for the churches of the neighboring countries to the East, who had suffered under Communist persecution, as well as an appreciation for their holding fast amidst the suffering of those times.”

“Thus it is probably no coincidence that the final visit of his life was dedicated to a Confessor of the Faith from those lands.”

In addition to the beatification and the state of peace he had attained before his death, Benedict said there were two specific reasons the cardinal was so cheerful in his final years.

For one, “he repeatedly told me how it profoundly delighted him to see young people, especially young men, experience the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession – the gift of having truly found that life which only God can give them,” Benedict said.

The second thing he cited for putting the cardinal in “a joyful mood” was the “quiet growth of Eucharistic Adoration.”

Benedict recalled how at World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, Meisner was adament that there be adoration, and a space for “ a silence in which only the Lord speaks to the hearts.”

While some of those in the field of pastoral and liturgical work thought it would be impossible or even “obsolete” to accomplish with such a large group of people, arguing that the Lord desires to be received and not looked at, what happened proved them wrong.

It became abundantly clear, Benedict said, “that you can not eat this bread like it were just some food, and that 'receiving' the Lord in the Eucharistic Sacrament makes demands upon every dimension  of our existence – that to receive necessarily also means to adore.”

This became “an interior event, one that remained, not only for the Cardinal, unforgettable. This moment remained ever present, like a great light, within him.”

Benedict concluded his letter noting how on the morning he died, Cardinal Meisner was found in his room with his breviary on his lap.

“He had died whilst in prayer, his gaze fixed on the Lord, in conversation with the Lord,” Benedict said, adding that “the manner of death which was granted to him yet again shows how he lived: gaze fixed to the Lord and conversing with the Lord.”

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