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December 14, 2017
Archive of October 10, 2017

The dangers of spiritualizing your psychological problems

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Maria had been struggling with some depressive and anxious thoughts for a while, although at the time, she didn’t recognize them as such. Probably because she was 14 years old.  

When she shared her struggles with someone in her Catholic community, the woman told Maria that she was worried that “the devil was working his ways” in her, and used that to pressure her into going on a week-long retreat out of state.

“Sure, retreats are great,” Maria told CNA. “But pretty sure I just needed a therapist at that point in my life. And pretty sure I had already given valid reasons for why I wasn't interested in buying a plane ticket for a retreat.”

When Catholics experience spiritual problems, the solutions seem obvious -  talk to a priest, go to confession, pray, seek guidance from a spiritual director. But the line between the spiritual and the psychological can be very blurry, so much so that some Catholics and psychologists wonder if people are too often told to “pray away” their problems that may also require psychological treatment.

When body and soul are seen as unrelated

Dr. Gregory Bottaro is a Catholic clinical psychologist with the CatholicPsych Institute. He said that he has found the over-spiritualization of psychological issues to be a persistent problem, particularly among devout Catholics.

“Over-spiritualization in our time is usually a direct consequence of Cartesian Dualism,” Bottaro told CNA in an e-mail interview.

“Decartes is the philosopher who said: ‘I think therefore I am.’ He separated his thinking self from his bodily self, and planted the seed that eventually grew into our current thinking that the body and spirit are separate things. Acting as if the body doesn’t matter when considering our human experience is just as distorted as acting like the spirit doesn’t matter,” he said.

Because of this prevalent misconception about the separation of our body and soul, people both in and out of the Catholic Church often feel a stigma in seeking mental help that isn’t there when they need to seek physical help, he said.

“We shouldn’t think any less of getting help for mental health than we do for physical health. There are fields of expertise for a reason, and just as we can’t fix every one of our own physical wounds, we can’t always fix every one of our own mental wounds. It is virtuous to recognize our need for help,” Dr. Bottaro said.

Virtuous, but not always easy.

Just pray

Michele is a young Catholic 20-something who was used to being social and involved in various ministries within the Church. But a move to a new city left her usually-bubbly self feeling lonely and isolated.

“I felt like a failure spiritually because shouldn't my relationship with God be enough? But, I would come home from work and cry and just lay in my bed. It was hard for me to motivate myself to do anything,” she told CNA.

When a friend, also involved in ministry, called to catch up, Michele saw it as a chance to reach out and share some of the feelings that had been concerning her.

“I don't remember exactly what I said, but she told me what I was feeling was sinful. I shut down and said I was exaggerating and made up some story about how everything was fine,” she said.

Michele waited several more months before seeking help through Catholic Charities, where she was connected to a therapist. She found out that she had attachment disorder, which, left untreated for longer, could have turned into major, long term depression.

Derek is also a young 20-something Catholic who was also told to pray away his problems. He was suffering from depressive episodes, where he wouldn’t eat and would sleep for 15 hours a day. His friends’ advice was to pray. It wasn’t until he attempted suicide that he got serious about seeking psychotherapy.

Sarah, also a young Catholic and a former FOCUS missionary, had a similar experience. For months, she confessed suicidal thoughts to her pastor and spiritual director, who gave her advice based on the discernment of spirits from St. Ignatius of Loyola. But eventually the thoughts became so intense and prevalent that Sarah called every mandatory reporter she knew, and was admitted to the hospital on suicide watch.

“I think part of it is - if someone is trained in something, that’s how they want to fix it,” Sarah told CNA.

“If you’re trained in spirituality then you want to use spirituality to fix it. And you absolutely should include spirituality. However, you can’t just pray it away. These are real problems and real medical things. There are events in people’s lives that have happened, and they need to work through that both spiritually and psychologically, and a priest or youth minister can’t do both. They need to get you to someone who’s able to help,” she said.

The negative stigma attached to seeking mental help is magnified in the Church because of the “pray it away” mentality, Sarah added. Once prayer doesn’t work, people can feel like spiritual failures, and many people in the Church will distance themselves from someone who is mentally ill.

“I can’t be a fully functional young woman who’s working through something and needs help with it,” she said. “It’s either - I’m ok or I’m not.”  

A Catholic psychologist’s perspective  

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic licensed clinical psychologist with St. Raphael’s counseling in Denver, said he tends to see opposite ends of the spectrum in his patients in about equal numbers - those who over-spiritualize their problems, and those who under-spiritualize them.

“Part of the problem is that in our culture, we have such a medically-oriented, science-oriented culture that we’ve sort of gotten away from spirituality, which causes a lot of problems,” he said.

As human beings, our minds and our souls are what set us apart from other created things, Langley added, making those aspects of our being most vulnerable to evil attacks.

“I know a priest who would explain it like this: Evil is like a germ, and it wants to get in just like bacteria does in our body. And where does bacteria get in? It gets in through our wounds. So if we have a cut on our hand, that’s where bacteria wants to get in and infect us. On the spiritual side, it’s the same thing. Where we have the most sensitive wounds tend to be in our sense of self and our psychology, and so that’s where evil wants to get in at us.”  

People who tend to ignore the spiritual aspect of their psychological problems cut themselves off from the most holistic approach of healing, Langley added.  

“The main reason is because it really is God who heals, and almost any psychological issue you’re dealing with is going to have some sort of a spiritual component connected to it, because it has to do with our dignity as a human person.”

And while it can be challenging to make people see the spiritual component of their problems, it can also be a challenge to help other people recognize that their spiritual issues might also have a psychological component, he said.

Some devout Catholics see it as preferable to say they are suffering from something like the dark night of the soul, rather than to admit that they have depression and may need medication and counseling, he said.

“In some ways in our Catholic community, it’s cooler to have a spiritual problem than it is to have a psychological problem,” he said. “The problem with over-spiritualizing is that you cut yourself from so many tools that psychology and even your faith could have to help you to be happy.”

Many of the things psychologists do to help their patients includes teaching them “recipes” for happiness, Langley said - re-training their thought patterns, providing practical tools to use when anxiety or depression kick in.

But a person who doesn’t recognize an issue as also having a psychological component may be resistant to these methods entirely, including spiritual methods, he said.

Catholics who are concerned about seeking psychological help should seek a Catholic psychologist or psychiatrist who can talk about both the spiritual and psychological aspects of healing, Langley said.

“People who don’t practice from a Catholic or spiritual perspective can do a pretty good job, but it’s like they’re doing therapy with their hand tied behind their back, because they’re missing out on a whole array of things you can do to help a person.”

Therapists who aren’t practicing from a Catholic perspective could also do some unintended harm in their practice, Langley noted. For example, men who are addicted to pornography may be told by a secular therapist that pornography is a healthy release, or couples struggling in their marriage may sometimes be encouraged by secular practitioners to divorce.

It’s really a false dichotomy, Langley added, to categorize problems as strictly spiritual or psychological, because oftentimes they are both, and require both psychological and spiritual treatment.

“So much of good therapy is helping a person get back in touch with their sense of dignity that God created them with...and as they get more in touch with it, they are actually just more open to God’s love and they’re more open to making changes in their life that might be helpful.”

What needs to change?

The Catholic experience of mental illness varies. Some found their experience of a mental illness diagnosis in the Church very isolating, while others said it was a great source of healing and support.

Langley said that for the most part, he has a great relationship with the clergy in his area.

“Most of our referrals come from priests,” he said. “I hardly ever see a priest that is overly convinced that something is spiritual. I think priests really do a pretty good job of saying when something is more psychological.”

Some of Langley’s favorite clients are those who are seeking spiritual direction at the same time as therapy, he said, because between therapy and spiritual direction, the person seeking help is usually able to find the right balance of psychological and spiritual strategies that work.

Others said they felt the relationship between psychologists and Catholic clergy or other leaders could be stronger.

A licensed marriage and family therapist in California, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that priests and mental health professionals should be working together to support those struggling with mental illness, to make them feel more welcome, and to let them know what resources are available.

“The faith community hasn't done a great job reaching out for support for those within the community with mental illness, and the mental health community hasn't done a good enough job making itself available to the faith community,” he said.

Several Catholics who have had mental illness also said they wished that it were something that was discussed more openly in the Church.

“I have thirsted for greater support in the Church,” said Erin, who has depression and anxiety.

“That is my biggest struggle as a Catholic with mental illness: not necessarily focusing too much on the spiritual aspects, but people not knowing how to address any other aspect.”

She had some suggestions for Catholics who find out their friend has a mental illness.

“As Christ would do, and as Job's friends failed to do, please, please just walk with me. And if I bring up something spiritual, feel free to talk about it. If you think I'm shutting you out, ask. If I randomly start crying, hold my hand,” she said.

“Finding support in my one friend (who also has a mental illness) has done worlds of good for me. Imagine what could happen if Christians became more vulnerable about their mental illness. What a support system that would be!”

Michele said in sharing her story about seeking therapy, she has been surprised at how many Catholics have gone through similar experiences.

“I try to be very open about it now because a stigma should not exist.”

Catholic psychologists in your area can be found by searching at or at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

Some names in this article have been changed for the protection of privacy.

This article was originally published on CNA July 1, 2016.

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Why did Twitter reject this pro-life ad?

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - A political advertisement for pro-life Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has been blocked by Twitter for statements about Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts for medical research.

“I’m 100 percent pro-life. I fought Planned Parenthood, and we stopped the sale of baby parts, thank God,” Blackburn says in her video.

Twitter blocked the ad, telling the Blackburn campaign that the comment was “deemed an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.”

The tech company said the advertisement would be reinstated if the comment was removed.

Blackburn encouraged her supporters to join her in “standing up to Silicon Valley” by sharing the video. Although the video cannot be part of a paid promotion on Twitter, users can link to the video on the site and retweet Blackburn’s post of the video.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">.<a href="">@Twitter</a> shut down our video ad, claiming it&#39;s &quot;inflammatory&quot; &amp; &quot;negative.&quot; Join me in standing up to Silicon Valley → RETWEET our message! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Marsha Blackburn (@VoteMarsha) <a href="">October 9, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

Blackburn is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee which will be left open by the retirement of current senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Earlier in the two-and-a-half-minute video, Blackburn claims that the “left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative,” criticizes the Senate’s failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and affirms her support of Second-Amendment rights and the Trump Administration’s immigration policies.

After investigative reporting by the Center for Medical Progress which revealed Planned Parenthood’s practice of taking money from medical research companies in exchange for aborted fetal tissue, Blackburn chaired a Republican-run House panel to investigate the organization and fetal tissue research more broadly.

After their investigation, she and her panel urged Congress to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood.

The practice of fetal tissue donation is legal in the United States if the donating company makes no profit off of the transaction. Planned Parenthood has since announced that it would no longer donate aborted fetal tissue for reimbursement.

Pro-life activists criticized Twitter’s move to refuse promotion of the ad.

“We are profoundly disappointed, but not surprised that Twitter continues to censor pro-life speech,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life advocacy organization, Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement.

“While we have observed that this censorship seems to be applied selectively to pro-life groups, Twitter's move has broad, chilling implications for all sorts of advocacy and political speech. We hope anyone seeking to engage in political speech will join us in denouncing the censorship of Rep. Blackburn,” Dannenfelser said.  

“Such heavy-handed tactics only backfire on those who use them.”


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Everything you need to know about Fatima (Part 2)

Fatima, Portugal, Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - This is part two of a two-part series. Part one covered the historical context, contents of the apparitions, and Miracle of the Sun.
The secrets of Fatima

While Mary revealed what came to be known as The Great Secret of Fatima during her third apparition to the shepherd children, it was kept from the public for quite some time, according to instructions from Mary. Sr. Lucia revealed the first two secrets in a memoir in 1941, which had been written at the request of the local bishop at the time. Lucia wrote six memoirs during her lifetime – the first four were written between 1935 and 1941; the English translation was published under the name Fatima in Lucia's Own Words.

The first secret was the vision of hell that Mary had allowed the children to see.

As Sr. Lucia wrote in her memoir: “Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.”

The second secret was a statement that World War I would end, and a prediction of another war that would start during the reign of Pius XI, if people continued to offend God and if Russia were not consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.

As Sr. Lucia recalled in her memoirs, Our Lady said: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

Sr. Lucia believed that an aurora borealis, which appeared in the sky on January 25, 1938, was the “unknown light” to which Mary had referred. The celestial phenomenon could be seen throughout Europe and as far south as Australia, and across the Atlantic to Bermuda and parts of the United States.

Shortly thereafter, Germany annexed Austria, and Japan had already invaded China in 1937. While the European portion of World War II is generally held by Western scholars to have officially started on September 1, 1939, under the reign of Venerable Pius XII, in many ways it was already begun under the reign of Pius XI, as Mary predicted.

Sr. Lucia did not record the third part of the secret in her 1941 memoirs, because she said that Mary had not yet permitted her to reveal it to the world.

However, Sr. Lucia fell seriously ill in 1943. Fearing her death before the third part of the secret was ever revealed, the local bishop asked that she write it down, which she did out of obedience. Sr. Lucia wrote the secret in January 1944, put it in an envelope and sealed it, asking that it not be opened until 1960, at which time she believed the meaning of the message would be clearer, or until she died, whichever came first.

The envelope remained at the bishop’s office until 1957, at which time it was delivered to the Vatican, despite Lucia’s requests that it remain with the bishop.

The secret was not revealed until the year 2000 – 40 years after Sr. Lucia thought it might be released – under the direction of the Holy See.  

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican Secretary of State, announced that on May 13, 2000, 83 years after the first apparition, the Third Secret would finally be published. He said the secret referred to the 20th century persecution of Christians and the failed assassination attempt on St. John Paul II on May 13, 1981, the 64th anniversary of the first apparition.

The text of the third secret was published by the Vatican on June 26, 2000:

“After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: 'Penance, Penance, Penance!'. And we saw in an immense light that is God: 'something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White 'we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”

The controversial third secret

A century after the Fatima apparitions, controversies remain. The two biggest involve whether or not the full and authentic text of the third secret has been revealed, and whether or not Russia has been adequately consecrated to Mary.

In 1960, the year Sr. Lucia intended the third secret to be published, the Vatican issued a press release stating that it was “most probable the Secret would remain, forever, under absolute seal.” Widespread speculation ensued about what this meant for the content of the secret, ranging from “worldwide nuclear annihilation to deep rifts in the Roman Catholic Church that lead to rival papacies,” according to the New York Times.

St. John XXIII and Bl. Paul VI both reportedly read the secret, but decided not to release it to the public.

During the papacy of St. John Paul II, the questions regarding the third Fatima secret intensified. In an interview with German magazine Stimme des Glaubens, published in October 1981, John Paul II was pressed explicitly about the third secret.

He said: “Because of the seriousness of its contents, in order not to encourage the world wide power of Communism to carry out certain coups, my predecessors in the chair of Peter have diplomatically preferred to withhold its publication.”

He added that it would be unhelpful to publish the secret if it led Christians to believe that there were a predicted catastrophe against which they were helpless.

Holding up his rosary, the Pope declared: “Here is the remedy against this evil. Pray, pray and ask for nothing else. Put everything in the hands of the Mother of God.”

On May 2, 1981, an Australian named Laurence James Downey, who claimed to be a defrocked French Trappist monk, hijacked an airplane and demanded that St. John Paul II reveal the Third Secret of Fatima. The man was believed to be armed with a bomb, but the incident was resolved without any injuries to passengers onboard.

In 1984, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that “if [the Third Secret] is not published … it is to avoid confusing religious prophecy with sensationalism. But the things contained in the Third Secret correspond to what has been announced in Scripture and are confirmed by many other Marian apparitions.”

Widespread speculation and concern led to the secret’s publishing in 2000 by the Vatican. The late release angered many who read the secret and didn’t understand what was so controversial about it that delayed publication by decades.

Conspirators questioned whether the authentic secret, or the secret in full, had actually been revealed. The Vatican version, which is claimed to be a photocopy of the original handwritten note from Sr. Lucia, took up four pages, while some allege that Sr. Lucia had actually written the third secret on just one page.

Some skeptics are also suspicious about the third secret because it does not contain any words directly from Mary, unlike the other secrets.

Some also question the content of the secret, because it does not directly speak of the apocalypse, as was expected from interviews of Sr. Lucia.

Others are also suspicious of Sr. Lucia’s transfer from the Dorothean Sisters, where she initially entered, to a cloistered Carmelite convent, the order she transferred to with permission in 1948. The move to the Carmelite order, which has strict rules about communication with the outside world, is seen by some as part of a larger conspiracy effort to censor her visions and the third secret.

On the other hand, Sr. Lucia herself confirmed several times that the third secret as published by the Vatican is in full and correct. Specifically in a November 17, 2001 statement to the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, she confirmed that the Fatima secret has been totally revealed by the Vatican, and Russia has already been consecrated as Mary requested.

Those who affirm that the secret has been fully revealed say that to question the secret’s authenticity is to question the original visionary’s credibility.

The authenticity of the third secret has also been confirmed by the Popes and other Vatican officials.

When the secret was published, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that “The events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima refers now seem part of the past. […] Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed.”

In 2016, an article on Catholic blog One Peter Five included an interview with a German priest who claimed to recall a conversation in which Pope Benedict XVI told him that the third secret had not been fully revealed. In a response on May 21, 2016, the Vatican released a statement from Pope Benedict XVI declaring that any claims that the third secret had not been fully revealed were “pure inventions, absolutely untrue.”

The other controversy: The consecration of Russia

As Mary promised in the second secret, she came back to ask for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. On June 13, 1929, Mary reappeared to Sr. Lucia, who was with the Sisters of St. Dorothy at the time, asking for the consecration of Russia, “promising its conversion through this means the hindering of the propagation of its errors.”

There were three “conditions” of the consecration, explained by Mary in the second part of the secret: The Pope must consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with a special mention of Russia, in union with the bishops of the whole world.

At an unknown date after this apparition, Sr. Lucia made the request for consecration known to Pius XI. In 1938, the Portuguese bishops asked Pius XI to make the consecration, but no action was taken. Upon the election of Venerable Pius XII in 1939, several clergy repeated the request to the Pope.

In December 1940, with World War II well underway in Europe, Sr. Lucia wrote a letter to Pius XII, requesting the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary “with a special mention for Russia, and order that all the bishops of the world do the same in union with Your Holiness.”  

More than a year later, on October 31, 1942, Venerable Pius XII consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, though without the involvement of the bishops of the world. War made communications difficult, and many bishops had been imprisoned or even killed. Sr. Lucia said that though this consecration was imperfect, Jesus revealed to her that it was enough to bring a quicker end to World War II, sparing many lives.

In July 1952, Venerable Pius XII consecrated the people of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but again, because it was done privately and not in conjunction with the bishops of the world, the consecration was incomplete. At least once during his papacy, Blessed Paul VI renewed the Russia consecration, although it did not fulfill the requirements of being in union with the bishops of the world.

Ongoing, dedication political relations with Russia made a consecration that specifically called out the country difficult.

“It’s not that the Church forgot about what the Madonna said about Russia, it’s not that Russia was forgotten, absolutely no,” said Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

“For what regards the consecration of Russia to the heart of Mary, the Church did this, but with an extraordinarily unique diplomatic skill. But she did it.”

According to Sr. Lucia, the consecration was complete during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, who several times attempted to fulfill the requirements of the Russia consecration.

It was finally considered fully complete after the consecration he made on March 25, 1984, as confirmed by Sr. Lucia.

St. John Paul II, “united with all the pastors of the Church in a particular bond whereby we constitute a body and a college,” consecrates “the whole world, especially the peoples for which by reason of their situation you have particular love and solicitude,” he said in the consecration.

“Because the Church...if she would have consecrated Russia to the heart of Mary and nothing else, it would have provoked a terrible reaction on the part of Russia,” Cardinal Martins explained.

“The Pope realized this. It was something, from the standpoint of Russia, completely unacceptable...It certainly would have had extraordinary consequences...But the Church fulfilled what the Madonna asked by consecrating not Russia in particular, but the world; I underline the world, and Russia is part of the world. So was Russia also consecrated to Our Lady’s heart or not? Russia was consecrated. If I consecrate the world to Russia, I also consecrate Italy, the United States, to the heart of Mary. They are part of the world consecrated to the heart of Mary.”

Both St. John Paul II and Sr. Lucia initially seemed uncertain that the consecration has been fulfilled in 1984, but shortly thereafter Sr. Lucia told the papal nuncio to Portugal that the Consecration had been fulfilled. She also confirmed this in a letter to one of her sisters in 1989, and again in a letter to a priest in 1990, as well as in her statement to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2001.

A warning against “sensationalism”

Despite Vatican attempts to quell rumors and hearsay, the Fatima conspiracy theories still persist.

But Benedict XVI several times warned against this “sensationalism” that he says Mary would not have intended as the fruit of her apparitions.

Four years before the third secret’s release, in a 1996 interview with Portugal's main Catholic radio station, Cardinal Ratzinger, who had already read the secret, issued this warning: “To all curious people, I would say I am certain that the Virgin does not engage in sensationalism; she does not act in order to instigate fear. She does not present apocalyptic visions, but guides people to her Son. And this is what is essential.”

Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, and visited the apparition site as Pope in 2010.

During a press conference for the visit, he reminded the faithful that the message of Fatima is not about conspiracy theories regarding the end of the world, but about the faithful’s response in “ongoing conversion, penance, prayer, and the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.”

“This is our response, we are realists in expecting that evil always attacks, attacks from within and without, yet that the forces of good are also ever present and that, in the end, the Lord is more powerful than evil and Our Lady is for us the visible, motherly guarantee of God’s goodness, which is always the last word in history,” he said.

Vatican recognition and papal trips to Fatima

In 1930, Bishop Dom Jose Aleves Correia da Silva of the Diocese of Leiria (now Leiria-Fatima) declared that, based on the results of the investigative commission, the apparitions at Fatima were “worthy of belief.”

Since then, the Fatima apparitions have received significant recognition on the part of the Vatican, and Pius XI granted a special indulgence to those who visited the newly-built Fatima shrine.

Venerable Pius XII encouraged devotion to Our Lady of Fatima so much so that he became known as “the Pope of Fatima.”

He is reported to have said: “The time for doubting Fatima has passed, the time for action is now.” He was the first Pope to consecrate the world, and then Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Moreover, it was during his papacy, in 1944, that the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary was extended to the entire Roman rite, to be celebrated on Aug. 22, the octave day of the Assumption.

Bl. Paul VI visited the shrine of Fatima, on May 13, 1967, as did Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice – who was elected Pope in 1978.

St. John Paul II visited the Fatima shrine three times – in 1982, 1991 and 2000. During his 2000 visit, he beatified the two deceased visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco. He also added the feast of Our Lady of Fatima to the General Roman Calendar, to be celebrated May 13.

The Polish Pope had a particularly strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. After a close shave with death during an assassination attempt on his life on the 64th anniversary of the first apparitions – May 13, 1981 – the Pope credited his survival to Our Lady of Fatima’s miraculous intervention. As a sign of his gratitude, he placed the bullet from the failed assassination in her crown.

As a cardinal, Benedict XVI had a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima which extended to his papacy, when he visited the Fatima shrine from May 11-14, 2010. In 2008, he waived the typical five-year waiting period in order to open Sr. Lucia’s cause for canonization. The local Church in February 2017 finished collecting documents to examine her heroic virtue.

Pope Francis as well has a strong devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, and consecrated his papacy to her on May 13, 2013.

What happened to the visionaries after the apparitions?

As foretold in the apparitions, the sibling pair of Francisco and Jacinta would only live a short while after the apparitions were completed.

Convicted by Mary’s requests and the vision of hell, both children lived lives of prayer and penance after the apparitions, offering themselves for sinners as Mary had asked. Francisco was known for his devotion to the Eucharist and his strict physical mortifications, while Jacinta was especially known for having a heart for the poor and the suffering.

Both children fell victim to the influenza epidemic of 1918 that swept through Europe. In October 1918, Mary again appeared to the sick siblings and promised to take them to heaven soon. On April 3, 1919, Francisco declined hospital treatment for influenza and died the next day, at the age of 11.

Jacinta was given hospital treatment in hopes of prolonging her life, but she knew that she would soon join Francisco in heaven. On February 19, 1920, Jacinta asked the hospital chaplain who heard her confession to bring her Holy Communion and administer the last rites, because she was going to die “the next night.” But the priest said that her condition was not that serious and that he would return the next day. The next day Jacinta was found dead – she had died in her sleep at 10 years old.

As for Lucia, she outlived her cousins by many years, as Mary had predicted. Shortly after the deaths of her cousins, at 14 years old, she was sent to the Dorothean Sisters of Villar for school, and in 1928 became a sister of St. Dorothy. In 1946, she transferred to the convent of the Carmelite Sisters of Coimbra, Portugal and took the name Sister Maria Lucia of the Immaculate Heart.

She received visions and messages from Mary and Jesus on several more occasions throughout her life, including the visions in 1925 that led to the Five First Saturday devotions, which include saying the rosary, receiving communion and confession, and meditation during the first Saturday of five consecutive months.

Besides the four memoirs she wrote between 1935 and 1941, Sr. Lucia had an additional book published in 2001, known as Calls from the Message of Fatima or Appeals of the Fatima Message. She visited the Fatima shrine during Bl. Paul VI’s visit in 1967, and during all three of St. John Paul II’s visits.

Aside from her memoirs and letters to clergy regarding Fatima, she had limited communication with the outside world, per her Carmelite vows.

Sr. Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97, at the Carmelite convent of Santa Teresa in Coimbra, where she had lived since 1948.

The canonization of Francisco and Jacinta

Popularity of the Fatima apparitions spread, and the cause for canonization of Francisco and Jacinta was opened in 1946. Much of what is known about their life and holiness is known through Lucia’s memoirs.

“People may ask: ‘These children died so young, what do we know about them and their lives of faith?’ But a lot was related by Sr. Lucia and the witnesses of the apparitions. Francisco had a devotion to the Eucharist, and Jacinta wanted to help those who were suffering, that was her charism or focus after the apparition. Those are details most of us don’t really know about,” O’Neill said.

Francisco and Jacinta became the youngest non-martyr children to be beatified, on May 13, 2000, the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition. St. John Paul II presided over the Mass.

Pope Francis canonized Francisco and Jacinta during his trip to Fatima on May 13, 2017 during a Mass at the shrine.


This article was originally published on CNA May 9, 2017.


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Iraqi women visit historic monastery after its recapture from Islamic State

Mosul, Iraq, Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Last week 300 women visited a historic monastery near Mosul after its liberation from the Islamic State – a decision their priest said was made in order to show they aren't afraid, and that Christians in Iraq are there to stay.

“We decided to go to San Behnam and Sara monastery because a lot of Christian people are afraid to go to this place, because it is sometimes dangerous,” Fr. Roni Momika told CNA Oct. 6, after returning from the visit.

He said the group wanted to go to the monastery “to pray and to tell the world that we are here and we will pray for peace, and we will pray for the soldiers, and we will pray for Christians in all the world.”

“Our message to give is for all people,” he said, “and our message is we want to put the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit out loud and to tell the people we are here.”

Fr. Momika is a Syriac Catholic priest from Bakhdida, also known as Qaraqosh. As a seminarian he was forced to flee when Islamic State militants attacked the city, 21 miles southeast of Mosul, in 2014. After completing his studies in Lebanon, Momika returned to Iraq and was ordained in a refugee camp in Ankawa, the Christian suburb of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

He served women and youth in the camp, which held some 5,000 families, for over a year and a half as the battle to overthrow Islamic State carried on. However, he returned to Bakhdida two months ago after it was re-captured by the Iraqi army.

Some 2,000 families joined him in returning to their hometown, which had formerly been referred to as the “Christian capital” of Iraq. The other 3,000-some families have stayed either in Erbil or surrounding villages.

Since returning to Bakhdida, Fr. Momika has taken charge of St. John the Baptist parish and has continued to lead his women's group with another priest, which is held every Wednesday at his parish.

In his comments to CNA, Momika said his was the first group to go to Mar Behnam Monastery since it was regained from the Islamic State, and “we were so happy.”

“As you know we were displaced people, refugees, but now we have come back to Qaraqosh after the liberation,” he said, explaining that he and his fellow priest, Fr. Younan, offer the women something different every week, ranging from lectures to reflections on scripture.

However, this week they decided to make the 20-minute drive and take the women to the monastery, about 23 miles southeast of Mosul, which dates to the 4th century and is home to Saints Behnam and Sara, a brother and sister killed by their father after converting to Christianity.

Built by Assyrian King Senchareb as a penance for killing his son and daughter, the monastery is one of the oldest in Iraq. Although it has changed hands several times throughout history, the Syriac Catholic Church has consistently been in charge of the monastery since 1839.

When the Islamic State unleashed its offensive on the Nineveh Plains in 2014 they bombed parts of the monastery, destroying the tombs of the saints. However, since its liberation monks have moved back in and are working to restore the areas that have either been burned or bombed.

During their visit, Momika said he and the women “and we had a special time. It was a good idea to take all these women to this monastery because we have a special memory with this monastery, because it's our monastery.”

The monastery has not yet been blessed after the destruction, since efforts to rebuild are still preliminary, he said, but the Church “is good for prayer.”

Many people have returned to Bakhdida and are trying as much as possible to live life as normal while rebuilding their city, Momika said, but noted that there are many others who can't come back yet “because their house is not rebuilt, or it's burned or destroyed.”

Currently Syriac Catholic Church leaders in the area are working hard to rebuild the houses that were destroyed with the help of several charitable organizations, including Aid to the Church in Need, SOS and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. But funding is a problem, he said, since there is so much that needs to be rebuilt.

However, despite the challenges that face them, including the possibility of fresh conflict as a result of the recent Kurdish referendum, which voted nearly unanimously for an independent Kurdistan separate from the Iraqi central government, Momika said the people want to stay.

“For us in Qaraqosh, it's because it's the center of Christianity in Iraq and it's the center of the Syriac-Catholic Church in Iraq. I think this is why so many came back to Qaraqosh.”

In its position on the Nineveh Plain, Bakhdida sits between the Kurdish and central governments, “and I think this is the bigger problem for us,” he said, but noted that at the moment “we are living here in peace.”

“I think our God will save us, not the soldiers or anyone else,” he said, explaining that he personally chose to come back “because this is my place and it's liberated and it's my history, it's my family place and it's my own place...I won't stay in another place that's not my place.”

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Moved by priest's martyrdom, French businessman returns to the faith

Paris, France, Oct 10, 2017 (ACI Prensa) - Patrick Canac was baptized, but like so many others, drifted away from the Church over time.

In recent months, however, the successful French businessman has had a change of heart, returning to the Catholic Church and even making a large donation for the construction of a new seminary in Avignon, France.

What caused the drastic change? The witness of Fr. Jacques Hamel, the priest killed in August 2016 by ISIS jihadists as he was celebrating Mass in the small French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen.

“I was brought up in the Christian faith. I was baptized and received all the sacraments of initiation, but then I drifted away from the practice of my faith for a long time,” Canac told CNA during a visit to Rome.

“Last year, the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel in a church near Rouen really hit me,” he said. “For terror to make its way into that church reminded me of the darkest times of our civilization.”

“I had an immediate, reflexive reaction as if they had killed my brother. That someone can go into a church today and kill the celebrant is just terrible, it's horrific, it's the devil going into a church.”

The French businessman had an instant reversion to the faith, realizing, “we all have Judeo-Christian roots” which “must be defended and saved.”

“It's the same problem they have the Middle East, where Christians are being killed,” he reflected. “And I had an inner reaction, telling myself, 'I'm a Christian and I've got to do something, put my talents to use'.”

Canac promptly made a large donation to build the new Redemptoris Mater seminary in Avignon. The project is gradually becoming a reality, and Pope Francis blessed the building's cornerstone at his Sept. 4 general audience in Saint Peter's Square.

“I think it's important for our Western countries – (including) France, of course – to be evangelized, that people be encouraged to return to the Church again. Because the Church is the cradle of our civilization,” Canac said.

“I think of the first Christians, those who were pioneers, those missionaries and martyrs that spread the Gospel throughout the world. And that's why I have put my business success to work by helping with the building project for the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Avignon.”

He explained that seminary will help to re-evangelize Europe by forming the priests who will become modern-day missionaries, “priests that will evangelize people like me so they can return to the Church.”

He continued: “After the murder of Fr. Hamel, I felt that our Judeo-Christian civilization is being threatened. Anything that will form people who will spread the Gospel, a Christian message of peace and love, must be helped.”

Last October, Pope Francis allowed the opening of Fr. Hamel’s beatification cause, waiving the normal five-year waiting period after his death.

“I am in complete agreement with Pope Francis proposing him for beatification,” Canac said. “Fr. Jacques in a martyr. What I have learned about his past life before he was killed is that he was a true Christian, worthy to be a martyr. He tried to convince his murderers that they were doing evil. His attitude was extraordinary and exemplary for everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike.”


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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Pope Francis to call astronauts aboard the Space Station

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - From the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has gained a reputation for his phone calls to people around the world – including a priest with cancer, a Jesuit doorman, and a mother who had just lost her son.

But the Vatican announced on Monday that the next call on Pope Francis’ list is going to be out of this world… literally.

Pope Francis will contact NASA’s International Space Station via a satellite call on Oct. 26 at 5 P.M., according to the Vatican.

Aboard the International Space Station are a total of six astronauts, including three Americans, two Russians and one Italian who have been orbiting the earth, about 220 miles away.  

Pope Francis’ call will mark the second time a Pope has contacted astronauts in space. Pope Benedict XVI called the International Space Station in 2011 via satellite link and spoke with 12 astronauts for about 20 minutes.



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Pope praises 'beautiful, complex' diversity of Catholic Churches in India

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis on Tuesday said the variety of Catholic Churches and rites in India is a richness for the country that ought to be strengthened, and as a means of doing so, he expanded the reach of one of the country's indigenous Churches.

The decision moves toward a greater allowance for several bishops from distinct Catholic Churches in India having a presence in the same territory.

“In a world where large numbers of Christians are forced to migrate, overlapping jurisdictions have become customary and are increasingly effective tools for ensuring the pastoral care of the faithful while also ensuring full respect for their ecclesial traditions,” Pope Francis wrote in an Oct. 10 letter addressed to India's bishops.

He said the diversity of ecclesial life in the country “shines with great splendor throughout lands and nations.”

Two Catholic Churches based in India's Kerala state trace their origins to the preaching of the Apostle Thomas: the Syro-Malabar Church, which follows the East Syrian or Chaldean rite; and the Syro-Malankara Church, of the West Syrian or Antiochian rite.

The Latin rite Catholic Church also has a large presence throughout India, having been introduced to the country by missionaries in the 16th century.

The various Catholic rites in India, Pope Francis said, constitute a historic Christian presence in India “that is both rich and beautiful, complex and unique.”

“It is essential for the Catholic Church to reveal her face in all its beauty to the world, in the richness of her various traditions,” he said, and noted how the Second Vatican Council sought to “protect and preserve the treasure of the particular traditions of each Church,” an ongoing mission today.

His letter accompanied an announcement on the establishment of two new eparchies (the equivalent of a diocese in the Latin Church) for the Syro-Malabar Church.

The establishment of the eparchies of Shamshabad (in Telangana) and Hosur (in Tamil Nadu) was announced along with the name of their first respective bishops: Bishop Raphael Thattil, until now Auxiliary Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Trichur, and Fr. Sebastian Pozholiparampil, a priest of the Syro-Malabar Diocee of Irinjalakuda. The Shamshabad eparchy will include the entire country of India not already included in existing Syro-Malabar eparchies.

Pope Francis also extended the boundaries of the eparchies of Ramanathapuram and Thuckalay, both of which are located in Tamil Nadu state.

In addition to his role as bishop, Thattil also serves as apostolic visitor for Syro-Malabar faithful in India who live outside of their own territory, reporting his observations to Rome.

Pope Francis' decision to establish new eparchies for the Syro-Malabar Church and widen its jurisdiction to essentially all of India mirrors a similar decision he made in August with the Syro-Malankara Church, when he reinforced their own presence with the establishment of a new eparchy and an apostolic visitor to the Syro-Malankara Church in Europe and Oceania.

The establishment of the eparchies also takes place as the Congregation for the Oriental Churches celebrates its centenary with a variety of activities in Rome, culminating in Mass with Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary Major Oct. 12.

In his letter, Pope Francis noted that “In India, even after many centuries, Christians are only a small proportion of the population and, consequently, there is a particular need to demonstrate unity and to avoid any semblance of division.”

He stated that when the Syro-Malabar Church expanded with missionary eparchies to parts of northern and central India, “it was generally thought by the Latin Bishops that there should be just one jurisdiction, that is, one bishop in a particular territory. These eparchies, created from Latin dioceses, today have exclusive jurisdiction over those territories, both of the Latin and Syro-Malabar faithful.”

“However, both in the traditional territories of the Eastern Churches, as well as in the vast area of the so-called diaspora (where these faithful have long been established), a fruitful and harmonious cooperation between Catholic bishops of the different sui iuris Churches within the same territory has taken place.”

Overlapping jurisdictions in India “should not longer be problematic,” the Pope wrote, noting that they have already existed in Kerala for some time, and his own expansion of the Syro-Malankara Church in recent years.

“These developments show that, albeit not without problems, the presence of a number of bishops in the same area does not compromise the mission of the Church. On the contrary, these steps have given greater impetus to the local Churches for their pastoral and missionary efforts.”

He voiced hope that his decision to broaden the reach of the Syro-Malabar Church would be “welcomed with a generous and peaceful spirit, although it may be a source of apprehension for some, since many Syro-Malabars, deprived of pastoral care in their own rite, are at present fully involved in the life of the Latin Church

Francis stressed his conviction that “there is no need for concern: the Church’s life should not be disrupted by such a provision.”

“Indeed it must not be negatively interpreted as imposing upon the faithful a requirement to leave the communities which have welcomed them, sometimes for many generations, and to which they have contributed in various ways. It should rather be seen as an invitation as well as an opportunity for growth in faith and communion with their sui iuris Church, in order to preserve the precious heritage of their rite and to pass it on to future generations.”

“The path of the Catholic Church in India cannot be that of isolation and separation, but rather of respect and cooperation,” he said, adding that the presence of several bishops of various rites “will surely offer an eloquent witness to a vibrant and marvelous communion.”

Francis closed his letter urging the Catholic Churches in India “to be generous and courageous as they witness to the Gospel in the spirit of fraternity and mutual love.”

“For the Syro-Malabar Church, this continues the valued work of their priests and religious in the Latin context, and sustains their availability for those Syro-Malabar faithful who, although choosing to attend Latin parishes, may request some assistance from their Church of origin. The Latin rite Church can continue to generously offer hospitality to members of the Syro-Malabar communities who do not have church buildings of their own.”

He said that “with the growth of spiritual friendship and mutual assistance, any tension or apprehension should be swiftly overcome. May this extension of the pastoral area of the Syro-Malabar Church in no way be perceived as a growth in power and domination, but as a call to deeper communion, which should never be perceived as uniformity.”

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Holiness: The fullness of the Christian life

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2017 (CNA) - Fifty-five years ago, on October 11, 1962, Pope St. John XXIII began the Second Vatican Council at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The council was not called to resolve a dispute about doctrine or dogma. It was not called amidst controversy or division. Instead, Pope St. John XXIII said that the Holy Spirit inspired the Second Vatican Council to address one “major interest” in the midst of changing times and changing cultures: “that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded and expounded with great efficacy.”

Indeed, the Second Vatican Council did not change the teachings of the Church at all. It drew out and clarified truths embedded in the fabric of the Gospel. It offered Christian responses to new challenges. It sought new ways to express the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation, and the meaning of our own lives.

As Pope St. John XXIII began the council, he reminded the Church that “the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus Christ. Either men anchor themselves on Him and His Church, and thus enjoy the blessings of light and joy, right order and peace; or they live their lives apart from Him; many positively oppose Him, and deliberately exclude themselves from the Church. The result can only be confusion in their lives, bitterness in their relations with one another, and the savage threat of war.”

The Second Vatican Council reminded the Church of certain truths about God, and about ourselves. It taught, as scripture teaches, that God is love. It taught that man is created with dignity, and beauty, and freedom – created in the image and likeness of God. And it taught that every single person is created for holiness.  

“Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation,” the council declared, “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.”

Holiness is not religious hobbyism. Holiness is not saccharine or inauthentic sentimentality. Holiness is not vitriolic or ad hominem internecine squabbling. Holiness is not a political agenda; holiness is not being liberal or conservative. Holiness is neither rigid moralism nor permissive relativism.

Holiness, the Second Vatican Council taught, is “the fullness of the Christian life” and “the perfection of charity.” Holiness is living in hope, and freedom, and truth. Holiness is intimate and real love for God, poured out into generous and real love for one another.  

Holiness is the fullness and joy of our humanity – sharing in God’s inner life, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Holiness is a gift from the Lord. But the Second Vatican Council taught that all who wish to be holy “must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image, seeking the will of the Father in all things.” This isn’t easy. In fact, it is the work of a lifetime. But it is the only work that finally matters.

I write about holiness inadequately, because I live holiness inadequately. St. Paul wrote that he was “chief among sinners.” Surely, I am not far behind. Few of us are. But I am convinced that the Second Vatican Council was right: that Christ can “conquer the reign of sin,” and that through his mercy, we can leave sin behind. Through his power, we can choose love. Through his grace, we can receive the gift of holiness, and live fully and freely, in joy, in this life and the next.

The message of the Second Vatican Council is that we can become saints, and that the world needs saints. That our families need saints. That our country needs saints. That our Church needs saints. That Christ’s love, working through us, can bring peace and light to people who need it. That our holiness can transform the world.

Fifty-five years ago, as he began the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. John XXIII encouraged the Church “earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours, pursuing the path which the Church has followed for almost twenty centuries.”

In that same spirit, may we earnestly and fearless dedicate ourselves to the call the council declared so clearly: the call that each one of us should become a saint.


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Priest who secretly ministered under Soviet rule moves closer to sainthood

Vatican City, Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Monday Pope Francis advanced eight causes for sainthood, including a Capuchin priest who ministered underground across the Soviet Union for nearly 40 years.

Fr. Serafin Kaszuba, OFM Cap., was born June 17, 1910 in Zamarstynów, near Lviv, in what was then part of Austria-Hungary. Pope Francis recognized his heroic virtues Oct. 9, meaning the priest can now be referred to as “Venerable.”

Born Alojzy Kazimierz, Fr. Serafin entered the Capuchin novitiate in Poland at the age of 18. He made perpetual vows in 1932, and was ordained a priest the following year. He studied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

In 1940 he began ministering in Lviv and Volhynia, which was occupied by the Soviet Union. The region was later occupied by Nazi Germany, until Soviet forces returned in 1944.

During the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during World War II he refused to leave his parishioners, moving from one village to another as the settlements were razed. He escaped attacks on his rectory.

Under the Soviet government he was able to legally register in 1945 as a priest in Rivne, in what is now Ukraine. He centered his ministry in Volhynia, while also travelling to the Latvian and Lithuanian territories of the Soviet Union.

In 1958 Soviet authorities stripped him of the right to publicly perform priestly functions, and he began ministering secretly in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Estonia. In 1963 he went to Kazakhstan, where the Soviets had deported tens of thousands of Poles. He continued to minister in secret, while publicly working at a bookbinders'.

He was arrested in 1966 and sentenced to prison, but he escaped the following year and continued working as a priest in Kazakhstan.

Suffering from tuberculosis and progressing deafness, Fr. Serafin was able to return to Poland, then a Soviet satellite state, for hospital treatment in 1968. He had lung surgery in Wroclaw, and returned to Kazakhstan in June 1970.

The priest then ministered primarily in Kazakhstan and Ukraine until his Sept. 20, 1977 death, while reciting the breviary, in Lviv.

Although his cause for sainthood is in still at an early phase, Fr. Serafin is honored by the families of those he served in Ukraine and in Kazakhstan, many of whom have preserved the private altars where the priest would celebrated Mass in their homes.

Pope Francis gave the green light for Fr. Serafin's cause to move forward during an Oct. 9 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Other causes the Pope advanced include the martyrdom cause for Franciscan priest Fr. Tullio Maruzzo and Third Order Franciscan layman Luis Obdulio Navarro, who were killed in hatred of the faith July 1, 1981, near Los Amates, Guatemala.

Formerly Servants of God, the approval of Maruzzo and Navarro's martyrdom has opened the door for their beatification, which would allow them to be called “blessed.”

In addition to the martyrs and Fr. Serafin, Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtue of six other causes: those of layman Francesco Paolo Gravina, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent (Italy); diocesan priest Fr. Donizetti Tavares de Lima (Brazil); Sr.  Magín Morera y Feixas of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Spain);  María Lorenza Requenses de Longo, founder of the Hospital of the Incurables in Naples and of the Capuchin Nuns (Italy); Françoise du Saint Esprit, founder of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Montpellier (France); and El?bieta Ró?a Czacka, founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross (Poland).

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Bishop: Trump's immigration principles will harm the vulnerable

Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - After US President Donald Trump asked Congress to pass stricter immigration laws if they plan to grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants, one bishop said Trump’s proposals would hurt the vulnerable.

“The Administration’s Immigration Principles and Policies do not provide the way forward for comprehensive immigration reform rooted in respect for human life and dignity, and for the security of our citizens,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the migration committee at the U.S. bishops’ conference, stated Oct. 10.

In an Oct. 8 letter to House and Senate leaders, President Trump pushed for the passage of stricter immigration laws and tougher enforcement, as part of Congress passing a version of the Dream Act.

The latest version of the Dream Act was introduced this summer by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). It would grant permanent legal status to young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, who do not have a criminal record, who have lived in the U.S. for at least four years, and who meet other requirements.

When Congress failed to pass such a bill several years ago, the Obama administration announced in 2012 a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to delay the deportation of eligible immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, giving them time to apply for a continued stay in the U.S.

However, on Sept. 5, Trump ended the DACA program, saying it was the duty of Congress to address the matter. Any DACA-related legislation that would address the issue of Dreamers residing in the U.S., he said in Sunday’s letter, must be accompanied by stricter immigration policies in the name of national security.

In the letter to Congress, Trump cited an investigation of U.S. immigration laws which he ordered and which recently concluded. That investigation, he said, discovered weaknesses in the immigration system that needed addressing in the name of national security.

Trump called for the completion of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The House in July approved a spending bill with $1.6 billion in border wall funding, but the Senate did not act on it. Currently, around 700 miles of the approximately 2,000 mile-long U.S.-Mexico border have a border fence.

Trump also supported stricter laws on the handling of unaccompanied minors who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. The number of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America rose sharply in recent years, peaking at over 50,000 in the 2014 fiscal year, falling in 2015 and rising once again to 47,000 in FY 2016. There have been around 38,500 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border in 2017, the administration said.

The administration in August ended a parole program for minors who were not eligible for refugee status to enter the U.S. Parents of such minors could have been eligible to apply for their child’s acceptance in the program, where they would have been vetted, if accepted, and granted legal entry into the U.S.

Also in Trump’s policy proposals to Congress were stricter standards for granting asylum, speeding up the removal of those denied asylum, hiring more immigration enforcement officials, attorneys, and judges, and requiring an E-Verify system for employers.

Bishop Vasquez said that the proposals for stricter immigration standards would hurt vulnerable populations such as refugees and unaccompanied minors.

The proposals “are not reflective of our country’s immigrant past, and they attack the most vulnerable, notably unaccompanied children and many others who flee persecution,” Bishop Vasquez said. “Most unfortunately, the principles fail to recognize that the family is the fundamental building block of our immigration system, our society, and our Church.”

Furthermore, he said, Congress should pass a version of the Dream Act immediately, regardless of whether other policy goals are fulfilled. Time is of the essence here, he said, because DACA protections will soon expire and young immigrants who benefitted from the program could lose their legal work permits in March 2018, being vulnerable to deportation and family separation.

However, Alfonso Aguilar, president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said Trump’s proposals are more of a “wish list to be in negotiations” rather than a hard set of demands that must be met for any Dream Act to be signed into law.

“I don’t think that President Trump expects that Congress include every single of those 70 proposals in an immigration bill,” he told CNA.

Aguilar at one point during the 2016 campaign supported Trump as a candidate, but withdrew his support in September during the campaign because of Trump’s “restrictionist” immigration speech and plan to deport undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

Aguilar also noted that in his letter to Congress, Trump proposed “allowing, basically, an immigration officer at the border to remove any unaccompanied minor back to their home country.”

The passage of the Dream Act is still on the table and has its supporters in both parties, Aguilar said.

“From my conversations in Congress and with some in the White House, I think there’s a general understanding that the consensus has to be based on legislation that provides relief to Dreamers, and then resources for some interior enforcement and some border security,” he said. Trump, he said, is “committed” to the passage of “legislation that provides relief to Dreamers.”

In other immigration policies Trump called for on Sunday, the President is not taking the extreme positions that some make him out to be taking, Aguilar said.

For instance, he said Trump is not calling for an end to green cards for family members of citizens or lawful permanent residents, but just wants them limited to immediate family members and not extended family.

Calling for an E-Verify system is “a way for employers to know that the person applying for the job has legal status,” Aguilar said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has already been outspoken about some issues that Trump addressed in his policy proposals.

Regarding the border wall proposal, Bishop Vasquez said in January that the construction of a wall “will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm's way,” making them “more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.”

Bishops have also advocated for the U.S. to accept unaccompanied children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America, saying that many are fleeing violence in their home countries and that sending them back home could be akin to sending a child back into a “burning building.”

There is “abuse” within the system when it comes to asylum requests, Aguilar said, but “that doesn’t mean we have to reduce the limits of refugees.”

Rather, he said, policy should focus on accepting those who should be coming to the U.S., and securing the country against the entry of those who shouldn’t be entering.

“Making those rules more strict, making it harder, doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be a compassionate country and grant asylum to people who really deserve it,” he said of Trump’s proposal of stricter laws on the entry of unaccompanied minors.

“The idea is to ensure that those people who are getting asylum are people who really deserve it.”

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