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Catholic chaplain accompanies anguished circus workers on final tour

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tanya Connor, The Catholic Free Press

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER, Mass. (CNS) -- The congregation, numbering about 50, gathered for their last Easter Mass together on the DCU Center's arena floor.

The chaplain, Father George "Jerry" Hogan, borrowed one of their colorful boxes to use as an altar. The altar cloths and his chasuble sported circus images. Costume designers had sewn pieces of old elephant blankets together to make his stole.

The backdrop suggested the reason for such an unusual liturgical environment: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had come to town to offer shows on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

But it isn't all "fun and games" for performers and other circus workers, some of whom attended the Mass before the Easter shows. While "they've always performed during Holy Week," they are now going through the paschal mystery themselves, Father Hogan told The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.

The Ringling circus was nearing the end of its 145-year run and the workers, including frontline performers, were in a quandary about their future. They learned Jan. 14 that the circus was closing.

Father Hogan, who has been national circus chaplain for 24 years after being appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, recalled the anguish of the workers when they learned of show's fate just hours after he celebrated Mass for them in Orlando, Florida, where they were performing.

His cellphone "went wild" at his winter home in Sarasota, Florida, where he ministers at St. Martha Parish, the national circus church, as shocked circus workers called him with the news they received: "We're closing." The 145th edition of "The Greatest Show on Earth" would be its last.

The priest of the Boston Archdiocese had to ask himself, "How can I help these people?"

Over the years, Father Hogan has dealt with five circus tragedies, three of which included fatalities, he said, but this was different.

"First of all, you've got to deal with your own feeling, because you become numb," he said. Then you have to look past that to what God is calling you to do. It's more than hearing; it's listening, being physically present."

Such tragedies affect not only those who get hurt, and their families and co-workers, but the managers and owners too, he said.

He described Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment Inc., Ringling's parent company, as very caring when tragedy strikes.

The same is true with the circus closing.

"He's a very good businessman," Father Hogan said. "He didn't want to close. This is tough for him, too."

Reasons cited for the closing included costs, declining attendance and battles with animal rights groups. Employees were to be helped with the transition.

Ringling's Red Unit and Blue Unit each have at least 300 employees, about 100 of whom are performers, Father Hogan said. The circus runs two different shows simultaneously, for two years each, performing in various cities.

Worcester was one of the last stops for the Red Unit, which was to perform its final show in Providence, Rhode Island, May 7. The Blue Unit's final show is May 21 in Uniondale, New York.

"I will be with you all week in Providence," Father Hogan told Red Unit workers at the Easter Mass. "You'll grow. It's not the end of the world. You'll be able to survive this."

In his homily, he told circus employees, "Easter is a time to celebrate Jesus' rising from the dead," and to celebrate with family.

There had just been an Easter egg hunt for the children who travel with their parents, Father Hogan said. When old enough, they often perform, too. Some families have been in one circus or another for generations.

Some performers from abroad are far from loved ones. During the intercessions, Father Hogan offered an intention for "all your family and relatives who you can't be with because you're working." He asked that God would watch over the people in the Red Unit in this time of transition, and also prayed for the Blue Unit.

He likened his listeners to the beloved disciple in the Gospel, who was reflecting on what was important that first Easter. He acknowledged that the circus workers' life is totally changing and they may wonder, "How am I going to move from this show?"

"This is a time to really talk to the Lord in prayer, like you're talking to another person," Father Hogan said. "You also have to listen. ... Be open to that experience." 

A silver lining Father Hogan sees in the dark times people are experiencing is the reception of sacraments in Uniondale several days before the final show. He said a baby is to be baptized, 12 children are to receive their first Communion, five adults are to be confirmed and one is to be received into the church.

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Connor is a staff writer for The Catholic Free Press, newspaper of the Diocese of Worcester.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Michigan head coach says meeting pope was 'emotional'

IMAGE: NS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As someone accustomed to the stress of the gridiron, University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh said he was touched by Pope Francis' peaceful presence.

"The way he talks is peaceful, it's calm. It felt like this is what it would be like to meet Jesus Christ. That's what it felt like to me. It was very emotional," the coach told journalists April 26.

Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, briefly greeted the pope following his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square earlier that day.

"I said, 'Buenos dias, Santo Padre' ('Good morning, Holy Father'), and then my wife came in and told him that she loved him. He held her hand and prayed and asked that we pray for him," Harbaugh recalled.

The coach and his wife presented the pope with a Michigan football helmet along with a pair of size-10 Air Jordan sneakers in the football team's maize and blue colors.

Harbaugh said the pope smiled and graciously accepted the gifts, despite their unusual nature.

"I'm not sure the Holy Father knows a lot about 'futbol americano,' but he doesn't need to. There's a lot of distress, too, when you look into his eyes; there's pain there. There's so much injustice in the world, so much poverty and war and you can tell and feel that he feels that," he said.

Also present at the audience were several of the 150 players and staff visiting Rome as part of their spring practice program April 22-30.

According to the press release by the university's athletic department, the program was Harbaugh's way of giving the team players "a major life experience, traveling to Rome to practice, but also to take part in social projects and offer them a look into a foreign country and culture."

Speaking to journalists after the audience, Harbaugh said the experience was "more emotional than he anticipated," and that meeting the pope gave him the chance "to live in a state of grace."

"I've been trying to figure out what this experience means and what am I supposed to do with it. At least he gave me the marching orders to pray for him so I have that part of it down."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT HOLDS ON TO AFFORDABLE CARE ACT’S CONTRACEPTIVE MANDATE

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Why be afraid when God is always showing the way, pope says at audience

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians always have hope, no matter how bleak, bad or uncertain the journey, because they know God is always by their side, Pope Francis said.

In fact, "even crossing parts of the world (that are) wounded, where things are not going well, we are among those who, even there, continue to hope," he said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square April 26.

Just a few days before his visit to Cairo April 28-29, the pope continued his series of talks on the nature of Christian hope, saying it is rooted in knowing God will always be present, even to the end of time.

The Gospel of St. Matthew, he said, begins with the birth of Jesus as Emmanuel -- "God with us" -- and ends with the risen Christ telling his doubtful disciples to go forth and teach all nations, assuring them that "I am with you always, until the end of the age."

The apostle shows how "ours is not an absent God, sequestered in a faraway heaven. Instead he is a God 'impassioned' with mankind," so tenderly in love that he is unable to stay away, the pope said.

Human beings are the ones who are really good at cutting off ties and destroying bridges, not God, he said.

"If our hearts get cold, his remains incandescent," the pope said. "Our God always accompanies us even if, through misfortune, we were to forget about him."

In fact, the decisive moment between skepticism and faith is "the discovery of being loved and accompanied by our Father," the pope said.

Life is a pilgrimage, a journey in which "the seduction of the horizon" is always calling the human "wandering soul," pushing people to go and explore the unknown, he said.

"You do not become mature men and women if you cannot perceive the allure of the horizon -- that boundary between heaven and earth that asks to be reached" by those who are on the move, he said.

Christians never feel alone "because Jesus assures us he not only waits for us at the end of our long journey, but accompanies us every day," even through dark and troubled times, he said.

God will always be concerned and take care of his children, even to the end of all time, he said. "And why does he do this? Quite simply because he loves us."

The pope said the anchor is one of his favorite symbols of hope.

"Our life is anchored in heaven," he said, which means "we move on because we are sure that our life has an anchor in heaven" and the rope "is always there" to grab onto.

So if God has promised "he will never abandon us, if the beginning of every vocation is a 'Follow me,' with which he assures us of always staying before us, why be afraid then?" the pope asked. "With this promise, Christians can walk everywhere," even in the worst, darkest places.

"It's precisely there where darkness has taken over that a light needs to stay lit."

Those who believe only in themselves and their own powers will feel disappointed and defeated, he said, "because the world often proves itself to be resistant to the laws of love" and prefers "the laws of selfishness."

Jesus promising "I am with you always" is what keeps the faithful standing tall with hope, believing that God is good and working to achieve what seems humanly impossible.

"There is no place in the world that can escape the victory of the risen Christ, the victory of love," the pope said.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

In TED talk, pope urges people to make real connections

IMAGE: CNS photo/TED.com

By Keanine Griggs

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While searching for a connection today often means looking for Wi-Fi, Pope Francis said real connections between people are the only hope for the future.

"How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion," he said in a video talk played April 25 for 1,800 people attending TED 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and posted online with subtitles in 20 languages.

"How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us," the pope said in the talk that TED organizers had been advertising as that of a "surprise guest."

Pope Francis spoke to the international conference about combating the current "culture of waste" and "techno-economic systems" that prioritize products, money and things over people.

"Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough," he said. "Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face."

Many people in the world move along paths "riddled with suffering" with no one to care for them, the pope said. Far too many people who consider themselves "respectable" simply pass by, leaving thousands on "the side of the road."

"The more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people," he said, the greater the responsibility one has to act and to do so with humility. "If you don't, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other."

"There is a saying in Argentina," he told his audience: "'Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.' You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don't connect your power with humility and tenderness."

"The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies," he said, even though they all have power and responsibility. "The future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a 'you' and themselves as part of an 'us.'"

Pope Francis said that when he visits someone who is sick or in prison or has been forced to flee war, he always asks himself, "Why them and not me?"

Telling the tech-savvy crowd that he wanted to talk about "revolution," the pope asked people to join a very connected and interconnected "revolution of tenderness."

Tenderness, he said, is "love that comes close and becomes real," something that begins in the heart but translates into listening and action, comforting those in pain and caring for others and for "our sick and polluted earth."

"Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women," he insisted. "Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility."

Pope Francis also urged the crowd to hold on to hope, a feeling that does not mean acting "optimistically naive" or ignoring the tragedies facing humanity. Instead, he said, hope is the "virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness."

"A single individual is enough for hope to exist." he added. "And that individual can be you. And then there will be another 'you,' and another 'you, and it turns into an 'us.'"

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization that posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan "ideas worth spreading." TED was founded in February 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990.

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Editors: The pope's TED talk is online at https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

IN TED TALK, POPE URGES PEOPLE TO MAKE REAL CONNECTIONS

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Nuncio tells seminarians that ministry extends beyond 'office hours'

By Tim Puet

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- A priest's "office hours" are unlimited and the priesthood is not solely focused on administrative work, the apostolic nuncio to the United States told students at the nation's only Vatican-affiliated seminary.

"It's important to say this to young seminarians: Don't prepare yourselves to be administrative people, to say 'I work from 8 to 6 and after that, it's finished and I take my rest.' No, you are full time," Archbishop Christophe Pierre said during a question-and-answer session April 23 at the Pontifical College Josephinum.

"Your enthusiasm is so important," he continued. "This country needs the church announcing the beauty of the presence of God in Jesus Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the power of transformation found in the Gospel, in which whenever a person met Jesus, he became different."

The nuncio's remarks came after he delivered the college's annual lecture honoring the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, who served from 1980 to 1990 as the Vatican's apostolic delegate to the United States and, after the title was changed, as nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador.

As nuncio, Archbishop Pierre also is chancellor of the college, the only seminary outside of Italy with pontifical status, an honor Pope Leo XIII granted to the institution in 1882.

The archbishop frequently referred in his talk on "The Priests We Need Today" to a Vatican document on priestly formation, "Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis," ("The Gift of the Priestly Vocation"), which the Congregation for Clergy revised Dec. 8.

The document echoes a phrase made familiar by Pope Francis: "Seminaries should form missionary disciples who are 'in love' with the master, shepherds 'with the smell of the sheep,' who live in their midst to bring the mercy of God to them. Hence, every priest should always feel that he is a disciple on a journey, constantly needing an integrated formation, understood as a continuous configuration to Christ."

The archbishop referred to Pope Francis' description of priests in formation as "uncut diamonds, to be formed both patiently and carefully, respecting the conscience of the individual, so that they may shine among the people of God."

"Formation for the priesthood is best understood within the concept of the journey of discipleship," Archbishop Pierre said.

"Christ himself calls each person by name," first through baptism, followed by the other sacraments of initiation, the archbishop said. "The journey begins with his family and parish. It is there ... that his vocation is nurtured, culminating in entrance into the seminary. The gift of the vocation comes from God to the church and to the world. A vocation should never be conceived as something private, to be followed in an individualistic or self-referential manner."

The model of formation proposed in the document "prepares the seminarian and priest to make a gift of himself to the church, to go out of himself, to not be self-referential, but to look to the essential needs of the flock," Archbishop Pierre said.

He said six characteristics are particularly needed by the 21st-century priest: missionary spirit, humility, communion and unity, prayerfulness, discernment, and closeness to the flock.

The nuncio returned to the document's phrase describing priests as missionary disciples, saying such a person is "one who follows the Lord, but who also goes out with joy," who, in the words of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel") "obey(s) his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel."

"This call to be a disciple and this raising up to be a priest is a gift," the archbishop added. "The church needs priests today who are willing to receive this gift as men of communion." He also quoted from a talk earlier this month in which the pope told seminarians at the Pontifical Spanish College, "It is an ongoing challenge to overcome individualism, to live diversity as a gift, striving for unity of the presbyterate, which is a sign of the presence of God in the life of a community."

Archbishop Pierre also was at the Josephinum for the rededication April 24 of the college's chapel of St. Turibius of Mogrovejo, archbishop of Lima, Peru, from 1580 to 1606, who is patron of the Latin American episcopate and founder of the first seminary in the Americas.

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Puet is a reporter at the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope to Egyptians: Let papal visit be sign of friendship, peace

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El Ghany, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Praying that God would protect Egypt from all evil, Pope Francis told the nation's people that a world torn apart by indiscriminate violence needs courageous builders of peace, dialogue and justice.

"I hope that this visit will be an embrace of consolation and of encouragement to all Christians in the Middle East; a message of friendship and esteem to all inhabitants of Egypt and the region; a message of fraternity and reconciliation to all children of Abraham, particularly in the Islamic world," the pope said in a video message broadcast April 25, ahead of his April 28-29 trip to Cairo.

"I hope that it may also offer a valid contribution to interreligious dialogue with the Islamic world and to ecumenical dialogue with the venerated and beloved Coptic Orthodox Church," he said.

The pope thanked all those who invited him to Egypt, those who were working to make the trip possible and those "who make space for me in your hearts."

He said he was "truly happy to come as a friend, as a messenger of peace and as a pilgrim to the country that gave, more than 2,000 years ago, refuge and hospitality to the Holy Family fleeing from the threats of King Herod."

"Our world, torn by blind violence, which has also afflicted the heart of your dear land, needs peace, love and mercy; it needs workers for peace, free and liberating people, courageous people able to learn from the past to build a future without closing themselves up in prejudices; it needs builders of bridges of peace, dialogue, brotherhood, justice, and humanity," he said.

Honored to visit the land visited by the Holy Family, the pope asked everyone for their prayers as he assured every one of his.

"Dear Egyptian brothers and sisters, young and elderly, women and men, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor ... I embrace you warmly and ask God almighty to bless you and protect your country from every evil."

He said it was "with a joyful and grateful heart" that he was heading to Egypt -- the "cradle of civilization, gift of the Nile, land of sun and hospitality, where patriarchs and prophets lived" and where God -- benevolent, merciful, and the one and almighty -- made his voice heard.

The day the video was released, April 25, was also the feast day of St. Mark, who evangelized the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, Egypt, before being martyred there.

Pope Francis dedicated his morning Mass to "my brother Tawadros II, patriarch of Alexandria" of the Coptic Orthodox church, asking that God abundantly "bless our two churches."

In Egypt, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Egypt would welcome the pope and "looks forward to this significant visit to strengthen peace, tolerance and interfaith dialogue as well as to reject the abhorrent acts of terrorism and extremism."

Christians in Egypt, Syria and Iraq struggle with mounting pressures from extremists challenging their religious identity and the right to practice their faith and continue to exist in their ancestral homelands.

Pope Francis has urged an end to what he called a "genocide" against Christians in the Middle East, but he also has said it was wrong to equate Islam with violence.

Christians are among the oldest religious communities in the Middle East, but their numbers are dwindling in the face of conflict and persecution. Egypt's Christian community makes up about 10 percent of the country's 92 million people.

A high point in the pope's schedule is an international peace conference at Cairo's al-Azhar University, the world's highest authority on Sunni Islam, hosted by Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of the educational institution.

Pope Tawadros and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, are also expected to participate.

The pope will also meet separately with el-Sissi and other officials. Observers will be watching whether the pope will take on thorny issues with his hosts, such as the detention of thousands of Egyptians, without due process, simply held on suspicion of opposing el-Sissi.

Others will watch to see if Pope Francis prods the Sunni Muslim religious establishment to take a more forceful stand on religious extremism perpetrated in the name of God.

Many hope the al-Azhar meeting will sound a moral wake-up call to leaders worldwide to combat religious intolerance while seeking greater cooperation to fight growing threats by Islamic State and other extremist groups.

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Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.


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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.