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German bishops discuss intercommunion of Lutheran, Catholic spouses

Munich, Germany, Feb 22, 2018 / 10:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Reinhard Marx has announced that the German bishops' conference will publish a pastoral handout for married couples that allows Protestant spouses of Catholics "in individual cases" and "under certain conditions" to receive Holy Communion, provided they "affirm the Catholic faith in the Eucharist".

According to the press report of the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, the handout is primarily aimed at pastoral workers and is to be understood as a tool for pastoral situations, "to consider the concrete situation and come to a responsible decision about the possibility of the non-Catholic partner to receive Communion".

The announcement was made "after intensive debate" at the conclusion of the general assembly of the German bishops' conference, which was held Feb. 19 - 22 in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, and attended by 62 members of the bishops' conference under the leadership of conference chairman Cardinal Marx.

The press release declares that its premise is that "in individual cases, the spiritual hunger for receiving Communion together in interdenominational marriages can be so strong that it could jeopardise the marriage and the faith of the spouse". The statement goes on to say that this applies all the more to spouses who "already want to live out their marriage very consciously" as a Christian couple.

The central message of the handout is "that everyone in a marriage that binds denominations," after a "mature examination in a spiritual conversation with their priest or another person charged with pastoral care, that has come to a decision of conscience to affirm the Faith of the Catholic Church as well as thereby concluding a 'grave spiritual need' as well as fulfilling the desire to receive the Eucharist may approach the Lord's table and receive Communion."

Cardinal Marx' statement emphasises: "We are talking about decisions in individual cases that require a careful spiritual discernment."

The handout is expected to be published in a few weeks' time.

The Code of Canon Law states that in the danger of death or if “some other grave necessity urges it,” Catholic ministers licitly administer penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick to Protestants “who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

The bishops' announcement follows a discussion of such a proposal at a previous general assembly held in the spring of 2017.

According to Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg in a report in the German diocesan newspaper "Tag des Herrn" from March 2017, Schick is quoted as saying that the bishops were seeking "a responsible decision" on the question of non-Catholic partners in interdenominational marriages in individual cases by pastoral means.


On Dec. 31 2016, the website of the Lutheran ecclesial community in Germany reported that Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück was hoping for a recognition of what was already the case, namely, that in many places, Protestants went to Communion with their Catholic spouses. "We have to give a foundation to what often already is in place in practice", the website quotes Bode from an interview with the Lutheran press agency EPD.


Bode, who also attended the 2014-2015 Synods of Bishops on the family, was elected vice-chairman to the German bishops' conference Sept. 26, 2017.

 

What to do if you're too ashamed to go to Confession

Madrid, Spain, Feb 22, 2018 / 03:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While Reconciliation is intended to allow Christ’s victory to overcome sin in our lives, what happens when shame over one’s sins is so great that it keeps people away from the sacrament?

The famous Spanish theologian Father José Antonio Fortea discussed this phenomenon, and practical solutions to it, in a blog post.

Normally, a sense of Christ’s mercy should be enough to help people overcome their shame and go to Confession, in order to receive forgiveness and healing.

However, in some cases, Fr. Fortea acknowledged, people are overwhelmed by their sins, and this shame becomes “a wall” keeping them away from Reconciliation.

“They would rather make a 100-mile pilgrimage than have to confess face-to-face certain things they did that are terribly and frightfully humiliating to them,” he said, reflecting on the torment that faces some penitents who struggle approaching the sacrament.

The Spanish priest first pointed out the importance of priests offering fatherly compassion on those who have “these burdens on their consciences.”

He also noted the importance of ensuring truly anonymous confessions. In each city, he said, “there ought to be at least one confessional where instead of a grill, there is a metal sheet with small holes, making it totally impossible to see the person making their confession.”

The person confessing should not be visible to the priest as they approach or leave, he continued. If there is a window on the priest’s door, it should not be transparent.

“With these measures, the vast majority of the faithful can resolve the problem of shame,” Fr. Fortea said.

But for those “truly very rare” cases where shame is still a major obstacle, even with anonymous confessionals, additional steps can be taken.

In these instances of extreme shame, the person can “make an anonymous phone call to a priest in the city and tell him about this problem.” Confession itself cannot take place over the phone, but “in many cases, the phone conversation will be enough so the penitent can get up his confidence and can approach the kind of above-mentioned confessional.”

If the penitent still finds that the shame of mentioning his sins is too great to bear, he can arrange for a written confession with the priest.

Fr. Fortea said that in several of the confessionals in his city of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, “it's possible for the penitent to move the screen slightly, just a fraction of an inch, and slip in a piece of paper.”

He offered guidelines for such written confessions: they should generally not be longer than one page, sins should be written “in a clear and concise manner,” or if possible, should be typed for clarity in reading.

“The priest will give his counsel, the penance and absolution without needing to bring up any questions for the penitent. In this case asking questions would be counterproductive,” he reflected.

While the general rule is that confession should be vocal, it can be done through writing in some cases, the priest said. He noted that those who are deaf or mute have always been permitted to make written confessions.

And in the case of insurmountable shame, this would also be licit, he said. “A psychological inability can be just as real as a physical one.”

This article was originally published on CNA Aug. 18, 2016.

In Aleppo, a heroine of endurance

Aleppo, Syria, Feb 21, 2018 / 03:23 pm (Aid to the Church in Need).- Annie Artin, 15, is a lonely girl who lives with her mother, Silva Owadis, 37, her grandmother, and aunt in a modest but new apartment in Aleppo, Syria.

The family has lived there since the middle of 2016, after moving a number of times, each time because neighborhoods had come under attack in the battle for control of the city.

Annie is lonely because she had to move so often and change schools, plus her father disappeared from her life. This Armenian Catholic family has no regular income and depends on support from local Catholic sources for its livelihood.

Annie is a tenth grader at a school run by her Church, Al-Markazia. She loves going to school and studies very hard.

Here is her story, in her own words:

“I came up against serious problems with both French and math. While I was the top student in chemistry, my math scores suffered a lot at one point. I attribute this problem to my teacher who did not have a streamlined approach to teaching. To make matters worse, my mother didn’t have enough money to pay for a math tutor. There were difficult circumstances, too, with many mortar attacks on areas very close to my school. Fortunately, we survived the terrible consequences of war after a long period of having to stay home from school.

“Even before the war started, things had not been going well between my mother and father; he was unemployed and rather lazy. Things got worse when the fighting started – they clashed every day. Eventually, my father decided to go to Armenia, supposedly in search of work and finding a way to make better life for himself and his family. He ended up disappearing, no longer responding to our communications and calls; he didn’t even try to ask about us.

“After a while, visiting a government center for some paperwork, my mother was shocked to discover that my father had divorced her and married another woman. My mother collapsed upon learning the news and got sick. I was left with no financial support owing to the fact that my father couldn’t care less about my school requirements. I was in dire need of financial help not only to pay tuition, but also to secure the basic necessities of life.  

“My father wasn’t even worried about us after a mortar shell hit the side of our apartment. To the best of my knowledge, fathers are not only supposed to be fully committed to their families, they are also in charge of providing financial support. Life dealt us heavy blows; my mother had lost her job and we were left homeless in the middle of very difficult circumstances.

“I was hoping my father would call to inquire about our situation, but there was no response from his side. Despite being in touch with him in the beginning after he first left, he vanished without a trace a few months later. In an attempt to survive hardships after being without food for quite so long, we tried desperately to ask my father for financial support, but he was reluctant to do anything for us. Even a few loaves of bread were not available to keep us alive for one single day. My heartless father kept giving us unjustifiable excuses, such as road blocks.  

“At one point, I fell gravely ill; I was also psychologically bruised as I had been fatherless, homeless, and penniless for a long time. My mother pleaded with the doctor repeatedly to call my father and ask him to call me to make me feel better, yet there came no answer. To be frank, I would never have survived without God’s blessings.

“My mother has been with me every step of the way in unimaginable situations. I owe my success to her long-term effort to keep me going despite the challenges. Despite being envious of my friends who had private tutors and generous fathers, I never lost faith in God. I kept wearing religious symbols to offer supplications to God. I clung onto hope that God would never forget me. I always felt comfortable after my prayers, confident that I would stay safe no matter what happened.

“I did not know what to do – but God did not leave us; he was with us in every sad moment; he used to send us many people who helped us; they were angels in our lives.

“I have always dreamed of moving to Tartus, where I was born. However, the prospect of living abroad has been haunting me because of the scarcity of job opportunities in Syria. Following long discussions with my mom, however, I came to realize that this lovely idea would be hard to pull off. No matter what, I will never relent in my pursuit of being a pharmacist; and faith in God is carrying me. And should I ever leave the country, I would hope to return to Syria as soon as security and stability are restored.

 


Fawzy Basily writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org

Attacks against India's Christians doubled in 2017

New Delhi, India, Feb 21, 2018 / 12:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Compared to 2016, attacks against Christians in India by Hindu extremists more than doubled in 2017 amid efforts to label the religious minority a danger to the state.

The persecution ranges from threats and physical violence to destruction of church property, but false allegations against Christians have also increased.

"It is a new trend to accuse Christians of serious crimes," said Shibu Thomas, founder of the ecumenical forum Persecution Relief.

The allegations are "a clear indicat[ion] that those opposed to Christians want to portray them as serious threats to the nation's safety and security," he told UCA News.

According to a report from Persecution Relief, last year 736 incidents of attacks occurred throughout India compared to the 348 that happened in 2016. Most of these are "daring physical attacks," the report said, but the victims of these attacks were also accused of sedition, discrimination, and destruction of religious property.

"When victims reach for police help, they find themselves accused of violations. … This is a dangerous sign. Unfortunately, the police are in league with fanatics and elects members support their actions," Thomas said.

Attacks against Christians have increased since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the general election in 2014, naming Narendra Modi as prime minister.

The party has now the largest representation in the country's parliament. A majority of the attacks stem from four of India's 29 states - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Chhattisgarh - three of which are governed by the BJP.

"Christians are not safe anymore in India under the current situation," said Anil Andrias, who leads a protestant congregation in Uttar Pradesh.

Andrias told UCA News that the persecution against Christians could be physical attacks and false allegations, but he also said Christians have been denied government services, such as collecting public water or using public roads.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India's population, with 80 percent identifying as Hindu.

Bishops praise Christian witness of evangelist Billy Graham

Charlotte, N.C., Feb 21, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The evangelist Billy Graham died Wednesday at his home in Montreat, N.C., his family has announced. He was 99.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., Graham was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1939. During his work in ministry, he wrote more than 30 books and conducted the annual Billy Graham Crusades until his retirement from active ministry in 2005. His last book, Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond the Now, was published in 2015.

During his time in ministry, Graham insisted that his crusades and rallies be racially integrated, and was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1981, Graham first met with St. John Paul II, who said that the two were “brothers.” They would meet again several times. When John Paul II died in 2005, Graham said he believed that the Pope had been “the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years,” and praised his “strong Catholic faith” and perseverance through his illnesses.

Prominent Catholics reacted with sadness to Graham’s death, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. In a statement on the archdiocesan website, Dolan wrote that while his family was Catholic, there was a level of respect for Graham’s work in bringing people to Christ.

“There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God,” said Dolan.

“As an historian, my admiration for him only grew as I studied our nation’s religious past, and came to appreciate even more the tremendous role he played in the American evangelical movement.  May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest."

Dolan’s sentiment was echoed by Catholic Herald editor Damian Thompson, who praised Graham’s evolution on Catholicism. Thompson called Graham a “fine man, a powerful force for good.”

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Billy Graham started out as an typical evangelical anti-Catholic and ended up acclaiming St John Paul II as the world’s greatest witness to Christianity. A fine man, a powerful force for good: rest in peace.</p>&mdash; Damian Thompson (@holysmoke) <a href="https://twitter.com/holysmoke/status/966317143523495936?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 21, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered condolences to the Graham family and said that he was praying for the repose of his soul. DiNardo praised Graham for his work spreading the gospel around the country, and said he was thankful for his ministry.

“His faith and integrity invited countless thousands around the world into a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the ministry of Billy Graham,” said DiNardo.

Dr. Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, compared Graham to St. John Paul II and other religious figures, saying that while he was “firmly rooted” in his denomination, Graham was able to reach all people.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Billy Graham was like John Paul II, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was firmly rooted in a particular tradition of faith, yet somehow spoke to--and in a sense belonged to--all of us.</p>&mdash; Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) <a href="https://twitter.com/McCormickProf/status/966320319681187841?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 21, 2018</a></blockquote>
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