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Pope makes surprise visit to school named after book-loving child

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2018 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his most recent “mercy Friday” outing, Pope Francis visited a school recently named after a little girl who passed away, but who left her mark on the institute when a international library was created in her honor.

Established in the 1950s, the school – originally named the Comprehensive Institute of Via Rocca Camastra – is a state school that expanded to four other locations in the 1970s, and just this year received permission to be renamed as the Comprehensive Institute of Elisa Scala.

Elisa Scala is the name of a little girl who attended the school, but who died in 2015 at the age of 11 from a form of fulminant leukemia. After her death, Scala's parents launched a project in the school aimed at sharing Elisa's passion for books and libraries.

With their help, a small space called “Elisa's Library” was established, and a project called “Give a Book for Elisa” was launched in order to fill the space with books.

Donations came in the thousands. Some 20,000 books in different languages from all over Italy, Europe and even Australia now line the shelves of the library, which is included on the list of public libraries in Rome.

According to a Vatican communique on the pope's surprise May 25 visit to the school, Francis arrived around 4 p.m. local time and was greeted by Scala's parents, Giorgio and Maria, as well as the director of the school, Claudia Gentili, and hundreds of children who attend the institute.

Pope Francis gave Scala's parents several books to put in the library, all of which were dedicated to Elisa.

The children then sang for the pope, and he greeted the dean, staff, parents and students present before heading back to the Vatican.

Pope Francis' visit to the school is a continuation of his “Mercy Friday” custom, which he began in 2016 during the Jubilee of Mercy.

Originally planned once per month for the duration of the jubilee, the pope has continued the tradition after the end of the jubilee as a means of practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. He has met with refugees, children, women freed from sex trafficking, and the terminally ill, among others.

 

American seminarians to battle for the title in Rome soccer tournament

Rome, Italy, May 25, 2018 / 10:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For the first time in five years, seminarians and student priests from the North American College in Rome will hit the soccer field to battle it out for the winning title in the city’s holiest tournament – the Clericus Cup.

An annual soccer tournament among the priests and seminarians of Rome’s pontifical universities, the Clericus Cup started in 2007. In 11 years, the North American College has been in the semi-finals six times, even snagging first place back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.

But since then, the North American Martyrs have fallen short of the final four. Until now, when they have the opportunity for redemption May 26 in a face-off against the reigning champs, the Pontifical Urban University.

It has been long enough since 2013 that none of the team’s 25 or so players, even the most senior, have witnessed a tournament win for the Martyrs.

Making it to the final “is exciting,” said Fr. Timothy Wratkowski, a fifth-year student from the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. A defensive player, he said it is great to see “the last five years come together. We view it as a really fun opportunity.”

Team coach, Deacon Drew Olson from the Diocese of Madison, said the key difference this year is a talented crop of new players from this year’s first-year students. Starter Paul Floersch, who is studying for the Archdiocese of Omaha, was identified as one of the team’s most valuable players.

But Wratkowski said that in general they have all grown as soccer players in the last year, increasing communication and mutual support among each other.

Another “tweak” the Martyrs made this year was adding a short spiritual reflection before the start of practices to connect “the spiritual life to what we’re doing as a team,” said Will Nyce, a third-year seminarian and team captain.

“But you have to back that up with nature,” he continued, laughing, “so we ran more this year too. I think we’re more in shape.”

Earlier in the season, the North American Martyrs lost 2-1 in a match against the Urbaniana, so Saturday’s game is likely to be close. Hailing largely from African countries, the other team fields very fast, very technically skilled attackers, so the game will be a challenge for the Martyr’s defense, Olson said.

They will also have to be careful not to “lose the mental game” if referee calls do not go their way.

The Martyr’s pre-game rituals this year have included Morning Prayer together at the college and “American pump-up music” on the way to the field. As one of the few teams with players all from the same country, Clericus Cup organizers also let them play the American national anthem before the match.

As team captain, Nyce, who studies for the Diocese of Arlington, was part of a group of Clericus Cup representatives who met Pope Francis after the General Audience May 23. He said he told the pope the American seminarians and priests “on the hill” were praying for him. “[The pope] seemed really happy to see us,” he said.

Overall, the past few months of games and practices have been “a wonderful joy, a way to share leisure time together, a way to share something in common and then to get to know guys in the house that we might not know well otherwise,” Nyce said.

Though not a part of formal seminary formation, playing sports can benefit men studying for the priesthood because sports “are a major part of people’s lives,” Wratkowski noted. “In the parish a lot of kids participate in sports… We can be present to them in that [showing them] what it means to be a Christian who plays sports.”

Being on the field can bring out a different side of a person, with all different emotions, from joy to disagreement, he continued. Playing soccer with their brothers in the seminary is a good training ground “to learn how to play in a truly Christian way.”

Nyce said that playing sports is also a way to learn to “enjoy the good things that God gives you in a healthy way. Fraternity, good exercise, health – it is good for our all-around well-being.”

He also pointed out St. Paul’s use of running as a metaphor for the moral life. Sports require “discipline, teamwork and giving of yourself for a goal that’s greater than yourself,” he said, something priests “are called to do for our brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis sends poor, needy to major Roman sporting event

Vatican City, May 25, 2018 / 05:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Next week the poor, homeless, refugees, migrants and needy around Rome will be offered free tickets to the city's Golden Gala, an international track and field event that happens annually in the Eternal City.

Set to take place in Rome's Olympic stadium May 31, the gala will begin at 2p.m., with the last event starting at 10:25p.m. Events slated for the gala include a discus throw, relay races, pole vault jumps, hurdles and Paralympic courses for both men and women.

The gala was established in 1980 by Italian sports official and then-president of the Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) Primo Nebiolo as a way to gather athletes and individuals from the United States and NATO countries who boycotted the Moscow Olympics in wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Francis' guests will enter the event free of charge thanks to FIDAL, and they will be accompanied by volunteers from the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Cooperativa Auxilium – an Italian co-op that offers welfare services to the disadvantaged – and Athletica Vaticana, the running association for employees of the Holy See.

The goal of the event, according to the papal almoner's office, is to offer the poor “an evening of celebration and friendship through the beauty of [sports]” and to place greater emphasis on the importance of hospitality and solidarity.
 
In addition to their free entry, those who come with the papal almoner will be offered a sack dinner.

Such initiatives on the part of the pope are not uncommon. He frequently invites the poor, homeless, migrants and refugees to special events such as concerts, tours of the Vatican Museums and days at the beach. Showers and haircuts are also available inside St. Peter's Square courtesy of the papal almoner.

The man who heads the papal charity office, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, was recent tapped by Francis to become a cardinal. He will get his red hat from the pope during a June 29 consistory, showing the importance Pope Francis places on service to the poor.

After punishing Christian cake baker, Colo. civil rights board revised

Denver, Colo., May 25, 2018 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law will revise the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, after the commission gained attention when its decision in a free speech case involving a Christian cake baker was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Before the Colorado law was changed, the governor was allowed to appoint all seven commission members, with no more than four being from the governor’s own party.

The new law, signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper May 22, now limits the governor to appointing three Democrats, three Republicans and one unaffiliated as commissioners. Four members must be from classes protected by law, three members must be considered workers, and three members must be serving as business owners.

The commission will now be subject to legislative audit as well. The new law says that if a commissioner has been rejected by the state senate, the governor cannot re-appoint him or her to the commission for a period of two years, the Denver Post reports.

The changes come following a February vote by Republicans on the Colorado legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to withhold funding from the commission until legislative changes were made. The commission reviews allegations of discrimination and makes policy recommendations.

Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission was involved in a case that is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case involves baker Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakes in the Denver suburb of Lakewood.

In 2012, Phillips was sued by a same-sex couple after he declined to make a wedding cake for them on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Phillips had offered to create a different cake for the couple. The couple was able to obtain a rainbow-themed cake from a bakery near Phillips’ cake shop.

Colorado law did not recognize same-sex unions as marriages at the time.

The couple took the case before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that by declining to make the cake, the baker had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law categorizing sexual orientation as a protected class.

In the commission’s unanimous vote against the baker, then-Commissioner Diane Rice said: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we ... can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use—…to use their religion to hurt others.”

The lawsuit was decided in favor of the plaintiffs in 2013, and a Colorado judge ordered Phillips to receive anti-discrimination training and to serve same-sex weddings or stop serving weddings altogether.

He chose to stop serving weddings through his bakery, which he had opened in 1993.

Phillips lost appeals at the state level, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined to take the case. In June 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, known as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Attorneys for the baker have argued that forcing Phillips to advance a message about marriage that is contrary to his faith violates the Constitution’s protections for free speech.

In oral arguments in December 2017, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had asked whether the commission decision could stand if at least one member based his or her decision “in significant part” on grounds of “hostility to religion.”

Kennedy appeared critical of the commission, saying, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual… It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

At the same time, the justice had wondered whether a victory for the plaintiff’s argument would enable discrimination.

“It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” said Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote in the case.

“If you prevail, could the bakery put a sign in its window, ‘We do not make cakes for gay weddings’?” Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco. “And you would not posit that an affront to the gay community?”

Francisco, who backed Phillips’ case, suggested that the baker could say he does not make “custom-made wedding cakes for gay weddings, but most cakes would not cross that threshold.” While there are dignity interests at stake, Francisco said, and he would not minimize the same-sex couple’s dignity interests, “there are dignity interests on the other side here too.”

Phillips declines to bake other kinds of cakes that promote ideas at odds with his beliefs, such as cakes that portray anti-American, atheist, or racist messages or disparage members of the LGBT community, his attorneys said. Phillips also declines to create custom cakes for other events he is uncomfortable supporting, such as Halloween and bachelor parties.

Since the litigation started, Phillips has said that he has lost more than 40 percent of his business due to his inability to serve any weddings. As a result, he has lost nearly half of his employees, and now struggles to keep in business.

He has also received death threats and has voiced concern for the safety of family members.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Phillips.

Bishops urge Nicaraguan president to investigate violence against protestors

Managua, Nicaragua, May 24, 2018 / 05:10 pm (ACI Prensa).- Nicaragua's bishops urged president Daniel Ortega Tuesday to comply with a recommendation that he investigate April's violence in order to facilitate talks between the opposition and his government.

The Nicaraguan bishops' conference's May 22 letter encouraged Ortega to create “a mechanism of international investigation of the acts of violence which occurred, with guarantees of autonomy and independence to ensure the right to the truth and duly identify those responsible.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Nicaragua May 17-21 to document human rights violations in four cities and to issue recommendations.

The commission found that since protests began April 18, there were at least 76 deaths and 868 injured, the vast majority “in the context of the protests.” Five of those injured “remain in the hospital in critical condition.” In addition, “438 people were arrested, including students, civilians, men and women human rights advocates and journalists.”

A priest of the Diocese of Matagalpa was wounded by shrapnel May 15 while trying to separate protestors and security forces, the AP reported.

In their letter the bishops stated that “only by fulfilling this recommendation of the IACHR” will the stakeholders be able “to continue making progress toward a good outcome to the national dialogue.”

They also stressed that agreeing to this “becomes imperative for the well being of the nation” and so that the talks produce “fruitful results of truth, justice, freedom and true and lasting peace for all Nicaraguans.”

Finally, the bishops offered their disposition "to collaborate in the path to peace, with justice.”  

“We respectfully greet you, imploring the light of the Holy Spirit for you and the intercession of the Virgin Mary so that you can make the best decisions,” they concluded.

On the same day, May 22, the bishop's conference charged in a statement that bishops and priests are being discredited by attacks orchestrated by the government and that they have been receiving death threats through “anonymous social media” posts.

The bishops stated that Nicaragua is currently  going through “one of the worst crises in its history after the blatant crackdown by the government, which is trying to evade its responsibility as the main actor in the various attacks.”

Talks to overcome several weeks of anti-government protests and riots in Nicaragua which have been met harshly by security forces began May 16 under the mediation of the Catholic Church.

Protests began April 18 after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests have only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

Demonstrators have called for freedom of expression, an end to violent repression, and for Ortega to step down from office. The Church in the country was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

He was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

 

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