Browsing News Entries

The Vatican says a newborn martyr had a ‘baptism of blood.’ What does that mean?

Wiktoria Ulma with six of her children. / The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II.

CNA Staff, Sep 14, 2023 / 12:22 pm (CNA).

All nine members of the Ulma family, who were murdered by the Nazi regime for sheltering two Jewish families in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, were beatified on Sunday, marking the first time an entire family was beatified at once.

In December 2022, Pope Francis declared the family martyrs, including the youngest of the seven children, an unnamed baby who was born at the moment of its mother Wiktoria’s execution by Nazi officers. 

Some news reports incorrectly reported that the baby was the first unborn child to be beatified. The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints clarified Sept. 5 that the child was a newborn, adding that it received a “baptism of blood” and was therefore included among the martyrs.

So, what exactly is a “baptism of blood?” And what exactly is a martyr?

CNA spoke with two theologians, Father Anthony R. Lusvardi, SJ, professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Father Thomas Petri, OP, president of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., to shed some light on the topics.

What happened to the Ulma family?

Following the Nazi regime’s occupation of Poland during World War II, it sought mass extermination of the Jewish people, including those in the Ulma family’s small town of Markowa in southeastern Poland, which, today, is near the border of Ukraine.

In 1941, the Nazis made harboring Jews a crime punishable by death in occupied Poland. Despite the danger, the Ulmas hid two Jewish families on its farm. In the middle of the night of March 23-24, 1944, the Ulmas’ tiny home was surrounded by the Nazi patrol.

The German officers discovered and killed the eight Jews: Saul Goldman and his sons Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, and Moses, along with the Ulmas’ neighbors, Gołda Grünfeld and Lea Didner, and their young daughter, Reszla.

Then the Nazis forced 44-year-old Józef and 31-year-old Wiktoria Ulma out in front of their home and shot and killed the entire family.

Along with the unnamed newborn baby, the children’s names are Stanisława, 7; Barbara, 6; Władysław, 5; Franciszek, almost 4; Antoni, 2; and Maria, 1.

What is a martyr?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that martyrdom “is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: It means bearing witness even unto death.” 

If a person is martyred, it means he or she is among the saints in heaven, Father Petri told CNA. 

Why is the Ulma family considered martyrs if they weren’t told to deny their faith?

Father Lusvardi said someone is considered a martyr when killed out of hatred for the faith. It is not necessary that the perpetrator demand that a martyr deny the faith at the time of his or her death.

“Other martyrs, like St. Thomas Becket or St. Oscar Romero, come to mind who were ambushed by assassins and not asked to deny the faith; but they were killed out of hatred for the faith and they continued to be faithful right up until the end, to bear witness up to the moment of death,” he said.

At the Ulmas’ beatification Mass in Markowa on Sunday, Father Witold Burda, postulator of the cause of beatification, said the family’s martyrdom resulted from the Nazis’ motive.

Those who called for the massacre, the commander Eilert Dieken and the gendarme Józef Kokott, “were moved — we read in the postulation — by anti-Semitic hatred and an even prevalent anti-Christian aversion,” Burda said.

Why is the newborn, who was unbaptized, also considered a martyr? 

The Vatican’s note said that the child received a “baptism of blood” as a result of being murdered.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that although baptism is necessary for salvation, God is not “bound” by the sacrament of baptism.

So what is a ‘baptism of blood?’

Baptism of blood is a term used when referring to the martyrdom of a Christian who has not yet been baptized, according to Lusvardi.

The catechism says: “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament” (No. 1258).

Petri said that St. Augustine taught in his book “City of God” that “anyone who dies for Christ without baptism is freed from their sins just as if they had been baptized in water.”

Petri pointed to the Holy Innocents as an example, when King Herod the Great of Judea attempted to kill the newborn baby Jesus by ordering the slaughter of “all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under,” as Matthew 2:16 records.

“The Holy Innocents are revered as martyrs for the infant Jesus,” he added.

Lusvardi said that both the Ulma newborn and the Holy Innocents are “very special cases” because “most of the time when we talk about bearing witness, we think of someone who professes belief explicitly and sticks to that belief even in the face of violence.” 

“But I think that by recognizing such little ones as martyrs, we’re recognizing that even if they didn’t give testimony to Christ with their words, their brief lives in some way still pointed the way to him,” he added.

Why the Queen of Belgium can wear white when meeting the pope

Queen Mathilde of Belgium is one of only a few women in the world who can wear white, rather than the customary black, when meeting the pope for an official private audience at the Vatican. She arrived at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with her husband, King Philippe of the Belgians, on Sept. 14, 2023, wearing a white mantilla veil and a white dress. / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 10:15 am (CNA).

Queen Mathilde of Belgium is one of only a few women in the world who can wear white, rather than the customary black, when meeting the pope for an official private audience at the Vatican.

As a Catholic queen, she has the “privilège du blanc,” a papal privilege currently granted only to the Catholic royalty from Spain, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Monaco, as well as the House of Savoy.

The traditional Vatican protocol required women to wear a black mantilla and a black dress with long sleeves for official papal audiences, although this custom has been made optional in recent decades.

Queen Mathilde of Belgium meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with her husband, King Philippe of the Belgians, on Sept. 14, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Queen Mathilde of Belgium meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with her husband, King Philippe of the Belgians, on Sept. 14, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Queen Mathilde arrived at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace with her husband, King Philippe of the Belgians, on Thursday morning wearing a white mantilla veil and a white dress.

Philippe, who ascended the Belgian throne 10 years ago, holds the title “Rex Catholicissimus,” or “(Most) Catholic Majesty.”

The Belgian royals and the pope discussed the war in Ukraine and a shared commitment to peace during the 20-minute meeting, according to a statement released by the Vatican.

It was the monarch’s second visit to the Vatican this year, as King Philippe and Queen Mathilde also traveled to Rome for the funeral of Benedict XVI in January.

After an audience with the pope, King Philip and Queen Mathilde meet with Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, in the offices of the Secretariat of State on Sept. 14, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
After an audience with the pope, King Philip and Queen Mathilde meet with Vatican Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, in the offices of the Secretariat of State on Sept. 14, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Nearly 50% of Belgians identify as Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center. The members of the Belgian Royal Family are Catholic but do not have an official role within the Catholic Church in the country.

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde were married in 1999 in Belgium’s 11th-century Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels and have four children. Their eldest daughter, Princess Elisabeth, is first in the line of succession.

Pope Francis, former President Clinton to have ‘special conversation’ at foundation meeting

Former President Bill Clinton and Pope Francis. / Credit: Vatican Dicastery for Communication

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 09:56 am (CNA).

Pope Francis and former President Bill Clinton will discuss pressing issues facing the world next week at the annual meeting of the Clinton Foundation’s global humanitarian effort, the Clinton Foundation revealed on Thursday. 

The foundation said in a press release that the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) 2023 meeting would open on Monday, Sept. 18, with “a special conversation between President Clinton and His Holiness Pope Francis” via remote link.

The discussion is expected to focus on “what it takes to keep going on the most pressing global challenges of our time,” the release said, including “climate change, the refugee crisis, the welfare of children, and the mission and projects of the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital.”

Bambino Gesù is a Vatican-owned pediatric hospital located in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the Holy See. Pope Francis has visited the hospital several times and spoken warmly of it, calling it a “family” that offers “human witness” through its medical services.

The hospital said in its press release on Thursday that representatives of the facility would also be “tak[ing] part” in the symposium. The hospital said it requires “great financial support” to run its medical undertakings; it said it would “bring these needs to the attention of the international audience” at the initiative meeting.

Francis already met with Bill Clinton earlier this year at the Casa Santa Marta papal residence, though details of that meeting have not been released.

Two years ago Chelsea Clinton — the vice chair of the Clinton Foundation — appeared at a virtual Vatican symposium on health.

On its website, the Clinton Foundation touts its global initiative as “creating a community of doers who are taking action on the world’s most pressing challenges, together.”

Among the other guests at the symposium next week will be U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

The Clinton Foundation says the Global Initiative has helped “more than 9,000 organizations [launch] more than 3,900 Commitments to Action,” which it described as “new, specific, and measurable projects and programs.”

Pope Francis appoints Father Spadaro to culture and education post

Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, former editor in chief of La Civilta Cattolica, was appointed undersecretary for the Dicastery for Culture and Education on Sept. 14, 2023. / Credit: Antoniospadaro via Wikimeda (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 09:36 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Thursday announced the appointment of Father Antonio Spadaro as the undersecretary for the Dicastery for Culture and Education, a position the Jesuit priest will take after over a decade leading an influential Catholic journal in Rome. 

Spadaro will assume office on Jan. 1, 2024, the Vatican said in an announcement. The priest had previously served as the editor of the Jesuit-run La Civiltà Cattolica for 12 years. 

Spadaro, known popularly as “the pope’s mouthpiece” for his regular outspoken defense of the Holy Father, had announced early on Thursday that he was leaving La Civiltà, a decision he said came about from his “Jesuit superiors” that had been “agreed upon one year ago.”

As editor, the priest has sometimes generated controversy such as with his co-authorship of a 2017 article in which the writers criticized so-called “value voters” in the United States who traffic in an “ecumenism of hate.”

The Dicastery for Culture and Education was formed last year after the merger of two other departments, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The Vatican says that the cultural wing of the dicastery is “dedicated to the promotion of culture, pastoral activity, and the enhancement of cultural heritage.”

The educational division, meanwhile, works worldwide with bishops and Church authorities to ensure that “the fundamental principles of education, especially Catholic education, may be welcomed and better understood, enabling them to be implemented contextually and culturally.”

The dicastery as a whole “works for the development of people’s human values in the context of Christian anthropology, contributing to the full realization of Christian discipleship,” the Holy See says.

The Italian-born priest said his tenure at the magazine “has been a challenging responsibility that I have lived with enthusiasm since 2011.”

He thanked the Jesuit leaders and contributors to the periodical who “have collaborated to build the network of a magazine that is now fully international.” He described them as “a solid foundation for the future.”

The Vatican in its announcement noted that Spadaro was already a “consultor” of the dicastery as well as “an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi al Pantheon.”

Spadaro in his resignation announcement indicated he was ready to leave his long-held post at the magazine. “Twelve years is the right time to give the best without repeating yourself,” he said. 

Vatican allows a peek at historic palazzo in heart of Rome

The Vatican announced in September 2023 the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome will be open to the public. / Credit: Lalupa/Wikipedia/Public Domain

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2023 / 05:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican this week invited journalists to a special tour of the Palace of the Chancellery, a centuries-old building that the Holy See refers to as “one of the most prestigious palaces in Rome.”

The Administration of the Heritage of the Apostolic See (APSA) opened the building to journalists for a special tour, according to Vatican News, in part in order to offer what APSA president Bishop Nunzio Galantino described as “a less commercial look at the realities that belong to the Apostolic See.”

The palace was built over a roughly 25-year period at the end of the 15th century and into the 16th. It was originally home to Cardinal Raffaele Riario, a prelate known for having invited Michaelangelo to Rome after being impressed by the latter’s artistic abilities. 

Claudia Conforti, a professor of history of architecture at the University of Tor Vergata, told Vatican News that the palazzo is home to “some centuries of the most vivid history of Roman art, painting, and architecture.”

The home was built atop ancient ruins. Conforti told Vatican News that the basement houses “an artificial canal that served the thermal baths of Agrippa” as well as the tomb of Aulus Irtius, “one of the commanders of the Roman army in Gaul of Julius Caesar.”

Engineer Mauro Tomassini, meanwhile, said the structure “is still being studied today” because it “is not fully known.”

Describing the building as “an apparent fortress, with four corner towers,” Tomassini said that it “has so many things to offer to those who visit it,” though he claimed that “unfortunately probably the Romans themselves do not attend it and do not know it as they should.”

At the opening, Galantino indicated the special presentation was motivated by Pope Francis’ repeated calls for a more transparent Church.

“But transparency does not consist only in the publication of the budget,” Galantino said. “It does not stop at the ‘quantity’ but also shows the quality of what is kept. This is a step forward.”

The Vatican lists the building as housing the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which the Holy See says “ensures that justice in the Church is correctly administered.”

Among its artistic and archeological collections is a 1544 mural by the artist Giorgio Vasari depicting “an episode from the life of Paul III;” also found underneath the structure was a series of reliefs that the Vatican Museums say were “part of the decoration of a public monument which can be dated to the reign of Domitian” in the first century.

Controversial Iraqi Christian didn’t meet with Pope Francis privately, Vatican confirms

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican at his general audience on Sept. 13, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 13, 2023 / 17:46 pm (CNA).

An Iraqi Christian figure involved in a dispute with the leader of the Catholic Church in the country was not, as he has implied online, granted a private audience with Pope Francis, the Vatican clarified on Tuesday. 

Rayan Al-Kildani, whose name means “Rayan the Chaldean,” is a Christian lawmaker and leader of the paramilitary group the “Babylon Brigades.” He has previously been sanctioned by the United States for alleged human rights abuses, including the cutting off of a detainee’s ear. 

In addition, Al-Kildani has publicly clashed with the leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Cardinal Louis Sako, over allegations by Sako that Kildani has been extorting Christians in the Nineveh Plains, a historically Christian but embattled region. Sako also has faulted Al-Kildani for his apparent desire to take over control of the Chaldean Church’s properties in Iraq. 

On social media Sept. 7, Al-Kildani shared photos and videos that seemed, at least to some observers, to imply that he had a private meeting with Pope Francis. Al-Kildani released a statement on Facebook after his visit to the Vatican along with photos of the encounter, one of which had been edited to blur the crowds in the background.

“At the end of the prayer, al-Kildani met His Holiness the pope... and conveyed to him the greetings of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, asking him for his prayers for Iraq. In turn, His Holiness the pope granted Kildani his apostolic blessing and gave him a special gift, which is the rosary, blessed by His Holiness,” Al-Kildani said.

The Vatican in a brief Tuesday statement said Pope Francis’ meeting with Al-Kildani was during the weekly general audience. 

“During the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on 6 September last, His Holiness Pope Francis greeted some of the people present, as is customary. Among them was a group of Iraqis, which included Mr. Rayan Al-Kildani, with whom some brief words were exchanged,” the Vatican Press Office said.

Pope Francis’ general audiences are held in St. Peter’s Square and attract thousands of pilgrims from around the world, many of whom get the chance to greet the pope and take pictures with him. Al-Kildani previously asked for a personal meeting with the pope in 2021 when Francis visited the country, and again in April and was refused both times, the Washington Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, noted.

But in a Wednesday Facebook post, Al-Kildani said the Vatican’s statement served to confirm “its prior knowledge of the presence of Mr. Ryan Al-Kaldani among the Iraqi delegation in the interview with His Holiness the pope.”

Al-Kildani is a controversial figure not only because of his alleged crimes but also because of his public disputes with his Church’s hierarchy.

In July, Cardinal Sako announced his withdrawal from his seat in Baghdad after Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid revoked a decree recognizing him as head of the Christian Church in Iraq, which the government had done since 2013. The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern-rite church in full communion with the Holy See, with about 300,000 members in the country and thousands more around the world. Once a nation with more than a million Christians, Iraq has seen its highly diverse Iraqi Christian community decimated by the Islamic State and other conflicts since 2003. 

Sako said in July that he will be taking up residence in a monastery in Kurdistan, an autonomous region of Iraq, where he will continue to lead the Chaldean Church. Al-Kildani’s militant group engaged in a “deliberate and humiliating campaign” against his office, which included “incorrect” legal advice to Rashid that helped lead to the president’s decision, Sako charged in his announcement letter.

According to reporting by ACI Mena, CNA’s Middle East and North Africa news partner, Sako has also accused Al-Kildani of seizing Christian seats in the Iraqi Parliament without real representation for Christians. As a result, Al-Kildani has taken Sako to court for slander. The proceedings are ongoing.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned Al-Kildani because he was engaged in “serious human rights abuses” in his capacity as head of a paramilitary group. The group Al-Kildani leads in purportedly “the primary impediment to the return of internally displaced persons to the Ninevah Plain,” the department said. 

According to the Treasury Department, Al-Kildani’s group “illegally seized and sold agricultural land” and “the local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women.” A video was circulated among human rights groups showing Al-Kildani cutting off the ear of a handcuffed detainee, the Treasury Department’s report said.

What you need to know about the Synod on Synodality

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich (right), relator general of Synod on Synodality, speaks to the media on June 20, 2023, at the temporary headquarters of the Holy See Press Office in Vatican City. Beside him is Cardinal Mario Grech, the Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops. / Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2023 / 12:54 pm (CNA).

The first Vatican assembly for the global Synod on Synodality will kick off in October bringing together clerics and laity alike for nearly one month of discussions. Here is what you need to know:

What is the Synod on Synodality?

The Synod on Synodality, initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021, is a multiyear, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics were asked to submit feedback to their local dioceses on the question “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

The Catholic Church’s massive synodal process has already undergone diocesan, national, and continental stages. It will culminate in two global assemblies at the Vatican. The first will take place Oct. 4–28 and the second in October 2024 to advise the pope on the topic “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

What does synodality mean?

Synodality was defined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s International Theological Commission in 2018 as “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the people of God.”

The 2021 synod preparatory document described synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church.”

The latest document published by the Vatican adds that synodality can also be understood as something that “does not derive from the enunciation of a principle, a theory, or a formula but develops from a readiness to enter into a dynamic of constructive, respectful, and prayerful speaking, listening, and dialogue.”

“At the root of this process is the acceptance, both personal and communal, of something that is both a gift and a challenge: to be a Church of sisters and brothers in Christ who listen to one another and who, in so doing, are gradually transformed by the Spirit,” it says.

Pope Francis has said that he envisions the Synod on Synodality as “a journey in accordance with the Spirit, not a parliament for demanding rights and claiming needs in accordance with the agenda of the world, nor an occasion for following wherever the wind is blowing, but the opportunity to be docile to the breath of the Holy Spirit.”

What are the main questions that the Synod on Synodality will try to answer?

There are three overarching questions for the upcoming synod assembly as defined by the 2023 synod assembly’s guiding document called the Instrumentum Laboris:

  1. How can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of all humanity?

  2. How can we better share gifts and tasks in the service of the Gospel?

  3. What processes, structures, and institutions are needed in a missionary synodal Church?

The main objective of the first session in October will be to design a plan of study in a “synodal style” and to indicate who will be involved in those discussions, according to the Instrumentum Laboris. Discernment will be “completed” in the 2024 session of the synod.

What are some of the topics that could be addressed in the synod assembly?

The Instrumentum Laboris document guiding the discussions at the October synod assembly suggests discernment on questions regarding some hot-button topics, including women deacons, priestly celibacy, and LGBTQ outreach. 

The document also highlights a desire for new institutional bodies to allow for greater participation in decision-making by the “people of God.” One of the proposed questions for discernment for the synod of bishops asks: “What can we learn about the exercise of authority and responsibility from other Churches and ecclesial communities?”

How does the Synod on Synodality differ from past synods of bishops?

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

For the first time, the Synod of Bishops in 2023 will include voting delegates who are not bishops. Nearly a third of the 364 voting delegates were chosen directly by the pope, including laypeople, priests, consecrated women, and deacons. Fifty-four voting members are women. 

The October assembly will be held in the Paul VI Hall, instead of the Vatican’s New Synod Hall, with delegates sitting at round tables of about 10 people each. The latter part of the October gathering will focus on deciding the Church’s next steps and “the necessary in-depth theological and canonical studies in preparation” for a second assembly in October 2024.

What other events are happening leading up to the October Vatican assembly?

The 2023 Synod on Synodality assembly at the Vatican will begin with a three-day retreat for the Catholic bishops and participants Oct. 1–3 led by Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe, who has drawn criticism from some for his statements on homosexuality.

Pope Francis has also announced an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square as part of the Synod on Synodality on Sept. 30. The prayer vigil, organized by the Taizé Community, will entrust to God the work of the October synod assembly.

Who has participated in the Synod on Synodality?

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has reported that the initial diocesan listening phase concluded with the participation of 112 out of 114 of the world’s Catholic bishops’ conferences.

According to a report from the U.S. bishops’ conference, about 700,000 people participated in the diocesan phase of the synod in the U.S. out of 66.8 million Catholics in the country, or about 1%.

Who are the key organizers of the Synod on Synodality?

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the 64-year-old archbishop of Luxembourg, is one of the leading organizers of the ongoing Synod on Synodality as the relator general. The Jesuit was recently added to Pope Francis’ council of cardinal advisers. Hollerich said in an interview in March that he believes that a future pope could allow women priests and that he finds “the part of the teaching calling homosexuality ‘intrinsically disordered’ a bit dubious.”

Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary general for the Synod of Bishops, is the former bishop of Gozo, Malta. He was one of two authors of the Maltese bishops’ controversial pastoral guidelines on Amoris Laetitia, which stated that divorced and remarried Catholics, in certain cases and after “honest discernment,” could receive Communion. Last year, Grech decried the public criticism of the German “Synodal Way” as “denunciation.”

Is there a prayer for the Synod on Synodality?

The vade mecum for the synod published the following “Prayer for the Synod on Synodality”:

“We stand before you, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in your name. With you alone to guide us, make yourself at home in our hearts; teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it. We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder. Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions. Let us find in you our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right. All this we ask of you, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever. Amen.”

Pope Francis highlights life of service of Venezuelan blessed at general audience

Pope Francis gives his general audience address in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 13, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 13, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

During his Sept. 13 general audience, Pope Francis presented the life of Blessed José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros as an example of the Gospel in action and service to the greater good.

The general audience was the latest installment of the pope’s ongoing series on apostolic zeal, which is an opportunity for the faithful to “meet passionate witnesses to the proclamation of the Gospel,” individuals who embodied “the will and also the inner passion to carry the Gospel forward,” according to the pope.

Wednesday’s catechism focused on the Venezuelan Hernández, the “people’s doctor,” and was the 20th installment in the series, which opened Jan. 11 with the life of the Apostle Matthew.

‘The doctor of the poor’: a life of works of mercy

Hernández was born Oct. 26, 1864, in Trujillo state, Venezuela. Though he wanted to pursue the priesthood, he was unable to due to ill health. Nevertheless, his faith was at the center of his life; he was a daily communicant, had a rich prayer life, and was a Third Order Franciscan layman.

After completing his studies in Caracas, he went to Paris, where he took advanced coursework in bacteriology. Hernández was, the Holy Father said, “a doctor close to the weak.” He was someone who often gave medical assistance to the poor and needy, often without asking for any compensation. Instead of the “wealth of money he preferred that of the Gospel,” the pope remarked. This life of service was predicated upon charity and mercy and underscored by his willingness to listen to the will of God.

The Holy Father said this apostolic zeal derived from “a certainty and a strength. The certainty was the grace of God.” Hernández died in 1919 at the age of 54 after being struck by a car on his way to deliver medicine to a sick patient. He died “while carrying out a work of mercy,” Pope Francis noted. Following his death, Hernández went on to gain a massive following in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican at his general audience on Sept. 13, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis waves to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican at his general audience on Sept. 13, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

Hernández was the first Venezuelan layperson to be beatified. On the eve of his beatification in 2021, Pope Francis in a video released by the Vatican said: “He is a model of holiness committed to the defense of life, in the challenges of history and, in particular, as a paradigm of service to his neighbor, like a good Samaritan, without excluding anyone. He is a man of universal service.”

The Holy Father tied the life of Hernández to the larger theme of today’s reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim 2:1-4), which not only underscores the importance of prayer but also juxtaposes it with gossip. Christians are called “to pray,” the pope said, and “to engage not in chatter — chatter, it is a plague — but to promote good and to build peace and justice in truth.” The critique of chatter or gossip has been a recurring theme of the pope’s messages, one that is the antithesis of promoting “good” and building “peace and justice in truth,” he said.

Pope Francis also took a moment to speak about the importance Hernández’s mother played in passing down the faith. The pope recalled the words of Hernández: “My mother taught me virtue from the cradle; she made me grow in the knowledge of God and gave me charity as a guide.”

The Holy Father went on to emphasize the important role all mothers play in transmitting faith to their children: “It is mothers who pass on the faith. Faith is transmitted in dialect; that is, with the language of mothers, that dialect that mothers know how to speak with their children. And to you mothers: Be careful when transmitting the faith in that maternal dialect.”

This emphasis on motherhood and a life of service to those in need is also seen in the recent beautification of the Ulma family.

“​​Wiktoria [Ulma] also learned, especially from her parents, how important it is to be open to the needs and requirements of other people” said Father Witold Burda, postulator of the Ulma family’s cause for beatification, on the occasion of the Sept. 10 beatification.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s general audience, Pope Francis acknowledged Polish Archbishop Adam Szal of the Archdiocese of Przemyśl for bringing to Rome the relics of the Ulma family, who are, the pope said, a “model of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” The pope then met with Szal and Burda in St. Peter’s Square, where they presented the official portrait of the Ulma family to the pontiff. In turn, the pope blessed the portrait and prayed before the relic.

Pope Francis blesses a portrait of the recently-beatified Ulma family at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 13, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media
Pope Francis blesses a portrait of the recently-beatified Ulma family at his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 13, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

The Ulma family — parents Josef and Wiktoria as well as their seven children — were beatified Sunday in Markowa, Poland. They were killed in 1944 by the Nazis after giving refuge to Jews in their home. It was an unprecedented beatification as it was the first time in the history of the Church that an entire family was beatified together. The beatification liturgy was presided over by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, and was attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The pope closed his audience by making an appeal of prayer for the people of Libya, who are suffering after heavy rainfall led to dam failures, reportedly leaving more than 10,000 people dead in the country.

“I invite you to join my prayer for those who have lost their lives, for their families and for the displaced. May our solidarity not be lacking towards these brothers and sisters, tried by such a devastating calamity,” the pope said. This comes only a few days after a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Morocco, leaving an estimated 3,000 dead there.

Cardinal Zuppi heading to Beijing to discuss peace efforts in Ukraine

Pope Francis and Cardinal Matteo Zuppi at the Vatican on Aug. 24, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Sep 12, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is traveling to Beijing this week to continue the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts to help bring peace in Ukraine.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed on Tuesday that the cardinal will be in the Chinese capital as the pope’s peace envoy from Sept. 13–15.

“The visit constitutes a further step in the mission desired by the pope to support humanitarian initiatives and the search for paths that can lead to a just peace,” Bruni told journalists on Sept. 12.

Pope Francis has asked the Italian cardinal to serve as a papal envoy to “initiate paths of peace” between Russia and Ukraine.

During his time in China, Zuppi is expected to meet Chinese Premier Li Qiang, according to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The Vatican did not release details about the cardinal’s scheduled meetings.

Pope Francis has described Zuppi’s scheduled stop in Beijing as part of the Vatican’s “peace offensive,” which has already included visits to Kyiv, Moscow, and Washington, D.C. The pope said in an interview last month that he has also considered appointing a permanent representative to serve as a bridge between Russia and Ukraine.

The Vatican’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine hit a road bump recently when Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called Pope Francis “pro-Russian” and “not credible” in comments to Ukrainian media on Sept. 8 following the pope’s invocation of imperial czars and “great Mother Russia” during a video conference with Russian youth in August.

The Vatican responded to Podolyak’s comments the following day, strongly refuting the Ukrainian’s claims that the Vatican Bank, or IOR, receives or invests money from Russia.

“In addition to being untrue, such an activity would also be impossible,” given the international sanctions and internal “stringent policies” of the bank, it said, including limiting its clientele to institutions or individuals who have close ties to the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis also acknowledged in his press conference with reporters on his return flight from Mongolia that his prior comments about “great Russia” were not appropriate and that he only intended them in a cultural sense to describe the country’s great literary and musical traditions, not imperial ambitions.

The Vatican also issued a clarification that the pope did not intend to exalt Russian imperialism after the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said the pope’s comments had caused “great pain and concern” among Ukrainian Catholics.

Zuppi told reporters on Monday that he does not think that the recent criticism of the pope by the Ukrainian presidential aide threatens his peace mission.

“I think that if there are any doubts they have obviously already been cleared up or will be cleared up: They are understandable in such a tense situation,” the cardinal said, according to Italy’s ANSA news agency.

“I think the Ukrainian government and people are aware of the support that they have always had from the Church and Pope Francis in their suffering,” he added.

The cardinal explained that the Vatican is not seeking to act as the mediator of the peace process in Ukraine in an official capacity.

“No one has ever talked about mediation,” Zuppi said.

“It has always been a mission; the pope explained this at the outset and has repeated what his expectation of this mission is and said precisely that it was not and is not ‘mediation,’ but rather to help.”

Zuppi, the archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has strong ties to the influential peace-building community Sant’Egidio.

Sant’Egidio is a Catholic lay association that has been involved in peace negotiations in many countries, including Mozambique, South Sudan, Congo, Burundi, and the Central African Republic.

Speaking on the sidelines of a Sant’Egidio conference in Berlin on Monday, Zuppi said that “clearly China is one of perhaps the most important factors” in achieving peace in Ukraine.

Zuppi told Italian television station TV2000: “We need the commitment of everyone, especially those with greater importance such as China. Peace requires the effort of everyone; it is never something that can be imposed by anyone.”

“The paths of peace are sometimes unpredictable; they need everyone’s commitment. We need a great alliance for peace and [to] push everyone in the same direction,” the cardinal said.

New doctrine chief welcomes debate but warns bishops about ‘schism’ risks

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. / Credit: Courtesy of Archdiocese of La Plata

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 11, 2023 / 17:13 pm (CNA).

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández, who is poised to take up his position as the head of the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office in the coming days, has signaled an openness to theological debates, saying they help deepen the Church’s understanding of the Gospel.

“True doctrine can only be a light, a guide for our steps, a sure path and a joy for the heart. But it is clear that even the Church does not yet fully grasp the full richness of the Gospel,” Fernández told veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, CNA’s sister news outlet, in an exclusive interview conducted by email on Sept. 8.

“The doctrine does not change, the Gospel will always be the same, Revelation is already settled,” said the incoming prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. “But there is no doubt that the Church will always be tiny in the midst of such an immensity of truth and beauty and will always need to continue to grow in her understanding.”

The 61-year-old Argentine theologian also criticized bishops — both “progressive” and those from “traditionalist groups” — who think they have a “special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the doctrine of the Holy Father,” warning that are on a road to “heresy” and “schism.”

“Remember that heretics always think they know the true doctrine of the Church,” Fernández said.

Fernández, a close confidante and purported ghostwriter of Pope Francis who has been the archbishop of La Plata since 2018, has expressed an openness to consider Church blessings of same-sex unions, provided they don’t result in “confusion.” But in the interview with Pentin he chafed at media implications that his views align with the German Church’s so-called Synodal Way, which has called for dramatic changes to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and other issues.

The cardinal-elect said the German Church “has serious problems and obviously has to think about a new evangelization,” but he professed to know “little about it” and instead highlighted what he calls his own “formula for dealing with the religious indifference of society” in the way he evangelized as a priest and bishop in Argentina.

“Look, my most famous book is called ‘Los Cinco Minutos del Espiritu Santo’ (‘The 5 Minutes of the Holy Spirit’) and contains a daily meditation on the Holy Spirit that has sold 150,000 copies. Did you know that?” Fernández asked.

“On the other hand, I was a parish priest and I was also a diocesan bishop. Go and ask the faithful in my parish what I did when I was parish priest, and you will see: Eucharistic adoration, catechism courses, Bible courses, home missions with Our Lady and a prayer to bless the home. I had 10 prayer groups and 130 young people,” he continued.

“As diocesan bishop I used to ask people about what I’d discuss in my homilies in the cathedral and in my visits to the parishes: about Christ, about prayer, about the Holy Spirit, about Mary, about sanctification. And last year I proposed to the whole archdiocese to concentrate on ‘growing together towards holiness.’”

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández, shown holding aloft an image of Blessed Carlo Acutis, says he promoted eucharistic adoration, Bible studies, the rosary, and youth prayer groups as a priest and bishop in Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of the Archdiocese of La Plata
Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández, shown holding aloft an image of Blessed Carlo Acutis, says he promoted eucharistic adoration, Bible studies, the rosary, and youth prayer groups as a priest and bishop in Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of the Archdiocese of La Plata

Pope Francis on July 1 named Fernández to succeed Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, SJ, 79, who has been prefect of the dicastery since 2017.

“As the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, I entrust to you a task that I consider very valuable,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter to Fernández, published with the announcement of his appointment.

The pope said the dicastery at times has promoted pursuing “doctrinal errors” over “promoting theological knowledge.”

“What I expect from you is certainly something very different,” Francis said. “I ask you as prefect to dedicate your personal commitment in a more direct way to the main purpose of the dicastery, which is ‘guarding the faith.’”

Fernández struck a similar chord in discussing his new role in his interview with Pentin.

“I believe that this dicastery can be a space that can welcome these debates and frame them in the secure doctrine of the Church, thus avoiding for the faithful some of the more aggressive, confusing, and even scandalous media debates,” he said.

But he had more pointed things to say about bishops who judge the “doctrine of the Holy Father.”

The pope not only has a duty to guard and preserve the “static” deposit of faith, Fernández said, but also a second, unique charism, only given to Peter and his successors, which is “a living and active gift.”

“I do not have this charism, nor do you, nor does Cardinal [Raymond] Burke. Today only Pope Francis has it,” he said, an apparent reference to a preface that Burke wrote for a book that is critical of next month’s Synod on Synodality.

“Now, if you tell me that some bishops have a special gift of the Holy Spirit to judge the doctrine of the Holy Father, we will enter into a vicious circle (where anyone can claim to have the true doctrine) and that would be heresy and result in schism,” he said.

“Remember that heretics always think they know the true doctrine of the Church. Unfortunately, today, not only do some progressives fall into this error but also, paradoxically, do some traditionalist groups.”

You can read Pentin’s full interview with Fernández here.