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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.

Sharing the Light of Christ

Francis and and his brothers could have been killed spreading the Gospel. In bringing near the kingdom of heaven, the brothers were engaging in one of the oldest of dramas in which the battle between darkness and light is played out. It was not so much a battle in which they fought the darkness, as it was the ongoing battle with themselves to keep bearing the light, to keep bringing near the kingdom and not giving up, even when they were rejected. For even in rejection they are bringing near the kingdom. And even if they were martyred for proclaiming these words of Jesus, they were not overcome by darkness; they were yielding to the light.

—from the book Francis and Jesus by Murray Bodo

Francis and Jesus 

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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Archbishop Scicluna hospitalized in Chile amid abuse investigation

Santiago, Chile, Feb 21, 2018 / 10:27 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who is currently in Chile investigating allegations of abuse cover-up by a local bishop, was hospitalized Wednesday and underwent gallbladder surgery, though he is expected to make a full recovery.

The Archdiocese of Malta announced the news in a brief statement Feb. 21, saying Scicluna was admitted to the San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago.

According to the Chilean bishops’ conference, Scicluna had been experiencing pain since last week. The spokesman, Deacon Jaime Coiro, said the archbishop has come out of surgery and is in stable condition. His recovery time in hospital is expected to take between two and three days.

Scicluna arrived in Santiago Feb. 19 to interview victims of sexual abuse and those opposed to the 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros as Bishop of Osorno, whom they say covered up the crimes of his longtime friend Fr. Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

In addition to heading the Diocese of Malta, Scicluna in 2015 was named by the Pope to oversee the doctrinal team charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, beginning in 1995, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

Prior to arriving in Santiago, Scicluna stopped in New York to interview Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima's most high-profile victims and one of Barros' most vocal opponents.

Barros’ appointment to Osorno was met with harsh criticism and continues to be a source of contention for activists and abuse victims who accuse the bishop of covering up the crimes of Karadima.

Barros has repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing of the abuse, and Pope Francis has backed him, saying during a visit to Chile last month that accusations against the bishop were “calumny,” as he has received no evidence backing the allegations and no victims had come forward.

However, shortly after returning from his Jan. 15-18 visit to Chile, the Vatican announced that Francis had named Scicluna as his envoy to interview several witnesses who came forward claiming to have evidence of the cover-up.

The case then took another complicated turn when Cruz made a statement in an interview with the Associated Press saying he had sent the Pope an eight-page letter in April 2015 claiming that Barros had not only witnessed Karadima's abuse, but had at times participated.

He had given the letter to four members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, who in turn handed it to the head of the commission Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who was to deliver it to the Pope.

News of the letter and the Pope's statement in Chile that no victims had come forward raised questions as to whether or not Francis had received the letter, or whether he read it if it did in fact reach his desk.

After leaving Malta Feb. 15 to meet with Cruz in person in New York, Scicluna then went to Santiago Feb. 19 to interview more witnesses related to the Barros case. He is scheduled to return to Malta Feb. 25.

According to the Chilean bishops’ conference, Scicluna's surgery has not impacted the investigation, and the interviews “will continue as planned,” being carried out instead by Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who accompanied Scicluna as notary for the case. In turn, another priest traveling with two has been asked to act as notary.

In their statement, the Chilean bishops’ conference voiced their hope that Scicluna will have a “quick recovery.” The archbishop, they noted, voiced his desire to meet with some of the witnesses as soon as he is able.

Jesus Conquers Death

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus dies before he dies, and thereby readies himself for what awaits him. The next day, when Pilate threatens him with death, Jesus stands in a freedom and courage that can be understood only if we understand what happened to him in the garden. When Pilate says to him: “Don’t you know that I have power over you, power to take your life or to save it?” Jesus answers: “You have no power over me whatsoever. Nobody takes my life; I give it over freely.” Pilate is threatening a man who is already dead. No big threat. Jesus had already undergone the agonia. In great anguish, he had given his life over freely the night before, and so he is ready for whatever awaits him.

—from the book The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser

The Passion and the Cross

British judge allows toddler's life support switched off, despite parents' wishes

Liverpool, England, Feb 20, 2018 / 04:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A British court ruled Tuesday that physicians can stop providing life support, against his parents' wishes, to Alfie Evans, a 21-month old boy who has an unknown neurological degenerative condition.

Evans is in a “semi-vegetative state” and on life support at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, where doctors have said further efforts are futile and went to court to argue that continuing treatment, as his parents wish, is not in Evans' best interest.

Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court ruled Feb. 20 that “Alfie's need now is for good quality palliative care … He requires peace, quiet, and stability, so that he may conclude his life as he has lived it.”

“I am satisfied that continued ventilatory support is no longer in Alfie’s interests. This decision I appreciate will be devastating news to Alfie’s parents. I hope they will take time to read this judgement again.”

Alder Hey Children's Hospital has said it always tries to agree with patients on plans for care: “Our aim is always to try and reach an agreement with parents about the most appropriate care plan for their child. Unfortunately there are sometimes rare situations such as this where agreement cannot be reached and the treating team believe that continued active treatment is not in a child's best interests.”

The hospital may withdraw Evans' ventilation on Friday.

Alfie's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, are considering appealing the decision.

His doctors have described his condition as untreatable, but his parents are requesting their son’s transfer to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome for further diagnosis and possible treatment.

Evans' case echoes that of Charlie Gard, a terminally ill English infant who died in July 2017 after being taken off life support against his parents' wishes. Gard was 11 months old, and had been at the center of a months-long legal debate regarding parental rights and human life.

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital treating Gard also went to court to take him off of life support, saying his parent's decision to maintain treatment was not in his interest.

Though Gard's parents raised more than $1.6 million for his treatment and had offers from hospitals in Europe and the US to give him experimental treatments, a High Court judge ordered that he be taken off life support.

Discussing Gard's situation with CNA in June 2017, Dr. Melissa Moschella, a Catholic University of America philosophy professor, said: “It seems to me completely wrongheaded that the state should be stepping in here when the decision that the parents are making is really aimed at the best interests of the child.”

“It’s not crazy, it’s not abusive, it’s not neglectful. It’s the decision of parents who want to, however they can, to give their very sick child a chance for life.”

She said such a decision “should be completely within the prerogative of the parent,” citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Moschella, that declaration “clearly indicates that the parents, not the state will have primarily responsibility.”

Recent polls encourage Ireland's pro-life advocates

Dublin, Ireland, Feb 20, 2018 / 02:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Republic of Ireland prepares to vote in a referendum that could liberalize the country’s abortion laws, a recent poll has shown dwindling support for a change in the constitution.

According to a recent Sunday Times Behavior and Attitudes poll, support for abortions past three-months gestation fell to 43 percent from 51 percent, while opposition to changing the country’s abortion laws rose to 35 percent from 27 percent.

“These new figures represent a notional 16 percent swing towards opposition in a two-week period,” Niamh Ui Bhriain, a spokesman for the pro-life campaign Savethe8th, said in a recent statement.

“This tallies with the experience of our campaign, which has been that the more people find out about the government’s extreme proposal, the more they reject it,” Ui Bhriain continued.

Ui Bhriain voiced her hope in the new numbers, but also noted that “all polls should be taken with a grain of salt.”

The proposed bill would repeal the country’s eighth amendment, which recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child. Under current law, the practice of abortion in Ireland is illegal, unless the mother’s health is endangered.

The eighth amendment was passed in Ireland in 1983, with upwards of 67 percent voter-approval. It reads, in part, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The new legislation is seeking to repeal the amendment, which would allow unrestricted access to abortion for the first three months of pregnancy.

Advocates of the referendum are also noticing the drop in support for the proposed law. Regina Doherty, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, said there is a lot of “work to be done” if they are to repeal the eighth amendment.  

“Standing right now, if nobody does anything, I don’t think this referendum will pass,” Doherty said, according to the Irish Examiner.

Health Minister Simon Harris said in a Tweet that they were in for “a busy few weeks ahead on an extremely important issue.”  

Some reports have noted conflicting viewpoints among cabinet members, causing confusion in the discussion surrounding the amendment. However, Doherty denounced the speculation, saying,  “I don’t think there is anybody creating problems or muddying the waters.”

The BBC reported that the Irish cabinet is set to release a final text of the referendum bill March 6.

The proposal will be brought to the people, who will vote on whether a “provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.” The formal referendum will take place in May.

In an effort to fight against the referendum, Savethe8th will be hosting a rally March 10 at the Dublin City Center at 2:00 PM. This gathering will be the last major pro-life rally in an effort to “keep Ireland a safe place for mothers and babies,” before the referendum vote in the spring.

“If this referendum is passed, there will be no constitutional protection for the unborn child at any stage of pregnancy,” said Ui Bhriain.

“We will campaign will all of our strength to defeat it, and we are going to win.”

South Africa's new president praised for commitment to fight corruption

Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb 20, 2018 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The first State of the Nation address by South Africa's new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has been welcomed by one of the country's Jesuit priests for its call to create communities of trust and to dialogue about problems facing South Africa.

Ramaphosa assumed office Feb. 15, following the resignation of Jacob Zuma, whose tenure was marked by numerous allegations of corruption allegations and fostered a decline in morality in public life. South Africa's bishops were quick to welcome Zuma's choice to resign.

In his State of the Nation address Feb. 16, Ramaphosa pledged to “turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions. We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.”

Ramaphosa also discussed land redistribution and job creation.

Fr. Peter-John Pearson wrote at Spotlight Africa Feb. 19 that Ramaphosa's speech echoed “poignant issues outlined in Catholic Social Teaching.”

Writing at the ministry of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, the priest cited Ven. Pius XII and Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster from 1976 to 1999, in stressing “importance of restoring and building civic relationships thus strengthening civil society.”

“Ramaphosa called for the reestablishment of communities of trust in the face of diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in leaders. He underlined that it is everyone’s task to create a common destiny,” Fr. Pearson noted.

He cited St. John Paul II's teaching on solidarity, and said Ramaphosa's “commitment to undoing past injustices and present inequalities is key to establishing the common good.”

“His further commitment to the free basic services which supports 3.5 million indigent households and continuing the payment of 17 million grants to the poorest of the poor, resonates with the fundamental option for the poor as does his promise to deal effectively with those who have plundered the resources of the nation and those who have established a culture of cronyism and corruption.”

The priest also considered it important how often Ramaphosa “promised to hold summits on a variety of important and often contested issues ranging from investment to jobs.”

“While some decried this emphasis as an entrenchment of a culture of talking at the risk of it diminishing action: from a CST perspective it undergirds the importance of dialogue as a powerful way of ensuring the inclusion of usually excluded voices in the process of developing public policy,” Fr. Pearson stated.

“In a country plagued with a history of identity politics and a growing exclusion of the poor from any meaningful decision making about their own futures, creating spaces for dialogue and thus building incrementally those communities of trust, is critical for any sustainable  life  together,” he added.

The priest concluded suggesting that this is the first time that “there seems to be a spirit of hope in South Africa” in several years.

“A solid indication of pursuing the quest for justice, enhancing a dialogical culture together with appropriate processes that implement such dialogues, and the generation of hope, are indeed the benchmarks of CST and a sign of the times in South Africa.”