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The ‘young man with a big, good heart’: STEM hero Kendrick Castillo laid to rest

Denver, Colo., May 17, 2019 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- On a warm Friday morning in May at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Littleton, Colorado, about 40 Knights of Columbus dressed in full regalia flanked the entrance of the church as friends and family of Kendrick Castillo filed in to commend him to God at his funeral.

Each attendee was handed a small card - on one side, Kendrick smiling, dressed in a Christmas sweater and sitting on a Jeep. On the other side, a simple tribute including his birth and death dates, funeral location, and the bible verse John 15:13 that seems to capture the way his life ended: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Kendrick was the lone casualty in the STEM high school shooting on May 7 in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He died, witnesses say, after he jumped up in the line of fire and ran to stop one of the shooters with a couple other students.

His funeral was attended by relatives and friends that filled the large Catholic church, and included an honor guard of 80 Knights of Columbus, about half of whom dressed in the old feather-capped regalia, and half in the new uniform with a beret.

The Knights lined the aisles and drew their swords in tribute to Kendrick during the processional and recessional, honoring a young man who spent hundreds of hours volunteering for the Knights of Columbus with his dad. A group of Kendrick’s close friends from high school served as pallbearers.

Bishop Jorge Rodríguez, auxiliary bishop of Denver, and five other priests and deacons presided at the Mass.

In his homily, Rodriguez talked about how Kendrick imitated Christ and “pleased God” throughout his life as a selfless, loving person.

Kendrick was “a holy young man,” Rodriguez said. “A young man who was a good disciple of Jesus Christ. We call ‘saints’ those able to love to the end. Kendrick gave everything he is, and everything he had -family, a future, a degree, his life- so other young men and women could go back to their families, have a future, graduate and live.”

“Kendrick’s life is like the echo of Jesus’ words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,’” he added, again referencing John 15:13.

The bishop referenced Scripture throughout his homily, noting how Kendrick was pleasing to and loved by God.

“Only a young man with God in his heart and possessing a big good heart can do what he did: to lay down his life to save his friends. I’m sure John and Maria, that you feel proud of your son: God too is very proud of his child, Kendrick,” Rodriguez said.

“The Book of Wisdom repeats: ‘His soul was pleasing to the Lord.’ The soul is the center of our consciousness, freedom, the seat of love and will; that self that makes us God’s image and touches who we really are. God loves Kendrick’s soul because he is a good young man,” he added.

He noted that Kendrick was only a few days from his high school graduation when he was killed, and could have accomplished many more things on earth with his “big good heart,” but that he was now with God, where “all the evil of this world will not be able to touch him again.”

Instead, Kendrick experienced a much more profound kind of graduation, Rodriguez said.

“Kendrick graduated not for an academic degree, but he graduated in humanity and in Christian life,” he said.

At the end of life, everyone will be examined not on their academic knowledge or worldly success, the bishop noted, but on how well they loved.

“Kendrick passed this test with honors,” he said. “He accomplished in a short time a great career in honorableness, love and holiness. As Scripture says, the greatness of a man ‘cannot be measured in terms of years.’”

Even though Kendrick was a good person and is loved and cared for by the Lord, his death still causes “unbearable” pain, especially for his family, Rodriguez said.

The bishop encouraged John and Maria, the parents of Kendrick, to hold fast to the Gospel of John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”

That passage, Rodriguez said, contains two promises for Kendrick: that he is enjoying eternal life in heaven, and that he will be raised with Jesus on the last day.

“Dream with that moment, when you will see Kendrick right in front of you, radiant, smiling and coming to you for a big hug,” he said.

He then encouraged everyone in attendance to follow the example of Kendrick’s faith and love, and thanked John and Maria for their son.

“John and Maria, Kendrick, your son, is a gift for all of us. And we all must commit to keep his legacy and to praise God for the gift of Kendrick’s years among us.”

“God loves your child. Now, he is with him. And he left, keeping you in his heart.”

Signatura: Geissler 'acquittal' came after formal process

Vatican City, May 17, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Vatican announced Friday that a former Curial official accused of sexual solicitation in the confessional was found not guilty after a penal process at the Church’s highest canonical court. Previous reports had indicated that the allegations were investigated by the Vatican, but had not indicated that the matter was resolved by a formal judicial process.

Fr. Hermann Geissler, 53, is a member of Familia spiritualis Opus (FSO), informally known as “Das Werk.” The priest served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1993 until Jan. 29.

Geissler stepped down from his position after a former member of “Das Werk,” Doris Wagner, claimed last year in a lengthy piece in the German newspaper DIE ZIET that she had been sexually harassed in the confessional by a member of the religious community she then belonged to, identified in the article as “Hermann G.”

Geissler has maintained his innocence since the allegations first . The solicitation of a sin against the sixth commandment within the context of confession is considered in the Church law to be a “grave delict,” or offense, for which a priest can be dismissed from the clerical state.

A communique issued May 17 by the Vatican’s Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura said that after an administrative penal process, a five-judge panel “issued the decree of acquittal of the accused,” because the allegation was not “proven with due moral certainty.”

That release clarifies a May 16 release from Geissler’s religious community, which said that a decision was made at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, “after a preliminary investigation according to Canon 1717,” that the “above-mentioned case does not constitute a delict.”

The “preliminary investigation” is the canonical process that precedes a formal trial. An administrative penal process, by contrast, is a kind of expedited canonical trial, at which judges hear evidence and arguments regarding an allegation, without all of the formal requirements of an ordinary trial. The Signatura’s release clarifies that Geisler was in fact subject to formal charges, for which he was found not guilty.

The administrative penal process is the same canonical procedure that was used earlier this year to try former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and adults, and of sexual solicitation in the sacrament of penance.

Geissler is well known as a theologian and a scholar of Bl. John Henry Newman. His religious community has not yet announced what next he will do.

Pope offers words of encouragement to African missionaries

Vatican City, May 17, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis spoke to African-based missionaries gathered at the Vatican on Friday, applauding their efforts to show compassion to the continent’s most vulnerable.

The Society of African Missions was received by the pope at the Consistory Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

The order has been in Rome for its General Chapter, taking place at the Vatican from April 30 to May 24. The theme of this year’s meeting is “A family faithful to its missionary charism in today’s complex and changing context.”

The pope commended the order’s dedication to its communal life, which he said leads to greater acts of charity toward the suffering victims on the “peripheries” of society, especially in the rural populations where the Christian faith is fragile.

“Faithful to your roots, you are called, as a family and since you are a family, to bear witness to the risen Christ through the love that unites you to one another, and with the radiant joy of an authentic fraternal life,” he said.

“Evangelization is always carried out by a community that acts ‘by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others,’” he further added, quoting Evangelii gaudium.

The Society of African Missions was founded in 1856 by Servant of God Melchior de Marion Brésillac and its first superior general Fr. Augustin Planque. The order seeks to provide the people of Africa with spiritual and physical nourishment including education, interreligious dialogue, and aid to displaced people.

The pope applauded the order for continuing to follow in the footsteps of its founders, with members even placing themselves in dangerous situations to advance the Gospel.

He pointed to the example of an Italian priest, a member of the order, who was kidnapped last September by unknown gunmen in Niger. The pope promised to pray for the priest, who is still believed to be in captivity.

“I would like to join in your prayer for your brother Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, kidnapped for several months in Niger, and to assure the concern and attention of the Holy See regarding this worrying situation.”

He challenged the members to undergo greater conversion, immersing themselves into charitable works, reflections on scripture, and the sacraments. This dedication to the spiritual life will lead its members to find Christ in the work they do and further embrace their commitment to the vulnerable, he said.

“I also encourage you to persevere in your commitment, in close collaboration with members of other religions and institutions, at the service of children and the most fragile people, victims of war, disease, and human trafficking,” he said.

“Because the option for the least, for those that society rejects and sets aside, is a sign that concretely manifests the presence and solicitude of the merciful Christ.”

Concluding his address, Pope Francis invoked the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the group may witness the faith with a renewed zeal, listening to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to extend beyond the familiar and to new paths of evangelization.

“I encourage you to persevere, with renewed enthusiasm and dynamism, on the path travelled by the Society of African Missions and which has produced many fruits of conversion to Christ,” he said.

“With this hope, I entrust your missionary family to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, asking her to support your efforts.”

Archbishop of Erbil: Is the US abandoning Christians at risk in Iraq?

Erbil, Iraq, May 17, 2019 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Bashar Warda, one of the leading voices on behalf of persecuted and displaced Christians in Iraq, released today an urgent statement regarding the retreat of U.S. personnel from key areas in the country.

“We are gravely concerned regarding the recent draw down of the U.S. presence in Iraq,” the archbishop said. “Having faced genocide at the hands of ISIS, our shattered communities have drawn immense hope from the promise of the American commitment to Iraqi minority communities spearheaded by the Vice President.”

Warda, as Archbishop of Erbil in the Kurdistan region, received tens of thousands of Christian and Yazidi refugees displaced from the Nineveh Plain after ISIS took large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2012.

“The 2011 pullout by the last administration created the vacuum which allowed ISIS to emerge,” the archbishop said. “A new vacuum created by American disengagement will likely meet with a similarly unhappy result. We urgently await clarification from the U.S. government concerning its commitments to the endangered minorities of Iraq.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency U.S. government employees at the American embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil. The Trump administration said the order was given in relation to a threat connected to Iran. Iraqi authorities have expressed doubt about the threat. U.S. lawmakers have asked President Donald Trump for more information about the situation.

Stephen Rasche, counsel for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, told CNA that Archbishop Warda is responding to this partial evacuation.

“We are responding particularly today to unclear information over the past several days from various sources within the U.S. government that the U.S. is preparing to pull back, at least in part, from its prior commitments regarding support to endangered minorities in Iraq,” Rasche said.

Rasche said that Christians and other minorities are increasingly nervous because “the Church in Iraq has yet to receive a clear statement from anyone in the U.S. Government as to what the drawdown of personnel means for efforts to help these minorities.”

On October 25, 2017, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence committed to defending persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

He told a crowd gathered in Washington D.C. for the annual summit of In Defense of Christians (IDC) that the US “will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups.”

“The United States will work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith. This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need,” Pence also said.

Pope Francis tells medical professionals to defend life

Vatican City, May 17, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis Friday encouraged medical professionals to defend and promote life, highlighting the practice of conscientious objection in today’s healthcare environment.

“Defend and promote life, starting from those who are most defenseless or in need of assistance because they are sick, or elderly, or marginalized,” Pope Francis said May 17.

The pope met with the Italian Catholic Association of Healthcare Workers in Vatican’s apostolic palace and encouraged their commitment to pro-life healthcare.

The pope stressed that just because a medical technique is technologically possible does not mean it is necessarily ethical.

“Any medical practice or intervention on the human being must first be evaluated carefully to see if it actually respects life and human dignity,” he said.

“The practice of conscientious objection … can be a sign for the healthcare environment in which we find ourselves, as well as for the patients and their families,” he explained.

Francis said that in extreme cases where human life is endangered, conscientious objection based on one’s ethical convictions should be sought with respect and humility in order to prevent understandings.

“Always seek dialogue, especially with those who have different positions, listening to their point of view and trying to transmit yours,” he advised.

Pope Francis critiqued the “corporatization” of healthcare systems today, commenting that healthcare workers must treat patients as people, not numbers.

“Its corporatization … has fundamentally changed the approach to illness and to the patient himself with its preference for efficiency often preceding attention to the person, who needs to be understood, listened to and accompanied, as much as he needs a correct diagnosis and effective treatment,” Francis said.

He said that this corporatization also has an effect on medical workers leading to “burnout,” with many struggling to cope with long work shifts and a stressful working environment.

To guard against these pressures, Francis emphasized the importance of prayer and prioritizing one’s own spiritual life, commenting that this is what sustained the many dedicated saints who served the sick with love.

“To keep your spirit alive, I urge you to be faithful to prayer and to nourish yourselves with the Word of God: always with the Gospel in your pocket,” the pope advised.

“Healing, among other things, passes not only from the body, but also from the spirit.”