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Be servants to one another, pope tells prisoners before washing feet

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media, via Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Jesus' gesture of washing his disciples' feet, an act once reserved to servants and slaves, is one that all Christians, especially bishops, must imitate, Pope Francis told hundreds of inmates and prison employees on Holy Thursday.

"Jesus' rule and the rule of the Gospel" is to serve others and not "to dominate, do evil or humiliate others," the pope said April 18 during his homily at the Velletri Correctional Facility, 36 miles south of Rome.

"The church asks the bishop to imitate Jesus' gesture every year -- at least once a year -- on Holy Thursday," he said. "The bishop isn't the most important (person); the bishop must be the greatest servant. And each one of us must be servants to others."

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the prison and washed the feet of a dozen inmates. Nine were Italian and one each was from Brazil, Ivory Coast and Morocco, the Vatican said.

Vatican News reported the prison houses more than 570 prisoners; 60 percent of those incarcerated are non-Italians.

The Mass was held in the room the prison uses as a theater; it was draped in white curtains. The altar, lectern and a wooden statue of Mary were adorned with white and yellow flowers.

As Pope Francis made his way into the room at the start of the Mass, the detainees were unable to contain their joy. The solemnity of the opening procession was interrupted by the applause and cheers of the detainees upon seeing the pope.

In his brief homily before the foot-washing ritual, the pope told the prisoners that the act of washing one's feet was a task reserved solely to slaves who would wash the feet of any guests that arrived at the house.

However, Jesus, "who had all the power, he who was the Lord, makes the gesture of a slave," he said.

"This is brotherhood; brotherhood is always humble; it is to be at the service (of others)," the pope said

Pope Francis also recalled another Gospel reading in which the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them. Jesus' response to them -- that the greatest should serve the least -- "is something interesting that we can connect with today's gesture," he said.

"We, too, must be servants. It is true that in life there are problems; we argue among ourselves, but this must be something that passes, a passing phase. In our hearts, there must always be this love to serve the other, to be at the service of others," the pope said.

After Mass, Maria Donata Iannantuono, director of the correctional facility, thanked Pope Francis for his visit. Several inmates and prison employees also presented him with gifts and letters.

As the pope made his way out of the theater, prisoners shouted "Viva il papa" ("Long live the pope") and applauded loudly.

Pope Francis has made it a tradition to celebrate Holy Thursday with people who could not come to the Vatican or the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the celebrations.

The April 18 Mass marked the fifth time Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Thursday Mass in a detention facility.

His first year as pope in 2013, he chose a juvenile detention facility to celebrate Holy Thursday. The next year, he washed the feet of people with severe physical handicaps at a rehabilitation center. That was followed by men and women detainees at Rome's Rebibbia prison in 2015, refugees in 2016, inmates at a jail in the Italian town of Paliano in 2017, and prisoners at Rome's "Regina Coeli" jail in 2018.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju


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Pope to priests: Best place to be is among the people

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as Jesus always sought to be with the people to serve, teach and heal them, so, too, must priests always be in the midst of God's people, "pouring ourselves out" for them, Pope Francis said.

Being with the people "is the most beautiful place" to be, he told priests during the chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica April 18.

"We must not forget that our evangelical models are those people, the 'crowd' with its real faces, which the anointing of the Lord raises up and revives. They are the ones who complete and make real the anointing of the Spirit in ourselves; they are the ones whom we have been anointed to anoint," he said.

Presiding over the first of two Holy Thursday liturgies, Pope Francis blessed the oils that will be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick. Deacons brought the silver urns, one by one, up to the pope, who breathed over the open vessels, symbolizing the infusion of the Holy Spirit.

As Holy Thursday commemorates the day Jesus shared his priesthood with the apostles, Pope Francis also led the priests, bishops and cardinals present in a renewal of their priestly vows.

He used his homily to reflect on how Jesus related to people, especially the huge crowds that pressed in on him and approached him with their problems, but also were eager to hear his voice and follow him.

From the day he was born, the pope said, Jesus attracted lowly shepherds, kings and wise men, and to the day he was nailed on the cross, his heart drew and still draws people like Veronica, the good thief and a Roman centurion.

The Lord always stood in the middle of the crowd "like a shepherd among his flock," the pope said, and those who gathered around him were in some way transformed by him.

They received the grace of a desire to follow Jesus and by following him, they received the grace of amazement and affection for him, and they received the grace of being able to discern and recognize his authority, the pope said.

The way Jesus encouraged people to be present, he said, contrasts sharply with the "small-mindedness of the disciples, whose attitude toward the people verges on cruelty when they suggest to the Lord that he send them away so that they can get something to eat."

"Here, I believe, was the beginning of clericalism: in this desire to be assured of a meal and personal comfort without any concern for the people," Pope Francis said. But Jesus "cut short that temptation" and told the disciples to feed and take care of the people.
Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh, awakened the charism of discernment in people, whose hearts were moved by "the power of his teaching" and who were amazed how evil spirits obeyed him.

The people also loved how Jesus could leave utterly speechless those who tried to trap him with tricky questions. "They knew how to distinguish" his authority over those who debated him, "and they enjoyed" it.

Jesus also had a special place in his heart, the pope said, for the poor, the oppressed, the blind and those held prisoner.

"Our cities today are taken prisoner not so much at spear point, but by more subtle means of ideological colonization," he said. "Only the anointing of our own culture, built up by the labor and the art of our forebears, can free our cities from these new forms of slavery."

The stories in Gospel of the poor and oppressed, their simple acts and enormous faith, "carried weight in the kingdom" and would be recorded in the Gospel, he said.

Priests must remember that "we have been taken from their midst, and we can fearlessly identify with these ordinary people," Pope Francis said. "They are an image of our soul and an image of the church."

Priests must see themselves as the poor with their generous hearts, as the blind, who pray, "Lord, that I may see," and as the oppressed who have been beaten by personal sin but await God's compassion to then "be able to show compassion to others."

Referring to their faculty of administering the sacraments and anointing individuals, the pope told priests, "we are not distributors of bottled oil. We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart."

"When we anoint others, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and the affection of our people. We anoint by dirtying our hands in touching the wounds, the sins and the worries of the people. We anoint by perfuming our hands in touching their faith, their hopes, their fidelity and the unconditional generosity of their self-giving," he said.

A priest who learns how to anoint and bless the way Jesus intended "is thus healed of meanness, abuse and cruelty," he said.

Pope Francis asked that by being with Jesus "in the midst of our people, may the Father renew deep within us the Spirit of holiness; may he grant that we be one in imploring his mercy for the people entrusted to our care and for all the world."

Later in the day, the pope was scheduled to celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Velletri Correctional Facility, about 36 miles south of Rome. He was to wash the feet of 12 prisoners, the Vatican said.


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Fire chaplain helped save religious artifacts from burning cathedral

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring


PARIS (CNS) -- A hero emerging from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire April 15 is Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, who is credited with saving a reliquary containing the crown of thorns and the Blessed Sacrament from the burning cathedral.

The fire chaplain reportedly demanded to be allowed into the cathedral along with firefighters to retrieve the cathedral's relics.

"Father Fournier is an absolute hero," a member of the Paris fire department told reporters April 16, adding that the priest showed "no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day and shows no fear."

The priest was said to be at the top, or "hot end" of the human chain that included city workers and church caretakers who entered the burning cathedral to save irreplaceable religious items and pieces of art.

French Culture Minister Franck Riester said the saved items include the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus before his crucifixion and a tunic once worn by St. Louis in the 13th century.

During the night of April 15, before the flames were extinguished, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted an image of the saved artifacts that were initially transferred to the city hall before being moved to the Louvre.

"Thank you to the Paris Fire Brigade, the police, and municipal agents who made a formidable human chain to save the works of Notre Dame," she said, noting that the crown of thorns, the tunic of St. Louis, and several other major works "are now in a safe place."

The next day, people began to find out more about the heroic fire chaplain involved in this rescue.

According to news reports, he served with the French armed forces for seven years and during that time he was deployed in Afghanistan where he survived an ambush that killed 10 of his fellow soldiers.

The priest also provided spiritual guidance -- praying over the dead and comforting the wounded -- four years ago after the terrorist attack at the Bataclan music club in which nearly 100 people died.


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College student's doughnut outing led to love and joining Catholic Church

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ashleigh Kassock for the Catholic Herald

By Ashleigh Kassock

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- In 1957, Sarah Wessel's great-grandmother, Isabella Brooks, hand-stitched a wedding gown for her daughter Mary Ann Kelsey. After the wedding, the satin gown was wrapped in blue paper and placed in a cedar chest, where it remained perfectly preserved.

It was taken out again in 1985 for Sarah's mother, Carolyn Page Wessel, and now it's Sarah's turn to wear it this September.

But before she wears the dress for her own wedding, there is another event the 21-year-old is eagerly counting down the days to -- her entrance into the Catholic Church at this year's Easter Vigil April 20.

"I just want the sacraments so badly," said Wessel, a senior math major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. "I am really looking forward to receiving Jesus' body, blood, soul and divinity, " she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

Wessel was baptized in the Episcopal Church, which she said fostered a deep love of Jesus and a serving heart.

"I remember going to the same church through my entire childhood and teenage years," said Wessel. "I felt like they were my family members. I truly love them and I see their love for God."

When she started college, she still desired the closeness she felt at her church back home. That's when she met Hunter Miller.

In June 2017, she was sitting with her friend at the Sugar Shack Donuts and Coffee shop in Fredericksburg. Seating was scarce, so she invited Miller and his mom, Norka, to join them.

"We talked a little bit about God and our lives, and then it was time for him to go to adoration and confession and he invited us to come," said Wessel.

Despite not knowing what adoration was, they agreed. "I remember thinking, 'I feel like God has a purpose here,'" she said.

That night ended up being very good for Wessel and Miller. His mom taught her the rosary and they spent quite a few hours in adoration.

"It was wonderful," said Wessel. "Pretty much every single time after that we went to church to pray."

Their courtship took off from day one and so did their talks about marriage and becoming Catholic.

"I knew that he really wanted me to be Catholic. He loved the Catholic Church. But for a little under a year, I was in denial. I asked him to take a step back in pressuring me and to allow God to make the change within me and call me so that way I would be converting for God and not for someone. He clearly understood."

For several months, Wessel said she just "let it be." She continued going to the Episcopal Church while also attending Mass with Miller. Soon, however, she started praying the rosary and going to church on her own.

"I really fell in love with adoration," she said, "because it is a time where it can be silent and I can feel God's spirit within me. I don't even have to think of anything and he fills me up with his love. I truly desire that and seek it."

After months of prayer and one particularly bad week that left her feeling alone and empty, she received a moment of clarity when she felt she should become Catholic and be engaged to Miller when that question came. And it did a few months later.

"I was like, 'I have to do this. I can't be happy without it. I can't be fulfilled without the church. I'm going to do it' and after that, I felt so much better," she said.

While she was relieved that the spiritual warfare inside her was over, she was apprehensive about talking to her parents since she hadn't kept her parents updated about her decision to become Catholic. Her newfound passion and determination surprised them.

"They didn't understand at first," Wessel said but added that her mom "just poured out love."

That following September she started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and has been counting down the days to the Easter Vigil ever since. She also has taken a more active role in the community by becoming the service chair for the parish young adult group.

"God is calling us to be saints and there are no exceptions," said Wessel. "In college, this is a time where everything is changing and I am so grateful that Jesus called me into the church at this time. Because it really helped me to realize the goal of life and who am I supposed to worship in all of my actions, and that is God."

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Editor's Note: A video accompanying this story can be found at

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Kassock is a contributor to the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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Pope's Way of Cross will shine light on women 'crucified' by traffickers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carol Glatz

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Countless women and girls are being "crucified" by human traffickers, who trick them into slave labor or prostitution, and by those who seek out their services and exploit them, said the missionary nun who wrote the meditations for Pope Francis' Way of the Cross service.

Victims of human trafficking are people whom "we have crucified and, today, in 2019, we continue to have people crucified for our use, our purposes, our well-being," Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti told reporters at a Vatican news conference April 17.

She said she hoped the April 19 event at Rome's Colosseum, where "so much suffering in the past" took place, would give witness to "so much suffering in the present, the suffering of these women, these minors, who are faceless, nameless, hopeless, who are just used and thrown away."

She wanted the pope's Good Friday ceremony, which meditates on Christ's passion and suffering, to help people recognize "today's passion" suffered by so many young people.

The prayers and meditations she wrote come from what she has witnessed and learned from the thousands of women and young girls she has helped over the past two decades, Sister Bonetti said; she and other religious women have ministered to sex workers along the roadsides of Italian cities, in police detention centers or in church-run safehouses, helping them get off the streets and rebuild their lives.

The service will include "heartfelt prayers that we have heard from these women and that we want to share with this world, around that cross, this Christ who dies again today on our streets," she said.

The text, she said, will also highlight today's "Veronicas" and "Marys" who run to be by the side of the victims and offer them comfort and prayers.

Her aim, she said, is to make people understand "that we all have a great responsibility" because if there are still modern-day slaves in the world, "we are all responsible and each one of us is called to do something, is called to really recognize the cry, the secret of these women," because they are there because there is a demand and because of the "enormous profits" reaped from their exploitation.

"Everyone feasts on the flesh of the poor," she said.

Thanks to her advocacy, Italy has a law that sees victims of human trafficking not as criminals but as victims of a crime and gives them a chance to obtain legal residency.

However, she added, the government is doing "much too little" to combat the sex trade "with the excuse that women are free to do what they want," while at the same time doing nothing about the economic and social problems that push many women into "a situation where the only possibility they have is to sell their body."

Every parishioner, parish priest, diocese and bishop must take responsibility and help "shape people's conscience," especially on the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking.

People must recognize how "shameful" it is that there are still so many "slaves on the streets" and "we must have the strong courage to say 'no' to slavery" and ask for forgiveness, she said.

For those who believe they should be free to do whatever they want with their money, she said, "No, my dear, you cannot buy a person's dignity; it is sacred, you must respect it, you must protect it."


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Catholic Church in the United States Will Welcome Thousands of New Catholics at Easter Vigil Masses

WASHINGTON— Dioceses across the country will be welcoming thousands of people into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil Masses on the evening of April 20th. As the culmination of the Easter Triduum, the Vigil celebrates the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While people can become Catholic at any time of the year, the Easter Vigil is a particularly appropriate moment for adult catechumens to be baptized and for already-baptized Christians to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Parishes welcome these new Catholics through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Many of the dioceses across the nation have reported their numbers of people who intend to become Catholic on Saturday to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Based on these reports, more than 37,000 people are expected to be welcomed into the Church at Easter Vigil Masses.

Prior to beginning the RCIA process, an individual comes to some knowledge of Jesus Christ, considers his or her relationship with Jesus Christ and is usually attracted in some way to the Catholic Church. Then during the RCIA process, which typically lasts nine months or more, a person learns the teachings of the Catholic Church in a more formal way and discerns that he or she is ready to commit to living according to these beliefs. Thousands of people have already passed through this process and are ready to take this step on Saturday in parishes throughout the country.

Two distinct groups of people will be initiated into the Catholic Church. Catechumens, who have never been baptized, will receive Baptism, Confirmation and first Communion at the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil. Candidates, who have already been baptized in another Christian tradition, will enter the Church through a profession of faith and reception of Confirmation and the Eucharist.

For example, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the United States, will welcome 1,560 catechumens and 913 candidates; the Archdiocese of San Francisco will welcome 174 catechumens and 175 candidates; and the Diocese of San Diego will welcome 306 catechumens and 806 candidates.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston will welcome 1,512 catechumens and 631 candidates. Among them will be Alfredo Acosta, who is experiencing both intense sorrow and joy over the past two years that led him to become a Catholic. He suffered the loss of his two younger brothers who passed away, but then he also celebrated the birth of his son, Benjamin, now 18-months old. “My wife Gricelda is a cradle Catholic. She was born into her faith. Then we baptized our son last year, so I wanted to be able to share our faith with both of them,” Acosta said. Other catechumens and candidates say they were also inspired by the witness of Catholics in their lives

Other archdioceses and dioceses report numbers as follows: Archdiocese of Washington: 455 catechumens and 183 candidates; Atlanta: 645 catechumens, 1,181 candidates; Dallas: 1,196 catechumens, 1,399 candidates; Fort Worth: 600 catechumens, 500 candidates; Corpus Christi: 130 catechumens, 43 candidates; Tyler: 101 catechumens, 190 candidates; Charlotte: 724 catechumens, 1,284 candidates; Venice in Florida: 148 catechumens, 120 candidates; Archdiocese of New Orleans: 152 catechumens, 161 candidates; Columbus: 173 catechumens, 227 candidates; Erie: 51 catechumens, 80 candidates; Baton Rouge: 158 catechumens, 300 candidates; Orlando: 514 catechumens, 482 candidates; Monterrey: 297 catechumens; Crookston: 7 catechumens, 33 candidates; St. Augustine: 174 catechumens, 315 candidates; Rockville Centre: 272 catechumens; Arlington, VA: 285 catechumens, 277 candidates; Salina: 33 catechumens, 88 candidates; Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: 205 catechumens, 319 candidates; Archdiocese of Newark: 411 catechumens, 58 candidates; Archdiocese of Oklahoma City: 262 catechumens, 324 candidates; Syracuse: 48 catechumens, 59 candidates.

The Archdiocese of Seattle reports 769 catechumens and 424 candidates; Salt Lake City: 227 catechumens, 107 candidates; Yakima: 255 catechumens, 40 candidates; Little Rock: 272 catechumens, 324 candidates; Archdiocese of Louisville: 185 catechumens, 191 candidates; Davenport: 63 catechumens, 85 candidates; Archdiocese of Denver: 462 catechumens, 348 candidates; Albany: 55 catechumens, 86 candidates; Archdiocese of Philadelphia: 196 catechumens, 267 candidates; Tucson: 136 catechumens, 179 candidates; Savannah: 80 catechumens, 231 candidates; Steubenville: 26 catechumens, 67 candidates; Gallup, New Mexico: 75 catechumens/candidates; Harrisburg: 92 catechumens.  

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will be welcoming 322 catechumens, 403 candidates; Santa Rosa: 54 catechumens, 22 candidates; Trenton: 161 catechumens, 114 candidates; Honolulu: 197 catechumens, 184 candidates; Rochester: 62 catechumens, 112 candidates; Wichita: 123 catechumens, 234 candidates; Bridgeport: 71 catechumens, 210 candidates and Grand Rapids 171 catechumens, 186 candidates.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh reports: 101 catechumens, 161 candidates; Owensboro: 91 catechumens, 135 candidates; Lexington: 111 catechumens, 74 candidates; Archdiocese of Boston: 288 catechumens, 182 candidates; Covington: 65 catechumens, 121 candidates; Palm Beach: 152 catechumens, 464 candidates; Evansville: 81 catechumens, 94 candidates; Springfield, IL: 102 catechumens; 100 candidates; Manchester: 50 catechumens; Wilmington: 76 catechumens, 122 candidates; Archdiocese of Indianapolis: 330 catechumens, 465 candidates.

Additionally, the Diocese of Worcester reports 95 catechumens, 34 candidates; Belleville: 44 catechumens, 74 candidates; Lafayette: 63 catechumens, 93 candidates; Portland in Maine: 65 catechumens, 57 candidates; Houma-Thibodaux: 37 catechumens, 41 candidates; Yakima: 255 catechumens, 40 candidates; Youngstown, Ohio: 86 catechumens, 116 candidates; Des Moines; 97 catechumens, 131 candidates; Springfield, MA: 43 catechumens, 56 candidates; Paterson: 114 catechumens.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore will receive 227 catechumens, 410 candidates; Biloxi: 72 catechumens, 135 candidates; Green Bay, WI: 40 catechumens, 78 candidates; Shreveport: 27 catechumens, 94 candidates; Kansas City-St. Joseph: 160 catechumens, 155 candidates; Camden: 126 catechumens; Fall River: 43 catechumens, 65 candidates; Jefferson City: 100 catechumens; 165 candidates; Saginaw: 60 catechumens, 53 candidates; Cleveland: 251 catechumens, 270 candidates; Gary: 50 catechumens, 100 candidates.

The Archdiocese of Anchorage will also be welcoming 39 catechumens, 34 candidates; Bismarck: 16 catechumens, 44 candidates; St. Cloud: 17 catechumens, 40 candidates; New Ulm: 8 catechumens, 28 candidates; Great Falls-Billings: 38 catechumens, 60 candidates; Peoria: 82 catechumens, 196 candidates; Lake Charles: 61 catechumens, 141 candidates; Kalamazoo Michigan: 55 catechumens, 46 candidates.

Keywords: U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil, Easter Triduum, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), catechumens, candidates, conversion, baptism, First Communion, Eucharist, confirmation, sacraments, Catholic, archdiocese, diocese


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Knights CEO says Iran-backed militias threaten Iraq's religious minorities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Goran Tomasevic, Reute


NEW YORK (CNS) -- In an April 12 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, the CEO of the Knights of Columbus said that "Christian towns in Iraq increasingly look neither Christian nor Iraqi -- but Iranian."

"The public identifies the threat against Christians in Iraq and Syria as emanating from Islamic State," wrote Carl Anderson. "After a hard-fought war, ISIS is no longer a territorial power. But the religious minorities persecuted under the caliphate remain in peril, thanks to the Iraqi government's tolerance of Iranian influence."

He said the threat to Iraq's Christians now is coming from Iran-backed militias that are keeping minority groups from returning home or fleeing once again.

Before he visited Iraq in March, Anderson said, he met with Pope Francis. "A Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East," the pope told him.

"Baghdad's ambassador in Washington often says that 'Iraq is not Iraq without its minorities,'" Anderson wrote.

He noted that five years ago, the Islamic State "swept through Northern Iraq, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities."

Both the Obama and Trump administrations each declared the IS actions genocide, he said, "The proof lay not only in the dead but in the collapse of communities that had survived for millennia. There were as many as 1.5 million Iraqi Christians before 2003. Today some 200,000 remain."

The IS onslaught across Iraq "was intense but burned out quickly," he said. "The group swiftly took control of the ancient Christian homeland of Ninevah in 2014 but was forced out within three years. With their towns liberated, displaced Christians hoped to return, rebuild and work for a better future. "

The Knights of Columbus stepped in, committing $25 million to help with the rebuilding of homes and other structures as well as assist in the return of those who had fled the area. In August 2017, many Iraqi Christians were coming back.

The international fraternal organization also has led a national effort to prioritize funding for the reconstruction and resettlement of Karamdes, a devastated Christian town in Northern Iraq, which was liberated from IS in late 2016.

Anderson pointed out that the Trump administration "also promised to prioritize the needs of these minorities after previous aid programs had overlooked them."

"Water and power facilities, schools, hospitals and other public works have been refurbished and rebuilt, courtesy of the U.S. government," he said.

But during his visit to Iraq in March, Anderson said, he "learned of new threats that could undermine these projects and keep Christians from returning home."

As IS was dismantled, "a different menace took its place," he said. "Iranian-backed militias known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, quickly took root in the devastated, previously Christian towns."

While Baghdad "claims power over the Ninevah region," he said, "the reality is "the militias control much of it."

"They have made life nearly unbearable for Christians attempting to return to towns like Batnaya, where the Popular Mobilization Forces have stripped Christian family homes of plumbing, wiring and other metal," he explained.

Locals, church leaders, and American and Kurdish government officials "warn that the Iranian-backed groups have extorted Christian families and seized their property," said Anderson. "Credible reports of violent crimes have emerged. Iranian proxies now are conducting a program of colonization in the Iraqi sector -- building homes and centers for the use of Iraq's Shiite majority in historically Christian towns."

He described the two goals he said Iran has in Iraq: It wants to build a "'land bridge' to Syria through Iraq," he said. "Second, it aims to alter fundamentally the demography of Ninevah in favor of Tehran. The Christians are at best collateral damage."

So once again many of fleeing the country because they fear for their lives, because of the militias and no "rule of law in their hometowns," according to Anderson.

He said that the genocide IS carried out "is now being facilitated and even actively continued by Iran's proxies with the tacit support of the Iraqi government."

"The situation is beyond demoralizing for anyone who has stood by Iraq's minorities and prayed for their triumph after years of adversity," Anderson added.

He praised the fact that much aid has been directed to the Ninevah region, "but it will be undermined unless the country's overall security situation improves."

He support must continue for "these fragile communities" Ninevah as well as in Kurdistan and in Southern Iraq.

Anderson noted that Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. government officials have urged Iraq "to remove these irregular militias and take control of the region. Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has proved unwilling to comply so far."

Like the U.S. government, those who have advocated for and supported displaced communities are not happy with Iraq's "dalliance with Iranian proxies."

"Washington's designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization should encourage Baghdad to rethink its embrace of Iran-backed militias," Anderson concluded. "If Iraq wants Iraq to remain Iraq, it should get serious about protecting minorities before it is too late."

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Hope from the ashes: President, archbishop vow to rebuild Notre Dame

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The president of France and the archbishop of Paris have vowed to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral after a devastating fire, continuing what a professor of architecture described as the natural lifecycle of a historic building.

Steven W. Semes, a professor and director of graduate studies in the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, said he was as shocked and pained as everyone watching on television as the building burned April 15.

"Like all historic monuments," he said, Notre Dame Cathedral is "the result of hundreds and hundreds of years of development" with an initial idea, a long and labor-intensive construction process, design changes, additions, demolitions and remodeling over and over again as fashions and usages change.

So, from the initial construction, which began in 1160, the cathedral "was transformed multiple times," he told Catholic News Service in Rome, where he regularly teaches. When one looked at Notre Dame before the fire, "we weren't seeing the cathedral as it was built, we were seeing it through layers of change."

"Buildings and cities do change through time," Semes said. "We wouldn't go see a painting by Rembrandt that four people had painted over, but we look at almost any historic building and we see something that has been restored multiple times -- sometimes restored in a way very faithful to an early state and sometimes not."

"One thing about buildings and cities is that they are more like natural phenomena than other art works. Think of a forest. You can have a fire in a forest, but then it comes to life again," he said. "Buildings are resilient."

"Hope springs from seeing monuments that have endured," even though they almost never remain unchanged, Semes said.

"A lot of people are feeling today, 'We can't do it again' or 'It can't be restored,'" and while that would be true of a painting, the professor said, "we do have the skills to restore this building."

"Obviously, a big fire has a big impact," he said, but even for nonbelievers, there is a sensitivity to the fact that Notre Dame Cathedral was not just a treasure of Gothic architecture.

"Notre Dame was truly a work of devotion," he said. "Think about it -- how large the building was compared to everything else in the city, the attention, the loving care that went into making it, ornamenting it and maintaining it. This is truly an act of devotion; it is a kind of sacramental."

The building as a church "speaks to people," whether they are believers, he said, pointing to similar reactions in 2015 when a massive earthquake in Nepal toppled Buddhist statues and monuments. "We feel these things even if we are not personally involved in that particular tradition."

The key to understanding Notre Dame Cathedral was summarized by Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit in a television interview in the wee hours of April 16: "Why was this beauty built? What jewel was this case meant to contain? Not the crown of thorns (a relic saved from the fire), but a piece of bread that we believe is the body of Christ."

Pope Francis, in a message April 16 to Archbishop Aupetit, expressed his solidarity with the sadness of Parisians, calling Notre Dame "an architectural jewel of a collective memory, the gathering place for many major events, the witness of the faith and prayer of Catholics in the city."

The pope also expressed his confidence that the cathedral would be rebuilt and continue its vocation as "a sign of the faith of those who built it, the mother church of your diocese, (and) the architectural and spiritual heritage of Paris, France and humanity."

Antoine-Marie Izoard, editor of the French Catholic magazine Famille Chretienne, told CNS, "That this happened at the beginning of Holy Week makes it even more striking and calls us to Christian hope."

"Last night, Catholics, members of other religions and nonbelievers united around this strong symbol in the heart of Paris," he said April 16. "It was very striking to see Catholics praying around the cathedral for the firefighters battling the flames."

Add to that French President Emmanuel Macron's determination to rebuild, he said, and "we realize once again that the Christian roots of the country are still at the heart of France."

Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told reporters April 16 that while Notre Dame, like other French cathedrals, is state property, "it remains a living creature in which the liturgy is celebrated, encounters of faith occur and even nonbelievers enter to make a tour of beauty."

The prayerful, tearful public vigils that took place as the fire burned, he said, demonstrated how "the great cathedrals and basilicas really are living bodies."

And, the cardinal said, Notre Dame is not just a living sign of religiosity, but is "the heart, the beating heart" of Paris.

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Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz at the Vatican.


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Update: Blaze erupts at Paris' iconic Notre Dame Cathedral; cause unknown

IMAGE: CNS photo/Benoit Tessier, Reuters


PARIS (CNS) -- A major blaze engulfed the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral April 15, sending pillars of flame and billowing smoke over the center of the French capital.

The fire erupted about 6:30 p.m. local time. Authorities said the cause was not certain, but that it could be linked to renovation work that the cathedral was undergoing, the BBC reported.

Officials ordered an evacuation of the area around the 850-year-old cathedral that has withstood world wars and political turmoil throughout France's history.

Le Monde, a Paris daily newspaper, reported that the fire erupted in the attic of the cathedral. Televised images showed the church's iconic steeple was ablaze.

In 2018, the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Paris opened an urgent fundraising appeal to save the cathedral, which was starting to crumble.

The Associated Press reported that Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said about an hour after the fire started that firefighters were attempting to contain a "terrible fire" at the cathedral. An AP reporter at the scene said the roof at the back behind the cathedral, behind the nave, was in flames and yellow-brown smoke and ash filled the sky.

City officials cordoned off the area around the Gothic-style church and urged people to evacuate the immediate surroundings.

As the sun set over Paris, the fire consumed the upper portion of the cathedral and the main steeple was filled with flames. It eventually collapsed into the church.

"Everything is burning. The framing, which dates from the 19th century on one side and the 13th on the other, there will be nothing left," Andre Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, told Agence France-Presse.

At one point, emergency responders entered the cathedral in an attempt to preserve priceless art and statues from destruction.

The blaze elicited emotional responses from throughout France as Christians began the observance of Holy Week.

"I had a scream of horror. I was ordained in this cathedral," Bishop Eric Moulin-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French bishops' conference, said in reaction to the disaster.

"For a Parisian, our lady is a kind of obvious," he said. "I've been here this afternoon. This tragedy reminds us that nothing on this earth is made to last forever. I think a lot about the Diocese of Paris. The chrism mass will not be celebrated. It is a part of our flesh that is damaged. But I hope this will create a new momentum, a universal movement."

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted, "Our Lady of Paris in flames. It is emotional for a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I'm sad tonight to see this part of us burn."

The magnitude of the fire resonated with church leaders as well as those involved in preserving culturally important sites around the world.

The Vatican issued a statement in the evening saying that it learned "with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world."

"We express our closeness to the French Catholic and to the people of Paris. We pray for the firefighters and for all those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation," the statement said.

"The horrific fire that is engulfing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is shocking and saddens us all, for this particular cathedral is not only a majestic church, it is also a world treasure," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God," the cardinal said in a statement April 15. "Our hearts go out to the archbishop and the people of Paris, and we pray for all the people of France, entrusting all to the prayers and intercession of the Mother of God, especially the firefighters battling the fire.

"We are a people of hope and of the resurrection, and as devastating as this fire is, I know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all Christians," he added.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, said in a statement from the archdiocese that he immediately went to St. Patrick Cathedral next to his office in midtown Manhattan and asked through "the intercession of Notre Dame, our Lady, for the cathedral at the heart of Paris, and of civilization, now in flames!"

"God preserve this splendid house of prayer, and protect those battling the blaze," he said he prayed.

Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, the United Nation's cultural agency, said in a tweet that her office "stood at France's side to save and restore" the cathedral, which was added the organization's world heritage list in 1991.

She described the cathedral as "a priceless heritage" and that the agency was monitoring the effort to fight the blaze.

In addition, the Diocese of Rome tweeted, "We are close to our brothers and sisters of the Church of #France, to the ecclesial community and to all Parisians. United, let us pray to the Virgin Mary, revered to #NotreDame, as mother of hope and all consolations."

U.S. President Donald Trump also expressed concern for the cathedral in a tweet, writing, "So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris." He even offered a suggestion on how first responders could tackle it: "Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!"


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Pope urges students to fight their addiction to phones

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told high school students to break their phone addiction and spend more time on real communication with others and in moments of quiet, personal reflection.

Young people need to learn about "healthy introspection" so they can listen to their conscience and be able to distinguish it "from the voices of selfishness and hedonism," he said.

The pope made his remarks April 13 during an audience with teachers, students and their family members from Rome's oldest classical lyceum -- the Ennio Quirino Visconti Lyceum-Gymnasium. Some notable alumni include Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, and Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci.

The pope told the high school students to "please, free yourselves from your phone addiction!"

Looking up at his audience as they applauded, the pope said he knew they were aware of the many forms and problems of addiction. But, he warned, an addiction to one's mobile phone was something "very subtle."

"Mobile phones are a great help, it marks great progress. It should be used, and it is wonderful everyone knows how to use it" for the "wonderful" activity of communication, he said.

"But when you become a slave to your phone, you lose your freedom," he said.

"Be careful because there is danger that this drug -- when the phone is a drug -- the danger of communication being reduced to simple 'contacts'" and not true communication with others, he said to more applause.

He told them to not be afraid of silence and to learn to listen to or write down what is going on inside their heart and head.

"It is more than a science, it is wisdom, so as to not become a piece of paper" that moves in whatever direction the wind blows, he said.

The pope also told the teenagers that God gave everyone the ability to love.

"Don't dirty it" with shameful behavior, but rather, love "cleanly" with modesty, fidelity, respect and a big generous heart.

"Love is not a game. Love is the most beautiful thing God gave us," he told them, so be vigilant, protect people's dignity and defend "authentic love, so as not to trivialize the language of the body."

He asked them to help their school remain free from all forms of bullying and aggression, which are "the seeds of war."

And he encouraged them to reject mediocrity and indifference, and instead, "dream big," living with passion and embracing diversity.

"Dialogue among different cultures, different people, enriches a nation, enriches one's homeland," he said. It helps people move forward in mutual respect and be able to see the world is "for everyone, not just for some."

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