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At Easter the stones of sin, despair, are rolled away, pope says at vigil

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As individuals and as a church, it can be tempting to dwell on mistakes, failures and sins that block the fullness of life, but Easter is the proclamation that the Lord is victorious and his love will triumph, Pope Francis said.

"Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, rocks rolled aside," the pope said in his homily April 20 during the Easter Vigil.

The gaze of the risen Lord, he said, "fills us with hope for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change."

Pope Francis began the vigil in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, blessing a fire and lighting the Easter candle. A deacon carried the candle into the semi-darkened basilica, lit the pope's candle and began sharing the light with the thousands of people in the congregation. Little by little light filled the world's largest Catholic church.

During the liturgy, Pope Francis baptized and confirmed eight adults, who were between the ages of 21 and 60. The five women and three men included four Italians and one person each from Ecuador, Peru, Albania and Indonesia.

In his homily, the pope focused on the Gospel scene of the women going to Jesus' tomb to anoint his dead body. Pope Francis imagined that the women were worried about how they would remove the stone sealing the tomb and said that in an analogous way it is a worry the entire Christian community can experience.

"At times," he said, "it seems that everything comes up against a stone: the beauty of creation against the tragedy of sin; liberation from slavery against infidelity to the covenant; the promises of the prophets against the listless indifference of the people."

"In the history of the church and in our own personal history," he said, it may seem that "the steps we take never take us to the goal. We can be tempted to think that dashed hope is the bleak law of life."

But, he said, "God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness."

The church is built on the risen Jesus, the living stone, he said, "and even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, he comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment."

When the women entered Jesus' tomb, they were met by two angels who asked them, "Why do you seek the living one among the dead?"

Pope Francis said many times Christians keep focused on the dead by giving in to resignation and failure, burying hope and becoming "cynical, negative and despondent."

The "stone of sin" also seals human hearts, he said. "Sin seduces; it promises things easy and quick, prosperity and success, but then leaves behind only solitude and death. Sin is looking for life among the dead, for the meaning of life in things that pass away."

"Why not make up your mind to abandon that sin which, like a stone before the entrance to your heart, keeps God's light from entering in?" the pope asked people at Mass. "Why not tell the empty things of this world that you no longer live for them, but for the Lord of life?"

Easter joy comes when people learn to view their lives as God does, "for in each of us he never ceases to see an irrepressible kernel of beauty," Pope Francis said. "In sin, he sees sons and daughters to be restored; in death, brothers and sisters to be reborn; in desolation, hearts to be revived."

"Jesus is a specialist at turning our deaths into life, our mourning into dancing," he said. With Jesus, each person can experience a "Passover from self-centeredness to communion, from desolation to consolation, from fear to confidence. Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

How Denver’s archbishop responded to Columbine

Denver, Colo., Apr 20, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Twenty years ago, two teenagers opened gunfire outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Their massacre was premeditated and devastating; the boys also unsuccessfully planned to bomb the school with homemade explosives. They murdered 13 and wounded more than 20 others; finally they shot and killed themselves.

Twelve students and one teacher died the morning of April 20, 1999. The victims included at least four Catholics.

It was the most devastating school shooting in the United States up to that point, and would remain so until April 2007 when a gunman killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, now of Philadelphia, was the shepherd of Denver at the time. More than 1,000 mourners turned out for the first three students’ funerals, over which Chaput presided.

"[Chaput] was very prompt in understanding the need to get to the scene and get to the families, the Catholic families, to provide them with support," Francis Maier, who was archdiocesan chancellor and special assistant to the archbishop at the time, told CNA in an interview.  

The massacre happened at a time when school shootings were relatively rare, Maier emphasized. Columbine is in an upscale neighborhood, he noted, and it was a place where no one anticipated something like that could happen.

Maier said both secular and Church officials responded well when the shooting happened, but there were some moments at the beginning when people asked: "What do we do? How do we respond?"

“[Chaput] was engaged immediately. [The shooting] caught everyone by surprise, obviously, but he responded very promptly."

The archbishop stayed in touch with the parents of at least one of the victims for years afterward, thanks to the relationship forged in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Maier said he thought the archbishop was prepared by having been a pastor in the diocese before he was its archbishop, which he had been for 2 years in 1999.

"He had a long-lasting linkage to the event and the families that were involved," Maier said.

Maier said after the tragedy the Church was often asked how the shooting could be reconciled with the idea of a good and merciful God, and how the perpetrators— two kids— could do something like that?

"Delivering that message of God's presence and God's continuing love, obviously, was the archbishop's task,” Maier said.

“And in the funeral homilies that he preached, the counseling he gave to the families— a lot of counseling in a situation like this is just being present. Because what are you gonna say, you know? You can't say 'I know how you feel?' because you don't. And I think the archbishop understood that his presence and the presence that it represented as the Church's concern.”

The Columbine shooting prompted a national conversation about gun control and school safety.  

Chaput testified before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on May 4, 1999. He addressed violence in media and popular culture— a widely-discussed topic in the wake of the shootings.

“The reasonable person understands that what we eat, drink, and breathe will make us healthy or sick. In like manner, what we hear and what we see lifts us up or drags us down. It forms us inside,” Chaput told the committee.

He noted that “The Matrix,” a film in theaters at that time hugely popular with teenagers, featured a great deal of firearm violence. Chaput wondered if the shooters had seen the film; and if so, he mused that “it certainly didn't deter them” from committing their violent act.

“People of religious faith have been involved in music, art, literature, and architecture for thousands of years, because we know from experience that these things shape the soul, and through the soul, they shape behavior,” Chaput said.

“Common sense tells us that the violence of our music, our video games, our films, and our television has to go somewhere. It goes straight into the hearts of our children, to bear fruit in ways we cannot imagine until something like [Columbine] happens.”

Chaput emphasized his view that tragedies like Columbine emerge out of a culture in which people are not being taught to value human life.

“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes our universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes?” he wondered.

“When we multiply and glorify guns, are we surprised when kids use them? When we answer murder with more violence in the death penalty, we put the State’s seal of approval on revenge.”

“When the most dangerous place in the country is a mother’s womb, and the unborn child can have his or her head crushed in an abortion, even in the process of being born, the body language of that message is that life is not sacred and may not be worth much at all.”

Maier agreed with Chaput’s diagnosis of the problem.

"Young people are not being formed properly in the dignity of life, and older people, adults, are deeply into self-satisfaction and license."

"The disease needs to be addressed, not the symptoms,” he said.  

“Fixing it is not going to be removing one particular way of committing an evil act. People will find other means to do those things if they are committed to doing evil things. So I think the underlying culture that produces Columbine is still with us, and, if anything, it’s worse."

This unique chant brings Vietnamese Catholics deeper into Christ's Passion

Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr 19, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- While the Stations of the Cross are a worldwide Lenten devotion for Catholics, the faithful in Vietnam have an additional practice that blends ancient traditional chants with Catholic prayer and meditation on the Crucifixion. 

“The ‘Ngam Nguyen’ are…a unique Vietnamese Catholic practice of intoning a series of meditations recounting the Passion of Christ,” said Fr. Anthony Le Duc, national chaplain for the Vietnamese community in Thailand.

Fr. Duc told CNA that the intoned meditative chants, called “Ngam,” describe the suffering of Jesus. Designed to help people enter more deeply into the experience and emotions lived out by Christ during his Passion, they have been adapted from folk traditions integrated with prayers prepared by missionaries who came to Vietnam in the early 16 -17th century.

There are a total of 15 Ngam meditations recounting the excruciating pain and suffering that Jesus underwent as he was arrested, put on trial, and crucified at Golgotha. 

These meditations differ from the traditional Stations of the Cross because they focus mainly on what occurs at the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and on the Cross at Calvary, while the stations focus largely on what happens in between these two events. 

Beginning with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and concluding with Jesus’ side being pierced by a spear, the Ngam meditations seek to immerse participants into Christ’s passion. 

The intoning is melodic, in accordance with the tonal nature of the Vietnamese language. Since the meditations recount the pain and suffering of Christ, the tone is extremely melancholy, which can well up emotions and often bring the listener to tears. 

When intoning the meditations, the reader must follow strict rules, depending on whether there is a comma, semicolon, period or other punctuation. If the reader comes upon the name of Jesus in the text, he must bow his head.

The recitation of the Ngam meditations – either in whole or as part of a series – takes place in many Vietnamese churches every day throughout the Lenten season, either as part of a post-Mass liturgy, or as a liturgical service on its own. The devotion starts with common prayers of the Church, followed by the meditations. Between meditations, an Our Father and 10 Hail Marys are recited. On Good Friday, the liturgy concludes with a Lamentation and other prayers. The entire liturgy can take over two hours to complete. 

The Vietnamese take this tradition very seriously, viewing it as both liturgy and art form. During the Lenten season, many parishes organize competitions, which only the most skilled readers dare to enter.

The reciter chants without any instrumental accompaniment. The person who goes up to intone, often stands or kneels in front of the altar with the book placed before him. On both sides, there are people to follow his reading. If the intoner makes a mistake, the judge strikes a wooden instrument. If he makes three mistakes, he must leave the competition and someone else will go up to reread the meditation.

“The meditation also represents a creative adaptation of the spirituality and the liturgy of the Church to a local context,” Fr. Duc said. “And it speaks to the great collaboration between foreign missionaries in Vietnam and the local faithful in inventing this Lenten tradition that has been going on for centuries.”

European missionaries accompanying merchants on newly discovered sea routes brought the Catholic faith to Vietnam in 1533. Later in the 16th century, the arrival of many members of the Society of Jesus (SJ), Order of Preachers (OP), Order of Friars Minor (OFM) and the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) boosted evangelization efforts in the east. 

These missionaries taught the truths of the Catholic faith to converted native Vietnamese catechists, who came from various religious background and cultural traditions. The natives then taught the locals Christian prayers using the local educational method of intonation of religious texts, which was used in temples and during devotional folklore chants. 

In previous centuries, these meditations were written in the Vietnamese “Nôm” script, a derivation of the Chinese script. However, in the 20th century, the meditations were printed in the Vietnamese Latin script “(quoc ngu)” which made them easier to read. 

Different dioceses have their own versions that may have minor differences in the wording, matching their local dialect. Apart from these differences, the texts have undergone few revisions in recent decades. 

Fr. Duc explained that “Ngam Nguyen” texts employ mostly ordinary speech, even colloquial in places, done “perhaps in order to make it easy for the average faithful to understand.”

The Ngam tradition is present throughout Vietnam, as well as in migrant communities in the United States, Australia, and Thailand, among other countries.

There are more than 5.5 million Catholics in Vietnam today. In past centuries, Christians in the country have faced persecution. In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Blessed Martyrs of Vietnam, including both clergy and laity.  
 

This article was originally published on CNA March 25, 2016.

'Their Calvary was lengthy': Pope's Stations recall those exploited

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Recalling Jesus' death on the cross, Pope Francis led thousands on Good Friday in reflecting on the crosses of loneliness, fear and betrayal that crucify countless men, women and children in the world.

In the annual Way of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum April 19, the meditation for each station reflected the suffering and pain of people exploited and marginalized.

At the 13th station, Jesus is taken down from the cross, the meditation recalled the funeral of 26 young Nigerian women who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Their Calvary," it read, "was lengthy and difficult."

"Two of them were bearing in their womb the gift of a new life, children who would never see the light of day," the reflection read. "Yet their death, like that of Jesus taken down from the cross, was not in vain. We entrust all these lives to the mercy of God our father and the father of all, especially the poor, the desperate and the abased."

At each station, various people took turns carrying a large black cross and circling the famed Colosseum, which glowed a fiery orange from hundreds of candles placed around the ruins. Thousands of men, women and children standing outside also held lit candles as the sounds of prayers, reflections and music echoed throughout the hallowed site where many Christian executions took place in ancient Rome.

This year, the meditations for the late-night event were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, a missionary who ministers 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.

Sister Bonetti is a leader among women religious working against human trafficking. She started and led anti-trafficking initiatives for the Italian Union of Major Superiors and helped educate officials in Italy and the United States about the problem.

Many of the meditations reflected on the horrors of human trafficking witnessed by Sister Bonetti.

The prayer during the meditation of the sixth station -- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus -- asked God to "cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children who, in many parts of the world, are living in poverty and squalor."

"Let us think of all those children in various parts of the world who cannot go to school but are instead exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, used and abused on our streets by many, including Christians, who have lost the sense of their own and others' sacredness," the meditation read.

At the end of the service, Pope Francis read a prayer he wrote, asking Jesus to help Christians today to "see in your cross all the crosses of the world."

He also prayed that Christians may see the cross of Christ in the church that, although faithful to the Gospel, "struggles to carry your love even among the baptized themselves" and is "continually attacked from within and from without."

In his prayer, which he read from a hillside overlooking a torch-lit cross and the crowds holding candles, the pope remembered the crosses of people "hungry for bread and love," especially those who are "lonely and abandoned even by their own children and relatives."

The pope also remembered the crosses borne by children "wounded in their innocence and purity," and who also "find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their families and their peers."

He also prayed for consecrated men and women who are "rejected, mocked and humiliated" for bring Christ's light into the world as well as those "who along the way have forgotten their first love."

Concluding his prayer, Pope Francis said, "Lord Jesus, rekindle in us the hope of the resurrection and of your definitive victory against all evil and all death."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Solitary confinement in U.S. prisons qualifies today as torture

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Galbraith, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Few people think about it in these terms, even around Easter, but Jesus was tortured as a prisoner before his death on a cross. There's no other way to characterize the 39 lashes ordered by Pontius Pilate, or the crown of thorns. Or, for that matter, the lance in his side to see if he was really dead or just looked dead.

It brings into sharp focus that, while the methods have changed over the past 2,000 years, torture remains part of prison life.

The federal Justice Department report April 3 on prison conditions in Alabama told of "a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature and pervasive." Among the findings, none of which were ever tracked by the state: 15 prison suicides in the past 15 months, a prison homicide rate well above the national average, and sexual assaults in "dormitories, cells, recreation areas, the infirmary, bathrooms, and showers at all hours of the day and night."

The investigation began after a series of lawsuits earlier in the decade and published reports describing brutality, violence -- and torture -- in state prisons.

While states are rarely subject to the kind of federal scrutiny Alabama received, U.S. prisons have rarely been held up as models for rehabilitation. Even some tactics used in prison meant to rehabilitate prisoners now qualify as torture.

One such tactic is solitary confinement.

Benjamin Franklin and several Quaker leaders first instituted solitary confinement in Philadelphia in the late 18th century, believing that total isolation and silence would lead to penitence -- from which we get the name "penitentiary."

Instead, enforced solitary confinement led to severe mental health problems for prisoners, including insanity. "I believe it ... to be cruel and wrong," said novelist Charles Dickens after a visit to a Pennsylvania penitentiary that had nothing but solitary confinement cells. "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." The Quakers later apologized for their advocacy of long-term solitary confinement.

Yet the practice persists.

"We oppose the increasing use of isolation units, especially in the absence of due process, and the monitoring and professional assessment of the effects of such confinement on the mental health of inmates," said the U.S. bishops in their 2000 statement "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice."

"One form of torture is ... confinement in high-security prisons," said Pope Francis in an Oct. 23, 2014, address.

"As shown by studies carried out by various human rights organizations, the lack of sensory stimuli, the total impossibility of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings induce mental and physical suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, weight loss and significantly increase the suicidal tendency," Pope Francis said.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, or NRCAT, which is based in Washington, has led two-track initiatives decrying torture in prisons both in the United States and abroad.

Leading the U.S. side of the initiative is Johnny Perez, who knows something about extended solitary confinement.

"I was a total of three years in solitary. The longest was 10 months; that was testing positive for cannabis consumption -- smoking weed, in other words," Perez told Catholic News Service in an April 16 telephone interview from New York. "I rely on that experience" in working against torture, he added.

Asked how he made it through, Perez, who was raised Catholic, replied, "Lots of prayer, if that hasn't been obvious," adding a hearty chuckle afterward. "Meditation and understanding. And also the thought that if I don't make it, they win."

Perez said NRCAT works at "engaging faith leaders and mobilizing them" on the issue, "not only with correctional facilities but also legislators."

Faith leaders can be found nearly anywhere. Earlier this decade, NRCAT took its solitary prison cell replica -- a 6-foot-by-9-foot windowless box featuring audio from a maximum security prison in Maine -- to a national Catholic youth conference in Indianapolis. "People are invited to sit in the cell -- for up to one hour -- and those who have are very moved and motivated to take action," said the NRCAT website, www.nrcat.org.

In New York, New Jersey and California, according to Perez, "faith leaders have been able to create mitigation teams where they have direct communication with correctional staff to find some middle ground on what needs to change."

"Between policy and practice is a huge space, And to close that space, we need people who have been affected by these issues to directly engage," Perez said.

One high-water mark in the campaign against solitary confinement came in 2012, when the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights conducted a hearing on the practice.

The Innocence Project, based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, submitted testimony on behalf of several prisoners, exonerated after their conviction, of their time in solitary.

Julie Rea testified she was placed in solitary in an Illinois prison to keep her from harming herself and was then tormented by prison guards who played a recording of a woman being tortured to prevent her from sleeping. Cornelius Dupree, exonerated by DNA after spending 30 years in Texas prisons, recounted receiving one complete meal only every three days when he was in solitary. The other two days he received a spoonful each of rice and beans and a roll.

Nicholas Yarris, freed in 2003 after spending 23 years in solitary confinement on death row in Pennsylvania attempted suicide in prison. Despite his innocence, he asked a year before his exoneration that he be executed rather than continue to be held in what he called "endless degradation."

Clarence Elkins testified he had to spend the last three months in solitary confinement, despite evidence of his innocence to "protect" him from the person who had actually the crime in his case and was housed in the same prison.

Herman Atkins spent 11 years in prison in California, 16 months of it in solitary, before being exonerated. While in solitary, he said he was confined to a small windowless room with a light always on to allow correction officers to watch him at all times, and "when a government has the authority to treat people so poorly," he testified, "it's impossible to hold citizens to a higher standard."

NRCAT asks its affiliates and prison reform advocates to take part in "Together to End Solitary" actions the 23rd of each month. The 23rd is chosen because of the 23 hours each day a prisoner typically spends in solidarity.

"For 23 hours a day for months, years, even decades, more than 80,000 adults and youth are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, jails and detention centers," the NRCAT website says.

Study guides for people of different faiths are available from NRCAT, including one for Catholics. The Catholic study guide features this admonition from Hebrews 13:3, which NRCAT translates as, "Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Singer-songwriter presents Crucifixion in concert

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joanne Fox, The Catholic Globe

By Joanne Fox

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Singer-songwriter Tatiana "Tajci" Cameron confessed she didn't always like Holy Week.

"It always seemed to be full of sadness," she told the crowd of more than 500 who gathered April 14 at St. Michael Church, part of Holy Cross Parish in Sioux City.

"Then, I saw how it was a beautiful connecting point between God and us," she said. "He was no longer the 'unapproachable' God, but the God who suffered and died for us."

The award-winning vocalist presented "I Thirst: The Crucifixion Story," on Palm Sunday, reinforcing the passion and death of Jesus evoked from the Gospel reading from Luke for that day.

Cameron, who performed at the foot of the sanctuary, turned and gestured toward the larger-than-life crucifix above the altar.

"When I look at the crucifix, I see myself suffering, too," she mused. "I realized it's OK to be afraid and ask, 'Why, God, did you abandon me?'"

By age 19, Cameron was a pop superstar in Croatia.

"Yes, my image was even made into a doll," she told The Catholic Globe, Sioux City's diocesan newspaper. "I had everything -- clothes, a chauffeured limousine -- yet I was empty."

A powerful encounter with God two years later compelled her to abruptly step away from her fame and embark on a spiritual journey that took her to the United States at age 21.

Despite her deep faith and powerful music ministry, Cameron struggled through years of depression, severe anxiety and panic attacks. Her healing came through years of contemplative prayer, inner work and action.

Soon after getting married in 1999, Cameron, along with her husband, Matthew, embarked on what turned into a 15-year tour of America, during which she performed more than 1,000 "I Do Believe" concerts.

"It was this deeper conversion that helped me through the most difficult time of my life," she said. "That was my husband's diagnosis of and eventual death from cancer in 2017."

Father David Hemann, Holy Cross' pastor, met Cameron in 2000.

"I started doing missions out in Alhambra, California, at the Carmelite Sisters in Orange County," he said. "Tajci and I ended up doing a few concerts together, and when I connected with her recently in Nashville, I invited her to perform at Holy Cross."

Father Hemann pointed out the concert was not a "social evening," but an evening of prayer.

"I have kept the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle," he said. "My prayer is that this evening deepens our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, mending, healing and bringing wholeness to us."

The singer-songwriter interspersed the Crucifixion message with music, Scripture and insights about her life. Cameron's hands alternately glided over and pounded at the keyboard to evoke different responses to her vocals.

Her blond hair practically glowed in the semi-darkness of the church. The upper range of her vocal register was as strong as Celine Dion's, and her occasional vibrato suggested Patsy Cline. A particularly moving moment was when she sang a cappella to "O Sacred Head Surrounded."

"Jesus didn't die to change God's mind about us," she said. "Jesus died to change our minds about God, and the biggest sin we can commit is a refusal of accepting God's love."

Cameron stretched out her hands, like Christ on the cross, several times during the concert to emphasize songs or discernments on Scripture.

"My arms wide open like this feel best," she said. "When I do this, I am lifted up. It's Christ saying to me, 'I've got it. You are safe in my arms.'"

When she was in her late teens, a best friend brought her to church, and on her 21st birthday, Cameron discovered God was calling her to a different vocation.

"I told him I would go wherever he would lead me," she said.

"I felt something I had never felt before," Cameron said, then spread her arms wide open. "I experienced a love that loved me, and I wanted to live in that love."

Emotions overwhelmed the vocalist twice. She invited the audience to join her in "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord?)" and ceased accompanying them on the final verse to wipe away tears. Cameron's soaring vocals on "You Raise Me Up" concluded with a few more tears from the vocalist.

"That's why I believe this journey (of life) is worth taking," she told the crowd. "I am excited, grateful and blessed to be here tonight."

Cameron lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her three sons. She volunteers with Better Decisions, mentoring female inmates at a state prison in Nashville. Cameron also serves as a board member of Nashville Peacemakers, an organization that works with at-risk youth in Nashville's low-income neighborhoods and as a presenter with EndSlaveryTN, which raises awareness of human trafficking while working toward preventing it and providing healing for those affected by it.

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Fox is managing editor of The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Mary Magdalene

On Good Friday, papal preacher says cross brings hope to the oppressed

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The cross serves as a warning to the powerful and a message of hope for the poor and oppressed, said the preacher of the papal household.

With Christ's crucifixion, death and resurrection, "a total reversal of roles has taken place: The vanquished has become the victor; the one judged has become the judge," Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said during an April 19 service commemorating Christ's death on the cross.

"The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope," he said.

Pope Francis presided over the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord's Passion, which began with a silent, solemn procession down the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica. Two aides then helped the 82-year-old pope down onto his knees as he stretched himself prostrate on the floor before the main altar of the basilica, in silent prayer, in a sign of adoration and penance.

During the liturgy, the pope and thousands of faithful stood as three deacons and the Sistine Chapel Choir chanted the account of the Passion from the Gospel of St. John. As is customary, the papal household's preacher gave the homily.

Father Cantalamessa said the crucified Christ represents everyone who is despised and rejected; "the greatest man in history was one of you," he said, "the discarded of the earth, those from whom we turn aside our faces so as not to see them."

Jesus, who was bound, mocked and tortured by soldiers, is the epitome of all those who are handcuffed, "alone, at the mercy of soldiers and thugs, who take out the rage and cruelty they stored up during their lives on the unfortunate poor," the papal preacher said. On the cross, Jesus "becomes the symbol of this part of humanity that is humiliated and insulted."

In his teachings, Jesus "solemnly affirmed that whatever we did for the hungry, the naked, the incarcerated, the outcast, we did to him, and whatever we omitted doing for them, we omitted doing to him," he said.

This is the mandate the church has received -- "to stand with the poor and the weak, to be the voice for those who have no voice," Father Cantalamessa said.

All religions, in fact, must not only promote peace, they must not remain silent "in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see. A few privileged people possess more goods than they could ever consume, while for entire centuries countless masses of poor people have lived without having a piece of bread or a sip of water to give their children," he said.

"No religion can remain indifferent to this, because the God of all the religions is not indifferent to all of this," he added.

The cross, therefore, also contains a message for those who are powerful and "comfortable in their role as 'victors,'" he said.

"It is a message, as always, of love and salvation, not of hate or vengeance," but it reminds them that they, too, are bound to the same fate of divine judgment in the end: "Whether weak or strong, defenseless or tyrannical, all are subjected to the same laws and to the same human limitations."

The cross, a sign of hope and a world redeemed from sin, also "warns against the worst evil for a human being, the illusion of omnipotence," he said.

Pope Francis was scheduled to speak briefly later that night at the end of the Stations of the Cross in Rome's Colosseum. The meditations on the stations were written by Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, an Italian nun working against human trafficking and ministering to women and girls forced by their captors to become sex workers.

 

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Commentary: What he's done for us at Easter

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2019 / 10:53 am (CNA).- I’ve been married for 13 Easters now. I’ve been a dad for seven of those.

And every year, Easter sneaks up on our family. It shouldn’t. Lent is a long and penitential season, and the fair warning the Church gives us that Easter is coming. But a few weeks into Lent, it becomes normal- the sacrifices and penances become part of our routine- and I begin to forget that Easter is coming.

And then, it’s the Triduum.

Then it’s Good Friday, and we’re kneeling in the Church, and processing forward to kiss the cross.

Then it’s Holy Saturday, and some years we’re putting the kids in pajamas to let them sleep in the pews during Easter Vigil.

Then it’s Easter, and we’re celebrating with our family, and cooking a roast, and drinking champagne.

And every year, I find myself wondering if I’ve led my family well through Lent. Every year, I see the ways in which I might have invited my wife more often to prayer. Every year, I ask if I’ve taught the kids enough about Jesus and his sacrifice, if I’ve opened the Scripture often enough in our home.

Every year, I conclude I haven’t done enough. I haven’t really lived the Lent I should have, I decide. I haven’t really lived for Christ.

But all of that is folly.

We’re called, of course, to order our lives and homes and families to Jesus Christ. We’re called to be his disciples. We’re called to place him above all things.

But Easter reminds us that we’re also called to let him- and him alone- accomplish the transformation of our lives.

Not one of us can conquer death. Not one of us can atone for sin. Not one of us can transform a heart, ordering it to the unreserved love of God and neighbor.

Only he can do that.

We can put ourselves in his presence. We can offer ourselves to him. We can try to follow the examples of the saints. We can try to put the sacraments at the center of our lives.

But after that, we need to trust him. Easter tells us that we become saints through the work that he, and his grace, do in us, and through us, and for us. We are participants, but he is the source of life.

“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,” St. Paul tells the Romans, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

Our newness of life comes through him. And it takes time to be fully manifested. And we have to trust.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out a kind of Pelagianism among many practicing Catholics today. A sense that we can do it ourselves: that if we manage to carry the burden of moral perfection, and apostolic life, and evangelical zeal, that we might get ourselves to heaven.

But we won’t, and we can’t. That’s not sufficient. The doors to heaven are open to us because he loved us enough to be scourged at a pillar, to hang on a cross, to be buried, and to conquer sin and death.

And in baptism, he makes us a part of his life, death, and resurrection.

The evil one wants to make us think we can do it alone. And when we fail, he leads us to despair.  But an empty tomb will always be beyond our own powers and abilities.

This Easter, I’ll give thanks to the Lord for the ways I’ve grown closer to him this Lent. I’ll ask him to help me follow him more closely. I’ll repent of my sins, and confess them. I’ll continue to walk with him on the lifelong journey to holiness.

This Easter, I’ll try to remember that alone, I can’t be good enough, strong enough, or powerful enough to be free from my own sins, or from my impending death.

And I’ll celebrate that, because of what he did for me, I don’t have to be.

At Colosseum Stations of the Cross, Pope Francis prays for abused minors

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ prayer at Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum included a plea for abused youth and for the Church, whom he said is continually under attack.

 “Lord Jesus, help us to see in Your Cross all the crosses of the world … the cross of little ones wounded in their innocence and in their purity,” Pope Francis said in his prayer to conclude the Way of the Cross April 19.

 Francis also prayed for “the cross of the Church, your Bride, who feels herself continually attacked from inside and outside.”

The meditations for this year’s Way of the Cross at the Colosseum — written by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, founder of “Slaves No More” —  included reflections on the suffering endured by victims of human trafficking today.

“Like the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children,” the meditation for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, stated.

“Cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children,” the prayer that followed stated. “Little ones used as cheap goods, bought and sold at will. Lord, we ask you to have mercy and compassion on this sick world. Help us rediscover the beauty of our dignity, and that of others, as human beings created in your image and likeness.”

Pope Francis personally selected Sister Bonetti to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross. Bonetti, 80, is a Consolata Missionary Sister from northern Italy, who aids women and girls in Italy to leave prostitution and trafficking.

“Lord Jesus, it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes. It is less easy to encounter and acknowledge today’s newly crucified: the homeless; the young deprived of hope, without work and without prospects; the immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering,” Bonetti wrote in her Way of the Cross meditations.

Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum – a Roman practice that dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.

After a pause, the tradition was revived by St. Pope Paul VI in 1964. During St. John Paul II’s papacy, the Colosseum stations became a worldwide television event; the pope himself used to carry the cross.

“We have gathered in this place where thousands of people once suffered martyrdom for their fidelity to Christ,” Bonetti wrote in her introduction to her station meditations.

“We want to walk this via dolorosa in union with the poor, the outcast of our societies and all those who even now are enduring crucifixion as victims of our narrowmindedness, our institutions and our laws, our blindness and selfishness, but especially our indifference and hardness of heart,” she continued.

Pope Francis prayed to see Christ in “the cross of consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love” and “the cross of our common home that seriously withers under our eyes, selfish and blinded by greed and power.”

This year’s stations of the cross meditations also included prayers for children who are exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, and for migrants who died in shipwrecks.

Human trafficking is an important topic to Pope Francis, who has spoken out against human exploitation throughout his pontificate. The pope has often invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, once a slave herself, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.”

While in the past, the pope himself used to carry the cross from station to station around the Colosseum, it is now carried by individuals and families.

This year cross-bearers included priests from Syria and the Holy Land, several religious sisters, and a man in a wheelchair accompanied by volunteers with the Italian National Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar General of Rome, carried the cross for the first and last stations.

In his prayer at the end of the Via Crucis, the pope prayed for “the cross of your children who, believing in You and trying to live according to Your word, find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their relatives and their peers.”

“Lord Jesus, revive in us the hope of the resurrection and your definitive victory against every evil and every death,” Pope Francis prayed.