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Why June 29 is a good day to consider the legend of St. Peter and St. Agatha

This painting of St. Peter visiting St. Agatha was created by Federico Zuccari between 1597 and 1599 for the altar of Sant’Agata in the Milan Cathedral. It was directly commissioned by Milan native Federico Borromeo, a cousin of St. Charles Borromeo. / Photo by Kathleen Naab

Milan, Italy, Jun 22, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Within the splendor of Milan’s cathedral, a unique image from the late 16th century hangs over one of the side altars of the south aisle of the nave.

Created by Federico Zuccari between 1597 and 1599 for the altar of Sant’Agata, it was commissioned by Milan native Federico Borromeo, a cousin to St. Charles Borromeo, the saint and champion of the Counter-Reformation and hero of the plague.

The painting is unique because it depicts a Christian legend that, today, is not particularly well known.

The basic outlines of the story of St. Agatha are familiar, largely due to the fact that they are so gruesome one can hardly forget them.

Agatha, a young virgin from Sicily, had pledged herself to Christ when a Roman Senator Quintianus became enamored by her beauty. She refused his advances, protesting that she already belonged to God, and this infuriated him. The governor turned her over to various tortures, one of which is memorialized in the iconography of the virgin: he had her breasts cut off. 

This horrific torment led to her becoming a patroness of women everywhere, but especially of breast cancer sufferers and nurses. It also brought about the tradition of peculiar breast-shaped sweets being popular on her Feb. 5 feast day.

Agatha is a much-beloved saint, especially in Italy, Malta, and other places, and is one of the female martyrs mentioned in the Roman Canon. Her death is believed to have occurred during the persecution of Decius, from 250 to 253.

But a lesser-known element of her legend involves St. Peter. 

According to the story, once Quintianus’ minions had severed her breasts and left her in agony in prison, St. Peter and an angel appeared to her. The first pope healed the young virgin’s wounds and reaffirmed her in her zeal.

The healing did nothing to shock or shame Quintianus into changing his mind, and he had Agatha dragged through the streets of the city until her triumphant death finally brought an end to her suffering.

It is this visit from Peter and the angel that is depicted at her altar in Milan’s cathedral, the Duomo. The painting shows a childlike Agatha looking upward, where three cherubs hover in bright light, contrasting with the darkness of her cell. Her left hand lies over a silver tray containing her severed breasts. With her right hand, she points up and her bloodied chest stains her garments. An older, bearded Peter offers her a cup, with the angel standing in the foreground, as if keeping guard against the night watchmen.

The narrative is clear, in line with Federico Borromeo’s desire to use art as a way to promote the devotion of the faithful and their understanding of the stories of salvation.

Which is why June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, is a good day to consider this legend and this masterpiece.

St. Peter was himself martyred some 200 years before Agatha and is shown here to the faithful as a source of comfort and the bearer of God’s healing for the suffering young Christian. As the first of Christ’s vicars, he is an image of the whole Church and thus comes to offer both fatherly and motherly consolation to the agonizing Agatha.

Peter’s 266th successor, Pope Francis, invites us to feel something of what Agatha must have felt at seeing Peter come to her in prison.

“Let us ask ourselves if, deep in our hearts,” the pope said in his Feb. 16 general audience, “we love the Church as she is … all the goodness and holiness that are present in the Church, starting precisely with Jesus and Mary. Loving the Church, safeguarding the Church, and walking with the Church.”

St. Peter naturally calls to mind the pope’s teaching role and how the magisterium is the source of unity for the Church; but it also reminds us that he is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the “shepherd of the whole flock” (No. 881) and “pastor of the entire Church” (No. 882). In other words, his teaching office is meant to be combined — as it was in Christ — with the fatherly, caring role of one who accompanies, especially in suffering.

Pope Francis often emphasizes the importance of this role. In speaking of priestly identity, he urges pastors to be close to their sheep, accompanying them both with prayer and presence in the realities they face.

“I am convinced that, for a renewed understanding of the identity of the priesthood, it is important nowadays to be closely involved in people’s real lives, to live alongside them, without escape routes,” he said in a Feb. 17 address at a symposium on the priesthood. 

Certainly, Peter’s presence beside Agatha in prison gives us a vision of just such an accompaniment.

As we celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, let us allow our hearts to fill with gratitude for the splendor of the Church’s art and history; for the many saints who are our friends in heaven; for the Church herself, our mother; and for Peter’s successors down through the ages, bringing us Christ’s comfort and closeness.

Cardinal Kasper warns German synodal way risks 'breaking its own neck'

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at the Vatican in April 2015. / Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Berlin, Germany, Jun 22, 2022 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

A theologian considered close to Pope Francis has warned that the German Synodal Way is at risk of “breaking its own neck” if it does not heed the objections raised by a growing number of bishops around the world.

Cardinal Walter Kasper also said organisers were using a “lazy trick” that in effect constituted a “coup d’etat” that could result in a collective resignation, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The 89-year-old German cardinal is President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and was Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart from 1989 to 1999.  

He spoke at an online study day on June 19 of the initiative “New Beginning” (Neuer Anfang), a reform movement critical of the Synodal Way.

Kasper warned that the Church was not some substance to be “re-molded and reshaped to suit the situation”. 

In April, more than 100 cardinals and bishops from around the world released a "fraternal open letter" to Germany's bishops, warning that sweeping changes to Church teaching advocated by the process may lead to schism.

In March, an open letter from the Nordic bishops expressed alarm at the German process, and in February, a strongly-worded letter from the president of Poland’s Catholic bishops' conference raised serious concerns

Such concerns “will be repeated and reaffirmed and, if we do not heed them, will break the neck of the Synodal Way," Kasper warned in his speech.

It was "the original sin of the Synodal Way" that it did not base itself on the pope's letter to the Church in Germany, he said, with its "proposal of being guided by the Gospel and the basic mission of evangelization”. 

Instead, the German process, initiated by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, "took its own path with partly different criteria”, Kasper said.

In June 2019, Pope Francis sent a 19-page letter to Catholics in Germany urging them to focus on evangelization in the face of a “growing erosion and deterioration of faith.” 

The president of the German bishops' conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, has repeatedly rejected all concerns, instead expressing disappointment in Pope Francis in May 2022.  

In an interview published earlier this month, Pope Francis reiterated that he told the leader of Germany’s Catholic bishops that the country already had “a very good Evangelical Church” and “we don’t need two.”

“The problem arises when the synodal way comes from the intellectual, theological elites, and is much influenced by external pressures,” the pope said.

Bätzing, who serves as president of the Synodal Way, is also a signatory to the “Frankfurt Declaration”. This petition demands German bishops should declare their commitment to implementing resolutions passed by the process, CNA Deutsch reported

On Sunday, Kasper decried this push for “commitment”, saying it was "a trick and, moreover, a lazy trick."

"Just imagine a civil servant who allows himself to be appointed, then renounces the exercise of his legal obligations," the cardinal said. "He would be sure to face proceedings under civil service law. Ultimately, such a self-commitment would be tantamount to a collective resignation of the bishops. Constitutionally, the whole thing could only be called a coup, i.e., an attempted coup d'état."

The Church can never be governed synodally, Kasper stressed: "Synods cannot be made institutionally permanent." Instead, he said, a synod constituted "an extraordinary interruption" to ordinary proceedings.

The Synodal Way, also referred to as Synodal Path, describes itself as a process bringing together Germany’s bishops and selected laypeople to debate and pass resolutions about the way power is exercised in the Church, sexual morality, the priesthood, and the role of women.

Participants have voted in favor of draft documents calling for the priestly ordination of women, same-sex blessings, and changes to Church teaching on homosexual acts.

Cardinal Kasper has repeatedly expressed concern about the process.

On Sunday, Kasper used the close-sounding German words Neuerung (“renewal”) and Erneuerung (“innovation”) to say one could “not reinvent the Church,” but rather one should contribute to renewing it in the Holy Spirit: "renewal is not innovation. It does not mean just trying something new and inventing a new Church."

Instead, Kasper continued, true reform was about "letting the Spirit of God make us new and give us a new heart." 

Analogously, he said, the term "reform" applies to bringing the church back "into shape," "namely, into the shape that Jesus Christ wanted and that he gave to the Church. Jesus Christ is the foundation, no one can lay another (1 Cor 3:10 f); he is at the same time the capstone that holds everything together (Eph 2:20). He is the standard, the Alpha and Omega of every renewal."

Catholic family who welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their home share testimony at the Vatican

The Chiriaco family share their story at the World Meeting of Families, June 22, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2022 / 13:07 pm (CNA).

As millions of refugees fled the war in Ukraine this year, a Catholic family of eight made the decision to welcome a refugee family into their home.

Pietro and Erika Chiriaco live in Rome with their six children. The couple explained to their children during family prayer time that welcoming a refugee family would be “like welcoming Jesus.”

This is how Iryna and Sofia, a mother and her 17-year-old daughter from Kyiv, came to live in the Chiriaco family in the southern outskirts of Rome. 

The pair left the Ukrainian capital 10 days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and eventually took a bus to Italy.

“The decision to leave was not easy,” Iryna said.

“Today I thank God because he sent so many good people in our path,” she added. 

Iryna and Sofia shared their story with the pope alongside the Chiriaco family on the stage of the World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Rome June 22-26.

The Chiriacos said that they made the decision to host the Ukrainian refugees out of gratitude to God. Erika Chiriaco added that the presence of the Ukrainian mother and daughter in their home has been a “blessing from heaven.”

Pope Francis thanked the family for their generosity and for witnessing to what it means to be a “welcoming family.”

“Welcoming is truly a ‘charism’ of families, especially large families,” Pope Francis said.

“We may think that, in a large home, it is harder to welcome other people; yet that is not the case, for families with numerous children are trained to make room for others. They always find space for others.”

The pope added that a family is the place where a person “experiences what it is to be welcomed.” He said that this can be seen when a family welcomes the life of a child with a disability, welcomes a relative facing difficulties, or welcomes an elderly person in need of care. 

The organizers of the 10th World Meeting of Families are encouraging families to participate virtually in this Catholic tradition started by St. John Paul II by tuning into media broadcasts and live streams of the speeches and catecheses.

Pope Francis thanked Iryna and Sofia for sharing their witness to faith amid human brutality at the World Meeting of Families.

“You gave a voice to all those persons whose lives have been devastated by the war in Ukraine,” he said.

“In you, we see the faces and the stories of so many men and women forced to leave their homeland. We thank you, for you have not lost your trust in providence and you have seen how God is at work in your lives, not least through the flesh and blood people he led you to encounter.”

Catholic marriage is a gift, not a formality, Pope Francis says at World Meeting of Families 2022 opening

Pope Francis speaks at the opening of the World Meeting of Families in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, June 22, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2022 / 12:10 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday that Catholic marriage is a gift, not just a formality or rule.

“Marriage is not a formality to be fulfilled. You don’t get married to be Catholic ‘with the label,’ to obey a rule, or because the Church says so, or to throw a party,” the pope said at the opening event of the World Meeting of Families on June 22.

“You get married,” he continued, “because you want to base your marriage on the love of Christ, which is as firm as a rock.”

“We can say that when a man and a woman fall in love, God offers them a gift: marriage. A wonderful gift, which has in it the power of divine love: strong, enduring, faithful, able to recover after any failure or fragility,” Francis said. 

The World Meeting of Families 2022 opened with a Festival of Families in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. The event featured a performance by Italian operatic rock trio Il Volo.

Pope Francis and around 2,000 families from around the world also listened to the testimonies of married couples and individuals with stories of overcoming incredible challenges or of serving others.

The 10th edition of the World Meeting of Families, which ends on June 26, includes three days of talks from lay Catholics on subjects related to marriage and the family. Mass and Eucharistic adoration are also on the schedule.

Pope Francis told families: “In marriage Christ gives himself to you, so that you have the strength to give yourselves to each other.”

“Take courage, then, family life is not an impossible mission,” he added. “With the grace of the sacrament, God makes it a wonderful journey to be taken together with him, never alone.”

“Family is not a beautiful ideal, unattainable in reality. God guarantees his presence in marriage and family, not only on your wedding day but throughout your life. And he sustains you every day in your journey,” Francis said.

Can laity preach at Mass? Chicago parish offers pulpit to same-sex couple

Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka deliver a 'Gospel reflection' during Mass at Old St. Patrick's in Chicago, Ill., June 19, 2022. / Old St. Patrick’s/vimeo.

Denver Newsroom, Jun 22, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A Chicago Catholic parish is facing questions after the pastor allowed a couple in a same-sex marriage to offer a “reflection” in lieu of the homily at a June 19 Mass. 

The parish, Old St. Patrick’s, is a historic and prominent parish on Chicago’s west loop. The priest celebrating the Mass, Father Joe Roccasalva, introduced the two men immediately after proclaiming the Gospel and said they were to give a Father’s Day “Gospel reflection.” According to canon law, laypeople are not allowed to preach homilies during Mass — only the ordained, meaning priests, bishops, and deacons, are allowed to do so. 

Upon taking the lectern, Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka — who say they have been members of the parish for a decade — described their same-sex marriage as a “blessing” and the adoption of their two children as “miracles.” 

“Let’s be honest, there are probably not too many gay dads speaking on Father’s Day at many Catholic Churches on the planet today,” one of the men said. 

Later in the presentation, one of the men stated: “We wanted to raise our children in the Catholic Church…On the other hand, we didn’t want to expose our children to bigotry and have them feel any shame or intolerance about their family.” 

The men described as a “miracle” the fact that they had found an LGBT-affirming community at the self-described “radically inclusive” Old St. Patrick’s parish, as they said they had experienced rejection and a lack of welcome at other Catholic parishes. 

The Catholic Church teaches that people who identify as LGBT should be treated with dignity and respect, but also that homosexual acts are sinful and that homosexual unions — even if recognized as marriage by governments or society — cannot be approved by the Church under any circumstance. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." At the same time, the Catechism and popes have drawn a clear distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual inclinations, the latter of which, while objectively disordered, are not sinful

"Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection," the Catechism adds.

In terms of the question of laypeople giving homilies, Father Pius Pietrzyk OP, a canon lawyer, told CNA in written responses that although the allowance of the reflection was technically a clear violation of the law, Catholics should not merely be concerned with the letter of the law, but also the reasons behind it. 

“[The law] expresses the Church's understanding of the role of the priest in the life of the parish community,” Pietrzyk explained. 

“More importantly, it expresses the essential link between the munus sanctificandi [duty to sanctify, or consecrate] and the munus docendi [the duty to teach], which is rooted in the sacrament of holy orders.” 

Pietrzyk said he hopes that the men who spoke at Old St. Patrick’s continue to participate in the Catholic Church. 

“We should continue to encourage these two men to participate in the life of the Church,” Pietrzyk stressed, but reiterated that the fact that they are living publicly as a same-sex married couple — a state the Church teaches to be sinful — cannot simply be ignored. 

Moreover, Pietrzyk described the priest’s decision to allow the men to speak during Mass as a “politicization of the Eucharist.”

“The selection of these two as [homilists] on Father's Day must be seen for what it is, a political act of submission to modern sexual ideologies and an act of rebellion against the teachings of Christ and his Church,” the priest said. 

In March 2021, the Vatican’s doctrinal office clarified that the Catholic Church does not have the power to give liturgical blessings of homosexual unions, writing that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.” The ruling and note were approved for publication by Pope Francis. 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has not responded to questions on the matter from other Catholic publications. 

First married couple to be beatified together featured at World Meeting of Families

Blessed Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi. / Courtesy of Diocese of Rome

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2022 / 09:46 am (CNA).

Relics of the first married couple to be beatified together by the Catholic Church can be venerated inside St. Peter’s Basilica this week during the World Meeting of Families in Rome.

Blessed Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi are the official patrons of the 10th World Meeting of Families taking place in Rome on June 22-26.

The Italian couple was married for 45 years, enduring two world wars together and nurturing their four children’s vocations in service of the Church amid unprecedented difficulties facing Europe.

Both of their sons became priests in the 1930s and went on to concelebrate the beatification Mass of their parents with John Paul II in 2001. 

Their eldest son, Father Tarcisio Beltrame, a Benedictine monk, and his younger brother Father Paolino, a Trappist, both risked their lives to secretly work with the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Italy in World War II, while the Beltrame Quattrocchi family’s apartment in Rome served as a hiding place for fugitives and Italians with Jewish heritage.

A living relative of the Beltrame Quattrocchi family says that he has documents from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) confirming the sons’ collaboration in the Resistance movement, which was made even riskier by the fact that the family’s apartment was located right by the headquarters of the German command in Rome. 

“If they had been discovered they would have all been immediately shot,” Francesco Beltrame Quattrocchi told EWTN. 

The Beltrame Quattrocchis’ daughters also enthusiastically served the Church. Their eldest daughter, Stefania, entered a Benedictine monastery as a nun in 1927. And the youngest child in their family, Enrichetta Beltrame Quattrocchi, was a lay consecrated woman who has been declared venerable.

‘Extraordinarily rich spiritual life’

At the root of their children’s vocations and the courageous witness of the Beltrame Quattrocchi family during times of trial was the rich spiritual foundation within Luigi and Maria’s marriage. 

When St. John Paul II beatified Luigi and Maria in 2001, he said that the blessed married couple “lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.”

“Among the joys and anxieties of a normal family, they knew how to live an extraordinarily rich spiritual life. At the center of their life was the daily Eucharist as well as devotion to the Virgin Mary, to whom they prayed every evening with the rosary,” he said.

Luigi and Maria lived lives of heroic virtue together as spouses and parents. The couple was married in the Basilica of St. Mary Major on Nov. 25, 1905. Luigi was 25 years old and Maria was 21. A plaque commemorating their marriage can be seen in the basilica’s Corsini chapel today. 

After being married in Rome’s largest Marian basilica, the couple later entrusted their family and all their children to Our Lady of Divine Love.

The Beltrame Quattrocchi children. Courtesy of Diocese of Rome
The Beltrame Quattrocchi children. Courtesy of Diocese of Rome

“This couple lived married love and service to life in the light of the Gospel and with great human intensity. With full responsibility they assumed the task of collaborating with God in procreation, dedicating themselves generously to their children, to teach them, guide them and direct them to discovering his plan of love,” John Paul II said.

“From this fertile spiritual terrain sprang vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, which shows how, with their common roots in the spousal love of the Lord, marriage, and virginity may be closely connected and reciprocally enlightening.”

Luigi worked as a lawyer and Maria served as a catechist and wrote several books on education while raising their four children.

The couple also organized Catholic marriage preparation courses for engaged couples through their work in Catholic Action.

During World War I, the family also assisted the wounded and families facing difficulties. They also financially supported some young people who wished to become priests or enter religious life.

Luigi died of a heart attack in 1951 at the age of 71. Maria lived for another 14 years after the death of her beloved husband and continued her dedicated service to her family and the Church.

Relics of Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi currently on display in St. Peter’s Basilica. CNA
Relics of Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattrocchi currently on display in St. Peter’s Basilica. CNA

In addition to the first-class relics of the blessed married couple, which can be found in front of the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica, several other personal items of theirs will be on display in the Paul VI Hall during the World Meeting of Families in Rome. 

The items showcase how the couple’s spiritual lives were intertwined with the love shared in their marriage. On display is the engagement ring that Luigi gave to Maria and the Bible that the couple would read together. 

There is also the small holy card of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei that Maria gave to Luigi before their wedding, which Luigi kept in his wallet for over 40 years. 

The beatified couple are buried together in Rome’s Sanctuary of Divine Love. 

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Pope Francis mourns Catholic priests killed in Mexico

null / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2022 / 06:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday he is mourning the death of two Jesuit priests who were killed in Mexico this week.

“I also express my sorrow and dismay at the killing in Mexico the day before yesterday of two Jesuit religious, my brothers, and a layman,” the pope said on June 22 in St. Peter’s Square.

“How many killings in Mexico,” he said before thousands of pilgrims. “I am close with affection and prayer to the Catholic community affected by this tragedy. Once again, I repeat that violence does not solve problems, but increases unnecessary suffering.”

The Jesuits of Mexico announced Tuesday that two of their priests were killed on June 20 inside a church in a mountainous region of Chihuahua state.

Fathers Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar had served as Jesuit priests for nearly a century combined. The gunmen who carried out the June 20 attack on the church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua also took their bodies.

According to the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s Office, both priests tried to protect a person who sought refuge in the church while being chased by at least one other man, both armed, El Sol de Mexico newspaper reported. The chaser reportedly shot and killed all three men.

Luis Gerardo Moro Madrid SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits of Mexico, condemned the killings and said they are “working with the federal and state authorities to ensure the safety” of the parish’s two remaining priests.

Pope Francis expressed his sorrow at the death of the priests in an appeal at the end of his Wednesday general audience.

He also said he is praying for victims of a powerful earthquake in Afghanistan, which struck just after 1:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday.

At least 920 people have been killed, and hundreds injured, according to Taliban officials, the BBC reported.

“In the past few hours, an earthquake has claimed lives and caused extensive damage in Afghanistan,” Pope Francis said.

“I express my sympathy to the injured and those affected by the earthquake and pray especially for those who lost their lives and their families,” he said. “I hope that with everyone’s help, the suffering of the dear people of Afghanistan can be alleviated.”