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Pope encourages young people to ask tough questions at pre-synod launch

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2018 / 10:43 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis opened this week's pre-synod meeting telling youth to hold nothing back and to have the courage to ask the “raw” and direct questions about life, love, and vocation.

In the March 19 opening session for the event, Francis told youth to let their questions come “without anesthetizing” them.

“The strong questions of ours can have a process of being played down in tone,” or asked in a “polite way,” he said, but urged the young attendees to “be courageous” and to “say the raw truth, to ask the raw questions.”

He spoke to French youth Maxime Rassion, who is not baptized. Rassion said he was facing doubts about his career and struggles to find a deeper meaning in life, asked what he can do to figure out where to start.

In his answer, Pope Francis noted how many youth have fears about similar questions, and said there is a need for discernment. However, “at this point, many ecclesial communities don't know how to do it or they lack the ability to discern.”

“It's one of the problems we have,” Francis said, and urged those in positions of pastoral authority not to be afraid to let youth “take everything out” that they are thinking or feeling, and to listen to the blunt questions that young people may pose.

“Accompany them so they don't err,” he said; and on the other hand, he encouraged youth to find someone they can talk to about their experiences.

Talking is important, but “you can't talk to everyone about everything,” he said, and told them to find someone “who is wise, who isn't scared and who knows how to listen” to help them sort through the questions they have.

“It's important to open everything, to open everything, not to put make up on your feelings,” he said, and cautioned against closing in on oneself, which “weighs you down and takes your freedom.”

“Let your feelings come up, don't anesthetize them, don't downplay them; look for someone wise [to talk to] and discern.”

Pope Francis spoke at the opening session of the March 19-24 pre-synod meeting, which has drawn some 300 youth from around the world to talk about major themes for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

Youth in different states in life are in Rome to participate in the event. Priests, seminarians, and consecrated persons will also participate. Special attention will also be given to youth from both global and existential “peripheries,” including people with disabilities, and some who have struggled with drug use or who have been in prison.

At the end of the gathering, notes of the various discussions throughout the week will be gathered into a comprehensive concluding document, which will be presented to Pope Francis and used as part of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document,” of the October synod.

In his opening speech for the March 19 session, Pope Francis told youth that “your contribution is indispensable” for the preparation of the October synod gathering.

Too often young people are talked about without being spoken to, he said, stressing the importance of having a “face to face” meeting where they can share their thoughts and desires.

“It's not enough to exchange some messages or share some nice photos,” he said, adding that “youth must be taken seriously!” Too often youth are left alone, he said, and cautioned that in the Church, “it must never be like this.”

“We need to regain the enthusiasm of the faith and of the flavor of the search. We need to find again in the Lord the strength to recover from failures, to go forward, to strengthen confidence in the future.”

“We need to dare [to take] new paths, even if it involves risks,” he said, adding that risk is necessary because “love knows how to risk; without risk a young person grows old, and it also makes the Church grow old.”

Because of this, “we need you young people, living stones of a Church with a young face, but not using makeup: not artificially rejuvenated, but revived from within,” he said, explaining that the purpose of the synod is to accompany youth.

“Be assured: God trusts you, he loves you and he calls you,” Francis said, saying the Church, in the synod, must learn to have “new ways of presence and closeness.”

After his opening address, Francis heard testimonies from five young people: Tendai Karombo from Zimbabwe, Nicholas Lopez from the US, Cao Huu Minh Tri from Vietnam, Annelien Boon from Belgium, and Angela Markas from Australia.

The Pope was then asked questions from five youth, one of whom was a young Nigerian woman named Blessing Okoedion who was brought to Italy four years ago as a victim of human trafficking.

After suffering the “hell” of forced prostitution, she was finally able to escape and find healing with an order of religious sisters. In her question to the Pope, Okoedion said many of her clients were Catholics, and asked how youth can be made aware of the problem of trafficking, and how to fight the “sick” mentality that reduces women to being the property of men.

In his response, the pope said human trafficking is “a crime against humanity” which is ultimately “born from a sick mentality.”

“The woman is exploited,” he said, noting that “today there is no feminism that has been able to take this out of the unconsciousness” in societal thought. “It's a sickness of mentality, it's a sickness of social action, it's a crime against humanity.”

Pope Francis then asked forgiveness “for all the Catholics who commit this criminal act.”

“I think of the disgust these young women must feel when these men make them do anything,” he said. What women endure is “unbelievable,” he said, and called the practice a form of “slavery.”

In response to a question posed by Argentine youth Maria de la Macarena Segui, who asked about education initiatives and what youth can do to make their encounter with the Lord last over time, the pope stressed the need for an integral education.

Francis said there is need for educational initiatives that follow a “head, heart, hands” model, and which “harmonize” these three aspects into a solid foundation for the person that takes intellectual and charitable formation and turns them into action.

He also responded to a question posed by Ukrainian seminarian Ylian Vendzilovych, who asked how young priests should act amid the “complex realities” of modern society, and questioned how someone preparing for ordination can differentiate between what is good and what is wrong in society.

Francis stressed the importance of community in the life of a priest, and pointed to the many priests who serve their parishes alone or in remote areas. In these cases, it's important for both the priest and the parishioners to make an effort to build a communal relationship, he said.

“A priest is a testimony of Christ to the extent that he is a member of that community,” he said, adding that if there is not community in a parish, “the bishop needs to intervene.”

He also spoke out against the “terrorism” of gossip and clericalism, which he called a “sick mentality” that confuses the people and drives them away. “Attitudes that are not paternal, not fraternal, also worry me,” he said, explaining that when a priest becomes too rigid or worldly, “there is no witness of the mercy of Christ.”

“I prefer that a young person loses their vocation rather than being a bad religious,” he said.

Sr. Teresina Chaohing Cheng, a religious sister from China, asked how young consecrated people can balance their cultural formation and spiritual lives while fighting against a materialistic society.

In his answer, Pope Francis said good formation for a consecrated person is built on four pillars: the spiritual, intellectual, communal, and apostolic.

This means making sure religious are aware of cultural habits and trends, even those that are bad, while also having a solid foundation to help distinguish and discern what is harmful, he said.

Francis cautioned against keeping religious too sheltered and in the dark about what's happening in culture and society, saying to “overprotect” them is not formation, but “annuls” their understanding and does them a disservice.

He said to do this “castrates” a person and takes away their freedom, and told Cheng to fight against this in her community. “Don't overprotect,” he said, because doing so prevents people “from maturing psychologically” and from responding to people in need.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, disgraced Scottish prelate, dies at 80

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2018 / 07:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, who stepped down as Archbishop of Edinburgh in 2013 after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct throughout his ministry, died Monday at the age of 80.

In a brief statement marking the prelate's March 19 passing, the current head of the St. Andrews & Edinburgh diocese, Archbishop Leo William Cushley, offered prayer for the repose of O'Brien's soul, for his family and for all those affected by the scandal.

“In life, Cardinal O’Brien may have divided opinion,” Cushley said. “In death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down. May he rest in peace.”

Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, O'Brien was named Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh by St. John Paul II in 1985.

Ordained a priest in 1965, he had a bachelors degree in chemistry and mathematics, and served as a spiritual director of St Andrew's College in Drygrange and rector of St Mary’s College in Blairs before being named archbishop.

From 2002-2012, O’Brien served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2003, and participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI.

He stepped down as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh in 2013 at the age of 74 after allegations went public that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men in the 1980s.

After the claims surfaced that February, the cardinal's request for retirement – originally submitted to Benedict XVI in November 2012 for reasons due to age and health – was accepted immediately by Benedict, going into effect Feb. 25, 2013.

O’Brien, who did not participate in the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, subsequently admitted that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

In May 2013, after speaking with the newly-elected Pope, O'Brien left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection. In March 2015, Francis in a rare move accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of cardinal.

Only a Pope can approve a cardinal resigning his official status, and the move is extremely rare in Church history.

The closest parallel to the 2015 event took place in 1927 when French  Cardinal Louis Billot resigned from the Sacred College of Cardinals following a stormy meeting with Pope Pius XI. His resignation was accepted by the Pope eight days later.

The ruling by Pope Francis stems from his decision in 2014 to send Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna as his personal envoy on a fact-finding mission to Scotland. It was after that investigation – the content of which is fully known only to the Pope and Archbishop Scicluna – Francis reached his canonical conclusion.

In wake of O'Brien's resignation, Pope Francis in July 2013 named Archbishop Cushley as the next leader of the St. Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese.

According to a March 19 press release from the archdiocese, O'Brien died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after receiving last rights, and was surrounded by his family and friends.

Catholics in Indonesia will be alert during Holy Week in light of church attacks

Jakarta, Indonesia, Mar 19, 2018 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As there has been an increase in violence committed against parishes throughout Indonesia, Church officials in the country have urged Catholics to be vigilant, especially during Holy Week.

“We call on each parish and mission station to stay alert ahead of the observance of Holy Week and Easter. This is very important,” Fr. Felix Atmojo, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Palembang, March 13.

“We don’t want the church attack to reoccur,” he added, according to UCA News.

His warning came after a church in the Palembang archdiocese was damaged earlier this month; two more attacks on Christians had occurred the preceding month.

On March 8, six men broke into the Chapel of Saint Zacharias in South Sumatra’s Ogan Ilir district, where part of the church’s walls were damaged and statues were burned. The perpetrators have not been identified.

A few weeks earlier, on Feb. 27, two Indonesian Christians were publically flogged in Aceh province. Each man had been whipped a dozen times for reportedly violating Islamic law by playing a children’s game.

Additionally, a man armed with a sword attacked members of St Lidwina’s Church during Mass Feb. 11. The man injured two parishioners, a Dutch priest, and a policeman at the church in Sleman, Yogyakarta. The man was then shot by the police.

Following the attack at St. Lidwina’s, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Semarang, Fr. Franciscus Wignyosumarta, encouraged Catholics to stay alert and to increase security measures.

“Security in churches must be tightened and cooperation with police and security personnel must be improved,” he said, according to UCA News.

Fr. Atmojo encouraged Catholics to seek peace with people of other religions, saying, “we can learn from [the attacks], we need to continue to promote togetherness. Let it become our common goal.”

Archbishop Anicetus Sinaga of Medan also urged Catholics to avoid actions that would create enemies.

“Be inclusive, don’t create enemies,” he said.

According to UCA News, Archbishop Sinaga said a 12-member security force was created for the Immaculate Conception of Mary Cathedral in Medan after a nearby church was attacked by a teen in August 2016. The attacker had attacked a priest with an axe after a bomb in his backpack failed to detonate.

Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority nation in population. Alongside the 87 percent of its population who are Muslim, 10 percent of the population is Christian, and 2 percent are Hindu. Discrimination and attacks on religious minorities occur not infrequently.

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