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Pope Francis backs prior of ‘troubled’ ecumenical community amid clash with founder

Vatican City, Mar 5, 2021 / 01:00 pm ().- Pope Francis on Friday underlined his support for the prior of a “troubled” ecumenical community amid a dispute with its founder.

A issued by the Holy See press office on March 5 noted that the pope met with Br. Luciano Manicardi, prior of the Bose Monastic Community, on the eve of his trip to Iraq. 

Fr. Amedeo Cencini, the pontifical delegate to the community founded in northern Italy in 1965, also attended the meeting.

“His Holiness thus wished to express to the prior and to the Community his closeness and his support, in this troubled phase of its life, confirming his appreciation for the Community and for its peculiarity of being formed by brothers and sisters from different Christian churches,” the press office said.

“Pope Francis, who from the beginning has followed the matter with particular attention, also wished to confirm the work of the pontifical delegate in recent months, thanking him for having acted in full harmony with the Holy See, with the sole intent of alleviating the suffering of both individuals and the Community.”

The statement comes amid a standoff between the Community and its founder, the prominent Italian layman Enzo Bianchi.

The Holy See had given Bianchi until Feb. 17 to leave the monastery after issuing a decree, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on May 13, 2020, following an apostolic visitation.

A Feb. 18 on the Community’s website announced “with deep bitterness” that Bianchi had not left the community in Piedmont to move to Tuscany as instructed by the pontifical delegate in January.

Bianchi founded the community in Biella in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. It is a mixed community, composed of both men and women, who pray the Liturgy of the Hours and follow a rule influenced by St. Benedict and St. Basil the Great. Members include Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians.  

A charismatic figure, Bianchi has maintained a high profile in the Italian Church. He took part in the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and was named a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2014.  

Bianchi resigned as prior of the community in 2017 and Manicardi was as his successor. 

The apostolic visitation, which took place between Dec. 6, 2019, and Jan. 6, 2020, was conducted by Fr. Guillermo León Arboleda Tamayo, Abbot President of the Benedictine Subiaco Cassinese Congregation, Cencini, a consultor for the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, and Mother Anne-Emmanuelle Devéche, Abbess of Blauvac, France.

In a 2020 , the Community said that Cencini had communicated the Vatican’s ruling privately to those concerned with “the greatest possible respect for the privacy of the interested parties.”

But after “several of the interested parties” rejected the measures, it said it was “opportune to specify that the above-mentioned provisions regard Br. Enzo Bianchi, two brothers and one sister, who are to separate themselves from the Monastic Community of Bose and to move to another place and who at the same time are relieved of all the offices they presently hold.”

The statement added that Parolin had sent a letter to the community that “has traced a path of the future and of hope, indicating the basic lines of a process of renewal, which, we trust, will give a fresh impetus to our monastic and ecumenical life.”

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica on March 4 that Pope Francis had also communicated with Bianchi as he sought to resolve the disagreement.

Bianchi has not commented directly on the latest developments, but he has appeared to address the situation indirectly via his .

A few days before defying the order to leave, he : “The exercise of silence is difficult and tiring for all of us, but the hour comes when the truth cries out precisely with silence: even Jesus, according to the Gospels, kept silent before Herod, and did not deign to give him an answer. So silence yes, assent to the lie no!”

The Holy See press office statement concluded: “Finally, the Holy Father manifested his solicitude in accompanying the path of conversion and recovery of the Community according to the orientations and modalities clearly defined in the decree of May 13, 2020, the contents of which the pope reiterates and whose implementation he asks for.”

Pope Francis meets with Iraqi refugees before flight to Baghdad

Rome Newsroom, Mar 5, 2021 / 03:40 am ().- Pope Francis met with Iraqi refugees in Rome early Friday before his flight to Baghdad.

The pope spent a few moments with about a dozen refugees from Iraq and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, according to a statement from Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, on March 5.

The Iraqi refugees have been assisted by the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio and the Auxilium Social Cooperative since their arrival in Italy.

The meeting took place just before 7 a.m. as Pope Francis was leaving for Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport to board his Alitalia flight for Baghdad.

The papal plane is scheduled to touch down in Iraq at 2 p.m. local time. Pope Francis will be the first pope in history to visit Iraq.

Upon his arrival at Baghdad International Airport, the pope is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the airport before visiting Iraqi President Barham Salih at the presidential palace, where the pope will give a speech to a gathering of civil authorities.

Later on Friday evening, Pope Francis will visit local Iraqi Catholics inside the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, also known as Sayidat al-Nejat, the site of a suicide attack by the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State in Iraq during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which 52 people were killed.

On the eve of his flight to Iraq, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and protection on his travels.

Pope Francis is visiting Iraq on March 5-8 in a trip intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and to foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christian communities.

“I am coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism, to beg from God the consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds,” Pope Francis said in a video message published March. 5.

Cardinal Tobin appointed member of Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2021 / 10:00 am ().- Pope Francis on Thursday appointed the archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, a member of the Congregation for Bishops.

Pope Francis also  Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, a member of the same 25-member Vatican congregation.

As a member, Cardinal Tobin joins another American, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., was also a member of the Congregation for Bishops until aging out in November 2020 at the age of 80.

The Congregation for Bishops is responsible for overseeing the selection and appointment of bishops. It also deals with the erection and suppression of dioceses, oversight of bishops, and the preparation for and response to bishops’ ad limina visits to Rome.

The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who turned 76 last June and is one of several cardinals of retirement age leading curial departments expected to soon be replaced by Pope Francis.

Sources in Rome who spoke recently to CNA on background said that Pope Francis may be Cupich to replace Ouellet. Another possible replacement, according to sources, is another member of the Congregation of Bishops: Chicago-born Augustinian missionary Bishop Robert Francis Prevost.

Prevost was made one of the few non-cardinal members of the Congregation for Bishops in November 2020. Of French and Spanish descent, he spent a significant amount of his pastoral life in the Northern Peruvian Andes before being appointed Bishop of Chiclayo, Peru, by Pope Francis in 2015. 

Prevost had a with Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 1, further propelling speculation that he could be headed from Peru to Rome.

The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops does not have unlimited power in episcopal appointments, but plays a significant role in the process, part of which includes meeting with the pope most Saturdays.

The process of appointing a bishop typically begins with a series of consultations at the local level, followed by recommendations made by the apostolic nuncio. Then a dossier is prepared and members of the congregation meet to discuss candidates. Finally, a name or names are proposed to the pope, who appoints the future bishop.

The 68-year-old Tobin has led the Archdiocese of Newark since January 2017. Before that, he led the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after two years in Rome as secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

In 2018, he was one of six U.S. bishops called to participate in the Vatican’s Youth Synod, after he was appointed a delegate by Pope Francis. But he the event, citing his pastoral obligations in Newark archdiocese.

Tobin was born in Detroit and is a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or Redemptorists. Since 2019, he has also been a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Pope Francis says he is coming to Iraq as ‘a pilgrim of peace’

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2021 / 04:00 am ().- A day before he departs for Baghdad, Pope Francis sent a video message to the Iraqi people, saying that he was coming to Iraq as “a pilgrim of peace.”

“I am coming as a pilgrim, as a penitent pilgrim, to implore from the Lord forgiveness and reconciliation after years of war and terrorism, to beg from God the consolation of hearts and the healing of wounds,” the pope said in the released March 5.

“Yes, I am coming as a pilgrim of peace, seeking fraternity and prompted by the desire to pray together and to walk together, also with our brothers and sisters of other religious traditions, in the steps of Father Abraham, who joins in one family Muslims, Jews and Christians,” he .

Pope Francis expressed his desire to see his “dear brothers and sisters in Iraq” and to visit “an ancient and extraordinary cradle of civilization.”

The pope said that he felt “honored to meet a martyr Church,” and expressed gratitude to Christians in Iraq “who have witnessed to their faith in Jesus in the midst of very hard trials.”

“You still have in your eyes the images of destroyed houses and desecrated churches, and in your heart the wounds of affections left behind and abandoned houses,” he said.

“I would like to bring you the affectionate caress of the whole Church, which is close to you and to the tormented Middle East and encourages you to move forward.”

In the video message to the Iraqi people, Pope Francis said two phrases in Arabic: “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you” and “shukran,” which means “thank you.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, I have thought so much of you in these years, of you who have suffered so much, but you have not been despondent. To you, Christians, Muslims; to you, peoples, like the Yazidi people, the Yazidis, who have suffered so much, so much; all brothers, all. Now I come to your blessed and wounded land as a pilgrim of hope,” the pope said.

“From you, in Nineveh, the prophecy of Jonah resounded, which prevented the destruction and brought a new hope, the hope of God. Let us allow ourselves to be infected by this hope, which encourages us to rebuild and start over.”

Pope Francis’ March 5-8 to Iraq will take him from excavations of historical biblical sites dating back thousands of years to churches where Catholics suffered horrific terrorist attacks only a few years ago. 

He will visit a Catholic church in Baghdad on March 5 that was the site of a suicide attack by the Islamic State during Sunday Mass in 2010 in which more than 50 people were killed. 

The following day he will meet with Muslim and other religious leaders in Ur in southern Iraq, which the Bible records as the birthplace of Abraham.

“Let us not give up in the face of the spread of evil: the ancient sources of wisdom of your lands direct us elsewhere, to do as Abraham who, while leaving everything, never lost hope; and trusting in God, he gave birth to descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven,” Pope Francis said in his video message.

“From you, millennia ago, Abraham began his journey. Today it is up to us to continue it, with the same spirit, along the paths of peace together,” he said. “For this reason, upon all of you I invoke the peace and blessing of the Most High. And I ask all of you to do the same as Abraham: walk in hope and never stop looking at the stars. And I ask everyone to please accompany me with prayer. Shukran.”

‘Fratelli tutti’: Pope Francis ‘delighted’ as Muslim group oversees encyclical’s Russian translation

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2021 / 01:00 pm ().- Pope Francis said on Wednesday that he was “delighted” to learn that a Muslim group had overseen the translation of his latest encyclical into Russian.

In a released by the Holy See press office on March 3, the pope said it was “a beautiful and joyful surprise” to hear that the encyclical had been translated into Russian and presented at a cultural center in the capital, Moscow.

“In this way, it will be made available to a large number of men and women of goodwill who wish to confront this text,” the pope said in the message dated Feb. 17.

“I was also delighted and impressed by the fact that it was the Muslim International Forum that edited this Russian-language translation.”

According to its , the Muslim International Forum seeks the “consolidation of moderate and constructive forces of the entire Muslim world.”

The pope said: “I think that reflection and dialogue on this encyclical can be of help not only for the Russian Federation, where dialogue between Christians and Muslims is called to grow, but for the human family as a whole.” 

“Indeed, in the globalized and interconnected world in which we live, a gesture that is made in one corner has repercussions in every other part.”

Pope Francis , which means “All brothers” in Italian, on Oct. 4, 2020. 

The -- his third after the 2013 and 2015 -- expanded on themes contained in the which he signed with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

The encyclical is currently available in nine languages on the Vatican website. 

No pope has ever visited Russia, where an estimated 71% of the 144 million population belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church. Islam is the second-largest religion in the country after Christianity, with Muslims forming around 10% of the population. Catholics are believed to comprise about 0.1% of the population.

In his message, the pope said he was confident that “open and sincere discussion” of the themes of  could foster interreligious dialogue. 

“Indeed, fraternity comes from recognizing one Father. And, if we are all children of one Father, then we can call ourselves brothers and above all live as such,” he said.

Pope Francis to mark 500 years of Catholic faith in the Philippines with Mass

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2021 / 12:00 pm ().- Pope Francis will offer Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 14 to mark 500 years of Catholic faith in the Philippines.

The Mass will be attended by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the former archbishop of Manila, as well as Filipino Catholics living in Rome.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a limited number of people will be able to attend, but the Mass will be live-streamed for people to watch around the world.

“Join us in Rome to pray, praise and thank God for his gift of the Christian faith,” Fr. Ricky Gente, C.S., a priest of the Filipino Chaplaincy in Rome, in comments to the news agency of the Philippines bishops’ conference.

The papal Mass is being held in honor of the year’s 500th anniversary of the presence of the Catholic faith in the Philippines, where the first Mass and the first Baptism took place in 1521.

For 300 years afterward, the Philippines remained a missionary territory with no native clergy. But in 1905, the first Filipino-born bishop, Jorge Imperial Barlin, was appointed. Barlin is buried in Rome, where he during an ad limina visit in 1909.

Today, an estimated 86% of the 108 million population of the Philippines is Catholic.

In most dioceses in the country, the anniversary year will be inaugurated on Easter Sunday, April 4, after nine years of preparation. The dioceses have designated certain churches as special pilgrim churches for the year.

In Manila, apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo opened the anniversary year with a Mass at the cathedral on Feb. 6.

The Archdiocese of Manila, which serves around three million Catholics, has been without a bishop since December 2019, when Tagle left to serve as prefect of the Vatican’s evangelization office.

Last week, the apostolic nuncio in the Philippines said that a successor may be appointed soon.

In an with CNN Philippines, which aired on Feb. 24, Archbishop Charles Brown said that the next archbishop of Manila may be announced “before too long.”

“I don’t think the waiting will go on that much longer,” Brown added. 

Pope Francis prays for a renewal of the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2021 / 05:00 am ().- Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of March is for a renewed experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In his for the prayer intention, created by the , the pope asked for prayers that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be experienced “with renewed depth, to taste the forgiveness and infinite mercy of God.”

Reconciliation, also called the Sacrament of Penance or confession, is the means through which God grants pardon for sins.

In the sacrament, the contrite penitent discloses his sins to a Catholic priest who grants sacramental absolution. The penitent resolves to not sin again and performs an act of satisfaction, usually called a penance.

Through the priest, God grants his pardon and peace, and the penitent is reconciled to God.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has frequently encouraged Catholics to receive God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.

In his March 2021 prayer intention video, the pope said: “When I go to confession, it is in order to be healed, to heal my soul. To leave with greater spiritual health. To pass from misery to mercy.”

He emphasized that “the center of confession is not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are always in need.”

Jesus, who waits for us, listens to us, and forgives us, is the center of confession, the pope said. “Remember this: in the heart of God, we come before our mistakes.”

Francis also encouraged prayers that God would give the Catholic Church “merciful priests and not torturers.”

In October 2013, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of confessing one’s sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, stressing that it is not the same as “going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber.”

In 2016, Francis gave advice to priests about how to be good confessors, saying that even if they cannot give absolution in some cases, “please, do not beat up on the penitent.” 

Someone who comes to the confessional is seeking “comfort, pardon, peace in his soul,” he said. “Let him find a father who embraces him and says, ‘God loves you,’ and makes the penitent feel that God really does.”

Pope Francis has often emphasized the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the life of the Church. In 2014, he instituted a Lenten tradition of “24 Hours for the Lord,” during which Catholics can find extra opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and for going to confession.

The day-long period usually begins with a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica. At the 2014 liturgy, Pope Francis surprised a priest by approaching him for the Sacrament of Reconciliation himself before hearing the confessions of others.

The “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative began in Rome and is organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, which encourages bishops to organize the event in their own dioceses.

During a general audience in February 2014, Pope Francis urged those present to ask themselves “when was the last time I went to confession?”

“And if it has been a long time, don’t lose another day!” he said. “Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus [will be] there, and Jesus is better than the priests -- Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous, and go to confession.”

In the same catechesis, he noted that sometimes people felt ashamed at the idea of confessing their sins, but he explained that “even embarrassment is good. It’s healthy to have a bit of shame... it does us good, because it makes us more humble.”

“Don’t be afraid of confession,” he stressed. “When someone is in line for confession he feels all these things -- even shame -- but then, when he finishes confessing, he leaves [feeling] free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy.”

Pope Francis calls for end to ‘bloody clashes’ in Burma

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2021 / 04:00 am ().- Pope Francis appealed on Wednesday for an end to “bloody clashes” and the release of political leaders in Burma.

Speaking at the end of his general audience on March 3, the pope lamented the deaths of protesters following a military coup in the Southeast Asian country on Feb. 1.

“Sad news of bloody clashes and loss of life continue to arrive from Myanmar,” he said, using the country’s official name.

“I would like to draw the attention of the authorities involved to the fact that dialogue prevails over repression and harmony over discord.”

“I also appeal to the international community to ensure that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar are not stifled by violence. May the young people of that beloved land be granted the hope of a future where hatred and injustice make way for encounter and reconciliation.” 

Referring to a  he made to diplomats on Feb. 8, he added: “Finally, I repeat the wish I expressed a month ago: that the path towards democracy taken in recent years by Myanmar may be resumed through the concrete gesture of the release of the various political leaders imprisoned.”

The pope’s intervention came after days of deadly clashes between police and protesters. The UN Human Rights Office that on Feb. 28 at least 18 people were killed and more than 30 wounded after security forces fired live ammunition into crowds.

Following his appeal, the pope looked ahead to his March 5-8 to Iraq.

“The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet those people who have suffered so much; to meet that martyred Church in the land of Abraham,” he said.

“Together with the other religious leaders, we shall also take another step forward in brotherhood among believers. I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers, so that it may unfold in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits.” 

“The Iraqi people are waiting for us; they awaited St. John Paul II, who was not permitted to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be a good one.”

In his general audience , Pope Francis continued his cycle of catechesis on prayer, which he launched in May 2020 and resumed in October following nine addresses on healing the world after the pandemic.

He dedicated Wednesday’s audience -- the 25th address in this catechetical cycle -- to prayer and the Holy Trinity. The audience took place in the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions.

He said: “In our journey of catechesis on prayer, today and next week we will see how, thanks to Jesus Christ, prayer opens us up to the Trinity -- to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit -- to the immense sea of God who is Love. It is Jesus who opened up Heaven to us and projected us into a relationship with God.” 

The pope suggested that before the Incarnation, human beings did not truly know how to pray. 

“Not all prayers are equal, and not all are convenient: the Bible itself attests to the negative outcome of many prayers, which are rejected,” he said. 

“Perhaps God at times is not content with our prayers and we are not even aware of this. God looks at the hands of those who pray: to make them pure it is not necessary to wash them; if anything, one must refrain from evil acts.” 

The pope said that the “most moving” recognition of the poverty of human prayer came from the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his ill servant (Matthew 8:5-13).

“He felt totally inadequate: he was not a Jew, he was an officer in the detested occupying army. But his concern for his servant emboldens him, and he says: ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed,’” he recalled.

“It is the phrase we also repeat in every Eucharistic liturgy. To dialogue with God is a grace: we are not worthy of it, we have no rights to claim, we ‘limp’ with every word and every thought... But Jesus is the door that opens us to this dialogue with God.”

The pope said that before Christ, God’s love for humanity remained hidden from many cultures.

“So much so that most mythologies do not contemplate the possibility of a god who cares about human affairs; on the contrary, they are considered bothersome and boring, entirely negligible,” he said.

He continued: “God who loves humanity: we would never have had the courage to believe in him, had we not known Jesus. The knowledge of Jesus made us understand this, it let this be revealed to us. It is the scandal -- it is a scandal! -- that we find inscribed in the parable of the merciful father, or in that of the shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep.” 

Pope Francis said that Jesus revealed the depth of love found within the Holy Trinity. He added that we could glimpse this mystery in Eastern Orthodox icons.

Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said: “The sacred humanity of Jesus is therefore the way by which the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray to God our Father.”

“And this is the grace of our faith,” he concluded. “We really could not have hoped for a higher vocation: the humanity of Jesus -- God who came close to us in Jesus -- made available to us the very life of the Trinity, and threw wide open this door of the mystery of the love of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Pope Francis appoints new bishop of US Virgin Islands

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2021 / 07:00 am ().- Pope Francis appointed Mgsr. Jerome Feudjio on Tuesday to lead the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Originally from Cameroon, Feudjio has served as a priest of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ diocese for more than 30 years.

Commenting on Feudjio’s March 2 appointment, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the apostolic administrator of St. Thomas diocese, : “Bishop-Elect Jerome is no stranger to the people of the diocese. His long history of service and pastoral dedication to the people of this community of faith are well known and widely respected,” 

Feudjio, 65, currently serves as the vicar general of the and rector of its . 

The Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands was established in 1977 and is the sole suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Washington. The diocese is made up of 30,000 Catholics across the islands of St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island.

Feudjio first arrived in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1988 after Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who at the time was a coadjutor bishop of St. Thomas, invited him to work as a campus minister in the Saints Peter and Paul School. 

Two years later, he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of St. Thomas and appointed as parochial vicar of the cathedral. He taught French and religion at the Catholic school and went on to serve in multiple positions within the diocese, including as director of vocations, finance officer, administrator, and chancellor.

Born in Cameroon in 1955, Feudjio entered religious life at the age of 17 as a postulant for the Congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart (SCJ). He attended their Saint Apostles Seminary in Otele, Cameroon, from 1972 to 1975, as well as the major seminary in the capital city of Yaoundé from 1975 to 1979.

While still in formation in 1980, Feudjio traveled to the United States, where he met the then Fr. Seán O’Malley, who invited him to stay and study in Washington, D.C.

Feudjio completed his studies in philosophy and theology in the Archdiocese of Washington at Oblate College, and in 1987 joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, making a temporary religious profession.

During his time in the U.S., Feudjio completed a graduate program at Southern Illinois University in the Administration of Justice Program, through which he interned at a local transitional house that helped former inmates readjust to society. 

In 2004, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., who served as bishop of St. Thomas from 1999 to 2007, asked Feudjio to return to Southern Illinois University to pursue further graduate studies in Rehabilitation Administration.

Feudjio has served as rector of the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in the U.S. Virgin Islands since 2008.

As bishop of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Feudjio will succeed Bishop Herbert Bevard, who in September after he was hospitalized and airlifted to the U.S. mainland for medical treatment.

“Regrettably, I have experienced some new and unanticipated medical conditions that unfortunately preclude my ability to continue to maintain my position in the Diocese of St. Thomas,” Bevard wrote in a letter to the diocese on Sept. 18.

“I have loved serving the People of God; the clergy, religious, laity, and the entire Virgin Islands community in the Diocese of St. Thomas and will treasure the fond memories that we share together. It is this same love and concern for them, recognizing my own limitations, that now compel me to make this request,” he said.

Bevard, 75, has remained in North Carolina for ongoing medical treatment. He led the Diocese of St. Thomas for 12 years.

Pope Francis appointed the then Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington to serve as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of St. Thomas until the new bishop is installed.

“I readily join the clergy, religious, and faithful of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands today in warmly welcoming Pope Francis’ appointment of Msgr. Jerome Feudjio as the sixth Bishop of this local Church,” Cardinal Gregory said.

“He now begins a new chapter in his own life and in all of your lives as well. Please keep him in your prayers as he transitions into his new office as I am certain he will hold all of you securely in his daily prayers from this day forward.”

Benedict XVI addresses resignation conspiracy theories, Iraq, and Biden in new interview

Vatican City, Mar 1, 2021 / 02:30 am ().- Benedict XVI addressed conspiracy theories about his resignation as pope, Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq, and Joe Biden in an interview with an Italian newspaper published on Monday.

The pope emeritus told Corriere della Sera that he stood by his decision despite criticism from his friends in an released on March 1, a day after the eighth anniversary of the end of his pontificate.

"It was a difficult decision. But I made it in full consciousness, and I think I did the right thing,” the 93-year-old former pope told the journalist Massimo Franco during a private visit.  

“Some of my friends who are a bit ‘fanatical’ are still angry, they didn’t want to accept my choice. I think of the conspiracy theories that followed it: some said it was because of the Vatileaks scandal, some said it was because of a conspiracy of the gay lobby, some said it was because of the case of the conservative Lefebvrian theologian Richard Williamson.” 

“They do not want to believe in a choice made consciously. But my conscience is fine.”

He also underlined that there is only one pope -- Francis -- rather than two.

Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11, 2013. His resignation went into effect on Feb. 28, 2013, when he became the first pope in almost 600 years to step down.

His almost eight-year-long pontificate was overshadowed by the publication of confidential papal documents, known as the Vatileaks scandal, leaked by his butler. 

The Italian media speculated about the existence of a “gay lobby” at the Vatican before Benedict XVI’s resignation and Pope Francis that “so much is written about the gay lobby” months after his election in 2013.

In 2009, Benedict lifted the excommunication of four SSPX bishops, including Williamson. Shortly afterward, Swedish television broadcast an interview with Williamson that led to the English bishop’s conviction for Holocaust denial by a German court.

The German pope wrote a to the world’s bishops in which he acknowledged that the controversy could have been avoided if Vatican officials had researched Williamson’s statements on the internet.

In the interview, Benedict also said that he was praying for the success of Pope Francis’ trip to Iraq this week.

He said: “Unfortunately it falls at a very difficult time that also makes it a dangerous trip: for security reasons and for COVID. And then there is the unstable Iraqi situation. I will accompany Francis with my prayers.”

According to the Italian newspaper, Benedict also commented on U.S. President Joe Biden, saying “It is true, he is Catholic and observant. And personally he is against abortion,” but “as president, he tends to present himself in continuity with the line of the Democratic Party ... And on gender policy, we still don’t really understand what his position is.”

Apostolic nuncio in Iraq tests positive for COVID-19 five days before papal trip

Denver Newsroom, Feb 28, 2021 / 12:50 pm ().- The apostolic nunciature in Iraq reported on Sunday, Feb. 28 that the Nuncio Mitja Leskovar, has tested positive for COVID less than a week before Pope Francis trip to the country.

"The Apostolic Nuncio has recently tested positive to the COVID 19 virus. His symptoms are very light and from self-isolation, continues to work for the preparation of the Apostolic trip," tweeted on Sunday Fr. Ervin Lengyel, secretary of the Nunciature in Baghdad.

Archbishop Leskovar, 51, was born in Slovenia and was appointed Apostolic Nuncio in Iraq on May 2020 by Pope Francis.

The Apostolic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq will take place from March 5th to 8th.

Pope Francis prays for children suffering from rare diseases

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2021 / 07:00 am ().- Pope Francis prayed Sunday for children suffering from rare diseases that they may feel “the caress of God’s love and tenderness.”

“Today is World Rare Disease Day,” Pope Francis said from the window of the Apostolic Palace Feb. 28 as he waved to people holding banners and cheering in St. Peter’s Square.

“I greet the members of some associations involved in this field, who have come to the piazza,” he said. “In the case of rare diseases, the solidarity network between family members, fostered by these associations, is more important than ever. It helps to not feel alone and to exchange experience and advice.”

There are more than 6,000 diseases that are classified as rare of which 70% begin in childhood, according to research recently published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

The pope said that he encourages initiatives that support research of rare diseases and care to those who suffer from them.

“I express my closeness to the sick, to families, but especially to children. Be near to sick children, children suffering, pray for them and make them feel the caress of God's love and tenderness,” he said.

“We pray for all the people who have these rare diseases, especially for the children who suffer,” Francis said.

February 28 marks Rare Disease Day, a date first established in 2008 by the European Organization for Rare Diseases to raise awareness for those who suffer from uncommon illnesses.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect for the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, also published a message for Rare Disease Day.

“People living with a rare disease are among the most vulnerable groups in society,” Cardinal Turkson wrote.

“Most of these diseases have no cure and are usually chronic, progressive, degenerative and disabling; they are heterogeneous, predominantly occur in children and require costly treatments.”

The cardinal highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the challenges patients with rare diseases face with “limitations, delays and sometimes even interruption and denial of treatment, medication, diagnostic tests, rehabilitation therapies.”

“Often, as Pope Francis points out: To the most 'vulnerable people are not always granted access to care, or in an equitable manner. This is the result of political decisions, resource  management and greater or lesser commitment on the part of those holding positions of responsibility. Investing resources in the care and assistance of the sick is a priority linked to the fundamental principle that health is a primary common good,’” he said.

Turkson urged policymakers and institutions to guarantee the “right to health for the entire population, by promoting international cooperation, knowledge-sharing and more sustainable and resilient health systems that do not forget the needs of  the most vulnerable and leave no one behind.”

“It is essential to promote a culture of care that is grounded in the promotion of the dignity of  every human person, solidarity with the poor and the defenseless, the common good and the protection of creation,” he said.

“Only by ensuring equitable and inclusive access to care and health care for the most vulnerable can we build a more humane society, where no one feels alone, abandoned or excluded.”

The cardinal wrote that he was prayerfully entrusting all those affected by rare diseases and their families to Mary, Mother of Mercy and Health of the Sick.

“Dear brothers and sisters, during this time of Lent, let us in our charity speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters. This is a time to cultivate hope and to love those who are suffering, abandoned and distressed,” he said.

Pope Francis: The Lord does not permit darkness to have the last word

Vatican City, Feb 28, 2021 / 05:30 am ().- Pope Francis said Sunday that it is important to remember when facing a difficult trial that the “Lord is risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.”

“At times we go through moments of darkness in our personal, family or social life, and of fear that there is no way out. We feel frightened before great enigmas such as illness, the suffering of the innocent, or the mystery of death,” Pope Francis said in his Angelus address Feb. 28.

“We need a different outlook, a light that illuminates the mystery of life in depth and … helps us to interpret history beginning with his paschal victory,” the pope said from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

Speaking to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said that Christians are called to experience an encounter with Jesus so that “illuminated by his light, we might take it and make it shine everywhere.”

“Igniting little lights in people’s hearts; being little lamps of the Gospel that bear a bit of love and hope: this is the  mission of a Christian,” he said.

The pope pointed to the Gospel account of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain shortly after he had announced that he would be put to death in Jerusalem.

“He is transfigured before them. His face radiant and his robes shining, an anticipation of the image of the Risen One, offer to those frightened men the light, the light of hope, the light to pass through the darkness: death will not be the end of everything, because it will open to the glory of the Resurrection,” he said.

“As the Apostle Peter exclaimed, it is good to pause with the Lord on the mountain, to experience this ‘preview’ of light in the heart of Lent. It is a call to remember, especially when  we pass through a difficult trial -- and so many of you know what it is to go through a difficult trial -- that the Lord is risen and does not permit darkness to have the last word.”

Pope Francis said that in the journey of faith it is common to stumble when “encountering the scandal of the cross and the demands of the Gospel, which calls us to spend our life in service and to lose it in love, rather than preserve it.”

The pope warned against “spiritual laziness,” explaining that the Christian life is not about just experiencing “beautiful spiritual feelings” in prayer.

“Jesus himself brings us back to the valley, amidst our brothers and sisters and into daily life,” Pope Francis said.

“Praying never means avoiding the difficulties of life,” he added.

After praying the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis asked for prayers for schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in Nigeria earlier this week.

“I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Nigeria to condemn the vile kidnapping of 317 girls, taken away from their school, in Jangebe, in the northwest of the country,” the pope said.

“I pray for these girls, that they will soon be able to retun home. ... Let us pray to Our Lady to protect them.”

The pope also expressed his closeness to children suffering from rare diseases, adding that he hopes that they will “feel the caress of God’s love and tenderness.”

“Let us pray to Mary Most Holy, that she may help us to welcome the light of Christ with wonder,  to safeguard it and share it,” he said.

Pope Francis says seeing a psychiatrist helped him with anxiety when he was younger

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2021 / 08:30 am ().- Pope Francis has said that seeing a psychiatrist in Argentina helped him with anxiety when he was a younger priest in an interview published in an Argentine newspaper Saturday.

The pope spoke with an Argentine journalist about his physical and mental health. In the excerpt of the transcript provided by the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Pope Francis said that he has developed ways of dealing with moments of anxiety, such as listening to music by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The , which took place in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Feb. 16, 2019, was published in Spanish on Feb. 27.

In the conversation, Pope Francis looked back at how therapy aided his struggle with anxiety when he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina.

“Being provincial of the Jesuits, in the terrible days of the dictatorship, in which I had to take people in hiding to get them out of the country and thus save their lives, I had to handle situations that I did not know how to deal with,” Francis said.

During this time, he said that he consulted a psychiatrist once a week for about six months.

“Throughout those six months, she helped me position myself in terms of a way to handle the fears of that time. Imagine what it was like to take a person hidden in the car - only covered by a blanket - and go through three military checkpoints in the Campo de Mayo area. The tension it generated in me was enormous,” Pope Francis said.

“The treatment with the psychiatrist also helped me to locate myself and learn to manage my anxiety and avoid being rushed when making decisions. The decision making process is always complex. And the advice and observations that she gave me was very helpful. ... Her teachings are still very useful to me today.”

Pope Francis said that his anxiety has been “tamed,” compared to what he experienced when he was younger, which he described as “anxious neurosis” and “wanting to do everything now.”

The pope also said that he has learned different ways of dealing with anxieties.

“You have to know how to brake,” he said. “When I am faced with a situation or I have to face a problem that causes me anxiety, I cut it short.”

“I have different methods of doing it. One of them is listening to Bach. It calms me down and helps me analyze problems in a better way. I confess that over the years I have managed to put a barrier to the entrance of anxiety in my spirit. It would be dangerous and harmful for me to make decisions under a state of anxiety,” the pope said.

“It would be equally harmful to make decisions dominated by anguish and sadness. That is why I say that the person must be attentive to neurosis,” he added.

Pope Francis said that he believes that it is also important for priests to have an understanding of psychology for their pastoral ministry.

Since the interview with the pope took place in 2019, restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic have disrupted access to mental health services around the world, according to the World Health Organization, at a time when anxiety and depression are rising.

“I'm convinced that every priest must know human psychology,” Pope Francis said. “There are those who know it from the experience of the years, but the study of psychology is necessary for a priest.”

The pope recalled that reading the book “Be Glad You’re Neurotic” by the American psychiatrist Louis E. Bisch was very interesting and “made me laugh out loud.”

It was not the first time that the pope had revealed his prior experience with seeing a psychiatrist at the age of 42. Pope Francis also discussed it in an interview in 2017 with French sociologist Dominique Wolton.

In the La Nacion interview, Pope Francis also talked about the origin of his lung condition, which was brought on by a flu epidemic when he was a 21-year-old seminarian.

“It was 1957. I was in my second year of seminary ... That winter there had been a strong flu epidemic that affected many of the seminarians. Among them was me. But the truth is that my case evolved in a more torpid way. … Upon viewing the X-rays, the specialist found three cysts in the upper lobe of the right lung. There was also a bilateral pleural effusion that caused me pain and shortness of breath,” he said.

After his recovery from the operation to remove part of the affected lobe, he said that he never felt any limitation in his activities.

Pope Francis said: “As the doctors have explained to me, the right lung expanded and covered the entire ipsilateral hemithorax. And the expansion has been so complete that, if he is not advised of the history, only a first-rate pulmonologist can detect the lack of the excised lobe.”

The article also quoted Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who said that the issue of Bergoglio’s lung came up during the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

“When the figure of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires began to emerge as the new possible pope, they began to move to stop God's plan that was about to come to fruition. Someone who was supporting another “papabile” cardinal, in effect, spread the rumor in Santa Marta that Bergoglio was ill because he was missing a lung,” Maradiaga said according to La Nacion.

“It was at this point that I took courage. I spoke to other cardinals and said, 'OK, I'm going to go ask the archbishop of Buenos Aires if these things are really true. ' When I went to see him, I apologized for the question that I was about to ask him. Cardinal Bergoglio was very surprised, but confirmed that apart from a little sciatica and a small operation on his right lung to remove a cyst when he was young, he did not have any major health problems.”

The final questions in the 2019 interview with the pope related to death. Pope Francis responded that he thinks of death, but is not afraid of it. When asked how he imagines his own death, the pope replied:

“Being a pope, whether in office or emeritus. And in Rome. I am not going back to Argentina.”

What changes may be coming to the College of Cardinals in 2021?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 06:37 pm ().- When Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako turns 80 on Feb. 27, the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will drop to 127, seven more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II.

In 2021, five more cardinals will turn 80, and thus age out of voting in the conclave: Cardinals Wilfrid Fox Napier, George Pell, Maurice Piat, Beniamino Stella, and Angelo Scola.

This means that by the end of the year, cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be down to 122, prompting questions of whether Pope Francis will appoint more.

During his pontificate, Pope Francis strongly reshaped the College of Cardinals. In seven years, he has summoned seven consistories (one per year) and created 101 new cardinals, 79 of whom are eligible to vote in a conclave and 22 of whom are not, because they are above the age of 80. To put this in perspective, St. John Paul II summoned nine consistories in 27 years of his pontificate, an average of one every three years. 

A conclave now would be composed of 73 cardinals created by Pope Francis, 39 created by Benedict XVI, and 16 created by John Paul II. 

Many observers in the Roman Curia believe that, taking into consideration Pope Francis’ and the ongoing generational shift within the Curia, it is likely that the pontiff will choose to expand the College of Cardinals to 130, and give the red biretta to the new prefects of the Vatican dicasteries.

Cardinal Robert Sarah's replacement– Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Feb. 21 – will likely be a non-cardinal in need of a red hat. 

Cardinal Beniamino Stella, 79, will leave the Congregation for the Clergy when he turns 80 next August. 

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, is already 77 and will soon retire. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is 76.  Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is 76 too, while Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, is 77. 

The president of the Vatican City State administration, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, turned 78 last October.

This means that the pope could have six new prefects to appoint in the Roman Curia, all positions traditionally run by cardinals.

This, plus the ongoing reform and restructuring of the Curia, will give Pope Francis the opportunity to expand the College of Cardinals, thus having a greater influence on who his successor will be.