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Who is Benedict XVI? Cardinal Filoni shares his testimony

Cardinal Fernando Filoni. Photo credits: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA. / null

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

Who is Benedict XVI? This is the question that has emerged in the minds of many in recent days; days of great suffering for him and for the Church.

At the beginning of his pontificate in 2005, he wanted to say that he saw himself as a humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord, thinking of the parable found in the Gospel of Matthew (21:33-43). In that parable, Jesus criticized the behavior of those who, by their infidelity, ruined the vineyard planted with sacrifice and devotion. In that vineyard, loved by God, the owner had sent workers to ensure it was well cultivated. It belonged to him and the workers should have taken care of it and not taken possession of it.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Paul Badde/CNA.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Paul Badde/CNA.

I have known Benedict XVI personally above all because at the beginning of his papal ministry, he called me to Rome from the Philippines, where a year earlier he had assigned me as his papal representative.

I remember well our first meeting; it was at the beginning of July 2007. He had appointed me Substitute (Sostituto) of the Secretariat of State, that is, one of his closest collaborators. This allowed me to visit him at least once a week to talk about the issues that were close to his heart and receive appropriate guidance on many aspects of the life of the Curia and the Church.

The office of substitute was also entrusted with the organization of papal trips, so that during the four years that I remained in office, before being appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, I had the opportunity to accompany him to the various countries where he made his apostolic journeys.

In those years, the issue of pedophilia emerged with virulence in the Church. It was not known in the terms with which it has since gradually emerged. But it was always clear to me that Benedict XVI was willing to face it with determination.

In this, I can testify first of all to his profound and very high moral and intellectual honesty.

This is unquestionable, even if there is no shortage of those who today are railing against him. They are free to do so, but I can affirm that I have never found in him any shadow or attempt to hide or minimize anything. Nor can his sensitivity in dealing with things with a profound moral sense be mistaken for uncertainty or anything else.

I also know well his immense distress in the face of serious ecclesial questions, and I clearly remember an expression he used to utter with a deep sigh: “How inscrutable is the abyss into which we fall because of human misery!” This distressed him intimately and he sometimes remained silent for a long time. All the more so if these human miseries touched men of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. .  L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 28, 2010. . L'Osservatore Romano.

He had a noticeable sensitivity for the victims. When, in preparation for apostolic trips (to the United States, Australia, etc.), he received requests for meetings with victims of abuse, he told me about them; he wanted to know my thoughts on how to accommodate these requests.

I can affirm that he advised two things that were very important to him. 1) Deep respect for the victims whose identity had to be safeguarded; therefore, he wanted the meetings to take place far from the gaze of cameras or other visual instruments. He did not want any spectators, but he wanted me to be among the very few who were discreetly present.

2) He did not want the meeting to be a sort of “audience” with a simple handshake and a quick glance, but a real prayer meeting; it should have a spiritual dimension and take place in front of God from whom one should implore mercy.

For this reason, he accepted the idea that the meetings should take place in the chapel, in front of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, after a few minutes of prayer with the victims, after some heavy emotional moments, he would pray the Our Father with them; he paid attention to each of them, listened with visible and palpable emotion, and, at the end, he entrusted a rosary to each one.

Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 11, 2005. .  © L'Osservatore Romano.
Pope Benedict XVI at the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter's Square on Sept. 11, 2005. . © L'Osservatore Romano.

In those encounters, there was not only the sense of the humiliation suffered by the victims, but also the humiliation of a man of the Church who could never have imagined that such degrading actions could happen, and yet now offered the balm of a prayer and the relief of solidarity in the name of that God who had humbled himself and taken on his shoulders the human condition and its sins.

In every encounter there was always a true recognition that the human and spiritual had been violated. There was always the entrustment to God made by deeply moved brothers and sisters; there was a request for forgiveness from the whole Church to God, and there was a commitment that would see Benedict XVI combine mercy and justice. That he did through steps that previously had not existed.

This is the Benedict XVI who I have known up close. A “pastor,” a “worker” in the vineyard of the Lord, who had in his heart — always — a profound “solicitude for all the Churches” and for an afflicted, fallen, and godless humanity, in accordance with what he said when he visited, on that distant afternoon of April 25, 2005, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, where the Apostle of the Gentiles reposes.

Cardinal Fernando Filoni is the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This article was first published by ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

Catholic charity calls for day of prayer for Myanmar on coup anniversary

Sr. Ann Rose Nu Tawng begs police not to shoot protesters during Myanmar unrest. / Myanmar local media.

Königstein, Germany, Jan 28, 2022 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic charity has called for a day of prayer for Burma on the first anniversary of the military coup in the Southeast Asian country.

The pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) invited Catholics on Jan. 27 to observe the day of prayer on Feb. 1, the day in 2021 when the armed forces seized power in the country officially known as Myanmar.

“With this day of prayer, ACN wants to remember the dead and intercede for the innocent civilian population, especially for internally displaced persons including children, women, elderly, and the sick in the afflicted areas, regardless of ethnicities and faiths,” the charity said.

“Let us pray for all these thousands on the move, many of them at risk of starving.”

ACN called attention to a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) on Jan. 14.

“As the CBCM stands for justice, peace, reconciliation, it strongly demands all concerned to facilitate humanitarian access to suffering and internally displaced peoples in order to provide them the basic humanitarian assistance,” the bishops said.

“Human dignity and the right to life can never be compromised. We strongly demand respect for life, respect for the sanctity of sanctuary in places of worship, hospitals, and schools. All those who reach out to help the people must be protected.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s elected civilian leader, was detained along with the country’s President Win Myint after the military seized power in the early hours of Feb. 1, 2021.

Soldiers attempted to repress mass protests that followed the coup. According to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, almost 1,500 people have been killed in the crackdown and nearly 12,000 arrested as of Jan. 28.

In addition to repression, Burma’s 54 million population is facing steep rises in food and fuel prices. The United Nations World Food Programme reported last year that up to 3.4 million more people will go hungry as a result of pre-existing poverty, the coronavirus crisis, and political instability.

Since the coup, Pope Francis has called repeatedly for harmony in the country, which borders Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand.

The pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica last May for Burmese Catholics, urging them not to lose hope as their homeland is engulfed by violence.

Although Catholics only constitute around 1% of the population, which is majority Buddhist, they have been caught up in the violence.

A video of a religious sister kneeling before police, begging them not to attack protestors in northern Burma, went viral in March 2021.

Military forces are reported to have shelled churches and arrested Catholic priests.

“One year after the military coup in Myanmar, let us pray to God to move the hearts of those who can facilitate access to suffering and internally displaced peoples, to provide them basic humanitarian assistance,” said ACN.

“Let us pray also for the respect for life and for the inviolability of sanctuaries of worship, hospitals, and schools.”

Pope Francis appoints new Catholic bishop of Fatima

Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho. / Santuário de Fátima.

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal António Marto on Friday and named a new bishop of Leiria-Fátima.

The pope appointed Bishop José Ornelas Carvalho to lead the Portuguese diocese containing one of the world’s most famous Marian shrines on Jan. 28.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. .  Kate Veik/CNA.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. . Kate Veik/CNA.

Ornelas has led the diocese of Setúbal, southwestern Portugal, since 2015 and was elected president of the Portuguese bishops’ conference in 2020.

“José Ornelas brings with him enormous and unique wealth to give new impetus to the pastoral renewal of the diocese and the Shrine of Fátima,” Marto said in a video message after the appointment was announced.

“He is a bishop with ‘the smell of the sheep,’ with a close and affectionate relationship with God’s faithful people, laity, priests, and members of the consecrated life, open to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as well as to non-believers.”

Marto said that he had submitted his resignation before he turns 75 on May 5 due to his “limitations of physical and mental strength to adequately exercise the office, given the pastoral demands of the diocese and the Shrine of Fatima.”

Cardinal Antonio Marto makes the consecration prayer before the Virgin of Fatima in Portugal. .  Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
Cardinal Antonio Marto makes the consecration prayer before the Virgin of Fatima in Portugal. . Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima

The Portuguese cardinal served as bishop of Fatima for almost 16 years. Pope John Paul II first made him a bishop in 2000 and Benedict XVI appointed him to lead the Leiria-Fátima diocese in 2006. Pope Francis named him a cardinal in 2018.

Marto will serve as the diocese’s apostolic administrator until Ornelas is installed in a Mass at the cathedral in Leiria on March 13.

Ornelas, 68, was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira, located 320 miles west of Morocco.

He entered the diocesan minor seminary at the age of 10. With dreams of becoming a missionary, he later entered the Missionary College of the Congregation of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus and continued his studies in mainland Portugal at the Missionary Institute in Coimbra.

In his early 20s, Ornelas spent two years as a missionary with the Sacred Heart congregation in Mozambique before returning to Lisbon to complete a theology degree at the Catholic University of Portugal.

Ornelas was ordained to the priesthood in 1981 at the age of 27. He holds a doctorate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.

He went on to serve as the superior general of the Congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart from 2003 to 2015, until Pope Francis made him bishop of Setúbal.

Thousands of young Catholics are expected to travel to Portugal next year for World Youth Day, which will be held in Lisbon in August 2023.

Marto said that Ornelas, as a missionary priest and a superior general, brings with him “an enriching vision and universal experience of the Church and the world in the diversity of the five continents.”

“As bishop of Setúbal and president of the episcopal conference, he has given evidence of a pastoral experience allied to the missionary dynamism of a nearby and outgoing Church,” he said.

Holy Land’s Catholic bishops invite Orthodox leaders to contribute to synodal path

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa blesses the congregation at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on April 4, 2021. / Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jan 28, 2022 / 09:10 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in the Holy Land invited their Orthodox counterparts this week to contribute to the consultation process leading to the 2023 Synod on Synodality.

In a letter dated Jan. 24, the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land (ACOHL) explained that Catholics in the region were taking part in the local stage of a two-year synodal path launched by Pope Francis last October.

“We would be delighted to share with you what we are learning and also learn from you, listening to your wisdom and experience,” they wrote.

“Pope Francis has said and written repeatedly that Catholics have much to learn from the Orthodox regarding the exercise of synodality. As we set out on this way, we are more aware than ever that we, all together, as disciples of Christ in this Land, which is His home, are called to witness to him. We remember that his dearest wish was that we should be one (cf. John 17).”

The letter to the heads of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land was signed by ACOHL president Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and secretary-general Father Pietro Felet.

The Assembly comprises leaders of the Latin Church, Greek Melkite Catholic Church, Maronite Church, Armenian Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church and Chaldean Catholic Church in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus.

The bishops issued their invitation as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an annual event that Pope Francis concluded this year on Jan. 25 at an ecumenical service in Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls.

The Holy Land’s Catholic bishops explained that the synodal process was seeking to renew the Church as it faced “so many crises at every level.”

“The pandemic has had tragic effects on the life of the Church. The political situation continues to create innumerable obstacles to our mission and in the lives of our faithful,” they wrote.

“Our faithful are exhausted and often despair, seeing little or no future for Christians in our region. We all need to renew our energies, recommit to our faith and believe that walking with Christ leads to a horizon of hope.”

The bishops concluded their letter with a “Synodal Prayer on the occasion of the week for Christian Unity,” whose theme this year was “We saw a star in the East, and we came to worship him,” inspired by Matthew 2:2:

Heavenly Father,
as the Magi journeyed towards Bethlehem led by the star,
so by your heavenly light,
guide the Catholic Church to walk together with all Christians during this time of synod.
As the Magi were united in their worship of Christ,
lead us closer to your Son and so to one another,
so that we become a sign of the unity that you desire for your Church and the whole creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Defending retired Pope Benedict, cardinals cite outreach to victims, action against abusers

A cardinal who had served as an aide to now-retired Pope Benedict XVI and was present for his meetings with survivors of clerical sexual abuse said he "never found in him any shadow or attempt to hide or minimize anything."

Vatican ambassador urges 'concrete action' to protect civilians amid armed conflict

Efforts by the United Nations to limit the use of explosive weaponry in highly populated urban areas gained the support of the Vatican's nuncio to the world organization.

Aid to Church in Need calls for prayers for Myanmar on coup anniversary

The papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need has called for prayers Feb. 1, to show solidarity with the people of Myanmar on the first anniversary of the military coup.

Catholic school officials offer guidance on changing mask policies

As regulations differ across the country about face mask requirements in schools, some Catholic diocesan school officials have stepped in to provide guidance for faculty, parents and students.

Vatican projects budget deficit for 2022 as pandemic continues

The prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy said he believes the Vatican is on the path to honesty and transparency in financial matters.

Pope Francis: Being ‘properly informed’ on COVID-19 vaccines is a ‘human right’

Pope Francis meets members of the Catholic Factchecking consortium at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall, Jan. 28, 2022 / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jan 28, 2022 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Friday that it is a human right to be “properly informed” with scientific data, rather than “fake news,” in a meeting with a Catholic fact-checking group focused on COVID-19 vaccines.

“To be properly informed, to be helped to understand situations based on scientific data and not fake news, is a human right,” Pope Francis said on Jan. 28.

“Fake news has to be refuted, but individual persons must always be respected, for they believe it often without full awareness or responsibility,” he said.

The pope met with the International Catholic Media Consortium on COVID-19 Vaccines, which runs the website catholic-factchecking.com.

“We can hardly fail to see that these days, in addition to the pandemic, an ‘infodemic’ is spreading: a distortion of reality based on fear, which in our global society leads to an explosion of commentary on falsified if not invented news,” the pope said.

“Contributing, often unwittingly, to this climate is the sheer volume of allegedly ‘scientific’ information, comments and opinions, which ends up causing confusion for the reader or listener.”

The consortium includes Aleteia, I.Media, Verificat, and Our Sunday Visitor. It receives scientific consulting from the Barcelona-based Institute for Global Health. The group was awarded a grant in 2021 from the $3 million COVID-19 Vaccine Counter-Misinformation Open Fund sponsored by the Google News Initiative.

In a Jan. 20 post, Aleteia responded to reports about the project’s funding sources, saying that allegations that Aleteia had ties to George Soros or Bill Gates were “unfounded.”

“Aleteia has never solicited funds from either the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Open Society Foundation. Aleteia accepted the Google grant only on the condition that we would maintain our editorial independence. As a result, the grant has not directed or influenced our editorial line,” it said.

In its most recent article — posted four months ago — catholic-factchecking.com provides “the opinion of the WHO and the FDA” in response to a question about an article claiming that nasal irrigation could reduce the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

Another fact-checking entry posted in August 2021 states: “An article asserts that deaths from Covid-19 ‘are increasing’ in the United Kingdom, and that ‘the vast majority of the people who allegedly died from covid-19 had been vaccinated’. This is DECEITFUL.”

“Although the official data show that the majority of deaths recorded are of vaccinated people, this has nothing to do with an alleged ineffectiveness of the vaccine, but because Scotland has fully vaccinated 65.5% of the population, so it is to be expected that more and more of the deceased will be vaccinated (because there will be hardly any people who are not). This is because the efficacy of the vaccine against the most severe forms of the disease and death is never 100%.”

Some Catholic commentators have expressed skepticism about the phenomenon of fact-checking. Writing about the consortium on Jan. 14, Phil Lawler, the editor of Catholic World News, argued that fact-checking is a “practice in which self-appointed watchdogs claim to have refuted a statement, when in fact they have merely offered another opinion.”

The pope told the group that in its mission to combat disinformation and fake news, “the fundamental distinction between information and people must never be overlooked.”

He underlined that a Christian communicator should be a “builder of bridges” in the search for truth, rather than inciting conflict with “an attitude of superiority.”

“His or her approach … does not simplify reality, so as not to fall into a kind of ‘fideism’ when it comes to science,” Pope Francis said.

“Science itself is a constant process of advancing towards the solution of problems. Reality is always more complex than we think and we must respect the doubts, the concerns, and the questions that people raise, seeking to accompany them without ever dismissing them. A dialogue with those who have doubts.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly encouraged Catholics to be vaccinated and has promoted the fair distribution of vaccines throughout the world.

He said in a public service announcement produced in collaboration with the Ad Council last August that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is “an act of love.”

The Vatican underlined its support for COVID-19 vaccines shortly before Christmas amid the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Pope Francis told the fact-checking group that “the search for truth” should not yield to the “commercial interests of the powerful.”

“Being together for truth also means seeking an antidote to algorithms projected to maximize commercial profit,” he said.

He added that the “antidote to every type of falsification is to let ourselves be purified by the truth.”

“For Christians, truth is never merely a concept having to do with judgment about things. Truth regards life as a whole,” Pope Francis commented.

“The only reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: ‘I am the truth’ (John 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves as the loyalty and trustworthiness of the one who loves us,” he said.