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Traditionis custodes: French Catholic bishops express ‘esteem’ for Traditional Latin Mass communities

Canon Dominique Aubert, rector of Chartres Cathedral, France, celebrates Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. / Maxime800 via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Paris, France, Jul 17, 2021 / 14:40 pm (CNA).

France’s Catholic bishops expressed “esteem” on Saturday for the people and pastors of Traditional Latin Mass communities following the publication of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

The bishops issued a statement on July 17, the day after the pope made sweeping changes to his predecessor Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which had acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962.

The new motu proprio, issued with immediate effect, states that it is each bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese.

“The bishops of France, together with all the faithful of their dioceses, have received the motu proprio Traditionis custodes of Pope Francis, which was made public yesterday,” the statement said.

“They wish to express to the faithful who habitually celebrate according to the Missal of St. John XXIII, and to their pastors, their care, the esteem they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful, and their determination to continue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”

The bishops’ comments will be closely studied as France is one of the world’s leading centers of Catholic traditionalism.

The statement continued: “Each bishop will have at heart to live up to the challenges described by the Holy Father in order to exercise the responsibility that he is reminded of in justice, charity, care for one and all, service to the liturgy, and unity of the Church. This will be done through dialogue and will take time.”

“The motu proprio Traditionis custodes and the letter of the Holy Father to the bishops that introduces it are a demanding call for the whole Church to an authentic Eucharistic renewal. None can dispense with it.”

The bishops concluded their message by quoting from Lumen gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

“The bishops invoke the Holy Spirit so that the Eucharist, ‘the source and summit of the Christian life,’ the sacrifice of the Lord and the memorial of his Passion and Resurrection, may be the place where the Church draws strength each day to become what she is: ‘in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.’”

France has seen tension recently between supporters of the Traditional Latin Mass and a local archbishop.

Parishioners protested after Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon asked members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) to leave the Basilica of Fontaine-lès-Dijon, the site of St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s birthplace, after 23 years in the archdiocese.

The FSSP is a clerical society of apostolic life of pontifical right, canonically erected by Pope John Paul II in 1988. The Fraternity, which has more than 300 priests and 150 seminarians from 30 countries, uses the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal.

The controversy in Dijon archdiocese erupted a few months after the emergence of a memorandum drafted by the French bishops’ conference in response to a 2020 Vatican questionnaire on the application of Summorum Pontificum, sent to bishops worldwide.

The bishops’ conference text called for steps to “induce the faithful of the extraordinary form to participate more in diocesan life,” to avoid the creation of a “parallel Church.”

The FSSP said on July 16 that its members were “disheartened and anxious” following the new motu proprio.

In a statement issued the day the pope issued the new norms, the group said: “With the publication of Pope Francis’ latest motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, which has placed new restrictions on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, many of us are disheartened and anxious.”

“At this point, it is too early to tell what all the implications will be for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, but we assure you that we remain committed to serving the faithful attending our apostolates in accordance with our Constitutions and charism as we have done since our founding.”

“We must strive to see this Cross as a means of our sanctification, and to remember that God will never abandon His Church.”

“Our Lord Himself promises us the necessary graces to bear our Crosses with strength and courage. We must not, however, neglect to do our part as faithful Catholics; let us pray and offer sacrifices in our daily lives, and trust in the intercession of Our Lady, St. Joseph, and our patron, St. Peter.”

Catholic bishop in Turkey: Jesus is drawing people to the Church in ‘unthinkable ways’

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, S.J., Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Turkey. / Courtesy photo.

Iskenderun, Turkey, Jul 17, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

No doubt most priests feel a sense of trepidation when they are asked to become bishops. But Fr. Paolo Bizzeti had more reason than most.

In 2015, Pope Francis appointed the Italian Jesuit as Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia in Turkey. The post had remained vacant for five years after the death of Bishop Luigi Padovese.

Padovese, an Italian Capuchin, was murdered by his driver.

In an email interview with CNA, Bizzeti said that when he was called to succeed the bishop, he did not need to think too hard about his response.

“But suddenly Pope Francis, in 2015, asked me for my willingness to come to the Vicariate of Anatolia which had been without a bishop for five years because Msgr. Padovese was assassinated on June 3, 2010,” he recalled.

“It was urgent that there was finally a bishop and I, like every Jesuit Father, have always been available to go where the pope asked.”

Why did the pope choose Bizzeti, who up to that point had spent most of his priestly life in Italy?

“In 1978, I arrived in Turkey with some university friends and I fell in love with the history and geography of this country, so close and so different from Italy and Europe,” he explained.

“After two years, I began to visit the numerous biblical sites located in Turkey. I visited very interesting archeological ruins and small Christian communities that were there continuously from the first century until today.”

Bizzeti, who co-authored a guide to Turkey’s Christian history in 1990, suggested that the country played an even more important role in the formation of the early Church than Jerusalem.

“Christianity as we know it was born in Antioch (today Antakya) much more than in Jerusalem,” he said.

“The three great strands of Christianity were born in Antioch: the Syriac Church, the Orthodox/Byzantine Church, and the Catholic Church, because the great missions to bring the Gospel were born with Barnabas and Paul, starting from Antioch to the West.”

He continued: “The first seven Ecumenical Councils were celebrated in the territory of Turkey which have forever marked the face of Christianity. Every year, therefore, I have brought groups of young people to know these biblical places, the roots of Christianity, and the fascinating geography of this country.”

But Bizzeti was not simply a scholar of Turkey’s Christian past. He was also captivated by the country’s encounter with modernity.

“Furthermore,” he said, “Turkey was becoming an industrial country from an agricultural country and therefore it was very interesting for me to see the social, political, economic process of this country so unique because it is located at the crossroads of the East with the West, and placed between the Russian countries, the Arab and Central Asian countries.”

“Unfortunately, I have also seen many negative things such as great pollution, wild overbuilding, and many negative political events. However, every year I returned to Turkey and followed the evolution of this country, always updated on the main news.”

Bizzeti was born in Florence, Italy, in 1947. After joining the Society of Jesus, he was ordained a priest in 1975. He engaged in youth ministry in the historic northern university city of Bologna for many years, before returning to a post in his home city. He then spent 12 years as director of the Villa San Giuseppe, a spirituality center in Bologna.

For 20 years, he coordinated pastoral work for vocations for Italy’s Jesuits. In 2007, he founded the nonprofit organization Friends of the Middle East.

He was well prepared, then, when he received his daunting episcopal appointment in Turkey. He was ordained a bishop in the Basilica of St. Justina in Padua, northern Italy, and then left his homeland for İskenderun, a coastal city in southern Turkey.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Anatolia, formed in 1990, serves Latin Rite Catholics in the eastern half of Turkey at eight different locations.

According to some estimates, there are just 35,000 Catholics in the country, comprising 0.05% of Turkey’s 82 million population.

While the vast majority of citizens are Muslim, there is considerable diversity within Turkish Islam. Most of Turkey’s Muslims are Sunni, but a considerable minority are adherents of Alevism, a distinctive subgroup often classified as a branch of Shia Islam.

“Catholics are a very small minority, but now we have many Christian refugees from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa. They are now more numerous than local Christians,” Bizzeti said.

“Unfortunately they are without pastors, without nuns, without catechists and they do not have the possibility to open a chapel, a cultural center, a school, a sports center of Christian inspiration.”

“Their condition is very hard and they cannot leave the city where they have been sent without a police permit, which is often not given. They are far from the churches and therefore do not have Mass even on Christmas, Easter, etc.”

“A very hard condition also because the Christian West has unfortunately closed all its doors and very few families manage to emigrate to a country where there is real religious freedom and Christian churches.”

“The Muslim population is good and respect us, but does not know Christianity and is often full of prejudices towards Christians.”

The bishop believes that, despite being a tiny minority, Christians are a vital presence in Turkey, as well as in nearby Middle Eastern countries.

“Turkey is very important for Christianity because our roots are here and because the Christian traditions of the churches in Turkey are very rich, varied, and have a very beautiful theological heritage,” he said.

“Furthermore, Christians in the Middle East have always been important in recent centuries precisely to avoid a growth of Muslim religious fundamentalism and for their contribution to a civil society attentive to human rights. Christian culture is necessary for the whole Middle East, there is no doubt.”

He continued: “A Middle East without the presence of Christians would be poorer and more exposed to fundamentalist tendencies. Furthermore, Christians and Muslims have lived together in the Ottoman Empire for centuries and those who claim that coexistence is impossible are mistaken.”

“Turkey plays an important role in the history of salvation because God has always been faithful to the places he has chosen as the terrain in which to make the history of salvation grow. It is the Western Christians of today who seem to have forgotten this.”

In the past year, Bizzeti has led his flock through the coronavirus crisis, which has hit the Turkish economy hard.

The country is normally a popular tourist destination. But Turkey’s tourism ministry reported that visitors fell by 69% in 2020, with revenues dropping from $34.5 billion in 2019 to around $12 billion.

The country has recorded more than five million COVID-19 cases and over 50,000 deaths as of July 16, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

“Christians suffered like all other citizens and together with them. The mosques were closed as well as the churches,” Bizzeti said.

“It is the Christian refugees who have suffered the most both for economic reasons and for isolation and for not being able to go to the formative and liturgical moments that were held in other cities.”

And yet, despite all the difficulties of being a Christian in Turkey amid a global pandemic, Bizzeti stressed that he saw signs of hope.

“I rejoiced and rejoice very much to see that Jesus Christ continues to call people of all kinds to the Christian faith: agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Alevis, etc., to form even today a small people who give witness to the Gospel and to the person of him, the only Savior of the world,” he said.

“We have catechumens in all our parishes. We have people who come from Iran and Afghanistan in search of Christ because they met him in a dream or through a website, a book, a person.”

“It is wonderful to see how the risen Jesus continues to be the protagonist of evangelization, through his Holy Spirit and in the most unthinkable ways.”

“The thing that pains me most is that there are few pastoral workers for these people whom Christ calls. There seems to be little willingness in the West to come to this country to guard and train God’s people.”

Polish Catholic Church to hold day of solidarity with Europe’s flood victims as death toll rises

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish Catholic bishops’ conference. /

Warsaw, Poland, Jul 16, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Poland will hold a day of solidarity with flood victims across Europe.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, announced the initiative in a message to be read out in churches across Poland on July 18.

He said: “In recent days, we have witnessed many human dramas caused by violent storms and floods, both in our homeland and in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.”

“Many families have lost all their belongings, and the media are reporting deaths and missing persons, especially in Germany.”

He continued: “As the Church in Poland, we want to support those affected with our prayers and offerings. Let us implore of God hope for those who have suffered and a spirit of solidarity, care, and co-responsibility for all people of goodwill who can help the victims.”

“I ask that Sunday next, July 25, be a day dedicated in the Church in Poland to solidarity with the victims of floods and storms in Europe.”

At least 120 people have died in the floods as of July 16, with hundreds of others still missing.

The flooding, which has also affected Luxembourg and Switzerland, occurred when rivers burst their banks after record rainfall.

More than 100 people have died in Germany, prompting Pope Francis to send a telegram expressing his condolences.

“His Holiness remembers in prayer the people who have lost their lives and expresses his profound closeness to their families,” said the July 15 telegram sent on Pope Francis’ behalf to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

In his message, Gądecki, the vice-president of the Council of the Conferences of European Bishops (CCEE), encouraged parishes in Poland to remember the victims during the prayer of the faithful at Mass.

He appealed to parishes to hold a collection after Mass which Caritas Poland will then distribute to those affected.

“At the same time, I convey to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium the expression of our support and the assurance of the spiritual closeness of the Church in Poland,” he said.

Pope Francis upset by Germany floods

A flooded street in Düsseldorf, Germany, July 15, 2021. Credit: Lensw0rld/Shutterstock.

Cologne, Germany, Jul 15, 2021 / 19:29 pm (CNA).

The pope sent a telegram of condolence Thursday to the German president, following flooding in the country’s west that has killed at least 70 persons.

Rivers overflowed their banks in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands after heavy rainfall. 

Most of the dead are in Germany, though at least 11 persons in Belgium have died, the BBC reported.

“Deeply affected, the Holy Father has learned the news of the severe storm and floods in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate,” read a July 15 telegram sent on Pope Francis’ behalf to Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 

“His Holiness remembers in prayer the people who have lost their lives and expresses his profound closeness to their families.”

The messaged added that Francis is praying “especially for the people who are still missing, for the wounded, and for those whose property has suffered damage or been lost due to the power of nature.”

The pope also indicated his prayers for those working in search and rescue operations.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, expressed his dismay at the "extent of the severe storm yesterday".

"My thoughts go with the deceased, their families, all the injured and victims of the floods. Many people are still missing - I sincerely hope that they are found unharmed, and that all who are in need, who have lost their belongings or their roof over their heads, will find consolation, hope and help”.

Bishop Batzing added: “My heartfelt thanks and all my respect go to all those who have been providing untiring and selfless help since yesterday and often risking their own lives: the rescue workers, the fire brigade, the police, and all people who help and stand by the side.”

N Irish bishop criticizes UK plan to end inquests, prosecutions related to the Troubles

A pupil from Holy Cross Girls' School with a soldier from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. / public domain.

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Jul 15, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The British government has announced a plan to halt all prosecutions related to the 20th century religious-fueled conflicts in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, drawing criticism from the Archbishop of Armagh.

The proposition, brought by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, would impose a statute of limitations that would effectively ban legal proceedings on all Troubles-related incidents. 

The plan has drawn criticism from Northern Irish lawmakers and victims’ groups, with Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan calling the plans a "further insult to victims.”

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh wrote in a July 15 letter that in light of the UK government’s plan, “it is disturbing that victims and survivors, those who have paid the highest price for the fragile peace we all enjoy today, once more feel marginalised and neglected.”

The proposal would also end legacy inquests— investigations into the circumstances of deaths during the Troubles— as well as civil actions related to the conflict brought against state agencies.

The Secretary did not discuss the possibility of halting ongoing court proceedings in Troubles-related cases, of which there are currently eight.

Despite nearly 4,000 deaths during the Troubles, there have been only nine Troubles-era prosecutions in the past six years, the BBC reported. 

"We are finally bringing forward a solution to this problem, to enable the people of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the Troubles and to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the plan’s announcement. 

Archbishop Martin pointed to an April 2020 statement from the body of Irish bishops, in which they highlighted the importance of victims being given priority “as the focal point of any response to addressing the legacy of the past,” and reiterated support for “the ongoing pursuit of appropriate criminal, legal and civic justice for all victims.”

The archbishop questioned who stands to benefit from the present proposed plan. 

“Dealing with the legacy of our shared past is not an easy task. It is a complex undertaking which belongs to all of us. It has no ‘quick-fix’. No ‘line can be drawn’ to relieve the deep hurt still carried in the aftermath of years of violence, death and life-changing injury,” he said. 

Lewis said the proposals also include a body to help families recover information on Troubles incidents, and an oral history initiative, the BBC reported. 

Though the conflict in Northern Ireland dates back centuries, the groundwork for the Troubles was laid in 1921-22 with a treaty that partitioned the island of Ireland into the six counties of Northern Ireland and the 26 counties of the Irish Free State. 

Irish nationalists were themselves riven by civil war after the treaty and the partitioning, though the 26 counties later became fully independent in the late 1940s as the Republic of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, differences between nationalists who backed a unified Ireland and unionists who supported the United Kingdom split strongly along religious lines, and Protestants tended to occupy a place of social and economic privilege. 

In the 1960s, Catholics began to push for civil rights, voting rights, police reform, and an end to discrimination. Tensions turned violent in 1968, after civil rights demonstrators faced violent opposition from their opponents and police inaction.

The subsequent period known as The Troubles featured riots, violent attacks, bombings and retaliation from Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups, as well as involvement from the Royal Ulster Constabulary police, intervention from the British military, and mass internment of civilians.

The Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998 largely brokered peace on the island, but significant tensions over past crimes remain. 

New unrest in Northern Ireland began in late March of this year, taking the form mainly of young people throwing bricks, fireworks, and other projectiles at police. 

According to the BBC, that unrest largely erupted as a result of police in March choosing not to prosecute members of the left-leaning Sinn Fein party for violating coronavirus restrictions last year, as well as continued tensions over a new sea border between Northern Ireland and Ireland imposed as a result of Brexit. 

In May this year, a new inquiry ruled that a Catholic priest, a mother of eight, and at least seven other civilians were wrongly killed by British soldiers in Northern Ireland in a three-day 1971 incident known as the Ballymurphy Massacre. The official finding places the incident as a possible forerunner to Bloody Sunday, another massacre of Catholic demonstrators by British paratroopers.

Polish Catholics arrive in Rome after 17-day cycling pilgrimage

Four pilgrims from Pelplin, northern Poland, arrive in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, July 14, 2021. / @PelplinRzym via Twitter.

Rome, Italy, Jul 15, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Three Polish Catholic priests and a layman arrived at the Vatican on Wednesday after a grueling cycling pilgrimage from northern Poland.

The group, from the diocese of Pelplin, set out on the 1,400-mile trip on June 28, carrying with them their personal prayer intentions for Pope Francis, an increase in vocations, and greater respect for human life.

The pilgrims also raised money for a hospice in Kartuzy, a town near Pelplin.

The 17-day expedition, chronicled on their Twitter account, took the cyclists to the Polish shrine of Częstochowa, St. John Paul II’s birthplace in Wadowice, and then to Italy via the Czech Republic and Austria.

The group consisted of Fr. Tomasz Huzarek, rector of Pelplin’s major seminary, Fr. Janusz Chyla, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Poland parish in Chojnice, Fr. Arkadiusz Drzecimski, prefect of studies at the seminary, and Mariusz Żychlinski, a husband and father from Chojnice.

Four pilgrims from Pelplin, northern Poland, arrive in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, July 14, 2021. / @PelplinRzym via Twitter.
Four pilgrims from Pelplin, northern Poland, arrive in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, July 14, 2021. / @PelplinRzym via Twitter.

Chyla said: “In the context of the pandemic, we wanted to give testimony that we cross borders to meet people, of course with all safety measures.”

“Our intention is also to bear witness that the Gospel is not a thing of the past but also of the present and of the future.”

Chyla, a member of the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, emphasized that the pilgrims wanted to defend human life, following the teachings of St. John Paul II.

“Since I am associated with the Knights of Columbus, the intention to protect life accompanied me in a unique way during this pilgrimage,” he said.

The priest suggested two principal ways of caring for human life.

“First, constant prayer is important. There are some things we are not able to do by ourselves,” he said.

“The second thing is witnessing: helping people, especially women, who are struggling with spiritual, psychological, and material problems.”

“As Knights of Columbus, we cooperate with the Foundation Little Feet. Recently we had the Voice of the Unborn bell rung in our parish to awaken people’s consciences.”

The group previously traveled to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and now plan to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, reported the Polish section of Vatican News.

Blessed Carlo Acutis: Permanent reopening of tomb postponed

The tomb of Blessed Carlo Acutis in the Sanctuary of the Spoliation, part of Assisi’s Church of St. Mary Major. / Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino.

Rome Newsroom, Jul 15, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

During the beatification of Blessed Carlo Acutis, visitors to Assisi were able to see the Italian teen on the way to sainthood dressed in tennis shoes and jeans through a viewing glass on his tomb.

The Assisi diocese announced July 15 that the reopening of this part of the tomb allowing pilgrims to view the young Blessed had been postponed, with a promise that it would reopen permanently in the future.

Carlo Acutis’ tomb is opened for public veneration in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of Assisi diocese.
Carlo Acutis’ tomb is opened for public veneration in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of Assisi diocese.

“This reopening, already announced last year, is planned, and will be implemented as soon as possible, so that the visibility of the body of the Blessed will be made permanent,” the statement from the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino said, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the postponement.

While unable to view his body, visitors can still pray at the closed tomb and venerate the first millennial to be beatified.

Devoted pilgrims have continued to come to the tomb, located in the Sanctuary of the Spoliation, part of Assisi’s Church of St. Mary Major, bringing their prayer intentions with them.

The diocese of Assisi said that the number of daily prayer requests it receives online, over the phone, and in a box located next to Carlo’s tomb had increased in recent months.

“I would like to receive a relic of the sweet Carlo to use for my daughter Silvia for a health problem and to be able to have a child. She is the same age as Carlo. If you can say a prayer for her in front of the tomb of the Blessed. Thank you so much,” said one message sent to the diocese.

“Good morning. I had a mammogram this morning. While waiting for the outcome, I ask you to pray for me as well. A sincere hug. Thank you, Carlo Acutis,” another person wrote.

Bl. Carlo Acutis /
Bl. Carlo Acutis /

Blessed Carlo Acutis was a young Catholic from Italy with a passionate devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and an aptitude for computer programming.

From the ages of 12 to 14, he designed a website cataloging Eucharistic miracles that have occurred around the world, which he launched in 2005. He died of leukemia a year later at the age of 15, offering his suffering for the pope and for the Church.

Acutis, who was born on May 3, 1991, was beatified in October 2020. The live stream of his beatification Mass in Assisi went viral, with hundreds of thousands of people watching online.

Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi had said in a video posted online on July 8 that he was hoping that the tomb would open for public viewing on the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption, August 14.

“Carlo was in love with heaven and the Eucharist. He loved to say that ‘the Eucharist is my highway to heaven,’” Sorrentino said, adding that the Assumption was the feast of heaven “par excellence.”

But the latest statement from the diocese clarifies that “circumstances related to the course of the pandemic in Italy and in the world, however, suggested to the bishop ... to wait for a more convenient period.”

The bishop explained in the video interview that he felt he had to cover the glass of Acutis’ tomb last October because of the number of pilgrims who are visiting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had to close it immediately because of the pandemic,” Sorrentino said.

“I opened it on Oct. 1, and 40,000 people came to the city in 20 days, and as it was the time of the pandemic, I was a bit scared,” he added.

The bishop said it was his hope that when more international pilgrims eventually returned to Assisi, they would be able to venerate two young men who were great examples of holiness -- “one from eight centuries ago and the other from the beginning of the millennium.”

Who is the nun who will be beatified with Cardinal Wyszynski, Poland’s ‘Primate of the Millennium’?

Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka. /

Warsaw, Poland, Jul 15, 2021 / 03:40 am (CNA).

Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, a giant of 20th-century Catholicism, will be beatified on Sept. 12.

But the Primate of Poland who heroically resisted communism is not the only figure who will be raised to the altars that day in Warsaw.

Wyszyński will be beatified alongside a nun who is little known outside her native Poland: Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka.

How did Czacka, who died in 1961 after a lifetime of quiet service to blind people, come to share a beatification ceremony with Poland’s “Primate of the Millennium”?

To answer that question, CNA spoke with Sr. Angelica Jose, F.S.C., whose life was deeply influenced by the woman known to Poles as Matka Czacka (Mother Czacka).

As a student, she came across a brochure produced by the religious congregation Czacka founded and was touched by a photo of Czacka with a blind boy.

“Being fascinated by the charism of the congregation -- service for the physically and spiritually blind -- I stopped my studies at Poznań University of Life Sciences and entered the congregation,” Sr. Angelica Jose recalled.

She continued: “What delights me about Mother Czacka is her tremendous passion for life for God -- in service of the blind. Her courage in accepting suffering and realism in life. And her trust in God’s Providence.”

Róża Czacka was born on Oct. 22, 1876, in Bila Tserkva, a city once located in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and known as Biała Cerkiew but situated today in central Ukraine.

The sixth of seven children, she moved with her aristocratic family to Warsaw, where the young countess learned to play the piano, ride horses, and speak English, German, and French.

Throughout her childhood, she suffered from eye problems. At the age of 22, she returned to the family’s estate in Ukraine for a summer vacation. While horse riding, she fell and was blinded. Her relatives struggled to accept her condition.

Countess Róża Czacka at the age of 15. / Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka.
Countess Róża Czacka at the age of 15. / Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka.

Czacka dedicated herself to learning Braille, as well as traveling across Europe seeking greater knowledge about blindness. She dreamed of founding an organization that would help blind people not only to integrate into the wider community but also to serve as apostles among sighted people.

In 1911, she founded the Society for the Care of the Blind. Sr. Angelica Jose said that Czacka adapted Braille to the Polish language, developed a system for educating blind people, and sought to inform the general public about blindness through articles and radio broadcasts.

“Róża Czacka was an extremely rich personality,” she commented. “When looking at her, one should see a blind woman of deep faith, courage, and simplicity. This is the inner dimension of her.”

Róża Czacka pictured on vacation in 1914. /
Róża Czacka pictured on vacation in 1914. /

“On the other hand, it is necessary to notice her phenomenon in the development of typhlology [the scientific study of blindness] in contemporary Poland: taking care of the blind, their education and inclusion in social life.”

“Mother Elisabeth Róża Czacka was a woman extremely devoted to God and a pioneer in matters of the blind in Poland. So let’s look at her from these two perspectives.”

In 1915, Czacka went to Ukraine for a two-week stay with her brother Stanisław. She ended up spending three years there because the First World War made it impossible for her to return to Warsaw. She spent the time in prayer and reflection.

Drawn to the Third Order of St. Francis, she assumed the Franciscan habit and took the religious name Elżbieta (Elisabeth), making her perpetual vows on Aug. 15, 1917.

The first portrait of Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in her habit. /
The first portrait of Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in her habit. /

The following year, she went back to Warsaw, where she founded the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross. The new religious congregation had three aims: caring for the physically blind, serving the spiritually blind, and making expiation for the spiritual blindness of the world.

In 1922, the sisters were given a small plot of land in Laski, a village about 10 miles west of Warsaw.

With a priest named Fr. Władysław Korniłowicz, Czacka founded a project named Triuno. The name referred not only to the Holy Trinity, but also to the unity among the three groups of people collaborating in Laski -- the blind, sisters, and lay people -- as well as the work’s three goals: educational, apostolic, and charitable.

Laski’s fame grew as a center of a new spirituality combining Franciscan, Dominican, and Benedictine elements, Sr. Angelica Jose explained. The community was noted for its simplicity, its devotion to the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, and its love of liturgy.

A young priest called Fr. Stefan Wyszyński visited Laski in 1926, spending a few weeks in the village at Korniłowicz’s invitation. Wyszyński had first encountered the priest years earlier, when Korniłowicz gave lectures on the liturgy at Wyszyński’s seminary in Włocławek.

The future Polish Primate met with Czacka and became heavily involved with the work at Laski. He helped to build a retreat house, organize a “Week of the Blind” in 1936, and fundraise for the Society for the Care of the Blind.

Wyszyński also gave lectures on social science, law, and Church history for the blind, the sisters, and lay employees. He worked with Czacka on the congregation’s constitutions.

When Nazi Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Czacka suffered a head injury during the bombing of Warsaw that resulted in her losing an eye.

During the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, Czacka and Wyszyński helped to organize a field hospital for the wounded in Laski.

Serving as a chaplain to the Home Army, Poland’s underground resistance movement, Wyszyński helped to spiritually strengthen the combatants through the sacraments.

Sr. Angelica Jose said that the deep bond forged between the priest and the sister is revealed in a collection of 65 letters exchanged between 1938 and 1952.

She described the correspondence, published in 2006, as “lively, warm, and full of mutual concern and care for others.”

After the war, Wyszyński was named archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, receiving the title of Primate of Poland.

Czacka continued to pursue her mission, but her health deteriorated throughout the 1950s.

Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in the last years of her illness. /
Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka in the last years of her illness. /

Wyszyński’s life did not become any easier, either. In 1953, he was placed under house arrest by Poland’s communist authorities. After he was released three years later, he defended the Church unflinchingly against communist oppression.

“Until the end of Mother’s life, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński surrounded her with care and love, and was a special help for Mother Elisabeth, especially in the last days of her life,” Sr. Angelica Jose said.

“He visited Mother Czacka for the last time several hours before her death -- which took place on May 15, 1961 -- and presided over the funeral Mass on May 19, 1961.”

A striking photograph shows Wyszyński standing in prayer beside the headstone of Czacka’s grave in Laski.

In a homily on Holy Saturday 1963, Wyszyński recalled his friendship with Czacka and Korniłowicz.

He said: “I never pray for Mother Czacka, I only pray to her, and I never pray for Father Korniłowicz -- I pray to the Father … it helps immensely. So remember, both of them are surely in the glory of the Almighty Father.”

Officials study miracle attributed to Italian Catholic who died at age 21

Nicola d’Onofrio (1943-1964). / Screenshot from ACI Prensa YouTube channel.

Rome, Italy, Jul 14, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Church officials are studying a reported miracle attributed to an Italian Catholic who died at the age of 21, the postulator of his cause has said.

Fr. Walter Vinci, Postulator General of the Order of St. Camillus, noted that Pope Francis had recognized the heroic virtues of Nicola d’Onofrio on July 5, 2013.

Heroic virtue is one of the requirements for beatification in the Catholic Church. A verified miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession is also usually required.

“We are currently studying an ‘alleged’ miracle. Therefore, we can say that the process of beatification and canonization is proceeding serenely,” Vinci told ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

The priest did not describe the purported miracle, but in 2008 a Chilean woman said that she recovered from cerebral palsy thanks to d’Onofrio’s intercession.

Fr. Walter Vinci, Postulator General of the Order of Camillians. / AT/ACI Stampa.
Fr. Walter Vinci, Postulator General of the Order of Camillians. / AT/ACI Stampa.

Vinci explained that d’Onofrio’s reputation for holiness grew out of the courage with which he accepted suffering.

The candidate for beatification, known to friends as Nicolino, was born in 1943 in Villamagna, in the Abruzzo region of southeastern Italy, not far from the birthplace of St. Camillus de Lellis, the 16th-century founder of the Camillians.

Wishing to join the religious order whose members wear black cassocks with a large red cross, d’Onofrio moved to the Camillian studentate in Rome in 1955. He made his first profession in 1961, promising not only poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also to care for the sick, even at the cost of his life -- the order’s distinctive fourth vow.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 1963. Those around him were struck by his peaceful demeanor and ready smile as he underwent an arduous course of treatment.

In May 1964, d’Onofrio’s superiors asked him to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes in hopes of a miraculous healing.

As he departed, a member of his order said that the community would be praying for him.

“Yes, pray, pray… not for my healing, but that I may do the will of God,” the young man replied.

While in France, d’Onofrio also visited Lisieux, the hometown of St. Thérèse, where he wrote a letter to his parents.

“I am very happy to be able to suffer a little now when I am young because these are the finest years to offer up something to the Lord,” he wrote.

“Beloved parents, please pray, as well, to the Lord that he may restore me to health so that I can become a priest and work a great deal more for souls.”

“If the good Lord, however, wants something different to our wishes, blessed be the Lord: He knows what He is doing and what is best for us! There is no point, we cannot know these things -- only God knows them.”

Pope Paul VI granted d’Onofrio a special dispensation, allowing him to make his perpetual vows on May 28, 1964. He died in Rome on June 12.

“It is his ‘smile of everyday life’ that Nicolino wishes to leave to the young people of today and tomorrow: to live from heaven, to live from God,” Vinci commented.

More than 220,000 people left the Catholic Church in Germany in 2020

The Catholic Cathedral of Limburg in Hesse, Germany. / Mylius via Wikimedia (GFDL 1.2).

Bonn, Germany, Jul 14, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

More than 220,000 people left Catholic Church in Germany in 2020, according to official figures released on Wednesday.

The statistics issued by the German bishops’ conference on July 14 showed that 221,390 people exited the Catholic Church last year.

The figure was almost 19% lower than that of 2019, when a record 272,771 people departed. But it was higher than the 2018 figure of 216,078, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

In a July 14 statement, Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, said that while the Church had made strenuous efforts throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it was nevertheless experiencing “a profound shock.”

He said: “This is also reflected in the statistics of people leaving the Church, which I find painful for our community. Many have lost confidence and want to send a signal by leaving the Church.”

“We take this very seriously and must face this situation openly and honestly and give answers to the questions that are addressed to us.”

“This includes, first and foremost, a thorough examination of the cases of sexual abuse. And this includes the question of power and the separation of powers in the Church. I very much hope that the Synodal Way can make its contribution to building new trust.”

The “Synodal Way” is a multi-year process bringing together bishops and lay people to discuss four main topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

The German bishops initially said that the process would end with a series of “binding” votes -- raising concerns at the Vatican that the resolutions might challenge the Church’s teaching and discipline.

Bishops and theologians have expressed alarm at the process, which is expected to end in February 2022, but Bätzing and other German Church leaders have vigorously defended it.

The new statistics showed that there were 104,610 baptisms in 2020, compared to 159,043 in 2019.

There were 139,752 First Communions, significantly fewer than the 166,481 the year before.

There were 75,387 confirmations, a notable decrease from 123,253 in 2019.

Just over 11,000 Catholic weddings took place in 2020, a major drop from the 38,537 recorded the year before.

But Catholic burials increased from 233,937 in 2019 to 236,546 in 2020.

If an individual is registered as a Catholic in Germany, 8-9% of their income tax goes to the Church. The only way they can stop paying the tax is to make an official declaration renouncing their membership. They are no longer allowed to receive the sacraments or a Catholic burial.

Only 5.9% of Germany’s Catholics attended Mass last year, compared to 9.1% in 2019.

The number of priests listed has decreased by 418 to 12,565. In 2019, there were 12,983 priests working in Germany.

The number of parishes is also decreasing. In 2018, there were 10,045 parishes. In 2019, there were 9,936. In 2020, there were 9,858, or 78 fewer than the year before.

The figures showed that there are 22,193,347 Catholics in Germany, 26.7% of the total population of 83 million. In 2019, the proportion was 27.2%

Only 1,578 people formally joined the Catholic Church in 2020, 1,390 of whom were Protestants. The number of people rejoining the Church after officially departing was 4,358, fewer than the 5,339 in 2019.

Bätzing, who succeeded Cardinal Reinhard Marx as president of the German bishops’ conference in March 2020, said: “Despite the depressing figures in these statistics, I would like to expressly thank all those who are committed and live their faith in church and society, especially those who work full-time in pastoral care: Priests, deacons, pastoral and parish assistants.”

“I would also like to emphasize this in view of the statistics: I am very grateful for those who put themselves at the service of the Church in these turbulent times. Even in small numbers, the new priests and pastoral workers will provide an indispensable mission in a constantly changing world.”