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Four kidnapped priests in southern Nigeria have been released

Benin City, Nigeria, Nov 12, 2018 / 02:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Four priests who were abducted in Nigeria's Edo state last week were released Friday night.

The priests were rescued by police operatives Nov. 9. According to The Punch, the captors fled as a rescue team of police from Edo and Delta states approached.

The Nov. 6 kidnapping was originally reported as occurring in neighboring Delta state, and only one of the victims was identified as a priest.

The priests who were taken hostage are Fr. Emmanuel Obadjere of the Diocese of Warri, Fr. Victor Adigboluja of the Diocese of Ijebu-Ode, Fr Anthony Otegbola of the Diocese of Abeokuta, and Fr. Joseph Ediae of the Archdiocese of Benin City.

Fr. Mike Oyanoafoh, chancellor of the Benin City archdiocese, said the priests had been taken to a hospital in Benin City for treatment.

They had been travelling from Orerokpe to Akahia, for an alumni reunion at All Saints major seminary. They were taken from their car somewhere between Abraka and Urhonigbe.

The Warri diocese said it was suspected that the gunmen who abucted the priests were Fulani herders.

It is unclear whether a ransom was paid for the priests' release.

Violence against Christians has significantly increased in Nigeria in recent years, with the radical Islamist group Boko Haram threatening safety in the north, and smaller violent gangs threatening security in the south.

In recent months, several priests and religious have been kidnapped in southern Nigeria.

One priest was abducted in Edo in April, six women religious in January, and another priest in October 2017.

Abuse victims challenge US bishops to confront problems

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 01:26 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two victims of clerical sexual abuse addressed members of the US bishops’ conference Monday and shared how the bishops' action, or inaction, on the abuse crisis has shaped their lives.

Teresa Pitt Green, who identified herself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by multiple priests, spoke first. She detailed how the abuse she suffered led her to leave the Church, but she has since returned as she believes steps have been taken better to ensure child safety.

“My story is only one story, and my healing is only one healing,” she said Nov. 12. She considers herself to be one of the “lucky ones,” as her family stood by her after she revealed her abuse. Despite this, she said her family was “bruised” by her abuse and suffered deeply as a result.

Abuse victims are portrayed as the “damaged goods of our age,” and often suffer from drug addictions, problems with relationships, and other mental health issues, she said.

Green did, however, offer praise for the work done by the bishops in order to ensure that Catholic environments are safe for children. She noted that while child sexual abuse continues today, it is “very unlikely” that the abuse is occurring in Catholic institutions.

“I’m not saying there’s not enormous improvements, but I’m saying you’ve permitted me to come back to the Church,” she said.

"From the bottom of my heart, I can't thank you enough."

Green said that her heart was “full of forgiveness,” and that her heart was full as she had found her savior in the Lord. Even after doing 12-step programs, reading self-help books, and attending therapy sessions, she found the she still needed a savior.

She was, however, extremely critical of some of the bishops present, saying that “the Lord has cried more tears on his cross because of some decisions that some of you have made.”

“I don’t know how you bear it. My heart breaks. And I will continue to pray for you,” she added.

Luis A. Torres, Jr., a victim of clerical sexual abuse as a teen, spoke after Green. Torres, a native of Brooklyn, is a former altar boy, and said that he “truly experienced God’s love” in his early life. He attended Catholic schools, and that he “was always surrounded by the most wonderful, giving, holy people.”

These people were “deserving of my trust. Except for my abuser.”

The priest who abused him acted in a manner that was “inconsistent with everything I have learned about God.”

While many abuse survivors turn to drugs or other forms of self-medication, Torres instead pursued higher education and law school. He said these accomplishments served as a sort of “armor” against his feelings of pain from being abused.

“Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still possibly have a breathing body,” he said. Abuse, especially from a trusted figure, “mortally wound(s) the spirit and soul of that child,” especially if the abuser is a priest.

Torres took a more critical look on the status quo of the Church than Green, saying that he believed that “the heart of the Church is broken, and (the bishops) need to fix this, now.” He was critical at how the Church sometimes views victims of abuse as “money grubbers” or people out to cause trouble.

“We need to do better,” he said, adding that abuse survivors should not be viewed as “adversaries,” “liabilities,” or even “scary.”

The words and actions of the bishop have caused victims harm, he said, and have helped to drive them from the Church. He said that he expected “better” from the bishops, and that he still expects them to behave better.

What the Church needs now, Torres said, was for the bishops to work to inspire Catholics with their action, “which is needed right now,” and not in the coming months.

He reminded the bishops that their initial calling was not to be a CEO or an administrator, or prince, but rather to be a priest. He implored them to “be the priests that you were called to be.”

“Please, act now, be better.”

Cardinal DiNardo: Vatican directive came from Congregation for Bishops

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The directive not to vote on the proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the response of the Church in the US to the sexual abuse crisis came from the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Monday.

The president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was speaking at the first press conference held at the bishops' autumn General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 12.

He indicated that the directive came not from Pope Francis, but directly from the Congregation for Bishops.

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, who spoke at the press conference, told CNA that he did not know whether the American members of the congregation played a role in the decision.

The American members of the Congregation for Bishops are Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago, and Donald Wuerl, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington.

A source close to Wuerl told CNA that he did not believe the cardinal had been involved in the decision.

DiNardo had announced the decision earlier in the day to “a visibly surprised conference hall.”

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of a code of conduct for bishops and a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February.


Coyne told CNA that the bishops would also suspend their vote on establishing a third-party reporting system for complaints about episcopal conduct.

The Congregation for Bishops asked for the delay so that bishops around the world can be “on the same page,” and learning from each other, the bishops said. The importance of further precision in canon law was also raised.

Joining DiNardo and Coyne at the press conference was Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana.

Dinardo said he found Rome's decision to be “quizzical,” and suspected the Congregation for Bishops thought the US bishops might be moving too quickly.

“I'm wondering if they could turn the synodality back on us. My first reaction was, this didn't seem so synodical; but maybe the Americans weren't acting so synodically either. But it was quizzical to me, when I saw it.”

DiNardo said the bishops have not lessened their resolve for action, and that they are not pleased by the Holy See's decision. He indicated that they will continue to push for action on the sex abuse crisis: “we're disappointed, because we're moving along on this.”

Speaking to how Catholics can trust their leaders, he asked that they retain faith in the bishops' commitment to reform, watching their efforts. He acknowledged that people have a right to scepticism, but also to hope.

The cardinal said he had proposed an apostolic visitation to deal with the problem, but that Rome had disagreed with that approach.

While acknowledging their disappointment in the decision from Rome, the bishops also spoke of the importance of their own obedience. DiNardo said they were responsible to be attentive to the Holy Father and his congregations, and Bishop Coyne said bishops are by nature collegial, “so when the Holy See asks us to work in collegiality, that's what we do.”

Vatican Christmas stamps feature artwork by inmate

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The artwork featured on the Vatican’s postage stamps for Christmas 2018 were painted by a man serving a life-sentence in a Milanese prison.

The two stamp designs, painted by Marcello D’Agata, depict the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Nativity of Christ.

The postage stamps were unveiled by Archbishop Mario Delpini of Milan at a Nov. 9 presentation in the Milan prison and can be purchased at the Vatican City post office. They are available in denominations of 1.15 or 1.10 euro ($1.29, $1.24), which is the postage required to mail directly to Europe and the Mediterranean region.

An Italian journalist had the idea for the Vatican stamps after having followed a philately initiative within the Milan prison for several years.

According to L’Osservatore Romano, a Vatican-supported newspaper, D’Agata was drawn to art from an early age. “I confess that as a child, as soon as a blank paper appeared before me, I never failed to draw on it,” he told the newspaper.

“Of course, they were just scribbles, but I liked it so much, because on those papers I gave shape and color to my emotions and, most of all, to my dreams.”

D’Agata said he had fallen away from artistic expression until a few years ago, when the director of the prison allowed a group of prisoners to take part in a drawing course, which served as a “source of inspiration and the dormant talents came back to life.”

Science should serve humanity, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2018 / 10:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis told a group of scientists Monday to use their knowledge for the benefit of all humanity, especially at the service of those people who are most often disregarded by most of society.

It is not enough to merely follow the principles of ethics, the Church expects from science “a positive service that we can call with Saint Paul VI the ‘charity of knowledge,’” the pope said Nov. 12.

“I would like to stand before you as the advocate of the peoples that receive only rarely and from afar the benefits of vast human knowledge and its achievements,” he continued, “especially in the areas of nutrition, health, education, connectivity, well-being and peace.”

Pope Francis spoke in an audience with participants in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences’ plenary meeting, taking place at the Vatican Nov. 12-14 on the theme “Transformative roles of science in society: From emerging basic science toward solutions for people’s wellbeing.”

Referencing the theme of the academy’s plenary meeting, he praised the academy’s focus on using knowledge to confront the challenges facing modern society, stressing that “the universal rights we proclaim must become reality for all.”

“Science can contribute decisively to this process and to breaking down the barriers that stand in its way,” he said, encouraging scientists to conduct research which benefits all people, “so that the peoples of the earth will be fed, given to drink, healed and educated.”

He also encouraged them to give sound advice to the political and economic spheres “on how to advance with greater certainty towards the common good, for the benefit especially of the poor and those in need, and towards respect for our planet.”

In his speech, Francis outlined a few of the possible fruits of a scientific community focused on a “mission of service.”

One of these fruits is “commitment to a world without nuclear arms,” he said, echoing sentiments of St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, “that scientists actively cooperate to convince government leaders of the ethical unacceptability of such weaponry, because of the irreparable harm that it causes to humanity and to the planet.”

He urged “the need for disarmament,” which he argued is a topic raised less and less frequently by those in positions of power. “May I be able to thank God, as did Saint John Paul II in his Testament, that in my Pontificate the world was spared the immense tragedy of an atomic war,” he stated.

Pope Francis also noted what he said is a “lack of will and political determination” to end the arms race and wars. More monetary resources could then be put toward renewable energy and programs to ensure water, food, and health for all, he said.

On climate change, he pointed out the influence of human actions and said there is a need for responses aimed at protecting “the health of the planet and its inhabitants,” which is risked by use of fossil fuels and deforestation.

In his address, he also praised the Academy of Sciences’ work combating human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking and said he stands at their side “in this battle for humanity.”

“This is the immense panorama that opens up before men and women of science when they take stock of the expectations of peoples,” he said: “expectations animated by trusting hope, but also by anxiety and unrest.”

 

Apostolic Nuncio: Bishops need to regain trust of their faithful

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishops in the United States need to work hard to regain the trust of their flocks and combat a culture of clericalism, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told those present at the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.

After acknowledging that the past year has been “challenging and sobering,” Pierre spoke sternly to his brother bishops and told them that they need to accept their responsibility as “spiritual fathers” of their dioceses.

While the Church is “always” in need of renewal, Pierre said that that this task will be impossible without rebuilding the trust of their community. It is a task that demands time, effort sacrifice, and reform on the part of the bishop.

“The only way of reforming the Church is to suffer for her,” he said, and this reform needs to come from the mission of the Church. In creating reform, bishops must show that they are capable of solving problems that are placed before them, “rather than simply delegating them to others.”

Bishops, he sad, have a “special responsibility” to strengthen the faith of others, especially when presented with these challenges.

“The people of God have rightly challenged us to be trustworthy,” he said.  

“Pope Francis never ceases to tell us that if we are to begin again, then we should begin again from Jesus Christ, who lightens our lives and helps us to prove that we can be trustworthy.”

Despite admonishing the bishops for betraying the trust of the faithful, he also offered praise for certain aspects of their work.

Pierre voiced approval for the bishops’ efforts in creating sanctions and rules for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. There is, however, always more that can be done, and bishops should not be afraid to “get their hands dirty” and remain vigilant in this work.

“Those of you who have done good work have to be congratulated for your commitment as leaders, and for setting a good example for us all,” he said, noting that one case of clerical sex abuse is one too many.

He also praised the media for their work in reporting the abuse crisis, reminding the bishops not to shoot the messenger, so to speak, when it comes to these stories, regardless of how “painful and humiliating” they may be.

As a way to regain the trust of the faith, bishops need to work on fighting back against a culture that promotes clericalism and one that tolerates the abuse of authority, he said. These sins are not those of the media, nor are they “products of conspiracies,” he said. Rather, they are for the Church to confront head-on.

“These are things we must recognize and fix,” he said, starting from the beginning of the priesthood formation process in the seminaries. Those who are selected for the seminary must be properly screened, and he encouraged the bishops to spend time talking to young people and hearing their concerns.

Bishops “cannot run from the challenges that present and confront us,” he said, but instead need to have “open hearts” and hear the concerns of the faithful.

“Even if things seem dark, do not be discouraged. Have hope. [Christ] is with us, and He accompanies the Church,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo to US bishops: Avoid despair, presumption in addressing abuse crisis

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 08:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo opened the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with a speech calling for bishops to avoid the two temptations of “despair and presumption” as they address the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church.

In his opening speech, given as president of the USCCB, DiNardo said that the Church must rely on “trusting faith,” and “living memory” as it seeks to support victims of abuse and to reassure the faithful.

DiNardo’s address was clearly amended to account for the surprise announcement that the Holy See had blocked the bishops from voting on two key proposals.

Shortly before his speech, the cardinal told the hall that he had been instructed by Rome that the U.S. bishops were not to vote on a proposed new set of standards for episcopal conduct or on the creation of a new lay-led body to investigate episcopal misconduct. Instead, the American bishops have been told to wait until after a special meeting of the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences called by Pope Francis for February.

Despite the sudden change to the conference agenda, DiNardo said that the American bishops take the abuse crisis seriously.

“We remain committed to the program of episcopal accountability. Votes will not take place, but we will move forward,” DiNardo told attendees.

Addressing survivors in the first person, the Archbishop of Galveston-Houston said, “I am deeply sorry.”

“In our weakness we fell asleep,” he said, while calling for a renewed vigilance, both against abuse and against paralysis in the face of recent scandals.

Despair, he said, must yield to the knowledge that the Church “has always been and will always be the body of Christ” which the bishops are called to serve as members.

On the other hand, DiNardo also warned against presuming that the current crisis would just “blow over” or worse, was a crisis of the past not the present. While noting that many of the recent scandals concerned cases of abuse from past decades, he said that the Church could not presume that victims should “heal on our timeline.”

Progress has been made, DiNardo told the bishops, but they must remain “willing but also ready to ask forgiveness” of victims, survivors and the faithful. Bringing healing to the sexual abuse crisis will require “all our spiritual and physical resources”

“It is only after listening that we can carry out the changes needed,” DiNardo said, ending with a plea to the bishops that the conference proceed untied in humility.

“Let us submit to the Holy father and to each other in a spirit of fraternal correction,” he said.

“Brothers, we have fallen into a place of great weakness. We must act right here and right now to better serve our sisters and brothers.”

“We can begin to clean and then to heal the lacerations in the body of Christ.”

 

Vatican cancels US bishops’ vote on sex abuse reform measures

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2018 / 07:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.

The news came at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.

The instruction to delay consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct came directly from the Holy See, DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.

DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.

Apologizing for the last minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said had only been told of the decision by Rome late yesterday.

Ahead of the bishops’ meeting, two documents had been circulated: a draft Standards of Conduct for bishops and a proposal to create a new special investigative commission to handle accusations made against bishops.

These proposals had been considered to be the bishops’ best chance to produce a substantive result during the meeting, and signal to the American faithful that they were taking firm action in the face of a series of scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.

Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, DiNardo told the bishops he was clearly “disappointed” with Rome’s decision. The cardinal said that, despite the unexpected intervention by Rome, he was hopeful that the Vatican meeting would prove fruitful and that its deliberations would help improve the American bishops’ eventual measures.

While DiNardo was still speaking, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the pope.  

“It is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously,” Cupich said.

At the same time, he suggested that the work which had gone into preparing the two proposals should not go to waste.

Cupich suggested that if the conference could not take a binding vote, they should instead continue with their discussions and conclude with resolution ballot on the two measures. This, he said, would help best equip Cardinal DiNardo to present the thought of the American bishops during the February meeting, where he will represent the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“We need to be very clear with [DiNardo] where we stand, and be clear with our people where we stand,” Cupich said.

While acknowledging that the February meeting was important, he noted that responding to the abuse crisis “is something we cannot delay, there is an urgency here.”

Cupich went on to propose moving forward the American bishops’ next meeting, currently scheduled for June 2019. Instead, he suggested, the bishops should reconvene in March in order to act as soon as possible after the February session in Rome.

 

Sr Thea Bowman's cause for canonization could open at US bishops' meeting

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sr. Thea Bowman was the first African American woman to address the U.S. bishops' conference. Most likely, she was also the first person to get them to hold hands and sing and sway to a Negro Spiritual.

“We shall overcome,” she intoned at their 1988 spring meeting in her signature rich voice, before exhorting the bishops to join in with a hearty “Y’all get up!”

Sr. Thea, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, a daughter of the Deep South and the granddaughter of a slave, was sick from battling cancer and confined to a wheelchair at the time.

But that didn’t stop the 51 year-old from doling out more instructions when the stiff group still wasn’t swaying to her satisfaction: “Cross your right hand over your left hand, you gotta move together to do that,” she said as the bishops crossed arms and held hands before continuing the song.

“See in the old days you had to tighten up so that when the bullets would come, so that when the tear gas would come, so that when the dogs would come, so that when the horses would come, so that when the tanks would come, brothers and sisters would not be separated from one another,” she told the bishops, referring to the days of the Civil Rights movement.

“And do you remember what they did with the bishops and the clergy in those old days? Where’d they put them? Right up in front. To lead the people in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Church,” she said.

That keynote showcased Sr. Thea in her element – sharing her faith and love of God, urging racial awareness and reconciliation within the Catholic Church, joyfully belting out Gospel hymns and convincing everyone around her to join in.

Now, nearly 30 years after her death, Sr. Thea will once again feature at the U.S bishops' conference - but this time, they will be voting to approve the opening of her cause for canonization.

The precocious 'old folks child'

Sister Thea was born Bertha Bowman on December 29, 1937 in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the only daughter to her father, a family doctor, and her mother, an educator. The family resided in Canton, a town 30-some miles to the south and east of Yazoo City.

She was the granddaughter to slaves, and her maternal grandmother was a prominent educator in the area after whom the local school was named.

From an early age, Bertha self-identified as an “old folks child”, her parents having been middle-aged by the time she was born. She was doted on by aunts, uncles, and grandparents during her childhood. Her mother taught her to read, her father taught her some of the basics of First Aid.

One thing Bertha learned early on from the “old folks” in her life was what she would affectionately call “old time religion.” Her parents were Methodist, and the Bible belt town was full of active parishes of all Christian denominations.

In the book Sister Thea: Songs of my People, she recalled: “Many of the best (religion) teachers were not formally educated. But they knew scripture, and they believed the Living Word must be celebrated and shared...Their teachings were simple. Their teachings were sound,” she said. “Their methodologies were such that, without effort, I remember their teachings today.”

The religious vitality of her surroundings sent the young Bertha on her own “spiritual quest” of sorts, and she sat in on religious services at many of the different churches in town. At the Catholic Church, she was one of just a few black people there, relegated at the time to the back pews.

Ultimately, it was the witness of the love and service of Catholic sisters, specifically the Franciscan order that she would eventually join, that convinced her to become Catholic at the young age of 9.

“Once I went to the Catholic Church, my wanderings ceased. I knew I had found that for which I had been seeking. Momma always says, God takes care of babies and fools,” she wrote in an autobiography in 1958.

By all accounts, her parents were supportive of the little convert, and enrolled her in Holy Child Catholic school following her conversion, where she became enthralled with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from Wisconsin who were serving there.

Besides her religious seeking, her heart for God also manifested itself in other ways, said Father Maurice Nutt, a Redemptorist priest and former student of Sr. Thea who is now the diocesan promoter of her cause for canonization.

“When lunchtime would come, she would notice children who didn’t have any food, and so she would take her lunch and she would give it to them. And they would say Bertha, don’t you want to eat? And she would say no, I’m not very hungry today,” he said.

“So her concern as a child was to feed the poor, she wanted to help those who were marginalized in any way.”

Her mother soon caught on that Bertha was coming home from school hungry, and so the two of them began making extra peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Bertha to give to her friends at lunchtime.

“So you’re seeing from a very early age that this woman Thea Bowman walked with God, she was close to God, God was everything to her so she was his servant.”

Bertha becomes Thea

That strong sense of religiosity and wanting to serve others never left Bertha, and at the age of 15 she was determined to join the order of FSPA sisters that had taught at her school.

Her parents, neither yet Catholic, pleaded with her to reconsider, or to at least consider joining traditionally black orders of sisters that were much closer to home.

But the determined Bertha staged a hunger strike until her parents relented. She was accompanied by another sister on the long train ride to the FSPA motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin with special permission to sit in the white passenger cars rather than in the baggage cars, as was mandated for blacks in the pre-civil rights movement days.

A couple years into formation, Bertha took the religious name of Thea, which she would have for the rest of her life.

Sister Rochelle Potaracke, FSPA, was a young sister at the time that Thea joined the convent in 1953.

She told CNA that she remembers Thea as a happy and energetic young postulant, who stuck out in the state of Wisconsin, where very few black people lived at the time. Her blackness even made news in the local Catholic paper that summer: “Negro Aspirant” read the headline.

“When I was growing up I never saw a black person, that was in the early '40s, and that’s the same for many areas I know,” Potaracke told CNA.

“But I think we accepted (Thea) very well. We loved her dearly, she fit right in with all of us, she always had her singing and her enthusiasm,” she said.

“But it must have been terribly hard for her. I think of it now, I didn’t think of it then. I didn’t think ‘Oh, the poor dear, but I think now it had to be a challenge for her, she was in a whole new almost different country so to speak.”

According to a biography, Thea’s Song, after the newness of the convent experience wore off, Thea experienced culture shock and blatant racism, within and without the convent walls.

Sister Helen Elsbernd, who went through formation with Thea at the FSPA motherhouse, said Sr. Thea didn’t mention anything to her fellow sisters about racial discrimination at the time.

“She didn’t talk about it. In the early years of formation she tried very hard to fit in with the culture here,” Elsbernd recalled.

Her first years as a sister were also challenging for another reason - in 1955, two years into formation, Thea was stricken with tuberculosis, and spent most of that year in the sanatorium.

“I marvel at her constant cheerfulness,” one sister wrote to Thea’s parents during her illness.

‘Black is beautiful’: Sr. Thea’s racial advocacy grows

Sr. Thea’s cheerful energy would remain her signature trait as her passionate advocacy for racial integration in the Catholic Church began to further develop.

Potaracke, who spent time studying with Sr. Thea during graduate school at Catholic University of America, said that for years, the sisters had been going to school at CUA, where they were simply known as the Franciscan sisters from Wisconsin.

That changed when Sr. Thea came on the scene. Early into their days at CUA, Sr. Thea and her fellow sisters attended a student event, during which Thea leapt up to tell her story as a young black woman growing up in the South.

“Thea could just grab an audience any time she wanted, she could just spark life into the group that was in front of her,” Potaracke recalled.

“She started singing these songs and everyone was clapping and dancing and jumping around. And after that time we were no longer the FSPA’s, it was oh - you’re Sister Thea’s group. I point that out because that’s the impression she made on people,” she said.

As a CUA student, Sr. Thea helped to found the National Black Sisters Conference and became a noted public speaker and advocate for African Americans in the Church. She advocated for encounter between white and non-white Catholics, for increased representation in Church leadership for non-whites, and for an embrace of music and traditions from different cultures into the Church.

As her racial advocacy grew, one of Sr. Thea’s signature phrases became “black is beautiful.”
“‘Black is beautiful,’ that’s what she would say all the time,” said Potaracke.

It was a phrase that came from Thea’s mother, who had tried to teach her from an early age to handle the racial discrimination that she experienced with love rather than hate.

“Her mother always said that she had to be honest and good to people. Her mother said: ‘You can’t hate, because if you hate you will become like the people you want to hate. Remember, black is beautiful.’”

An impressive scholar, Sr. Thea would eventually get her doctorate in English, and spent several years teaching at Viterbo College in La Crosse, which was staffed by many FSPA sisters. During her time there, she formed singing groups of African American students who became popular throughout the area, Elsbernd said.

In 1978, Sr. Thea moved back to Mississippi, to help her aging parents and to serve in outreach ministry to non-white communities for the Diocese of Jackson. During this time, she continued to expand her speaking and singing ministries, and travelled extensively to give talks nationally and internationally about the importance of racial awareness and acceptance in the Church.

In 1980, she helped to found the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, where she taught until nearly the end of her life. It was during that time that Fr. Maurice Nutt met Sr. Thea at a conference for black Catholic clergy and religious, at which Sr. Thea was the speaker.

“I was so impressed by her. No one really meets Sr. Thea, they encounter her,” Nutt said.

Her talk was the first time that Nutt really considered what it meant to be black and Catholic, and the unique gifts that the black community could bring to the Church, he said.

“It was a cathartic moment for me, because she really enabled me to bring my very best self, my African American self, to the Church, to give my life in service to the Church,” Nutt recalled.

He was so moved by her that he joined the next cohort at the Institute.

“She would always say that we are an integral part of the Church, that as African American Catholics, we have gifts to share, we have our spirituality, we have our witness of struggle and suffering. We have the joy of knowing Jesus even in times of sorrow,” he said.

“And so what she taught me was to bring my gifts to the Church. She taught me to be very intentional in my expression of spirituality, to share what it means to be black and Catholic, that we should not hide those gifts, but that there’s a mutuality, that integration means that you have something to share but I also have something to share.”

Nutt remembers Sr. Thea as a brilliant teacher who demanded excellence, but also as a warm and caring woman who embraced her students as her own children.

“Thea became my spiritual mother, and I became her spiritual son, and she would call me son,” Nutt said. “She would say that the seminarians she encouraged, she said ‘These are the sons that I give to the Church.’ And I am so grateful that I was counted in that number.”

In 1984, Sr. Thea’s parents died within months of each other. Not long after, she received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“That was crushing,” Nutt said. “She was the only child of this elderly couple, it seemed like her whole world had fallen apart, and then she received the challenge of cancer.”

While many would be tempted to give up, Sr. Thea made a decision: “I’m going to live until I die,” she said.

And she did. She kept up her speaking engagements and outreach ministry at full-bore. She recorded songs and helped compile the African American hymnal “Lead Me, Guide Me”, gave numerous biographical interviews including a “60 Minutes” segment, and spoke to the U.S. bishops in 1989.

“We as Church walk together,” she told the bishops. “Don’t let nobody separate you, that’s one thing black folks can teach you, don’t let folks divide you. The Church teaches us that the Church is a family, a family of families, and a family that can stay together. And we know that if we do stay together...if we walk and talk and work and play and stand together in Jesus’ name we’ll be who we say we are, truly Catholic. And we shall overcome - overcome the poverty, overcome the loneliness, overcome the alienation, and build together a holy city, a new Jerusalem, a city set apart where...we love one another.”

While she was sick, Nutt said Sr. Thea would pray “that God will heal my body. If God will heal my body, I’ll say thank you Lord. But I also know that if God doesn't give me what I ask of him, God will give me something better.”

And on March 30, 1990, “that something better was to call her home,” Nutt said.

The legacy of Sr. Thea

Nutt said he thinks Sr. Thea will be remembered for her passionate advocacy on behalf of blacks and other minorities in the Church.

“She spoke about the fact that African American Catholics, we have a deep and abiding history. She told the history that we come from the Ethiopian eunuch, we come from Simon of Cyrene...that we are not late in joining the Church but that people of African descent have been there from the early days of Catholicism, and that this is our home,” he said.

Potaracke said she remembers Thea as a warm woman who had a strong sense of self and wasn’t afraid to advocate for herself and others.

“She was a spark, and she spoke her voice, if she didn’t like something she said it strong and clear, no matter what meeting you were at, she would speak her voice,” Potaracke said.

“It was her inner belief that she was a beautiful woman, that she had a place in this world, and that she was going to go out and change the people she met, and she did. Whether you were penniless or whether you were the wealthiest person, she just had lots of friends in every corner of the world.”

He said he believed she would also be remembered for her love of God, from which flowed her joy and love for others.

“You knew in her midst that you were in the presence of someone extremely special, who had a deep connection with God. Thea said she grew up in a world where God was so alive, and she shared that joy with everyone, that God is real, that God is love, that God is alive, and anyone who met her experienced the presence of God,” he said.

As for Sr. Thea herself, she once said that she wanted to be remembered simply as someone who tried.

“Think of all the great things she did, and she simply said: I want to be remembered as someone who tried. She said she wanted on her tombstone: ‘She tried,’” Nutt said.

“That speaks of her humility. That speaks of her love for God and that she never proclaimed herself to be holy or righteous. She was a disciple of Jesus Christ who tried to love one another, to love other people, to try to lift her service to God and the Church.”

Nutt encouraged Catholics to ask for Sr. Thea’s intercession as her cause gets underway.

“I would encourage people to seek her intercession, especially if they’re struggling with their faith, if they’re struggling with family issues. I would encourage students to pray to her when they’re taking tests, I would also say anyone battling cancer of any kind to seek her encouragement, to seek her inspiration, as they journey through their battle with cancer.”

As is customary, when a bishop begins the preliminary phases of someone’s cause for canonization, the cause must be put to a vote of the U.S. bishop’s conference. At their meeting Nov. 12-14, the bishops are expected to endorse the opening of the cause of Sr. Thea Bowman, which is being overseen by Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson.

Pope Francis marks World War I centenary with message of peace

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2018 / 05:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica rang out in unison with thousands of other church bells around the world Sunday as Pope Francis commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War I.

“While we pray for all the victims of that terrible tragedy, let us say forcefully: invest in peace, not on war!” Pope Francis said at the end of his Angelus address Nov. 11.

The memory of World War I should be a warning to “reject a ‘culture of war’ and seek every legitimate means to put an end to the conflicts that still bleed several regions of the world,” he said and added, “It seems that we do not learn.”

Francis quoted Pope Benedict XV, an advocate for peace during WWI, who denounced the war as “useless slaughter” in his 1917 peace plan. As pope throughout the entirety of the first world war, Benedict wrote five encyclicals and three apostolic exhortations concerning peace.

Around 17 million people, soldiers and civilians, were killed during the Great War. November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice between Germany and the Allies in France, which ended World War I in 1918.

At 1:30 p.m. in Rome, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled in honor of this centenary in coordination with church bells all over Europe and around the world.

The pope noted that the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours falls on Armistice Day, calling the soldier saint’s act of cutting his cloak in half to share with a poor man a “gesture of human solidarity” that points toward “the way to build peace.”

Francis focused the message of his Angelus address on the poor widow in Matthew’s Gospel, who gives two coins that make up her entire livelihood in her offering to the Temple.

“In this humility, she performs an act charged with great religious and spiritual significance,” he said. “That gesture, full of sacrifice, does not escape the attentive gaze of Jesus, who indeed sees in it the total gift of self, which he wants to teach his disciples.”

“The scales of the Lord are different from ours. He weighs people and their actions differently: he does not measure quantity but quality, he searches the heart and looks at the purity of intentions,” Francis explained.

When we are tempted to seek the attention of others through our altruism, we should think of this poor woman, Francis said. “It will do us good: it will help us to get rid of the superfluous, to focus on what really matters, and to remain humble.”
“The Virgin Mary, a poor woman who gave herself totally to God, sustains us in the purpose of giving the Lord and our brothers not something of ourselves, but ourselves, in a humble and generous offering,” he said.

As Pope Francis prepares to celebrate the second World Day of the Poor next Sunday, mobile medical clinics are set up near Saint Peter’s Basilica to treat anyone in need of general and specialized medical care, including cardiology, dermatology, and ophthalmology Nov. 12 - 18.