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Moving 'Vicar of Christ' title in Vatican yearbook is ‘theological barbarism’, says cardinal

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- A cardinal has criticized the Vatican’s official yearbook after it listed the term Vicar of Christ to a section headed “historical titles” in its latest edition, published March 25. 

A Vatican spokesman said the change merely highlights the historical dimension of the title.

Under the heading “historical titles”, the yearbook lists the designations “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God."

On Thursday, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, the Vatican’s former doctrinal chief, described the change as an act of “theological barbarism.”

In a commentary for the German weekly Die Tagepost, the cardinal said that, while the Annuario is issued by the Vatican Secretariat of State via the Vatican Publishing House, it is “only an address book and lacks any teaching authority.”

As in the 2019 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the new edition has a single page describing the pope as “Francis, bishop of Rome.” But instead of heading a subsequent page with the title "Vicar of Christ." as it did in 2019, the 2020 edition has the pope’s baptismal name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, followed by a brief biography.

Mueller argued that the next section, marked “historical titles”, mixed the term Vicar of Christ with designations that “have nothing to do with primacy and have only grown historically but [have] no dogmatic meaning, such as ‘Sovereign of Vatican City State’.”

“It is a theological barbarism to devalue the Pope's titles ‘Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ and visible head of the whole Church’ as a mere historical ballast,” he wrote.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See press office, told the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire that the yearbook was not declaring that the title Vicar of Christ was merely of historical significance. 

If that were the case, Avvenire reported, the title would simply have been removed. Bruni cited Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to drop the title “Patriarch of the West” from the Annuario in 2006. This was widely understood to be an ecumenical gesture aimed at healing the centuries-long breach between Catholics and other Christians. 

Bruni said that the titles were classified as “historical” because they are tied historically to the title bishop of Rome. A new pope acquires them the moment he is elected in a conclave.  

The Annuario Pontificio, which contains more than 2,000 pages and has a distinctive red cloth binding, contains a directory of the Roman Curia, as well as the names and addresses of the world’s bishops and official Vatican statistics.

The Church has published a yearbook in various forms since 1716.

Pope creates emergency fund to tackle coronavirus in mission territories

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has created an emergency fund for those affected by coronavirus in mission countries.

The pope has earmarked $750,000 for the fund, Agenzia Fides reported April 6. 

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, said the pope was seeking to mobilize “the Church’s entire vast network to face the challenges ahead”.

“In her task of evangelization, the Church is often on the front lines of major threats to human well-being,” he said. 

“In Africa alone, there are over 74,000 religious sisters and over 46,000 priests operating 7,274 hospitals and clinics, 2,346 homes for elderly and the vulnerable, and educating over 19 million children in 45,088 primary schools. In many rural areas they are the only providers of healthcare and education.”

The new fund will be based at the Pontifical Mission Societies, a worldwide group of missionary societies under the pope’s jurisdiction. The pope channels support to more than 1,000 dioceses, mainly in Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Amazon, through the group.

Archbishop Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said the pope had established the fund to support the Church in mission territories as it responds to the coronavirus crisis. 

“Through the Church’s activity of preaching the Gospel and of practical aid through our vast network, we can show that no one is alone in this crisis,” he said.

Individuals can make donations to the fund via the administration office of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome.

As of April 6, more than 70,000 people had died from coronavirus and more than 1.2 million tested positive for the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

God will judge us by how we treated the poor, says Pope Francis

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Many people suffering from poverty are victims of the “structural injustice” of today’s global economy, Pope Francis said in his daily Mass homily on Monday.

“We will be judged for our relationship with the poor,” Pope Francis said on April 6.

The pope said that the first question Jesus will ask at the final judgment will be: “How did you treat the poor? Did you feed them? Did you visit those in prison, in hospital? Did you help the widow and the orphan? Because I was there.”

In his homily via livestream from Casa Santa Marta, the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Pope Francis focused on these words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

“When Jesus says: ‘You always have the poor with you,’ it means: ‘I, I will always be with you in the poor. I will be present there,’” Pope Francis explained.

The pope said that many of today’s poor are “hidden” because they are “ashamed to show that they are not making ends meet.”

“It is a part of the cityscape to have poor people. However, the vast majority of the poor are victims of economic policies, of financial policies. Some recent statistics make the summary like this: there is a lot of money in the hands of a few and so much poverty in many … and this is the poverty of so many victims of the structural injustice in the global economy,” he said.

Pope Francis then told the story of the time he visited an abandoned factory in Buenos Aires where middle-class families took refuge after being evicted for not paying rent.

“They went there because they could not pay the rent. The new poor, who must leave the house because they cannot pay, go there. It is that injustice of the economic or financial organization that brings them so. And there are many, many [people] to the point that we will meet them in the judgment,” he said.

“And this is not being a communist, this is the heart of the Gospel: we will be judged on this,” the pope added.

In the Gospel of John, he noted, Judas thought of money, but did not care for the poor because he was a thief.

“This story of the unfaithful administrator is always current,” Pope Francis said. “We think of some charitable or humanitarian organizations that have many employees.”

The pope said that there are many humanitarian organizations that use sixty percent of their funds to pay the salaries of their many employees. “It is a way of taking money from the poor,” he said.

During his daily Mass, Pope Francis also asked people to pray for overcrowded prisons.

“Where there is overcrowding - many people there - there is a danger, in this pandemic, that it will end in a serious disaster. We pray for those responsible, for those who have to make decisions in this, to find a right and creative way to solve the problem,” the pope said.

Turin Shroud to be displayed via livestream on Holy Saturday amid pandemic

Turin, Italy, Apr 6, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Catholics around the world will be invited to pray virtually before the Turin Shroud on Holy Saturday as the world struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Church officials have said.

The Shroud, which bears the image of a crucified man and has been venerated for centuries as Christ’s burial cloth, will be displayed via livestream at 5pm local time April 11. 

Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia will preside over a liturgy from the chapel of Turin cathedral where the Shroud is kept in a climate-controlled vault. It will be broadcast live on television and social media. 

The archbishop said he was responding to thousands of requests from people asking to venerate the Shroud amid a global crisis that has so far claimed nearly 70,000 lives. 

"Thanks to television and social networks," he said, "this time of contemplation will make available to everyone throughout the world the image of the sacred cloth, which reminds us of the Lord's passion and death, but also opens our hearts to faith in His resurrection.”

He said he hoped that the ceremony would give strength to those suffering amid the pandemic. 

"Yes, the love with which Jesus gave us his life and which we celebrate during Holy Week is stronger than any suffering, every illness, every contagion, every trial and discouragement,” he said. “Nothing and no one can ever separate us from this love, because it is faithful forever and unites us to him with an indissoluble bond."

Turin is located in northwest Italy, not far from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, which has led to nearly 16,000 deaths and a nationwide lockdown since March 10. 

Archbishop Nosiglia announced last year that the Shroud would be displayed in December 2020 when Turin hosts an annual meeting organized by the Taizé Community. This would be the fifth time that the Shroud has gone on public display since the year 2000. 

The last time the Shroud was presented to the public was in 2015. Pope Francis prayed before the relic during a visit to Turin on June 21 that year. Afterwards, he described it as an icon of Christ’s love. 

“The Shroud,” the pope said, “attracts people to the face and tortured body of Jesus and, at the same time, urges us on toward every person who is suffering and unjustly persecuted.” 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen was more than the man on television, 92-year-old niece says

Denver, Colo., Apr 5, 2020 / 12:35 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Fulton Sheen's niece has recounted her view of the famous Catholic television personality and author in a new book that aims to show his Christian devotion and his deep concern for the poor, even as he engaged with Hollywood celebrities, American leaders, and an audience of millions.

“I hope that you learn he was not just the man in the red robe on TV. He was a very humble man, and very religious,” Joan Sheen Cunningham, co-author of the book “My Uncle Fulton Sheen,” told CNA March 31. “His whole life was working for the Church. That was the most important thing about him. I certainly think he did his job well!”

Cunningham’s book, published by Ignatius Press, is co-authored by Janel Rodriguez, author of the 2006 book “Meet Fulton Sheen.”

Sheen was the oldest of four brothers. Cunningham was the eldest daughter of Sheen’s brother, a lawyer and father of eight, who was the second oldest to Sheen.

“It’s a history of my life, in a way,” she said. “I’m 92, so that was a long time ago!”

At the suggestion of Sheen, Cunningham left Illinois at a young age to enroll in a private school in New York City, where she lived with friends of Sheen.

This allowed her to take part in weekend outings with her uncle for Mass, confession, and dinners with Hollywood stars and influential politicians.

Venerable Fulton Sheen was born in 1895 in Illinois and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and remained there until he was named Bishop of Rochester in 1966. After he retired in 1969 at the age of 74, he was named titular Archbishop of Newport, Wales. He died at the age of 84, and was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Cunningham’s book puts Sheen's life in a new perspective. She recounts his family’s devout Catholicism, his excellent academics and talent for public speaking, but also his deep distaste for farm life. He showed great fondness for France and the French language, but was sometimes hospitalized due to overwork.

The clergyman showed a great love for Christmas and for dogs. He famously clashed with the deeply powerful Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.

Sheen is perhaps most famous for his roles as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show, which he started in 1930, and the television shows “Life is Worth Living” and “The Fulton Sheen Program,” which ran in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. For a time, his television show was among the most popular on the airwaves.

Cunningham reflected on his influence.

“He wasn’t teaching the rules of the Church. He was just teaching them how they should be,” she said. “He wanted to follow the teachings of the Church and teach others about that. He was just following what his faith told him to do.”

Cunningham couldn’t think of anyone with as much influence as Sheen, saying this was because “he appealed to all kinds of people.”

“Often the cardinals and the popes can write wonderful things about how one should behave and what you should do and the rules of the Church, but I think he went beyond the rules of the Church. He saw people as people. That was his universal appeal.”

Sheen authored many books explaining Christianity and discussing Christian devotion. Proceeds from the book sales supported foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for years.

Cunningham said this position was his favorite role. He proved to be capable at raising awareness of the Catholic missions in other countries and in fundraising for them. He would visit the missions in Africa and other parts of the world.

Sheen was also a man of deep Christian devotion.

“I think he prayed every day that he'd do whatever God wanted him to do,” she said.

His life showed a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary and he would speak of her in many of his sermons. He helped popularize the Mary Dixon Thayer poem “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue.”

“I don't know how many statutes of the Blessed Mother I have, because every time he would see one he'd have to buy it,” Cunningham told CNA. “His chapel in his apartment was all done in blue for the Blessed Mother.”

He went to confession weekly, engaged in frequent self-examination, and often prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.

She also recalled his kindness, sympathy, and his ability to listen and to understand people's difficulties.

“We would walk down the street in New York and there would be someone there begging. He couldn’t help but stop and talk to them and give them some money,” Cunningham said. “That was his way. He felt very badly to see so many poor people. He tried to tell people they should have a little sympathy for them and help them out.”

Being in such close contact with her uncle taught her “great faith,” she said.

“I certainly learned not to judge people by their religion or their race or anything like that. He was very open. He taught me that it doesn't matter if someone is important or just a regular person. You should treat them all the same.”

“That I remember very well, growing up. I would meet people and he would never tell me if they were very important. I just had to be gracious and talk to them like anyone else. Then later I would find out they were somebody,” she said.

Cunningham's book recounts meeting various famous people in Sheen's social circles: New York’s Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president; the actress and philanthropist Irene Dunne; the famous journalist, radio broadcaster and gossip columnist Walter Winchell; actress Loretta Young; and the former child star Shirley Temple.

Converts aided by Sheen included prominent people like writer and politico Clare Booth Luce, but also ordinary people, like a homeless leper named Victor. Sheen’s work in engaging communists and communist polemics led to conversions of communist activists like Bella Dodd.

Another communist, Louis Budenz, personally attacked Sheen in his paper, and Sheen replied in a pamphlet. A personal encounter with Sheen deeply affected Budenz, Cunningham said, and seven years later he converted.

Cunningham’s account tells of going with her uncle to see the movie “Snow White,” to visit the ice skating rink, and to taste sweets at cafes. She recounts her memories of his vocation story, and how he integrated his work as a broadcaster, professor and author with his priesthood.

“He had a wonderful, wonderful sense of humor. He was very kind and thoughtful about everything,” she said. “I had an awful lot of fun with him, to be sure, from the time I was young to the time I had children. He was always fun.”

In some ways, Sheen was like a second father to Cunningham. He showed an ability to understand her and help her talk over questions and quandaries, even from a young age.

“if you had a quandary, he could help you find an answer to it,” she said. “He was understanding, and I think he wanted everyone to have a great faith in God and rely on God. He led me down the right path, when I would wonder about school, and of course my faith.”

His engagement with people on the street, whether admirers, critics, self-proclaimed relatives, or fallen away Catholics, also touched Cunningham. Sheen was not universally popular. Sometimes he was the subject of an angry confrontation on the street.

“He would just pretend that they were being nice to him. He would overlook it,” Cunningham said. “He always hoped that they would change their mind about it. A lot of people didn't like him, I’m sure, because of what he was teaching.”

For Cunningham, more Catholics need to continue his legacy.

“It's too bad there aren’t more people like him to carry on in the Church like he did. I think the world needs somebody like that,” said Cunningham. “If there were more people who would approach others like he did, maybe things could be turned around.”

She suspected her uncle would have this advice: “Pray to God to turn the world around. My uncle would say ‘just pray pray pray’.”

Cunningham recounts her family life and her marriage to a Georgetown Law student. Sheen gave them a copy of his book on marriage, “Three To Get Married” and helped the newlyweds find and set up their new apartment—drawing on his clergy friends to help furnish the place.

Her book has won praise from Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, Fulton Sheen’s hometown.

“This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in the life and heroic Christian witness of Fulton Sheen,” Jenky said in a foreword to the book. “Reading Joan’s fascinating account of her beloved uncle’s story gives a richly human context to the inspiring life of this good, gifted and holy man.”

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after the Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. Jenky had suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese. A lengthy legal battle followed, in which Cunningham sided with Peoria and Bishop Jenky due to the work they had put into the cause of beatification.

His beatification had been scheduled for Dec. 21, 2019, but it was postponed only weeks prior at the request of Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, N.Y. The bishop was concerned that Sheen could be cited in investigations into handling of sexually abusive priests and alleged cover-ups during his three years as head of the diocese. Catholic News Agency reported in December that the concern focused on Sheen’s handling of a priest who allegedly committed abuse or misconduct with adults in West Virginia, then returned to New York.

Cunningham hoped the conflict with the New York archdiocese could fade with time. She voiced disappointment with the last-minute cancellation and voiced sympathy with Sheen admirers who lost money on hotel and plane reservations.

She also acknowledged she did not understand the concerns that halted the beatification..

“My uncle had been investigated many times before Rome would even look at him as a possible candidate (for beatification),” said Cunningham.