In his homily on Thursday, Pope Francis said that the devil is more than an idea, and in order to fight him, we must follow St. Paul’s instructions and put on the armor of God which protects us.
“In this generation, like so many others, people have been led to believe that the devil is a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil. But the devil exists and we must fight against him,” the Pope told those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha house for his Oct. 30 daily Mass.
He turned to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, from which the day’s first reading was taken and in which the apostle warns against the temptations of the devil, telling Christians to clothe themselves with the armor of God so they can resist.
Pope Francis said that a Christian life requires both strength and courage, and needs to be defended because it is a constant battle with the devil, who tempts with worldly attractions, the passions and our flesh.
“From whom do I have to defend myself? What must I do?” he asked, saying that St. Paul tells us to “put on God’s full armor, meaning that God acts as a defense, helping us to resist Satan’s temptations. Is this clear?”
No spiritual or Christian life is possible without the need to resist temptation, the Roman Pontiff observed, explaining how our battle is not with small, trivial things, but rather with the principalities and ruling forces of this world, which are rooted in the devil and his followers.
According to a Catholic News Agency report, the bishop of Rome pointed out how there are many in the current generation who no longer believe in the devil, but rather think of him as “a myth, a figure, an idea, the idea of evil.”
However the devil does exist and we must constantly be on guard, he said, noting how “Paul tells us this, it’s not me saying it! The Word of God is telling us this. But we’re not all convinced of this.”
Pope Francis then recounted St. Paul’s description of the armor of God, of which the apostle says there are different types.
The apostle also urges the Ephesians to stand firm with the truth as “a belt around your waist,” the Pope observed, saying that the devil is a liar, and that in order to defeat him we always fight with the truth and with faith in God.
Like Saint Paul says, our faith in God is a shield to defend ourselves against Satan, who “doesn’t throw flowers at us (but) burning arrows” intended to kill, the pontiff explained.
“Life is a military endeavor. Christian life is a battle, a beautiful battle, because when God emerges victorious in every step of our life, this gives us joy, a great happiness,” the Pope continued, saying that our joy lies in the fact that it is the Lord who is the victor within us, giving us the free gift of salvation.
However, Pope Francis also cautioned that “we’re all a bit lazy, aren’t we, in this battle and we allow ourselves to get carried away by our passions, by various temptations.”
This is because each one of us is a sinner, he said, telling those present to not be discouraged, but rather to have courage and take strength in the knowledge that the Lord is with us.
In his weekly general audience Pope Francis spoke of the visible actions carried out by the church, explaining that they are an expression of her deeper spiritual reality rooted in the two natures of Christ.
“The visible and the invisible of the church are not opposed, but are rather integrated in the one church,” the pope told those present in St. Peter’s Square for his Oct. 29 general audience.
This, he said, “is a reflection of the mystery of the person of Christ, who in his divine nature is inseparable from his human nature, which is placed entirely at the service of the divine plan to bring redemption and salvation to all.”
In his address Pope Francis continued his weekly catechesis on the church, saying that although so far discussion has surrounded the church’s invisible, spiritual reality, she also has a visible reality that is crucial to her identity.
“We know that the church is also a visible reality, expressed in our parishes and communities, and in her institutional structures,” the Roman pontiff observed, saying that this visible aspect “is itself mysterious.”
The mystery of the visible reality of the church lies in the fact that it embraces “the countless and often hidden” works of charity which are carried out by believers around the world, the pope noted.
He emphasized how this visible structure is not only limited to the bishops or clergy, but rather it includes “all baptized people who believe, hope and love, doing good in the name of Jesus, and in this way bringing him close to the life of our brothers.”
Because of this it’s apparent that the visible and invisible aspects of the church are not opposed, but are instead integrated in the one and only church, the pontiff noted, saying that in order to understand this mystery, we must look to Jesus himself.
“Just as Christ’s humanity serves his divine mission of salvation, so too, with the eyes of faith, we can understand how the church’s visible dimension is at the service of her deepest spiritual reality,” he explained in a Catholic News Agency report.
The church is called to be close to each person through her sacraments and witness to Christ in the world, the pope continued, adding that this closeness must begin with the poorest, the marginalized, and those who suffer.
“Let us ask the Lord to enable us to grow in holiness and to be an ever more visible sign of his love for all mankind,” he prayed, saying that it’s the mission of the church to bring “the compassionate and merciful gaze of Jesus” to all mankind.
Pope Francis also spoke off-the cuff in an appeal for prayers for the 43 Mexican students who disappeared Sept. 26 in the Southern State of Guerrero.
“I would like to raise a prayer and draw close in our hearts to the people of Mexico, who are suffering from the loss of these students and many similar problems. May our hearts be close to them in prayer at this time.”
The students, who attended Ayotzinapa teacher’s school, a rural teacher training center which caters to poor and indigenous people, were supposedly pulled over and shot at by police in order to prevent them from participating in a demonstration protesting government education reforms, BBC News reports.
According to BBC, the city’s mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, allegedly ordered police to intercept the students to prevent them from interrupting a speech his wife was giving in Iguala, and were afterward turned over to a criminal group known as Guerrero Unidos.
Out of two mass graves found in police searches so far, only the second holds the possibility of containing the remains of the 43 missing students.
Pope Francis spoke out against oppression of the poor due to greed and warned again of the growing presence of a “globalization of indifference” — a warning, he said, which has wrongly type-casted him.
“It is not possible to tackle poverty by promoting containment strategies to merely reassure, rendering the poor ‘domesticated,’ harmless and passive,” the pope told those gathered for his Oct. 28 encounter with leaders of various church movements.
He called the basic needs for land, housing and work an “aspiration that should be within the reach of all but which we sadly see is increasingly unavailable to the majority.”
“It’s strange, but if I talk about this, there are those who think that the pope is Communist,” he said.
“The fact that the love for the poor is in the center of the gospel is misunderstood,” the pope added. “Those (values) for which you’re fighting for are sacred rights. It’s the church’s social doctrine.”
Held in the Vatican’s Old Synod Hall, where previous synods took place before the construction of the Paul VI Hall, the meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, along with the leaders of various movements.
Solidarity, the pope observed in his speech, is a word that is often forgotten in today’s society, and which extends far beyond sporadic acts of generosity.
Instead it requires thinking in communal terms, and includes fighting structural causes of poverty such as inequality, unemployment, lack of land and housing, and the denial of social and labor rights, he said. It also requires facing the destructive effects of the “empire of money” such as forced displacement, painful migration, human trafficking, drugs, war and violence.
“Today the phenomenon of exploitation and oppression assumes a new dimension, a graphical and hard edge of social injustice,” the pope noted, explaining that this “throwaway culture” makes it so that those who are unable to integrate are marginalized and discarded as “cast-offs.”
Situations such as this arise when economic systems make money their god and put it at the heart of their work rather than centering on the human person, created in the image of God, the pontiff continued.
He then turned his attention to the phenomenon of unemployment, saying that each person who works, whether part of the formal system of paid work or not, “has the right to fair remuneration, social security and a pension.”
These people, the pontiff noted, include those who recycle waste, street vendors, garment makers, craftsmen, fishermen, farmers, builders, miners, workers in companies in receivership, cooperatives and common trades which are often excluded from employment rights and denied the option of forming trades unions, as well as those who don’t receive a stable or sufficient income.
“I wish to unite my voice to theirs and to accompany them in their struggle,” Pope Francis said.
On the theme of peace and ecology, the pope said that it is not possible to pursue land, housing or work if we can’t maintain the planet, or if we destroy it.
“Creation is not our property which we may exploit as we please, (and) even less so the property of the few,” he explained, saying that instead creation is a gift from God that we must care for and use for the good of all humanity with respect and gratitude.
Pope Francis went on to question those present in the audience, asking why, instead of viewing the world as our gift and fighting for justice, do we instead see work taken away, families evicted, peasants expelled from their land, war and harm done to nature.
“Because this system has removed humanity from the center and replaced it with something else! Because of the idolatrous worship of money! Because of the globalization of indifference – ‘what does it matter to me what happens to others, I’ll defend myself,’” the Pope explained.
The world, said the pontiff, has forgotten God and so become “an orphan” because it has turned away from him.
However, Christians have been given a strong guide and “revolutionary program” for how to act, which can be found in the Beatitudes, the bishop of Rome noted, and encouraged all to read them.
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of walking together, saying that popular movements express urgent need of revitalizing our democracies, which “so often (are) hijacked by many factors.”
“It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the active participation of the majority, and this role extends beyond the logical procedures of formal democracy,” he said.
Pope Francis said that those waiting at the threshold of the Church without going inside are not true members of the Church which Jesus established and on whom it is built.
“We are citizens, fellow citizens of this Church. If we do not enter into this temple to be part of this building so that the Holy Spirit may live in us, we are not in the Church,” the Pope told those present in the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse for his Oct. 28 daily Mass.
Rather, “we are on the threshold and look inside…Those Christians who do not go beyond the Church’s reception: they are there, at the door: ‘Yes, I am Catholic, but not too Catholic.’”
According to a Catholic News Agency report, the pope centered his reflections on both the day’s first reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and the Gospel, taken from Luke, Chapter 6.
In the first reading St. Paul explains to the Christians of Ephesus that they are no longer strangers, but have become fellow members of the house of God, which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and has Jesus himself as the “capstone.”
The Gospel reading recounts how Jesus, after spending the night in prayer, comes down from the mountain and calls the Twelve Apostles by name.
By reflecting on the gospel reading, there are three clear actions that Jesus carried out when founding the Church, the Pope observed, saying that the first action is prayer, the second was choosing his disciples, and the third was welcoming and healing the crowds.
“Jesus prays, Jesus calls, Jesus chooses, Jesus sends his disciples out, Jesus heals the crowd. Inside this temple, this Jesus who is the corner stone does all this work: it is He who conducts the church,” the pontiff noted, explaining that the church is built on the apostles.
However, despite the fact that the Twelve were chosen by Jesus, they were all still sinners, the pope said, explaining that although no one knows who sinned the most, there could have been one that sinned more than Judas did.
“Judas, poor man, is the one who closed himself to love and that is why he became a traitor. And they all ran away during the difficult time of the Passion and left Jesus alone. They are all sinners. But (Jesus) chose (regardless).”
And Jesus, the pope added, wants everyone to be inside of the church he founded, not as strangers passing through, but rather with the “rights of a citizen” where they have roots.
The person who stands at the threshold of the Church looking in but not entering has no sense of the full love and mercy that Jesus gives to every person, Francis said, adding that proof of this can be seen in Jesus’ relationship with Peter.
Even though Peter denies the Lord he is still the first pillar of the Church, the pontiff explained. “For Jesus, Peter’s sin was not important: he was looking at (Peter’s) heart. But to be able to find this heart and heal it, he prayed.”
It is Jesus who prays and heals, Pope Francis noted, saying that it is something he does for each one of us.
“We cannot understand the church without Jesus who prays and heals,” he said, praying that the Holy Spirit would help all to understand that the church draws her strength from Jesus’ prayer which can heal us all.
Bombs are falling and the sound of the explosion is sending shock and fear into the hearts of the people. Amid the sound of crying and frenzied activity, people pack up what belongings they can carry and make off into the night.
In the midst of it all, on the night of Aug. 6, stands Martin Baani, a 24-year-old seminarian. It’s dawning on him that this is Karamlesh’s last stand.
For 1,800 years, Christianity has had a home in the hearts and minds of the people of this town so full of antiquity. Now that era is about to be brought to a calamitous end; Islamic State are advancing.
Martin’s mobile phone rings: a friend stammers out the news that the nearby town of Telkaif has fallen to “Da’ash” — the Arabic name for Islamic State. Karamlesh would surely be next.
Martin dashes out of his aunt’s house, where he is staying, and heads for the nearby St Addai’s Church. He takes the Blessed Sacrament, a bundle of official papers, and walks out of the church. Outside a car awaits — his parish priest, Father Thabet, and three other priests are inside.
Martin gets in and the car speeds off. They leave Karamlesh and the last remnants of the village’s Christian presence go with them.
Speaking to Martin in the calm of St. Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa — a suburb of the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil — it is difficult to imagine he is describing anything except a bad dream. But there is nothing dreamy in Martin’s expression. “Until the very last minute, the Peshmerga were telling us it was safe.”
“But then we heard that they were setting up big guns on St Barbara’s Hill (on the edge of the village) and we knew then the situation had become very dangerous.”
Taking stock of that terrible night, Martin’s confidence is bolstered by the presence of 27 other seminarians at St. Peter’s, many with their own stories of escape from the clutches of the Islamic militants.
Martin and his fellow students for the priesthood know that the future is bleak as regards Christianity in Iraq. A community of 1.5 million Christians before 2003 has dwindled to less than 300,000. And of those who remain, more than a third are displaced. Many, if not most, want a new life in a new country.
Martin, however, is not one of them. “I could easily go,” he explains calmly. “My family now live in California. I already have been given a visa to go to America and visit them.”
“But I want to stay. I don’t want to run away from the problem.”
Martin has already made the choice that marks out the priests who have decided to stay in Iraq: his vocation is to serve the people, come what may.
“We must stand up for our rights; we must not be afraid,” he explains to Aid to the Church in Need.
Describing in detail the emergency relief work that has occupied so much of his time, it is plain to see that he feels his place is to be with the people.
Martin is already a subdeacon. Now in his final year of theology, ordination to the priesthood is but a few months away.
“Thank you for your prayers,” says Martin, as I take my leave of him. “We count on your support.”
In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.
“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.
He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”
“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”
Noting that there are many who cohabitate, or are separated or divorced, he explained that the “key” to helping is a pastoral care of “close combat” that assists and patiently accompanies the couple.
Pope Francis offered his words in a question-and-answer format during his audience with members of the Schoenstatt movement, held in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding in Germany.
Roughly 7,500 members of the international Marian and apostolic organization, both lay and clerics from dozens of nations around the world, were present in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the audience.
In his answers to questions regarding marriage, Pope Francis explained that contemporary society has “devalued” the sacrament by turning it into a social rite, removing the most essential element, which is union with God.
“So many families are divided, so many marriages broken, (there is) such relativism in the concept of the Sacrament of Marriage,” he said, noting that from a sociological and Christian point of view “there is a crisis in the family because it’s beat up from all sides and left very wounded!”
In regard to Mary, the Roman Pontiff said that her visit to her cousin Elizabeth is a strong symbol for the movement’s mission, and emphasized how no Christians can call themselves orphans because they have a mother who continues to give them life.
Pope Francis recalled this history of the movement’s foundation, noting how it was started by Father Joseph Kentenich during the First World War. It was after his time in a concentration camp during World War II, the pope noted, that the priest traveled to the peripheries of the world in order to preach the Gospel.
Witness is key to spreading the Gospel, he said, explaining that true witness means living “in such a way that the will to live as we live is born in the heart of others…Living in a way (so that) others are interested and ask: ‘why?’”
However, the bishop of Rome emphasized that although we are called to give this witness, “we are not the saviors of anyone,” but rather are the transmitters of Jesus, who is the one that already saved us all.
True witness propels us out of ourselves and into the streets of the world, the pope continued, repeating his common declaration that a church, movement or community that doesn’t go out of itself “becomes sick.”
“A movement, a church or a community that doesn’t go out, is mistaken,” he said. “Don’t be afraid! Go out in mission, go out on the road. We are walkers.”
In answer to questions regarding how he can be defined as “reckless,” the Roman pontiff admitted that although he can be considered “a little reckless,” he still surrenders himself to prayer, saying that it helps him to place Jesus at the center, rather than himself.
“There is only one center: Jesus Christ — who rather looks at things from the periphery, no? Where he sees things more clearly,” the Pope observed, saying that when closed inside the small worlds of a parish, a community and even the Roman Curia, “then you do not grasp the truth.”
He explained how reality is always seen better from the peripheries rather than the center, and noted how he has seen some episcopal conferences who charge for almost every small thing, where “nothing escapes.”
“Everything is working well, everything is well organized,” the pontiff observed, but they could do with less “functionalism and more apostolic zeal, more interior freedom, more prayer, (and) this interior freedom is the courage to go out.”
When asked about his process of reforming the Roman Curia, Pope Francis explained that often renewal is understood as making small changes here or there, or even making changes out of the necessity of adapting to the times.
But this isn’t true renewal, he said, noting that while there are people every day who say that he needs to renew the Vatican Bank or the Curia, “It’s strange (that) no one speaks of the reform of the heart.”
“They don’t understand anything of what the renewal of the heart means: which is holiness, renewing one’s (own) heart,” the pope observed, saying that a renewed heart is able of going beyond disagreements such as family conflicts, war and those that arise out of the “culture of the provisional.”
He concluded by blessing the missionary crosses of those present, who are called to missionaries in the five continents of the world, and recalled how some time ago he was given an image of the Mother of Schoenstatt, who prays and is always present.
The movement’s encounter with Pope Francis came on the second day of their visit to Rome, which culminated with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica presided over by Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz.
Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako I has suspended a group of monks and priests who fled Iraq without consulting their superiors, saying a priest’s primary duty is to serve his flock wherever he is asked.
“Before his ordination, the ‘Priest’ announces the offering of his whole life to God and the Church. It is an offering grounded in the obedience to his superiors without any conservation,” Patriarch Sako said in his Oct. 22 statement.
“For monks, the vows are absolute; chastity, obedience and poverty. Looking for substitutes is considered a grave violation to the vows.”
Published on the Chaldean Patriarchate’s website, the statement gives the names of six priests and six monks who, as of Oct. 22, have been suspended from their priestly duties for leaving their eparchies without consulting their superiors, and for refusing to return when asked.
The patriarch noted that those who left are currently living in the United States, Canada, Australia and Sweden, and assured that because of this, his decision “is not an act against a certain Eparchy.”
He explained that the decision was made in accord with the monastic context after consulting Canon Law and monastic regulations, as well as speaking with the permanent synod and informing the Vatican’s Congregation of the Oriental Churches.
Patriarch Sako asked that all bishops adhere to Canon Law in order to ensure order in the midst of the crisis unfolding in the Middle East, and to maintain centralization in the Church and Eparchies.
If the decree of suspension is not published, then “confusion will occur and rumors will spread,” the patriarch explained in a Catholic News Agency report.
“Today’s Church, away from compliments, relativity and ambiguity, counts on explicitly revealing the truths to all and not hiding them, so that people may know the truth and have confidence in the Church.”
He said that the objective of the degree itself is to end the “illegal exit” of the priests from their eparchies, and said that it had only been issued after numerous “unfortunately unfruitful” ultimatums and attempts were made on the part of the Chaldean Order superior and other Church authorities to get them to return.
Among the primary duties of a priest are to keep the faith complete, to build up the Mystical Body of Christ and to enhance the unity of his Church, Patriarchate or Eparchy under the guidance of the local ordinary, Patriarch Sako observed.
He explained that a priest is someone who serves “where the Church sends (him) not where he wishes to serve. This is a successive tradition since the Apostolic Age.”
In the Byzantine ordination liturgy, the patriarch breaks the consecrated host into four pieces, giving one of them to the newly ordained priest as a symbol of unity and communion, he pointed out, saying that these values “should never fade because of personal interests!”
Patriarch Sako then spoke of many contemporary priests who have given “eloquent” examples of shedding their blood for their flocks.
He mentioned Hana Qasha from the village of Suria, Ragheed Ganni and Bishop Paulus Faraj Rahho of Mosul, as well as the many priests who have been kidnapped or forced to leave their churches, but have stayed with their flock despite the dangers.
“I remind you, brothers, of Jesus’ saying, ‘He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life,’” the patriarch said, quoting the Gospel of John.
The Church, he continued, is both a mother “who loves her children but does not spoil them, and a teacher who raises, reminds, guides, and corrects the path of her children with responsibility.”
Patriarch Sako then spoke directly to priests serving outside of their eparchies, alluding to the fact that he has documents from the priest’s bishops other than the ones that they have posted online.
The patriarch also forgave some of the priests “from the bottom of my heart” for insulting words that they have directed toward him, and asked that “the merciful God” might also forgive them.
A separate priest, Father Paulus Khuzeran, was personally thanked by Patriarch Sako for deciding to leave where he was staying in the United States, and return to his monestary in obedience to his superiors. Yousif Lazghin, who returned from Australia, was another that the patriarch thanked by name.
If the other priests now officially under suspension will return, their status will be reviewed, he said.
“We plead to all to pray for the Chaldean Church and her progress for the Glory of God and the good of her children,” he said.
The six monks currently under suspension were named as Noel Istepho Gorgis; Andraws Gorgis Toma; Oraha Qardagh Mansour; Patros Solaqa; Ayob Shawkat Adwar, who immigrated recently to Canada; and Fady Isho Hanna, who has already submitted an application the Congregation of the Oriental Churches to be a diocesan priest. He will still be suspended until the potential approval is received.
The six priests named in the decree are Fareed Kena and Faris Yaqo Maroghi, from the Eparchy of Alqosh, both of whom were suspended by Msgr. Michael Maqdasi, Bishop of Alqosh, over a year ago; Remon Hameed and Hurmiz Petros Haddad from the Eparchy of Baghdad; Peter (Petros) Lawrance, from the Eparchy of Basrah then Baghdad; and Yousif (Lazgeen) Abdulahad, from the Eparchy of Zakho and Amadiya.
Letters for the latter two have already been sent to their patriarchates.
Nina Pham, a Dallas nurse who has been battling Ebola after treating a patient in Texas, has now been declared free of the disease, and gave thanks to God and all those who have prayed for her in recent weeks.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to be standing here today,” Pham said in a press conference Oct. 24. “I would first and foremost like to thank God, my family and friends. Throughout this ordeal, I have put my trust in God and my medical team.”
Pham thanked everyone who had been involved in her care, both in Texas and Maryland. She offered special gratitude to Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly for donating plasma, calling it a “selfless act.”
“I believe in the power of prayer because I know so many people all over the world have been praying for me,” she continued. “I join you in prayer now for the recovery of others.”
The 26-year-old nurse, described by friends as a devout Catholic, is believed to have contracted Ebola while caring for a Thomas Eric Duncan, a patient at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. Duncan passed away from Ebola Oct. 8.
Pham was transferred to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland on Oct. 16. Numerous tests have now shown her to be Ebola free, and she will return to Texas to continue regaining strength.
Ebola continues to devastate parts of West Africa. The World Health Organization said that nearly 5,000 deaths had been reported as of Oct. 19, but the true numbers could be as high as 15,000.
Pham’s fellow nurse, Amber Vinson, had also contracted Ebola after caring for Duncan. Vinson is currently being treated. Her family said Oct. 22 that she had tested free of the disease.
Pope Francis on Thursday appointed a new Abbot of Montecassino — the first monastery built by St. Benedict — and at the same time reduced the territory for which the new abbot is responsible.
“The Monastic Community warmly welcomes Father Donato Ogliari as 192nd Ordinary Abbot of the territorial Abbey of Montecassino,” the abbey posted on Twitter Oct. 23.
Abbot Ogliari, O.S.B., who is 57, was professed as a member of the Consolata Missionaries in 1978, and ordained a priest of that institute in 1982. He later transferred to the Order of Saint Benedict, and was solemnly professed there in 1992. Before his appointment as Abbot of Montecassino, Abbot Ogliari had been abbot of Santa Maria della Scala Monastery in Noci, Italy.
The Territorial Abbey of Montecassino had been vacant since June 2013, when Abbot Pietro Vittorelli resigned.
Montecassino is one of the few remaining “territorial abbeys” in the world. This means that the abbey is independent of a diocese, and is in fact its own particular church.
The Code of Canon Law defines a territorial abbacy as “a certain portion of the people of God which is defined territorially and whose care, due to special circumstances, is entrusted to some prelate or abbot who governs it as its proper pastor just like a diocesan bishop.”
While they were more common in the past, a 1976 motu proprio of Bl. Paul VI, Catholica ecclesia, moved toward reordering territorial abbeys so that monks might focus on their proper charism rather than also being responsible for a portion of the people of God.
Many were suppressed, and only 11 remain. There are six in Italy, two in Switzerland, one in Hungary, and one in Austria. There is also one in North Korea, Tokwon, though it has been vacant since its abbot died in 1950.
The U.S. once had a territorial abbey: Belmont Abbey, in North Carolina. The abbey had been founded in 1876, and in 1910 was given the status of territorial abbey, with jurisdiction over the parishes in eight North Carolina counties. Belmont’s territory was reduced twice, in 1944 and 1960, to the point that it retained jurisdiction over one parish. One year after Catholica ecclesia was issued, the territorial abbacy was suppressed and its territory transferred to the Diocese of Charlotte, though it remains an abbey.
Pope Francis’ Oct. 23 decision applied Catholica ecclesia to Montecassino.
Prior to the reorganization, it had been responsible for a territory of 227 square miles, including 53 parishes, 37 priests, 50 women religious, a number of seminarians, and nearly 79,000 faithful total.
Though Montecassino retains the status of territorial abbey, Abbot Ogliari will no longer be responsible for the care of so many faithful.
They have now been transferred to the Diocese of Sora-Aquino-Pontecorvo, which had previously been responsible for 551 square miles and included 91 parishes, 83 diocesan priests, and 175 women religious.
The diocese will now be known as Sora-Cassino-Aquino-Pontecorvo, according to Vatican Radio.
“To the entire diocesan community of Sora-Cassino-Aquino-Pontecorvo I extend my cordial greetings and I entrust my deep trepidation of soul,” Bishop Gerardo Antonazzao wrote to his newly-enlarged diocese Oct. 23, according to a Catholic News Agency report.
“I invite all to prayer for one another, and in a particular way for my episcopal service, invested in an expanded pastoral responsibility. Along with the charity of prayer and of fraternal friendship of the entire diocesan community, I am comforted by the trust accorded by the Holy Father.”
At the consistory on the Middle East, patriarchs gathered to discuss the threats facing local Christians, and focused on the key task of returning displaced families to their homes.
“We are suffering … we feel that we are isolated and that we are forgotten,” Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, told CNA after the Oct. 20 consistory.
“I asked the pope to send a message to Christians, to encourage them to stay home, to keep their hope, and maybe also to visit displaced families to encourage them to stay and not to leave their homes, and to have patience to persevere.”
The Syrian civil war has forced 3 million Syrians, of all religions, to become refugees, with an additional 6.5 million internally displaced. And in Iraq, since the rise of the Islamic State, there are more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons.
Cardinals and patriarchs from the Middle East, together with top officials of the Secretariat of State and interested dicasteries attended the consistory with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Initially set in order to advance the causes of canonization for two blesseds, the consistory’s schedule was expanded by Pope Francis who wanted to dedicate it to discussion surrounding the plight of Christians in the Middle East, taking advantage of the presence of Middle Eastern patriarchs in Rome on the heels of the synod.
Patriarch Sako said that what representatives from the Middle East most want from the international community is further aid in gaining back the Christian towns in Iraq’s Nineveh province from the Islamic State so that displaced families can go home and “continue their life as it was before.”
Although multiple countries have launched airstrikes against the Islamic State, Patriarch Sako explained that it is not enough, and would like to see “something on the ground” that will help regain the fallen cities.
“We know that just bombing and killing people is not a solution,” he said. “But also, when they are killing innocent people and destroying houses” there needs to be a military action.
In the long run, Patriarch Sako said, it is necessary “to destroy this kind of ideology with a new culture, new programs of religious instruction; and also, religious leaders should refuse this fundamentalism.”
He also extended a personal invitation to the Pope to visit Iraq in order to “encourage Christians and Muslims to live together, and also to push forward the culture of dialogue and peace, and to resolve problems with negotiations.”
Another participant in the consistory, Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Syriac Patriarch of Antioch, told CNA Oct. 20 that at this moment, Christian in the Middle East “are facing a very, very critical phase in their history.”
One of their great concerns, he said, is that Christians and other persecuted minorities have no means of defending themselves against Islamist militants, and so they are completely dependent upon military force exercised by their countries’ governments and by the international community.
Patriarch Younan said, “We are calling again on the powers of this world, international societies, to be faithful to the principles of the Charter of Human Rights from 1948: that we have the right to live as true citizens in dignity and freedom.”
Many families are scattered or lost, he said, and are living under “precarious conditions” in tents at makeshift camps, facing terrorism and the loss of their homes.
“These are our challenges,” Patriarch Younan explained, saying that in the consistory he and the other patriarchs made sure Pope Francis “understood the sum of all our drama,” particularly the fact that at this moment “we don’t know what to do to respond to (our people’s) questions — if they can return to their homes or not.”
Yostinos Boulos Safar, who is the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Zahle and Bekaa, in Lebanon, attended both the Synod on the Family and the following consistory as an ecumenical observer.
Speaking to CNA Oct. 17, he expressed his hope that the consistory would result in concrete solutions for the challenges present in the Middle East.
His own nation — whose population in 2011 was slightly more than 4 million — has since then become home to well over 1 million Syrian refugees.
Although it’s not possible to expect anything immediate, he said, “just to meet is something important. Just to talk is starting to resolve the problems.”