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Dark to light: Buried under scaffolding, Holy Stairs set for resurrection

Dark to light: Buried under scaffolding, Holy Stairs set for resurrection

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With large sheets of plain plywood blocking public access to the Holy Stairs, one woman lovingly touched a large color photograph of the stairs, made the sign of the cross, lowered her head and prayed.

For centuries, the faithful have climbed up the 28 steps in prayer on their knees.

But the popular devotion has been put on hold for an entire year, and the tall placard depicting the staircase is all the public can see as a team of Vatican restorers complete the final phase of a 20-year effort to repair the sanctuary of the Holy Stairs and clean its 18,300 square feet of frescoes.

According to tradition, the Holy Stairs are the ones Jesus climbed when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd and handed him over to be crucified. It's said that Constantine's mother, St. Helen, brought the stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D.

In 1589, Pope Sixtus V had the sanctuary specially built and decorated for the stairs and the Sancta Sanctorum above, which houses some of the oldest relics of Rome's early Christian martyrs and a silver- and jewel-covered Byzantine image of Christ.

The 16th-century pope wanted the sanctuary not only to preserve the important relics, but also to express the essentials of the faith through an abundance of vivid, colorful images describing key events in the Old and New Testaments, said Mary Angela Schroth, a Rome art gallery curator who has been involved in the restoration project.

"Since the faithful often did not read or write, the stories came to life" through images, she told Catholic News Service in mid-July. And so, "every square inch" of the sanctuary -- its two chapels, five staircases, vaulted ceilings and broad, high walls -- were covered in frescoes and decorative art.

"This was meant to amaze and attract the public," she said.

But the illustrative gems slowly vanished over the centuries as dirt, grime, water damage and primitive or aggressive restoration techniques discolored or covered up what lay beneath. Add poor lighting to the mix and the dingy, gloomy space no longer did what it was designed to do: be a completely immersive physical, spiritual experience with visual cues accompanying the faithful on their journey toward the Sancta Sanctorum, said Paolo Violini, the Vatican Museums' top expert in fresco restoration.

With initial help from the Getty Foundation in 2000 and then through the generosity of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, both the St. Lawrence and St. Sylvester chapels and the four stairwells -- two sets on either side of the central stairwell of the Holy Stairs -- have been fully restored.

With the central staircase restoration planned to be completed by the end of the year and the front atrium at the end of 2019, it will have taken 11 modern-day restorers nearly two decades to resurrect what 40 artists created in less than two years in the 16th-century. But the careful craft of restoration has paid off, allowing today's visitors the privilege of seeing, after 400 years, the original decorative beauty Pope Sixtus' painters had conceived, Violini said.

People barely glanced at the darkened surfaces before the restoration, Schroth said, but now with "these glorious colors" and proper lighting, visitors are doing more than just looking, "they are observing and studying these stories" and recalling their meaning.

The sanctuary's rector, Passionist Father Francesco Guerra, told CNS that Christian art in sacred spaces is not just some extraneous, decorative flourish, but is a medium as powerful as the spoken and written word, created to explain and share the faith and bring the faithful into a deeper, closer relationship with God.

The sanctuary, which is entrusted to the care and protection of the Passionist fathers, powerfully exemplifies this visual catechism, which exists in so many churches and shrines, but needs "re-evaluating" and re-emphasizing today, he said.

Paul Encinias, director of the Rome-based Eternal City Tours, told CNS that when he has taken groups to the Holy Stairs, their focus is inward -- on their individual prayers and intentions -- as they climb each step on their knees.

"Twenty-first century Catholic pilgrims are far removed from artistic narratives," he said, and they are "not used to these visual cues" that surround them, so the purpose and meaning of such artwork would probably have to be explained.

Nonetheless, some of the visitors Encinias brings to pray on the Holy Stairs often have "a strong emotional" experience as they pray and reflect on life's problems or trials.

"We're usually afraid of suffering," and most homilies don't dwell on it, he said. But because the Holy Stairs tour encourages people to connect with Christ's passion, "something hits home" and people realize "Christ is with us always, even in our suffering."

Even though while the Holy Stairs are closed the sanctuary has offered a side staircase for the same devotional practice of praying on one's knees, there were only about a dozen people using the alternative staircase late morning on a July weekday. On average, about 3,000 people visit the sanctuary each day.

Father Guerra said Pope Francis has underlined the importance of traditional, popular devotions and pilgrimages to sanctuaries and sacred places. People are made up of "spirit and intellect, but we are also flesh, emotions, feelings," he said.

In the Bible, when Jesus performs a miracle, "he touches the person, he puts his fingers in the ears of the deaf man" and takes the hand a dead girl to bring her back to life, the priest said.

This physical contact, which is an inseparable part of one's humanity, is a key feature of the Holy Stairs, he said. By climbing the stairs on one's knees and reflecting on Christ's passion, "people feel in union with Jesus, they feel understood by Jesus, they feel loved by God."

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Prosperity gospel' props up policies lacking compassion, journal says

'Prosperity gospel' props up policies lacking compassion, journal says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The "prosperity gospel" that U.S. President Donald Trump and many of his advisers and followers seem to espouse does not promote solidarity for the common good, but sees God as giving his blessings to the rich and punishing the poor, said an influential Jesuit journal.

The philosophy "is used as a theological justification for economic neo-liberalism" and is "a far cry from the positive and enlightening prophecy of the American dream that has inspired many," said the article in La Civilta Cattolica, a journal reviewed at the Vatican before publication.

The article was written by the journal's editor, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, and by Marcelo Figueroa, an evangelical pastor, who is director of the Argentine edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In an email, Father Spadaro described the article as "what I consider the second part of our article on the relationship between politics and fundamentalism in the United States."

The first article, published in July last year, was titled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism" and examined what the authors saw as growing similarities in the rhetoric and world views adopted by some evangelical fundamentalists and some "militant" Catholic hardliners.

They decried what they saw as an "ecumenism of hate" resulting from the political alliance in the United States of Christian fundamentalists and Catholic "integralists."

The article set off widespread debate, ranging from criticism that it was a superficial reading of the U.S. reality from the outside to praise for shining a light on ways that some tenets of the Christian faith have been manipulated for political gain.

The new article describes the "prosperity gospel" as a theological current that emerged from neo-Pentecostal evangelical communities in the United States and is thriving now in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, South Korea, China, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

"At its heart is the belief that God wants his followers to have a prosperous life, that is, to be rich, healthy and happy," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote. In such a view, opulence and well-being are "the true signs of divine delight."

The modern "prosperity gospel" owes much, they said, to E.W. Kenyon, a U.S. pastor who lived 1867-1948, and "maintained that through the power of faith you can change what is concrete and real," the Civilta article said. "A direct conclusion of this belief is that faith can lead to riches, health and well-being, while lack of faith leads to poverty, sickness and unhappiness."

"In the United States millions of people regularly go to the megachurches that spread the prosperity gospel," the article said. Preachers including "Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and others have increased their popularity and wealth thanks to their focus on knowing this gospel, emphasizing it and pushing it to its limits."

They see the purpose of faith as being to win God's favor, which is demonstrated in material wealth and physical health, a position that is "far removed from the life of conversion usually taught by the traditional evangelical movements," Father Spadaro and Figueroa wrote.

The teachings of the prosperity gospel have obvious implications for how a believer in that philosophy views and treats others, they said. "There can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God."

The philosophy, they said, promotes policies that are "unjust and radically anti-evangelical."

"One of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effect on the poor," the authors wrote. The philosophy "not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook," which allows them to wash their hands of the obligation to work for justice and accept sacrifices for the common good.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Deacons’ ministry of presence will be in forefront at upcoming congress

The 18,000 deacons in the United States exercise a ministry of presence, bringing the healing and hope-filled message of Jesus Christ to people they encounter daily in their parishes, other ministries and workplaces.

The post Deacons’ ministry of presence will be in forefront at upcoming congress appeared first on Superior Catholic Herald.

Seeking to support abbey, English monks brew ale — ‘seriously nice’

Cistercian monks have opened the first Trappist brewery in England and are selling thousands of bottles of beer every day.

The post Seeking to support abbey, English monks brew ale — ‘seriously nice’ appeared first on Superior Catholic Herald.

‘Weeping’ statue of Mary investigated by N.M. diocese

A New Mexican diocese is investigating a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that some Catholics say has been “weeping” for more than a month.

The post ‘Weeping’ statue of Mary investigated by N.M. diocese appeared first on Superior Catholic Herald.

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 Is 10:5-7, 13b-16

Thus says the LORD:
Woe to Assyria! My rod in anger,
my staff in wrath.
Against an impious nation I send him,
and against a people under my wrath I order him
To seize plunder, carry off loot,
and tread them down like the mud of the streets.
But this is not what he intends,
nor does he have this in mind;
Rather, it is in his heart to destroy,
to make an end of nations not a few.

For he says:
“By my own power I have done it,
and by my wisdom, for I am shrewd.
I have moved the boundaries of peoples,
their treasures I have pillaged,
and, like a giant, I have put down the enthroned.
My hand has seized like a nest
the riches of nations;
As one takes eggs left alone,
so I took in all the earth;
No one fluttered a wing,
or opened a mouth, or chirped!”

Will the axe boast against him who hews with it?
Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it?
As if a rod could sway him who lifts it,
or a staff him who is not wood!
Therefore the Lord, the LORD of hosts,
will send among his fat ones leanness,
And instead of his glory there will be kindling
like the kindling of fire.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 94:5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 14-15

R. (14a) The Lord will not abandon his people.
Your people, O LORD, they trample down,
your inheritance they afflict.
Widow and stranger they slay,
the fatherless they murder.
R. The Lord will not abandon his people.
And they say, “The LORD sees not;
the God of Jacob perceives not.”
Understand, you senseless ones among the people;
and, you fools, when will you be wise?
R. The Lord will not abandon his people.
Shall he who shaped the ear not hear?
or he who formed the eye not see?
Shall he who instructs nations not chastise,
he who teaches men knowledge?
R. The Lord will not abandon his people.
For the LORD will not cast off his people,
nor abandon his inheritance;
But judgment shall again be with justice,
and all the upright of heart shall follow it.
R. The Lord will not abandon his people

Alleluia Mt 11:25

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 11:25-27

At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
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Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

India's Sister Prema condemns trafficking, says nuns not involved

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By

NEW DELHI (CNS) -- Facing child trafficking allegations at one of its homes for unmarried mothers in India, the Missionaries of Charity said the order condemns the actions of individuals involved and stressed that these are unrelated to the order.

A baby born in Nirmal Hriday (Tender Heart) home in the eastern Indian city of Ranchi was not handed over to state adoption authorities after the mother had declared her intention to do so, Sister Mary Prema Pierick, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, said in a July 17 statement from Kolkata.

"We are fully cooperating with the investigations and are open to any free, fair and just inquiry," Sister Prema said, noting that "false news" "and "baseless innuendos" are being spread.

"While we place our full trust in the judicial process that is underway, we wish to express regret and sorrow for what happened," she said.

The order condemns "in unequivocal terms" the individual actions "which have nothing to do with the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity," she said.

Police maintained that Jharkhand state's Child Welfare Committee came to suspect the home was involved in the illegal trading of children after a couple complained they were not given a child, despite paying 120,000 rupees (US$1,850) as an adoption fee.

Sister Concelia, whose duties as sister in charge of the home in Jharkhand state included accompanying mothers and babies to the welfare committee, which handles adoptions, was assisted by Anima Indwar, Sister Prema said.

Indwar had been employed by the home, which is part of the mission for children and unwed mothers of the order founded by St. Teresa of Kolkata in 1950, since 2012 and had come "to enjoy the trust of the sisters," she said.

Sister Prema's statement said Karishma Toppo, who had been in the home for about six weeks before her baby was born May 1, had declared in the home's register her intention to "surrender her child" to the welfare committee.

While Indwar, Toppo and her guardian took the baby from the home to do this, neither the home nor the sisters "had any way to ascertain whether the child was actually surrendered" to the welfare services, she said.

When she admitted to the welfare committee early July that the baby had not been given to them, Indwar was handed over to police, Sister Prema said.

Sister Concelia was arrested and her superior, Sister Marie Deanne, was questioned and held in police custody overnight, she said.

The following day, the home's 11 mothers, a baby and a guardian were removed from the home by the welfare services, Sister Prema said.

The women "were subjected to utmost humiliation and public embarrassment by the officials as they were carried in full view of the media," she said.

Another Missionaries of Charity home in Hinoo was raided by police soon afterward, with its 22 children, including a one-month-old baby, "carried away" by authorities, Sister Prema said.

"It is distressing that" the welfare committee "meted out such treatment to a home which," weeks before, officials had "described as having an 'excellent environment for the care of children,'" she said.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

U.S. Bishops Approved $1.4 million in Funding for Church in Africa for Pastoral Projects

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Subcommittee on the Church in Africa has approved 54 grants totaling $1.4 million in funding to support dioceses and pastoral projects across the African continent.

Projects slated to receive funding through the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa include the following:

● In Lesotho, Radio Maria offers Christian educational programs designed to enrich the faith and improve the lives of its listeners. This grant will help Radio Maria to install three new transmitting stations, which will allow their programs to reach the entire Lesotho population.

● In Ghana, the Diocese of Wa's newly established Child Protection Office seeks to create a new culture where safeguarding children is the responsibility of all. This grant will support the diocese to organize training for the Diocesan and School Child Protection Teams, clergy, religious and pastoral agents. The workshops will convey information and create sensitivity on protection of children and vulnerable adults, promote creation of safe environments for children, offer skill development, and help the diocese develop policies, as well as liaise with government and civil society on child protection.

● In Rwanda, the Episcopal Conference continues to promote reconciliation and peace education following the genocide. This grant will allow the Conference to translate conflict prevention materials into the local language of Kinyarwanda to be used within Catholic schools across the country.

"Through the generous support of the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa, the Catholics of the United States show that we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Africa and recognize their courageous commitment to peace, justice, reconciliation, and Christian hope throughout the continent," said Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, of Newark, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Church in Africa.

Additional areas of funding include seminarian and religious formation, evangelization, family ministries, and lay leadership training.

The Subcommittee on the Church in Africa oversees the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa as part of the USCCB Committee on National Collections. It allocates revenue received from the Solidarity Fund, which is a voluntary collection, as pastoral grants to episcopal conferences and their regional associations in Africa. To learn more about the work of the Subcommittee visit www.usccb.org/africa.

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Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Subcommittee on the Church in Africa, grants, training, pastoral care, Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa

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