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Pope Francis: Christ the Good Shepherd ‘looks for us until he finds us’ when we’re lost

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on April 21, 2024, at the Vatican. / Credit: Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Apr 21, 2024 / 09:36 am (CNA).

Pope Francis reflected on the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd during his Regina Caeli address Sunday, noting that it is a role characterized by his sacrificial love.

“Jesus explains that he is not a hired man who cares nothing for the sheep but a man who knows them,” the pope said on April 21, the fourth Sunday of Easter, which is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday because it is the theme of the day’s Gospel. “It is true, he knows us, he calls us by our name and, when we are lost, he looks for us until he finds us.”

Pope Francis explained that Christ’s role as a shepherd introduced a new logic, observing that he is not acting as a guide or “the head of the flock” but is instead “living in symbiosis” with his people.

“This is what the Lord wants to tell us with the image of the Good Shepherd: not only that he is the guide, the head of the flock, but above all that he thinks of each of us as the love of his life,” the pope said to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ address and Regina Caeli prayer on April 21, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media
Pilgrims gather in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis’ address and Regina Caeli prayer on April 21, 2024, at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis emphasized the sacrificial component of the role of the shepherd, observing that Jesus “is not just a good shepherd who shares the life of the flock” but “is the Good Shepherd who has sacrificed his life for us and has given us his Spirit through his resurrection.”

The pope asked the faithful to meditate upon this sacrificial dimension of the shepherd so that we bear in mind that “for Christ, I am important, irreplaceable, worth the infinite price of his life.”

“It is not just a way of speaking,” the pope added, “he truly gave his life for me, he died and rose again for me because he loves me and he finds in me a beauty that I often do not see myself.”

The pope also cautioned against the temptation to measure our value based on “trivial things,” such as “the goals we achieve” or “on whether we succeed in the eyes of the world, on the judgments of others.”

“In order to find ourselves, the first thing to do is to place ourselves in his presence, allowing ourselves to be welcomed and lifted up by the loving arms of our Good Shepherd,” the pope said.

The Holy Father also drew attention to Sunday’s celebration of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which he observed as an “opportunity to rediscover the Church as a community characterized by a polyphony of charisms and vocations at the service of the Gospel.”

Following the recitation of the Regina Caeli, the pope renewed his appeal for peace in the Middle East, imploring leaders not to “give in to the logic of vengeance and war” but instead to let “the paths of dialogue and diplomacy prevail, which can do a lot.”

“I pray every day for peace in Palestine and Israel and I hope that those two peoples can soon stop suffering,” he said.

Vocations Day in Spain: The Church supports 725 seminaries in mission lands

Father Nicéforo Obama from Equatorial Guinea was able to be trained as a priest thanks to the Pontifical Mission Societies. / Credit: OMP

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 21, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

On Sunday, April 21, in addition to celebrating the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Catholic Church in Spain also celebrates what it calls "Native Vocations Day," to support and provide formation for those who feel called to the priesthood and consecrated life in other countries so that no one is prevented from pursuing a vocation due to lack of resources.

The Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle is in charge of this effort, one of the four Pontifical Mission Societies that in different ways provides the resources to maintain 725 seminaries around the world.

In Asia, these seminaries (152 minor, 13 preparatory, and 62 major) serve more than 15,000 candidates for the priesthood. In Africa, more than 67,000 seminarians attend the 225 minor, 116 preparatory, and 142 major seminaries. In Asia, thanks to the Pontifical Mission Societies, 112 future priests are undergoing formation in five major seminaries, while in the mission lands of the Americas, 157 seminarians are in formation, distributed across one minor seminary, two preparatory, and seven major seminaries, according to data from the Pontifical Mission Societies.

To support these seminaries, in 2023 the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle allocated more than 16 million euros (about $17 million), which helped support more than 83,000 seminarians and 2,000 formators.

The aid is intended to cover an annual subsidy for living and enrollment expenses, which represents the largest item (78% of the total). The rest is used for the construction and maintenance of the buildings, with means to self-finance, support for formators, scholarships, and to support the first year of formation for the novitiates of religious congregations originating in mission territories.

One priest’s story

Father Nicéforo Obama learned to read with the Spanish Carmelite missionaries of Charity of St. Joaquina de Vedruna, who went to spread the Gospel in Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s. As a young child, he discovered his priestly vocation and soon entered the minor seminary. He was ordained a priest a decade ago.

During a meeting held April 16 in Madrid, Obama explained that the first thing he noticed when he reached the age of reason was the Church and the charitable works of the nuns, which made him wonder: “Why do these young girls leave Spain, their people, to work here; what will they be gaining from it?”

All of this was causing him inner anxiety. In primary school, he could see the vulnerability of the human condition and found that “Jesus is the one who gives meaning to life and the one who has the answers to the great questions that human beings have,” he explained. This led him to decide to become a priest, not only “to find the answer in Jesus but to help others find these answers.”

After going through the minor seminary, he attended the interdiocesan major seminary, which was run by the Diocese of Ávila in an agreement with the Spanish Bishops’ Conference.

“If your parents don’t have enough to eat, how are they going to support a vocation?” he asked, to give an example of the typical mentality in mission lands where people don’t always understand “how you can invest in a student who isn’t going to generate income for the family.”

The priest explained that unlike the governments in developed countries, in mission lands the Church also provides health care, education, and charitable assistance in addition to its mission to catechize and provide the sacraments.  Thus, “supporting one of these vocations is helping many people.”

The Pontifical Mission Societies has a website (in Spanish) dedicated to vocations in other countries where testimonies are shared, specific details of different projects are explained, and there is an opportunity to make a donation.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Historic New York church with link to John Paul II struggles to stay open

The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. / Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A historic Polish Catholic church in Buffalo, New York — one with a unique connection to St. John Paul II — is facing tens of thousands of dollars in bills that threaten to close the nearly-century-old structure.

Father Czeslaw Krysa, SLD, the parochial vicar of St. Casimir, said the Buffalo Diocese has given the church a deadline of August to pay its outstanding accounts. Among those is $55,000 in annual insurance costs, up recently from $32,000.

Joe Martone, a spokesman for the Buffalo Diocese, said that the diocesan vicar for renewal and development, Father Bryan Zielenieski, “communicated in February to the pastor of the family of parishes [of which] St. Casimir is a member that the church had entered a one-year evaluation period to determine its financial viability.”

“Our diocese is in a family of parishes model, and the families are currently evaluating all aspects of parish life including financial sustainability,” Martone said.

The Buffalo Diocese in 2020 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of compensation for victims of clergy sex abuse. The diocese in March announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo after nearly 40 years at that location. 

The exterior of St. Casimir church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
The exterior of St. Casimir church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

Supporters of St. Casimir recently launched a GoFundMe effort to preserve the historic church and its worship community. Krysa said the church itself has “been in the black for nine out of the last 12 years,” in part because it is entirely volunteer-run. The church is also in the process of selling its social center, formerly the parish school, located several blocks away.

Krysa, who was first introduced to the church as a seminarian years ago, said St. Casimir operates “more like a shrine” than a traditional parish. 

“We have a core group that runs the place and worships each Sunday,” he said. “And then we have what we call ‘event liturgies,’ which draw people like they were coming to a shrine.”

“These are liturgies that are not available at other parishes in the diocese,” he said.

‘An exquisite example of old Byzantine architecture’

The cornerstone of Buffalo’s St. Casimir Catholic Church was laid in 1927 and the structure was completed in 1929. It has stood for nearly 100 years, displaying what one local architecture critic calls “an exquisite example of old Byzantine architecture” reminiscent of the world-famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The cornerstone of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa
The cornerstone of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

The church’s richly adorned exterior includes multiple cupolas, a towering 65-foot dome, and a large rose window on a facade set off by eight stone millions. Visible on the facade is a terra cotta mural depicting Christ the King, St. Casimir, St. Stanislaus, and St. Hyacinth.

The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa
The dome of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Chuck LaChiusa

The interior of the church, meanwhile, includes murals by Marion Rzeznik, a Polish native born in 1899. Among its architectural features are a fully preserved ambo including the original abat-voix, a barrel-vaulted and coffered ceiling, statuary lining both sides of the pews, and the original ad orientem high altar over which is a rendering of the coronation of Mary, the Mother of God. 

Interior details and confessionals of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
Interior details and confessionals of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

Krysa told CNA that the church offers Masses that employ the “five senses” — sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.  

“During every single worship, liturgy, or devotion, all the five senses are engaged in praising and experiencing God,” the priest said.

The altar of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
The altar of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

“Our main mission is to continue our heritage, which is an ethnic Roman Catholic heritage,” the priest added. He explained that though the church started out as a Polish parish, “we’re diversifying.”

St. Casimir was first made an oratory in 2009 before receiving its present free-standing designation in 2011, Krysa said.The free-standing designation means that the church “is canonically aligned with the diocese,” Martone told CNA. “Other churches in New York are separately incorporated. So, St. Casimir is a free-standing church under the administrative jurisdiction of the diocese.”

The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com
The nave of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York. Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

Hosting the future Pope John Paul II

The church’s Polish roots became known around the country in 1976 when St. Casimir was paid a visit by then-Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła. The prelate in two years’ time would go on to be elected Pope John Paul II.

Wojtyła was visiting the United States as part of that year’s International Eucharistic Congress; during his visit he traveled across the country, stopping in Buffalo to visit the city’s large population of Polish immigrants. 

“He was awestruck about this church. He loved it,” David Grzybek, a lifelong member of the parish, told the Buffalo News last month.

Wojtyła stayed two days at the parish. The bedroom in which he stayed has since been preserved as a memorial to the historic pope, its spartan interior remaining identical in appearance to when the cardinal slept there nearly 50 years ago. The room is used by the faithful for prayers, Krysa told CNA.

Catholic Church in Cuba offers to facilitate dialogue between government and opposition

People queue to buy food in Havana on March 27, 2024. Claims of lack of food coupled with long blackouts, which affected almost the entire Cuban population in recent weeks, led hundreds of people to demonstrate on March 17 in at least four cities in the country, in the largest protests recorded since the historic anti-government marches of July 11, 2021. / Credit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

ACI Prensa Staff, Apr 20, 2024 / 10:30 am (CNA).

The deputy secretary of the Cuban Bishops’ Conference, Father Ariel Suárez, said that the Catholic Church is available to facilitate dialogue “if the different political actors” would agree to it in order to find a solution to the crisis in the country.

In an interview with NBC News, the priest referred to protests that once again shook the country, this time in March on the eastern end of the island.

“In the protests of last March 17, this pain turned into a cry, in a cry that was heard and that has been accepted, shall we say, by all the levels of the country,” Suárez said.

The deputy secretary of the Cuban Bishops’ Conference said that “at least everyone has agreed to consider that this cry reflected anguish, reflected desperation, and that people were asking obviously for a different situation than the one they were going through.”

On March 17, thousands of people took to the streets due to the shortage of food, medicine, and the constant power outages that make daily life more difficult. Despite the promises from the communist regime, the energy supply problems have continued, and on Thursday there were power outages lasting about six hours.

According to the Diario de Cuba, the cause is supposedly eight generators that are out of service either for breakdowns or for maintenance and another 32 that were out for lack of fuel.

In addition, there is the constant emigration of Cubans from the country, mainly to the United States.

Given this scenario, Suárez noted that “the bishops have called for prayer so that solutions can be found, so we can find a way out of this distressing situation, so that those in power may have the wisdom and the boldness when making decisions that will benefit people’s lives.”

The bishops “have noted the pain people are in and have also asked the Church, if the different political actors agree, to offer a space for dialogue, a meeting place” between all “these different but not necessarily contradictory positions.”

The priest expressed his desire that these different positions “won’t be hostile” to one another and that “they can help find the concrete solutions that this people needs.”

“We Cubans can love Cuba with different visions, with different perspectives,” the deputy secretary stated, asking citizens “to put above all those differences the love for Cuba and the desire to improve the life of its people now and in the future.”

In addition to the serious economic situation, the nongovernmental organization Prisoner Defenders noted that the communist regime — in power since 1959 — currently holds 1,092 political prisoners, a situation that has also been denounced by the opposition inside and outside Cuba.

On several occasions, the leaders of dissident organizations — not legally recognized by the government and therefore constant victims of acts of repression — have indicated that the solution lies in a peaceful transition of Cuba toward a democracy that guarantees human rights and civil liberties for the people.

This story was first publishedby ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Jesuit priest: Stories of Rwandan women ‘scarred by genocide’ must be told

Father Marcel Uwineza. / Credit: Sister Olga Massango/Daughters of St. Paul

ACI Africa, Apr 20, 2024 / 09:30 am (CNA).

Women who were sexually assaulted, infected with diseases, and forced into exile, among other brutalities during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis, remain deeply scarred three decades later, and their stories must be told, a Rwandan-born Jesuit priest has said.

According to Father Marcel Uwineza, telling the stories of the women, “who have endured deep wounds and carried heavy burdens all their lives,” gives a voice to the women who, he said, “were practically silenced by the genocide.”

In an April 14 interview with ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, Uwineza, who serves as principal of the Nairobi-based Hekima University College, said that Rwandan women have wounds that manifest today as the country marks 30 years since the April 7–July 19, 1994, genocide against the Tutsis.

“Many women in Rwanda have had to carry with them long years of suffering because of bringing up children who were conceived through rape,” Uwineza said. “Others were infected with HIV and have had to live with the condition all their lives. Many carry scars on their bodies because of the beatings they endured. Others had to carry the burden of their families because their husbands were killed. They not only carry the wounds of history but the burden of having to tell the story of their resilience as well.”

Some of the women, for fear of reprisal, have not shared about their horrifying encounters in the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed and millions displaced. An estimated 75% of the Tutsi population are said to have died in the mass killings.

Other women who were sexually molested also preferred to keep silent fearing that they would never find a husband if they opened up about the rape, Uwineza said, adding that others feared that they would be rejected by their families. Still, he said, others were afraid that by speaking about the abuse, they would be asked to testify in public.

Uwineza said it is important that the stories of resilience of women who suffered the genocide against Tutsis and moderate Hutus be told “because 30 years is a big milestone.”

“It is important that the world knows how women can turn a test into a testimony, and a mess into a message,” he said.

Alluding to title of his book “Risen from the Ashes: Theology as Autobiography in Post-Genocide Rwanda,” he added: “In what had appeared as complete brokenness, resurrection has happened for many of these women.”

Uwineza recalled that in Rwanda’s 100 days of genocide against Tutsis, many women went into exile. Some, he said, joined the armed struggle in their effort to come back home when they felt they had no rights in their host countries.

According to Uwineza, women in Rwanda still carry with them wounds from a Church that abandoned them, where many were killed after they went to seek solace.

Rwanda’s story of affliction is better told by those who experienced it, Uwineza, who also lost his parents in the 1994 genocide, shared with ACI Africa. “History is often told from the perspective of winners,” he said. “But it is important to listen to the stories of the wounded.”

“Survivors are often the best authority when stories of struggle and resilience are told. When we speak, we give voice to those who were meant to be silenced in the genocide. Speaking is giving witness to their lives,” he said.

Those who suffered in the genocide also “left an unfinished agenda,” he said. “Telling their stories is joining their fight for dignity.”

Uwineza said the story of the genocide against the Tutsis must also continuously be told to counter the narratives of genocide deniers, who he said are on the rise, especially on social media platforms.

It is also important that other countries learn from Rwanda that violence leaves behind deep wounds, and some of these wounds never heal, Uwineza further said.

“Unfortunately, the only lesson we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything; we don’t seem to have learned from what happened in Rwanda,” he lamented.

Uwineza underlined the need for Rwanda to engage with its history, painful as it may be. 

“After the genocide, we stopped teaching the history of Rwanda because the history we had was very divisive. But we can’t continue ignoring our past if we have to move forward,” he said. “Messy as it has been, it is our past. We therefore must engage it and own it. We all were wounded, and therefore, we need constructive history that will unite us.”

To heal, Rwanda also needs “a prophetic Church,” he told ACI Africa. 

“At the time of the genocide, the Rwandan population was around 80% Christian. Yet all these merciless killings happened, some at religious places. As a Church, we must stop and ask ourselves what went wrong,” Uwineza said. 

“We must develop a theology of hope and reparation that looks back to where we went wrong and one that envisions a better future so that these things are not repeated,” he continued.

“We must also acknowledge that some leaders in the Church made mistakes and that they do not represent the Church. We must also recognize Christian heroes who were killed trying to save lives,” he said.

According to Uwineza, a prophetic Church must also look at who is missing at the table of dialoguing into a better future. “Are women included at this table, given that they have made a lot of contributions in the civil society spaces?” he asked.

On April 11, Uwineza gave an address at Villanova University on the topic “Women Peace-builders in Rwanda Since Genocide,” highlighting how a section of the Rwandan women affected by the genocide have risen above their wounds to contribute to the healing process of the country.

He said that since the genocide, the status of Rwandan women has improved. 

“Alongside their male counterparts, women chose to look beyond the horizon of tragedy. Women’s participation in associations, credit groups, and farm cooperatives has grown greatly,” Uwineza said, noting that women in the Rwandan Parliament have promoted laws that protect women against gender-based violence.

Additionally, after the genocide, women joined support groups and organizations such as Pro-Femmes, an advocacy organization for women; Abasa, an association of women who were the sole survivors of the genocide in their families; and Ineza, a sewing cooperative of women living with HIV as a result of the genocide.

“These women created a new landscape where they could breathe new air through their work and sharing of experiences. Others forged a new future for their children,” Uwineza told ACI Africa on April 14.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

Pope Francis to canonize new female saint known as ‘an apostle of the Holy Spirit’

Blessed Elena Guerra. / Credit: Oblates of the Holy Spirit

Rome Newsroom, Apr 20, 2024 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Elena Guerra, paving the way for the canonization of a new female saint known as “an apostle of the Holy Spirit.”

A friend of Pope Leo XIII and the teacher of St. Gemma Galgani, Elena Guerra (1835–1914) is known for her spiritual writings and her passionate devotion to the Holy Spirit.

Guerra wrote more than a dozen letters to Pope Leo XIII between 1895 and 1903 in which she urged him to exhort all Catholics to call upon the Holy Spirit in prayer.

The pope heeded Guerra’s request and published three documents on the Holy Spirit during their correspondence, including a letter asking the entire Church to pray a novena to the Holy Spirit leading up to Pentecost in 1895 and his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum Illud Munus, in 1897.

“Pentecost is not over,” Guerra wrote. “In fact, it is continually going on in every time and in every place, because the Holy Spirit desired to give himself to all men and all who want him can always receive him, so we do not have to envy the apostles and the first believers; we only have to dispose ourselves like them to receive him well, and he will come to us as he did to them.”

Guerra is the foundress of the Oblates of the Holy Spirit, a religious congregation recognized by the Church in 1882.

Pope John XXIII called Guerra “a modern-day apostle of the Holy Spirit” as he beatified her in 1959.

The life of Elena Guerra

Born into a noble family in Lucca, Italy in 1835, Guerra was well-educated and formed in her faith.

For much of her 20s, Guerra was bedridden with a serious illness, a challenge that turned out to be transformational for her as she dedicated herself to meditating on Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.

Guerra felt the call to consecrate herself to God during a pilgrimage to Rome with her father after her recovery. She attended the third public session of Vatican I in St. Peter’s Basilica in April 1870 and later met Pope Pius IX on June 23, 1870.

“At the sight of Pope Pius IX she was so moved that, upon returning to Lucca, she vowed to offer her life for the pope,” according to the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Against the wishes of her family, in her mid-30s Guerra formed a religious community dedicated to education, which eventually became the Oblates of the Holy Spirit.

One of her students, St. Gemma Galgani, wrote in her autobiography about the strong spiritual impact of her education by the Oblate sisters. Guerra personally taught Galgani French and Church history and exempted Galgani from the monthly school fee when her father fell into bankruptcy.

During her correspondence with Pope Leo XIII, Guerra also composed prayers to the Holy Spirit, including a Holy Spirit Chaplet, asking the Lord to “send forth your spirit and renew the world.”

The religious founder faced difficulties in the last years of her life when some of her sisters accused her of bad administration, leading her to resign from her duties as superior.

Guerra died on Holy Saturday on April 11, 1914. Her tomb is located in Lucca in the Church of Sant’Agostino. The Oblate sisters whom Guerra founded continue her mission today in Italy, Cameroon, Canada, Philippines, and Rwanda.

The miracle

Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to Guerra’s intercession that involved the healing of a man named Paulo in Uberlândia, Brazil, in 2010 after he fell from a tree and ended up in a coma with a serious brain injury. After undergoing a craniotomy and decompression surgery, the man’s situation worsened, and 10 days after his fall the protocol was opened to declare brain death, according to the Vatican.

While he was in a coma, members of the Charismatic Renewal organized prayer for Paulo’s recovery, asking everyone to pray for his healing through the intercession of Blessed Elena Guerra. On the 10th day after they began praying to Blessed Elena, doctors found an unexpected improvement in his condition, and within less than a month he was discharged from the hospital in good condition.

The pope officially approved the miracle during an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, on April 13.

During the audience, the pope also approved the martyrdom of Servants of God Cayetano Clausellas Ballvé, a diocesan priest, and Antonio Tort Reixachs, a layman and father, both killed during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The pope also recognized the heroic virtues of Sister Teresa Lanfranco, an Italian religious from the Congregation of the Daughters of Santa Maria di Leuca, who died in Rome in 1989.

The Vatican will announce the canonization date of Blessed Elena Guerra at a later time.

Pope Francis names Filipino priest an auxiliary bishop of Sacramento

Pope Francis on April 20, 2024, named Father Reynaldo Bersabal as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, California.  / Credit: Steve German/Diocese of Sacramento

Rome Newsroom, Apr 20, 2024 / 07:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has named Father Reynaldo Bersabal as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, California. 

The Vatican announced on Saturday that the priest ordained in the Philippines and incardinated into the Sacramento Diocese in 2004 will be consecrated as a bishop.

“I am grateful to His Holiness and honored to have my brother, Bishop-elect Rey Bersabal, as a co-worker for the Episcopal ministry in this favored part of the Lord’s vineyard,” Bishop Jaime Soto of the Diocese of Sacramento said in a Saturday statement on the diocese’s website.

“Bishop-elect Rey came as an immigrant priest bringing the rich cultural heritage of the Filipino people,” Soto continued. “He became part of a presbyterate and people that is a global Catholic kaleidoscope of faith and charity radiating the historic credal customs from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, China, Poland, Africa, and more. Bishop-elect Rey has learned a lot and given much during his 25 years as a priest in Sacramento.”

Bersabal was born in Magsaysay in the province of Misamis Oriental in the Philippines on Oct. 15, 1964.

He was ordained a priest April 29, 1991, for the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines was incardinated in the Diocese of Sacramento 13 years later.

In Sacramento, he served as the parish vicar of St. James Church in Davis and St. Anthony Church in Sacramento before being named the parish priest of St. Paul Church in 2003.

Bersabal was also the parish priest of St. John the Baptist in Folsom from 2008 to 2016 and St. James in Davis from 2016 to 2022.

The 59-year-old priest has served the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Sacramento since 2022.

“The years of pastoral experience working in the parishes of the geographical and demographically large Diocese of Sacramento will be one of the strengths he brings to his new ministry,” Soto said. “His understanding of Catholic faith and mercy springs from lived experiences of families striving to follow the Lord Jesus in our turbulent times.”

“I am grateful to Bishop-elect Rey for saying ‘yes’ to the Holy Father’s invitation to the college of bishops,” Soto continued. “I ask all the clergy and faithful of the diocese to join me in praying for our brother, Bishop-elect Rey Bersabal, so that he may always walk first as a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus and be co-worker and companion cultivating the verdant Sacramento Valley for a lasting harvest of mercy and joy.”

The Diocese of Sacramento serves more than 1 million Catholics in 20 counties covering 42,000 square miles of Northern California from San Francisco Bay to Sacramento and the Oregon border, according to a diocesan media release. The diocese includes more than 100 parishes, 42 elementary and secondary schools, and various social service and family support organizations throughout the region.

This story was updated at 1:38 p.m. ET on April 20, 2024, with comments from Bishop Jaime Soto.

New film ‘Unsung Hero’ emphasizes the ‘power of family’

After David Smallbone’s successful music company collapses in their home country of Australia, he moves his family to Nashville, Tennessee, in the hopes of a brighter future in the movie "Unsung Hero." / Credit: Lionsgate

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

St. Teresa of Calcutta once said: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Her words appear at the end of the new movie “Unsung Hero,” which tells the true story of the Smallbone family, widely recognized in the music industry for brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy-award-winning Christian band For King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. 

After David Smallbone’s successful music company collapses in their home country of Australia, he moves his family to Nashville, Tennessee, in the hopes of a brighter future. With nothing but the clothes in their suitcases and an empty house waiting for them in Nashville, David, his pregnant wife, Helen, and their six children embark on a journey of faith to rebuild their lives.

The film, which will be released in theaters on April 26, depicts how a mother’s faith can stand firm against all odds and inspire her husband and children to do the same. Helen teaches her family how to turn to the Lord in prayer for all their needs and, in time, to begin to see God answer. 

The real-life Smallbone family. Credit: Smallbone Management
The real-life Smallbone family. Credit: Smallbone Management

Luke Smallbone spoke to CNA in an interview about the inspiration behind the movie, the importance of family — especially in today’s society where the family is under attack — and what he hopes people will take away from the film. 

Smallbone explained that he and his brother have shared their family’s story at concerts and have been told several times that they should write a book but instead thought of making a movie. 

“You don’t ever think you’re living a movie when you’re living it. This is just my childhood. We weren’t trying to do anything special. We were just a family that had a great love for each other, a great love for Jesus, prayed for things, saw things take place,” Smallbone, a producer of the film, said.

He pointed out that “the heartbeat behind the movie actually really is this — I believe in the power of family, I think family is more powerful today than ever in the history of the world yet we don’t value it like we should.”

“Mother Teresa says, ‘If you want to change the world, go home and love your family,’ and I think that’s actually really the blueprint behind the film,” he added. 

The major theme running throughout the movie is the importance of family. James Smallbone, David’s father (Luke and Joel’s grandfather), says in the film: “Your family isn’t in the way, they are the way.” 

The real-life Smallbone family outside their home in Nashville, Tennessee. Credit: Smallbone Management
The real-life Smallbone family outside their home in Nashville, Tennessee. Credit: Smallbone Management

Smallbone discussed this theme and how in reading the Bible, you get the “framework of family.”

“One thing I found amazing about when you read the Bible — thinking of today’s day and age where we put so much trust and faith in governments, in some cases our governments, though it’s challenging at times, for the most part do a relatively good job of giving us freedom, they protect us,” he shared. “But you don’t ever find the framework of government in the Bible, but you do get the framework of family in the Bible.”

“So what that tells me is God’s true intent for people is to belong and have healthy families … So for me, when I read Scripture it tells me that I should take family incredibly seriously,” he said.

The musician added that he has often heard that if you want your children to be raised learning how to follow Jesus, “they have to see evidence of Jesus in your home, in your family, not in your government, not in your schools, not in all the other things, it starts in your family.”

“I don’t want to fail Jesus. I want to be a great husband. And I don’t want to fail my family,” he emphasized. “If I can do those three things well, man, that’s the most satisfying life I think I can live.”

Despite losing everything in Australia, uprooting her family to a new country while expecting another child, and having to rebuild from ground zero, Helen Smallbone’s faith was firm. The movie portrays how she taught her family the importance of prayer, even creating a prayer wall — two file folders with the word “please” written on one and “thank you” written on the other —for family members to post their prayers. 

When asked about his mother’s faith, Smallbone said: “She taught me right from wrong, she taught me fear of God, she taught me how to forgive. My mom did all the invisible things that have all the power.”

In the movie there is a scene where Helen runs to her room and begins to scream into a pillow after receiving bad news. Smallbone shared that this was added into the script to make her appear more “relatable”; however, the incident wasn’t entirely true.

“We put that in the script because there were people that were like, ‘Hey man, she’s actually just not relatable. Who can go through that much struggle and not have a moment of breakdown?’” he shared. “Well, the truth is my mom never did that. My dad, yes … but my mom never did.”

“I’m telling you, if you want to change the world, do the invisible things very very well and it will be incredibly impactful … At the end of the day, that’s what my mom did well.”

"Unsung Hero" tells the true story of the Smallbone family, who are widely recognized in the music industry for brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy-award-winning Christian band For King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. Lionsgate
"Unsung Hero" tells the true story of the Smallbone family, who are widely recognized in the music industry for brothers Luke and Joel Smallbone of the Grammy-award-winning Christian band For King and Country, and their sister Rebecca, better known as singer-songwriter Rebecca St. James. Lionsgate

As for what he hopes people will take away from this movie, Smallbone hopes that particularly fathers will “go back and they’ll say ‘I want to be a better dad.’”

“I hope that mothers see that all of the unseen things they do matter, they’re changing the next generation, and God sees those things,” he added. 

He hopes children will “dream big dreams” and that the “things that are happening to you as a young child are incredibly powerful and incredibly important and you can go and do extraordinary things.”

“There doesn’t have to be a cap onto what you can achieve, and what you can do,” he said. “Not that it’s for achievement’s sake, but because God chooses to do miracles through people like you and me, and he uses his people to do a lot of those miracles and it starts young.”

Catholic entrepreneur launches business startup program for teenagers

Students participating in the CEDE workshop for St. John's College High School gather for a group photo at the basilica at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., in November 2022. / Credit: Photo courtesy of CUA

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

When Luke Burgis moved to Silicon Valley to start a business, he never expected he would become a seminarian and then go on to launch entrepreneurship programs for Catholic students. 

Burgis had attended NYU, worked on Wall Street, started several businesses in Silicon Valley, and moved to Las Vegas before deciding he wanted more meaning in his life. With the encouragement of a friend, he rekindled his Catholic faith. After five years in seminary, he ultimately discerned he would not become a priest, but he still found himself in need of deeper meaning in his work.

So he founded Catholic Entrepreneurship and Design Experience (CEDE, pronounced “seed”) in 2020 to help students across the country connect their working lives with their faith. 

Four years later, CEDE is a thriving organization based at Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., with programs and educational materials across the world. Burgis is the entrepreneur-in-residence and assistant clinical professor of business at CUA. He has developed educational materials shared with Catholic schools and home-school communities in addition to teaching business classes at CUA. 

“I didn’t understand how I could actually live out my values and be a Catholic in the business world that I was in, even after I’d had that reconversion experience,” Burgis said when asked what inspired him to found CEDE.

“But I knew that there was some gap that we had to close in Catholic education between the theoretical or the principles of Catholic social teaching and the way that it actually plays out on the ground, if you’re trying to start something,” he explained. “We launched CEDE to try to reintegrate these disciplines.”

This year, Burgis is launching a new project for CEDE — a summer entrepreneurship program for high school students. The 10-week virtual Startup Venture Challenge will teach high schoolers how to start a business. 

“CEDE introduces students to basic principles of entrepreneurship within the context of Catholic social teaching and helps them understand that ultimately they are the entrepreneurs of their own lives, whether they ever start a business or not,” Burgis said.

“We’re trying to train young Catholics to think more like an entrepreneur, which means finding creative ways to solve problems or to see solutions where other people only see problems,” he said. “We think that that’s really important for all Catholics, period, and that if we had a more entrepreneurial Church, we would have a more adaptive and creative Church.”

Luke Burgis speaks at a CEDE Workshop in November 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CUA
Luke Burgis speaks at a CEDE Workshop in November 2022. Credit: Photo courtesy of CUA

But being a “Catholic entrepreneur” isn’t necessarily about starting a business, Burgis noted. 

“Our goal here is not really to create more business owners,” he explained. “Our goal is to help more young Catholics in Catholic schools be equipped and confident to go out into the world, whatever their vocation is.” 

Burgis wanted to connect what he learned about business with Catholic teaching. 

“[At NYU] I just learned: ‘Here’s what profit is. Profit is good. Pursue it,’” he recalled. “Most of my classmates simply wanted to make as much money as they could.”

“When I left seminary, I realized that there was a real disintegration or gap between what I had learned at my Catholic schools … and what things actually look like in practice when you’re actually out there in the world trying to do things,” he explained. 

CEDE’s model of education is about “experiential learning,” “creative problem-solving,” and independence and “differs” from the rules-based form of education many American students are accustomed to, Burgis said. 

“That’s much of what being an entrepreneur feels like,” he said of the model. “You’re not given a roadmap, you’re not told what to do, you have to figure things out, and you have to make decisions and take responsibility for those decisions.”

Burgis said it will feel like “a challenge.”

“You’re being challenged, being given this mission,” he said. “We want to empower the students to accomplish that mission by working together and finding creative ways to solve problems on their own without being told how to do it. We actually want to make them a little uncomfortable.”

Students don’t need to have business ideas to join, as the first three weeks will be spent building up an idea. The full schedule involves a discernment stage, launching, testing, and then a resources and community stage.

“We want them to feel what it feels like to have a fire ignited within themselves, to exercise their own creativity, to take ownership of it, to take total responsibility, and to be proud of that, and to be able to serve others through their gifts and talents,” Burgis said. 

The program runs from June 10 to Aug. 12 and is fully virtual and amenable to the students’ work schedules. The cost is $250, with scholarships available. Applications are open for teenagers ages 14–18. 

Vatican: Nuns who feuded with Texas bishop will be governed by monastery association

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, and Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach of the Most Holy Trinity Monastery in Arlington, Texas. / Credit: Diocese of Fort Worth; Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity Discalced Carmelite Nuns

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 19, 2024 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

A Carmelite monastery that has engaged in a yearlong feud with Diocese of Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson will be governed by a religious association of monasteries going forward — but must normalize relations with the bishop, per a Vatican order.

The Association of Christ the King in the United States of America will oversee the “government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges” of the Arlington-based Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity. This decision ends the bishop’s role as the pontifical commissary, which had previously given him governing authority over the monastery. 

“It is my prayer that the Arlington Carmel will now have the internal leadership needed to save the monastery and enable it to flourish once again, in unity with the Catholic Church,” Olson said in a statement.

A feud between the monastery and the bishop began in late April of last year when the bishop launched an investigation into the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach. She was ultimately dismissed from religious life for alleged sexual misconduct with a priest over the phone and through video chats.

The monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and the diocese for conduct related to the investigation, which was eventually dismissed by a judge. The bishop imposed harsh penalties on the monastery, which led to the nuns issuing a statement that appeared to reject his authority in governing the monastery.

In the Vatican’s letter to the monastery about the transfer of governing authority, the Church has ordered the nuns to “withdraw and rescind your declaration” challenging the bishop’s authority and “regularize your relationship with the bishop of Fort Worth and the local Church.” The letter also added that the bishop still retains canonical authority over the monastery. 

The Vatican’s letter to Olson thanked the bishop for his “heroic and thankless service to the local church and the Carmel of Arlington as pontifical commissary” and noted the “hardship and unwarranted public attention” brought to the diocese over the past year. 

“We are fully aware that the health and longevity of this monastic community was always your goal, throughout the ordeals of the last year,” the letter read.

The Vatican decree, which entrusted the monastery to the Association of Christ the King, went into effect on Thursday, April 18. With this order, the association’s president, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, is now the lawful superior of the monastery. 

“With the entrustment of monastery to the Association of Christ the King, you are instructed to cooperate fully with the president of the association,” the Vatican informed the nuns.

Olson said in his statement that he “will work closely with [Mother Marie], providing counsel, resources, and support as needed.” The bishop added that, per his responsibility under canon law and the rules of the Carmelite order, “I will oversee at the appropriate time the election of new leadership of the Arlington Carmel.”

“I ask the faithful of the Diocese of Fort Worth and all people of goodwill to continue to pray with me for the Catholic Church in North Texas, in particular the Arlington Carmelites, as we persevere together in service to Christ through ministry to our community,” Olson said.