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Father of Alfie Evans meets with pope, pleads for asylum in Italy

Vatican City, Apr 18, 2018 / 05:20 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A private meeting took place early Wednesday morning between Pope Francis and Tom Evans, the father of two-year-old Alfie Evans, who is currently at the center of a legal battle to keep him alive.

Tom Evans said that in the April 18 meeting, which took place at the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican, he asked the pope for asylum in Italy for his family, so that Alfie can be moved to the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome to receive treatment.

Two-year-old Alfie Evans suffers from an unidentified degenerative neurological condition and has been under continuous hospitalization since December 2016.

In February, a court ruled that Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, where Evans is receiving care, could legally stop treatment for Alfie against his parents' wishes, arguing that continuing treatment is not in his best interest, and that his life support should be switched off.

Despite the desire of Alfie's parents, Kate James and Tom Evans, to take their son to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, several judges have ruled in the hospital's favor.

“Alfie is doing really well, he's fighting very hard and we believe that he can still wake up and that he's got a lot of potential,” Evans told journalists April 18. He said that in their meeting, Pope Francis gave him a lot of sympathy and encouragement, telling him he has “strength like God.”

The pope's positivity gave him hope, Evans continued, noting that the meeting was “very confident, very calm. I was really nervous, but I just spoke the truth, spoke from my heart.”

Evans stated that he will return to Liverpool tonight to be with his son and Kate, but they are hopeful that when and if Alfie is permitted to come to Italy, the doctors will be able to diagnose and treat him.

“Just because he has a brain disability that no one knows of doesn't mean that we have to take that life away from him. As I've always said, Alfie is a child of God and he'll remain a child of God and he'll go when [God] says he'll go.”

In his statement to Pope Francis, Evans said that Alfie “is sick but not dying and does not deserve to die. He is not terminally ill nor diagnosed. We have been trying our best to find out his condition, to treat or manage it.”

“We see life and potential in our son and we want to bring him here to Italy, to the Bambino Gesù, where we know he is safe and he will not be euthanized,” the statement continues.

“When Alfie shows me and his mum any sign of suffering or dying, we will enjoy every last moment with him, but Alfie has not yet shown us he is ready to go, so we continue to fight just as he shows us to.”

At the end of the general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis asked for a moment of silent prayer for Alfie, saying that he would like to “reiterate and strongly confirm that the only master of life, from the beginning to the natural end, is God!”

“And our duty, our duty is to do everything to preserve life,” he stated.

Alfie's case has drawn international attention, and protesters gathered outside his hospital last week to peacefully oppose the judicial decision to end life support.

Evans and James recently launched a new legal challenge, asking the Court of Appeal judges to continue life support and treatment for Alfie. The court officials posted their hearing for Monday, saying that a court judge has decided that Alfie could continue treatment, pending the hearing.

On Sunday Pope Francis made an appeal for prayer for Alfie Evans, and others, “who live, at times for a long period, in a serious state of illness, medically assisted for their basic needs.”

Francis also recently tweeted about Alfie, saying it was his “sincere hope that everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard.”

The sign of the cross is our badge, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 18, 2018 / 03:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis said that to make the sign of the cross is to mark ourselves as Christians, and that it is something we should do often to remind ourselves that we belong to God.

“The cross is the badge that shows who we are: our speaking, thinking, looking, working [are] under the sign of the cross, that is, the love of Jesus, to the end,” the pope said April 18.

“Making the sign of the cross when we wake up, before meals, before a danger, to defend against evil, [at] night before sleep means to tell ourselves and others who we belong to, who we want to be.”

Pope Francis spoke about the sign of the cross during the weekly Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

Reflecting on the sacrament of Baptism, he offered the suggestion of keeping a small dish of holy water at home, so that, “every time we come back or go out, making the sign of the cross with that water, we remember that we are baptized.”

“In fact, what happens in the celebration of Baptism arouses a spiritual dynamic that passes through the whole life of the baptized; it is the beginning of a process that allows one to live united to Christ in the Church,” Francis stated.

He explained that it is good for us to increase our understanding of the gift we received on the day of our Baptism, in order “to renew the commitment to respond to it in the condition in which we find ourselves today.”

For this reason, the pope explained the process of the Baptismal Rite, which he said begins with the welcoming rite, when the priest or other celebrant asks what name is of the person to be baptized.

This, Francis pointed out, is like when we meet someone for the first time and we immediately introduce ourselves in order to remove “anonymity.”

“God calls each one by name, loving us individually, in the concreteness of our history,” he said, explaining that in a Baptism we use the person’s individual name because God’s call is “personal” and not a “copy and paste” situation.

“In fact, Christian life is interwoven with a series of calls and answers: God continues to pronounce our name over the years, making his call to conform to his Son Jesus resound in a thousand ways,” he said.

“So, the name is important!” he continued, urging parents to choose the name of their child carefully, even before the child is born.

Francis also noted the importance the sign of the cross plays in the Baptismal Rite, like in the Baptism of children, when the parents and godparents express the desire for the sacrament on behalf of the child, demonstrating it through the sign of the cross traced on the forehead of the child.

“The sign of the cross expresses the seal of Christ on the one who is about to belong to him and signifies the grace of redemption that Christ has acquired for us through his cross,” he said, quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

He also explained the way adult catechumens are marked with a cross, on each of the senses.

They are crossed with the following words, he said: “Receive the sign of the cross on your ears to hear the voice of the Lord; On the eyes to see the splendor of the face of God; On the mouth, to answer the word of God; On the chest, because Christ dwells through faith in your hearts; On the shoulders, to support the gentle yoke of Christ.”

“Christians become the extent to which the cross is imprinted in us as an ‘Easter’ mark, making visible, even outwardly, the Christian way of facing life,” he said.

The Church needs prophets of truth and hope, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2018 / 10:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his homily Tuesday, Pope Francis said the Church needs men and women who are capable not only of bearing prophetic witness to the truth, like the early martyrs, but who are also examples of hope.

In looking to Christ's words and actions in scripture, on one hand he “corrected with strong words: 'perverse and adulterous generations,'” yet on the other hand he wept for the people of Jerusalem when they rejected God's ways, the pope said April 17.

Likewise, a true prophet is not a “prophet of misfortunes,” speaking only of things that need to be corrected, but he is also “a man of hope; he corrects when needed and opens wide the doors looking to the horizon of hope.”

A prophet, he said, “restores the roots, restores one's belonging to the people of God in order to go forward.”

Pope Francis spoke during his Mass in the chapel of the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse, focusing on the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the stoning of Stephen, the Church's first martyr.

When Stephan was speaking to the scribes, their hearts were closed and they didn't want to listen to what he had to say, so they became infuriated and began to attack him, Francis said, noting that many of the prophets who preceded Christ were treated in the same way.

“When the prophet arrives to the truth and touches the heart, either the heart opens or the heart becomes more like stone and anger, persecution, are unleashed. This is how the life of a prophet ends.”

Truth, the pope observed, is often uncomfortable and hard to accept. Because of this, the prophets were always persecuted when speaking the truth.

“But what for me is the test that a prophet undergoes when he tells the truth strongly? It's when this prophet is capable of not only speaking, but crying for the people who have abandoned the truth [Jesus gave strong rebukes, but he also wept]. This is the test. A true prophet is the one who is capable of crying for his people and also saying things strongly when he has to. [A prophet] is not timid, he is always like this: direct,” but full of hope.

Francis then noted how Stephen was killed in the presence of Saul, who would later become St. Paul.

Quoting a phrase from Tertullian, Francis said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

The Church, he said, “needs prophets...it needs all of us to be prophets.” But prophets are different than critics, he said, explaining that a critic is a person who does not approve of anything or anyone, and “this is not a prophet,” this is another thing.

“The prophet is someone who prays, who looks to God, who looks to his people, who feels pain when the people go astray, who cries,” the pope said, praying that “the Church never lacks this prophecy of service, to always go forward.”

Exorcism course to study link between porn and demonic influence

Vatican City, Apr 16, 2018 / 03:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An annual exorcism course offered to priests in Rome aims to open the dialogue on what degree of demonic influence may exist in pornography use.

“Human sexuality in itself is a value, but when you use it poorly, you are creating harm for yourself and others, especially if it involves children,” Fr. Pedro Barrajon LC told journalists April 16.

Speaking of the widespread use of pornography in modern society, he said he believed organizers of the course wanted to discuss “this modern cultural phenomenon of an evil that harms people,” not to ignore the role of personal responsibility, but to explore whether there is demonic influence in pornography use, and to what extent.

The same goes for drug addiction, cultism and satanic worship, and it also goes for pedophilia and child pornography, which will both be addressed on the last full day of the course, he said.

“Does it come only from human causes – psychological, familial, social or cultural – or is there more?” he said, adding that the course aims to “open a space to see if there is a possibility to show influence from the devil.”

Barrajon spoke to journalists on the first day of the 13th annual course on exorcism and liberation prayer, offered by the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University (APRA) and the Group of Socio-Religious Research and Information (GRIS).

Taking place April 16-21, the course will explore the topic of exorcism and prayers of liberation from different points of view, including theological, anthropological, canonical, liturgical, psychological, social and criminal perspectives.

Among other things, it will touch on magic, cults and satanic worship, and how to tell the difference between possession and psychological illness. This year's course will also explore the rising practice of witchcraft in Africa, the increase of New Age beliefs in Spain, and the presence of cults throughout Latin America.

The course will also feature testimonies from exorcists and people who have been liberated from demonic possession. The last day will largely focus on the criminal aspects of exorcism and demonic activity, specifically pedophilia and pornography, as well as discernment and the writings of the Desert Fathers.

In his introduction speech, Fr. Jose Enrique Oyarzun, LC, a professor at the Regina Apostolorum University, said there is often “great confusion” regarding the devil, with many people believing that he does not exist.

This is a dangerous mistake, he warned, quoting Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, which says, “it is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force.”

Continuing to quote the document, Oyarzun said the devil “is present in the very first pages of the Scriptures, which end with God’s victory over the devil,” and is also present in the prayer of the Our Father, which ends with the phrase “deliver us from evil.”

“That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact translation would be 'the evil one.' It indicates a personal being who assails us,” he said, and concluding the quote, said, “we should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

In comments to journalists, Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, who moderated the opening panel of the course, lamented the fact that many Catholics, and even some priests, are among those who don't believe in the devil. This is very problematic, he said, because when one stops believing in the devil, “one risks believing in anything, in the foolish things of this world.”

In his comments to journalists, Barrajon noted that there have been reports of an increased number of exorcisms in recent years, but cautioned against placing too much weight on these reports, because so far, “there is no serious statistical study on the practice of exorcism.”

Some countries, such as Italy, have had a higher number of exorcisms in part because bishops are appointing more exorcists, and also because communication about who the exorcists are and how to reach them has gotten better, he said.

He also stressed the importance of knowing how to discern whether someone is truly possessed, or whether they have some sort of psychiatric or psychological illness.

“For what I've seen, the experience of the exorcist counts a lot,” he said, explaining that many experienced exorcists can tell immediately if a person is experiencing demonic possession or a psychological problem.

Some indications of possession include negative reactions to religious objects or images, an unnaturally deep voice, and body contortions. The spitting out of nails, glass and knives that is seen in the movies can also happen during exorcisms, he said, and is a “physical manifestation of evil.”

In a keynote Q&A during the opening session, Albanian Cardinal Ernest Simoni, a leading exorcist in his diocese before his arrest by the communist regime in the 1960s, suggested that demonic possession is more common than many people realize.

The cardinal also cautioned that cultural mentalities such as materialism and consumerism “destroy life.” He said that to stay close to Christ and avoid the devil, one must “pray endlessly, pray without interruption.”

In addition to regular Mass attendance, he said, “we have to be chaste, we have to be faithful, we have to comply with the rules and guidelines of our tradition...unless you become like chaste, pure children, you won't be able to access the reign of God.”

The ultimate answer “is not what I do or what I think,” he said, but “it is Jesus who lives in us...infinite love is what we need.”

“Whenever you are ready, whenever you are really, really ready to repent, you will be redeemed. It doesn't matter if you say it 7 or 77 times in a day,” he said, but “you have to be convinced, you have to be united with your prayer.”
 
 

Syro-Malabar priest among sainthood causes advanced by pope

Vatican City, Apr 16, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis has approved the advancement of the causes of eight Servants of God, all priests and religious, including Fr. Varghese Payyappilly of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, based in Kerala, India.

The pope met with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato, April 14, giving his approval for eight Servants of God to be recognized as ‘Venerable.’

One of these causes was Fr. Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly, who was born in Perumanoor, India on Aug. 8, 1876.

Fr. Payyappilly was a priest for the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which is a church sui iuris – an autonomous Church with its specific rite, but in communion with Rome and subject to the governance of the Pope.

Ordained a priest on Dec. 21, 1907, while serving at Marth Mariam Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church in Arakuzha, he started St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School.

He managed the school for 14 years, during which time priestly vocations at the school flourished, according to one of the priest’s former pupils.

Payyappilly was considered a good mediator and was sought after for solutions to problems. He was also held in great esteem by both church and government officials and was noted for his punctuality, discipline, piety and fraternal charity.

His concern for the poor led him to establish a congregation called the Sisters of the Destitute in 1927 as a way to continue what he considered Christ’s redemptive mission among the poor.

Today the congregation includes over 1,500 sisters and is present in Asia, Europe, Africa and the United States. They run schools, hospitals, homes for the sick and needy, rehabilitation centers for mentally and physically disabled children, health centers for AIDS and cancer patients, and libraries.

Payyappilly’s care of the poor was also made apparent when he turned St. Mary’s High School into a shelter for people who lost their homes and property in a flood in 1924, bringing food to people in a hired boat.

The priest died on Oct. 5, 1929 from typhoid. His cause for beatification was opened Aug. 25, 2009, and he was declared a Servant of God on Sept. 6, 2009.

The others that are also now declared ‘Venerable’ are:

Emanuele Nunes Formigao, diocesan priest, founder of the Congregation of Religious Repairers of Our Lady of Fatima (1883-1958); Ludovica Longari, priest of the Congregation of the Priests of the Most Holy Sacrament (1889-1963); Elisabetta Bruyere, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa (1818-1876); Margherita Ricci Curbastro, founder of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Agony (1856-1923); Florenza Giovanna Profilio, founder of the Institute of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Lipari (1873-1956); Maria Dolore di Cristo Re, founder of the Congregation of the Missionary Handmaids of Cristo Re (1888-1967); Justa Dominguez de Vidaurreta e Idoy, superior of the Spanish Province of the Society of the Daughters of the Charity of St. Vincent de’ Paoli (1875-1958).

Pope Francis also appointed four new members to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Bishop Romano Rossi of Civita Castellana; Bishop Orazio Francesco Piazza of Sessa Aurunca; and Bishop Daniele Libanori, S.J., titular bishop of Buruni and auxiliary of Rome.