FAITH/STORIES

A refugee from Ivory Coast carries her belongings as she walks through Grand Gedeh County in eastern Liberia. (CNS photo/Simon Akam, ReutersWARSAW, Poland - The Vatican's representative to the Cote d'Ivoire has said Catholic priests have been targeted by armed groups during the current conflict, but added that he still hopes "full-scale civil war" can be avoided in the West African country.

In Rome, officials of Caritas Internationalis, the Church's charitable aid agency, said one of the priests kidnapped was Fr. Richard Kissi, diocesan director of Caritas in Abidjan, who was kidnapped March 29 by an armed group.

In a March 30 telephone interview, the nuncio, Archbishop Ambrose Madtha, told Catholic News Service, "I wouldn't call it a civil war as yet — the rebel army has been trying to attack certain cities, and this is why the violence is continuing."

He said students at the main Catholic seminary in Abidjan, the country's largest city, had been evacuated after its buildings were occupied by rebel soldiers. He added that a Catholic priest had been abducted while helping supervise the evacuation, while another had been attacked while returning from a late-night radio broadcast and had been hospitalized. He would not identify the priests by name.
Paul Hrynczyszyn will be ordained a priest in the spring. Editor’s note: This is one in our series of profiles on the men who will graduate from St. Augustine’s Seminary this spring and be ordained to the priesthood for various dioceses.

When Paul Hrynczyszyn was 15, his mother forced him to attend a Catholic youth retreat over the March break. Now, 11 years later, he is about to be ordained a priest.

“I thank God and I thank her to this day for forcing me to go, because it was life changing,” he said.

“It was at that moment I rediscovered my faith. I fell in love with Jesus Christ.”
Pope Benedict XVI waves after leading the Angelus prayer from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS Photo)VATICAN CITY - Asking questions about God is not a threat to individuals or society, just as a secular society that respects freedom of conscience is not a danger to religion, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"If we are to build a world of liberty, equality and fraternity, then believers and nonbelievers must feel free to be just that: equal in their right to live as individuals and in community in accord with their convictions, and fraternal in their relations with one another," he said.

The pope's remarks were broadcast in a video message to thousands of people attending the launch of the Vatican's "Courtyard of the Gentiles" initiative March 26 in Paris. The video message was shown in the square in front of the city's Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The initiative, sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture, aims to promote friendly and respectful discussions between Christians and atheists or nonbelievers.

World needs peacemakers strengthened by faith

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Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)VATICAN CITY - The world needs peace and it needs peacemakers who are strengthened by faith and committed to promoting reconciliation among peoples, Pope Benedict XVI said.

During his weekly general audience at the Vatican March 23, the pope continued his series of audience talks about the doctors of the church, focusing on St. Lawrence of Brindisi, an Italian Capuchin and famed preacher.

Pope Benedict said the priest, who served as a military chaplain at the beginning of the 1600s, "applied himself heroically to efforts toward peace and reconciliation between the nations and peoples of Europe."

"The moral authority he enjoyed made him an adviser who was much sought after and listened to," the pope said.

With patience, Asch finds his calling

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Russell AschEditor’s note: This is the first in our series of profiles on the men who will graduate from St. Augustine’s Seminary this spring and be ordained to the priesthood for various dioceses.

Russell Asch’s life has been filled with travel, music and culture. Now, it will be filled with the Catholic faith.

The son of opera singers, Asch was born in Montreal but was raised in England. He was an active member of Bevis Marks Sephardic Synagogue during his formative years, as he studied Restoration stone-carving.

It wasn’t until 1997 that Asch, 39, was baptized into the Catholic faith.

Pope says parishes are places for prayer, learning, charity

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Pope Benedict XVI smiles as doves are released at the end of his visit to St. Corbinian Church in Rome. (CNS photo/Alessia Pierdomenico, Reuters)ROME - A parish church is a place for people to get to know God better, to worship him together and to learn how to take the message of his love to the neighborhood and the world, Pope Benedict XVI said at the dedication of a new church in Rome.

"Grow in the knowledge and love of Christ as individuals and as a parish community and encounter him in the Eucharist, in listening to his word, in prayer and in charity," the pope told parishioners at the new St. Corbinian Church March 20.

The parish on the southern edge of Rome was financed with help from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, Germany, where Pope Benedict served as archbishop in the late 1970s and early 1980s before being named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope begins retreat, encourages Lenten battle against evil

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Pope Benedict XVI prays during the opening of his Lenten retreat. (CNS photo/ L'Osservatore Romano)VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics for their prayers as he began his weeklong Lenten retreat March 13.

Before reciting the Angelus prayer at midday with visitors in St. Peter's Square, he also prayed that Mary would intercede to help everyone have a Lent that is "rich in the fruits of conversion."

Carmelite Father Francois-Marie Lethel, a theology professor and the secretary of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, was chosen to preach the retreat March 13-19 for Pope Benedict and top Vatican officials. The French priest's topic was to be "The Light of Christ in the Heart of the Church: John Paul II and the Theology of Saints."

Despite troubles, church is gift of God, pope tells priests

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Pope Benedict XVI as he arrives to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass (CNS Photo)VATICAN CITY - Even if the church is beset by problems, it is still a gift of God, Pope Benedict XVI told several hundred pastors of Rome parishes.

Too often, "perhaps because of a fear of triumphalism," priests and other Catholics do not rejoice enough over the gift of being part of the church, the pope said March 10 during his annual Lenten meeting with the Rome pastors.

"Certainly, there always are difficult, negative aspects" of the church's life on earth, "but it is a beautiful gift that we can live in the church" and receive the sacraments of God's love and mercy, the pope said.

"The fact that the church is not only a gift of God and divine, but also very human" means there always will be problems and a need for penance, he said.

"The church is always threatened. There is always a danger, the opposition of the devil," who does not want there to be believers on earth, the pope said.

Christians, however, can be confident that "truth is always stronger than lies, love is stronger than hatred and God is stronger than all the opposing forces," he said.

The meeting at the Vatican began with a strong round of applause for the pope, who will turn 84 April 16 and will celebrate the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination in June.

Rather than responding to the priests' questions, as he has done in the past, Pope Benedict reflected with them on a reading from one of St. Paul's letters. Only occasionally referring to his notes, he spoke for almost 40 minutes.

A priest is a servant and that means "doing not what would please me most," but what is necessary to serve others, he said.

As priests, "sometimes we have to do things that don't immediately appear spiritual and wouldn't be our choice; from the pope to the lowliest assistant pastor, we all have to do administrative and temporal work," he said.

Pope Benedict said that everything a priest says and does -- whether or not he's formally ministering to someone at the moment -- reflects on his priesthood, because the idea of someone being a "part-time priest" is impossible.

Priesthood is not an occupation a man chooses as a career, he said. "Only God can make a priest, and if there's a choice involved, it's God's."

Priests must preach the truth, the whole truth, taught by the church, and not "an ala carte Christianity according to his own tastes; he mustn't preach a Gospel according to his own ideas and theological preferences. He must not hesitate to proclaim God's whole truth, even the truth that is uncomfortable, even on themes that personally I don't like very much," the pope said.

Pope Benedict said that like St. Paul, today's priests must go forward with the Gospel knowing that sometimes they may face physical danger because of what they preach.

"St. Paul says that pure biological survival is not my priority; my primary concern must be to carry out my service and to be with Christ," the pope said.

"Being with Christ is true life," he said, and while "we certainly must care for our health and work at a reasonable pace, we also must recognize that the ultimate value is to be in communion with Christ."

Pope Benedict told the priests that it's natural that young priests are full of enthusiasm and that a priest's physical energy wanes as he ages, but "it's important that even in old age, even as the years pass, we do not lose our zeal and the joy of being called by the Lord."

Ecumenism a ‘priority,’ Ontario bishops say

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Fr. Damien MacPhersonTORONTO - Ontario’s Catholic ecumenical officers are delivering a wake up call to parishes across the province in January.

In a 400-word letter to priests, deacons, religious and laity, Ontario’s dozen directors of ecumenical and interfaith affairs are reminding parish leadership that “it remains an essential priority to stay focused on the common pursuit of the unity of all Christians.”

Lawyer not giving up his life, he's dedicating it to the Lord

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TORONTO - In his journey toward the priesthood, Deacon Eric Mah, a lawyer by training, has had to explain to some of his colleagues why becoming a priest is a “rational” decision in a world where making more money and climbing the corporate ladder are prized pursuits.

“You know in your heart that you’re deeply in love with Christ. But to non-Catholics, they see that you’re giving up your life,” the 33-year-old former insurance lawyer told The Catholic Register at a coffee shop near St. Michael’s Cathedral Nov. 5 where he picked up his vestments for his ordination to the diaconate scheduled for the next day.

Military fellowship helps Christians in Canadian Forces to grow in faith

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Military Christian Fellowship of CanadaAs Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan ends next year, the need to support returning soldiers and the work of chaplains will increase, says the new director of the Military Christian Fellowship of Canada.

Soldiers will be facing spiritual issues related to “whatever has happened in Afghanistan” once they return to Canada, said  Jane Twohey, who took the helm of the fellowship on Oct. 29.

From the campaign trail to the Camino for Rocco Rossi

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rocco rossi pilgrimageTORONTO - Over the past year, Rocco Rossi has ventured across Toronto trying to win over voters during his mayoral campaign. But now he’s going on a journey of a different kind: the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in Spain.  

“It was a very intense year that I’ve just gone through,” Rossi told The Catholic Register. Rossi had been hard on the campaign trail over that time, but finally pulled out of the municipal election, won by Rob Ford, two weeks shy of election day due to low numbers in the polls.

40 hours to deepen relations with the Lord

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prayerTORONTO - Eighteen year-old Renata Taragos knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and silently prayed the rosary, joining the more than 300 people who usually attend the annual 40-hour devotion at Holy Family Church.

Parishioners like Taragos say the devotion helps to deepen their relationship with God.

Holy Family Church is one of a few parishes that retains the centuries-old tradition of the special 40-hour period of continuous prayer made before the Blessed Sacrament.