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Nigerian priest dies shortly after being kidnapped

Warri, Nigeria, Sep 24, 2018 / 02:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic priest in Nigeria died Sept. 19, just days after escaping from kidnappers, according to local media reports. The exact cause of his death has not yet been made public.

Fr. Louis Odudu was kidnapped Sept. 14 and released the next day, according to the Diocese of Warri, although there are some reports that he escaped. Four days later, Fr. Odudu reportedly complained of pain before being taken to the hospital where he died. Whether or not he died as a result of injuries sustained during his kidnapping ordeal has not been made public by the diocese.

The Nigerian Daily Post reports that five Catholic priests have been abducted in the southern Nigerian state of Delta in 2018 alone.

Fr. Odudu was chaplain of the Seat of Wisdom Catholic Chaplaincy at the Petroleum Training Institute, a training school for the oil and gas industry located in the port city of Warri. Ordained in 1987, Fr. Odudu had been on sabbatical for two years in the United Kingdom before returning to his home diocese in 2018. He was assigned to the chaplaincy about two months before his kidnapping and death.

Members of the Diocese of Warri were already mourning the death of Fr. Stephen Ekakabor, who died in early September following a brain injury sustained during an armed invasion of his rectory in 2017. Members of the diocese were reportedly holding prayer vigils for Fr. Ekakabor on the day of Fr. Odudu’s death.

The governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, offered his condolences Sept. 21 to the Bishop of Warri and condemned the “renewed onslaught against Catholic priests and clergymen, assuring that Government will work closely with security agencies to arrest the ugly trend,” according to the diocese.

The Nigerian bishops speak out frequently to criticize the government for being slow to act in the face of violence against Nigerians for religious and political reasons.

 

Sri Lankan cardinal says religion is best guarantor of 'human rights'

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Sep 24, 2018 / 12:13 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sri Lanka should not look to the western world's “new religion” of human rights but to its own religious traditions, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said Sunday during his homily at Mass.

“Human rights have become the new religion of the west as if it's a new discovery, but people in our country have been following religions for centuries,” Cardinal Ranjith said Sept. 23, according to Ada Derana, a Sri Lankan news outlet.

He was speaking during Mass at St. Matthew's parish in Ekala, fewer than 20 miles north of Colombo.

The cardinal seems to have been denouncing the ideological colonization of which Pope Francis has frequently spoken.

“We know we have a short life-span, the longest being around 100 years; so if we get used to this ideology of living a materialistic lifestyle, we'll end our lives in an unfortunate manner at the end,” Cardinal Ranjith reflected.

He said that “there is no need to talk about protecting any of these human rights if we follow our religions properly, because they take us beyond any of these ideas. It is those who are not following any religion who talk about all these human rights issues. We shouldn't get entangled in this spell, and must act intelligently.”

Cardinal Ranjith's words were also reported by Hiru TV, another Sri Lankan television channel.

The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 / 10:40 am (CNA).- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius was the only bishop to accompany him there. Now housing the Museum of the Occupation and Freedom Fighters, the site was once used for the detention and execution of thousands of Lithuanians. Tamkevicius had personal experience as a prisoner there.

The building, a former gymnasium, served as a headquarters for the Gestapo during World War II. Following the Nazi retreat in 1944, the KGB moved in. More than 2,000 people were executed there, and 300 hundred priests were held prisoner - including Tamkevicius.


Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius. Credit: Juliux / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

“In 8 months I was interrogated 60 times - every other day,” he said.

“The pope wanted to come and visit the roots of our pain,” the archbishop told CNA following the visit.

Born in 1938, Tamkevicius vividly remembers the Soviet occupation, and he told CNA about the campaign of religious repression Lithuanians faced under the communist regime.

“The Soviets wanted to destroy Lithuania and suppress religious freedom - that was non existent. They arrested more than 300 priests, who were not even allowed to teach. They wanted to minimize the Church. It was then that we started to think what we could do to resist the Soviets.”

Tamkevicius played an active part in resisting communist persecution of the Church in Lithuania. With four other priests, he founded in 1978 the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers’ Rights.

He also set up the Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania, a small magazine - produced on a typewriter - that reported on the situation of the Church and of Catholics in the Baltic state. Tamkevicius edited the Chronicle for 11 years.

Asked about why he felt called to play such a prominent role during a period of active persecution for the Church, Tamkevicius told CNA, “I entered the Church, and I entered it completely.”

As a Jesuit priest, Tamkevicius began his work of resistance by writing a news bulletin to inform the world about the persecution faced by the Church in Lithuania. As one of the younger members of the order, he felt called to take on an active role.

“I was one of the youngest,” he said, “so I made the decision that I could risk something for the Church.” Tamkevicius founded the Chronicle in 1972.

“Every issue of the Chronicle of the Church in Lithuania carried stories about what was happening here. When I started, I had no idea how many KGB collaborators were all around us. It was only thanks to God I could continue to write the Chronicles for 11 years.”

“In that place Pope Francis visited,” he said, “thousands have been killed, while thousands more were sent to into exile in the Soviet Union.” The archbishop was among them.

In 1983, Tamkevicius was arrested and held by the KGB. He was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor and exile. He served some of his sentence in Siberia.

Tamkevicius told CNA that Francis’ visit was an emotional moment for him.

“I dreamed for 35 years that the pope would one day visit the place where I and others were imprisoned, and so I thanked the pope for showing solidarity with our people.”

The pope’s speech was less important to the archbishop than the fact that he was there. He told  CNA that Francis “said nothing in particular, he showed solidarity.” He added that entering the museum building brought back memories, “good and bad.”

Among the good things, he said, was his recollection of “the prayers, never more intense - the Rosary, the reading of the Bible.”  These devotions sustained him during a period in which he was held and questioned by the Soviets.

Tamkevicius was eventually released as part of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestrojka program. He returned home and was appointed spiritual director of the seminary in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second largest city, in 1989, becoming the rector of the seminary the following year.

In 1991, he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Kaunas, becoming the city’s archbishop in 1996.

Mary shows how to be near those who suffer, Pope Francis says

Aglona, Latvia, Sep 24, 2018 / 10:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Mary’s witness of standing beneath the cross of her Son teaches Catholics how to be close to those around them who are suffering, the pope said at Mass Monday in Latvia.

The Gospel of John says Mary stood near the cross of Christ, “close to her Son,” the pope said Sept. 24. “She stood there, at the foot of the cross, with unwavering conviction, fearless and immovable.”

“This is the main way that Mary shows herself. She stands near those who suffer, those from whom the world flees, including those who have been put on trial, condemned by all, deported.” Even those on the very fringes of society: “the Mother also stands close by them, steadfast beneath their cross of incomprehension and suffering,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Shrine of the Mother of God in Aglona for the third day of a four-day visit to the Baltic states. His last day will be spent in Estonia.

Mary teaches Catholics to stand near others, as she did, he continued. To do so “demands more than simply passing by or making a quick visit… it means that those in painful situations should feel us standing firmly at their side and on their side.”

He stated that those who have been discarded by society can still experience the closeness of their Mother Mary, who sees in all their suffering “the open wounds of her Son Jesus.”

“Like Mary, let us remain steadfast, our hearts at peace in God. Let us be ever ready to lift up the fallen, raise up the lowly and to help end all those situations of oppression that make people feel crucified themselves,” he said.

Francis pointed out that in the Gospel, when Christ asks his Mother to receive John, and John to receive his Mother, they were standing together at the foot of the cross, but “this was not enough, that they had not yet fully ‘received’ one another.”

Many people often do the same, he said, standing at the side of people, even in the same home, neighborhood and workplace, sharing the same faith, contemplating and experiencing the same mysteries, “but without embracing or actually ‘receiving’ them with love.”

He said in the Eucharist we remember Christ’s passion, and “from the foot of the cross, Mary invites us to rejoice that we have been received as her sons and daughters, even as her Son Jesus invites us to receive her into our own homes and to make her a part of our lives.”

“Mary wants to give us her courage, so that we too can remain steadfast, and her humility, so that, like her, we can adapt to whatever life brings,” he stated.

In his homily, the pope also spoke about Venerable Boleslavs Sloskans, who is buried inside the shrine. Born in what is present-day Latvia, he died in 1981 after more than 30 years in exile from his homeland. While a young bishop, he was also arrested twice by the Soviets and imprisoned by them for around five years.

“Sometimes,” Pope Francis said, “we see a return to ways of thinking that would have us be suspicious of others,” or we think we would be better off and more secure by ourselves. “At those times, Mary and the disciples of these lands invite us to ‘receive’ our brothers and sisters, to care for them, in a spirit of universal fraternity.”

Pope Francis in Latvia: Don't let Christianity become an artifact

Riga, Latvia, Sep 24, 2018 / 05:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During an ecumenical prayer service in Latvia Monday, Pope Francis warned Christians to not let the faith turn into another piece of history, but to keep it an active part of their lives and communities.      

“This is a recurring danger for all of us,” the pope said Sept. 24. “We can take what gives us our very identity and turn it into a curio from the past, a tourist attraction, a museum piece that recalls the achievements of earlier ages… The same thing can happen with faith.”

“We can stop feeling like ‘resident’ Christians and become tourists,” he continued. “We could even say that our whole Christian tradition can run the same risk. The risk of ending up as a museum piece, enclosed within the walls of our churches, and no longer giving out a tune capable of moving the hearts and inspiring the lives of those who hear it.”

Pope Francis spoke during an ecumenical prayer meeting in the Evangelical Lutheran cathedral in Riga, Latvia. The cathedral is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks and houses a pipe organ considered among the best in the world.

Though the organ has been renovated and rebuilt several times over the years, it is also considered one of the oldest in Europe and was at one time the largest in the world.

During the prayer, Francis referenced the organ, pointing out how it must have “accompanied the life, the creativity, the imagination and the devotion of all those who were moved by its sound.”

“It has been the instrument of God and of men for lifting of eyes and hearts to heaven. Today it is a symbol of this city and its cathedral,” he said. “For those who live here, it is more than a monumental organ; it is part of the life, traditions and identity of this place.”

He said the organ can be a symbol of the Christian faith, which as St. Luke says, “is not to be hidden away, but to be made known and to resound in the various sectors of society.”

If the “music of the Gospel” is not heard in people’s lives, there can be no hope, he said. If the music of the Gospel does not sound in homes, in workplaces, in public, people will not recognize the duty to defend the dignity of every man and woman.

If the music of the Gospel stops, people will lose joy, compassion, trust, and the capacity for reconciliation. He stated: “If the music of the Gospel is no longer heard, we will lose the sounds that guide our lives to heaven and become locked into one of the worst ills of our day: loneliness and isolation.”

“Thank God” that the words of the Gospel of John continue to “echo in our midst,” the pope said: “Father, that all may be one… so that the world may believe.”

He explained that Jesus prayed these words before his Passion, “as he looked ahead to his own cross.” This constant and quiet prayer marks a path for everyone, shows the way to follow, he emphasized.

“We discover the only path possible for all ecumenism: that of confronting the cross of suffering… Jesus turning to his Father, and to us his brothers and sisters, continues to pray: ‘that all may be one.’”

These are not easy times, Francis said, especially for those who, even today, are experiencing exile and martyrdom for the faith. “Yet their witness makes us realize that the Lord continues to call us, asking us to live the Gospel radically, in joy and gratitude.”

“If Christ deemed us worthy to live in these times, at this hour – the only hour we have – we cannot let ourselves be overcome by fear, nor allow this time to pass without living it fully with joyful fidelity,” he said.

Following the prayer meeting Pope Francis met with elderly men and women in St. James’ Catholic Cathedral. Though a historically Lutheran country, Catholics make up around 25 percent of the population of just under 2 million.

At St. James’ the pope recalled the many trials older Latvians have experienced, such as war, political repression, persecution, and exile. “Yet you remained steadfast; you persevered in faith,” he said.

“Neither the Nazi regime, nor the Soviet regime could extinguish the faith in your hearts. Neither could they stop some of you from becoming priests, religious sisters, catechists, or from serving the Church in other ways that put your lives at risk,” he said. “You fought the good fight; you ran the race, you kept the faith.”

He pointed to the words of St. James to have constancy in faith, and encouraged those present to persevere, to “not yield to disappointment or grief,” to not lose gentleness or hope.

Francis encouraged them to have, in their homes and homeland, “patient endurance and patient expectation,” so that “in this way you will continue to build your people.”

Before the meetings in the two cathedrals, Pope Francis started his day in Latvia with a brief speech to the country’s authorities. To them he said he was happy to know that the Catholic Church, in cooperation with the other Christian churches, is an important part of the country’s roots.

“The Gospel has nourished the life of your people in the past; today it can continue to open new paths enabling you to face present challenges, to value differences and, above all, to encourage ‘com-union’ between all,” he said.

The pope also praised the country’s liberty, which is celebrated during this year’s 100th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence.

“If today we can celebrate, it is due to all those who blazed trails and opened a door to the future,” he said, “and bequeathed to you that same responsibility: to open a door to the future by looking to everything that stands at the service of life.”

He said a community’s development is not measured by the goods produced or resources possessed, but by the desire “to engender life and build for the future,” which is “measured by their capacity for self-sacrifice and commitment, in imitation of the example of past generations.”