Friday, June 20, 2014

Pope Francis to Venture Into Mafia Stronghold

The funeral for a 3-year-old allegedly killed by the Mafia in January. European Pressphoto Agency

Pope to Visit Southern Italian Region of Calabria 

By and Giada Zampano

(The Wall Street Journal) When Pope Francis visits the southern region of Calabria on Saturday, he will venture into the stronghold of one of the world's biggest criminal organizations—one whose tentacles allegedly extend into local churches there, according to Italian prosecutors.

The pope will visit the small town of Cassano Jonico, where a 3-year-old child, Nicola "Coco" Campolongo, was killed along with his grandfather in January, allegedly by Calabria's Mafia, known as the 'Ndrangheta.

Born in one of Europe's poorest regions, the 'Ndrangheta has proved far harder for prosecutors to crack than the better-known Sicilian Mafia.

Tight family ties and a low profile have helped it proliferate in Italy and abroad, resulting in an estimated annual turnover of €53 billion ($72 billion), or about 3.5% of the Italian economy, according to the research firm Demoskopika.

Pope Francis has followed his predecessors in denouncing the Mafia. But his visit also throws a light on the relationship between the Catholic Church in Italy and the country's deeply rooted organized crime.
Pope Francis in Rome on Thursday. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Traditionally 'Ndrangheta bosses proudly professed their Catholic faith, looking to "exploit the bond between the church and large swaths of populations in southern Italy," says Giuseppe Pignatone, a prosecutor who investigated Mafia cases in the region.

Mob bosses often requested that parish processions stop in front their homes as a way to thank them for paying for the celebrations, according to evidence gathered by magistrates for trials of alleged 'Ndrangheta members.

"For too long the church has pretended not to see, allowing Mafia affiliates to raise money, build churches, organize the processions," said Mafia expert Antonio Nicaso. "If this pope wants to turn the page he has to make a firm decision and draw a straight line. Only in this way he will keep Mafia members out of the church and will mark a real change from the past."

Calabrian bishops issued a document in April in which they condemned Mafia as a "cancer...that tramples on the highest values and the most sacred aspects of life." They also renewed the church's appeal for Mafia members to repent.

In a statement Thursday, Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini said the church should work harder to overcome the divide between faith and day-to-day behavior. "However all italian institutions should examine their consciences," he said, and not just priests who have made mistakes.

Investigations by Italian prosecutors have found that the 'Ndrangheta has over the decades infiltrated the local church and other institutions.

According to evidence presented during mob trials, 'Ndrangheta bosses gathered every Sept. 3 in a Catholic church high in the mountains, Santa Maria di Polsi, to "baptize" new members, discuss strategies and pray until at least 2009.

Nicola Gratteri, chief prosecutor in the Calabrian capital of Reggio Calabria, says he believes the meetings started during the 1890s and still occur. Images of the Madonna in the church have been found on many people arrested for 'Ndrangheta association.

Pino Strangio, who has headed the sanctuary for 15 years, says he has never seen mob bosses meeting there.

"We as the church strongly condemn the 'Ndrangheta and any other organized crime," he said. He says he was never involved in any investigation or called to testify.

Some priests have been investigated for 'Ndrangheta association. In one ongoing trial, a local prelate and police chaplain, Nuccio Cannizzaro, stands accused of making false statements and helping Mafia bosses.

Prosecutors say they have recordings of him, obtained through wiretaps, offering to use his Mafia ties to do favors for locals, such as skipping hospital waiting lists. "Nothing happened without [Father] Cannizzaro knowing," said Stefano Musolino, the prosecutor on the case.

Father Cannizzaro denies the allegations, his lawyer said, and says that they are based on a misunderstanding. When the priest was indicted, local residents staged angry protests. A verdict could arrive next month.

Another priest, Salvatore Santaguida, is under investigation in a separate case for allegedly providing 'Ndrangheta bosses with police information. The priest, who has been suspended as pastor of the local church, says he is innocent, his lawyer said.

Pope John Paul II took a strong public stance against organized crime. "Repent!" he said in Sicily in 1993. "God's judgment will come." Pope Benedict XVI called on young people not to give in to the Mafia's promises.

Pope Francis has also called on Mafiosi to "change your life, convert, stop doing harm," and voiced support for priests who refuse funeral rites for Mafia associates.

He became emotional when denouncing the killing of the Calabrian toddler Coco, who was caught up in an alleged mob hit. The car with the two bodies was then burned.

In March the pope prayed with the families of nearly 1,000 people allegedly killed by Italian organized crime. The Italian Catholic Church recently decreed that seminarians in Calabria must study the 'Ndrangheta, so that they can fight it more effectively.

Giacomo Panizza, a priest who has lived in Calabria for 40 years, says he was threatened and shot at when he used a home confiscated from the 'Ndrangheta as a center to help disabled.

For years, Father Panizza felt alone in fighting the Mafia in Calabria, he says, with local priests dismissing his concerns in the 1990s. "They used to say that I couldn't understand because I was not born there," recalls Father Panizza, who is originally from a northern Italian town.

"I feel safer today," he says. "It's harder to shoot a priest if the whole church is behind him."


Why is a thriving parish getting the ax in NYC?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Is Pope Francis Canceling Events?

By Barbie Latza Nadeau

(The Daily Beast) No one can argue that Pope Francis deserves a little break. Since taking office in March 2013, the 77-year-old Argentinian has been on the move almost nonstop greeting his adoring public and reforming the Vatican’s many troubled institutions.

But an announcement by the Vatican’s news service on Monday that the pope will be drastically curtailing his schedule by suspending his popular Wednesday audiences in July and skipping his daily mass at the Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, has many in Rome wondering if the pope is really ok.

Many people already have tickets for the July audiences, which implies that the decision to suspend them was spontaneous, not preplanned. Several Vatican insiders have also noted that the pope is gaining weight and breathing harder than usual, which has caused some of his close associates to warn him to slow down. “Some in the Holy See are beginning to openly discuss concerns about Francis’ condition and asking if the Holy Father is overtaxing himself,” long-time Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin wrote after the surprising changes to his schedule.

The worries began last week, when the pope spontaneously cancelled his Monday and Tuesday engagements after his historic trip to the Holy Land and Peace prayer with leaders from Israel and Palestine, sending the Vatican press corps in Rome had a minor moment of panic. This week’s announcement of his amended schedule has only added to the speculation that the pope’s health is suffering.

Francis, who only has one functioning lung after having part of his other lung removed due to an infection when he was younger, has been noticeably tired in recent weeks. “Close observers are noting that the Pope’s physical body may be failing to keep up with his youthful energy and vigor, especially considering he only has one fully functioning lung,” says Pentin.

By some estimates, Francis has gained as much as 20 pounds since taking office, likely because his physical activity has diminished, even though his scheduled has intensified. “His repeated fatigue reports and weight gain suggest he may be slipping into a form of chronic heart failure common among victims of significant lung disorders,” Dr. Peter Hibberd told Newsmax. “His immunity will be challenged when under stress, and more frequent pauses to recover from otherwise small insults—such as colds, sore throats, and minor injuries—can be expected to increase in the future unless he paces himself.”

There are no reports whether the pope has been forced to use an inhaler or take extra oxygen to help him breathe in Rome’s stifling humid summer weather, but there is rampant speculation in Rome that part of the reason he is going undercover in July is because whatever is ailing him can’t easily be hidden. Papal confidante Cardinal Telesphonre Placidus Toppo of India told Italy’s Libero newspaper that he found the pope “very tired and fatigued” after spending time with him. “I honestly do not know how long he might be able to sustain this pace that he’s certainly not accustomed to,” Toppo told the paper.

The Vatican has played down concerns for the pope, saying last week the pope cancelled his appointments due to a slight “indisposition” and that it was “not serious.” Unlike his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Francis will not be spending the summer in Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome, but will instead be working from his offices in Vatican City, albeit out of the public view except on Sundays when he will continue to bless the crowds who gather in St. Peter’s square at noon for his weekly Angelus—a practice that even the ailing John Paul II was able to manage until the final days of his life. Francis’s next major public appointment is now a trip to South Korea scheduled for August 13—18.

The Vatican may be brushing off concern, but even Francis seems to be fully aware of his immortality. During an a visit to the Sant Egidio charity in Rome’s Trastevere district on Sunday, the pope braved torrential rainstorms to greet the poor, and finished the event by asking the crowds to pray for him. “My work is unhealthy, extraordinary work and I need prayer,” he said.

And last week, when he was asked he took risks by traveling through massive crowds without the bullet-proof “sardine can” pope mobile during an interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia , he said he left his fate in God’s hands. “It’s true that anything could happen,” the pontiff replied. “But let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose.”


Monday, June 16, 2014

Phoenix police confirm arrest in priest murder

The Republic |

Phoenix police confirmed the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Father Kenneth Walker, a Phoenix police spokesman said Monday morning via social media.

A Phoenix police spokesman confirmed that investigators arrested a 54-year-old man with a history of aggravated assault and misconduct involving weapons on suspicion of killing the 28-year-old priest found dead in a rectory near downtown Phoenix last week.

The spokesman confirmed the arrest of Gary Michael Moran hours before Valley residents honored Walker with a requiem Mass.

Moran was released from prison in April after having served the majority of a 10-year sentence for burglary and aggravated assault, according to court records.

Walker was murdered late Wednesday night in the rectory of a Catholic parish west of downtown Phoenix.

Phoenix police collected physical evidence from the Catholic church Walker was killed and another critically injured Wednesday night, but investigators spent the weekend developing more information about the crimes.

Walker, 28, was shot and killed and Father Joseph Terra, 56, was wounded at a Catholic church Wednesday night near the state Capitol, a Phoenix police spokesman said.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Please Pray for the Two Phoenix FSSP Priests – One Murdered, One in Critical Condition

By Ann Barnhardt:

...In your charity, please pray for the repose of the soul of young Fr. Kenneth Walker, and for the healing of Fr. Joseph Terra, and for their families.

Oremus: O God, Who didst give to thy servant, Kenneth, by his sacerdotal office, a share in the priesthood of the Apostles, grant, we implore, that he may also be one of their company forever in Heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Requiem Aeternam dona ei, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace.

Fr. Kenneth Walker celebrating his first Mass in June 2012.


The Catholic Beltway

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Priest killed, another one injured in attack at Catholic church in Phoenix

By Mariano Castillo and Faith Karimi, CNN

(CNN) -- A priest was killed and another critically wounded in an attack at a Catholic church in Phoenix, police said early Thursday.

The Rev. Kenneth Walker was fatally shot, and the Rev. Joseph Terra is hospitalized in critical condition, police and church officials said. It was not clear what type of weapon was used to attack Terra, Sgt. Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said.

A 911 call came in about 9 p.m. Wednesday (12 a.m. ET Thursday) from the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission Catholic Church, Martos said.

The emergency call to police was for a burglary and was made by Terra, Martos said. It was unclear if Terra made the phone call before or after he was injured.

When police arrived, they found the two priests badly injured. Walker died at the hospital.

Terra, the injured priest, was only able to minimally speak with authorities about what happened, Martos said. The priority is for him to be treated.

"Hopefully, once that individual receives treatment and is able to pull through, we can gather more information," Martos said.

The church, in a statement on its website, referred to more than one armed burglar breaking into and entering the property. Police have not confirmed or denied that assertion, saying only that it is not an official police statement.

A green 2003 Mazda Tribute was stolen from church property, police said, and it was found abandoned.

The vehicle is being examined for clues, but as of Thursday morning, nothing significant had been found, Martos said.

"The police are still gathering information and trying to sort through the details of this senseless act of violence," the Diocese of Phoenix said in a statement. "We ask that people offer prayers for both priests, the religious community, their families and the parish."

Investigators have gathered physical evidence at the crime scene, but they lack witness information, police said. Authorities asked for anyone with information to call in tips to police.

Walker, 29, was a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a small community of priests founded in 1988 and dedicated to reviving the traditional Latin Mass. Terra, 56, is also a member.

A Catholic blog, Rorate Caeli, said Walker was born in upstate New York in a family that became intrigued by the traditional Latin Mass. He was ordained as a priest two years ago.

The blog described the area around the church in downtown Phoenix as "deserted and dangerous at night" but asked followers to avoid speculation about a motive for the crime. It suggested prayer instead.

"May justice be done," the blog said.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

House Majority Leader Cantor defeated in primary

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- In an upset for the ages, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-most powerful man in the House, was dethroned Tuesday by a little-known, tea party-backed Republican primary challenger carried to victory on a wave of public anger over calls for looser immigration laws.

"This is a miracle from God that just happened," exulted David Brat, an economics professor, as his victory became clear in the congressional district around Virginia's capital city.

Speaking to downcast supporters, Cantor conceded, "Obviously we came up short" in a bid for renomination to an eighth term.

The victory was by far the biggest of the 2014 campaign season for tea party forces, although last week they forced veteran Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran into a June 24 runoff, and hope state Sen. Chris McDaniel can prevail then.

Cantor's defeat was the first primary setback for a senior leader in Congress in recent years. Former House Speaker Thomas Foley of Washington and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota both lost their seats at the polls in the past two decades, but they fell to Republicans, not to challengers from within their own parties.

The outcome may well mark the end of Cantor's political career, and aides did not respond Tuesday night when asked if the majority leader, 51, would run a write-in campaign in the fall.

But its impact on the fate of immigration legislation in the current Congress seemed clearer still. Conservatives will now be emboldened in their opposition to legislation to create a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, and party leaders who are more sympathetic to such legislation will likely be less willing to try.... (continued)


Monday, June 9, 2014

Transgendered priest to give sermon at Episcopal Washington National Cathedral

By Meredith Somers

(The Washington Times) The Washington National Cathedral is welcoming the first openly transgendered Episcopal priest to its altar this month.

The Rev. Cameron Partridge, a transgendered man, is set to give the June 22 sermon at the cathedral, a fixture in the D.C. skyline and one of the nation’s most well-known houses of worship.

Dean of the cathedral, the Rev. Gary Hall, said in a statement that he hopes Mr. Partridge’s presence would send a message of support for the transgender community.

“We at Washington National Cathedral are striving to send a message of love and affirmation, especially to LGBT youth who suffer daily because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Mr. Hall said. “We want to proclaim to them as proudly and unequivocally as we can: Your gender identity is good and your sexual orientation is good because that’s the way that God made you.”

Mr. Partridge is the Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer and counselor for Episcopal and Anglican students at the Harvard Divinity School. He completed his transition to male in 2001, according to Boston University, and has a wife and two children.

Rev. Hall also announced that the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal priest, would be presiding the same service with Mr. Partridge. He retired from his post as a bishop in New Hampshire and now works at the Center for American Progress.

The service caps two weeks of LGBT advocacy for the cathedral. It participated in this year’s Capital Pride events, and Mr. Hall said the service would include readings by local LGBT community members.

Last year the National Cathedral made headlines when its leaders announced that the church would perform same-sex marriages.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pope Francis hosts Israeli-Palestinian peace prayer

Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis on Sunday hosts an unprecedented joint peace prayer in the Vatican with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in a symbolic gesture aimed at fostering dialogue.

Abbas said he hoped the event in the Vatican Gardens at 1700 GMT, which will include Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayers and the planting of an olive tree by all three leaders, would "help Israel decide".

"The pope's invitation was courageous," Abbas said in an interview with the La Repubblica daily.

"With this prayer we are sending a message to all believers of the three major religions and the others: the dream of peace must not die," he said.

Peres, who is 90 years old and will be stepping down as president next month, was quoted by his office as saying on Sunday: "The spiritual call (for peace) is very important and affects reality.

"I hope the event will contribute to promoting peace between the two sides and throughout the world," he said, adding that the conflict is "both political and religious" and "religious leaders resonate".

He defined it "an unusual call for peace"...

Speaking to thousands of followers in St Peter's Square, Francis pointed to the two colonnades around the plaza and said they were like "two arms which open to welcome but do not close again to imprison".

Francis earlier admitted it would be "crazy" to expect any Vatican mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but said prayer might help.

In a tweet from the pope's @pontifex account on Saturday, Francis said: "Prayer is all-powerful. Let us use it to bring peace to the Middle East and peace to the world."

The Vatican has defined the meeting as an "invocation for peace" but has stressed it will not be an "inter-religious prayer", which would have posed problems for the three faiths...

The choice of the Vatican Gardens as a location is also significant since it was considered the most neutral territory within the Vatican City, with none of the Christian iconography that might be seen as offensive to the other two faiths.