Posted by: Fr Chris | September 13, 2017

Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Sept 14

We make the sign of the cross constantly in the Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Catholic Church. Sometimes we can do it casually, and rush through it.

St John the Baptist School 

When I was in 6th grade at St John the Baptist School in Kenmore, New York, the Mother General of the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur who taught at our school came from Belgium. she began her talk to us by making the sign of the cross, saying out loud: In the Name of the Father and of … and she stopped. “Children, how can you already be done with this blessing and I have just started?”


Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, 1960

She then explained to us the power of the cross and what lies behind that simple action of blessing ourselves. Then she started again, deliberately, and all 1,430 children gathered for the assembly followed her in slow motion – quite an achievement, and one that I still remember. The gift of the cross is what we celebrate today, and St John Chrysostom’s sermon on the mystery of the cross sums it all up very well:

A virgin, a tree and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve: she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a Virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in place of Eve there is Mary; in place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ. Do you see him defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil. And that first tree sent men to Hades; this second one calls back even those who had already gone down there. Again, the former tree concealed man already despoiled and stripped; the second tree shows a naked victor on high for all to see. And that earlier death con- demned those who were born after it; this second death gives life again to those who were born before it. Who can tell the Lord’s mighty deeds? By death we were made immortal: these are the glorious deeds of the Cross. Have you understood the victory? Have you grasped how it was wrought? Learn now, how this victory was gained without any sweat or toil of ours. No weapons of ours were stained with blood; our feet did not stand in the front line of battle; we suffered no wounds; witnessed no tumults; and yet we obtained the victory. The battle was the Lord’s, the crown is ours. Since then victory is ours, let us imitate the soldiers, and with joyful voices sing the songs of victory. Let us praise the Lord and say, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The Cross did all these wonderful things for us: the Cross is a war memorial erected against the demons, a sword against sin, the sword with which Christ slew the serpent. The Cross is the Father’s will, the glory of the Only-begotten, the Spirit’s exultation, the beauty of the angels, the guardian of the Church. Paul glories in the Cross; it is the rampart of the saints, it is the light of the whole world.

Enjoy this glorious feast tonight and tomorrow! 

Below: Hail O Cross, our only hope! (Ave Crux, spes unica!)

From Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2017

PS from Fr. Zugger: I recommend readers check out for help and support on this topic! 

The Catholic Church has been criticized by many, including some of its own followers, for its pastoral response to the LGBT community. This criticism deserves a reply—not to defend the Church’s practices reflexively, but to determine whether we, as the Lord’s disciples, are reaching out effectively to a group in need. Christians must always strive to follow the new commandment Jesus gave at the Last Supper: “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”

To love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth. “For this I was born,” Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “to bear witness to the truth.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects this insistence on honesty, stating that the church’s message to the world must “reveal in all clarity the joy and demands of the way of Christ.”

Those who speak on behalf of the church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ, because only through living in harmony with God’s creative design do people find deep and lasting fulfillment. Jesus described his own message in these terms, saying in the Gospel of John: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Catholics believe that, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the church draws its teachings upon the truths of Christ’s message.

Among Catholic priests, one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality is Father James Martin, an American Jesuit. In his book “Building a Bridge,” published earlier this year, he repeats the common criticism that Catholics have been harshly critical of homosexuality while neglecting the importance of sexual integrity among all of its followers.

Father Martin is correct to argue that there should not be any double standard with regard to the virtue of chastity, which, challenging as it may be, is part of the good news of Jesus Christ for all Christians. For the unmarried—no matter their attractions—faithful chastity requires abstention from sex.

This might seem a high standard, especially today. Yet it would be contrary to the wisdom and goodness of Christ to require something that cannot be achieved. Jesus calls us to this virtue because he has made our hearts for purity, just as he has made our minds for truth. With God’s grace and our perseverance, chastity is not only possible, but it will also become the source for true freedom.

We do not need to look far to see the sad consequences of the rejection of God’s plan for human intimacy and love. The sexual liberation the world promotes does not deliver its promise. Rather, promiscuity is the cause of so much needless suffering, of broken hearts, of loneliness, and of treatment of others as means for sexual gratification. As a mother, the church seeks to protect her children from the harm of sin, as an expression of her pastoral charity.

In her teaching about homosexuality, the church guides her followers by distinguishing their identities from their attractions and actions. First there are the people themselves, who are always good because they are children of God. Then there are same-sex attractions, which are not sinful if not willed or acted upon but are nevertheless at odds with human nature. And finally there are same-sex relations, which are gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them. People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the church about this complex and difficult topic.

It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel. I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply. I wrote the foreword to one such testimony, Daniel Mattson’s book, “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace,” with the hope of making his and similar voices better heard.

These men and women testify to the power of grace, the nobility and resilience of the human heart, and the truth of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. In many cases, they have lived apart from the Gospel for a period but have been reconciled to Christ and his church. Their lives are not easy or without sacrifice. Their same-sex inclinations have not been vanquished. But they have discovered the beauty of chastity and of chaste friendships. Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.

Cardinal Sarah is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Appeared in the September 1, 2017, print edition.

From Inside EWTN –

James Huston portrays Staten Island native Father Vincent Capodanno, of the Maryknoll Fathers, who died while helping his Marines during a battle in Vietnam. His Cause for beatification is now open in Rome. 

In these days when the world is in so much need of real heroes, Father Vincent R. Capodanno stands out as a man of God, who is worthy of emulation. If you want your teenagers to understand what it means to live for more than yourself, and how to set an example without preaching, then gather the family around the television at 10 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Aug. 30 for the premiere of “Called and Chosen – Fr. Vincent R. Capodanno.” (Encores at 3 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 4.)

This EWTN original docudrama depicts the life of a former Maryknoll missionary in Taiwan, a young man who would eventually die – at the age of 38 — on the killing fields of Vietnam as he was administering the sacraments and pulling others to safety. This extraordinary priest died, not because he cared about the politics of war, but because he cared about the men who were dying on those fields; men who needed God and the sacraments; men who needed what only a Catholic priest who was unafraid to die could give them.

The film will be preceded by a special “EWTN Live” with Writer/Director James Kelty (“Kateri”); George J. Phillips, Chairman of the Board of the Father Capodanno Guild (who served with the priest and whose testimony is also in the film); and Mary Preece, Vice-Postulator of Cause of Father Vincent R. Capodanno.

“Not only was Father Capodanno a hero, he was one of those people who had charisma while still being a very humble person,” says Kelty. “People just wanted to be around him — everyone who knew him told me that.”

The docudrama begins by depicting the priest’s idyllic early life as the son of Italian-American immigrants in Staten Island, N.Y.  Young Vincent was born into a family of faith in 1929, and was captivated early on by stories of brave missionary priests whose martyrdom was portrayed in the stories and films of his day. Little did anyone know that this little boy would one day join the ranks of these martyrs.

“Called and Chosen” is most riveting in the last hour of the 90-minute film, which intersperses the testimonies of those Marines with whom Fr. Capodanno served with realistic battle scenes that put viewers into the heart of the action. We see a Military Chaplain who went into battle – even though it wasn’t required of him — armed only with the weapon of his faith.

Writer/Director Kelty is clearly an admirer. “He had a quiet strength, a way of mixing his ministry, the heart of which was to bring Christ to people,  in a way that made people feel that he wasn’t just pushing something on them, that he cared about them. When he was stateside (on leave), he would go to the hospital to visit someone he didn’t even know. He was that kind of person. He just never said no. Some of us, our basket is full. We have to withdraw. But he didn’t seem to do that. He was always there, available to everybody.”

As this film explains, this was a priest who received 120 to 150 letters a day from former Marines who had returned home – letters he always did his best to answer. This was a priest who handed out St. Christopher medals and rosaries – including his own when he ran out – and who asked the recipients to pray for the enemy.

The men who served with Father Capodanno depict a priest who was fearless, who lived and prayed with the troops, who had a tremendous ability to listen, who could somehow tell what a Marine wasn’t saying, who had a sense of humor, and who almost always allowed others to decide when a conversation had ended.

Father Capodanno died exactly where he wanted to be, where he knew God willed him to be. As one Marine who served with him said upon seeing Father’s body: “Every other American I had seen killed had a very terrified look on their face. He was at peace.”

Kelty says the hand of God was on the film from start to finish. He managed to connect with John Paul the Great University in San Diego, Calif., which directed him to five recent graduates who Kelty said did a phenomenal job of lighting and shooting the film.

Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif. connected Kelty with 15 students who do a superb job of playing Marines in the film. The actor who plays Father Capodanno even looks like the priest he portrays. The young actors were thrilled to meet a number of the Marines when the veterans visited the set during the filming, something Kelty called a great grace. “Hollywood extras wouldn’t have felt it the way these [Catholic student actors] did. The grace came from the vets that knew him and from these young guys who wanted so much to connect with that kind of heroism and courage and faith.”

Viewers will want to listen closely to the opening montage. Kelty was able to obtain two short snippets of Father Capodanno’s voice. In the first snippet, the priest calls upon God to grant absolution of sins. In the second snippet, part of a sermon Father gave to the Marines in Vietnam, you can hear him tell them: “God chooses the moment to call us back.”

God called Father Capodanno home as he was administering the sacraments and saving the life of a fellow soldier. As Jesus said in John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This film will not only make you proud to be Catholic, it will make you want to be a better Catholic and, whatever you are facing, it will give you courage. After watching the heroism of this young priest, viewers will want to take to heart the message that Father Capodanno imparted to his men before they went into what would be this priest’s final battle: “Do not be afraid this day, for God is with us.”

Posted by: Fr Chris | August 28, 2017

Beheading of St John the Baptist – Sermon

Because of his importance, John the Baptist is the only saint other than Mary, the Mother of God, whose conception (Sept 23), birth (June 4) and death (Aug 29) are all commemorated on the Christian calendar. Along with those dates are the commemorations of finding of his head (Feb 24: First and Second times, and May 25 the Third); and the Synaxis on January 7, the day after the Baptism of the Lord (Theophany, January 6) on the Byzantine calendar. We hold him in such reverence because:

– he is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament;

– he is the first to announce the coming of the Messiah to people on earth;

-in his preaching, he fulfilled the role of Elijah and is the forerunner of the Messiah;

– he fearlessly preached the truth, even to the court of Herod, and was killed because of this;

-he preached to the dead in Sheol to announce that their deliverance was at hand in Jesus.

August 28, the vigil of the Beheading,  in the Latin rite happens to be the feast of St Edmund Arrowsmith, an English priest who was executed on this date in 1628 after 16 years of successful ministry to Catholics by offering Mass and sacraments in people’s homes and hidden chapels. He had been raised illegally in the faith in Lancashire county and was well-loved by the people he served, as John was loved by most of the Jews of his time for his preaching and offering God’s forgiveness. Like John, he was killed for upholding the marriage laws of God. He told a Catholic man and his mother that the man’s marriage to his first cousin and blessed by a minister was wrong, and that he had to get himself straightened out with the Catholic faith. Instead, the man and his mother were angry at being corrected and betrayed their pastor to the authorities, knowing it would mean that the young priest would be brutally tortured and executed in a truly barbaric manner: hanged, cut down while alive, disemboweled, dismembered and his heart cut out. This horrible torture was reserved for traitors, which, by law since Queen Elizabeth I, all Catholic priests were considered to be. That man and his mother gave over their priest to such a death because he called them to an accounting because of the man’s sin!

Herod’s court was incredibly corrupt and wicked – the provocative dance by a princess in front of male guests shows that, as such a thing was simply not done in the ancient world – or ours today. Herod was king – he did not have to stick to his oath – but he had no spine when it came to his illegal wife, and so he had John silenced and thus neither he nor his illicit wife had to be disturbed any longer.

In this story icon, the emaciated prophet humbly submits to the tyrant’s sword; in the left rear a steward carries his head to the waiting princess, while in Heaven the angels encourage John in his suffering.

A prophet is not someone telling the future, but someone who God uses to call a society or a church to repentance and conversion. Being a prophet is not easy. Prophets are often not honored in their lifetimes. And in these times where being politically correct is enforced more and more by law or public pressure, someone who takes the prophetic stance can not only lose their job but also be harassed by opponents who claim that their truth is the only truth – thus we have seen bishops charged in Canada with hate crimes for preaching against gay marriage, people in the US heavily fined for not providing cakes or photographs to customers engaged in activities which they reject. Persecution or violence becomes the answer all too often – John was not the first prophet to die at the hands of a ruler for upholding God’s law, and Edmund Arrowsmith was not the last.

Image result for st john the baptist kenmore

My home parish, St John the Baptist, in Kenmore, New York 

John is a witness – and being a witness to what God’s law is, and what the Church teaches, was not even always popular in medieval Europe when everyone belonged to one Church. It’s hard, and scary, and it’s easier to just melt into the background. We all face challenges in daily life – being a prophet may mean picking the unpopular student to be on my team, or it may mean something life-threatening. Whatever the challenge, God will guide us, if we only let Him do so. John answered the presence of God even in his mother’s womb when he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Jesus – let us ask him tonight to strengthen  us in our daily lives and to be God’s faithful servants above all else.

Posted by: Fr Chris | June 28, 2017

SS. Peter and Paul Sermon

Today is the patronal feast of the Diocese of Rome, where these two martyrs suffered for Christ during the persecution under Nero. Saint Paul is buried under the altar of the Basilica of St Paul Outside The Walls, and St Peter is famously buried directly under the High Altar of St Peter’s Basilica. The Divine Office of the Byzantine Catholic Church proclaims: “With what spiritual songs shall we praise Peter and Paul? The voices of the fearful Sword of the Spirit, the illustrious ornament of Rome, the delight of the whole world, the God-inspired tablets of the New Testament, conceived and uttered in Sion by Christ, the all-merciful God!”

Image result for st peter tomb

Beyond this lies the tomb of St Peter, in the necropolis under the basilica 

Peter is the chief apostle, the rock. Jesus changed his name from Simon to Kepha, or Petrus in Latin. He is and remains the rock on which the Church of Christ still stands – the teaching office of the bishop of Rome has never been claimed by any of the ancient Churches.

Paul is the great missionary, whose journeys took him from Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome and all the way to Spain, planting Churches wherever he went. He always started with the Jewish community, many of which had Gentile converts. To these people he proclaimed that the Messiah had already come, and it was time to move forward into the fullness of redemption.

Image result for st paul tomb

St Paul’s tomb under the altar of his basilica 

Peter and Paul together had to wrestle with the idea of Gentiles joining the People of God, instead of only ethnic Jews or people converted to the Old Law. It is their insight, through God’s actions of grace, where they were not only able to go beyond the limits of the Mosaic Law, but realize what God is asking of them – the creation of a new people of God, a new people that embraces the entire human race and which rejects the complicated Jewish legal system that had now outlived its purpose. This is settled in the first council of the Church, held at Jerusalem and described for us in Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles.

Image result for st peter with keys

Our parish has two relics to be venerated. One is a tiny piece of bone from the tomb of St Peter, which is on the Vatican Hill directly under the high altar of Saint Peter’s basilica. The other is from the skull of St Paul, which is kept in the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, the St. John Lateran Basilica. The two apostles are often shown embracing, reconciled at the council of Jerusalem. Or they are shown side by side – Paul with his letters which remain the basis of so much of our theology, Peter holding his letters and the keys of the kingdom. The image of Peter as holding the keys has endured ever since: even among those who have no Christian heritage left to speak of, will talk about Peter letting people into heaven.

Image result for pope francis and patriarch bartholomew

Peter’s successors stand as the visible heads of the Catholic Church, but Jesus remains the invisible head. He gave the keys to Peter as His steward, giving him authority, but everything relies on Christ’s Incarnation, Sacrifice, Resurrection, and Ascension. The pope is called pontifex – the bridge builder. In these days as Rome tries to reunite with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and calls all people to greater awareness of one another as children of God and being responsible for life on this planet, Pope Francis is acting as bridge builder. When the media want an answer to an ethical issue, they do not go to Moscow or Istanbul – they go to Rome. When a pope dies, all media head to Rome for the funeral and conclave. Vatican City covers 109 acres, but nearly every nation sends an ambassador to it. Paul’s writing and Peter’s teaching remain to guide us in a confusing world, a world so much in need of bridge-building. In venerating their holy relics tonight, let us ask them to intercede for us as members of the People of God, that we will be faithful to Christ and His Church, but also that we will be true representatives of God to the world that looks to us for answers.


Posted by: Fr Chris | June 24, 2017

Attacks against Christians in Egypt

Apparently not everyone has gotten the memo that the Egyptian Government wants to PROTECT the Copts – sectarian attacks continue. Copts, by the way, are the native descendants of the Egyptians of the eras of the Pharaohs – they number anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the population.  Religion is still on one’s identity card, no laws have been passed to ease religious restrictions, and every week there is some attack against Christians in Egypt, from harassment to murder.
Egyptian Church Raided, Chained Off By Police to Prevent Christians From Worshiping
By Samuel Smith

Authorities in Egypt reportedly raided a church-owned building that was being used by a local Coptic Christian community for worship and chained down the doors so that Christians could no longer enter the building.

According to a press release shared with The Christian Post by the human rights and religious freedom advocacy group International Christian Concern, the three-story building situated in the village of Saft Al-Kharsa in the Beni Suef governorate was broken into by police officials last Friday.

After police removed furniture, Christian iconography and other items from the building, they closed down the building using chains, an unnamed Christian villager told ICC..“During the early hours of Friday, June 16, we [Christians] were surprised to find the furniture, rugs, icons, pictures, and worship utensils … had been thrown outside and the building closed down with seals and chains,” the Coptic Christian villager was quoted as saying. “We took the belongings into our homes. We don’t know why the police did that.”

The press release notes that the building had been used by the local Coptic Christian community as a church and a community center. The local Christians have tried to have the building legally recognized as a church since 2016 but have faced backlash from radical Muslims and resistance from the government.

The incident shows how Egypt’s Copts are not only facing the challenge of Islamic State militants, who have vowed to “wipe them out”, but also the daily challenge of living in a country where their constitutional right to freedom of belief and expression is challenged by their Muslim neighbours.

According to Coptic news site Watani, the local priest in Saft el-Khirsa, Fr Thomas Bibawy, has demanded that the Interior Minister conducts an urgent investigation into the incident, while the bishopric has frozen its membership of Beit el-Aila, an interfaith group headed by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.

Uphill battle

The right to freedom of belief, as well as expression, is enshrined in Egypt’s constitution, but Copts who wish to practise their faith in a church building face an uphill battle.

It is almost impossible for Coptic Christians to obtain a license to build a church.

In Saft el-Khirsa, a town of around 12,000, including approximately 70 Christian families, there are ten mosques but no church. And Saft el-Khirsa is far from unique; similar situations can be found across the country. The Copts here have used their building as a community centre and sometimes also as a place of worship, though whether they have permission to do so is unclear. In November last year, they applied for a license, but there has been no official response, nor any indication when they might receive one or what would help their case.

Previously, in July last year, the Copts in Saft el-Khirsa were the subject of a violent attack over rumours they were building a “house church”. Coptic homes and stores were pelted with stones by angry crowds, shouting “We don’t want a church”, and “No god but Allah, Christians are the enemies of Allah”, according to local witnesses.In a similar case last year, Copts in Koum al-Loufi, Minya, were attacked and four of their houses set on fire by local Muslims following a rumour that one of the houses was going to be turned into a church.



According to the Washington Post, Minya Governorate has experienced the largest number of sectarian attacks, with more than 75 targeting Christian residents in the past six years. In response, Minya’s Coptic bishop, Anba Makarios, said: “What we need is real effort exerted to ensure this is not repeated, not just solidarity and compassion.”

The Catholic website La Croix points at the the importance of education, saying “the lack of education, as well as its corollary, the teaching of conservative thought, is … blamed for being the vector of rampant extremism”. Could the same be true of sectarianism in general?

Influential clerics like Sheikh Ahmed al-Naquib teach that “it is forbidden to build churches in the lands of Islam. This holds true, even if the ruler allows otherwise”.

Meanwhile, a young student of Al-Azhar University, a global centre for Sunni thought, admits that he “was taught to believe that Muslims were superior to Christians”, adding that “certain lecturers even taught that killing a Christian was not a crime”.

But in an official statement issued on 18 April, Al Azhar said “Sharia prohibits every kind of assault against human beings, regardless of their religion and belief”, and “Islam also binds Muslims to protect all places of worship and to treat non-Muslims with kindness”.

Double standards?  Salama, a professor at Cairo University, says “the Islamisation of society in Egypt has led to a turning inward by the Coptic community itself, which has also had consequences”.”The public sphere has become Muslim and today we are witnessing double-standard justice,” Salama says.

Salama compares reactions to two recent incidents to make his point. On the one hand, a group of young Copts were last year sentenced to prison and eventually fled the country because they had made a video mocking Islam. But on the other, Salama notes, “After the [bus] attack in Minya, some internet users posted hate messages, rejoicing at the violence against Christians. But these were not prosecuted even though the law punishes such behaviour. Such impunity weakens the Copts”.


Why Kill Fellow Humans?

It is important to reiterate that Coptic Christians have been targeted for deadly religious violence throughout history, particularly during Emperor Byzantine’s reign and occasionally after the Muslim conquest around 641 A.D.

In 1000 A.D., an Islamic caliph is reported to have destroyed at least 3,000 Coptic churches and forced an unknown number of Copts to forsake their faith. This sectarian violence has continued throughout the years, with Coptic churches throughout Egypt being targeted by suicide bombers and gunmen. Homes belonging to Coptic Christians have also been set on fire and their proprieties looted.

While these attacks are largely associated with the ongoing global campaign against Christians by international Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, continued attacks on Copts in Egypt have also been blamed on a lack of adequate political representation.

Currently, the Egyptian Parliament has only 36 Christians out of 596 members, and 24 of the Christian representatives were given the seats through a religion-based quota system.

When it comes to legal protection, the Egyptian law leaves Copts exposed to sectarian attacks since it declares Islam the state’s official religion and prohibits conversion to any other religion. There is also the Blasphemy Law, which has seen many Christians in the country jailed for speaking against Islam.

Although the Egyptian government has often strongly condemned these attacks, no decisive action has been taken against the perpetrators.

Now the question that everyone is asking is, for how long will innocent men, women, and children continue to die because of their faith?


Christina Khader Ebada, the Assyrian girl kidnapped by ISIS three years ago, reunited with her mother. ( AINA)

The maniacs of ISIS kidnapped thousands of Christian and Yazidi children, often slaughtering their parents and siblings in front of them. This girl was pulled from her mother’s arms by a jihadist as the family tried to escape from Qaraqosh, once the biggest Christian city in Iraq (50,000 faithful in 2012).  What kind of men do such things to families in the name of God? Her father and brother both died of starvation in their own house – the jihadists would not feed these two deaf-mute men, nor a 70 year old neighbor who also could not escape. The Quran commands mercy, but also gives conquerors the right to anything or anyone they want. At least a Muslim neighbor took all the bodies and buried them in a burned out church. – Fr Chris  

Christina Khader Ebada, the three year-old Assyrian girl who was kidnapped by ISIS three years ago, has been reunited with her family in North Iraq. The Iraqi Army, currently fighting ISIS for the liberation of Mosul, contacted Allen Kakony, a journalist and photographer, and told him “a six-year-old Christian girl had been liberated” from the hands of ISIS. According to the Huffington Post, her parents where contacted and told to report to a designated location in Mosul where she would be returned to them.

Related: Timeline of ISIS in Iraq
Related: Attacks on Assyrians in Syria By ISIS and Other Muslim Groups

According to Fox News, Christina brother said in a statement “With all that we have been through, we are overjoyed that our Christina has been returned to us safely. I thank all those who have prayed for her safe return.”

Christina was abducted from her family by ISIS in August, 2014, as she and her parents were leaving Baghdede (Qaraqosh), the largest Assyrian city in Iraq (AINA 2014-08-25). She was last seen by her mother crying and sobbing as a heavily bearded man carried her away. Her mother was interviewed three days after she was snatched from her arms by ISIS (AINA 2014-08-28) and said at the time “She will die if she does not see me.”

Christian is now six years old and is unable to speak except for a few words in Arabic, as she has apparently forgotten her Assyrian language. According to an Assyrian resident quoted by World Watch Monitor, “She looks OK, quite healthy. I believe she must have been in the house of a family who took good care of her. She was even wearing gold earrings, so it must have been a wealthy family.”

Christina, then and now. ( AINA)
Christina on her way back to Dohuk. ( Steven nabil)

People have a bad habit of saying Happy Memorial Day, with absolutely no awareness that today honors the men and women who died defending our country and its freedoms. In honor of my Marine Corps father and one of my best friends, also a Marine, and my relative Ambrose J. LePrell, USMC, killed in France on 10/24/1918, here is an article on Venerable Vincent Capodanno, a priest who was killed in 1967 while administering the Sacraments in Vietnam. He was dearly loved by his Marines, and his Cause is now going to Rome for his hopeful beatification, next step to sainthood. If you haven’t already today, offer a prayer for the repose of those who died in our defense, and for the consolation of those they left behind. 

From CRUX, 29 May, 2017 – ‘Grunt Padre’ could be patron saint of Memorial Day

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For many Americans, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, a time when pools open and families celebrate backyard barbecues.

But for Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who leads the military archdiocese in the United States, “Memorial Day now has a face. It’s a face that I recognize. You meet the relatives, the spouses and parents of men and women who have died as a result of combat,” he told Crux in an interview. “Also, you meet countless young men and women who are willing to take the risks to serve our country.”

When people lose a loved one in combat, “you always sense the loss,” he said.

Some day, Memorial Day may also have a patron saint, especially for those killed or wounded in action, for their families, and for military chaplains and those they serve.

At the end of the Military Archdiocese’s 23rd annual Memorial Day Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Broglio formally closed the archdiocesan phase of the cause of canonization for Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain killed during a fierce battle in Vietnam almost 50 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1967 at the age of 38. Now the cause goes on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain killed during a fierce battle in Vietnam almost 50 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1967 at the age of 38. (Credit: Military archdiocese.)

Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll priest and Navy chaplain killed during a fierce battle in Vietnam almost 50 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1967 at the age of 38. (Credit: Military archdiocese.)

The Mass, pre-taped on May 21, will be televised on EWTN on Memorial Day, Monday May 29, at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time and later at midnight, and on Catholic TV at noon and 8 p.m.

The heroic chaplain was born in Staten Island, New York, on Feb. 13, 1929, the youngest of 10 children in an Italian immigrant family. During World War II, he witnessed two of his older brothers going off to serve in the U.S. Army, and another serving in the Marines.

At the age of 20, Capodanno felt called to become a missionary priest and entered the seminary for the Maryknoll order and was ordained to the priesthood in 1958. After the traditional tolling of his seminary’s bells, he learned that he was assigned to be a missionary in Taiwan, where he learned the language, administered the sacraments, trained catechists and distributed food and medicine.

About six years later he was transferred to Hong Kong, where he met U.S. military personnel and felt called to serve as a chaplain.

“When he makes the decision to ask his superiors to become a Navy chaplain, this opens a whole new experience,” said Broglio. “This is where he discovers that vocation within a vocation. That really is his path to sanctity.”

The chaplain was nicknamed the “Grunt Padre,” because of his personal care for and ministry to the “grunts” – the nickname for members of the infantry, like the Marines he served in his battalion after arriving in Vietnam during Holy Week in 1966.

“He responds to the concrete needs of Marines, and he is going to take care of them,” said Broglio. “He’s typical of many chaplains I’ve met in the last 10 years. He knows what’s right. He’s going to take care of his people.”

Capodanno’s biography on the website of the Archdiocese for the Military Services describes his ministry: “He became a constant companion to the Marines: living, eating and sleeping in the same conditions of the men. He established libraries, gathered and distributed gifts and organized outreach programs for the local villagers. He spent hours reassuring the weary and disillusioned, consoling the grieving, hearing Confessions, instructing converts and distributing St. Christopher medals.”

After serving a year-long tour, he signed up to continue serving as a chaplain with the Marines. On Sept. 4, 1967, during Operation Swift, his seventh combat operation, he died heroically ministering to the Marines in his battalion.

“His view is, he’s going to be with his Marines and take care of them. As they’re shot up, he’s there ministering to them and encouraging them. That’s his vocation,” the military archbishop said.

The citation for the chaplain’s Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously in 1969, describes Capodanno’s heroism:

“In response to reports the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon.

“Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded.

When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant Marines.

“Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire.”

The citation concluded, “By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.”

Capodanno “went from being an ordinary missionary to an exceptional chaplain. In that is clearly the hand of God,” said Broglio, who added that what made him exceptional was “just the conviction that he is going to take care of his Marines… He was their counselor, their friend,” who gave his life serving them.

The story of Capodanno’s faith, sacrifice and heroism was chronicled in the book, The Grunt Padre: The Service and Sacrifice of Father Vincent Robert Capodanno, Vietnam 1966-67, written in 2000 by Father Daniel Mode, who came from a Navy family and was inspired by the chaplain’s life and as a seminarian wrote his thesis on the heroic priest, interviewing 100 people who knew him.

Mode – who later became a U.S. Navy chaplain himself, and has been deployed to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan and served on aircraft carriers and in the Philippines after the 2013 typhoon there – has said his ministry has been inspired by the grace and courage of the “Grunt Padre,” who brought Christ to the Marines he served in Vietnam.

The chaplain’s biography includes the story of Marine Cpl. Ray Harton, who as he lay wounded from a gunshot in his left arm, said he opened his eyes during that battle and saw Capodanno, who in a calm voice told him, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be okay. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

In his homily at the Memorial Day Mass, Broglio referred to that story, saying, “How appropriate that the annual Memorial Mass offers the occasion to conclude the archdiocesan phase in the Cause for the Canonization of Father Vincent Capodanno.

“He clearly knew the value of his priesthood, and he willingly laid down his life so that others might have the benefit of the gifts he brought. Ray Harton will never forget Father Capodanno’s encouraging, ‘Stay quiet, Marine. You will be okay,’ but neither will any of us who have known that commitment repeated so often by a priest in the military.”

In his interview with Crux, Broglio said the heroic chaplain’s spirit lives on in the more than 200 priests serving as U.S. military chaplains around the world.

“That notion of caring for others, that’s very evident in the best chaplain’s ability to meet a service person where he or she is, and find ways to talk with them… that willingness to give of yourself and your free time, that tremendous notion of wanting to care for people,” the military archbishop said. “That’s clear in Father Capodanno’s life, and it’s clear in most of the chaplains I know.”

Broglio added, “A priest is unique among chaplains in the sense he brings something only a Catholic priest can bring – the person of Christ in the sacraments. He celebrates the Eucharist, anoints the sick and hears Confession. Those are gifts only he can bring.”

The military archdiocese’s website notes that priest chaplains “go wherever their people are – in a tent in the desert, on the deck of an aircraft carrier, in the barracks on base, on a fire-fighting line, in the VA hospital, in the halls of the Pentagon.”

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Statue of “Fr. Vince” administering Last Rites on battlefield

The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, was established by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1985. Its priests serve at more than 220 U.S. military installations in 29 countries, making it the world’s only global archdiocese. Its priests also serve in 153 VA medical centers throughout the United States.

Its website notes that an estimated 1.8 million Catholics depend on that archdiocese to meet their spiritual and sacramental needs. That includes 325,000 Catholics on active duty, and their families.

Capodanno was declared a “Servant of God” in 2006 by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the request of then-Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, who led the military archdiocese until 2007 and was succeeded the next year by Broglio, who formerly opened the chaplain’s cause of canonization in 2013 and appointed a tribunal to investigate whether he lived a life of heroic virtue.

The diocesan phase included gathering facts on his life, interviewing people who knew him, and investigating his writings.

The chaplain’s earthly honors include the Navy Bronze Star medal and the Purple Heart medal. The USS Capodanno, a Navy frigate in commission from 1973-93 that was deployed during Desert Storm, was named in his honor, as are seven chapels around the world, including one at Navy Chaplains School in Newport, Rhode Island, and one on Hill 51 in Que Son Valley in Vietnam that the chaplain himself helped build out of thatched palms and bamboo.

A naval clinic in Gaeta, Italy, is also named in his honor, as is Capodanno Boulevard in Staten Island, and an annual scholarship given to the children of Marine Corps members bears his name. A room in the chancery of the Archdiocese for the Military Services includes artifacts related to the life and death of the chaplain, including a green field hat that he wore in Vietnam, and an etching of his name from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Broglio said that the chaplain’s sainthood cause moving forward this year is especially poignant, because the annual Memorial Mass in his honor, which this year will be celebrated on Sept. 5 at the National Shrine, will mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

The military archbishop said Capodanno offers a role model not just for chaplains and those serving in the military, but for other Catholics to emulate. The cause for canonization, he said, means “this figure is worthy of imitation. This is not a Bronze Star. It’s for us (that) we’re doing this.”

“I think Father Capodanno, in terms of virtues, he teaches us fidelity,” Broglio said.  “He teaches us perseverance. He teaches us immense charity, not only on the battlefield, but in the hundreds of little things he did for his Marines.”


Another biography:

Marine Corps Association bio:

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 27, 2017

The Exodus of Christians out of Iraq.

This article from the Financial Times details what has been happening recently in Iraq. I added some photos.

The native Churches – Chaldean Catholic, Assyrian Church, Armenian Catholic and Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox and Catholic, Latin and Protestant-  have all been devastated, first by the problems caused by our invasion in 2003 and the ensuing chaos, and of course the surge of Islamic fundamentalism. We have created a mess there, and as Mr. Gardner points out, the local Muslims always associate the local Christians with the Western powers, despite the fact that these same powers really don’t care about the Christians’ desperate straits: witness how few are allowed into the USA. The upcoming visit of the Pope tomorrow to both Al-Azhar, the premier Sunni school in the world, and to the Coptic Orthodox Pope, is an exceedingly delicate mission! ‘

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David Gardner, Financial Times, April 25, 2017

Isis has spattered Pope Francis’s visit to Egypt this week with a bloody prelude. On Palm Sunday its suicide bombers exploded outside a Coptic Christian cathedral in Alexandria and at the altar of a church in Tanta, in the Nile Delta, killing 47 people. Last week Isis hit St Catherine’s, the majestic Orthodox monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. Police repelled this assault on a jewel of eastern Christendom. It would otherwise probably have met the fate of the also 14 centuries-old Mar Elias Assyrian Christian monastery near Mosul, which Isis blew up after taking the Iraqi city in 2014.

Isis has lost half the territory of its proto-state in Iraq and Syria since then. Facing territorial defeat, it is stepping up what it did in both countries: sowing despair and sectarian discord. Its venomous contempt for any and everyone of different beliefs is motivation enough. But attacks on Christians work as a multiplier for jihadis that divides their enemies. Iraq, cradle of the golden age of Islam under the Abbasid dynasty from the eighth to the 13th century, is also by tradition the land of Abraham. The US-led invasion of 2003 almost emptied it of Christians, tarred as complicit with the west and caught in the crossfire of ethno-sectarian war between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Their numbers plummeted from about 1.2m to around 300,000. When the Iraqi forerunner of Isis was reincarnated by Syria’s similarly sectarian conflict and captured Mosul in June 2014, the city lost its last Christians as the jihadis daubed the letter ‘N’ for Nazarenes on their homes. The jihadis are savage but they are not stupid. Attacking Christians and other minorities forces them to take refuge with dictators and strongmen, often stirring the antagonism of the Sunni Muslim majority. Europe and the west’s tendency to spring to the defence of Christians stirs more hostility and rancorous memories of western meddling.

That includes alliances between Christian hierarchs and local tyrants; and the Ottoman-era “Capitulations”, a hated regime under which European powers claimed the right to protect their co-religionists. That cast them — the Armenians and Assyrian Christians — as fifth columnists who were then exterminated by Young Turk leaders in Anatolia during the first world war.

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Christians are being targeted; but their leaders, in the near east and in the west, need to make sure they are not helping to pin the targets. The jihadis have long been on to this. Their narrative about western “Crusaders” may sound weirdly archaic to many but it resonates with their target audiences. Against this background of fear in the eastern Mediterranean and populist Islamophobia in the west, Pope Francis is being billed as an almost supernaturally gifted bridge-builder. The Catholic pontiff captures the imagination of people of other faiths and of no faith. But it needs a lot more than bridges to dry up the rivers of sectarian poison that have coursed through the region since Iraq and then Syria. How to staunch the exodus of Arab Christians and protect those who remain is obviously a papal priority. But the Vatican needs to clarify its policy on the Levant — where Christians face a bleak future if their leaders continue to see freedom and religious pluralism in opposition to each other, even siding with the savage dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, as a supposed bulwark against jihadi extremists.

Bechara al-Rai, patriarch of the Rome-allied Maronites, Lebanon’s largest Christian minority, early in the conflict described Syria as “the closest thing to democracy” in the Arab world. This pitted highly relative religious tolerance, enforced by Syria under the Assads, against democracy. It also overlooked the way Damascus used sectarianism as a lethal weapon. Too many local prelates stood with a minority-based despotism against Syria’s Sunni majority, in what started as a civic uprising against tyranny. The spectre of Islamism determines their judgment in much the same way the spectre of Bolshevism pushed some of their 20th century counterparts into alliances with fascism.

The survival of a two-millennia-old tradition of Arab Christianity, in the lands of its birth, is important not just for Christians. Over the past century, Christians’ share of the Arab population has fallen two-thirds to about 5 per cent, often because a missionary-provided education gave them a passport abroad. But still they provide interstitial tissue to society. The beneficiaries of the Christian-inspired schools and universities set up in the 19th century Levant are now, for example, overwhelmingly Muslim. Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Lebanese writer, has a phrase about minorities being “the yeast in society”. That is still true of Christians in the near east — for now.

Posted by: Fr Chris | April 17, 2017

Bright Monday, Dyngus Day, and Emmaus

We continue with both the first chapter of St.  John and the first chapter of the Book of Acts today in the Byzantine Catholic Church. We go back to the beginning of the Gospels, and to the beginning of the Church following Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  The Gospel  is the start of it all, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God, the Logos, as Jesus and His ministry on earth. The Book of Acts is the start of the Church’s life as the apostles and disciples prepared for Pentecost.In our Divine Office, the psalms are not read this week, only the paschal hours are sung.  There is no fasting, and we are actually encouraged to enjoy meat, eggs, and dairy – and in North America, especially chocolates! The emphasis is on carrying the joy of Pascha.

In eastern Europe  (Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary), today the men throw water on the women, from a legend in which Peter and the apostles thought that the holy women were hysterical when they reported the resurrection, only to have Peter and John return from the empty tomb, saying that the women were right. (And it is also a way that a girl knows if a young man likes her, and vice versa!)

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Tomorrow the opposite happens – the holy women got their revenge on the apostles and the men had to apologize, answering “Indeed He is risen” to the women’s cries of “Christ is risen!”  In Poland – and back home in Buffalo, NY – there is the additional  practice Dyngus Day, with the boys striking girls with the pussy willows blessed on Palm Sunday, followed by feasting and dancing the night away.

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Dyngus Day procession in East Buffalo 

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Dyngus Day fills the Central Terminal in Buffalo 

In the Roman rite, today is the Emmaus gospel, in which Luke and Cleophas encounter

the Risen Lord in the Eucharist, at the breaking of the bread, something we observe tomorrow in the Eastern Churches. In German-speaking countries, today is a national holiday and a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics. It’s the custom to take a long walk alone after hearing the Emmaus Gospel in church – usually in Germany, Switzerland and Austria you hike in groups. But not for Emmaus – this is a time when people go off alone in a park or the woods or the mountains to personally  and quietly meditate on the risen Lord and His presence in our daily  lives.

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Rejoice in the risen Christ, by all means. Have fun this  week as much as you can. Eat and be happy. But also take time to meet this same Lord quietly, in the stillness of our hearts, and to meet Him this year in a new way, thanking Him for His life-giving Passion, and for His endless mercy in receiving us back when we repent from our sins, and finally praising Him for coming to us in the breaking of the bread, this magnificent mystery, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, where He presents Himself to us over and over, at altars around the world, because of His enormous love for us.

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Decades of encountering our Risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist 

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