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Evangelization begins with listening, Cardinal Tagle says

Quezon City, Philippines, Dec 10, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Listening is the first step in evangelization, the newly-appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said Tuesday in Quezon City.

“Evangelization is communication. God is a God who communicates, who dialogues. But He is also a God who listens,” Cardinal Luis Tagle said Dec. 10, according to ABS-CBN News.

He was speaking during a meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, which included the groundbreaking of the Veritas Asia Institute of Social Communications.

Cardinal Tagle encouraged a “spirituality of listening, to God, to neighbors and to the signs of the times.”

“Listening comes first,” he stated. “Many people are longing for someone and a community to listen. Even if you have no words, you communicate your presence, your compassion, your unity.”

The cardinal commented that “we are all in a hurry, rushing to say something, to issue a statement even when we have not heard yet. We have already something prepared without knowing what the question or statement is.”

He added that the Church needs people “who generate greater trust and confidence, as “in our world today [there is] so much fear, suspicion and prejudice. We don’t know whom to trust. We need people who can generate that atmosphere of trust.”

Cardinal Tagle also reflected that “having a beautiful building in itself does not guarantee evangelisation; it is the training and formation of people,” saying that “some of the most memorable catechetical lessons were learned under a tree” when he was a child. “If I were asked where we had these catechetical lessons, I could not name any building. Children were gathered. We had cookies. We had candies. And we came to the lessons.”

The cardinal, who is 62, was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples Dec. 8. He had served as Archbishop of Manila since 2011.

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Imus at age 24, and was appointed bishop of that see in 2001.

Vatican’s investment manager backed company that ‘misled investors’

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2019 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- The Italian businessman responsible for investing millions of Vatican funds owned a stake in an online options trading company fined in 2016 by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors.

Raffaele Mincione, through whom the Vatican’s Secretariat of State has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from the faithful, bought in 2015 a 5% stake in EZTD Ltd, an Israeli-based company known as EZTrader.

Through a privately arranged sale, instead of on the open market, Mincione paid only $.25 per share for his stake in the company, while the publicly listed share price was $5.10. For only $1.6 million, he acquired a stake in EZTD valued on the market at $32 million.
 
That investment lost 90% of its value after a 2016 SEC finding that the company had misled investors and violated both the Securities Act and the Securities and Exchanges Act. EZTD’s share price dropped to $0.001 after the SEC announced its findings and fined the company.

EZTD offered American investors a binary options platform, inviting customers to make an all-or-nothing bet on whether a stock would increase in value. The company did not explain the risks of its products, or register in the United States as a broker-dealer, the SEC found.

Fewer than three percent of the company’s 4,000 account holders made a profit investing through the company, according to the SEC.

“Not only did the firm fail to register the binary options or register as a broker-dealer to legally sell the investment to U.S. investors in the first place, but it failed to disclose on its trading platforms that there was significantly greater potential for investors to lose rather than earn money,” the SEC said in 2015

Because his stake in EZTD qualified him as a “beneficial owner,” Mincione was listed in the company’s 2015 SEC filing.

Mincione’s involvement in multiple Vatican investments has featured in a series of media reports in recent months.

In 2014 Mincione was managing $200 million for the Holy See’s Secretariat of State through his company Athena Capital, with 55% allocated to “speculative investments,” according to Corriere della Serra.

Among these, the Financial Times reported Oct. 17 that Mincione used Vatican funds to purchase unrated bonds in another of his holding companies, Time and Life SA, which financed his personal investments, while at the same time charging the Vatican millions of euros in performance and management fees.

That report raises the possibility that Vatican funds were used to finance Mincione’s stake in EZTD.

Also in 2014, Mincione’s Athena Capital was used to channel Vatican investment into a 45% share in another Mincione project - the luxury real estate development at 60 Sloane Avenue in London - at a price of 180 million euros, more than Mincione paid for his original investment in the whole building. CNA has reported that the Vatican’s funds for the purchase came from loans from two Swiss banks, and were concealed on Vatican balance sheets in breach of Vatican financial regulations.

While paying Mincione’s company, Athena, to manage the transaction, the Secretariat of State, under the authority of then sostituto Cardinal Angelo Becciu, decided to purchase the remaining 55% stake in the development from Mincione in 2016, allowing him to clear hundreds of millions of euros in profit on the sale of the second set of shares in the project.

Although it sold the Secretariat of State 30,000 of 31,000 shares in the project, Minicone’s holding company retained the 1,000 voting shares needed to control the holding company which owned the building. It offered to part with those at greatly inflated prices. That sale was eventually arranged through – according to Italian media – another businessman, Gianluigi Torzi.

Mincione’s estimated profit from managing the deal, excluding profit from selling the building itself, is 60 million euros, with Torzi making a further 10 million from his participation.

In early 2019, Becciu’s replacement as sostituto, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, became aware of the details of the deal and sought advice from Rene Brülhart, then the head of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority.

Vatican Gendarmes executed a raid at the Secretariat of State and AIF offices on Oct. 1 as part of an investigation related to the investment. Five people were suspended as a result, including two Secretariat employees listed as directors of the Vatican’s UK holding company now managing the building investment, London 60 SA Ltd.

A director of London 60 SA Ltd charged with leading the development project is Luciano Capaldo, a UK resident and UK-Itallian citizen. Capaldo was originally registered with Companies House in London as a Vatican citizen, raising still-unanswered questions about why the Secretariat of State might have conferred Vatican citizenship on a layman living in London.

Capldo himself has several business links to Torzi. FEG International Assets, a Luxembourg based company formerly run by Torzi, is a major investor in Capaldo’s Italian architecture and development company, Imvest, which was raided by Italian financial authorities in May 2018 on charges of preparation and submission of false budgets.

FEG and Torzi were named recently in a commercial fraud suit in London’s High Court. Also named as respondents in the suit was Odikon Services PLC, of which Torzi and Capaldo were also directors. Odikon, currently suspended by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, is a major shareholder in Meti Capital, which is itself the major shareholder in Imvest.

During a recent in press conference, Pope Francis was asked about the London investment. While confirming that he had personally authorized the October raids, he emphasised that proof of corrupt or illegal activity was “not yet clear,” before concluding that “it passed what passed: a scandal,”

“They have done things that do not seem clean,” the pope said. Last week, the Holy See press office confirmed that several investments and funds used by the Secretariat of State were under investigation.

“Lines of enquiry which may help clarify the position of the Holy See with respect to the aforementioned funds and any others, are currently being examined by the Vatican judiciary, in collaboration with the competent authorities,” a statement said.

Franciscan University forms partnership with Iraqi Catholic university

Steubenville, Ohio, Dec 10, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- A Catholic university in the U.S. has partnered with an Iraqi Catholic college to promote opportunities for scholarship, collaboration, and understanding between the two countries.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and the Catholic University of Erbil (CUE) in Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Dec. 6.

“The agreement forges ties between the two schools and cities that include cultural exchanges, such as the visit this past September by Iraqi high school students to Steubenville,” Tom Sofio, a Franciscan University spokesman, told CNA.

“The agreement also allows for the development of language courses in Arabic and Aramaic to be offered to Franciscan University students, the pursuit of scholarship funding for Iraqi students to study at Franciscan University … and Skype sessions between students at Franciscan University and The Catholic University of Erbil,” Sofio added.

The document was signed by Father Dave Pivonka, president of Franciscan, and Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who founded the Iraq university in 2015.

Under the agreement, students from Iraq can receive scholarships to take Franciscan University courses in person or online, and, in turn, Franciscan University students will have opportunities to visit Erbil, study there, and better experience the culture of the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

Erbil’s Catholic university, only four years old, has 147 students and offers 10 programs, including pharmacy technology, accounting, law, and international relations, the Herald-Star reported.

The partnership will also explore avenues of catechetical assistance for the Diocese of Erbil, which could involve the collaboration of Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute, Conference Office, and Wild Goose, a ministry led by the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular and founded by Pivonka. 

The partnership has been supported by Aid to the Church in Need USA. The organization also recently funded two of CUE’s computer labs, which especially benefit students in civil engineering or architecture programs.

Warda founded the CUE in 2015 to promote higher education and to help Christians displaced by the Islamic State. 

Some 125,000 Christians live in Iraq. The Christian population of the country has declined dramatically in recent years, as Christians fled the persecution of the Islamic State or were killed. The northern Kurdistan region in Iraq has about 4,300 Chaldean Christians, the Herald-Star reported, and several thousand more have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan since 2014.

Pivonka expressed hope that the partnership will be an opportunity for U.S. Catholic students to interact with Christians in other countries who have faced terrible persecution.

“Largely the Christians in Iraq have been forgotten. But they have much to offer us,” Pivonka told the Herald-Star this week.

“We talk about inconveniences in our faith. But in Iraq there are people who are dying for it. All of the (Iraqi) youth here have family members who have been killed. It’s just part of their faith.”

 

Peoria bishop announces novena for Venerable Sheen's sainthood cause

Peoria, Ill., Dec 10, 2019 / 02:38 pm (CNA).- Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria is inviting the faithful to pray a novena beginning Dec. 12 to "petition God unceasingly" that Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s sainthood cause may move forward.

Sheen, a beloved American evangelist and television personality who died in 1979, was set to be beatified Dec. 21 in Peoria, but the Holy See announced Dec. 2 that the beatification was to be postponed.

“I know how deeply saddened we all are about the postponement of the beatification of Fulton Sheen,” said Bishop Jenky said in a video message Dec. 9.

“But in these turbulent times when our faith is being tested...we need to remain faithful to prayer like Archbishop Sheen.”

The novena will begin Dec. 12 and include daily meditations on reflections from Sheen, Jenky announced.

In the days after the Diocese of Peoria announced the postponement, Catholics around the world reportedly led a grassroots effort to have “a million” Masses celebrated for Sheen to pray for his beatification to move forward.

Lo Anne Mayer, a Catholic in New Jersey who in 2017 helped to organize an effort calling on Catholic churches around the world to celebrate a special Mass on Sheen’s May 8 birthday, put the word out to Catholics to celebrate a special Mass for Sheen Dec. 9.

Dec. 9 marked the 40th anniversary of Sheen’s death at the age of 84. Catholic media outlets, including EWTN, helped to spread the word.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was 24 when he was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

The Peoria diocese initially attributed the Vatican’s decision to postpone Sheen’s beatification to “a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration.”

CNA reported Dec. 4 that it was Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester who asked the apostolic nuncio to the United States to delay the beatification, citing concerns about an ongoing state attorney general’s investigation into the dioceses of New York state.

New York’s attorney general began an investigation in September 2018 into whether any of the state’s eight Latin rite dioceses had covered up acts or allegations of clerical sexual abuse. Sheen was Bishop of Rochester from 1966 to 1969.

The Rochester diocese said Dec. 5 that it expressed concern about the advancement of Sheen’s cause “without a further review of his role in priests’ assignments.”

“The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen’s cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification,” the diocese said.

Monsignor James Kruse, a former Peoria vicar general, told CNA that Bishop Matano expressed his concerns in a Nov. 19 letter, after the beatification was announced, saying that he could not support the scheduled beatification and requesting that it be delayed.

According to Kruse, a copy of this letter was also sent to Bishop Jenky, Cardinal Angelo Becchiu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Both Kruse and the Peoria diocese insist that Sheen’s life has been thoroughly examined and with regard to Sheen’s handling of the cases of two former priests accused of abuse, he “did nothing wrong.”

“Under the veneer of the Rochester diocese’s call for caution, more than an overwhelming majority of people would conclude that it is an unexplainable act of sabotage — a sabotage that simply hurts the faithful,” Monsignor James Kruse, an official in the Diocese of Peoria involved in advancing Sheen’s cause, wrote in a Dec. 7 op-ed.

Raleigh pro-life pregnancy center to move next door to abortion clinic

Raleigh, N.C., Dec 10, 2019 / 01:43 pm (CNA).- A pregnancy resource center in Raleigh, North Carolina will be allowed to move into a house next door to an abortion clinic following a settlement in a federal lawsuit, three years after the city council denied the center’s rezoning request.

Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center had been located about a half-mile from A Preferred Women’s Health Center, an abortion clinic, for several years, and wanted to move into a house next door to the abortion facility to save money and to be closer to the women seeking out the abortion clinic.

In July 2016 the city council denied the center’s rezoning request, classifying it as a medical facility because of its use of ultrasounds, and saying a medical facility is a poor land-use fit in that area. The city’s Board of Adjustment also ruled against the center, local newspaper The News & Observer reports.

The pregnancy center has rejected the label of medical facility, arguing that its ultrasounds are “non-diagnostic.” The center sued in federal court, with its attorneys arguing that it should be categorized instead as a civic organization since it is religiously affiliated.

According to the News & Observer, which obtained a copy of the Sept. 27 settlement terms, the city of Raleigh will pay Hand of Hope $25,000 after the lawsuit is dismissed. The pregnancy center agreed to not allow protesters on its site, “provided public prayer does not constitute protesting,” the terms state.

Though the agreement will allow Hand of Hope to continue providing free ultrasounds, the terms also require that less than one-fourth of the house’s square footage be used for medical activities. In addition, Hand of Hope will be able to provide a “predetermined set of medical services” for only one in four people visiting the office, The News & Observer reports.

The center will have to follow state law in administering its ultrasounds and other medical procedures, explain its religious origins on its website, and include the phrase “Hand of Hope” on any sign at its new location, according to The News & Observer.

Tonya Baker Nelson, executive director of the center, said the center’s attorneys provided hundreds of hours of their time for free, but the center still has significantly reduced legal expenses to cover.

“We are eagerly anticipating the earliest possible date for us to occupy our property that we have owned since December 2015 beside one of the busiest privately owned abortion clinics in the Southeast!” Baker wrote in an announcement on Facebook Nov. 27.

She said the new facility has a timeline of a “few months” to be open for business, and they plan to offer free ultrasounds, abortion pill reversal procedures, education classes, mentoring, and Bible studies.

‘This is Francis:’ A Vatican photographer’s call from the pope

Vatican City, Dec 10, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Imagine that your cell phone rings, and the display says the call is from a “private number.” You expect it to be a telemarketer. But instead, when you answer, you hear a man with an Argentine accent say: “This is Francis. I received your letter.”

That phone call happened to Daniel Ibanez, the CNA and EWTN News Vatican photographer, on an ordinary weekday morning in December 2018.

“I effectively stayed frozen, because I was speaking with the pope,” Ibanez told CNA. “He said: ‘I would like to invite you to the Mass at Casa Santa Marta on Dec. 20, 2018, which will be the last I publicly celebrate in the Vatican [before Christmas].’”

Ibanez had sent a letter to Pope Francis two months prior, in October 2018, telling him about his experience as a young Catholic from Palencia, Spain, living and working in Italy as a photographer for a Catholic media organization.

He had also expressed his desire for the opportunity to experience Pope Francis as an ordinary Catholic, since Ibanez is always working – that is, taking photos – during papal Masses and events.

The 27-year-old Ibanez said he was touched and surprised that during their phone call, which lasted about five minutes, Pope Francis asked his pardon for not responding to his letter sooner.

The pope also gave him the directions for what to do in two days to attend the private Mass at the Vatican’s guesthouse.

“He repeated what I should do four times, like a grandfather. Because I was not understanding. My brain was really frozen... I was speaking with the pope on my cellphone!” Ibanez said.

On Dec. 20, 2018, the photographer went through all the security to arrive at the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta. He said at first he sat at the very back, but the priests made him move to the front: “From a photographic perspective, the best seat.”

Ibanez said he remembers one part of Pope Francis’ homily that day in particular: “God enters history and does so in his original style: a surprise. The God of surprises, surprises us.”

After the Mass, the pope greeted each person individually. Ibanez introduced himself as a photographer for CNA and EWTN and gave him two photos he had taken of him.

He also gave the pope some letters from his friends and family, including one from a young woman who wrote about her elderly uncle, a retired priest in Spain. Pope Francis called this priest a few months later, speaking to him for about an hour.

Ibanez also told the pope about his friend, a wife and mother who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a few days prior. Francis put his hand over the woman’s photo, staying in silence for some seconds. In that moment, “I felt that he is a very empathetic person, who listens,” he said.

Then, before the pope left, Ibanez asked if he could give him a hug, and the two embraced.

Ibanez is the youngest fully Vatican-accredited photographer, and the only one from Spain. He explained that he originally came to Rome to study, but he finds the words of St. Josemaria Escriva relatable, that one should “dream and your dreams will fall short.”

He only expected to be in Rome for six months, and instead he has been here for almost six years, he told CNA.

“This work is beautiful, even if it is a little tiring. But I am a Catholic and above all it is an honor to do this work,” he stated.

“It is true that the negative part is that [Pope Francis] is a person who never gets tired. So, if you follow the pope, the agenda of the pope is very complicated, very complex too. That is, to work on Sundays and holidays...”

Ibanez’ newest project has been to create a 2020 wall calendar, available for free from EWTN, featuring his photos. Each month showcases a full-page photo he took at the Vatican, in Rome, or in other places important to Catholicism, such as the Holy Land and the Shrine of Our Lady in Fatima.

Ibanez said the calendar is a way of helping people see the Vatican, and the Church, from their homes.

“It is a way of making these places present in the homes of American families.”

 

Evangelization, care for priests top topics at Region VI meeting with pope

The bishops of Ohio and Michigan spent two hours conversing with Pope Francis about their dioceses, about the sexual abuse crisis, the crisis' impact on priests and, especially, about ways to ensure Catholics really are "missionary disciples."

‘This is Francis:’ A Vatican Photographer’s Call from the Pope

By Hannah Brockhaus/CNA | VATICAN CITY — Imagine that your cell phone rings, and the display says the call is from a “private number.” You expect it to be a telemarketer. But instead, when you...

Vatican Nativity Scene is Symbol of Hope for Embattled Region

By Solène Tadié | The traditional and much-awaited Christmas tree lighting and unveiling of the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square took place Dec. 5, before a crowd of hundreds of onlookers. The ceremony, which was presided...

Two Guards Injured in an Attack at Washington Basilica

By Christine Rousselle and Matt Hadro/CNA | WASHINGTON, D.C. — Police have ended a standoff with a suspect after an attack at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the...