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Thousands gather in LA to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 12, 2017 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, thousands of Catholics attended midnight Mass at the Los Angeles cathedral following festivities drawn from Mexican culture.

“This is always a special night for me. On this night, we know, in a beautiful way, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly our mother, who loves us and protects us,” commented Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who said the Dec. 12 Mass.

“This year, we will be praying also for our brothers and sisters who are suffering because of the wildfires, and also for all those young people and families who are anxiously waiting for Congress to act on immigration reform, especially to help the Dreamers. We entrust everyone in our community to the maternal tenderness of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The festivities began the preceding evening with traditional Aztec and Matachines dances and a performance by a Oaxacan band.
 
Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, many faithful brought flowers to the chapel which houses a half-inch square relic of the cloak on which is miraculously imprinted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
 
The relic was gifted to Archbishop John Cantwell of Los Angeles after he led a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1940s and is the only Guadalupe relic in the U.S.

The celebration moved into the church at 10 p.m. where a rosary was said, accompanied by the cathedral’s Spanish choir, before the Mass.

In 1531 on the Hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City, Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego as an indigenous woman speaking in the native language Nahuatl. She asked Juan Diego to appeal to the bishop to build a church on the site of the apparition, as a place where the compassion of Christ could be proclaimed.

After the bishop demanded a sign, Mary requested that Juan Diego gather the roses growing on the hillside, despite it being winter. Collecting the roses in his cloak, Juan Diego presented them to the bishop only to have the image of Our Lady be miraculously imprinted upon his tilma.

These Dominican brothers are releasing a folk album

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2017 / 12:09 pm (CNA).- Folk music is known for its foot-tapping, hand-clapping, barn-raising style – but now, a group of Dominican brothers is giving the genre a theological twist.

Meet the Hillbilly Thomists, a group of Dominican brothers who have a new album coming out on Dec. 12, which they describe as an authentic human and religious experience.

“Music can be sacred, but it can also be simply human – which is also sacred, just in a less explicit way with lyrics and themes,” Brother Timothy Danaher, one of the vocalists, told CNA in an interview with four of the band members.

“The New Evangelization needs all kinds of music, both the sacred and the human, to get the attention of people going about their daily lives.”

The band consists of 10 members from the Dominican House of Study and St. Dominic’s Priory in Washington D.C. It began as a lighthearted project with a focus on traditional Celtic music.

“The band itself was started by a couple of friars in our province,” said Brother Jonah Teller, who sings and plays guitar in the band. It grew out of a group of brothers who would get together to play Irish tunes, he said.

At first, the project was a fun excuse for the brothers to get together weekly and enjoy music. But as it grew from Irish tunes to more folk and bluegrass, the band began to perform publicly, receiving gigs for Catholics venues outside of the house.  

The name “Hillbilly Thomists” comes from a line delivered by Catholic author Flannery O’Connor. After her novel Wise Blood was released, she said people had identified her as a “hillbilly nihilist,” to which she responded that she was more like a “hillbilly Thomist.”

The album is eponymous – named after the band – and consists of 12 songs featuring instruments including the guitar, washboard, fiddle, banjo, and the bodhrán, an Irish drum. Eleven of the songs are covers of old-timey spirituals like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” “Amazing Grace,” and “St. Anne’s Reel.” The album also includes an original song, “I am Dog,” written by Brother Justin Bolger.

When asked how music corresponds to evangelization, the band emphasized that humans are both spiritual and physical beings, and that their spirits are lifted by beautiful images and sounds, especially when accompanied by Scripture-based lyrics.

“I do think music can enhance evangelization if done right. We’re bodily beings, so beautiful images and sounds can be good for us, can help lift our minds to God,” said Brother Peter Gaustsch, who plays mandolin, piano, and guitar.

The Dominican order has released several albums of choir music, but the band hopes that this project reaches hearts of its listeners in a different way.

“There are so many great old songs in this tradition that speak of God's love, his mercy, his grace, and our hope in him,” said Brother Justin Bolger, who sings and also plays piano, accordion, bass, and guitar.

Among the songs on the album is “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – an American spiritual which has been covered by artists including Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris.

The wayfarer – or traveler – is an important image in Catholic theology, one of the brothers said, and cited examples from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine.

“The poor wayfaring stranger is all of us,” said Gautsch. “There’s a strong theme in the history of Christian spirituality of our lives as a kind of pilgrimage to our heavenly homeland.”

“There's a loveliness and beauty that carries with it the longing for our heavenly home and the trials that can face us as we make our way towards the Lord, hopeful because of the promise of his love and mercy,” added Teller.

Gautsch said the song depicts the struggle that is part of carrying our individual cross and learning to rely on the graces Christ provides for the journey.

“Sometimes the way is hard and steep, as the song says – in fact, it inevitably involves the cross – but the path has already been trod by Christ, who goes before us to prepare a place for us.”

The album can be ordered online, and is available for download at iTunes and Google Play.

Pope: 'La Guadalupana' shows that everyone has a place in the Church

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2017 / 11:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis marked the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Tuesday saying the "mestizo" Virgin is a concrete sign that the Church is for everyone, especially the poor and marginalized.

Noting how Juan Diego, when Mary first appeared to him, had said that he was no one and wasn't worthy, the Pope said this sentiment can often be felt today in Latin America's indigenous and Afro-American communities, “which, in many cases, are not treated with dignity and equality of conditions.”

This feeling of shame and unworthiness, he said, is also shared by many women “who are excluded because of their gender, race or socioeconomic situation,” and by youth who “receive a low-quality education and don't have opportunities to progress in their studies nor enter the field of work in order to develop themselves and build a family.”

It is also the feeling of the many poor, unemployed, migrants, and displaced people “who try to survive in the informal economy,” and is also the shame felt by young boys and girls who are subjected to child prostitution, which Francis noted is “often linked to sexual tourism.”

However, Mary, the Mother of God, is the image of the Church, he said, and from her we learn how to be a Church “with a 'mestizo' face, with an indigenous, African-American face, the face of a peasant,” just like Our Lady of Guadalupe, he said.

In her, we see the face of the poor, the unemployed, of the young, and the old, “so that nobody feels sterile or infertile, so that no one feels ashamed or that they are nothing.”

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Basilica marking the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe dates back to the 16th century when a “Lady from Heaven” who identified herself as the Mother of the True God appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac, on a hill northwest of Mexico City.

She instructed Juan Diego to have the bishop build a church on the site of the apparitions. As a sign, the now-famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was imprinted miraculously on his tilma, or cloak. Both the image and the tilma remain intact after more than 470 years.

Pope Francis centered his homily for the celebration around the Gospel reading from Luke, in which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation.

The Pope noted how when Mary arrives, one of the first thing Elizabeth says is “how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Elizabeth, who had previously been marked by the sign of sterility, is now singing praise “under the sign of fertility and amazement,” Francis said.

He pointed to the two states of Elizabeth before and after her encounter with Mary: first her sterility and then her fertility and amazement.

The religious mentality at the time viewed sterility “as a divine punishment” for a personal sin or the sin of one's spouse, he said, noting that it was “a sign of shame she carried in her own flesh because she considers herself guilty of a sin that she did not commit or because she felt like nothing since she was not able to live up to what was expected of her.”

This type of sterility, the Pope said, is one “that goes deep and ends up paralyzing all life,” and which takes on “the many names and forms of every time a person feels in their flesh the shame of being stigmatized or feeling like nothing,” much like Juan Diego.

However, after meeting Mary, Elizabeth becomes fertile and filled with wonder, he said. She is the first one to recognize her cousin as the Mother of God, and she also experiences in her own flesh the fulfillment of God's word, because she now carries the “precursor to salvation.”

In Elizabeth, Francis said, we understand that “God's dream is neither sterility nor to stigmatize or shame his children,” but is rather “to bring forth in them and from them a song of blessing.”

The same goes for Juan Diego, he said, noting that it was precisely he, and no one else, that carried the image of the Virgin in his tilma: “the Virgin of brown skin and a 'mestizo' face,” he said, referring to the fact that she was of a mixed indigenous race. The term “mestizo” was used at the time to describe the children born to Spanish and Aztec parents.

By appearing this way, Our Lady, he said, is a mother who is capable of taking on the various traits of her children “in order to make them feel part of her blessing.”

In thinking about the themes of sterility and fertility or fruitfulness, Francis said we can also relate these to the richness of the cultural diversity in Latin American and the Caribbean.

This diversity, he said, is “a sign of the great richness that we are invited not only to cultivate, but, especially in our time, to courageously defend from all attempts to homogenize which end up imposing – under attractive slogans – a singular way of thinking, of being, of feeling, of living.”

In the end, these efforts at uniformity end up “making either invalid or sterile everything inherited from our elders.” They make people, and especially the youth, “feel like nothing because they belong to this or that culture.”

Pope Francis said the diversity and fruitfulness of Latin America makes it a requirement “to defend our peoples from an ideological colonization” which seeks to cancel out what makes these cultures rich and unique, “be they indigenous, African-American, mestizo, peasants or suburban.”

On the contrary, everyone is called to be like Elizabeth and Juan Diego, feeling that they are “the bearer of a promise, of a hope,” but as one people, without canceling out the features of one or another.

The Pope closed his homily encouraging faithful to echo the song of Elizabeth, and, like so many who never tire of repeating it, say together: “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

Surprise! Chicago suburb is home to a major Guadalupe shrine

Chicago, Ill., Dec 12, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Marian devotion is intense among the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year on her feast day.

Not just her shrine in Mexico City. The Virgin of Guadalupe has a major place of honor in Des Plaines, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

“People make the journey to come, and they leave their flowers and their offerings. They light a candle,” said Father Esequiel Sanchez, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “They want to get here, they want to get to her. When you talk to the pilgrims, you see the genuineness of the people’s faith.”

Last year, despite cold and snow, 250,000 people visited the shrine for the Dec. 12 feast day, Sanchez told CNA. The shrine draws over 1 million pilgrims each year.

While most pilgrims arrive by vehicle, many people walk to the shrine either from Chicago or throughout the Midwest as a sign of devotion or mortification.

“They walk miles to arrive,” said Fr. Sanchez. They each have a story to tell. A 2016 pilgrim walked on his knees part of the final two-and-a-half miles to the shine.

People like him will say “my daughter’s sick, and I want Our Lady to help,” the priest recounted, adding: “the extreme of the expression only indicates the extreme of the concern for their petition.”

The shrine hosts a digital replica of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the most visited U.S. shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the second most-visited in the world after Mexico’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Its origins date to 1987, when a group of Chicago-area Catholics decided to launch a mission to promote devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe using a special pilgrim statue from the shrine in Mexico City.

In 1995, construction began on an outdoor shrine in Des Plaines modeled after Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary appeared to the indigenous Mexican St. Juan Diego in 1531. The Virgin Mary left her image on his cloak, known as a tilma, and asked him to build a church on a hilltop.

The apparition helped inspire mass conversions of indigenous people to Christianity.

While devotion to the Guadalupe Marian apparition is strong among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, Fr. Sanchez said other Catholics in America are “beginning to appreciate her a little more, and honor her.”

“I think American Catholics are looking at the story itself, and how much it sounds like the gospel,” he said.

The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is promoting Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she has become an image for the pro-life movement as well as for women’s issues, the priest noted. Other ethnic groups are growing in devotion to her, including the Indian and Polish communities.

Sometimes the mortifications of the pilgrims are extreme. In severe cold weather, senior citizens will still walk through the snow.

“Here we don’t judge them. We just get them to Our Lady,” Sanchez said. “Our job is to make sure you get there safely.”

Sometimes safety is a concern.

Once, a group of pilgrims traveled on foot through the northern Illinois city of Rockford on their way to the shrine. They were holding a banner and singing songs. A group of people voicing anti-immigrant attitudes began to assault them, told them to get out of the neighborhood, and threw rocks at them.

“It’s not necessarily a wonderful experience,” Sanchez said. “They continued their pilgrimage and made it.”

The priest suggested the pressures of contemporary American culture also drive devotion.

“Whatever the country is feeling, the community is looking for hope,” he said. “We live in a time when people feel less welcomed, where people feel scared, and often the only thing they feel they can trust is their prayer, and the one thing that has got them through the hardest times of their lives thus far: Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

The feast day can create a major traffic issue, with 300,000 people in a 36-hour period. Planning begins months in advance, with the local police department helping to manage the situation.

There are 150 to 200 volunteers just to care for the pilgrims Dec. 11-12.

“Our job is to take care of the pilgrims when they come. They are trying to get to her,” Sanchez said, adding that they aim to help the pilgrims feel loved and well-fed.

“We make sure that the people’s experience is one that is very, very festive,” he said. “There’s a lot of music, a lot of serenading mananitas, a lot of indigenous dancing, what you see in other shrines.”

Sanchez said there is a strong custom in Mexican Hispanic culture of “mandas,” which means “promises” in English.

“People make promises to Our Lady of Guadalupe for a specific intentions or miracles or an act of gratitude,” he said.

“The problem is a lot of people here in the U.S. can’t go back to Mexico. There are immigration issues, economic issues, health issues, there are a lot of issues that keep them from going to Mexico City to fulfill their life’s promise to Our Lady.”

To help these pilgrims fulfill their promises, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City has offered them the same graces and indulgences if they visit the Illinois shrine.

Other pilgrimages come during the novena, the nine days before the feast day.

“On the ninth, we have a pilgrimage of truckers,” Sanzhe said. “They bring their tractor trailers, the truck, just the cab… and they decorate their trucks and they come to the shrine and they have a special Mass in which all their trucks get blessed.”

About 300 horseback riders come through for a separate blessing.

Devotees even organize through their occupations. The local landscapers’ union sought a special blessing and a Mass.

“It’s wonderful to see they’re finding Our Lady of Guadalupe, and how much that really helps them,” the shrine’s rector said.

Critics warn against British movement advocating at-home abortion pills

London, England, Dec 12, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A new effort in the UK has garnered the support of some of Britain’s maternity doctors who are recommending that women should be allowed to take abortion pills at home.

But some critics are advising against the practice, saying that aborting a pregnancy at home would be more traumatic for women.

Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has argued that the current law in England and Wales surrounding abortion pills puts women at risk of bleeding on the way home from the doctor’s office and potentially miscarrying in public.

Under standard procedures in England and Wales, pregnant women receiving an early medical abortion  within the first nine weeks gestation must receive the abortifacient drugs mifepristone and misoprostol in front of a doctor or nurse.

Regan has suggested that women should be able to take these pills “in the comfort of your own home,” according to the Telegraph.

Regan is joined by other proponents, such as Professor Chris Whitty, chief scientist adviser to the Department of Health. Organizations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) are also supporting the effort. Scotland has already made plans to change its law to allow women to take the abortion pills at home.

“It is unacceptable for any woman to be made to risk miscarrying on her way home from a clinic,” said Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS.

However, critics of the practice in the U.S. have advised against at-home abortions, saying that women taking the drugs alone at home can be dangerous.

“I’ve talked to these women – some of them get really panicked because they see the baby [after the abortion],” said Vicki Thorn, founder of the post-abortion healing organization Project Rachel, in a previous interview with CNA.

Thorn said that while giving women pills to take home sounds easier, it could cause them more trauma.

While women are advised to flush their aborted babies down the toilet, Thorn spoke of a woman who panicked and put her baby in the freezer. Thorn also noted that wherever the baby is aborted can often become a place of trauma for the woman, causing women to not want to go home or use their own bathrooms or bedrooms.

“The issue women have with medical abortion is: ‘I did it.’ There is no outside party that I can blame or hold accountable…and that bothers women,” Thorn noted.

Dr. John Bruchalski would agree. He is an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., who formerly worked as an abortion doctor.

“When you subject a woman who’s pregnant to watch the process happen, it’s a challenge, it can be brutal,” Bruchanlski told CNA last year.

“There’s lots of contractions without anesthesia, lots of clots, that’s not even the issues that come with seeing the tissue with the baby,” he continued.

While recent reports have shown that abortion rates are at a low in the U.S. since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, medical abortions – those by pill – are making up around 43 percent of all abortions in the country.

If a large portion of women are allowed to take abortifacient pills at home, this could also increase the risk of abuses or regret. Many women have regretted their choice after the first dose of pills – a choice which can be reversed through the abortion pill reversal treatment.

However, women at home may not know to whom they can turn after their first dose of pills. Bruchalski said that women will most likely not go back to the clinic where they received the abortion pills if they have regrets or complications.

“It’s an incredibly complex thing, and there’s no good answer,” he said.

St. Lucy

St. Lucy is a virgin and martyr of Syracuse in Sicily, whose feast is celebrated on December 13th. According to tradition, Saint Lucy was born to rich and noble parents in the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but his early death left her dependent upon her mother, whose name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she was of Greek heritage.Like so many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor.Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her, but for three years she managed to postpone the marriage. Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha to change her mother’s mind about her faith. As a result, her mother's long haemorrhagic illness was cured, and she consented to Lucy's desire to live for God. Saint Lucy’s rejected bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian. The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her to be killed instead.After a gruesome torture which included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire, but the fire quickly died out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was then executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger.Legend says her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her patronage with eyes; the blind, eye trouble, and other eye ailments.