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English nuns offer free meals – but there's a catch

London, England, Oct 19, 2017 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- A group of religious sisters are offering free meals in a trendy neighborhood of London, but on one condition: the customers must forfeit the use of their phones and converse with fellow diners.

“We give you a little food for soul. We don’t just mean the food that you eat, but something for you to take away and reflect in your life,” said Sister Anna, according to Business Insider.

As part of the new reality TV series “Bad Habits: Holy Orders,” the Daughters of Divine Charity have left their homes in rural Norfolk to serve food at “Nundos” in Shoreditch from Oct. 17-19.

The pop-up restaurant is a play on words for the peri-peri chicken chain Nando’s, but rather than serving African cuisine the holy restaurant offers chicken broth, lentil soup, breads, and homemade pies.  

If the costumer’s phone is put aside, the wholesome meals are offered free of charge as a means to deter people from the distractions of social media.

The Channel 5 series takes five millennial women and follows their transition from a party lifestyle to the simple life of the convent. The girls' beliefs are then challenged by the religious community as they participate in the nun’s activities, like early morning prayers and works of charity.

Founded in 1868, the Daughters of Divine Charity seek to make God visible through acts of charity, like attending to the sick and elderly and aiding children in preparation for the sacraments.

Pursue the common good, not allure of money, Pope tells finance students

Vatican City, Oct 19, 2017 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis told a group of students studying finance Thursday not to let themselves get taken in by the charm of money, but to instead work toward building a better future based on justice and the common good.

“It is essential that, until now and in your future professional life, you will learn to be free from the allure of money, from the slavery in which money closes those who worship it,” the Pope said Oct. 19.

It's also essential that students “acquire the strength and the courage not to blindly obey the invisible hand of the market,” he said, and encouraged them to take advantage of their study time, learning “to become promoters and defenders of a growth in equity, to become craftsman of a just and adequate administration of our common home, which is the world.”

Pope Francis spoke to students enrolled in the Chartreux Institute of Lyon. Established in 1825, the school is a private Carthusian educational institution linked to the French state school system.

The institute takes students from grade school all the way through high school, and also offers courses in higher education, with a specialization in the fields of finance, business, and accounting.

In his speech, Pope Francis said he was glad to learn that alongside their education in finances, students also receive a solid foundation in “human, philosophical and spiritual” studies.

To take courses in Rome, he said, allows the students to be immersed in the history “which has so strongly marked European nations.”

“Admiring what the genius of men and the hopes they cultivated were able to accomplish, also you must have it at heart to leave your mark in history,” he said, stressing in off-the-cuff comments that “you have the ability to decide your future.”

Francis told the students to take responsibility not only for the world, but “for the life of every man,” and urged them remember that “every injustice against a poor man is an open wound, and belittles your own dignity.”

Even though the world will expect them to strive for success above all else, the Pope told them to put the time and the means into going forward on “the path of brotherhood,” so that they will be able “to build bridges between men rather than walls, to add your stones to the building of a more just and human society.”

Noting how his audience was composed of both Christians and non-Christians, Pope Francis urged the Christians to stay united with the Lord in prayer, and to learn “to entrust everything to God, and so not give in to the temptation of discouragement and desperation.”

For those who are not Christians, the Pope greeted them with “respect and affection,” telling them to keep they eyes focused on others.

He closed his speech by encouraging all of the students “to work for the good, to become humble seeds of a new world,” and prayed that they would be able to “cultivate the culture of encounter and sharing within the single human family.

St. John Paul II's legacy lives on through new study abroad program

Krakow, Poland, Oct 19, 2017 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Near the heart of Krakow, Poland, you can find a two-level basilica which houses all things related to the beloved St. John Paul II.

Called the “Be Not Afraid – John Paul II Center,” it hosts a relic of his blood, the cassock he wore when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square, a museum, and a research center.

Now, the center will also be the home to a new study abroad program called the JP2 Project.

The JP2 Project is a multi-faceted program that offers students and families ages 16-35 a unique educational experience in Poland. Rooted in the country’s rich culture, the program’s main pillars focus on academics, local culture, service to the church, community life, spirituality, and active life.

“John Paul II challenged young people to greatness: he gave them the truth, he believed in their capacity to give of themselves, to become great saints… In the JP2 Project, we do too,” stated Corinne MacDonald, founder and co-president of the endeavor, which was officially established this year.

“The project is named after JPII because we honestly felt that he was asking us to start it, and because he is the perfect model for youth today,” MacDonald told CNA in a recent interview.

Rewind a few years to when MacDonald was the head of a different study abroad program in Rome, Italy. During this time, she brought students on pilgrimages to Poland and began to notice something amazing.

“In the nine times that I brought American students on pilgrimage to Poland, every one of them was blown away by Poland’s dramatic history, the rich culture and people who have cultivated it, the ascetic beauty, and the inspiring legacies of modern saints such as St. Maximillian Kolbe, Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko, St. Faustina, and St. John Paul II,” MacDonald said.

“We want to replicate that experience for as many students as possible” in the JP2 Program, she continued.

The study abroad experience holds a special place in MacDonald’s heart, most especially because it brought she and her husband, Joseph, together.

“Since study abroad was a part of our marriage story, it never left us, even when we moved back to the U.S. to begin our family,” she continued.

Through a lot of prayer and a nudging that never left their hearts, the MacDonalds made the JP2 Project in Poland a reality. The couple and their two children are additionally joined by Erin Van de Voorde, the vice president, and Therese Reinhold, the administrative assistant.

Throughout the startup process, they found that there was no existing study abroad program in Poland that really adhered to the academic schedule in the United States, so they created the program around the needs of U.S. students.

Student groups currently include three age ranges: high school, college, and young families. MacDonald said each group was founded with the aim of “cultivating virtue and forming the whole person, in the example of Karol Wojtyla.”

The JP2 Project offers two 10-day pilgrimage programs for high school students starting in 2018, one in April and the other in July. This particular group will explore Poland’s culture, history, and key figures, and will also delve into dynamic discussions and daily community prayer, including Mass.

The application process for the high school program is now open to students.

In addition, the JP2 Program will also offer a Family Enrichment Program in July that MacDonald said will focus on “living out spousal love in light of JPII’s teachings and is designed especially for families with small children.”

College students aged 18-29 will also be involved with the JP2 Project through the three-and-a-half-month program, which offers up to six courses. Each course is the equivalent to about three credits in the U.S. academic system, and will be offered through a partnership with the Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow.

College students from any university are welcome to apply, and the courses are mainly focused on theology, philosophy, history, art, culture studies and social sciences.

Outside of academics, all participants in the JP2 Program are also given the opportunity to connect with local families, learn the Polish language, serve the homeless in Krakow, attend daily Mass and adoration, and organize sporting activities.

In the future, the JP2 Project is open to expanding to other countries and also hopes to open a seminarian formation program that will focus on building up priests through the culture and spirituality found in Poland.

“Krakow was the place Karol Wojtyla was formed as a seminarian, and the results were spectacular,” MacDonald noted.

“Furthermore, the location of Krakow, Poland has particular significance: it is the city that shaped young Karol Wojtyla and that he in turn shaped as a priest, archbishop and even as Pope John Paul II,” she continued.

The program is already supported by Fr. Tomasz Szopa, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Krakow, who MacDonald describes as the “spiritual father” to the program and who also serves on the board.

Ultimately, MacDonald said that she hopes the JP2 Project will reach young people through the beauty of Poland and the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II.

“We desire that students of our programs become saints and build up a civilization of love and truth in our society today,” MacDonald said.

“We believe that John Paul II shows them the way.”

Donations to aid the JP2 Project can be made here.

Pope to Methodists: Reconciliation is more than talk – it needs action

Vatican City, Oct 19, 2017 / 07:29 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Marking 50 years of Catholic-Methodist dialogue, Pope Francis on Thursday told members of both traditions that when it comes to future relations, simply speaking about reconciliation is not enough – we must actually pray and work for it.

“This is the journey that awaits us in the new phase of the dialogue, devoted to reconciliation: we cannot speak of prayer and charity unless together we pray and work for reconciliation and full communion,” the Pope said Oct. 19.

Pope Francis met with a delegation of around 50 members of the World Methodist Council on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of theological dialogue between Catholics and Methodists.

In his address, Francis said that looking toward the future, as well as back over the last 50 years, it is clear that to grow in holiness we must also grow in communion with God and with our brothers and sisters.

“As a call to life in communion with God, the call to holiness is necessarily a call to communion with others too,” he said. “Faith becomes tangible above all when it takes concrete form in love, particularly in service to the poor and the marginalized.”

And this service to others, he pointed out, can be a source of communion between Catholics and Methodists.

“When, as Catholics and Methodists, we join in assisting and comforting the weak and the marginalized – those who in the midst of our societies feel distant, foreign and alienated – we are responding to the Lord’s summons,” he said.

Discussions between the two churches can be a gift not just for their members, but also for our communities and our world, he noted, pointing out that the discussion could be an incentive to Christians everywhere to be “ministers of reconciliation.”

He explained how it is the Holy Spirit that brings about unity, and this is always done in his own way and his own time, just like at Pentecost, where the Spirit awakened “a variety of charisms,” creating unity without uniformity.

“We need then, to remain together,” he said, “like the disciples awaiting the Spirit, as brothers and sisters on a shared journey.”

Francis said that after a long separation, we are like brothers and sisters who are happy to once more meet and learn about one another, moving forward “with open hearts.”

“So let us advance together, knowing that our journey is blessed by the Lord. It began from him, and it leads to him.”

As encouraged by the Second Vatican Council, dialogue enables Christians of different creeds to continue growing in knowledge and esteem, the Pope continued, saying that “true dialogue gives us the courage to encounter one another in humility and sincerity, in an effort to learn from one another, and in a spirit of honesty and integrity.”

Francis expressed his gratitude to the Catholic-Methodist Dialogue Commission and to the World Methodist Council for their work, both past and present.

A lot has been learned over the past 50 years, but the work is not finished, he said, saying we must look forward to that day when we can finally unite in the “breaking of the bread.”

Concluding the audience by praying the ‘Our Father,’ the Pope invited those present to pray for reconciliation as well as the daily bread that sustains us “along the way.”

Europe at a crossroads

Paris, France, Oct 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Sunday, the people of Austria elected a new government. At 31 years of age, Sebastian Kurz is poised to become Europe's youngest head of government. The Chancellor-to-be of Austria is a Catholic who says of himself that he has a cross hanging in his apartment and that "the faith is very important to me", though he doesn't make it to church as often as he would like to.

Kurz won his landslide victory by doing two things. Firstly, emphasising a strong national identity in general, and secondly, taking a harder line on mass immigration in particular – at least by Western European standards. Like it or lump it – and much of the German speaking media is indeed aghast at the outcome – Austria's election result, for all its idiosyncrasies, is part of a broader revolt against the EU and what it stands for.

On Oct. 7, a week before Austrians went to the polls, ten intellectuals from eight European nations published a call for "A Europe we can believe in". This "Paris Statement", they declared, purports "to actively recover what is best in our tradition", and to build a "peaceful, hopeful and noble future together". Comprising more than 4,000 words, the manifesto is reminiscent of what the popes have warned Europe about time and again: losing her Christian soul.

As Pope Francis put it when addressing the European Parliament Nov. 25, 2014: "In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother’, no longer fertile and vibrant. As a result, the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions."

Three years later, this European malaise has broken out in a rash, from the streets of Barcelona to the bureaucracies in Brussels and Berlin, from the shiny offices of London’s City to the beaches of Lampedusa.

As the Paris Statement warns, Europe is facing a challenge of epic, indeed, historic proportions, of which the demographic decline, institutional distrust, rise in populism and independence movements, waves of unregulated mass immigration and rising concerns over Islamism are all but symptoms.

What is at stake, according to its signatories – which include the Catholic philosophers Robert Spaemann (a friend and advisor to Pope Francis's predecessors), Rémi Brague (a Ratzinger Prize winner), and Ryszard Legutko (a member of the Polish government) – goes deeper: If Europe abandons her Christian roots, rather than drawing on them for renewal, Europe's peoples and cultures will lose their "home".

What is meant by "home" – the word used in the German version, Heimat, expresses it more starkly – is not just a place or a roof over your head. It is ontological: A place of being-at-home, of belonging. The opposite is not just homelessness, but annihilation, be it cultural or physical – a point brought home by the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

From Oct 9-13, government officials, religious community leaders and non-governmental organisations, including Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), met in Budapest for an International Consultation on Christian Persecution.

ADF Executive Director Paul Coleman said during the conference lead-up: "In the Middle East, ISIS has deliberately targeted Christian communities for destruction. We went to Beirut, Amman and Erbil to meet with Christian refugees from Iraq. We spoke with them, cried with them, prayed with them. We documented their testimonies, and provided this evidence to those in power. Successive governments and recently even the United Nations are recognising that ISIS is committing genocide."

Addressing the 300 participants from 30 nations, Hungary's head of government, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, said that while the “intellectual discrimination” against Christians in Europe is “painful but tolerable,” the physical suffering endured by those in Africa and the Middle East is being ignored by an “apathetic Europe” that “denies its Christian roots.”

“A group of Europe’s intellectual and political leaders want to create a mixed society that would completely change the continent’s cultural and ethnic identity, and Christian nature, within just a few generations,” Orbán said. “Hungary, however, is doing the opposite of what Europe is currently doing.”

British intellectual Sir Roger Scruton, one of the signatories of the Paris Statement, agrees with this stance.

"Poland and Hungary are on the right track. You only have to see the dogmatism and cruelty of the Islamic revival in Africa and the Middle East to recognize how threatened we are", the philosopher told CNA in an email interview.

Even critics of the Paris Statement agree that there are valid reasons for this existential angst for Europe. If anything, they scold the scholars for not being clearer about it. “What is Europe?” Matthew Walther asks in "The Week”, and then continues: “For me Hilaire Belloc put it best: ‘Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe’” – and, laconically, Walther adds: “He should have said ‘was’."

Not everyone is as pessimistic – least of all the popes. In the early 2000s, Saint John Paul II eloquently, albeit unsuccessfully, appealed for the European Union’s constitution to mention Europe’s Christian roots.

Undeterred, the then-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, continued the struggle. In a 2004 interview with Le Figaro magazine, Cardinal Ratzinger judged the EU’s decision to avoid any mention of God a mistake.

As Pope Benedict XVI, he then used the occasion of his very first general audience in 2005 to point out "the inalienable Christian roots of [Europe’s] culture and civilisation”. Later that year, visiting Cologne for World Youth Day, he urged one million people attending mass there to recover their Christian roots. Time and again, he emphasised that the future of Christianity is a bright one in Europe – albeit only in the long term.

For now, Europe is at a crossroads; and the actual role of the Church in helping the continent rediscover its Christian soul is clear, at least to Roger Scruton.

"The Catholic Church should do what it is called to do, namely preach the gospel and defend the faith", he told CNA.