Being A Catholic Is Kind Of Like Being A Panda

I know – that sounds really weird. Catholics and pandas? What in the world do we have in common??

We can start with the basics: we are both part of God’s wildly varied and glorious creation. But there really is a lot more.

It’s All Black and White

Giant pandas, of course, are black and white. Catholicism is black and white, too. That is, we believe that there is an absolute Truth. What is good and right is always good and right, and what is foul and evil is always foul and evil. Truth is Truth regardless of where or when you live, whether you are male or female, teen or octogenarian.

Truth is truth, no matter how much man may rationalize otherwise.  And signing up to follow a set of principles as espoused in the Bible is not “blindly following the Pope”.  Rather, obeying what is true is good and right, and is a virtue, not a vice.  Going off on your own way because you “feel” it’s right is a vice.

Pandas are downright playful animals! They climb and slide and wrestle. They’re curious and funny. We Catholics also love to have fun! Look at all the things we celebrate: feast days and saint days, baptisms and quinceaneras, Christmas (for almost 2 weeks!) and Easter (40 days!)

Modern Catholics don’t know how to incorporate the faith into their daily lives. Celebration is the way to do it. Every day has a designated saint and I really think it’s important to celebrate these, to have the rhythm of fast and feast in our lives.

Giant pandas are absolutely unique. Their fluffy teddy bear appearance and distinct coloring makes them instantly identifiable, like no other bear in God’s created realm. Catholics are downright unique as well. Unlike other Christian sects (whom we love like brothers and sisters!) we trace our lineage right back to Jesus himself, and to St. Peter. We have 2000+ years of Tradition that no other Christians can claim.

This World Is Not Our Home

Unlike so many other animals, pandas have no permanent home. (I think it’s because they sleep 12 hours a day; there just isn’t time to go house hunting.) And Catholics know that this world is not our home. Our home – eternally – is Heaven. We were created by God to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be eternally happy with Him in Heaven.

It takes giant pandas a rather long time to fully mature. They start out as tiny (3 ounces!), pink, hairless animals that in no way resemble their parents. Male pandas aren’t fully mature until they are 6-7 years old, females at 4-5 years. We can easily say that it takes a Catholic a long time to mature as well. Pope Francis recently told a group of Confirmation students that the sacrament of Confirmation was “not a sacrament of goodbye.” We don’t “graduate” or stop learning our Faith. We can never stop learning more about God, about Scripture, about ourselves and our relationship to God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

Tenacity and Fortitude

Pandas have a rather strong tenacious streak. If they want something, they figure a way to go after it. If they want to go somewhere, it’s tough to change their minds.

Catholics call this “fortitude.” It’s one of the seven virtues, and it means that (with the help of the Holy Spirit) that we remain constant and firm in our pursuit of goodness. We fall into the ditch of sin, we seek confession. We offend someone, we beg forgiveness. And we do this over and over and over, in the hope that we will become the person God created us to be.

A Little Fun Never Hurts 

Maybe it seems silly to compare being Catholic to a panda bear. But, as I’ve pointed out: God created us and He gave us a sense of humor. He gave pandas their delightful personalities. If the Creator and Master of the universe sees fit to create pandas and kittens and platypus, then He must enjoy a good laugh once in awhile. Just like us. And pandas.


EH headshotElise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. Her role at Diocesan Publications is Editor & Writer with the Marketing Team. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 30 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at


praying with pope

Praying With The Pope

One of the great things about being Catholic is that our Faith is universal. No matter where we are in the world, there is a church that is ours. We all have a place that is our spiritual home.

We also have the same spiritual father, as well: the pope. (Did you know that “pope” means “father” or literally “papa?”) No matter who we are, where we live, whether or not we have a background in theology or are wealthy or poor, we are united as one family. The Holy Father invites us, every month, to join him in prayer. And not just in a general or vague way, but in specific supplications.

The Holy Father’s prayer intentions and reflections for February 2017 are:

  • Pope’s Prayer Intention – Comfort for the Afflicted: That all those who are afflicted, especially the poor, refugees, and marginalized, may find welcome and comfort in our communities.|read the reflection|
  • Urgent Intention – Sacredness of Life: We pray for the children who are in danger of the interruption of pregnancy, as well as for persons who are at the end of life — every life is sacred! — so that no one is left alone and that love may defend the meaning of life.  |read the reflection|

Pope Francis also gives his spiritual family a video reflection:

As we pray for our family and friends, let us also join in prayer with the Holy Father and our Catholic family around the world.

EH headshot

Elise Hilton is an author, blogger and speaker. She has worked in parish faith formation and Catholic education for over 25 years. A passionate student of theology, Elise enjoys sharing her thoughts on parish communication, the role of social media in the Church, Franciscan spirituality and Catholic parenting. She is also the author of Diocesan Publications “Living the Good News” blog. To enquire about booking her as a speaker, please contact her at

partnership with jesus

Partnership With … Jesus?

When we think of partnerships, we may think of marriage or perhaps business. We know it involves a deep level of commitment. And we know that good partnerships can bear wonderful fruit: a sound family, a prayerful marriage, a healthy and productive company.

In the readings today, the Letter to the Hebrews contains an amazing line:

Encourage yourselves daily while it is still “today,”
so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.
We have become partners of Christ
if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end. 

We are “partners of Christ?” How is that even possible? He is God-Made-Man. What could Christ possibly get out of a partnership with a bunch of hapless sinners like us?

It’s important to remember that Christ does not need our help. He accomplishes all that He accomplishes because He is God. But like a father who allows his young son to “help” with a household chore, Christ allows our “partnership” with the work of salvation. However, we must do our part: encourage ourselves (with prayer, Scripture, sacraments.) We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by the world and the sin that will try to ensnare us. We have to know what is real, and the only “thing” that is truly real is Christ.

Above all, this partnership with Christ requires us to be “all in.” We need to give everything to Christ, if we are truly going to be His partners. This partnership Christ invites us to be part of, then, is not a limited one or one that has an “expiration date.” We enter this partnership when we are baptized and we must continuously give ourselves to Christ willingly. This is the partnership of faith. Pope Francis, in Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith):

The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.

Read through this part of the Letter to the Hebrews, and ponder how committed we are to this partnership with Christ. He invites us to join Him in letting His Truth be known in this weary world. Let us be the “light of faith,” living our encounter with Jesus for all to see.

new saints

Meet The Church’s Newly Proclaimed Saints

This past Sunday, Pope Francis proclaimed seven new saints, once again reminding the faithful that sainthood is for everyone, not merely for a select few.

In his homily, Pope Francis said:

The saints are men and women who enter fully into the mystery of prayer.  Men and women who struggle with prayer, letting the Holy Spirit pray and struggle in them.  They struggle to the very end, with all their strength, and they triumph, but not by their own efforts: the Lord triumphs in them and with them.  The seven witnesses who were canonized today also fought the good fight of faith and love by their prayers.

The newly-proclaimed saints are:

  • José Sánchez del Río, a 14-year-old boy who was killed in 1928 in Mexico during the “Cristero” struggle which opposed the government’s anti-Catholic and anticlerical policies.
  • Brother Salomone Leclercq, a martyr of the French revolution, who like many religious at the time, refused the government’s orders to either revoke their vows or to leave the country
  • José Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, an Argentinean priest known as the “Gaucho priest,” who lived and worked among the poor; Pope Francis praised him for smelling “of sheep”
  • Spanish Bishop Palencia Manuel González García, founder of the Congregation of the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, the Disciples of Saint John, and the Children of Reparation; known as the “bishop of the tabernacle” for his devotion to the Eucharist
  • Father Lodovico Pavoni of the Italian city of Brescia, founder of the religious congregation ‘Sons of Mary Immaculate’ or ‘Pavonians’
  • Alfonso Maria Fusco, a priest from the southern Italian city of Salerno, founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist, commonly known as Baptistine Sisters
  • French Discalced Carmelite mystic and writer Elizabeth of the Trinity who died aged just 26 in 1906 from Addison’s disease, but not before leaving behind writings of great faith and depth

The Holy Father exhorted the faithful to prayer, saying, “To pray is not to take refuge in an ideal world, nor to escape into a false, selfish sense of calm.  On the contrary, to pray is to struggle, but also to let the Holy Spirit pray within us.  For the Holy Spirit teaches us to pray.  He guides us in prayer and he enables us to pray as sons and daughters.”


Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response

Last week, Catholics from around the world met in New Orleans to attend the International Catholic Stewardship Council‘s (ICSC) annual conference. The conference’s goal is to work with parishes and Catholic organizations to teach and then carry out “the Catholic vision of Christian stewardship as a way of life.”

Mike DiCosola, director of technology for myParish App, understands that when most Catholics hear the word mike-d“stewardship,” they think, “The Church wants my money.” However, DiCosola wants Catholic leaders and parishioners to think of stewardship as the response of a disciple of Christ.

In DiCosola’s presentation at ICSC this year, he challenges us to focus, not on how to get more people to give more money, but rather on  how to “authentically and effectively communicate about stewardship.” In order to do this, he says, we must “speak from and to the heart.”

We are pleased to present DiCosola’s presentation, in its entirety, here. We hope that his discussion on the “Language of Stewardship” gives leaders at the parish level practical and sound ways to think and talk about stewardship as a disciple’s response.

one step away

One Step Away From Mercy

As a Church, we continue to celebrate the Year of Mercy. What a blessing this year has been to so many of us: a time to reconcile, a time to find peace within ourselves and with God. Pope Francis continues to use the theme of mercy to teach us about the ways of God, our Father.

This past Sunday, in the pope’s Angelus address, he spoke of the parable of the prodigal son.

Pope Francis said that what is most striking about the parable of the prodigal son is not the sad story of a young man who left his father and fell into sin, but his decision to “arise” and go to his father.

“The way back home is the way of hope and new life. God awaits to forgive us out on the road, waiting for us patiently, he sees us when we are still far away, he runs towards us, embraces us, forgives us. So is God! So is our Father! And his pardon erases the past and regenerates us in love,” the Pope said.

“When we sinners convert,” he continued, “we do not find God waiting for us with reproaches and hardness, because God saves, he gathers us home with joy and partying.”

Still, we all know how hard it is to make that decision to “arise” and ask forgiveness. We want to, but we are afraid. What if we are not met with open arms and joy? What if our Father is still angry with us? What if we are just too far gone to ever get back home?

The Christian band, Casting Crowns, answers this last question in their newest song, “One Step Away.” The song reminds us that no matter how far we have traveled, how big a mistake we may have made, we are still only one step away from our Father’s forgiveness.

It doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone
Mercy says you don’t have to keep running down the road you’re on
Love’s never met a lost cause

“Love’s never met a lost cause.” Every one of us has spent some time thinking we are a lost cause. Whether it is because of our own sin and arrogance, a loss in our life that we can’t seem to get over, or the pain and hurt we’ve felt when we are betrayed by someone we love, we’ve all said to ourselves, “This is a lost cause.”

But God has never met a lost cause. He has never looked at any of his children and thoughts, “There is not hope there.” No, God is nothing but hope, love, mercy … and he is always willing to forgive and gather us home.

Ignatian prayer

Praying With St. Ignatius Loyola And The Jesuits

In 1491, a baby boy was born in northern Spain to a family of nobility. As he grew, he dreamed of knighthood and what a young boy would see as the romance of battle and courtly life.

God had other plans for him.

St. Ignatius of Loyola did become a soldier, but was seriously wounded. During his time of recuperation, he began studying the life of Christ and the lives of saints. This began a radical conversion for the soldier, who laid down his weapons for the cross. Eventually, St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits, an order of Catholic priests and brothers known for their intellectual endeavors and their dedication to missionary work. Pope Francis is likely the best known Jesuit in the world right now.

Another Jesuit, known for his gentle humor and popular writings is  Fr. James Martin. In his book, The Jesuit Guide to {Almost} Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, Martin explains the manner in which Jesuits pray, known as the Examen. Jesuits pray this once or twice a day, but it’s perfectly accessible to the lay person. The manner in which Jesuits pray this is long and meditative, but Martin suggests a simpler method:

Before you begin, as in all prayer, remind yourself that you’re in God’s presence, and as God to help you with your prayer.

  1. Gratitude: Recall anything from the day for which you are especially grateful, and give thanks.
  2. Review: Recall the events of the day, from start to finish, noticing where you felt God’s presence, and where you accepted or turned away from any invitations to grow in love.
  3. Sorrow: Recall any actions for which you are sorry.
  4. Forgiveness: Ask for God’s forgiveness. Decide whether you want to reconcile with anyone  yo have hurt.
  5. Grace: Ask God for the grace you need for the next day and an ability to see God’s presence more clearly.

All of us, at some point, need some structure in our prayer life to keep us focused on God and the “bigger picture,” to guard against focusing our prayers on ourselves and not God. Perhaps you will find the structure you need in praying with St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits.

If you’d like to know more about this form of prayer, visit this website.


Final Preparations For Canonization of Mother Teresa

Now only ten days away, the canonization of Mother Teresa has Rome buzzing with activity. While Rome was not severely affected by the earthquake that has devastated central Italy, tremors were felt in the city. Pope Francis “went off scrip” during his Wednesday address, and chose instead to lead those present in a rosary for the victims of that quake. However, this disaster has not slowed the preparations for the September 4 canonization.

Beginning September 1, the Vatican will lead the world in a weeklong celebration of the life and work of Mother Teresa. According to the National Catholic Register, the week will begin

… with the opening of an “Exposition of the Life, Spirit and Message of Mother Teresa” at the LUMSA university in Rome. The exposition will last until Sept. 7.

On the evening of Sept. 1, the Missionaries of Charity will provide a “family feast” for the poor under their care at the Santa Cecilia auditorium on the Via della Conciliazione. Part of the evening’s highlights: Mother Teresa: The Musical by the Italian musician, author, singer and actor Michele Paulicelli.

Three consecutive Masses to honor Mother Teresa are scheduled for the following day in three languages — English, Spanish and Italian — at the Basilica of St. Anastasia, close to the Missionaries of Charity motherhouse and Rome’s Circus Maximus, with veneration of the relics of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata after each Mass.

Mother Teresa’s beatification (the  formal step prior to canonization) drew estimated crowds of 300,000. Her canonization will certainly draw even more.

The prayer for Mother Teresa’s canonization refers to her as “carrier of Christ’s mercy and love,” befitting not only the holy woman, but the Year of Mercy as well. The prayer is as follows:

Lord Jesus, merciful Face of the Father, you came to give us the Good News of the Father’s mercy and tenderness.

We thank you for the gift of our dearest Mother, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonized in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. You chose her to be your presence, your love and compassion to the brokenhearted, the unwanted, the abandoned and the dying. She responded wholeheartedly to your cry, ‘I Thirst,’ by the holiness of her life and humble works of love to the poorest of the poor.

We pray, through her intercession, for the grace to experience your merciful love and share it in our own families, communities and with all our suffering brothers and sisters. Help us to give our “hearts to love and hands to serve” after the example of Mother Teresa. Lord Jesus, bless every member of our family, our parish, our diocese, our country, especially those most in need, that we all may be transformed by your merciful love. Amen.

Join us as we continue to pray and prepare for this celebration of the Church’s newest saint.

Assumption of Mary

Assumption Of Mary: Why Do We Celebrate This?

On August 15, Catholics celebrate the Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation. Normally, we would be obligated to attend Mass for this feast, but because this year it falls on a Monday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has lifted the obligation. However, the faithful are still urged to attend Mass if it is possible.

What exactly is the Assumption of Mary and why do we celebrate it? There is often criticism from our Protestant brothers and sisters regarding this, as there is no place in the Bible we can point to and say, “Here it is! It really happened!” However, the Church has always been careful to warn the faithful against biblical “fundamentalism:”

…typified by unyielding adherence to rigid doctrinal and ideological positions—an approach that affects the individual’s social and political attitudes as well as religious ones. Fundamentalism in this sense is found in non-Christian religions and can be doctrinal as well as biblical. But in this statement we are speaking only of biblical fundamentalism, presently attractive to some Christians, including some Catholics.

While the Church teaches that the Bible is without error, there is also living Tradition that must be considered when studying Scripture. As Catholics, we trust our spiritual leaders, the bishops, to help us understand and apply Scriptural truths. While the Assumption of Mary is not recorded in Scripture, the Church has  vast historical knowledge regarding this early Christian celebration.

After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem. One of the memories about his mother centered around the “Tomb of Mary,” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived.

On the hill itself was the “Place of Dormition,” the spot of Mary’s “falling asleep,” where she had died. The “Tomb of Mary” was where she was buried.

At this time, the “Memory of Mary” was being celebrated. Later it was to become our feast of the Assumption.

The dormition of Mary is a belief (but not a tenent of the Faith) that Mary did not suffer death, as death is a result of original sin. Since Mary was born without original sin, some theologians have concluded that Mary “fell asleep.” The use of the term “sleep” for “death” is well-documented in the New Testament.

So why do we celebrate Mary’s Assumption? From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

After her Son’s Ascension, Mary “aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.” In her association with the apostles and several women, “we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.”

“Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.

By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a “preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church”; indeed, she is the “exemplary realization” of the Church.

Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. “In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.”

“This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. (para. 964-969)

In 2013, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that Mary “accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil.” Certainly that would be enough for us to want to celebrate this holy day. However, the Holy Father also said that the Faith we cherish is founded upon not a belief or an event, but a truth:

Our whole faith is based upon this fundamental truth which is not an idea but an event. Even the mystery of Mary’s Assumption body and soul is fully inscribed in the resurrection of Christ. The Mother’s humanity is “attracted” by the Son in his own passage from death to life. Once and for all, Jesus entered into eternal life with all the humanity he had drawn from Mary; and she, the Mother, who followed him faithfully throughout her life, followed him with her heart, and entered with him into eternal life which we also call heaven, paradise, the Father’s house.

As we look forward to this holy day, let us meditate upon all the riches the Church has given us regarding Mary. Let us turn to her in faith, asking her to intercede for us as we continue to seek Christ in all we do. His Mother will certainly aid us in this endeavor.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa Of Kolkata: Our Newest Saint

In one month, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa of Kolkata the Church’s newest saint. While most of us are familiar with her public work in India and elsewhere, it is good to learn more about this holy woman.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910, Mother Teresa was Albanian by birth, but lived most of her early years in Yugoslavia. At the age of just 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish order of teachers. During those years, she worked in India. However, God called her to something more.

Mother Teresa (the name she received when she entered the convent of the Loreto order) received a call from Christ to serve the poorest of the poor. In order to do that, she needed to leave her beloved Loreto Sisters and found a new order. She was determined that this order live among the poor, and that these sisters would live as the poor did: with as few possessions as possible.

Founding this new order took a great deal of determination. Mother Teresa was a tiny woman, with a warm smile and a heart for service. She was also one very determined lady. Although it took several years, she was finally given permission from the bishop to found her order: the Missionaries of Charity. These new sisters would wear simple saris, just like the women they would serve. The sisters would have only two habits: one to wear and another to change into when the first was dirty. They would wear sandals and carry rosaries. That was to be the sum total of their possessions. Mother Teresa felt strongly that in order to serve the poor, they must be poor themselves.

Her sisters would go out into the streets of Kolkata daily, feeding the poor, offering simple medicine for those who were ill and gathering the children for teaching and religious education. In twenty years, the order grew, as did their work.

Trusting entirely in God’s providence to sustain their work, in only three years they had built a motherhouse, established an orphanage, and set up a program to serve lepers throughout the city of Calcutta. Twelve years later they opened their first home outside of India. By 1971 the order ran 50 homes throughout the world, and many more were yet to come. Mother Teresa once told several sisters who were about to begin a new mission, “If there are poor people on the moon, we will go there.”

The work of the Missionaries of Charity was not without detractors. Many in India believed that the Sisters had set out to Christianize a Hindu nation. Others believed that the Sisters’ work was not enough: their hospices were not up to modern health standards, and they did little to actually help the poor, beyond offering food, simple medications and shelter. Through it all, Mother Teresa simply worked, serving her beloved poor.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. In her acceptance speech, she implored those in the West to spread her mission of love themselves:

I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbour – do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long – do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shinning with hunger – I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her – where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also.

Following her death in 1997, Pope John Paul II waived the five year period normally required for the process of canonization. He declared her “Blessed” in 2003 and Pope Francis will declare her a saint on September 4, 2016. The tiny woman who began her work with a call from God left a worldwide legacy that touched the lives of millions. However, she had only one focus: to serve God.

Mother Teresa’s spiritual vitality can be described with these words. “Don’t search for God in faraway lands. He is not there. He is close to you. He is with you. Just keep that lamp burning, and you will always see him.”

In the coming weeks prior to her canonization, we will explore more of the life and works of Mother Teresa. for now, let us take her advice and focus on the God who is with us here and now.

World Youth Day

World Youth Day 2016: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

This week marks the 14th World Youth Day. St. John Paul II established World Youth Day in 1986, out of concern for the world’s young people:

In his homily, John Paul II explained to young what according to his plan the World Youth Day should be, both in diocesan and international dimension. He said: “Today you are here again, dear friends, to begin in Rome, in St. Peter’s Square, the tradition of World Youth Day, the celebration to which the entire Church is invited. (…) World Youth Day means just this, going to encounter God, who entered into the history of man by means of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. He entered in a way that cannot be undone. And he desires to meet you above all.”

In 1995, St. John Paul II met the youth of the world in Manila. Four million strong, the young people heard the pope exhort them with the message that they were to be Christ’s messengers to the world.

World Youth Day 2016 is set in Krakow, Poland – very fittingly, as this was where St. John Paul II came of age and was eventually (and secretly, due to World War II) ordained. Pope Francis meets the pilgrims of this World Youth Day with the message of mercy in this Year of Mercy. The pilgrims will have three days of catechesis, along with praying the Way of the Cross, a vigil with Pope Francis and the final Mass. The pilgrims have been encouraged to prepare for World Youth Day by Scripture study, prayer and reflection on questions such as: “Do you live or do you only vegetate?” and “Do I trust in the Word of God about His unwavering love to me…?” Even the event’s logo is rich in meaning: a cross laid over an outline of the map of Poland and the flame of God’s mercy.

Krakow has been deemed the “City of Saints,” having been home to St. Stanislaw, St. Jadwiga, St. Faustina and St. John Paul II, among others. In opening this World Youth Day, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop of Krakow, welcomed the pilgrims:

As WYD Krakow 2016 is about to start, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz appeals to the young pilgrims: “You will feel endangered by the society you did not choose. But, you’re still a part of it. This means you still have responsibility to be a part of the solution.”

Let us keep the pilgrims in our prayers that they may be safe as they travel, that they may come away spiritually enriched by this pilgrimage. and that we may all learn from their example of being willing to go where God has called them. This is the official prayer of World Youth Day 2016:

God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman”.
We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.

Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love
that you have enkindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts
and renew the face of the earth.

Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
Saint John Paul II, pray for us.
Saint Faustina, pray for us.

Mary Magdalene

5 Things You Should Know About Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. (Although we tend to say “feast” for the days we celebrate saints, they are actually classified as memorials on the Church’s liturgical calendar.) Just a month or so ago, Pope Francis elevated the memorial of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast day. This means that her feast day is celebrated, liturgically, on the same “level” as that of the Apostles. While she is one of the best known figures in the Gospel, there is still plenty to learn about this amazing woman of faith.

  1. Mary Magdalene is often referred to as the “Apostle to the Apostles.” Why? She was the first to recognize that the tomb where Christ had been laid three days prior was now empty, and Christ raised from the dead. Christ appeared to her but she did not recognize the Risen Lord until he spoke her name. Then she brought this great news to the Apostles.
  2. Nowhere in Scripture is Mary Magdalene identified as a prostitute, but many people believe she was.
  3. Jesus performed an exorcism on her, casting out seven demons. Clearly, she had much to be grateful for, and we can assume that she became a devoted disciple of Christ because of this.
  4. Mary Magdalene, whomever else she may have been, was one courageous woman. When all but one of Christ’s Apostles abandoned Him as He was crucified, Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, the Mother of God and the Apostle John. For hours, these three watched, waited and prayed as their Beloved died a horrific death. Despite any fear they may have had of the Roman government, their love for Christ gave them the courage to be with Him in the most agonizing moments of His life. Mary Magdalene was one gutsy lady.
  5. Her special title is “Penitent.”

What so few realize is that Saint Mary Magadalen, because her gratitude and humility are equal to her unparalleled love, is delighted to bear, through all Christian centuries, the title Penitent in order that through her the mercies of her Lord might be made manifest. For actually, in all the days of her life that followed upon her anointing the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon, the Pharisee, she grew in love and prayer and contemplation to such a height that, except for Our Lady’s ­ whose life transcends in holiness that of the lives of all the saints together ­ Saint Mary Magdalen’s life may be said to be the holiest of all the holiest women in the Church.

Today, on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, let us ask for her intercession that we too may live a faithful life of courage, despite our circumstances, despite our doubts and fears. St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!