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How the Pope's Paraguay trip inspired a children's charity

AsunciĆ³n, Paraguay, Aug 17, 2017 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of Pope Francis' 2015 trip to Paraguay, a local charity was founded in order to help feed dozens of children whose parents struggle to make ends meet.

The “Pope Francis Children's Dining Hall” belonging to the Virgin of the Rosary Parish in the Diocese of Villarrica del Espíritu Santo in Paraguay, marked their first anniversary feeding almost 100 children of people who work part-time; and they hope to have many more anniversaries, giving love and care to the littlest ones.

Both the creation of the dining hall on Aug. 8, 2016, and its name are the fruit of Pope Francis' visit to Paraguay in July 2015, a tour in which he also visited Ecuador and Peru.

“Two years ago we had Pope Francis' visit which was very moving for many people. Because of  his  closeness to the people, we wanted to put his name on the dining hall,” parish priest Fr. Claudio Figueredo told CNA.

“The pope with the children is even seen on the logo and we always keep him in our prayers, for his ministry.”

The dining hall is located in the rural town of Natalicio Talavera with a population of about 7,000 and lies 112 miles from Asuncion. Some people work in “changas” – sporadic jobs – and mostly in the country's main crop, sugar cane.

“We started at zero. We had the house, but not pots, plates or utensils. Everything was borrowed. We started out with a stove and the first day five children came,” the priest said.

“There was a lot of leftover food. But already on the second day 30 children came and from there we steadily have between 60 and 90 children.”

Fr. Figueredo said that they began with the weekly lunches and two days with snacks. Today they are able to provide lunch and snacks every day and they also take care of the children while their parents work.

The children and adolescents cared for range from 1 to 15 years of age and their conditions include  malnutrition, respiratory illnesses, loneliness, and teen pregnancy; and so the social work provides medical care, catechesis, recreational activities and food assistance for families.

“The dining hall is a place where (the children) meet each other and feel good. We do everything possible to take care of their needs,” the priest said.

Fr. Figueredo, who belongs to the Saint Michael the Archangel Congregation of Polish missionaries, came to Peru in 1976. He explained that the dining hall is sustained by donations from the faithful, other organizations and the Secretariat for Social Action of the government of Paraguay.

The house where the Pope Francis Children's Dining Hall is provided has been equipped little by little with what it needs to function. On other occasions contributions even come for recreation such as a portable pool used in summer or a projector for use throughout the year.

Fr. Figueredo explained that other income that helps pay for expenses is the sale of baked goods that they make in the same facility every afternoon.

“We struggle every day. Our parish is very poor. Every day it's hard to have what's needed, but by the grace of God and Providence, we never lack,” he told CNA.

With that enthusiasm and faith in God, the priest said that they are already thinking of developing some craft projects for the children they serve there, “something which could help them develop their talents.”

The Virgin of the Rosary Parish also supports the Virgin of the Rosary Home, where 12 elderly reside, as well as the Saint Anthony of Padua Soup Kitchen in Doctor Botrell town.

An Indian woman became a nun...because of elephants?

Orissa, India, Aug 17, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nine years ago, Christians in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, India suffered the worst attacks against Christians in modern times in the country.

Around 100 people lost their lives and more than 56,000 lost their homes and places of worship in a series of violent riots by Hindu militants that lasted for several months.

But since the devastation, the local area has seen an “unprecedented” increase in religious vocations, including Sr. Alanza Nayak, who became the first woman from her area to join the order of the Sisters of the Destitute.  

Sr. Nayak told Matters India that she decided to dedicate her life to God through the poor and needy after she heard “how a herd of elephants meted out justice to the victims of Kandhamal anti-Christian violence.”

A tenth-grader at the time of the attacks, Sr. Nayak said she remembers escaping to the nearby forest so she wouldn’t be killed.

A year after the attacks, a herd of elephants came back to the village and destroyed the farms and houses of those who had persecuted the Christians.

“I was convinced it was the powerful hand of God toward helpless Christians,” Sister Nayak told Matters India. The animals were later referred to as “Christian elephants,” she added.

After completing her candidacy, postulancy and novitiate with the order, Sr. Nayak took her first profession on October 5, 2016, at Jagadhri, a village in Haryana. She is now a member in the Provincial House, Delhi.

On January 26, more than 3,000 people from Sr. Nayak’s village of Mandubadi, honored her with a special Mass and festivities.

Her mother told Matters India that she was “extremely fortunate” that God has called her daughter for “His purpose.”

Sister Janet, who accompanied Sister Alanza at the thanksgiving Mass, said that while materially poor, the people of the area are “rich in faith, brotherhood and unity.”

The congregation of Sisters of Destitute was founded on March 19, 1927, by Fr. Varghese Payyapilly, a priest of Ernakulum archdiocese. It has 1,700 members who live in 200 communities spread over six provinces.

The violence against Christians in the Kandhamal district has been religiously motivated. It started after the August 2008 killing of a highly revered Hindu monk and World Hindu Council leader, Laxshmanananda Saraswati, and four of his aides.

Despite evidence that Maoists, not Christians, were responsible for Saraswati's murder, Hindu militants seeking revenge used swords, firearms, kerosene, and even acid against the Christians in the area in a series of riots that continued for several months.

While the intensity of the violence has subsided since the 2008 attacks, violence against Christians in Kandhamal has continued.

In July 2015, Crux reported on two unconfirmed reports of two Christians who were shot to death by local police in the district while they were on a hilltop, seeking out a better mobile phone signal to call their children, just one example of the ongoing hatred of Christians in the district.  

Rev. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest who heads the Odisha Forum for Social Action, told Crux that such violence is common in a place where the social elites are upper-caste Hindus and the Christians are largely lower-class “untouchables” and members of indigenous tribes.

“There’s a double hatred,” Singh said. “Because Christians are from the lowest caste, they’re untouchable, and because they’re Christians they’re seen as anti-national … they’re treated worse than dogs.”

 

This article was originally published on CNA Feb. 7, 2017.

Theologian Pia de Solenni appointed Orange County chancellor

Orange, Calif., Aug 16, 2017 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Moral theologian and cultural analyst Dr. Pia de Solenni has been appointed chancellor for the Diocese of Orange in California, effective Aug. 28.

“Pia is an inspirational and well-respected theologian and has proven herself a thoughtful and humble leader within our Church,” said Bishop Kevin Vann in a statement announcing the appointment.

“We are blessed as a Diocese to benefit from her expertise, passion, and faith. I look forward to the many gifts that she will continue to bring to bear in service to the people of Orange.”

As chancellor – the diocese’s highest senior lay position – de Solenni will be the head administrator and secretary of the Curia, official archivist and record keeper, and aid in protecting the integrity of the faith. She will help support the administrative and ministry efforts of the bishop, and will advise the bishop on various writings and questions involving doctrine and dogma affecting the Church’s local work.

Currently, de Solenni serves as a theological consultant to the Office of the Bishop, as well as associate dean of the Augustine Institute’s satellite campus at the Christ Cathedral in Orange. She holds a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.

An expert on moral issues pertaining to bioethics, culture, and women’s issues, she has given commentary for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, as well as the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, among others.

With more than 1.3 million Catholics, the Diocese of Orange is the 12th largest diocese in the United States.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve the Diocese of Orange as Chancellor. I am very grateful to Bishop Vann for his confidence in me and for giving me this opportunity,” de Solenni said.

 

Shock and grief after mudslide in Sierra Leone kills hundreds

Freetown, Sierra Leone, Aug 16, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A massive mudslide in Sierra Leone’s capital city has left hundreds dead and thousands homeless, with relief agencies hurrying to respond.

“There are people whose entire families have gone missing. There is a real sense of despair. Right now, people are in a complete state of shock,” said Idalia Amaya, deputy head of programs and emergency response coordinator for Catholic Relief Services.

“The devastation is like nothing we’ve seen before. Entire neighborhoods have been washed away,” she added.

More than 600 people are missing and at least 300 are dead after a massive mudslide early Monday morning in Freetown. Some bodies were swept into the sea. The death toll has overwhelmed some mortuaries.

Thousands more people have lost their homes, as well as family members.

“I ran away from the house, leaving behind my family,” a grieving survivor, Fatmata Kamara told The Associated Press. “I am the only one that has survived, as my house and dozens of others were covered with mud and boulders.”

Heavy rains appeared to have triggered the disaster on the hillside.

Rescuers dug in the thick mud with their bare hands to try to find survivors.

An estimated 9,000 people were affected.

Abdul Nasir, program coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, described the disaster: “A river of mud came out of nowhere and swallowed entire communities, just wiped them away.”

“We are racing against time, more flooding and the risk of disease to help these affected communities survive and cope with their loss,” he warned.

To provide immediate aid, Catholic Relief Services will give food, water, and mattresses to survivors. The agency will support the government and religious leaders by providing dignified burials for the deceased, including burial teams and grave diggers.

The teams’ members took part in Catholic Relief Services’ Ebola response in 2014.

Amaya, the CRS emergency response coordinator, reflected on the situation in the country.

“People here have already experienced so much trauma having lived through war and then Ebola, and now this,” she said. “But at the same time, people from Sierra Leone are incredibly resilient and I know that with the proper support they will overcome this latest tragedy.”

Pope prays for victims, rescue workers of Sierra Leone mudslide

Vatican City, Aug 16, 2017 / 07:54 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With hundreds dead and nearly 600 more still missing as a result of a giant mudslide that ravished Sierra Leone's capital, Pope Francis has prayed for the victims, their families and rescue workers providing relief to those affected.

“Deeply saddened by the devastating consequences of the mudslide on the outskirts of Freetown, His Holiness Pope Francis assures those who have lost loved ones of his closeness at this difficult time,” read an Aug. 16 telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin read.

Addressed to Freetown's Archbishop Charles Edward Tamba, the telegram relayed the Pope's sympathies, and assured of his prayer for all who have died.

The telegram comes two days after a flooding and a large mudslide killed some 400 people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown Monday, and have left some 600 still missing.

According to BBC, a mass burial of victims that had been scheduled for Wednesday in order to free up space in mortuaries has been delayed as the “chaotic” disaster continues to unfold.

Flooding is not uncommon in the overcrowded town of one million, leaving those who live in unsafe, makeshift housing especially at risk during natural disasters. However, Monday's slide is thought to be the worst incident in the past two decades.

At least 100 houses were wiped out when a hillside in Regent, a mountain town some 15 miles east of Freetown, collapsed, submerging entire buildings and taking people with them.

Bodies have continued to be retrieved from the mud and rubble, but efforts to identify them are proving difficult in the chaos.

In his telegram, the Pope not only offered his prayers for the victims, but he also extended “divine blessings of strength and consolation” upon their families.

Francis also expressed his “prayerful solidarity with the rescue workers and all involved in providing the much needed relief and support to the victims of this disaster.”