1. Pence: U.S. to tackle Christian persecution abroad
By Julie Zauzmer, The Washington Post, May 12, 2017, Pg. A2

Vice President Pence sought on Thursday to reassure Christian leaders looking for the White House to focus more on the plight of persecuted Christians abroad.

“Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration,” the vice president said during a morning address at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians being held this week in Washington.

[S]ome Christian advocates have started looking for more results. Some are asking when Trump will appoint someone to the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, whether the State Department will implement training on religious freedom promised last year and how the administration is advocating on behalf of people persecuted for their Christian faith in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Ken Isaacs, who leads the government relations wing of … Samaritan’s Purse, said he hopes that eventually diplomats under Trump will make religious freedom a greater priority. “I think that during the last administration, this was not an issue,” Isaacs said. “The last administration had chosen to make an issue of LGBT issues throughout the world through their embassies. … The U.S. government is a very large, powerful entity, and when it decides to emphasize what it does prioritize, that affects what policies become.”

Although some conservative Christians were disappointed in Trump’s executive order on religious freedom last week, saying it did not make much of a meaningful policy impact, Isaacs said the fact that the president dedicated an order to the subject was a promising sign of his commitment on the issue. Pence’s speech Thursday gave him even more hope, Isaacs said. “I think the fact that the vice president is coming illuminates that the persecution of Christians is not something they’re going to ignore.”


2. Pope’s Shrine Visit Illuminates Challenge to Church Over Apparitions: Trip to Fatima commemorates Virgin Mary’s reported appearances to three children 100 years ago

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2017, 5:30 AM

Pope Francis is heading to Fatima, Portugal, on Friday to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary there—honoring the sort of grass-roots devotion that can bolster the Catholic faith but also pose challenges for the Vatican.

Apparitions and similar experiences can spur deep piety among believers yet draw skepticism or even ridicule from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The church accepts the apparitions at Fatima as what it terms “worthy of belief,” and it is examining several dozen similar claims, mostly in Africa and Eastern Europe.

“Pope Francis has a deep devotion to Mary but he is cautious when it comes to apparitions and supposed messages because he sees a spiritual danger,” said John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Prophecies” and a longtime Vatican reporter. “He doesn’t want Catholics to be obsessing over apparitions or hunting for supernatural signs or waiting for the latest communication.”

The pope has hinted at skepticism over one claim the church has been reviewing for years, of ongoing daily visions in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, which have spawned a local pilgrimage industry.

In Fatima, Pope Francis plans to canonize as saints two of the three shepherd children— Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta—to whom the Virgin is believed to have appeared 100 years ago this Saturday.


3. ‘Worthy of Belief’: How the Catholic Church Approves Apparitions:When visions of the Virgin Mary are reported, local bishops are in charge of investigating

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2017, 5:30 AM

The Catholic Church has approved a number of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary over the centuries, but the vast majority don’t make the cut.

The primary responsibility for authenticating a reported apparition lies with the local bishop. If a bishop finds a claim particularly credible—or if he thinks it needs to be debunked to prevent misleading the faithful—he can appoint a panel of experts to investigate it. The panel can include theologians, experts in church law and psychologists.

Their investigation follows guidelines set by the Vatican’s doctrinal office in 1978. They examine the mental health, moral fitness and piety of the visionary; the doctrinal orthodoxy of any alleged messages from Mary; and whether the apparitions have borne “spiritual fruit”—by inspiring prayer or works of charity, for example.

The bishop has the power to declare an apparition “worthy of belief,” authorizing public devotion associated with it, but such decisions are rare and typically a long time in coming.

If the bishop is unable to make a final judgment on an apparition, he can refer the question to the national bishops’ conference and finally to the Vatican. The Vatican’s doctrinal office can also intervene on its own initiative, or in response to devotees appealing a bishop’s negative judgment. Similarly, the Vatican can overrule a bishop’s approval of an apparition.


4. Pope Francis and the Unexpired Call of Fatima: The Holy Father’s top four pastoral priorities

By Father Roger J. Landry, National Catholic Register, May 11, 2017

On May 12-13, the focus of the Catholic world will be on Portugal, as Pope Francis heads to Fatima to lead the celebration of the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady to the three shepherd children.

It will be an opportunity for the Holy Father to reinforce the continued relevance and summons of Fatima and link it to four of his most prominent pastoral priorities: mercy and conversion, peace, Marian devotion and children.

 Pope Francis’ priority for a pontifical theme has been the merciful love of God, our need to receive it and to pray for others to receive it, and our call to become merciful like the Father in sharing it.

When St. John Paul II first went to Fatima in 1982, he summarized Mary’s entreaty as a reiteration of her Son’s call to repent and believe: “The message of Fatima is, in its basic nucleus, a call to conversion and repentance, as in the Gospel.”

For that reason, he said, her maternal reiteration “remains ever relevant” and is even “more relevant … and urgent” than it was in 1917. Writing in 2000, the future Pope Benedict likewise underlined, “Our Lady’s call to conversion and penance, issued at the start of the twentieth century, remains timely and urgent today,” stressing that her “insistent invitation” to penance “is nothing but the manifestation of her maternal concern for the fate of the human family, in need of conversion and forgiveness.”

The second priority Pope Francis will be able to pray for and articulate in Fatima is the pressing need for peace.

Because of a failure of persons and peoples to convert and forgive, the world is exploding with conflicts, what Pope Francis has called a third world war “fought piecemeal.”

Our Lady appeared in Fatima to help lead the world on the path of peace.

The third pastoral priority Fatima gives Pope Francis is the opportunity to emphasize true devotion to Mary, especially through the Rosary and consecration. It’s noteworthy that before and after every foreign trip Pope Francis goes to St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome to beg for Mary’s prayers. He has repeatedly encouraged all people to pray the Rosary, calling it a “school of prayer” and “school of faith,” and exhorting us, “Please pray the Rosary. … Do not neglect it!”

During the Year of Consecrated Life, he spoke regularly about the meaning of Mary’s consecration and how we are called to imitate it and enter into it.

In Fatima, Mary taught the three children how to pray the Rosary properly, because they were used to saying just the first words of each prayer. She identified herself to them as “Our Lady of the Rosary,” and in every appearance, she asked them to “pray the Rosary every day.”

The fourth pastoral priority is about young people and the call to spiritual greatness.

Whenever Pope Francis visits a parish, he always has a special meeting with young children to answer their questions, to inspire them in simple ways to say “Yes” to God, and to help them to grow in love of God, the Blessed Mother, their faith and others. With youth and young adults at World Youth Day, he has summoned them to the fullness of the Christian life. “God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life,” he said in Brazil at World Youth Day 2013. In Krakow in 2016, he challenged them, “Leave your mark on history” by following Jesus all the way.

When he reaches Fatima this week, Pope Francis will have a chance to illustrate these truths as he canonizes Francisco and Jacinta, who will become the youngest non-martyred canonized saints in history.

As Pope Francis visits Fatima, he will help the Church, through the example of the docility and devotion of the new saints, to enter Mary’s school and learn there not just the lessons of the past century and about the foundation for peace on earth, but, most important of all, the path to salvation and eternal happiness, where Our Lady and the shepherd children continue to pray for the bishop in white and for all of us.