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Toronto cardinal calls for prayers after van kills at least 10

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters

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TORONTO (CNS) -- Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins called for special prayers after a van jumped a curb and killed at least 10 people on a busy Toronto street.

Although officials said the April 23 incident did not appear to be terrorism, they said it did appear to be deliberate. Cabinet members from leading industrialized nations were meeting in Toronto in preparation for a G-7 summit in Quebec in June.

"I invite the Catholic community across the Archdiocese of Toronto to join me in offering our prayers for all those who were killed and injured in the violent incident earlier today," the cardinal said in a statement. "I will be asking all 225 Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Toronto to offer special prayer intentions this week for all those who have suffered. Let us all unite in our efforts to bring comfort and care to those who are hurting today."

Authorities identified the driver as Alek Minassian, who was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. The Associated Press reported witnesses said he appeared to intentionally jump a curb in the North York neighborhood as people filled the sidewalks on a warm afternoon. He continued for more than a mile, knocking out a fire hydrant and leaving bodies strewn in his wake.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, tweeted: "Death toll of today's horrific accident is now at 10 with many more in critical condition. Tonight we celebrated Mass for all who have died. Such senseless, horrible killing of many innocent people who were outside enjoying our first taste of spring. God bless Toronto tonight."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Raise a cone: Rome's poor celebrate pope's name day with gelato

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Cones raised in the air, the crowd gathered for dinner at the Sant'Egidio Community's soup kitchen toasted Pope Francis on his name day, the feast of St. George.

The gelato was offered by the pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as part of his name day celebration April 23. He provided 3,000 servings of ice cream -- mostly vanilla cones with chocolate and nuts on top, but also a few pistachio cones and a couple strawberry ones -- to soup kitchens and homeless shelters around Rome.

"It's not like gelato is the only thing he gives away," said Ruggiero, who passed on the cones because, he said, at his age -- 70-something -- "I'm watching my physique."

"Everything this pope does he does for the poor," Ruggiero told Catholic News Service. "And then there's his smile."

Alberto, roughly the same age, was seated next to Ruggiero for the dinner, which began with a course of gnocchi, then moved on to the main course of veal and potatoes and would normally have finished with fruit. Oranges were the day's offering.

"It's a very charming gesture," said Alberto as he unwrapped his cone at the kitchen in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood.

The two men, along with five other friends, had begun their evening in the tiny Church of San Calisto, where they join in singing evening prayer and prayers for peace twice a month. Then they walk to the soup kitchen nearby for dinner.

One of the seven gentlemen wrote their names in big letters on the paper place mats to save their seats. But there is always room for one more. And they take turns filling each other's water glasses, passing out the food and collecting the dirty plates before the next course.

Across the room, Antonino Siragusa was eating, but also helping to serve. He said he has met the pope "six times. He's a good person, very lively. He smiles and will meet anyone."

Before the meal began, he admitted he had not known it was the pope's name day, but he was glad to hear it.

"I love sweets," he said. "This is great!"

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Italy grants citizenship to Alfie Evans in attempt to guarantee his care

IMAGE: CNS/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Italian government granted citizenship to Alfie Evans, a seriously ill British toddler, in a last-minute effort to prevent doctors in England from withdrawing life-support.

The Italian foreign ministry, in a brief note April 23, said Angelino Alfano, the foreign minister, and Marco Minniti, the interior minister, "granted Italian citizenship to little Alfie."

"The Italian government hopes that being an Italian citizen would allow the immediate transfer of the baby to Italy," the foreign ministry said.

The baby's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, lost their latest legal battle April 23 to prevent doctors from removing Alfie's life-support when the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene.

Doctors in the U.K. have not been able to make a definitive diagnosis of the 23-month-old child's degenerative neurological condition, but they have said keeping him on life-support would be "futile."

A high court judge backed a lower court's ruling that the hospital can go against the wishes of the family and withdraw life-support.

Tom Evans flew to Rome and met Pope Francis April 18, begging the pope to help get his son "asylum" in Italy. The Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome has offered to care for Alfie. Three specialists from Bambino Gesu had flown to Liverpool and examined Alfie. According to the president of Bambino Gesu, "a positive outcome would be difficult, but the baby's suffering can be alleviated."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope calls for end to 'needless bloodshed' in Nicaragua

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Cabrera, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called for an end to violence in Nicaragua after several days of protests against proposed social security legislation led to the deaths of more than two dozen people.

"I express my closeness in prayer to that country and I am united with the bishops in asking that every form of violence end, that a pointless shedding of blood be avoided and that open issues be resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility," the pope said April 22 after praying the "Regina Coeli" prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The pope said he was "very worried about what is happening these days in Nicaragua," where citizens took to the streets beginning April 18 after the government announced changes to the nation's social security system.

The proposed overhaul, which would have increased pension contributions while reducing benefits by 5 percent, was scrapped by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega April 22.

Ortega has been heavily criticized for his handling of the crisis, which led to the deaths of 25 people. But despite criticism of the overhaul coming from business leaders, university students and elderly pensioners, the president publicly blamed right-wing groups for the inciting violence.

Outrage spread after a local journalist, Angel Gahona, was shot and killed while broadcasting the protest on Facebook Live. A police officer was also shot in the head during deadly clashes in the Nicaraguan capital, Managua.

Nicaragua's Catholic bishops called for peaceful demonstrations and sheltered protesters in the cathedral of Managua.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Jose Baez of Managua has been outspoken in his support of student protesters who have been targeted. In an April 22 tweet, he urged the president to engage in constructive dialogue.

"President Daniel Ortega, abandon your arrogant attitude, listen to the people, embrace dialogue with sincerity, feel the pain of so many families and contribute to peace in the country," he tweeted.

Bishop Baez also tweeted that he was calling on military and police forces to end the repression against protesters and "to listen to God's voice in their hearts: 'Thou shall not kill!"

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Great Caesar's ghost! Superman turns 80

IMAGE: CNS photo/DC Comics

By Mark Judge

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Look! Up in the sky! It's Superman! And he's 80!

The year 2018 marks eight decades since the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics No. 1. It also sees the arrival of issue 1,000 of the "Action" series. DC Comics is celebrating these milestones with a special expanded edition of Action Comics as well as a book, "80 Years of Superman: The Deluxe Edition."

Action Comics No. 1,000 costs $7.99, while the book is priced at $30. Both are suitable for readers of all ages.

Action Comics No. 1,000 is a series of short comics stories by popular DC writers such as Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns, Tom King and Peter J. Tomasi. The art is provided by Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Patrick Gleason and superstar Jim Lee, among others.

The stories in both volumes celebrate Superman and his commitment to fighting evil, telling the truth and being a good friend and husband (he and Lois Lane were married in 1996). Not for nothing is he called "the big blue boy scout," although in the modern world of dodgy politicians and celebrities, Superman seems deeply countercultural.

His basic history is well known: Superman was created in 1933 by writer Jerry Siegel (1914-1996) and artist Joe Shuster (1914-1992). The two had become friends while attending high school together in Cleveland.

Jerry Siegel's daughter, Laura Siegel Larson, penned the forward to "80 Years of Superman." She notes that her father and Shuster sold the character to DC Comics for a mere $130 -- a fact that eventually led some of Superman's fans to charge the publisher with taking advantage of the young duo. In 1976, DC gave Siegel and Shuster a pension and a "created by" credit for all time.

Based on his non-Earthly origin and propensity both for saving people and urging them to repent and think of others, Superman has often been considered a Christ figure. One of the best stories in Action No. 1,000 reflects this similarity.

It's the 1930s, and Superman stops a crook in his car, then hangs him from a telephone pole before letting him go. Visiting the man later, Superman offers not only judgment, but mercy.

"You've had your fair share of knocks," Superman says. "And you can keep knocking the world back like you've done. Or you can make a decision today. Be that person who wasn't there for you for someone else." Touchingly, the man does just that.

"80 Years of Superman: The Deluxe Edition" offers short essays about the Man of Tomorrow by writers and journalists as well as reprints of classic stories. Editor Paul Levitz includes tales ranging from 1938's Action Comics No. 1 and the first appearance of Supergirl (No. 252) to Clark Kent revealing to Lois that he is also Superman (No. 662). In No. 309, Superman gets to meet President John Kennedy.

"80 Years" also features a never-published story, "Too Many Heroes," written by fan favorite Marv Wolfman.

Journalist Larry Tye observes that, over the years, "Superman has evolved more than the fruit fly." In the 1930s, the Man of Steel was a crime fighter. In the '40s, he was a patriot combating Nazi aggression. In the '50s, he took on communist spies. And at the end of the Cold War, he tried to eliminate nuclear stockpiles.

Today, Superman might be focusing on his day job as a journalist. That's been hinted at by Brian Michael Bendis, the star comic book writer who decamped from Marvel this year to take over the Superman franchise at DC.

Along the same lines, in "80 Years of Superman," David Hajdu, author of the comic book history "The Ten-Cent Plague," smartly considers how Superman and his alter ego, Daily Planet reporter Kent, complement each other.

"In his role as a godly endowed hero among humans, Superman has always been much more concerned with the dispensing of justice than the revealing of truth," Hajdu writes. "He hunts and catches villains, crooks and evildoers of all kinds -- earthy, alien, extra-dimensional or inexplicable -- and enforces a resolutely held super code of right and wrong."

However, Clark Kent's mission as a reporter is "to serve the truth." Superman's creators "made clear that they saw both sides of their cleverly dualistic character as companionably heroic," Hajdu notes. Moreover, "Clark's work as a journalist often drove the narratives."

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Judge reviews comic books and video games for Catholic News Service.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Mother killed on Southwest flight was firm believer in Catholic schools

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marla Brose, Albuquerque Journal

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Tributes from business leaders and politicians alike described Jennifer Riordan -- the 43-year-old passenger who died April 17 from injuries suffered on Southwest Flight 1380 when its engine exploded -- as a devoted mother, community leader, mentor and volunteer.

Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive from New Mexico, was a "thoughtful leader who has long been a part of the fabric of our community," said Tim Keller, the mayor of Albuquerque. Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico, described her as "an incredible woman who put her family and community first."

But statements about Riordan that were closer to home for the parishioner of Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church in Albuquerque and mother of two children at Annunciation School were issued by her family, who called her their "bedrock," and her children's school, which described Riordan as an "integral member of our school community."

Riordan, who grew up in Vermont, attended Christ the King Elementary School in Burlington and graduated from Vermont's Colchester High School in 1992. She married her high school sweetheart, Michael Riordan, in 1996 at Christ the King Church, according to the Burlington Free Press daily newspaper.

The couple had spent nearly two decades living in Albuquerque. Michael is a former chief operating officer for the city of Albuquerque and Jennifer was a vice president for community relations with Wells Fargo bank.

She was returning from a business trip in New York when the plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after its engine exploded in midair and shrapnel hit the plane breaking the window beside her.

Riordan was pronounced dead at a hospital from blunt trauma to her head, neck and torso, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Health announced April 19.

As news of the tragedy spread, the assistant principal at Annunciation School where the two Riordan children attend, sent an email to parents confirming Riordan's death and simply adding: "At this point, the family needs all the prayers we can offer."

Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester said: "Our hearts go out to the family of Jennifer Riordan, who lost her life yesterday, April 17, during the tragic plane accident." The archbishop also said he would "pray for the repose of her soul and for her dear loved ones."

Annunciation School posted a statement on its Facebook page saying the school was "devastated to lose an integral member of our school community," noting that Riordan often volunteered at the school and also served on its consultative council.

"She was seen on campus almost daily supporting her beautiful children. She provided encouragement to everyone with whom she came in contact. Her positive motivating spirit will be missed," the statement added before concluding with the promise that the school community would "keep Jennifer and her family in prayer."

A statement issued by the Riordan family said: "Jennifer's vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured."

It also called her "the bedrock of our family. She and Mike wrote a love story unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children," and the statement asked that in her memory people remember to "always be kind, loving, caring and sharing."

The statement echoes Riordan's own advice from what she said in 2015 after she was presented the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership by the Samaritan Counseling Ethics in Business Awards.

"As a parent, I've said to my kids, 'Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all good things will come to you,'" Riordan told the Albuquerque Journal, about the award. "Integrity embodies the spirit of those four things, as well as high morals. It's about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and choosing to do what's right, even when it's very difficult to do what's right."

Not only was Riordan dedicated to her job and school volunteering, but she also volunteered with several local nonprofit groups and boards.

She served on the boards of Junior Achievement of New Mexico and New Mexico First and was appointed by New Mexico's governor to a board focused on boosting volunteerism in the state.

She was still on the board of directors at The Catholic Foundation, a nonprofit Santa Fe archdiocesan organization that links donors to parishes, schools and organizations in need, and had planned to attend a meeting with the group in late April.

Ed Larranaga, the foundation's president, said he asked Riordan, who had been his friend for 15 years, if she'd be on the board, but he also wondered if she'd even have time because she did so much.

"She was just thoughtful and probably the most positive person I've ever met," he told Catholic News Service April 19, adding that people who didn't know her well might have thought she was fake because "no one could be that positive and upbeat."

Riordan told him over a year ago that Catholic education saved her life, saying she had been "going down a path with other people and friends" and her mom changed that direction by sending her to a Catholic school.

So even though she had a lot going on, she wanted to help Catholic schools through the foundation and by sending her children to Catholic school, he said.

"Jennifer wanted to do things to make a difference, not just at work and in the community, but just in general, she wanted to make things better," Larranaga said.

And that spirit continues. Earlier that day, he received a phone call from someone in Michigan who didn't know Riordan but wanted to do something in her honor. The donor, who attended Catholic schools, said he was impressed by what he read about her.

"That's just the type of person she was," always making a difference, is Larranaga's view of the phone call.

He said even though there will likely be a private funeral for Riordan, he is sure there will be a public memorial as well at the convention center because her "impact was that great."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Circuitous route led to director's second film on exorcism

IMAGE: CNS photo/The Orchard

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sometimes the best opportunities result from a mix of asking and having things fall into your lap.

So it was for William Friedkin, who directed "The Exorcist" 45 years ago and thought he was through with the subgenre he helped create. Then came his documentary on exorcism, "The Devil and Father Amorth."

"It was a complete accident," Friedkin told Catholic News Service in an April 16 interview in Washington to promote the film. "I had no intention of doing this. I had no interest. 'The Exorcist' was a work of fiction. I had never seen a real exorcism, and neither had William Peter Blatty," who had written the novel on which that movie was based.

Friedkin said he had been in Luca, Italy, to receive the Puccini Prize for having directed four Puccini operas. He soon heard Pisa was a 35-minute drive from Luca, so he made the trip. Then he learned it was a one-hour flight from Pisa to Rome. Given that he had eight days in Italy, he wrote a priest-theologian friend, and "as a lark, I asked, 'Do you think I could get a meeting with the pope or Father (Gabriele) Amorth?'"

The reply: "The pope's not available, but Father Amorth would be very pleased to meet you." The desired meeting took place between Friedkin and the priest whose skills in performing exorcisms he characterized this way: "There's exorcists and there's exorcists, like there's basketball players and LeBron James."

Friedkin returned to Los Angeles and was at the Vanity Fair magazine post-Oscars party when he told then-editor Graydon Carter of his meeting with the priest. Carter urged him to write an article about Father Amorth. Before making a return trip to Rome he wrote the priest, who answered only in longhand. "I pushed my luck," Friedkin said. "Would you ever let me witness an exorcism?" "Let me think about it," Father Amorth said; eventually, his order, the Pauline Fathers, gave permission for him to see an exorcism on a specific date -- May 1, 2016.

"I pushed my luck again, and I wrote back, 'Do you think he would allow me to film it?' The word came back in two days, that yes, he would allow me to film it, but alone with no crew and no lights," Friedkin said.

Friedkin's filming of Cristina, the first known filmed exorcism, is what makes up the core of "The Devil and Father Amorth." "I had been told by Father Amorth this was her ninth exorcism and she had experienced personality changes, vocal changes, and a kind of unnatural strength for a woman her size and age," he recalled. "So I was aware from him this was going to happen -- to what extent, I didn't know."

He said he was surprised by how "disturbing the (demonic) attacks were. I went from abject terror sitting two feet away from her to absolute empathy for the pain she was expressing. She's a wonderful woman. She's an architect. You wonder how these attacks came about, why."

Father Amorth, who was 91, died several months after the filming. The priest was chief exorcist of the Diocese of Rome from 1986 until his death in 2016. Cristina continues to seek help to cast out whatever demon is inside her with the help of other exorcists. 

The movie also shows Friedkin talking with neurosurgeons and psychiatrists who have seen his exorcism footage who seem at a loss to either debunk or explain it.

More attention to Father Amorth "would have helped to offset the inevitable grimness of the rite at the heart of the proceedings," said John Mulderig, CNS assistant director for media reviews, in his review of "The Devil and Father Amorth." "At times, Friedkin appears slightly breathless with enthusiasm for his own material, and Christopher Rouse's churning score also hints at sensationalism. But overall, the tone is respectful and sober-minded."

The film is classified A-II -- adults and adolescents -- for mature themes, potentially disturbing images and a rude gesture.

"Father Amorth said to me the devil is metaphor," Friedkin told CNS. "The devil is not some figurative person, although he did say that he has had conversations with Satan. But he said there is no figure as he's been depicted. He believes that the devil is metaphor. I 100 percent believe there is evil in the world -- every day, all day, constantly -- but there is also a great goodness."

Friedkin, who was raised Jewish, now embraces faith in a different way.

Although he is not a Catholic, "I strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus -- strongly believe in the teachings of Jesus -- and I don't necessarily require the supernatural to believe in Jesus," he said, referring to the Resurrection.

Friedkin said his aims with the documentary are modest. "Just a sharing of information, which is what any filmmaker -- especially if you make a documentary -- experience. 'Here. this is what I saw,'" he said. "And what I'm saying to the audience, "Make of this what you will, but here it is.' We live in a very skeptical world, so I expect a lot of that."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Father of Alfie Evans meets pope, begs for help to save his son

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Begging Pope Francis to help his son, Alfie, Tom Evans met with the pontiff, pleading for "asylum" in Italy so his seriously ill son may receive care and not be euthanized in England.

"If Your Holiness helps our child, Your Holiness will be potentially saving the future for our children in the U.K., especially the disabled. We pray the problem we are facing is solved peacefully and respectfully as no child deserves this," Evans said in a statement he personally delivered to the pope April 18.

The private meeting came before the pope appealed publicly yet again for appropriate care and respect for 23-month-old Alfie Evans.

"I would like to affirm and vigorously uphold that the only master of life -- from its beginning to natural end -- is God," the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience April 18.

"Our duty is to do everything to safeguard life," he said before leading the thousands of people in the square in a moment of prayer and reflection.

He asked those at the audience to pray that the lives of all people, especially Alfie, be respected.

The pope's appeal -- the third he has made publicly -- came after he met with Alfie's father, who also attended the general audience with VIP seating in the square.

Evans flew to Rome overnight from England to meet with the pope. He posted photos and commentaries about the encounter on the Facebook page, "Alfie's Army Official."

The encounter lasted 20 minutes, according to the Italian Catholic news site, "La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana," which had one of its reporters accompany Evans at the meeting. The news site said the last-minute meeting was made possible by Bishop Francesco Cavina of Carpi, whom the site said was designated by the pope to act as a conduit between the Evans family and the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Gently rubbing a small green rosary between his fingers, Evans, who is Catholic, told reporters that his son is being "held hostage" at the hospital, and he and his wife are "being treated like criminals and prisoners." The family has been fighting to remove Alfie from a Liverpool hospital to be transferred elsewhere.

Evans said he thought the meeting with the pope went very well. "I've seen the love and the care and the emotion in his eyes. I'm so fortunate to have had that opportunity" to meet the pope and talk about saving his son, he told Catholic News Service.

"I've prayed every day," he said, and though "God hasn't come through yet," he thought the next step should be the pope, because he understands that no one has the right over Alfie's life, but God.

He also asked the pope to speak out publicly again during the general audience in support of Alfie, and the pope did.

Evans asked the pope to help him bring the baby to Italy to the Vatican-run Bambino Gesu hospital, and the pope said, "Yes" and immediately turned and spoke to Bishop Cavina, according to Patricia Gooding-Williams, who was at the papal meeting acting as the translator. Bishop Cavina worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State for a number of years before being ordained a bishop in 2012.

The pope blessed Evans and told him he really respected his courage, saying he had "the same courage as God has for his children," Gooding-Williams told CNS.

In a statement then posted on Facebook, Evans thanked the pope for meeting with him and begged him for his help.

"I am now here in front of Your Holiness to plea for asylum. Our hospitals in the U.K. do not want to give disabled children the chance of life and instead the hospitals in the U.K. are now assisting death in children," the statement read.

"We have fought for Alfie for one and a half years and we now have realized our son's life does not mean much to the NHS," the National Health Service in the U.K., he wrote.

"We plea with you to help our son!"

Evans said in the written statement, "We see life and potential in our son and we want to bring him here to Italy at Bambino Gesu where we know he is safe and he will not be euthanized."

Mariella Enoc, president of the Vatican-run hospital, said they are ready to welcome Alfie.

"We certainly do not promise to cure him, but to take care of him, without aggressive treatment," she said in a statement published by the Italian bishops' newspaper, Avvenire, April 14.

Three specialists from Bambino Gesu examined Alfie at the Liverpool hospital and determined "a positive outcome would be difficult, but the baby's suffering can be alleviated," she said.

Doctors in the U.K. have not been able to make a definitive diagnosis of the 23-month-old child's degenerative neurological condition.

However, doctors at the hospital have said keeping the toddler on life-support would be "futile," and he should begin receiving palliative care. A high court judge backed a lower court's ruling, saying the hospital can go against the wishes of the family and withdraw life-support.

In an effort to fight that decision, the parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, took their case to the European Court of Human Rights, which found no indication of any human rights violations and declared their application "inadmissible" March 28.

The parents want to transfer their son to Bambino Gesu to see if it is possible to diagnose and treat his condition, but the high court ruling would prevent that from happening, according to the parents' lawyer.

Shortly after Tom Evans met the pope, the bishops of England and Wales issued a statement saying, "With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering."

"We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonizing decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie's good as they see it," the bishops said.

"The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognized and affirmed," they added. "We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided."


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'Is my dad in heaven?' little boy asks pope

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighborhood's children.

Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis' parish visits. And, at St. Paul of the Cross parish April 15, there were the usual questions like, "How did you feel when you were elected pope?"

But then it was Emanuele's turn. The young boy smiled at the pope as he approached the microphone. But then froze. "I can't do it," Emanuele said.

Msgr. Leonardo Sapienza, a papal aide, encouraged the boy, but he kept saying, "I can't."

"Come, come to me, Emanuele," the pope said. "Come and whisper it in my ear."

Msgr. Sapienza helped the boy up to the platform where the pope was seated. Emanuele was sobbing by that point, and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace, patting his head and speaking softly to him.

With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat.

"If only we could all cry like Emanuele when we have an ache in our hearts like he has," the pope told the children. "He was crying for his father and had the courage to do it in front of us because in his heart there is love for his father."

Pope Francis said he had asked Emanuele if he could share the boy's question and the boy agreed. "'A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?'"

"How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, 'He was good,'" the pope told the children. "And what a beautiful witness of a son who inherited the strength of his father, who had the courage to cry in front of all of us. If that man was able to make his children like that, then it's true, he was a good man. He was a good man.

"That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn't a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart," Pope Francis said.

"God is the one who says who goes to heaven," the pope explained.

The next step in answering Emanuele's question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has. "What do you think? A father's heart. God has a dad's heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that bravura, do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself?"

"Does God abandon his children?" the pope asked. "Does God abandon his children when they are good?"

The children shouted, "No."

"There, Emanuele, that is the answer," the pope told the boy. "God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much."

Pope Francis encouraged Emanuele to "talk to your dad; pray to your dad."

Earlier, a young girl named Carlotta also asked the pope a delicate question: "When we are baptized, we become children of God. People who aren't baptized, are they not children of God?"

"What does your heart tell you?" the pope asked Carlotta. She said, they are, too.

"Right, and I'll explain," the pope told her. "We are all children of God. Everyone. Everyone."

The nonbaptized, members of other religions, those who worship idols, "even the mafiosi," who terrorize the neighborhood around the parish, are children of God, though "they prefer to behave like children of the devil," he said.

"God created everyone, loves everyone and put in everyone's heart a conscience so they would recognize what is good and distinguish it from what is bad," the pope said.

The difference, he said, is that "when you were baptized, the Holy Spirit entered into that conscience and reinforced your belonging to God and, in that sense, you became more of a daughter of God because you're a child of God like everyone, but with the strength of the Holy Spirit."

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'Schizoid' world brags it's free while chained to greed, pope says

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christian freedom is being free from worldly ambition, fashion and passion and being open to God's will, Pope Francis said.

The world today "is a bit schizoid, schizophrenic, right? It shouts, 'Freedom, freedom, freedom!' but it is more slave, slave, slave," he said in his homily April 13 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

People need to think about what kind of freedom they seek in the world, he said.

Is it Christian, he asked, or "am I slave to my passions, my ambitions, to many things, to wealth, to fashion. It seems like a joke, but so many people are slaves to fashion!"

Pope Francis' homily looked at three examples of Christian freedom that were depicted in the day's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (5:34-42) and the Gospel reading (Jn 6:1-15).

The first reading told how the Pharisee, Gamaliel, convinces the Sanhedrin to free Peter and John from prison. He made the decision, the pope said, based on a trust that God would eventually let the truth be known about the apostles and by using his power of reason without letting it be warped by quick ambition.

"A free man is not afraid of time -- he leaves it to God. He leaves room for God to act in time. The free man is patient," the pope said.

Pontius Pilate, for example, was a man who was intelligent and could think reasonably, however, he wasn't free, the pope said. "He lacked the courage of freedom because he was a slave to careerism, ambition and success."

Even though Peter and John were innocent and were punished unjustly after they were freed from prison, they did not go to a judge to complain or demand reparation, the pope said.

They freely chose to rejoice and suffer in Christ's name just as Christ suffered for them, he said.

"Even today there are so many Christians, in prison, tortured who carry forward this freedom to proclaim Jesus Christ," he said.

Finally, Jesus himself gives an example of freedom when he escapes to the mountain alone after he realizes the people were going to carry him off to make him king after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

"He detached himself from triumphalism. He does not let himself be deceived" by this attitude of superiority, and makes sure he remains free, the pope said.

True freedom, he said, is making room for God in one's life and following him with joy, even if it brings hardship and suffering.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.