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Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa was crowned
Pope Benedict XV on September 6, 1914

It hasn’t gotten much attention, but we are now in the centennial of the reign of Pope Benedict XV.
I myself wouldn’t have noticed this except for an article in the Jesuit magazine “America.”
Benedict, the former Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, was pope from September 1914 until he died of pneumonia in January 1923.
That means that he was pope during the whole of World War I, which he characterized as “the suicide of civilized Europe”—an apt description of a conflict that cost 16 million lives.
When Pope Benedict XVI chose his papal name, he did so to honor both St. Benedict and Benedict XV—the latter because of his efforts to promote peace and his attention to the human crises brought on by both the war in Europe and the Russian revolution.
Although he was a career diplomat, Benedict XV was not in a good position to influence either side in the so-called “war to end all war.”
The Vatican’s international status had been seriously damaged in the previous century when Italy seized the Papal States and Pope Pius IX in 1870 declared himself a prisoner of King Victor Emmanuel. Benedict XV was the first pope to begin nudging the Vatican out of that isolation.
Benedict’s appeals to both sides to forswear violence reached passionate levels.
“The abounding wealth,” he wrote to the belligerents in 1915, “with which God the Creator has enriched the lands that are subject to you, allow you to go on with the struggle; but at what cost? Let the thousands of young lives quenched every day on the fields of battle make answer: answer, the ruins of so many towns and villages, of so many monuments raised by the piety and genius of your ancestors. And the bitter tears shed in the secrecy of home, or at the foot of altars where suppliants beseech; do not these also repeat that the price of the long drawn-out struggle is great, too great?’’
But neither side in the war, which was the culmination of a decades-old power struggle among the European nations, was interested in overtures from a voice that had no army and few diplomatic ties to back it up.
As Pius XII would do during World War II, Benedict strictly maintained neutrality, which had the ironic result of alienating both camps.
But Benedict persisted not only in arguing against the war itself and urging the parties to solve their differences through peaceful means but also in agitating for humane treatment of prisoners and release of interned civilians.
He succeeded in some of these humanitarian efforts, including an initiative in partnership with Switzerland to arrange for the exchange and treatment of seriously ill prisoners and detainees.
The pope also campaigned to raise money, including some of his personal funds, to assist civilians, including children, who were left destitute by the conflict.
When the war had played itself out, Benedict was concerned that the Allies would be vindictive, but his ambition for the Holy See to participate in the peace conference was rebuffed.
“Nations do not die,” he wrote. “Humbled and oppressed, they chafe under the yoke imposed on them … passing down from generation to generation a mournful heritage of hatred and revenge.’’
The onerous Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Adolf Hitler proved him right.
Benedict was a small man, slight of stature—so much so that when he was archbishop of Bologna he was known as “il piccolito,” “the little one.”
But in difficult circumstances a hundred years ago, he was a large man indeed as he took the only rational and moral position amid one of the worst catastrophes in human history.
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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“Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So to them he addressed this parable. ‘What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents’” (Luke 15:1-10).
These two parables, together with the more famous one of the prodigal son which follows them in Luke’s Gospel, are offered by Jesus as his answer to the grumbles of some Pharisees and scribes about him welcoming—and worse—eating with sinners. These parables are so carefully crafted that everyone listening would have recognized them as a slap on the face to the self-righteous—including the grumblers themselves.
Today’s gospel reading is an invitation to recognize that it is a mistake to presume that we can decide who is worthy and who is not worthy of the divine. As Jesus showed, the unlikeliest of places ends up being the place where we are most likely to see God. St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, likewise calls us to recognize “God in all things.” The Source of Love lives and moves in every corner of creation, reaching out to draw each member of that creation back into the Source, God.
– With whom do you identify in this gospel passage: the lost sheep, one of the ninety-nine never-lost sheep, the shepherd, the woman, the friends, the sinners, or the Pharisees?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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teresa_of_calcuttaOn September 4, Pope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa, whose life sent the world a single, urgent message: that love and caring are the most important things in life.
Perhaps we can best understand why Mother Teresa is worthy of veneration and imitation by reflecting on some of her own words:
“The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty, and disease.
“Those who are a burden to society, who have lost all hope and faith in life, who have forgotten how to smile and no longer know what it means to receive a little human warmth, a gesture of love and friendship—they turn to us to receive a little bit of comfort. If we turn our backs on them, we turn our backs on Christ.
“Our love and our joy in serving must be in proportion to the degree to which our task is repugnant.”
Our prayer today:

Mother Teresa, Saint of Mercy,
pray for us
that we may truly see the image of God
in the most deprived and disfigured
of our brothers and sisters.

Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at

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Gracious, loving Creator God,
how awesome, lovely, and manifold are the works of your creation.
In wisdom you have made them all:
from the tiniest ant to the huge whales of the sea,
from the all-seeing hawk to the slow-moving caterpillar.
Yet into this incredible variety you have formed a grammar of creation,
so that each created entity has its own role, its own relationship,
and its own value within the whole.
Help us Creator God, to recognize the many ways in which you speak to us
so that we may come to cherish and respect more deeply
our own relationships with you and the earth that you have created.
—from Creation at the Crossroads

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“Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, ‘If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25-27).
Jesus continues on the road to Jerusalem—the road to the cross. It is not hard to imagine an exasperated Jesus turning to the crowd of light-hearted followers and saying these words.
Over the last few weeks of gospel reading, we have seen Jesus try several times in several different ways to get his followers to understand just what their commitment implies—yet still they don’t get it. The reference to the cross in this passage is a reference to an inhumane, vindictive method of demeaning and killing an enemy. Roman citizens were spared the indignity of the cross no matter what their crime. Only conquered peoples and enemies were humiliated by this manner of execution. Jesus is using this forceful image to break through the unreal expectation and false belief that he was soon to be honored and would take over earthly control.
So where does this leave us? More often than not, we are like the followers who just don’t quite get it. The seriousness of his followers’ commitment is also a commitment that we have signed on to—though we may not realize it. Baptism for many of us may mean little more than pictures of ourselves as babies in long white dresses. But if we have been baptized, we have had the cross traced on our foreheads; we have been claimed for Christ. We have been “baptized into the death” of Christ.
We are asked to die to ourselves—to abandon those parts of ourselves that draw us away from Christ—in order that we may rise to new and greater life. This is not just a one-time thing. Every day, our baptism asks us: to what do I need to die in order that I may live a life of freedom with Christ?
We go into death symbolically with Christ, so as to rise with him. But perhaps too often we speed through the cross and concentrate on the rising. Today’s Gospel is a reminder that Jesus is calling us to make the tough choices—to change our lives, perhaps even drastically, to follow the way he preaches.
– In what parts of your life do you need to die in order to rise to new and greater life?
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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