'Fake news': meant to manipulate the reader

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At the beginning of this year, Pope Francis issues his message for the “World Communications' Day”. The title was: 
“The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32) 
Fake news and journalism for peace.

Explaining what “fake news” is, he says:
In general, it refers to the spreading of disinformation on line or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.
It is a serious matter because: 
The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict.
Pope Francis himself is victim of fake news. False information is being published about him and one needs to wonder what the goal of doing that is. It is not done innocently.

In the last few weeks, different people wrote to me privately asking if it is true that “Pope Francis cancels the Bible and proposes to create a new book”. This fake news is being shared on social media.

It is interesting that people might believe something like that considering that Pope Francis has chosen to celebrate the daily Mass with groups of people (mainly from the parishes in Rome) where he constantly refers to the Bible in his daily homilies. Books are being published gathering this homilies and different webpages daily present a summary of them.

He also has reflected at length on some biblical texts in his Apostolic Exhortations. For example,
  • in the 2016 Apostolic Exhortation called "The joy of love” (“Amoris laetitia”) there is a beautiful reflection on Paul's hymn to love (1 Cor 13: 1 – 13), and 
  • in his latest (2018) Apostolic Exhortation on the call to holiness in today's world "Rejoice and be glad" (“Gaudete et exsultate”) he reflects on the “Beatitudes” (Mt 5: 1 - 12). 

True that people might not have seen those documents nor follow his daily homilies.

It is interesting to see that in our daily lives we would not believe just anything we are told by other people when we meet them “face to face” but only those we know and trust. In every case we are able to ask for more information and go deeply on the issue being said.

On the contrary, we seem to take anything and everything we read on the internet as “true”. The internet seems to have become the new bible. Some people quote it in the way we quote God's word! We hardly check the source of the information like we would do with people and we hardly double check if the information is right.

Maybe the question is: Who are you trusting to help you know better your faith and your Church? Just anyone?

I am part of many whatsapp groups to which I hardly contribute. There is, though, one moment when I regularly do it: when I come across fake news. We regularly read about Christians or missionaries condemned to death in a certain (usually) Muslim country. Another one that is common says that: “Today, at 9 pm, Pope Francis calls everyone around the world (...) to pray for (...)”. There is nothing wrong to pray for a special intention but it is a message I saw last year and the previous one. Therefore when it says “today”...

Fake news goes beyond what could be an innocent joke on April's fools. It is done with a purpose. 

There is nothing wrong with asking you to pray for Christians being persecuted in other countries; but when it tells you about unexistant 249 missionaries in a specific Muslim context one needs to wonder what the goal of that fake news is. 

Remember what Pope Francis wrote: 
it is meant to manipulate the reader
Normally, a quick research on Google would let us know about these scams and how long they have been traveling all over the world.

I believe three things could help us:

  1. Double check the information. The fact that you received it from a friend is no guarantee he/she checked the source so do it yourself!
    • If it is important information regarding Pope Francis, it should appear on “www.vaticannews.va”;
    • there are also other well known and trusted Catholic sites that can help us see if the information is true; 
    • particularly today, not every blog or webpage that calls itself Catholic is really so. There are a number of cases in which the authors are just pushing a personal agenda.

  2. Ask! Ask someone you trust. I am deeply grateful to those who privately write to our “Diocesan News” group for more information.

  3. Do not share the information unless you are sure of what you are talking about or you yourself will become part of the circle that promotes fake news.


Pope Francis' message can be found clicking HERE

www.thefloridacatholic.org
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From Botswana to Swaziland


A couple of days' ago I got a call from my office saying: "a group of 13 priests from the diocese of Gaborone (Botswana) are visiting Swaziland and would like to see you during the week". I must confess it was the first time that a group like that visited our diocese. It is not unusual to meet one or two priests spending some time in our country but never thirteen!

They came this morning and we spent more than an hour together. I was really grateful for their visit. 

They are all diocesan priests. Every year they go on holidays together for a few days. They have been in South Africa (Cape Town and Durban), Namibia and now in Swaziland.

I told them about the history of our presence in the country and then answered some questions about the number of parishes, social impact, presence of religious communities...

I also shared about the good memories of our Bishops' plenary session in 2016 in Gaborone for the 50th anniversary of the independence of Botswana. 

On their side they offered us very interesting information regarding the formation to the priesthood in Lusaka (Zambia) and Morogoro (Tanzania). At present our seminarians study in South Africa but it has not been easy to get "study permits" and at the same time, it is good to "diversify" as one of them said. "When there is a pastoral problem, we see it from our different study backgrounds" he explained.

I was also impressed to hear that they prepared themselves to visit Swaziland by learning a bit of Siswati.

From the "bishop's office" they visited our "Little Flower" (the church built in Manzini in 1928) and then went to "Hope House". 

Fr Mahazule, our vicar general, joined them. On Thursdays he now comes to Manzini from Mbabane and gives us a hand at the office.

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Be glad and rejoice (Pope Francis' exhortation)

www.vaticannews.va

On April 9, which this year marked the transferred Solemnity of the Annunciation, the Vatican released the latest Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis: Gaudete et exsultate: On the call to holiness in today’s world.

Helping people to be holy is one of the Church’s main tasks, in every era. At this time, being holy can be distorted by misleading or mythical ideas about holiness. So Pope Francis “exhorts” his followers to engage in a journey that takes place in the concrete here and now of our daily lives, in small gestures and little things, in which we are led more and more by God’s grace.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke of the call to all the faithful to be missionary disciples; Gaudete et Exsultate is about the mission at the heart of that call, which is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, who not only invites us to be holy but enables us, through His Grace, to achieve that. 

Holiness is for all of us, not a select few. Holiness is our destiny; it’s what God has planned for us; and yet there is nothing intimidating or overpowering about that; rather it is a liberation, a way of becoming who we really are.

Gaudete et Exsultate is different in tone and emphasis from preceding documents:
  • First, the Exhortation is addressed personally to each and every one of us, whatever our state in life or level of education or development. Pope Francis often uses the informal singular expression tu (in Latin languages), which is how we speak one at a time to friends and family. So Francis is extending a personal invitation to follow Christ.
  • Second, it is deliberately lay in its language and invitation, aimed at people who live in the world, who have jobs and families and busy lives with many different pressures. Pope Francis wants people to know that they need no special education or qualifications, nor to take religious vows: just an open heart and a desire to spend some time with the Lord in prayer and by reading the Gospel. He also wants people to know that the Church has everything they need to become holy, and it is all available to them.
  • Third, the pope shows us, in very practical ways, how the journey to holiness is undertaken, and how it makes us more alive and more human.
(from a subsidy sent by the Holy See)

Click HERE to download Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation



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Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord


The Diocese of Manzini has, at present, 16 parishes. We know each one of them by the name of their patron saint: St Mary's, St Peter & Paul, St Phillip's... There was, though, one exception: the one we used to call "Florence Mission" or "St Florence".

There has never been a St Florence in our diocese. Florence is the name of the area, the name of the Clinic and the name of the school. The parish is called: "Santissima Anunziata" as it is link to the Shrine of the same name in ... Florence (Italy!). 

Slowly, we are all becoming more familiar with the name of the parish which has a beautiful picture of the Annunciation of the Lord behind the altar.

For the last two or three years, the parish celebrates her patronal feast which should normally be on March 25 (nine months before Christmas). It is sometimes moved to a later date when it "clashes" with another feast. Like this year when we celebrated our Palm Sunday on that day.


Both primary and high school children were present at the Mass together with some of the parishioners who could attend on a Monday morning. Members of the Order of the Servants of Mary together with some diocesan priests too. While I presided Mass, it was Fr Wandile Dlamini OSM who gave the homily.

"Florence choir" is one of the best in the country and therefore I asked them to sing a couple of songs after Mass to be shared on social media.

Enjoy!





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Enemies of Christ's cross


This is part of Good Friday's homily

There is a passage in the letter to the Phillipians where Paul says: “Brothers, be united in imitating me. Keep your eyes fixed on those who act according to the example you have from me. For there are so many people of whom I have often warned you, and now I warn you again with tears in my eyes, who behave like the enemies of Christ’s cross.  They are destined to be lost; their god is the stomach; they glory in what they should think shameful, since their minds are set on earthly things." (Phil 3: 17 – 19) 

There are therefore two types of people according to him: those who act according to Paul's example and those behave like enemies of Christ's cross. It seems that Paul is talking about people who call themselves Christians but they do not want to accept the consequences of that name. 

I was wondering what it is to live as “enemies” of the cross of Christ. He already gives us some examples. I thought of others...

“Looking for special places”

In last Sunday's second reading of St Paul to the Phillipians we read: Jesus "was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross". The cross is about humbling oneself. 

The apostles always struggled with it. Enough to remember Peter's difficulty to accept that Jesus would go down so much at the washing of the feet. 

We are also familiar with another couple of stories like when, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus teaches the apostles about his coming suffering and death and they are discussing who among them is the greatest.

Or the time when Zebedee's sons ask to sit next to Jesus in his kingdom. They want to be close to His Majesty, the King of Kings. 

It is that attitude of “looking for” those places that makes someone being an enemy of the cross. Some people spend all their lives looking for them. Politically, in businesses, at work, in the community, in the Church too. For some it is the only goal of their lives and being on top is the only thing that counts. 

There is nothing wrong with trying to improve one's life. Our Church reaches the poorest in the community and supports them in their need. Even more. We try to understand the causes of their suffering and work with them to remove them. The problem comes when "that" is one's life' goal because it always generates violence. If it is you, it cannot be me. The other one becomes an obstacle on my journey to the top.

For some, this is the only "Gospel" they know. If so, they have become enemies of the cross of Christ. Even if they faithfully pray and preach the Word!

“Corruption”

Last Sunday's Gospel started with the story of an unknown woman who pours pure nard – very expensive – on Jesus' head. In the Gospel of John, the story is slightly different and very meaningful. The woman has a name: Mary, Lazaru's sister. The comment wondering why the nard was not being sold and the money given to the poor is done by someone who also has a name: Judas

John makes this comment: Judas “said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contents” (12:6).
  • Judas symbolises not only someone who betrays Jesus but also someone who uses “the common fund” for his/her own benefit;
  • Judas symbolises someone who uses the poor for his/her own benefit; someone who talks about the poor but only because he/she knows that can take advantage from them.
It is called “corruption”. Corruption is an enemy of the cross of Christ. 

On the cross Jesus gives all of his life for each one of us. Corruption is exactly the opposite: someone takes from someone else's life, from someone else's dignity, from someone else's present and future... for his or her own benefit.

While on the cross Jesus reveals our dignity showing we are people worth dying for, corruption means “using” someone else for one's own benefit. The other one can wait, does not count. It is only me that counts.

Our identity if corrupted. Our value is linked to money. We are bought and sold. There is a price on each one of us.

As Pope Francis says, corruption is linked to power and possessions: “Corruption, a process of death that feeds the culture of death,” the pope said, “because the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.”

Unfortunately, whoever is in power, is suspected to be corrupt and whoever is linked to power too. It might not be true but this seems to be today's culture. Many times we “justify it" in very “fancy” ways but, it is indeed corruption.

If someone before the coming elections would become very generous in order to get votes, it is corruption. That person will be trying to buy people and is ready to pay for that. Some people, in their great need, might be ready to sell themselves too.

Again, you might be going to church every Sunday, you might be carrying a cross on your neck but  you behave like an enemy of the Cross of Christ. 

“Anger – revenge”

In both stories of the passion we read this year (Mark and John), Pilate says he finds no reason to condemn Jesus. "What wrong has he done?" he asked on Sunday. Today he said: "I see no reason...". Jesus is – in fact – an innocent victim of their violence. 

It strikes me that even if Jesus experiences so much violence and hatred, there is no anger in his heart. There is no spirit of revenge. We never hear him say: "I will rise from the dead and will kill you all!".

Even more. In Luke's gospel he prays for them saying: "Forgive them Father, they do not know what they are doing".  

We do struggle to forgive. That is "our" cross. Not Jesus' cross. I believe there are two types of crosses. One that makes us free and one that kills us slowly. 

The one who lives with anger in the heart, the one who refuses to forgive, the one who looks for revenge carries a heavy cross, the type of cross that brings us down, oppresses us, hurts us more, kills us slowly.

I am not talking about the one who struggles to forgive. Many times people share their suffering at not being able to do so. They see the need. They see how it hurts them but they do not find a way. 

I talk about the one who says: "I will never ever forgive him/her". Much worse when that person looks for revenge. Some talk about the sweet taste of revenge. Interesting enough, the truth is that it makes us more bitter. It poisons us. 

You always hear me telling you that I do not believe that God punishes us. If he would, we would all be dead by now! At the resurrection, Jesus' very first word to the apostles who had abandoned him is: Peace!

The times when we decide not to forgive, the time we look for any type of revenge, the times we live with anger in our hearts we behave as enemies of the cross even if we come to Mass daily and receive communion. 

* * *

I believe our Christian churches today are packed. We are happy to be able to celebrate together.

At the same time we need to ask if we, Christians, if our so-called-Christian-country, if our continent and world welcomes the cross of Christ or if we behave as enemies of his cross.

We need to discern if we are led by the example of the one who humbled himself, made us worth dying for, lived without anger and revenge and entrusted himself to the Father or, instead, choose to be involved in power struggles, have accepted corruption as a way of life, live in anger and revenge. 

The choice is ours.






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The Spirit of the Lord is upon me..


Chrism Mass is celebrated every year on Wednesday of the Holy Week. This year was no exception. There were, though, a couple of differences from previous years. 

The first one is that for a couple of years the celebration was mainly attended by the students of our St Theresa's primary and high schools across the road to the Cathedral. This year, instead, and thanks to the support of all the priest, we turned it into what it really is: a diocesan event. Our Cathedral was practically full with delegates from many parishes. It also included a delegation from our schools.

The second one was the procession with the oils. In the past it was always done by our priests or seminarians if they happened to be in the diocese at that time. This year instead, we asked St Theresa's clinic to choose a nurse to carry the oil of the sick and a catechist from the Cathedral to carry the oil of catechumens. The chrism was carried by Fr Alwyn MSFS (Missionaries of St Francis de Sales). He joined our diocese last June and is now serving at St Phillip's and St Ignatius of Loyola.

Our Lady of Assumption (Cathedral)
Chrism Mass 2018
Both the first reading and the Gospel repeat the same words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...". Each one of our priests identify with these words. At their ordination, the bishop and all the priests present laid hands on them asking the Father in Jesus' name to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Just that, it should not be only them to identify with them. It is for all of us. Each one of us, because of our baptism, should happily celebrate that the Spirit of the Lord is given to us, consecrates us and sends us to be Good News to the poor, to heal the broken hearted...

It is what we believe. We read it in our catechism: “The anointing with sacred Chrism signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit... anointed by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet and king” (CCC 1241)

Many times we see the priest anoint a child or an adult but we never think much of that. We do not even know he/she is being anointed with the Chrism and the powerful meaning it has. 

It happens again at our confirmation when the bishop anoints the candidate with Chrism on the forehead and says: "receive the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Father"

In the words of St Peter, the Spirit makes us into "living stones" of the church. Not just bricks, next to one another or on top or below of one another but living stones, building together the body of Christ.

As I shared yesterday: "if anyone asks you if you have been born again say... Yes!!! But much more than that. I have been born again, consecrated and sent by the power of the Spirit" because we risk thinking it is about "me being saved" when we are saved together"

The oils we bless every year tells us a story. A story of the past and present as they talk about each one of us; but also a story of the future: those who at the Easter Vigil and in the coming year will be anointed with them: baptisms, confirmations and ordinations.

Therefore:
  • Celebrate this day!
  • Pray for those who will be baptised!
  • Prepare yourself to renew your baptismal promises on the Easter Vigil!
  • Renew your commitment to be a living stone of the spiritual building that is the church.


Click HERE for more photos of the celebration
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'Blackie' at our Palm Sunday


It is now becoming a tradition. For the second consecutive year, the Palm Sunday celebration included a donkey. Like last year, "Blackie" (this year's donkey) arrived on Saturday at the bishop's house to be ready for Sunday's celebration. The difference, though, was that this year there was no time for rehearsals because of other appointments.

On Palm Sunday Fr Tim rode the donkey before 9.00 am Mass from the Catholic Centre across the Cathedral. My turn came before 10.30 Mass and the distance was longer as we started at the Salesian school.

More than last year, this year's celebration made me reflect on the biblical passage.

The Gospel does not seem to indicate any serious difficulties when Jesus went into Jerusalem. My case was slightly different. "Blackie" had his own mind and there was little we could do to change it. 

First he decided he would not walk on the tarred road and chose to do it on the grass nearby. Then, suddenly, he stopped. He just stopped. I must confess it was a bit of a difficult moment because the one leading the donkey kept on telling him to move and I just feared the donkey would move but at a very high speed.

It happened last year during the rehearsals. Fr Tim got on the donkey and as soon as he felt untied and saw the gates opened tried to go away (with Fr Tim, of course!).

Fortunately, after a few minutes, Blackie started walking again. People were asked to walk behind him to avoid scaring him. All went well and we safely reached the entrance to the Cathedral. It had a happy ending!

Hope we will continue to do this every year. It helps us reflect on what we are celebrating.

I wonder how Jesus would today go into Jerusalem. I get the feeling that he would still do it on a donkey. First of all as a reminder of the biblical passage: "Say to the daughter of Zion: Look, your king is approaching, humble and riding on a donkey" (Mt 21:5) but also as a challenge to the lifestyle of those of us who have been called to serve in a special way in our Christian churches.

It always puzzles me to see Christian ministers (pastors, prophets, bishops...) who believe they should go around in fancy vehicles with polarised windows and sometimes even bodyguards! They always seem to find a way to justify that they deserve a high lifestyle which should be financed by the people because they pray for them. It is as if the faith of the people in Jesus and their love for their pastors is measured in the amount of money they give to them. Never found a passage in the Gospel to justify it. Nothing in the rest of the New Testament either. Maybe they do.

There is a tendency to think it could not be otherwise because the "dignity of the person" requires it.

I just fear people might believe it is so. Things that sometimes happen to me make me think so.

I normally go around walking. I believe that a number of people do not see me because they cannot picture the bishop walking in town. A woman told me so a couple of years' ago: "Never thought a bishop would move without a vehicle"

Or the time I went around the country visiting some of our Caritas Swaziland projects. Two people came with me to show me the way. After some time one of them shared with me he felt uncomfortable as I was driving them when it should be the other way round... a bishop is driven!

Last week someone shared with me that when people get into places of power they tend to take distance from the ordinary people. Could it be that the same thing happens to Christian ministers? If so, it is true that "power corrupts". It corrupts our Christian identity to say the least.

Jesus went into Jerusalem on a donkey, washed the feet of the apostles and died on a cross. That is what we celebrate these days. That is the dignity we should be witnessing to.

Thank you Blackie. See you next year.


Click HERE for more photos of the day





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