Eucharistic Miracles and Faith in Christ's Presence

Youth Speak Up at Vatican; Mass and Colosseum Combo

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, MAY 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Understanding the true presence of Jesus Christ in the consecrated host and wine is difficult for Catholics.

To this end, the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum held a conference on miracles that are associated with the Eucharist as a way to help people comprehend the incomprehensible.

The May 5 Conference also opened an exhibition entitled "Eucharistic Miracles," continuing through May 19, brings attention to these miracles that support the phenomenon of the truth of the faith.

Giancarlo Casagrande, one of the event's organizers, and professor and dean of the Faculty of Science and Faith Studies, told me: "Our intention is to present the fact of Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament in light of scientific evidence which is at the heart of the work that most of us do."

Of those who spoke at the conference was renowned scientist and syndonologist of the Pontifical Lateran University, Father Gianfranco Berbenne, who came up with the idea of the conference.

"Father Berbenne proposed that we examine Eucharistic miracles in a historical context as well as a medical, scientific and physical one too, and I think we have definitely succeeded in this purpose," said Casagrande.

Some cases brought up were those of Orvieto and Lanciano.

Casagrande, who himself is an authority on the former, explained how it has and continues to influence our faith: "Back in 1263, a priest by the name of Petrus was struggling with the concept of the 'true presence,'" the professor explained. "One day, while saying Mass in Bolseno, Italy, blood began to stream out of the host and onto the corporal at the moment of consecration.

"After revealing all that had happened to Urban IV, who was based in Orvieto at the time, Urban's idea of creating a feast entirely dedicated to the devotion of the Eucharist was cemented."

In fact, Urban IV took it one step further and asked St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the office for the liturgical event of 'Corpus Christi,' more fully defined in 1312 which, apart from a couple of slight adaptations, is how we celebrate it today.

"Some of the relics of the miracle are still kept in Orvieto, where the papal court was located at the time, and every year it's possible to participate in this feast," Casagrande added.

Another case described as the "most scientifically impressive" by most in attendance, was that of Dr. Edoardo Linoli, the scientist charged with the analysis of the host and wine which turned into flesh and blood in the Italian city of Lanciano, by the custodians of the relics.

Casagrande explained that since beginning in the early 70's, Linoli has proved his findings time and time again that "the flesh in the host was part of a human heart." He also demonstrated "without any possibility of objection that the blood's group is AB -- rare to Europe but more popular in Palestine and Israel."

"Proof it wasn't a fake relic," he said, "was that back then, when the relic came into being for the first time, there were no sufficient scientific competences to make such a good, false relic … it has to be what it is!"

Everything presented at the event are examples of scientific evidence that, if "considered with a sufficiently open mind, the truth behind them strikes you at the core of your being," said the professor.

Yet, while recommending that those who struggle with the reality of Christ's eucharistic persona read the scientific studies done on these miracles, Casagrande insists that faith cannot be based on miracles alone.

"Everyone's response to miracles is very personal -- after all there are still some under 'subjudice' or being assessed, and some proposed have been rejected," he said.

"But, the idea is that, as I said, miracles are only a suggestion to go beyond the physical phenomenon ... they are still merely material evidence that we have. We should always think beyond that and consider the truth which the miracle intended to reveal," added Casagrande.

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Youth Dialogue With Roman Curia

The International Young Catholic Students (IYCS) are in town this week to dialogue with the Roman Curia and Benedict XVI.

If anyone ever doubted the Holy See's listening capabilities when it comes to youth, this group proves them wrong.

"We have a close and active working relationship with the Vatican's curia," explains Margarita Brosnan, one of the three coordinators of the international office in Paris, France.

Taking time out of their busy schedule, the young representatives told me: "Our role here this week is to share with the Holy See what is happening for young Catholic students on a global scale; what their concerns are; what we are doing. Then we look to gain their professional input on how we can assist them in fulfilling their aim of reaching out to us."

Brosnan's counterpart, Matthew Majou of India, added that the next step in the process will take place in Paris.

Taking the messages received from their meetings, they will translate them, break them down, and send them on to youths all over the world.

"I've just come back from Liberia and Sierra Leone where the youth there are extremely detached from the outside world," Majou told me.

"After bringing them these messages from the Vatican and discussing our active projects, they feel more empowered by the strength of solidarity -- the type of solidarity of faith experienced at such events as the World Youth Day that they may not be able to attend," he said.

Certainly the IYCS team will try everything within their capabilities to mobilize less fortunate youth to get them to WYD with the assistance of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. However, as their chaplain, Father Mike Deeb says, it's not as easy as it seems.

"Of course there are big problems in getting them to Germany this year as in other years," he said.

"There is limited access due to the cost and visa issues…yet the main thing is to assist the youth who do attend in taking the events' message back with them."

Accordingly IYCS has a complex plan-of-action in response to this need in Cologne as young Brosnan, explained.

"The list of our prepped activities is endless. Our national movement in Germany has organized a center for young people just to relax and to share experiences. In that center we're going to have photos from our various YCS groups focused on the theme of 'education and access' in order to promote what we are doing with regards to this on a global scale…Plus promoting a conference on 'Faith in Action for a Just World' based on our projects."

Apart from WYD, the youth organization will comment on other activities, such as the involvement of 10 of their members in Latin America to participate in the World Social Forum in January in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

"The students actually conducted two workshops on the theme of education and citizenship because citizenship education in South America is very poor," she continued.

"Students don't know their rights as citizens and we saw a need there to raise awareness and challenge the media, particularly in light of the upcoming elections down there," stated Brosnan.

IYCS is also working with the Congregation for Migrant and Itinerant Peoples to bring together foreign students for a faith exchange that will help the students "to reflect on how they can be globally responsible as Catholics."

"You are the Church" is their catch cry, says Father Deeb of South Africa. It's a message they look forward to promoting together with their new Pope, whom they also met with on Wednesday.

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Mass with the Martyrs

As one of the most imperative sites to visit on a tourist's list, the Colosseum is often the subject of a few photos and awe-inspired stares at its grandeur. Yet, last week I discovered a way for Catholics to make it more of a pilgrimage.

At 3:30 p.m. each Saturday, one of the exit doors is opened for about 40 minutes to let in those interested in attending the 4 p.m. mass.

The only two magic words required for your entry are "La Messa?" Not only will this gain you access to the exquisite chapel, but also allow you to beat the queues and the cost ($12) of entering the structure itself.

When arriving at the tiny chapel itself, I was struck by the intricate art fresco depicting the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother which dominates the wall behind the altar.

Following the Mass, an elderly man distributed prayer cards with this very image printed on them, and a prayer to accompany it. He informed me that he was a part of the group of custodians over the chapel called "Il Circolo San Pietro" (St. Peter's Circle).

Entrusted with a variety of tasks throughout Rome, one must contact the "Circle" at their headquarters in the Vatican (Piazza San Calisto) if a pilgrimage group wishes to request that their chaplain concelebrate the Italian Mass in the language of the group.

When I asked for a bit of background to the grotto-like chapel, my new companion just pointed to the various marble plaques located on each wall.

It seemed hard for everyone to comprehend the exact date of its original design and consecration, but from my rusty Latin, I could determine that the place had been re-consecrated in 1936 after World War I. In fact, it was also used as a place to hide those under persecution during World War II.

On May 30, 1983, Cardinal Ugo Poletti consecrated it to Our Lady of Mercy as another plaque reads: "Mary, strength of martyrs…welcome those who turn to your mercy."

The inscription goes on to inform us that on April 20, just one year later, Pope John Paul II prayed his vespers in the chapel prior to participating in the Stations of the Cross procession on Good Friday in 1984.

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Catherine Smibert can be reached at catherine@zenit.org.