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PHOTOS: Thousands visiting Sister Wilhelmina's body over holiday weekend
Posted on 05/28/2023 20:05 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 28, 2023 / 14:05 pm (CNA).
Thousands of pilgrims are descending on a Benedictine abbey outside rural Gower, Missouri, this Memorial Day weekend to view the surprisingly well-preserved body of its African American foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, who died in 2019.
On Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, an average of 200 vehicles per hour were coming onto the abbey's property, an uptick in traffic from the day before, Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish said in a Facebook video update. He said he expected 15,000 people to visit the site by the end of the day.
“We’re going to see this probably for months, but right now this weekend is probably going to be the biggest influx of people that you’re going to see in this area,” Fish predicted in an earlier video posted May 25.
Part of the urgency for those visiting the abbey over the holiday weekend is the limited opportunity to touch the nun’s body, which has been on public display in a room in the basement of the abbey’s church for more than a week.
On Saturday, a photojournalist working for EWTN News witnessed pilgrims touching parts of Sister Wilhelmina’s body with their hands or rosary beads and even kissing her hands. Such direct physical contact won’t be possible after Monday afternoon when the nun’s remains will be placed in a glass enclosure, though her body will still be available for public viewing.
No investigation so far
Sister Wilhelmina, a St. Louis native, founded the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in 1995 when she was 70 years old. She died on May 29, 2019, and her unembalmed body was buried in a simple wooden coffin in the abbey’s outdoor cemetery.
Expecting to find only bones when they exhumed her remains on May 18 to be reinterred in their newly constructed St. Joseph’s Shrine, the sisters were astonished to find her body and traditional nun’s habit still remarkably intact. In addition, pilgrims who have visited the body have told CNA they did not smell any odor of decay. The sisters say they have applied wax to Sister Wilhelmina’s hands and face.
The condition of her body has puzzled even experienced morticians. “If you’re telling me that this woman went into the ground unembalmed in a wooden box with no outer container in the ground and it was not sub-zero up in Alaska, I’m telling you, I’m going to start a devotion to this sister, because something special is going on there,” Barry Lease, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, told CNA last week.
There has been no official determination that Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are “incorrupt,” a possible sign of sanctity, nor is there any cause underway for the nun’s canonization, a rigorous process in the Catholic Church that can take many years.
The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who has visited the monastery to see Sister Wilhelmina’s remains, has said that a “thorough investigation” is needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body, but there has been no word if and when such an analysis might take place. On Sunday a spokeswoman for the diocese said she was mistaken when she told CNA last week that Johnston had “been in touch with someone in Rome” about what has happened at the abbey.
Discovery meant to be kept quiet
Over the weekend, the Benedictine sisters posted a new statement on their website, announcing plans to hold a public rosary procession Monday at 4:30 p.m. local time, after which they will place Sister Wilhelmina’s body in the glass enclosure inside the St. Joseph’s Shrine.
In the statement, the sisters also revealed that they had hoped to keep the startling condition of their foundress’ body quiet.
“We had no intent to make the discovery so public, but unfortunately, a private email was posted publicly, and the news began to spread like wildfire.” they wrote. “However, God works in mysterious ways, and we embrace His new plan for us.”
The sisters said that they continued their normal daily routines despite the crowds and worldwide media attention.
“Many have voiced concern about the disruption to our life, but we have, thankfully, remained unaffected and able to continue on in our life of ora et labora, prayer and work, as Sister Wilhelmina would have it,” the statement says.
“Unless we looked out the front windows, or out at the crowds attending our Mass and Divine Offices, we would not even know people are here. An army of volunteers and our local law enforcement have stepped forward to manage the crowds, and we are deeply grateful to each of them, as they allow us to continue our life in peace, while granting the visitors a pleasant and prayerful experience at the Abbey.”
Pope Francis encourages Marian shrines around the world to pray for Synod on Synodality
Posted on 05/28/2023 13:15 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, May 28, 2023 / 07:15 am (CNA).
From the Philippines to Portugal, Marian shrines around the world will participate in a special day of prayer this Wednesday for the work of the Synod on Synodality.
In his Regina Caeli address, Pope Francis announced that the day of prayer for the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place on May 31, the last day of the month dedicated to Mary.
“Let us ask the Virgin Mary to accompany this important stage of the synod with her maternal protection,” the pope said.
The shrines of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland, the Knock Shrine in Ireland, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Costa Rica, Our Lady of Fourvière in France, and many other Marian shrines have confirmed their participation.
In the Philippines, 26 Marian shrines and minor basilicas will simultaneously hold prayers for the synod.
Nicaragua has announced that all parishes will take part in a full day of prayer for the synod. All dioceses in India, Malaysia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina will participate in the day of prayer.
Pope Francis also spoke about the upcoming Synod of Bishops at Pentecost Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica earlier in the day. He said: “Let us place the Holy Spirit at the beginning and at the heart of the work of the synod.”
“We walk together, because the Spirit, as at Pentecost, loves to descend while ‘everyone is together,’” he added. “The people of God, to be filled with the Spirit, must therefore walk together, hold a synod.”
After the Mass for the solemnity of Pentecost, Pope Francis appeared in the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to deliver the Regina Caeli address to the crowd gathered in a sunny St. Peter’s Square.
The pope prayed for people in Myanmar and Bangladesh affected by Cyclone Mocha. He also marked the 150th anniversary of the death of Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni, the author of one of the pope’s favorite books, “The Betrothed.”
Pope Francis reflected on how the Holy Spirit has the power to free people from “the prisons of fear.”
He said that only once the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they dared to leave the upper room and go into the world to forgive sins and announce the good news of the Gospel.
“Thanks to [the Holy Spirit], fears are overcome and doors open. Because this is what the Spirit does: he makes us feel God’s closeness and so his love drives away fear, illuminates the path, consoles, supports in adversity,” the pope said.
“In the face of fears and closures, then, let us invoke the Holy Spirit for us, for the Church, and for the whole world: Because a new Pentecost can drive away the fears that assail us and rekindle the fire of God’s love.”
“Holy Mary, who was the first to be filled with the Holy Spirit, intercede for us,” Pope Francis said.
On Pentecost, Pope Francis says Holy Spirit can bring harmony to ‘a polarized Church’
Posted on 05/28/2023 11:15 AM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, May 28, 2023 / 05:15 am (CNA).
On the solemnity of Pentecost, Pope Francis urged Catholics to invoke the Holy Spirit daily to bring harmony to a divided world, a polarized Church, and to broken hearts.
Speaking in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope explained that the role of the Holy Spirit, both at the beginning of the creation of the world and at all times, is to make “created realities pass from disorder to order” and “from confusion to harmony.”
“In our world today, there is so much discord, such great division. We are all ‘connected,’ yet find ourselves disconnected from one another, anesthetized by indifference and overwhelmed by solitude,” Pope Francis said in his homily on May 28.
“If the world is divided, if the Church is polarized, if hearts are broken, let us not waste time in criticizing others and growing angry with one another; instead, let us invoke the Holy Spirit. He is capable of resolving these things,” he said.
The pope added that without the Holy Spirit, “the Church is lifeless, faith is mere doctrine, morality mere duty, pastoral work mere toil. … With him, on the other hand, faith is life, the love of the Lord conquers us, and hope is reborn.”
“Let us put the Holy Spirit back at the center of the Church; otherwise, our hearts will not be consumed by love for Jesus but by love for ourselves,” he said.
Pope Francis added that he sees the Holy Spirit as not only as the “soul of the Church” but also as “the heart of synodality.”
He called for the Synod on Synodality, which will culminate in October with the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to “place the Holy Spirit at the beginning and at the heart of the work of the synod.”
“The synod now taking place is — and should be — a journey in accordance with the Spirit, not a parliament for demanding rights and claiming needs in accordance with the agenda of the world, nor an occasion for following wherever the wind is blowing, but the opportunity to be docile to the breath of the Holy Spirit,” he pope said.
Pope Francis, who canceled all of his audiences on Friday due to a fever, presided over the Mass but was not the main celebrant. The pope sat at the front of the congregation in a white chair to the right of the altar.
Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, the Brazilian prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, served as the main celebrant for the Pentecost Mass.
In his homily, Pope Francis underlined that the Holy Spirit also forgives sins, reconciles souls, and creates harmony in hearts that are “wounded by evil, broken by hurts, torn apart by feelings of guilt.”
“Only the Holy Spirit restores harmony in the heart, for he is the one who creates ‘intimacy with God,’” he said, citing St. Basil.
“Let’s invoke the Holy Spirit every day. Let’s start each day by praying to him. Let’s become docile to him,” Francis said.
During the Mass, the Palestrina Choir from Dublin led the congregation in the traditional “Veni Sancte Spiritus” sequence for the Mass for Pentecost.
Pope Francis urged Catholics to invoke the Holy Spirit daily upon the whole world to bring unity and peace.
The solemnity of Pentecost, which is celebrated 50 days after Easter, marks the descent of the Holy Spirit. Thousands were gathered inside St. Peter’s Basilica for the Mass.
At the end of his homily, Pope Francis prayed: “Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus and of the Father, inexhaustible wellspring of harmony, to you we entrust the world; to you we consecrate the Church and our hearts.”
“Come, Creator Spirit, harmony of humanity, renew the face of the earth. Come, giver of gifts, harmony of the Church, make us united in you. Come, Spirit of forgiveness, harmony of the heart, transform us as only you can, through the intercession of Mary.”
Everything you need to know about Pentecost
Posted on 05/28/2023 08:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
Denver, Colo., May 28, 2023 / 02:00 am (CNA).
This weekend, the Church celebrates Pentecost, one of the most important feast days of the year that concludes the Easter season and celebrates the beginning of the Church.
Here’s what you need to know about the feast day.
The timing and origins of Pentecost
Pentecost always occurs 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus and 10 days after his ascension into heaven. Because Easter is a moveable feast without a fixed date, and Pentecost depends on the timing of Easter, Pentecost can fall anywhere between May 10 and June 13.
The timing of these feasts is also where Catholics get the concept of the novena — nine days of prayer — because in Acts 1, Mary and the Apostles prayed together “continuously” for nine days after the Ascension leading up to Pentecost. Traditionally, the Church prays the novena to the Holy Spirit in the days before Pentecost.
The name of the day itself is derived from the Greek word “pentecoste,” meaning 50th.
There is a parallel Jewish holiday, Shavu’ot, which falls 50 days after Passover. Shavu’ot is sometimes called the festival of weeks, referring to the seven weeks since Passover.
Originally a harvest feast, Shavu’ot now commemorates the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai, when the Lord revealed the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. Every year, the Jewish people renew their acceptance of the gift of the Torah on this feast.
What happens at Pentecost?
In the Christian tradition, Pentecost is the celebration of the person of the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Jesus, who were gathered together in the Upper Room.
A “strong, driving” wind filled the room where they were gathered, and tongues of fire came to rest on their heads, allowing them to speak in different languages so that they could understand each other. It was such a strange phenomenon that some people thought the Christians were just drunk — but Peter pointed out that it was only the morning, and said the phenomenon was caused by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles the other gifts and fruits necessary to fulfill the great commission — to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations. It fulfills the New Testament promise from Christ (Luke 24:46-49) that the Apostles would be “clothed with power” before they would be sent out to spread the Gospel.
Where’s that in the bible?
The main event of Pentecost (the strong driving wind and tongues of fire) takes place in Acts 2:13, though the events immediately following (Peter’s homily, the baptism of thousands) continue through verse 41.
Happy Birthday, Church!
It was right after Pentecost that Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preached his first homily to Jews and other non-believers, in which he opened the scriptures of the Old Testament, showing how the prophet Joel prophesied events and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
He also told the people that the Jesus they crucified is the Lord and was raised from the dead, which “cut them to the heart.” When they asked what they should do, Peter exhorted them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. According to the account in Acts, about 3,000 people were baptized following Peter’s sermon.
For this reason, Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church — Peter, the first Pope, preaches for the first time and converts thousands of new believers. The apostles and believers, for the first time, were united by a common language, and a common zeal and purpose to go and preach the Gospel.
Pentecost vestments and customs around the world
Typically, priests will wear red vestments on Pentecost, symbolic of the burning fire of God’s love and the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles.
However, in some parts of the world, Pentecost is also referred to as “WhitSunday”, or White Sunday, referring to the white vestments that are typically worn in Britain and Ireland. The white is symbolic of the dove of the Holy Spirit, and typical of the vestments that catechumens desiring baptism wear on that day.
An Italian Pentecost tradition is to scatter rose leaves from the ceiling of the churches to recall the miracle of the fiery tongues, and so in some places in Italy, Pentecost is sometimes called Pascha Rosatum (Easter roses).
In France, it is tradition to blow trumpets during Mass to recall the sound of the driving wind of the Holy Spirit.
In Asia, it is typical to have an extra service, called genuflexion, during which long poems and prayers are recited. In Russia, Mass-goers often carry flowers or green branches during Pentecost services.
This article was originally published on CNA June 2, 2017, and was updated May 26, 2023.
Pope Francis resumes normal schedule one day after fever
Posted on 05/27/2023 13:09 PM (CNA Daily News)
Rome Newsroom, May 27, 2023 / 07:09 am (CNA).
Pope Francis resumed his normal schedule of appointments on Saturday morning after suffering from a fever the day prior, a Vatican communications official said.
Andrea Tornielli, the editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, wrote on Twitter on the morning of May 27 that Pope Francis had “resumed his regular audiences.”
Questa mattina #PapaFrancesco ha ripreso regolarmente le udienze— Andrea Tornielli (@Tornielli) May 27, 2023
A Vatican spokesman confirmed to CNA on Friday that the pope had canceled meetings in the morning May 26 due to a fever.
Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, said that “due to a feverish condition, Pope Francis did not receive [anyone] in audience this morning.”
According to the Vatican’s daily news bulletin, Pope Francis had his regular Saturday morning meeting with the prefect of the Dicastery for Bishops, Archbishop Robert Prevost.
He also met with delegations from the Orthodox Church of Athens and Loyola University of Seville, and with Father Wagner Ferreira da Silva, president of the Brazilian Catholic community Canção Nova.
The pope also had an audience with participants in a conference organized by the Jesuit magazine “La Civiltà Cattolica” and Georgetown University on “The Global Aesthetics of the Catholic Imagination.”
Film director Martin Scorsese and his wife Helen Morris attended the conference and took part in the papal audience.
On Friday afternoon, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, spoke briefly with journalists about the pope’s condition.
“The pope was tired. He had a very, very busy day yesterday,” Parolin said, according to the French-language media outlet La Presse. “They were telling me last night that he met with a lot of people, and in the context of this meeting with Scholas Occurrentes, he wanted to greet them all, and probably at some point the stamina fails.”
Pope Francis is scheduled to say Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the solemnity of Pentecost on May 28, followed by the recitation of the Regina Caeli antiphon.
The 86-year-old pope was hospitalized for four days at the end of March for a lung infection.
Here’s when Easter officially ends
Posted on 05/27/2023 12:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).
Catholics recognize Easter — when Jesus Christ rose from the dead after sacrificing his life for all of humanity — as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. But, as it turns out, they can continue saying “Happy Easter” into May or, in some years, into June.
Easter lasts for a total of 50 days, from Easter Sunday until the feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, Mary, and the first followers of Christ.
This year, 2023, Easter was on April 9 and runs until this Sunday, May 28.
Catholics observe Easter in different stages. Easter Sunday is the greatest Sunday of the year, and it marks the start of the “Easter octave,” or the eight days that stretch from the first to the second Sunday of Easter (also known as Divine Mercy Sunday). The Church celebrates each of these eight days as solemnities of the Lord — a direct extension of Easter Sunday.
The entire Easter season lasts 50 days and includes the solemnity of the Ascension of Christ, which falls on the 40th day of Easter, which this year was May 18 (or May 21 in some dioceses). It ends with Pentecost, which is derived from the Greek word “pentecoste,” meaning “50th.”
“The 50 days from the Sunday of the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday are celebrated in joy and exultation as one feast day, indeed as one ‘great Sunday,’” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “These are the days above all others in which the ‘Alleluia’ is sung.”
The USCCB calls Easter “the most important of all liturgical times.”
“It celebrates Jesus’ victory of sin and death and salvation for mankind,” the U.S. bishops say. “It is God’s greatest act of love to redeem mankind.”
In the traditional Roman rite
In the traditional form of the Roman rite, Easter is known properly as Paschaltide, which includes three parts: the season of Easter, Ascensiontide, and the octave of Pentecost. It thus lasts one week longer than the Easter season in the calendar of the Missal of St. Paul VI.
The season of Easter begins with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday and runs through the afternoon of the vigil of the Ascension.
Ascensiontide begins the evening before the Ascension, with First Vespers of the feast, and ends the afternoon of the vigil of Pentecost — marking the first novena.
The octave of Pentecost is an extension of the feast of Pentecost, beginning with the vigil Mass of Pentecost and ending the afternoon of the following Saturday, which this year falls June 3.
This article was originally published April 21, 2022, and was updated May 26, 2023.
CNA freelancer recounts ‘horrifying experience’ of witnessing Nigeria firefight
Posted on 05/26/2023 22:15 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., May 26, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).
A freelance journalist who has reported on a surge of violent attacks by radicalized Muslims in Nigeria for CNA recently found himself caught in the middle of a firefight between government soldiers and armed militiamen.
“With hundreds of bullets flying over my head, and the whizzing gunfire whipping past my ears, lying flat on the ground and crawling on we were swarmed by more than 200 armed terrorists who were dressed in black,” Masara Kim, an independent reporter based in Jos, recounted in text messages to CNA.
The exchange of gunfire, which lasted about an hour, took place on May 16 in Mangu City in Central Nigeria’s Plateau State. The region in and around Plateau has seen a series of deadly attacks by armed Muslim militia in recent weeks, a sign of worsening instability in Nigeria.
“The terrorists were shooting and advancing forward in a suicide fashion, despite a fierce resistance by a team of 100-200 armed soldiers and policemen. They were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar,’” Kim reported.
“They fired thousands of shots at us — a horrifying experience,” Kim related.
Another eyewitness to the fighting that day was Solomon Mwantiri, a Jos-based lawyer and human rights advocate.
Mwantiri said as many as 1,000 armed militia fighters converged on Mangu City and surrounding villages and began burning houses. He told CNA that he arrived with a military convoy of 15 trucks at 11 a.m.
“The terrorists retreated to a small valley beneath the hilltop village called Jwak Maitumbi, where we saw approximately 500 fighters who were joined by reinforcements arriving by motorbike,” Kim said.
“By late afternoon Tuesday [May 16] the convoy of trucks retreated after the soldiers ran low on ammunition,” Kim related.
“There were more than 50 corpses found in area villages on Tuesday but many are believed to be still unrecovered in busy areas,” he wrote.
“By Friday, May 20, the death count stood at over 200, however many more are expected to be found, and the mass burials are continuing,” Kim said. “According to what security forces have told us, there are still 21 villages around Mangu that are occupied by terrorists,” Kim said.
The Plateau police have arrested seven suspects in the attacks, the Associated Press reported. “It was a situation of sporadic shooting across a vast area of different villages,” Alabo Alfred, a police spokesman, told AP.
Columbus Diocese to close 15 churches; bishop calls for stronger Catholic engagement
Posted on 05/26/2023 21:40 PM (CNA Daily News)
Denver Newsroom, May 26, 2023 / 15:40 pm (CNA).
Ohio’s Catholic Diocese of Columbus will close 15 churches as part of a parish reorganization and merger plan, but Bishop Earl K. Fernandes emphasized new possibilities for growth, especially if lay Catholics take on more responsibility for the Church’s future.
“When I arrived, I said I’m not interested in presiding over 25 years of decline in the diocese,” the bishop said in a May 25 video series at the diocese’s YouTube channel. “I want to grow the church, not for my glory, but for God’s glory,” he said.
Fernandes said the reorganization plan was an effort to “try to come up with the best possible solution for the whole Diocese of Columbus.”
The bishop stressed the need for “an engaged lay faithful” who take shared responsibility for the Church’s mission of evangelization and for the future of their parishes in “authentic collaboration” with clergy.
The diocese serves more than 278,000 Catholics at 108 churches in 23 counties of central Ohio.
The changes are needed due to declining church attendance and fewer young priests, as well as population decline in rural areas and population shifts in the Columbus area, according to WOSU 89.7 NPR News. Two Catholic schools will also close.
At the same time, there are signs of growth in the diocese. The bishop noted a “huge number” of Spanish-speaking people, compared with 10 years ago, as well as an influx of Africans, some of whom speak French. The diocese has 15 new prospective seminarians this year, but those who continue to ordination will still take years of study and preparation.
“Columbus is unique in that it’s growing in the Midwest as a city with lots of jobs coming here,” Fernandes said. “But also Columbus, like many other dioceses, has an aging clergy, so something needed to be done, not just for the retraction of the diocese, but for the mission of evangelization.”
The bishop said the population influx could even mean the construction of new Catholic schools in parts of the diocese.
He said he hoped the planned changes are the foundation for a better future for the diocese. He said he envisions, in 10 or 15 years, parishes that are not simply maintaining what they have but are “actually evangelizing” and “making new disciples.” Parishes should have a “culture of vocations” and “beautiful churches and liturgy.”
The bishop described the diocese as “top-heavy” in aging clergy, with 12 priests over age 70 still working as parish pastors.
“Priests should be able to enjoy their retirement,” he said. “We knew we were going to have to make decisions and have pastors who have the energy and the leadership abilities to help parishes come together, to evangelize and to pastor multiple parishes.”
Religious orders have a growing presence in the diocese and are serving at various parishes, especially if they are prepared to serve ethnic communities and Spanish speakers. Capuchin Franciscan priests will arrive this summer to staff two churches in a newly merged parish, the diocese’s newspaper The Catholic Times reported.
The diocese’s reorganization process, titled “Real Presence, Real Future,” began in 2019 under Fernandes’ predecessor, Bishop Robert Brennan. The first draft of the reorganization model was released in fall 2021 and final recommendations were presented to the bishop in fall 2022. Final recommendations to Fernandes slated 19 churches for closure, but the bishop said he made adjustments based on input from parishioners and priests.
CNA contacted the Diocese of Columbus for comment but did not receive a response by publication.
The Columbus Diocese borders the Diocese of Steubenville. A proposal to merge the two dioceses was put on hold in November 2022.
Canadian police ask for public’s help in identifying man who set fire at cathedral
Posted on 05/26/2023 20:15 PM (CNA Daily News)
Boston, Mass., May 26, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).
Local police in Canada are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying a man who allegedly set a fire and assaulted two men at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary, located in the western province of Alberta.
Police responded early in the morning to reports of a “deliberately set fire” at the cathedral on May 19, the Calgary Police Department said in a May 25 statement.
Two staff members at the cathedral heard a “commotion” outside and opened the back door to see what it was, the statement said. When they opened the door, a man “aggressively charged at them,” according to police.
The two staff members, both men, closed the doors before the man could reach them, police said. The man continued to attempt to enter the church, the statement said.
Law enforcement was called and the Calgary Fire Department put out the fire when it arrived.
According to police, a description of the man says he is between 35 and 45 years old and bald. The man is about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, police said. The police department’s Hate Crime Prevention Team is investigating for “hate motivation,” police said.
The cathedral referred CNA to the Diocese of Calgary for comment.
Cristina Marcil, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Calgary told CNA Friday that the diocese is aware of the incident and is cooperating with law enforcement to support the investigation.
Tips can be submitted to police by calling 403-266-1234. Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-222-8477 and going online at www.calgarycrimestoppers.org.
Morticians mystified by Sister Wilhelmina’s body: ‘Something special going on there’
Posted on 05/26/2023 19:45 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Newsroom, May 26, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).
Expert morticians are scratching their heads at the recently exhumed body of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, a Benedictine nun who died in 2019 and now appears to be in an unexpected state of preservation.
The reactions come a week after the abbess and sisters of the community that she founded, the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, unearthed the 95-year-old African American religious sister’s simple wooden coffin on May 18 from the cemetery on the monastery grounds in rural Gower, Missouri, to relocate her remains to a final resting place inside their chapel.
The local ordinary, Bishop Vann Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, visited the monastery Monday to see Sister Wilhelmina’s remains. Johnston issued a statement the same day, saying that a “thorough investigation” was needed to answer “important questions” raised by the state of her body.
Jack Klein, owner of Hixson-Klein Funeral Home in Gower, Missouri, who said he was present at Sister Wilhelmina’s burial and issued her death certificate, confirmed for CNA that the religious sister’s body was not embalmed and that the wood coffin was not placed into any outer burial container.
Klein said he “can’t understand” how Sister Wilhelmina’s un-embalmed body is in the state it’s currently in, four years after her burial.
David Hess, program coordinator and associate professor in the mortuary science department at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, expressed similar surprise.
“If the body was not embalmed, and it was still intact after four years, that one kind of throws me,” he told CNA. “I would have expected the body to be decomposed, maybe not all the way down to bone, but at least severely decomposed.”
Sister Wilhelmina’s body, which has been on display in the open air for pilgrims to visit, is reported to have no foul odor in recent days, as would be the case, morticians say, with a body that has undergone decomposition for four years.
One pilgrim, Peggy Tynan of Denver, even told CNA that while praying over Sister Wilhelmina’s body on May 24, she smelt a “sweet and flowery aroma,” which was so powerful she could taste it. A journalist from EWTN’s ACI Group who visited the body last weekend also noticed no odor of decomposition.
“It’s kind of strange, if the body was not embalmed, that there would be no odor,” Hess said.
There has been no official determination that Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are incorrupt, nor is there any cause underway for her canonization, a formal process in the Catholic Church that can take many years. Her fellow sisters plan to hold a procession on Monday on the monastery grounds and then place Sister Wilhelmina’s body under a glass case to accommodate the many pilgrims coming to the property.
An open question is if and how the foundress’ remains will be scientifically analyzed. A diocesan spokeswoman, Ashlie Hand, told CNA on Wednesday that the diocese isn’t aware of any specific Church guidelines for how to conduct such an investigation.
Bishop Johnston is "definitely working on it and trying to find a careful process, a careful approach, that’s well thought through,” she said.
Hand said as many as 1,000 pilgrims reportedly visited the monastery on Wednesday. The diocese has been advising the sisters about how best to handle the influx of visitors, she said.
“The condition of the remains of Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster has understandably generated widespread interest and raised important questions. At the same time, it is important to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation,” Johnston said in his statement.
“I invite all the faithful to continue praying during this time of investigation for God’s will in the lives of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles; for all women religious; and all the baptized in our common vocation to holiness, with hope and trust in the Lord.”
No explanation yet
According to the sisters, at some point after the burial Sister Wilhelmina’s coffin sustained a crack down the middle that let in moisture and dirt. Her body was discovered to be covered in what the sisters described as a layer of mold after being exhumed.
CNA asked Hess and another expert about the possibility that the body might have been preserved through a chemical process called “grave wax.”
“Grave wax” is an uncommonly seen but natural phenomenon that encases a corpse or parts of a body in a shell of soap-like fatty tissue, called adipocere, which slows or stops the normal decomposition process, which can preserve the human remains for many years — even centuries.
Two so-called “soap mummies” — dubbed “Soap Lady” and “Soap Man” — were exhumed in 1875 during digging for the foundation of a train depot in downtown Philadelphia decades after they died.
“This unusual preservation occurred because water seeped into the casket and brought alkaline soil with it, turning the fats in his body to soap through a type of hydrolysis known as saponification,” according to the Smithsonian Institution, which has kept the man’s remains in climate-controlled storage in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The woman’s remains are on exhibit in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.
Hess said that grave wax typically only materializes in different parts of the body, but he said it could cover the entire body. He added that grave wax will break down over time.
Hess said that he “highly” doubts that grave wax could have preserved Sister Wilhelmina’s body to appear the way it currently does and without any foul odor, “unless she was in a highly alkaline environment.”
Mortician Barry Lease, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, told CNA that a soil analysis testing the pH, or point hydrogen, of the environment, would reveal whether Sister Wilhelmina’s former burial grounds are highly alkaline. According to the Mütter Museum, “Adipocere formation is not common, but it may form in alkaline, warm, airless environments, such as the one in which the Soap Lady was buried.”
Lease said that it’s difficult to project where the body would be in the decomposition process if it was covered in adipocere but added that the body’s decomposition “should be further than that,” referring to a photo of the body taken by CNA on May 20.
“You shouldn’t be recognizing her with just a little bit of mold on her face,” Lease said.
“An unembalmed body in the ground for four years should have some odor coming off of it that would be noticeable,” he added.
“If you’re telling me that this woman went into the ground unembalmed in a wooden box with no outer container in the ground and it was not sub-zero up in Alaska, I’m telling you, I’m going to start a devotion to this sister, because something special is going on there,” Lease, a practicing Catholic, told CNA.
Editor's note: This story was updated on May 28 after diocesan spokesman said she was mistaken when she told CNA that Bishop Vann Johnston had "been in touch with someone in Rome" about the condition of Sister Wilhelmina's body.