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This unique chant brings Vietnamese Catholics deeper into Christ's Passion

Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr 19, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- While the Stations of the Cross are a worldwide Lenten devotion for Catholics, the faithful in Vietnam have an additional practice that blends ancient traditional chants with Catholic prayer and meditation on the Crucifixion. 

“The ‘Ngam Nguyen’ are…a unique Vietnamese Catholic practice of intoning a series of meditations recounting the Passion of Christ,” said Fr. Anthony Le Duc, national chaplain for the Vietnamese community in Thailand.

Fr. Duc told CNA that the intoned meditative chants, called “Ngam,” describe the suffering of Jesus. Designed to help people enter more deeply into the experience and emotions lived out by Christ during his Passion, they have been adapted from folk traditions integrated with prayers prepared by missionaries who came to Vietnam in the early 16 -17th century.

There are a total of 15 Ngam meditations recounting the excruciating pain and suffering that Jesus underwent as he was arrested, put on trial, and crucified at Golgotha. 

These meditations differ from the traditional Stations of the Cross because they focus mainly on what occurs at the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and on the Cross at Calvary, while the stations focus largely on what happens in between these two events. 

Beginning with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, and concluding with Jesus’ side being pierced by a spear, the Ngam meditations seek to immerse participants into Christ’s passion. 

The intoning is melodic, in accordance with the tonal nature of the Vietnamese language. Since the meditations recount the pain and suffering of Christ, the tone is extremely melancholy, which can well up emotions and often bring the listener to tears. 

When intoning the meditations, the reader must follow strict rules, depending on whether there is a comma, semicolon, period or other punctuation. If the reader comes upon the name of Jesus in the text, he must bow his head.

The recitation of the Ngam meditations – either in whole or as part of a series – takes place in many Vietnamese churches every day throughout the Lenten season, either as part of a post-Mass liturgy, or as a liturgical service on its own. The devotion starts with common prayers of the Church, followed by the meditations. Between meditations, an Our Father and 10 Hail Marys are recited. On Good Friday, the liturgy concludes with a Lamentation and other prayers. The entire liturgy can take over two hours to complete. 

The Vietnamese take this tradition very seriously, viewing it as both liturgy and art form. During the Lenten season, many parishes organize competitions, which only the most skilled readers dare to enter.

The reciter chants without any instrumental accompaniment. The person who goes up to intone, often stands or kneels in front of the altar with the book placed before him. On both sides, there are people to follow his reading. If the intoner makes a mistake, the judge strikes a wooden instrument. If he makes three mistakes, he must leave the competition and someone else will go up to reread the meditation.

“The meditation also represents a creative adaptation of the spirituality and the liturgy of the Church to a local context,” Fr. Duc said. “And it speaks to the great collaboration between foreign missionaries in Vietnam and the local faithful in inventing this Lenten tradition that has been going on for centuries.”

European missionaries accompanying merchants on newly discovered sea routes brought the Catholic faith to Vietnam in 1533. Later in the 16th century, the arrival of many members of the Society of Jesus (SJ), Order of Preachers (OP), Order of Friars Minor (OFM) and the Society of Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP) boosted evangelization efforts in the east. 

These missionaries taught the truths of the Catholic faith to converted native Vietnamese catechists, who came from various religious background and cultural traditions. The natives then taught the locals Christian prayers using the local educational method of intonation of religious texts, which was used in temples and during devotional folklore chants. 

In previous centuries, these meditations were written in the Vietnamese “Nôm” script, a derivation of the Chinese script. However, in the 20th century, the meditations were printed in the Vietnamese Latin script “(quoc ngu)” which made them easier to read. 

Different dioceses have their own versions that may have minor differences in the wording, matching their local dialect. Apart from these differences, the texts have undergone few revisions in recent decades. 

Fr. Duc explained that “Ngam Nguyen” texts employ mostly ordinary speech, even colloquial in places, done “perhaps in order to make it easy for the average faithful to understand.”

The Ngam tradition is present throughout Vietnam, as well as in migrant communities in the United States, Australia, and Thailand, among other countries.

There are more than 5.5 million Catholics in Vietnam today. In past centuries, Christians in the country have faced persecution. In 1988, Pope John Paul II canonized 117 Blessed Martyrs of Vietnam, including both clergy and laity.  
 

This article was originally published on CNA March 25, 2016.

Commentary: What he's done for us at Easter

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2019 / 10:53 am (CNA).- I’ve been married for 13 Easters now. I’ve been a dad for seven of those.

And every year, Easter sneaks up on our family. It shouldn’t. Lent is a long and penitential season, and the fair warning the Church gives us that Easter is coming. But a few weeks into Lent, it becomes normal- the sacrifices and penances become part of our routine- and I begin to forget that Easter is coming.

And then, it’s the Triduum.

Then it’s Good Friday, and we’re kneeling in the Church, and processing forward to kiss the cross.

Then it’s Holy Saturday, and some years we’re putting the kids in pajamas to let them sleep in the pews during Easter Vigil.

Then it’s Easter, and we’re celebrating with our family, and cooking a roast, and drinking champagne.

And every year, I find myself wondering if I’ve led my family well through Lent. Every year, I see the ways in which I might have invited my wife more often to prayer. Every year, I ask if I’ve taught the kids enough about Jesus and his sacrifice, if I’ve opened the Scripture often enough in our home.

Every year, I conclude I haven’t done enough. I haven’t really lived the Lent I should have, I decide. I haven’t really lived for Christ.

But all of that is folly.

We’re called, of course, to order our lives and homes and families to Jesus Christ. We’re called to be his disciples. We’re called to place him above all things.

But Easter reminds us that we’re also called to let him- and him alone- accomplish the transformation of our lives.

Not one of us can conquer death. Not one of us can atone for sin. Not one of us can transform a heart, ordering it to the unreserved love of God and neighbor.

Only he can do that.

We can put ourselves in his presence. We can offer ourselves to him. We can try to follow the examples of the saints. We can try to put the sacraments at the center of our lives.

But after that, we need to trust him. Easter tells us that we become saints through the work that he, and his grace, do in us, and through us, and for us. We are participants, but he is the source of life.

“We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,” St. Paul tells the Romans, “so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”

Our newness of life comes through him. And it takes time to be fully manifested. And we have to trust.

Pope Francis has rightly pointed out a kind of Pelagianism among many practicing Catholics today. A sense that we can do it ourselves: that if we manage to carry the burden of moral perfection, and apostolic life, and evangelical zeal, that we might get ourselves to heaven.

But we won’t, and we can’t. That’s not sufficient. The doors to heaven are open to us because he loved us enough to be scourged at a pillar, to hang on a cross, to be buried, and to conquer sin and death.

And in baptism, he makes us a part of his life, death, and resurrection.

The evil one wants to make us think we can do it alone. But an empty tomb is beyond our own powers and abilities.

This Easter, I’ll give thanks to the Lord for the ways I’ve grown closer to him this Lent. I’ll ask him to help me follow him more closely. I’ll repent of my sins, and confess them. I’ll continue to walk with him on the lifelong journey to holiness.

This Easter, I’ll try to remember that alone, I can’t be good enough, strong enough, or powerful enough to be free from my own sins, or from my impending death.

And I’ll celebrate that because of what he did for me, I don’t have to be.

At Colosseum Stations of the Cross, Pope Francis prays for abused minors

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ prayer at Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum included a plea for abused youth and for the Church, whom he said is continually under attack.

 “Lord Jesus, help us to see in Your Cross all the crosses of the world … the cross of little ones wounded in their innocence and in their purity,” Pope Francis said in his prayer to conclude the Way of the Cross April 19.

 Francis also prayed for “the cross of the Church, your Bride, who feels herself continually attacked from inside and outside.”

The meditations for this year’s Way of the Cross at the Colosseum — written by Sister Eugenia Bonetti, founder of “Slaves No More” —  included reflections on the suffering endured by victims of human trafficking today.

“Like the young girl with a slim body we met one evening in Rome while men in luxury cars lined up to exploit her. She might have been the age of their own children,” the meditation for the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, stated.

“Cleanse our eyes so that we can see your face in our brothers and sisters, especially in all those children,” the prayer that followed stated. “Little ones used as cheap goods, bought and sold at will. Lord, we ask you to have mercy and compassion on this sick world. Help us rediscover the beauty of our dignity, and that of others, as human beings created in your image and likeness.”

Pope Francis personally selected Sister Bonetti to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross. Bonetti, 80, is a Consolata Missionary Sister from northern Italy, who aids women and girls in Italy to leave prostitution and trafficking.

“Lord Jesus, it is easy to wear a crucifix on a chain around our neck or to use it to decorate the walls of our beautiful cathedrals or homes. It is less easy to encounter and acknowledge today’s newly crucified: the homeless; the young deprived of hope, without work and without prospects; the immigrants relegated to slums at the fringe of our societies after having endured untold suffering,” Bonetti wrote in her Way of the Cross meditations.

Pope Francis presided over the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum – a Roman practice that dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.

After a pause, the tradition was revived by St. Pope Paul VI in 1964. During St. John Paul II’s papacy, the Colosseum stations became a worldwide television event; the pope himself used to carry the cross.

“We have gathered in this place where thousands of people once suffered martyrdom for their fidelity to Christ,” Bonetti wrote in her introduction to her station meditations.

“We want to walk this via dolorosa in union with the poor, the outcast of our societies and all those who even now are enduring crucifixion as victims of our narrowmindedness, our institutions and our laws, our blindness and selfishness, but especially our indifference and hardness of heart,” she continued.

Pope Francis prayed to see Christ in “the cross of consecrated persons who, along the way, have forgotten their first love” and “the cross of our common home that seriously withers under our eyes, selfish and blinded by greed and power.”

This year’s stations of the cross meditations also included prayers for children who are exploited in mines, fields and fisheries, bought and sold by human traffickers for organ harvesting, and for migrants who died in shipwrecks.

Human trafficking is an important topic to Pope Francis, who has spoken out against human exploitation throughout his pontificate. The pope has often invoked the intercession of St. Josephine Bakhita, once a slave herself, to intercede to bring about an end to “this plague.”

While in the past, the pope himself used to carry the cross from station to station around the Colosseum, it is now carried by individuals and families.

This year cross-bearers included priests from Syria and the Holy Land, several religious sisters, and a man in a wheelchair accompanied by volunteers with the Italian National Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines. Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar General of Rome, carried the cross for the first and last stations.

In his prayer at the end of the Via Crucis, the pope prayed for “the cross of your children who, believing in You and trying to live according to Your word, find themselves marginalized and discarded even by their relatives and their peers.”

“Lord Jesus, revive in us the hope of the resurrection and your definitive victory against every evil and every death,” Pope Francis prayed.

Good Friday at the Vatican: Christ is among the pariahs

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- At the Vatican’s Good Friday service, the papal preacher connected Christ’s Passion with all in history who have suffered the degradation of their human dignity, highlighting in particular the experience of African-American slaves.

“The final word is not and never will be injustice and oppression. Jesus not only restored dignity to the disinherited of the world, he also gave them hope,” papal preacher Father Raniero Cantalamessa said in his homily in St. Peter’s Basilica April 19.

“We can say to the poor, the outcasts, those who are trapped in different forms of slavery still occurring in our society: Easter is your feast,” he said.

Reflecting on the rejection and hatred experienced by the “suffering servant” described by the Jewish prophet Isaiah, Cantalamessa said “the Crucified One” is a “prototype and representative of all the rejected, the disinherited, and the ‘discarded’ of the earth.”

“The African-American writer and theologian Howard Thurman—the man Martin Luther King considered his teacher and his inspiration for the non-violent struggle for human rights—wrote a book called ‘Jesus and the Disinherited.’ In it he shows what the figure of Jesus represented for the slaves in the south,” Cantalamessa said.

“When the slaves were deprived of every right and completely abject, the words of the Gospel that the minister would repeat in their segregated worship — the only meeting they were allowed to have— would give the slaves back a sense of their dignity as children of God,” he continued.

Howard Thurman, 1899-1981, was a Protestant minister and civil rights leader, who helped to found the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, one of the first interracial and interdenominational churches in the United States in 1944.

The papal preacher continued, “The majority of Negro Spirituals that still move the world today arose in this context. At the time of public auction, slaves experienced the anguish of seeing wives separated from their husbands and children from their parents, being sold at times to different masters. It is easy to imagine the spirit with which they sang out in the sun or inside their huts, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I have seen. Nobody knows, but Jesus.’”

Fr. Cantalamessa, a Capuchin friar, has been the official papal preacher since he was appointed to the role by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980. He offers meditations to the pope and members of the Curia on Fridays during Advent and Lent, and he preaches the homily for the Good Friday veneration liturgy.

Pope Francis presided over the liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and prostrated himself before the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica at the beginning of the Good Friday service.

After St. John’s Gospel was chanted in Latin, Fr. Cantelamessa said in his homily, “the Church has received the mandate from its founder to stand with the poor and the weak, to be voice for those who have no voice.”

He continued, “the second historical task that religions need to take on together today, besides promoting peace, is not to remain silent in the face of the situation that is there for everyone to see. A few privileged people possess more goods than they could ever consume, while for entire centuries countless masses of poor people have lived without having a piece of bread or a sip of water to give their children.”

“No religion can remain indifferent to this because the God of all the religions is not indifferent to all of this,” Cantalamessa said.

The papal preacher said that Jesus on the cross “becomes a symbol” for the “part of humanity that is humiliated and insulted.”

He noted that “the most profound meaning” of the passion and death of Christ “is not social but spiritual and mystical.”

“‘Ecce homo!' 'Here is the man!’ exclaims Pilate … These are words which, after Christ, can be said of the endless host of men and women who are vilified, reduced to being objects, deprived of all human dignity,” Cantalamessa explained.

“One would want to exclaim, ‘You who are rejected, spurned, pariahs of the whole earth: the greatest man in history was one of you! Whatever nation, race, or religion you belong to, you have the right to claim him as yours,’” he said.

Wooden church- an 'ephemeral cathedral' could go up as Notre-Dame is restored

Paris, France, Apr 19, 2019 / 08:02 am (CNA).- After a massive fire gutted the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris April 15, the cathedral’s rector says a temporary wooden church might soon be constructed in the esplanade, or plaza, adjacent to the cathedral.

Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told France’s CNews April 18 that he was exploring plans to build an “ephemeral cathedral” adjacent to Notre Dame, where cleanup and construction are expected to begin soon.

Mass would be celebrated and confessions offered at the temporary structure, Chauvet suggested, adding that Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is a supporter of the idea.

"We mustn't say 'the cathedral is closed for five years' and that's it," Chauvet said Thursday.

There is no formal estimate yet for how long the cathedral restoration will take. While France’s President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would like to see restoration completed within five years, experts say that possibility is extremely unlikely.

Nearly one billion euro have been pledged to the restoration effort.

While the images of the cathedral’ exterior suggested nearly total devastation after the fire, inside the cathedral’s vaulted stone ceiling mostly held, and protected many of the cathedral's religious and historical treasures from the flames.

The cathedral’s famed rose windows, its bell towers and massive bells, and its organ were all intact after the fire. The Church’s most important religious items were spared from the fire: the Eucharist, and relics of Christ’s crown of thorns and cross were saved during the fire.

 

Pro-lifers join Good Friday prayers to abortion clinic witness

Chicago, Ill., Apr 19, 2019 / 06:01 am (CNA).- A pro-life group is coordinating ecumenical Good Friday services and Ways of the Cross outside of abortion clinics in more than 30 states, saying it is a fitting time to pray for unborn victims, their mothers, and clinic workers affected by abortion.

“There’s no better day to remember the victims of abortion than Good Friday, when we remember the suffering and execution of Jesus Christ, an innocent man who preached the value of every single human life,” Eric Scheidler, director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said April 17.

Pro-life Christians have scheduled Way of the Cross services outside nearly 100 abortion clinics in more than 30 states, according to the Pro-Life Action League. It lists locations of these services on its website.

The league has coordinated the Good Friday prayer services since 2014 and expects thousands to attend this year. The group’s website includes a guide on how to host a Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion, aiming for a broad Christian audience.

“Though the devotion of the Stations of the Cross has Catholic roots, the service we conduct is completely ecumenical,” the guide says. “People of every denomination join us each year and there is no material in the book that would be offensive to non-Catholics.”

The Pro-Life Action League asks participating groups to report the time, date and location of their services for listing on the league’s website.

“As a society, we've become increasingly sensitive to the victims of injustice, and that’s to our credit,” said Scheidler. “But we forget about the victims of abortion, starting with the more than 60 million unborn children who have lost their lives to legal abortion in the United States since 1973.”

The millions of women who regret their abortions are also victimized, he said, as are some abortion clinic staff. He charged that abortion provider Planned Parenthood exploited sincere desires to help women, as with former clinic director Abby Johnson whose story is depicted in the movie “Unplanned.”

The Pro-Life Action League was founded by Joe Scheidler in 1980. Its activities include public protest, sidewalk counseling, and youth outreach.

Holy Week terrorism suspect arrested

Seville, Spain, Apr 18, 2019 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Authorities from Spain and Morocco have arrested a 23 year old man in Rabat, Morocco, who is suspected of planning an attack  during Holy Week celebrations in the Spanish city of Seville.

According to Spanish federal police, Spain’s National Intelligence Center and the Moroccan secret service, 23-year-old Zouhair el Bouhdidi was planning detonate explosives during Holy Week processions in Seville, the city in which he lived.

The arrest took place after the Spanish authorities informed the Moroccans that el Bouhdidi had traveled to Morocco, allegedly in preparation for the attack, according to Spanish newspaper El Confidencial.

The police searched his Seville residence April 17.

The Islamic State had called for attacks during Holy Week in Spain in a video broadcast on propaganda channels. The video encouraged ISIS followers or supporters to act in the name of “holy war,” and  showed images of processions on the streets of Valencia and Malaga alongside scenes in which pedestrians are mowed down by vehicles.

The Spanish Interior Minister had reinforced security details beginning last week because of the Holy Week celebrations and the upcoming elections.

Seville’s Holy Week processions have widely recognized for their beauty, and they annually attract throngs of tourists.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Oklahoma advances abortion drug reversal bill. Is it well-founded?

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 18, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Oklahoma legislators have passed a bill requiring physicians to tell women that a drug-induced abortion procedure can be reversed, but questions remain over the science behind the claims and whether the bill can pass constitutional muster.

“A number of women have regret after the abortion. They may have a regret during the process but, if they don’t know there may be a way to reverse the process, then they just don’t know,” bill author Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, told the Oklahoma television station News 4.

“There are a lot of things in this world that, once you make a decision, you can’t undo. This is perhaps one that you can change your mind and you still have some hope that you could deliver a happy, healthy baby,” he said.

The House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 614 by a vote of 72 to 24. The bill requires signage about abortion drug reversal to be posted in facilities where abortions are performed.

“If you continue to perform the abortion without the signage posted, without the notice, then there are penalties and fines associated,” Lepak said.

Doctors who violate the law could face felony charges, while facilities could face fines of $10,000 per day.

Jill Webb, legal director at the ACLU of Oklahoma, said the bill could result in legal challenges if it is signed into law.

“Arizona, for instance, immediately had it challenged, and what they did was reverse the policy even before it got to court for determination,” Webb told News 4. “Not only do you have freedom of speech to say what you want, you also can’t be compelled to say something you don’t believe, and that’s what the problem is.”

Similar Arizona legislation, passed in 2015, was repealed in 2016 after legal challenges and a failure to find a credible expert willing to defend it. The State of Arizona had to pay Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers more than $600,000 in attorney fees and other costs spent fighting the law, the Associated Press said.

Dr. Melinda Cail of Primary Health Partners criticized one argument for the bill based on a study of seven patients.

“I think that physicians will find it hard to swallow something that could be a felony that was based on such a small sample,” she said, according to News 4.

“In that study of seven people, two went on to stop the procedure and had continuation of the pregnancy,” she said, commenting that it lacked long-term follow-up on whether the babies and mothers were healthy after the procedure.

Lepak said the study was “very dated” but claimed other evidence backed the bill.

A chemical abortion is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

Backers of abortion pill reversal say the abortion can be reversed after a woman takes mifepristone but before she takes misoprostol, though this must be done quickly.

Dr. George Delgado, M.D., appears to have been the author of the first study involving seven women. Delgado, a pro-life California doctor, has been a leader in medical interventions to reverse the effects of the abortion pill regimen.

He and several other researchers wrote another analysis of abortion pill reversal in the journal Issues in Law and Medicine in April 2018.

In observations of 754 patients who sought abortion pill reversal before taking the second drug, the researchers said that intramuscular progesterone had a reversal rate of 64% and high dose oral progesterone had a reversal rate of 68%.

“There was no apparent increased risk of birth defects,” the abstract said.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which tends to oppose abortion regulations, has criticized the scientific claims behind abortion pill reversal.

Its 2015 position paper on the Arizona legislation noted that pregnancy will continue in 30-50% of women who take mifepristone alone and do not take misoprostol, the National Catholic Register has reported.

“Available research seems to indicate that in the rare situation where a woman takes mifepristone and then changes her mind, doing nothing and waiting to see what happens is just as effective as intervening with a course of progesterone,” the OB/GYN group said.

The methods behind Delgado’s more recent study have also come under criticism, including allegations that some women were dropped out of the study to inflate the success rate, Los Angeles Magazine reported in March 2019.

The Abortion Pill Rescue Network, which Delgado serves as a medical advisor, has claimed to have saved over 500 babies from abortion, its website said. The network is a program of Heartbeat International, a longstanding network of pro-life pregnancy assistance.

Miami archbishop warns flock against fake Fathers

Miami, Fla., Apr 18, 2019 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Miami is warning Catholics against a spate of fake priests who are scamming parishioners for money and gift cards, supposedly for good causes.

The problem has cropped up in multiple parishes in the area, the archdiocese told CBS News.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski told CBS that he was assuring Catholics that “no Catholic clergyman will ask a parishioner for a gift card.”

In some of the scams, the scam artist will purport to be Archbishop Wenski himself, or the auxiliary bishop of Miami, which was the fake signature on this bogus message shown to CBS News: “I need you to get an iTunes gift card for soma patients going through cancer in the hospital and I promised each patient but I can’t do this right now...I will pay back as soon as I get back. Let me know if you can get it Many blessings.”

Having his name attached to these scams is troubling, Wenski told CBS. “It upsets you because you feel violated and you feel like nothing is safe.”

One parishioner has reportedly lost about $1500 to the scams.

Parishes are warning Catholics at Mass and in their bulletins to ignore emails or texts from priests asking for money or gift cards and to report any fake messages to police.

Wenski lamented that such scams were part of the “perils” of technology. CBS noted that concerned Catholics can check with FloridaConsumerHelp.com to see if a request for money is legitimate.

The phony priest problem seems to extend beyond Florida. Last week, the Diocese of Scranton issued warnings after two diocesan employees received similar scam texts from fake priests asking for gift cards, a local newspaper reported.

“The Diocese of Scranton reminds everyone if you are ever concerned about a message that you receive, whether by text message or email, verify it before you take any action,” the diocese said in a statement.

“It the instances reported this week, the person impersonating a priest asked each recipient to purchase $500 in gift cards for his niece as a birthday present because he was checking on a friend in the hospital.”

Similar scam texts were also reported in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to local reports.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a similar warning in March after fake priests solicited money and gift cards from parishioners in the state.

'I've encountered Him' - how one inmate lost everything and found Christ

Vancouver, Canada, Apr 18, 2019 / 04:39 pm (CNA).- Ryan Prasad desperately wanted to change his life.

“Every single day before I left my house, I would pray to a God, asking him to help me out of my lifestyle, because there was no way I was going to be able to do it on my own,” he told CNA.

The then-24-year-old was battling multiple addictions and heavily involved in the sale of drugs. He knew that if he continued down the path he was on, he would wind up dead. But he didn’t know how to escape.

It would take a prison sentence, nearly two years in a recovery home, and a conversion to the Catholic faith for Ryan to turn his life around – a stretch of time that he says is marked by the grace of God and the support of a faith-based community that was there for him every step of the way.

Ryan grew up in British Columbia, Canada. His parents were Hindu, but the religion never sank in for him, and he never practiced it very seriously.

When he was growing up, his household was disrupted by alcoholism, infidelity, and domestic violence. His parents eventually split up, and his mom remarried.

Struggling to process what was going on at home, Ryan starting smoking marijuana in high school. He started college, but dropped out, as the drug began to consume his life.

“I don’t think youth really realizes how much [marijuana] can take from you,” he reflected. “It kills you. It kills your motivation. It kills your drive.”

Ryan worked part-time and also sold marijuana to fund his partying habits.

When he realized that a friend was making more money than he was, by selling cocaine and heroin, he made the leap to dealing hard drugs.

At first, he was successful, and he moved quickly into positions of increasing responsibility in the drug business – which meant more money. Over the next two years, he moved into a nice apartment, bought expensive cars, and dated a series of girls. But he still wasn’t happy.

Frustrated that the one girl he was really interested in was not willing to give him a chance, he struggled to deal with his emotions.

“I ended up using drugs as a coping mechanism to numb my feelings…I was so numb and disconnected…I was just a zombie.”

From there, things began to get worse. Addicted to cocaine and pills, Ryan lost his apartment. Responsibilities started to be taken away from him at work, until he was only a driver. He no longer had the money to support his drug habit, and he started to get desperate.

“I put myself in a situation where now I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “What I was doing was the easiest route for me to pay for my addiction, especially on a daily basis, because I’m getting paid cash every day, versus having to wait for a paycheck.”

Ryan’s life was spiraling downhill. His girlfriend left him when she realized that he had been hiding a drug addiction from her. Several of his friends were shot, went missing, or died of an overdose.

Then, in October 2016, he ended up doing several transactions with an undercover cop. He was caught with drugs in his car and an illegal firearm at his house.

Ryan was convicted. He was supposed to be in jail until his sentencing, but his lawyer advocated for him, saying that he had potential, it was his first set of charges, and what he really needed was a change to break free of his addiction. He was released on bail to a Christian recovery house called Luke 15.

“I was definitely at a point of surrender…enough was enough, and I really wanted to turn around,” he said.

Ryan embraced the recovery house and all of the resources it had to offer. He started attending self-development groups and every church group available. He began going to a Baptist church nearby. He would read the Bible and ask questions.

“I had this eagerness to learn. I just really believed that there was something really helping me to get to this point.”

One day, Ryan attended a charismatic prayer group at St. Mary’s Catholic parish. The founder of the prayer group prayed over him, and he experienced something he can only describe as otherworldly.

“I was overcome with this bright white light. And it just…came over me and into me, such a profound feeling of peace and love…such a strong presence,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of crazy drugs in my life, and there’s nothing that could compare to that…It was so divine and supernatural.”

In that moment, Ryan said, his life changed. The bitterness he had been carrying from the dark and traumatic experiences he had endured was erased, and replaced with a profound joy.

“I was just so happy,” he said, adding that he become a different person on that day.

Three years later, he still thinks about that moment.

“Because of that day, I can’t doubt that there is a God…I can’t pretend that he doesn’t exist, because I know he exists. I’ve encountered him.”

Although he had been attending a Protestant church, Ryan knew he needed to learn more about the Catholic faith. He enrolled in RCIA classes and devoted every spare moment at the recovery house to reading about the Catholic Church.

On April 17, 2017, Ryan was baptized and confirmed. His mother and stepfather attended the Mass.

“They were really seeing the changes that were happening in my life – my language, the way I carried myself, my mannerisms. They knew I was changing,” he said.

Ryan spent a total of 21 months at Luke 15. During that time, he sponsored other residents in the AA program, volunteered at a local soup kitchen and shelter, and got heavily involved with the St. Mary’s church community. He felt like a new person.

But throughout it all, there was a weight hanging over his head. “The worst part about this, in my circumstance, is I didn’t know whether I was going to go to jail or not,” he said.

Prosecutors were seeking eight years in prison for him, a prospect that he said took his breath away.

“[J]ust hearing that number, the possibility of me going to jail for eight years – I really had to persevere in prayer,” he said.

When he was finally sentenced, his family members and friends from the St. Mary’s community came to support him. His lawyer presented all the progress he had made and the good work that he had been doing, asking for leniency in his sentence.

He was given 12 months for the firearm charge and 11 months for the drug charge. It was far less than the eight years prosecutors had originally sought, but still a devastating prospect for someone who had come so far in his fight against addiction and just wanted to move forward with his life.

In jail, Ryan said, “I did not fit in with anybody. I was so rehabilitated and so religious…People were wondering, ‘What are you doing here?’”

He spent his first month in the medium security section of the jail and was then moved to minimum security, where he had more freedom to come and go from his room and was able to get a minimum-wage job with the BC Wildfire Services.

But despite the increase in freedom, he continued to struggle. The minimum security section of the jail did not offer any Catholic services, and there were few to no other Catholic inmates there. He felt isolated in his faith.

“It was hard. But I definitely relied on God and read my Bible a lot,” he said.

Ryan said God answered his prayers through a man named Bob Buckham. The head of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Bob would visit Ryan periodically. He became Ryan’s lifeline to the Catholic faith.

“I told him about how I really wanted to have Communion again, and he became [an extraordinary] minister of the Eucharist,” Ryan said.

When Bob visited, he would bring Communion and read the Bible with Ryan, and the two would discuss the faith. This was helpful, because the other inmates would challenge Ryan’s beliefs.

“I would get questions about my faith a lot. And I would defend it,” he said.

“All the time that I spent in Luke 15 taught me a level of tolerance and patience and understanding…I was able to really diplomatically communicate with these people…I was just equipped. I just knew what to say and how to say it.”

After serving a little over six months of his sentence, Ryan was granted full parole. He went to a halfway house, where he was able to once again attend Mass and get involved with the Catholic community.

With parole came freedom – more than he had experienced in years.

“I had to really make a conscious decision every single day, planning my day – What am I going to do? Who am I going to talk to? How am I going to do this? How long am I going to be there?” he said. “And I started really being focused and really taking my own time seriously, because all that ambition and drive that I had before, I was finally given a little bit of an opportunity to use it.”

Today, Ryan is 27 years old. He lives with his family and is training to be a mobile crane operator and get his trucking license. He works six days a week and spends his free time reading the Bible and going to the gym.

He goes to Mass twice a week and attends RCIA meetings, where he shares his experience with the people who are currently in the program.

“I stay busy, and I’m only going to get busier,” he said.

Looking back on his experience, Ryan is grateful to God and to all the people who supported him in his journey of recovery and faith.

“I’ve got to express my gratitude – me being where I was to where I am at now, and just to have the support and people I can reach out to and ask for prayer and help, and they’re willing to help me and talk to me and give me their time,” he said. “It’s done a lot for me...It’s really helped me grow. And I’m still growing.”