September 25, 2015 // Uncategorized

Pope Francis in New York City

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Pope brings Gospel of ‘encounter’ to Madison Square Garden

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden in New York Sept. 25, day four of his six-day visit to the United States. (CNS photo/Andrew Burton, pool)

NEW YORK (CNS) — Seeing New York for the first time in his 78 years of life, Pope Francis said he knew Madison Square Garden was an important gathering place for sporting events and concerts. For him, it was transformed into a chapel in the heart of the Big Apple.

True peace in a big city comes from seeing the vast variety of people not as a bother, but as a brother or sister, Pope Francis said in his homily during the Mass Sept. 25 at “The Garden” where 20,000 people gathered to pray with him.

With tough security and long lines, people arrived hours early. They prayed and listened to inspirational music sung live by Gloria Estefan, Jennifer Hudson and Harry Connick Jr.

Before vesting for Mass, Pope Francis entered the arena in an electric cart, riding up and down the aisles, kissing babies and blessing several sick children.

In his homily, the pope urged the congregation to go out into the city, to seek the face of Jesus in the poor and suffering and to share the joy of the Gospel with all.

Jesus urges his disciples “to go out and meet others where they really are, not where we think they should be,” Pope Francis said.

“Go out to others and share the good news that God, our father, walks at our side,” the pope told them. “He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness” and moves people to encounter and to peace instead of competition.

The pope had visited ground zero earlier in the day, participating in an interreligious service for peace. The evening Mass used the readings and prayers for a Mass for peace and justice.

The first reading, from the Book of Isaiah, began with the passage, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

People who are faithful to God, the pope said, “can see, discern and contemplate his living presence” in the midst of the city. “The people who walk, breathe and live in the midst of smog, have seen a great light, have experienced a breath of fresh air.”

The pope, who was born in and served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city of 3 million people, said he knows it is not always easy living in a big city, especially one made up of people of dozens of different languages and cultures.

However, he said, those differences are riches that express “all the different ways we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life.”

Pope Francis recited most of the Mass prayers in English, although he read the eucharistic prayer in Latin. He preached in Spanish and the prayers of the faithful were offered in Italian, German, Polish and Tigrinya, one of the languages spoken in Ethiopia.

For Christians, the real challenge of big cities is the way that they can “conceal the faces” of people who don’t fit in or even are treated as if they had no right to be there, Pope Francis said. “They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.”

Too many people just walk by them, he said. They have become part of the “urban landscape.”

But being a Christian means seeing Jesus in others, all of them, and actually looking for his face in the faces of those who usually are ignored, the pope said.

The Christian virtue of hope frees people from isolation and self-absorption, it is “unafraid of involvement,” he said, and it “makes us see, even in the midst of the smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”


Pope goes back to school, meets students, community in Harlem

By David Agren

Pope Francis meets students at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in the East Harlem area of New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

NEW YORK (CNS) — Pope Francis encouraged an audience of Catholic school students and immigrants to live with joy and dare to dream. He also highlighted the immigrant experience — in a way children could understand, comparing it to seeking acceptance and making friends in school, not always an easy place for them to fit in or find their way.

“They tell me that one of the nice things about this school is that some of its students come from other places, even from other countries,” Pope Francis told students and a group of immigrants at the Our Lady Queen of Angels school, where he visited Sept. 25.

“I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends,” the pope said. “At the beginning it can be hard. … Often you have to learn a new language, adjust to a new culture. … There is so much to learn! And not just at school.”

The message, spoken simply, continued the pope’s call for inclusive attitudes and actions in favor of immigrants, who often occupy the peripheral places to which he has called on Catholics to carry the Gospel. Immigrants at the school greeted him personally, engaged in small talk and read from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The Our Lady Queen of Angels School serves Spanish Harlem, a section of New York originally home to African-Americans, then newcomers from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Mexicans have arrived in large numbers of late.

Some residents expressed hope the pope would speak to the immigration issue and bring about better relations between immigrant groups in the area.

“We’re all immigrants here. We came searching for a better life,” said Vianel Garcia, manager of a hair salon across the street from the school — which was adorned with posters asking the pope to “come and bless us.”

“I’d like to hear a message of unity between all Hispanics,” she added.

While at the school, the pope spoke of dreams and invoked another religious leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he had also highlighted in his speech to Congress.

“One day he said, ‘I have a dream.’ His dream was that many children, many people could have equal opportunities. His dream was that many children like you could get an education,” the pope said.

“Wherever there are dreams, there is joy, Jesus is always present,” he said.

But he warned that someone wanted to sow distrust, envy, evil desires and stealing dreams: the devil.

“He does not want us to be happy,” Pope Francis said.

The pope’s visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels was a reminder of the role of Catholic education and its historic mission in parish communities of stressing academics and imparting church values to generations of children, often immigrants, struggling to adjust to a new country and culture.

Catholic education has changed in recent years, with fewer religious communities running schools and lay Catholic groups taking over and offering innovative options, which often appeal to non-Catholic families, said Holy Cross Father Timothy Scully, director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of lay involvement” and “social entrepreneurship,” Father Scully said.

Many of the students in Catholic schools are non-Catholics — and many come from immigrant families: 69 percent of the students at Our Lady Queen of Angels were from such backgrounds.

“The evidence is clear that the greater the disadvantage, the greater the advantage of Catholic education” in helping students to overcome it, Father Scully said. “The pope is trying to underscore the importance of this civic asset.”

Pope Francis and the students prayed the Hail Mary; students then showed him science projects highlighting environmental themes. They even showed him a touch screen, with one girl advising the pope to double-click.

He started his speech with an apology for taking the students from their studies and ended by assigning homework.

“Please don’t forget to pray for me, so that I can share with many people the joy of Jesus,” the pope said. “And let us also pray so that many other people can share the joy like yours.”

Inconveniences of waiting for pope quickly fade as man of hour appears

By Angela Cave

Pope Francis rides through New York’s Central Park in the popemobile Sept. 25. (CNS Photo/Richard Drew, pool)

NEW YORK (CNS) — It wasn’t always comfortable waiting for papal events in New York — there were long lines, temperamental security personnel and dashed hopes for last-minute tickets — but when pilgrims did make it into events, the inconveniences quickly became memories when the man of the hour appeared.

“People kept (texting me) asking, ‘Was it worth it?'” said Maria Patrick of the four and a half hours she and her son Connor spent waiting in line for the Madison Square Garden Mass yesterday. “And our answer was unequivocally ‘yes.’ That was all part of the experience.”

The crowds were civil and cheery and displayed “so many acts of kindness,” she continued.

At one point, Catholic school children passed out water bottles; at another, a bag of candy mysteriously appeared in the Patricks’ hands. Someone gave up a ticket to a priest looking to do a good deed for a ticketless parishioner, and onlookers sobbed at the sight of the gesture.

In general, there were a lot of tears of joy during Pope Francis’ time in New York.

“Nobody was upset they waited this many hours,” Maria told Catholic News Service. “It was elation. As soon as he came out (for Mass), that was all washed out. He has that power. He is so calming.”

The Patricks, members of St. Pius X Parish in Loudonville, were brought to tears during the pope’s homily, which Maria said was “all about peace, love and bringing Christ into your neighborhood. It was a very profound message that you can apply to any city. If you are someone who has gone away from the Church, he wants you to feel welcome to come back.”

Connor, 14, called the Mass “emotional, shocking, breathtaking, exciting. The music was beautiful, (as was) seeing the humble presence of Pope Francis and all the bishops and cardinals.

“It definitely made me feel that I’m doing something right,” he said. “That I’m in the right place (in the Catholic Church).”

They brought with them for blessing a list of 500 names of people from home in need of prayer. “Our phones had blown up the last 48 hours,” Maria said. “The last name we added was added minutes before the blessing. My Facebook page right now is filled with gratitude.”

A family of six from St. Mary Parish in Canton also were glad they made a big trip and waited in grueling lines. Debra Gainey felt the Holy Spirit in the Garden.

“I actually cried because I was moved so much,” she said. “I have so much respect for what Pope Francis does. He is such a shepherd of all.”

When New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan thanked the pope at the end of the Mass, inspiring the crowd to erupt in applause, “you could feel the love in the air,” Gainey continued. “The genuine smile on the pope’s face and the cardinal’s face was just amazing. You wonder what the pope whispered to him at the end. You can sense there’s a genuine rapport there.”

Debra’s 11-year-old daughter, Emma, said the Mass was “cool. I’ve never been to something like that. It was just huge and so many people. I don’t know how to word it.” She planned to tell her friends “all about it.”

Dan Lill of St. Monica Parish in Rochester was amazed to see “the expression on Pope Francis’ face” because “not every priest really celebrates Mass. He really does. Just his body language — the way he elevates the host and the chalice. He knows he’s doing something special. Not every priest does that — it becomes routine.”

Dan and his wife, Ellen, felt their faith strengthened by the experience and tried explaining Pope Francis’ popularity. “He just does everything he says we should do,” Ellen said, “and he lives what he says.”

The Mass also made Caitlyn Piccirillo, a 20-year-old Fordham University student, realize Pope Francis is unique. He’s the first pope to spark her faith. “I’m Catholic, but I’m not the best churchgoer,” she said. “It makes you want to start getting more involved.”

The event was “kind of like seeing a celebrity but knowing he’s way more important than anyone else you can think of,” she said. “And seeing how many people he can bring together [was amazing].”

Caitlyn’s friend, 19-year-old Fordham peer Robert DiMatteo, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Nanuet, said the Mass reaffirmed for him “how wonderful a community the church is.” Being in the front row — an honor bestowed on Robert’s group through his friendship with Cardinal Dolan — “was spectacular,” he told CNS. “It was surreal.”

A group of about 50 nuns and novices from the Sisters of Life in Suffern glowed with happiness after the liturgy.

“I feel like we have a father,” one said, adding that Pope Francis makes them feel supported in choosing to be daughters of the church.

Another opined, “It’s like what Cardinal Dolan said: We pray for him and in unison with him and now he’s right here with us.”

“Just seeing him reminds us how we’re one holy Catholic Church,” one novice chimed in. “Today was just mind-blowing … more confirmation that God is real.”

The women loudly sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” on their way out of the arena to a clapping and cheering crowd.

On the streets, hopefuls who never made it into the Garden were still lingering outside soaking in the energy of the day and wondering if they would see the pope’s motorcade leave.

“We just wanted to get a glimpse of him,” said Kristine Ignacio, a member of St. Anne Parish in Fairlawn, New Jersey, who waited for hours with family friends, including two children. “We just wanted to get his blessing.”

They were not alone: “People were like, ‘Francesco!’ and cheering,” she said. “He is the leader of the church. Where I grew up (the Philippines), most people were Catholic, so it was easier to follow the faith. Here, it challenges your faith. Pope Francis is able to attract all age groups to go back to the church.”

Even though the New York Mass was one of the events fairly restricted to parishioners of local Catholic dioceses, it attracted just as many non-Catholics as other papal events. Angela Green, a nondenominational Christian, stood in line for naught trying to score tickets.

But she was happy to just be on the streets while Pope Francis was in town — and it helped that a group of young Catholic friars gave her souvenirs and prayed over her after the Mass.

“Everyone who’s been a part of this feels blessed,” Green said. “This is a feeling similar to 9/11. Everyone feels united. So many people came together for one purpose. It’s beautiful.”

She followed all of Pope Francis’ stops in America in the news and said everyone needed the opportunity to take a break from American politics and other stressors.

“This whole week was a time of religious rejuvenation,” she said. “Even watching him on television did that. So many people have been born again. You don’t even have to be Catholic to feel this way.”



Pope at 9/11 Memorial: Violence is never impersonal, always brings tears

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis gives a reflection as he joins representatives of religious communities in Foundation Hall at the ground zero 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring

NEW YORK (CNS) — Honoring both the pain and the strength of the families of those who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and drawing on the pools of water that are part of the site’s memorial, Pope Francis spoke about tears and quenching the world’s longing for peace.

“The water we see flowing toward that empty pit remind us of all those lives” lost in 2001, he said. “The flowing water is also a symbol of our tears. Tears at so much devastation and ruin, past and present.”

The pope and New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan each left a single white rose on the edge of the fountain in Memorial Plaza. Pope Francis also met briefly with 20 family members of fallen first responders, shaking their hands, blessing them and listening to them carefully with the help of an interpreter. Gathered around the fountain were 1,000 people — including some injured when the Twin Towers fell.

Afterward, Pope Francis joined a varied group of religious leaders and about 400 people in Foundation Hall to offer prayers for the deceased and for peace in the world.

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue and Imam Khalid Latif, the Muslim chaplain at New York University, offered reflections before the pope spoke.

“Intolerance and ignorance fueled those who attacked this place,” Latif said. “We stand together as brothers and sisters to condemn their horrific acts of violence and honor each life that was lost.”

Rabbi Cosgrove prayed that “today and everyday may we understand our shared mission to be, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘a field hospital after battle’ to heal the wounds and warm the hearts of a humanity in so desperate need of comfort.”

Representatives of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Muslim communities read meditations on peace, and a choir sang a Jewish prayer in honor of the deceased.

Pope Francis read the same prayer Pope Benedict XVI recited when he visited the ruins of ground zero in 2008, a prayer that specifically mentions also those who died the same day at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Pope Francis prays at the ground zero 9/11 Memorial in New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“This is a place where we shed tears, we weep out of a sense of helplessness in the face of injustice, murder and the failure to settle conflicts through dialogue,” Pope Francis said in his personal reflection.

Meeting the families of victims, he said, was a concrete reminder that “acts of destruction are never impersonal, abstract or merely material. They always have a face, a concrete story, names.

“In those family members,” he said, “we see the face of pain, a pain which still touches us and cries out to heaven.”

However, the pope said, they also demonstrate “the power of love and remembrance,” which is something the memorial promotes with the names of those who died in the attack engraved in stone. “We can see them, we can touch them and we can never forget them.”

What happened on 9/11 and in its aftermath are not just motives for grief, though, he said. The reaction of the first responders and of thousands of New Yorkers demonstrated “the heroic goodness which people are capable of,” which also must be remembered.

“No one thought about race, nationality, neighborhoods, religion or politics” as they pitched in, some even risking their lives, to help others, the pope said. “This place of death became a place of life, too, a place of saved lives, a hymn to the triumph of life over the prophets of destruction and death, of goodness over evil, reconciliation and unity over hatred and division.”

People of different religions and cultures do not need to pretend their differences do not exist, he said, but they do need to accept and respect their differences.

Pope Francis asked those in the underground hall to join him in a moment of silence, “imploring from on high” the gift of peace “in all those places where war never seems to end,” but also “peace for those faces which have known nothing but pain.”

“Simply peace,” he said, speaking in Spanish.

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Contributing to this story were Carol Zimmermann and David Sedeno in New York.

People come first, human life is sacred, pope insists at U.N.

By Cindy Wooden

Pope Francis addresses the general assembly of the United Nations in New York Sept. 25. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) — Dealing with war, development, the economy or environmental concerns, bureaucrats and diplomats always must remember that the lives of real children, women and men are at stake, Pope Francis told the United Nations.

Helping to celebrate the organization’s 70th anniversary, Pope Francis visited its headquarters Sept. 25 and pleaded with government leaders and U.N. officials to keep the dignity and sacredness of every human life and the value of all creatures at the center of their concern.

“Above and beyond our plans and programs,” he told the U.N. General Assembly, “we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.”

More than 190 heads of state were attending the General Assembly, and many of them made a point of being in the U.N.’s historic hall for Pope Francis’ speech on the eve of discussion of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and, later in the year, the Paris Conference on Climate Change.

The first hour of Pope Francis’ visit was heavy on protocol and posing for official group photographs. He met privately with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and spoke briefly with U.N. employees, urging them to make their workplace a model of the peace and respect they work to promote around the world. He also paid tribute to the sacrifice of U.N. employees killed in the line of duty.

Pope Francis called for real, concrete action to stem climate change; respect for every human life and for “the natural difference between man and woman”; economic decisions that place the needs of people before profits; and greater controls on weapons sales and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

He praised recent international agreements with Iran to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons and he pleaded for real, concrete, multilateral efforts to bring peace and justice to the Middle East, North Africa and other African countries plagued by the violence of extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam.

“Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly,” he said, “have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives or by enslavement.”

Those lives, he said, “take precedence over partisan interests.”

“In wars and conflicts there are individual persons — our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls — who weep, suffer and die,” the pope said. They are treated as “human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.”

Pope Francis warned the U.N. leaders and the heads of state that too many decisions seemed to be based on the desire by a few for economic or political power, ignoring the values and rights the United Nations was formed to promote and protect.

The United Nations, he said, is called to help humanity “dispel the darkness of disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness.”

“Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment,” the pope said, echoing one of the main themes of his encyclical, “Laudato Si’.” The document emphasized that respect for creation must include respect for all creatures, human beings included, and that efforts to reduce poverty and promote development must respect both the earth and the people who live there.

The best way to measure the success of the new development goals, he said, will be how they give “effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing; dignified and properly remunerated employment; adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education.”

“These pillars of integral human development,” Pope Francis said, “have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.”

Pope Francis insisted on the reality of “natural law,” an ethical code of right and wrong that all people can recognize. As he has done before, he condemned “an ideological colonization,” through which wealthier nations try to impose on poor countries not just a legitimate accounting of how aid is used, but also the imposition of “anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity.”

In the past, Pope Francis has termed as “ideological colonization” making development aid dependent on greater acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage.

The earth, “the common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of creature nature,” the pope told the assembly.

While some people continue to question scientific evidence that human activity is contributing to global climate change, Pope Francis insisted “a true ‘right of the environment'” exists and is closely tied to human rights, since people are part of nature and are called to live in communion with it.

“Any harm done to the environment,” he said, “is harm done to humanity.”


In New York service, pope offers encouragement to men, women religious

By Carol Zimmermann

Pope Francis waves to the crowds as he approaches St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City Sept. 24. Seated next to him is Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

NEW YORK (CNS) — During an evening prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, Pope Francis thanked the nation’s priests, brothers and women religious for their service and gave particular thanks to women religious saying, “Where would the church be without you?”

The pope began with unscripted remarks, extending his sympathy to the Muslim community for the stampede in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that killed more than 700 people that morning. He offered his “sentiments of closeness in face of tragedy” and his assurance of his prayers. “I unite myself with you,” he added.

The pope arrived by popemobile at St. Patrick’s Sept. 24 after traveling from Washington. He encouraged those with religious vocations and also acknowledged the pain of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the church saying, “You suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the church in the most vulnerable of her members.”

He said he wished to accompany them “at this time of pain and difficulty.”

Although the pope was speaking in Spanish, a translation of his remarks was posted on large screen TV. The congregation applauded his remarks about women religious in the United States, whom he described as women of strength and fighters and said their “spirit of courage” puts them “in the front lines in the proclamation of the Gospel.”

“To you, religious women, sisters and mothers of this people, I wish to say thank you, a big thank you, and to tell you that I love you very much.”

Speaking to all in the cathedral, he told them: “I know that many of you are in the front lines in meeting the challenges of adapting to an evolving pastoral landscape. Whatever difficulties and trials you face, I ask you, like St. Peter, to be at peace and to respond to them as Christ did: He thanked the Father, took up his cross and looked forward.”

The pope urged those in religious life to be thankful for their many blessings and graces and encouraged them to continue their “spirit of hard work” without getting caught up in “spiritual worldliness” or simply being efficient, which he said can weaken one’s commitment to serve and also “diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ.”

The pope gently reminded the priests and religious men and women that they have “been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us.”

He also said they need to view their apostolate “by the value it has in God’s eyes” which calls for “constant conversion” and great humility remembering that their job is to plant the seeds and God will see to “the fruits of our labors.”

Pope Francis even warned the priests and religious against surrounding themselves with “worldly comforts,” which they might say would help them serve better. The danger with that, he said, is it slowly but surely “diminishes our spirit of sacrifice, renunciation and hard work. It also alienates people who suffer material poverty and are forced to make greater sacrifices than ourselves.”

“Rest is needed, as are moments of leisure and self-enrichment, but we need to learn how to rest in a way that deepens our desire to serve with generosity. Closeness to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners and all God’s other poor, will teach us a different way of resting, one which is more Christian and generous,” the pope said.

At the close of the prayer service, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan welcomed the pope to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and said that once he came through the doors he “became an official New Yorker,” even though “you already have a home in our hearts and souls.”

He told the pope that in the past three years the cathedral, built in 1879, has been going through major renovation, which he likened to the spiritual renewal the pope has asked. “Your presence renews all of us,” he added, urging him to stop by again.

Those in attendance, who included religious and laity from the New York Archdiocese, had waited for several hours in the cathedral for the vespers, or evening prayer.

William Lacerenza of New Rochelle, New York, and his wife, Daniella Raciti-Lacerenza, said the pope has a lot that resonates with New Yorkers.

“He’s a little controversial and I like that. You have to rock the boat sometimes,” said Daniella Raciti-Lacerenza.

William Lacerenza said that as someone who comes from a family of immigrants, even a few generations removed, “it’s a humble reminder” when the pope points out about the immigrants who helped build this country.

“It resonated with me,” he said, and it’s something that a lot of New Yorkers and Americans can identify with, he said.

Even a city that has lot of riches appreciates what the pope is asking of the world, he said.

“He tells us that we have to look out for the poor.” Even people who are wealthy are receptive to the pope’s message, he added: “It’s not lost on them.”

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Contributing to this report was Rhina Guidos.

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Follow Zimmermann and Guidos on Twitter: @carolmaczim, @CNS_Rhina.

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A video to accompany this story can be found at

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