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Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

Top Stories - 2 hours 3 min ago

By Norma Montenegro Flynn

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to rise and continue the work of building the church, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said Sept. 23.

He made the comments during the closing Mass of the Fifth National Encuentro in Grapevine.

"The Encuentro has made us see our missionary reality and responsibility as Hispanic Catholics in the United States," he said. "But most important, the Encuentro has made us reflect on the personal 'encounter' with Jesus Christ."

Archbishop Gomez, who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the homilist. The USCCB's president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, was the main celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrants were Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, the hosting diocese; and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.

Archbishop Gomez reminded the faithful that they're missionary disciples on a journey, just like those who walked with Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem.

The journey eventually reached Latin America and was sealed with God's love in the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, who entrusted him with the mission of building the church in the Americas.

"Jesus entrusted the mission of his church in the New World to a layperson. Not to a priest or a bishop. Nor to a member of a religious order," Archbishop Gomez said. "You are the children of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our present times; you are the spiritual heirs of Juan Diego.

"The mission that was entrusted to him, is now entrusted to you."

The archbishop invited participants to answer the call to be leaders by striving to be holy and to work united with their bishops.

"I believe that this moment in the church -- is the hour of the laity. It is the time for saints," Archbishop Gomez continued. "He is calling the lay faithful to work together with the bishops to renew and rebuild his church. Not only in this country, but throughout the continents of the Americas."

He also encouraged them to seek discernment as soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Oscar Romero did, by asking what God's will for him was.

"He is asking you to take your place in the history of salvation, and to do your part for the mission of his church," Archbishop Gomez concluded.

About 3,200 diocesan delegates, bishops and representatives from ecclesial movements and Catholic organizations participated in four days of dialogue and consultation to discern the priority issues for Hispanic ministry currently and for years to come.

The V Encuentro, as it also is known, surpassed its goal of identifying and preparing 25,000 new ministry leaders.

The three most pressing priorities identified focus on developing faith formation opportunities, strengthening families, and developing more paid positions for Hispanic youth and young adult ministries. Another important outcome of the Encuentro is the goal to develop initiatives that promote and create new pathways of leadership for young adults.

"The experience of the Encuentro surpassed all my expectations," said Guzman Carriquiry Lecour, the Vatican's secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who encouraged attendees to continue being committed to their ministries and expand their leadership and outreach.

Father Raul Valencia is ready to put things into practice at his parish in Tucson, Arizona.

"We have had an encounter with ourselves, with Christ, and with many opportunities and hope, to strengthen the pastoral 'hispana,'" he told Catholic News Service.

"What I bring to my diocese is this drive, this happiness and emotion that we carry after this gathering and looking at so many people involved in the same mission," said Ricardo Luzondo from the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

The V Encuentro is a multiyear process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building. The last Encuentro took place in 2006.

Hispanics represent about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics and nearly 60 percent of millennial Catholics, according to research from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

Top Stories - Sun, 09/23/2018 - 2:17pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and of warning Lithuanians to be attentive to any signs of anti-Semitism or hatred.

The walls of the KGB building -- a former jail and execution site -- echo the cry of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" the pope said.

Although thousands of people filled the square in front of the building, the mood was somber for the pope's visit Sept. 23. And it was punctuated by long pauses for silent prayer.

He had toured the museum with 79-year-old Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, whose photo is featured prominently on a wall display honoring the priests and bishops who endured imprisonment in the building's basement.

The archbishop had been imprisoned from 1983 to 1988 for "anti-Soviet propaganda." As a Jesuit priest, in 1972 he began publishing the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, an underground newsletter documenting communist repression of the church. Despite repeated questioning by the KGB, he managed to publish and distribute the chronicle for more than 10 years and, once he was arrested, others continued his work. St. John Paul II named him archbishop of Kaunas in 1996, and the archbishop retired in 2015.

The pope had gone to the museum after stopping to pray at a monument to more than 40,000 Jews in Vilnius killed by the Nazis. The prayer coincided with the national commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto.

Standing by the former KGB headquarters, Pope Francis prayed that God would "keep us alert" and strengthen the commitment of Catholics and all Lithuanians to fighting all forms of injustice and defending the dignity of all people.

"Lord," he prayed, "grant that we may not be deaf to the plea of all those who cry out to heaven in our own day."

Juozas Jakavonis, 93, sat in a place of honor and told reporters the pope's visit was important for reminding people of all those who suffered and died for the freedom they now enjoy.

Dressed in an old military uniform, Jakavonis said his nom de guerre had been "Tiger." He was part of the resistance to Soviet domination and spent three months jailed in that very building. After Lithuanian independence in 1990, he helped bring to public attention what occurred there. Records now show 1,038 people were executed in the building between 1944 and 1947.

Pope Francis had begun the day in Kaunas, a city about 60 miles West. But the memory of the victims of Nazism and communism and the obligation of today's Christians to fight all forms of hatred dominated there as well.

His last appointment was with priests, religious women and men and seminarians, and he began with ad-libbed remarks.

"I want to share what I feel," the pope said. "Looking at you, I see behind you many martyrs -- anonymous martyrs, in the sense that we don't even know where they were buried."

"Do not forget. Remember. You are children of martyrs. That is your strength," the pope told them. "They are saints."

Earlier in day, before reciting the Angelus prayer after Mass in Kaunas' Santakos Park, Pope Francis drew special attention to the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish ghetto and to the evil of anti-Semitism. Before the Nazis invaded the country, at least 200,000 citizens were Jewish; fewer than 15,000 survived.

"Let us think back on those times and ask the Lord to give us the gift of discernment to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs," Pope Francis said.

A visit to the famed Hill of Crosses near Vilnius was not on Pope Francis' schedule, but he did point to it as a place where, especially during Soviet times, Catholics defiantly planted crosses to proclaim their faith.

He prayed that Mary would "help us all to plant our own cross, the cross of our service and commitment to the needs of others, on that hill where the poor dwell, where care and concern are needed for the outcast and for minorities. In this way, we can keep far from our lives and our cultures the possibility of destroying one another, of marginalizing, of continuing to discard whatever we find troublesome or uncomfortable."

Earlier, celebrating Mass in the park, Pope Francis had insisted that for a Christian the mistreatment Lithuanians endured first under the Nazis and then under the communists can never justify mistreating others. Instead, the experience must make victims and survivors even more sensitive and attentive to new attempts to denigrate or dominate certain groups of people.

"The Christian life always involves experiences of the cross," Pope Francis said in his homily. Lithuania's older generation still bears "the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors."

Referring to the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark in which Jesus warns his disciples of the suffering that is to come, Pope Francis said that naturally the disciples "wanted nothing to do with trials and hardships." And, in fact, they were more interested in discussing who among them was the greatest.

"The thirst for power" is not an unusual reaction to having endured suffering, the pope said. Nor is discussing "who was better, who acted with greater integrity n the past, who has the right to more privileges than others."

But when his disciples started speaking that way, the pope said, Jesus pointed to a child, one who was small and in need of protection.

And, the pope asked, "whom would Jesus place in our midst today?"

"Who is it who has nothing to give us, to make our effort and our sacrifices worthwhile?" Pope Francis asked. "Perhaps it is the ethnic minorities of our city. Or the jobless who have to emigrate. May be it is the elderly and the lonely, or those young people who find no meaning in life because they have lost their roots."

Whoever "the least" may be, he said, Christians are called to help them.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

Top Stories - Sat, 09/22/2018 - 12:46pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub drinking "a beer or a gira," a slightly alcoholic beverage made from fermented rye bread.

Yet the stories two young adults shared with him Sept. 22 and his responses to their concerns were not casual.

Monika Midveryte spoke about growing up with an alcoholic father who beat her and eventually committed suicide. A young man, identified only as Jonas, spoke about being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and how serious illness made him and his young wife realize just how serious their wedding vows were.

Meeting the teens and young adults outside the city's Cathedral of Sts. Stanislaus and Ladislaus, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, Pope Francis urged the two and all their peers to think about how God has been close to them, too, even amid tragedy.

Almost always, he said, it is through other people that God's grace arrives to those in need. "It doesn't drop from the sky. It doesn't happen by magic, there's no magic wand."

"Don't let the world make you believe that it is better to do everything on your own," the pope told the young people. "Don't yield to the temptation of getting caught up in yourself, ending up selfish or superficial in the face of sorry, difficulty or temporary success."

Pope Francis told the young people, many of whom dream of emigrating for more opportunities, that their lives are not "a theater piece or a video game" with a final curtain or a lurking "game over."

The important thing, he said, is to keep praying and keep moving forward, "seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake. The most dangerous thing is to confuse the path with a maze that keeps us wandering in circles without ever making real progress."

"Jesus gives us plenty of time, lots of room for failure," the pope said. But "he never jumps off the ship of our lives; he is always there at life's crossroads. Even when our lives go up in flames, he is always there to rebuild them."

Before joining the young people, Pope Francis stopped at the "Gate of Dawn," one of nine gates that led into the ancient city of Vilnius. The pope mingled with dozens of orphaned children and the families that have adopted or fostered them. After praying silently for several minutes before the oversized icon of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy that marks the gate, the pope gave a brief talk and then prayed a decade of the rosary with thousands of people gathered in the street.

Noting how the icon and the gate were the only parts of the city's fortified walls to remain after an invasion in 1799, Pope Francis said Mary teaches Christians that "we can defend without attacking, that we can keep safe without the unhealthy need to distrust others."

"When we close our hearts for fear of others, when we build walls and barricades," the pope said, "we end up depriving ourselves of the Good News of Jesus, who shares in the history and the lives of others" and is present in their suffering.

The wounds of others are the wounds of Jesus, he said. And "charity is the key that opens to us the door of heaven."

Vilnius was the first stop on Pope Francis' Sept. 22-25 to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The three Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. While declared Soviet republics in 1940, the countries were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then lived under Soviet rule from 1944 to 1990.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

Top Stories - Sat, 09/22/2018 - 9:42am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Wu Hong, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced.

Pope Francis lifted the excommunications or irregular status of seven bishops who had been ordained with government approval, but not the Vatican's consent, the Vatican announced Sept. 22. A few hours earlier, representatives of the Vatican and the Chinese government signed what they described as a "provisional agreement" on the appointment of bishops.

"With a view to sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China, the Holy Father Pope Francis has decided to readmit to full ecclesial communion the remaining 'official' bishops ordained without pontifical mandate," the Vatican said, listing their names.

The pope also included in the list Bishop Anthony Tu Shihua, who, before dying Jan. 4, 2017, "had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See," the Vatican said.

Regularizing the bishops' status, the Vatican said, Pope Francis hopes "a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics," some of whom steadfastly have refused to participate in activities or parishes under the leadership of bishops not recognized by Rome.

In recent years, most bishops chosen by the government-related Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association have sought and received Vatican recognition before their ordinations.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said in a statement that "the objective of the Holy See is a pastoral one: the Holy See intends just to create the condition, or to help to create the condition, of a greater freedom, autonomy and organization, in order that the Catholic Church can dedicate itself to the mission of announcing the Gospel and also to contribute to the well-being and to the spiritual and material prosperity and harmony of the country, of every person and of the world as a whole."

"What is required now is unity, trust and a new impetus," Cardinal Parolin said in a video message recorded before he left Rome to join the pope in Vilnius. "To the Catholic community in China -- the bishops, priests, religious and faithful -- the pope entrusts, above all, the commitment to make concrete fraternal gestures of reconciliation among themselves, and so to overcome past misunderstandings, past tensions, even the recent ones."

The nomination and assignment of bishops has been a key sticking point in Vatican-Chinese relations for decades; the Catholic Church has insisted that bishops be appointed by the pope and the Chinese government has maintained that would amount to foreign interference in China's internal affairs.

Catholic communities that have refused to register with the government and refused to follow government-appointed bishops commonly are referred to as the underground church. Many communities, though, have bishops who were elected locally but who pledged their unity with and fidelity to the pope, which in effect meant they were recognized by both the government and the Vatican.

Vatican officials always have said that giving up full control over the nomination of bishops would not be what it hopes for, but could be a good first step toward ensuring greater freedom and security for the Catholic community there.

The Vatican announcement said the agreement was signed Sept. 22 in Beijing by Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, undersecretary for foreign relations in the Vatican Secretariat of State, and Wang Chao, Chinese deputy foreign minister.

The provisional agreement, the Vatican said, "is the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement, has been agreed following a long process of careful negotiation and foresees the possibility of periodic reviews of its application. It concerns the nomination of bishops, a question of great importance for the life of the church, and creates the conditions for greater collaboration at the bilateral level."

"The shared hope," the statement said, "is that this agreement may favor a fruitful and forward-looking process of institutional dialogue and may contribute positively to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the common good of the Chinese people and to peace in the world."

The Vatican did not release the text of the agreement nor provide details about what it entailed.

News reports in mid-September, like earlier in the year, said the provisional agreement would outline precise procedures for ensuring Catholic bishops are elected by the Catholic community in China and approved by the pope before their ordinations and installations.

Media reports in the days before the announcement said future candidates for the office of bishop will be chosen at the diocesan level through a democratic election system, and the results of the elections will be sent to Beijing for government authorities to examine. The government would then submit a name via diplomatic channels to the Holy See.

The Holy See will carry out its own investigation of the candidate before the pope either approves or exercises his veto, according to the Jesuit-run America magazine. If the pope approves the candidate, the process will continue. If not, "both sides will engage in a dialogue, and Beijing would eventually be expected to submit the name of another candidate."

The pope will have the final word on the appointment of bishops in China, the report said.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the 76-year-old retired archbishop of Hong Kong, has been one of the rumored agreement's strongest critics.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency in Hong Kong Sept. 20, Cardinal Zen said Cardinal Parolin should resign.

"I don't think he has faith. He is just a good diplomat in a very secular, mundane meaning," Cardinal Zen told Reuters. "They're giving the flock into the mouths of the wolves. It's an incredible betrayal."

Cardinal Parolin, meanwhile, told reporters Sept. 20 the Vatican is "convinced that this is a step forward. We are not so naive as to think that from now on everything is going to go well, but it seems to us that this is the right direction." 

Although Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said the agreement is pastoral, not political, it is seen as a step in the long efforts to re-establish full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China. The two have not had formal diplomatic ties since shortly after China's 1949 communist revolution.


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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

Top Stories - Sat, 09/22/2018 - 8:19am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to break down walls of suspicion and fear.

"If we look at the world scene in our time, more and more voices are sowing division and confrontation -- often by exploiting insecurity or situations of conflict -- and proclaiming that the only way possible to guarantee security and the continued existence of a culture is to try to eliminate, cancel or expel others," the pope said Sept. 22.

Going directly from the airport to the Lithuania's presidential palace, Pope Francis' first appointment was with the president, government authorities and civic leaders.

He acknowledged the country's painful past, which included "numerous trials and sufferings: detentions, deportations and even martyrdom." But he also praised the country's culture and people for tenaciously resisting attacks on its freedom.

The pope's visit Sept. 22-25 to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia comes in the year the three Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. While declared Soviet republics in 1940, the countries were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then lived under Soviet rule from 1944 to 1990.

Pope Francis, addressing national leaders, said that until the Nazis and Soviets arrived, people of a variety of national backgrounds and religions lived peacefully in Lithuania.

The "totalitarian ideologies," though, "by sowing violence and lack of trust, undermined this ability to accept and harmonize differences," he said. As Lithuanians consolidate their independence and democracy, they must return to those earlier cultural values of "tolerance, hospitality, respect and solidarity."

Lithuanians, the pope said, know firsthand what happens when a political ideology tries "to impose a single model that would annul differences under the pretense of believing that the privileges of a few are more important than the dignity of others or the common good."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

Top Stories - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 1:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Norma Montenegro Flynn

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic leaders and bishops to continue working toward being an evangelizing church by seeking an encounter with Christ and taking initiative while accompanying those on the peripheries.

"The church which 'goes forth' is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice," Archbishop Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, said Sept. 20, the opening day of the Fifth National Encuentro.

Nearly 3,000 ministry leaders at the gathering in Grapevine were selected to represent 159 dioceses across the country.

During the Sept. 20-23 event, participants were taking part in listening and dialogue sessions to discuss a wide range of issues they consider to be priorities in Hispanic Catholic ministry for the church in the United States.

The Fifth National Encuentro, also called V Encuentro, is a process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building that seeks to develop better ways in which the Catholic church can respond to Hispanic Catholics in parishes around the country. It also seeks to strengthen them as leaders and missionary disciples.

As in previous encuentros, the goal is to develop a national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry for the present and for years to come.

Archbishop Pierre, in his keynote address, praised the work done by Encuentro leaders to reach those on the peripheries as they answer the call to be missionary disciples.

In remarks delivered in both English and Spanish, the papal nuncio warned against judging and condemning the church and considering it distant. "We are the church, if there's need for a conversion it starts with us," he said.

He also challenged the leaders to seek new ways to reach out to those who are indifferent and to those who have abandoned the church or are on existential and spiritual peripheries. 

"What leads to a change of heart in Christians is precisely a missionary spirit," he said.

The archbishop described the characteristics of an evangelizing church: getting involved, taking initiative, staying committed, accompanying others, bearing fruits and feeling joy.

He reminded participants that as Pope Francis said: "The church in the United States, as in other parts of the world, is called to 'go forth' out of its comfort zone and become leaven of communion."

The nuncio also urged everyone to get involved and not just remain as spectators and invited bishops and clergy to keep their vocations alive.  

"Accompaniment entails guiding, encouraging and supporting, and uniting. The church that actively does this is a synodal church -- a church that walks together. One speaks of synodality in the church and synodality of the church," he added.

He explained synodality "in" the church as a church that journeys together renewing the life and practice of faith through constant discernment and action involving many forms of participation and action. Synodality "of" the church, he said, refers to the journey of the church with humanity through history.

"The Encuentro process has shown the effectiveness of synodality 'in' the church -- listening, speaking, participating by asking critical questions and discerning the path forward. If communion is a sharing of the faithful in the mysteries of faith and mission of the church, synodality is the sign and fulfillment of communion."

Bearing fruits requires discernment and patience, he stressed. "Patience in the art of discernment and accompaniment allows the whole church to move forward."

Archbishop Pierre told participants not to forget about joy along the journey. "Joy is the greatest experience of the church that goes forth. The Eucharist is the source and summit of all life in the church. The Eucharist is the sacrament which nourishes Christian joy."

He concluded by inviting others to live the joy of the Gospel.

"It is my sincere hope that as we gather for these days, we may be the church that Christ wants us to be -- with him at the center of our lives, our conversations and our ministry, confident that with the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe to accompany us and to intercede for us, we may always move forward in hope, making known the joy of the Gospel."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

Top Stories - Fri, 09/21/2018 - 11:40am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Norma Montenegro Flynn

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions were the highlights during the first day of the National Fifth Encuentro gathering taking place Sept. 20-23 in Grapevine.

With hearts full of excitement and joy, about 3,000 Hispanic ministry leaders cheered as they welcomed representatives for each of the 14 episcopal regions approaching the stage and carrying the same crosses and colorful banners that accompanied their gatherings during the multiyear process of discernment and consultation that began at their parishes. The crosses were placed on the stage by the bishops who served as chairs for each region.

Pope Francis captivated the audience with a video message that was received with a standing ovation.

"I see that the Fifth Encuentro is a concrete way for the church in the U.S. to respond to the challenge of going beyond what is comfortable, business as usual, and to become a leaven of communion for all those who seek a future of hope, especially young people and families that live in the peripheries of society," the pontiff said.

He also urged them to continue the process of pastoral conversion at all levels through an encounter with one another centered in the adoration of Jesus Christ.

The gathering, also known as V Encuentro, brings under one roof about 2,700 diocesan representatives, 125 bishops from 159 dioceses and archdioceses across the country, and other members of Catholic organizations. During the four-day event, they planned to continue the discernment process to develop a national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the crowd and addressed the need for healing and accountability sparked by the clerical sex abuse scandal.

"As bishops, we have fallen short of what God expects of his shepherds. By this we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed, and from you, the people of God." Cardinal DiNardo said.

He emphasized the efforts being made to support and accompany survivors in their healing and to implement stronger protections against sexual abuse.

"Amidst this darkness the Encuentro is a light that shines and illuminates the way forward. The enthusiasm, compassion, the love and the joy of the Encuentro process is a means of grace. A gift to us as we rebuild the church," the cardinal told the Encuentro participants.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio led the evening prayer and asked for prayers for the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

"Let us pray to God for the victims of the crimes that led to this crisis. Do everything you can for the healing of all the victims of these abuses and pray also for the perpetrators and for us, your shepherds," Archbishop Garcia-Siller said.

Remembering the nearly five decades of encuentros in the United States, Mercy Sister Ana Maria Pineda, a theologian at Santa Clara University in California, called the Texas gathering a historic moment.

"We are the elders and the offspring of the sacred history woven with the many threads of the past and the present and looking toward the future," she said. "We recall the past and how God has traveled with us throughout these many decades as Catholic Hispanics, Latinos."

Sister Pineda has participated in all the encuentros since 1972, when the first Encuentro took place in Washington. During that very first gathering, priests, bishops and lay leaders proposed significant ways to attend to the pastoral needs of Hispanic Catholics.

In 1977, the second Encuentro also was held in Washington with the theme of "Pueblo the Dios en Marcha" ("People of God Going Forward").

"In my memory, it is like a Pentecost moment," Sister Pineda recalled. That year about 1,200 Hispanic Catholic leaders reflected on issues such as evangelization, ministries, human rights, education and political responsibility.

Sister Pineda described it as a turning point in which they shared stories of joy, sorrow, neglect and hope. They were drawn together as a Hispanic community and became aware of the unique contributions they offered to society and the church. In turn, the church was motivated to respond more authentically to the needs of that growing community.

The third Encuentro, in 1985, focused on youth, the poor and human dignity, and led to the creation of a national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry.

Encuentro 2000 embraced the many culturally diverse communities in the United States and the cultural and religious contributions that also enrich the church, Sister Pineda said.

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth welcomed the participants, including international guests such as Archbishop Christophe Pierre; Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America; and bishop-representatives from the Latin American bishops' council, or CELAM, as well as from Canada, El Salvador and Mexico.

Through a process of missionary work, consultation, leadership development and community building, the Encuentro seeks to develop better ways in which the Catholic Church responds to Hispanic Catholics in parishes around the country and to strengthen them as leaders and missionary disciples.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

Top Stories - Thu, 09/20/2018 - 11:40am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, and he defended taking the title "pope emeritus."

In two private letters from the retired pope to German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, former president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, the pope defended the way he handled his resignation and warned the cardinal of the negative impact his public comments could have.

The German newspaper, Bild, obtained copies of the letters written in November 2017, but blurred Cardinal Brandmuller's name in photos. The New York Times named the cardinal and also published translated excerpts from the letters Sept. 20.

The first letter from the retired pope was a response to a comment Cardinal Brandmuller made in a lengthy interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Oct. 28, 2017.

The interviewer had asked what the cardinal thought about the "construction" of "pope emeritus" -- the title the retired pope has taken on. The cardinal responded that the figure of a "pope emeritus" never existed in the church's history and having a pope come along and overturn 2,000 years of tradition, "floored not just us cardinals."

Referring to that portion of the newspaper interview, the pope wrote that Cardinal Brandmuller should certainly be aware that other popes had -- though rarely -- stepped down.

Pope Benedict wrote that by using the title "pope emeritus," he would be away from the media spotlight and make it thoroughly clear there was just one pope.

"If you know of a better way, and therefore think that you can judge the (title) chosen by me, please tell me," the retired pope wrote.

In the second letter, the pope acknowledged the cardinal responding to his first letter, and he said he was grateful that it seemed the cardinal would no longer discuss his resignation in public.

"I can very well understand the deep-seated pain that the end of my papacy has caused you and many others," Pope Benedict wrote. "However, for some people and -- it seems to me -- also for you, the pain has turned into an anger that no longer merely concerns my resignation, but increasingly also my person and my papacy as a whole."

With such an attitude, he wrote, his whole papacy "is now being devalued and conflated with sadness about the situation in which the church currently finds itself."

Cardinal Brandmuller had already postulated the idea that an "emeritus" pope figure could threaten church unity in his essay, "Renuntiatio papae: Some Historical Reflections," published online in July 2016.

Cardinal Brandmuller was also one of four cardinals, including U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, who publicly released in September 2016 a critical set of questions, known as "dubia," asking Pope Francis for clarification about his teaching on the family.

Pope Benedict, a noted theologian, had described his decision to be the first pope to resign in almost 600 years as the result of intense prayer and an examination of his conscience before God.

In the last two days of his pontificate, he pledged obedience to his successor and noted that he was leaving the "active exercise of the (Petrine) ministry." While promising to remain "hidden" in retirement, he also said he was "not returning to private life" but would belong "always and totally to everyone, to the whole church" and "remain, so to speak, within St. Peter's precincts."

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Some cry 'scandal' to cover their own failings, pope says at Mass

Top Stories - Thu, 09/20/2018 - 10:22am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While God's holy church is made up of sinners, it also has its share of hypocrites who love to cry "scandal" to point out the failings of others and make themselves appear pure, Pope Francis said at morning Mass.

"The devil doesn't have anything to do with repentant sinners because they look to God and say, 'Lord, I'm a sinner. Help me,' and the devil is impotent," the pope said Sept. 20 during Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"But with the hypocrites he is strong," Pope Francis said. "He is strong, and he uses them to destroy, to destroy people, destroy society, destroy the church."

The devil's "battle horse is hypocrisy because he is a liar. He shows off as a powerful, handsome prince, but inside he's an assassin," the pope said, according to the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

In his homily, Pope Francis looked at key figures discussed in both of the readings at the Mass: 1 Cor 15:1-11 and Lk 7:36-50.

St. Paul, in the first reading, and the woman who anoints Jesus' feet in the Gospel reading both realize they are sinners, the pope said, but they are moved by love for Jesus.

And Jesus, recognizing their love, "forgives, receives, is merciful -- words we often forget when we speak ill of others," he said. "Think about this: We must be merciful like Jesus and not condemn others."

The Pharisees are the third group present in the Gospel story, the pope said. They are shocked, "scandalized," that Jesus would allow his feet to be anointed by a woman the Gospel describes as "sinful."

They were "doctors of the law" who were always watching Jesus "to see if they could find him in error" or could "set a trap for him," the pope said. "They had an attitude hypocrites often use: They were scandalized. 'Oh look, what scandal! You cannot live like that. We have lost all values. Now everyone has a right to come to church, even those who are divorced, everyone. But where are we?'"

Theirs is "the hypocrisy of the 'righteous,' the 'pure,' those who believe they are saved through their own merits," the pope said. But "Jesus calls the hypocrites 'whitewashed tombs.' They look like beautiful cemeteries, but inside they are putrid and rotten."

Pope Francis ended his homily by requesting, "Let us ask Jesus always to protect our church, which is a holy mother but full of sinning children like us. And may he protect each one of us with his mercy and forgiveness."

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In homily, Calif. priest says he was abused, hears from dozens of victims

Top Stories - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 5:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Father McGuire

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- To be a voice for victims of clerical sexual abuse, Father Brendan McGuire realized he had to come to terms with the abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest when he was 18. It was a secret he had held for 35 years.

He told the story of his abuse in a homily delivered at five weekend Masses Sept. 8-9 at Holy Spirit Church in San Jose, California, where he is pastor.

In a Sept. 18 interview with Catholic News Service, Father McGuire said that although he always writes his homilies for distribution via email and social media, it was the first time he read it word for word from the pulpit so he wouldn't overlook anything he wanted to say.

Parishioners responded with "thunderous applause" at two Masses and "three standing ovations" at the others -- atypical post-homiletic behavior, he said.

Since the homilies, Father McGuire said, he has heard from 45 men who told him they also had been abused. Five of the men were priests, he added, and four of those had been abused while they were seminarians.

"One man was 95 years old. He'd been holding it for 60-plus years, 70-plus years," the priest said. "I thought 35 was a lot."

Growing up in Bray, Ireland, near Dublin, Father McGuire said he first met his priest-abuser when he was 14, and did not recognize the four years of "grooming" by the priest for his "final play," with the priest saying during the attack that he had waited until young McGuire had turned 18 "so it wouldn't be child abuse."

While the future priest successfully fought off his abuser -- "I was one of the lucky ones," he said in his homily -- others were not so lucky. The priest, who was not named in the homily, had preyed on dozens in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, was imprisoned in 2004 and died in prison two years later.

Father McGuire added he was driven to write his homily after reading the first 400 pages of the Pennsylvania grand jury's report on abuse allegations in six dioceses in the state dating back to 1947. Father McGuire sighed and said, "There was a whole other level of detail that I had forgotten about. Especially grooming." Having read that far, he noted, "I just got so angry about it all over again, how these guys were so systematic about it."

Father McGuire told CNS he almost didn't go through with the homily because of the celebrity it would bring.

"I didn't want it. That's one of the reasons I held back," he added. "I'm a man of deep prayer, I pray for an hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening. ' I'm a big discerner. I wrote this homily days in advance. I prayed over it for a long time. I didn't want this to be about me. I really didn't."

Father McGuire wants to be more than merely an effective voice for abuse victims. He wants to see change in the church.

In his homily, he listed ways the church needs to change.

Father McGuire wants bishops to "listen attentively" to victims. "The pain never fully leaves us. That's OK but your acknowledging it helps us heal," he said. He also urged bishops to disclose the names of all accused priests, past and present, and to agree what he called "an attorney general-like investigation."

"Let them verify that you are doing all you can to protect the children now," he added. The priest also wants bishops to perform "some act of repentance, like promising to not wear the miter for a year of mourning."

He further wants bishops to "work with the pope to reform the governance of the church so that women have a voice of authority. I do not believe this travesty of justice would have happened if we had mothers and fathers at the decision-making tables; they would not have allowed other people's children to be put in harm's way because they would see their own child in them."

Father McGuire asked parishioners to press bishops for accountability and to advocate for victims and "create a place of healing" to build "a community of true belonging where all the wounded are welcomed, as Pope Francis calls it, 'a field hospital' here in San Jose."

In a Sept. 13 letter to Catholics in the San Jose Diocese, Bishop Patrick J. McGrath said the diocese would conduct three "listening sessions" for abuse victims and their families and for Catholics "on the pathway to reform"; release in mid-October of names of all credibly accused priests who ministered in the diocese; and open an independent examination of abuse allegations by a firm headed by Kathleen McChesney, the highest-ranking woman in the FBI before leaving to become the first executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection in 2002.

"We cannot defend priest-perpetrators and those bishops and others who enable or protect them," Bishop McGrath said. "The only way that we can address the failed leadership of so many in the Catholic Church in the United States and around the world is for the Diocese of San Jose to do what we know is right and just."

"We've done more than any California diocese. We've gone from nothing to full disclosure to full investigation in a matter of couple of weeks. I'd say that's traction," said Father McGuire, who worked in Silicon Valley before being ordained to the priesthood in 2000.

"I cooperate with God's grace. Fundamentally, that's what I want the church to do," he added. "If the darkness has a hold on me, it doesn't feel good. There's a parallel to that with the church. Let us speak the truth."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison

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Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, bishops' code of conduct

Top Stories - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 5:04pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 outlined actions to address the abuse crisis, including approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.

It also instructed the U.S. bishops' canonical affairs committee to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.

It initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct with a minor or adult" or "negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases."

The committee also said it supported "a full investigation into the situation" surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, "including his alleged assaults on minors, priests and seminarians, as well as "any responses made to those allegations."

The statement, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, came out of the committee's semiannual meeting Sept. 11-12 at USCCB headquarters in Washington.

The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.

"This is only a beginning," the committee said in its Sept. 19 statement, noting that the actions it outlined can be taken "within its authority."

"Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice," it said. "We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable."

The committee acknowledged its members had assembled for their meeting in Washington at a "time of shame and sorrow."

"Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the church as a whole," the committee said. "They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others.

"They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers," it continued. "For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better."

MORE TO COME

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

Top Stories - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 2:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being more protected than the victims. And you could see the pain in his face."

Bono met the pope Sept. 19 to sign an agreement between his charity, ONE, and the Scholas Occurentes educational charity supported by Pope Francis.

During the half-hour meeting, Bono said, he brought up Pope Francis' recent trip to Ireland and the concerns there about the sexual abuse crisis.

The pope was "aghast," Bono said. "I thought he was sincere."

"I think he is an extraordinary man for extraordinary times," the singer said.

ONE is a campaign and advocacy effort working to end extreme poverty, especially in Africa. One of its current focuses, Bono told reporters Sept. 19, is education for girls and young women. Some "130 million girls around the world do not go to school, because they are girls," he said.

"Poverty is sexist" is the campaign slogan, he said.

Scholas began in Pope Francis' Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, supporting education in poor neighborhoods by pairing their schools with private schools and institutions in wealthier neighborhoods. The organization has grown to other countries and supports a variety of exchange programs aimed at promoting education, encouraging creativity and teaching young people about respect, tolerance and peace.

"We haven't figured out what we are going to do together," Bono said, "but we sort of have a crush on each other."

Describing the pope, Bono said that "honestly, he is quite a radical thinker and I felt quite old-fashioned sitting next to him." Bono was talking about teaching children how to read and write and "get to advanced math and art later. And he was like, 'Start with art. And start with the creative life and you'll get a better result.'"

Bono said the conversation touched on many topics, including poverty, commerce and meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

They spoke, he said, "about how we have to rethink the wild beast that is capitalism and how, though it is not immoral, it is amoral and it requires our instruction. He's very keen on that."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 09/19/2018 - 10:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope Francis said.

"Among us there is also the habit of saying awful things, even profanity. Please, never, never, never insult other people's parents. Never! Never insult a mother, never insult a father," the pope said Sept. 19 during his weekly general audience.

"Make this decision: from today forward, 'I will never insult someone's mom or dad.' They gave life! They should not be insulted," he told those gathered in St. Peter's Square.

Gray clouds forming above the square did little to dampen the spirits of thousands of pilgrims who cheered as they waited for the pope to pass by in his popemobile.

As customary, the pope greeted them, blessed religious articles and kissed children who were brought up to him.

During the general audience, the pope continued his series of talks on the Ten Commandments and reflected on the obligation to "honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."

To love and respect one's father and mother, he said, means "recognizing their importance with concrete actions that express dedication, affection and care."

"Honor your parents: they gave us life. If you have distanced yourself  from your parents, make an effort and return, go back to them, perhaps they are old. They gave you life," the pope said.

Pope Francis explained that the promise of a long life that comes from honoring one's parents associates happiness with one's relationship with them.

"This centuries-old wisdom declares what human science has only been able to elaborate upon a little over a century ago: that the imprint of childhood marks a person's life," he said.

However, this commandment does not require mothers and fathers to be perfect and regardless of the merits of one's parents, "all children can be happy because the achievement of a full and happy life depends on the proper gratitude to those who have brought us into the world."

The pope recalled the example of saints who despite being orphaned or having lived through painful childhoods grew up to "live virtuous lives because, thanks to Jesus Christ, they reconciled with their life."

Recalling the life of Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, who will be canonized alongside Blesseds Paul VI and Oscar Romero Oct. 14, the pope said that although Blessed Sulprizio lost his mother and father when he was very young, he "reconciled with so much pain" and never betrayed his parents.

"We should also think of St. Camillus de Lellis, who, out of a dysfunctional childhood, built a life of love and service; St. Josephine Bakhita, who grew up in horrible slavery; or Blessed Carlo Gnocchi, orphaned and poor; and even St. John Paul II, who was impacted by the death of his mother at a tender age," he added.

In the light of love, Pope Francis said, sad and painful experiences "can become for others a source of well-being."

Thus, he said "we can begin to honor our parents with the freedom of adult children and with merciful acceptance of their limitations."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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New Orleans 'Hope Monstrance' to visit U.S. communities hit by disasters

Top Stories - Tue, 09/18/2018 - 2:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy LÕOsservatore Roman

By Peter Finney Jr.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- When the levees broke in 2005 and Lakeview became Lake Pontchartrain, Katrina launched its mad-scientist experiment.

What would three weeks of brackish and corrosive water, chemicals and mud do not only to St. Dominic Parish's Aquinas Hall in Lakeview, which housed a small chapel across the street from the church, but also to the gold-plated, eucharistic monstrance now laid on its side and entombed in the muck at the foot of the altar?

As a precaution before the storm, parishioner Susie Veters had removed the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance and placed it in the tabernacle. She kept the empty monstrance on the chapel altar and locked the doors.

The monstrance was no match for the 8 feet of lake water, which lifted it off the altar and dropped it to the floor, burying it in mud.

When Veters pulled the sacred vessel from the mud three weeks later, she didn't think it had a chance to be restored, but Michael McGee, a member of the parish's contemporary choir, had an avocation for restoring church artifacts in his spare time and worked as quickly as he could to clean the metal, restore the gold plating and stabilize the long metal rod that held everything together.

On March 15, 2006 -- six months after the buried monstrance was recovered -- Veters and her husband, Pat, and Msgr. Christopher Nalty, a New Orleans pastor, were in St. Peter's Square where Pope Benedict XVI personally blessed the vessel after his general audience. He also granted a plenary indulgence to those who prayed before it and fulfilled other necessary conditions.

The artifact, ultimately named the "Hope Monstrance," traveled in 2006 and 2007 to 140 churches across Louisiana and Mississippi to promote the city's Katrina recovery and the power of perpetual adoration. The monstrance even made a stop at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Now the monstrance has gone on the road again, offering the gift of hope to communities that, like New Orleans in 2005, need a large dose of healing.

Over the next month, the monstrance will travel to three U.S. communities still reeling from disasters in 2017: Houston (Hurricane Harvey); Las Vegas (the worst mass shooting in U.S. history); and Santa Rosa, California (wildfires that destroyed 5,000 homes in Sonoma County). The monstrance also will make an appearance at the V Encuentro national Hispanic conference outside Dallas.

John Smestad Jr., a St. Dominic parishioner and director of pastoral planning and ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, coordinated the stops largely with the help of Stephen Morris, a longtime friend who is in charge of youth ministry for the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

"Stephen called me at the chancery because he had stumbled across the old article about the monstrance, and he was seeing if they might be able to borrow it because their bishop wanted to do something to mark the anniversary of the fires in Sonoma County," Smestad told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the new Orleans Archdiocese.

"Those fires burned down vast areas. The Catholic high school burned down. Entire neighborhoods burned down. It was unreal," he said. "It would be like driving down (a street) and the left side is gone and the right side is normal and totally undamaged."

Morris called Smestad to ask where he might be able to track down the monstrance.

"Stephen," Smestad replied, laughing, "that's my parish, and I'm sure I can facilitate this."

After getting the approval from Dominican Father John Restrepo, the St. Dominic pastor, Smestad worked with Morris to start connecting more dots beyond Santa Rosa. Houston had sustained record flooding from Harvey, and officials there jumped at the chance to have five parishes and one chapel host the monstrance for prayer services last week.

"It's just a great sign of hope and trust," said Lazaro Contreras, director of Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. "We still hope and trust in the Lord after all these catastrophic events that we have experienced."

In the Diocese of Las Vegas, director of faith formation Connie Clough said she knew 25 people who attended the concert last Oct. 1 in which 58 people were killed and 851 injured by a lone gunman who sprayed bullets from the top of a hotel on the Vegas Strip.

St. Viator Parish, about 10 miles from the shooting location, will host an outdoor eucharistic procession, beginning at 8 p.m. on Oct. 1 and ending at 10:05 p.m. -- the time the first shots were fired a year ago.

"We will process into the church with the Blessed Sacrament and have a liturgy of the word, a short homily and silence," Clough said.

At a recent diocesan conference, Clough said, 1,100 people attended and focused on the idea of "hope."

"It centered on remembering not only the victims but also the heroes -- the first responders," she said. "People understand that hope doesn't necessarily mean everything will be OK. Something has changed. But, it's about knowing that there is something better. I will always remember the long lines of people who were donating blood."

When the Hope Monstrance completes its tour in Santa Rosa Oct. 7, Morris said, there will be an anniversary prayer service bringing together the largest number of Catholic and Protestant faith leaders in memory. Twenty Protestant pastors lost their homes in the fires. Eighty percent of Cardinal Newman High School was destroyed.

Morris said 60 percent of the residents who lost their homes "haven't taken the first step in rebuilding," largely because their insurance coverage had not keep pace with their homes' escalating values.

Morris was studying for his master's degree in organizational leadership at the University of San Francisco in 2005 when his professor, who had taught in New Orleans years earlier, predicted to his students that if Katrina breeched the levees, New Orleans' very existence would be imperiled.

Morris saw a city on its knees that somehow, after a decade of recovery, rose again.

"We're trying to share the story of hope with the faithful in the Santa Rosa area," Morris said. "It's not just the physical monstrance. It's the idea of sharing our suffering, our death and our resurrection."

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Finney is executive editor/general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Virgin Islands diocese still recovering from 2017 double hurricanes

Top Stories - Tue, 09/18/2018 - 12:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of St

By Laura Ann Phillips

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (CNS) -- One year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria smashed through the Virgin Islands, people remain jittery about the rest of the 2018 hurricane season.

"Everyone is extremely nervous and anxious about going through another hurricane without recovering from the previous two," said Warren Bush, chief financial officer for the Diocese of St Thomas.

A combination of heavy bureaucracy, sometimes sluggish supply chains and a shortage of contractors have slowed recovery efforts, leaving repairs to many damaged homes and public buildings still incomplete.

Now, at the height of the current hurricane season, "We have to stabilize buildings to prevent additional water damage," Bush said. "We're very concerned about what could be."

On Sept. 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma mowed through the islands and, two weeks later, Hurricane Maria devastated whatever was left. Both hit as Category 5 storms.

"We've never experienced this level of destruction," said Bush. "And on the three islands, all at once. There's been a shortage of contractors, materials, so that the damage hasn't been addressed as quickly. You could have all the resources in the world, but if you don't have contractors ..."

"Every contractor has between six to 10 jobs working on," said Andrea Shillingford, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands. "We are not in normal times."

Both Bush and Bishop Herbert Bevard of St. Thomas credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Catholic Charities and insurance companies with getting restoration of diocesan and other properties underway.

"Schools are still severely damaged in St. Thomas and St. Croix," said Bush, adding that students and teachers are using the safer structures.

Recovery in the islands tends to be slow, he admitted, citing mitigating factors that do not exist on the U.S. mainland when communities there are affected by storms.

"It is difficult for someone from the States (to understand)," he said. On the mainland: "We have more resources, more ability to obtain help from a greater region. It's easier for FEMA to get in, easier for us to get aid, to get through any situations."

Bush, who has lived in the islands for almost 20 years, added: "It's not necessarily a lack of concern, rather, it's one of access. It's 1,500 miles away from the nearest point of contact" from the U.S. mainland. "And, there are often storage and distribution issues that may go unnoticed, that don't exist in the States."

This also makes evacuation an impractical option. People literally have "less ability to reach a safe haven," said Bush.

"It would be physically impossible to evacuate people from these islands in one day," said Shillingford, originally from the island nation of Dominica. Flights are limited, she added.

To access the Virgin Islands in a time of disaster, mainland-based FEMA would "have to wait until the airports and ports are repaired," said Shillingford, "and a place (cleared) for the helicopters to land."

Bush said the government of the Virgin Islands has expended "a lot of effort in the recovery process," noting that "about 90 percent of the utilities have been reconnected."

Bishop Bevard said repairs to several government buildings, such as the post offices and hospitals, appear to be "a problem," and "many houses still have blue tarpaulins on their roofs, but there used to be many more."

He said the all-important tourism industry has been heavily affected.

"Tourism is the first and only industry here," he explained. "Where there were six cruise ships a day, now we're lucky to have six in a week. That impacts the stores, the taxi drivers."

Shillingford recalls one taxi driver who "was taking care of her grandchildren. Her only form of income has been driving that taxi. We had to help her restore her business" and give additional help while things were slow.

"There are lots of stories like hers," said Shillingford, who has lived in the Virgin Islands for 11 years. "Parents can't afford to buy school uniforms for their children."

Homelessness is also an issue, especially among "people whose houses were destroyed."

"People are unemployed," she said. "It's left to agencies like us to find funding."

Catholic Charities operates five soup kitchens on all three islands; two each on St. Croix and St. Thomas, one on St. John. The agency serves 300-400 meals every day, up from 6,000 meals a year, the average before Irma and Maria. A mobile service delivers meals to people who cannot travel, like the many elderly people were abandoned after last year's hurricanes.

"After the storms, they had mercy ships," said Shillingford. "A lot of young people moved to the mainland and left their elderly people here, and they have additional needs. (Our) case managers go out to them."

Bishop Bevard said the diocese plans to build more soup kitchens and improve outreach centers and homeless shelters on all three islands.

Shillingford said people remain shaky when it comes to the weather.

"Any time there's a little rain," said Shillingford, "people get agitated -- adults, really. Children recover quickly; they look to the adults. If the adults pretend, the children feel it's OK. Especially now, this week, people are kind of nervous," she said as the winds of Tropical Storm Isaac fanned the islands.

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Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

Top Stories - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 1:12pm

IMAGE: CNS photo courtesy of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton

By

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook page was meant to assure people that 60-year-old Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton had fulfilled his pledge to go skydiving and had completed the task successfully and unharmed.

Joined by Lucy Barnes, a local Catholic school teacher, Bishop Moth jumped from a plane at 15,000 feet to raise money to take ailing pilgrims to Lourdes.

"He flies through the air with the greatest of ease," said another tweet, referring to Bishop Moth.

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales tweeted: "Is it a bird? Is it a plane? ... Wait, it's a bishop!" They made no reference to the insect that flies and shares the bishop's name.

With a goal of 3,000 pounds (just under $4,000), the bishop raised more than 5,160 pounds on an online crowdfunding website.

In a press release from the diocese, Bishop Moth said: "It requires you to trust in the person you are in tandem with and in the equipment. The staff, however, are very professional and looked after us really well." Both the bishop and Barnes jumped in tandem with -- and harnessed to -- an instructor.

Barnes said, "It was very cold at 15,000 feet and the one minute of freefall made my head spin, but then the gently drifting down with the parachute open was fantastic as you could see everything around you."

When asked if they would do it again, Bishop Moth gave a hesitant "I might," according to the diocese, but Barnes said, "I would not go up again and am glad to be back on earth, and feeling so much better after fish and chips, and gin and tonic!"

While Bishop Moth spent six years as the "bishops of the forces," or military ordinary of Great Britain, it was not until he was far away from the professional paratroopers that he decided to wing it in an attempt to raise enough money to send two assisted pilgrims to Lourdes.

"Each year, the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton organizes a pilgrimage to Lourdes for one week in late July," the diocese said. "Over 700 pilgrims travel with us, and 120 of those are sick, frail, elderly or disabled. Some pilgrims and their carers find it hard to fund their trip, and so from time to time we fund raise to subsidize their fare and accommodation in Lourdes."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope prays for young people, their diligence and courage

Top Stories - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 10:13am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As he often does with a group made up of people of different faiths or no faith, Pope Francis gave young people in Palermo a special blessing, but not a ritual one.

After the pope's meeting with teenagers and young adults Sept. 15, some Catholics on Twitter expressed outrage that there was no formal apostolic blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Instead, the pope asked God to look upon the thousands of young people gathered with him in Palermo's Piazza Politeama.

After giving his formal speech, Pope Francis apologized to the young people for delivering it while seated when they were all standing. But, he said, "my ankles are really sore."

"Now I would like to give you a blessing, but I know that among you there are young Catholics, Christians, members of other religions and a few agnostics," he said. "For this reason, I will give everyone a blessing, and I will ask God to bless the seed of restlessness that is in your heart."

The pope clasped his hands, bowed his head and prayed: "Lord, Lord God, look upon these young people. You know each one of them. You know what they think. You know that they want to go forward, to make a better world.

"Lord, make them seekers of goodness and happiness. Make them diligent in their journey and in their encounters with others. Make them bold in serving; make them humble in seeking their roots and nurturing them to bear fruit, to have an identity, to belong. May the Lord, the Lord God, accompany all these young people on their journey and bless each one. Amen."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope, in Sicily, honors priest martyred by Mafia

Top Stories - Sat, 09/15/2018 - 1:16pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By

PALERMO, Sicily (CNS) -- Honoring a priest shot at point-blank range by the Mafia, Pope Francis insisted that true happiness and a real change in Sicilian society will come only when people love and care for one another rather than trying to grab as much money and power as they can.

"Having always leads to wanting. I have something and immediately want another and another without end. The more you have the more you want. It's a horrible addiction," Pope Francis said, celebrating Mass Sept. 15 in Palermo.

"On the other hand, one who loves finds himself and discovers how beautiful it is to help others has joy on the inside and a smile on the outside, just like Father Pino" Puglisi, the anti-Mafia priest gunned down Sept. 15, 1993, his 56th birthday.

Pope Francis made a day trip to Sicily to mark the 25th anniversary of the now-beatified priest's martyrdom. His homily and speeches included denunciations of the Mafia and a call for the mafiosi to convert, but he focused especially on encouraging local Catholics to live their faith and to courageously stand up to all forms of injustice, which flow from and feed into the Mafia's power.

And meeting Sicily's bishops, priests, religious and seminarians in the afternoon, Pope Francis asked for special care in ensuring that the traditional religious festivals of the region's cities and towns not be used, as they have been in the past, to give a pious varnish to members of the Mafia.

"I ask you to be attentive guardians so that popular religiosity is not instrumentalized by a Mafia presence," he said. Stopping processions with a statue of Mary "and having her bow before the home of the Mafia chief," as has been known to occur, "this will not do, absolutely not!"

Pope Francis began the day in Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, urging Catholics not to resign themselves to the problems in their lives, their families and their community, but not to ignore them either.

"Looking at the wounds of society and of the church is not defamatory or pessimistic," he said. "If we want our faith to be concrete, we must learn to recognize in this human suffering the very wounds of the Lord. Look at them. Touch them. Touch the wounds of the Lord in our wounds, in our society, in our families."

Strength for building a community that is solid and in solidarity with the poor will come from regularly celebrating Sunday Mass together, Pope Francis told the people.

"How many times have I heard, 'Oh, father, I pray, but I don't go to Mass,'" he said. "'Why not?' 'Because the homily is boring; it lasts 40 minutes.'"

"No, the whole Mass should last 40 minutes," the pope said, exaggerating. "But the homily must not go more than eight minutes."

The pope's homily later at his outdoor Mass in Palermo lasted 17 minutes, but that included several long interruptions for applause.

Money and power do not liberate people, they make them slaves, the pope said in the homily. Those who are most free and most happy are those who give their lives in service to others, like Blessed Puglisi did.

"Twenty-five years ago today when he died on his birthday, he crowned his victory with a smile, that smile that kept his killer from sleeping," the pope said, noting how the man arrested for the priest's death said, "There was a kind of light in that smile."

"We so need priests who smile," the pope said. "We need Christians who smile, not because they take things lightly, but because they are rich only in God's love, because they believe in love and live to serve others."

Pope Francis prayed that God would "free us from thinking that everything is well as long as it's well with me, and the others can just get by somehow. May he free us from thinking we are just even if we do nothing to fight injustice. One who does nothing to fight injustice is not a just man or woman."

"You cannot believe in God and exploit your brother or sister," he said. "You cannot believe in God and be a mafioso. The mafiosi do not live as Christians because with their lives they blaspheme the name of God, who is love."

The pope's visit to Sicily ended with an outdoor meeting with tens of thousands of teenagers and young adults in a Palermo square.

He urged them to dream and to love one another and to fight every form of corruption that flows from or builds up the Mafia.

"No to the Mafia mentality, to illegality, to the logic of crime, which are corrosive poisons for human dignity," the pope said. "No to every form of violence. Those who use violence are not human. And the youngest of you, remember and promise me none of you will be bullies."

"Promise me: No violence. No bullying," he said. "No to resignation. Everything can change" if people open their hearts and stand firm in hope.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Packers fan with months to live sees game with aid from hospice, diocese

Top Stories - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 3:10pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Sam Lucero

ALLOUEZ, Wis. (CNS) -- When David Marosek, who had been battling stage 4 rectal cancer since July 2016, got the news in April his cancer had returned and spread into his lungs and spine, it was a depressing time.

"I was told that it was terminal and they gave me like six months to a year" to live, he told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay, in a telephone interview from his Oshkosh apartment. Rather than begin new treatments, Marosek chose to enter hospice.

"I've been in hospice now for a few months," he said. With the assistance of Aurora at Home Hospice, Marosek receives medical care and home visits from hospice staff, including Jayne Syrjamaki, Aurora at Home volunteer coordinator.

When hospice staff met Marosek in July, they asked him, "If you had one wish, what would it be?" It's part of the hospice program's "Drop in the Bucket" initiative to grant small wishes to patients. The wish was then turned over to Syrjamaki. "He said he had always wanted to go to a Packer game," she said.

"I've been a Packer fan all my life," Marosek, 52, told The Compass. "I can remember, back when I was 5 or 6, watching Packer games on TV with my father -- or listening to the game on the car radio after church on Sunday, waiting for Mom to get groceries."

The chance to watch a Green Bay Packers game live at Lambeau Field would be a dream come true, Marosek told Syrjamaki. She set out to make it happen, but got no replies after sending messages to Oshkosh-area businesses.

"I wasn't about to give up because I had the exact same diagnosis," Syrjamaki said. "I went through colon cancer treatment four years ago. I'm a survivor, but I knew David wasn't going to have the tomorrows that I have. That's why it was a little more important to me."

Syrjamaki decided to contact the Diocese of Green Bay.

"I grew up at St. Joseph Parish in Kellnersville and I remember reading things in the bulletin about how the diocese helped people," she said. Her email request was given to Ted Phernetton, executive director of Catholic Charities in Green Bay. "Within a day, I heard back from Ted and that he was going to put out a request. About two days later he had tickets."

In her email to the diocese, Syrjamaki explained that she wanted to grant the final wish of a hospice patient. "I am hoping you can help this gentleman or lead me in the right direction," she wrote.

For Phernetton, the request -- like it had for Syrjamaki -- struck a personal chord.

"For some reason this touched my heart immediately," he told The Compass. "Maybe, in part, because I was lucky. I am a cancer survivor and he will not be."

Phernetton explained that Catholic Charities receives many requests each day. "We work hard to bring the Gospel to life and to help where we can," he said. "Life can get so very messy and folks typically turn to us when things are very dark in their lives."

With terminal cancer, Marosek "has no real control over what comes next," said Phernetton. "His wish is a way for him to pursue just a little bit of power and influence over what remains of his life."

Phernetton's first step was to email members of the diocesan staff, explaining the request and seeking help with tickets. "Within minutes, I began receiving responses from folks wanting to help or pointing me in specific directions," he said.

Employees of the diocese contributed donations and procured two tickets for the Sept. 9 season opener between the Packers and the Chicago Bears. Their financial donations -- along with a few cash donations from Syrjamaki's friends -- also provided funds for a Packers Pro Shop gift card and concessions.

In a surprise visit Aug. 30, Syrjamaki informed Marosek that he would be attending the game.

"I said I was there to do a volunteer supervisory visit," she said. "We started talking about all the Packers posters on his walls and then he said, 'l love the Packers.' So I pulled out a fleece Packer blanket and said to David, 'I would like you take this blanket and use it to cover up your legs when go to the Packers-Bears game.' He cried, I cried. All tears of joy."

"Health-wise, I know I'm dying. I understand that," said Marosek. "I have some problems getting around. That's why I got a wheelchair to go to the game. Otherwise, I'm in pretty good spirits, I guess, considering all of this," noting he had been given the sacrament of anointing from a visiting priest in early September.

His spirits were raised as he entered Lambeau Field to witness the Packers roar back from a 20-0, third-quarter deficit to defeat the Bears, 24-23. After posing for a photo before the game, Marosek said another set of tickets was donated to him by the diocese for the Oct. 15 Packers-San Francisco 49ers game, but he declined.

"I told them my dream was just to go to one Packer game," he said. "I wasn't going to be greedy. I am hoping somebody else (in hospice) will enjoy them and get to have the same experience I am having tonight."

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Lucero is news and information manager for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Update: To Europe's periphery: Pope to visit Baltic nations in late September

Top Stories - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 11:06am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will travel to the eastern periphery of Europe to honor a faith that withstood a Nazi invasion and five decades of communist dictatorship and now is striving to help people live in freedom as authentic disciples of Christ.

The pope's visit Sept. 22-25 to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia comes in the year the three Baltic nations are celebrating the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence after World War I. While declared Soviet republics in 1940, the countries were occupied by the Nazis during World War II and then lived under Soviet rule from 1944 to 1990.

St. John Paul II visited the countries in 1993 as they were at the beginning stages of solidifying democracy and living with full religious liberty.

Bishop Philippe Jourdan, the apostolic administrator of Estonia's tiny Catholic community, told Catholic News Service that the motto of the pope's visit to Estonia "is a well-known Estonian song, 'Mu suda arka ules,' which means 'Wake up my heart.' It is more or less what we all -- Catholics, non-Catholics or nonreligious people -- are waiting for: that the pope helps us to find a new hope in our heart and in our society, as was the case in the years immediately after the end of the Soviet time."

"Materialism and secularization are now very strong in Estonian society," he said, "and we need a new start."

On a special website for the visit, Bishop Jourdan wrote that when St. John Paul visited 25 years ago, his message was, "'Do not be afraid!' In those years, the Estonian state was like a sick person who had just woken up from a coma, treading with insecure steps, but with great expectations of peace, of unity with the rest of Europe, of great ideals, perhaps also of material things but with great hope."

A quarter-century later, the independent governments are stable, and the three countries are full members of the European Union, he said. But "while Estonian society has reached a good level of material security, spiritual security is lacking today."

Archbishop Gintaras Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania, said the 100th anniversary of independence commemorations are "a time of reflection on the gift of freedom, as well as the cost of freedom."

"This gift requires us to work for the common good and for peace," he wrote in the September issue of Europeinfos, the newsletter of the commission of bishops' conferences in E.U. countries and the Jesuit European office. "The 50 years of Soviet occupation require a reflection on the cost of that freedom -- the suffering, deportations, persecutions and sacrificed lives that must never be forgotten."

Pope Francis is expected to repeat advice he often gives: Remember the past and honor it, but also face the present with courage and the future with hope.

In each of the nations, the pope will pay homage to those who died in the struggle for freedom and human dignity. And, in Vilnius Sept. 23, he will pause to pray at a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazis. The pope's visit will take place on the 75th anniversary of the Nazi's liquidating the ghetto where they had forced up to 40,000 Jews to live. Almost none of them survived.

The pope is scheduled to place flowers at the foot of the Freedom Monument in Riga, Latvia, Sept. 24. The monument honors those who fought for Latvia's independence from 1918 to 1920. Erected in 1935, Soviet authorities repeatedly announced plans to take it down but relented in the face of public pressure.

The monument "is a symbol of Latvian independence, which has been preserved through all the years of Soviet ideology. It reminds us that true freedom can be preserved even amid external persecution and oppression," Archbishop Zbignevs Stankevics of Riga told CNS.

Relations with other Christians and with nonbelievers also are expected to play a big role in the pope's trip. He has an ecumenical prayer service planned Sept. 24 in the Lutheran cathedral in Riga, Latvia, and an ecumenical meeting with young people the next day at a Lutheran church in Tallinn, Estonia.

Estonia is the Baltic nation with the smallest Catholic population and with the largest percentage of people claiming no faith at all, Bishop Jourdan said.

According to Vatican statistics, less than half of 1 percent of Estonia's population is Catholic. Almost 21 percent of Latvians are Catholic and close to 80 percent of Lithuanians belong to the Catholic Church. In all three nations, the Catholic Church's closest ecumenical partners are Lutherans and Orthodox.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the three nations also have faced the challenge of emigration, especially in the years following the global economic crisis that began in 2008.

Estonia's population declined, Bishop Jourdan said, "but far less than Latvia's and Lithuania's, and for the past three years there has been a slight increase in the population, in part because of an incipient immigration. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the economic situation in Estonia is better than in Latvia or Lithuania."

Archbishop Stankevics said Latvia has experienced "a significant population drop in recent years, and the impact of emigration is felt in our parishes."

The only way to reverse the process is to create more jobs in an ethical and sustainable way, the archbishop said. In addition, "we need to develop work qualification courses to help people to be skilled in jobs really needed in the local economy."

Archbishop Grusas told CNS Sept. 13 that many Lithuanian emigrants were "looking for change or trying to get away from past hurts," but there is some evidence that people are starting to come back to the country.

Emigration is part of the "whole gamut of social problems" Pope Francis is expected to address, but always in the context of helping people find a hope-filled response, the archbishop said.

Lithuania's Catholics were known for the heroic way they preserved the faith under communism despite harsh repression. The challenges to faith are different today, the archbishop said, not only because of the influence of secularization and materialism, but also because the communists made it so difficult to educate people in the faith.

"Independence changed that -- there is a lot of information available now," the archbishop said, "but the challenge is how to live in freedom and learning what true freedom is, not just doing what we want, but knowing we have obligations and responsibilities, too."

In Latvia, Archbishop Stankevics said, "since the collapse of communism, faith has perhaps lost its traditional devotional forms and has developed more into commitment of personal relationships with God and service in the church."

At the same time, he said, "threats to the faith arise from the present social, economic and cultural challenges."

In a July interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Grusas said he saw "the finger of God" and Pope Francis' own priorities reflected in his choice to visit the Baltics, "the periphery of the European Union."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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