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Sister shares heartbreaking story to lead youths closer to God

Top Stories - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- It wasn't the story that the 20,000 Catholic youths were expecting to hear from a religious sister.

And the audience of young people inside Lucas Oil Stadium on the morning of Nov. 17 became more quiet and riveted as Sister Miriam James Heidland shared the hard, heartbreaking chapters of her life story.

She told participants at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis that she was sexually assaulted when she was 11. She began drinking alcohol on her 12th birthday. She was raped when she was 13 and she was an alcoholic by the age of 21.

"I woke up one morning when I was 21, and I remembered two things," recalled Sister Miriam, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. "Number one, I remembered what I had done the night before, and it was awful. Secondly, I remember something that was so much deeper in the area of shame.

"I remembered I had promised myself that I wasn't going to do that anymore. At that moment, I realized I couldn't stop, that I was sick. I crawled up in a ball on the floor of my room in college, and I just wished for death. And I didn't know what to do."

God did, she told the crowd of young people.

"He started sending people into my life to speak the truth to me," she said as walked across the stage set up in the middle of the stadium floor.

One of the people God sent to her was a priest who challenged her to change her life.

"He would say, 'You're called for more. What are you doing with your life? I know you want more. You have a great destiny for your life. Have you thought about saying 'yes' to it?'

"That man loved Christ, and he let Christ try to re-form him to the core of his being. And one of the reasons I'm here before you is because of the power of one person who said 'yes' to Christ. And how often do you and I think we can't make a difference? But your 'yes' matters. Your life matters. When you say 'yes,' the world is changed."

So has the life of Sister Miriam.

"I've been sober for many years now, through a lot of people's love for me and a lot of grace," she said, adding that wherever young people in the audience are today: "It's not the end of the story. Jesus is already waiting for you. He's waiting for you in the areas that are incredibly painful for you. He's waiting for you in the areas of your deepest dreams and your deepest desires."

She also told the story of two choices that continue to define her life.

"My biological parents were high school students, 17 years old, obviously not married," she said.  "To this day, I've never seen her face, but I have a deep intuition that at one point my mother thought of aborting me, but she didn't. And I stand here before you today because a scared 17-year-old girl said 'yes' to life and to the child in her womb."

Then there was the choice of the couple who became her mother and father when they adopted her.

"One of the first pictures my parents have of me was at Christmas time. My mom put me under the Christmas tree and said I was the gift to the family that year."

She told the audience that God also offers people the gift of his love.

"We don't understand his heart for us. We don't understand his love for us," she said, emphasizing that "God longs to heal you because you are made for more. He looks at you, and he just loves you."

"God has no other ulterior motive," she told the youths, "than for you to share in his own beautiful life."

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Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Thanksgiving: A unique holiday for a uniquely diverse nation

Top Stories - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 11:49am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters

By Lou Baldwin

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- What does Thanksgiving really mean to you? Is it just a really big dinner, or is there something more about it that maybe you've forgotten?

It is unique among American holidays in that it is both civic and religious in its origins. It is unlike Christmas and Easter which are, strictly speaking, religious holy days that were adopted by the general culture as holidays, or Independence Day which is completely civic.

There is a bit of controversy as to where the holiday began. New Englanders say it was started as a harvest feast attended by both settlers and Native Americans in thanksgiving for the Plymouth colony's first harvest. Virginians point to celebrations a bit earlier in Berkley Hundred and Jamestown.

In both cases there was reason to be thankful and not just for food but for being alive. Within a year of their arrival half of the New England colonists were dead as were three quarters of the original Virginia colonists, either from starvation or disease.

Of all American holidays, Thanksgiving is a celebration of immigrants because it traces back to our immigrant forefathers and foremothers who at great sacrifice laid the foundation of a new nation.

The tradition continues as recent immigrants also pause to thank God for his blessings and enjoy a feast usually including that peculiar American fowl, a turkey.

Lan-Huong Lam, a member of the Vietnamese community at South Philadelphia's St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, has been in America for 10 years. Although her family still celebrates traditional Vietnamese holidays, especially for the New Year, they also have embraced Thanksgiving in a way that is strikingly American.

"My family will come to my father's house this year, (and) next year we will all go to my uncle's house," she told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

And yes, they will have dishes such as turkey and mashed potatoes, but along with that they will have traditional Vietnamese foods for those members who prefer them.

Reyna Mota, who is a member of the Dominican Republic community that worships at St. Leo Church in Philadelphia, really buys into the true meaning of Thanksgiving as a way to give thanks to God and celebrate our blessings.

While she and her husband are immigrants, "our kids were born here," she said. Like many other Americans new or old, she and her husband and children were hitting the road to travel to Salisbury, Maryland, for an extended family get-together.

The traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and all the fixings will be on the table as well as chicken because turkey is not something their family is used to. Of course, one of the desserts will be flan, a staple in Central America.

If a number of the relatives prefer chicken it had better be more than one bird because "we will have about 30 people there," Mota said.

Samuel Abu, a Liberian native who works for Philadelphia's archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in West Philadelphia and he has 12 years in the U.S.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in Liberia also, probably because the country was founded by former American slaves who returned to Africa after the Civil War. But it is just a day off there, with no special traditions. He was surprised when he came to the U.S. and found what a big deal it is here.

"When we came here we didn't like turkey," he confessed, and his family would go out to eat. Now he and his wife have four kids and they all love turkey.

Abu's wife loves to prepare the Thanksgiving dinner, and in that tradition the whole family gathers around the table for the feast. But in his household they don't do stuffing and they eat the turkey in gravy as in a stew.

Another dish they favor which most Americans would not connect with Thanksgiving is the root vegetable that is much more familiar in the tropics than the potato: cassava.

But whatever they eat or don't eat, "We are thankful to God that we are able to live this life and pray for the families who are not able to do this, especially my father and my mother," Abu said. "We thank God for our jobs and our children and the opportunity to own our home."

Hari Chan, who has been in America for 15 years, is a member of the Indonesian community that worships at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. On Thanksgiving his family will probably gather for Mass in the chapel at their parish.

Then the Indonesian community members will all get together at the adjacent Aquinas Center for a potluck meal. It will include turkey of course, but also Indonesian favorites.

While they don't have Thanksgiving in Indonesia there are other holidays, mostly Muslim, because most Indonesians are Muslim. But just as in America where non-Christians celebrate Christmas, "there we celebrate the Muslim holidays too," Chan said.

Maguy Jean Baptiste is part of the Haitian community at St. Cyril Parish in East Lansdowne and she has made America her home for 10 years. People do eat turkey in Haiti Jan. 1, which is both New Year's Day and Independence Day, she said.

As in so many American households on Thanksgiving Day, her sons will watch football, something that is not played in Haiti.

It will be a big meal because not just her husband and their five kids but also her sister's family with four kids will gather around the table. As an extra she always invites someone from the neighborhood who is alone for the holiday.

As part of the festivities the family members will draw names for gifts for the Pollyanna at Christmas. Also the family will take up a collection to send back to Haiti to help their struggling families there.

Maria Alvin, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Southampton, was born in Portugal but her family came to America when she was 7, and now she is married with a family of her own.

"My parents are still alive and we will all get together at my house," she said. "There will be about 12 people." It will be a traditional turkey dinner, but since her dad still doesn't like turkey, she will probably prepare a chicken and maybe some pork.

"Thanksgiving means freedom, the family all getting together, being thankful for what you have," she said.

A member of the French-speaking community at St. Cyprian Parish in Philadelphia named Dosse came to America 13 years ago from Togo. He and his wife have three kids, all born in the USA

In Togo the main holidays are Christmas and New Year's Day, but other than that there are no holidays with a long weekend. Dosse and his family will celebrate the same way many other people here do.

Most important, he told CatholicPhilly.com, "Thanksgiving is the time to thank God for everything, for his support in our lives."

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Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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Copyright © 2017 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 adds meetings, including with general, to Myanmar itinerary

Top Stories - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 10:07am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lynn Bo Bo, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Accepting suggestions by Myanmar's cardinal, Pope Francis has added two private meetings to the schedule for his visit to the country: one with religious leaders and the other with the commander of the military, who wields great political power in the country.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said Pope Francis will meet Nov. 28 with representatives of various religions present in Myanmar and Nov. 30 with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. Burke also said the public Mass in Yangon Nov. 29 will begin an hour earlier than originally scheduled because of the heat.

About 90 percent of Myanmar's population follows Theravada Buddhism, and Pope Francis already had a meeting scheduled with the Sangha supreme council, which oversees the Buddhist monks throughout the country. But Myanmar also is home to Muslims, Hindus and followers of other Buddhist traditions, as well as Baptists, who far outnumber Catholics in the country.

The military in Myanmar, and Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in particular, have been harshly criticized by the international community for their campaign against the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority. The military claims the crackdown is a response to violence, but the United Nations has said the crackdown is hugely disproportionate and amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, who suggested the pope meet with the general, has publicly said he urged Pope Francis not to use the word "Rohingya" for fear of inciting Buddhist nationalists and the military. Burke told reporters they would have to listen to the pope's speeches to see if he accepted that suggestion as well.

Representatives of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh will meet Pope Francis Dec. 1 in Dhaka during an interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace, Burke said.

Below is the revised schedule for Pope Francis' visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Time listed are local with Eastern Standard Time in parentheses.

Sunday, Nov. 26 (Rome)

-- 9:40 p.m. (3:40 p.m.) Departure from Rome's Fiumicino airport.

Monday, Nov. 27 (Yangon)

-- 1:30 p.m. (2 a.m.) Arrival at Yangon International Airport.

Tuesday, Nov. 28 (Yangon, Naypyitaw, Yangon)

--10 a.m. (10:30 p.m. Nov. 28) Private meeting at the archbishop's residence with religious leaders.

-- Mass in private.

-- 2 p.m. (2:30 a.m.) Departure by plane for Naypyitaw.

-- 3:10 p.m. (3:40 a.m.) Arrival at Naypyitaw airport.

-- 3:50 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace.

-- 4 p.m. (4:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit to Htin Kyaw, president of the republic, at the presidential palace.

-- 4:30 p.m. (5 a.m.) Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and foreign minister, the country's de facto leader.

-- 5:15 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the city's international convention center. Speech by pope.

-- 6:20 p.m. (6:50 a.m.) Departure by plane for Yangon.

-- 7:25 p.m. (7:55 a.m.) Arrival at Yangon airport, transfer to archbishop's residence.

Wednesday, Nov. 29 (Yangon)

-- 8:30 a.m. (9 p.m. Nov. 28) Mass at Kyaikkasan sports ground. Homily by pope.

-- 4:15 p.m. (4:45 a.m.) Meeting with the Sangha supreme council of Buddhist monks at the Kaba Aye pagoda. Speech by pope.

-- 5:15 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Meeting with the bishops of Myanmar at St. Mary's Cathedral. Speech by pope.

Thursday, Nov. 30 (Yangon, Dhaka)

-- Meeting (time unspecified) with military commander, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, in the archbishop's residence.

-- 10:15 a.m. (10:45 p.m. Nov. 29) Mass with young people in St. Mary's Cathedral. Homily by pope.

-- 12:45 p.m. (1:15 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Yangon International Airport.

-- 1:05 p.m. (1:35 a.m.) Departure by plane for Dhaka, Bangladesh.

-- 3 p.m. (4 a.m.) Arrival at Dhaka's international airport. Welcoming ceremony.

-- 4 p.m. (5 a.m.) Visit to national martyrs' memorial in town of Savar.

-- 4:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Pay homage to the late-Sheik Mujibur Rahman, known as "father of the nation," at the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum.

-- 5:30 p.m. (6:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit to President Abdul Hamid at the presidential palace.

-- 6 p.m. (7 a.m.) Meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps in the presidential palace. Speech by pope.

Friday, Dec. 1 (Dhaka)

-- 10 a.m. (11 p.m. Nov. 30) Mass and ordination of priests in Suhrawardy Udyan park. Homily by pope.

-- 3:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Visit with the country's prime minister at the apostolic nunciature.

-- 4 p.m. (5 a.m.) Visit the city's cathedral.

-- 4:15 p.m. (5:15 a.m.) Meeting with Bangladesh's bishops at a residence for elderly priests. Speech by pope.

-- 5 p.m. (6 a.m.) Interreligious and ecumenical meeting for peace in the garden of the archbishop's residence. Speech by pope.

Saturday, Dec. 2 (Dhaka, Rome)

-- 10 a.m. (11 p.m. Dec. 1) Private visit to the Mother Teresa House in the capital's Tejgaon neighborhood.

-- 10:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. Dec. 1) Meeting with priests, men and women religious, seminarians and novices at the Church of the Holy Rosary. Speech by pope.

-- 11:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.) Visit the parish cemetery and historic Church of the Holy Rosary.

-- 3:20 p.m. (4:20 a.m.) Meeting with young people at Notre Dame College. Speech by pope.

-- 4:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Dhaka International Airport.

-- 5:05 p.m. (6:05 a.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.

-- 11 p.m. (5 p.m.) Arrival at Rome's Fiumicino airport.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

At Mass, Jesus seeks to bring others with him to salvation, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 9:16am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If people really understood that participating at Mass is witnessing Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, then maybe they would stop taking pictures, talking, making comments and acting as if it were some kind of show, Pope Francis said.

"This is Mass: to enter into Jesus' passion, death, resurrection and ascension. When we go to Mass, it is as if we were going to Calvary, it's the same," the pope said Nov. 22 during his weekly general audience.

If people realize that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist and is letting himself be broken and pouring out his love and mercy for everyone, "would we allow ourselves to chitchat, take pictures, to be on show? No," the pope said.

"For sure we would be silent, in mourning and also in joy for being saved," he said.

The pope continued his series of audience talks on the Mass, reflecting on what Mass really is and why it is so important.

The Mass, as a "memorial," is more than just remembering an event from the past, the pope said. It is making that event present and alive in a way that transforms those who participate.

The Eucharist is the focal point of God's saving act, he said; it is Jesus making himself present in the bread, "broken for us, pouring out all of his mercy and love on us like he did on the cross, in that way, renewing our hearts, our lives and the way we relate to him and our brothers and sisters."

"Every celebration of the Eucharist is a beam of that sun that never sets, which is the risen Jesus Christ. To take part in Mass, especially on Sundays, means entering into the victory of the resurrection, being illuminated by his light, warmed by his heat," he said. Mass is "the triumph of Jesus."

As Jesus goes from death to eternal life during the Mass celebration, he is seeking also to "carry us with him" toward eternal life, Pope Francis said.

By spilling his blood, the pope continued, "he frees us from death and the fear of death. He frees us not only from the domination of physical death but also spiritual death -- evil and sin," which pollute one's life, making it lose its beauty, vitality and meaning.

"In the Eucharist, (Jesus) wants to transmit his paschal, victorious love," the pope said. "If we receive it with faith, we too can truly love God and our neighbor, we can love like he loved us, giving life."

When people experience the power of Christ's love within them, then they can give themselves freely and fully to others, even their enemies, without fear, he said.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

To experience one of the holiest Christian sites, head to Washington

Top Stories - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:26am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rebecca Hale, National

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the nation's capital, a $15 museum ticket and pair of 3-D glasses is the passport Christian pilgrims and others need to experience what may be the holiest site in Christianity.

Employing state-of-the-art technology, the National Geographic Museum in Washington Nov. 15 opened an exhibit that virtually transports visitors to the streets of Jerusalem and through the doors of a small church that protects what is believed to be the site of Christ's burial and, to Christians, the site of his resurrection.

"We put you in the Old City, we talk to you a little about the walls of the city, how they move over time and where the Gospels say that the Crucifixion took place, and try to give you the context," said Kathryn Keane, vice president of exhibitions for National Geographic during a Nov. 9 interview with Catholic News Service.

After an introductory video explaining some of the tumultuous history surrounding the tomb of Christ site, where structures above have been built and torn down repeatedly over the centuries, visitors walk toward a set where a virtual guide projected on a wall welcomes them to a courtyard just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. 

It's a visual appetizer to get them ready for the experience of, not just entering via 3-D through its doors, but also of flying over it and witnessing, from a bird's eye view, a time-lapse of the structure's physical history.

"We're not only taking you in the church the way it looks today but we also go up above the church and we take you back through time," said Keane. "It's a bit of a time machine and we show you all the evolutions of the building, from the time that it was, under (Roman emperor) Hadrian, a pagan temple."

"This is not what I would consider a traditional exhibit. It's more an experience than it is an exhibit," said National Geographic archaeologist Fred Hiebert, whose unique experience inside the church led to "Tomb of Christ: The Church of Holy Sepulchre Experience," which runs at the Washington museum until August 2018.

Last year, Hiebert witnessed various stages of a nine-month-long, $3 million restoration of the small shrine within the Holy Sepulcher that protects the tomb of Christ. The shrine often is referred to as the Edicule, Latin for "little house." During the process, the three religious groups with jurisdiction over the structure, and who had agreed on its restoration -- the Armenians, the Franciscans and the Greek Orthodox -- agreed to also allow restorers to put a moisture barrier around the the tomb itself.

The tomb likely had not been opened in centuries and, at some point, marble slabs were placed on top, perhaps to keep pilgrims from taking home parts of it. It has been venerated since the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor who, in the fourth century, sent a team in search of the holy burial site. Soon after, they identified a quarry as that place and Constantine's mother, Helena, had a shrine built around it.

The exhibit explains how the effects of weather, earthquakes and also great numbers of pilgrims, many of whom light candles that contribute to a buildup of soot, had brought the structure to the brink of collapse.

It also explains the dilemma religious leaders faced when they learned that by injecting liquid mortar into the shrine to reinforce it, it presented the possibility that it would seep into the tomb itself -- defeating the purpose of protecting the most important part. They had to swiftly decide to shut down the shrine to allow the team to protect the tomb -- and that meant briefly opening it.

"They said, 'Do it, but don't take more than 60 hours to do it,'" said Hiebert.

When restorers temporarily shut down the site, Hiebert and other members of the National Geographic team were present to witness the opening of the tomb, which exposed the original limestone bed and the walls of the cave, which Christians believe witnessed Christ returning to life.

"To think that we, we were some of the few people who were locked in that church, got to see what people for hundreds and hundreds of years of Christianity hope to see, and we had a chance to see that ... if there's anything that drove me to do a virtual exhibit, it was that guilt," Hiebert said to an audience gathered at the museum on the opening night of the exhibit. "We have to tell the world about this."

The National Geographic team scanned the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the smaller structure inside, the Edicule, in such detail, that visitors who stop by the exhibit can don a VR, or virtual reality, headset and enter the tiny shrine, navigate the small passage way that leads to the tomb, a space that accommodates no more than three or four people, and see an exact visual representation of the tomb, without the real-life inconveniences.

"As tourist, you get maybe 15 seconds in the tomb and then they move you out," explained National Geographic engineer Corey Jaskolski at the opening night event. "Part of capturing this and being able to share it with the world through the National Geographic Museum is that we can let people spend as long as they want in the tomb. You can go in there and have your own personal experience and be able to see it in all its glory without the interruptions and bustle of the crowd around."

The exhibit explains some of the technology the restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens used, as well as what National Geographic used to scan the images that made the visual aspect of the exhibit possible.

"We can tell a story about great science and there's a certain great aspect of faith to it, too," said Hiebert.

Keane said the project is an intersection of history, architecture, science, technology and faith.

"All of these things aren't at odds with each other," she said.

The exhibit displays the document that Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan leaders signed in 2016, which made the restoration possible, while also noting in a timeline that the groups had agreed in principle in 1959 that the "little house" needed the renovations.

Hiebert applauded the cooperation among the religious groups as a "brave" and said of their ability to agree, "That happens once in a lifetime with these guys."

The project shows, Hiebert said, that there can be cooperation among different groups in the Middle East.

"Having reviewed the history of the (Holy Sepulcher) church, and realizing that it's a contested space, in a contested area ' here was a project that was bringing people together to do something that was positive," he said. "That is a metaphor for optimism in the Middle East. In a place as difficult as Jerusalem, as complex as the Middle East, it's still possible to do an optimistic idealistic project."

Archaeologist Hiebert said the exhibit, as well as a TV show about the restoration of the tomb of Christ that National Geographic documented, will debut Dec. 3 on its cable channel. The December cover story of National Geographic magazine also focuses on archaeology and what it reveals about the life of Christ. It shows that science and faith can go hand in hand, Hiebert said.

"When we look back on the history of exploration and even the history of National Geographic, we realize that this idea that science is divorced from faith is not true," he said. "It seemed to me natural that National Geographic would be in a position of, here's a site, which is sacred and historic, and we're about to embark on an epic adventure."

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

War and greed: Rome events shed light on conflict in South Sudan, Congo

Top Stories - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 8:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/James Akena, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has made no secret of what he thinks is the motivating force behind the wars and conflicts underway across the globe.

"The powerful, some of the powerful, profit from the production of arms and they sell arms to this country which is against that one, and then they sell them to the one that goes against this one. It is the industry of death! And they profit," Pope Francis told thousands of students meeting at the Vatican in 2015.

"An elderly priest that I met years ago used to say this: The devil enters through the pocketbook, through greed. This is why they don't want peace!" he said.

The wars in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are among the many conflicts where this is evident, said Sister Yudith Pereira Rico, associate executive director of Solidarity With South Sudan.

At a Vatican news conference Nov. 16 announcing a prayer service for peace in the two suffering African nations, Sister Pereira said multinational corporations and the international community have a vested interest in allowing the wars to continue in both countries.

"While people are trying to survive this situation, multinationals are exploiting primary resources," she said. "The international community is giving a huge amount of help and (making) immense efforts but, at the same time, they are still selling weapons. So there is a duplicity in this attitude. This has to be known."

Solidarity With South Sudan is an international network of religious congregations that was formed to train primary school teachers, health-care workers, pastoral agents and sustainable farmers from all ethnic groups in the country with the hope they would learn tolerance and reconciliation along the way.

A member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, Sister Pereira has worked for nearly two decades in countries throughout the African continent, including South Sudan.

"The people of South Sudan are suffering an armed conflict and a silent genocide that rarely appears in the media and surpasses the imagination" even though it began in early 2013, Sister Pereira said.

Military grade weaponry, however, is not the only thing used to wage war. In Congo, the violation and exploitation of women also is used as a weapon of war.

Franciscan Sister Sheila Kinsey, coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the international unions of women's and men's religious orders, said she spent eight years working on behalf of victims of domestic violence and abuse in the United States prior to helping victims of sexual violence in Congo.

The difference between working on sexual abuse there and in the United States "was that in the Congo, it was used as a weapon of war and such atrocities were committed to really humiliate a country. So we knew that that dimension had to be addressed," she said.

The people, especially women and children, also are innocent victims of greedy corporations and countries that plunder land and resources, she said, explaining that civilians "don't have adequate employment or the benefit of the resources that are from their own country."

One civilian told her, "You know, we have all these weapons but we don't have any industry that makes weapons. Where are they coming from?" Sister Kinsey said.

Michel Roy, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis, said that while the main causes of the conflict in both countries are political in nature, multinational companies are profiting from "the favorable conditions" of a weakened state in order to exploit the country's wealth, particularly from the diamond mines in the southern Congolese province of Kasai.

Multinational companies, he said at the news conference, "think destroying in order to receive is the solution. It isn't, but that's the reality."

Congolese politicians, Roy added, also receive kickbacks and "are under the orders of these companies" to keep the conflict alive so they can continue to exploit the country's vast diamond industry.

"There are also regional interests so that the Congo remains this way, that it doesn't become strong," he said. "A big country with these kinds of resources can become an important country in Africa, like South Africa, like Nigeria."

The Vatican prayer service will be followed in January by a roundtable discussion primarily focused on building peace in South Sudan and Congo, Sister Pereira told Catholic News Service. But it also will be an opportunity to shed a light on the exploitation of innocent civilians.

"Of course one way (to build peace) is what we have been saying: to stop selling weapons, stop multinationals from working in war (zones)," she said.

The support given by Pope Francis, who was scheduled to preside over the Nov. 23 prayer service for peace, Sister Pereira added, is a source of hope for the innocent victims caught in the crosshairs of conflict because it tells them that others are with them.

"They need a future and they need to see that other people are also talking about this," she said. "For them, it is important that people outside in Europe -- in Italy, wherever -- are meeting together for them. They can be resilient, they can have strength because they have that support."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Protection urged for nation's 'vulnerable,' especially migrants, refugees

Top Stories - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 5:29pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the nation made preparations to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed gratitude for "the gift of immigrants and refugees to the country," but also appealed for their protection.

"As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in a statement Nov. 20, a week after the U.S. bishops opened their annual fall assembly.

The longest and most passionate discussion on the first day of the fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 13 focused on immigrants, on how to help them but also how to drive home the point that they, too, are our brothers and sisters and should not be demonized.

Cardinal DiNardo said his Thanksgiving Day statement was prompted by the bishops urging he "speak out on their behalf."

He referenced that floor discussion, noting that he and his brother bishops "were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this (nation's) great abundance -- the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed and especially migrants and refugees."

The bishops "expressed a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm -- and urgency to act -- in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago," he said.

Those policies, Cardinal DiNardo said, include the deportation of "Dreamers," the beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. These are "young hard-working people who should be the lowest priority for deportation," he said.

President Donald Trump in September ended the Obama-era program and directed Congress to pass a legislative solution.

Cardinal DiNardo also described "the anxiety and uncertainty of those with Temporary Protected Status from countries like Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras, which are still recovering from natural disasters and remain ill-equipped to humanely receive and integrate them."

The Trump administration in early November announced an end to TPS for 2,500 Nicaraguans who have been living in the United States for nearly 20 years. A decision on TPS for 57,000 Hondurans has been delayed for six months, and decisions are due in several weeks from the Department of Homeland Security on that status for people from El Salvador and Haiti.

Cardinal DiNardo also lamented that the number of refugees the country will admit over the next year has been capped at 45,000.

He called it "an unprecedented reduction in the number of people we will welcome this year into our country who seek refuge from the ravages of war and religious persecution in their countries of origin."

"One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society," Cardinal DiNardo said. "These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now.

"My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage -- and signature -- of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families," he said.

Policies that threaten immigrant and refugee families also are "symptoms of an immigration system that is profoundly broken and requires comprehensive reform."

"This is a longer-term goal, one that the bishops have advocated for decades to achieve, and one that must never be overlooked," he continued. "Only by complete reform will we have the hope of achieving the common goals of welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law. We are committed to such reforms and will continue to call for them."

He repeated his gratitude "for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation" and prayed "that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer. Have a Happy Thanksgiving all!"

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Youth urged to remember they're 'beloved children of God, called by name'

Top Stories - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:51am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion

By Natalie Hoefer

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- The sound of more than 20,000 teens screaming and singing along with racuous music of Christian hip-hop band TobyMac was loud.

The sound of the same number of youths in silent prayer was deafening.

These external and internal forms of praise formed bookends to the opening general session of the National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

After two hours of music, entertainment -- including cultural dancing by the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement -- and an entrance procession of banners from each diocese present, the participants were greeted by Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

Although each person came "from many dioceses, many states ' and with many titles," he said, "we are first and foremost children of God. And that God who knows us desires to be known by us. ' God wanted us to know him ... through a personal relationship with a human being, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

"We are beloved children of God, called by name, claimed by Christ," he continued, referring to the conference theme of "Called." "We begin this NCYC weekend by embracing that reality of who we are."

Chris Stefanick, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker and founder of Real Life Catholic, used humor and life experience to speak about the reality of who we are and of God's love for each person.

He spoke of the "love story" upon which the Catholic faith is founded.

"When you remove the love story, what are you left with?" he asked. "Rules that we have to follow. Rituals that we're not sure why we keep them alive but they take a lot of time. Doctrines that have nothing to do with your life. That's how the world has come to see Catholicism. ' The world has forgotten the love story, and so often we've forgotten the love story."

That story, he said, "begins very simply with the words '(I) believe in one God.'"

So many youths today chose not to believe, he said, including an atheist who once told him that belief that God created the universe "is as stupid as a kid coming down on Christmas morning and, seeing presents under the tree, thinks, 'There are presents, therefore there must be a Santa..'"

"You say there's no God?" Stefanick asked. "That's like a flea not believing in the dog. That's like a kid coming down on Christmas morning and seeing presents under the tree and saying, 'Oh look! Presents! They must have exploded themselves here!' ' Just so, the universe did not put itself here, and the more we learn about the universe, the more it shouts to us about the existence of God."

And because God's love created us, he said, no other form of love will satisfy.

"We feel so small in this world," he told the crowd that came from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. "We feel so insignificant in this universe.

"I think God looks down from heaven and says, 'You are huge next to all this.' As big as a mountain is, can it know someone? As big as an ocean is, can it make a choice? As big as a galaxy is, can it choose to love? No, but you can. ... You're a huge deal!"

But because of human rejection of God, Stefanick continued, sin and brokenness entered the world. To applause and shouts of "Amen!" he modified the words of John 3:16 to note that therefore, "'God so loved you that he gave his only Son.' Whoa. '"

This love story -- which continues in the sacraments, Stefanick noted --"doesn't just show you who God is. It shows you who you are."

'

" 'Who am I?' 'I'm precious.' 'What am I worth?' 'I'm worth dying for,' " he said in a solo dialogue. "' Sin is not your name-Jesus gives you your name. And what is your name? 'Beloved.' I don't matter because of who I am-I matter because of whose I am. I'm not somebody, I'm somebody's. I'm precious and I'm worth dying for. This is the best news ever."

He encouraged the crowd to use their will to "say 'yes' to the love that created space and time and perpetually invites us to himself."

Father Joseph Espaillat, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, who was one of the evening's emcees, led the more than 20,000 present through a period of silent prayer to close. He suggested using the word "pray" as an acronym to guide their prayer -- "P" for praising God, "R" for repenting of sins, "A" for asking God for needs rather than wants, and "Y" for yielding to his will

It was this prayer time more than any of the evening's other events that most affected Abby White of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky.

"I thought it was really powerful," she said of the quiet time. "I like saying that you're sorry to God. It's been awhile since I've been to confession, and I really want to go to confession this weekend. I felt like that [prayer time] empowered me to want to go."

While Abby has attended NCYC before, Garrett Randel of Seneca, Kansas, was exuberant with the joy of one experiencing the event for the first time.

"I thought it was really cool," he said of the opening session. "The speaker was really inspiring. I thought it was one of the best experiences I've had in my Catholic faith."

Caitlin Dusenbury of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, couldn't agree more. The NCYC first-timer's eyes lit up and a smile brightened her face when she spoke of her experience that evening.

"I really like it so far," she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "It's impacted me a lot. I've never seen so many Catholics together.

"The highlight for me was Chris speaking. 'It's not who you are, but whose you are' -- that quote stuck with me."

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Hoefer is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Pope Francis calls Benedict's teaching 'precious heritage'

Top Stories - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 10:19am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The theological work and papal teaching of retired Pope Benedict XVI "continue to be a living and precious heritage for the church," Pope Francis said.

The pope met Nov. 18 with the winners of the 2017 Ratzinger Prize, named for the retired pope to honor those who make significant contributions to theology and culture.

The three winners had met the day before with Pope Benedict in his residence in the Vatican gardens.

Pope Francis told the group that Pope Benedict's "prayer and his discreet and encouraging presence accompany us on our common journey."

The Ratzinger Prize is awarded each year by the Vatican-based Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation, and Pope Francis urged the foundation to pay tribute to the retired pope not only by promoting the study of his writings, but to continue the spirit of his work by "entering into new fields in which modern culture asks for dialogue with the faith."

"The human spirit always has an urgent and vital need for this dialogue," the pope said. And faith needs dialogue as well to ensure that it does not become abstract, but "incarnates in time."

"Joseph Ratzinger continues to be a master and friendly interlocutor for all those who exercise the gift of reason to respond to the human vocation of searching for truth," he said.

"Co-workers of the truth," the motto the retired pope chose in 1977 as his episcopal motto, "expresses well the whole sense of his work and his ministry," the pope said.

Pope Francis said he was happy the three winners for 2017 come from different Christian traditions and he was pleased to approve the expansion of the prize to include the arts because it "corresponds well to the vision of Benedict XVI, who so often spoke in a touching way about beauty as a privileged path for opening us up to transcendence and an encounter with God."

The prize winners were German Lutheran theologian Theodor Dieter, German Catholic theologian Father Karl-Heinz Menke and the Estonian composer Arvo Part, an Orthodox Christian.

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Pope criticizes police brutality, denounces dangerous drivers

Top Stories - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 10:05am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Putting the brakes on dangerous and distracted driving, Pope Francis criticized using mobile phones when at the wheel and treating roads like racetracks.

While praising the work and sacrifice of police officers dealing with transit and highway patrol, he also cautioned them against turning the just use of force into brutality.

"Wisdom and self-control are needed, especially when the police officer is viewed with mistrust or seen almost as an enemy, instead of as a guardian of the common good," he said.

The pope made his remarks in a speech Nov. 20 to staff and managers of the central administration of the Italian police in charge of traffic and highway patrol and of the railways.

Whenever officers must check or constrain someone, "it's important to rely on a use of force that never degenerates into violence," he said, particularly in places where the police are looked upon with distrust, which unfortunately is widespread and, in some cases, pits society against the state.

Mercy is essential, he said; mercy is not weakness nor does it mean renouncing all use of force.

"Instead, it means being able to not equate the culprits with the crime they commit, ending up causing damage and creating a feeling of revenge; it also means making an effort to understand the needs and motives of the people that you encounter in your work," he said.

The pope asked the officers and their supervisors to "use mercy in the countless situations of weakness and pain that you confront daily" not just with victims of crime or accidents, but with the poor and vulnerable, too.

With so many people depending on increased mobility, the pope said traffic officers have a lot to do, especially when driving and commuting has become "increasingly complex and unruly."

Not only do roads and safety measures lack needed improvements and investments, officers must deal with the "poor sense of responsibility by many drivers, who often seem not to realize the even serious consequences of being distracted -- for example, with the improper use of cellphones -- or being reckless."

He said these behaviors were caused by people being in too much of a hurry or competitive, which turns "other drivers into hurdles or adversaries to overtake, transforming roads into 'Formula One' racetracks and traffic lights into the starting line for a grand prize."

Increased sanctions will not be enough, he said. Education and a greater awareness of responsibility and a civic duty toward one's fellow travelers are needed.

The pope encouraged the officers to carry out their duty and mission "with honor and a deep sense of duty" in serving others.

While often they are not appreciated enough, the officers are "on the front lines" in fighting that which harms others, creates chaos and feeds unlawfulness that hinders progress and happiness, he said.

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Vatican investigating abuse at pre-seminary

Top Stories - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 9:40am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced it had launched a new investigation into reports about sexual abuse in a pre-seminary for young adolescents run by the Diocese of Como, Italy, but located inside the Vatican.

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement Nov. 18 saying that beginning in 2013 when "some reports, anonymous and not," were made, staff of the St. Pius X Pre-Seminary and the bishop of Como both conducted investigations.

"Adequate confirmation was not found" regarding the allegations, which involved students and not staff. Some of the students already had left the pre-seminary when the first investigations were carried out, the statement said.

However, "in consideration of new elements that recently emerged, a new investigation is underway to shed full light on what really happened," the statement said.

In early November, the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, whose books based on leaked Vatican documents were at the heart of two Vatican trials, published a new book, "Original Sin." The book included allegations about sexual abuse at the pre-seminary where boys in middle school and high school live. They serve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and attend a Catholic school in Rome while considering applying to a seminary when they are older.

The allegation in Nuzzi's book about one student abusing another was followed by an investigation by the Italian television program "Le Iene."

In the program, a young Polish man, identified only as 21-year-old Kamil, said he arrived at the pre-seminary at age 13, wanting to be an altar server for the pope. He said he was thinking only vaguely of becoming a priest one day.

Kamil claimed another student, one given responsibility by the rector for determining the liturgical roles of all the students at papal Masses, regularly sexually abused his roommate.

Kamil said the older student would come into their room at night, get into bed with his roommate and abuse him. The alleged abuser was ordained to the priesthood last summer, "Le Iene" reported.

In the program, the roommate is referred to as Marco, who is now 24 years old. He confirmed the allegations Kamil made.

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'Invest in love,' pope says on first World Day of the Poor

Top Stories - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 6:49am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People have a basic choice in the way they live: either striving to build up treasures on earth or giving to others in order to gain heaven, Pope Francis said.

"What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes," the pope said in his homily Nov. 19, the first World Day of the Poor.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 poor people attended the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica as special guests, the Vatican said. While almost all of them live in Europe, they include migrants and refugees from all over the world.

Among the altar servers were young men who are either poor, migrants or homeless. The first reader at the Mass, Tony Battah, is a refugee from Syria. Those presenting the gifts at the offertory were led by the Zambardi family from Turin, whom the Vatican described as living in a "precarious condition" and whose 1-year-old daughter has cystic fibrosis.

In addition to the bread and wine that were consecrated at the Mass, the offertory included a large basket of bread and rolls that were blessed to be shared at the lunch the pope was offering after Mass. Some 1,500 poor people joined the pope in the Vatican's audience hall for the meal, while the other special guests were served at the Pontifical North American College -- the U.S. seminary in Rome -- and other seminaries and Catholic-run soup kitchens nearby.

Preaching about the Gospel "parable of the talents" (Mt 25:14-30), Pope Francis said the servant in the story who buried his master's money was rebuked not because he did something wrong, but because he failed to do something good with what he was given.

"All too often, we have the idea that we haven't done anything wrong, and so we rest content, presuming that we are good and just," the pope said. "But to do no wrong is not enough. God is not an inspector looking for unstamped tickets; he is a Father looking for children to whom he can entrust his property and his plans."

If in the eyes of the world, the poor they have little value, he said, "they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our 'passport to paradise.' For us it is an evangelical duty to care for them, as our real riches, and to do so not only by giving them bread, but also by breaking with them the bread of God's word, which is addressed first to them."

Where the poor are concerned, the pope said, too many people are often guilty of a sin of omission or indifference.

Thinking it is "society's problem" to solve, looking the other way when passing a beggar or changing the channel when the news shows something disturbing are not Christian responses, he said.

"God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation," he said, "but whether we did some good."

People please God in a similar way to how they please anyone they love. They learn what that person likes and gives that to him or her, the pope said.

In the Gospels, he said, Jesus says that he wants to be loved in "the least of our brethren," including the hungry, the sick, the poor, the stranger and the prisoner.

"In the poor, Jesus knocks on the doors of our heart, thirsting for our love," he said. True goodness and strength are shown "not in closed fists and crossed arms, but in ready hands outstretched to the poor, to the wounded flesh of the Lord."

Before joining his guests for lunch, Pope Francis recited the Angelus prayer with thousands of people in St. Peter's Square.

The previous day in Detroit, he told the people, Capuchin Father Solanus Casey was beatified. "A humble and faithful disciple of Christ, he was known for his untiring service to the poor. May his witness help priests, religious and laypeople live with joy the bond between the proclamation of the Gospel and love for the poor."

Pope Francis told the crowd that he hoped "the poor would be at the center of our communities not only at times like this, but always, because they are at the heart of the Gospel. In them, we encounter Jesus who speaks to us and calls us through their suffering and their needs."

Offering special prayers for people living in poverty because of war and conflict, the pope asked the international community to make special efforts to bring peace to those areas, especially the Middle East.

Pope Francis made a specific plea for stability in Lebanon, which is in the middle of a political crisis after its prime minister announced his resignation. He prayed the country would "continue to be a 'message' of respect and coexistence throughout the region and for the whole world."

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Blessed Solanus lived out faith, hope, charity every day, says cardinal

Top Stories - Sat, 11/18/2017 - 7:28pm

IMAGE: CNS

By

DETROIT (CNS) -- Blessed Solanus Casey always said that "as long as there is a spark of faith," there can be no discouragement or sorrow, said Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes.

His words were accompanied by "the concrete practice of faith, hope and charity in his everyday life," said the cardinal in his homily during the Nov. 18 beatification Mass for the beloved Capuchin Franciscan friar who was known for his cures and wise counsel.

"He came from an Irish family of profound Catholic convictions. Faith for him was a very precious inheritance for facing the difficulties of life," Cardinal Amato said. "When the young Bernard (his given name) Casey, entered the Capuchins, he passed from one community of faith to another."

Blessed Solanus "focused on the poor, the sick, the marginated and the hopeless," Cardinal Amato said. "He always fasted in order to give others their lunch. For hours upon hours, he patiently received, listened and counseled the ever-growing number of people who came to him."

The friar saw people "as human beings, images of God. He didn't pay attention to race, color or religious creed," the cardinal said.

A congregation of 66,000 people filled Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, which was transformed for the Mass. The altar, placed at midfield, was created originally for St. John Paul II's visit to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987. To the right of the altar was a large painting of Blessed Solanus. It was unveiled after the beatification rite, which took place at the beginning of the Mass.

Dozens of bishops, priests and deacons processed into the stadium for the start of the liturgy. The music was provided by a 25-member orchestra and a choir of 300 directed by Capuchin Franciscan Father Ed Foley. The singers were members of parish choirs from across the Detroit metro area.

Cardinal Amato was the main celebrant, joined at the altar by Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, and Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, himself a Capuchin Franciscan.

In the congregation were 240 Capuchin friars and at least 300 members of the Casey family from across America and their ancestral country of Ireland. The Casey family's Irish roots were reflected in the Irish hymns chosen as part of the music for the liturgy.

"What a witness was our beloved Solanus," said Father Michael Sullivan, provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph in Detroit, as the ceremony began "He opened his heart to all people who came to him. He prayed with them, he appreciated them, and through him, God loved them powerfully again and again."

"For decades countless faithful have awaited this moment," said Archbishop Vigneron before asking Cardinal Amato to read the decree from Pope Francis declaring Father Solanus "Blessed."

He is the second American-born male to be beatified, after Blessed Stanley Rother, a North American priest from Oklahoma who in 1981 was martyred while serving the people of a Guatemalan village. He was beatified Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.

Among the hundreds, if not thousands, of healings attributed to Blessed Solanus during and after his lifetime, Pope Francis recognized the authenticity of a miracle necessary for the friar to be elevated from venerable to blessed after a review by the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes was completed earlier this year.

The miracle involved the healing -- unexplained by medicine or science -- of a woman with an incurable genetic skin disease, Paula Medina Zarate of Panama. She was only recently identified publicly and she was at the Mass. As it began, she walked up to the altar with a reliquary holding a relic of Blessed Solanus.

Zarate was visiting friends in Detroit and stopped at Father Casey's tomb to pray for others' intentions. After her prayers, she felt the strong urging to ask for the friar's intercession for herself, too, and received an instant and visible healing.

The miraculous nature of her cure in 2012 was verified by doctors in her home country, in Detroit and in Rome, all of whom confirmed there was no scientific explanation. Father Casey himself died of a skin disease July 31, 1957.

Born Nov. 25, 1870, in Oak Grove, Wisconsin, Bernard Francis Casey was the sixth of 16 children born to Irish immigrants Bernard James Casey and Ellen Elizabeth Murphy. He enrolled at St. Francis High School Seminary near Milwaukee in 1891 to study for the diocesan priesthood. But because of academic limitations, he was advised to consider joining a religious order instead.

He went to Detroit to join the Capuchin order in 1897. He was given the religious name Solanus.

He continued to struggle academically but was finally ordained in 1904 as a "simplex priest," meaning he could celebrate Mass but could not preach doctrinal sermons or hear confessions.

He went to New York and served for two decades in friaries and churches there and was transferred back to Detroit in 1924, where he began working as the porter, or doorkeeper, of St. Bonaventure Monastery.

Father Casey co-founded the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in 1929 and today it serves the Detroit metro area by providing food, clothing and human development programs to the people of the community. In addition to preparing and serving up to 2,000 meals a day, the facility has an emergency food pantry, service center and a tutoring program for children.

He spent his life in the service of people, endearing himself to thousands who would seek his counsel. From 1946 to 1956, he was at the Capuchin novitiate of St. Felix in Huntington, Indiana, then was transferred back to Detroit for what was the last year of his life.

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New museum tells the story of the Bible -- chapter and verse

Top Stories - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 4:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Hey, Smithsonian, there's a new kid on the block.

It's the Museum of the Bible, just a few blocks from the National Mall in Washington. With its opening to the public Nov. 18, it will tell visitors how the Bible -- both Old Testament and New Testament -- has intersected society and at times even transformed it.

The people behind the museum say that if visitors were to read the card behind every artwork, saw every video, heard every song and took part in every interactive experience -- including a Broadway-style musical called "Amazing Grace" about the song's writer, John Newton, and the biblical inspiration behind the abolitionist movement -- it would take them 72 hours to do it all.

But visitors can take their time, because there is no admission charge to the museum.

The museum was the brainchild of Steve Green, chairman of the museum's board of directors and president of the Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts stores. It was Hobby Lobby that successfully argued before the Supreme Court in 2014 that, as a closely held company, its owners based on their religious beliefs should not have to comply with a federal mandate to cover all forms of contraceptives because some act as abortifacients.

"It's exciting to share the Bible with the world," Green said at a Nov. 15 press preview of the museum, which is just one block from a subway stop serving three of the Washington-area subway system's six lines.

The $500 million museum had its coming-out party in 2011 at the Vatican Embassy in Washington before a gathering of business, government, academic and religious leaders.

Museum backers found a circa-1923 refrigeration warehouse that had been repurposed for other uses, bought the building and set about expanding it, adding two stories and a skylight to the top of the structure and a sub-basement for storage space.

The result: six floors of exhibits, not to mention the theater, gift shop and restaurants.

Most of the exhibits, when necessary, use the designations "B.C." and "A.D." -- Before Christ and Anno Domini, Latin for "year of the Lord" -- to refer to the timeline of civilization marked by Jesus' birth. Museum brass had discussions on the topic, Susan Jones, curator of antiquities for the museum, told Catholic News Service. "They decided that's the way they wanted to go," she said.

Most researchers, Jones noted, prefer the designations "B.C.E" and "C.E." -- Before the Common Era and Common Era -- because "they're more neutral." Also preferring the latter names is the Israeli Association for Antiquities, which has a 20-year deal with the museum to supply artifacts in a fifth-floor exhibit space. "You're in Israel now," she told a visitor as a tour guide was boasting that he had his hand on a rock from the Western Wall in Jerusalem in the exhibit.

There are a number of items on loan to the museum from the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library. They're in a tiny space on the museum's ground floor -- relatively speaking, since the museum totals 430,000 square feet. What can't be seen in person can be accessed by two dedicated computers in the exhibit area, one for the museums and one for the library.

Brian Hyland, an associate curator for medieval manuscripts at the museum, told CNS the Vatican donations will be around for six months, then replaced by other artifacts. One of his favorite items currently in the exhibit space is the first volume of a facsimile of the Urbino Bible, which dates to the 15th century; the second volume will replace the first volume at some point in 2018.

Despite the Bible's status as the best-selling and most-read book in history, one exhibit speaks of "Bible poverty," and the fact that roughly 1 billion people have never read the Bible in their native tongue.

An organization called IllumiNations, a collaborative effort by Bible translation agencies, is trying to change that. The aim is to have, by 2033, 95 percent of the world's peoples with access to the full Bible, 99.9 percent with at least the New Testament, and 100 percent with at least some parts of the Bible translated into what museum docent William Lazenby called "their heart languages."

The exhibit space touting this endeavor is stocked with Bibles and New Testaments in various languages. Hardcover books with blank pages in the exhibit represent the untranslated languages. Wholly untranslated languages are represented by yellow covers, and partially translated tongues are represented by covers with a redder hue.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Chinese officials pay poor to swap religious images for portraits of Xi

Top Stories - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 10:56am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Luong Thai Linh, Pool via Reuters

By

HONG KONG (CNS) -- Officials in China's eastern Jiangxi province have replaced religious images displayed by Christian families with portraits of the country's leader, Xi Jinping.

Ucanews.com reported that, on Nov. 12, pictures were uploaded to the popular social messaging service WeChat account of Huangjinbu town government, showing officials removing images of the cross and other religious subjects in Yugan County.

The message from officials said the Christians involved had "recognized their mistakes and decided not to entrust to Jesus but to the (Communist) Party" claiming the Christians voluntarily removed 624 religious images and posted 453 portraits of Xi.

The officials also claimed they were "converting" Christians to party loyalty through poverty alleviation and other schemes to help the disadvantaged. Nearly 10 percent of Yugan County's largely impoverished 1 million people is Christian.

Father Andrew, who declined to give his full name for fear of government retribution, told ucanews.com that the removal of the Christian images involved officials giving money to poor households in return for hanging Xi's portrait.

Father John, in northern China, said he felt Xi had become "another Mao" Zedong following the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October. The priest predicted that other officials around the country would imitate what had been done in Jiangxi.

With the party's new revised "Regulations on Religious Affairs" to be implemented Feb. 1, Chinese Christians and observers believe religious policy will closely follow Xi's "Sinicization" model.

During the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, religious intolerance and Mao's dogma prevailed. Young people were encouraged to criticize their elders, including parents and teachers. People accused of spying for foreign powers were detained and beaten to obtain confessions.

Priests in China who spoke to ucanews.com did not see any direct return to the conditions of the Cultural Revolution, but said they feared religious and social controls would continue to intensify.

"It is not going to be good," said one of the priests.

The release in China of videos urging children to spy on their families has also brought back further memories of the Cultural Revolution, when youths enforced Communist Party ideology. Young people of the Red Guards engaged in the arrest and public humiliation of anyone considered to be deviating from the teachings of revolutionary leader Mao.

Recently, the Chinese Society of Education, affiliated with the Education Ministry, released two videos online aimed at teaching children to report family members who could pose a threat to national security. One video was for primary school students and another for high school students.

Both instructed children to report to the national security bureau anyone, including parents, who could be illegally relaying confidential information, especially to foreigners. The videos provided a hotline phone number to report suspicious activities.

An official notice said the videos were produced to match Xi's strategy of incorporating national security objectives into the education system.

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The original story can be found at https://www.ucanews.com/news/china-officials-replace-in-home-pictures-of-jesus-with-xi-jinping/80810.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Care for the dying does not mean obstinately resisting death, pope says

Top Stories - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:21am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- People who are dying must be accompanied with the love of family members and the care of medical professionals, but there is no requirement that every means available must be used to prolong their lives, Pope Francis said.

"Even if we know that we cannot always guarantee healing or a cure, we can and must always care for the living, without ourselves shortening their life, but also without futilely resisting their death," the pope said in a message to the European members of the World Medical Association.

"This approach is reflected in palliative care, which is proving most important in our culture, as it opposes what makes death most terrifying and unwelcome: pain and loneliness," the pope said.

The European members of the medical association were meeting at the Vatican Nov. 16-17 for a discussion with the Pontifical Academy for Life on end-of-life care. At the same time, across St. Peter's Square, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and the International Confederation of Catholic Health Care Institutions were hosting a meeting on inequalities in health care.

Pope Francis' message touched both topics, which he said intersect when determining what level of medical intervention is most appropriate when a person is dying.

"Increasingly sophisticated and costly treatments are available to ever more limited and privileged segments of the population," the pope said, "and this raises questions about the sustainability of health care delivery and about what might be called a systemic tendency toward growing inequality in health care.

"This tendency is clearly visible at a global level, particularly when different continents are compared," he said. "But it is also present within the more wealthy countries, where access to health care risks being more dependent on individuals' economic resources than on their actual need for treatment."

A variety of factors must be taken into account when determining what medical interventions to use and for how long with a person approaching the end of his or her earthly life, Pope Francis said. For those with resources, treatments are available that "have powerful effects on the body, yet at times do not serve the integral good of the person."

Even 60 years ago, he said, Pope Pius XII told anesthesiologists and intensive care specialists that "there is no obligation to have recourse in all circumstances to every possible remedy and that, in some specific cases, it is permissible to refrain from their use."

Determining what measures amount to "therapeutic obstinacy" or "overzealous" treatment, and are therefore either optional or even harmful, requires discernment and discussion with the patient, the patient's family and the caregivers.

"From an ethical standpoint," the pope said, withholding or withdrawing excessive treatment "is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death."

In determining the best course of action in caring for a dying person, the pope said, "the mechanical application of a general rule is not sufficient."

If the patient is competent and able, the pope said, he or she "has the right, obviously in dialogue with medical professionals, to evaluate a proposed treatment and to judge its actual proportionality in his or her concrete case" and to refuse the treatment "if such proportionality is judged lacking."

In either case, he said, even medical professionals must follow "the supreme commandment of responsible closeness," remaining alongside those who are dying.

"It could be said that the categorical imperative is to never abandon the sick," he said. "The anguish associated with conditions that bring us to the threshold of human mortality, and the difficulty of the decision we have to make, may tempt us to step back from the patient. Yet this is where, more than anything else, we are called to show love and closeness, recognizing the limit that we all share and showing our solidarity."

"Let each of us give love in his or her own way -- as a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother or sister, a doctor or a nurse. But give it!" Pope Francis said.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Quick fixes, denial won't stop climate change, pope says

Top Stories - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:09am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Wolfgang Rattay, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Denial or indifference when it comes to climate change will not help further honest research or facilitate finding adequate solutions, Pope Francis told government leaders attending a meeting on implementing the Paris accord.

Ratified by 170 nations, the 2016 agreement marks "a shared strategy to tackle one of the most worrying phenomena our human race is experiencing -- climate change," the pope said in a written message.

The message was read Nov. 15 to those attending the COP23 session of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, Nov. 6-17. The Vatican released a copy of the text Nov. 16.

In the message -- addressed to the president of the COP23 session, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji -- the pope said the Paris agreement is "a clear path of transition toward a model of low- or no-carbon economic development, encouraging solidarity and emphasizing the strong links that exist between fighting climate change and fighting poverty."

The urgency of addressing climate change demands "greater commitment from countries, some of which will have to seek to take on a leadership role in such a transition," which will also necessitate keeping in mind the needs of those who are most vulnerable, he said.

A recent U.N. Environment Program report found that current goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by the agreement's signatory nations will result in just one-third of the reductions required by global targets for 2030.

Closing some of that gap would require increased action in curbing emissions by private industries and regional governments, the report said, but even if countries were to reach their national targets, there would still be an increase of 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 -- a number beyond the Paris target of under 2 degrees Celsius.

The pope said if nations are to continue to build and implement guidelines and practices that are truly effective and able to reach the complex goals of the agreement, their "willingness to cooperate" must stay high.

"We must avoid falling into these four grievous attitudes that certainly do not help promote honest research and sincere and fruitful dialogue about building the future of our planet: denial, indifference, giving up and trusting in inadequate solutions."

Focusing on economic and technological solutions is necessary, but not enough, he said; ethical and social concerns and consequences of a new vision of development and progress must also be considered.

Pope Francis told leaders to maintain a proactive and collaborative spirit so they can better stimulate and increase awareness and the willingness "to adopt truly effective decisions" to tackle climate change and poverty, and promote true, integral human development.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Spaghetti Bowl: Fitness, camaraderie part of U.S. seminary life in Rome

Top Stories - Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:05am

IMAGE: CNS/Robert Duncan

By Matthew Fowler

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A seminary is not typically known for its emphasis on physical activity and fitness, but many seminarians see it as an integral part of daily life.

Andrew Auer, Joseph Caraway and his cousin, Michael Caraway, are just a few of the seminarians at the Pontifical North American College in Rome who find value in sports and physical activity.

Priests need energy to serve their people, so "we need to have bodies that are prepared for it," said Auer, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We have our gym always available just to stay healthy to be able to serve, which is really the end goal."

The North American College, which is sponsored by the U.S. bishops, educates students from the United States and Australia who are preparing for the priesthood.

"The Catholic Church is a real supporter of both body and soul," said Joseph Caraway, a seminarian from the Diocese of Lake Charles in Louisiana, who did graduate studies in exercise physiology before entering the seminary. "Sometimes we can get so caught up in focusing on the soul and our prayer, which is incredibly important, but we also need to take care of our physical bodies."

The seminary stresses the importance of building a "deeply unified community," its website says, and one way the students achieve that is through sports.

With his experience and background in graduate school, Joseph Caraway has found some very concrete ways to help his brother seminarians, developing "diet programs and exercise programs to help them become more physically fit and just learn how to exercise correctly."

Sports and physical activity are not simply fun and games. In fact, Vatican guidelines for priestly formation stress the importance of helping seminarians live a healthy life.

"The Gift of the Priestly Vocation," released by the Congregation for Clergy in December 2016, says that seminarians should dedicate time to physical exercise and sports to "attain the solid physical, psycho-affective and social maturity required of a pastor."

Michael Caraway, also a seminarian for Lake Charles, said, "Being a seminarian, being a priest, we're all about being the best human being you can be and that's definitely always going to involve the physical aspect as well, because if we don't take care of ourselves, typically you're not as happy, as healthy, holy a human being."

Camaraderie and teamwork also are key elements in seminary life that benefit from the college's sports offerings.

"Sports bring everybody together," said Joseph Caraway. "I was never much of a soccer player, but you get out on the field and your brothers are there to help you out. You're struggling, you don't know how to play, but they're there to teach you and help you grow."

The college has a large turf field, which is home to Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, football and softball matches. Just beside it sits a basketball court, which is directly in front of the state-of-the-art gymnasium inaugurated in the spring.

"It's been a really great resource for guys to come together as a community and to exercise their bodies and really prepare for the days ahead," Auer said about the new gym.

Offering the seminarians so many opportunities to play the sports they grew up with also can help them feel at home as they adjust to student life in a foreign land.

Events such as the Spaghetti Bowl, which is held every year at Thanksgiving time, give the men a renewed sense of the familiar after being thrust into the unfamiliar culture of Rome.

"The Spaghetti Bowl is a long-standing tradition at the North American College," said Auer. "It's a big culminating event on Thanksgiving weekend that we do to bring everybody together, especially when it's the first holiday away from home" for first-year students. "It can be one of those things to focus on the community here and not so much on what you're missing at home."

The Spaghetti Bowl is a flag football game between the first-year men and the rest of the college, and serves to help integrate students into the daily life of the seminary, Michael Caraway said.

"I got to know so many of my classmates and brothers in the house so much better because I was out there working with them," training for the game, he said. "It's just a good, natural way to get to know some of the guys and build community."

A balanced sports life at the seminary also shows there are greater values at play, values that go beyond childhood dreams of a professional all-star career and money.

"You reach a certain age when you're not going pro, and you realize there's something more than just the game that's being played," Auer said. Amateur sports provide "a place where I can go and grow in friendship and virtue with encouragement and support from my brothers."

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Matthew Fowler, a student at Villanova University, is an intern at the CNS Rome bureau.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Archbishop of Puerto Rico sees spiritual rebirth after hurricane's wrath

Top Stories - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 2:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Carol Zimmermann

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Almost two months after the devastating winds and rains of Hurricane Maria pummeled the island of Puerto Rico, there is still no clear path to recovery.

Although some power and phone service have been restored and relief supplies are slowly filtering in, the cleanup and rebuilding is only just beginning.

"You go day by day, but it's overwhelming and traumatic," said Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The archbishop, who attended the U.S. bishops' fall assembly in Baltimore, is acutely aware of the storm's initial and ongoing impact. Since Maria, he has visited 57 parishes in his archdiocese and has 100 more to go. Every parish in this archdiocese in the northeast corner of the island was impacted by the hurricane from minimal to extensive damage.

And as Puerto Rico's Catholics find their way through the wreckage and mud-soaked parish buildings and roofless homes while coping with minimal electricity, food and water, he said they have not lost their faith. For many, their faith has only deepened.

"Tragedies and adversities have a way of reinforcing our faith and our sense of spirituality, our dependency on God," which also goes hand in hand with an "intensified spirit of sharing, generosity and solidarity," he said.

Archbishop Gonzalez, who lived in Puerto Rico as a child and has led the San Juan Archdiocese for 18 years, said he has noticed at some recent Masses that "the choirs continue to sing the hymns they were singing before but with much more vigor and joy."

"We are in a sense being rejuvenated," he told Catholic News Service Nov. 13.

He isn't surprised by the way people are taking care of each other or as he put it -- "the enormous amount of sharing that took place and is still taking place" -- as people make meals for neighbors, for example, on gas-powered stoves.

He also has experienced this care firsthand in the calls and emails -- once they could come through -- from other bishops, along with donations and offers of rebuilding help. At the Baltimore meeting, he said a number of bishops told him: "We're with you and we'll be sending help."

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Herbert A. Bevard of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands -- another region hard hit by Hurricane Maria -- were both invited as observers to the bishops' fall meeting and were introduced by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, has its own Catholic bishops' conference and participates in the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM.

During the Baltimore gathering, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA, told the bishops that the relief agency had given $2 million in early November to Father Enrique Camacho, director of Caritas Puerto Rico, the Catholic Charities affiliate on the island, and she had just presented Bishop Bevard with $1 million for recovery needs.

The funding has been distributed for emergency housing, food, water, cleaning supplies, clothing, bedding, diapers and other baby needs. The agency also has deployed 150 case managers in storm-battered areas to assist people in navigating the unfamiliar task of seeking assistance.

In an unscheduled discussion about recent natural disasters at the close of the bishops' public session Nov. 14, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chair the U.S. bishop's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged fellow bishops to think of what more could be done to help Puerto Rico. He wonders if there had been donor fatigue since the hurricane followed other natural disasters.

"We should, as a body, think of how we can help. They are destroyed," he said.

Archbishop Gonzalez doesn't deny the island can use monetary help, but he said it also needs prayers.

"We believe in the immense power and efficacy of prayers. We have felt it. I have felt the impact of so many prayers. They make a difference, " he said. "Today we're still in an emergency mode. We need water, food, clothing, basic necessities of life. In the long term, we'll need assistance rebuilding homes, churches, schools, roofs."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Longing for peace: Pope to preach dialogue in Bangladesh, Myanmar

Top Stories - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 10:23am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Abir Abdullah, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the ongoing crisis of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh will draw much attention during Pope Francis' visit to the two countries in late November, the pope also is expected to focus on interreligious dialogue, poverty and climate change.

"He will be insisting on economic justice and environmental justice," said Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar. Justice in both areas would be "the major promoters of peace and harmony" in the region.

Although to different degrees, the two countries the pope will visit are struggling to establish a democracy that respects the rights of minorities -- both religious and ethnic. Differences are exacerbated by poverty and the difficulty of accessing very limited resources; the situation is further worsened by climate change, which is evident in the droughts, flooding and increased power and frequency of cyclones that move in from the Bay of Bengal.

Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are ranked in the top 10 on the "Long-Term Climate Risk Index" published annually by Germanwatch think tank.

Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Myanmar Nov. 27 and stay until the afternoon of Nov. 30 when he flies to Bangladesh. He returns to Rome late Dec. 2.

Although lively and growing, the Catholic communities in both countries make up less than 1 percent of the population. The vast majority of people in Myanmar are Buddhist, while the overwhelming majority in Bangladesh are Muslim. Both countries have been plagued by political and ethnic tensions that have found religion to be an easy difference to exploit for political gain.

In Bangladesh, Pope Francis will ordain 16 priests; in 1986, St. John Paul II visited the country and ordained 18 men to the priesthood. One of the 18 is now Bishop Paul Ponen Kubi of Mymensingh.

"The Bangladesh church has grown a lot," Bishop Kubi told Catholic News Service. "We had only four dioceses and four bishops in Bangladesh; now we have eight dioceses and nine bishops."

"We are a very small minority Christian community in Bangladesh," the bishop said, but all the people want "to live together in harmony and peace, though they are of many religions and cultures. I believe that Holy Father Pope Francis will emphasize this."

"We are in the periphery," he said, but Pope Francis' presence "will make us known to the whole world. We feel proud of his coming."

Cardinal Bo told CNS that he expects interreligious initiatives for peace to be a major theme of the pope's talks in Myanmar where, like in other countries, religions can "become the tools for extremism. The pope's presence and his dialogue with various stakeholders would affirm the reconciling role of religions in this country."

The theme of the visit to Myanmar is "Love and Peace." And, similarly, the theme of the visit to Bangladesh is "Harmony and Peace."

Both Myanmar and Bangladesh have experienced tensions between religious communities and have mourned the loss of lives slaughtered in terrorist attacks. The Muslim faith of the Rohingya is cited as one of the reasons they often are seen as "foreigners" by Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar. Bangladesh, too, has had experience of hardline nationalists, this time Muslims, attacking members of its Hindu minority.

In both countries, the Catholic community has been a force for dialogue.

Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh, told CNS that interreligious dialogue "is not imported by us, it is part of our culture."

"The Catholic Church is very active in a dialogue of service," he said, with non-Catholics accounting for 90 percent of those receiving medical care, education or development aid from the church. Only about 30 percent of the staffers are Catholic, but the entire staff discusses the human and religious values they have in common.

Also, he said, people in Bangladesh -- from the president and prime minister on down -- make a point to participate in each other's major feasts. So dialogue "is not just a cerebral discussion, but a celebration."

"The Christian community is considered a peace-living community in Bangladesh," he said.

In Myanmar, Cardinal Bo said, the church is "a small but very visible community," which has "an opportunity to be salt and light to this nation."

"We are in the forefront of interreligious initiatives for peace," he said, pointing out that Catholics organized the country's first interreligious peace conference.

"We have raised our voice for the protection of democracy, we support democratic forces," he said. "Democracy is in a very early stage, and it needs support."

The core of Pope Francis' message is likely to be similar to the heart of his message in Sri Lanka in January 2015: "The inability to reconcile differences and disagreements, whether old or new, has given rise to ethnic and religious tensions, frequently accompanied by outbreaks of violence."

Religions have a key role to play, he insisted. But that means "all members of society must work together; all must have a voice. All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears. Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to respect legitimate diversities and learn to live as one family."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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