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Updated: 39 min 11 sec ago

Hold the phone: Vatican says Pope Francis doesn't use WhatsApp

2 hours 32 min ago

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the thought of receiving a blessing by text from Pope Francis could have millions of mobile users glued to their smartphones, the Vatican spokesman said that isn't his style.

The spokesman, Greg Burke, issued a statement on Twitter Dec. 13 saying that Pope Francis doesn't use the instant messaging platform WhatsApp.

Reports of "the Holy Father using WhatsApp are false," Burke tweeted. "He does not send messages or blessings through this medium."

The Pope Francis Foundation, a Catholic organization in Corrientes, Argentina, announced Dec. 12 the launch of "Wabot-Papa Francisco," a chatbot that allows users to contact the pope and keep up-to-date with his schedule, reported the Argentine newspaper, La Nacion.

The foundation said the chatbot would respond to users queries through "texts, images, video, audio and documents," La Nacion reported.

"You can also have a simulated chat with His Holiness. Wabot technology allows the entire Catholic community or people of any other faith to interact with the pope," the foundation said.

The pope, the organization added, "is a technological man, he believes that technology can help many people and understands that it is the future of communications."

In his message for the 50th World Communications Day Jan. 24, 2016, Pope Francis acknowledged that emails, text messages, social networks and chats can be "fully human forms of communication."

However, he added, "it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal."

Despite his favorable attitude toward new forms of communication, the pope has also admitted that he is "a dinosaur" when it comes to technology.

During a Google Hangout conversation sponsored by Scholas Occurrentes in 2015, a young girl from Spain asked the pope if he liked to take photos and upload them to a computer.

"Do you want me to tell you the truth?" the pope asked. "I'm a disaster with machines. I don't know how to work a computer. What a shame!"

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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.

Sunday has lost its sense as day of rest, renewal in Christ, pope says

4 hours 54 min ago

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just like a plant needs sun and nourishment to survive, every Christian needs the light of Sunday and the sustenance of the Eucharist to truly live, Pope Francis said.

"How can we carry out the Gospel without drawing the energy needed to do it, one Sunday after another, from the limitless source of the Eucharist," he said Dec. 13 during his weekly general audience.

"We don't go to Mass to give something to God, but to receive from him that which we truly need," the pope said. Sunday Mass is the time and place Christians receive the grace and strength to remain faithful to his word, follow his commandment to love others and be credible witnesses in the world.

The pope continued his series of audience talks on the Mass in the Vatican's Paul VI hall, which was decorated with a large Christmas tree and a life-sized Nativity scene. A number of people in the audience hall handed the pope -- who turns 81 Dec. 17 -- Christmas cards, notes and a chocolate cake.

In his catechesis, the pope responded to the question of why it is so important to go to Mass on Sundays and why it is not enough just to live a moral life, loving others.

Sunday Mass is not simply an obligation, he said. "We Christians need to take part in Sunday Mass because only with the grace of Jesus, with his presence alive in us and among us, can we put into practice his commandment and, in this way, be his credible witnesses."

"Just like a plant needs the sun and nourishment to live, every Christian needs the Sunday Eucharist to truly live," he said in summarized remarks to Arabic speakers.

"What kind of Sunday is it for a Christian if an encounter with the Lord is missing?" he asked in his main talk.

Unfortunately, in many secularized countries, the Christian meaning of the day has been lost and is no longer "illuminated by the Eucharist" or lived as a joyous feast in communion with other parishioners and in solidarity with others, he said.

Also often missing is the importance of Sunday as a day of rest, which is a sign of the dignity of living as children of God, not slaves, he said.

"Without Christ, we are condemned to be dominated by the fatigue of daily life with all its worries and the fear of tomorrow. The Sunday encounter with the Lord gives us the strength to live today with confidence and courage and to move forward with hope," he said.

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Pope: Guadalupe feast shows Mary's closeness to those on margins

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 2:10pm

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which mirrored that of the indigenous people of the time, is a sign of Mary's closeness to those who are marginalized, Pope Francis said.

Like St. Juan Diego, who felt of no importance at being chosen by Mary because of his indigenous heritage, marginalized people in today's world are often made to feel worthless by conditions imposed upon them, the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"Among them are the indigenous and Afro-American communities, who often are not treated with dignity and equality of conditions; many women who are excluded because of their sex, race, or socioeconomic situation; young people who receive a poor education and have no opportunities to advance in their studies or to enter into the labor market so as to move ahead and establish a family; many poor people, unemployed, migrants, displaced, landless peasants, who seek to survive on the informal market; boys and girls subjected to child prostitution, often linked to sex tourism," he said, quoting a 2007 Latin American bishops' council document he helped write.

Processing into the basilica dressed in white, the symbol of purity, Pope Francis made his way to a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the indigenous saint in 1531. The pope stood before the image, bowing reverently and censing it three times.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, in which the angel appears to Mary, informing her that she is with child.

"And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God," the angel said.

Elizabeth's sterility, the pope said, was considered at the time "a divine punishment for her or her husband's sin" and a sign of shame and guilt "for a sin she did not commit ... (she was) made to feel small for being unable to fulfill what was expected of her."

However, in Elizabeth -- who was the first to recognize the child in Mary's womb -- Christians can find a woman who is "fruitful and amazed" upon experiencing in her life "the fulfillment of a promise made by God."

"In her, we understand that God's dream is not nor will be sterile or to stigmatize or fill his children with shame, but rather bring forth through and from them a song of blessing," he said.

This fruitfulness can also be seen in St. Juan Diego, who was chosen by Mary to bear on his "tilma the image of the Virgin."

Mary, shown "with dark-skin and mestizo appearance," reflected a "mother capable of taking on the traits of her children to make them feel a part of her blessing," the pope said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, he added, remains a symbol of the wealth and cultural diversity of Latin America and the Caribbean that must not only be cultivated, but also defended from every attempt to impose a way of thinking that "makes everything we inherited from our elders invalid or sterile."

"In short, our fruitfulness requires us to defend our people from an ideological colonization that cancels out the richest thing about them, whether they be indigenous, Afro-American, mestizo, farmer, or suburban," the pope said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to look to Mary and learn from her, to become a church with a "mestizo appearance, an indigenous appearance" that takes the form of the little ones.

It is "the appearance of a person who is poor, unemployed, of a boy or girl, old or young, so that no one may feel sterile and infertile, so that no one feels ashamed or worthless," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

 

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Blessed Oscar Romero continues to inspire listeners through radio

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 11:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Melissa Vida

By Melissa Vida

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- In San Salvador's traffic jams or at work, people turn on Radio YSAX to listen to Blessed Oscar Romero's homilies, just as they did over 30 years ago.

"I listen to this radio station in Romero's honor, because it is the one he used," Karen Larin, a radio listener, told Catholic News Service. "Hearing his voice is great; it's as if he were here, talking with us."

From the 1970s until his assassination in March 1980, Blessed Romero used the radio station YSAX to inform Salvadorans and the international community of the horrors of El Salvador's civil war. In a time when public media was self-censoring, Radio YSAX served as a spiritual guide as well as a news broadcast.

"Oscar Romero collected notes from his listeners and then disclosed when and where human rights were being violated," Father Edwin Henriquez, director of the radio, told Catholic News Service.

"Without the radio, there would be no Archbishop Romero," Father Henriquez said. "We wouldn't know the truth of what was happening at the time, and he wouldn't have been able to tell the world about the crimes committed against humanity here."

Reopened in 2015, the station has set itself one purpose: to keep Blessed Romero alive. Every weekday, at 1 p.m., the late archbishop's voice reverberates again through the speakers and draws radio listeners from all over the world. When the radio is cut for a few days, people from as far as Europe and Australia call to know what happened.

"This radio station gives us hope," Larin said. "Romero represents a father's love to us, but he was also a father who defended us, because he denounced the abuse of power." Larin said Blessed Romero helped his followers reconnect with a concrete, nearby God.

In developing countries, the radio as a means of communication remains influential. With only 20 percent of the country's households having internet access and more than 10 percent of the population being illiterate, the radio has a broad outreach in El Salvador. It answers the need for real-time information and reliable, interactive hosts.

For Estephanie Castillo, volunteer at YSAX, the radio is also a relevant tool to evangelize and raise awareness on everyday issues.

"Through the radio, we can transmit fundamental values to build a caring and just society," she said.

Radio YSAX speaks to people of all ages. Hearing Blessed Romero's voice reassures older generations, who recognize him and identify with the historical context of his speech.

"But the radio program also speaks to the youth," Larin said, "because they learn about (Blessed Romero) and our past, and that gives hope for our country."

Most radio volunteers are millennials.

"Our youth needs to bring the light of Jesus and remind others that there is still hope," Castillo said. Quoting Blessed Romero, she said, "We need to see the truth with open eyes and with our feet grounded, but with our hearts full of the Gospel and of God to look for solutions of justice."

For the listeners, Blessed Romero's message of faith and social justice is still valid in 2017. Yesterday's state-enforced violence and guerrillas became today's gang barbarism. As Father Henriquez recalled, Blessed Romero did not give in to political correctness when condemning such abuses.

"Romero did not seek applause nor praise and, indeed, some naysayers disliked him because the message of Jesus always has social consequences," Father Henriquez said. "It's not that we meddle with economics or politics, but we seek to touch people's hearts ... and that transforms society."

And El Salvador is in dire need of social change. Still hurt and polarized by the civil war that took place in the 1980s, the country suffers from the rocketing unemployment rates and the highest homicide rate in the world. Gang members extort, rob and kill civilians.

"The violence we have known during the war has been transformed, the culture of death is still prevalent and our youth is suffering the most," Father Henriquez said.

In this postwar context, Blessed Romero remains a beacon of hope.

"In my own personal hardship, I feel like he accompanies me and helps me," Castillo said.

"Romero continues to speak to us in the midst of violence, impunity and corruption: We should pay attention to him," Larin said. "Oscar Romero is alive."

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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.

Washington Archdiocese considers next step in lawsuit over transit ad

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 4:27pm

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Washington was weighing its options after a federal judge denied a request for an emergency injunction over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's advertising guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson Dec. 8 denied the archdiocese's request that WMATA be required to post an ad promoting its annual "Find the Perfect Gift" initiative for the Advent season.

Transit authority officials had denied the ad based on 2015 policies that ban ads "that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief."

"We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our 'Find the Perfect Gift' Advent campaign," Ed McFadden, the archdiocese's secretary for communications, said in a statement Dec. 9.

"While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on WMATA buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square," the statement said.

Berman found that while buses are controlled by a government agency, the authority's rules likely are legal and reasonable because WMATA's restrictions are not based on whether the agency opposes the advertiser's particular views.

The archdiocese contended WMATA's policy that "prohibits all noncommercial advertising, including any speech that purportedly promotes a religion, religious practice or belief," is a violation of the free speech and free exercise of religion clauses of the First Amendment and a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The WMATA's prohibition, the archdiocese contends, "violates the free speech rights of the archdiocese because the prohibition creates an unreasonable and disproportionate burden on the exercise of the archdiocese's speech without any legitimate justification."

The archdiocese has in previous years advertised on WMATA's public buses. Up until 2015, the archdiocese purchased WMATA space for ads that, according to the lawsuit, "were explicitly religious in character."

"These advertisements included a campaign highlighting the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation during the liturgical season of Lent. This campaign, 'The Light Is on for You,' was remarkably successful for the archdiocese -- and lucrative for WMATA -- with advertisements on the backs of 85 buses throughout the metropolitan area."

The rejected ads highlight the archdiocese's annual "Find the Perfect Gift" campaign, which refers viewers to the FindThePerfectGift.org website that includes Mass schedules, reflections on the meaning of Advent and Christmas, religious holiday traditions and opportunities for charitable service. The image is a silhouette of shepherds and sheep standing on a hill.

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Christian vocation is to serve life, health, pope says in message

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 12:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/John E. Kozar, CNEWA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's care for the sick, especially through Catholic-run hospitals, is an antidote to "the business mentality that is seeking worldwide to turn health care into a profit-making enterprise," Pope Francis said.

In his message for World Day of the Sick, Feb. 11, the pope urged Catholics individually and as a community to continue to provide loving care for the sick.

The church marks the day each year on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Pope Francis' message for 2018 had a strong Marian focus, emphasizing the church's maternal mission to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of all people.

"May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health," he prayed.

The church's motherly concern for the sick has been clear throughout its history and continues today, the pope said. "In countries where adequate public health care systems exist, the work of Catholic religious congregations and dioceses and their hospitals is aimed not only at providing quality medical care, but also at putting the human person at the center of the healing process, while carrying out scientific research with full respect for life and for Christian moral values."

Perhaps more heroically, he said, "in countries where health care systems are inadequate or non-existent, the church seeks to do what she can to improve health, eliminate infant mortality and combat widespread disease."

"The image of the church as a 'field hospital' that welcomes all those wounded by life is a very concrete reality, for in some parts of the world, missionary and diocesan hospitals are the only institutions providing necessary care to the population," he noted.

In rich and poor countries alike, he said, the church focuses on caring for the sick even when a cure is not possible.

Pope Francis urged Catholic health care institutions and individual doctors, nurses and staff members to remember the church's tradition of generous care for the sick and renew their commitment to continuing that kind of loving service.

But especially on the World Day of the Sick, he said, "we cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives. The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be fittingly acknowledged and supported by suitable policies."

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'Crowning jewel' of national shrine -- Trinity Dome Mosaic -- dedicated

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 10:39am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The overflowing congregation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception hardly needed reminding to raise their "eyes to the heavens" during a dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic Dec. 8.

Before Mass began, all eyes were already on the newly completed gold dome above the front central section of the Upper Church.

When it was blessed during Mass, incense rose above the congregation and bright lights were turned on to give a better view of the newly finished dome that includes the words of the Nicene Creed encircling the base and a depiction of the Holy Trinity, Mary, the four Evangelists, angels and more than a dozen saints connected to the United States or the shrine.

During the blessing and before and after Mass, phones and cameras were held aloft to capture the completed work more than two years in the making. But it would take more than a few pictures to capture the details in this majestic work of art described as the "crowning jewel" of the national shrine during introductory remarks by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector.

The dome mosaic is composed of more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass covering more than 18,300 square feet of the dome's surface. Its completion marks the final step in finishing the work of the Upper Church that began in 1955.

The dome was dedicated, fittingly, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the basilica's namesake. The dedication Mass was celebrated by Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life, who was named by Pope Francis to be his special envoy at the dedication Mass.

Other cardinals concelebrating the Mass included Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington and Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, along with Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They were joined by more than two dozen bishops and 90 priests.

Cardinal Wuerl pointed out in his homily that the mosaic tiles in the dome are symbolic of the living body of Christ regularly filling the pews of the shrine and reflecting the church's diversity.

He urged the congregation of families, women religious, students and people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who filled the pews, the side chapels and stood in the back at the dedication Mass to always look to this "great majestic dome mindful of our prayer to Mary" and ask for her intercession.

He said Mary is the model of "what our faith should be" because she believed that nothing was impossible with God.

The cardinal said he remembered coming to the shrine when he was a student at The Catholic University of America in the 1960s when the walls were simply brick except for the mosaic image of the Risen Christ at the front of the church.

He also noted that the completion of the dome finishes a work that began nearly 100 years ago when the shrine's cornerstone was placed in 1920.

As construction began on the National Shrine, as it was then called, Catholics across the country were invited to contribute however they could. Some donated pieces of gold jewelry and even precious stones, the cardinal said, which were fashioned into what came to be known as the "first chalice of the National Shrine" and was used at the Dec. 8 mosaic dedication.

When Pope Francis was at the shrine in 2015 to celebrate Mass and canonize St. Junipero Serra, he also blessed a piece of the mosaic: the words for the beginning and end of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in one God" and "Amen."

At the end of the dedication Mass, Msgr. Rossi thanked the artists and workers, some of whom were seated at the front of the church, for their work on the mosaic, which was done in Italy and shipped in 30,000 sections weighing 24 tons. He pointed out that no one was injured and no damages occurred in the installation.

He also thanked the many donors who contributed to the dome work and gave to the shrine's one-time national collection for the project on Mother's Day.

"This crowning jewel of Mary's shrine is really your work, your gift to the Blessed Mother," he said.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Vatican renews call for peace, negotiated solution on Jerusalem

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 9:02am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following days of violence and backlash after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Vatican appealed for "wisdom and prudence" to prevail.

The Holy See "reiterates its own conviction that only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace and guarantee the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders," the Vatican said in a Dec. 10 statement.

President Trump announced his decision Dec. 6 to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.

The announcement sparked anti-U.S. protests throughout Asia and the Middle East, including a four-day protest in the Palestinian territories, Reuters reported. An Israeli security guard in Jerusalem, the report said, was in critical condition after he was stabbed by a Palestinian man at the city's bus station.

Pope Francis expressed his "sorrow for the clashes in recent days" and called for world leaders to renew their commitment for peace in the Holy Land, the Vatican said.

The pope "raises fervent prayers so that the leaders of nations, in this time of special gravity, commit themselves to avert a new spiral of violence, responding with words and deeds to the desires of peace, justice and security for the populations of that battered land," the Vatican said.

Trump's decision also drew warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States' long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made similar promises to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital during their presidential campaigns. However, once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Arab League, a regional organization consisting of 22 Arabic-speaking member states, held an emergency meeting in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9 to discuss Trump's announcement, calling it "dangerous and unacceptable."

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital goes "against international law and raises questions over American efforts to support peace," said Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League's secretary-general.

Just hours before Trump had announced his decision, Pope Francis urged respect for "the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations."

In his appeal, Pope Francis said, "Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace."

The Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

"The Holy See is attentive to these concerns and, recalling the heartfelt words of Pope Francis, reiterates its well-known position concerning the singular character of the Holy City and the essential need for respecting the status quo, in conformity with the deliberations of the international community and the repeated requests of the hierarchies of the churches and Christian communities of the Holy Land," said the Vatican's Dec. 10 statement.

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Update: Fundraising starts to aid victims of Southern California fires

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 3:53pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/David McNew, Reuters

By

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has started a fund for victims of the wildfires that have raced through the archdiocese and were threatening to spread to locations in the nearby Orange and San Diego dioceses.

"Friends, as the wildfires continue, the needs of our neighbors continue to increase," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles on the archdiocesan webpage that hosts the fundraising campaign, https://tinyurl.com/yaa4qlu2.

"In this season of giving, let us open our heart to our brothers and sisters in need," he added. "Let us keep praying for an end to the fires and let us keep praying for the safety of our police, fire and emergency workers -- and all those who are in harm's way."

In a Dec. 8 statement from Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked prayers for all those in danger, "both those whose homes are in the fire's path and those courageous first responders and firefighters who are putting their lives at risk."

The wildfires, which have stubbornly resisted most efforts to be reined in by firefighters, have hit Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in the archdiocese.

This is the second set of wildfires to have hit California this fall. Wildfires burned thousands of acres in the Sonoma and Napa areas in the northern part of the state in October, killing 31, scorching more than 128,000 acres and causing an estimated $3 billion-$6 billion in damage.

The Southern California series of wildfires had passed the 150,000-acre mark within four days of their starting Dec. 4. As of the morning of Dec. 8 local time, no fatalities had been reported despite the density of population in the region.

Four counties have already declared a state of emergency.

Archbishop Gomez on Dec. 5 called for prayers for the well-being of families, firefighters and rescue workers "facing devastating fires and high winds" in the wildfires.

"May God keep them all safe and put an end to these fires!" the archbishop said in a message sent via social media channels and posted on the archdiocesan news site, angelusnews.com.

On Twitter, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron said the fires in Ventura County, which is in his pastoral region, had alone forced 30,000 people to evacuate.

"Join me in praying for all the evacuees, firefighters, officials, and everyone helping to subdue the flames," he tweeted. About 1,000 firefighters were working to contain the wind-driven flames.

Called the Thomas Fire, it is the biggest of the wildfires being stoked by dry conditions and high winds. Among the evacuees in Ventura County were students and faculty at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula.

In a message posted on its website and on Twitter, the Catholic college expressed "deep gratitude for the prayers of its many friends and for the heroic firefighters who battled all of Monday night (Dec. 4) to protect the Santa Paula campus."

The college canceled classes for the rest of the week as roads had been closed and power was out in some communities. "The college is hopeful that it will reopen in time for final exams next week," the college said in a Dec. 5 statement.

Students from California who had transportation were considering returning home for the time being; others planned to remain at the homes of local friends and faculty.

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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.

Trinity student studies, works to create her preferred future

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Daniela doesn't remember much about coming to the United States from her native El Salvador with her parents when she was 3 years old. 

"The only thing I remember is the dress I wore when I got on the plane," she said.

Daniela, now 19, is a sophomore at Trinity Washington University. Her college costs are paid for in large part by a scholarship from "TheDream.US" fund. She is one of about 100 "Dreamers" enrolled at the Catholic college, which is women-only for its undergraduate studies but admits men to its graduate programs.

She hasn't declared it yet, but Daniela, who asked that her last name not be used for this story, wants to be a double major -- one of those majors being in education.

"But I can't see myself teaching elementary school my whole life," she told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 5 interview. For her, that means graduate and post-graduate studies, so she can be a college professor "and do my own research."

Dec. 5 was the same day that Dreamers descended upon Capitol Hill for a workshop and to lobby members of Congress to pass a "clean" DREAM Act.

DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, which would create a path to citizenship for those, like Daniela, who have been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The clean part of the DREAM bill? No amendments that would lessen the bill's impact or make it problematic, at best, to pass. Congress needs to take such action to preserve DACA after the Trump administration announced the program will end in March.

"I know they (opponents) want border security" to be included in any bill, Daniela said. Doing so, she added, would harm her parents, who also are from El Salvador. Since she and her parents arrived in the United States, Daniela now has a baby brother and baby sister -- both of whom are U.S. citizens.

Daniela described an uneventful childhood growing up in a close-in suburb of Washington. She recalled that when she was in middle school, her parents would tell her, "Don't worry, we'll be here for you." She said she never quite understood at the time what they meant, since they had always been there to begin with.

The first time Daniela said she started feeling different from everyone else as an immigrant without legal documents to be in the country was as a high school junior. That's when she started researching colleges and scholarship availability, only to learn that most scholarships required the student to be either a U.S. citizen or a documented immigrant. "That's what got me frustrated," she noted.

However, a counselor at her school told her about TheDream.US scholarships. "You have a grade point average better than what they need, you have all the extracurricular activities," Daniela said the counselor told her. Among other things, she had been captain of her high school's lacrosse team -- and, ironically, involved in her school's ACES club, short for Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success.

The biggest obstacle for Daniela at the time: "Six essays! Now that I'm in college, six essays seems like no big deal. But in high school ... !"

TheDream.US seeks "partner" schools, either public or private, so that dreamers can be clustered at particular colleges and receive whatever academic and social supports are necessary. Trinity was the first college in the District of Columbia to sign on as a partner school -- and, after five years, is still the only one, according to Trinity spokeswoman Ann Pauley.

With 100 Dreamers in the 1,000-student undergraduate program, 50 of them freshmen, "it has changed the demographics" at Trinity, Pauley said. What had been a majority-African-American student body, most of whom lived within commuting distance of the school, is now more diverse and more geographically far-flung. 

"And we think that's a good thing," she added.

What made Daniela choose Trinity? "My parents are 'helicopter parents,'" meaning they hover over their children's school lives, she replied. "The closer, the better." Her commute from home is plus or minus 30 minutes depending on traffic.

Sadhana Singh, another Dreamer, wrote in Trinity's campus magazine that she had arrived with her parents from Guyana when she was 13 years old. They moved to Georgia and she finished near the top of her class in high school. But Georgia's state-funded universities were off-limits to immigrants in the country illegally and she was "ineligible for in-state tuition and any kind of financial aid, loans and scholarships," Singh said.

But Singh gained DACA status in 2012, which "refilled my diminishing well of hope," she added. By that time, she had been seven years out of high school with no chance in sight of a college education.

Her scholarship from TheDream.US allowed her to enroll at Trinity in 2014. Now a senior, she expects to graduate on time. Singh also was part of a busload of Trinity students being shuttled to a nearby subway station to lobby at the Capitol for the DREAM Act.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Mother of three Dreamers holds fast on Hill for passage of DREAM Act

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Antonia Alvarez, the mother of three DACA recipients and one U.S. States citizen, began a 10-day fast Dec. 4 outside of the Capitol in Washington to advocate for the passage of the DREAM Act.

The measure would allow her children and 800,000 other Dreamers to remain in the country and gain a path to citizenship.

Alvarez is originally from Mexico City and said she immigrated to the United States 16 years ago because of dangerous conditions in Mexico. She currently lives in New Brighton, Minnesota, where she has done similar fasts throughout the past few years.

But after President Donald Trump announced in September that he would end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, there was added urgency to Alvarez's advocacy.

To get the attention of members of Congress, she decided she would need to travel to hold a fast right in front of their offices. In ending DACA, Trump called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution to keep the program by March. Many are calling for passage of the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, to do just that.

Alvarez, a parishioner of Incarnation Sagrado Corazon in Minneapolis, traveled to Washington with a group of leaders from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to speak with congressional leaders, then stayed behind to carry out the fast.

She said she planned to fast until passage of the DREAM Act or when Congress is scheduled to recess for the holidays Dec. 15.

Every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., she planned to sit in a section of the Capitol grounds directly between the House office buildings and the Capitol, urging lawmakers take action on the bill.

"Sometimes I said, 'God, I stay alone,'" she said, expressing fear about doing this by herself. "But I listen, (and hear) 'You're not alone.'"

Now she really isn't alone. Daniel Galan, a 25-year-old electrician from Chicago, who saw on Facebook what Alvarez was doing and decided to hop on a bus from Illinois to join her.

Galan, a parishioner of St. Paul Catholic Church on Chicago's South Side, was brought to the United States from Mexico City at age 8. He and his girlfriend are both DACA recipients, so he said he was doing the fast for the both of them, as well as for many other Dreamers he knows who couldn't make the trip to Washington.

"Our family is poor. My mom didn't see any future for me in Mexico, so she brought me here so I could go to school, work, and become something of myself," Galan told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Alvarez's three children who are DACA recipients are 24, 25 and 28 years old. Her oldest child is a businessman, and the other two are in school, with one getting her bachelor's degree and the other pursuing her master's degree. She also has a 12-year-old daughter who is a United States citizen.

"Every day she is crying for her brother and two sisters," Alvarez said.

Alvarez, who has a house cleaning business in Minnesota, said her family has paid for all of her children's education.

"We don't want crumbs," she said. "We are working for everything."

Unlike herself, Alvarez's kids are now in the legal system, she pointed out, since they had to give personal information and go through a vetting process to be covered by DACA. This would make it easier for them to get deported.

"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has all of our information," said Galan. "They know where to find us, know where we live and know where we work."

Alvarez was catching the attention of several members of Congress who have come out to speak with her, some of them bringing her hot water or inviting her inside for a break. But Alvarez declined to go inside, and instead invited them to come visit her whenever they want a break.

As the two stood outside next to their table that supports a large cross, Galan spoke about his hopes for the future. He has not seen his dad since he left Mexico, but speaks to him frequently; Galan's mother and brother live in the United States.

Galan hopes to someday get a green card so he will be able to travel back and forth to visit his dad, and maybe someday bring him to the U.S. legally if he becomes a citizen.

He hopes to start his own electric company. But he fears that he will lose his job once his DACA benefits expire, since the company he works for checks on employees' legal status. He recently renewed his DACA participation; it expires in March 2019.

But until Congress passes a more permanent piece of legislation, Galan said he would "be contemplating the day I lose everything I've worked for."

Noting her family's situation, Alvarez said, "My kids are afraid, but I'm not afraid. I'm fighting for protecting my children 'Always I pray to God, always I believe in God, always my faith is in God."

With tears in her eyes, Alvarez said one of her daughters feels so afraid that she wants to leave the country and move to Ghana, where her boyfriend is from, because she thinks they would not be discriminated against there.

Alvarez said she not only prayed for her own family and for Dreamers, but also for Trump, asking God to bless him.

"I'm angry, but (I don't) hate. That is not my position," she added.

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Sankowski is a reporter at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Nativity scene, Christmas tree are visible signs of God's compassion

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:38am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Nativity scene and Christmas tree, like those displayed in St. Peter's Square, are visible reminders of God's benevolence and closeness to all men and women, Pope Francis said.

The traditional Christmas displays are "the signs of the heavenly Father's compassion, of his participation and closeness to humanity who experience not being abandoned in dark times, but instead visited and accompanied in their difficulties," the pope said.

"Every year, the Christmas Nativity scene and tree speak to us through their symbolic language. They make more visible what is captured in the experience of the birth of the Son of God," Pope Francis said Dec. 7 in a meeting with delegations from Poland and Italy, responsible respectively for the 2017 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

The centerpiece of the Vatican's Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.

Measuring nearly 33 feet in diameter, the tree was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk, Poland, and transported to the Vatican on a flatbed truck traveling over 1,240 miles across central Europe.

Thanking the members of the Polish delegation, the pope said the tree's soaring height "motivates us to reach out 'toward the highest gifts'" and to rise above the clouds to experience "how beautiful and joyful it is to be immersed in the light of Christ."

"The tree, which comes from Poland this year, is a sign of the faith of that people who, also with this gesture, wanted to express their fidelity to the see of Peter," the pope said.

The Nativity scene was donated by the Benedictine Abbey of Montevergine, located in southern Italy. Created in a traditional 18th-century Neapolitan style, it covers a surface of over 860 square feet and features 20 terracotta figures, some as tall as 6 feet.

The representation of the night of Jesus' birth, the pope said, is "inspired by the works of mercy" and is a reminder "that Jesus told us: 'Do to others what you would have them do to you.'"

"The crib is the evocative place where we contemplate Jesus who, taking upon himself human misery, invites us to do the same through act of mercy," Pope Francis said.

As it was last year, the Christmas tree was adorned with ornaments made by children receiving treatment at several Italian hospitals.

"These children, with their parents, participated in a ceramics recreational therapy program" organized by the Countess Lene Thune Foundation for young boys and girls suffering from oncological and hematological disorders, the Vatican said Oct. 25.

Additionally, children from the central Italian Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia, which was devastated by earthquakes in 2016, also made ornaments for the Christmas tree.

Pope Francis thanked the children and told them their ornaments are a personal witness of Jesus "who made himself a child like you to tell you that he loves you."

After the Vatican's tree-lighting ceremony later that evening, he added, "pilgrims and visitors from around the world will be able to admire your work."

"Tonight, when the lights of the nativity scene are turned on and the Christmas tree lights up, even the wishes you have transmitted through your decorative works will be bright and seen by everyone," he said.

The tree will remain in St. Peter's Square until the feast of the Lord's Baptism Jan. 7, the Vatican said.

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Gregorian chant called seminarian to Catholicism

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 10:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As Gabe Bouck enters Advent, a season in which Catholics are urged to answer God's call for conversion, the seminarian is reminded of the melodic voice that inspired him to become Catholic.

The former Baptist recalled attending his first Mass nearly six years ago where he encountered sounds he had never before heard in a church and it was coming from the priest.

"The priest sung the entire Mass," said Bouck, a first-year seminarian at Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

This priest sang the liturgy in ethereal tones, mysterious sounds to the young Protestant with a musical background. He was used to music that came in more predictable forms with standard rhyme or meter.

But the reverberations coming from the priest defied the musical logic Bouck had come to expect and it mesmerized him throughout the Mass.

"It absolutely took me to another place altogether," he told Catholic News Service during an October interview. "There was something about it that immediately brought to my mind, 'I am experiencing something that is holy right now. There's something very solemn and very reverent going on in a way that I have never experienced in a Protestant church.'"

Bouck hadn't realize he'd encountered Gregorian chant.

He did realize at that moment that he wanted to become Catholic and the sounds he deemed mystifyingly beautiful called him to conversion.

Gregorian chant is a monadic and rhythmically free liturgical chant considered the official music of the Catholic Church.

Not to be confused with liturgical hymns and other sacred music, Gregorian chants are typically unaccompanied sung prayers and official texts of the liturgy and congregation responses.

When the priest is singing portions of the Mass and the congregation sings the response, they are practicing a form of Gregorian chant, said Timothy S. McDonnell, director of the Institute of Sacred Music at The Catholic University of America.

Choirs in some Catholic churches also sing Gregorian chant, both in Latin and English, as part of a repertoire that may include other sacred music.

Though documents from the Second Vatican Council gives Gregorian chant -- developed between the seventh and ninth centuries in the Diocese of Rome -- pride of place in the Mass, it's no longer the dominant sound in most Catholic parishes, McDonnell told CNS.

Gregorian chant was largely replaced by more vernacular music following Vatican II, when the traditional Latin Mass was changed to the dominant language of each country.

However, Gregorian chant began to regain popularity in the 1990s and some Catholic parishes began reintroducing it during worship.

Bouck believes it was no mistake that he happened to attend his first Mass where the priest celebrated it completely in Gregorian chant.

Once he settled into parish life at the Catholic Church of the Ascension in Memphis, Tennessee, Bouck joined the choir and eventually became its director.

"We did Gregorian chant, we did contemporary worship type music and traditional hymns," he said. "But chant was always something that moved me and something that meant a lot to me."

Bouck's music ministry and involvement in the church would eventually lead him to consider the priesthood, a vocation he is now seeking in seminary, where he offers his considerable singing talents in the school's schola.

It's not uncommon for someone involved in a music ministry to hear the call to the priesthood, said David Lang, music director of Theological College.

"Those men are really engaged in the liturgy, especially if Gregorian chant is featured in their music," Lang told CNS. "The texts are divinely inspired and when you are singing them it's like you are praying twice. We shouldn't be surprised that someone hears God's call in that circumstance."

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Follow Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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Update: Mideast Christian leaders to Trump: Jerusalem move could have dire results

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 2:09pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences.

"We have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division," the Christian leaders said, just hours before Trump announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and relocating the U.S. embassy.

They appealed to Trump to take their viewpoint into consideration, as did the leaders who met at Camp David in July 2000 to decide the status of Jerusalem. The Christian leaders said their "solemn advice and plea" for the president was to continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem.

"We ask you, Mr. President, to help us all walk toward more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all," they said Dec. 6.

"Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work toward negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny."

The Christian leaders, who include Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs as well as the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, said Jerusalem could be "shared and fully enjoyed" once a political process helped "liberate the hearts of all people that live within it from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing."

With Christmas approaching they asked that Jerusalem "not be deprived" of peace; they wished Trump a Merry Christmas and asked that he help them "listen to the song of the angels."

"As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the peoples of this unique and Holy City," they said.

In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. In 1980 Israel declared a united Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestine.

Earlier Dec. 6, Pope Francis expressed concern that a U.S. move recognizing Jerusalem as the capital would further destabilize the Middle East.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city. Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has called for a special status for the city. It has insisted the political question of the city's status must be the result of negotiation.

Wadie Abunassar, chairman of media relations for the Christian leaders, said the status of Jerusalem is not only an issue for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for other Muslim countries as well. He noted that already a gathering of Arab foreign ministers has been organized for Dec. 11 as well as a meeting prepared by Turkey for Muslim countries.

"Jerusalem is a sensitive issue for all, so the Christian leaders, (following) the pope, are making an appeal to President Trump to be wise -- there is a need for wisdom ... especially in such an explosive situation," he said.

With violent demonstrations already in evidence even before any announcement had been made, Abunassar said more steps that produce confidence-building measures are needed rather than steps that "add oil to the flame."

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed faction, called for more protests in the coming days, particularly Dec. 8, the Muslim day of prayer. The U.S. labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

In Lebanon, Abdul Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, called on Arab Islamic leaders to counter the U.S. embassy's relocation to preserve the Arab identity of Jerusalem. The mufti is an important figure for Sunni Muslims, not just locally but regionally. Most of the Palestinian population in the region is Sunni Muslim.

"The transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Holy City as the capital of Israel is a blatant challenge and provocation to the feelings of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said in a statement Dec. 6. "This step would turn the region into a flame of conflicts that will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences and would adversely affect the region and the international community. This will have serious repercussions on the Arab and Islamic region."

"The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is unacceptable and represents a step toward the elimination of the Palestinian cause, which will not be allowed by Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said, calling to confront the Israeli enemy in various ways.

"Confrontation is a legitimate right aiming to defend the occupied land of Palestine," he said.

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Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

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Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @JSudireports.


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Bishop lays out detailed policies for 'morally acceptable' tax reform

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a new letter to members of Congress, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, outlined a sweeping package of changes in pending tax reform legislation to ensure the final bill is "morally acceptable."

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also addressed positive aspects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which members of both houses of Congress continued to hash out Dec. 6 to reconcile their respective measures for a final bill.

A vote on a final version was expected in the House of Representatives and the Senate before Christmas.

Bishop Dewane in his Dec. 6 letter reminded Congress that the country has long followed tax policy "that is good for workers, families who welcome life, families who are struggling to reach -- or stay in -- the middle class, and the very poor, (and) has been part of our tax code for years."

"Any modification to these important priorities of our nation should only be made with a clear understanding and concern for the people who may least be able to bear the negative consequences of new policy. For the sake of all people -- but especially those persons we ought, in justice, to prioritize -- Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets key moral concerns," he said.

The letter called for a reversal of the bill's plan to gradually increase taxes on taxpayers in the lowest income brackets while maintaining tax cuts for higher earners, including the most wealthy.

"No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for families struggling to meet their daily needs in order to finance cuts for millionaires and billionaires. The final proposal must be amended to avoid this outcome," Bishop Dewane wrote.

He also called for restoring the personal exemption, which has been eliminated in both chambers' version of the reform package. Even with the doubling the standard deduction as included in the legislation, families with more than three children would be penalized, leaving them financially worse off, he said.

While lauding the elimination of the marriage penalty under the child tax credit for low-income working families, Bishop Dewane called for removing the bill's requirement that taxpayers provide Social Security numbers to claim the credit. Such a requirement would harm immigrant families, he said.

Bishop Dewane urged lawmakers to pass a final bill that does not include a Senate provision that eliminates the Affordable Care Act individual mandate requiring people to purchase of health insurance or face a penalty. He said dropping the mandate would lead to millions of people becoming uninsured and that the issue would better be addressed in broader comprehensive approach to health care policy.

The letter welcomed the legislation's bid to double the standard deduction, saying it should be retained. He called the plan "a positive change that will help some families, including many facing economic challenges, avoid tax liability."

However, other provisions of the House and Senate bills were cited in the letter for their negative impact on low-income taxpayers. The letter called for:

-- Retaining the deduction for medical expenses; the deduction is included in the Senate bill, but not the House version.

-- Retaining the adoption assistance incentive for employers; the provision was eliminated in the House bill, but remained in the Senate.

-- Ensuring that employer incentives for paid family and medical leave do not end in 2019.

-- Adopting an "above-the-line" charitable deduction that would be available to all taxpayers, whether they itemize on tax returns or not to encourage charitable giving.

-- Restoring provisions that were cut in the House bill that assist working families such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a credit for people who retire on disability, and deductions for tuition and student loans, state and local taxes, employee business expenses and moving expenses; restoring other provisions cut in the Senate bill including deductions for union dues and expenses, clothing and uniforms and work-related education.

-- Retaining the housing credit and housing bonds that support development of low-income housing and calling for additional measures so that both the credit and bonds are not significantly devalued because of the lower corporate tax rate, restricting such projects.

-- Adding a plan for the creation of "opportunity zones" for struggling communities.

-- Leaving in place the current alternative minimum tax and estate tax "to ensure that the risks taken in tax reform fall on those who stand to benefit most rather than on those who struggle on the margins of society."

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The full text of the letter can be found online at http://bit.ly/2BGkVPX.

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Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Bangladesh, Myanmar youths are a sign of hope for Asia, pope says

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 9:07am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people in Myanmar and Bangladesh are a source of hope for a peaceful future in their countries after years of war and suffering, Pope Francis said.

As is customary, at his general audience Dec. 6, the first after his Nov. 27-Dec. 2 trip to Asia, Pope Francis reviewed his visit.

"In the faces of those young people, full of joy, I saw the future of Asia: A future that doesn't belong to those who build weapons, but to those who sow brotherhood," the pope said.

As temperatures in Rome hovered just above 40 degrees, the audience was held in the Paul VI audience hall to avoid the chilly weather.

The pope entered the hall, stretching his hands to each side of the aisle to greet people who reached out to touch him.

After telling the estimated 8,000 pilgrims that he wanted to speak about his recent visit, four Bangladeshi priests cheered loudly and held up a banner that read, "Thank you, Papa." The pope smiled and waved at the small group.

Noting that it was "the first time a successor of Peter visited Myanmar," the pope said he hoped to express "the closeness of Christ and the church to a people who have suffered due to conflict and repression and that now is slowly moving toward a new condition of freedom and peace."

The Catholic Church in Myanmar is "alive and fervent," he said, adding that he had "the joy of confirming them in the faith and in communion."

He also said his Nov. 29 meeting with a group of senior Buddhist monks was a moment to "manifest the church's esteem for their ancient spiritual tradition and the trust that Christians and Buddhists together can help people to love God and neighbor while rejecting every kind of violence and opposing evil with good."

Pope Francis said his visit to Bangladesh "followed in the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II" and "marked a further step toward respect and dialogue between Christianity and Islam."

He also praised the country's care for religious liberty and its welcoming of welcoming hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

"I wanted to express my solidarity with Bangladesh in their commitment to aid the Rohingya refugees flowing en masse in their territory, where the population density is among the highest in the world," the pope said.

The "most significant and joyful event" of ordaining 16 new priests in Dhaka, he said, was "the sign of a living community where the voice of the Lord resounds, calling on them to follow him."

This joy was also evident during his visit to the home in Dhaka where the Missionary of Charity sisters care for "so many orphans and people with disabilities," Pope Francis said.

"And they never lack a smile on their lips," the pope said. "Sisters who pray together, who serve the suffering continuously with a smile. It is a beautiful witness. I thank these little sisters so much."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Update: Pope concerned by U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 6:32am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Pope Francis expressed his concern that such a move would further destabilize the Middle East.

Pope Francis said he could not "keep silent about my deep concern" for Jerusalem and urged respect for "the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations."

The pope spoke at the end of his weekly general audience Dec. 6, the same day President Trump was expected to announce his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made the same promises during their campaigns, but once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Trump, on the other hand, seemed prepared to announce the move, drawing warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States' long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope received a telephone call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Dec. 5 regarding President Trump's plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

The conversation was "part of a series of contacts made by the president of the Palestinian National Authority after his conversation with Donald Trump during which -- according to Abbas' spokesman -- the U.S. president announced his intention to move the American embassy," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio.

The Vatican supports a "two-state solution" for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.

At the same time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In his appeal, Pope Francis said, "Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace."

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city.

"I pray to the Lord that this identity would be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence would prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts," the pope said.

Before the audience, Pope Francis met with religious leaders from Palestine attending a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Dialogue, the pope said, takes place at every level, especially "in our families, in our religious communities, between different religious communities, and also in civil society."

However, a key condition for dialogue is mutual respect and a commitment to strengthen that respect "for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be," he said.

"Dialogue is the source of greater mutual knowledge, greater mutual esteem and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good, and generous cooperation in ensuring that those in need receive all necessary assistance," Pope Francis said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Court seems divided in cake case examining religious rights, expression

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 4:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court seemed equally divided in the long-anticipated oral arguments Dec. 5 about the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

Even Justice Anthony Kennedy's comments went right down the middle, from expressing concern for those who would be shut out of services to later stressing that "tolerance is a two-way street" and saying the state of Colorado, where the bakery is located, seemed to be "neither tolerant or respectful" of the baker's views.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, pits anti-discrimination laws against freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

It drew strong feelings on both sides long before the court heard the arguments with the filing of 100 friend-of-the-court briefs months ago and the crowds lined up for days hoping to get into the court during the arguments. Crowds also gathered on the Supreme Court steps under cloudy skies and warm temperatures, chanting and holding aloft placards such as "Justice for Jack" (the baker) and "Open for All."

The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of the baker joined by the Colorado Catholic Conference, Catholic Bar Association, Catholic Medical Association, National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA and National Catholic Bioethics Center.

And after the hour and a half of oral arguments, chairmen of three USCCB committees issued a statement saying: "America has the ability to serve every person while making room for valid conscientious objection."

It also said it hoped the court would continue to "preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation," noting that artists "deserve to have the freedom to express ideas -- or to decline to create certain messages -- in accordance with their deeply held beliefs."

The statement was issued by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The case before the court at the end of 2017 was five years in the making, beginning in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, to make a cake for their wedding reception. Phillips refused, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to create a cake honoring their marriage.

The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which decided the baker's action violated state law. The decision was upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court wouldn't take the case, letting the ruling stand. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

During oral arguments at the high court, many questions came up about what constitutes speech, since the baker claimed he should have freedom of speech protection.

Justice Elena Kagan asked if a florist, chef or makeup artist also should have the same protection and other roles also were called into question such as tailors, or invitation designers, as were other cakes; pre-made cakes, for example, would not be an issue of compelled speech.

And as Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, said "not all cakes would be considered speech."

Amid the back and forth between what could be considered artistry and questions about how artists could be compelled to convey messages they disagree with, Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked: "Well, then, what is the line? That's what everybody is trying to get at."

"Obviously, we want a distinction that will not undermine every single civil rights law," he added.

The bulk of the defense for the baker focused on his freedom of speech rights, which attorneys argued would be violated by forcing him to make this cake.

Waggoner said the court was saying it had the discretion to decide what speech is offensive and what isn't, but it didn't "apply that in a fair way to Mr. Phillips." She also said that "what's deeply concerning" is how speech could be compelled of "filmmakers, oil painters and graphic designers in all kinds of context."

The arguments against the baker questioned if failing to provide services to same-sex couples was discriminatory.

David Cole, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, defending the couple, said discrimination against the couple who wanted the cake consigned them to "second-class status."

The last minutes of the oral arguments boiled down to the opposing views but also didn't reveal a clear path forward.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the nation's views about interracial marriages "didn't change on its own" but because of "public accommodation laws that forced people to do things that many claimed were against their expressive rights and against their religious rights."

"Whatever it is you choose to sell, you have to sell it to everyone who knocks on your door, if you open your door to everyone," she added.

In response, Waggoner said it would be a grave offense to the First Amendment to "compel a person who believes that marriage is sacred, to give voice to a different view of marriage and require them to celebrate that marriage."

Sotomayor suggested not participating in weddings or creating neutral wedding cakes but that refusing to offer goods to some goes against public anti-discrimination laws.

Waggoner in her last allotted minute said: "A wedding cake expresses an inherent message that is that the union is a marriage and is to be celebrated, and that message violates Mr. Phillips' religious convictions."

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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.

Indiana town embodies Santa Claus and his spirit of love, peace, joy

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 3:41pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Katie Rutter

By Katie Rutter

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (CNS) -- Belief in that iconic Christmas figure, the rotund merry man with a bag full of presents, inspires thousands of children to write letters addressed to "Santa Claus" each year.

Surprisingly, many of these wish lists actually do get delivered to Santa Claus. But rather than landing in a magical workshop at the North Pole, the notes wind up in a little Indiana town that bears the same name as the jolly old elf.

"We have already answered 5,000 and we'll be getting more this morning," Patricia Koch, founder of the Santa Claus Museum and Village, told Catholic News Service Dec. 2. "They come from the U.S.A. and from all over the world."

Koch and a dozen other volunteers work long hours to "help" Santa answer the letters that find their way to the Santa Claus post office. Koch calls this letter-writing a ministry and is dedicated to keeping the spirit of Santa Claus, the person, alive.

"Our world can become very self-centered and commercialized," she explained, "so I think Santa Claus has that spirit of love and forgiveness and peace and joy."

The town itself, with a population just over 2,400, seems to embody the persona of Santa Claus. Streets are named "Sleigh Bell Drive" and "Candy Cane Lane," or even "Melchior," "Balthazar" and "Kaspar" after the traditional names of the three wise men. Unsurprisingly, the Catholics of the town named their church after the man who inspired the myth: St. Nicholas.

"Just looking at his acts, we just see this kindness and seeing those who were less fortunate," said Father John Brosmer, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Dale, which encompasses St. Nicholas Church and two other nearby worship sites.

St. Nicholas, also known as Nicholas of Myra, was a bishop in present-day Turkey who lived from about A.D. 280 to 343. He was the orphaned son of wealthy parents, and one ancient story claims that he threw bags of gold through the window of an impoverished family in the dead of night.

"In later versions, he drops a bag of gold through the chimney where it lands in a stocking that was hung there to dry," explained Adam English, chair of the Christian studies department at Campbell University and author of the historical book "The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus."

"What's really memorable about it is that it's an absolutely ordinary act of charity, of goodwill. This is the kind of thing that anybody can do," English said.

That simple act of generosity inspired generations of anonymous gift-giving. Givers attributed mysterious presents to St. Nicholas and passed his story from culture to culture. In the Netherlands, his nickname was "Sinter Klaas," which evolved to "Santa Claus" when Dutch immigrants arrived in New York.

St. Nicholas' identity was forever established as a "jolly old elf" by the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822.

"(The poem) starts to change him from being a Christian bishop, stern and austere and presiding over the Eucharist, to being more of a gift-giver who's maybe more a magical creature," said English.

Today, the familiar images of this magical man are recreated throughout the town of Santa Claus. Huge statues that adorn the main highway and the town hall depict a smiling, rosy-cheeked figure with a large bag of toys, his red coat and hat looking nothing like clerical garb.

Still, for Santa enthusiasts, even this depiction echoes Christian beginnings that were simply transformed by American culture.

"I use the expression 'extreme makeover,'" explained Father Joseph Marquis, a Byzantine Catholic priest who runs the St. Nicholas Institute. His program, based in Detroit, teaches the saint's history to professional portrayers of Santa.

"They took away his miter and gave him a triangular cap and his bishop's coat was shortened and lined with fur. The candy cane is an evolution from the crosier," Father Marquis said.

Nicholas of Myra likely lacked the rounded figure characteristic of a diet of milk and cookies. His place in history would paint a stature hardened by persecution, perhaps even bearing the scars of torture. A contemporary of the emperor Diocletian, Nicholas lived through the most terrible persecution of the early church and was himself imprisoned.

"We know for sure his nose was broken," said Father Marquis, referencing historical research done on the bones of the saint.

"They tortured his priests who were members of his flock to make him recant and he wouldn't do it," Father Marquis said.

Nicholas of Myra also was hailed as a defender of justice, which might have led to Santa's common question to young children, "Have you been good?" and the naughty-nice list that he must "check twice." According to one legend, the bishop found out that a local judge had accepted a bribe and falsely condemned three men to death.

"Nicholas ran to the spot and literally grabbed the sword out of the executioner's hand," related Father Marquis.

"He pointed right at the guy for condemning them to death and the man actually confessed that he took money to condemn them," he said.

St. Nicholas Church hosted a visit from its namesake to anticipate his Dec. 6 feast day. A white-bearded man wearing a miter and long red robes made a surprise appearance at the Sunday Vigil Mass Dec. 2 and handed out ornaments to all the parishioners.

"You can't get away from Santa Claus here," laughed parishioner Deacon Jim Woebkenberg.

The voice of St. Nicholas likely pursues Catholics during every Sunday liturgy. Historical documents confirm that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. While his direct contributions, if any, are unknown, it was during this council that the Nicene Creed was written.

"You have echoes of the voice of St. Nicholas every Sunday when we recite the creed, which for me as a big St. Nicholas fan, indebted to him for so many things in my life, that's important to me," said Father Marquis.

Similarly, every bright-eyed child who rushes to the Christmas tree Dec. 25 is indebted to this saint for the legacy of giving. But just as the town of Santa Claus stays on the map even after the holiday season, the local pastor said that the true spirit of St. Nick leads Catholics to generosity all year long.

"Growing up as a Christian, you want to share your gifts you want to give of yourself," said Father Brosmer. "The true Christian is St. Nicholas, it's that generosity all the time."

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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's letter to Argentine bishops on 'Amoris Laetitia' part of official record

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 11:14am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Describing them as "authentic magisterium," Pope Francis ordered the official publication of his letter to a group of Argentine bishops and their guidelines for the interpretation of "Amoris Laetitia," his apostolic exhortation on the family.

According to a brief note by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Pope Francis wanted his letter and the bishops' document to be published on the Vatican website and in the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," the official record of Vatican documents and acts.

The papal letter, dated Sept. 5, 2016, was written in response to guidelines published by the bishops in the Catholic Church's Buenos Aires region. Pope Francis said the bishops' document "explains precisely the meaning of Chapter VIII of 'Amoris Laetitia.' There are no other interpretations."

The letter is found on the Vatican website under letters written by the pope in 2016, and was published in the October 2016 edition of the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," which also is available online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/aas/documents/2016/acta-ottobre2016.pdf.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told Catholic News Service Dec. 5, "The fact that the pope requested that his letter and the interpretations of the Buenos Aires bishops be published in the AAS means that His Holiness has given these documents a particular qualification that elevates them to the level of being official teachings of the church.

"While the content of the pope's letter itself does not contain teachings on faith and morals, it does point toward the interpretations of the Argentine bishops and confirms them as authentically reflecting his own mind," the cardinal said. "Thus together the two documents became the Holy Father's authentic magisterium for the whole church."

The eighth chapter of "Amoris Laetitia" is titled, "Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness," and is the most debated chapter of the document. It urges pastors to assist those whose marriages have faltered and help them feel part of the church community. It also outlines a process that could lead divorced and civilly remarried Catholics back to the sacraments.

Some church leaders and theologians have insisted reception of the sacraments is impossible for such couples unless they receive an annulment of their sacramental marriage or abstain from sexual relations with their new partner.

The Buenos Aires document said the path of discernment proposed by Pope Francis "does not necessarily end in the sacraments," but should, first of all, help the couple recognize their situation, understand church teaching on the permanence of marriage and take steps toward living a more Christian life.

"When feasible," the guidelines said, divorced and civilly remarried couples should be encouraged to abstain from sexual relations, which would allow them to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.

While there is no such thing as "unrestricted access to the sacraments," the bishops said, in some situations, after a thorough process of discernment and examination of the culpability of the individual in the failure of the sacramental marriage, the pope's exhortation "opens the possibility" to reception of the sacraments.

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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.

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