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Updated: 47 min 13 sec ago

Vatican opens medical clinic for the homeless

Wed, 12/26/2018 - 8:10am


By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just before Christmas the Vatican announced it had opened a new medical clinic for the homeless and the poor, expanding services previously offered in a small space just outside St. Peter's Square.

The Merciful Mother Clinic, which has three fully equipped examining rooms, an office and a waiting room, occupies space previously used as a secondary Vatican post office just beyond the northern arm of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square.

The new clinic is next to the bathrooms and showers opened for the homeless in 2015; a year later, with the help of volunteers, services were expanded to include barbers and doctors once a week.

The clinic will be open Monday, Thursday and Saturday, said the announcement Dec. 22 from the office of Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner. Monday mornings, the statement said, podiatrists will be on duty to provide medical attention to patients with foot problems, something very common among the homeless.

On Wednesdays when Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square and whenever there are large events in the square, the clinic will serve as a first-aid station, the announcement said.

The clinic will be staffed by personnel from the Vatican medical service and volunteer doctors from the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Italian medical associations. Medical students and residents from the Tor Vergata medical school will do internships at the clinic.


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In Christmas message, pope prays for peace, brotherhood

Tue, 12/25/2018 - 6:38am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Delivering his formal Christmas message and blessing, Pope Francis prayed for a world where all people would recognize that they are brothers and sisters and would work for justice and for peace.

The birth of Jesus proclaims that "God is a good father and we are all brothers and sisters. This truth is the basis of the Christian vision of humanity," the pope said Dec. 25 before giving his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) and appealing for peace in Syria, Ukraine, the Holy Land, Yemen, Venezuela, Nicaragua and throughout Africa.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square under clear blue skies for the blessing and millions more watched on television or on computers, tablets and phones; the pope's blessing went to all of them.

"May the little child whom we contemplate today in the manger, in the cold of the night, watch over all the children of the world, and every frail, vulnerable and discarded person," Pope Francis said.

"May all of us receive peace and consolation from the birth of the Savior and, in the knowledge that we are loved by the one heavenly Father, realize anew that we are brothers and sisters and come to live as such!" he prayed.

In his message, Pope Francis said that believing in Jesus means believing that all people are brothers and sisters. Without that recognition, he said, "our efforts for a more just world fall short, and even our best plans and projects risk being soulless and empty."

The pope said his "wish for fraternity," included "fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture," among "people with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another," and among people of different religions.

"By his incarnation, the son of God tells us that salvation comes through love, acceptance, respect for this poor humanity of ours, which we all share in a great variety of races, languages, and cultures," the pope said.

Since all people are created by God, human differences shouldn't be a threat, but a blessing, he said. After all, "when an artist is about to make a mosaic, it is better to have tiles of many colors available, rather than just a few!"

Being brothers and sisters does not mean humanity will not experience differences and even tensions, he said, but there should be "an unbreakable bond uniting us."

The pope prayed that a rediscovery of fraternity would "enable Israelis and Palestinians to resume dialogue and undertake a journey of peace that can put an end to a conflict that for over 70 years has rent the land chosen by the Lord to show his face of love."

He prayed that the people of Syria, where Christians and Muslims once lived in peace, would find that again after more than seven years of war.

Speaking less than a week after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, Pope Francis urged the international community to "work decisively for a political solution that can put aside divisions and partisan interests, so that the Syrian people, especially all those who were forced to leave their own lands and seek refuge elsewhere, can return to live in peace in their own country."

In Ukraine, where a Russia-supported war has been raging in the eastern regions since 2014, the pope prayed that Jesus would "bring relief," adding that "only with a peace respectful of the rights of every nation can the country recover from the sufferings it has endured and restore dignified living conditions for its citizens."

And as tensions continue over the status of the Orthodox communities in Ukraine, with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople set to recognize the country's new independent Orthodox church over the objections of the Russian Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said, "I am close to the Christian communities of the region, and I pray that they may develop relationships of fraternity and friendship."

For Africa he prayed that "the Holy Child, the King of Peace," would "silence the clash of arms and allow a new dawn of fraternity to rise over the entire continent, blessing the efforts of all those who work to promote paths of reconciliation in political and social life."

Pope Francis prayed for the continued rapprochement between North and South Korea, for a recovery of "social harmony" in Venezuela and for an overcoming of "divisions and discord" in Nicaragua.

He also prayed for every Christian who celebrates Christmas "in difficult, if not hostile situations," adding a prayerful hope "May the Lord grant that they, and all minorities, may live in peace and see their rights recognized, especially the right to religious freedom."


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Pope at Christmas: Come to the manger with love, charity, simplicity

Mon, 12/24/2018 - 4:29pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus' birth in a stable, God's coming to earth in extreme simplicity, teaches Christians that love is more valuable than anything else and is what will change the world, Pope Francis said.

"In Bethlehem, we discover that the life of God can enter into our hearts and dwell there. If we welcome that gift, history changes, starting with each of us," the pope said in his homily at Mass Dec. 24 in St. Peter's Basilica.

After the singing of the "Kalenda," the ancient Christmas proclamation, and the ringing of the basilica's bells, Pope Francis lifted a cloth revealing a statue of the baby Jesus, and he gently kissed it.

St. Peter's Basilica was filled with a new light for the Christmas Mass. For the first time, the basilica's new LED lighting was used -- 700 light fixtures contain 100,000 LEDs and, according to the Vatican, will bring an energy savings of 90 percent.

In his homily, the pope noted how the Christmas story leads believers back to Bethlehem, which means "house of bread."

"Tonight," he said, "as we hear the summons to go up to Bethlehem, the house of bread, let us ask ourselves: What is the bread of my life, what is it that I cannot do without? Is it the Lord, or something else?"

"Then," he continued, "as we enter the stable, sensing in the tender poverty of the newborn child a new fragrance of life, the odor of simplicity, let us ask ourselves: Do I really need all these material objects and complicated recipes for living? Can I manage without all these unnecessary extras and live a life of greater simplicity?"

When sin entered the world with Adam and Eve, "mankind became greedy and voracious," he said. "In our day, for many people, life's meaning is found in possessing, in having an excess of material objects. An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when, paradoxically, a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive."

But for those who welcome the birth of Jesus and strive to follow him, the pope said, the center of life is "no longer my ravenous and selfish ego, but the one who is born and lives for love."

Standing before the manger teaches believers that what matters in life "is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity."

Another result of sin, he said, is fear, including fear of God.

But the night Jesus was born, the shepherds heard an angel telling them not to be afraid.

"How many times do we hear this phrase in the Gospels: 'Be not afraid'? It seems that God is constantly repeating it as he seeks us out," the pope said.

"Bethlehem is the remedy" for people's fear because despite saying "no" to God, "God constantly says, 'yes,'" the pope said. "He will always be God-with-us. And lest his presence inspire fear, he makes himself a tender child."

''Be not afraid: these words were not spoken to saints but to shepherds, simple people who in those days were certainly not known for their refined manners and piety," he said. "The Son of David was born among shepherds in order to tell us that never again will anyone be alone and abandoned; we have a shepherd who conquers our every fear and loves us all, without exception."

The shepherds, he said, also are a reminder to Christians to remain awake, watchful and full of hope, even "amid the gloom of our problems."

The pope ended his homily with a prayer: "I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world.

"Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: 'Lord you know everything; you know that I love you,'" he prayed.


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Priest apologizes for funeral homily that focused on suicide

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 4:08pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Darrow, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Michigan priest criticized for emphasizing suicide in his homily during a recent funeral for an 18-year-old who took his own life has since apologized.

"As with any funeral, it was my intent to serve this family in their time of grief, but I fell well short of providing them the comfort they so desperately needed. Instead, I added to their pain. I deeply regret that, and I am sorry," said Father Don LaCuesta, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Temperance, Michigan.

He expressed his remorse in remarks to parishioners a week after the Dec. 8 funeral of Maison Hullibarger, which received extensive media coverage. His remarks were released Dec. 17 by the Detroit Archdiocese along with its own statement of apology.

The archdiocese said it regrets that one of its parish priests "was unable to bring comfort to a grieving family at the recent funeral of their beloved son. Our hope is always to bring comfort to situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ."

The statement added that what happened made an unbearable situation "even more difficult" and noted that Father LaCuesta will no longer be preaching at funerals and will have all other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor.

In his homily at the Dec. 8 funeral, also released by the archdiocese with names redacted, Father LaCuesta did not say, as some media reports have indicated, that the teen's Dec. 4 death would prevent him from going to heaven.

His homily focused on suicide and God's mercy without mentioning any details about Hullibarger, a freshman at the University of Toledo, Ohio, who was studying criminal justice, who was a brother to five siblings and who loved football, camping and his mom's cooking.

His parents told the Detroit Free Press that they met with the priest days before the funeral to tell him about their son, stressing that they wanted him to talk about his life.

"We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died," said his mother, Linda Hullibarger.

The priest began by saying there was "hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives."

He went on to say that "taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits."

The priest also said the "finality of suicide makes this all the worse. You cannot make things right again," adding that the pain for the family now is that so much is unresolved when they would like to "turn the clock back and say, 'Please don't give up. We can work through this pain together.'"

He said the family now will have to work through this pain by themselves or "with those close to you now who will need to lean on you even as you lean on them."

He ended by repeating what he said earlier in the homily: "Nothing -- not even suicide -- can separate us from the unconditional love of God." But by that point Maison's father, Jeff Hullibarger, frustrated with the repeated message of suicide, had already gone to the pulpit asking the priest to stop.

Jeff and Linda Hullibarger said they spoke to the media about what happened so that something similar wouldn't happen to other families. They also have asked the archdiocese to remove Father LaCuesta as their parish pastor.

The Hullibargers received phone calls from the archdiocesan vicar for clergy and an auxiliary bishop as well as Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, who also planned to meet with the couple in person.

In the priest's message to his parish, he said: "I know there have been some calling for my removal from the parish -- or from ministry altogether. I understand the pain behind these calls. It is my preference to stay and to serve the parish community I love so much. I want all of you to know that I am working with the archdiocese to ensure that I can serve more effectively in the future."

He also said he will work on "deep interior reflection" alone and with others about how he could have "missed the mark so completely in this case."

"Many of us know how painful it is when you unintentionally hurt somebody you are trying to help," he added. "I ask you to please join me in praying for the family involved, that they may find healing and comfort during this difficult time."

Although some Christian denominations maintain that suicide results in automatic and eternal damnation, the Catholic faith does not despair of God's mercy for those who take their own lives and it recognizes the complexities of mental, emotional and physical health in its stance on suicide.

In a Catholic News Service article earlier this year following a few celebrity suicides, Father Bernard Taglianetti, a professor of moral theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, said: "Suicide itself is a gravely disordered act, an evil one. However, the church also recognizes that strong emotional experiences -- deep suffering, deep depression -- can diminish one's culpability."

"The Catholic Church doesn't ever decide or declare that someone is in hell," he added. "What's important here is hope -- hope in the love of God, and in his divine mercy."

The Detroit archdiocesan statement said it acknowledged that the Hullibarger family "expected a homily based on how their loved one lived, not one addressing how he passed away."

It also said the family was hurt by the priest's "choice to share church teaching on suicide, when the emphasis should have been placed more on God's closeness to those who mourn."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim


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Being holy is what brings joy, pope tells Vatican employees

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 10:36am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- This Christmas will people go to adore and be amazed by Jesus, or will they let themselves be detoured by distractions? Pope Francis asked.

In fact, one sign of holiness is being able to "be astonished, to feel wonder before God's gifts, his 'surprises.' And the greatest gift, the ever-new surprise is Jesus," he told Vatican employees and their family members during a meeting Dec. 21 in the Paul VI audience hall.

The pope continued a tradition he began in 2014 of offering Christmas greetings to people who work at the Vatican. The special audience comes right after a longer-held tradition of the pope meeting with officials of the Roman Curia.

Christmas cheer was in the air as Vatican employees and their families, many dressed in festive clothes, greeted the pope and gave him Christmas cards, gifts and hugs.

Christmas is the season of joy because the source of true joy -- Christ the savior -- has come, the pope said.

"But often we realize that people and perhaps we ourselves are caught up in so many things and, in the end, there is no joy or, if there is, it is very superficial. Why?" he asked.

Joy, he said, comes from being holy or at least trying to be good, being close to Jesus and letting oneself be touched by wonder and "contaminated" by the joy that surrounds him.

Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and all the others gathered at the manger, gazing at the Christ child, are "overflowing with holiness and, therefore, with joy," he said.

Mary and Joseph had so many things to worry about, but they were happy because "they welcomed this gift from God with so much faith and so much love."

He told the employees that his wish for them this Christmas was "to be saints, to be happy."

People must not be superficial saints, just "normal saints," that is, people who are holy even with all their defects and sins because "we ask for forgiveness and go forward," he said.

It takes just a little to be on the road to holiness, he said, just a small ray of sunshine, "a smile, some attention, a favor, saying sorry."  

Little things like that make the workplace "more breathable," too, he said. It lightens up that stifling environment "we create with our arrogance, closed-mindedness and prejudices, and people even work better" with better results.

The pope reminded them to avoid criticizing others behind their backs. If something is bothering them, they should confront the person directly and speak frankly, he said, or else just bite their tongue.

Do not gossip or backstab, he said, because it destroys "friendships and spontaneity."

With this being his sixth Christmas at the Vatican, the pope said he has gotten to know many holy people who work there.

They are "saints who live the Christian life well. If they do something bad, they apologize. But they go forward," he said, adding, "you can live this way. It is a grace and it is very beautiful."

Often these saints "who live next door" are hard to notice because they are modest, do their jobs well and work well with others, he said.

"And they are joyful people, not because they are always laughing, no, but because they are very serene inside and they know how to spread it to others. And where does that serenity come from? Always from him, Jesus."

"We are not afraid of holiness," the pope said. "I can tell you, it is the path of joy."

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Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves at the Vatican.

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Update: Church will spare no effort to end abuse, pope tells Curia

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 5:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri pool via

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Acknowledging the gravity of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, Pope Francis told members of the Roman Curia that the church's strength does not depend on its members' perfection, but on the willingness to recognize its failings and correct them.

"Let it be clear that before these abominations the church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes," the pope said Dec. 21 during his annual pre-Christmas meeting with officials of the Curia.

And speaking directly to clerics who have abused children, Pope Francis said: "Convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice."

While it is "undeniable" that in the past many allegations of abuse were not handled with the necessary "seriousness and promptness," the pope said, "that must never happen again."

"The church," he said, "will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case."

Pope Francis' 35-minute speech to the Curia included a review of the "joys and afflictions" of the church in the past year and a meditation on the message Christmas proclaims to the church and its members.

"Christmas gives us the certainty that God's light will continue to shine, despite our human misery," he said. "It gives us the certainty that the church will emerge from these tribulations all the more beautiful, purified and radiant."

The pope's list of "joys" in 2018 included the Synod of Bishops on young people, the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia and the many canonizations and beatifications that were celebrated; he specifically mentioned the beatification in December of 19 martyrs in Algeria, including the monks of Tibhirine.

The joys, he said, also include "the great number of faithful who each year receive baptism" or return to active church life, parents who pass on the faith to their children, young people who enter the priesthood or religious life and the "great number of consecrated men and women, bishops and priests, who daily live their calling in fidelity, silence, holiness and self-denial."

The "afflictions" of the church include the afflictions of the world, Pope Francis said, mentioning specifically growing anti-immigrant sentiment, war, religious persecution and famine.

But the bulk of his talk was devoted to the abuse crisis and the obligation to address it clearly and decisively.

Pope Francis has called the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences, the heads of the Eastern Catholic churches and leaders of religious orders to a meeting at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to discuss the scandal.

The meeting, he told the Curia officials, will reaffirm the church's "firm resolve to pursue unstintingly a path of purification" and, with the help of experts, will examine "how best to protect children, to avoid these tragedies, to bring healing and restoration to the victims, and to improve the training imparted in seminaries."

"An effort will be made to make past mistakes opportunities for eliminating this scourge, not only from the body of the church but also from that of society," he said, noting that sexual abuse is a problem not only within the church.

Many Catholics have accused the media of covering the abuse scandal in a way that gives "the false impression that this evil affects the Catholic Church alone," the pope said. But he added, "I myself would like to give heartfelt thanks to those media professionals who were honest and objective and sought to unmask these predators and to make their victims' voices heard."

"Even if it were to involve a single case of abuse -- something itself monstrous -- the church asks that people not be silent but bring it objectively to light, since the greater scandal in this matter is that of cloaking the truth," he said.

Without naming names, Pope Francis also referred in his speech to those who betray the church by hiding "behind good intentions in order to stab their brothers and sisters in the back and to sow weeds, division and bewilderment. They always find excuses, including intellectual and spiritual excuses, to progress unperturbed on the path to perdition."

In this speech, Pope Francis said clerics sullying each other's reputations "is nothing new in the church's history. St. Augustine, in speaking of the good seed and the weeds, says: 'Do you perhaps believe, brethren, that weeds cannot spring up even on the thrones of bishops? Do you perhaps think that this is found only lower down and not higher up?'"

Those entrusted with roles of leadership and responsibility in the church must be vigilant, he said.

"In effect, the strength of any institution does not depend on its being composed of men and women who are perfect -- something impossible! -- but on its willingness to be constantly purified, on its capacity to acknowledge humbly its errors and correct them; and on its ability to get up after falling down."

Christmas, he told the officials, "gives us the certainty that the grave evils perpetrated by some will never be able to cloud all the good that the church freely accomplishes in the world."

"Christmas," he said, "gives the certainty that the true strength of the church and of our daily efforts, so often hidden, rests in the Holy Spirit, who guides and protects her in every age, turning even sins into opportunities for forgiveness, failures into opportunities for renewal, and evil into an opportunity for purification and triumph."


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Bishops hope renewed spirit of holiness emerges from January retreat

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 11:14am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Congregation of Holy Cross

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Several bishops who are planning to join a weeklong U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops retreat to start the New Year are trusting they'll return to their dioceses with a renewed sense of what it means to shepherd the faithful.

Such a reminder of their primary role, they said, should be good for the soul.

They also anticipate the days of prayer and reflection that were suggested by Pope Francis to USCCB leaders will inspire new ways to be present to abuse survivors and others yearning to be heard as they begin the crucial task of rebuilding people's trust in the hierarchy and the credibility of the institutional church.

"I'm hoping we kind of remind each other what this (ministry) is all about," said Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, 51, who has been a bishop for 16 months. "It's got to be about service and a desire for holiness and, I'll throw this out there, purity."

The retreat, he told Catholic News Service, will be an opportunity for bishops to build "friendship and that trust in each other" as well.

Planned largely in response to last summer's revelations of sex abuse that reached the highest levels of the U.S. church, the Jan. 2-8 retreat at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago will be led by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household.

Pope Francis proposed that Father Cantalamessa, 84, lead the retreat, which has as its theme "the mission of the apostles and their successors." Father Cantalamessa has preached to popes and top officials of the Roman Curia for more than 38 years.

Msgr. Jeffrey D. Burrill, associate general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that more than 200 bishops are expected to travel to Illinois. Active U.S. bishops number 271 and there are 185 retired bishops.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, 50, of Jefferson City, Missouri, described himself as "a huge fan" of Father Cantalamessa. Ordained a bishop last February, Bishop McKnight is expecting the respected preacher to deliver an inspiring message that will help as he continues to learn the full responsibilities of his role.

Although he's been in his position for a short time, Bishop McKnight has been outspoken in his call for church renewal, especially among bishops. He has spoken and written about the abuse scandal that erupted anew last summer, repeatedly calling for a deep examination of clericalism, which he feels spawned the current crisis.

"We as bishops in the United States need to do some soul-searching and really develop a strong sense of wanting to get at the bottom of the whole clerical sexual abuse problem," he explained to CNS. "Treating it simply as an issue of sexual immorality isn't going to solve anything. We have to recognize it as an abuse of power.

"In exercising our pastoral authority in the governance of the church, we have to look at new ways of spreading that power around a bit more, utilizing the laity as well as the other clergy," Bishop McKnight added. He said the retreat can be a starting point on the long path of restoring credibility and rebuilding trust among the faithful.

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, 59, of Anchorage, Alaska, sees the retreat as an avenue for the Holy Spirit to speak to bishops individually and corporately within the USCCB as they explore pastoral responses to the challenges the abuse crisis has posed.

The retreat, he said, will invite each bishop "to go much deeper in terms of personal reflection of where the Lord is wanting each of us to go in holiness and mirroring the Good Shepherd in our life."

Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, expects that Father Cantalamessa will approach the idea of a shepherd leading his flock both theologically and spiritually. "I suspect that's Pope Francis' intention: to understand our role as bishops," he said.

"I think we (bishops) have to be as faithful as we can to the Gospel and the teachings of Christ and call some attention to the good that the church is doing. The crimes and the sins have been constantly in front of us and they're horrible and they need attention," added Bishop Stowe, 55, who became a bishop May 5, 2015.

"I hope the retreat will help us to lead the church to the point of healing and renewal."

Each bishop agreed that through a renewed commitment to their ministry, bishops overall will be better able to find new ways to respond to abuse survivors, some of whom continue to feel they have not been justly treated.

They also said they can seek ways to identify the positive responses taken by dioceses to address clergy abuse, most of which are not widely known.

Most importantly, they added, abuse survivors need to know the church cares.

"It starts with listening," Bishop Wack said. "It was something that was impressed on us in Baltimore during our fall meeting (in November). It was the presentations of the survivors that shows us the importance of listening. They said we have to listen. We even said that as a body of bishops. We have to listen to people's stories.

"It's clear, and quite often that is not all that people want, but it's a great deal. They want to know that they're heard," Bishop Wack said.

Abuse survivors deserve to be heard, reiterated Archbishop Etienne, Anchorage's archbishop since October 2016. Bishops must undertake "pastoral accompaniment with our victims and take the opportunity to express our deep sorrow and our deep desire to do what we can to help them."

At the same time, he continued, bishops must explain how the church overall and dioceses individually have made important strides in responding to clergy sex abuse.

Other bishops agreed, pointing to the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," the formation of lay diocesan review boards, victim assistance offices and safe environment training, all of which have dramatically reduced reported abuse incidents since 2002.

Bishop McKnight said the church's response to abuse will require a greater integration of laypeople into "meaningful" church decision-making roles and that the prayer the bishops undertake in Illinois will help them discern how.

"It's very apparent to me because of our experience of clergy sexual abuse that the church cannot continue to operate as it has in the past. It will have to operate differently. And it's beginning to," Bishop McKnight said.

"I know there are some who have a concern that it might be an alteration of our traditional understanding of the role and authority and power of the bishop (to involve more laypeople)," he continued. "But I see it as a new way of exercising the episcopal office, not a change from the received tradition."

Whatever path the retreat takes, Bishop Stowe's hopes rest in the words of Father Cantalamessa.

"I'm praying it will be a valuable thing. I think the experience will be good."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski



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'Everything changes' with Christ's birth, pope says

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 9:21am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Annunciation -- the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will bear God's son -- was such a tremendous, history-changing event that preaching about it is extremely difficult, Pope Francis said.

So, when the Gospel reading for daily Mass Dec. 20 was St. Luke's version of the Annunciation, the pope basically devoted his homily to reading the passage out again.

First, though, he told the small congregation in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae that the Annunciation is "the decisive moment in history, the most revolutionary."

When Jesus becomes human "everything changes, history turns upside down," he said. "God lowers himself, God enters history and does so in his original style: a surprise. The God of surprises surprises us."

The meaning and message of Christmas was on Pope Francis' mind later in the day when he met 65 young people from the children and young teens section of Italy's Catholic Action.

He asked the young people to share the Christmas message with their peers. "And what is this message? That we are all loved by the Lord. This is the true, great, good news that God gave the world with the coming of his son Jesus among us."

"He loves us! Each and every one of us," the pope said. "This is beautiful."

Praying that his young guests would let Jesus be born in their hearts, Pope Francis encouraged them also to "offer this joy to other youngsters who are living in situations of suffering or going through difficult times, especially those you notice are most alone or are being mistreated."

"Be generous channels of goodness and welcome to build a world that is marked by more brotherhood, more solidarity and is more Christian," the pope told them.


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Catholic-themed socks offer practical, spiritual support

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Aprille Hanson, Arkansas Catholic

By Aprille Hanson

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Some people wear their faith on their sleeve, others on their feet, which is hardly sacrilegious. It is in fact, Sock Religious.

Catholic socks are a rarity, but images like Mary, Pope Francis, St. Teresa of Kolkata and St. Joseph can be found at The Diocese of Little Rock also sells socks with the diocesan crest to benefit seminarian education, created by Sock Religious.

"We always knew this would be a way to outwardly to express our faith," said Scott Williams, who founded Sock Religious based in Indianapolis with his wife, Elisabeth, last year. "The most difficult thing that comes with evangelization is starting the conversation and these definitely will start a conversation."

Scott Williams, who has worked in youth ministry for about eight years, said creating Sock Religious was a "whim," brought on by his love for wearing fun socks at his suit-and-tie job.

"If I'm going to be matching socks to national holidays or to National Doughnut Day or Flag Day, how cool would it be to have socks to match up with feast days?" said the cradle Catholic. Soon, Williams along with graphic designer Madison Kinast, were selling Pope Francis' smiling face on a pair of socks at the National Catholic Youth Conference, selling about a pair a minute for eight hours.

Today, they still travel to various Catholic conferences and events to share their product line, which now includes Our Lady of Grace, St. Joseph, St. John Paul II, St. Michael, St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. Therese of Lisieux and more subtle designs, including rosary socks and Keys to the Kingdom socks. In November and December, they launched St. Nicholas and Our Lady of Guadalupe socks and often add more designs to their catalog.

"It's a way to express your personality without being way over the top or distracting," he told the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.

Williams' favorite sock, St. Joseph, has "a lot of personality" woven in the design.

"On the bottom of the sock, it has St. Joseph's most famous quote, so empty quotations because he was never quoted in the Bible," he said. The carpenter's square designs and the image of him holding the baby Jesus, he added, are symbols "of hard work and dedication and dedication to family; so that's what I try to emulate in my life."

But the socks are more than just fun. Elisabeth Williams, a nurse at Franciscan Hospice House, said her favorite St. Teresa of Kolkata socks, with the saint's image and the quote "small things, great love" on the bottom, are "hard to miss."

"I love the simple design and the simple message, which I think our world needs right now ' just to have that tangible reminder daily to offer the small things," she said, adding her co-workers enjoy wearing the socks. A pair also was donated to a patient who "really loved Mother Teresa."

Scott Williams said he's heard from customers about the unexpected impact the socks have had on their lives. One man, he said, wore his St. John Paul socks on an airplane, and after the flight had an airline attendant tell him she was struggling with her faith. She told the man she'd asked God "to show me the pope," and the man was wearing the pope socks.

Diocesan-crested socks of the Little Rock Diocese started out as a potential Christmas gift for the seminarians, thought up by vocations director Msgr. Scott Friend.

"Guys have pride in their diocese so it was a way for them to show off where they're from. It's part of their special love for the diocese," he said.

They reached out to Sock Religious to design two types: Black and gray checkers with yellow accents and blue and gray with St. Peter crosses. Both include the Diocese of Little Rock crest. While the Vocations Office purchased the socks from the company, all sale proceeds go toward seminarian education.

Maria Izquierdo, executive assistant in the Office of Vocations, said diocesan-crested socks made their debut this summer at a dinner called the "Taste of Faith." The event, usually held twice a year, raises money to help pay for seminarians' education.

"It was something new," Izquierdo said. "People were buying them not only for their spouses, but for their sons or relatives but they were thinking of Christmas gifts as well."

Msgr. Friend said the socks are "a nice way to start a conversation."

"If someone sees the socks, they can say, 'Well, I did this to help vocations,'" he said. "We're always kind of inviting people to help support vocations and all that and it's an easy way to do it, a fun way to do it. The important part of it is getting people to pray for vocations and to remember to spread the message and encourage vocations."

A little more than $3,000 has been raised from sock sales and has spread pride in the diocese, support for vocations and comfort.

"It's a good way to help the seminarians and keep (your) feet warm at the same time," Msgr. Friend said.

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Hanson is associate editor of Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.


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Pope: God's Christmas wish isn't buying-frenzy, feast, but gift of self

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 9:13am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christmas will not be authentic if people get caught up in a frenzy of shopping, presents and meals, all while ignoring the poor and forgetting who the celebration is really all about, Pope Francis said.

"If Christmas ends up as just a beautiful traditional holiday," where everything revolves around "us and not him, it will be a lost opportunity," the pope said Dec. 19 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.

"Please, let us not make Christmas worldly! Let us not put aside the one being celebrated" -- which is what happened at Jesus' birth when so many of "his own people did not accept him," he said.

With less than a week to go before Christmas, Pope Francis dedicated his audience talk to the true meaning of Christmas and the kind of "gifts" and surprises that are pleasing to God on that day.

"Trees, ornaments and lights are everywhere" to remind people of the coming holidays, the pope said, and the advertising and promotional "machine invites people to exchange more new gifts to surprise" others.

"But is this the holiday that God likes? What kind of Christmas would he want, what gifts and surprises?" the pope asked.

The answer to figuring out what God wants, he said, is to look at the first Christmas.

The day of Jesus' birth was a day "full of surprises" in which everybody's life took totally unexpected turns, and customs and plans were turned upside down, he said: Mary, a virgin, was going to have a child; Joseph, her groom, faced scandal with her pregnancy, but listened to God and took her as his wife; and the divine Word came as an infant incapable of speech.

Those who welcomed the savior of the world were not the local authorities, leaders or ambassadors, the pope said. Instead they were "simple shepherds, who, surprised by an angel while they were working at night, rushed there without delay. Who would have expected that?"

God does the unexpected, the pope said, since he "overturns our logic and our expectations."

Christmas, therefore, "is welcoming on earth surprises from heaven," the pope said.

Christmas ushers in a new era, in which "life is not planned, but is given, where one does not live anymore for oneself, according to one's own preferences, but for God and with God because from Christmas onward, God is the God-with-us, who lives with us and walks with us."

It is a time to let oneself be "shaken by his surprising novelty" because Jesus offers not the "reassuring coziness from a fireplace, but the divine shiver which shakes history."

Christmas "turns the tables" because the victors are humility over arrogance, simplicity over abundance, silence over noise, prayer over "me time" and God over one's ego, he said.

People should likewise choose God's silent voice over the "uproar of consumerism," he said, inviting people to take time out to sit in silence before a Nativity scene and let themselves feel awe and be surprised by God.

God asks people to be on guard against spreading themselves too thin, being overburdened with busyness and blaming it all on the world when he warns people to not let themselves be dragged asunder by the world.

"It will be Christmas if, like Joseph, we make room for silence; if, like Mary, we tell God, 'Here I am'; if, like Jesus, we are close to those who are alone; if, like the shepherds, we leave our sheepfolds in order to be with Jesus," Pope Francis said.
"It will not be Christmas if we seek the blinding lights of the world, if we fill ourselves with presents, lunches and dinners, but we do not help at least one poor person, who resembles God because God arrived poor on Christmas."

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Pope accepts resignation of Los Angeles auxiliary accused of abuse

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 6:01am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of 69-year-old Auxiliary Bishop Alexander Salazar of Los Angeles after the archdiocese's independent Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board recommended he not be allowed to minister because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in the 1990s.

The Vatican announced Dec. 19 that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation, although the Vatican did not explain the reason for his stepping down.

In a letter to the people of the archdiocese, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said, "I regret to inform you that in 2005, a year after he had been ordained a bishop, the archdiocese was made aware of an allegation against Bishop Salazar of misconduct with a minor."

The allegation "was never directly reported to the archdiocese," he said, but "it was investigated by law enforcement in 2002 and the district attorney did not prosecute."

Bishop Salazar has consistently denied the allegation.

"Since he was a bishop at the time the allegation was received, the archdiocese referred the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Holy See, which conducted an investigation and imposed certain precautionary measures on the ministry of Bishop Salazar," Archbishop Gomez said.

Without providing details, a separate statement from the archdiocese said the doctrinal congregation "investigated and permitted Bishop Salazar to remain in ministry subject to certain precautionary conditions, which he has respected."

The statement added, "The archdiocese has not received any other allegations involving Bishop Salazar."

As part of a process to update a list of accused priests issued in 2004, Archbishop Gomez had asked the Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board to review all allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors.

The archdiocese specified that Archbishop Gomez requested and received permission from the Vatican Congregation for Bishops to have the oversight board include a review of the past allegation against Bishop Salazar.

The board, it said, "found the allegation to be credible and recommended to Archbishop Gomez that Bishop Salazar should not have faculties to minister. Archbishop Gomez accepted the recommendation and submitted it to the Holy See."

"I am grateful for the Holy Father's loving concern for the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Archbishop Gomez said. "These decisions have been made out of deep concern for the healing and reconciliation of abuse victims and for the good of the church's mission. Let us continue to stay close to victim-survivors of abuse through our prayers and actions."

Born in San Jose, Costa Rica, Nov. 28, 1949, Alexander Salazar came to the United States with his family in 1953 and settled in Los Angeles. He became a U.S. citizen at age 18.

Educated in Catholic elementary and high schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, he studied at California State University, Los Angeles and at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, where he earned a bachelor's degree in bilingual studies in 1978.

After college, he taught at St. Albert the Great School in Compton, California, from 1968 to 1979 and worked as a bookkeeper for St. Albert the Great Parish.

In 1977, he began studies at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles June 16, 1984.

As a priest, then-Father Salazar served at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Whittier; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Pasadena; and St. Vibiana Cathedral in Los Angeles.

He was named temporary administrator of St. Teresa of Avila in 1994 and became pastor in 1995. In 2003, he was appointed vice chancellor while continuing as pastor of St. Teresa of Avila.

St. John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and he received his episcopal ordination Nov. 4, 2004.


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Christmas Eve marks 200th anniversary of beloved carol 'Silent Night'

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 1:32pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy

By Richard Szczepanowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Exactly 200 years ago this Christmas Eve -- Dec. 24, 1818 -- in a little church in what is now Austria, the world heard for the first time a poem set to music that eventually would be hailed as one of the most popular and beloved Christmas carols of all time.

"Silent Night" was sung for the first time that Christmas Eve at a midnight Mass at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire. The lyrics were written by a young Catholic priest, Father Joseph Mohr, and the music was composed by Francis Xavier Gruber, an organist and school master.

There is a popular legend that "Silent Night" was composed because the organ at Father Mohr's parish church, St. Nicholas, was broken.

According to the story, the priest wrote the lyrics to "Silent Night" -- "Stille Nacht" in the original German -- and asked Gruber to compose the tune for guitar so that there would be music at the midnight Mass.

This was all supposed to have transpired during the day of Christmas Eve of 1818, just hours before the carol was to be performed for the first time.

The truth is a little less dramatic.

Father Mohr wrote the poem "Stille Nacht" in 1816 in the Austrian town of Mariapfarr, near Salzburg. Two years later, while serving at St. Nicholas Parish in Oberndorf, the priest asked Gruber to compose a melody for the words. It is not known why Father Mohr wanted to set his poem to music. Gruber composed the music and "Silent Night" did indeed premiere at the Christmas Eve Mass.

The fact that the song was performed in German at the Mass would not have been uncommon or unusual in the Austrian Empire at that time, according to Sara Pecknold, professor of practice in the history of sacred music at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

"The vernacular (the language of a particular country or region) was being used in the liturgy. Even at a sung high Latin Mass, it would have been common to use German (in the Austrian Empire) in the songs," she said.

This, she said, was partially due to the influence of Joseph II, the Holy Roman Emperor who died less than 30 years before "Silent Night" was composed, and who defied the papacy and simplified the Mass and decreed other liturgical reforms in his empire.

"He certainly limited the splendor of the Latin Mass with an austere and almost Calvinistic approach to worship," Pecknold told the catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese. "So it certainly would have been proper to have a hymn sung in German accompanied by a guitar."

The carol eventually spread its way from the small village to other parts of the Austrian Empire and eventually to the rest of the world. The attraction to the carol comes from "it's blend of the particular and the universal," Pecknold noted.

Father Mohr's poem, "Stille Nacht," was written "in the wake of tumultuous activity," Pecknold said. "The Napoleonic Wars were still fresh in everyone's mind, so to write a poem about stillness and peace certainly makes sense. And it speaks about the universal peace that Christ brings to all people."

The carol's English version begins with the words:
"Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
'Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace"

The tune composed by Gruber "is interesting because it is not very sophisticated, but composed in a very folksy style. It is basically a simple tune with a folksy, pastoral setting and an undulating melodic swing. It is not too difficult to sing," Pecknold said.

The carol's fame -- and popularity -- in the United States is due in a large part to the Rainer Family Singers, a popular early 19th-century group of traveling singers from Austria who performed the song as part of their repertoire. It is believed the group brought the song to this country during their 1839 tour here.

"Stille Nacht" was translated into the English "Silent Night" by an Episcopal priest, the Rev. John Freeman Young.

"The English translation could be a little better," Pecknold conceded. The original "Stille Nacht" has six verses. The English translation only has three -- the first, second and sixth verses of the original.

According to the Stille Nacht Association, an Austrian-based organization dedicated "to make the song, its origin and its message resonate in the hearts and minds of locals and visitors from all over the world, "the carol is universally beloved.

"By the turn of the (20th) century 'Silent Night' was being sung on all continents, brought to the far reaches of the globe by Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Today we are aware of translations into more than 300 languages and dialects," the organization notes on its website.

The carol is believed to have caused a somewhat miraculous and well-documented Christmas truce during World War I.

On Christmas Eve 1914, British and French troops were encamped in trenches in a faceoff against German troops in Ypres in Flanders, Belgium. The two sides began singing Christmas carols to each other, and "Silent Night" was the only song all the combatants knew.

Singing the song together broke the ice and led to a temporary cease-fire with soldiers from both sides meeting in the middle "No Man's Land" to trade tobacco and candy, play soccer and sing carols.

As it marks its 200th anniversary, "Silent Night" remains as popular as ever. Bing Crosby's 1935 recording of the carol is the third biggest-selling single record in history; his 1942 recording of "White Christmas" holds the No. 1 spot.

A Time magazine survey found the song to be the most recorded Christmas carol, with "Joy to the World" a distant second. In 2011, the UNESCO declared "Silent Night" an honored part of "our intangible cultural heritage."

A 2016 worldwide survey of choral directors found "Silent Night" to be one of the 25 greatest Christmas carols of all time.

"We sing songs like 'Silent Night' because there is something about Christ's infancy that takes us deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation," Pecknold said. "We sing because there is something about the human voice in song that expresses something very intimate about ourselves and our joy."

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Szczepanowski is managing editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.


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Ask for grace to dream and to be silent like St. Joseph, pope suggests

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 10:56am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While St. Joseph was a practical, down-to-earth man, he had enough faith to be open to God speaking through dreams, Pope Francis said at morning Mass.

"Joseph had his feet on the ground. But he was open-minded," the pope said Dec. 18 during his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

On a cushion at the base of the altar were four large Christmas ornaments made for the pope by Slovakian children who have disabilities.

"They made them with their own hands," the pope said at the beginning of Mass. "I thought the Lord Jesus would like having them here."

The day's Gospel reading (Mt 1:18-25) recounted how Joseph, being a righteous man, wanted to quietly break off his relationship with Mary when he found out she was pregnant, but was told in a dream that the child was conceived through the Holy Spirit and he should marry Mary.

The Gospels recount Mary saying yes to God, the pope noted, but with Joseph, the story simply says that "he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him."

While many dreams are just the dreamer's subconscious speaking, the pope said, other dreams can be "a privileged place to seek after truth because there we cannot defend ourselves against the truth. They come, and God speaks through dreams."

"Joseph was a man of dreams, but not a dreamer," he told the small congregation at the Mass. "He wasn't abstract" and did not have "his head in the clouds."

Pope Francis told people at the Mass to ask St. Joseph to help them obtain "the grace to know how to dream by always seeking God's will in dreams and also the grace to accompany others in silence without chatter."

Noting how the Gospels do not record anything St. Joseph ever said, Pope Francis said Joseph helped Jesus grow and develop. "He looked for a place for the child to be born. He cared for him, helped him grow and taught him a skill ... in silence."

St. Joseph never acted like Jesus was "his," the pope said. "He silently let him grow. He let him grow: This idea could help us immensely, we who by nature always want to stick our noses in everything, especially in the lives of others."

Sometimes, he said, parents see their children do something they wish they hadn't done, but they hold their tongues and wait for the right moment to speak.

"They don't yell right away. No, they wait for an opportunity to say something that will lead to growth," he said.

God is like that, too, he said. He is patient and allows his children to learn.


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At Christmas, Peruvians try to make Venezuelan migrants feel at home

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 10:34am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oscar Durand

By Oscar Durand

LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Elide Pena, 55, grins when she talks about her favorite Christmas memory: the time when she fell under Santa's sleigh attempting to grab a toy for one of her grandchildren during a Christmas party in her native Venezuela.

For Pena, this year's celebrations will be different. She is in Peru, looking for work far from her family. And instead of spending Christmas at home, she is staying at the Scalabrini welcome center, a home run by the Scalabrinians to help respond to the wave of Venezuelans arriving in Peru.

The shelter opened its doors Aug. 6 and has room for 80 people, who can stay for up to seven days. People in particularly vulnerable situations may stay longer. Most of its residents are Venezuelans, though there are also migrants from other countries.

With more than half a million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, Peru is the second-largest host country after Colombia. Hyperinflation, power outages, political instability, violence and shortages of food and medicine have driven about 3 million people out of Venezuela.

"Before, in Venezuela, I didn't live in poverty and didn't have big needs. I could go out and enjoy myself. I lived a normal middle-class life," said Pena, who is from Margarita Island.

Three years ago, in her job as a nurse at a private psychiatric hospital, Pena started witnessing the shortage of medicines. The situation continued to worsen until last April, when the hospital closed. Without a job, and with her savings quickly dwindling due to hyperinflation, she decided to migrate.

After a monthlong journey, mostly on foot, Pena made it to Peru in late November. Along the way she slept on the street, suffered dehydration, and her feet developed blisters several times.

Her first days in Lima were challenging.

"Those first days were difficult. I couldn't sleep at night because I felt disoriented," Pena said.

"We leave our country with an idea, with expectations. But when we arrive the reality is very different. That causes a strong emotional impact, especially in the first days" said Jose Pineda, the shelter's social worker, who is also from Venezuela.

"The home is prepared for this. We want to let (the migrants) know that there is a helping hand, and we want to show them what the first steps they have to take are. That is why this home is important," he said.

During this holiday season, the Scalabrinians are also organizing activities to lift the residents' spirits.

"This is an emotionally loaded month not only for Venezuelans but for all migrants -- being without their families. Many are sad, because they cannot find a job and cannot send money to their relatives. We planned these activities to help them unite and feel at home," Pineda says.

One such effort Dec. 16 involved a group of 45 young people from Scalabrinian-run Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. The young people came to the shelter to lead a daylong Christmas celebration. Other scheduled activities include a group visit to the zoo and a "chocolatada," a hot chocolate party traditional during during the holiday season in Peru.

A special Christmas dinner menu will include Pan de Jamon -- Venezuelan ham bread -- and hallacas -- a Venezuelan version of tamales. The dishes will be prepared by the residents themselves, just as they used to do back home.

The Scalabrinian shelter is just one of the many projects connected to the church to support migrants and refugees from Venezuela in Peru. Some of the other initiatives are the United for Hope shelter run by the Comboni Missionaries, a Salesian shelter for youth and a comprehensive project of assistance and protection provided by the Jesuits. Countless parishes across the country also run local projects.

"My biggest hope is to give them a sense of community, so they can feel as if they are among family, as if they are in a little piece of Venezuela," said Angel Risco, a Comboni lay missionary who is in charge of the United for Hope shelter.

"We want them to know that we are with them," Risco added.

At the Scalabrinian shelter, Pena told CNS: "I feel loneliness and also sadness at being away from home. But I am thankful for the people who are here with me. They have become my family.

"I continue praying to God, and I know that the timing of God is perfect. I have faith that my country will recover and that better times will come," she added.


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Scapegoating migrants in political speeches is unacceptable, pope says

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 7:07am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In today's climate of mistrust, rejection and nationalism, the world urgently needs peacemakers and politicians who protect and lovingly serve others, Pope Francis said in his annual message for the World Day of Peace Jan. 1.

"Terror exerted over those who are most vulnerable contributes to the exile of entire populations who seek a place of peace," he said, and "political addresses that tend to blame every evil on migrants and to deprive the poor of hope are unacceptable."

Instead, political life can and should be "an outstanding form of charity" when it is exercised with a "basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons," the pope said.

Holding political office and having political responsibility "constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future," he said.

"One thing is certain: good politics is at the service of peace," Pope Francis wrote. "It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations."

The pope's message, which focused on "good politics at the service of peace," was released Dec. 18 at a Vatican news conference led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Peace is a gift freely offered by God to all people, who are then called upon to be open to peace and to cooperate, making peace real in one's home, family, community and country, the cardinal said.

The pope's message, which the Vatican sends to heads of state around the world, invited politicians in particular to manage and administer resources for the wellbeing of "all dwellers in the house," Cardinal Turkson said.

Pope Francis' wish and prayer for peace in 2019, he said, "is that politics -- this oversight, through policies and laws, of resources of domestic, national and global households -- may bring peace to all the citizens of the households, especially its youth, who may not be robbed of their hope in the future, because politics is so badly done that it deprives them of peace."

In his message, Pope Francis said politics is the essential path for building up a "human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalization and even destruction."

"The thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice," he said, highlighting the harm caused by "political vices."

"Whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions," the pope wrote, political vices "detract from the credibility of political life overall, as well as the authority, decisions and actions of those engaged in it."

"These vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic democracy, bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony," he said.

Such vices include "xenophobia, racism, lack of concern for the natural environment, the plundering of natural resources for the sake of quick profit and contempt for those forced into exile," he said. They also include many forms of corruption: "the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal" to national interests and the "refusal to relinquish power."

War and "the strategy of fear" are also contrary to politics at the service of peace, he said.

"To threaten others is to lower them to the status of objects and to deny their dignity," which is why any "escalation of intimidation and the uncontrolled proliferation of arms is contrary to morality and the search for true peace."

Politicians and all citizens, he said, need to "reaffirm that peace is based on respect for each person, whatever his or her background, on respect for the law and the common good, on respect for the environment entrusted to our care and for the richness of the moral tradition inherited from past generations."

The pope praised all those who work to protect and defend the rights and dignity of children living in areas of conflict, saying, "one out of every six children in our world is affected by the violence of war or its effects."

The mood in many countries, he said, is marked by "mistrust rooted in the fear of others or of strangers, or anxiety about one's personal security."

"Sadly," he said, "it is also seen at the political level, in attitudes of rejection or forms of nationalism that call into question the fraternity of which our globalized world has such great need."

"Today more than ever, our societies need 'artisans of peace' who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family."

Everyone, including young people, is called to cooperate and contribute to building a "common home" in one's own life, community, nation and world, he said.

"Authentic political life, grounded in law and in frank and fair relations between individuals, experiences renewal whenever we are convinced that every woman, man and generation brings the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies," he said.

"Every election and re-election, and every stage of public life, is an opportunity to return to the original points of reference that inspire justice and law," he said.

Good politics, he added, "respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations."

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Editors: The text of the pope's message in English can be found online at:

The text of the pope's message in Spanish can be found online at:


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After 25 years, Alaska priest still loves his Russian Far East mission

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 3:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It has been 25 years and counting, but Father Michael Shields doesn't have any plans to leave the mission of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, in Magadan, Russia, at least any time soon.

Father Shields, 69, loves his ministry in the Russian Far East city of 100,000. Magadan and Anchorage are sister cities. The mission came into being in 1989 at the initiative of then-Anchorage Bishop Francis Hurley as the former Soviet Union was in its "glasnost" and "perestroika" era under Mikhail Gorbachev.

There are only about 250 registered members of the mission -- Russia is still a predominantly Orthodox country -- and perhaps 50 to 80 of them come to Mass on a given Sunday. But "there's not a heart or a soul that I don't know deeply" among his congregants, Father Shields told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 14 interview in Washington.

Father Shields has been in the United States since late fall for knee replacement surgery and to visit donors and benefactors before his return Jan. 17. The Anchorage Archdiocese receives a grant to help fund the Magadan mission from the U.S. bishops' annual collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

The mission is about as far east as Russia can get. Russia, Father Shields added, is "not West and not East. It's both." In Magadan, he added, one can go to a drugstore on one side of the street, and pick up acupuncture needles in a shop on the other side.

With the closest Roman Catholic priest 800 miles away, it's a different kind of loneliness that sets in. But the members of the mission, Father Shields said, "are my family. That's just how I look at it."

When he's away, as he has been, Polish and Slovak priests ministering in Russia will travel to Magadan to substitute for him. Magadan was created by the former Soviet Union to be a prison-camp town, Father Shields noted, and those priests often have a relative who lived -- or died -- in the camps.

Post-Soviet Magadan's economy is based mostly in gold and coal mining. He said it also attracts professors and artists -- the same people once herded into the bygone camps. Now, though, "they get paid some sort of bonus" for working in such a remote location "and they can retire early."

When asked, Father Shields said his ability to speak Russian is "a daily humiliation for me." He celebrates Mass and preaches in Russian, "but I didn't learn until I was 42," he told CNS. Yet after a generation in Russia, some English words don't come that easily, either.

His most telling dark night of the soul, which made him question his ministry, came in 2003, when workers attached a new roof for the church "upside-down," he said. "It would rain inside the church" on cold days, of which there are plenty in Siberia, when -- and he was searching for the word "frost" -- had formed and then melt, the water running down the sides of the church walls.

"I needed to be alone," Father Shields recalled about the fiasco. "So I went to Poland for a retreat. I didn't want to talk to anyone. There were 150 blind children there. The nuns at the retreat said, 'You have to meet these children.' Being touched by 150 children later, I was healed. I went back to Magadan, and I put the roof back on myself. Forget the Russian construction company!"

Father Shields has been aided in his ministry for the past six years by a small group of students from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The first group had sent inquiries about mission work to places in western Russia without a response. Then they emailed him, and he was grateful for the help. The group, which usually numbers in single digits, spends the summer -- the temperature doesn't break 80 in Magadan -- helping out at the mission. The Magadan kids "love to practice their English" with the Steubenville students, a couple of whom tend to stay year-round to study Russian.

Russian millennials "are like millennials everywhere. They want to make a good life for themselves," and have their doubts about faith's place in their life, Father Shields said, and he counsels them on the joys of belief in God.

What he said is "hurtful," though, is the differing observances of Christmas and Easter on the Catholic and Orthodox calendars. The Orthodox Christmas, often called the Feast of Theophany -- when Jesus in human form was made known to others -- is celebrated Jan. 6, the Catholic feast of the Epiphany. And the Orthodox Easter is almost always later than the Catholic Easter.

"If I can get Pope Francis to listen to me," Father Shields said, he would split the difference. Christmas would be celebrated by all on Dec. 25, thus lessening the influence of Russia's New Year celebrations, while "we would surrender our Easter" and observe the Orthodox date.


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True Christmas celebrates Jesus, who is tender, humble, pope says

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 9:23am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giuseppe Lami, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With Christmas just over a week away, visitors came to St. Peter's Square with their Baby Jesus figurines for a traditional blessing by the pope.

Many children came with small figurines for their family Nativity scene, others held delicate sculptures, and one group set a giant statue of the Baby Jesus on top of stacks of hay bales. "All the joy in a crib," said the banner in front of the display.

Blessing the statues after reciting the Angelus prayer Dec. 16, Pope Francis told the little ones, "Dear children, may you feel wonder when you gather in your homes in prayer before the Nativity, gazing at Baby Jesus."

To see God is to feel amazement, "wonder at the great mystery of God made man. And the Holy Spirit will put humility, tenderness and the goodness of Jesus in your hearts," he said.

"Jesus is good, Jesus is tender, Jesus is humble. This is the real Christmas!" he said.

Before praying the Angelus on what is known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, the pope explained why the church is invited to rejoice.

Jesus, the Emmanuel, is "God with us," and his presence is the source of joy, Pope Francis said. He came not to punish but to forgive and this leads people to feel joyful and full of praise.

God wants to redeem and save those whom he loves, the pope said, underlining that God's love is "incessant" and tender like a father's love for his child.

Just as Mary was called to welcome and bring the Christ child into the world, people today are also called to welcome the Gospel and so that it can "become flesh" and come into the world in people's actual lives.

People of faith should know they need not be anxious or feel despair, but need to "present to God our requests, our needs, our concerns with prayers and supplications."

"The awareness that when in difficulty we can always turn to the Lord, and that he never rejects our invocations, is a great reason for joy," he said.

There are no worries or fears that can ever "take away from us the serenity that comes from knowing that God always lovingly guides our lives," the pope said. "Even in the midst of problems and suffering, this certainty nourishes hope and courage."

After reciting the prayer, the pope also highlighted the adoption Dec. 10 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. He expressed his hope that the agreement would facilitate "responsibility, solidarity and compassion toward those who, for various reasons, have left their country."


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Pope celebrates his birthday with clients of Vatican pediatric clinic

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 9:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giuseppe Lami, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Holy Family lived in Rome and the baby Jesus had a cold or flu, Mary and Joseph certainly would bring him to the Vatican pediatric clinic for help, Pope Francis said.

The Vatican's St. Martha Dispensary was founded in 1922 and, staffed by volunteers, it provides medical care and basic necessities to any child in need; most of the clients are immigrants.

Dozens of children, their parents and the clinic volunteers anticipated Pope Francis' 82nd birthday, singing for him and giving him a large cake Dec. 16. His birthday was the next day.

"I wish you all a merry Christmas, a good holy Christmas, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do. Really," the pope said. "And, I also hope that no one gets indigestion from a cake that big. Thank you!"

In brief comments to the women religious who run the clinic and to the doctors and others who volunteer there, Pope Francis said, "Working with children isn't easy, but they teach us much."

"They taught me something: to understand the reality of life, you must lower yourself, like you bend down to kiss a child. They teach us this," he said. "The proud and haughty cannot understand life because they are not capable of lowering themselves."

Everyone who works at the clinic gives children something, the pope said. "But they give us this proclamation, this teaching: bow down, be humble and you will learn to understand life and understand people."


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Faith advocates see victories in new farm bill

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 5:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The farm bill that passed both houses of Congress by wide margins doesn't have money in it to protect endangered species, but it did preserve one that had been on the threatened list: bipartisanship.

"We were so excited that he Senate acted like grown-ups," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

"They actually did governance, and they had hearings, and Sen. (Pat) Roberts (a Republican) from Kansas: I rarely agree with him on anything, so this was an amazing project he led, focused on the needs of the people involved," Sister Campbell said Dec. 13. "It was far beyond partisanship in actually trying to make government work."

Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, was happy Congress acted relatively swiftly. This was the first time a farm bill passed without needing an extension of the expiring version since 1990, when George H.W. Bush was president.

Not all farmers will reap benefits from the farm bill. "We've got lots of folks hurting in rural communities," Ennis told CNS Dec. 14, "but you can't put everything in one bill. You just can't."

Sister Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, gave Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, credit for "listening to many of the agricultural workers in Kansas who use SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the off-season."

Farmers who hire the farmworkers, she said, "depend on their workers being able to eat," and Roberts saw this "through the eyes of the farmworkers and the farmers."

She added Roberts was "helped by the changing politics in Kansas, which has moved significantly away from the hyperpartisan, punitive approach. ... I think it was a combination of his experience, the experience of his people, and the November election."

Sister Campbell also lauded Roberts' Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan: "She has worked hard to put together a very collaborative relationship with him, so together, they could create a bill they could be proud of."

The Senate passed the farm bill in a 87-13 vote Dec. 11. The House passed it 369-47 Dec. 12. The bill was awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump.

One point of contention between the original House and Senate versions was a provision in the House bill that would have imposed stricter work requirements for SNAP eligibility, with stretches of SNAP ineligibility growing longer each time a recipient failed to report their work, or looking for work, in a timely manner. The House ultimately removed that from its version of the bill.

"We actually got most of the stuff that we wanted," Sister Campbell told CNS in a telephone interview. While she said she sees farm subsidies as "a little excessive," the final bill "maintained pretty much the existing protections for farm runoff and the fertilizers used and that sort of thing. So I don't have complaints on that side. Certainly, after what we were facing in the House, I'm certainly not complaining about the nutritional title.

"It's a rare day for me to not complain about something."

"They decided we can't keep doing that to our farmers," Ennis said of the extensions lawmakers passed in all the previous farm bills over close to the last 30 years.

"It helps, too, that the (Republican-led) House felt under pressure due to the change in leadership (in January)," he told CNS. "They have the control now, but in the future, they would be losing control. So they made some concessions, but passed something they can live with."

Having a farm bill in place, he added, gives farmers "stability for planning for next year."

Dairy farmers, while they will see gradual opening of Canadian markets as sources for their goods under this bill, would be one focus of a future bill should one be submitted, Ennis said.

"There are a lot of dairy farmers hurting right now because of low prices," he added. "It's just very difficult to find markets that will pay a reasonable price."

Ennis said the future of family farms, with a focus on dairy farmers, will be the main topic in a future issue of Catholic Rural Life's quarterly magazine.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of the Christian citizen anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World, praised the bill for its inclusion of added funding for employment and training pilot projects -- including funding prioritizing specific populations such as older Americans, former prison inmates, people with disabilities and families facing multigenerational poverty.

It also makes and funds a new program allowing health care providers to give prescriptions for low-income people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The farm bill eliminates a requirement in the federal Food for Peace program to sell U.S. food commodities overseas to pay for life-saving food and nutrition programs; the complicated requirement had been cutting about $70 million from food aid each year. The legislation also gives the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program more flexibility to purchase from local farmers and markets, which will improve the nutritional quality of the food for preschool and school feeding programs in foreign countries.

The farm bill, the Rev. Beckmann said, "will be an important lifeline for millions of families experiencing hunger in both the United States and around the world."

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Catechism revision adds impetus in death penalty abolition fight

Fri, 12/14/2018 - 2:05pm

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Changes in law and public opinion have had their role to play in the quest to end capital punishment in the United States, but Catholic teaching also has played a part, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Pope Francis went there last year, when Pope Francis says the question is not is there a humane way of carrying out executions. There is not a humane way of carrying out executions, he said," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 13 telephone interview. "At the same time, Pope Francis was stressing what he called inadmissibility because it is inherently in conflict with human dignity."

The revision to section 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which took effect Aug. 2, calls capital punishment "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," and commits the church to work "with determination" for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

It was not the first time the catechism had been revised in conjunction with capital punishment.

The 1992 catechism originally said: "The traditional teaching of the church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty." At the same time, it said "bloodless means" that could protect human life should be used when possible.

However, following publication of St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), section 2267 was revised in 1997 to say that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

"The revisions to the catechism are very significant for abolitionists. And they're significant both symbolically and in a practical manner. Symbolically, Pope Francis has become a moral beacon on this issue, even more so than John Paul," Dunham said.

"I was talking with Cardinal (Blase J.) Cupich (of Chicago); we did a podcast with him. He and I were on a panel in Chicago -- the date, coincidentally, the date the catechism was changed -- and Cardinal Cupich was explaining the evolution of Catholic theology on this issue. What Pope Francis has done is not just consistent but is the logical extension of John Paul's teaching about the death penalty and Pope Benedict's statements against the death penalty," he added.

"The thing that is, I think, critically different in Pope Francis' pronouncement and the new catechism is that it closes the door on excuses or exceptions that would have allowed the death penalty to take place," he continued. "The practical importance of the new catechism is that it commits the church itself as an institution to formally opposing capital punishment. And on the ground, that will mean more active involvement by the bishops, by the cardinals, by the priests and the laity."

Dunham told CNS the real-world effects of the revision are being felt.

"We've already heard stories of public officials trying to grapple with their moral qualms about capital punishment, and their prior public stance for the death penalty as a policy," he said. "I don't think that we're going to see a change overnight; it's not as though Pope Francis waves an encyclical wand and the laws will change. But we were already seeing a dialogue, and it is a dialogue that is changing attitudes and views one at a time among people in power who will be making decisions on life and death."

Dunham added, "I think that what we are going to see is a continued erosion of death penalty support among formerly pro-death penalty Catholics, and while that's not a huge portion of the population in the United States, it's a portion that is disproportionately on the bench, in prosecutor's offices and in the halls of Congress and the legislature."

The difference between "abolition and nonabolition," he said, is "changing a few votes in a few states."

"So one state at a time, we may see the death penalty abolished," he said. "In retrospect, we can speculate how many of the changed votes are a product of the new catechism. We'll never know for sure. But we can be certain that it will have an effect, because it has already had an effect. We know from discussions with public officials that it has already had an effect."

The center Dec. 14 issued "The Death Penalty in 2018: Year-End Report." In it, it noted that only Oklahoma, Missouri and the U.S. government increased the number of prisoners it had on death row in 2018. The number of prisoners on death row nationwide went down, a streak that started in 2001.

Even in states where the death penalty is permitted, it requires prosecutors in counties to seek it in criminal trials. According to the report, 11 county prosecutors of the 30 counties where capital punishment is most often sought have been removed since 2015, including six this year in Dallas and Bexar (San Antonio) counties in Texas, Orange and San Bernardino counties in California, St. Louis County in Missouri and Jefferson County (Birmingham) in Alabama.

Washington became the 20th state to outlaw capital punishment when a court banned it Oct. 11.

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