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Acts of love, courage are signs of God's grace in the U.S., Trump says

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 12:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Acts of love, courage and sacrifice by first responders, parents and children alike are hallmarks of a country that is rooted in prayer and deep faith in God, President Donald Trump told the National Prayer Breakfast.

The president held up as "American heroes" people from many walks of life who strive to help others as part of their daily routines and in emergencies. He said they are signs of God's grace during a 14-minute speech Feb. 8 at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

In particular, Trump cited American servicemen and servicewomen around the world "defending our great American flag," police officers "who sacrifice for their communities," teachers who "work tirelessly" for their students and parents who "work two and three jobs to give their children a better, a much more prosperous and happier life" as signs of inspiration.

"American heroes reveal God's calling," he said.

"All we have to do is open our eyes and look around us and we can see God's hand in the courage of our fellow citizens. We see the work of God's love in the power of souls," he said.

Such actions are powered by prayer, he said.

Trump also revisited a common theme of earlier speeches: the effort to push out Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He said the militants had tortured Christians, Jews and even fellow Muslims in the territories they occupied, but that they had been almost totally overrun.

"Much work will always remain. But we will never rest until that job is completely done," the president said.

Trump concluded by noting the courage and inspiration of a 9-year-old Brownfield, Texas, girl faced with the possibility of not walking again after several strokes. Sophia Maria Campa-Peters, sitting at a front-row table with her mother at the breakfast, learned from doctors that she would not be able to walk because of the strokes, he said.

"She replied, 'If you're only going to talk about what I can't do, I don't want to hear about it. Just let me try to walk,'" Trump told the gathering.

As Sophia prepared for surgery Jan. 24 to continue treatment for the disease that caused the strokes, she sought prayers from people. Her goal was 10,000 prayers, Trump continued, but she surpassed the goal, even getting the president and members of his administration to ask God to intervene for her health.

"Today we thank God and she's walking very well," he said.

"You may be only 9 years old, but you are already a hero for all of us in this room and all over the world. Thank you, Sophia," Trump said.

"Through love, courage and sacrifice, we glimpse the grace of almighty God," the president added. "So through that grace, let us resolve ourselves to ask for an extra measure of strength and devotion and seek a more just and peaceful world where every child can grow up without violence, worship without fear and reach their God-given potential.

"We can all be heroes to everybody and they can be heroes to us. As long as we open our eyes to God's grace and open our hearts to God's love, then America will always be the land of the free, home of the brave and the light for all nations."

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

 

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

Protecting social service safety net is Catholic priority with Congress

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 2:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic advocates visited Capitol Hill Feb. 6 hoping members of Congress were ready to listen to their push for a federal budget that makes the needs of poor and vulnerable people a priority.

Coming at the end of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, their visits took on greater urgency as Congress faced a Feb. 8 deadline to pass a budget deal or approve another stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating.

The advocates' main concern stemmed from the willingness of some in Congress to consider deep cuts in the social service safety net to offset part of the $1 trillion deficit expected over the next decade under the tax reform bill passed in December.

The most vulnerable programs: Medicare and Medicaid; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps; The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP; and international humanitarian and poverty-reducing assistance.

Other "asks" included a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young adults who were brought illegally into the country as children; increasing the value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, a primary vehicle that helps finance new affordable housing projects; and maintaining "strong and vibrant investments" in diplomacy and overseas development that leads to peaceful societies.

Even with a budget that spares deep cuts for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, there's talk that the 2019 budget plan due out in mid-February from the Office of Management and Budget will zero in on the very programs the advocates want to protect for a significantly smaller share of the federal pie.

In the current Washington environment there are other concerns, of course -- climate change, education, Social Security, the minimum wage and worker rights, to name a few. For now though, social services, housing and international aid were deemed the most pressing by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.

Trying to determine what issues are most important on any given day has given headaches to the three agencies as they see new crises emerge daily and the stances of President Donald Trump shift, seemingly, hour by hour.

Still, the three agencies coordinate as much as possible to ensure there is a consistent message coming from Catholics.

"On the budget stuff, we work on a one-church strategy," Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at CRS, told Catholic News Service.

International humanitarian and poverty-reducing aid has long been supported by CRS and the USCCB. Funding for international programs including disaster assistance, peacekeeping operations, and the President's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, totaled about $24.5 billion in fiscal year 2017. That's about 0.5 percent of the federal budget, noted Stephen Colecchi, director of the USCCB's Office of International Justice and Peace.

At Catholic Charities USA, addressing the need for affordable housing remains a priority and for officials there increasing the value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC, is a must.

The tax credit has funded 30 percent of the nation's 10 million affordable housing units. Catholic Charities agencies nationwide use it as a tool to attract investment in the housing projects they develop.

However, the tax reform act is expected to make the credit less attractive to investors.

With the corporate tax rate reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent, high-level investors are less likely to invest in the construction of new affordable housing projects to take advantage of LIHTC, Stephen Caprobres, executive director of Housing for Hope, Inc. of Catholic Charities Community Services in the Phoenix Diocese, said during a social ministry gathering workshop.

The country already faces a shortage of more than 7 million affordable housing units and should fewer projects be built, housing advocates fear the crunch will worsen.

Social ministry gathering delegates and Catholic agencies aren't the only ones concerned about potential budget cuts in social services. Nearly 1,000 women religious voiced their views in letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, that were supposed to be delivered to his office on Capitol Hill in December.

Two women religious from Ryan's district, Dominican Sister Erica Jordan of Kenosha and Franciscan Sister Ruth Brings of Janesville, were scheduled to meet with Ryan's deputy chief of staff, but the meeting was canceled by the time their plane landed in Washington, according to the Catholic social justice lobby Network.

Sister Kathleen Kanet, a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary in New York City, told CNS she came up with the idea of religious sisters writing letters as she read news reports about Ryan, who is Catholic, discussing the need for spending cuts to help balance the federal budget. Network helped coordinate the effort.

Sister Kanet said she thought the speaker should hear from women religious, many of whom see the daily struggles of families living in poverty.

"I'm thinking who can challenge that in the light of Jesus," she said. "It became so clear to me that religious sisters can do this."

As of Feb. 7, the letters had yet to be delivered. Network leaders were determining how they might be helpful as budget drama unfolds.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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

German cardinal urges pastoral care, but not 'blessing' of gay couples

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 11:35am

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The president of the German bishops' conference urged priests to provide better pastoral care to Catholics who are homosexual, but he said, "I think that would not be right" when asked if he could imagine the Catholic Church blessing gay couples.

The German bishops' conference released an English translation Feb. 7 of remarks Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, conference president, made during a radio interview Feb. 3.

German Catholic media had interpreted the cardinal's remarks as moving a step back from a suggestion made by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck in January that the Catholic Church should debate the possibility of a blessing ceremony for Catholic gay couples involved in the church.

But some English-language media and blogs portrayed Cardinal Marx's remarks as meaning he "endorses" such blessing ceremonies.

The coverage led Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia to write a blog encouraging bishops to be clear about what they intend or don't intend to suggest on the subject.

And, Archbishop Chaput said, "any such 'blessing rite' would cooperate in a morally forbidden act, no matter how sincere the persons seeking the blessing. Such a rite would undermine the Catholic witness on the nature of marriage and the family. It would confuse and mislead the faithful. And it would wound the unity of our church, because it could not be ignored or met with silence."

The Catholic Church insists marriage can be only between a man and a woman. It teaches that while homosexual people deserve respect and spiritual care, homosexual activity is sinful.

In the interview with Cardinal Marx, the journalist said many people believe the church should bless gay unions, ordain women to the diaconate and end obligatory celibacy for priests in the Latin-rite church.

According to the bishops' conference translation, Cardinal Marx said he did not believe those changes were what the church needs most today. "Rather, the question to be asked is how the church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today -- but also by new insights, of course. For example, in the field of pastoral work, pastoral care."

Following the teaching and example of Pope Francis in pastoral care, he said, "we have to consider the situation of the individual, his life history, his biography, the disruptions he goes through, the hopes that arise, the relationships he lives in -- or she lives in. We have to take this more seriously and have to try harder to accompany people in their circumstances of life."

The same is true in ministering to people who are homosexual, he said. "We must be pastorally close to those who are in need of pastoral care and also want it. And one must also encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people encouragement in concrete situations. I do not really see any problems there. An entirely different question is how this is to be done publicly and liturgically. These are things you have to be careful about, and reflect on them in a good way."

While excluding "general solutions" such as a public ritual, Cardinal Marx said, "that does not mean that nothing happens, but I really have to leave that to the pastor on the ground, accompanying an individual person with pastoral care. There you can discuss things, as is currently being debated, and consider: How can a pastoral worker deal with it? However, I really would emphatically leave that to the pastoral field and the particular, individual case at hand, and not demand any sets of rules again -- there are things that cannot be regulated."

The spokesman of the bishops' conference said the cardinal was unavailable for further interviews.

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

Pilgrim pope: Benedict says he's journeying toward God

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 7:57am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "I am on a pilgrimage toward Home," retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote, capitalizing the Italian word "casa" or "home."

Almost exactly five years after announcing his intention to be the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, Pope Benedict wrote the letter to a journalist from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"I am touched to know how many of the readers of your newspaper want to know how I am experiencing this last period of my life," the 90-year-old retired pope wrote. "In that regard, I can only say that, with the slow diminishing of my physical strength, inwardly I am on a pilgrimage toward Home."

"It is a great grace in this last, sometimes tiring stage of my journey, to be surrounded by a love and kindness that I never could have imagined," said the letter, written on stationery with the heading "Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus."

Massimo Franco, the journalist, said the letter, dated Feb. 5, was hand-delivered; the newspaper posted it online Feb. 6 and published it on the front page of the print edition Feb. 7.

During a meeting with cardinals Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict stunned the cardinals and the world by saying, in Latin, "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

He set the date for his retirement as Feb. 28, 2013. And, seen off by dozens of weeping Vatican employees, he flew by helicopter to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, where he remained until after Pope Francis was elected.

The day before he left was a Wednesday and the overflowing crowd in St. Peter's Square made it clear that it was anything but a normal Wednesday general audience.

He told an estimated 150,000 people that his pontificate, which had lasted almost eight years, was a time of "joy and light, but also difficult moments."

"The Lord has given us so many days of sun and light breeze, days in which the catch of fish has been abundant," he said, likening himself to St. Peter on the Sea of Galilee.

"There have also been moments in which the waters were turbulent and the wind contrary, as throughout the history of the church, and the Lord seemed to be asleep," he said. "But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat and that the boat of the church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is his and he does not let it sink."

A monastery in the Vatican Gardens was remodeled for Pope Benedict, and that is where he has lived for five years, reading, praying, listening to music and welcoming visitors.

Until 2016, the retired pope occasionally would join Pope Francis at important public liturgies, including the Mass for the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in 2014 and for the opening of the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy.

Pope Benedict also attended the ceremonies for the creation of new cardinals in 2014 and 2015. But as it became more and more difficult for Pope Benedict to walk, Pope Francis and the new cardinals would get in vans and drive the short distance to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to pay their respects.

The retired pope's letter to Corriere della Sera echoed remarks he had made the afternoon of his retirement when he arrived in Castel Gandolfo and greeted crowds there before the very dramatic, globally televised scene of Swiss Guards closing the massive doors to the villa and hanging up their halberds.

"I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth," he told the people. "But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity."

In "Last Testament," a book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald published in 2016, Pope Benedict insisted he was not pressured by anyone or any particular event to resign, and he did not feel he was running away from any problem. However, he acknowledged "practical governance was not my forte, and this certainly was a weakness."

Insisting "my hour had passed and I had given all I could," Pope Benedict said he never regretted resigning, but he did regret hurting friends and faithful who were "really distressed and felt forsaken" by his stepping down.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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

Lent is time to become aware of false prophets, cold hearts, pope says

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 9:10am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics should use the season of Lent to look for signs and symptoms of being under the spell of false prophets and of living with cold, selfish and hateful hearts, Pope Francis said.

Together with "the often bitter medicine of the truth," the church -- as mother and teacher -- offers people "the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting," the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 14 for Latin-rite Catholics.

The pope also invited all non-Catholics who are disturbed by the increasing injustice, inertia and indifference in the world, to "join us then in raising our plea to God in fasting and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need."

The pope's Lenten message, which was released at the Vatican Feb. 6, looked at Jesus' apocalyptic discourse to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, warning them of the many signs and calamities that will signal the end of time and the coming of the son of man.

Titled, "Because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold" (Mt. 24:12), the papal message echoes Jesus' caution against the external enemies of false prophets and deceit, and the internal dangers of selfishness, greed and a lack of love.

Today's false prophets, the pope wrote, "can appear as 'snake charmers,' who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go."

So many of God's children, he wrote, are: "mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness"; enchanted by money's illusion, "which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests"; and convinced they are autonomous and "sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!"

"False prophets can also be 'charlatans,' who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless," he wrote. People can be trapped by the allure of drugs, "disposable relationships," easy, but dishonest gains as well as "virtual," but ultimately meaningless relationships, he wrote.

"These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love," the message said.

The pope asked people to examine their heart to see "if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets" and to learn to look at things more closely, "beneath the surface," and recognize that what comes from God is life-giving and leaves "a good and lasting mark on our hearts."

Christians also need to look for any signs that their love for God and others has started to dim or grow cold, the pope said.

Greed for money is a major red flag, he wrote, because it is the "root of all evil" and soon leads to a rejection of God and his peace.

"All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own 'certainties': the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the foreigner among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations," the pope wrote.

Another sign of love turned cold is the problem of pollution, he said, which causes creation to become poisoned by waste, "discarded out of carelessness or selfishness."

The polluted oceans unfortunately also become a burial ground for countless victims of forced migration and "the heavens, which in God's plan, were created to sing his praises," are slashed by machinery that rain down instruments of death, he wrote.

Whole communities, he said, also can show signs of a cold lack of love wherever there is selfish sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to become isolated, constant internal fighting and a "worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal."

The remedy for these ills can be strengthened during Lent with prayer, almsgiving and fasting, he wrote.

Praying more enables "our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers," he said in his message.

"Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister," it said.

Urging people to make charitable giving and assistance a genuine part of their everyday life, he asked that people look at every request for help as a request from God himself. Look at almsgiving as being part of God's generous and providential plan, and helping his children in need.

Finally, "fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth," he said, while also letting people feel what it must be like for those who struggle to survive.

It also "expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor," he wrote, and "revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger."

The pope also reminded people to take part in the "24 Hours for the Lord" initiative March 9-10 in which many dioceses will have at least one church open for 24 hours, offering eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation.

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Editor's Note: The text of the pope's message in English is online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20171101_messaggio-quaresima2018.html

The text of the pope's message in Spanish is online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20171101_messaggio-quaresima2018.html

 

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

Pope supports pro-life movement, sets day of prayer for peace in Africa

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 9:32am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With so many direct attacks on human life, from abortion to war, Pope Francis said he is worried that so few people are involved in pro-life activities.

Reciting the Angelus prayer at the Vatican Feb. 4, Pope Francis marked Italy's Pro-Life Sunday and also called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace Feb. 23, with special prayers for Congo and South Sudan.

Some 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus. Many of them carried the pro-life movement's green balloons with the message, "Yes to life."

Thanking all the "different church realities that promote and support life in many ways," Pope Francis said he was surprised there were not more people involved.

"This worries me," the pope said. "There aren't many who fight on behalf of life in a world where, every day, more weapons are made; where, every day, more laws against life are passed; where, every day, this throwaway culture expands, throwing away what isn't useful, what is bothersome" to too many people.

Pope Francis asked for prayers that more people would become aware of the need to defend human life "in this moment of destruction and of throwing away humanity."

With conflict continuing in many parts of the world, the pope said it was time for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace and that it was appropriate for the observance to take place Feb. 23, a Friday in Lent.

"Let us offer it particularly for the populations of the Democratic Republic of Congo and of South Sudan," he said.

Fighting between government troops and rebel forces and between militias continue in Congo, especially in the East, but tensions also have erupted as protests grow against President Joseph Kabila, whose term of office ended in 2016. New elections have yet to be scheduled.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011 after decades of war. But, just two years after independence, political tensions erupted into violence.

Pope Francis asked "our non-Catholic and non-Christian brothers and sisters to join this initiative in the way they believe is most opportune."

And he prayed that "our heavenly Father would always listen to his children who cry to him in pain and anguish."

But individuals also must hear those cries, he said, and ask themselves, "'What can I do for peace?' Certainly we can pray, but not only. Each person can say 'no' to violence" in their daily lives and interactions. "Victories obtained with violence are false victories, while working for peace is good for everyone."

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

Major flu outbreak prompts dioceses to implement prevention protocols

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 12:02pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The nationwide flu outbreak has prompted dioceses to take steps to suspend traditional rituals to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible.

From encouraging a simple nod or a smile during the sign of peace to draining holy water fonts, the actions come as the flu sweeps through virtually every corner of the country in the worst outbreak of the disease in nearly a decade.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Jan. 26 that most people are being infected with the influenza B, or H3N2, virus. Tens of thousands of people have been hospitalized since Oct. 1, the start of the flu season.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops maintains a page on its website devoted to the liturgy and influenza. It offers information about the flu as well as how to prevent the spread of any disease at liturgy.

The page can be found at http://bit.ly/2nuetHf.

Meanwhile, Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, advised parishioners not to shake hands during the sign of peace and stopped the use of consecrated wine during Communion.

Across the state in Allentown, the diocese implemented similar restrictions. Diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr told local media the practice occurs most years during the flu season.

In the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, Chancellor Patricia Fierro sent a memo to all parishes asking clergy and others to practice proper hygiene during the flu season. The diocese also asked sick parishioners to refrain from drinking from the cup during holy Communion.

"When you take Communion, you're taking the body and the blood of Christ, so even if you only receive the host and not the precious blood you're still receiving Communion," she said.

A posting on the website of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, outlined four protocols to be observed for the celebration of Mass at all faith communities.

Father Paul J. Tomasso, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, said Jan. 24 that parishes should regularly drain holy water fonts and clean them with disinfecting soap. The old holy water should be disposed of in a sacrarium, or special sink.

Other guidelines include distributing Communion without sharing the chalice; sharing the sign of peace without a handshake; and the cleansing of all vessels used at each Mass with hot water and mild soap.

Similar measures were implemented by Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, after he reviewed reports about influenza from state health authorities.

The bishop urged parishioners who are sick to stay away from church gatherings and reminded them that they are not obligated to attend weekly Mass when ill. Parishioners also were urged, but not required, to receive Communion in their hand rather than on their tongue. Priests were advised to be careful not to touch the tongues or hands of communicants.

Throughout January, numerous dioceses have outlined similar measures on their websites.

Beyond looking out for the welfare of church members, Catholic agencies are addressing how the flu epidemic is affecting other groups.

The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the flu and organizations who work to protect this population are taking extra efforts to shield them from a potential outbreak, said Augustine Frazier, a senior program manager for the homeless at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

That includes special attention to cleaning the sleeping quarters, air vents and bathroom facilities at homeless shelters run by Catholic Charities, Frazier told Catholic News Service Feb. 1.

Catholic Charities also provides frequent medical clinics for the homeless at their facilities where flu shots are always offered, he said.

In addition to being more exposed to the elements during winter, the homeless frequently have compromised immune systems, often miss taking their medications, don't have adequate warm clothing and often sleep in shelters with hundreds of other people who may be sick, said Dr. Catherine Crosland. She is director of homeless outreach development for Unity Health Care Inc., a Washington-based organization that was providing a medical clinic at Catholic Charities' Adam's Place homeless shelter and day resource center.

Crosland gave the flu shot to dozens of homeless men and women during the Feb. 1 clinic day.

"Especially in the homeless population (it's beneficial) that the more people who get vaccinated the less likely we are to have an outbreak and that is part of something called herd immunity," she said. "It's not necessarily the one by one case, but in a group of 100 people, if half of the folks are vaccinated, you have less likelihood of there being an outbreak."

To date, Dr. Daniel B. Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC, said the agency had not yet compiled the total number of flu deaths, but he noted that 53 children had died.

Based on statistics compiled from previous influenza outbreaks, the agency expects about 710,000 hospitalizations by the end of flu season in mid-May, according to a transcript from a conversation about the flu epidemic on the CDC website that Jernigan joined.

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Chaz Muth contributed to this story.

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

Going for God: Vatican invited to attend Olympic opening ceremony

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 8:55am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For the first time, the International Olympic Committee has invited a Vatican delegation not only to take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Games, but also to attend its general meeting as an official observer.

The delegation was to be led by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and head of its "Culture and Sport" section.

The Vatican delegation was invited to attend the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 9 as well as the Olympic committee's annual session Feb. 5-7 where voting members meet to discuss major issues in the world of sports, reported the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Feb. 2.

A Vatican delegation attended the opening of the Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, but this was the first time a Vatican delegation was also invited to attend an annual session of the Olympic committee.

Msgr. Sanchez, a former modern pentathlete, told the Vatican newspaper he would present Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, and all Korean Olympic athletes with the official yellow and white jerseys worn by members of the Vatican's running club "Athletica Vaticana," which -- like its other sports teams -- is made up of employees of Vatican City State and the Holy See.

Athletes from both North Korea and South Korea were to walk together during the opening ceremony and were to carry the Korean "Unification Flag" -- a flag designed to represent all of Korea when athletes from the North and South participate as one team in sporting events.

Nearly two dozen North Korean athletes received permission from the IOC to compete in the Winter Games, which take place Feb. 9-25. While athletes will compete for their respective countries, there will be a unified Korean team at the Olympics for the first time as players from both North and South Korea make up a team in women's ice hockey.

 

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