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Updated: 32 min 39 sec ago

Pope urges students to see human actions behind suffering, war

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 10:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God does not play favorites, but human beings do in little ways at school and in big ways with the global economy, Pope Francis told students from Milan's Istituto San Carlo, a school with students from prekindergarten through high school.

Sometimes God playing favorites seems the only explanation for why some children have everything and some have nothing, the pope said April 6. Asking "why" is essential for coming to the realization that while human suffering is a mystery, often there is a human hand behind the pain.

Meeting some 2,600 students, teachers and parents from the Milan school, Pope Francis answered questions.

Adriano Tibaldi, who is in his last year at the school, told the pope that he and others spent a week in the summer working with very poor people in Peru and he asked the pope, "Why does it seem that God shows favoritism?"

Pope Francis pleaded with the students to continue asking that question as they grow and make decisions about their future vocations and work.

"We are the ones who show favoritism," the pope said. "We are the artisans of the differences" between those who have enough to live and those who don't.

"Why are there so many hungry people in the world?" the pope asked.

It is not God's choice, he said. "No, it's because of the unjust economic system," which creates people who are increasingly wealthy and people who are increasingly poor.

"Someone might say, 'Oh, pope, I didn't know you were a communist,' but, no, this is what Jesus taught us, and when we are there in front of Jesus, he will say to us, 'Thank you, because I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.' And to those who with this system kill children and people with hunger, he will say, 'Go away because I was hungry, and you didn't even look at me.'"

"This is the protocol on which we will be judged: Matthew 25," he said. "We are the ones who differentiate."

And, he said, as for children and other innocent people who are killed or maimed in war, that too is a result of human action, "because we, rich Europe and America, sell the weapons that kill children, that kill the people."

The pope's specific mention of European and American arms sellers was included in the Vatican News coverage of the speech and is clear in the Vatican's YouTube video of the event but was not included in the transcript of the event released by the Vatican press office April 7.

"There are questions for which we will never have answers," the pope told the young people. "But asking the questions we will grow and become adults with restless hearts, and we will become aware that we are the ones who discriminate."

Silvia Perucca, a teacher at the school, asked Pope Francis for advice on strengthening the Christian identity of her students while also preparing them as people of openness and dialogue in an increasingly diverse community.

A fundamental starting point, he answered, is to ensure that the children have "roots" in their Christian faith and in their Italian culture.

"We cannot create a culture of dialogue if we have no identity," the pope said. "I, with my idea, dialogue with you, with your identity, and we both move forward."

After lamenting how people are closing their hearts and their borders to migrants, Pope Francis also went after the fearmongers who present migrants as criminals.

In another phrase left out of the official transcript, the pope said people should not pretend that most of the criminals in their country are migrants. "The Mafia wasn't invented by Nigerians," he said. "The Mafia is ours, born in Italy."

The Vatican press office did not offer an explanation for the omissions.


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People can call Jesus at any moment; he is always there, pope says

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone has a direct line to Jesus, who is always nearby, ready to listen and help, Pope Francis said.

"Jesus likes to see the truth of our heart. Don't pretend in front of Jesus. With Jesus, always say what you are feeling," he said during a visit April 7 to a Rome parish.

Pope Francis met with young people, newlyweds, volunteers, the sick, the elderly and other members of the parish of St. Julius in Rome before celebrating Mass in their newly restructured church, blessing and anointing the new altar.

Before Mass, he took time to listen to and answer parishioners' questions, receive drawings and gifts as well as celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with three young people and a mother.

The pope said a young man had asked him if there was any truth to what his grandfather had told him, "that the pope, as successor of Peter, has Peter's phone number and calls him."

While the pope said he didn't have St. Peter's number, "We all have Jesus' 'mobile phone number' and all of us can connect with Jesus, who always has 'good reception,' always!"

"He always listens because he is so close to us," which means he is always easy to find, the pope said. "He sees us, he loves us" and understands everything, he added.

Never be afraid to tell Jesus the truth, to get mad at him, to express your doubts and fears, the pope told young people.

Answering a question about what to do when faced with a crisis of faith, the pope said people must always seek the help of others -- a parent, a friend, a catechist -- as well as speak to Jesus.

A person should never stop talking to Jesus, even when they are angry with him because even "getting angry with Jesus can be a kind of praying." He is always patient and will listen, he added.

The pope told a young catechist how important it was to help young people express and deal with doubt in a healthy and constructive way.

Otherwise, when young people receive their confirmation, the sacrament will become what some people in Rome call "the sacrament of farewell," marking the end of the person's active participation in church life.

"They leave because they do not know how to handle doubt. Instead if you, as a leader, teach them to doubt well and look for solid, true answers, you will prepare them so confirmation will not be the 'sacrament of farewell,'" he said.

When a young girl asked the pope if he ever personally helped feed the poor, the pope said, "Yes, I have, many times. It is something all Christians must do, to personally give the poor something to eat."

Everyone, starting as a newborn, has had to depend on someone else to be fed, he said.

However, some people lack food or proper nutrition because of poverty or a lack of employment, he added.

Everyone must always help others be fed just as "God gives us to eat" through the earth's abundance.

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Museum of the Bible receives grants for big exhibit on science and faith

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 3:05pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Jacob Comello

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- From the 17th-century ban by the Vatican of Copernicus' mathematical calculation that the sun was at the center of the solar system to modern-day arguments about evolution's compatibility with a belief in God, science and faith have regularly butted heads in the public square.

Seeking to illuminate these debates for the public is the Museum of the Bible in Washington, which announced April 1 that it would be using sizable grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust toward fostering a "greater understanding of the shared curiosity about our world that stimulates both scientific inquiry and biblical interpretation."

The museum will be working with a panel of scholars and scientists from around the world to develop the exhibits as well as accompanying educational materials for classroom use.

Artifacts from the museum's collection and those borrowed from other institutions also will play a role in breaking open these mysteries for museum visitors.

"In keeping with the museum's intent to cater to all learning styles, this exhibition will not only be informative but engaging ... we hope guests will leave with a deeper appreciation for humanity's shared curiosity in the big questions that ultimately inspire both scientific inquiry and biblical exploration," Ken McKenzie, Museum of the Bible president and CEO, said in a statement.

The exhibits will be divided among six sections, each of which will be devoted to pressing existential questions about the beginning of the universe, what keeps it running, how humans and animals differ, what humans "are made of" and if humanity is alone in the universe.

McKenzie told Catholic News Service that the answers to such questions would bolster conversations on two oft-ignored aspects of science, specifically "what ... science mean(s) for the existence and activity of God" and what science means for the "sacredness of humanity."

He also noted that the decision to have such an exhibit emerged because people are beginning to view science and religion as a false dichotomy of thought.

"As we look at what some of the topics guests ask us about ... science keeps coming up," McKenzie explained, saying that "(especially) within the North American community, the conversations happen apart from each other."

However, McKenzie and his colleagues studied the issues more closely and found that the public is not always fairly informed. "We started to find a lot of work that has been done in the scientific community brings them (science and the Bible) together," he said.

When asked if he hopes that other museums will follow in the interdisciplinary footsteps of the Museum of the Bible, McKenzie seemed optimistic.

"Personally my answer is yes. ... We hope that it engenders a debate and a discussion ... about the myths that have surrounded these two topics," McKenzie said.

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Nation has gone down 'dark road,' needs 'light of Christ,' says bishop

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 1:23pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Mickle, The Catholic Virginian

By Joseph Staniunas

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- An estimated 7,000 people, including busloads from the Richmond and Arlington dioceses, converged on the state Capitol April 3 in Richmond for the first Virginia March for Life.

On a cool, sunny day, schoolchildren, college students, mothers pushing infants in strollers, fathers holding their children's hands, men leaning on canes, priests and nuns gathered to stand up for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.

The rally on the Capitol grounds and walk through downtown Richmond were planned to coincide with the annual veto meeting of the General Assembly to protest attempts during the regular session to loosen restrictions on late-term abortions.

At the Mass before the march, Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout praised those who spoke out against those efforts.

"I'm grateful for those who raised their voices in prayer and expressed their concern to elected officials for the devastating impact of this kind of legislation," the bishop said in his homily to more than 2,500 people gathered in an exhibit hall at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Bishop Knestout condemned the "callous indifference" Gov. Ralph Northam has shown in his support for abortion rights, and he urged those in the pro-life movement not to lose heart or to respond to the hostility of abortion advocates with hostility of their own.

"We are disciples of Christ," he said. "We are called always to love ... love for those who oppose us, who may persecute us; love for those who are enemies of our faith and of life. Radical love. The same love that Christ shows for all of his children."

Bishop Knestout emphasized the importance of prayer in participants' witness.

"Today, you are in exactly the right place doing what needs to be done, which is pray. Because only God can turn the current culture around," he said. "We have gone down a dark road in this country and need the light of Christ to lead us."

The number of abortions is down; more teenagers seem to be turning away from premarital sex, and popular culture seems more receptive to pro-life messages, the bishop noted.

"These facts are all to the good," he said. "But they should not lull anyone to believe that the cause for life has been victorious. There are many who are determined to perpetuate the culture of death. The anti-life movement continues to push for ever more radical legislation, eliminating any protections to life, slowly undermining the dignity of life."

The event grew out of an effort by the national March for Life organization to do more to fight attempts by state lawmakers around the country to expand abortion rights.

"We've been in conversations with the partnering organizations in Virginia for just under a year, although everything wasn't formalized until a few months ago," said spokesperson Matille Thebolt. Those organizations included the Virginia Family Foundation, the Virginia Society for Human Life and the Virginia Catholic Conference.

At a rally before the march, the crowd filled the plaza on the south portico of the Capitol to hear from state and national figures in the pro-life movement. "Life! Life! Life!" they chanted at one point, urged by one speaker to make sure they were loud enough for the governor to hear.

Speakers included Melissa Ohden, a survivor of a saline infusion abortion in 1977; Ryan Bomberger, founder of the Radiance Foundation; Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life; Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation; Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life; and Felicia Pricenor, associate director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, which is the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops.

Pricenor told the crowd that the Northam administration is backing a bill to make abortion a fundamental right in Virginia, saying that it would make for strong families.

"A strong family embraces life; it does not destroy it," she said. "We must demand that our legislators protect life and conscience rights as we continue our fight against the extreme abortion agenda facing Virginia."

She urged the crowd to become part of the rapid response teams the state Catholic conference is forming to stay on top of such proposed legislation, and to join her during General Assembly sessions to advocate for life.

As part of the statewide March for Life in Richmond, Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated a Mass early that morning at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

"The darkness is in our midst, but we do not despair. Instead, we begin this day in the most perfect way," Bishop Burbidge said, reminding the congregation that "God will never let our sacrifices or our witness be in vain."

In Richmond, Elizabeth Belleville, a mother of 12 and parishioner of St. John Church in Warrenton, said: "I came here to protest because we believe all life is sacred from conception."

Amy Jo Krystek, a parishioner of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Chincoteague Island, recognized the many pro-life causes. "I recently lost my prayer partner to euthanasia," she told the Arlington Catholic Herald diocesan newspaper. "It is more than just marching for the unborn. That is our top priority but there is also a significant portion of the population that we are disposing of that is very valuable."

Kay School, whose husband, Michael, is the director of the Office for Evangelization in Richmond, brought her family. "As a family we feel it's important to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and show the dignity of all people, that it is wrong to end life, especially of the unborn who don't have a voice," she said.

"It is important for us to say it together as a family, and it's nice to see the kids forming their own opinions about the quality of life and how important it is," she added.

Amara Davidson of Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach was one of an estimated 1,100 Catholic school students from the Richmond Diocese participating.

"People are so pro-choice now, and everyone's kind of getting beat down about it," she told The Catholic Virginian, Richmond's diocesan newspaper. "I think it's important that we all come together and know that you're not alone."

Julie Marquez of York County had plenty of company as she waited for Mass to begin -- her daughter-in-law, Martha Marquez, and four grandchildren. Julie Marquez got pregnant when she was 15 and still in high school. Though she knew it would be difficult, she kept the baby.

"His dad was in my life," she said. "It was something that we would not have changed. I continued on to finish school, and there was always a struggle. We weren't a wealthy family but we always managed to make ends meet and continue in life."

Martha Marquez said her own mother inspired her to get involved in the pro-life movement.

"It's just sad that now you can abort if you want to and don't want to deal with the pain," she said, looking at her 9-month-old son, Mateo.

She had a medical problem when she was pregnant with him, a problem that would have led many women to seek an abortion.

"You can deliver, baby can survive, mother can be taken care of, and that's what I want to show and tell my story," she said.

After the march, people were invited to attend "Richmond 101," an educational program to learn about the legislative process in Virginia and how to get involved.

One of the speakers was Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference. He offered tips on how to navigate the process during Virginia General Assembly's sessions, telling attendees things move quickly. "To advocate, use email, social media, phone calls and personal visits," he said.

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Staniunas writes for The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond. Contributing to this story was Elizabeth A. Elliott, a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.

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Pope asks anti-trafficking nun to write Way of Cross meditations

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 10:07am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has asked an Italian nun, who has been on the frontlines in the fight against human trafficking, to write this year's Way of the Cross meditations.

Consolata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, 80, will prepare the texts for the evening service April 19, Good Friday, at Rome's Colosseum, Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said April 5.

Gisotti said, "The suffering of many people who are victims of human trafficking will be the central theme of the meditations," which are meant to help participants walk in Christ's footsteps and reflect on today's sins and sufferings, and how Christians should respond.

Each year, the pope asks a different person to write the commentary and prayers.

Sister Bonetti is a leader among religious women working against human trafficking. She started and led anti-trafficking initiatives for the Italian Union of Major Superiors and helped educate officials in Italy and the United States about the problem.

The Italian religious superiors' anti-trafficking office she set up trains and connects religious congregations and other people around the world to provide victim support and services as well as prevent trafficking by helping people, in their home countries, who are vulnerable to being trafficked.

She was honored by the U.S. Department of State in 2004 with its "Trafficking in Persons Hero Award" for her work, and in 2007 she was given the State Department's "Woman of Courage" award for helping "create transformative change" and setting "a positive example for emerging women leaders worldwide." In 2014, she received Italy's highest honor when Italian President Giorgio Napolitano bestowed on her the Order of Merit.

Currently, Sister Bonetti is president of the Italian association, "Slaves No More," which focuses on helping rebuild the lives of women and children forced into the sex trade and those who are victims of other forms of abuse, violence and discrimination.

In 2013, she asked Pope Francis to help raise greater awareness in the church about the problem of human trafficking by establishing a worldwide day of prayer and fasting.

"The pope was very interested in our suggestion and asked us what date we would like the day to be," Sister Bonetti told Catholic News Service at the time. She said they told him to make it Feb. 8 -- the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave who found freedom in Italy and became a nun in the late 19th century.

The next year, Pope Francis asked the international unions of superiors general of men's and women's religious orders to promote the initiative. The International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking was first celebrated Feb. 8, 2015.

When talking in 2014 about her two decades of fighting trafficking, Sister Bonetti said the only way to help victims or people at risk is to go to them and make "direct contact," which is why she and her community hit the streets of Rome late at night and speak to foreign women who have been trafficked into prostitution.

"We tell them there is an alternative" and that they can be free, she said.

"We enter into communion with them, without judgment, without condemning them, trying to really understand their situation and lend a hand," she said.

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To help Syrian refugees, get to roots of war, Melkite archbishop tells EU

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 1:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Melkite Catholic diocese of Furzol, Zahle and the Bekaa in Lebanon


BRUSSELS (CNS) -- Aside from humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and concrete efforts to help them return to their homeland, the international community should work toward eradicating the roots of wars and violence, an archbishop from Lebanon told members of a political party holding the largest number of seats in the European Parliament.

Melkite Catholic Archbishop Issam Darwich of Zahle, whose diocese is near Syria's western border, addressed the plight of Christians in the Middle East and Syrian refugees April 3 with the European People's Party, a conservative and Christian democratic political party.

"Our situation is one of the deepest suffering and trauma," said Archbishop Darwich, who was born in Syria.

"What is happening in the Middle East today is a chain of events against Christians, unfolding since 2011. All these actions send a message to Christians in the area that they don't have a safe place anymore," he said.

"The fact that they became minorities in these countries is not an excuse for anyone to neglect the critical situation they are passing through," Archbishop Darwich said.

He stressed that Christians have always played a crucial role in the region and strive to foster peace, justice and democracy.

He also noted that Lebanon's episcopal committee for Christian-Muslim dialogue, for which he serves as president, is "working hard so that religions would find new ways to present their respective creeds as partners allied and not as adversaries."

"Religion must never be used to promote hatred or violence," Archbishop Darwich stressed.

As for the refugee crisis, Archbishop Darwich underlined that eight years into the Syrian conflict, Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita and has the fourth-largest refugee population in the world.

More than 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living scattered throughout the tiny country among its existing population of about 4 million people. In addition, some 500,000 Palestinian refugees and thousands of Iraqi families dwell in Lebanon.

"The pressure of this situation on the Lebanese hosting community is felt in all sectors, including education, security, health, housing, water and electricity supply," he said.

Archbishop Darwich noted that his diocese, located about 18 miles from the Syrian border, "had the leading role" in helping displaced Syrians.

"We supported and helped them since the beginning of their displacement to Lebanon till today, especially the Christian refugees, who were and still are invisible" to the international community because they do not live in camps, he emphasized. As a result, he added, the Christians "are always neglected from any support or help."

However, the archbishop pointed out that the "tragedy of refugees is not restricted to a specific sect because all Syrians have suffered for almost eight years now of a new holocaust."

Various Catholic agencies such as Caritas members, including Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need have helped the Syrian refugees.

Archbishop Darwich's diocese is in the Bekaa Valley and provides refugees with help that includes rent assistance, clothing, education, health care, social support and daily hot meals at the diocese's St. John the Merciful Table.

While acknowledging the humanitarian role many European countries and international nongovernmental organizations have played "in reducing the impact of this long and ferocious war," the archbishop pointed to the challenge of helping refugees return to their homeland.

Archbishop Darwich stressed that refugees' return to Syria "cannot be realized unless the international community itself provides the means ... political and economic help in practical measures. Not only to put an end to their suffering, but also to assist them to contribute in the process of reconstruction."

"I sincerely believe that the international community is expected to plan for eradicating the roots of wars and violence rather than dealing with their consequences, because great countries are known by great achievements and great deeds," Archbishop Darwich said.

He added that the international community also must work toward putting an end to poverty, instability, occupation, oppression, fanaticism, fundamentalism and major wars.

"This is not wishful thinking," the archbishop said. "This is a pure call for generalizing justice among the whole world, and for the implementation of U.N. resolutions. ... Otherwise, we will always have to encounter demand for financial and humanitarian aid, because cruelty produces cruelty, and suppression produces suppression in an endless circle of violence and injustice."

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Coverage of international religious freedom issues by Catholic News Service is supported in part by Aid to the Church in Need-USA (

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Atlanta Archbishop Gregory named as new leader of Washington Archdiocese

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 7:00am


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta as the new archbishop of Washington.

The appointment was announced April 4 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States.

Archbishop Gregory, 71, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who helped navigate the conference through the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2002, is the first African American to be named to head the Washington Archdiocese.

He succeeds Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in October, nearly three years after he turned 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Cardinal Wuerl continued as apostolic administrator until his successor was named. The cardinal headed the Washington Archdiocese from 2006 to 2018.

Archbishop Gregory will be installed as the seventh archbishop of Washington May 17.

"I am deeply grateful to Pope Francis for this appointment to serve the Archdiocese of Washington and to work with all of the members of this faith community," Archbishop Gregory said. "I look forward to encountering and listening to the people of this local church as we address the issues that face us and continue to grow in the love of Christ that sustains us."

Cardinal Wuerl welcomed his successor's appointment "with great joy."

"I join all who appreciate his pastoral abilities, his intellectual gifts and his leadership qualities," he said in a statement. "I have known Archbishop Gregory for many years. In working with him on a range of pastoral initiatives and programs, I have come to recognize how generously he shares his talents and his love for the church."

As the Washington Archdiocese "opens a new chapter and looks to the future," Cardinal Wuerl added, "we can all, with great confidence and enthusiasm, welcome our new shepherd."

Archbishop Gregory has served in Atlanta since 2005. He previously was bishop of Belleville, Illinois, for 11 years, beginning in 1994. He was named auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 1983. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, he served as associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview; a faculty member at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein; and as master of ceremonies for Cardinal John P. Cody and Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin.

In moving to Washington, the archbishop steps into a high-profile position. The area that comprises the archdiocese includes the halls of power in Congress, the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court, the many embassies of governments from around the world, and nonprofit and lobbying organizations that advocate on a wide range of public policy issues. He also automatically becomes chancellor of The Catholic University of America's board of trustees.

Archbishop Gregory comes to an archdiocese with a rich ethnic diversity that includes a vibrant Hispanic community of 270,000 and historic parishes that date to the 19th century serving 100,000 people of African and Caribbean descent. Overall, the archdiocese has nearly 659,000 Catholics throughout the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties.

The archbishop served as USCCB president from November 2001 until 2004, a period that was perhaps one of the most difficult in the conference's history.

Under his leadership, the bishops adopted the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults" and essential norms for handling accusations of sexual abuse by priests or other church personnel; established a lay board to review how cases have been handled; commissioned an extensive analysis of the factors involved in the crisis and created a staff office to oversee those efforts.

When he was elected in 2001, much of the attention focused on the fact that he was first African American to head the conference. Before that he served three years as vice president of the conference. He was the third African American to be named archbishop of Atlanta.

A Chicago native, Archbishop Gregory was born Dec. 7, 1947. Though not raised as a Catholic, his parents enrolled him at St. Carthage Catholic School for the sixth grade. Within weeks he had decided he wanted to be a Catholic, and by the end of the school year he had been baptized, made his first Communion and been confirmed.

He graduated from Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College of Loyola University and St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. After his ordination in 1973, he obtained a doctorate in sacred liturgy from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome.

Since arriving in Atlanta, Archbishop Gregory has seen the archdiocese grow to about 1.2 million Catholics in the 69 counties it covers in northern and central Georgia. In addition, nine parishes were elevated and six missions established, 64 priests and 152 permanent deacons were ordained, nearly 150,000 infants, children and adults were baptized, and more than 16,000 people were brought into full communion with the church, according to the archdiocesan website.

Archbishop Gregory has issued pastoral statements on the death penalty, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide and has published numerous articles discussing liturgy, especially within the African American community.


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Honoring saints can heal body, soul, says priest leading relics tour

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 1:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ed Koskey Jr., The Catholic Spirit

By Anthony Salamone

MIDDLESEX, N.J. (CNS) -- Father Carlos Martins preaches that for Catholics to reach heaven, they must possess forgiving hearts, participate in the sacraments and live their Christian identities to the fullest.

The priest, a member of the Companions of the Cross community, travels around the United States and beyond speaking about the faith, and -- perhaps more importantly -- providing people with tangible evidence to pursue their devotion in the exposition and veneration of sacred relics.

On a Saturday afternoon in March, Father Martins visited Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church in Middlesex to speak and host a special exposition, "Treasures of the Church." With more than 150 relics in an A-Z list -- from St. Agnes to St. Zelle Guerin, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux -- the unique collection also included relics of well-known saints such as St. Maria Goretti, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas.

As Father Martins' presentation made clear, the experience was unlike anything that most attendees had witnessed.

While non-Catholics might find the veneration of relics unusual or even strange, it is solidly rooted in Scripture and an important tradition of the Catholic Church, the priest explained during a 60-minute presentation before the exposition. Saints and their relics are not worshipped, but honored in a manner that acknowledges God's work in their lives, he said.

Before the estimated 500 people ventured from the sanctuary to the church hall to take in the relics, Father Martins instructed them on how to proceed.

"There's going to be one saint downstairs that's going to reach out and communicate with you in a personal way," he said. "There's going to be one saint that is going to say to you, 'I want to be your friend.' Your job ... is to find your saint."

And that's what people did. Fifteen tables held relics and brief descriptions of the saints. Attendees walked around the tables mostly quiet, and clutching medals and other items, touching them to the relics.

Besides the relic tables, the "Treasures" featured the mother lode of the exposition: a large piece of the cross of Jesus Christ; a piece of fabric from Mary's veil; a piece of thorn from Christ's crown of thorns and more.

Father Martins said he has seen God's work through the relics of the saints -- sometimes in surprisingly healing ways.

The Lacey family of Haddon Heights can attest to this.

Charlie and Cathy Lacey attended a "Treasures" exposition two years ago at St. Agnes Parish in Clark, with their family, including sons, Brendan, 15, and Patrick, 13, both of whom they said were cured from health-related issues, thanks to the relics.

Patrick was healed of cerebral palsy, the couple said, while Brendan has been cured of eosinophilic esophagitis, a chronic immune system disease that has only been identified in the last two decades, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

"The healings come from God through the relics," Cathy Lacey told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

The family attended the March 16 event in gratitude to Father Martins, thankful for the miracle of two family cures and willing to share their news.

Among those in attendance were members of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish, including Bud Crede.

"(Father Martins) kept your attention," he said. "Did you notice how quiet the church was while he was speaking?"

Asked if he believed passing by the religious artifacts might get him closer to heaven, Crede smiled.

"No, not yet," he said. "I haven't seen enough relics yet. I need to look some more."

"We wanted to feel the presence of the saints in our lives," said Christina Breen of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, who attended with her children, Blair, 10, Sam, 8, and 5-year-old Nora. "It's just a moving experience to be this close to so many amazing, amazing people."

Blair Breen added, "I love this, because ... I really love the saints." As she spoke, her little sister Nora passed by the tables, picking up relics from their holders like a happy child who has found a lost toy.

"I pray every night," Blair said, while she held a favorite doll that was dressed in a green shamrock dress appropriate for St. Patrick's Day. "I try to pray as much as I can at school. Now that I'm here, I'm amazed at all the saints."

Ester Chung of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, who came with her family, also called it "amazing" to see the number of relics in one location, along with the cross of Christ and veil of Mary.

"I know the relics do God's work, and I just wanted to share the works of God with my son," Chung said, She said her 7-year-old child, William Nam, has been diagnosed with autism since he was 2, and she was seeking a saint's intervention to help cure him.

Bob Favocci, of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who came with a contingent that included his two daughters and others, said the chance at a "personal encounter" with the saints prompted him to make the trip.

"When you see a collection of this concentration, it kind of shakes you down to your core," said Favocci, who works in Bridgewater. You realize you're part of a great heritage.

"They're a physical reminder that we're all called to be saints," he said. "These are human beings who had the same struggles, many of the same, if not worse conditions in life like we have. Certainly, they found various ways to get to the ultimate goal, eternity in heaven. Also, it kind of puts it in perspective that I have these folks to help me in my journey."

Father David V. Skoblow, administrator at Our Lady of Mount Virgin, said the "Treasures" exposition provided people a chance to experience "a special kind of holiness."

"We're called to sanctity. We're called to sainthood," Father Skoblow said. "What better way of approaching God and praying for holiness than to experience the holiness of those who've gone before us.

"So we're not only here to venerate the relics but to emulate the saints."

Father Martins, 44, who said he was an atheist before he joined the Catholic Church while in college, said he has felt blessed by all the goodwill and healings via the relics.

"I was at the right place at the right time," he said about his assignment. "God really wanted this done. This ministry didn't exist before me. I created the suggestion. I designed it, came up with the notion, and then the church said, 'Yes.'"

Father Martins also encouraged the faithful to contact him about any experiences, with the most dramatic effect he believes comes from the exposition is the healing within the human soul.

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Editor's Note: More information is available at The tour schedule can be found at

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Salamone writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

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People should not fear difference, but division, pope says at audience

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:09am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No one should be afraid that God has allowed there to be different religions in the world, Pope Francis said.

"But we should be frightened if we are not doing the work of fraternity, of walking together in life" as brothers and sisters of one human family, he said.

As is customary, at his general audience April 3, the first after his March 30-31 trip to Morocco, Pope Francis reviewed his visit.

"People might ask themselves, 'Why is it the pope visits Muslims and not just Catholics?'" the pope said.

Catholics and Muslims are both "descendants of the same father, Abraham," he said, and the trip was another step on a journey of "dialogue and encounter with (our) Muslim brothers and sisters."

The pope said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of two great saints: St. Francis of Assisi, who brought a "message of peace and fraternity" to Sultan al-Malik al-Kami 800 years ago, and St. John Paul II, who visited Morocco in 1985.

Pope Francis said people also may wonder why God allows there to be so many different religions in the world.

Some theologians say it is part of God's "permissive will," allowing "this reality of many religions. Some emerge from the culture, but they always look toward heaven and God," the pope said.

"What God wants is fraternity among us," he said, which is why "we must not be frightened by difference. God has allowed this." But it is right to be worried when people are not working toward a more fraternal world, he added.

The pope's comment about God's "voluntas permissiva" or "permissive will" clarified a controversy that erupted during the pope's trip in February to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

He and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb -- a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, signed a document on human fraternity that said, "The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in his wisdom, through which he created human beings."

In his audience talk April 3, the pope clarified that God did not create religious diversity, but rather allows it to happen, as he created human beings who possess free will.

During the general audience, the pope also spoke about the many encounters and events during the two-day trip, making special mention of his visit with migrants -- some of whom told him how their lives only became "human" again when they found a community that welcomed them as human beings.

"This is key," the pope said.

The Vatican supported the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was adopted by the majority of U.N. member states at a conference in Morocco in December, so that the international community could strengthen an approach that focused on welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants.

"It's not about assistance programs coming down from 'on-high'" but about everyone working together "to build cities and countries that, even preserving their respective cultural and religious identities, are open to differences and know how to see their value" as part of a sign of human fraternity.

Reading from his prepared text about the church's work with migrants, the pope looked up at the people in the square and said that, in all honesty, "I do not like to say, 'migrants,'" preferring to say, "people who migrate."

"We have fallen into a culture of adjectives. We use so many adjectives and sometimes we forget the substantive," that is, the noun or "the substance," he said.

When talking about people, it is better to remember the adjective should always go with a noun, "a person," he said.

"That way there is respect and no falling into this culture of adjectives that is too fluid, too airy" and lacking substance, he said.


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