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Updated: 9 min 18 sec ago

Don't confess other's faults, own up to sins, pope says at audience

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 9:02am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Fear and the shame of admitting one's own sins leads to pointing fingers and accusing others rather than recognizing one's own faults, Pope Francis said.

"It's difficult to admit being guilty, but it does so much good to confess with sincerity. But you must confess your own sins," the pope said Jan. 3 at his first general audience of the new year.

"I remember a story an old missionary would tell about a woman who went to confession and she began by telling her husband's faults, then went on to her mother-in-law's faults and then the sins of her neighbors. At a certain point, the confessor told her, 'But ma'am, tell me, are you done?' 'No... Yes.' 'Great, you have finished with other people's sins, now start to tell me yours,'" he said.

The pope was continuing his series of audience talks on the Mass, reflecting on the penitential rite.

Recognizing one's own sins prepares a person to make room in his or her heart for Christ, the pope said. But a person who has a heart "full of himself, of his own success" receives nothing because he is already satiated by his "presumed justice."

"Listening to the voice of conscience in silence allows us to realize that our thoughts are far from divine thoughts, that our words and our actions are often worldly, guided by choices that are contrary to the Gospel," the pope said.

Confessing one's sins to God and the church helps people understand that sin not only "separates us from God but also from our brothers and sisters," he added.

"Sin cuts, it cuts our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters, in our family, in society, in the community," the pope said. "Sin always cuts, separates, divides."

The penitential rite at Mass also includes asking the intercession of Mary and all the angels and saints, which, he said, is an acknowledgement that Christians seek help from "friends and models of life" who will support them on their journey toward full communion with God.

Christians also can find the courage to "take off their masks" and seek pardon for their sins by following the example of biblical figures such as King David, Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman and St. Peter.

"To take measure of the fragility of the clay with which we have been formed is an experience that strengthens us," Pope Francis said. "While making us realize our weakness, it opens our heart to call upon the divine mercy that transforms and converts. And this is what we do in the penitential act at the beginning of Mass."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

Jesuits denounce threats against outspoken Honduran priest, activists

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 3:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- The Society of Jesus has denounced threats made against an outspoken Honduran Jesuit who has highlighted accusations of widespread irregularities in the Central American country's recent presidential election.

The Conference of Provincials in Latin America and the Caribbean said in Dec. 30 statement that the social media hostilities against Father Ismael Moreno Coto -- better known as "Padre Melo" -- were "reminiscent of the death threats which circulated in El Salvador before the murder of Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande," a Salvadoran Jesuit murdered in 1977. The Jesuits also defended eight other regional activists being threatened.

"All of the accusations are lies aimed at counteracting the grass-roots organizing and the peaceful and democratic resistance which the accused, along with the people of Honduras, are carrying out at a moment when the popular vote has been disrespected by John Orlando Hernandez and his allies," said the statement, referring to the incumbent president and official electoral victor.

"This is an attempt to create terror in the people as a strategy to demobilize them," said the statement, signed by Father Roberto Jaramillo, conference president. "We hold Juan Orlando Hernandez and his allies responsible for the safety and physical and moral well-being of the nine people falsely accused."

The Nov. 26 Honduran elections returned Hernandez to power, but only after a lengthy vote-counting process marred by unexplained delays and improbable technical difficulties. The incumbent also overcame a large lead held by opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, who was ahead with a majority of votes counted before a long suspension of the count by the country's electoral tribunal.

The U.S. government, which has worked closely with Hernandez's administration on immigration and security issues, recognized the victory Dec. 22, despite irregularities noted by election observers and calls for new elections.

Hernandez has called for dialogue but has been rebuffed by the opposition, including Father Moreno, founder of Radio Progreso. At least 30 people have been killed in protests since the election, according to observers, who allege police repression. A Radio Progreso transmission tower was toppled in December in an act Father Moreno called "sabotage."

"I'm receiving accusations that put my life at risk," he tweeted Dec. 29. "This is the open dialogue that the president speaks about and is backed by the U.S. Embassy."

Father Moreno has long been outspoken in his criticism of Hernandez and the country's business class, both accused of corruption, improperly capitalizing on concessions and privatizations and failing to stop the slayings of social and environmental activists.

The Honduran bishops' conference said in a Dec. 21 statement that the country's electoral tribunal "has not overcome the lack of certainty regarding the election results," but called for calm and for Hondurans to strive for "a grand social pact through dialogue."

Calls for dialogue have fallen on deaf ears previously, including after the 2009 coup, when the opposition accused the newly installed president of using the prospect of talk as a means of buying time.

The 2009 coup occurred after opponents accused then-President Manuel Zelaya of illegally preparing an attempted re-election; Honduras had allowed only one four-year term.

However, Hernandez, who supported the coup, convinced the Supreme Court to allow his own attempted re-election -- something observers say has poisoned the prospects of dialogue.

"You can't say the government has been terrible in everything," said Father German Calix, director of Caritas Honduras. "What people did not tolerate is that the law was violated so (Hernandez) could run as a candidate again. (They) feel like the law has been mocked and could continue being mocked."

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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.

Bishop Bambera urges prayers for peace after attack on Coptic Christians

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the wake of a gunman's attack on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo Dec. 29, killing at least nine people, a U.S. bishop urged Catholics to "pray for peace in Egypt and the Middle East and for all victims of religious and political hatred."

"I especially ask Catholics to renew their support, love and prayers for our Coptic brethren who are enduring martyrdom for the sake of Christ," said Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

In his Dec. 29 statement, the bishop also prayed for those who had been injured and killed.

A Dec. 31 Associated Press report said witnesses at the scene of the attack credited local residents and worshippers for keeping the death toll down. The men and women closed an iron gate, preventing the assailant from going inside the church. Others pelted him with rocks as he fled the area by foot because someone hid his motorcycle. One resident is said to have pounced on the gunman while he was reloading his automatic weapon.

The attack began just as Mass ended at the Mar Mina church in the southern Cairo suburb of Helwan. Some people took shelter in an adjacent stationery store.

Initial reports said there was more than one gunman, but updated reports confirmed it was one assailant who was shot and wounded by a police officer.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, which has specifically targeted Egypt's Coptic Christian minority since December 2016 with a series of church bombings that have killed more than 100 people and wounded many more.

Bishop Bambera's statement noted there have been more than 2,000 attacks on Coptic Christians by extremists in the past three years.

He recounted recent attacks this year, including the Dec. 22 attack on a church south of Cairo that wounded three people and destroyed the church's interior. In May, masked militants opened fired on a bus packed with Coptic Christians, including children on their way to the monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in Maghagha, killing 28 and wounding 22.

The bishop also noted the Palm Sunday attack when suicide bombers struck churches in Alexandria and Tanta, killing 43 people and injuring dozens.

"These attacks represent only some of the many attacks that have occurred over the past several years, targeting faithful of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who account for almost 10 percent of Egypt's population," the bishop said.

"In the course of such rampant attacks, Muslims have also been targeted, as well as police, military and members of the news media," he noted, adding that recent attacks "represent countless numbers of ongoing acts of violence that continue to burden the Egyptian nation."

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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.

Gospel message of hope often is taught by the poor, cardinal says

Tue, 01/02/2018 - 10:25am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In his ministry as archbishop of Manila and in his travels for Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said he is reminded of the true meaning of hope by people living in situations the world would see as hopeless.

"The poor know the frustration of dreaming and working hard with not much result," Cardinal Tagle said. "They are betrayed by persons and institutions. But in their raw poverty, what is left for them is their humanity. They remind all of us that being human is our true and only wealth."

While anyone can be tempted to see the fulfillment of hope in accomplishments, improved numbers and bigger bank balances, the poor celebrate the gift of life and praise the giver of life, the cardinal said in a written interview in early January.

"This is the secret of their enduring and persistent hope, which those who enjoy comfortable living, yet complain unceasingly, should discover," he said.

Cardinal Tagle, 60, will talk and preach about hope with parish, school and diocesan leaders at the opening session and Mass of the Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore Feb. 15-17.

Pride and self-sufficiency lie on the opposite end from the hope the poor witness to, he said. "Of the many challenges to hope, I consider pride the most dangerous. Pride weakens faith that gives assurance to hope. Pride makes me think I can do better than God. Pride makes me place my hope in myself. Pride makes me a pseudo-savior."

"Whether personal or institutional, pride depletes hope," the cardinal said.

In addition to serving as archbishop of Manila and president of Caritas Internationals, Cardinal Tagle also is president of the Catholic Biblical Federation.

Of course, the Bible is the book of hope, and "there are many Scripture verses or prayers that rekindle hope in me," he said.

"But one that I 'run to' regularly is John 21:1-14," which tells the story of the disciples' miraculous catch of fish.

The cardinal said he often turns to the story, and "when I have labored hard and long but still end up not catching anything, I know the risen Lord is close by, watching compassionately and calling my attention so that he could direct my action."

The story also brings consolation, he said, because it is a reminder that mission and ministry are Jesus' work, and "my role is to work hard under his direction. The catch will be his, but I must be there with other collaborators to see the miracle, to haul the net to shore and to declare, 'It is the Lord!'"

In that way, he said, "a seemingly hopeless situation becomes a space to return to my humble role and to witness to the true Lord."

Cardinal Tagle's Bible probably falls open to that Gospel story on its own. His episcopal motto, "Dominus Est" -- "It is the Lord" -- is taken from that passage. The Gospel account was the focus of a retreat he facilitated as a priest. And it was the subject of his homily in 2011 when he was installed as the archbishop of Manila.

Moving to Manila after 10 years as bishop of his home diocese, Imus, he said in the installation homily that the lesson of the passage -- that the Lord directs the catch -- is a message of hope for the church community as well as for individuals.

"The Lord guards his church. He keeps watch with us on those long nights of confusion and helplessness in mission," the new archbishop said in 2011. "When, in spite of our good intentions and efforts, there are still the multitude of hungry people we cannot feed, homeless people we cannot shelter, battered women and children we cannot protect, cases of corruption and injustice that we cannot remedy, the long night of the disciples in the middle of the sea continues in us."

The experience of the long night should make Christians "grow in compassion toward our neighbors whose lives seem to be a never ending dark night," he said, and it should remind Christians that even when things are not working out as planned, the Lord is near.

The Gospel passage also is a call "to follow the Lord in our mission not individually, but together as the disciples did," he said. "Mission is an event of the church. We will be together in failure, but we will also be together in listening to the Spirit, in beholding God's miracles and in hauling the nets to shore."

The bishops, priests, religious and laity share one mission, he said at his installation. "When we take different boats and even compete against each other to get the better portion of the catch for our own teams, we are not engaging in mission. Divisiveness and destructive competition will only help sink the boat."

Now, after six years as archbishop and five years as a cardinal, he told Catholic News Service that "the faith that God is with us, especially in Jesus and in the animating power of the Holy Spirit, gives me hope."

"The faith that assures me that creation and history are in God's hands and these hands transform death into life, hatred into forgiveness and darkness into life -- this gives me hope," he said. "The faith that makes me see how people truly cooperate with God's action in the world through sincere love gives me hope."

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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.

For New Year, pope urges help for refugees, respect for life

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 7:04am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis began the New Year praying the world would demonstrate a marked increase in solidarity and welcome for migrants and refugees.

"Let's not extinguish the hope in their hearts; let's not suffocate their hopes for peace," the pope said Jan. 1 before reciting the Angelus with a crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square.

For the New Year's celebration of World Peace Day and the feast of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Francis had chosen to focus on migrants and refugees and their yearning for peace.

"For this peace, which is the right of all, many of them are willing to risk their lives in a journey that, in most cases, is long and dangerous and to face trials and suffering," the pope told an estimated 40,000 people gathered in the square around the Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

Pope Francis said it is important that everyone, including individuals, governments, schools, churches and church agencies, make a commitment to "ensuring refugees, migrants -- everyone -- a future of peace."

Entrusting the needs of migrants and refugees to the maternal concern of Mary, the pope led the crowd in reciting a traditional Marian prayer: "Under thy protection we seek refuge, holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our needs, but from all dangers deliver us always, Virgin, Glorious and Blessed."

Pope Francis had begun the day celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the Marian feast, which he said was a celebration of "a magnificent truth about God and about ourselves: From the moment that our Lord became incarnate in Mary, and for all time, he took on our humanity."

"To call Mary the mother of God reminds us," he said, that "God is close to humanity, even as a child is close to the mother who bears him in her womb."

God becoming human in the baby Jesus, the pope said, is an affirmation that human life "is precious and sacred to the Lord," so "to serve human life is to serve God."

"All life, from life in the mother's womb to that of the elderly, the suffering and the sick, and to that of the troublesome and even repellent, is to be welcomed, loved and helped," he said.

Pope Francis also drew people's attention to the fact that in the Gospel stories of Jesus' birth, Mary is silent. And the newborn Jesus, obviously, cannot speak.

"We need to remain silent as we gaze upon the crib," he said. "Pondering the crib, we discover anew that we are loved; we savor the real meaning of life. As we look on in silence, we let Jesus speak to our heart.

"May his lowliness lay low our pride; his poverty challenge our pomp; his tender love touch our hardened hearts," the pope prayed.

Celebrating evening prayer Dec. 31 and offering thanks to God for the year that was ending, Pope Francis gave a special acknowledgement to people -- especially parents and teachers -- who are "artisans of the common good," working to help their families, neighbors and communities each day without fanfare.

But, he said, people also must acknowledge that God gave humanity the year 2017 "whole and sound," yet "we human beings have in many ways wasted and wounded it with works of death, with lies and injustices. Wars are the flagrant sign of this backsliding and absurd pride. But so are all the small and great offenses against life, truth and solidarity, which cause multiple forms of human, social and environmental degradation."

The pope also led the midday Angelus prayer Dec. 31, the feast of the Holy Family.

The Sunday Gospel reading recounted Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the temple "to certify that the child belongs to God and that they are the guardians of his life and not the owners," the pope said.

Mary and Joseph experience the joy of seeing their son grow in wisdom, grace and strength, the pope said. "This is mission to which the family is called: to create the best conditions that will allow for the harmonious and full growth of children, so that they can live a life that is good, worthy of God and constructive for the world."

Growth and rebirth are possibilities open to every family, he said. "Whenever families, even those wounded and marked by frailty, failure and difficulty, return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and unimagined possibilities open up."

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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 prints postcard illustrating the horror of war

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 5:09am

IMAGE: CNS/Joseph Roger O'Donnell via Vatican Press Office

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As 2017 was drawing to a close, the horrors of war and people's yearnings for peace were on Pope Francis' mind and in his prayers.

In an unusual move late Dec. 30, the pope had the Vatican press office and Vatican media distribute a copy of a famous photograph from the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

The photo shows a young boy, about 10 years old, carrying his dead little brother on his back. The boy is taking his brother to be cremated.

On the back of the card, Pope Francis wrote, "The fruit of war" and signed his name.

Below his signature, the pope explained that the photo was taken by U.S. Marine Corps photographer Joseph Roger O'Donnell. After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, O'Donnell was assigned to document the scenes.

"The sadness of the child is expressed only by his lips, bitten and oozing blood," the pope wrote.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, printed a copy of the photograph and pope's explanation on the back page of its edition for Jan. 1, the Catholic Church's World Peace Day.

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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.

Catholic swimmer Katie Ledecky named AP Female Athlete of the Year

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 10:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tamas Kovacs, EPA

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Associated Press named Katie Ledecky the Female Athlete of the Year Dec. 26, after balloting by U.S. editors and news directors.

Ledecky, a graduate of Little Flower School and Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, received 351 points in the vote, placing her ahead of tennis star Serena Williams, who received 343 points. She was the eighth female swimmer to earn the honor and the first since Amy Van Dyken in 1996.

The vote reflected Ledecky's dominance in the July 2017 world championships in Budapest, Hungary, where she earned five gold medals and one silver medal.

Ledecky first entered the world stage as a 15-year-old in the 2012 London Olympics, the summer after her freshman year at Stone Ridge. In that competition, she surprised people around the world by winning a gold medal in the women's 800-meter freestyle and finishing the race in record time. In 2016, she returned to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and won gold in the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter freestyle races, gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay, and silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

Ledecky is known for setting lofty goals for herself and achieving them, working hard and taking part in grueling workout schedules.

Another part of her routine, she told the Catholic Standard archdiocesan newspaper prior to the 2016 Olympics, is praying before races.

"I do say a prayer -- or two -- before any race," Ledecky said. "The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me."

Now a sophomore at Stanford University, Ledecky also told the Catholic Standard that attending Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington helped make her the person she is today.

"I received an excellent, faith-filled education at both schools. Having the opportunity to attend academically rigorous schools has facilitated my interest in the world and in serving others, and has enriched my life so that it is not solely focused on my swimming and athletics," she said.

She said going to these schools was also important to her swimming because they challenged her and broadened her perspective and "allowed me to use my mind in ways that take me beyond just thinking about swim practices, swim meets and sports."

In March 2017, Ledecky became the youngest-ever inductee in the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, joining other esteemed women such as Harriet Tubman, Rachel Carson, Clara Barton, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Now, Ledecky is preparing for this coming March, when she will compete in the NCAA championships with her Stanford teammates. During the last week of December, she is traveling with the team to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for high-altitude training.

After competing in the 2016 Olympics and before leaving for college, Ledecky visited her alma maters to answer students' questions and show them the medals that she had earned. With those school visits, she said she hoped to make an impact.

During the Olympics, she said she was "just praying to do my very best to represent my country."

"I always just use my faith to think, 'I have been given this gift, and I want to use it to the best of my ability,'" she said, adding that she doesn't want it to end there. She hopes her accomplishments will "inspire somebody or make an impact of some sort beyond just getting a good time or getting a gold medal."

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Sankowski is a reporter for the Catholic Standard, archdiocesan newspaper of Washington.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Complex world needs clear essentials of Gospel, pope tells theologians

Fri, 12/29/2017 - 10:15am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an increasingly complex world of unprecedented scientific and technological challenges, theologians must communicate what is essential about life and help Christians proclaim God's merciful, saving grace, Pope Francis told a group of Italian theologians.

The theologians' task requires being "faithful and anchored" to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and continuing the council's focus on the church "letting itself be enriched by the perennial newness of Christ's Gospel," he said.

Speaking Dec. 29 at the Vatican to members of the Italian Theological Association, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the pope said theologians and other church workers must always refer back to Vatican II where the church recognized its responsibility to "proclaim the Gospel in a new way."

Such a task is done not by changing the message, but by communicating the perennial message with "faithful creativity" to a world experiencing rapid transformations, he said.

These changes and challenges require that the church, and theologians in particular, believe that the Gospel "can continue to touch the women and men of today" and work to clearly show people what lies at the heart of the Gospel.

This theological effort of showing what is essential is "indispensable" in a highly complex world of unprecedented scientific and technological advancement, and in a culture where "distorted views of the very heart of the Gospel" can sneak in and spread, he said.

"There needs to be a theology that helps all Christians proclaim and show, most of all, the salvific face of God, the merciful God, especially given the presence of some unprecedented challenges that involve humanity today, such as: the environmental crisis; the development of neuroscience or technology that can alter human beings; ever greater social inequalities or the migration of whole peoples; and relativism in theory and practice."

He said theology must develop from the work of women and men working together and supporting each other as a community, not as rivals; working to serve the universal church and all particular churches; and to "reimagine the church so that it may conform to the Gospel that it must proclaim."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope: Festivities become a facade when Christ is left out of Christmas

Wed, 12/27/2017 - 9:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Only when Christ is the focus of the Christmas season do all the colorful lights, carols, special meals and traditions help create a festive and joyous atmosphere, Pope Francis said.

"If we take him away, the lights go out and everything become fake, illusory," he said at his weekly general audience Dec. 27.

"Without Jesus, there is no Christmas. It's some other celebration, but it isn't Christmas," he said to applause.

Dedicating his audience talk to the true meaning of Christmas as a celebration of Christ's birth, the pope greeted pilgrims gathered in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall, which was decorated with a Christmas tree and a life-size Nativity scene.

The creche, the liturgies and the seasonal songs all help the faithful relive today the birth of Christ the savior, he said.

However, especially in Europe, he said, Christmas is being stripped of its true nature "in the name of a false respect for those who are not Christian." But, often the true motive behind eliminating any reference to the birth of Christ is a desire to "marginalize faith."

Just as God gave the world his son -- born at night to a poor girl in a stable in Bethlehem -- he still sends Christ into a world that is enveloped by darkness and slumbers, the pope said.

"And still today we witness the fact that often humanity prefers darkness because people know that light reveals all those actions and thoughts that would shame and prick one's conscience," he said. "So, people prefer to stay in the dark and not disturb their erring ways."

Instead, people are called to be like the shepherds, seeking out that true guiding light, who appears first to those who are marginalized and poor, he said.

"Jesus establishes a friendship with the lowly and despised," the pope said; he offers hope and encouragement for building a better world, where "there are no longer any people who are turned away, mistreated and destitute."

"God opened for us the way to a new life, built not on selfishness, but upon love," he said.

In that context, he said, exchanging gifts on Christmas is a sign of accepting God's example and teaching: to freely give oneself, one's love and tenderness to others.

"The true gift for us is Jesus and, like him, we want to be a gift for others," especially for those who have never experienced any love, care and tenderness in their lives, he said. The Christmas season "encourages us" to do this for others, he added.

At the end of the audience, members of Italy's "Golden Circus" performed for the pope. After two giant costumed polar bears did a little dance, female acrobats dressed in green, dragon-print leotards balanced high atop one another before a male troupe in fake leopard skins leapt into more gravity-defying poses. A muscular "strong man" bent a piece of metal and gave it to the pope, who thanked him for the present.

He thanked the performers for the show, saying the circus -- just like all real art -- "always brings us closer to God. You, with your work, with your skill, bring people to God. Thank you for what you do."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope prays for world's suffering children on Christmas

Mon, 12/25/2017 - 6:44am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Those who recognize the Lord in the baby Jesus in the manger also should recognize his presence in children suffering today because of war, poverty and immigration, Pope Francis said.

"Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed and how hard it is not to have a place to lay one's head," the pope said Dec. 25, praying that people would work together to make the world "more human and more worthy for the children of today and of the future."

Standing on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on a clear, crisp Christmas day, Pope Francis spoke about the world's children before formally giving his blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world).

Christmas is a time to live again "the mystery of the God who comes, who assumes our mortal human flesh, and who becomes lowly and poor in order to save us," the pope said. "And this moves us deeply, for great is the tenderness of our Father."

The shepherds, who were the first after Mary and Joseph to adore the newborn Jesus, are models for people today, teaching them to not be "scandalized" by his poverty and lowly birth, but to acknowledge him as Lord and learn to recognize his presence in others shivering in the cold, wrapped in rags and without a worthy home, the pope said.

"We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers," he said. "Through their eyes we see the drama of all those forced to emigrate and risk their lives to face exhausting journeys that end at times in tragedy."

"We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians," he said, adding a plea for peace in Jerusalem and for a resumption of negotiations "that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders."

"We see Jesus in the faces of Syrian children still marked by the war that, in these years, has caused such bloodshed in that country," Pope Francis said, adding prayers for a shared commitment to rebuilding the country with full respect for religious and ethnic differences.

Children continue to suffer in Iraq, torn by war and conflict over the past 15 years, he said. And in Yemen, which has been "largely forgotten" by the world, conflict has led to a serious humanitarian crisis with hunger and disease, including a massive cholera outbreak, threatening more than 20 million people -- three-quarters of the nation's population.

Pope Francis also prayed for the children and people of South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Congo, Central African Republic and Nigeria.

"We see Jesus in the children worldwide wherever peace and security are threatened by the danger of tensions and new conflicts," he said, adding a prayer for the end of tensions and the threat of nuclear war with North Korea.

Looking to South America, the pope said, "to the Baby Jesus we entrust Venezuela that it may resume a serene dialogue among the various elements of society for the benefit of all the beloved Venezuelan people."

In Eastern Ukraine, where a "Christmas truce" went into effect Dec. 23, Pope Francis said, "we see Jesus in children who, together with their families, suffer from the violence of the conflict in Ukraine and its grave humanitarian repercussions; we pray that the Lord may soon grant peace to this dear country."

But children suffer greatly not only because of war, conflict and migration. The pope also prayed for "the children of unemployed parents who struggle to offer their children a secure and peaceful future" and for "those whose childhood has been robbed and who, from a very young age, have been forced to work or to be enrolled as soldiers by unscrupulous mercenaries."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Christmas proclaims hope, charity where fear reigns, pope says

Sun, 12/24/2017 - 5:43pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christmas calls believers to see God's presence where he is often perceived as absent, especially in the "unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognizable, who walks through our cities and our neighborhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our doors," Pope Francis said.

"Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity," the pope said Dec. 24 as he celebrated Christmas Mass.

The evening silence enveloping St. Peter's Square was broken by the pealing of church bells following the proclamation of Jesus' birth during the Christmas Mass.

Pope Francis walked toward the altar of St. Peter's Basilica, and stood while the cantor sang the solemn "Christmas proclamation," recounting the timing of Christ's birth in human history.

He then removed a cloth that revealed a statue of the baby Jesus and gently leaned forward, reverently kissing it.

In his homily, Pope Francis said the "simple story" of Jesus' birth recounted in St. Luke's Gospel brings Christians to "the heart of that holy night" and "plunges us into the event that changes our history forever."

"Everything, on that night, became a source of hope," the pope said.

While Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem was full of expectation and hope for the coming birth of Jesus, the pope said, it was also a journey full of the same uncertainties and dangers that await those "who have to leave their home behind."

In Mary and Joseph's footsteps, he said, "so many other footsteps are hidden."

"We see the footsteps of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the footsteps of millions of people who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones," he said.

For some people, the departure is filled with hope for the future, he said. "Yet for many others, this departure can only have one name: survival. Surviving the Herods of today who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood."

On that Christmas night, he continued, the announcement of "the one who had no place to be born" was proclaimed to poor shepherds -- men and women who "had no place at the table or in the streets of the city."

Although feared and considered "pagans among the believers, sinners among the just and foreigners among the citizens," the pope said, it was the shepherds who were chosen to receive the good news of Christ's birth from the angel.

"This is the joy that we tonight are called to share, to celebrate and to proclaim. The joy with which God, in his infinite mercy, has embraced us pagans, sinners and foreigners, and demands that we do the same," the pope said.

Pope Francis called on all Christians to be "messengers of hope" to those who cast aside in the world, and he prayed that the cry of the little child of Bethlehem would "shake us from our indifference and open our eyes to those who are suffering."

"May your tenderness awaken our sensitivity and recognize our call to see you in all those who arrive in our cities, in our histories, in our lives," the pope prayed. "May your revolutionary tenderness persuade us to feel our call to be agents of the hope and tenderness of our people."

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Paul VI could be canonized in 2018, diocesan newspaper says

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 10:01am

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Blessed Paul VI could be declared a saint in 2018, perhaps during the Synod of Bishops, an institution he re-established after the Second Vatican Council, according to the newspaper of his home diocese.

La Voce del Popolo, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brescia, Italy, reported Dec. 21 that the medical commission and theological commission of the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes both gave positive opinions about a healing that could be the miracle needed for the pope's canonization.

The cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation still need to vote for recognition of the miracle, and Pope Francis also must recognize it before holding a consistory to formally approve the canonization.

But the headline in the diocesan newspaper proclaimed, "It will be the year of St. Paul VI."

"The rumors are so insistent and the steps so quick that everything indicates 2018 will be the year of the canonization of Blessed Paul VI," the newspaper reported.

The theological commission met Dec. 13 and voted to recognize the intercession of Blessed Paul in healing an unborn baby and helping her reach full term, the newspaper said. The baby's mother, who was told she had a very high risk of miscarrying the baby, had prayed for Blessed Paul's intercession a few days after his beatification by Pope Francis in 2014.

The Italian baby girl was born healthy and still is healthy today, La Voce del Popolo said.

The canonization in 2018 "is more than a hope," the newspaper said. "The month of October could be the right one," given that the Synod of Bishops will be meeting at the Vatican Oct. 3-28 to discuss young people and helping them discern their vocations.

"What better occasion could there be to canonize, before such a significant portion of the College of Bishops, the other pope of the Second Vatican Council?" the paper asked. St. John XXIII, who opened the council and presided over its first session, was canonized in 2014.

Blessed Paul succeeded him as pope in 1963, presided over the last three sessions of the council and began the process of implementing its decisions. He died in 1978 at the age of 80.

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Gingrich formally begins service as U.S. ambassador to Holy See

Fri, 12/22/2017 - 9:34am

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Callista L. Gingrich presented her letters of credential to Pope Francis, formally assuming her duties as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Gingrich met privately with the pope Dec. 22 after introducing her husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and members of her staff.

Neither the Vatican nor the U.S. embassy provided details about their private discussion.

In a statement, the embassy said, "Ambassador Gingrich looks forward to working with the Holy See to defend human rights, advance religious freedom, combat human trafficking and to seek peaceful solutions to crises around the world."

But in the weeks before her papal audience, Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump had very public disagreements on other issues. Pope Francis had asked Trump to respect the "status quo" of Jerusalem by not recognizing it as the capital of Israel until the city's status was determined by a peace process.

Also, the Vatican expressed disappointment that the Trump administration pulled out of the U.N. process for drafting global compacts on migration and on refugees and that the administration withdrew U.S. support for the Paris Accord on reducing climate change.

Meeting Pope Francis, Gingrich gave him a collection of sacred music recorded by the choir she was a longtime member of at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the embassy said. She also gave him a donation for the charity of his choice.

After meeting the pope and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, the new ambassador was accompanied to St. Peter's Basilica by Msgr. Francis Kelly, a priest of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, and a canon of St. Peter's Basilica.

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The 'hurt is still there,' says Cardinal O'Malley at news conference

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 1:42pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, the Pilot

By Mark Labbe

BRAINTREE, Mass. (CNS) -- Journalists crowded into a room in the Archdiocese of Boston's Braintree headquarters Dec. 20 as Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley answered questions following the death of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, whose death was officially announced by the Vatican earlier that day.

The former archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law resigned in 2002 amid allegations of mishandling cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the archdiocese. In 2004, the cardinal was named archpriest of a basilica in Rome, where he died at age 86.

"This is a very difficult day for survivors and all of us in the Archdiocese of Boston and for me," said Cardinal O'Malley at the news conference.

"We have anticipated this day, recognizing that it would open a lot of old wounds and cause much pain and anger in those who have suffered so much already, and we share in their suffering," he continued.

"As the church must always do, we seek forgiveness for the sins of the past and for all the things that were done or not done that have contributed to the suffering of so many," he said.

The archdiocese has a continued commitment to "provide for the assistance and support for victim survivors and their families, and to strive to maintain safe environments in all of our churches, schools, institutions, and agencies," said Cardinal O'Malley, who succeeded the late cardinal as Boston's archbishop.

For victims, the "hurt is still there, the healing is still necessary," said Cardinal O'Malley. "We must all be vigilant, particularly for prevention of child abuse and to create safe environments and to be constantly monitoring how we're doing following our policies, our commitment to the whole community to take this very seriously and do whatever we can to guarantee safe environments for our children."

Asked to comment on Cardinal Law's appointment as archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore following his resignation in Boston, a move that many victims saw as almost a reward, Cardinal O'Malley said he doesn't believe that would happen today.

"I think there's been enough growth and consciousness of this problem in the Holy See that that would not happen," he said.

Responding to a journalist's question on a statement issued earlier that day in which Cardinal O'Malley touched briefly on the positive aspects of Cardinal Law's legacy, which has angered some victims, Cardinal O'Malley said, "All of us are more than one-dimension. To be realistic, we have to recognize there was more to this man than his mistakes."

"We tried to craft a statement that would be fair and, at the same time, sensitive to the particular suffering of people in the archdiocese," he said.

In response to a question on whether he can forgive Cardinal Law, Cardinal O'Malley said that "forgiveness is what Christianity is all about, and that doesn't make it easy."

"Christmas is about healing, relationships and forgiveness, and a big part of healing is being able to come to grips with our own difficulty in forgiveness," he said.

Asked if he believes Cardinal Law's soul will be welcomed into heaven, Cardinal O'Malley said he doesn't know if anyone can answer that question, but added, "I hope that everyone goes to heaven."

"This is what the mission of the church is, to work so that everyone will go to heaven, but I am not here to sit in judgment of anyone," he said.

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Labbe is a reporter at The Pilot, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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Creche crush: D.C. couple has collection of 500 Nativity scenes

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 10:06am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For Roger and Marguerite Sullivan of Washington, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Thanks to their travels throughout the world over the past 40 years -- he for the World Bank, she for the State Department -- the Catholic couple has collected at least 500 Nativity scenes.

Every December, they spend a few days unpacking about 100 or so of the creches for display around their home.

This year, though, about 150 of their Nativity scenes are on exhibit at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington. The Sullivans had been friends of the Franciscans there for many years, but it wasn't until last year, when the Sullivans told them, that the Franciscans knew of the extent of their collection.

The exhibit, on display through Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, is already drawing more people to the monastery, said Franciscan Father Greg Friedman, who was tasked with curating the exhibit.

"We started the week before Thanksgiving" arranging the creches, Father Friedman told Catholic News Service. "We worked over Thanksgiving weekend, and into the week after that. We put in some very long days." He also crafted a slide show featuring nearly half of the creches in the exhibit.

The couple sees their collection as one expression of their Catholic faith. "I think it's a wonderful way to show our Catholic faith, and to be one with Catholics around the world," Roger Sullivan said.

The Sullivans look for Nativity scenes that reflect the culture of the people who live in the countries they visit. "We don't have any 'Made in China' scenes," Marguerite Sullivan said.

The creches chosen for the exhibit show not only the breadth and variety of the Sullivans' collection, but also the skill of the artisans who assembled them. One creche from Slovakia seems to be made entirely from wire. One from Albania is formed out of cast iron. Another from the Philippines was made from rolled-up newspapers.

The toughest Nativity scene to procure, according to Roger, was a heavy but not unduly tall creche from Lithuania. "We had to buy a new suitcase to take it home in, and we had to buy new air tickets for the flight home," he said.

In this respect, size does matter. Many of their Nativity scenes are small, and some are downright miniature. The smallest, said Father Friedman, comes from San Marino, a 24-square-mile republic surrounded entirely by Italy. Tellingly, the creche fits inside a spoon.

The whole thing started when Roger went to Bolivia on a work assignment, saw a Nativity scene he liked and brought it home. Soon afterward, he went to Peru and picked up another creche. Thus was a tradition begun.

Churches are great places to find Nativity scenes to buy. "If they don't have them, they know where to go get them," Marguerite told CNS. The artisans who make these creches -- save for those on a street in Florence, Italy, where individual pieces can sell for thousands of dollars -- aren't making a bundle making and selling Nativity scenes. "Often, they're quite poor," she added.

With 500 or so creches in their collection, most countries with a Christian population are represented. Roger Sullivan has visited 105 countries in his travels; Marguerite has been to 110. Friends who have seen their December displays have given them Nativity scenes to add to the collection. "We've bought a few online," Marguerite noted, as their travels have slowed somewhat in their retirement -- although they've already got an international itinerary through the first half of 2018.

One place they've never collected a creche from? "Believe it or not, the Vatican," Marguerite said.

The Sullivans also have some distinctive Nativity scenes from the United States. There's one from Alaska showing Eskimos, one showing Pueblo Indians from Colorado, a straw-hut rendering from Hawaii, a scene from South Carolina made of finger puppets, and a Cape Cod creche with a maritime theme: Mary as a mermaid, and the Wise Men as sea creatures, including an octopus.

The most controversial, by the Sullivans' own admission, is a modern-day telling of Jesus' birth, with Joseph wearing his hair in a "man bun" and taking a selfie and Mary -- with her blouse off one shoulder -- and the Christ Child in the manger. The magi, instead of riding camels, are all on Segways and carrying gifts in Amazon.com boxes.

"Some people say it's controversial, but we have to think of what the Christmas story would be like if it happened in our day and time," Roger said.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Curia exists for service, not for glory, pope says

Thu, 12/21/2017 - 7:10am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The people who work at the Vatican and in the Roman Curia are supposed to be "sensitive antennas" that faithfully transmit the desires of the pope and receive information from dioceses and Eastern Catholic churches around the world, Pope Francis said.

Remembering that the Curia exists exclusively for the service of the Gospel, the pope and the church is the only way to counter "that imbalanced and degenerate logic of conspiracies or little cliques that, despite all their justifications and good intentions, represent a cancer," the pope said Dec. 21.

Holding his annual pre-Christmas meeting with top officials of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State and with cardinals living in Rome, Pope Francis said he wanted to build on his previous talks about the reform of the Curia by focusing on its relationship to the world outside the Vatican walls.

His reflections, he said, were based on principles and church laws governing the Curia, but also "on the personal vision I have tried to share" as the process of reforming the Curia has unfolded.

The process began a month after he was elected in March 2013 and is ongoing, which brings to mind, he said, a saying attributed to a 19th-century Belgian cleric and Vatican statesman: "Carrying out reform in Rome is like cleaning an Egyptian Sphinx with a toothbrush."

Still, he said, the process must continue for the good of the Curia itself, the good of the church and, ultimately, the good of the world.

Pope Francis cited as a sign of the work left to be done the danger posed by "traitors of the truth or profiteers of the church's motherhood," meaning personnel hired to give their expertise to the Vatican, but who "let themselves be corrupted by ambition or by vainglory and, when they are delicately let go, erroneously declare themselves to be martyrs of the system, of the 'uninformed pope' or of the 'old guard' rather than reciting a 'mea culpa,'" in admitting their faults.

Repeatedly in his talk, Pope Francis spoke of "diaconal primacy" or the primacy of service, which must characterize his ministry and the work of all in the Curia in imitation of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.

The focus of the Curia, he said, must be on service and not on self-preservation or maintaining areas of influence and power.

Quoting a third-century Christian treatise, Pope Francis said the Curia, like a deacon, must be "the ears and the mouth of the bishop, his heart and his soul."

Listening to the local churches and to the needs of the poor comes first, he said. "I don't think it's an accident that the ear is the organ for hearing, but also for balance."

Looking more closely at the church's relation with the world outside itself, Pope Francis spoke about the new section he created in the Vatican Secretariat of State to oversee the training, assigning and ministry of Vatican nuncios and diplomats around the world.

Vatican diplomacy has no "mundane or material interest," he said, but seeks only to build "bridges, peace and dialogue among nations."

Pope Francis listed as diplomatic priorities "the importance of safeguarding our common home from every destructive selfishness; to affirm that wars bring only death and destruction; to draw from the past the necessary lessons to help us live better in the present, solidly build a future and safeguard it for new generations."

Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue also are essential forms of outreach to the world, the pope said.

The search for Christian unity, he said, "is a journey, but as my predecessors also repeated, it is a journey that is irreversible and with no putting the brakes on."

"The Curia works in this area to promote encounters with our brothers and sisters," Pope Francis said, "to untie the knots of misunderstandings and hostility, to counter the prejudices and the fear of the other that have prevented us from seeing the richness of and in diversity and the depths of the mystery of Christ and of the church, which remain greater than any human expression."

Pope Francis told the cardinals and other Curia officials that the faith celebrated at Christmas must be a living, lively faith that provokes conversion in all who call themselves believers.

"A faith that doesn't put us in crisis is a faith in crisis," he said. "A faith that doesn't make us grow is a faith that must grow; a faith that doesn't question us is a faith that must be questioned; a faith that doesn't enliven us is a faith that must be enlivened; a faith that doesn't shake us is a faith that must be shaken."

If faith does not provoke the faithful to change and grow, the pope said, it really is something that is simply lukewarm or just an idea.

Faith becomes real, he said, only when it "allows God to be born or reborn in the manger of our hearts, when we let the star of Bethlehem lead us to the place where the son of God lies, not among kings and luxury, but among the poor and humble."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Tax bill passes amid concerns about future effects on poor

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 2:03pm

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Republican lawmakers joined President Donald Trump in cheering passage of the most significant overhaul of the federal tax system in three decades even as the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee called on the president to work with Congress to fix "unacceptable problems" in the law.

Republicans hailed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act as the stimulus needed to get the economy rolling into high gear as they expected corporations to reinvest in America with the middle class benefiting from lower taxes, higher wages and greater job opportunities.

Critics contend the law will provide a windfall for people with the highest incomes and corporations that already are seeing record profits and that there will be limited benefit to low- and middle-income families, who will see their taxes rise beginning in 2025.

Meanwhile, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishop's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said that while the law "achieves some laudable things," it also "contains a number of problematic provisions that will have dramatic negative consequences, particularly for those most in need."

In a statement released minutes after the bill passed the House for the second day in a row after fixes were needed to match what the Senate passed early Dec. 20, Bishop Dewane expressed concern that the law will raise taxes for people and families with lower incomes while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

"This is clearly problematic, especially for the poor," he said. "The repeal of the personal exemption will cause larger families, including many in the middle class, to be financially worse off."

The bishop cited a concern that the country's deficit will grow and that some members of Congress may argue that cuts in programs that aid poor and vulnerable people are needed to balance the federal budget.

The law "also is likely to produce up to a $13 billion drop in annual charitable giving to nonprofits that are relied upon to help those struggling on the margins. This will also significantly diminish the role of civil society in promoting the common good," Bishop Dewane added.

Advocates for poor and elderly people echoed the bishop's worries about the possibility of deep cuts in spending on Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other social services.

"As you move forward, we urge you to reject efforts to use the deficit created by this bill as a pretext for even greater cuts to programs for low-income communities," Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, wrote in a Dec. 19 letter to members of Congress.

She also called on Congress to "address the shortcomings in this bill and recommit yourselves to the bipartisan solutions needed to lift people out of poverty."

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network, said the tax bill ignores the common good in provide tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations at the expense of people in poverty.

"We know what will happen now that this tax plan is law: The budget shortfall created by outrageous tax cuts for the wealthiest will pressure Republicans in Congress to, once again, balance the budget on the backs of people in poverty," Sister Campbell, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, said in a Dec. 20 statement.

She called for "reasonable revenue for responsible programs" that serve as "lifelines for families and individuals struggling to make ends meet."

The legislation passed along party lines in both chambers, with Democrats unanimously lining up against it.

The Senate passed the bill 51-48 early Dec. 20. In the House hours earlier, the measure passed 227-203, as 12 Republicans -- eight of them Catholic -- joined Democrats in opposing the bill.

However, the House was forced to revote on the legislation Dec. 20 after the Senate parliamentarian determined that certain provisions violated guidelines on what types of legislation can pass with a simple 50-vote majority.

Senators tweaked the bill, took the vote and returned it to the House, where it passed 224-201. Again, 12 Republicans voted against the bill.

Trump signed the measure within hours of passage.

Eleven of the 12 House Republicans voting against the bill were from the high tax states of California, New Jersey and New York. They cited concerns that constituents would see their overall tax liability rise because of limits on the state and local tax, or SALT, deductions contained in the bill.

The bill caps the SALT deduction at $10,000 and eliminates it altogether in eight years.

"Capping this deduction, which has been part of the U.S. tax code since 1913, will increase taxes and harm the already unaffordable housing market in my district," Rep. Dan Donovan, R-New York, who is Catholic, said in a statement after the Dec. 19 vote.

Other Democrats pointed to analyses that showed highest earners would benefit most from the changes and estimates that the measure would add up to $1.5 trillion to the country's debt over the next decade.

The tax reform plan affects virtually every American family. An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released Dec. 18 found that 95 percent of taxpayers would see lower taxes in 2018 with 5 percent paying more next year.

Families earning less than $25,000 annually would see $60 in tax savings, while those earning $733,000 would see a cut of $51,140 on average, the analysis showed.

In 2025, 9 percent of taxpayers would pay more; by 2027, 53 percent -- largely middle- and low-income earners -- would pay more, according to the analysis. Higher earners would continue to see cuts in 2027 compared with current law, although at a lower rate.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told reporters after the Dec. 19 vote that the rollback of the cuts was necessary by 2027 in order to comply with Senate rules. Ryan, who is Catholic, said he expected a future Congress to keep the cuts in place.

Other provisions of the law include doubling of the standard deduction while ending the personal exemption; reducing the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and making it permanent; expanding the child tax credit; a cap on deductions for state and local taxes; and reducing the deduction for mortgage interest.

The bill also ends the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act that required people to buy health insurance or face a penalty. The provision will save the federal government $300 billion in subsidies over the next decade, but could find as many as 13 million people without health insurance.

Before the first House vote, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, House minority leader, spent several minutes criticizing the tax package, citing Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In particular, Pelosi, who is Catholic, pointed to a Nov. 9 letter from the chairmen of three USCCB committees to House members. Standing in front of a poster quoting the letter, Pelosi charged that the bill was an example of "moral obscenity and unrepentant greed."

"As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said early on, here it is, 'This proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.' The bishops go on to say, 'This is simply unconscionable,'" she said.

She also recalled Pope Benedict's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" ("God is Love"), in which St. Augustine was quoted about the responsibilities of the state.

"Pope Benedict quoted the urgent moral wisdom of St. Augustine 17 centuries ago, my colleagues," she said. "Seventeen centuries ago, St. Augustine said, 'A state that does not govern according to justice is just a bunch of thieves.' Pope Benedict went on to say, 'The state must inevitably face the question about how justice can be achieved here and now.' And he cautioned against, in his words, the danger of a 'certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effects of power and special interests.'"

Pelosi questioned whether the bill met such standards.

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Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Pope's New Year priorities: Refugees, youths, trips, more Curia reform

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 10:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Darrin Zammit Lupi, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Foreign trips, a focus on the rights and needs of migrants and refugees and a Synod of Bishops dedicated to young people all are on the 2018 calendar for Pope Francis.

His activities and the passions that drive them are familiar by now. In fact, March 13 will mark the fifth anniversary of his election as pope, succeeding retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis, newly 81, will begin 2018 with a focus on Mary and on migrants and refugees.

As with all modern popes, Pope Francis' Marian devotion and his concern for people forced to flee their homes have been a constant in his ministry.

But Pope Francis is the first to dedicate a celebration of World Peace Day specifically to the theme of migrants and refugees. On Jan. 1, for the 51st time, the Catholic Church will begin the new year praying for peace. The day also is the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and while Pope Francis sent a message to heads of state in November reflecting on the peace day theme, his homily at the Mass is likely to focus on Mary.

The pope's focus on migrants and refugees will come to the fore again Jan. 14 when he adds to the normal papal liturgical calendar a special Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

In both his message for the Jan. 14 celebration and his message for World Peace Day, Pope Francis urged Catholic involvement in the drafting of the U.N. global compacts for migrants and for refugees.

Approving the development of the compacts in September 2016, "world leaders clearly expressed their desire to take decisive action in support of migrants and refugees to save their lives and protect their rights," the pope said in his message. He urged Catholics to get involved by lobbying their governments to include in the compacts proposals that would ensure the welcome, protection, promotion and integration of migrants and refugees.

Although work on the compacts suffered a setback when the Trump administration announced in early December it was pulling out of the process and would not be a party to the accords, the United Nations hopes to have a draft of the documents ready by February. Late in 2018, the U.N. General Assembly will hold a conference to adopt the compacts.

On Jan. 15, Pope Francis will set off for a six-day visit to Chile and Peru. As is his style, the trip will include meetings with government authorities and large public Masses, but also a visit to a women's prison and to a home for children at risk.

As of Dec. 20, no other papal trips for 2018 had been confirmed, although Vatican officials have said it is almost certain Pope Francis will travel to Dublin in late August for the World Meeting of Families; on the same trip, he is likely to be the first pope to visit Northern Ireland.

Vatican officials also have confirmed that a September trip to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is under consideration. And they do not rule out a spring trip, perhaps to Africa.

One month of the pope's calendar already is booked solid. The Synod of Bishops focusing on young people and their vocations will be held at the Vatican Oct. 3-28. In preparation for the bishops' gathering, the Vatican has asked bishops' conferences around the world to nominate young people to attend a pre-synod gathering March 19-24 in Rome.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the synod, said Pope Francis hopes about 300 young people -- mostly, but not all, Catholics -- would attend the gathering. Many of them will speak to the whole group about the hopes and concerns of young people, what they can offer the church and what they need from it. They will discuss the presentations in small groups and will be asked to prepare a summary document for the bishops attending the synod.

The fifth anniversary of Pope Francis' papacy also means 2018 is the fifth anniversary of his international Council of Cardinals and the effort to reform the Roman Curia.

Changes have been made, new laws have been passed, offices have been combined to cut down on duplication. But 2017 ended without a clear indication of when a document presenting a global vision of the Curia and each of its offices would be ready.

Perhaps that is what Pope Francis wants for Christmas 2018.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Cardinal Law, whose legacy was marred by sex abuse scandal, dies

Wed, 12/20/2017 - 1:39am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who had been one of the United States' most powerful and respected bishops until his legacy was blemished by the devastating sexual abuse of minors by priests in his Archdiocese of Boston, died early Dec. 20 in Rome at the age of 86.

Before the abuse scandal forced his resignation in 2002, Cardinal Law had been a leading church spokesman on issues ranging from civil rights to international justice, from abortion to poverty, from Catholic-Jewish relations and ecumenism to war and peace.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston said in a statement Dec. 20, "As archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities."

Cardinal O'Malley also recognized that his predecessor's death "brings forth a wide range of emotions on the part of many people. I am particularly cognizant of all who experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy, whose lives were so seriously impacted by those crimes, and their families and loved ones. To those men and women, I offer my sincere apologies for the harm they suffered, my continued prayers and my promise that the archdiocese will support them in their effort to achieve healing."

Although full details of the funeral had not been released, Cardinal O'Malley said Cardinal Law would be buried in Rome, where he had his last assignment.

Bernard Francis Law was born on Nov. 4, 1931, in Torreon, Mexico, where his father, a career Air Force officer, was then stationed. He attended schools in New York, Florida, Georgia, and Barranquilla, Colombia, and graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

He graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before entering St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, Louisiana in 1953. He later studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio.

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson (now Jackson), Mississippi, in 1961. After serving two years as an assistant pastor, he was made editor of the Mississippi Register, the diocesan newspaper. At the same time, he held several other diocesan posts, including director of the family life bureau and spiritual director at the minor seminary.

A civil rights activist, he joined the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council. He received death threats for his strong editorial positions on civil rights in the Mississippi Register.

His work for ecumenism in the Deep South in the 1960s received national attention, and in 1968 he was tapped for his first national post, as executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

In 1973 Blessed Pope Paul VI named him bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He made headlines in 1975 when, amid an influx of Vietnamese refugees arriving in the United States, he arranged to resettle in his diocese all 166 refugee members of the Vietnamese religious order, Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix.

Continuing his ecumenical work, he formed the Missouri Christian Leadership Conference. He was made a member of the Vatican's Secretariat (now Pontifical Council) for Promoting Christian Unity and served in 1976-81 as a consultor to its Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. He also chaired the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs in the late 1970s.

In 1981, when the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved a special program for welcoming into the Catholic priesthood former U.S. Episcopalian priests who became Catholics, he was named the Vatican delegate to develop the program and oversee it. In the program's first year 64 former Episcopalian priests applied for acceptance.

St. John Paul II made him archbishop of Boston in January 1984 and the following year made him a cardinal.

Soon after his arrival in Boston, Cardinal Law became well-known for his work for immigrants and minorities.

He often led the Massachusetts bishops in struggles to maintain or increase funding for programs for the poor and most vulnerable segments of the population and in the fight against abortion and the death penalty.

A constant advocate of the right to life of the unborn, he denounced the pro-abortion stance of the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro -- a Catholic, during the 1984 presidential race.

While he called abortion "the critical issue of the moment," in 1995 he urged a moratorium on abortion clinic protests after a gunman attacked two Boston clinics, killing two people and wounding five.

It was his proposal for a worldwide catechism, in a speech at the 1985 extraordinary Synod of Bishops, that led to development of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." Cardinal Law also oversaw the first drafting of an English translation of the catechism -- and unsuccessfully defended the inclusive-language version that the Vatican ultimately rejected and ordered rewritten.

The collapse of Cardinal Law's authority and status began in January 2002 with the criminal trial of serial child molester John Geoghan, who had been allowed to stay in active ministry for three decades before he was finally removed and subsequently laicized, and the court-ordered release of archdiocesan files on Geoghan to the media.

The released files showed that when complaints against Geoghan were made in one parish he would be removed, but soon assigned to another parish. The files gave firsthand proof of how such complaints were handled and demonstrated a pattern of protecting and transferring abusive priests by the cardinal and his aides.

In the first weeks following the revelations, Cardinal Law publicly apologized on several occasions and announced a series of major policy changes -- most importantly, removing permanently from ministry any priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor and turning over to district attorneys the names of all priests against whom any abuse allegation had been made.

A series of investigative reports on the issue by the Boston Globe made national headlines and other newspapers and television news teams across the nation began investigating how their local dioceses dealt with abusive priests.

At the time of his resignation from the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Law was 71 years old and, as a cardinal since 1985, the senior member of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy. His resignation did not affect his standing as an active cardinal. He retained membership on several Vatican congregations and, before he turned 80, he entered the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

St. John Paul appointed Cardinal Law in 2004 to be the new archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the four major basilicas of Rome.

While he oversaw the administration and liturgical life of the basilica until his retirement in 2011, he kept a relatively low profile in the city.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 217 members, including 120 cardinals who are under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

An Advent tradition: Making wax figures of Jesus for mangers

Tue, 12/19/2017 - 12:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Francois Gloutnay, Presence

By Francois Gloutnay

MONTREAL (CNS) -- For sculptor Sylvette Chanel, Advent is the busiest time of the year. She is among the few people left who keeps alive the ancient New France craft of making and repairing wax Jesus figures for Nativity scenes.

This art was brought to Canada by the first female religious congregations more than three centuries ago, Chanel explained Dec. 17 at a conference at Maison Saint-Gabriel, a Montreal museum. The nuns practiced it, preserved it and passed it on to some of their members. But with the decline of these congregations, Chanel, 77, is doing her part to preserve it.

She learned the basics of this tradition from Misericordia Sister Sylvia Rondeau, who died in 2013 at the age of 92. In the mid-1980s, for three years, Chanel regularly went to the Misericordia motherhouse in Montreal to watch Sister Rondeau work.

Chanel said she has created hundreds of baby Jesus figurines over the years.

"Every child Jesus needs a good day's work," she said.

On her desk were a variety of wax baby Jesus figures, just like the ones so many parishes and families own.

"Some parents still ask me today to prepare a wax Jesus for each of their children, using a lock of their (children's) own hair when they were very young." Specialists also order figurines.

Chanel starts by preparing and melting beeswax and pours it into a mold. When it solidifies, she unmolds the figurine, gently removes the excess wax, dresses it, prepares its hair, places his halo, and paints its eyes. Her primary tool is the little knife Sister Rondeau gave her.

The artist likes to give a smile to the figurines she molds, to give Jesus a serene look.

"I am convinced that he was not born sad," she said.

Every year, in November and December, people ask her to repair a wax Jesus that fell or was improperly stored.

"Some come to me all broken. I am the 911 of wax Jesuses!" she added. "I work miracles, it seems," especially since some figurines were made many years ago.

"Time and light affect the color," she explained. But after Chanel's touch, they're back in the crib, with a serene smile.

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Gloutnay is a reporter for Presence info, based in Montreal.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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