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Updated: 39 min 42 sec ago

Grammy winner sings with Sistine Chapel Choir in new Christmas CD

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a new release of music for Advent and Christmas, multiple Grammy award-winning mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli sings with the pope's Sistine Chapel Choir.

It marks the first time one of the oldest choirs in the world has issued a recording with a female singer, Msgr. Massimo Palombella, director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, told Catholic News Service.

The new 16-track CD, "Veni Domine: Advent and Christmas at the Sistine Chapel," was to be released in Italy Oct. 27 and worldwide in November with the proceeds earmarked for the poor through the pope's charities.

Produced by Deutsche Grammophon and Universal Music Italia, the CD marks the fourth joint venture between the music companies and the papal choir; the other CDs include "Habemus Papam" and "Cantate Domino."

Like "Cantate Domino," "Veni Domine" was recorded in the Sistine Chapel not only for its rich acoustic effects, but also because the musical compositions chosen had originally been composed to be sung in the chapel for papal celebrations, the monsignor told reporters at a news conference Oct. 24.

The one change adjustment made to the chapel was that carpets were put down to improve the sound quality, said Mirko Gratton, head of the classical and jazz music division at Universal Music Italia.

All of the musical selections, Msgr. Palombella said, were taken from the choir's vast ancient archives at the Vatican Library. Three of the Renaissance-era compositions have never been performed in modern times, he added.

The pontifical choir, which traces its history back to the 1470s, is dedicated to making its music known beyond the walls of Vatican City and to helping people experience Christ through sacred music, he said.

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Editors: The CD can be ordered or downloaded beginning Oct. 27 at: http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/en/cat/4797524 or from Amazon, Apple music or iTunes.

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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.

Catholic organizations, groups actively working on Puerto Rico's recovery

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice J. de la Vega

QUEBRADILLAS, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- A month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Catholic organizations, groups and individuals were still among the most prominent responders to the needs of a suffering people.

Despite early logistical obstacles, as of Oct. 20, the local Caritas chapter had disbursed over $1.1 million in aid to an estimated 50,000 people -- including food, clothing, first aid supplies, potable water and sundries. At its San Juan office, hot lunches also were being distributed daily to members of the community.

"We had to blindly design a response plan," Father Enrique "Kike" Camacho, executive director of Caritas Puerto Rico, told Catholic News Service Oct. 19. "But after communications opened somewhat, we began improving the plan based on diocesan reports. Today, we have a well-coordinated relief system at Puerto Rico's 500 parishes in all six dioceses."

Caritas has been closely working with Catholic Charities USA on Puerto Rico's recovery since Hurricane Irma brushed the island's northern coast two weeks before Maria followed Sept. 20.

Kim Burgo, senior director of disaster operations for Catholic Charities, told CNS: "One of our biggest challenges is money because there were two other hurricanes before ... but then Maria comes along, which in many ways was worse than Harvey and Irma, and people have donor fatigue and it is very difficult to get donations for Puerto Rico. The need here is so much greater, yet the financial resources are so much less."

Puerto Rico's post-hurricane recovery efforts have been largely a grass-roots impulse, mainly spearheaded by newly formed young adult movements and religious groups that have become an alternative to slow, complex and bureaucratic government procedures. Most of these groups, local and coming from the U.S., include Catholics.

Katherine Riolo, a Catholic volunteer with the Canadian relief foundation Impact Nations, came to Quebradillas, a town of 25,000 residents in northwest Puerto Rico, with a team of four to help distribute 300 portable water filters around isolated homes deep in the mountains. Riolo is a retired schoolteacher and a 30-year missionary veteran who is a member of the Sangre de Cristo Parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was her first disaster-related mission.

"All the devastation ... when you see this, no electricity, families living with no water to bathe in, it's hard and they are traumatized," Riolo told CNS while distributing the water filters around Quebradilla's Guajataca sector Oct. 21. "When you come into someone's house, they don't forget that, and when you tell them, 'God thinks about you so much that he sent us ... and there's a whole lot of people in my town thinking about you,' they don't forget that.."

Asked about what drives her to do missionary work, Riolo simply answered: "We are the hands and feet of Jesus."

Bishop Daniel Fernandez of Arecibo touched on that exact sentiment from Riolo at a Mass at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Quebradillas Oct. 22, World Mission Sunday.

"The Father sent his son into the world -- mission means to send," said Bishop Fernandez during his homily. "If sending means mission or mission means send, then Jesus was the first missionary."

Just as the church cannot avoid being missionary, the bishop said, neither can Catholics avoid it. Therefore, he said, offering witness of our faith has to be practiced with good deeds "in times of hurricanes like this one."

Parishes in the inner mountain regions of Puerto Rico have fared the worst after Hurricane Maria. Not only have their congregations' financial support diminished due to massive unemployment, but also federal and local government support is not being received in their towns. Many parishes, like St. Raphael the Archangel, are holding ongoing relief collections for them.

Before Mass, Bishop Fernandez told CNS the Diocese of Arecibo is distributing all aid coming from Caritas directly to its 59 parishes. His diocese and the Diocese of Mayaguez are the most damaged of the dioceses. The island has one archdiocese, San Juan, and five dioceses.

"I'm perceiving much unity and even calm within the faithful," said Bishop Fernandez. "However, (the priests and I) are attentive because we know that as time passes and, if the situation doesn't improve at an adequate pace, tolerance levels might diminish as the physical exhaustion rises."

Recovery after Hurricane Maria, one of the most destructive in Puerto Rico's history, has been slow. Official reliable statistics about hurricane damage, including an accurate death toll, have been scarce and widely debated by experts.

The latest government timetable for recovery announced Oct. 19 says 90 percent of the island will have its electric power normalized by Dec. 15. That recovery plan is said to yield a totally new and diversified power grid that would bring back hydroelectric systems and add solar power components.

Traditionally a Catholic people, Puerto Ricans feel the church tends to be the most trustworthy source of relief in disaster conditions. For Father Kike, that represents one of the church's most important challenges.

"To me the greatest challenge in these situations is to meet our people's expectations" he said. "They expect a lot from the church because they trust it, and there's pressure on us. It's a high standard and we cannot fail."

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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.

Church can't be blind, deaf to people with special needs, pope says

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church must be welcoming and creative in finding ways to not let people's physical, psychological or intellectual limitations keep them from encountering God, Pope Francis said.

"The church cannot be 'mute' or 'tone deaf' when it comes to the defense and promotion of people with disabilities," he told differently abled individuals, their families and pastoral workers and professionals who work with them.

Words and gestures of outreach and welcoming must never be missing from any church community, so that everyone, particularly those whose journey in life is not easy, can encounter the risen Lord and find in that community "a source of hope and courage," he said Oct. 21.

The pope spoke during an audience with 450 people taking part in a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. The gathering Oct. 20-22 was dedicated to sharing best practices in engaging and catechizing persons living with disabilities -- a topic Pope Francis had specifically asked the council to look into, conference organizers told Catholic News Service.

Fortunately, the pope told the group, there has been progress over the past decades in recognizing the rights and dignity of all people, especially those who are more vulnerable, leading to "courageous positions on inclusion" so that "no one feels like a stranger."

However, attitudes that are often "narcissistic and utilitarian" still abound, marginalizing people with disabilities and overlooking their human and spiritual gifts, he said.

Also still too pervasive is an attitude of refusal of any potentially debilitating condition, believing it would be an obstacle to happiness or the full realization of oneself, he said.

It's an attitude, the pope said, that is seen in today's "eugenic tendencies to kill unborn children who display some form of imperfection."

But "in reality, all of us know many people who, even with their serious frailties, have found -- even with difficulty -- the path of a good life, rich in meaning," he said, and "we know people who are outwardly perfect" yet full of despair.

"It's a dangerous deception to believe in being invulnerable," he said, since vulnerability is part of the essence of being human.

Two participants from the United States, who were part of the conference organizing committee, and a father of a young woman with Down syndrome told CNS that the usual approach of "special programs" for people with particular needs should change because they can become a form of segregation.

For example, Sister Kathleen Schipani recalled how dark and lonely it was going to an empty school late every Wednesday night for a parish program meant for children with disabilities.

Sister Schipani, who leads the office for persons with disabilities and the deaf apostolate at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the model they are pursuing is to have one parish religious education program for everyone, but with options for smaller breakout groups, one-on-one instruction or other methods that can address individuals' particular needs.

Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability based in Washington, D.C., said too much focus on providing special programs also has meant some people get turned away from their neighborhood parish because the church doesn't have a program accommodating a specific disability.

"The first thing is welcome the person," she said, and speak with them; the church is more than a collection of programs, it's about relationships with each other and with God. "It's not so much having the skills or having the professionals, it's knowing the person and then just an ordinary way of expressing how they belong to the church" in catechetical formation, participating in the liturgy in some way or parish activities, said Sister Schipani, a member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Also, a policy for creating media should be that it is planned from the start with everyone in mind, so that a video, for example, has both visual captions and audio narration since digital platforms "can get less accessible" if they rely too much on one style or format, said Benton.

Not only do people with disabilities miss out on support and the sacraments, the whole church community loses by not including their differently abled brothers and sisters in Christ, said Blase Brown, whose 31-year-old daughter, Bridget Mary, runs ButterfliesForChange.org and is a public speaker about life with Down syndrome.

"The gifts she has to share, particularly at the level of her faith" he said, are "an untapped, beautiful" resource. The question he always asks, he said, is why don't dioceses put more focus on "how day-to-day parish life, religious education, schools, liturgy" can include people with various disabilities rather than come up with activities that sideline them.

Being together, he said, is "the highest level of respect."

There might be some disruption or distraction when people with disabilities are more widely welcomed, he said, just like when a baby cries from the pews. "This is who we are, we are people. This is living. This is life. Everybody belongs at the table and sometimes somebody is going to be disruptive and you deal with it," said Brown, who lives in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

Sister Schipani said priests can make all the difference by setting the tone and the example for the rest of the parish. Priests can talk "from the pulpit" and parish bulletins can explain about being welcoming, patient and comfortable with families with children and adults with disabilities. Ushers, too, can help by "modeling really wonderful ways of welcoming and including and giving people choices" about seating arrangements, she added.

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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.

Being Christian means being missionary, pope says

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics must make a real effort to share the Gospel with all people, fighting "the recurring temptation" that leads some to focus only on internal church matters or to be pessimistic about evangelization efforts, Pope Francis wrote.

"May the Good News that in Jesus forgiveness triumphs over sin, life defeats death and love conquers fear be proclaimed to the world with renewed fervor and instill trust and hope in everyone," he wrote in a letter encouraging preparations for an "extraordinary missionary month" to be celebrated in October 2019.

The Vatican released the letter Oct. 22, World Mission Sunday, as Pope Francis was reciting the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"I exhort everyone to live the joy of mission by witnessing to the Gospel in the areas where they live and work," Pope Francis said. "At the same time, we are called to support with affection, concrete aid and prayer the missionaries who have set off to proclaim Christ to those who still do not know him."

The pope told visitors in the square, "It is my intention to promote an extraordinary missionary month in October 2019 with the goal of increasing the passion for the church's evangelizing activity 'ad gentes,'" a phrase meaning "to the nations" and used to describe missionary activity focused on people who still have not heard the Gospel.

The special missionary month will coincide with the centennial of a major document on missionary activity issued by Pope Benedict XV. "In 1919, in the wake of a tragic global conflict (World War I) that he himself called a 'useless slaughter,' the pope (Benedict XV) recognized the need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous," Pope Francis wrote.

The document, and the Second Vatican Council 50 years later, emphasized how missionary activity is essential to the life of the church, Pope Francis said. And St. John Paul II noted how Christians' mission to spread the Gospel could be seen as having just begun.

To be Christian is to be missionary, he insisted. It "can no longer be enough" simply to try to keep one's parish or diocese going.

"Let us not fear to undertake, with trust in God and great courage, a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that the church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation," the pope wrote.

Pope Francis prayed that the centennial of Pope Benedict's document and the extraordinary mission month would "serve as an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past."

"In these, our troubled times, rent by the tragedies of war and menaced by the baneful tendency to accentuate differences and to incite conflict," he prayed that Gospel hope would be shared and spread all over the world.

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Editors: The text of Pope Francis' letter in English is available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20171022_lettera-filoni-mese-missionario.html

The text in Spanish can be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/letters/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20171022_lettera-filoni-mese-missionario.html

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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.

Starving children are innocent victims of humanity's greed, pope says

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:02am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Thousands of starving children around the world today are innocent victims sacrificed upon the altar of the god of money because of humanity's greed and attachment to wealth, Pope Francis said.

In his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Oct. 23, Pope Francis said the day's Gospel reading of the parable of the rich man who stores up treasure for himself "isn't a fairy tale that Jesus invented; it is today's reality."

"Let us think about just one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps. There are 800,000 people there; 200,000 are children. They barely have food to eat, are malnourished, without medicine. Even today this happens. This isn't something the Lord said long ago. No, it is today!" the pope said.

The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar, have been fleeing the country for Bangladesh. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit both countries in late November.

Like the rich man in the day's Gospel parable, he said, people today often focus solely on accumulating their wealth "in that movement of exasperated consumerism," believing it will "prolong their lives."

"So many people live only for this and life has no meaning," he said. "They do not know what it means to be rich in what matters to God."

The thirst for money and earthly goods, Pope Francis said, continues in today's world where "starving children who do not have medicine, education and are abandoned" become unwitting victims to "an idolatry that kills, that makes human sacrifices."

Christians have the duty to pray not only so that God may "touch the hearts of those people who worship money," but also that they would not fall into that idolatry of money, rather that they would seek the true wealth that comes from God, the pope said.

"That is the only path. Wealth, but in God. And it isn't a contempt for money. No, it is about greed," Pope Francis said. "To live attached to the god of money."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

In letter to Cardinal Sarah, pope clarifies new translation norms

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 11:02am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican is not to "impose" a specific liturgical translation on bishops' conferences, but rather is called to recognize the bishops' authority and expertise in determining the best way to faithfully translate Latin texts into their local languages, Pope Francis said in a letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah.

In the letter, released by the Vatican Oct. 22, Pope Francis said he wanted to correct several points made in a "commentary," which Cardinal Sarah sent him and which was published on several websites in a variety of languages.

Cardinal Sarah is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The pope's letter noted that most of the websites "erroneously" cited Cardinal Sarah as the author of the commentary.

The commentary looked at changes Pope Francis made to the Code of Canon Law in the process for approving liturgical translations. The changes were ordered in the pope's document, "Magnum Principium" ("The Great Principle"), which was published Sept. 9 and went into effect Oct. 1.

Pope Francis, saying he wanted to "avoid any misunderstanding," insisted the commentary could give an erroneous impression that the level of involvement of the congregation remained unchanged.

However, while in the past "the judgment regarding the fidelity to the Latin and the eventual corrections necessary was the task of the congregation," the pope said, "now the norm concedes to episcopal conferences the faculty of judging the worth and coherence of one or another term in translations from the original, even if in dialogue with the Holy See."

The commentary attributed to Cardinal Sarah insisted on the ongoing validity of the norms for translation contained in "Liturgiam Authenticam," the congregation's 2001 instruction on translations.

But Pope Francis, in his letter, said the changes to canon law take precedence, and "one can no longer hold that translations must conform in every point to the norms of 'Liturgiam Authenticam' as was done in the past."

The texts for Mass and other liturgies must receive a confirmation from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, the pope said, but this "no longer supposes a detailed, word by word examination, except in obviously cases that can be presented to the bishops for further reflection."

Pope Francis also wrote to the cardinal that the "fidelity" called for in translations has three layers: "first, to the original text; to the particular language into which it is being translated; and, finally, to the intelligibility of the text" by the people.

The new process, the pope said, should not lead "to a spirit of 'imposition' on the episcopal conferences of a translation done by the congregation," but should promote cooperation and dialogue.

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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.

Health care law: uncertain outcome after multiple diagnoses

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 3:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Affordable Care Act -- on the examination table since President Donald Trump came into office -- has been poked, prodded and even pronounced dead while the fight to keep it alive keeps going.

President Trump told Cabinet members Oct. 16: "Obamacare is finished. It's dead. It's gone. ... There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore," but that is not how those who want health care reform, including Catholic leaders, see it, and it's not the general public's view either, according to a recent poll.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll said seven in 10 Americans think it is more important for Trump to help the current health care law work than cause it to fail. Sixty-six percent of Americans want Trump and Congress to work on legislation to bolster the health insurance marketplaces rather than continuing their efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.

The poll, conducted by the Washington-based group that examines key health policy issues, was released Oct. 13, the day after Trump announced some changes to the current health care law. 

By executive order, he directed federal agencies to make regulatory changes to the ACA to allow consumers to buy health insurance through association health plans across state lines and lifting limits on short-term health care plans. He also announced that he was ending federal subsidies to health insurance companies that help pay out-of-pocket health care costs for those with low incomes.

The Obama administration had authorized the subsidies, but in 2016, Republicans filed a lawsuit, saying they were illegal because Congress had not authorized the payments.

The president's plan to end the subsidy payments prompted swift criticism from Democrats, U.S. health care groups and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the bishops "will closely monitor the implementation and impacts of this executive order by the relevant administrative agencies."

He said flexible options for people to obtain health coverage are important strategies, but he also cautioned that "great care must be taken to avoid risk of additional harm to those who now receive health care coverage through exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act."

A possible fix to Trump's cuts that would continue federal subsidies to insurance companies through 2019 was offered in a bipartisan Senate proposal by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Patty Murray, D- Washington, which Trump initially appeared to support but then backed down from a day later. 

When the Obama administration authorized the subsidies, Republicans filed suit, saying they were illegal because Congress had not authorized the payments.

By Oct. 20, there was no word on when the bill -- which also aims to provide states flexibility to skirt some requirements of the health care law -- might come to the Senate floor for a vote. Several senators have said they are waiting to see more details in the bill's text. Support from the House doesn't seem likely since House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has said he opposes it.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, a leadership organization of more than 2,000 Catholic hospitals and health care facilities, has been keeping a close eye on the president's action on health care and the response by Congress.

"Working out a deal to keep the subsidies for a longer-term plan is something that is very important and critical to the future, particularly for the most vulnerable among us," she said.

Sister Keehan, who also is a nurse, told Catholic News Service Oct. 18 that she encourages the House and Senate to take immediate action to stabilize the insurance markets and delivery and "allow time for us to have a national conversation" about improving the health care law without letting those now covered with health insurance lost it or for "premiums to go out of sight."

So far, she has only seen parts of the Senate bill, but she said the Catholic Health Association is "willing to do what we can to craft a compromise that will work in the short term until we have a longer-term solution."

The Alexander-Murray bill is not the only text that needs a closer read to understand the future of the country's health care system. The new rules that will be written by federal agencies, per Trump's executive order, will also need a close look. These changes could appear within weeks but are unlikely to take effect before the end of the year.

Dr. Steven White, a pulmonary specialist in Ormond Beach, Florida, who is chairman of the Catholic Medical Association Health Care Policy Committee, said he is awaiting to see how new rules and regulations are written but is hopeful that some changes will be a move in the right direction.

White said his association sees less federal control and more patient control as a good thing and also would like the health law to offer more options, freedom and flexibility.

He told CNS Oct. 18 that pouring more money into health care isn't the solution, but he also echoed Bishop Dewane's concern that changes shouldn't be made on the backs of those with low incomes. He said if Congress backs legislation that supports subsidies, they need to balance that with the realization that such a plan "can't last forever."

"Something has to be done," he said a few times during the interview.

But just what will happen still remains a mystery.

Another finding of the Oct. 13 Kaiser poll showed that despite Americans' support for a bipartisan approach to health care, their confidence that Trump and Congress can work together to make this happen remains low.

Seven in 10 Americans said they are either not too confident or not at all confident that cooperation can happen.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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

Signs of the Spirit: App teaches blessings, how to pray in ASL

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 11:32am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Sister Kathleen Schipani found out she was usually the very first person to teach deaf children to pray, she decided there had to be an app to fix that.

Learning to pray usually happens in the family, when a parent or relative recites the words for grace before meals, asks for blessings or requests guidance or protection, the Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary told Catholic News Service in Rome.

But when a child is born deaf into a hearing family, those kids shouldn't have to miss out on learning Catholic prayers or religious terms as they learn American Sign Language, she said Oct. 20.

Sister Schipani, who is director of the office for persons with disabilities and the deaf apostolate at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was in Rome as part of a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. The gathering Oct. 20-22 was dedicated to sharing best practices in engaging and catechizing persons living with disabilities.

Lots of apps exist for learning ASL, she said, but there is nothing dedicated to religious terms, daily devotions or prayers of blessing, love, thanks and praise. The app meant to fill that gap is called, "Religious Signs for Families," and was to be available from the iTunes App Store and Google Play in early November.

"The locus of learning your faith starts in the family, so this app is really to provide families with the ability" to foster prayer in the home and bond with each other and with God as they pray in ASL, she said. It also will help teachers who want to teach elementary school students how to pray using sign language.

"Deaf people have deep experiences of prayer," she said, particularly because it involves praying with "their whole body" with signing and visualization.

"Deaf people have never heard the language that we speak so they are not hearing the little voice in their head like we are," she said. Instead some people say they pray visually with beautiful imagery or with seeing hands signing in their head.

While sacred music does not have the same ability to draw deaf individuals to prayer, sacred or beautiful art does, she said.

"A lot of deaf people have not been catechized because there was no one to sign to them, and that really is what the sad thing is -- when there is no opportunity for deaf people to know religious language and have an experience of someone teaching them," she said.

Sister Schipani said the beautiful thing about sign language is the signs are often "iconic," reflecting what the thing is and, therefore, they can convey the theology behind the concept.

For example, she said, the sign for "heaven" in the Jewish faith is moving both hands in a way that suggests a semi-circular dome -- the heavens -- overhead.

In the Christian faith, she said, the sign conveys the canopy of heaven, but with the other hand going through and up, "because we believe that Jesus, our savior, has come and we're saved so we can have the possibility of entering heaven."

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Editor's Note: The app has captions and voiceover in English and Spanish. More information can be found at http://deafcatholicphilly.org/religious-sign-app/.

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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.

Good works are response to, not reason for God's forgiveness, pope says

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 10:12am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians are holy not because of their good works but because they recognize their sins before God and receive his forgiveness, Pope Francis said.

In his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Oct. 20, the pope said that good deeds are "the answer to the freely given love of God, who justifies us and forgives us always."

"It is the Lord; he is the one who has forgiven our original sin and who forgives us every time we go to him," the pope said. "We cannot forgive our own sins with our works, only he can forgive. We can respond to this forgiveness with our works."

The day's Gospel reading from St. Luke, in which Christ warns his disciples about the dangers of hypocrisy, speaks of people trying to appear holy to others, while remaining "all dirty" within, the pope said.

"These people put makeup on their soul, they live off makeup, holiness is makeup for them," he said. "Jesus always asks us to be truthful, but truthful in our hearts."

Jesus, the pope continued, offers a different path than the hypocrites, who are nothing more than "soap bubbles" -- here today and gone tomorrow.

Pope Francis said Christ's warning on the danger of hypocrisy is a call for all men and women to "be consistent in our life, consistent in what we do and what we live," which brings with it the joy of God's forgiveness.

"Truth always in front of God. Always! And this truth in front of God is what makes room so that the Lord forgives us," the pope said.

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Vetoed bill on reproductive health called 'massive overreach by NARAL'

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:30pm

By

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Religious freedom advocates and pro-life leaders praised California Gov. Jerry Brown for vetoing a bill called the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act that targeted religious employers and their faith-based codes of conduct for employees.

Assembly Bill 569 would have made it illegal for a California employer to discipline or fire employees for "their reproductive health decisions, including, but not limited to, the timing thereof, or the use of any drug, device or medical service."

Alliance Defending Freedom said the bill would have prohibited churches, religious colleges, religious nonprofit organizations and pro-life pregnancy care centers "from having faith-based codes of conduct with regard to abortion and sexual behavior."

The government "should not and cannot tell" employers that they cannot live out their beliefs within their own organizations, said Elissa Graves, legal counsel for the alliance, which is a nonprofit legal group that advocates for religious freedom and sanctity of life and on marriage and family issues.

"Gov. Brown was right to veto this immensely unconstitutional bill, which would have been an unprecedented overreach on the part of the state of California," she added in a statement about the governor's late-night action Oct. 15.

"The First Amendment doesn't allow the state to order churches and other faith-based groups to violate their most deeply held convictions," Graves said. "They have the freedom to live according to their faith and to require those who work for them to do the same."

The California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops, called the measure "a massive overreach by NARAL" and an attack on religious liberty. NARAL Pro-Choice America advocates for legal abortion and for expanding access to it.

After A.B. 569 was passed by the California Legislature as its 2017 session ended Sept. 18, the Catholic conference urged Catholics to send a message to Brown calling for him to veto it.

It said the bill "deliberately" targeted religious employers "in a false effort to stop widespread 'reproductive discrimination' but supporters cannot cite a single case in California where such discrimination has actually occurred."

"There are no substantiated claims of discrimination in the secular workforce against women who are pregnant or exercise 'reproductive choices' because such actions have been illegal for decades under the Fair Employment and Housing Act," the conference said.

It noted the bill's supporters could only point to one case in the state in the last decade "implicating a religious employer" and "that matter was settled out of court."

"In a reach unknown in any other legal system, supporters (of A.B. 569) have expanded those who can allege discrimination in court to include anyone in the employee's family and holds supervisors personally and legally responsible for enforcing the policy of employers," the conference said.

"With no restraint in sight," the conference said, the bill did not allow employers to enforce codes of conduct, "even those negotiated with employees as part of union contracts."

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Pope's pro-life challenge: Respect all life, oppose death penalty

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 11:25am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Jenevieve Robbins, Texas Department of Criminal Justice handout via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' recent statement that the death penalty is incompatible with the Gospel focused less on a government's role in protecting its people and more on the need to defend the sacredness and dignity of every human life.

At least from the time of Blessed Paul VI in the 1960s, the Catholic Church has been increasingly critical of the use of capital punishment, even while acknowledging centuries of church teaching that a state has a right to punish offenders, including with the death penalty.

St. John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical letter, "The Gospel of Life," wrote of his alarm at "the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples," but said one sign of hope was the increasing opposition around the world to capital punishment.

"There is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of 'legitimate defense' on the part of society. Modern society, in fact, has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform," he wrote.

Two years later, Pope John Paul had the Catechism of the Catholic Church revised to strengthen its anti-death penalty posture. The text now says that, "given the means at the state's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'"

Opponents of the death penalty cheered St. John Paul's move, and theologians recognized it as a "development" of church teaching.

Death penalty opponents also welcomed Pope Francis' even stronger position against capital punishment, but his words set off a debate between those who saw his position as a further development of church teaching and those who saw it as a "change" that contradicted both the Bible and the traditional position of the Catholic Church.

Edward Feser, a professor of philosophy at California's Pasadena City College and author of "By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment," told Catholic News Service that St. John Paul's teaching was "a nonbinding prudential judgment," which was in line with centuries of church teaching recognizing the right of states to impose the death penalty.

And, writing in Britain's Catholic Herald Oct. 15, Feser said that if Pope Francis "is saying that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral, then he would be effectively saying -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- that previous popes, fathers and doctors of the church, and even divinely inspired Scripture are in error."

But Jesuit Father Jan Dacok, a professor of moral theology and theologian at the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, said the church always insisted there were limits to the conditions under which a state could legitimately impose the death penalty. St. John Paul, he said, emphasized those limits to the point of saying that now that it is easier to keep a murderer in jail for life, the necessary conditions for legitimacy are "practically nonexistent."

Pope Francis took a further step forward, Father Dacok said. The pope "did not change church teaching, but places it on a higher level and points out the path toward its perfection."

"What is accomplished with the death penalty?" the Slovakian Jesuit asked. "Do you obtain the true repentance of criminals? Do you offer them the possibility of correcting their ways, of asking for forgiveness?"

"No," he said. "With the execution, the death, you irreversibly cancel the entire dynamic of hope" for repentance, conversion and at least some attempt at reparation.

"Obviously, Pope Francis cannot change the laws of individual countries, because that's the competence of legislators," Father Dacok said. "But he can continually encourage respect for the sacredness of every human life, because the death penalty truly is not necessary."

Because security and justice can be served without capital punishment, he said, the urgent matter today is to demonstrate respect for the sacredness of every human life, "even the life of public criminals responsible for the death of others."

Father Robert A. Gahl Jr., a priest of Opus Dei and a professor of ethics at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said Pope Francis "continues the recent development of doctrine regarding the centrality of mercy for the Christian faith and the urgency to promote a culture of life in today's throwaway culture," where abortion and euthanasia are widely accepted.

"Pope Francis wants the church to offer a radical example of the defense of all human life," Father Gahl said. And "without condemning all past practices, he vigorously demands the elimination of the death penalty."

The priest noted the church's historic concern for the impact of the death penalty not just on the criminal, but also on judges and executioners.

In fact, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which was in effect until 1983, listed as those generally barred from priestly ordination "a judge who passed a sentence of death" and "those who take up the task of (execution) and their immediate and voluntary assistants in the execution of a capital sentence."

On the question of whether Pope Francis' statement marks a "development" or a "change," Father Gahl said the pope probably intended to "shake up theologians and to force us to reconsider traditional formulations of permanent teaching in light of this new and authoritative development of mercy and human dignity."

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Pope Francis was exercising his right and obligation to teach on faith and morals.

"Obviously, the church does not intervene on the level of civil legislation," the archbishop told CNS, "but today the pope authoritatively affirms that from a deeper understanding of the Gospel emerges the contradiction between the death penalty and the gospel of life."

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Pope: Common witness of faith can strengthen Catholics, Methodists

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:20am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics and Methodists can strengthen each other through a shared witness of faith, especially through acts of love toward the poor and the marginalized, Pope Francis said.

The mutual call to holiness shared by both communities "is necessarily a call to communion with others, too," the pope said Oct. 19.

"When, as Catholics and Methodists, we join in assisting and comforting the weak and the marginalized -- those who in the midst of our societies feel distant, foreign and alienated -- we are responding to the Lord's summons," he said.

The pope met at the Vatican with members of the World Methodist Council who were in Rome to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Joint International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue Commission.

Welcoming the delegation members, the pope said that in the Bible, the 50th year is a significant moment for the people of Israel in which liberty is proclaimed throughout the land.

"We are grateful to God because we can say that, in a certain sense, we too have been freed from the slavery of estrangement and mutual suspicion," he said.

Citing the Second Vatican Council, the pope said that since then, both communities have striven to continue along the path of knowledge and mutual esteem through dialogue that is carried out "in a spirit of honesty and integrity" with "love for the truth, with charity and with humility."

"We are brothers and sisters who, following a long separation, are happy once more to see and learn about one another, and to move forward with open hearts," he said.

The pope also recalled the life and example of John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, who dedicated his life to helping others "live a holy life."

By recognizing those who dedicate themselves to reading the Bible and to prayer, he said, Catholics "cannot fail to rejoice" when the work of the Holy Spirit is recognized "in other Christian confessions."

Like the disciples awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Catholics and Methodists must "remain together" in prayer and hope so that the Spirit of God may "bring about the miracle of reconciled unity."

"We have learned to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ," Pope Francis said. "Now is the time to prepare ourselves, with humble hope and concrete efforts, for that full recognition that will come about, by God's grace, when at last we will be able to join one another in the breaking of the bread."

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Pope: If world insists on success, then make life more just, humane

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:06am

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Do not fall for the allure of money, which can enslave and alienate like a cult, Pope Francis told business school students.

"And it is also important that you be able to learn today the strength and courage to not blindly obey the invisible hand of the market," he said.

The pope spoke Oct. 19 at the Vatican to a group of students from a private Catholic school, "Institution des Chartreux," in Lyon, France. They are preparing for higher education in business and finance.

The pope said he was pleased they were receiving an education that touched on the "human, philosophical and spiritual" dimensions of life and said these aspects would be essential for their future professional life.

"Learn to remain free from the allure of money, from the slavery" that befalls those who "turn it into a cult," he said.

He called on them to promote and defend more fairness and to manage the world's resources adequately and justly.

"You are able to decide your future," he said, urging them to feel and become more responsible for the world and human life.

"Never forget that every injustice against a poor person is an open wound and diminishes your very dignity," he said.

"Even if this world expects that you strive for success, give yourselves the means and the time to follow paths of fraternity, to build bridges between people rather than walls" and to take part in the building of a more just and human world, he said.

 

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Bishops' migration chairman asks for extension of immigration status

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 3:57pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration said some migrants from Honduras and El Salvador cannot safely return to their home countries in the near future and should have a special immigration permit extended.

The U.S. government will consider in early November whether to extend, for some migrants hailing from the two countries, what's known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. The designation is for those who come to the U.S. from certain countries because of a natural disaster, continuing armed conflict or other extraordinary conditions. The status for Honduras and El Salvador is set to expire in early 2018.

"There is ample evidence to suggest that current TPS recipients from Honduras and El Salvador cannot return safely to their home country at this time," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration. He cited a report issued by bishops' Office of Migration and Refugee Services titled "Temporary Protected Status: A Vital Piece of the Central American Protection and Prosperity Puzzle."

The report recommends that the U.S. government extend TPS for some 257,000 people from El Salvador and Honduras in the U.S., who currently have a work permit and reprieve from deportation.

In a letter of introduction to the report, Bishop Vasquez said: "As you read this report, I urge you to keep the people of El Salvador and Honduras, including TPS recipients, in your thoughts and prayers. I encourage you to engage the administration in requesting a TPS extension for El Salvador and Honduras . . . and to reach out to your elected congressional leaders to request they support a legislative solution for TPS recipients who have been in the United States for many years."

Advocates worry because the Department of Homeland Security, under the Trump administration, has signaled reluctance to extend the status for other countries.

In mid-September, the Trump administration announced the end of TPS for nationals from the North African nation of Sudan, prompting outcry from Catholic groups who say they worry about the conditions the migrants will face upon their return. Though the administration said it is safe for them to return, the U.S. Department of State warned against travel to the country because of "risks of terrorism, armed conflict and violent crime."

Haitians who obtained TPS after the country's devastating 2010 earthquake, also are waiting to learn whether they'll have to return to an unstable country, since DHS also has signaled it plans to end TPS status for the Caribbean nation. Catholic groups and others have said it is not safe for them to return because of instability on the island.

In a similar way, the report says Honduras is a "fragile state" and unable to accommodate the return of a large number of its nationals. El Salvador, too, has a pervasive crime problem, as well as other social ills, and, too, would face hardship with a return of large numbers of nationals, it says.

The report is based on the findings of a delegation from the USCCB and MRS that visited Honduras and El Salvador Aug. 13-19 to examine conditions in those countries and whether they can "adequately receive and integrate the possible return of existing TPS recipients."

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Editors: The full text of the report can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/fact-finding-mission-reports/upload/el-salvador-honduras-report-20171016.pdf.

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Faith brings hope even at moment of death, pope says

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 10:05am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians can find hope even at the hour of death, which faith teaches is not a closed door but a wide-open passage to a new life with Christ, Pope Francis said.

While all men and women are "small and helpless in front of the mystery of death," Jesus' victory over death assures Christians of the joy of the resurrection, the pope said Oct. 18 during his weekly general audience.

Despite chilly temperatures in Rome, thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square to greet the pope who rode around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile, stopping frequently to greet pilgrims and kiss babies.

Making sure one child was kept warm, the pope pulled up the hood of the baby's jacket before he was taken back to his parents.

Continuing his series of talks on Christian hope, Pope Francis reflected on death, which is "a reality that our modern civilization tends to eradicate" so completely that "when death comes to us or those around us, we are unprepared."

Past civilizations, however, "had the courage to look death in the face," he said, and viewed death not with fear but as "an inescapable reality that forced man to live for something absolute."

Death "shows us that our acts of pride, anger and hatred were vanity: pure vanity," the pope said. "We realize with regret that we have not loved enough and did not look for what was essential."

Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus' mourns his friend's death, the pope noted. Christ's behavior shows that despite hope in the resurrection, Christians can "feel sorrowful when a dear person passes away."

"Christian hope draws from the approach that Jesus takes against human death: if this (death) is present in creation, it is nevertheless a gash that disfigures God's plan of love, and the savior wants to heal us of it," the pope said.

In another instance, he continued, Jesus comforts Jairus after his daughter's death because "he knew that man was tempted to react with anger and desperation."

Jesus' invitation to "not be afraid," he said, is a call for all Christians to guard the "small flame" of faith within that keeps them from falling into "the precipice of fear" that comes at the moment of death.

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis asked pilgrims to close their eyes and "think about our own death and imagine the moment that will come when Jesus will take us by the hand and say, 'Come, come with me, get up.'"

"There hope will end and it will be a reality, the reality of life," Pope Francis said. "Jesus himself will come to each of us and take us by the hand with his tenderness, his meekness, his love."

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Pope condemns deadly terrorist attack in Somalia

Wed, 10/18/2017 - 10:00am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis prayed for the victims of a terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, that left hundreds dead and countless wounded in one of the deadliest attacks in the country's history.

Before concluding his weekly general audience Oct. 18, the pope expressed his sorrow and denounced the "massacre which caused more than 300 deaths, including several children."

"This terrorist act deserves the fiercest condemnation, especially because it victimizes people that are already so tried," the pope said.

Mogadishu erupted into chaos Oct. 14 when a minivan and a truck carrying military grade explosives exploded near a security checkpoint. Investigators believe the attackers were targeting a heavily guarded compound that housed many embassies, United Nations' offices and African Union peacekeeping forces.

The second explosion caused a nearby fuel truck to ignite, causing a massive fireball to erupt in the area.

While no group has taken responsibility for the attack, government officials believe the militant terrorist group, al-Shabab, is responsible, the Associated Press reported.

Pope Francis prayed for the innocent victims and their families as well as for the conversion of the perpetrators of the deadly massacre.

"I pray for the conversion of the violent and encourage those who, with great difficulty, work for peace in that martyred land," the pope said.

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Groups settle in lawsuit against HHS contraceptive mandate

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 3:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dozens of Catholic groups that challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act have reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, they announced late Oct. 16.

The groups, including the Archdiocese of Washington and the Pennsylvania dioceses of Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Erie, were represented by the Cleveland-based law firm Jones Day.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl wrote an Oct. 16 letter to archdiocesan priests saying the "binding agreement" ends the litigation challenging the Health and Human Services' mandate and provides a "level of assurance as we move into the future."

The Washington Archdiocese was one of dozens of groups challenging the mandate, which went to the Supreme Court last year in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. Although it was most often described as the Little Sisters of the Poor fighting against the federal government, the case before the court involved seven plaintiffs and each of these combined cases represented a group of schools, churches or church-sponsored organizations.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whom the case is named for, said he was grateful for the settlement, which he described as an "agreement with the government that secures and reaffirms the constitutional right of religious freedom."

In an Oct. 17 statement, the bishop said the diocese's five-year-long challenge to the mandate "has been resolved successfully" allowing Catholic Charities in the diocese and other religious organizations of different denominations to be exempt from "insurance coverage or practices that are morally unacceptable."

He said the settlement follows the recent release of new federal regulations that provide religious organizations with a full exemption from covering items that violate their core beliefs.

On Oct. 6, the Trump administration issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate to include religious employers who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law.

Cardinal Wuerl said in his letter to priests that the new guidelines and regulations were extremely helpful but that the "settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases."

"The settlement adds additional assurances," he added, "that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward."

The cardinal thanked the Jones Day law firm for its legal representation in the case and thanked Catholics for their prayers and support for the petitioners in the long legal fight.

Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, California, one of the groups that fell under the Washington Archdiocese's challenge of the HHS mandate to the Supreme Court, similarly thanked the law firm Jones Day for representing the school pro bono.

The school's president, Michael McLean, said in an Oct. 16 statement that as part of the settlement, the government will pay a portion of the legal costs and fees incurred by the law firm.

He said the college welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate by the Trump administration in early October but he similarly said the settlement of the case provides "something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive -- and any similar future directive -- that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs."

"This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom," he added.

The school's statement said according to the terms of the settlement, the government concedes that the contraceptive mandate "imposes a substantial burden" on the plaintiffs' exercise of religion and "cannot be legally enforced" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The contraceptive mandate, in place since 2012, required all employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their employer insurance. Last year when opposition to this mandate came to the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, representing one of the groups that challenged the mandate, said in an Oct. 17 statement that it has been "difficult for people to understand that this lawsuit was not just about contraceptives.

"The real issue," he said, "was the government attempting to narrow the definition of freedom of religion, using the HHS mandate to exempt only a small subset of religious employers. Churches were declared exempt, but their hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, schools, and universities were not."

The bishop said he was pleased with the settlement particularly because the church continues to assert that all of its ministries "are inextricably tied to the practice of our faith."

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Mark Zimmermann, editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, contributed to this report.

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Follow Carol Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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Senate confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate confirmed Callista Gingrich as the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Voting late Oct. 16, senators approved her nomination 70-23. More than 20 Democrats joined Republicans in supporting Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a vocal ally of President Donald Trump.

Gingrich, 51, a lifelong Catholic and a former congressional aide, has been president of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia production and consulting company in Arlington, Virginia, since 2007.

She was expected to present her credentials at the Vatican in the coming weeks.

Gingrich's associates welcomed the vote. Among them was Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, where Gingrich has been a longtime member of the choir.

"Callista has been part of our shrine family for two decades and so, as any family rejoices when good news arrives, we rejoice with Callista," Msgr. Rossi said in an Oct. 17 statement. "Both Callista and Speaker Gingrich are wonderful supporters of our ministry here at Mary's shrine, most especially our music program.

"More importantly, Callista has a great love for the church and our country," he added. "Her faith is an integral part of her life and I am confident that her faith will be her solid foundation as she enters a new service to church and nation."

The Bethlehem University Foundation wished Gingrich "great success in her new role." The Gingrichs have been foundation patrons, serving as advisers to its executive director and donors.

During her confirmation hearing July 18, Gingrich emphasized her desire to work with the Vatican to protect religious freedom and human rights, fight terrorism and human trafficking, and seek peaceful solutions to international crises.

Gingrich also explained under sharp questioning that the U.S. wanted to be a leader in addressing environmental issues despite initiating efforts to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. She said the White House was committed to sustaining "our clean air and our clean water."

"We are all called to be stewards of the land," she said, echoing a common theme expressed by Pope Francis.

In 2010, Gingrich's company released the film "Nine Days That Changed the World" about St. John Paul II's nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and how it played a part in the fall of communism in Europe. She also has written the "Ellis the Elephant" children's American history series and co-authored "Rediscovering God in America."

Gingrich graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988, majoring in music, a passion that has remained with her throughout life. She served as a congressional aide for more than 30 years.

She is the third woman to serve as ambassador to the Holy See after Lindy Boggs, who held the post from 1997 to 2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who served in 2008-2009. Gingrich succeeds Ambassador Ken Hackett, who retired in January.

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Pope on interviews: Church must listen, respond to people's questions

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 10:05am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Replying to questions and giving interviews are a "pastoral risk" Pope Francis said he is prepared to take, because it is the best way to know and respond to people's real concerns.

"I know this can make me vulnerable, but it is a risk I want to take," the pope wrote in the introduction to a new book collecting transcripts of question-and-answer sessions he has held all over the world.

The collection in Italian, "Adesso Fate le Vostre Domande" ("Now, Ask Your Questions"), was edited by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro and scheduled for release Oct. 19. The pope's introduction was published Oct. 17 in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"I want a church that knows how to enter into people's conversations, that knows how to dialogue," Pope Francis wrote.

The model is the Gospel account of the risen Lord's meeting with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. "The Lord 'interviews' the disciples who are walking discouraged," he said. "For me, the interview is part of this conversation the church is having with men and women today."

The interviews and Q&A sessions "always have a pastoral value," Pope Francis said, and are an important part of his ministry, just like inviting a small group of people to his early morning Mass each day.

The chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, "is, let's say, my parish. I need that communication with people."

And, in interviews, the journalists often ask the questions that are on the minds of the faithful, he said.

The most regular appointment he has for responding to questions is on the flights back to Rome from his foreign trips when he holds a news conference with the journalists who travel with him.

"There, too, on those trips, I like to look people in the eye and respond to their questions sincerely," he wrote. "I know that I have to be prudent, and I hope I am. I always pray to the Holy Spirit before I start listening to the questions and responding."

His favorite interviews, he said, are with small, neighborhood newspapers and magazines. "There I feel even more at ease," the pope said. "In fact, in those cases I really am listening to the questions and concerns of common people. I try to respond spontaneously, in a conversation I hope is understandable, and not with rigid formulas."

"For me," he said, "interviews are a dialogue, not a lesson."

Even when the questions are submitted in advance, the pope said he does not prepare his answers. Watching the person ask the question and responding directly is important.

"Yes, I am afraid of being misinterpreted," he said. "But, I repeat, I want to run this pastoral risk."

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Pope announces Synod of Bishops dedicated to people in Amazon

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 10:41am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Addressing the challenges of evangelization in one of the world's most remote areas and the connection between faith and environmental concern, Pope Francis announced a special gathering of the Synod of Bishops to focus on the Amazon region.

"Accepting the wish of several episcopal conferences of Latin America as well as the voice of pastors and faithful from other parts of the world, I have decided to convene a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region, which will take place in Rome in October 2019," Pope Francis announced Oct. 15.

Speaking at the end of a Mass in St. Peter's Square, the pope said the synod would seek to identify new paths of evangelization, especially for indigenous people who are "often forgotten and left without the prospect of a peaceful future, including because of the crisis of the Amazon forest," which plays a vital role in the environmental health of the entire planet.

The Amazon rainforest includes territory belonging to nine countries in South America and has experienced significant deforestation, negatively impacting the indigenous populations in the area and leading to a loss of biodiversity.

The pope prayed that the synod would highlight the beauty of creation so that "all the people of the earth may praise God, the Lord of the universe, and, enlightened by him, may walk along paths of justice and peace."

The pope had spoken about a possible synod with a variety of bishops from South America, who have been making their "ad limina" visits to Rome this year. The groups included the bishops of Peru; about 60 percent of the country is in the Amazon.

In an interview published May 16 in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Archbishop Salvador Pineiro Garcia-Calderon of Ayacucho, president of the Peruvian bishops' conference, said one of the primary challenges of evangelization in the Amazon is the difficulty in physically reaching the native populations.

For example, he said, although they are in the same church province, one bishop is five hours away and another is 17 hours away.

"It's easier to meet in Rome," he told L'Osservatore Romano. "It isn't an easy area and the pope is very concerned."

The church, he said, has been the only voice speaking out in defense of the indigenous people of the Amazon. In the early 1900s, St. Pius X strongly denounced the mistreatment of the native population in the rubber plantations of Peru, Archbishop Pineiro said.

A synod, he said, would expand that message and strengthen current efforts to evangelize.

"It is difficult to evangelize the native population," Archbishop Piniero said. "Recently, the seeds have begun to be sown. Some of my brother bishops who are in that area have learned to speak the native language in order to draw closer to the population."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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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