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Trinity student studies, works to create her preferred future

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 12:13pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Daniela doesn't remember much about coming to the United States from her native El Salvador with her parents when she was 3 years old. 

"The only thing I remember is the dress I wore when I got on the plane," she said.

Daniela, now 19, is a sophomore at Trinity Washington University. Her college costs are paid for in large part by a scholarship from "TheDream.US" fund. She is one of about 100 "Dreamers" enrolled at the Catholic college, which is women-only for its undergraduate studies but admits men to its graduate programs.

She hasn't declared it yet, but Daniela, who asked that her last name not be used for this story, wants to be a double major -- one of those majors being in education.

"But I can't see myself teaching elementary school my whole life," she told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 5 interview. For her, that means graduate and post-graduate studies, so she can be a college professor "and do my own research."

Dec. 5 was the same day that Dreamers descended upon Capitol Hill for a workshop and to lobby members of Congress to pass a "clean" DREAM Act.

DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, which would create a path to citizenship for those, like Daniela, who have been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The clean part of the DREAM bill? No amendments that would lessen the bill's impact or make it problematic, at best, to pass. Congress needs to take such action to preserve DACA after the Trump administration announced the program will end in March.

"I know they (opponents) want border security" to be included in any bill, Daniela said. Doing so, she added, would harm her parents, who also are from El Salvador. Since she and her parents arrived in the United States, Daniela now has a baby brother and baby sister -- both of whom are U.S. citizens.

Daniela described an uneventful childhood growing up in a close-in suburb of Washington. She recalled that when she was in middle school, her parents would tell her, "Don't worry, we'll be here for you." She said she never quite understood at the time what they meant, since they had always been there to begin with.

The first time Daniela said she started feeling different from everyone else as an immigrant without legal documents to be in the country was as a high school junior. That's when she started researching colleges and scholarship availability, only to learn that most scholarships required the student to be either a U.S. citizen or a documented immigrant. "That's what got me frustrated," she noted.

However, a counselor at her school told her about TheDream.US scholarships. "You have a grade point average better than what they need, you have all the extracurricular activities," Daniela said the counselor told her. Among other things, she had been captain of her high school's lacrosse team -- and, ironically, involved in her school's ACES club, short for Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success.

The biggest obstacle for Daniela at the time: "Six essays! Now that I'm in college, six essays seems like no big deal. But in high school ... !"

TheDream.US seeks "partner" schools, either public or private, so that dreamers can be clustered at particular colleges and receive whatever academic and social supports are necessary. Trinity was the first college in the District of Columbia to sign on as a partner school -- and, after five years, is still the only one, according to Trinity spokeswoman Ann Pauley.

With 100 Dreamers in the 1,000-student undergraduate program, 50 of them freshmen, "it has changed the demographics" at Trinity, Pauley said. What had been a majority-African-American student body, most of whom lived within commuting distance of the school, is now more diverse and more geographically far-flung. 

"And we think that's a good thing," she added.

What made Daniela choose Trinity? "My parents are 'helicopter parents,'" meaning they hover over their children's school lives, she replied. "The closer, the better." Her commute from home is plus or minus 30 minutes depending on traffic.

Sadhana Singh, another Dreamer, wrote in Trinity's campus magazine that she had arrived with her parents from Guyana when she was 13 years old. They moved to Georgia and she finished near the top of her class in high school. But Georgia's state-funded universities were off-limits to immigrants in the country illegally and she was "ineligible for in-state tuition and any kind of financial aid, loans and scholarships," Singh said.

But Singh gained DACA status in 2012, which "refilled my diminishing well of hope," she added. By that time, she had been seven years out of high school with no chance in sight of a college education.

Her scholarship from TheDream.US allowed her to enroll at Trinity in 2014. Now a senior, she expects to graduate on time. Singh also was part of a busload of Trinity students being shuttled to a nearby subway station to lobby at the Capitol for the DREAM Act.

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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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.

Mother of three Dreamers holds fast on Hill for passage of DREAM Act

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Kelly Sankowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Antonia Alvarez, the mother of three DACA recipients and one U.S. States citizen, began a 10-day fast Dec. 4 outside of the Capitol in Washington to advocate for the passage of the DREAM Act.

The measure would allow her children and 800,000 other Dreamers to remain in the country and gain a path to citizenship.

Alvarez is originally from Mexico City and said she immigrated to the United States 16 years ago because of dangerous conditions in Mexico. She currently lives in New Brighton, Minnesota, where she has done similar fasts throughout the past few years.

But after President Donald Trump announced in September that he would end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, there was added urgency to Alvarez's advocacy.

To get the attention of members of Congress, she decided she would need to travel to hold a fast right in front of their offices. In ending DACA, Trump called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution to keep the program by March. Many are calling for passage of the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, to do just that.

Alvarez, a parishioner of Incarnation Sagrado Corazon in Minneapolis, traveled to Washington with a group of leaders from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to speak with congressional leaders, then stayed behind to carry out the fast.

She said she planned to fast until passage of the DREAM Act or when Congress is scheduled to recess for the holidays Dec. 15.

Every day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., she planned to sit in a section of the Capitol grounds directly between the House office buildings and the Capitol, urging lawmakers take action on the bill.

"Sometimes I said, 'God, I stay alone,'" she said, expressing fear about doing this by herself. "But I listen, (and hear) 'You're not alone.'"

Now she really isn't alone. Daniel Galan, a 25-year-old electrician from Chicago, who saw on Facebook what Alvarez was doing and decided to hop on a bus from Illinois to join her.

Galan, a parishioner of St. Paul Catholic Church on Chicago's South Side, was brought to the United States from Mexico City at age 8. He and his girlfriend are both DACA recipients, so he said he was doing the fast for the both of them, as well as for many other Dreamers he knows who couldn't make the trip to Washington.

"Our family is poor. My mom didn't see any future for me in Mexico, so she brought me here so I could go to school, work, and become something of myself," Galan told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Alvarez's three children who are DACA recipients are 24, 25 and 28 years old. Her oldest child is a businessman, and the other two are in school, with one getting her bachelor's degree and the other pursuing her master's degree. She also has a 12-year-old daughter who is a United States citizen.

"Every day she is crying for her brother and two sisters," Alvarez said.

Alvarez, who has a house cleaning business in Minnesota, said her family has paid for all of her children's education.

"We don't want crumbs," she said. "We are working for everything."

Unlike herself, Alvarez's kids are now in the legal system, she pointed out, since they had to give personal information and go through a vetting process to be covered by DACA. This would make it easier for them to get deported.

"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has all of our information," said Galan. "They know where to find us, know where we live and know where we work."

Alvarez was catching the attention of several members of Congress who have come out to speak with her, some of them bringing her hot water or inviting her inside for a break. But Alvarez declined to go inside, and instead invited them to come visit her whenever they want a break.

As the two stood outside next to their table that supports a large cross, Galan spoke about his hopes for the future. He has not seen his dad since he left Mexico, but speaks to him frequently; Galan's mother and brother live in the United States.

Galan hopes to someday get a green card so he will be able to travel back and forth to visit his dad, and maybe someday bring him to the U.S. legally if he becomes a citizen.

He hopes to start his own electric company. But he fears that he will lose his job once his DACA benefits expire, since the company he works for checks on employees' legal status. He recently renewed his DACA participation; it expires in March 2019.

But until Congress passes a more permanent piece of legislation, Galan said he would "be contemplating the day I lose everything I've worked for."

Noting her family's situation, Alvarez said, "My kids are afraid, but I'm not afraid. I'm fighting for protecting my children 'Always I pray to God, always I believe in God, always my faith is in God."

With tears in her eyes, Alvarez said one of her daughters feels so afraid that she wants to leave the country and move to Ghana, where her boyfriend is from, because she thinks they would not be discriminated against there.

Alvarez said she not only prayed for her own family and for Dreamers, but also for Trump, asking God to bless him.

"I'm angry, but (I don't) hate. That is not my position," she added.

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Sankowski is a reporter at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese 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.

Nativity scene, Christmas tree are visible signs of God's compassion

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 11:38am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Nativity scene and Christmas tree, like those displayed in St. Peter's Square, are visible reminders of God's benevolence and closeness to all men and women, Pope Francis said.

The traditional Christmas displays are "the signs of the heavenly Father's compassion, of his participation and closeness to humanity who experience not being abandoned in dark times, but instead visited and accompanied in their difficulties," the pope said.

"Every year, the Christmas Nativity scene and tree speak to us through their symbolic language. They make more visible what is captured in the experience of the birth of the Son of God," Pope Francis said Dec. 7 in a meeting with delegations from Poland and Italy, responsible respectively for the 2017 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

The centerpiece of the Vatican's Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.

Measuring nearly 33 feet in diameter, the tree was donated by the Archdiocese of Elk, Poland, and transported to the Vatican on a flatbed truck traveling over 1,240 miles across central Europe.

Thanking the members of the Polish delegation, the pope said the tree's soaring height "motivates us to reach out 'toward the highest gifts'" and to rise above the clouds to experience "how beautiful and joyful it is to be immersed in the light of Christ."

"The tree, which comes from Poland this year, is a sign of the faith of that people who, also with this gesture, wanted to express their fidelity to the see of Peter," the pope said.

The Nativity scene was donated by the Benedictine Abbey of Montevergine, located in southern Italy. Created in a traditional 18th-century Neapolitan style, it covers a surface of over 860 square feet and features 20 terracotta figures, some as tall as 6 feet.

The representation of the night of Jesus' birth, the pope said, is "inspired by the works of mercy" and is a reminder "that Jesus told us: 'Do to others what you would have them do to you.'"

"The crib is the evocative place where we contemplate Jesus who, taking upon himself human misery, invites us to do the same through act of mercy," Pope Francis said.

As it was last year, the Christmas tree was adorned with ornaments made by children receiving treatment at several Italian hospitals.

"These children, with their parents, participated in a ceramics recreational therapy program" organized by the Countess Lene Thune Foundation for young boys and girls suffering from oncological and hematological disorders, the Vatican said Oct. 25.

Additionally, children from the central Italian Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia, which was devastated by earthquakes in 2016, also made ornaments for the Christmas tree.

Pope Francis thanked the children and told them their ornaments are a personal witness of Jesus "who made himself a child like you to tell you that he loves you."

After the Vatican's tree-lighting ceremony later that evening, he added, "pilgrims and visitors from around the world will be able to admire your work."

"Tonight, when the lights of the nativity scene are turned on and the Christmas tree lights up, even the wishes you have transmitted through your decorative works will be bright and seen by everyone," he said.

The tree will remain in St. Peter's Square until the feast of the Lord's Baptism Jan. 7, the Vatican said.

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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.

Gregorian chant called seminarian to Catholicism

Thu, 12/07/2017 - 10:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Chaz Muth

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As Gabe Bouck enters Advent, a season in which Catholics are urged to answer God's call for conversion, the seminarian is reminded of the melodic voice that inspired him to become Catholic.

The former Baptist recalled attending his first Mass nearly six years ago where he encountered sounds he had never before heard in a church and it was coming from the priest.

"The priest sung the entire Mass," said Bouck, a first-year seminarian at Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

This priest sang the liturgy in ethereal tones, mysterious sounds to the young Protestant with a musical background. He was used to music that came in more predictable forms with standard rhyme or meter.

But the reverberations coming from the priest defied the musical logic Bouck had come to expect and it mesmerized him throughout the Mass.

"It absolutely took me to another place altogether," he told Catholic News Service during an October interview. "There was something about it that immediately brought to my mind, 'I am experiencing something that is holy right now. There's something very solemn and very reverent going on in a way that I have never experienced in a Protestant church.'"

Bouck hadn't realize he'd encountered Gregorian chant.

He did realize at that moment that he wanted to become Catholic and the sounds he deemed mystifyingly beautiful called him to conversion.

Gregorian chant is a monadic and rhythmically free liturgical chant considered the official music of the Catholic Church.

Not to be confused with liturgical hymns and other sacred music, Gregorian chants are typically unaccompanied sung prayers and official texts of the liturgy and congregation responses.

When the priest is singing portions of the Mass and the congregation sings the response, they are practicing a form of Gregorian chant, said Timothy S. McDonnell, director of the Institute of Sacred Music at The Catholic University of America.

Choirs in some Catholic churches also sing Gregorian chant, both in Latin and English, as part of a repertoire that may include other sacred music.

Though documents from the Second Vatican Council gives Gregorian chant -- developed between the seventh and ninth centuries in the Diocese of Rome -- pride of place in the Mass, it's no longer the dominant sound in most Catholic parishes, McDonnell told CNS.

Gregorian chant was largely replaced by more vernacular music following Vatican II, when the traditional Latin Mass was changed to the dominant language of each country.

However, Gregorian chant began to regain popularity in the 1990s and some Catholic parishes began reintroducing it during worship.

Bouck believes it was no mistake that he happened to attend his first Mass where the priest celebrated it completely in Gregorian chant.

Once he settled into parish life at the Catholic Church of the Ascension in Memphis, Tennessee, Bouck joined the choir and eventually became its director.

"We did Gregorian chant, we did contemporary worship type music and traditional hymns," he said. "But chant was always something that moved me and something that meant a lot to me."

Bouck's music ministry and involvement in the church would eventually lead him to consider the priesthood, a vocation he is now seeking in seminary, where he offers his considerable singing talents in the school's schola.

It's not uncommon for someone involved in a music ministry to hear the call to the priesthood, said David Lang, music director of Theological College.

"Those men are really engaged in the liturgy, especially if Gregorian chant is featured in their music," Lang told CNS. "The texts are divinely inspired and when you are singing them it's like you are praying twice. We shouldn't be surprised that someone hears God's call in that circumstance."

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Follow Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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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.

Update: Mideast Christian leaders to Trump: Jerusalem move could have dire results

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 2:09pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences.

"We have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division," the Christian leaders said, just hours before Trump announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and relocating the U.S. embassy.

They appealed to Trump to take their viewpoint into consideration, as did the leaders who met at Camp David in July 2000 to decide the status of Jerusalem. The Christian leaders said their "solemn advice and plea" for the president was to continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem.

"We ask you, Mr. President, to help us all walk toward more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all," they said Dec. 6.

"Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work toward negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfill its destiny."

The Christian leaders, who include Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs as well as the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, said Jerusalem could be "shared and fully enjoyed" once a political process helped "liberate the hearts of all people that live within it from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing."

With Christmas approaching they asked that Jerusalem "not be deprived" of peace; they wished Trump a Merry Christmas and asked that he help them "listen to the song of the angels."

"As the Christian leaders of Jerusalem, we invite you to walk with us in hope as we build a just, inclusive peace for all the peoples of this unique and Holy City," they said.

In 1967, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which had been under Jordanian control since 1948. In 1980 Israel declared a united Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestine.

Earlier Dec. 6, Pope Francis expressed concern that a U.S. move recognizing Jerusalem as the capital would further destabilize the Middle East.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city. Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has called for a special status for the city. It has insisted the political question of the city's status must be the result of negotiation.

Wadie Abunassar, chairman of media relations for the Christian leaders, said the status of Jerusalem is not only an issue for Israelis and Palestinians, but also for other Muslim countries as well. He noted that already a gathering of Arab foreign ministers has been organized for Dec. 11 as well as a meeting prepared by Turkey for Muslim countries.

"Jerusalem is a sensitive issue for all, so the Christian leaders, (following) the pope, are making an appeal to President Trump to be wise -- there is a need for wisdom ... especially in such an explosive situation," he said.

With violent demonstrations already in evidence even before any announcement had been made, Abunassar said more steps that produce confidence-building measures are needed rather than steps that "add oil to the flame."

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed faction, called for more protests in the coming days, particularly Dec. 8, the Muslim day of prayer. The U.S. labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

In Lebanon, Abdul Latif Derian, grand mufti of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, called on Arab Islamic leaders to counter the U.S. embassy's relocation to preserve the Arab identity of Jerusalem. The mufti is an important figure for Sunni Muslims, not just locally but regionally. Most of the Palestinian population in the region is Sunni Muslim.

"The transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Holy City as the capital of Israel is a blatant challenge and provocation to the feelings of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said in a statement Dec. 6. "This step would turn the region into a flame of conflicts that will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences and would adversely affect the region and the international community. This will have serious repercussions on the Arab and Islamic region."

"The recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is unacceptable and represents a step toward the elimination of the Palestinian cause, which will not be allowed by Arabs and Muslims," the mufti said, calling to confront the Israeli enemy in various ways.

"Confrontation is a legitimate right aiming to defend the occupied land of Palestine," he said.

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Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.

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Follow Sudilovsky on Twitter: @JSudireports.


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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.

Bishop lays out detailed policies for 'morally acceptable' tax reform

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:52am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a new letter to members of Congress, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, outlined a sweeping package of changes in pending tax reform legislation to ensure the final bill is "morally acceptable."

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also addressed positive aspects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which members of both houses of Congress continued to hash out Dec. 6 to reconcile their respective measures for a final bill.

A vote on a final version was expected in the House of Representatives and the Senate before Christmas.

Bishop Dewane in his Dec. 6 letter reminded Congress that the country has long followed tax policy "that is good for workers, families who welcome life, families who are struggling to reach -- or stay in -- the middle class, and the very poor, (and) has been part of our tax code for years."

"Any modification to these important priorities of our nation should only be made with a clear understanding and concern for the people who may least be able to bear the negative consequences of new policy. For the sake of all people -- but especially those persons we ought, in justice, to prioritize -- Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets key moral concerns," he said.

The letter called for a reversal of the bill's plan to gradually increase taxes on taxpayers in the lowest income brackets while maintaining tax cuts for higher earners, including the most wealthy.

"No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for families struggling to meet their daily needs in order to finance cuts for millionaires and billionaires. The final proposal must be amended to avoid this outcome," Bishop Dewane wrote.

He also called for restoring the personal exemption, which has been eliminated in both chambers' version of the reform package. Even with the doubling the standard deduction as included in the legislation, families with more than three children would be penalized, leaving them financially worse off, he said.

While lauding the elimination of the marriage penalty under the child tax credit for low-income working families, Bishop Dewane called for removing the bill's requirement that taxpayers provide Social Security numbers to claim the credit. Such a requirement would harm immigrant families, he said.

Bishop Dewane urged lawmakers to pass a final bill that does not include a Senate provision that eliminates the Affordable Care Act individual mandate requiring people to purchase of health insurance or face a penalty. He said dropping the mandate would lead to millions of people becoming uninsured and that the issue would better be addressed in broader comprehensive approach to health care policy.

The letter welcomed the legislation's bid to double the standard deduction, saying it should be retained. He called the plan "a positive change that will help some families, including many facing economic challenges, avoid tax liability."

However, other provisions of the House and Senate bills were cited in the letter for their negative impact on low-income taxpayers. The letter called for:

-- Retaining the deduction for medical expenses; the deduction is included in the Senate bill, but not the House version.

-- Retaining the adoption assistance incentive for employers; the provision was eliminated in the House bill, but remained in the Senate.

-- Ensuring that employer incentives for paid family and medical leave do not end in 2019.

-- Adopting an "above-the-line" charitable deduction that would be available to all taxpayers, whether they itemize on tax returns or not to encourage charitable giving.

-- Restoring provisions that were cut in the House bill that assist working families such as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, a credit for people who retire on disability, and deductions for tuition and student loans, state and local taxes, employee business expenses and moving expenses; restoring other provisions cut in the Senate bill including deductions for union dues and expenses, clothing and uniforms and work-related education.

-- Retaining the housing credit and housing bonds that support development of low-income housing and calling for additional measures so that both the credit and bonds are not significantly devalued because of the lower corporate tax rate, restricting such projects.

-- Adding a plan for the creation of "opportunity zones" for struggling communities.

-- Leaving in place the current alternative minimum tax and estate tax "to ensure that the risks taken in tax reform fall on those who stand to benefit most rather than on those who struggle on the margins of society."

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The full text of the letter can be found online at http://bit.ly/2BGkVPX.

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Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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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.

Bangladesh, Myanmar youths are a sign of hope for Asia, pope says

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 9:07am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people in Myanmar and Bangladesh are a source of hope for a peaceful future in their countries after years of war and suffering, Pope Francis said.

As is customary, at his general audience Dec. 6, the first after his Nov. 27-Dec. 2 trip to Asia, Pope Francis reviewed his visit.

"In the faces of those young people, full of joy, I saw the future of Asia: A future that doesn't belong to those who build weapons, but to those who sow brotherhood," the pope said.

As temperatures in Rome hovered just above 40 degrees, the audience was held in the Paul VI audience hall to avoid the chilly weather.

The pope entered the hall, stretching his hands to each side of the aisle to greet people who reached out to touch him.

After telling the estimated 8,000 pilgrims that he wanted to speak about his recent visit, four Bangladeshi priests cheered loudly and held up a banner that read, "Thank you, Papa." The pope smiled and waved at the small group.

Noting that it was "the first time a successor of Peter visited Myanmar," the pope said he hoped to express "the closeness of Christ and the church to a people who have suffered due to conflict and repression and that now is slowly moving toward a new condition of freedom and peace."

The Catholic Church in Myanmar is "alive and fervent," he said, adding that he had "the joy of confirming them in the faith and in communion."

He also said his Nov. 29 meeting with a group of senior Buddhist monks was a moment to "manifest the church's esteem for their ancient spiritual tradition and the trust that Christians and Buddhists together can help people to love God and neighbor while rejecting every kind of violence and opposing evil with good."

Pope Francis said his visit to Bangladesh "followed in the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II" and "marked a further step toward respect and dialogue between Christianity and Islam."

He also praised the country's care for religious liberty and its welcoming of welcoming hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

"I wanted to express my solidarity with Bangladesh in their commitment to aid the Rohingya refugees flowing en masse in their territory, where the population density is among the highest in the world," the pope said.

The "most significant and joyful event" of ordaining 16 new priests in Dhaka, he said, was "the sign of a living community where the voice of the Lord resounds, calling on them to follow him."

This joy was also evident during his visit to the home in Dhaka where the Missionary of Charity sisters care for "so many orphans and people with disabilities," Pope Francis said.

"And they never lack a smile on their lips," the pope said. "Sisters who pray together, who serve the suffering continuously with a smile. It is a beautiful witness. I thank these little sisters so much."

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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.

Update: Pope concerned by U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 6:32am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Pope Francis expressed his concern that such a move would further destabilize the Middle East.

Pope Francis said he could not "keep silent about my deep concern" for Jerusalem and urged respect for "the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations."

The pope spoke at the end of his weekly general audience Dec. 6, the same day President Trump was expected to announce his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made the same promises during their campaigns, but once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Trump, on the other hand, seemed prepared to announce the move, drawing warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States' long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.

According to Vatican Radio, the pope received a telephone call from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Dec. 5 regarding President Trump's plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

The conversation was "part of a series of contacts made by the president of the Palestinian National Authority after his conversation with Donald Trump during which -- according to Abbas' spokesman -- the U.S. president announced his intention to move the American embassy," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio.

The Vatican supports a "two-state solution" for the Holy Land with independence, recognition and secure borders for both Israel and Palestine.

At the same time, the Vatican consistently has called for a special status for Jerusalem, particularly its Old City, in order to protect and guarantee access to the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In his appeal, Pope Francis said, "Jerusalem is a unique city, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims who venerate the holy places of their respective religions, and has a special vocation to peace."

Since the early 1990s, the Vatican has seen as separate issues the need for a special status for the city and questions over the political sovereignty or control of Jerusalem. The political question, it has insisted, must be the result of negotiation.

The internationally unsettled status of Jerusalem and its central importance to Jews, Muslims and Christians explains why, while recognizing the state of Israel, no nation has its embassy in the holy city.

"I pray to the Lord that this identity would be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence would prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts," the pope said.

Before the audience, Pope Francis met with religious leaders from Palestine attending a meeting sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Dialogue, the pope said, takes place at every level, especially "in our families, in our religious communities, between different religious communities, and also in civil society."

However, a key condition for dialogue is mutual respect and a commitment to strengthen that respect "for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be," he said.

"Dialogue is the source of greater mutual knowledge, greater mutual esteem and cooperation in the pursuit of the common good, and generous cooperation in ensuring that those in need receive all necessary assistance," Pope Francis said.

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Court seems divided in cake case examining religious rights, expression

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 4:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rick Wilking, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court seemed equally divided in the long-anticipated oral arguments Dec. 5 about the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs.

Even Justice Anthony Kennedy's comments went right down the middle, from expressing concern for those who would be shut out of services to later stressing that "tolerance is a two-way street" and saying the state of Colorado, where the bakery is located, seemed to be "neither tolerant or respectful" of the baker's views.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, pits anti-discrimination laws against freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression.

It drew strong feelings on both sides long before the court heard the arguments with the filing of 100 friend-of-the-court briefs months ago and the crowds lined up for days hoping to get into the court during the arguments. Crowds also gathered on the Supreme Court steps under cloudy skies and warm temperatures, chanting and holding aloft placards such as "Justice for Jack" (the baker) and "Open for All."

The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of the baker joined by the Colorado Catholic Conference, Catholic Bar Association, Catholic Medical Association, National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA and National Catholic Bioethics Center.

And after the hour and a half of oral arguments, chairmen of three USCCB committees issued a statement saying: "America has the ability to serve every person while making room for valid conscientious objection."

It also said it hoped the court would continue to "preserve the ability of people to live out their faith in daily life, regardless of their occupation," noting that artists "deserve to have the freedom to express ideas -- or to decline to create certain messages -- in accordance with their deeply held beliefs."

The statement was issued by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

The case before the court at the end of 2017 was five years in the making, beginning in 2012 when Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, to make a cake for their wedding reception. Phillips refused, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to create a cake honoring their marriage.

The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which decided the baker's action violated state law. The decision was upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado Supreme Court wouldn't take the case, letting the ruling stand. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

During oral arguments at the high court, many questions came up about what constitutes speech, since the baker claimed he should have freedom of speech protection.

Justice Elena Kagan asked if a florist, chef or makeup artist also should have the same protection and other roles also were called into question such as tailors, or invitation designers, as were other cakes; pre-made cakes, for example, would not be an issue of compelled speech.

And as Kristen Waggoner, the Alliance Defending Freedom attorney representing Phillips, said "not all cakes would be considered speech."

Amid the back and forth between what could be considered artistry and questions about how artists could be compelled to convey messages they disagree with, Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked: "Well, then, what is the line? That's what everybody is trying to get at."

"Obviously, we want a distinction that will not undermine every single civil rights law," he added.

The bulk of the defense for the baker focused on his freedom of speech rights, which attorneys argued would be violated by forcing him to make this cake.

Waggoner said the court was saying it had the discretion to decide what speech is offensive and what isn't, but it didn't "apply that in a fair way to Mr. Phillips." She also said that "what's deeply concerning" is how speech could be compelled of "filmmakers, oil painters and graphic designers in all kinds of context."

The arguments against the baker questioned if failing to provide services to same-sex couples was discriminatory.

David Cole, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, defending the couple, said discrimination against the couple who wanted the cake consigned them to "second-class status."

The last minutes of the oral arguments boiled down to the opposing views but also didn't reveal a clear path forward.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the nation's views about interracial marriages "didn't change on its own" but because of "public accommodation laws that forced people to do things that many claimed were against their expressive rights and against their religious rights."

"Whatever it is you choose to sell, you have to sell it to everyone who knocks on your door, if you open your door to everyone," she added.

In response, Waggoner said it would be a grave offense to the First Amendment to "compel a person who believes that marriage is sacred, to give voice to a different view of marriage and require them to celebrate that marriage."

Sotomayor suggested not participating in weddings or creating neutral wedding cakes but that refusing to offer goods to some goes against public anti-discrimination laws.

Waggoner in her last allotted minute said: "A wedding cake expresses an inherent message that is that the union is a marriage and is to be celebrated, and that message violates Mr. Phillips' religious convictions."

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Indiana town embodies Santa Claus and his spirit of love, peace, joy

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 3:41pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Katie Rutter

By Katie Rutter

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (CNS) -- Belief in that iconic Christmas figure, the rotund merry man with a bag full of presents, inspires thousands of children to write letters addressed to "Santa Claus" each year.

Surprisingly, many of these wish lists actually do get delivered to Santa Claus. But rather than landing in a magical workshop at the North Pole, the notes wind up in a little Indiana town that bears the same name as the jolly old elf.

"We have already answered 5,000 and we'll be getting more this morning," Patricia Koch, founder of the Santa Claus Museum and Village, told Catholic News Service Dec. 2. "They come from the U.S.A. and from all over the world."

Koch and a dozen other volunteers work long hours to "help" Santa answer the letters that find their way to the Santa Claus post office. Koch calls this letter-writing a ministry and is dedicated to keeping the spirit of Santa Claus, the person, alive.

"Our world can become very self-centered and commercialized," she explained, "so I think Santa Claus has that spirit of love and forgiveness and peace and joy."

The town itself, with a population just over 2,400, seems to embody the persona of Santa Claus. Streets are named "Sleigh Bell Drive" and "Candy Cane Lane," or even "Melchior," "Balthazar" and "Kaspar" after the traditional names of the three wise men. Unsurprisingly, the Catholics of the town named their church after the man who inspired the myth: St. Nicholas.

"Just looking at his acts, we just see this kindness and seeing those who were less fortunate," said Father John Brosmer, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Dale, which encompasses St. Nicholas Church and two other nearby worship sites.

St. Nicholas, also known as Nicholas of Myra, was a bishop in present-day Turkey who lived from about A.D. 280 to 343. He was the orphaned son of wealthy parents, and one ancient story claims that he threw bags of gold through the window of an impoverished family in the dead of night.

"In later versions, he drops a bag of gold through the chimney where it lands in a stocking that was hung there to dry," explained Adam English, chair of the Christian studies department at Campbell University and author of the historical book "The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus."

"What's really memorable about it is that it's an absolutely ordinary act of charity, of goodwill. This is the kind of thing that anybody can do," English said.

That simple act of generosity inspired generations of anonymous gift-giving. Givers attributed mysterious presents to St. Nicholas and passed his story from culture to culture. In the Netherlands, his nickname was "Sinter Klaas," which evolved to "Santa Claus" when Dutch immigrants arrived in New York.

St. Nicholas' identity was forever established as a "jolly old elf" by the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822.

"(The poem) starts to change him from being a Christian bishop, stern and austere and presiding over the Eucharist, to being more of a gift-giver who's maybe more a magical creature," said English.

Today, the familiar images of this magical man are recreated throughout the town of Santa Claus. Huge statues that adorn the main highway and the town hall depict a smiling, rosy-cheeked figure with a large bag of toys, his red coat and hat looking nothing like clerical garb.

Still, for Santa enthusiasts, even this depiction echoes Christian beginnings that were simply transformed by American culture.

"I use the expression 'extreme makeover,'" explained Father Joseph Marquis, a Byzantine Catholic priest who runs the St. Nicholas Institute. His program, based in Detroit, teaches the saint's history to professional portrayers of Santa.

"They took away his miter and gave him a triangular cap and his bishop's coat was shortened and lined with fur. The candy cane is an evolution from the crosier," Father Marquis said.

Nicholas of Myra likely lacked the rounded figure characteristic of a diet of milk and cookies. His place in history would paint a stature hardened by persecution, perhaps even bearing the scars of torture. A contemporary of the emperor Diocletian, Nicholas lived through the most terrible persecution of the early church and was himself imprisoned.

"We know for sure his nose was broken," said Father Marquis, referencing historical research done on the bones of the saint.

"They tortured his priests who were members of his flock to make him recant and he wouldn't do it," Father Marquis said.

Nicholas of Myra also was hailed as a defender of justice, which might have led to Santa's common question to young children, "Have you been good?" and the naughty-nice list that he must "check twice." According to one legend, the bishop found out that a local judge had accepted a bribe and falsely condemned three men to death.

"Nicholas ran to the spot and literally grabbed the sword out of the executioner's hand," related Father Marquis.

"He pointed right at the guy for condemning them to death and the man actually confessed that he took money to condemn them," he said.

St. Nicholas Church hosted a visit from its namesake to anticipate his Dec. 6 feast day. A white-bearded man wearing a miter and long red robes made a surprise appearance at the Sunday Vigil Mass Dec. 2 and handed out ornaments to all the parishioners.

"You can't get away from Santa Claus here," laughed parishioner Deacon Jim Woebkenberg.

The voice of St. Nicholas likely pursues Catholics during every Sunday liturgy. Historical documents confirm that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. While his direct contributions, if any, are unknown, it was during this council that the Nicene Creed was written.

"You have echoes of the voice of St. Nicholas every Sunday when we recite the creed, which for me as a big St. Nicholas fan, indebted to him for so many things in my life, that's important to me," said Father Marquis.

Similarly, every bright-eyed child who rushes to the Christmas tree Dec. 25 is indebted to this saint for the legacy of giving. But just as the town of Santa Claus stays on the map even after the holiday season, the local pastor said that the true spirit of St. Nick leads Catholics to generosity all year long.

"Growing up as a Christian, you want to share your gifts you want to give of yourself," said Father Brosmer. "The true Christian is St. Nicholas, it's that generosity all the time."

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Pope's letter to Argentine bishops on 'Amoris Laetitia' part of official record

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 11:14am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Describing them as "authentic magisterium," Pope Francis ordered the official publication of his letter to a group of Argentine bishops and their guidelines for the interpretation of "Amoris Laetitia," his apostolic exhortation on the family.

According to a brief note by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Pope Francis wanted his letter and the bishops' document to be published on the Vatican website and in the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," the official record of Vatican documents and acts.

The papal letter, dated Sept. 5, 2016, was written in response to guidelines published by the bishops in the Catholic Church's Buenos Aires region. Pope Francis said the bishops' document "explains precisely the meaning of Chapter VIII of 'Amoris Laetitia.' There are no other interpretations."

The letter is found on the Vatican website under letters written by the pope in 2016, and was published in the October 2016 edition of the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," which also is available online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/aas/documents/2016/acta-ottobre2016.pdf.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told Catholic News Service Dec. 5, "The fact that the pope requested that his letter and the interpretations of the Buenos Aires bishops be published in the AAS means that His Holiness has given these documents a particular qualification that elevates them to the level of being official teachings of the church.

"While the content of the pope's letter itself does not contain teachings on faith and morals, it does point toward the interpretations of the Argentine bishops and confirms them as authentically reflecting his own mind," the cardinal said. "Thus together the two documents became the Holy Father's authentic magisterium for the whole church."

The eighth chapter of "Amoris Laetitia" is titled, "Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness," and is the most debated chapter of the document. It urges pastors to assist those whose marriages have faltered and help them feel part of the church community. It also outlines a process that could lead divorced and civilly remarried Catholics back to the sacraments.

Some church leaders and theologians have insisted reception of the sacraments is impossible for such couples unless they receive an annulment of their sacramental marriage or abstain from sexual relations with their new partner.

The Buenos Aires document said the path of discernment proposed by Pope Francis "does not necessarily end in the sacraments," but should, first of all, help the couple recognize their situation, understand church teaching on the permanence of marriage and take steps toward living a more Christian life.

"When feasible," the guidelines said, divorced and civilly remarried couples should be encouraged to abstain from sexual relations, which would allow them to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.

While there is no such thing as "unrestricted access to the sacraments," the bishops said, in some situations, after a thorough process of discernment and examination of the culpability of the individual in the failure of the sacramental marriage, the pope's exhortation "opens the possibility" to reception of the sacraments.

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Humility not about being polite, but accepting humiliation, pope says

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 9:10am

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like a sprout, humility needs to be nourished so that the Holy Spirit may grow within all Christians, Pope Francis said.

While some believe that "being humble means being polite, courteous and closing your eyes in prayer," accepting humiliation is the only real sign of humility, the pope said in his homily Dec. 5 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"Humility without humiliation is not humility. The humble one is that man, that woman who is capable of enduring humiliations like Jesus, the humiliated one, the great humiliated one," he said.

The pope centered his homily on the day's reading from Isaiah (11:1-10), in which the prophet foretells the coming of the Messiah as a shoot that "shall sprout from the stump of Jesse," and says that "the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him."

Christians, Pope Francis said, must be aware "that each one of us is a sprout of that root," which must be cared for so that it can grow with the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Faith and humility are needed, he said, so that "this very small gift" will grow fully and bring forth the "gifts of the Holy Spirit," which are "the spirit of wisdom and intelligence, the spirit of wise counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord."

"We need humility to believe that the Father, the lord of heaven and earth -- as today's Gospel says -- has hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to the little ones," the pope said.

Humility, he added, means being small, "like the sprout, a little thing that grows every day, a small thing that needs the Holy Spirit to go forward, toward the fullness of its own life."

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Don't wait to be perfect to answer vocational call, pope says

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 10:32am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Men and women contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage should not be afraid because God wants only for them to experience the joy that comes from serving others, Pope Francis said.

"Our slowness and our sloth" should not delay a response and Christians need not be "fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord," the pope said in his message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

"It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision," the pope wrote. "Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!"

The papal message for the day of prayer, which will be observed April 22, was released Dec. 4 at the Vatican. The 2018 theme is "Listening, discerning and living the Lord's call."

In his message, Pope Francis said God's call "is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experiences" because God "comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom."

Christians, he said, must learn to listen carefully and "view things with the eyes of faith" in order to listen to his voice which is "drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts."

"We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world," the pope said.

Listening is increasingly difficult in today's society, which is "overstimulated and bombarded by information" and "prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation" and discerning God's plan, he said.

Often stifled by "the temptations of ideology and negativity," he said, Christians need spiritual discernment which allows them to "discover the places, the means and situations through which" God's calls them.

"Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to 'read within' his or her life and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on his mission," Pope Francis said.

He also urged men and women to live out their calling once it is discovered and "become a witness of the Lord here and now," whether in marriage or priesthood or consecrated life.

"If (God) lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to his kingdom, then we should have no fear!" Pope Francis said.

"It is beautiful -- and a great grace," he said, "to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters."

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Advent is time to identify sin, help the poor, see beauty, pope says

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 9:42am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advent is a time to be watchful and alert to the ways one strays from God's path, but also to signs of his presence in other people and in the beauty of the world, Pope Francis said.

Reciting the Angelus prayer Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis told people gathered in St. Peter's Square, "Being watchful and alert are the prerequisites for not continuing 'to wander far from the Lord's path,' lost in our sins and infidelities; being watchful and alert are the conditions for allowing God to break into our existence, to give it meaning and value with his presence full of goodness and tenderness."

Like the ancient Israelites who wandered in the desert, the pope said, "we, too, often find ourselves in a situation of infidelity to the Lord's call; he indicates the right path, the path of faith, the path of love, but we look for happiness elsewhere."

Advent gives people time to review the paths they have taken and to turn back to the ways of God, he said.

It is a time for paying attention to the needs of others, "trying to counter the indifference and cruelty" present in the world, the pope said. But it is also a time to "rejoice in the treasures of beauty that also exist and should be protected."

"It is a matter of having an understanding gaze to recognize both the misery and poverty of individuals and societies, but also to recognize the riches hidden in the little things of daily life precisely where God has put them," he said.

Pope Francis, who had returned to the Vatican late the night before after a six-day trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, also used his midday address as an opportunity to thank everyone who had prayed for the trip's success and everyone who had a hand in organizing it.

The pope said he carried with him "the memory of so many faces tried by life, but still noble and smiling. I carry them in my heart and in my prayers."

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Pope says world has reached moral limit on nuclear deterrence

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 6:01pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH (CNS) -- The Cold War policy of nuclear deterrence appears morally unacceptable today, Pope Francis said.

St. John Paul II, in a 1982 message to the U.N. General Assembly, said deterrence "may still be judged morally acceptable" as a stage in the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

But Pope Francis, in a message in early November to a Vatican conference, said "the very possession" of nuclear weapons "is to be firmly condemned."

During a news conference Dec. 2 on his flight back to Rome from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Pope Francis was asked what had changed since St. John Paul wrote to the United Nations and whether the war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un influenced his position.

"What has changed?" the pope responded. "The irrationality has changed."

Pope Francis said his position is open to debate, but "I'm convinced that we are at the limit of licitly having and using nuclear weapons."

The world's nuclear arsenals, he said, "are so sophisticated that you risk the destruction of humanity or a great part of humanity."

Even nuclear power plants raise questions, the pope said, because it seems that preventing accidents and cleaning up after them is almost impossible.

Pope Francis said he was not dictating "papal magisterium," or formal church teaching, but was raising a question that a pope should raise: "Today is it licit to maintain the nuclear arsenals as they are or, to save creation and to save humanity, isn't it necessary to turn back?"

The weapons are designed to bring one side victory by destroying the other, he said, "and we are at the limit of what is licit."

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Pope expresses satisfaction with meetings on Rohingya crisis

Sat, 12/02/2017 - 6:00pm

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH (CNS) -- Well aware he was disappointing some people by not using the word "Rohingya" publicly in Myanmar, Pope Francis said his chief concern had been to get a point across, and he did.

"If I would have used the word, the door would have closed," he told reporters Dec. 2 during his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome.

He spent almost an hour answering reporters' questions after his six-day trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, but insisted that most of the questions be about the trip.

In his speeches in Myanmar, Pope Francis repeatedly referred to the obligation to defend the lives and human rights of all people. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state. The Myanmar military, claiming it is cracking down on militants, has been accused of a massive persecution of the Rohingya to the point that some describe it as "ethnic cleansing."

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the Bangladeshi border just since August, joining hundreds of thousands already living in refugee camps there.

For the government of Myanmar, the Rohingya do not exist; instead they are considered undocumented immigrants.

"I knew that if, in an official speech, I would have used the word, they would close the door in my face," the pope told reporters who asked why he did not name the group. However, "I described the situation" publicly, knowing "I could go further in the private meetings" with government officials.

"I was very, very satisfied with the meetings," the pope said. "I dared to say everything I wanted to say."

It is true, he said, "I did not have the pleasure" of making "a public denunciation, but I had the satisfaction of dialoguing, allowing the other to have his say and, in that way, the message got across."

Still, finally being able to meet some of the Rohingya refugees Dec. 1 in Bangladesh was an emotional moment.

Arrangements were made for 16 refugees to travel to Dhaka from Cox's Bazar, where the huge refugee camps are, so they could join the pope and Bangladeshi religious leaders for a meeting devoted to peace.

The refugees had traveled so far and been through so much that Pope Francis said he could not just let them shake his hand and be whisked away, as some event organizers seemed to think was proper.

"And there I got upset. I yelled a bit. I'm a sinner," he said.

He had a few minutes with each of them, listening to their stories with the help of an interpreter, holding their hands and looking into their eyes.

"I was crying, but tried to hide it," the pope told reporters. "They were crying, too."

Listening to them was emotional, he said, and "I couldn't let them leave without saying something" to them. So he asked for a microphone and spoke about their God-given dignity and the obligation believers of all faiths have to stand up for them as brothers and sisters. He also apologized for all they had suffered.

Pope Francis refused to give reporters details about his private meetings with government officials and military leaders in Myanmar, but insisted they were marked by "civilized dialogue" and he was able to make the points important to him.

The pope was asked what he thought of recent criticism by human rights groups of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar's civilian government, over her handling of the Rohingya crisis. Pope Francis responded that people must take into account the challenges that are part of Myanmar's transition from military rule to democracy.

Myanmar is at a "turning point" where it will be difficult to move forward, he said, but it also would be difficult to back away from change.

And, he said, "I never lose hope."

The same God who made the meeting with the Rohingya in Dhaka possible will continue to work marvels, Pope Francis said.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Catholic liturgies avoid Christmas decorations, carols in Advent

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 2:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemit

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During the weeks before Christmas, Catholic churches stand out for what they are missing.

Unlike stores, malls, public buildings and homes that start gearing up for Christmas at least by Thanksgiving, churches appear almost stark save for Advent wreaths and maybe some greenery or white lights.

"The chance for us to be a little out of sync or a little countercultural is not a bad thing," said Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

By the same token, he is not about to completely avoid listening to Christmas music until Dec. 24 either. The key is to experience that "being out of sync feeling in a way that is helpful and teaches us something about our faith," he told Catholic News Service.

Others find with the frenetic pace of the Christmas season it is calming to go into an undecorated church and sing more somber hymns like "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." But that shouldn't be the only draw, noted Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, who is the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.

He said the dissonance between how the church and society at large celebrate Christmas is that the church celebration begins, not ends, Dec. 25. The shopping season and Christian church calendar overlap, but don't connect, he added.

And even though Catholic churches -- in liturgies at least -- steer clear of Christmas carols during Advent and keep their decorations to a minimum, Father Morrill said he isn't about to advise Catholic families to do the same.

"It's hard to tell people what to do with their rituals and symbols," he said, adding, "that horse is out of the barn."

He remembers a family on the street in Maine where he grew up who didn't put their Christmas decorations up until Dec. 24 and didn't take them down until Candlemas, commemorating the presentation of Jesus in the temple, which is the 40th day of the Christmas season.

He is pretty sure that family's children or grandchildren aren't keeping up that tradition.

Father Rice similarly doesn't give families a lot of advice on when to do Christmas decorating, but when he has been pressed on it, he said, he has advised families to do it in stages -- such as put up the tree and have simple decorations on it and then add to this on Christmas Eve.

It's a joyful time, he said, which Catholics should tap into.

Celebrating Advent is a little tricky in campus ministry, he noted, since the church's quiet, reflective period comes at the same time as students are frantic over exams, papers and Christmas preparations.

This year, the day before the start of Advent, he said students planned to gather to decorate the Catholic center with purple altar cloths, pine garlands and some white lights.

As Father Morrill sees it, decorating churches with white lights or greenery almost bridges the secular and religious celebrations of Christmas and that's OK by him. It beats using blue instead of purple for Advent wreaths or liturgical vestments, which he was some parishes did in the '80s, until church leaders came down on it.

Liturgical notes for Advent posted online by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/advent -- points out that the liturgical color for Advent is purple, just like Lent -- as both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days.

It says Advent "includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. This penitential dimension is expressed through the color purple, but also through the restrained manner of decorating the church and altar."

It also points out that floral decorations should be "marked by a moderation" as should the use of the organ and other musical instruments during Advent Masses.

The way the church celebrates Advent is nothing new. Timothy Brunk, a Villanova University associate professor in theology and religious studies, said it began in the fourth century in Europe but has never had the history or significance of Easter for the church.

But even though Advent doesn't have the penitential pull of Lent -- where people give something up for 40 days or do something extra -- that doesn't mean the season should slip by without opportunities for spiritual growth.

Father Rice said it's important for Catholics to engage in spiritual preparation for Christmas even in the middle of all the other preparations.

His advice: when you write a Christmas card, say a prayer for that person; while shopping, try to go about it in slow and thoughtful way not frantically running around and let someone take that parking space you were eyeing.

Those actions, he said, are modern works of mercy on a simple and immediate level.

They also don't require batteries or store coupons.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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Update: Fear and loathing: Rohingya crisis shows danger of identity politics

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 9:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Abir Abdullah, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- The themes chosen by the local bishops for Pope Francis' visits to Myanmar and Bangladesh -- "Love and peace" and "Harmony and peace" -- sounded naive or just too "nicey-nice" to some people.

But when love, peace and harmony are missing, the situation is pretty much hell on earth. The Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now living in teeming camps in Bangladesh could testify to that.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, wanted to testify to the Gospel. And that meant emphasizing love, peace and harmony.

The situation of the Rohingya is an extreme example of what happens when one's ethnic or religious identity incites such strong fear or pride or that it creates ironclad categories of "us and them."

And when the lines are drawn that clearly, the migration of the minority group is a natural result.

Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody, an associate professor of theology and global affairs at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, told Catholic News Service he had been in Myanmar a year and a half ago studying the situation of the Rohingya, as they identify themselves, or the undocumented Muslims from Rakhine state, as the government refers to them.

"They are the most stateless people I have ever encountered," Father Groody said. In Myanmar, "they are not only undocumented, they are so totally defined as 'other' that they are considered nonpersons."

Some media and human rights groups criticized Pope Francis for accepting the advice of local Catholic leaders and not referring to the Rohingya by name while in Myanmar.

The wisdom of that decision will probably be debated for some time.

"But I think his very presence says everything," Father Groody said.

Pope Francis has not publicly berated any government official of any country during a visit. He treats them with respect, listens and -- drawing on the values they profess -- he tries to show them what the next step toward the common good should be.

"It requires real care," Father Groody said. "You wouldn't want to see him do this gangbuster prophecy thing and ride into the sunset, thinking he'd done the heroic thing. I think he's not just trying to be heroic; he's trying to be a bridge-builder."

"There's real heroism and courage in just being able to build bridges," the priest said. "In the long run, that may be more effective, and in the end, that's what matters."

Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, a member of the pope's international Council of Cardinals, was in both Myanmar and Bangladesh for Pope Francis' visit.

In his own country, the cardinal has seen how the identity question and ethnicity and religious belonging can become points of social tension. But it wasn't always that way, he told CNS.

Growing up, he said, the neighbors in his apartment building in Mumbai were Hindu, Muslim and Christian. "We were very good friends. We never saw a different religion or culture as the basis for any division."

"Now, all of a sudden, I must say that it has changed, and I blame politicians for this," he said. "Politicians used and are still using religion to get votes."

And in neighborhoods where people just accepted that they each had their own faith and culture, the cardinal said, now people are starting to think, "Oh, he is different from me."

Playing up differences has had deadly results in Myanmar and India and in many other places around the world. And the fear caused by those acts of violence and terrorism have fed isolationism and an exaggerated "us-first" attitude.

In response, Cardinal Gracias said, "the whole Christian Gospel value of love seems a cliche -- but it is a commitment, love is a decision to imitate Jesus" and rescue those in danger and help those in need, including migrants and refugees.

Obviously, he said, reasonable measures must be taken to ensure people allowed into a country are not coming to do harm.

"There's a real point there, but on the other hand, when you see the tremendous amount of suffering people have undergone, when they are fleeing persecution, economic injustice and violence and they are looking for a better life and to contribute to society, you have to act," he said.

Or, as Father Groody said, "A sovereign state's right to protect its borders is a recognized right," including in Catholic social teaching, "but it is never seen as an absolute right and never as reason for violating human rights. Sovereign rights must be evaluated in view of human rights and the universal destination of goods, which means that every human being should have at least the minimum necessary for a dignified life."

As for the identity question, the Holy Cross priest said that while religion and ethnicity are often important factors in a person's self-description, for Catholics people have an identity that goes even deeper: They are children of God.

Pope Francis flew halfway around the world to let all the people of Myanmar and Bangladesh know that's how he sees them. But he went especially to let the Rohingya know.

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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.

Defend God's image by defending the Rohingya, pope urges

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 8:27am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said.

"Today, the presence of God is also called 'Rohingya,'" the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh.

"They, too, are images of the living God," Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace.

"Dear brothers and sisters," he told the crowd, "let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God."

"Let's keeping helping" the Rohingya, he said. "Let's continue working so their rights are recognized. Let's not close our hearts. Let's not look away."

The Rohingya, like all people, are created in God's image, the pope insisted. "Each of us must respond."

The refugees traveled to Dhaka from Cox's Bazar, the southern Bangladeshi city hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled Myanmar. More than 620,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since late August.

Speaking directly to them, Pope Francis said, "We are all close to you."

In comparison to the suffering the Rohingya have endured, he said, the response of the people at the gathering actually is small. "But we make room for you in our hearts."

"In the name of all those who have persecuted you and have done you harm, especially for the indifference of the world, I ask forgiveness," he said.

Pope Francis' remarks, which he made in Italian, were translated for the crowd and for the Rohingya. Many of them were in tears.

In his formal speech at the interreligious meeting, Pope Francis insisted "mere tolerance" for people of other religions or ethnic groups was not enough to create a society where everyone's rights are respected and peace reigns.

Believers must "reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding," not ignoring differences, but seeing them as "a potential source of enrichment and growth."

The "openness of heart" to which believers of all faiths are called includes "the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity," he said. "It leads to seeking the good of our neighbors."

Pope Francis urged the people of Bangladesh to make openness, acceptance and cooperation the "beating heart" of their nation. Such attitudes, he said, are the only antidote to corruption, "destructive religious ideologies and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities and those who are most vulnerable."

According to a Vatican translation, Farid Uddin Masud, speaking for the Muslim community, told the pope, "it is compassion and love which today's world needs most. The only remedy and solution to the problem of malice, envy and fighting among nations, races and creeds lies in the compassionate love preached and practiced by the great men and women of the world."

Masud, a famous prayer leader and advocate of dialogue and tolerance, is thought by some to have been the main target of a 2016 bombing at a major Muslim prayer service in Sholakia, Bangladesh. Four people were killed.

Praising the pope for speaking on behalf of "the oppressed, irrespective of religion, caste and nationality," Masud particularly cited Pope Francis' concern for the Rohingya. He said he hoped that the pope's public support would strengthen international efforts to defend their rights.

Anisuzzaman, a famous professor of Bengali literature, told the gathering that in a world torn by strife, the pope's message of encounter and dialogue takes on added importance.

"Those of us who are frustrated to find the forces of hatred and cruelty overtaking those of love and compassion can surely find solace in the pope's message of peace and harmony and of fraternity and goodwill," he said, according to the Vatican's translation of his speech. "We note with great relief that the pope has, time and again, expressed his sympathy with the Rohingya from Myanmar, who have been forcibly ejected from their home and earth and subjected to violence and inhuman treatment."

The pope arrived at the meeting in a rickshaw after a meeting with Bangladesh's Catholic bishops. He had told the bishops that interreligious and ecumenical dialogue are essential part to the life of the church in Bangladesh.

"Yours is a nation where ethnic diversity is mirrored in a diversity of religious traditions," he said. "Work unremittingly to build bridges and to foster dialogue, for these efforts not only facilitate communication between different religious groups, but also awaken the spiritual energies needed for the work of nation-building in unity, justice and peace."

The Catholic Church's preferential "option for the poor," including the Rohingya refugees, is a sign of God's love and mercy and must continue to shine forth in concrete acts of charity, Pope Francis told the bishops.

"The inspiration for your works of assistance to the needy must always be that pastoral charity which is quick to recognize human woundedness and to respond with generosity, one person at a time," Pope Francis said.

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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.

Pope arrives in Bangladesh, praises country's welcome of Rohingya

Thu, 11/30/2017 - 7:37am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- The government and people of Bangladesh have shown exemplary generosity in welcoming hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, despite great demands placed on already limited resources, Pope Francis said.

Arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar Nov. 30, Pope Francis wasted no time in mentioning the plight of the refugees who have been a source of concern for him for more than two years.

While he spoke diplomatically in Myanmar about the obligation to protect the rights of all people and ethnic groups, he was more specific in Bangladesh, referring to the "massive influx of refugees from Rakhine state" in Myanmar. He did not, however, use the word "Rohingya," which is how the refugees identify themselves.

Providing shelter and basic necessities to the refugees "has been done at no little sacrifice," the pope said.

The eyes of the world have watched Bangladesh take the refugees in, he said, but clearly the situation is still dire. 

"None of us can fail to be aware of the gravity of the situation, the immense toll of human suffering involved, and the precarious living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters, a majority of whom are women and children, crowded in the refugee camps," he said.

Pope Francis publicly pleaded with the international community to assist Bangladesh in meeting the refugees' emergency needs, but also in helping to resolve the crisis in Myanmar that led them to flee.

As he did in Myanmar, the first stage of his trip, the pope also spoke in Bangladesh about interreligious dialogue, religious freedom and consolidating peaceful coexistence among members of different religious communities.

From the Dhaka international airport, Pope Francis went directly to the National Martyrs' Memorial, which honors those who died in the 1971 war in which Bangladesh separated from Pakistan. In the memorial's guestbook, Pope Francis wrote: "Recalling all those who gave their lives as the nation came to birth, may the people of Bangladesh work truly for justice and the common good."

In the book, under the heading "name," he wrote "Francis." Under "designation," he wrote, "Roman Catholic bishop."

He held a private meeting with Bangladeshi President Abdul Hamid, then addressed the president, government officials, diplomats and leaders of Bangladeshi society.

Welcoming the pope, Hamid told the pope his government had sheltered 1 million Rohingya. Unfortunately, he said, "thousands of them, including women and children, were brutally killed, thousands of women were violated. They saw their homes burned into ashes."

The president, too, spoke of interreligious dialogue and harmony among all groups in the nation where the majority of people are Muslim.

"We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism," he told the pope, but his government is working to "eradicate the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism."

Hamid told the pope that Bangladeshis have a tradition of coexistence and believe "religion is personal, but its festivals are universal" and something neighbors of different faiths celebrate with each other.

"In a world where religion is often -- scandalously -- misused to foment division, such a witness to its reconciling and unifying power is all the more necessary," the pope told him.

"Only through sincere dialogue and respect for legitimate diversity can a people reconcile divisions, overcome unilateral perspectives and recognize the validity of differing viewpoints," Pope Francis said. "Because true dialogue looks to the future, it builds unity in the service of the common good and is concerned for the needs of all citizens, especially the poor, the underprivileged and those who have no voice."

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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.

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