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Updated: 37 min 18 sec ago

Vatican leaps into the world of sports

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 9:25am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican announced its plans to take a leap of faith into the wide world of sports with the creation of its first ever sports association.

The Vatican Athletic sports association, which will fall under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture and its "Culture and Sport" section, was presented during a briefing at the Vatican press office Jan. 10.

According to a press release by the association, the idea to establish a Vatican sports team began with Vatican employees who met for their daily morning runs along the Tiber River.  

"The Secretariat of State allowed this 'community' of friends to be given a suitable and completely innovative legal form of Christian witness in the streets, literally 'going out' as Pope Francis asks, among the women and men who live the passion of sport," the statement said.

Vatican Athletic, it continued, is not just concerned with competing with other athletes but also committed to giving a "concrete Christian witness with spiritual initiatives" in the world of sports.

The association currently is made up of 60 athletes, ranging from 19 to 62 years old, who work in various Vatican offices or serve with the Swiss Guard. It has also welcomed "honorary members," including two young Muslim migrants and "several young people with disabilities."

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council, told journalists the Vatican Athletic group represents a much-needed message of peace and unity in sports, which can sometimes be divisive.

The establishment of an official Vatican sports association also could open the possibility of athletes from the world's smallest state competing in future Olympic Games.

During the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a Vatican delegation, led by Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the president of Vatican Athletic, was invited to take part in the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and attend its general meeting as an official observer.

While a Vatican delegation attended the opening of the Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the South Korea games marked the first time the Vatican was invited to attend an annual session of the Olympic committee.

Msgr. Sanchez, who is also a former modern pentathlete, said the Vatican would not field an Olympic team anytime soon, but there may be a glimmer of hope that the gold and white colors of the Holy See may be seen one day at the global sporting event.

"A Vatican team at the Olympics? Seeing the Vatican flag fly at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is not a short or medium-term goal, but we aren't closing any doors," Msgr. Sanchez said. First, though, "I would like to participate in sporting events of symbolic value such as the Games of the Small States of Europe and the Mediterranean Games."

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Copyright © 2019 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 groups and others rail against Trump border 'crisis' speech

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 4:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- No sooner had President Donald Trump finished his Jan. 8 nine-minute speech, his first such event televised in prime time from the Oval Office, about what he called a "crisis" at the border, than Catholic groups and others began tearing apart his arguments.

In email statements, via Twitter, in Facebook posts that cascaded overnight, they denounced his words as incendiary and untruthful and called on him and Congress to find different solutions to the country's immigration woes, particularly ones that do not involve building a wall and include instead more compassion.  

Trump said the wall, whose lack of funding triggered the ongoing partial government shutdown that began at midnight Dec. 22, was necessary to stop drugs and violent immigrants from coming into the country, which he called a "humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border."

"Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now," he said.

On drugs, he said: "Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border."

Fact checkers from various news organizations quickly pointed out research, including a study from the journal Criminology, that showed "undocumented immigration does not increase violence," that most drugs come to the U.S. at already existing border crossings, so more wall- or barrier-building wouldn't stop their transport. The Center for Migration Studies, a think-tank in New York connected to the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, known popularly as the Scalabrinians, disseminated information from one of its studies in 2016 that showed the number of "undocumented in the nation had dropped to 10.8 million, a new low."

On Twitter, the Sisters of Mercy quickly responded: "Tonight's speech by President Trump was another, in a long list of speeches, rooted in untruths, fear and division."

They noted that the speech came as the Catholic Church in the United States marked National Migration Week, Jan. 6-12, to support and pray for immigrants, refugees, victims and survivors of human trafficking.

"It is particularly troubling that a speech of this nature comes while the church recognizes #NationalMigrationWeek, a moment to reflect upon the desperate and harrowing circumstances confronting migrants, immigrants, and refugees," the Mercy Sisters tweeted after the speech.

"Neither the continued government shutdown nor a declaration of national emergency aimed at funding a wall will correct years of failed U.S. immigration policy or ameliorate the U.S.'s role in the root causes of migration," the Mercy Sisters wrote in a response published quickly following the speech. "Make no mistake, there is a humanitarian crisis on the border, but it is one of the Trump administration's own making. One where asylum-seekers are forced to wait in dangerous and unhealthy conditions for weeks while their asylum claims are assessed and decided."

The following morning, without referencing the speech, a Texas border bishop, Brownsville's Daniel E. Flores -- who is facing a dispute with government officials seeking to survey church property to build a wall on -- tweeted that "mothers and children are fleeing the very criminal elements that we ourselves recognize represent a mortal danger. Are we not capable of sustaining a response that both protects the vulnerable and restrains the menace?"

More directly, Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, urged the president and lawmakers to look at the conditions of persecution and violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. That, he said, is where this administration and Congress should focus, and instead fix the causes that drive the displacement of people.

"A series of measures designed to deter these vulnerable populations from fleeing their countries, including family separation, mandatory detention, zero tolerance and denial of entry at the border are undermining their legal and human rights, guaranteed under both domestic and international law," Kerwin said.

"They are handing themselves over to Border Patrol agents in search of protection, not trying to enter the country illegally," he said. "The administration and Congress should act to end these inhumane policies and provide protection to vulnerable women and children."

Instead of shutting down the government over a wall, Kerwin continued, Trump and Congress should enact a legislative package providing permanent status to those benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival and Temporary Protected Status programs, "immigrant populations who have built equities in our nation."

But neither the wall nor any other proposals to curb immigration set forth by immigration supporters seemed to gain traction after the speech. As the president and lawmakers met Jan. 9 to try to find common ground, reports trickled out about what was a failed effort.

Democrats said Trump slammed his hands on a table and walked out during the talks. Late in the afternoon of Jan. 9, the president tweeted his account of his meeting with top Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time," Trump tweeted. "I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!"

 

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Prayer has the power to change lives, hearts, pope says

Wed, 01/09/2019 - 8:55am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God is a father who never ignores his children when they call to him in times of suffering, loneliness and despair, Pope Francis said.

Although at times it seems that "so many of our prayers seem to have no result," Christians are called by Christ to "insist and not give up," the pope said Jan. 9 during his weekly general audience.

"Prayer, prayer always changes reality, let us not forget that: It either changes things or changes our hearts, but it always changes," he said.

Arriving at the Paul VI audience hall, the pope greeted thousands of cheerful pilgrims, shaking hands, embracing children and even taking a sip of mate tea offered to him by a pilgrim.

Continuing his series of talks on the Lord's Prayer, the pope reflected on the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray.

In teaching them to pray the "Our Father," he said, Jesus "explains to his followers in what words and with what feelings they must turn to God."

"Father -- that is such a beautiful word to say," the pope said. "We can pray just with that word, 'father,' and feel that we have a father; not a master but a father."

At important moments in his own life, Pope Francis explained, Jesus is "in an atmosphere of prayer" and guided by the Holy Spirit in his actions. He also prays for others, including "for Peter who will soon deny him."

"This consoles us, knowing that Jesus prays for us, he prays for me, he prays for each one of us so that our faith does not fail." the pope said. "We can also say to Jesus: 'You are praying for me; continue to pray because I need it.' (Pray) like that, with courage."

Even in his final moments, the pope added, Jesus is immersed in prayer, for example when consoling the women along the way of the cross, when promising the joys of paradise to the good thief and before taking his last breath.

"Jesus' prayer seems to dampen the most violent emotions, the desires for revenge and retaliation, he reconciles man with his most bitter enemy: death," he said.

When life seems incomprehensible, Pope Francis said, prayer "is ultimately the victory over loneliness and despair" because God is always present.

"What is at the end of our path, at the end of prayer, at the end of a time of prayer, at the end of life. What is there?" the pope asked. "There is a father, waiting for everything and everyone with open arms. Let us look at that father."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Nicaraguans face steeper challenges than most heading to World Youth Day

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 4:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Israel Gonzalez Espinoza

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Many will make sacrifices to attend the upcoming World Youth Day in Panama in late January, but few compare to the challenges facing young Catholics in nearby Nicaragua as the country deals with political and economic upheaval, some of it involving violent clashes with government forces that have plagued the Central American nation since last year.

"Some of the young Nicaraguans heading to (World Youth Day) have made extraordinary economic sacrifices, selling things, begging institutions for help, because it's a unique opportunity," said Israel Gonzalez Espinoza, a Nicaraguan journalist for Religion Digital, a Spanish-language online news site that focuses on the Catholic Church.  

The Jan. 22-27 gathering in Panama City will be the first time the event, first instituted by St. John Paul II in 1985, will be held in Central America and likely the only opportunity for many of the region's young adults and teens to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, who arrives in Panama Jan. 23.

Past World Youth Day gatherings have taken place in Argentina, Spain, Poland, Brazil, the United States and other countries that have been cost-prohibitive to Central American youth, many who are now excited about their physical proximity to the upcoming celebration.

But it could not have come at worse time for young Nicaraguans, particularly because some have been involved in some of the clashes against the government of President Daniel Ortega, whose attempts to reduce pensions and salaries while increasing employee contributions to the social security system ignited fiery protests last April.

The situation became worse when hundreds of protesters died in the clashes against Ortega's administration, which kept moving toward getting a tighter grip on political power in the country, curbing tourism and business interests and sending the economy into a tailspin. An economy that was growing instead quickly contracted. Inter Press Service news agency reported in September that "more than 900 million dollars have fled the financial system" in Nicaragua since the conflict started.

Covering the crisis on the frontlines was Catholic journalist Gonzalez, a 25-year-old who has documented the particular role the Catholic Church has played in the drama, as the bishops' conference sought to mediate an end to the clashes, which have sent the citizenry running for cover into the country's Catholic churches and facilities. But because of it, Gonzalez has paid the price of being accused by government supporters of being an instigator and also a mouthpiece of Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Baez, who has been highly critical of the government.

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from Managua Jan. 3, Gonzalez recounted how he was ready to give up journalism early last year and turn to a more lucrative way to make a living by opening up a small business. But he said he could not stay away when the crisis exploded in April.

"As a Nicaraguan journalist, it has been the most fruitful year but also a painful year," he told CNS.

Because of his dispatches about the role of the Catholic Church in negotiations with the government and other news he has reported, he has received threats, had his personal phone number and address published, and been threatened by pro-government supporters, who have called on police to have him arrested, he said.

Similarly, other young Catholics like Gonzalez wonder what they will risk by attempting to leave and then attempting to re-enter Nicaragua if they choose to attend World Youth Day.

"As a journalist, it's a bit risky for me to attend World Youth Day, because I have to take with me my equipment, my camera, microphone, but the problem is not leaving Nicaragua, it's coming back," he said.

Government forces, or even customs officials at the airport will ask about the equipment, his profession, what political sides he takes, whether he criticizes the government.

"All of that can put a person into a state of anxiety," he said. "And that I could have my equipment away, in my own country."

Other young Catholics, too, could face similar questioning, he said.

"Remember, that it's been the youth (of Nicaragua) who have been the vanguard of this movement," against the government, he said. "They have been the most affected by the government persecution."

Because of those fears and because of the country's deteriorating economic and political situation, which will make it difficult for many of them to afford even the short trip, only a fraction of young Nicaraguans will make it to the event. Estimates put the Nicaraguan delegation at between 5,000 to 6,000, said Gonzalez, who plans to cover the historic gathering.

Though he's put his plans to open a business on hold for the moment, Gonzalez said he decided to "bet on the side of journalism" and continue to document the church's role in Nicaraguan society, in seeking dialogue, peace and a democratic process in the country.

"I made a decision of conscience," he said. "A person with a conscience does not opt to remain silent when that person sees injustice."

It's hard to gauge, at the moment, what, if any effect, the crisis will have on pilgrims from Central American nations such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, traveling by land through Nicaragua. Gonzalez said he's heard that Panama has been in talks with officials in the country to expedite a safe passage of pilgrims traveling through and returning through Nicaragua before and after World Youth Day. He said he still recommends groups traveling by land to contact their respective embassies in the country a week before making the trip to avoid delays or problems.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Young adults embrace opportunity to deepen their faith at SEEK2019

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 11:41am

IMAGE: CNS photo/John Shaughnessy, The Criterion

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Tears filled Missy Brassie's eyes as she talked about the most emotional part of the five-day SEEK2019 conference involving more than 17,000 young adult Catholics from around the world.

It happened the evening of Jan. 5 in a massive ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center during the conference established to give participants the opportunity to deepen their encounter with Jesus.

"All of these people coming together for eucharistic adoration is the best part of the conference," said Brassie, 31, a Denver resident who returned to Indianapolis, her hometown, for the gathering sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS.

"Surrounded by thousands of their peers during adoration, they feel that they're not alone in their faith, and they feel that they're personally spoken to by the Lord," she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "People say that everyone around them disappears. It's just Jesus and that person in that moment."

The overwhelming emotion Brassie experienced has happened before at SEEK conferences. This year's event, held Jan. 3-7, was her eighth.

"My relationship with Jesus is always deepened here," Brassie said. "Even though I've been to so many conferences, there is always something that renews me."

Brassie has been a FOCUS missionary for the last seven years, striving to bring college students to a deeper relationship with God at the University of Illinois, Texas A&M University and Ave Maria University in Florida. She also works at the FOCUS headquarters, based in the Denver area.

Her role as one of the nearly 700 missionaries in 159 worldwide locations has led her to interactions with a wide range of people, from international students who have no knowledge of Jesus to lifelong Catholics seeking to become closer to him. No matter their background, her conversations involve asking people two defining questions.

"I say, 'Do you know that God loves you? Do you know he has a plan for you?'" she explained. "Our conversations go from the basic level to deep discussions. That has been really cool. I don't have to have all the answers because Jesus loves them."

Other attendees were pleased to share their faith and return to their daily lives with a renewed sense of inspiration and awe in God.

Nigerian Timi Soyoola, 20, couldn't pass up the invitation to attend.

"I was coming on a flight from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis after visiting my uncle, and a lady was talking to me about this conference," said Soyoola, a senior pre-med student at Indiana University in Kokomo. "It's a new year, and I wanted to try something new. I wanted to learn more about my faith."

It didn't matter to Soyoola that she didn't know anyone else at the conference. After all, Soyoola -- whose full first name, Oluwatimilehin, basically translates to "God's got my back" -- already knew she could count on one person.

"Jesus is the person I depend on," she said, her eyes and her smile lighting up. "When you come to a new country, you don't know anyone. He's the one I depend on. He's the most important person in my life."

The opportunity to deepen their faith drew Josh and Katie Fatzinger from their home in Flagstaff, Arizona. The young married couple arrived at the conference with their 1-year-old daughter, Ellie, and other family members. Katie is expecting the couple's second child in February.

"I'm here with my mother, my wife, one of my sisters and three of my brothers," said Josh, 27. "I'm from a big Catholic family, one of 14. I encouraged my younger brothers to come because it was a great experience for me when I came in 2013. It's a great place to encounter a lot of people, and we're all here to encounter Christ."

Standing by Ellie's stroller, Katie looked around the crowd at the convention center and noted, "There's all the hope you see and all the excitement. It's very uplifting. It's really powerful to celebrate the sacraments and be with that many people praising God. I'm waiting to see how he can impact their lives."

Louis Cain held the same hope as he led a group of 60 students from McNeese State University in Louisiana during the conference that featured opportunities for Mass, confession and eucharistic adoration as well as faith-related workshops, inspirational speakers and entertainment by Catholic musicians. In his third year as a FOCUS missionary, Cain embraced the opportunity to bring other young adults to a stronger relationship with Jesus.

"It's really cool to have this time in my life when I'm trying to get closer to Jesus and help others to do the same 24/7," Cain said. "One thing that's cool about being here is that you realize you're not alone. Everyone is here to grow in their faith. It's pretty amazing."

Cain maintained that positive attitude as he answered a question about how he thinks the clergy sexual abuse crisis has affected young adults' perspectives of the church and their faith.

"Our church needs healing," he said. "In times of crisis in the church, great saints rise up. We need to have saints rise up in our church. It should motivate us to live our faith more seriously."

Amy Gasper, 19, a sophomore at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, felt much the same.

"You get to see how hungry people are for the Lord. It makes my heart leap for joy," she said. "There are people here who are wanting to devote their life to God and grow in their relationship with him."

She said the conference allows her to grow her faith.

"I know I'm alive for one reason, and that's to answer God's call for my life. It's a never-ending joy. So many people search for that. You have to let God take over your life for the good."

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Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Life is a gift not meant to be possessed, manipulated, pope says

Tue, 01/08/2019 - 9:03am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sucheta Das, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Generously caring for the sick and the marginalized is the best way to combat a culture of waste and indifference that seeks to control and manipulate life, Pope Francis said.

In his message for the World Day of the Sick, celebrated Feb. 11, the pope said that life is "a gift from God" that is "best suited to challenging today's individualism and social fragmentation."

"Precisely because it is a gift, human life cannot be reduced to a personal possession or private property, especially in the light of medical and biotechnological advances that could tempt us to manipulate the 'tree of life,'" the pope wrote in his message, which the Vatican released Jan. 8.

The main Catholic celebration of the World Day of the Sick 2019 was scheduled for Kolkata, India, where Mother Teresa -- who was canonized in 2016 -- began her ministry serving the poor and the sick.

St. Teresa of Kolkata, the pope said, "is a model of charity" whose service to the sick and the marginalized "remains for us today an eloquent witness to God's closeness to the poorest of the poor."

The example set by the Albanian nun known as the "Saint of the Gutters," he added, helps Christians understand that "our only criterion of action must be selfless love for every human being, without distinction of language, culture, ethnicity or religion."

"Her example continues to guide us by opening up horizons of joy and hope for all those in need of understanding and tender love, and especially for those who suffer," he said.

Individual acts of solidarity also have an impact on wider society and political choices, the pope said. For example, by bowing down before those left to die on the side of the road, Mother Teresa "made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime -- the crimes! -- of poverty they created."

Reflecting on the day's theme taken from the Gospel of St. Matthew -- "You received without payment; give without payment" -- the pope said that caring for the sick "requires professionalism, tenderness, straightforward and simple gestures freely given, like a caress that makes others feel loved."

"'Gift' differs from gift-giving because it entails the free gift of self and the desire to build a relationship," he said. "It is the acknowledgement of others, which is the basis of society" and is "a reflection of God's love."

Pope Francis said that being generous toward the sick and needy flows from humility and from recognizing that throughout his or her life, each person experiences being "poor, needy and destitute."

"When we are born, we require the care of our parents to survive, and at every stage of life we remain in some way dependent on the help of others," the pope said. "We will always be conscious of our limitations, as 'creatures,' before other individuals and situations."

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The text of the pope's message in English is posted at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/sick/documents/papa-francesco_20181125_giornata-malato.html

The text in Spanish can be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/sick/documents/papa-francesco_20181125_giornata-malato.html

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Jesuit Father Charles Currie, college and social justice leader, dies

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 3:47pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Jesuit Colleges and Universities

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Charles Currie, a social justice advocate and longtime leader in Jesuit college education, died Jan. 4 after a recent illness. He was 88.

A Philadelphia native, Father Currie is described as someone who had tireless energy, a keen sense of humor and legendary storytelling skills. The Jesuit priest was the former president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities who had also served as president of Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Xavier University in Cincinnati.

But many remember him not just for his leadership in higher education but for his advocacy work in response to the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. He was named special assistant to Georgetown University's president to coordinate the school's response to the murders, and his trips to the University of Central America, where these deaths took place, helped to inform Congress on the investigation's developments.

This work also led him to be a cofounder of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, which initially brought students to the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, where members of the army unit that committed the murders in El Salvador had received military training.

Now, the annual gathering brings nearly 2,000 students, faculty and staff from Jesuit colleges, high schools and parishes across the country to Washington every fall for advocacy training that honors the legacy of the Salvadoran martyrs.

In response to Father Currie's death, Christopher Kerr, executive director of Ignatian Solidarity Network, which sponsors the annual teach-in, said in a Jan. 4 tweet that the "Ignatian Family lost a giant for justice today."

Jesuit Father Michael J. Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, described Father Currie as someone who "spotted the potential in people. He saw the good that you longed to do but feared you couldn't achieve. Then, he let you know he believed in you and was counting on you. Whether you were a politician, an office staff member, or a fellow Jesuit, Charlie's confidence in you made all the difference."

While at the helm of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Father Currie oversaw the development of JesuitNET, the nation's first Jesuit distance education network. He also created the Jesuit Leadership Seminar and coordinated a response to Hurricane Katrina that allowed students from Loyola University New Orleans to spend their fall 2005 semester at sister Jesuit institutions in the U.S.

After he retired from the association in 2011, Father Currie became executive director of Jesuit Commons, an initiative to provide online education to students in refugee camps. The program, now called Jesuit Worldwide Learning, grants diplomas and certificates accredited by two Jesuit universities: Regis University in Denver and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

He began his academic career as part of the chemistry faculty at Georgetown specializing in photochemistry and he returned to Georgetown after serving as college presidents at two universities to direct Georgetown's Bicentennial Celebration in 1989.

The priest served on numerous boards of trustees of colleges, high schools and various organizations and associations. He had received 16 honorary degrees and other awards. In 2012, he was among a group of Catholic school leaders honored at the White House for their innovation and dedication.

While in Washington, he developed friendships with many political leaders.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement after his death: "Father Currie believed deeply in the power of education to transform lives and dedicated his life to educating and mentoring the next generation." She described him as "a fearless voice for peace and human rights up until his final days. He strove always to see light in the darkest places and acted always on his deep belief that we have no greater responsibility than to stand up for the least among us."

Just this past summer, Father Currie offered a prayer during the 50th anniversary memorial for Robert F. Kennedy where he prayed that all those present at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, would share Kennedy's compassion for the poor, the needy, the oppressed and the frightened.

Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor of America magazine, similarly said a prayer at the summer memorial and tweeted about it Jan. 4 saying: "Remembering tonight Charlie Currie, SJ, a generous and gentle soul. A passionate voice for social justice."

He also described Father Currie as a "great Jesuit and friend. "

Father Currie's wake will be held at Wolfington Hall at Georgetown University the afternoon and evening of Jan. 11 followed by an evening vigil service. His funeral Mass will be celebrated Jan. 12 after a viewing at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington.

 

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Copyright © 2019 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.

Keep bringing Christ to others, archbishop tells SEEK conference

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 11:24am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion

By Sean Gallagher

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila described the 17,000 mostly college students attending SEEK2019 in Indianapolis as "a great sign of hope for the church, that the church is alive and well among young people."

He celebrated Mass on Jan. 6 for the participants in the biennial conference sponsored by the Denver-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The group, founded in 1998, seeks to nurture the Catholic faith in college students. It currently has nearly 700 missionaries serving on 153 college campuses in 42 states and five international locations.

In his homily, Archbishop Aquila said he was briefly "playing hooky" from the retreat taking place for bishops in the U.S. at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago to celebrate the Mass in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis.

This year's SEEK gathering, Jan. 3-7, is the sixth such conference that Archbishop Aquila has attended.

"Certainly, you can see the deep faith in the young people," he said in an interview after the liturgy. "What their encounter with Christ has brought about is palpable. When you give young people the truth of Christ and Christ as the light and the one who gives meaning to life, it changes everything."

In his homily, the archbishop spoke about the reading from Isaiah where the prophet spoke of darkness covering the earth. He said this darkness today is consumerism, incivility and the "sin by certain members of the clergy."

"All of that can, at times, discourage us," he said. "But in the midst of that is the light of Jesus Christ. And it is that light that we must focus on."

He spoke about how Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household who is leading the bishops' retreat, told the bishops that society has lost the "sense of eternity" and that "when we look at the darkness of the world, when we look at the darkness within the church, we have lost the sense of eternity, that we really do not believe in Christ as the light, in Christ as the one is come to give us eternal life."

Turning to Christ and entering into a relationship with him, Archbishop Aquila said, can draw people out of this darkness.

"Jesus can heal any wound. He can restore any disorder. He can bring light into darkness."

He implored the conference participants to take the light of Christ they have received and share it with others.

"You are the light of the world today, in history," Archbishop Aquila said. "You are the ones who reflect the light of Christ to others. You are sent on mission in whatever walk of life you are in, to bring Christ to others."

Colleen Tragonski, a junior from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, said the impact of the conference is "so hard to put into words."

"The Holy Spirit is so present here, everywhere in the atmosphere," she said. "That's the best way that I can put it."

She said the conference gave her "an incredible hope," despite the challenges facing the church now.

"It's amazing to see thousands and thousands of college students celebrating the Mass, all making this journey to Indianapolis, but also to heaven," she said.

She also said she looked forward to embracing the mission that Archbishop Aquila presented to conference attendees.

"I hope that I can take everything that I've learned and use it in every single moment of my life to be the light of Christ for other people," she said. "It's so easy to be on a high when you're here. It's the biggest challenge to ... bring that to other people."

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Copyright © 2019 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.

'Nationalistic tendencies' threaten world peace, pope tells diplomats

Mon, 01/07/2019 - 9:07am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As it did prior to the Second World War, the rise of nationalism in the world poses a threat to peace and constructive dialogue among nations, Pope Francis said.

During his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the pope said that the establishment of the League of Nations nearly 100 years ago ushered a new era of multilateral diplomacy based on goodwill, readiness among nations to deal fairly and honestly with each other and openness to compromise.

However, he warned in his speech Jan. 7 that the lack of one of those necessary elements results in nations searching "for unilateral solutions and, in the end, the domination of the powerful over the weak."

"The League of Nations failed for these very reasons, and one notes with regret that the same attitudes are presently threatening the stability of the major international organizations," the pope said.

Clearly, he added, "relationships within the international community, and the multilateral system as a whole, are experiencing a period of difficulty with the resurgence of nationalistic tendencies at odds with the vocation of the international organizations to be a setting for dialogue and encounter for all countries."

In his nearly one-hour speech to the diplomats, the pope warned that the re-emergence of populist and nationalist ideologies is "progressively weakening" multilateral institutions and subsequently creating a "general lack of trust, a crisis of credibility in international political life and a gradual marginalization of the most vulnerable members of the family of nations."

An essential aspect of good politics, he said, is the pursuit of the common good that would enable individuals and the international community as a whole to "achieve their proper material and spiritual well-being."

"Peace is never a partial good, but one that embraces the entire human race," he said.

Recalling the ongoing humanitarian crises in countries such as Ukraine and Syria, Pope Francis urged the international community to defend the most vulnerable in the world "and to give a voice to those who have none."

Among those most affected by instability, he noted are Christian communities in the Middle East where many people have been forced to flee from violence and persecution, particularly due to the resurgence of attempts "to foment hostility between Muslims and Christians."

The pope expressed his hope that his upcoming visits to the United Arab Emirates and to Morocco would provide an opportunity to "advance interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding between the followers of both religions."

Pope Francis also made an appeal for assistance to migrants who are forced to emigrate due to "the scourge of poverty and various forms of violence and persecution," as well as natural disasters and climate change.

"All human beings long for a better and more prosperous life, and the challenge of migration cannot be met with a mindset of violence and indifference, nor by offering merely partial solutions," he said.

Among the most vulnerable in today's world, the pope continued, are young people who face an "uncertain future" due to lack of employment.

Urging world leaders to take steps to ensure the physical, psychological and spiritual growth of children, Pope Francis acknowledged the church's failure to protect children.

Child sexual abuse, especially by members of the clergy, "is one of the plagues of our time," he said.

"The abuse of minors is one of the vilest and most heinous crimes conceivable," he said. "Such abuse inexorably sweeps away the best of what human life holds out for innocent children and causes irreparable and lifelong damage."

The church is committed to preventing clerical sex abuse and its concealment, he said, expressing hope that his Feb. 21-25 meeting with the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences will be "a further step in the church's efforts to shed full light on the facts and to alleviate the wounds caused by such crimes."

Pope Francis also urged the diplomatic community to continue to work toward building peace between nations divided by war.

While there have been significant strides in building peace in some places, such as the end of the decades-long conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea and an easing of relations between North and South Korea, the pope called for peace in areas such as Venezuela and the Holy Land which are still affected by internal strife and divisions.

Citing St. Paul VI's 1965 speech to the United Nations, the pope said that peace is not built merely through politics and protecting interests but with "the mind, with ideas, with works of peace."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Vatican: Investigation underway of bishop accused of abuse, misconduct

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 11:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Marcos Brindicci, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A bishop from Argentina who had been working in the Vatican's real estate administration office is the object of a preliminary diocesan investigation after accusations came to light of sexual abuse, abuse of power and mismanagement in his former Diocese of Oran.

The interim director of the Vatican press office, Alessandro Gisotto, told reporters in a note Jan. 4 that accusations of sexual abuse against Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, 54, emerged in the "autumn" of 2018.

"On the basis of these accusations and from news appearing recently in the media," Bishop Luis Antonio Scozzina of Oran "has already begun to collect some testimony which still needs to get to the Congregation for Bishops" at the Vatican, Gisotti wrote.

The case will be handed over to a special commission for bishops if credible evidence is found, he added.

"During the preliminary investigation, (Bishop) Zanchetta will abstain from working" at the Vatican office, Gisotti wrote.

Born in the province of Santa Fe, Argentina, in 1964, Bishop Zanchetta was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Quilmes, near Buenos Aires, in 1991.

He was named by Pope Francis in July 2013 to lead the Diocese of Oran; however, he asked the pope to accept his resignation in 2017 for "reasons of health."

Four months after his resignation, Bishop Zanchetta was named by Pope Francis to a newly created role of "assessor" at the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, commonly referred by its Italian acronym APSA. The office handles the Vatican's investment portfolio and its real estate holdings.

According to Gisotti, "no accusation of sexual abuse had emerged at the time of the nomination to assessor," specifying that those accusations had only come to light last fall.

He also underlined that the bishop had not been removed from the diocese in 2017, but that the bishop himself had requested to step down.

"The reason for him stepping down was tied to his difficulty in handling relationships with diocesan clergy and to very tense relationships with the priests of the diocese," Gisotti wrote.

"At the time of his resignation, there had been accusations against him of authoritarianism, but there were not any accusations against him of sexual abuse," he added. "The problem that emerged then was tied to an inability to govern the clergy."

Bishop Zanchetta, Gisotti said, was appointed to his position at APSA because of "his administrative management abilities."

According to reports in late December by the local Argentine media outlet, El Tribuno, three priests had gone to the papal nuncio, Congolese Archbishop Leon Kalenga Badikebele, with accusations against Bishop Zanchetta of sexual abuse. Another 10 priests reported abuses of power and financial mismanagement by the bishop at a diocesan major seminary he opened in 2016.

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Dog's job at Oregon Catholic hospital: Comforting kids in emergency room

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 11:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Providence He

By Katie Scott

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Wrangler doesn't have an MD and he can't write prescriptions, but he works hard to help children who are injured or ill and often scared.

The Labrador is the first full-time facility dog at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Southwest Portland, and his task is to offer comfort to patients in the children's emergency room.

"Kids come into the ER because of something (their) mom and dad can't fix, and that's very scary," said child life specialist Teddie Garland, Wrangler's handler. "They're getting blood drawn, vitals taken, maybe they need stiches." They also may be in pain.

"It's a high-stress environment that kids don't have any control over," Garland said.

Enter the calm, cream-colored pup who wears an official hospital ID badge, knows the command "snuggle" and loves children.

"Kids and teens are his favorite people," said Garland. "If he hears a kid crying, he wants to go help."

One day a child with a laceration on his knee was having an especially hard time. Garland said to the patient, "I can tell you're really scared right now."

The boy replied, "I think I'm going to die."

Immediately, Wrangler leaned in toward the boy, gave him a nudge and looked up at him with his big brown eyes, as if to say, "You're going to be OK."

"There's no command for that," said Garland. "He reads a room and his intuition often trumps mine."

Studies and observation show the physical and psychological benefits of animals. In the presence of a dog such as Wrangler, blood pressure and heart rate can drop. "Within 12 minutes of petting a dog, the body releases oxytocin," said Garland. Sometimes called the "love hormone," oxytocin plays a role in bonding and people's sense of well-being.

Wrangler's presence also helps children feel less out of control.

Sitting in her office at St. Vincent, dog bed and water bowl nearby, Garland told the story of a 6-year-old boy who was recently admitted to the ER for a psychiatric issue.

"It was tough on him to be cooped up in a room and being told he couldn't leave," she recalled. Garland had the boy teach Wrangler a new command and take him for a walk around the room.

"Rather than feeling like everything was done to him, he got to feel like he was the expert at something," she said.

Children often open up to the mellow Labrador, telling him concerns they haven't shared with hospital staff.

"He does so many things that we human caregivers are not able to do," said Garland. "He's not judging them; he loves unconditionally."

Korina Jochim is the clinical manager at Northwest Catholic Counseling Center in Northeast Portland and works primarily with children. She said the overwhelming nature of an ER visit can create post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Experiencing things that are warm and familiar, such as dogs, during that time can make the difference as to whether children get traumatized or not," said Jochim.

Wrangler comes from 50 generations of service dogs and was bred and trained in Hawaii by the nonprofit Assistance Dogs Northwest. Training sessions begin when puppies are 8 weeks old.

Although some organizations use different definitions, "assistance dogs" generally is an umbrella term that includes service dogs and facility dogs, explained Stacy Goodfellow, Assistance Dogs Northwest program manager.

Service dogs are paired with one person and help him or her with daily tasks, for example opening doors or picking up items. Guide dogs also fit this category. Facility dogs such as Wrangler receive extensive specialized training from an accredited organization and learn specific skills.

There also are therapy dogs, who need to have a good temperament but can be someone's pet. They may, but don't always, go through a certification program. Many hospitals have therapy dog programs, including St. Vincent.

Wrangler was trained for 18 months and mastered 90 commands. Training includes generalized instruction and specialized commands, like "snuggle," based on where the dog will work.

"We are proud of Wrangler and all the work he's doing," said Goodfellow. "We hear so many wonderful stories about him."

The Lab has a 40-hour workweek, though he's been known to snooze on the job and receives more breaks than his two-legged co-workers. He lives at Garland's home, sleeps on her bed and spends a lot of time playing.

To keeps Wrangler's skills fresh, he receives mini training sessions every day; to keep him fresh, he receives weekly baths and daily teeth-brushings.

St. Vincent, founded by the Sisters of Providence in 1875, offers Wrangler trading cards and a stuffed animal in his honor. He also receives fan mail from grateful patients.

He has also made a calming impact on the staff, said Garland.

"He's been a part of staff debriefs, like after the loss of a child or a difficult, combative patient situation," she said. "I've had nurses sit under my desk with Wrangler and needing his love."

"He's so comforting after a stressful day; I love him," said Kasie Walker-Counts, a pediatric nurse who initially thought of Wrangler as just a cute mascot for the ER.

"Over the past year, I've seen him do some pretty incredible therapeutic things with kids who are really anxious," Walker-Counts said.

"Kids tend to be animal lovers, and they will be petting Wrangler and without realizing it they are being soothed," she said. "He's adorable, but he also adds so much in an often terrible situation."

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Scott is special projects reporter at the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

 

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Chicago lay movements gather to pray for U.S. bishops on retreat

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 4:44pm

IMAGE: Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) -- To show support for the U.S. bishops as they gathered at the Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake near Chicago for a weeklong retreat in early January, members of lay ecclesial movements met at St. Mother Theodore Guerin Parish in Elmwood Park Jan. 3 to pray.

More than 70 people attended Mass and adoration at the parish as part of a larger effort of the 21 lay movements active within the Archdiocese of Chicago to support the bishops. Each group is taking a day to have its members pray during the bishops Jan. 2-8 retreat.

"We want to show them that we support them, that they are not alone in this," said Renata Kaczor, co-chair of the archdiocesan committee for lay movements and a member of Domowy Kosciol ("Domestic Church"), dedicated to the sanctity of marriage. "We also want to ask God to help them, help us and everybody in the very difficult situation the church is going through now."

Many lay ecclesial movements and associations have arisen within the Catholic Church, mostly in the 20th century. Movements active in the archdiocese include Focolare, Charismatic Renewal, Legion of Mary and Regnum Christi.

Talking about the bishops, Michael Sublewski, co-chair of the archdiocesan committee for lay movements and a member of Neocatechumenal Way, said: "I'm sure they feel very isolated and persecuted. We want them to know that we support them, and prayer is the best way to do that."

"There's nothing more diabolical" than the abuse of children by priests, said Lauretta Froelich of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, "and yet Jesus told us that not even the gates of hell are going to prevail against his church."

By praying for and supporting the church's leaders, the lay movements are fulfilling their mission, Sublewski told the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

"The movements are a help to the church," he said. "Especially in this time where there's a scarcity of priests, we're here to help, to nourish, to look for the far away, the people who have left the church, the people who have no religion at all, the people who don't have an answer to their life and who are struggling."

Froelich said that what the lay movements are doing is akin to what Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household leading the bishops' retreat, did after Pope John Paul II was elected. He stood in St. Peter's Square beneath the windows of the papal apartment and cried out "Courage, John Paul! Courage!"

"I really think that's what the lay movements are doing now, tonight and every day in the life of the church. We're the ones who go out to the world and so we're crying out to the priests and the bishops, 'Courage!'" she said.

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

 

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Pope to U.S. bishops: Abuse crisis requires conversion, humility

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 10:20am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The clerical abuse crisis and the "crisis of credibility" it created for the U.S. bishops have led to serious divisions within the U.S. church and to a temptation to look for administrative solutions to problems that go much deeper, Pope Francis told the U.S. bishops.

Without a clear and decisive focus on spiritual conversion and Gospel-inspired ways of responding to victims and exercising ministry, "everything we do risks being tainted by self-referentiality, self-preservation and defensiveness, and thus doomed from the start," the pope wrote.

In a letter distributed to the bishops at the beginning of their Jan. 2-8 retreat, Pope Francis said he was convinced their response to the "sins and crimes" of abuse and "the efforts made to deny or conceal them" must be found through "heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the word of God and to the pain of our people."

"As we know," he said, "the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore."

The "abuses of power and conscience and sexual abuse, and the poor way that they were handled" continue to harm the church and its mission, he said, but so does "the pain of seeing an episcopate lacking in unity and concentrated more on pointing fingers than on seeking paths of reconciliation."

Such a division, which goes well beyond a "healthy" diversity of opinions, is what caused him to recommend a retreat because, the pope said, "this situation forces us to look to what is essential and to rid ourselves of all that stands in the way of a clear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The pope said he had hoped "to be physically present" with the bishops for the retreat, but since that was not possible, he was pleased they accepted his suggestion to have the gathering be led by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household.

Pope Francis originally had suggested the bishops make a retreat in November instead of holding their annual general meeting. But the scope of the abuse crisis and the intense pressure the bishops' felt to act led them to keep the November meeting and plan the retreat for January.

Plans for the November meeting and for the retreat came after a summer of shocking news: revelations of credible abuse accusations against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington; the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report accusing more than 300 priests in six dioceses of abusing more than 1,000 children in a period spanning 70 years; and accusations published by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former apostolic nuncio to the United States, that Pope Francis had known about and ignored allegations that Archbishop McCarrick had sexually harassed seminarians.

In his letter to the bishops, Pope Francis said he suggested the retreat "as a necessary step toward responding in the spirit of the Gospel to the crisis of credibility that you are experiencing as a church."

"We know that, given the seriousness of the situation, no response or approach seems adequate," the pope wrote. Still, pastors must have the wisdom to offer a response based on listening to God in prayer and to the suffering of the victims.

Pope Francis said church leaders must "abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships," and instead listen to the "gentle breeze" of the Gospel message.

Encouraging the bishops to continue taking steps "to combat the 'culture of abuse' and to deal with the crisis of credibility," he warned that credibility "cannot be regained by issuing stern decrees or by simply creating new committees or improving flow charts, as if we were in charge of a department of human resources. That kind of vision ends up reducing the mission of the bishop and that of the church to a mere administrative or organizational function in the 'evangelization business.'"

A restored credibility, he said, can only be "the fruit of a united body that, while acknowledging its sinfulness and limitations, is at the same time capable of preaching the need for conversion. For we do not want to preach ourselves but rather Christ who died for us."

"We want to testify that at the darkest moments of our history the Lord makes himself present, opens new paths and anoints our faltering faith, our wavering hope and our tepid charity," the pope said.

The bishops as a group, he said, must have a "collegial awareness of our being sinners in need of constant conversion, albeit deeply distressed and pained by all that that has happened."

Humility "will liberate us from the quest of false, facile and futile forms of triumphalism" and from anything that would "keep us from approaching and appreciating the extent and implications of what has happened."

"Affective communion with the feelings of our people, with their disheartenment, urges us to exercise a collegial spiritual fatherhood that does not offer banal responses or act defensively, but instead seeks to learn -- like the prophet Elijah amid his own troubles -- to listen to the voice of the Lord."

The bishops had planned to devote most of their November meeting to discussing and voting on several proposals to the abuse crisis, including the formulation of standards of episcopal conduct and the formation of a special commission for reviewing complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

However, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, asked the bishops to delay their votes, citing the short amount of time the Vatican had to review the proposals, possible conflicts in them with church law and in view of the meeting Pope Francis has called for February with the presidents of all the world's bishops' conferences to discuss child protection and the abuse crisis.

 

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Robots and AI: Papal academy decodes newest pro-life challenges

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 9:00am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even though today's modern tools and technologies are hardly human, the Pontifical Academy for Life is zeroing in on the world of robots and machines powered by artificial intelligence.

While the academy's focus is on the protection of human life and dignity, the rapidly shifting and radical capabilities of robotics are having an ever-increasing impact on human lives, people's relationships, communities and creation, said Jesuit Father Carlo Casalone, an academy member and consultant.

The need to reflect on the effects, opportunities and risks posed by artificial intelligence and robotics has led the pro-life academy to launch a special look at this complex field, adding robotics to its list of specialized projects, which already include palliative care, neuroscience, bioethics and human genome editing.

A major workshop on "Robo-ethics: Humans, Machines and Health" will be held at the Vatican Feb. 25-26 as part of this increased study; the workshop will focus on the use of robots and artificial intelligence, specifically in medicine and health care.

The use of industrial and personal-service robots is on the rise, according to industry reports. They are being used in manufacturing, housekeeping, assisting with surgery and even caring for the elderly. People with reduced mobility can be assisted with brain control technology, which converts brain waves into digital signals that can command or control external devices, such as artificial limbs or machines.

Father Casalone, who studied medicine and worked as a cardiologist before joining the Society of Jesus in 1984, helped organize the workshop. He became a member of the pontifical academy in 2017 and works in its scientific section.

He told Catholic News Service in December that the workshop will bring together ethicists, health care workers and researchers, including Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese robotics engineer who creates humanoid robots and promotes discussion about the essence of being human. His lab has developed the interactive "Actroid," a lifelike humanoid robot that can operate autonomously or be teleoperated and created an uncanny replica of Ishiguro known as the "Geminoid."

Father Casalone said the academy wanted the workshop to include experts like Ishiguro who could explain "what sort of vision" guides their work and so that members could "truly listen to what is going on in today's world and to engage with this historic moment in time."

"We are seeking to be fully aware of what's happening so that we know what is possible" in the rapidly advancing world of "cognitive machines" and to highlight the ethical, social, cultural and economic impact these tools may have.

For example, cheaper automated machine labor may threaten emerging economies, and mineral-rich African nations often see their resources extracted and exported without receiving the benefits in what has become a new "robot divide," Father Casalone said.

Using robots for military applications can be "very dangerous and very deceptive" if nations use such machines to cover up their responsibility and destroy others "behind the scenes," he said. Automated systems also can lead to "a sort of gaming mentality" when soldiers can control weaponry remotely, far away from its effects.

Home automation or "domotics" -- such as security systems or robot vacuum cleaners -- also presents certain risks, he said, if "houses begin to be built in a way that makes them more robot-friendly, more suitable for machines than for humans."

And the use of robots in assisting the elderly or infirm, while it "could be of great help," could also "risk triggering an attitude of delegating" the care of the most fragile and vulnerable in society "as if it were a task to be entrusted to machines" and not to fellow human beings, he said.

Similar problems may "also apply to the natural world," he said, for example, when using robots for farming and livestock "changes our relationship with animals" and nature.

Father Casalone said the answer isn't a stance against technology but "guiding development so that it respects human dignity and the common good as much as possible."

"It is about becoming aware of and agreeing about regulating these radically new possibilities we have before us, which are able to increasingly and more deeply affect living beings and the human body," he said.

The two-day workshop in February will not be proposing specific guidelines, he said, but rather will lay the groundwork for drawing up "some criteria, given what is at play with the emergence of these cognitive systems in our lives."

The radical and pervasive impact today's new technologies will have on human beings and their relations "demands greater oversight," public discussion and concern not just among experts or special interest groups, but by everyone, he said.

Throughout history, science and technology have invented or developed new capabilities that have taken the world by surprise and "transformed our lives," Father Casalone said. "So, we have to expect something new" will always be around the corner and be ready to respond.

Current controls on "the atomic bomb and its destructive potential," he said, show how human beings are capable of not using every new technology, "which means there are options for guiding development" so that it can better respect human life.

"This, in every case, is what we are committed to," he said.

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz

 

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Alaska church hit hardest by quake faces steep repair costs

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 2:47pm

By

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (CNS) -- St. Andrew Parish in Eagle River, 10 miles from the epicenter of the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that shook the region Nov. 30, is facing steep repair bills as it suffered the greatest damage of any church in the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

The cost to fully repair the building will exceed the parish's insurance deductible of about $650,000, according to Father Arthur Roraff, parochial administrator at St. Andrew, who noted that the repair bill could approach $1 million.

The parish has started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the repair costs.

Despite the damage, the situation could have been worse. The day the earthquake hit, Nov. 30, is also the feast of St. Andrew. Instead of having its usual 9 a.m. Mass, Father Roraff moved the Mass time to 7 p.m. to allow more people to attend. The quake struck at 8:29 a.m. "Many more people would have been in the church preparing, greatly increasing the possibility of injury or worse," Father Roraff wrote on the parish's GoFundMe page.

The damage was bad enough to the 12-year-old church as it was. Chandeliers crashed to the floor, statues were smashed to pieces, stained-glass art shattered, whole pieces of Sheetrock fell from high above the pews, and furnace boiler pipes separated, spewing compounds all over the floor. The roof drain also pulled away from the wall, causing rain and water to damage the office area, and a three-quarter-inch crack opened up the floor in front of the sanctuary, running across the entire nave of the church.

The parish still has $5 million to go before it pays off the construction debt on the church.

"Despite substantial damage to our beautiful church building, the church's structural engineer determined that the structure was still safe to occupy, so we continued with our St. Andrew's Day Mass that evening," Father Roraff wrote. Mass was celebrated in the church's narthex instead, but in candlelight and with worshippers wearing their winter coats because the electricity and heat were still out.

Electricity was restored before midnight Nov. 30, and the heat was back on before the regular weekend Mass schedule Dec. 1, Father Roraff reported.

More than 100 parishioners descended upon the church Dec. 1 to clear away the debris and make the church usable for weekend Masses, according to Father Roraff.

The GoFundMe campaign -- https://bit.ly/2RrAIh7 -- still has some ways to go. St. Andrew set the goal at $650,000 -- the cost of the deductible -- when the campaign page was launched Dec. 18. At midday Jan. 2, 41 donors had contributed $6,505.

 

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Ireland agrees to reassess claims of workers in Magdalene laundries

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 10:38am

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Gabrielle O'Gorman via Global Sisters Report

By Sarah Mac Donald

DUBLIN (CNS) -- Women who worked in Ireland's "Magdalene laundries" but were denied compensation under the state's Magdalene Restorative Justice program have won their long-running battle to have their applications reassessed.

New legislation will ensure that payments to the women, many now over age 70, will be fast-tracked by the Irish state in an effort to make amends for the delay over their disputed compensation for their time working in the laundries.

The laundries were run by the Mercy Sisters, the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, and the Religious Sisters of Charity. The Magdalene redress program was originally established following the publication in February 2013 of the McAleese Report, an inquiry chaired by Sen. Martin McAleese.

Women were sent to these laundries by the state or by their families, usually for the "crime" of being pregnant outside marriage. Some were confined because they were unruly, orphaned or did not fit in. The laundries were part of Ireland's architecture of moral constraint, along with mother and baby homes, industrial schools and psychiatric hospitals.

The need to extend the government's redress program was highlighted in 2017 by Peter Tyndall, Irish ombudsman. In his report on the Magdalene Restorative Justice program, Tyndall highlighted that 15 of the complaints under investigation by his office concerned the Department of Justice's rejection of redress applications by women who had worked in one of the 12 institutions listed as Magdalene laundries in the McAleese Report. The complaints were rejected because the women had not lived in the laundry itself, but in a training center or industrial school in the same building or located on the same grounds as a Magdalene laundry.

Some of the women took their cases to the High Court to try to force the Department of Justice to recognize that they were entitled to be part of the redress program.

In 2018, the Irish government relented and took the ombudsman's recommendation and extended its Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme to include those women who worked in the laundries but resided in one of 14 adjoining institutions. Ireland's Department of Justice and Equality said that, by mid-December, 79 women had applied, including 52 whose earlier claims had been denied.

The Irish government, the congregations who ran the laundries and the women who worked in them are still reckoning with this painful part of the country's past. Measures include the compensation program; a reconciliation ceremony held in June; and plans for a memorial to honor the 10,012 known entries by women and girls to Magdalene laundries from 1922 until the closure of the last laundry in 1996.

By late 2018, the Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme has paid about $33 million to almost 700 women who worked and resided in 12 listed Magdalene Institutions.

Pope Francis' visit to Ireland in August placed the spotlight on Magdalene laundries once again following his meeting with representatives of clerical and institutional abuse. At the Aug. 25 meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Dublin, Paul Redmond, chairman of the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, gave Pope Francis a brief history of the Magdalene laundries. The pope told survivors that there was no parallel in Argentina for that sort of institution.

The congregations who ran the laundries have said that they were given charge of the women without any compensation from the state or families. The laundries, in which the sisters also worked, were not profitable but a means of support, they said, which the McAleese report also acknowledged.

None of the four congregations contacted for this article provided an interview, but several referred to their 2013 statements.

For instance, at that time, the Mercy Sisters said: "We acknowledge fully the limitations of the service we provided for these women when compared with today's standards and sincerely wish that it could have been different. We trust that the implications of the changed context are understood by the wider society."

None of the congregations have contributed to the restitution fund.

The Irish government's decision to overturn its exclusion of some women from the compensation program may ease some of the anger of the former Magdalene residents, said Katherine O'Donnell, spokeswoman for the Justice for Magdalenes research group. But the delay in compensating them left some wondering if the state was serious about righting the wrongs of the past, she said.

In an interview with Global Sisters Report, O'Donnell outlined several concerns with Department of Justice officials' administration of the compensation program. Women who formerly worked in the laundries, she explained, were not "given the full time allotted to them to recount their testimonies, and the word of a nun seemed to count for more," she said.

O'Donnell stressed that much more is needed to be done to bring closure to this painful part of the women's past.

"The Department of Justice was supposed to have a dedicated unit to help these women access all the kinds of services such as housing, health care, counselling, and they haven't done that. There is a myriad of ways in which they are reneging on the redress scheme," O'Donnell said.

The McAleese report was critical of the religious orders but also found evidence of substantial state involvement in the Magdalene system. This finding led then Prime Minister Enda Kenny to apologize in 2013 in the Irish Parliament on behalf of the state.

The report documented involuntary detention at the laundries and a failure to inform the women and girls why they were being detained or when they might be released. The median duration of stay according to the report was about seven months, but in many cases it was much longer. It noted that the women were stripped of their identities, unpaid and forced to work constantly. They were denied education and contact with the outside world, and some were subjected to humiliating and degrading punishments.

Yet the report also noted that "a large majority of the women who shared their stories with the committee said that they had neither experienced nor seen other girls or women suffer physical abuse."

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Mac Donald is a freelance journalist based in Dublin.

 

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Prayer involves recognizing self as God's beloved child, pope says

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 9:10am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians are not better than other people, but they do know that God is their father and they are called "to reflect a ray of his goodness in this world thirsting for goodness, waiting for good news," Pope Francis said.

Leading his first general audience of 2019, the pope continued a series of talks he has been giving about the Lord's Prayer. But he also welcomed artists from CirCuba, the national circus of Cuba, who were performing in Rome over the holidays.

One of the performers even had a very willing pope help him with his act by balancing a spinning ball on his finger. At the end of the audience Jan. 2, the pope praised the performers for their hard work and for the way they lift people's spirits with their shows.

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis explained how the Gospel of Matthew presents the Lord's Prayer as part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, which also includes the Eight Beatitudes.

Proclaiming the beatitudes, the pope said, Jesus affirms the blessedness and happiness of "a series of categories of people, who -- in his time, but also in ours -- are not particularly esteemed. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the humble of heart. This is the revolution of the Gospel! Where the Gospel is, there is revolution because the Gospel does not leave things as they were."

With the beatitudes, he said, Jesus is telling people that those "who carry in their hearts the mystery of a God who revealed his omnipotence in love and pardon" are those who come closest to understanding him.

The core of the Sermon on the Mount, he said, is: "You are sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven," which is why Jesus then teaches the crowd to pray the Our Father.

Summarizing his talk in Spanish, Pope Francis said, "God does not want to be appeased with long streams of adulation, as the pagans did to win the benevolence of the deity; it is enough to talk to him like a father who knows what we need before we even tell him."

"The Christian is not someone who tries to be better than others, but one who knows he or she is a sinner," the pope said. A Christian knows how to stand before God with awe, to call upon him as Father and try to reflect his goodness in the world.

Jesus urges his followers not to be like the hypocrites who pray just to be seen, the pope said. "How often have we seen the scandal of those people who go to church, spend the whole day there or go every day and then they live hating others or speaking badly of others -- this is a scandal. It would be better not to go to church."

"If you go to church, live like a child (of God) and like a brother or sister" to others, Pope Francis said.

In teaching the Our Father, Jesus was helping his followers learn the essence of prayer and the importance of not thinking that using more words makes for a better prayer, he said. "The pagans thought that by speaking, speaking, speaking, they were praying."

Praying isn't like being "a parrot," who repeats an endless stream of words, the pope said. "No, praying comes from the heart, from inside."

"It even could be a silent prayer," he said. "Basically, it is enough to put yourself under God's gaze, recognize his fatherly love -- and that's enough to be heard."

"How beautiful it is to think that our God does not need sacrifices to win his favor. He needs nothing," the pope said. "He asks only that we keep open a channel of communication with him to discover continually that we are his beloved children."

 

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Update: Details published on Vatican delaying USCCB vote on abuse provisions

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 3:10pm

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The surprising news in November that the Vatican had asked U.S. bishops not to vote on several proposals for responding to the sexual abuse crisis was motivated by a lack of time given the Vatican to study the proposals and potential conflicts with church law, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press.

AP reported Jan. 1 it had obtained the letter written Nov. 11 by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asking that the votes be delayed.

Cardinal DiNardo informed the bishops of the Vatican's request Nov. 12, at the start of their fall meeting, the agenda of which was primarily focused on the sexual abuse crisis and the accountability of bishops.

"Considering the nature and scope of the documents being proposed by the (conference), I believe it would have been beneficial to have allowed for more time to consult with this and other congregations with competence over the ministry and discipline of bishops," Cardinal Ouellet wrote, according to the AP, which also reported that a draft of the U.S. proposals arrived at the Vatican only Nov. 8.

In response to questions from AP, Cardinal DiNardo said, "It is now clear there were different expectations on the bishops' conference's part and Rome's part that may have affected the understanding of these proposals."

The proposals included standards of episcopal conduct and the formation of a special commission for reviewing complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

"From our perspective," Cardinal DiNardo told AP, the U.S. bishops' proposals "were designed to stop short of where the authority of the Holy See began."

The USCCB president said his surprise at the requested delay was genuine, because "in early October, we shared the content and direction of the proposals with multiple dicasteries of the Holy See. Finding no objection, we moved forward on the final drafts."

"We had not planned, nor had the Holy See made a request, to share the texts prior to the body of bishops having had an opportunity to amend them," he told AP in a message also made available to Catholic News Service. The Vatican press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The November meeting, Cardinal DiNardo said, was designed to put the proposals "into final form, after which it would have been possible for the Holy See to have an opportunity to review and offer adjustments."

"There were additional discussions on or around November 6 with Cardinal Ouellet as to the proposals," he said. "At that point, I thought it best to share the texts with him. I advised Cardinal Ouellet that any delay in finalizing these texts in November would prove a great disappointment to the faithful who were expecting their bishops to take just action."

"Though there were canonical precisions mentioned" as necessary by the Vatican, he Cardinal DiNardo said, "the emphasis seemed to be on delaying votes and not wanting to get ahead of the February meeting of episcopal conference presidents."

Cardinal Ouellet's letter, according to AP, acknowledged that bishops' conferences have certain powers, but insisted "the conference's work must always be integrated within the hierarchical structure and universal law of the church."

At the time of the November bishops' meeting, both the Vatican and Cardinal DiNardo had declined to make a copy of Cardinal Ouellet's letter public,

In a report Nov. 13 on the delay, CNS had reported that an official of the Congregation for Bishops, responding on behalf of Cardinal Ouellet, said his office was "working to ensure the best evaluation and accompaniment of the questions raised by the American episcopacy."

At the same time, CNS reported that Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican reporter later named by Pope Francis to be editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication, had written on the Vatican Insider website that "a Vatican source involved in the matter" told him: "It is wrong to think the Holy See does not share the objective of the U.S. bishops to have effective instruments for combating the phenomenon of the abuse of minors and to establish firm points regarding the responsibility of bishops themselves."

"The motive for asking for a postponement (of the vote)," the source had said, "should not be considered putting on the brakes, but an invitation to better evaluate the proposed texts, including in view of the meeting in February of all the presidents of the bishops' conferences of the world with the pope dedicated to the struggle against abuse."

Tornielli reported that the Vatican believed the proposal on standards of accountability for bishops "goes beyond both civil and canon law" and the Vatican raised concerns "regarding the generic nature of some passages" and "incoherence between the contents of the document regarding the national commission on the responsibility of bishops and the Code of Canon Law."

For example, his source said, "in the draft given to the Vatican, the commission is described as a nonprofit institution without having a juridical and canonical figure, but it is able to exercise a power of judgment on bishops."

 

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Pope prays for new year marked by tenderness, brotherhood, peace

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 6:29am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A new year is a chance for a new start, a time to remember that all people are brothers and sisters and a time to nurture amazement that God became human to save all people, Pope Francis said.

The Jan. 1 feast of Mary, Mother of God, also is a time to remember how strong maternal love and care are, and how they are the secret to making life more livable, the pope said during his homily at a feast day Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

The Catholic Church also marks Jan. 1 at World Peace Day, an observance the pope spoke about when, after Mass, he recited the Angelus with tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square. So many people were in the sunny square that Pope Francis remarked, "It seems like a canonization," which usually is when the square is full.

Mary shows to the world her son, the prince of peace, he said. "He is the blessing for every person and the whole human family. He is the source of grace, mercy and peace."

Pope Francis chose as the theme for this year's World Peace Day: "Good politics is at the service of peace."

"We must not think politics is reserved to those who govern," the pope said. "We are all responsible for the life of the community, of the common good, and politics is good to the degree that everyone does his or her part in the service of peace."

After greeting hundreds of people who participated in a march for peace, carrying signs with the names of countries suffering because of violence, Pope Francis prayed: "Through the intercession of the virgin Mary, may the Lord grant us to be artisans of peace -- and this begins at home, in the family -- every day of the new year."

Earlier, in his homily at the Mass, Pope Francis paid homage not only to Mary, but also to all mothers and all those who show tender care for others, including in political and economic life.

"A world that looks to the future without a mother's gaze is shortsighted," he said. "It may well increase its profits, but it will no longer see others as children. It will make money, but not for everyone. We will all dwell in the same house, but not as brothers and sisters."

Pope Francis prayed that Mary would help all people learn to look at the world and each other as she does, providing for people's needs, loving them and leading them to Jesus.

"In today's fragmented world, where we risk losing our bearings, a mother's embrace is essential," he said. "How much dispersion and solitude there is all around us! The world is completely connected, yet seems increasingly disjointed. We need to entrust ourselves to our Mother."

Too many people, he said, forget they are beloved children and instead "live in anger and indifference to everything! How many, sad to say, react to everything and everyone with bitterness and malice!"

In fact, he said, "showing oneself to be 'malicious' even seems at times to be a sign of strength. Yet it is nothing more than weakness. We need to learn from mothers that heroism is shown in self-giving, strength in compassion, wisdom in meekness."

For Catholics, he said, Mary "is not an optional accessory: she has to be welcomed into our life" because Jesus entrusted her to his disciples and his disciples to her as their mother.

"She is the queen of peace, who triumphs over evil and leads us along paths of goodness, who restores unity to her children, who teaches us compassion," Pope Francis said.

He urged people to begin the new year holding on to the "amazement" they should have experienced at Christmas, amazement that God was born a baby, "held in the arms of a woman who feeds her creator."

"God has become one with humanity forever. God and man, always together, that is the good news of this new year," he said. "God is no distant lord, dwelling in splendid isolation above the heavens, but love incarnate, born like us of a mother, in order to become a brother to each of us."

Jesus himself "pours out upon humanity a new tenderness," the pope said, which helps people "understand more fully God's love, which is both paternal and maternal, like that of a mother who never stops believing in her children and never abandons them."

"God-with-us, Emmanuel, loves us despite our mistakes, our sins and the way we treat our world," he said. "God believes in mankind, because its first and preeminent member is his own mother."

The church, which is called to be a mother, the pope said, also must be renewed and filled with amazement at the fact that it is "the dwelling place of the living God" and "a mother who gives birth to her children."

Without that awareness, the church risks turning into "a beautiful museum of the past," he said.
 
Pope Francis ended his New Year's homily praying that Mary would "take us by the hand. Clinging to you, we will pass safely through the straits of history."

 

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Time passes, but God's love endures, pope says as 2018 ends

Mon, 12/31/2018 - 12:15pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The end of one year and beginning of next naturally leads people to think about the passing of time and about love, which gives time -- and everything else -- real meaning, Pope Francis said.

To mark the end of 2018, Pope Francis led an evening prayer service Dec. 31 in St. Peter's Basilica. The service included the singing of the "Te Deum" ("We praise you, oh God") in thanksgiving for the blessings of the past year, as well as eucharistic adoration and benediction.

In his brief homily during the service, the pope focused on two lines from Galatians 4: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption."

The lines, he said, are a "synthesis of the New Testament" and give "meaning to a critical moment like the passing of a year."

The time when one year ends and a new one begins makes many people "feel the need for something that fills the passing of time with meaning. Something, or better, someone," he said.

For Christians, that someone is Christ, the chosen one sent by God, God's only son, he said.

Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus unleashed "an unheard-of power that still lasts and will last through all of history," the pope said. "This power is called love. It is love that gives fullness to everything, including time. And Jesus is all of God's love concentrated in a human being."

The reading from Galatians, he said, also speaks of Jesus' mission, which is to "ransom" people, free them from "a condition of slavery and restore to them liberty, dignity and the freedom proper to sons and daughters" of God.

"God the father sent his only begotten son into the world to uproot from human hearts the ancient slavery of sin and, by doing so, restore their dignity," he said. "In fact, as Jesus teaches in the Gospel, from the human heart come all evil intentions, the inequity that corrupts life and relationships."

With that realization, he said, Christians should stop and reflect "with pain and repentance," acknowledging how even in 2018, "many men and women lived or are living in slave conditions unworthy of the human person."

With Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi seated in the front row, Pope Francis noted how even in Rome there are people living in horrible conditions.

"I am thinking in particular of the homeless -- more than 10,000 of them," the pope said. "They are all sons and daughters of God, but various forms of slavery, often very complex, have brought them to a life on the edges of human dignity."

While Jesus, too, was born in a place not fit for human habitation, he said, the choice of a manger in Bethlehem was not an accident. "He wanted to be born that way to manifest God's love for the little ones and the poor."

Jesus' humble birth "sowed in the world the seeds of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, love and peace where no one is a slave, but all are brothers and sisters, children of the one Father."

With Dec. 31 being the vigil of the feast of Mary, mother of God, Pope Francis noted how the church continues her maternal concern and care through the work of many institutions and volunteers who assist the homeless and people subjected to a variety of forms of slavery.

Contemplating "the divine maternity of the virgin Mary," he said, Christians recognize that "God was born of a woman so that we could receive the fullness of our humanity, adoption as children. By his abasement, we were raised up. From his smallness came our greatness. From his fragility, our strength. From him making himself a slave came our liberation."

"What would you call all of this if not love?" Pope Francis asked, adding that it is for that love that the church raises a hymn of thanks to God at the end of the year.

 

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