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After 25 years, Alaska priest still loves his Russian Far East mission

Top Stories - Mon, 12/17/2018 - 3:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It has been 25 years and counting, but Father Michael Shields doesn't have any plans to leave the mission of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, in Magadan, Russia, at least any time soon.

Father Shields, 69, loves his ministry in the Russian Far East city of 100,000. Magadan and Anchorage are sister cities. The mission came into being in 1989 at the initiative of then-Anchorage Bishop Francis Hurley as the former Soviet Union was in its "glasnost" and "perestroika" era under Mikhail Gorbachev.

There are only about 250 registered members of the mission -- Russia is still a predominantly Orthodox country -- and perhaps 50 to 80 of them come to Mass on a given Sunday. But "there's not a heart or a soul that I don't know deeply" among his congregants, Father Shields told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 14 interview in Washington.

Father Shields has been in the United States since late fall for knee replacement surgery and to visit donors and benefactors before his return Jan. 17. The Anchorage Archdiocese receives a grant to help fund the Magadan mission from the U.S. bishops' annual collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

The mission is about as far east as Russia can get. Russia, Father Shields added, is "not West and not East. It's both." In Magadan, he added, one can go to a drugstore on one side of the street, and pick up acupuncture needles in a shop on the other side.

With the closest Roman Catholic priest 800 miles away, it's a different kind of loneliness that sets in. But the members of the mission, Father Shields said, "are my family. That's just how I look at it."

When he's away, as he has been, Polish and Slovak priests ministering in Russia will travel to Magadan to substitute for him. Magadan was created by the former Soviet Union to be a prison-camp town, Father Shields noted, and those priests often have a relative who lived -- or died -- in the camps.

Post-Soviet Magadan's economy is based mostly in gold and coal mining. He said it also attracts professors and artists -- the same people once herded into the bygone camps. Now, though, "they get paid some sort of bonus" for working in such a remote location "and they can retire early."

When asked, Father Shields said his ability to speak Russian is "a daily humiliation for me." He celebrates Mass and preaches in Russian, "but I didn't learn until I was 42," he told CNS. Yet after a generation in Russia, some English words don't come that easily, either.

His most telling dark night of the soul, which made him question his ministry, came in 2003, when workers attached a new roof for the church "upside-down," he said. "It would rain inside the church" on cold days, of which there are plenty in Siberia, when -- and he was searching for the word "frost" -- had formed and then melt, the water running down the sides of the church walls.

"I needed to be alone," Father Shields recalled about the fiasco. "So I went to Poland for a retreat. I didn't want to talk to anyone. There were 150 blind children there. The nuns at the retreat said, 'You have to meet these children.' Being touched by 150 children later, I was healed. I went back to Magadan, and I put the roof back on myself. Forget the Russian construction company!"

Father Shields has been aided in his ministry for the past six years by a small group of students from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The first group had sent inquiries about mission work to places in western Russia without a response. Then they emailed him, and he was grateful for the help. The group, which usually numbers in single digits, spends the summer -- the temperature doesn't break 80 in Magadan -- helping out at the mission. The Magadan kids "love to practice their English" with the Steubenville students, a couple of whom tend to stay year-round to study Russian.

Russian millennials "are like millennials everywhere. They want to make a good life for themselves," and have their doubts about faith's place in their life, Father Shields said, and he counsels them on the joys of belief in God.

What he said is "hurtful," though, is the differing observances of Christmas and Easter on the Catholic and Orthodox calendars. The Orthodox Christmas, often called the Feast of Theophany -- when Jesus in human form was made known to others -- is celebrated Jan. 6, the Catholic feast of the Epiphany. And the Orthodox Easter is almost always later than the Catholic Easter.

"If I can get Pope Francis to listen to me," Father Shields said, he would split the difference. Christmas would be celebrated by all on Dec. 25, thus lessening the influence of Russia's New Year celebrations, while "we would surrender our Easter" and observe the Orthodox date.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

True Christmas celebrates Jesus, who is tender, humble, pope says

Top Stories - Mon, 12/17/2018 - 9:23am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giuseppe Lami, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With Christmas just over a week away, visitors came to St. Peter's Square with their Baby Jesus figurines for a traditional blessing by the pope.

Many children came with small figurines for their family Nativity scene, others held delicate sculptures, and one group set a giant statue of the Baby Jesus on top of stacks of hay bales. "All the joy in a crib," said the banner in front of the display.

Blessing the statues after reciting the Angelus prayer Dec. 16, Pope Francis told the little ones, "Dear children, may you feel wonder when you gather in your homes in prayer before the Nativity, gazing at Baby Jesus."

To see God is to feel amazement, "wonder at the great mystery of God made man. And the Holy Spirit will put humility, tenderness and the goodness of Jesus in your hearts," he said.

"Jesus is good, Jesus is tender, Jesus is humble. This is the real Christmas!" he said.

Before praying the Angelus on what is known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, the pope explained why the church is invited to rejoice.

Jesus, the Emmanuel, is "God with us," and his presence is the source of joy, Pope Francis said. He came not to punish but to forgive and this leads people to feel joyful and full of praise.

God wants to redeem and save those whom he loves, the pope said, underlining that God's love is "incessant" and tender like a father's love for his child.

Just as Mary was called to welcome and bring the Christ child into the world, people today are also called to welcome the Gospel and so that it can "become flesh" and come into the world in people's actual lives.

People of faith should know they need not be anxious or feel despair, but need to "present to God our requests, our needs, our concerns with prayers and supplications."

"The awareness that when in difficulty we can always turn to the Lord, and that he never rejects our invocations, is a great reason for joy," he said.

There are no worries or fears that can ever "take away from us the serenity that comes from knowing that God always lovingly guides our lives," the pope said. "Even in the midst of problems and suffering, this certainty nourishes hope and courage."

After reciting the prayer, the pope also highlighted the adoption Dec. 10 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. He expressed his hope that the agreement would facilitate "responsibility, solidarity and compassion toward those who, for various reasons, have left their country."

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope celebrates his birthday with clients of Vatican pediatric clinic

Top Stories - Mon, 12/17/2018 - 9:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giuseppe Lami, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the Holy Family lived in Rome and the baby Jesus had a cold or flu, Mary and Joseph certainly would bring him to the Vatican pediatric clinic for help, Pope Francis said.

The Vatican's St. Martha Dispensary was founded in 1922 and, staffed by volunteers, it provides medical care and basic necessities to any child in need; most of the clients are immigrants.

Dozens of children, their parents and the clinic volunteers anticipated Pope Francis' 82nd birthday, singing for him and giving him a large cake Dec. 16. His birthday was the next day.

"I wish you all a merry Christmas, a good holy Christmas, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do. Really," the pope said. "And, I also hope that no one gets indigestion from a cake that big. Thank you!"

In brief comments to the women religious who run the clinic and to the doctors and others who volunteer there, Pope Francis said, "Working with children isn't easy, but they teach us much."

"They taught me something: to understand the reality of life, you must lower yourself, like you bend down to kiss a child. They teach us this," he said. "The proud and haughty cannot understand life because they are not capable of lowering themselves."

Everyone who works at the clinic gives children something, the pope said. "But they give us this proclamation, this teaching: bow down, be humble and you will learn to understand life and understand people."

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Faith advocates see victories in new farm bill

Top Stories - Fri, 12/14/2018 - 5:18pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The farm bill that passed both houses of Congress by wide margins doesn't have money in it to protect endangered species, but it did preserve one that had been on the threatened list: bipartisanship.

"We were so excited that he Senate acted like grown-ups," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

"They actually did governance, and they had hearings, and Sen. (Pat) Roberts (a Republican) from Kansas: I rarely agree with him on anything, so this was an amazing project he led, focused on the needs of the people involved," Sister Campbell said Dec. 13. "It was far beyond partisanship in actually trying to make government work."

Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, was happy Congress acted relatively swiftly. This was the first time a farm bill passed without needing an extension of the expiring version since 1990, when George H.W. Bush was president.

Not all farmers will reap benefits from the farm bill. "We've got lots of folks hurting in rural communities," Ennis told CNS Dec. 14, "but you can't put everything in one bill. You just can't."

Sister Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, gave Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, credit for "listening to many of the agricultural workers in Kansas who use SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the off-season."

Farmers who hire the farmworkers, she said, "depend on their workers being able to eat," and Roberts saw this "through the eyes of the farmworkers and the farmers."

She added Roberts was "helped by the changing politics in Kansas, which has moved significantly away from the hyperpartisan, punitive approach. ... I think it was a combination of his experience, the experience of his people, and the November election."

Sister Campbell also lauded Roberts' Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan: "She has worked hard to put together a very collaborative relationship with him, so together, they could create a bill they could be proud of."

The Senate passed the farm bill in a 87-13 vote Dec. 11. The House passed it 369-47 Dec. 12. The bill was awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump.

One point of contention between the original House and Senate versions was a provision in the House bill that would have imposed stricter work requirements for SNAP eligibility, with stretches of SNAP ineligibility growing longer each time a recipient failed to report their work, or looking for work, in a timely manner. The House ultimately removed that from its version of the bill.

"We actually got most of the stuff that we wanted," Sister Campbell told CNS in a telephone interview. While she said she sees farm subsidies as "a little excessive," the final bill "maintained pretty much the existing protections for farm runoff and the fertilizers used and that sort of thing. So I don't have complaints on that side. Certainly, after what we were facing in the House, I'm certainly not complaining about the nutritional title.

"It's a rare day for me to not complain about something."

"They decided we can't keep doing that to our farmers," Ennis said of the extensions lawmakers passed in all the previous farm bills over close to the last 30 years.

"It helps, too, that the (Republican-led) House felt under pressure due to the change in leadership (in January)," he told CNS. "They have the control now, but in the future, they would be losing control. So they made some concessions, but passed something they can live with."

Having a farm bill in place, he added, gives farmers "stability for planning for next year."

Dairy farmers, while they will see gradual opening of Canadian markets as sources for their goods under this bill, would be one focus of a future bill should one be submitted, Ennis said.

"There are a lot of dairy farmers hurting right now because of low prices," he added. "It's just very difficult to find markets that will pay a reasonable price."

Ennis said the future of family farms, with a focus on dairy farmers, will be the main topic in a future issue of Catholic Rural Life's quarterly magazine.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of the Christian citizen anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World, praised the bill for its inclusion of added funding for employment and training pilot projects -- including funding prioritizing specific populations such as older Americans, former prison inmates, people with disabilities and families facing multigenerational poverty.

It also makes and funds a new program allowing health care providers to give prescriptions for low-income people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The farm bill eliminates a requirement in the federal Food for Peace program to sell U.S. food commodities overseas to pay for life-saving food and nutrition programs; the complicated requirement had been cutting about $70 million from food aid each year. The legislation also gives the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program more flexibility to purchase from local farmers and markets, which will improve the nutritional quality of the food for preschool and school feeding programs in foreign countries.

The farm bill, the Rev. Beckmann said, "will be an important lifeline for millions of families experiencing hunger in both the United States and around the world."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Catechism revision adds impetus in death penalty abolition fight

Top Stories - Fri, 12/14/2018 - 2:05pm

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Changes in law and public opinion have had their role to play in the quest to end capital punishment in the United States, but Catholic teaching also has played a part, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

"Pope Francis went there last year, when Pope Francis says the question is not is there a humane way of carrying out executions. There is not a humane way of carrying out executions, he said," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 13 telephone interview. "At the same time, Pope Francis was stressing what he called inadmissibility because it is inherently in conflict with human dignity."

The revision to section 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which took effect Aug. 2, calls capital punishment "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," and commits the church to work "with determination" for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

It was not the first time the catechism had been revised in conjunction with capital punishment.

The 1992 catechism originally said: "The traditional teaching of the church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty." At the same time, it said "bloodless means" that could protect human life should be used when possible.

However, following publication of St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), section 2267 was revised in 1997 to say that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

"The revisions to the catechism are very significant for abolitionists. And they're significant both symbolically and in a practical manner. Symbolically, Pope Francis has become a moral beacon on this issue, even more so than John Paul," Dunham said.

"I was talking with Cardinal (Blase J.) Cupich (of Chicago); we did a podcast with him. He and I were on a panel in Chicago -- the date, coincidentally, the date the catechism was changed -- and Cardinal Cupich was explaining the evolution of Catholic theology on this issue. What Pope Francis has done is not just consistent but is the logical extension of John Paul's teaching about the death penalty and Pope Benedict's statements against the death penalty," he added.

"The thing that is, I think, critically different in Pope Francis' pronouncement and the new catechism is that it closes the door on excuses or exceptions that would have allowed the death penalty to take place," he continued. "The practical importance of the new catechism is that it commits the church itself as an institution to formally opposing capital punishment. And on the ground, that will mean more active involvement by the bishops, by the cardinals, by the priests and the laity."

Dunham told CNS the real-world effects of the revision are being felt.

"We've already heard stories of public officials trying to grapple with their moral qualms about capital punishment, and their prior public stance for the death penalty as a policy," he said. "I don't think that we're going to see a change overnight; it's not as though Pope Francis waves an encyclical wand and the laws will change. But we were already seeing a dialogue, and it is a dialogue that is changing attitudes and views one at a time among people in power who will be making decisions on life and death."

Dunham added, "I think that what we are going to see is a continued erosion of death penalty support among formerly pro-death penalty Catholics, and while that's not a huge portion of the population in the United States, it's a portion that is disproportionately on the bench, in prosecutor's offices and in the halls of Congress and the legislature."

The difference between "abolition and nonabolition," he said, is "changing a few votes in a few states."

"So one state at a time, we may see the death penalty abolished," he said. "In retrospect, we can speculate how many of the changed votes are a product of the new catechism. We'll never know for sure. But we can be certain that it will have an effect, because it has already had an effect. We know from discussions with public officials that it has already had an effect."

The center Dec. 14 issued "The Death Penalty in 2018: Year-End Report." In it, it noted that only Oklahoma, Missouri and the U.S. government increased the number of prisoners it had on death row in 2018. The number of prisoners on death row nationwide went down, a streak that started in 2001.

Even in states where the death penalty is permitted, it requires prosecutors in counties to seek it in criminal trials. According to the report, 11 county prosecutors of the 30 counties where capital punishment is most often sought have been removed since 2015, including six this year in Dallas and Bexar (San Antonio) counties in Texas, Orange and San Bernardino counties in California, St. Louis County in Missouri and Jefferson County (Birmingham) in Alabama.

Washington became the 20th state to outlaw capital punishment when a court banned it Oct. 11.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Education key to solving migration crisis, pope says

Top Stories - Fri, 12/14/2018 - 9:31am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the celebration of Christmas draws near, the plight of the Holy Family calls to mind the sufferings of the many men, women and children escaping war and persecution, Pope Francis said.

Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the holy season is an invitation to come together to help those in need, especially young migrants who "instead of sitting in school desks, like many of their peers, spend their days doing long marches on foot, or on makeshift and dangerous means of transportation."

Educating young migrants will give them the tools to find "work in the future and participate in the common good as informed citizens. At the same time, we educate ourselves in order to welcome and show solidarity so that migrants and refugees do not meet indifference or, worse, intolerance on their journey," he said Dec. 14.

The proceeds of the Dec. 15 concert, which is sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations: Scholas Occurrentes in Iraq and the Don Bosco Mission in Uganda.

According to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Don Bosco Mission aids refugees from South Sudan escaping civil war and is invested "in the training and professional development of young people."

Scholas Occurrentes, the congregation added, will use proceeds from the benefit concert to continue their educational initiatives in Irbil, Iraq, where, "for thousands of children and young people who live in refugee camps, going to school is their only chance for liberation."

The many musicians and artists scheduled to perform at the Christmas concert included U.S. singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Anastacia, as well as Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano and Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi.

During the papal audience, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the education congregation, said initiatives that help migrants and refugees are a reminder that humanity has a duty "to protect the civilian population, especially children, from the effects of war."

"The languages of music and art, linked to the Christmas season that celebrates the coming of the Son of God, help to manifest our generous support" for those most in need, Cardinal Versaldi said.

In his address, Pope Francis said that Christmas is a time that awakens charity and "calls us to reflect on the situation of so many men, women and children of our time -- migrants, refugees and displaced persons -- who are marching on to escape wars and misery caused by social injustice and climate change."

Just like many migrants and refuges today, he added, the Holy Father experienced "the anguish of persecution" when fleeing to Egypt.

"Little Jesus reminds us that half of today's refugees in the world are children, blameless victims of human injustice," the pope said.

The pope said that initiatives, like those in Iraq and Uganda, are an opportunity for the church to respond to the tragedies that countless men, women and children face and to offer them a chance not only to receive an education, but also the means for them "to get back on their feet" with dignity, strength and courage.

He also thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to "light in every heart the warmth and tenderness of Christmas."

The mission of the church, the pope said, "has always been manifested through the creativity and genius of artists because they, through their works, are able to reach the most intimate areas of the conscience of men and women in every age."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Ignoring reality of abuse, resisting responsibility must end, says Jesuit

Top Stories - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 11:50am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who still believes the abuse crisis is an "American" or "Western" problem must become properly informed, face reality and realize problems may be hidden and explode in the future, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

And those who think too much talk and attention about abuse only blows the situation out of proportion or that it is time to change the topic are following "a mistaken path," he said in the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica.

"If the issue is not fully confronted in all of its various dimensions, the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of (the church) and all of her priests will remain seriously wounded and, above all, the essence of her mission will suffer -- that of proclaiming the Gospel and its educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity," he wrote.

The article, "In the Run-up to the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors," was sent to journalists Dec. 13 ahead of the issue's Dec. 15 publication date. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

Father Lombardi, who served as head of the Vatican press office from 2006 to 2016, is president of the board of directors of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and is a contributing writer to the Jesuit journal.

The article, which as of Dec. 13 was available only in Italian, looked at the aims and intentions of the summit Pope Francis convoked at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 for the presidents of bishops' conferences, representatives of religious orders and heads of Vatican dicasteries.

A major focus, he wrote, will be on helping participants understand they are being encouraged to join together -- not as representatives of their own people -- but as leaders of the people of God on a journey that requires the input and collaboration of lay experts so that there may be "a united response on the universal level."

"The entire church must feel in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with their church communities that have been wounded by the scandals," he wrote.

Pope Francis, he added, has also widened the scope of abuse to include not just sexual abuse but the abuse of power and of conscience and the corruption of authority, which is no longer lived as service but as the wielding of power.

The February summit will give people a chance to share experiences and best practices, he said, and to strongly encourage everyone to make "new urgent steps forward."

While many lessons already have been learned, "there are also many open questions" left to address, he said.

One is recognizing that even though a number of countries have done much in the area of prevention and formation, "it must be recognized that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done."

Every bishops' conference, bishop and religious superior must recognize their responsibility before God, the church and society, he said.

In many cases, the seriousness of the problem of abuse and the deep amount of suffering it causes still have not sunk in, Father Lombardi wrote.

People do not need a theoretical understanding, but actual concrete awareness of the damage caused, and that will push people to overcome "laziness, fears and very dangerous resistance" and to leap into action.

"Often one continues to delude oneself that it is mainly a 'Western' or else an 'American' or 'Anglophone' problem and with incredible naivete, thinks that (the problem) may be marginal in one's own country," he wrote.

People must look carefully and never avoid the presence of problems, which are "sometimes still hidden, but are such that future dramatic explosions are possible," Father Lombardi wrote. "Facing reality is necessary and adequate information will help a lot in this regard."

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Itinerant papal preacher: Capuchin will lead U.S. bishops' retreat

Top Stories - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 11:23am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For more than 38 years, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa has preached to the pope and top officials of the Roman Curia. In early January, he will lead the weeklong retreat of the U.S. bishops.

As they continue to study and discuss ways to respond to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the bishops will gather for the retreat Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980.

In an email Dec. 6, the Capuchin declined to be interviewed about the retreat, saying, "At this delicate moment in the life of the U.S. church, I don't believe it would be opportune for me to give interviews."

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat will be "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" and will draw from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told Catholic News Service, "You can see why the pope asked the bishops to make the retreat together in what he told the bishops of Chile: without faith and without prayer, fraternity is impossible."

"At a moment like this, the bishops need to be united in prayer, and Catholics in the U.S. should see them at prayer," Burke said Dec. 13. "A retreat is always a time for conversion, and perhaps there's been no time in the U.S. with more need for conversion than now."

The job of "preacher of the papal household" is not a fulltime position; each year it requires the priest to give an average of eight meditations -- one each on most Fridays of Advent and Lent -- and the homily during the pope's Good Friday celebration of the Lord's Passion.

The title, and the ministry, has a very long history. Superiors of different religious orders took turns preaching to the pontiff and his aides during Advent and Lent until the mid-1500s, when Pope Paul IV appointed the first preacher of the papal household; his successors followed suit, always choosing a religious-order priest for the job. Pope Benedict XIV decided in 1743 to be more specific, decreeing that the preacher of the papal household always be a Capuchin friar.

St. John Paul II asked Father Cantalamessa to take the job in 1980; since then, the Capuchin has given more than 300 spiritual talks and homilies to the popes and their closest aides in the Roman Curia.

When he is not preaching to the pope, Father Cantalamessa leads retreats around the world, writes books and articles and works with charismatic Catholics; in late October, he was named ecclesial adviser of "Charis," the new international coordinating body for the Catholic charismatic renewal.

In a 2015 interview with CNS, he said the first time he climbed the steps to the lectern in St. Peter's Basilica to preach to the pope on Good Friday, "It felt like I was climbing Mount Everest."

But, he told TV2000, the Italian bishops' television station, "this post of preacher of the papal household says more about the pope than the preacher. He has the humility to set aside all his important tasks on the Fridays of Advent and Lent to come listen to the preaching of a simple priest."

The three popes he has preached to have given him the freedom to choose the topics for his meditations, he told CNS in 2015. "I try to understand, including with the help of prayer, what are the problems, needs or even graces the church is living at the moment and to make my little contribution with a spiritual reflection."

"Putting the word of God into practice must characterize all preaching," he said. "Pope Francis gives us a stupendous example of that with his morning homilies."

While focused on challenging and strengthening the faith of those he is preaching to, Father Cantalamessa's homilies have touched on religious persecution, Christian unity, signs of hatred and prejudice in society, violence against women, war and peace, the defense of human life and the abuse crisis.

His homily in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday in 2010 caused controversy. At the service, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the Capuchin focused on how Jesus broke the cycle of violence and victimizing others by taking on the world's sins and offering himself as a victim.

He had noted that in 2010 the Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Passover coincided, and he told the congregation the Jews "know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence," and they recognize when other groups are being attacked simply because of who they are.

He then read a portion of a letter he said he received from a Jewish friend, who wrote that he was following "with disgust" attacks against the church and the pope, including because of the abuse scandal. The repetition of stereotypes and using the wrongdoings of some individuals as an excuse to paint a whole group with collective guilt reminded the Jewish author of "the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," the letter said.

Father Cantalamessa later said he was sincerely sorry if he offended any members of the Jewish community or any victims of sexual abuse.

The Capuchin also has preached on the need for the Catholic Church to be honest and transparent about the abuse crisis and to repent for it.

In December 2009, just a few hours before Pope Benedict XVI met with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse crisis, Father Cantalamessa gave one of his Advent meditations. He told the pope and other Vatican officials that, as a matter of justice, the church must publicly admit the weakness of some of its priests.

However, he had said, acknowledging weakness is not enough to "launch a renewal of priestly ministry." For that, he said, the prayers of priests themselves and all the faithful are needed as is a renewed commitment by all priests to devoting themselves totally to serving God and their brothers and sisters.

And, in Advent 2006, leading a meditation on the passage from the beatitudes that says, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted," Father Cantalamessa said the church's tears of shame for the abuse crisis must be turned into tears of repentance.

Rather than mourning for the damage done to the church's reputation, he said, the church must weep "for the offense given to the body of Christ and the scandal given to the smallest of its members."

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With a mother's heart, Mary raises up the abandoned, pope says at Mass

Top Stories - Wed, 12/12/2018 - 1:41pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as she did hundreds of years ago from a small hill in Tepeyac, Mexico, Mary accompanies the downtrodden and the lowly like a mother caring for her children.

Mary "is a woman who walks with the gentleness and tenderness of a mother, she makes her home in family life, she unties one knot after another of the many wrongs we manage to generate, and she teaches us to remain standing in the midst of storms," the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Processing into the basilica dressed in white, the symbol of purity, Pope Francis made his way to a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the indigenous saint in 1531. The pope stood before the image, bowing reverently and incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, in which Mary hastily visits her cousin Elizabeth, and subsequently proclaims "the greatness of the Lord."

Through her Magnificat, the pope said, Mary teaches all Christian men and women not only the importance of praising God in the midst of joy, but also how to accompany and walk with others.

From houses and hospital rooms to prison cells and rehabilitation clinics, he added, Mary continues to utter those words she said to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who am your mother?"

"In Mary's school, we learn to be on the way to get to where we need to be: on our feet and standing before so many lives that have lost or have been robbed of hope," the pope said.

Mary, he continued, also teaches her children that problems are not solved with immediate responses and magical solutions, nor through "fantastic promises of pseudo-progress that, little by little, only succeeds in usurping cultural and family identities."

Instead, Christians learn from her the true joy that comes from loving God and neighbor unconditionally and to guard "the sense of God and his transcendence, the sacredness of life" and respect for creation, the pope said.

Mary, he added, taught humility by lifting up lowly people, like St. Juan Diego, by giving them a voice and "making them the protagonists of this, our history."

Pope Francis said that "through Mary, the Lord refutes the temptation of giving way to the strength of intimidation and power" and instead gives dignity to those who have been cast aside.

"The Lord does not seek selfish applause or worldly admiration. His glory is in making his children the protagonists of creation," the pope said. "With the heart of a mother, (Mary) seeks to raise up and dignify all those who, for different reasons and circumstances, were immersed in abandonment and obscurity."

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Don't be afraid to ask for things from God in prayer, pope says

Top Stories - Wed, 12/12/2018 - 9:08am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said.

Jesus does not want people to become numb to life's problems and "extinguish" those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.

"He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue" with God, the father, he said.

Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity.

With this prayer, Jesus shows an "audacious" way to address God immediately as "our Father" without any pomp and "preambles," the pope said.

"He doesn't say to turn to God calling him 'O, the All-Powerful' or 'O, the One on high,' or 'O, You who are so far from us and I am the wretched one ....'"  

"No. He doesn't say that, but simply (uses) the word, 'Father,' with great simplicity, like children who turn to their daddy. This word, 'Father,' expresses intimacy, filial trust," he said.

The prayer invites people to pray in a way that "lets all the barriers of subjection and fear fall away," he added.

While the Our Father is rooted in "the concrete reality" of every human being, prayer, in essence, begins with life itself.

"Our first prayer, in a certain way, was the first wail that came with our first breath" as a , and it signals every human being's destiny: "our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our constant search for happiness."

Prayer is found wherever there is a deep hunger, longing, struggle and the question, "why?" Pope Francis said.

"Jesus does not want to extinguish (what is) human, he does not want to anesthetize" the person in prayer, he said. Jesus understands that having faith is being able to "cry out."

"We all should be like Bartimaeus in the Gospel," he said. This blind man in Jericho kept crying out to the Lord for help even though everyone around him told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus, who -- they felt -- ought not be disturbed because he was so busy.

Bartimaeus did not listen and only cried out louder "with holy insistence," the pope said. Jesus listened to his plea and told him his faith is what saved him.

The pope said this shows how the cry for healing is an essential part of salvation, because it shows the person has faith and hope and is "free from the desperation of those who do not believe there is a way out of so many unbearable situations."

"We can tell him everything, even those things in our life that are distorted and beyond comprehension. He promised us that he would always be with us," he said.

When greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope greeted all those from Mexico and Latin America, noting that Dec. 12 marked the feast "of our patroness," Our Lady of Guadalupe. He asked that she help people surrender themselves to God's love and to place all of their hope in him.

Before the audience, the pope blew out a few candles on a birthday cake a visitor had prepared for him. The pope will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 17.

Greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope met with a delegation from Panama, representing the upcoming World Youth Day events in January, and he greeted a delegation of Austrian members of parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of the song "Silent Night," whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.

The pope said that "with its profound simplicity, this song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the savior, born in Bethlehem, reveals to us the love of God the father."

 

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Pilgrimage across U.S. lets peacemaker spread light from Bethlehem

Top Stories - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 1:32pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Katie Rutter

By Katie Rutter

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (CNS) -- Brian Duane's maroon Subaru had already covered about 1,800 miles when he pulled into the parking lot at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette Dec. 4.

It was Duane's 18th stop in what would be a weeklong, cross-country journey for the resident of Pembroke, Massachusetts, and his car contained precious cargo with a radiance of goodwill.

This road trip was a mission from Bethlehem carrying a message of peace, contained in a glowing lantern.

This fire had originally been kindled at Christ's birthplace, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Duane is part of a national network of volunteers spreading this "Peace Light from Bethlehem" across the nation.

"It is symbolic of Christ's love for us and of the Prince of Peace," Duane told Catholic News Service. "It serves as a reminder to us."

For more than a decade, volunteers like Duane have driven this flame from coast to coast, lighting hundreds of lanterns along the route.

The effort to spread the Peace Light is spearheaded by Scouts and Scouting advisers, most often associated with Catholic churches.

The goal is to kindle peace in all hearts by remembering Christ's mission began in Bethlehem.

"It's symbolic, but it's the effort, the coming together, the dedication to peace and heading home and spreading the message, even at the family level," said Bob McLear, who lives west of Chicago.

McLear planned to take the light from Lafayette back to his parish in Batavia, Illinois, and pass it off to another volunteer headed to Madison, Wisconsin.

The Peace Light's journey can be traced back to a tradition in Austria. For the past 32 years, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF has sent a child to Bethlehem to kindle a flame from the oil lamps hanging above Christ's birthplace.

The fire, stored in two explosion-proof miner's lanterns, is then flown with a safety adviser back to Europe, where it is spread to more than 30 countries.

"The reaction of the people touched my heart," said Wolfgang Kerndler, a security expert for Austrian Airlines, who has escorted the flame for about two decades.

"Even the crew is proud to be part of the operation," Kerndler told CNS in an email. "It's an honor."

The Peace Light first arrived in the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The Austrian government and national Scouting association sent the flame with a VIP delegation to comfort the grieving nation.

"New York City really was devastated," said Paul Stanton, the international representative for New York City with the Boy Scouts of America.

"It was a great sign of kindness from the people of the world," he told CNS in a phone interview from New York City.

The light has been flown by Austrian Airlines to New York every year since. Stanton helps to organize the official reception at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

This year, about 150 adults and children gathered at the airport's Our Lady of the Skies Chapel to welcome the light of peace and kindle their own flames.

"The youth are needing to know that there is hope, but they also need to know if there is going to be a better world, it will start with them," Stanton said.

Duane was at the chapel to light his lanterns and begin his journey.

From New York, he drove as far west as Denver, before heading back to Massachusetts, logging more than 5,400 miles.

Along the way, Duane stopped at 26 locations to meet volunteers, participate in ceremonies and pass on the flame.

"I've walked into so many different places, a very liberal congregation, a very conservative congregation," he said, "and yet we all agree on the need for peace and civility."

Duane arrived in Indianapolis Dec. 4 where more than 60 people, mostly children, gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish to welcome him and spread the flame from Bethlehem. Lanterns and candles lined the altar.

"I think that it's really beautiful and I'm really happy that we came," said Eliza Frank, a student at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

"We hear about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, but we never actually see anything from there or go there, so I thought that was really cool," Frank said.

When Duane arrived at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette later that evening, nearly 100 Scouts and parents were present to spread the light. Even the youngest were challenged to share the flame with at least three other people in their local community, spreading hope and peace in the process.

"To the people out there that don't have a chance to get the peace light," said John Niemann, an Eagle Scout and student at Purdue University, "you can still hold Christ's peace in your heart throughout this Christmas season and really strive to have that, even though you can't physically have the flame with you."

The Peace Light was set to reach California by Dec. 13 and is reported to burn in more than 30 states.

A Facebook page set up by volunteers mapped out the spread of the Peace Light and continues to field requests from individuals wishing to take the flame to their own communities.

In most cases, the lanterns lit by the Peace Light will illuminate congregations and homes through the Christmas season. Duane hopes that those lights serve as a constant reminder that small actions, like small lanterns, have the power to light a darkened world.

"We sometimes feel overwhelmed when there's major conflicts going on in the Middle East or wherever it happens to be," Duane said.

"Like, what can I do? Well, I can be kind and gentle to my family, my neighbors, the lady at the store, everybody else. Be a vehicle of peace, be a vessel of peace," he said.

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High court won't hear states' appeals over defunding Planned Parenthood

Top Stories - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pro-life leaders said they were disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 10 to hear appeals from Kansas and Louisiana on lower court rulings that have stopped the states from blocking Medicaid funds going to Planned Parenthood.

"Complicated legal arguments don't take away from the simple fact that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion," said Jeanne Mancini, who is president of March for Life.

"America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is responsible for more than 300,000 abortions each year and was recently found to be involved with the harvesting and trafficking of body parts from aborted babies," she said in a statement issued shortly after the high court declined to hear the states' appeals.

"Abortion is not health care, it is a human rights abuse," Mancini added. "Until Planned Parenthood ceases to perform abortions, they should not receive any money from taxpayers."

Federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortion, but pro-life advocates say Planned Parenthood should not get Medicaid funding because its facilities primarily perform abortions. Also, the organization has been accused of making a profit on providing fetal body parts to researchers.

Planned Parenthood officials and its supporters say the Medicaid funds are used only to help low-income women receive wellness services, cancer screenings, pregnancy tests and birth control.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said that despite the Supreme Court declining to take the two states' appeals, the pro-life grassroots movement "will not stop fighting until every single tax dollar is untangled from the abortion industry led by Planned Parenthood."

She said the pro-life citizens of Kansas, Louisiana and other states "do not want Medicaid tax dollars used to prop up abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood."

"We support their right to redirect taxpayer funds away from entities that destroy innocent lives and instead fund comprehensive community health care alternatives that outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities at least 20 to one nationwide," Dannenfelser added.

The court issued the 6-3 order in the cases of Andersen v. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri and Gee v. Planned Parenthood of Gulf Coast.

The three who dissented were Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. New Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was in the majority; if the order had been 5-4, the court would have heard the appeals.

"So what explains the court's refusal to do its job here? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that some respondents in these cases are named 'Planned Parenthood,'" Thomas wrote in dissent. "That makes the court's decision particularly troubling, as the question presented has nothing to do with abortion."

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is a surgeon, said in a statement: "We regret today's decision from the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that it fell one vote short of taking our case against Planned Parenthood. My support of the pro-life movement will not be diminished by today's development, and I look forward to future victories in defense of the right to life."

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West Bank residents work to ensure tourists spend time with locals

Top Stories - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 11:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Debbie Hill

By Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (CNS) -- Bethlehem and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour depend economically on tourism, but traditionally have struggled with keeping visitors in the area for more than half a day. Although the hotels are fully booked for Christmas this year, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into any business for the locals.

Most large tour and pilgrim groups are bused through the Israeli checkpoint straight to the Church of the Nativity and sometimes to the nearby Milk Grotto or Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour. Then tourists get back on their buses and go to one of a select few souvenir shops to spend their money. If the souvenir hawkers hovering in the area are lucky, they may be able to sell the tourists a few trinkets during their brief stay. But for the most part smaller businesses, including shops and cafes, rarely see any rainfall from visitors.

With the memories of the economic difficulties during the second intifada still fresh in their memories, private residents and the three municipalities are starting initiatives to entice visitors to stop, stroll through the towns, eat a local baklava sweet or take a city tour, much like they would in any other city they visit.

Janneke Stegeman, 38, a German theologian, has been to Bethlehem many times. But this time, arriving during the Christmas season, she took advantage of a two-hour Art Walk tour through the old city of Beit Sahour -- one of Bethlehem's sister towns in the Bethlehem "triangle" -- to get to know some of the young artists in the area and hear about the work they are doing.

"For me, coming here as a pilgrim is having a deep connection to the context and people you are visiting," she told Catholic News Service. "People come to the holy places without realizing where they are and who the people are who are living here."

"This experience is really crucial to me ... especially at Christmas," Stegeman added. "It has to do with real people. I want to understand what is happening here, to talk to the people who are living here. To see how people keep their hope and perseverance in a context of a difficult reality."

Just having a cup of coffee at a place like Singer Cafe affords a glimpse into the life of young Palestinians who opt to stay in their city and invigorate their town rather than emigrate, she said, sipping her coffee as she spoke.

"It is important for me that people understand that Palestinians deserve as much time as Israel. There is nothing to be afraid of if they come here. Come, see the Nativity Church, but then come meet the local Palestinians, have a chat with them. People come to see the Biblical stones and then forget to see the living stones," she said.

Dutch expat Kristel Elayyan, 40, who runs the Singer Cafe with her husband, Tariq, started the Art Walk, so people get to know local artisans.

Social media is also taking a role in advertising the events and stirring up interest for both local and international visitors. The Bethlehem Christmas tree was lit to the delight of a crowd of thousands in Nativity Square, with live music and fireworks following. Similar tree-lightings took place a few days later in Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

The Latin Patriarchate tweeted about the tree-lighting event in Bethlehem, and the municipal Facebook pages advertise in English the various events taking place in the area during the season: the Art Walk, Christmas markets featuring locally produced crafts and food, an Afro-Dabkeh dance workshop, a pre-Christmas gala dinner, a pub dance party and a Christmas "Santa Run" in Beit Jala, where St. Nicholas is the patron saint.

As rain drizzled, participants in the Santa Run gathered in the parking lot of the Beit Jala Latin seminary Dec. 7, stretching their muscles, buying their red Santa shirts and taking selfies as they waited for the shuttle to take them to the Cremisan Monastery, where the run began.

"Five years ago, you could maybe go to a coffee place to smoke a water pipe and play some cards. Now there are bars for youth and places to meet up. There are a lot of places where you can spend your time here now," said Musa Khatib, 26, a pharmacist from the nearby Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa. "Because of social media you can follow the events, schedule your week. The spirit here is nice, the vibe is very positive, and you can see happy people."

A representative from the Beit Jala municipality who declined to give his name told CNS: "Our vision is of strengthening the cultural side of Beit Jala. We want to note the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. It is about promoting tourism, and bringing it up to the international level is our dream," he said as upbeat Christmas carols blared in English from a car with oversized loudspeakers.

In the end, some 80 locals and a few internationals took part in the run -- some came just for the fun while others came intent on winning. The Santa Run Facebook page was updated continuously throughout the event.

"This is great," said Elizabeth Purcell, 35, from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, whose husband works for the Baptist Church in Jerusalem. She was there with her three sons and two young friends visiting from the U.S. "If you just go to the church, you are not seeing what is really here. You don't get to meet the people if you don't go to something like this race or to a craft fair. You can see the energy here. It is energizing to see foreigners coming here. It is great for the Palestinian economy."

 

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Vatican official: With migration, cooperation is better than isolationism

Top Stories - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Luisa Gonzalez, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican praised the adoption by more than 160 nations of a key agreement on global migration, saying today's migration challenges are better tackled together than with "isolationist" stances.

The U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration "includes a comprehensive framework of best practices and policy instruments to increase international cooperation and sharing of responsibility in the governance of migration," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, head of the Vatican delegation, told government leaders.

The agreement, which is not legally binding, gives countries "the space to respond to their national circumstances and priorities, in full respect of international law and of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status," he said at the gathering Dec. 10.

"Its implementation will help all governments, as well as nongovernmental entities, including faith-based organizations, collectively to manage migration in a more safe, orderly and regular manner, something no state can achieve alone," said the cardinal, who is the Vatican secretary of state. The Vatican released a copy of the cardinal's remarks Dec. 11.

More than 160 nations formally adopted the agreement Dec. 10 at an international conference in Marrakech, Morocco. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Chile and a handful of European countries were among more than a dozen nations that did not support the pact and its provisions.

Cardinal Parolin noted the refusal of some nations to take part in the conference or in the process of drafting the agreement. The Vatican, however, "is convinced that the enormous challenges that migration poses are best faced through multilateral processes rather than isolationist policies," he said.

While the Vatican supported the compact, he said, it will present "its reservations in due time, specifically on those documents in the compact that contain terminology, principles and guidelines that are not agreed language, including certain ideological interpretations of human rights that do not recognize the inherent value and dignity of human life at every stage of its beginning, development and end."

Nonetheless, the global compact is still is a "significant advance in the international community's shared responsibility to act in solidarity with people on the move, especially those who find themselves in very precarious situations," he said, as it allows states to "improve their respective migration policies and, together, the international management of migration."

"As we have seen in recent years," he said, when challenges "are not managed well, crises can form, rhetoric can eclipse reason, and migrants can be seen more as threats than as brothers and sisters in need of solidarity and basic services."

"The Global Compact on Migration attempts to assist the international community to prevent crises and tragedies," he said. "At the same time, it also seeks to improve the governance of migration, which is bound to increase as the international community grows more economically, socially and politically interconnected."

The United Nations estimates that there are over 258 million migrants around the world living outside their country of birth, and, it said, that figure is expected to grow. The compact arose from the awareness that a more global and comprehensive approach was needed to promote the benefits of migration and tackle the risks and challenges facing individuals and communities in countries of origin, transit and destination.

During a dialogue session at the Marrakech conference, discussing concrete ways to create partnerships and implement the pact, Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican urged the international community to help address the root causes of migration by being committed to fostering peace and development around the world.

While it is important to help make migration voluntary and safe, orderly and regular, people still should have the right not to migrate, he said.

Because the compact states, "We must work together to create conditions that allow communities and individuals to live in safety and dignity in their own countries," adequate responses must be given "to the adverse drivers of migration, most especially, violent conflicts and extreme poverty," he said.

"Situations of violence, inhumane living conditions, and economic hardship, as well as natural disasters and environmental degradation, affect not only those countries where they arise but also those countries of transit and destination," he said.

It requires more than just providing international development assistance and humanitarian aid, he said. It "also involves the commitment to the integral human development of every individual, providing each person with the basic conditions and opportunities to live a decent life.

"Few would leave if they had access to jobs, education, health care and other basic goods and services that are fundamental to every person's fulfillment and basic well-being. Also essential to stability are the fundamental rights to be able to practice one's religion freely, without fear of persecution or discrimination, as well as the right to political participation and freedom of expression," Cardinal Parolin said.

The other commitment the Vatican would like to emphasize, he said, is making sure all migrants, regardless of their status, "be guaranteed due process and receive an individual assessment that will determine their status."

"In the case of children and victims of trafficking, such measures are crucial if we are to respond adequately to their needs and be sure that they not find themselves in the very same situation that they sought to leave behind," he said.

Countries must also promote policies that favor family reunification and "prevent their separation throughout the migration process, while working toward ending the practice of detention, particularly of minors," he added.

Since migration very likely will continue in the coming years, "we consider it necessary to widen the regular and sure channels of emigration through generous and responsible policies, inspired by solidarity and co-responsibility," he said. 

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Consolation comes even in martyrdom, pope says

Top Stories - Tue, 12/11/2018 - 9:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God sends his consolation to those in need of reassurance, even when they are facing death, Pope Francis said.

Just like the early Christian martyrs, who sang as they marched to their deaths in the Colosseum, today's martyrs still give witness to that same joy in the midst of suffering, the pope said in his homily Dec. 11 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"I think of the good Coptic workers on the beach of Libya, slaughtered. They died saying, 'Jesus, Jesus!' There is a consolation within, a joy even in the moment of martyrdom," he said.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's first reading from the prophet Isaiah, in which God sends his messenger to "give comfort to my people" and "speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

This tenderness, the pope explained, is "a language that the prophets of doom do not know."

"It is a word erased from all the vices that drive us away from the Lord: clerical vices, the vices of a few Christians who do not move, who are lukewarm. They are afraid of tenderness," he said.

However, tenderness is precisely what God uses to console his people, like a shepherd who carries a lamb or a mother comforting her child, the pope said.

Pope Francis called on Christians to prepare for Christmas by praying for God's consolation, especially in times of suffering, "because it is a gift from God."

God, he said, "is at the door. He knocks so that we may open our hearts and let ourselves be consoled and be at peace. And he does so gently: he knocks with caresses."

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Algerian martyrs bear witness to dialogue, peace, pope says

Top Stories - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 9:24am

IMAGE: CNS photo/EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The lives of 19 religious men and women martyred during the Algerian civil war are a testament to God's plan of love and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, Pope Francis said.

In a message read Dec. 8 at the beatification Mass for the six women religious and 13 clerics, Pope Francis said it was a time for Catholics in Algeria and around the world to celebrate the martyrs' commitment to peace, but it was also a time to remember the sacrifices made by all Algerians during the bloody war.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, celebrated the Mass in Oran, Algeria, for the martyrs who were killed between 1994 and 1996.

Both Christians and Muslims in Algeria "have been victims of the same violence for having lived, with faithfulness and respect for each other, their duties as believers and citizens in this blessed land. It is for them, too, that we pray and express our grateful tribute," the pope said.

Among those who were beatified were Blessed Christian de Cherge and six of his fellow Trappists -- Fathers Christophe Lebreton, Bruno Lemarchand and Celestin Ringeard as well as Brothers Luc Dochier, Michel Fleury and Paul Favre-Miville -- who were murdered in 1996 by members of the Armed Islamic Group in Tibhirine, Algeria.

Their life and deaths were the subject of the movie "Of Gods and Men," which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

Several months after their deaths, Blessed Pierre Claverie, bishop of Oran, was assassinated along with his driver by an explosive device. According to the website of the Dominican Order of Preachers, his death was mourned also by Muslims who considered him "their bishop."

Pope Francis said that all Algerians are heirs of the great message of love that began with St. Augustine of Hippo and continued with the martyred religious men and women "at a time when all people are seeking to advance their aspiration to live together in peace."

"By beatifying our 19 brothers and sisters, the church wishes to bear witness to her desire to continue to work for dialogue, harmony and friendship," the pope said. "We believe that this event, which is unprecedented in your country, will draw a great sign of brotherhood in the Algerian sky for the whole world."

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Surprise! Pope makes several impromptu visits

Top Stories - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 9:14am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis made surprise visits Dec. 7 and 8 to people receiving medical care far from their homes, to a dozen intellectually challenged young people and to the staff of a major Rome newspaper.

The late-afternoon visits Dec. 7 to the CasAmica residence for families with a member needing long-term medical care far from home and to Il Ponte e l'Albero, a therapeutic rehabilitation home, were part of the pope's continuing "Mercy Friday" activities.

Pope Francis began the Friday visits to hospitals, clinics, schools and residential communities during the 2015-16 Year of Mercy to demonstrate that mercy involves concrete acts of kindness and solidarity.

Both the CasAmica and Il Ponte e l'Albero are on the extreme southern edge of Rome.

The Vatican said most of the guests at the CasAmica are Italian families, mostly from the south, who cannot afford to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment while their family members are receiving treatment for cancer, leukemia or other serious illnesses. A few of the families, though, come from North Africa and from Eastern Europe.

"The pope rang the doorbell and was welcomed by the personnel on duty, who were dumbstruck at the unexpected visit," the Vatican said. Some of the guests were in the kitchen and some children were in the playroom. "The Holy Father stopped to play and joke with them" before listening to the parents of some sick children and offering them words of comfort.

The visit to Il Ponte e l'Albero came in response to a letter from some of the young people describing "the daily difficulties that come from their mental disadvantages," as well as their desire and efforts to follow the programs their doctors have designed for them.

According to a Vatican statement, the pope sat with the young people, listened to them, responded to their questions and encouraged them. The parents of some of the young people heard the pope was there and arrived in time to embrace him and thank him for the visit.

His visit to the newspaper, Il Messaggero, Dec. 8 also came in response to an invitation. The newspaper is marking its 140th anniversary.

Pope Francis stopped at the newspaper's headquarters in the center of Rome just after leading prayers for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In a video of the visit, posted by the newspaper, Pope Francis confirmed Il Messaggero is his preferred daily paper, even though, he said, "I've been advised against" reading it by some people.

"I wish you the best -- another 140 years," he told the staff.

Pope Francis said journalism should be a service, "explaining things without exaggeration, always looking for the concrete."

Discover the facts, report them and then comment on them, he said. "This is the kind of information we all need."

 

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Marking feast day, pope asks Mary's care of families seeking refuge

Top Stories - Sat, 12/08/2018 - 10:23am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- In the heart of Rome, near streets of fancy shops already blinged out for Christmas shopping, Pope Francis prayed for Romans struggling to survive and for families in the city and around the world who face the same lack of welcome that Mary and Joseph experienced.

The pope concluded his public celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, by making the traditional papal visit to a statue of Mary erected in Rome's historic center to honor Catholic teaching that Mary was conceived without sin.

The statue is located near the Spanish Steps and Rome's most expensive clothing and jewelry stores; it is also next to the building housing the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Instead of making a speech near the statue, the pope composes and reads a prayer, and he leaves a basket of roses at the statue's base.

In the prayer addressed to Mary, he said, "In this Advent time, thinking of the days when you and Joseph were anxious for the imminent birth of your baby, worried because there was a census and you had to leave your village, Nazareth, and go to Bethlehem -- you know what it means to carry life in your womb and sense around you indifference, rejection and sometimes contempt.

"So, I ask you to be close to the families who today in Rome, in Italy and throughout the world are living in similar situations," the pope continued. He asked Mary to intervene "so that they would not be abandoned, but safeguarded with their rights, human rights that come before every other, even legitimate, demand," an apparent reference to rights of migrants and refugees and the right of nations to control their borders.

Earlier, under brilliantly sunny skies, some 30,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square to recite the midday Angelus prayer with Pope Francis.

Before leading the prayer, he offered a meditation on the Bible readings for the day's feast, highlighting the difference between Adam, who sinned and then hid from God, and Mary, who was conceived without sin and offered her life totally to doing God's will.

"The 'Here I am' opens one to God, while sin closes, isolates, keeps one alone with oneself," the pope said.

"'Here I am' is the key to life," he said. "It marks the passage from a horizontal life focused on oneself and one's own needs, to a vertical life, reaching toward God."

Openness to God and to doing God's will "is the cure for selfishness, the antidote to an unsatisfying life where something is always missing. 'Here I am' is the remedy to the aging of sin, the therapy for remaining young at heart."

"Why don't we begin each day with a 'Here I am, Lord'? It would be beautiful to say each morning, 'Here I am, Lord, may your will be done in me today,'" he said.

Turning one's life over to God and to doing his will does not mean life will be free of troubles and problems, he said. Mary's wasn't.

"Being with God does not magically resolve problems," he said.

In fact, the pope said, for Mary the problems began immediately. "Think about her situation, which according to the law, was irregular, and the torment of St. Joseph, the life plans that were overturned, what people would say. But Mary put her trust in God."

The "wise attitude" of Mary, which all Christians should try to imitate, is not to concentrate on the succession of life's problems -- "one ends and another presents itself" -- but to trust in God and entrust oneself to him each day, Pope Francis said.

 

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San Francisco Archdiocese celebrates newly written Mass of the Americas

Top Stories - Fri, 12/07/2018 - 2:40pm

IMAGE: (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

By

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- San Franciscans will celebrate the recently commissioned "Mass of the Americas" Dec. 8 for the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe at the archdiocese's Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption.

The liturgy, scheduled for 2 p.m., is the first new Mass commissioned for the cathedral since it was dedicated in 1971.

"The Mass embodies the way Mary, our mother, unites all of us as God's children," San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said in a statement announcing celebration the Mass, which he said is a "simultaneous tribute to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe," whose feast days are Dec. 8 and Dec. 12, respectively.

San Francisco composer Frank La Rocca wrote the Mass, which includes music in Spanish, Latin, English and Nahuatl, the Aztec language Mary used when she spoke with St. Juan Diego in Mexico in the 16th century.

The Mass is sponsored by the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship. La Rocca is composer-in-residence at the institute.

The Eternal Word Television Network planned to broadcast and livestream the celebration.

An announcement for the liturgy said the style is of the long-standing sacred music traditions of the Catholic Church but incorporates traditional Mexican folkloric hymns to Mary.

It was composed for a 16-voice mixed chorus, organ, string quartet, bells and marimba, which is an instrument from Central America and South America. A professional choir known as Benedict Sixteen was to sing at the Mass.

Archbishop Cordileone originated the idea for the Mass as the "musical equivalent of mission architecture because it is rooted in the tradition and incorporate local elements in the creation of a new worship experience."

The Archdiocese of San Francisco said the Mass also was inspired by the calendar in which the feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on the Saturday before the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, offering a way to unify the Anglo and Latino communities of the Catholic Church.

After its first celebration, the Mass of the Americas will be taken on an international tour of cathedrals including to Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedrals in Dallas and Tijuana, Mexico.

 

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Christmas spirit in the air as Vatican unveils Nativity scene, tree

Top Stories - Fri, 12/07/2018 - 12:11pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The annual unveiling of the Vatican's Christmas tree and Nativity scene brought some much-needed warmth to people's hearts as winter approached.

Hundreds of people in St. Peter's Square Dec. 7 applauded as white curtains unfurled, revealing a 52-foot wide artistic representation of Jesus' birth made entirely of sand and dubbed the "Sand Nativity."

The bas-relief sculpture, which weighed over 700 tons, was made with sand from Jesolo, an Italian seaside resort town roughly 40 miles north of Venice.

Shortly after, as the sun set behind St. Peter's Basilica, the sounds of "Silent Night" filled the square before the lights of the Vatican's towering Christmas tree were lit.

The 42-foot-tall red spruce tree, donated by the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone in the northern Italian region of Veneto, was unveiled at the Vatican's annual tree lighting ceremony.

Among those present at the annual Christmas tree lighting were Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, patriarch of Venice; and Bishop Giuseppe Pellegrini of Concordia-Pordenone.

The "Sand Nativity" scene and tree will remain in St. Peter's Square until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord Jan. 13.

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis met with delegations from the northern Italian regions of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, responsible respectively for the 2018 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene.

Thanking the delegations for their gifts, the pope said the Nativity scene and Christmas tree are visible signs that "help us to contemplate the mystery of God, who was made man in order to be close to us."

The bright lights emanating from the Christmas tree, he explained, "remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, the light of the soul that drives out the darkness of enmity and makes room for forgiveness."

The soaring height of the Christmas tree, he added, also symbolizes "God who -- through the birth of his son, Jesus -- came down to man to raise him to himself and elevate him from the fog of selfishness and sin."

Pope Francis also reflected on the unique composition of the Nativity scene. Sand, he said, is a poor material that "recalls the simplicity, the littleness and frailty with which God show himself through the birth of Jesus in the precariousness of Bethlehem."

"The child Jesus, Son of God and our Savior, whom we lay in the manger, is holy in poverty, littleness, simplicity and humility," the pope said. "By contemplating the God-child who emanates light in the humility of the manger, we, too, can become witnesses of humility, tenderness and goodness."

Kicking off preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ was special exhibition in the morning of over 100 different Nativity scenes at the Vatican. The event, now in its 43rd edition, was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Dubbed "100 Cribs at the Vatican," the Dec. 7-Jan. 13 exhibition featured a wide variety of artistic representations depicting Jesus' birth in Bethlehem.

In a statement promoting the event, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the pontifical council, said the exhibition of different Nativity scenes -- a tradition credited to St. Francis of Assisi -- was "a strong instrument of evangelization."

"So many people stop every Christmas before the mystery of God made man, represented with figurines -- which in many cases are authentic masterpieces of art -- to pray, to reflect and to discover the love of God who became a child for us."

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