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  • Algerian martyrs bear witness to dialogue, peace, pope says

    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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CNS News Briefs

Brief versions on news stories from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  • Priest sees his personal Christmas cards to parishioners as evangelizing

    BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- Shortly after Labor Day, when the only signs of Christmas are at retail outlets and drug stores, Father Frank Uter takes a seat at his kitchen table of his rectory and pens personal tidings in Christmas cards to his parishioners. He sends cards to 4,100 families at Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs and its mission church, Sacred Heart in Livingston. He has carried out this tradition for decades, across the Diocese of Baton Rouge at the various church parishes where he has served. During that time, he has likely used many gallons of ink. Father Uter's inspiration for sending out the personalized Christmas cards came from the St. Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization, "Evangelii Nuntiandi." Evangelization has always been part of the church's ministry since the ascension of our Lord," Father Uter told The Catholic Commentator, newspaper of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. "But our focus primarily was within the parish and her ministries and religious education. But Pope Paul VI reminded us how important it is to evangelize, to reach out beyond the pews."

    Retired nuns make pilgrimage to share the journey with migrants, refugees

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Some 100 Immaculate Heart sisters covered 1,170 miles during a nine-week pilgrimage to support migrants and refugees -- while raising almost $2,000 for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Catholic Social Services along the way. The 130 women religious reside at Camilla Hall, the convent home and health care center of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in Malvern. Each pledged to walk -- or, for the mobility challenged, to wheel -- at least one mile a week for nine weeks. The long hallways of Camilla Hall, which measure 338 feet from end to end, enabled the nuns to rack up 1,170 miles by Nov. 13. "Our pilgrimage took on a different shape than the traditional pilgrimage, but the miles walked, and the prayers offered, are very real," said Sister Mary Lydon, a Camilla Hall resident who serves as the house's social justice representative. In her role, Sister Mary coordinates various prayer and advocacy efforts in which the hall community takes part. The hall's recent pilgrimage was part of Share the Journey, a two-year campaign launched by Pope Francis in September 2017 to increase awareness of, and compassion for, migrants and refugees throughout the world. As part of the initiative, the pope has called for all Catholics to stand with migrants by undertaking a spiritual pilgrimage on their behalf.

    Catholic groups push for strong climate deal at U.N. summit in Poland

    KATOWICE, Poland (CNS) -- Catholic representatives worked to keep negotiations on track for a comprehensive deal to address global warming as the U.N. climate change conference entered its second and final week in Katowice, Poland. The effort was complicated by the actions of U.S., Russian, Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegates, who objected to a note by the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP24, "welcoming" an October report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report warned that greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would need to be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 for global warming kept to a maximum of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit under the 2015 Paris climate accord or risk worsening drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty. After hours of negotiations Dec. 8 and with no consensus reached, the note was dropped under U.N. protocol. Still, the church continued to press for sustained action on climate change. "The church is exerting pressure and showing really significant commitment. We must hope countries match this," said Rebecca Elliott, communications director of Global Catholic Climate Movement, a coalition of more than 650 Catholic organizations. "Besides acting as a moral voice and providing a robust faith-based response, Catholic organizations are relating stories about the experiences of people from Latin America, Africa, India and the Pacific islands who are gravely affected by climate change."

    Two Jesuit provinces release names of priests with credible abuse claims

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The leaders of two U.S. provinces of the Society of Jesus released the names of more than 150 clergy with credible sexual abuse claims against them dating to the 1950s. Father Scott Santarosa, provincial of the order's West province based in Portland, Oregon, and Father Ronald Mercier, provincial of the Central and Southern province based in St. Louis, released separate lists Dec. 7 of priests and religious brothers who were alleged to have abused minors. The release of 153 names by the two provinces comes as dioceses, archdioceses and religious orders nationwide have made public since summer the names of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. The Central and Southern province list included 42 names dating to 1955, while the West province identified 111 men dating to 1950. Both provincial leaders apologized to abuse survivors and to the wider Catholic community in response to the claims of abuse. The priests also said they released the names in response to calls for transparency from the faithful and survivors.

    Kenyan priest killed as he takes Mass collection funds to the bank

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- A Catholic priest was shot dead by unknown robbers Dec. 10 near his parish in central Kenya as he was taking the Sunday Mass offerings to the bank. Father John Njoroge Muhia of Kinoo Parish in Kiambu, part of the Nairobi Archdiocese, was accosted by four robbers on motorcycles. They obstructed the priest's car on a rough road, forced him to stop and demanded the bag that he had in his car. One of the robbers reportedly drew a pistol, shot Father Njoroge in the chest and snatched a bag and mobile phone before escaping on the motorcycles. The priest was pronounced dead on arrival at the county hospital. "We are saddened by the killing of Father Njoroge," Father Francis Kiarie, who has worked with the dead priest, told Catholic News Service. "While we ask why, we condemned the act in the strongest terms possible. The killing of people of God is not unacceptable." An eyewitness in a nearby construction site said he heard gunshots and saw two motorcycles moving at high speed on the road. He added that his workers had told him that the men on the motorcycles had shot someone and were escaping. Photos of priest's car show that the robbers had fired through the front windshield.

    'Holy Fire' retreat ignites faith of middle schoolers from 10 dioceses

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- More than 1,800 Catholic middle school students and their chaperones from 10 dioceses danced and prayed their way through an interactive retreat event at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, the largest of its kind ever staged in the diocese. "I'm still in awe," said Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Nashville. The daylong event Dec. 1, which included a mix of high-energy musicians and inspirational speakers, along with quiet moments for eucharistic adoration and prayer, was well-received by the youth, their parents and chaperones who attended. Holy Fire, produced by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, is developed in collaboration with host dioceses, like Nashville as well as Chicago recently. Both events have been extremely well attended by thousands of young people. "We had over 10 dioceses in all, including representatives from across Tennessee and three of four dioceses in Kentucky," Staley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. Groups also traveled from Birmingham, Alabama, north Georgia and Evansville, Indiana.

    Houston clergy, religious bid final goodbye to nation's 41st president

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- For Sister Mary Brendan O'Donnell, it was a baby afghan she made for the newborn child of George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Pierce Bush. For Father Christopher Nguyen, it was President Bush's administration that welcomed him to the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee. Like many around the world, and especially in Houston, the lives of a consecrated woman religious and a Catholic priest were changed because of the nation's 41st president. Sister O'Donnell beamed as she remembered the soft colorful blanket. She had crocheted it herself and hand-delivered it to the Bushes for one of their newborn children at a Houston Astros baseball game. Decades later, she found herself in line with thousands to pay her respects to the late president at his own parish church, St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, the night before his Dec. 6 funeral. Sister O'Donnell said she was there to represent her convent, the Congregation of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, and the sisters' prayers for the repose of his soul. "The sisters are praying for him every day," she told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. "For him and the consolation for his family, which is even harder for them right now."

    Update: Everyone must respect the basic human rights of all human beings, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The fundamental rights of all human beings, especially the most vulnerable, must be respected and protected in every situation, Pope Francis said, marking Human Rights Day, Dec.10. "While a part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees their dignity denied, ignored or infringed upon and their fundamental rights ignored or violated," he said. Such a contradiction leads one to ask "whether the equal dignity of all human beings -- solemnly proclaimed 70 years ago -- is truly recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every circumstance," he said in a written message. The message was read aloud by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, at a Dec. 10-11 conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University discussing the "achievements, omissions and negations" in the world of human rights today.

    Christian, Muslim young people spread pre-Christmas cheer in Beirut

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- On a gloomy, rainy Saturday morning in Beirut, 92-year-old Julia enthusiastically greeted her visitors, Christian and Muslim youth, who had come to set up a Christmas tree in her modest apartment. "Welcome. I love you," she said to her guests, who each greeted the beaming woman with kisses before breaking out in a chorus of "Jingle Bells." Julia, a Maronite Catholic, was one of 10 beneficiaries Dec. 8 of a Christmas tree decoration project for poor elderly that brought together Lebanese volunteers from the Knights of Malta, a Catholic organization, and "Who is Hussein," a Muslim Shiite organization, as well as Girl Guides associated with the local St. Vincent de Paul. Widowed for 40 years, Julia had spent her life as a homemaker. She lives with her 66-year-old unmarried son, Nicholas, who has difficulty finding work in his trade as a house painter. There are no government-sponsored services for the needy in Lebanon. Julia is one of the beneficiaries of the Knights of Malta Lebanon's Elderly Guardianship Program, in which the order's youth volunteers visit the homes of elderly on a monthly basis.

    Pope: Prepare for Christ's birth by recognizing mistakes, sowing peace

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advent is a time for people to think about what they can change about themselves so that they can sow the seeds of peace, justice and fraternity in their daily lives, Pope Francis said. The Advent season is a call for personal conversion, "humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, our failure" to do one's duty, he said Dec. 9 before praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square. Celebrating the second Sunday of Advent, the pope said the attitudes of vigilance and prayer that characterize the Advent season and preparations for Christmas include a journey of conversion. "Let each one of us think, how can I change something about my behavior in order to prepare the way of the Lord?" the pope said. Preparing the way entails making straight "his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low," the pope said, citing the day's Gospel reading according to St. Luke.

    Algerian martyrs bear witness to dialogue, peace, pope says

    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.

    Surprise! Pope makes several impromptu visits

    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.

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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.

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

    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.

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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.

  • After heart procedure, Knoxville Bishop Stika back to regular schedule

    KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- After spending one night in the hospital following a heart catheterization procedure, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville was released from Parkwest Medical Center early Dec. 6 and returned to the chancery for a brief visit. "I feel good, and I am grateful for the prayers I received and the great care that was provided to me while I underwent this procedure," Bishop Stika said. "I am ready for baseball season." Dr. Stephen L. Marietta, a Knoxville cardiologist, performed an angioplasty to clear a significant blockage -- 99 percent -- in an area of the heart at the location of a bypass operation 14 years ago, according to Bishop Stika. Regarding post-operative instructions from his doctor, Bishop Stika displayed his usual sense of humor. "The doctor told me to not lift anything heavy for a while, but I don't think that will stop me from carrying my crozier, my pastoral staff," he joked. Bishop Stika was immediately resuming his normal schedule, including celebrating two Masses in Knoxville during Dec. 8-9 weekend and a Mass in Chattanooga Dec. 10.

    Retired Bishop Rodimer dies; spent a lifetime of ministry in home diocese

    PATERSON, N.J. (CNS) -- Retired Bishop Frank J. Rodimer of Paterson died Dec. 6 at St. Joseph's Home for the Elderly in Totowa. He was 91. When Bishop Rodimer became the sixth bishop of the diocese Feb. 28, 1978, he had the unique distinction of being installed as the only priest of the Paterson Diocese to have ever been raised to the episcopacy. He retired in 2004. Earlier this year, he moved St. Joseph's Home. For much of his retirement, Bishop Rodimer resided in Green Pond and in those years he served the diocese whenever he could. "Every day I still pray for the people of the diocese and their intentions and I always hope today to still encourage my brother priests in whatever way I can to continue this very important ministry," he once said. Bishop Rodimer's body will be received the afternoon of Dec. 14 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson, followed by viewing until 7 p.m. and then vespers. His funeral Mass will be celebrated Dec. 15 at the cathedral.

    Religious investors ask energy firms to oppose EPA emission rollback plan

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Nearly two dozen Catholic entities have joined other investors in urging major oil and natural gas producing companies to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rollback of standards governing greenhouse gas emissions. In an early December letter to the energy firms, the 61 shareholders that are part of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility wrote that any rollback is risky to their investments because it would lead to "excessive methane emissions that needlessly tarnish the reputation of natural gas as clean fuel and call into question the role natural gas can play in a low-carbon future." The letter specifically focuses on an EPA plan to ease the New Source Performance Standards, or NSPS, adopted in 2016. The standards govern production and transmission in the oil and gas industry. The standards set limits on the emission of methane, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants in energy production. The EPA proposal seeks to ease those limits, citing cost savings to industry. Organizations such as Virginia-based Mercy Investment Services, one of the Catholic signatories to the letter, see the rollbacks not just as financially risky but a threat to the environment as the world struggles to respond to climate change.

    San Francisco Archdiocese celebrates newly written Mass of the Americas

    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.

    Woman dumps acid on priest hearing confessions in Managua

    MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNS) -- A 24-year-old woman dumped sulfuric acid on a priest while he was hearing confessions in the Managua cathedral. Father Mario Guevara, 59, was immediately taken to the hospital Dec. 5 and treated for burns. The Archdiocese of Managua asked for prayers for the priest, who has diabetes and hypertension. A Nicaraguan church source told Catholic News Service Dec. 6 the priest had a chemical burn on one eye and his shoulders. "He is already at home and is stable from his diabetes and his pressure." Witnesses said after the woman was controlled by the people in the cathedral, she yelled: "... Call the police if you want!! I know they cannot do anything against me." Police came and arrested her. A tweet from Sofia Montenegro Alarcon, an award-winning Nicaraguan journalist, social researcher, and feminist, said the acid attack "bears a 'chamuca' trademark of a supposed feminist, who nobody in the movement recognizes." She said it was associated with clubs and bars linked to the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

    A Norbertine abbey, steeped in tradition, uses modern outreach

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Norbertine Fathers at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California, just opened their doors, so to speak, to the world at large. The priests and seminarians who live a monastic life at the abbey but also have apostolic ministries at schools, parishes and prisons in Southern California, recently developed an online platform for their donors and subscribers to essentially take part in the life of the abbey -- gaining access to spiritual writings of the priests, audio to their Gregorian chants and video clips including links to a series they produced last year about themselves called "City of Saints." The site is called the Abbots Circle -- www.theabbotscircle.com -- and is akin to a digital library, but it also provides opportunities for subscribers to ask questions. "God is asking us to reach the church in new ways," said Norbertine Father Ambrose Criste, novice master and director of vocations and formation for the order. The new platform enables the priests to give back to their supporters and "provide spiritual nourishment," he added. It also responds to those who come to the abbey seeking spiritual direction and often ask for more, wondering if they can read homilies or other works by the priests. "They are thirsty for sound instruction, teaching nourishment and real-time questions and answers," the priest told Catholic News Service Dec. 4.

    Canadian bishops talk with pope about abuse policy, indigenous peoples

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The leaders of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the concerns of the indigenous peoples in Canada and the bishops' updated sexual abuse policies were among the issues they spoke about with Pope Francis. Each of those issues is an ongoing concern that is "dear to his heart," Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, conference president, told Catholic News Service Dec. 7. Bishop Gendron met the pope at the Vatican Dec. 6 along with Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Manitoba, vice president of the CCCB, and Msgr. Frank Leo Jr., general secretary of the conference. They were in Rome Dec. 3-14 as a part of an annual trip by conference leadership to meet the pope and other senior Vatican officials. At the end of their annual plenary in September, the bishops vowed to implement a new set of guidelines dealing with abuse protection, prevention, care and reconciliation. The two conference leaders told CNS that the guidelines received praise from Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, one of the leading experts in the church regarding safeguarding and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Archbishop Gagnon said that during their meeting with Father Zollner Dec. 7, the Jesuit said "he very much likes the resource we produced" and it was "very well-received." The archbishop added that each diocese will be focused on victims and all those affected by abuse, including the families of the abused, of the perpetrator and people in the community.

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

    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.

    Feast of Immaculate Conception does not get weekend dispensation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just last year, Catholics were required to attend separate Masses two days in a row for the Sunday obligation and Monday's Christmas Mass. Now, they have a similar opportunity this year with the feast of the Immaculate Conception falling on a Saturday -- Dec. 8. The vigil Mass on Saturday evening is not a "two-for-one" Mass for both days. Last year, the U.S. bishops gave Catholics a heads-up about the back-to-back Sunday and Christmas liturgies 10 months in advance in a newsletter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship. It also referenced what would occur this year and will recur when Dec. 8 falls on a Monday. The newsletter specifically noted that the Saturday vigil does not count for both the holy day and Sunday in the very rare circumstances when two of the church's six holy days of obligation -- the feast of the Immaculate Conception or Christmas -- fall the day before or after Sunday. "When consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, the faithful must attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations," the committee said. There is dispensation from a holy day Mass obligation when other holy days fall on Saturdays or Mondays but this does not apply to Christmas or the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    Paris archbishop to pray for France as fuel taxes canceled

    PARIS (CNS) -- Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit planned to pray for the country Dec. 7, even as the French government dropped all fuel tax increases for 2019. The government move came after French cities were hit with weeks of violent protests, as French demanded lower fuel taxes and better purchasing power. Images of rampage at the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees during the Dec. 1 weekend have been shown around the world. The demonstrations, known as the "yellow vest" protests after the high-visibility vests worn as a symbol of French citizens' demands, were set to continue, despite the cancellation of the fuel tax increase. At least four people have died since the protests began in mid-November. On Dec. 5, Archbishop Aupetit said he believed the protests reflected a "significant suffering of many of our fellow citizens," but he denounced the "outrageous violence" that led to violent clashes, particularly in Paris. The archbishop, who asked Christians to be peacemakers, said he would pray for the country at Notre Dame Cathedral's 6:30 p.m. Mass Dec. 7, the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    German prosecutors launch crackdown on church sex abuse

    FRANKFURT, Germany (CNS) -- German police and prosecutors are launching investigations into clergy sexual abuse following the Sept. 12 leak of a report containing evidence of 3,700 alleged child sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church over a 68-year-period. Authorities in Cologne, Passau and Gorlitz have publicly initiated criminal proceedings following the release of the report, according to Welt news. Six law professors filed criminal complaints against all 27 dioceses in October. A further 20 public prosecutors nationwide are currently examining evidence against church officials in Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses. According to a Dec. 6 report by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, public prosecutors who have not yet openly brought charges are doing so with an aim to identify all parties involved in cover-ups and root out larger conspiracies within the church. Details of the investigations are being kept confidential. Authorities currently doing investigative research include those of Osnabruck, Wurzburg and Bamberg. Archdioceses currently being affected by criminal proceedings have been asked to reveal all details of known cases and to hand over all relevant documents to government authorities. Spokesmen for the German bishops' conference have declared its "full cooperation" with judicial authorities. Some archdioceses have already made their files available to public prosecutors, according to KNA, the German Catholic news agency.

    Alabama archbishop releases names of clergy, religious accused of abuse

    MOBILE, Ala. (CNS) -- Saying that Jesus provides light for the church to overcome darkness, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile released the names of priests, deacons and religious brothers who had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors. In releasing the list Dec. 6, Archbishop Rodi apologized to victims of child sexual abuse as well as to parishioners throughout the southern Alabama archdiocese in a statement posted on the archdiocesan website, www.mobarch.org. The names were included on two lists: one for archdiocesan clergy and the other for religious order clergy and religious men. In the case of religious order clergy, he said, the list includes the names of all priests and brothers credibly accused, even if alleged incidents of abuse did not occur in the archdiocese. The lists show that allegations were received from the 1950s through 2012. The most recent case involved a deacon of the archdiocese. All other incidents were reported no later than 1998. In all, 10 archdiocesan priests and one deacon were named as were 15 religious order priests and two religious brothers.

    Update: Illegal drug makers, dealers are traffickers of death, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone must help in the fight against drugs, particularly governments which are called to confront the "traffickers of death" who produce, distribute or sell addictive substances, Pope Francis said. There needs to be better and more cooperation of people and coordination of policies battling drugs and dependencies, he said. "Isolated policies are no use; it is a human problem, it is a social problem, everything must be connected, creating a network of solidarity and closeness with those who are scarred by these pathologies" of addiction, he said. The pope made his comments during an audience Dec. 1 with experts attending an international conference on drugs and addictions organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. "We are all called to tackle the production, expansion and distribution of drugs in the world," he told participants.

    In times of trouble, hold fast to God, Capuchin tells pope

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When storm clouds gather and the Catholic Church is tossed by the scandalous behavior of some of its members, Catholics must repeat what St. Francis of Assisi repeated: "God is and that suffices," the preacher of the papal household told Pope Francis and his aides. "Let us also learn to repeat these simple words to ourselves when, in the church or in our lives, we find ourselves in circumstances similar to those of (St.) Francis, and many clouds will disperse," said Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa Dec. 7. The preacher of the papal household leads the pope and Roman Curia officials in a spiritual reflection on most Fridays of Advent and Lent. For his 2018 Advent reflections, Father Cantalamessa said he would "set aside every other theme and any reference to current problems" and focus on each individual's need for a personal relationship with God. "We know from experience that an authentic personal relationship with God is the first requirement in dealing with all the situations and problems that come up without us losing our peace and patience," said the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa. At the suggestion of Pope Francis, Father Cantalamessa will lead a retreat for the bishops of the United States Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago as they continue to discuss and discern ways to handle the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

    Vatican leads talks to expand testing, care of HIV-positive kids

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Responding to the deaths of tens of thousands of children from AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses, the Vatican brought together physicians and representatives of drug companies and humanitarian agencies to strategize ways to improve care for children and adolescents who are HIV-positive. Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, convened a "dialogue" at the Vatican Dec. 6-7 on the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric HIV. The meeting aimed to "address bottlenecks that limit access to early infant diagnostic products and programs" as well as to "scale up strategies that can help quickly identify HIV-exposed children and link them to testing and treatment services," according to Caritas Internationalis, which helped sponsor the event. While the global community has made great progress in improving access for adults to HIV and AIDS testing and treatment services, "more than 120,000 children continue to die each year from AIDS-related causes and over 13,000 children are newly infected each month," said a Caritas press release Dec. 6. The two-day dialogue was designed to develop a plan of action for introducing and expanding "optimized diagnostics and case-finding strategies for HIV" to reach those still lacking care and to "intensify commitments in key challenging areas," such as in the development of treatments and in gaining regulatory approval of life-saving drugs and diagnostic tools, the statement said.

    Vatican urges adoption of global compacts on migration, refugees

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming the finalization of global compacts on migration and on refugees, the Vatican urged nations to adopt the nonbinding agreements to protect people who are on the move and to promote their orderly acceptance in new countries. "Greater cooperation and responsibility sharing are important themes running through both compacts," said a statement Dec. 6 from the Vatican's Migration and Refugees Section. In anticipation of the adoption Dec. 10-11 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Vatican noted, however, that it had registered some "reservations and comments" on references in the compact to "the so-­called 'Minimum Initial Service Package,'" which includes the distribution of condoms, and to "sexual and reproductive health services," which could include abortion. Those provisions, the Vatican said, "are neither agreed language in the international community nor in line with Catholic principles." Still, the Vatican said, the compact is an essential recognition that the phenomenon of migration is universal and that international cooperation is required to protect the rights and dignity of migrants and to assist the nations that welcome them. The global compact offers "a menu or a toolkit of actions that states -- and other actors -- can choose to do internally, bilaterally and even regionally, depending on their circumstances and needs," the Vatican statement said.

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  • Deacon: From wildfires come acts of kindness for those trying to recover

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Deacon Ray Helgeson left his home in Paradise on the morning of Nov. 8 with his wife, Donna, for daily Mass at the close-knit Butte County town's only Catholic church. They never arrived. On the short drive to St. Thomas More Church, where the deacon assists at Mass and heads the parish's adult faith formation program, the Helgesons saw billowing smoke and a nearby peak in flames. They continued warily in the direction of the church but were soon intercepted by emergency crews, who diverted them from what would become California's most destructive wildland fire. The Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres, destroyed more than 14,000 homes and caused 85 fatalities, with several people still reported missing as of Dec. 6. The fire left more than 80 percent of Paradise residents, including the Helgesons, essentially homeless and had a devastating impact on St. Thomas More parishioners, with an estimated 640 losing their homes out of 800 on the official roster. "This stuff really confuses you," Deacon Helgeson told Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He made the comments in a Nov. 28 phone interview from his son's home in Citrus Heights outside Sacramento, a 90-mile drive from Paradise. He and his wife arrived Nov. 8 with the clothing they wore to church that morning, a short supply of necessary medications and Deacon Helgeson's breviary. Like many residents, they have not been back to the fire zone, where recovery efforts are still underway, but have confirmed that their home is gone. "Stability for human persons is huge and we don't have a place now to call home now," Helgeson said. "If your faith is weak, it's going to be extra tough."

    Houston Catholic, civic leaders hail late president as hometown hero

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- Catholic and civic leaders in the Houston area recalled the late George H.W. Bush's legacy as president, his history as a Houstonian and his faith as a Christian. "The world, our country and the city of Houston recently lost a courageous man, dedicated leader and selfless public servant," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo said of the nation's 41st president, who died in his Houston home Nov. 30 at age 94. "I join the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in offering prayers and condolences to the entire Bush family." Cardinal DiNardo, head of the Texas archdiocese, said Bush's career in the public eye -- from the Lone Star State to the global stage -- was marked by incredible statesmanship and honor. "His strong faith in God, devotion to his wife of 73 years, the late first lady Barbara Bush, and his boundless love for the covenant of family served as a model for all to follow," he said. "The city of Houston was very proud to call him one of our own and one of our brightest points of light. We will forever be grateful for his presence and commitment to our community and to the people of Houston. May the glory of the risen Lord transform our sorrow into serenity." Cardinal DiNardo and his predecessor, retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, sat in the front row at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston Dec. 6 for the funeral services for the late president.

    Catholic Relief Services marks 75 years of restoring people's dignity

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- As Catholic Relief Services staffers and supporters spent an evening marking 75 years of service in the world, one word recurred: dignity. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who chaired the CRS board of directors from 2010 to 2013, spoke of it in his homily at a special Mass Dec. 5 in St. Stephen's Chapel at the organization's Baltimore headquarters. Every day, he said, Catholic Relief Services is "trying to bring the world that IS to the world that God intends." In most cases, this means "giving some sense of dignity to people robbed of their dignity." Bishop Kicanas, who often visited CRS projects when he was chairman of the board, spoke of all the places he saw this occur: in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where children scrounge for food; in India's Uttar Pradesh state, where CRS helps women fight infant mortality. In Peru, he said, he saw an indigenous woman speaking at a meeting in her newly learned Spanish, "and the men were listening. Amazing! CRS for 75 years has been hovering over the vulnerable," he said, calling the international relief and development agency determined, resolved and patient. "CRS will not fail," he said, urging staffers to continue their work for another 25 years.

    Update: Pope to make historic visit to United Arab Emirates in February

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will visit the United Arab Emirates next year, becoming the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the Vatican announced. In a Dec. 6 statement, the Vatican said the pope will "participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on 'Human Fraternity'" after receiving an invitation by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi. "The visit will take place also in response to the invitation of the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates," the Vatican said. The trip Feb. 3-5 will take place less than a week after Pope Francis returns from his Jan. 23-28 visit to Panama for World Youth Day. Shortly after the announcement, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, welcomed the announcement of the pope's visit in a post on his personal Facebook page.

    Tennessee bishops say man's execution would not serve justice

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The bishops leading Tennessee's three Catholic dioceses said the planned Dec. 6 execution of a man convicted of brutally killing of a young mentally handicapped woman fails to serve the "common good of advancing toward a more just society." Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Kentucky, who is apostolic administrator of Memphis, said in a Dec. 5 statement that David Miller, should be "punished severely," but that his life should not be taken. Miller's attorneys continued seeking to delay the execution hours before it was set to occur at 7:10 p.m. local time. Miller, 61, has been on death row since 1982. Miller was convicted of the 1980 death of Lee Standifer, 23. Investigators found her body May 21, 1981 in the backyard of a Knoxville home where Miller was living. Authorities determined that Standifer was killed by two blows to the head and that she was stabbed eight times after she died. The bishops acknowledged that the Miller's crime was unjustified and that he deprived Standifer of "her God-given gift of a joyful and fulfilling life." They also said the "horrendous conditions and abuse" Miller experienced as a child and young adult that were revealed in recent news reports do not mean he should absolved of responsibility for Standifer's death, "but they do shed light on the impact of sin and the destruction of a soul."

    Women religious launch Advent with the light appearing in darkness

    BEECH GROVE, Ind. (CNS) -- A few purple hangings and an Advent wreath were the only signs of the season in the dark chapel of the Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. In the hallway just outside, the Sisters of St. Benedict quietly assembled, intentionally stopping to gather their thoughts and silently reflect. The light appearing in darkness served as a metaphor for the 38 women religious during their Dec. 1 evening prayer as they marked the beginning of Advent, four weeks of preparation before Christmas. Outside of the monastery walls, Christmas decorations, shopping and celebrations were in full swing. Silent, sparse and contemplative, the religious house was a stark contrast. One expert called this liturgical season of Advent a "radical critique" of the human tendency to binge on celebration. "We need times to contemplate and to await the coming of that which is to come, and we need time to celebrate that which is here," said Timothy O'Malley, academic director for the Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. "In a kind of perpetual cycle of wanting to move from event to event, to have no preparation but just to celebrate and move, Advent is a radical critique," O'Malley told Catholic News Service.

    Bishop of Algiers: Martyrs' beatification can unite Christians, Muslims

    ALGIERS, Algeria (CNS) -- The beatifications of 19 martyrs in Algeria will be a "great joy" to the church and will help unite Christians and Muslims of the country, said a French-Algerian archbishop. The beatifications represent "hope for the future" rather than a "complaint about the past," said Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers, the largest city in the North African country. His words came in a commentary published Dec. 5 on the website of the French bishops' conference alongside a 24-page pastoral letter, written by the French-born archbishop in November. Archbishop Desfarges said he looked forward to the Dec. 8 beatifications with "complete confidence," saying he expected the event to unite Christians and Muslims of the country in deeper friendship. "This beatification is not a ceremony just for Christians," he explained, but was an honor for all Algerian Christians and Muslims who were now "living together in peace." The Catholic martyrs, the archbishop said, would be popularly associated with "114 imams who refused to condone violence during the dark decade" of the Algerian civil war of the 1990s.

    Los Angeles Archdiocese adds new names to list of accused priests

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles Dec. 6 released an updated list of priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, with the report showing two cases of alleged abuse of current minors in the archdiocese since 2008. The two cases were made public at the time the allegations were first received. Upon receiving the accusations, the archdiocese removed the two priests, Juan Cano and Jose Luis Cuevas, from ministry and reported them to law enforcement. Following separate investigations by police and by an archdiocesan oversight board, the men were permanently removed from ministry. "As disturbing as their behavior was, it shows that thanks to the swift action of alert teachers, parents and even children themselves, we can catch signs of abusive behavior early," said Heather Banis, victims assistance ministry coordinator for the archdiocese. Overall, the update added the names of 54 priests -- 27 of them now dead -- to the Archdiocese's "Report to the People of God," originally published in 2004 by Cardinal Roger Mahony, and updated in 2005 and in 2008. The archdiocese has posted the full list, along with a message from Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, on a new website, https://protect.la-archdiocese.org.

    Catholic groups see major harm for immigrants in changing public benefits

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A proposal by the Trump administration to deny green cards to legal immigrants using public assistance "will dramatically change the process of legal migration and make it increasingly difficult for low-income and working-class individuals to legally migrate to the United States." That's the view of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA according to comments they filed in response proposed revisions to what is called the "public charge" rule. They urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the proposed rule and return to "the current and long-standing interpretation of public charge" and laid out several reasons for opposing the rule change. It will "undermine family unity and stability," will "harm low-income and working-class families and "have a negative impact on the social safety net. The rule will have severe consequences for public health and is detrimental to larger families," they said. "The rule proposes a definition of 'public charge' and 'public benefit' that is arbitrary and will make people less self-sufficient ... and proposes a public charge scheme that will create grounds to deny virtually every immigration application."

    Pope revamps Vatican City State structures, laws to boost oversight

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis approved a new set of laws concerning the structure and governance of Vatican City State in an effort to simplify the many offices and activities of the world's smallest nation and to boost oversight, transparency and budgetary controls. The measures, issued "motu proprio," on the pope's own accord, were published Dec. 6. In his letter, the pope said the reorganization was necessary to make it "suitable to current needs" while ensuring its mission to serve the pope and the specific aims of the departments and activities within Vatican City State. He said the time was right to "proceed with a systematic legislative reform enlightened by the principles of rationalization, cost-effectiveness and simplification as well as pursuing the criteria of functionality, transparency, regulatory consistency and organizational flexibility." The pope approved the legislation that had been drafted by a working commission headed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the governing office of Vatican City State. The new laws will go into effect June 7 and fully replace the law approved by St. John Paul II's motu proprio in 2002.

    Christmas tree sales benefit charities and help families celebrate season

    DE PERE, Wis. (CNS) -- There's only one place in northeast Wisconsin where families can purchase a Christmas tree and get Tootsie Rolls in the bargain. It's the Christmas tree lot run by the Knights of Columbus' Abbot Pennings Council 3955 in De Pere. If the free Tootsie Roll isn't enough incentive, knowing that your purchase goes to benefit charitable projects may sweeten the tree-buying decision. Handing out Tootsie Rolls is nothing new for members of the Catholic fraternal service organization. Knights Tootsie Roll Drives, held to benefit people with intellectual disabilities, began in Wisconsin in 1973. In 2018, the program raised $726,736 statewide, according to the Wisconsin State Council. On the other hand, selling Christmas trees for charity is not a common Knights' fundraiser. Only a handful of Wisconsin Knights councils operate Christmas tree lots, and the De Pere council likely has the longest running operation. This year the council is celebrating five decades of selling trees. "We start selling the day after Thanksgiving and stay open until all trees are gone," John Mueller told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. "When we get down to the last 10 or 12 trees, then we just close up and donate those to St. Vincent de Paul. We also provide free trees when a family shows up and can't afford one."

    Australian judge overturns former Adelaide archbishop's conviction

    NEWCASTLE, Australia (CNS) -- An Australian judge overturned the conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson, whom a lower court found guilty of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse by a priest. New South Wales District Court Judge Roy Ellis ruled Dec. 6 that there were reasonable doubts about Archbishop Wilson's conviction, which was handed down by a lower court in Newcastle in May. The archbishop, 68, was the highest-ranking church official to be found guilty of abuse-related charges stemming from the actions of clergy. During his trial, Archbishop Wilson consistently denied knowing that the priest had abused boys in the 1970s. Ellis said that suspicion of a crime did not substitute for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense attorneys argued that evidence pointing to the archbishop's knowledge of the alleged abuse was circumstantial and that he was innocent of the charge filed against him. In July, Archbishop Wilson resigned from his duties in the Adelaide Archdiocese after being sentenced to one year of house arrest. He subsequently appealed his conviction, leading to the Ellis ruling.

    A life built on trust in God is built on solid ground, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians are not people of faith in name only, Pope Francis said; they trust in God, base their lives on his truth and seek to act on the teachings of Jesus. People with faith in God have not put their hope only in words or in "vanity, pride, in the fleeting powers of life," he said. They put their hopes on solid ground -- the Lord, he said in his homily Dec. 6 during morning Mass at his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus tells his disciples that those who act on his teachings will have built their house on solid rock, while those who only listen to his word and do not act will be fools with a vulnerable house built on sand. The pope said the Advent season is a time for people to ask themselves, "Am I Christian in words or in deeds? Do I build my life on the rock of God or on the sand of the world, of vanity? Am I humble? Do I seek to always lower myself, without pride, and, in that way, serve the Lord?" Being Christian in name or words only, he said, is a superficial form of belief, like putting on makeup to look the part. It is going only "halfway -- I say I am Christian, but I don't do what Christians do."

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  • Nation's 43rd president says his late father was 'a great and noble man'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the days since the Nov. 30 death of former President George H.W. Bush, several news outlets reported that some years ago he told family members that he doubted any one would come to his memorial when he died. But over the course of nearly three days, throngs lined up on the street near the Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol and waited up to four hours, in some cases, to snake through the crowd barriers to pay their respects as Bush lay in state in the Rotunda. After Bush died at his Houston home at age 94, his body was brought to Washington by "Special Air Mission 41" for a state funeral. After arrival at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington Dec. 3, his body was transported to the Rotunda, and the round-the-clock public viewing period began that afternoon. The viewing ended at 7 a.m. Dec. 5, which President Donald Trump had declared as a national day of mourning. Bush's casket was then transported across the city to the Episcopal Church's Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral. His eldest son, former President George W. Bush, gave an emotional eulogy. He said his father would be remembered as "a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill ... and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor."

    As U.N. declaration hits 70, push to include 'new' rights called troubling

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Seventy years after its adoption, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was lauded Dec. 4 as a seminal, yet imperfect achievement of the nascent United Nations. Speakers at a panel honored the foresight of the declaration's framers, but also warned that recognition of "new and deeply troubling rights" will contradict the document's noble intent. Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, deputy permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N., said human rights are at the core of the United Nations, but the U.N. Charter did not "specify what those fundamental human rights were." The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was tasked with identifying "both political and civil rights, including life, liberty, property, freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and economic, social and cultural rights. Like work, education and basic subsistence," he said. The rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were practical and made to guide action, Msgr. Grysa added. "They flowed from the conviction that every person needs to be treated like every other human being" and were framed in relation to both states and institutions like the family, local communities and religious groups to acknowledge that "human beings are persons in solidarity and fraternity rather than isolated individuals," he said.

    Advent calendars: Old tradition and modern commercialism, same message

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Advent calendar with one tab or box to open each day for 24 or 25 days taps into something people really like: countdowns. It also highlights the anticipation that is at the heart of the four-week liturgical season of Advent. These calendars, which are religious in nature, hence always with the name Advent, also at times can take the religious theme and run with it, sometimes leaving the biblical manger scene in the dust with daily surprises of anything from whiskey, cosmetics, toys, chocolates, books, coffee, and for pets, daily treats. But not all Advent calendars are alike. Some simply display, when each window is opened, either Christmas symbols, Bible passages or inspirational daily motivations. Some are online, some are traditional paper and others are way more elaborate with daily gifts in drawers or boxes. No matter their size or design, Advent calendars all count down to Christmas. Since they start with the No. 1, for Dec. 1, they technically do not begin at the start of Advent; the first Sunday of Advent varies each year and often comes at the end of November. Some calendars, with 25 windows, end after Advent with the biggest prize, or image, on the 25th window, or Christmas, but some calendars end at 24. Whether they come from a Hallmark store or a religious supply company, these calendars are based on the practice of counting down the days until Christmas that once was done with chalk marks on doors or straw placed in Nativity mangers.

    Colleagues say new Congolese archbishop will defend human rights

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The newly installed head of one of Africa's largest archdioceses will vigorously defend democracy and human rights, while also seeking to reconcile political opponents, said church officials in Congo. Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu is "above all a pastor, who displays Christian frankness in what he says and shrewdly understands given situations," said Father Andre Masinganda, deputy secretary-general of the Congolese bishops' conference. "He's also particularly sensitive to justice, peace and human rights and can be counted on to promote these values with a firm stand." Archbishop Ambongo, vice president of the bishops' conference, began his ministry as archbishop of Kinshasa in late November, replacing 79-year-old Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, who held the post for 11 years and was a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforms. Father Masinganda told Catholic News Service that Archbishop Ambongo, who was installed Nov. 25, would be ready to work with all sides in Congo's bitter political disputes. "He shows an open spirit and is always ready to calm and unify by considering the views and convictions of others," Father Masinganda said, adding he hoped political leaders would show a new willingness to cooperate.

    Woman who once assisted with abortions to address March for Life Jan. 18

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Abby Johnson, who early in her career assisted in carrying out abortions, will be among the speakers during the 2019 March for Life rally Jan. 18 on the National Mall in Washington. Johnson, a one-time Planned Parenthood clinic director, is the founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry that assists abortion clinic workers who have left their position. "Unique From Day One: Pro-Life Is Pro-Science" is the theme of the 2019 march, Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, said during a media briefing Dec. 5 in Washington. Mancini said this year's events will focus on the scientific discoveries that have led to new understanding about life in the womb. "Science and technology are on the side of life in large because they show the humanity of the child at a very young age," Mancini told Catholic News Service after the briefing. "We can hear and see a baby's heartbeat now at six weeks. There are blood tests to know a baby's gender at seven weeks. Now that's changed enormously over the course of the last few years," she said. Details of events are online at http://marchforlife.org/mfl-2019/rally-march-info/.

    Amid church's abuse crisis, music can unite the faithful, says composer

    IJAMSVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- "How can we pray when we feel betrayed?" The song continues, offering more questions, but no answers. "How Can We Pray?" was written by Zachary Stachowski, director of music ministry at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Ijamsville, moved by the anger he felt immediately after the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse was released in mid-August. After posting the sheet music to his personal Facebook page, nearly 300 people reacted, 67 commented and 80 shared, including the pages of national music organizations such as the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Stachowski has heard from music ministers who have used the song as far away as Ireland and Redlands, California. "When the news started coming out of the grand jury in Pennsylvania, I just started noticing the uproar on social media," Stachowski said. "It seemed to be a lot of anger, a lot of hurt." The music that he was being used in the wake of the grand jury report, however, did not reflect those emotions.

    Prince Charles says Iraqi Dominican's story shows 'power of faith'

    LONDON (CNS) -- The heir to the British throne spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of an Iraqi sister who fled Islamic State militants but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence. Charles, Prince of Wales, described the resilience of Sister Luma Khudher, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, and other Iraqi refugees as a testament to the "extraordinary power of faith." Speaking in Westminster Abbey at a Dec. 4 ecumenical service "to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East," the prince recalled his "great joy" of meeting Sister Luma in England in October. He told a congregation of more than 1,000 people how, in 2014, as extremists advanced on the Christian town of Qaraqosh, Sister Luma "got behind the wheel of a minibus crammed full of her fellow Christians and drove the long and dangerous road to safety. Like the 100,000 other Christians who were forced from the Ninevah Plains by Daesh that year, they left behind the ruins of their homes and churches and the shattered remnants of their communities," he said. "The sister told me, movingly, of her return to Ninevah with her fellow sisters three years later, and of their despair at the utter destruction they found there," he said. "But like so many others, they put their faith in God, and today the tide has turned -- nearly half of those displaced having gone back to rebuild their homes and their communities."

    Prayer is a constant learning experience, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus' way of praying to his father throughout his life is a reminder for Christians that prayer is more than asking God for something but is a way of establishing an intimate relationship with him, Pope Francis said. Prayer is a longing within one's soul that is "perhaps one of the most profound mysteries of the universe," the pope said Dec. 5 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall. "Even if we have perhaps been praying for so many years, we must always learn!" he said. Beginning a new series of audience talks on the "Our Father," the pope reflected on the disciples' request to Jesus to teach them how to pray. The Gospels, he said, offer "very vivid portraits of Jesus as a man of prayer" who, despite the urgency of his public ministry, often felt the need to withdraw into solitude and pray. "In some pages of Scripture, it seems that it is first Jesus' prayer, his intimacy with the Father, that governs everything," the pope said.

    Pope expresses condolences for death of former President Bush

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis expressed his condolences for the death of the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a telegram to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, telling him the pope was "saddened to learn of the death" of the former president. "Pope Francis offers heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his prayers to all the Bush family," he said in the telegram published by the Vatican Dec. 5. "Commending President Bush's soul to the merciful love of almighty God, His Holiness invokes upon all who mourn his passing the divine blessings of strength and peace," Cardinal Parolin wrote.

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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.

  • Pa. high court says names in redacted grand jury report can't be released

    HARRISBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- In a 6-1 decision Dec. 3, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the identities of some clergy accused of abuse that were redacted from a grand jury report issued in mid-August must remain permanently blocked from release. "We conclude ... we must make permanent the redaction of petitioners' identifying information ... as this is the only viable due process remedy we may now afford to petitioners to protect their constitutional rights to reputation," Justice Debra Todd said. Lawyers for 24 priests named in the report said their clients fought the release of their identities because they said they "were denied an opportunity to appear before the grand jury to defend themselves, question witnesses, or provide contradictory evidence," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. "They later argued that the report received so much publicity that it poisoned public opinion against their clients. The only solution, they contended, was to permanently block the names," it said. Six of the justices agreed with their petitioners' argument. The lone dissenter was Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor. In a statement after the ruling was handed down, he urged the bishops of the priests' respective dioceses to release the names.

    Christmas preparation overwhelms Advent's, church musicians say

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Have a holly, jolly ... Advent? If there seems to be a culture clash between the Christmas season and the Advent season that precedes it, Christmas is going to win out practically every time, according to a pair of liturgical musicians. "Christmas as a secular holiday has overtaken Christmas as a religious celebration. It starts early," said J. Michael McMahon, executive director of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. "The Christmas season starts as soon as we put the turkey balloons in the trash. So people are already into Christmas and they skip over" Advent. Peter Latona, director of music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, agrees, even though Advent is longer in duration than Christmas. "People hear (Christmas) tunes and stuff like that on the radio, and they play it on the piano," Latona said. "They just hear it so much more often." In a liturgical sense, though, "that's not the case," McMahon told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 3 telephone interview. "At the liturgy, people have a chance to take an Advent break."

    Update: Pope's white Lamborghini up for raffle; winner gets trip to Rome

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A custom-built 2018 Lamborghini Huracan coupe autographed by Pope Francis is back on the block, but, this time with an online fundraising platform, not at an elite European auction house. The Italian luxury carmaker donated the white vehicle with gold stripes -- to match the white and yellow of the Vatican City flag -- to the pope in November 2017. The pope had put his diminutive signature on the car's hood, then the vehicle was put up for auction to raise money for charity. However, it turns out the final bidder at the Sotheby's auction in Monaco in May did not finalize the transaction and the promised $800,000 sale fell through, according to according to information provided by Lamborghini. In an effort to still raise funds for a good cause, Lamborghini has decided it will offer people around the world -- not just the highest bidder -- the chance to win the unique vehicle. Donations begin at $10 in order to enter the contest, according to the campaign at www.omaze.com/experiences/pope-francis-lamborghini.

    During Advent, Trinidad musicians visit houses to sing of Jesus' birth

    BARATARIA, Trinidad (CNS) -- A hush descended on the room as the band -- a rambling collection of men and women of ages and ethnicities as blended as the instruments they fingered -- settled into their positions. The instruments ranged from Latin scratchers and mandolins, to African-inspired skin drums and a rustic-looking box-bass -- literally, a large wooden box just shy of two feet, with a stout, cylindrical mast protruding from one corner normally to the bassist's breast. A lone, thick string connected the box's center and mast-top; when plucked, it sounded like a cannon with a cold. Silence, until, at some hidden cue, the first note thundered collectively, truncated almost as soon as it began. Pause. Another note; brief, silenced, the box-bass' belch like the early roar of war. Then, the Latin-inspired melody released, surging like a battalion charging hot through a breach, like the one made by the Redeemer of whom they sang, who breached the walls of sin and death with a lowly birth. This group was performing to a mixed audience at a modest parish fundraiser, but traditional parang forms part of an intimate prayer celebration in private homes. "There is a tradition that started in Venezuela of carrying a gift of song to the homes, just as in English culture, there is caroling," explained Julio Torres, veteran parang musician and vocal coach. He added that parang is indigenous to Trinidad.

    Women religious open Christmas season with German Catholic tradition

    FERDINAND, Ind. (CNS) -- The sights and sounds of Christmas brightened the massive dome of the Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand as six Sisters of St. Benedict rang out "Silent Night" on hand bells. The gentle chimes of the season soothed the hundreds of people who gathered at the foot of the Ferdinand monastery during the cold Nov. 16 night, while the German tradition launched the Christmas season in the Indiana hamlet. The Benedictines were heralding the opening of the town's Christkindlmarkt, a weekend of vendors, concerts and Christmas cheer. The sisters have bolstered Ferdinand's tradition since the festivities began two decades ago. "It's a town celebration and the sisters are very much an integral part of the town of Ferdinand," said Sister Rose Wildeman, the monastery coordinator and director of the hand-bell choir. About 10,000 people -- more than four times the number of Ferdinand residents -- amassed into the small town for its Christkindlmarkt held Nov. 16-18. The monastery -- its arched windows, turrets and towers seeming to come straight out of medieval Europe -- provided an appropriate backdrop for the weekend.

    Cardinal tells COP24 climate needs present 'challenge of civilization'

    KATOWICE, Poland (CNS) -- The Vatican challenged countries gathered for the 24th U.N. Climate Change Conference to focus on the needs of the present and the future as it worked to take swift action. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, addressed the conference in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3 and told participants, "We are standing before a challenge of civilization for the benefit of the common good." "The Katowice meeting has the fundamental task of developing the Paris Agreement Work Program. This document should be a solid set of guidelines, rules and institutional mechanisms, aimed at facilitating a fair and efficient implementation of the agreement, particularly at the national level," the cardinal said, adding, "We are all aware how difficult this endeavor is." "We know what we can do, and what we have to do becomes an ethical imperative," he told conference participants. The cardinal said COP24's guidelines should have "a clear ethical foundation," including "advancing the dignity of the human person, alleviating poverty and promoting integral human development," with "transparent, efficient and dynamic" measures. "It is still possible to limit global warming, but to do so will require a clear, forward-looking and strong political will to promote as quickly as possible the process of transitioning to a model of development that is free from those technologies and behaviors that influence the over-production of greenhouse gas emissions," Cardinal Parolin said.

    At Advent, make peace, not war, pope says at morning Mass

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Advent season is a time of preparation for the coming of the prince of peace and not a time of making war with those around you, Pope Francis said. As Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they must also reflect on what they do in their daily lives to become "artisans of peace," the pope said in his homily Dec. 4 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "What do I do to help peace in the world?" he asked. "Do I always make some excuse to go to war, to hate, to talk about others? That's warfare! Am I meek? Do I try to build bridges?" In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's reading from the prophet Isaiah in which he prophesies a time of peace after the coming of the Messiah. "Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them," Isaiah writes.

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  • Update: 'A Night of Witness' service recalls life, faith of today's martyrs

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic churches throughout the world were bathed in soft red light to honor martyrs and mark the "Courage in Red -- Stand Up for Faith and Religious Freedom" campaign sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need. So it was Nov. 28 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where a quiet vespers service, "A Night of Witness," commemorated the martyrdom, just in the last two years, of some 22 members of the priesthood, most of them in Mexico and South America, and 82 others killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Egypt. Most martyrs are killed anonymously while simply going about their jobs before being caught up in the violence from civil wars and terrorist groups. "They may not be on the covers of magazines. They may not ever make the news. But they gave their blood for the church," observed Msgr. Vito Buonanno, director of pilgrimages at the basilica. "Tonight, we seek to remember all of them," said George Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, is an international papal charity that provides pastoral and humanitarian aid to persecuted and oppressed Christians and supports various church projects in more than 140 countries. "The church has lived through many periods of persecution, claiming the lives of millions," Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, reminded worshippers during his testimony. "Christianity is the most widely targeted religious community, suffering terrible persecution globally."

    Syracuse bishop hopes releasing list on abuse will bring 'peace, healing'

    SYRACUSE, N.Y. (CNS) -- In the spirit of Advent as a season of hope, Syracuse Bishop Robert J. Cunningham said he hoped the Dec. 3 release of a list of clergy credibly accused of abusing minors over the past 70 years would bring "some peace and healing" to those directly affected and to the faith community at large. In a Dec. 1 letter to the faithful of the diocese announcing when the names would be released, he said he knows his action "will cause pain for some victims, families of the accused, friends and parishioners," but he added, "I know that we are at a critical juncture in the history of our church." He explained the list includes "the names of both deceased priests and those living priests who have been removed from all ministry," and emphasized that "there is no priest in active ministry with a credible complaint of child sexual abuse and any allegations received have been decades old." The list can be found at www.syrdio.org and www.thecatholicsun.org, which are, respectively, the websites of the diocese and The Catholic Sun, which is the diocesan newspaper. He noted that the list "has been provided to the district attorneys of all counties in the diocese."

    Update: Nation mourns death of 41st president, recalls his life, legacy

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When he was running for re-election in 1992, President George H.W. Bush told Catholic News Service that he believed that a strong religious faith could provide "an extra shot of strength when you need it." "I don't believe you can be president without having faith. I really strongly feel that,'' Bush said in a telephone interview that October as en route from a campaign appearance in Kentucky to scheduled stops in Florida. That religious faith which sustained him and his family and was clearly evident during his years in the White House -- and more recently as he mourned the April 17 death of his beloved wife of 73 years, Barbara -- is being noted by many in paying tribute to his life and legacy after his death late Nov. 30 at age 94 at his home in Houston. His spokesman, Jim McGrath, confirmed the death of the former president in a tweet. The cause of his death was not immediately available, but he had been in failing health the last few years. In 2012, he announced that he had vascular Parkinsonism, a condition that limited his mobility and required him to use a wheelchair most of the time. The White House announced Dec. 1 that a state funeral was being arranged "with all of the accompanying support and honors." President Donald Trump designated Dec. 5 as a national day of mourning. He and first lady Melania Trump planned to attend the funeral at the National Episcopal Cathedral in Washington. The flags at the White House were lowered to half staff.

    L.A. archdiocese won't press charges against nuns for 'misappropriation'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said it will not pursue charges against two religious sisters who were found to have "misappropriated" a "substantial amount" of money from one of its Catholic schools. In a Nov. 28 letter sent to families of St. James School in Redondo Beach, California, the pastor of the parish associated with the school said the archdiocese would address the matter internally. The religious order Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, of which Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang are members, has agreed to a "full restitution" of money used for personal matters by the two women, the letter said. The Los Angeles Times daily newspaper said Sister Kreuper was a former principal of the school and Sister Chang was a former teacher there and also served as vice principal. Both retired at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. The archdiocese did not disclose the amount of money involved or how it was used, but said the matter was discovered following a financial review and the religious order will impose "appropriate penalties and sanctions on each of the sisters in accordance with the policies of the order."

    Still time to curb worst effects of warmer world, says climate scientist

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- An internationally renowned pioneer in climate science and climate change research, in an address at Villanova University, said that rather than "finger-pointing" about the causes of global warming, people need take collective action to slow the process. If not addressed, global warming will lead to stronger and larger storms and wildfires, said Veerabhadran "Ram" Ramanathan. The recipient of Villanova University's 2018 Mendel Medal, he recently addressed an audience of more than 600 people at the university about the dangers of climate change and its impacts for the future. In his lecture titled "Climate Change: Scientific Basis and Solutions to Bend the Curve," Ramanathan laid out compelling data to examine four basic questions: How much time do we have before climate change becomes unmanageable? How much time do we have to bend the curve and steer climate away from unmanageable levels? What are the solution sets still available to us? What can people do to contribute to the solution? First awarded in 1929, Villanova's Mendel Medal honors 19th-century Augustinian friar and scientist Gregor Johann Mendel, best known as "the father of modern genetics" for his discovery of the laws of heredity that bear his name.

    Bishops: Ukrainians have 'sacred duty' to defend against Russian forces

    KIEV, Ukraine (CNS) -- In a message marking the anniversary of their country's December 1991 referendum on independence from the Soviet Union, Ukrainian Catholic bishops said Ukrainians had a "right and sacred duty" to defend themselves against "Russian aggression," but should also avoid yielding to alarm and panic. "On the eve of our homeland's Christmas season, another heavy test has fallen on us -- an open show of aggression by the Russian Federation, which has deployed large military forces on our country's borders by land and sea, attacking our ships, and wounding and capturing dozens of Ukrainian military seamen," said the Dec. 1 message, signed by Ukrainian Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. "Whatever the external manifestations of these latest aggressive actions against our state and people, it should be remembered such actions have spiritual roots in the hearts of criminals and aggressors captured by evil forces." The bishops said Russian actions had been condemned by the international community and countered by the Ukrainian government's imposition of martial law in 10 regions. However, they added that "the key to ultimate victory by people and state over the forces of darkness and evil" would come with "the spirit of sacrificial love for homeland and civil solidarity."

    Ethicist: Gene-editing human embryos 'a train wreck of a thing to do'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The revelation in late November that a Chinese researcher had edited genes in human embryos and then implanted them in a woman was "a train wreck of a thing to do," said an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. "Normally clinical research proceeds in phases. First, you verify it works in animals, etc. Second, you verify that it's safe. In small things you verify it's effective," said John Brehany, the center's director of institutional relations. "He skipped all that stuff. He says, 'I practiced in animals and human embryos.' Even the Chinese officials are saying he violated their standards," Brehany told Catholic News Service in a Nov. 30 telephone interview from Philadelphia. "He said he didn't want to be first, he wanted to set an example, but he's toying with human health. He said he practiced on human embryos, so that means he probably destroyed them. He practiced in the context of experimentation." Brehany was referring to He (pronounced "hay") Jiankui, who first revealed his efforts Nov. 26 during an international gene-editing conference in Hong Kong. He learned the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR while doing advanced research at Rice University in Texas. His partner from Rice may face sanctions from the U.S.-based National Institutes of Health depending on the depth of his involvement in the scheme. "CRISPR" stands for "clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats." This is a specialized region of DNA having two distinct characteristics: the presence of nucleotide repeats and spacers.

    Middle East Catholic leaders: Bear witness in turbulent world

    BAGHDAD (CNS) -- Catholic leaders of the Middle East cautioned that the very existence of Christians in the region is threatened, but their faithful continue "to bear witness to the Lord Jesus amid a turbulent world interrupted by mighty waves." The Conference of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East reminded young people: "In light of the difficulties and challenges you face in the midst of the current situation in the Middle East, and in light of the bleak migration that threatens your future and the Christian presence in the East as a whole, we stand by you. As we share the same present pain, we look forward to a bright future with your presence, and we assure you that we will work together to provide the foundations of your steadfastness and steadfastness in your land." The patriarchs met in Baghdad Nov. 26-30 with the theme, "Youth Is a Sign of Hope in the Middle East Countries." Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of Chaldean Catholics, opened the meeting and noted that emigration and religious extremism are pressing challenges. At a Nov. 27 liturgy at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph, overflowing with young people who shared their questions, concerns, fears and aspirations for their future with the prelates, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said: "We live in this terrible legacy that we have inherited in recent years. Today, many people want to leave because of the difficulties and pain created by takfiri terrorism and external interference." However, Patriarch Younan exhorted, "If we want to be faithful and faithful to our fathers and grandfathers, we must remain steadfast despite all the challenges."

    South Sudan Catholic leader: Taking more time with peace pact is good

    ROME (CNS) -- After almost five years of civil war, South Sudan's leaders agreed to a new peace plan in September, but its implementation is spread over several months. A church leader in the African country says that's good news. Msgr. Roko Taban, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Malakal, compares the current agreement, signed Sept. 12 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a 2015 peace agreement that quickly fell apart. "In 2015, things weren't properly done ahead of time. They didn't work out the details before the transitional period. This time they've learned their lesson, and that's why they gave themselves eight months to get everything arranged at all levels of government. If the two parties continue in good faith to implement the agreement, things will work out better than before," Msgr. Taban told Catholic News Service during a visit to Rome. The September agreement, signed by Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, and his major adversary, the former vice president and rebel leader Riek Machar, also differs from earlier agreements in that it is explicitly backed by Sudan and Uganda, whom many have criticized for playing proxy politics in South Sudan. Msgr. Taban was forced to flee his diocese when fighting broke out in late 2013 and has been based in Juba ever since, though he makes prolonged visits to the diocese, including parts that are controlled by rebels.

    Solidarity with South Sudan celebrates 10 years of difficult mission

    ROME (CNS) -- An international group of Catholics has spent the last decade developing new leaders in war-torn South Sudan, but its members have paid a heavy price for their accompaniment of that country's suffering people. Solidarity with South Sudan was formed in 2008, three years after the country's bishops appealed for help from the leaders of religious congregations. With encouragement from the Vatican, dozens of congregations joined together to fund and deploy personnel to then Southern Sudan. The country became independent South Sudan in 2011. Over the decade since it sent its first volunteers to the new country, Solidarity has trained thousands of teachers, health workers and pastoral agents. More than 500 teachers, for example, have graduated since 2013 from the Solidarity Teacher Training College in Yambio. And the Solidarity-run Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau has graduated 108 registered nurses and 41 midwives. It's still expanding, and last year 21 percent of the nurses and 28 percent of the midwives certified in the country were graduates of the Wau school. In addition to the schools it has built or rebuilt, Solidarity members also travel to remote villages, including those under rebel control, to train those unable to leave their communities, often conducting in-service training programs for professionals or long retreats for church catechists. There are currently 31 religious and three lay volunteers from 18 countries and 19 congregations serving with Solidarity with South Sudan.

    11th Circuit ruling 'finally' ends EWTN court fight over HHS mandate

    IRONDALE, Ala. (CNS) -- The chairman and CEO of the Eternal Word Television Network said the global Catholic media organization is "grateful that finally" it no longer "has to worry about being forced to choose between massive fines and following our faith. It shouldn't take years to prove the obvious: You can't tell a religious media network to say one thing and do another," said Michael P. Warsaw in a statement issued from EWTN's headquarters in Irondale. Warsaw's remarks came Nov. 30 about a ruling issued a day earlier by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that vacated a lower court's ruling that EWTN had to comply with the Obama administration-era mandate to cover contraceptives and abortifacients for employees or pay huge fines. The Washington-based Becket nonprofit law firm that represented EWTN in the case -- Eternal Word Television Network v. Azar -- said the circuit court's ruling "comes on the heels of a settlement with the federal government" and "ends EWTN's seven-year legal battle." "Azar" is Alex Azar, who is the current HHS secretary. It also follows an HHS rule put in place Nov. 7 finalizing interim rules issued by the Trump administration in October 2017 to expand the religious exemption to the mandate to religious employers; the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

    Do not be afraid of crises, pope tells Jesuits

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- There is no growth without some form of crisis and no victory without a battle, Pope Francis told a group of Jesuits. In fact, "the worst evil that can happen to us," he said, is growing complacent, self-satisfied and worldly in one's spiritual life, too, he said. The pope spoke Dec. 3 with staff and students of Rome's International College of Gesu, founded by the late Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe in 1968. The pope told the community that they are called to strengthen their roots in God and grow in love. "The plant grows from the roots, which you don't see, but they hold everything. And it ceases to give fruit not when it has few branches but when the roots dry out. To have roots is to have a heart that is well-grafted" to God, enabling that heart to expand and be alive, he said. "There is no growth without crisis. Don't be afraid of crises," he told them, because it is necessary the same way there is no "fruit without pruning, no victory without a battle."

    World needs humble leaders unafraid to meet their enemies, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The world needs leaders who are humble and willing to talk with their enemies with the aim of leading their countries toward peace, Pope Francis said. "Those politicians who do not know how to dialogue and confront each other are not leaders of peace," he told residents and supporters of Rondine-Citadel of Peace, a peace and reconciliation project based near Arezzo in central Italy. "Leaders who do not make an effort to go meet the 'enemy,' to sit with them at the table and do what you do, they cannot lead their people to peace. To do this requires humility and not arrogance," he told the group of young people at the Vatican Dec. 3. The Rondine project hosts young people from nations that have experienced or still experience war and conflict; the young people live, study and work together, discovering their "enemy" is a human being like them, according to the organization's website. The two-year program aims to give students the tools to be creative, active leaders even in complex, high-conflict situations.

    Pope, President Abbas hope to restart peace process

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas renewed their commitment to peace in the Holy Land and a two-state solution to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the Vatican said. The pope welcomed President Abbas to the Vatican Dec. 3 and the two spoke privately for 20 minutes. In a statement released after their meeting, the Vatican said the two leaders focused on "efforts to reactivate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples." Pope Francis and Abbas also discussed the status of Jerusalem and underlined "the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and the universal value of the holy city for the three Abrahamic religions." Tensions over the city rose again in December 2017 after President Donald Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign.

    If gay priests, religious can't be celibate, they should leave, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church has been slow to recognize the presence of homosexual men in the priesthood, which is why superiors must exercise care in helping gay candidates prepare for a life of celibacy or leave the seminary, Pope Francis said. "Homosexuality is a very serious matter, which must be discerned adequately from the beginning with candidates, if it is the case. We must be demanding," the pope told Claretian Father Fernando Prado in the new book-interview, "The Strength of Vocation: Consecrated Life Today." Excerpts of the pope's interview with Father Prado, which was conducted in August, were printed in newspapers Dec. 1 ahead of the book's release. In 2013, Pope Francis had told reporters, "If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has goodwill, then who am I to judge him?" Some media outlets contrasted that remark with what Pope Francis told Father Prado, even though Pope Francis made it clear in the new interview that he was talking about homosexual activity among priests and religious who make vows of chastity and celibacy.

    Pope leads prayers for peace in 'tormented' Syria

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Leading thousands of pilgrims in prayer, Pope Francis lit a candle in remembrance of the people of Syria, especially innocent children tormented by the country's eight-year conflict. "May this flame of hope and many flames of hope dispel the darkness of war," he said Dec. 2 after praying the Angelus prayer. The lighting of the candle was part of a Christmas campaign sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need to call attention to the plight of the Syrian people, especially Christians who are "in grave danger of becoming a relic of the past." The campaign officially was launched with the candle lighting. According to Aid to the Church in Need, an estimated 50,000 children from different Christian communities in six war-torn cities of the country -- Damascus, Homs, Marmarita, Aleppo, Hassake, Tartous and Latakia -- lit candles for peace. "Before the beginning of the war, Christians accounted for some 10 percent of the population, around 2.5 million people," the organization said on its website. "As of today, it is estimated that approximately only 700,000 remain, which would amount to between 3 and 4 percent of the population -- although it is difficult to give precise figures at this stage."

    Advent is time of vigilance and prayer, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians can turn Christmas into a "pagan" or "mundane" holiday by focusing on the gifts and the tree rather than on the birth of Jesus and his promise to come again, Pope Francis said. Celebrating the beginning of Advent Dec. 2 with the recitation of the Angelus prayer and at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae the next day, the pope focused on the attitudes of vigilance and prayer that should characterize the Advent season and preparations for Christmas. "If we think of Christmas in a consumeristic climate, looking at what we can buy to do this or that, as a mundane holiday, then Jesus will pass by and we will not find him," the pope said before reciting the Angelus with an estimated 20,000 people in St. Peter's Square. In the day's Gospel reading from the 21st chapter of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples to be careful that their hearts "not become drowsy," but to "be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man" at the end of time.

    Closed New York church could still aid community, researcher says

    ROME (CNS) -- Selling Dorothy Day's former New York parish to make way for luxury apartments would be a devastating blow to residents and former parishioners in a neighborhood threatened by gentrification, an American researcher said. Speaking to Catholic News Service Nov. 29, Rebecca Amato, a historian and professor at New York University, said that although the now-decommissioned Church of the Nativity in the Lower East Side no longer serves the spiritual needs of the community, it has the potential of serving the material needs of the neighborhood. Amato, who is also associate director of NYU's Urban Democracy Lab, which focuses on urban renewal in areas affected by gentrification, said former parishioners proposed to purchase the decommissioned church for $18 million to develop low-income, senior and homeless family housing. The alternative plan is to sell the property for a reported $50 million and build a luxury residential development, which Amato said would be a "sordid use" of a once-sacred edifice. Although not all of the residents in the area were parishioners, decommissioned churches like the Church of the Nativity continue to be an integral part of "the fabric of a neighborhood," Amato said.

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  • Etienne: Church has much to do on abuse, but there 'is hope for our future'

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNS) -- After reflecting and praying on the proceedings of the U.S. bishops' fall assembly in Baltimore, Anchorage Archbishop Paul D. Etienne said he is sure of two things: that the "people of God need to hear from their bishops in the wake" of that meeting and that "there is hope for our future." The "show-stopper moment" came as the meeting opened, he said, when Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the Vatican had asked that no vote be taken on several abuse-related protocols governing bishops behavior and accountability that he had hoped would be accepted during the three-day meeting. The instruction came from the Congregation for Bishops, citing the upcoming February meeting of the presidents of the bishops' conferences around the world to address clergy sex abuse and to ensure that the proposals were in line with canon law. "Since that moment," Archbishop Etienne wrote, "the one question that quickly surfaced was: 'Why doesn't the pope care about the abuse crisis in the United States?' Let me be very clear, while this was a disturbing moment, and a troubling way to begin our meeting, Pope Francis cares very much about what we are experiencing in the United States. But, he also recognizes that this is a problem of the universal church, and requires measures that will apply globally."

    West Virginia diocese releases list of priests credibly accused of abuse

    WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Nov. 29 released the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The diocese said the release of names pertains to the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002, and the diocese's own policy on sexual abuse in place since 1985. The list dates back to approximately 1950, the period for which there are reasonably reliable files, a diocesan statement said. More than 2,000 files were reviewed, containing tens of thousands of documents. The list has been posted on the diocesan website, dwc.org. The release of the list is part of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese's "ongoing commitment to transparency in addition to helping aid in the process of reconciliation and healing for the faithful of West Virginia." "We hope the release of this list will be one of many steps taken to restore trust with parishioners and the broader community in West Virginia," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who is apostolic administrator of the diocese.

    Catholic school graduate has role in pro-life film 'Unplanned'

    WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) -- Maura Corsini, who graduated four years ago from a Catholic high school in Delaware, has landed a role in the upcoming film "Unplanned," which tells the story of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood administrator who converted to the pro-life movement. In the movie, Corsini portrays Megan, Johnson's co-worker and friend. "I always had the idea that I just wanted to move to Los Angeles and start a career right away," she told The Dialog, newspaper of the Wilmington Diocese. After graduating from Archmere, a Catholic school founded by the Norbertine fathers in Claymont, she attended a conservatory program in New York and spent several months at an acting school there. In January 2015, she moved to Los Angeles without a job or an agent. The opportunity to appear in "Unplanned" unfolded unconventionally. Corsini had been in touch with the movie's producers, then lost contact until one of them was a customer in the restaurant where she worked. She got an audition and was on the "Unplanned" set in Stillwater, Oklahoma, three months later. Corsini's character works at Planned Parenthood with Johnson. "We're very, very close friends and I go on this journey with her. It's me, her and this other girl, Taylor. Do we stay at Planned Parenthood or leave? We're really the three who are trying to get out."

    Landmark Ukrainian Catholic church in N.J. declared total loss after fire

    CARTERET, N.J. (CNS) -- A three-alarm fire that raged through St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church late Nov. 27 left the landmark church on Roosevelt Avenue in Carteret a total loss. No one was injured in the blaze that sent tongues of flame into the night sky while smoke billowed out of broken spaces that once were beautiful stained-glass windows and holes in the roof made by the firefighters to gain control of the conflagration. The fire started around 10 pm in the right rear corner of the building in a concealed spaced between floors before it spread to the attic and then the church's roof, Carteret Fire Department Chief Mark Hruska said. Crews from several towns assisted Carteret firefighters in extinguishing the fire. The cause did not appear suspicious but was still being investigated. Inside, huge sections of the floor were completely burned and opened up to expose the basement. Many interior walls of the church once adorned with their decorative painting and stencil work were severely damaged, exposing the wooden studs. The parish, which is in the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, was founded in 1949 to serve Middlesex and Union counties. The church was built in 1954.

    Bishop Malesic undergoes heart procedure; had suffered mild heart attack

    GREENSBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Greensburg said that Bishop Edward C. Malesic was scheduled to undergo a cardiac catheterization Nov. 30. In a Nov. 29 news release, the diocese said Bishop Malesic, 58, had suffered a mild heart attack during the Nov. 24-25 weekend while out of town for Thanksgiving. "He visited an out-of-town emergency room ... choosing not to ignore chest pains," the diocese said. "While preliminary test results did not lead to an immediate diagnosis, a cardiac specialist determined that the minor myocardial infarction he suffered could do damage if not investigated quickly." Before the cardiac procedure he was resting at home he will need to rest for a few days after the procedure," the diocese said. "Arrangements are being made to ensure coverage of his important upcoming events." One of those events was the last of seven listening sessions Bishop Malesic had scheduled around the diocese for Catholics to come and discuss their feelings and observations about the abuse crisis. The first one was Oct. 31. The final one, Nov. 29, had to take place without him leading it. When the listening sessions were announced in the fall, the diocese said: "Bishop Malesic knows that the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the events of the past few months have evoked a great deal of pain, sadness, confusion and uncertainty for the faithful of the Diocese of Greensburg."

    Ukrainian Catholics fear new war after naval clashes

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Catholics in Ukraine said people fear a full-scale war with Russia, after a naval confrontation prompted the imposition of martial law in Ukraine's eastern regions. Meanwhile, an official with Caritas Ukraine said local inhabitants had begun hoarding food, water and candles in preparation for a "sudden escalation" in events. Father Grzegorz Semenkov, chancellor of the church's eastern Kharkiv-Zaporizhia Diocese, said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had justified martial law as a necessary precaution against "new threats from Russia," adding that its planned 30-day duration would not affect Ukraine's elections. However, he said, some Ukrainians were asking why martial law had been declared now, "rather than earlier, during more than four years of war in eastern Ukraine." "Some of our parishioners in Mariupol and Berdyansk are in a state of panic, fearing Russia is massing its forces for an attack," said Father Semenkov. "Martial law has been declared in response to the new Russian aggression -- and though the practical effects haven't been felt yet, many Catholics have already left the country, and others will clearly respond in their own ways if conditions worsen." Hryhoriy Seleshchuk of Caritas Ukraine told Catholic News Service a winter blockade of Ukraine's Azov Sea ports would have "really dramatic consequences."

    Archdiocese of Santa Fe to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CNS) -- Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said the archdiocese planned to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following the recommendation of several consultative groups. He announced the plan Nov. 29 at a news conference at the Catholic Center in Albuquerque after a mandatory meeting with archdiocesan priests. The archbishop explained that he had considered filing for bankruptcy protection in recent years and decided to take the action because the archdiocese faces up to 40 active claims from alleged victims of clergy sex abuse. "We could see where this was all heading and the trajectory wasn't changing," he told reporters. "We just don't have any money. If we're not here, we can't help anybody." The archdiocese planned to file the case during early December, Archbishop Wester said. The announcement was the second major occurrence related to clergy sex abuse within the archdiocese in two days. Agents from the office of New Mexico's attorney general executed a search warrant Nov. 28 to obtain records from the archdiocese regarding at least two former priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

    Seven convicted of murdering Honduran activist Berta Caceres

    TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (CNS) -- A Honduran court found seven men guilty of the murder of indigenous human rights and environmental advocate Berta Caceres. An eighth defendant was cleared and freed in the trial that ended Nov. 29. Caceres, who founded the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras in 1993, was murdered in her home in La Esperanza early March 3, 2016, two days before her 45th birthday, in what police initially called an attempted robbery. The Lenca indigenous leader was internationally known for her opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River in western Honduras. Construction of the dam would have flooded larges areas of land and cut off food and water supplies for hundreds of people. Caceres' efforts earned her the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, an award considered the Nobel for ecological actions. Judges in the case determined that two of the convicted assailants who worked for the company building the dam had planned the killing along with a former Honduran army solider. The company, Desa, has denied any involvement.

    Pope pays tribute to slain Pakistani Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Commemorating the witness of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pope Francis expressed his hope that the Pakistani Catholic's death will be a source of inspiration and hope for persecuted Christians. Speaking to members of the "Missione Shahbaz Bhatti" association Nov. 30, the pope said the group can help overcome barriers and create "dialogue, understanding and reconciliation" among different people and different faiths. "One of the fruits of the sufferings of Christians is the multiplication of groups and associations -- like yours -- that build bridges of fraternity throughout the world, overcoming differences in language, culture and sometimes even religion," he said. Bhatti, who served as Pakistan's minority affairs minister, was gunned down in 2011 after he said he would seek the reform of blasphemy laws to stop the laws from being misused to persecute innocent Christians. The pope paid tribute to Bhatti and said he was pleased "to know that today he is loved and esteemed by many in Pakistan and that his sacrifice is bearing fruits of hope."

    Pope tells kids battling cancer to talk to their guardian angel every day

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- It is not easy living with cancer, but there is always some kind of victory that awaits each person on the horizon, Pope Francis told young oncology patients from Poland. "Your journey in life is a bit difficult, dear children, because you have to get treated and overcome the disease or live with the disease. This is not easy," he told the children, their parents and health care specialists Nov. 30 at the Vatican. But with the support of family, friends and others, "there is no difficulty in life that cannot be overcome," he told his young guests who were being treated at an oncology clinic in Wroclaw, Poland. God has given everyone a guardian angel so that "he may help us in life," Pope Francis said.

    Women say church leaders must listen to survivors before abuse summit

    ROME (CNS) -- Three female survivors of sexual abuse by priests called on church leaders preparing for a February summit at the Vatican to listen to the voices of victims and to end a "culture of cover-up" that has dragged on for decades. The women, from the United States, Peru and Germany, spoke of their experiences of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse during a Rome seminar, "Overcoming Silence: Women's Voices in the Abuse Crisis." All three survivors urged victims of abuse to "go to the police," adding that they believed internal investigations by the church have consistently failed to address the problem since the first cases were reported by journalists in the 1980s. One of the speakers was Doris Wagner, a German former nun who joined The Spiritual Family The Work community when she was 19. She explained how she was taught to obey her superiors unquestioningly and to cut off contacts with family and friends outside the mixed-gender community. She said that when the superior of the house came into her room and raped her one night in 2008, she felt confused and powerless to resist him. She added that she did not tell anyone about the assault because she feared the community would "blame me." Wagner left the congregation in 2011 and published a book about her ordeal of being "controlled, manipulated (and) sexually abused." She said she decided to speak out because, for many years, she believed she was "the only nun ever to have been raped in the church" and she wanted to prevent other women from suffering similar experiences. The Vatican conducted an apostolic visitation of the community from 2013 to 2014, which called for a revision of its constitutions and the implementation its recommendations.

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