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  • 'We must wait and see,' pope says of President Trump

    By Cindy Wooden

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As President Donald Trump was being sworn in, Pope Francis told an interviewer it would be "reckless" to pass judgment on the new president before he had a chance to do anything.

    "We must wait and see," the pope told two reporters from the Spanish newspaper El Pais during a 75-minute interview Jan. 19.

    The interview was published late Jan. 20 in its original Spanish with an English translation.

    Asked if he wasn't worried at least about some of the things Trump said before his election, the pope responded, "I'm waiting. God waited so long for me, with all my sins."

    "Being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite reckless," the pope said. "We will see. We will see what he does and then we will judge -- always on the concrete. Christianity either is concrete or it is not Christianity."

    El Pais asked another question about Trump and populists in the United States and Europe who, the interviewer said, "capitalize on fear in the face of an uncertain future in order to form a message full of xenophobia and hatred toward the foreigner."

    "Crises provoke fear, alarm," the pope said. "In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933. After (Paul von) Hindenburg, after the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: 'I can, I can.'"

    "Hitler didn't steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people," Pope Francis said.

    In times of crisis, he said, large segments of the population think, "Let's look for a savior who gives us back our identity and let's defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other peoples who may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing."

    Obviously, Pope Francis said, nations have a right and duty to control their borders, especially under the threat of terrorism, but "no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility of talking with their neighbors."

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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.
  • Protesters take to streets of downtown Washington on Inauguration Day

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The inauguration parade route was an unexpectedly strange place for Suzzett and David Faby to find themselves in as they headed to celebrate Donald Trump, the man the Catholic couple voted for in the 2016 presidential election. Suzzett Faby, wearing a purse and other clothing with the colors of the American flag, sheepishly looked around as she found herself outnumbered by more protesters than like-minded Trump supporters on the streets of of Washington Jan. 20, hours before her candidate was sworn in as the nation's 45th president. "They even throw us dirty looks," said David Faby, wearing a puzzled look that many Trump supporters carried with them as they walked through the overwhelming crowds that turned out to protest Trump and his presidency. When the motorcade carrying him and President Barack Obama to the U.S. Capitol drove by, there were more boos and expletives than cheers near the United States Navy Memorial, about a mile from the swearing-in ceremony. Katherine Samolyk, of Washington, had a front-row seat along the route, but she wasn't there to celebrate. "I've never protested before," said the retired government economist.

    Bishop says Rev. King's message endures, provides hope in time of despair

    ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CNS) -- An image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat near the ambo at St. Joseph Church in Alexandria as more than 270 people of all races and colors gathered to recognize and celebrate his dream. If the civil rights icon had been there, he would have heard the gospel choir raise their voices about peace, and heard Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge tell the congregation how Rev. King's message lives on. "Now, in this moment of history, we are the ones that the Lord sends out into the world, a world we know that continues to suffer the consequences of all the injustice of inequality and of racism," said Bishop Burbidge Jan. 15. "But we don't despair, we're believers. Every time we come to celebrate the Mass, we celebrate the truth that through His own suffering, cross and resurrection, Jesus has transformed darkness into light." The ideals of Rev. King were brought to the forefront time and again in events held nationwide to commemorate the national holiday for the slain civil rights leader, observed Jan. 16 this year. In Washington, The Catholic University of America community participated in a day of service to honor him. A group of 866 people, including 840 students, took part in the event, which the university said was the largest such event for the school. It marked the 11th year that volunteers have served at various locations across the nation's capital, including the Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land.

    Former employee sues group that advocates for victims of clergy abuse

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A former director of development for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has charged in a wrongful termination lawsuit that SNAP is more interested in fundraising and taking kickbacks from lawyers suing the Catholic Church than in helping survivors. Gretchen Rachel Hammond, in her suit filed Jan. 17 in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, further accuses SNAP of being "a commercial organization" and "premised upon farming out abuse survivors as clients for attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors and collect settlement checks from the Catholic Church." Hammond worked for SNAP from July 2011 to February 2013, and is now a journalist for the Windy City Times. She claims she was fired in retaliation for a series of discoveries she made about the way settlements were being handled, and that the stress caused by SNAP's treatment of her sent her to the hospital four times and resulted in a series of health problems. "The allegations are not true," SNAP president Barbara Blaine said in a statement sent to Catholic News Service as well as other news organizations. "This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse."

    Rockville Centre seminarians among first-timers at inauguration

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Three seminarians from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, attended the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump Jan. 20, thanks to help from their representative in Congress. John Crozier, Kieran Maelia and Paul Clores were offered tickets by Rep. Peter King, R-New York, who is close friends with a priest-mentor for the trio. The priest could not make it to Washington, but he suggested King offer the tickets to the seminarians. Thus, for the cost of gas, tolls along Interstate 95 and a quick meal at a rest stop, Crozier, Maelia and Clores got to see the inauguration from what Crozier estimated was a distance of two football fields from Trump. The trio saved money by staying at Theological College in Washington. Despite being seminarians, they went incognito, according to Crozier, 23. "Shirts and ties. It'll be a little tense out there. If we're not at ecclesial events, we don't wear our collars." Their first moment of tension, Crozier told Catholic News Service, came not long after they emerged from a subway station. "We ran into some protesters. They had D.C.-area police closely monitoring the situation. They said if they notice any tension or violence, they were on top of it," he said. "We turned the corner and they let us into the secured area before there was any physical contact." The protesters, he added were expressing their views about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for terrorism suspects, and the Palestinian statehood cause.

    New Baltimore auxiliaries thank fellow clergy, family for strong faith

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Following their Jan. 19 episcopal ordination Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, new Auxiliary Bishops Adam J. Parker and Mark E. Brennan of Baltimore recalled the litany of the saints, during which they lay prostrate before the altar. "I felt a lot of joy and a tremendous hope for what is to come in the future, and for the future of ministry in the Archdiocese of Baltimore," Bishop Parker said as he was whisked to the post-Mass reception. "I was praying along with the litany," Bishop Brennan said with a grin while obliging the camera-wielding faithful who had momentarily cornered him and his priest handler. "Lord, have mercy on me. Lord, hear my prayer." Close to 2,000 gathered in the cathedral on an unusually sunny and mild January afternoon to witness and take part in the ceremony, led by principal celebrant and consecrator Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori. The archbishop was joined by co-consecrators Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, where Bishop Brennan served as a parish priest before his elevation to the episcopacy; and Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher and former archbishop Baltimore, whom Bishop Parker had served as priest-secretary from 2007 to 2013.

    'We will be protected by God,' Trump declares in inaugural address

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald J. Trump told the nation in his inaugural address that it need not fear in the days ahead. "There should not be fear," Trump said Jan. 20. "We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement, and, most important, we will be protected by God." In signaling a new era for the United States, "at the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other," Trump said in his 15-minute address. "When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable." He said Americans of all stripes harbor common hopes and dreams. "We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms," Trump said, "and we all salute the same great American flag."

    '9 Days for Life' campaign urges prayer, action to build culture of life

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops' nationwide "9 Days for Life" campaign is "a great way to put our faith into action," said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities. He made the comments in a video posted on a website about the Jan. 21-29 campaign, The site offers four ways for participants to receive daily prayers, suggested reflections and practical actions for the campaign, along with links to the free "9 Days for Life" smartphone app. "We're praying for a lot of things this month, including racial harmony, Christian unity and the protection of all human life," Cardinal Dolan said in a Jan. 19 statement inviting Catholics and others to take part in "9 Days for Life." He noted that the beginning of the campaign overlapped with the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed this year Jan. 18-25. "As we pray for that unity, I invite our brothers and sisters in Christ to join in the '9 Days for Life' prayer campaign. Together, our prayers and actions can witness to the dignity of the human person," he said.

    Pope offers prayers for Trump as he becomes 45th U.S. president

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis sent best wishes and prayers to incoming President Donald J. Trump shortly after he took the oath of office Jan. 20. "I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office," the pope's message said. Saying that the human family faces "grave humanitarian crises" that demand "farsighted and united political responses," the pope said he would pray that Trump's decisions "will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation's commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide." The pope also said he hoped that America's "stature" continued to be measured by "above all its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door." The message concluded with the pope saying he would ask God to grant the new president, his family and all Americans "peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity."

    Parishioners pray for mercy, end to death penalty on night of execution

    FAIRFAX, Va. (CNS) -- As he was being executed by the state, the guilty thief turned to Christ and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Those hopeful, repentant words were repeated in the opening song of an execution vigil held at historic St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax Jan. 18. Twelve people gathered in the church to pray for convicted murderer Ricky Jovan Gray, for his victims and for an end to the death penalty. Miles away, Gray was preparing to die at the Greensville Correctional Center in southern Virginia. After being administered a lethal injection of midazolam, he died at 9:42 p.m. The drug, which has led to botched executions in other states, is so controversial that Gov. Terry McAuliffe added an amendment to a death penalty bill that allowed the identity of companies that produce midazolam to remain secret. Through the Virginia Catholic Conference, Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo condemned the killing, saying: "Knowing that the state can protect itself in ways other than through the death penalty, we have repeatedly asked that the practice be abandoned. Our broken world cries out for justice, not the additional violence or vengeance the death penalty will exact." Gray's death makes 112 executions in Virginia since 1976, tying the state with Oklahoma for the second most executions in the country, according to Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Texas is first. Six Virginia inmates remain on death row, though the state has not sentenced anyone to death in the past five years.

    Meeting pope, Irish prelates discuss ministry of bishop, abuse scandal

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Telling the bishops of Ireland that he wanted to hear their questions, concerns and even criticisms, Pope Francis spent almost two hours in conversation with them. In the continuing evolution of the "ad limina" visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican, Pope Francis met Jan. 20 with 26 Irish bishops and set aside a practice that began with Pope Benedict XVI: writing a speech to the group, but handing the text to them instead of reading it. Pope Francis did, however, maintain his practice of sitting with the bishops and asking them what was on their minds. The ministry of a bishop, the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the role of women in the church, the need to find new ways to engage with young people, the changing status of the church in Irish society, the importance of Catholic schools and methods for handing on the faith were among the topics discussed, the bishops said. They also spoke about plans for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August 2018 and hopes that Pope Francis would attend. Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, president of the bishops' conference, told reporters that Pope Francis led a serious reflection on "the importance of a ministry of presence, a ministry of the ear where we are listening to the joys and the hopes, the struggles and the fears of our people, that we are walking with them, that we are reaching out to them where they are at."

    Archbishop Gomez emphasizes dignity of immigrants on eve of inauguration

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- On the eve of Donald Trump's inauguration as U.S. president, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez renewed the call to recognize the humanity of immigrants at a Vatican-sponsored migration conference at the University of California in Los Angeles. "People do not cease to be human -- they do not cease to be our brothers and sisters -- just because they have an irregular immigration status," the archbishop said in a keynote address closing the "Workshop on Humanitarianism and Mass Migration" Jan. 19. "They are children of God and they are brothers and sisters. Our family." The Jan. 18-19 conference -- sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Ross Institute of New York, and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA -- brought together leading scientists, policymakers and philanthropists. "The fundamental crisis that forced displacement and mass migration are generating represents the most significant concern of all men and women of good faith," said Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a UCLA professor who specializes on migration. "Our work was inspired by so many of our colleagues here today."

    Minnesota seminary course aims to turn future priests into 'fishermen'

    ROME (CNS) -- While visiting Vatican offices, speaking to Catholic movements and following the footsteps of the early Christians, a group of transitional deacons from St. Paul, Minnesota, was in Rome getting an inside look into the church's mission in the world. "It's a desire to have the seminarians, our deacons, experience the universal church from the beautiful graces of this city -- the presence of Sts. Peter and Paul and many others -- and also from an academic formation point of view," Father Scott Carl, vice rector of St. Paul Seminary, told Catholic News Service Jan. 18. Father Carl led a group of 22 deacons in their final year of theological studies on a missiology course, "Mission and Ministry Practicum." The course, which ran Jan. 2-26, was designed to prepare future priests to have a better understanding of the church's mission of reaching out to others from different perspectives, including the Roman Curia, religious communities and lay movements. "As a formator and teacher of these men, a part of this is recalling that before the apostles were shepherds, they were fishermen," Father Carl told CNS.

    God's forgiveness is call to sin no more, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God forgives and forgets the faults of repentant sinners, unless they keep reminding him of their errors by pretending they have no need to change, Pope Francis said. The new covenant in Jesus Christ, the new relationship God wants to establish with each person, is sealed by being "faithful to this work the Lord does to change our mentality, to change our hearts," the pope said Jan. 20 during his morning Mass. Being a Christian, he said, is making a commitment to changing one's life by "not sinning again or reminding the Lord of that which he has forgotten." The pope preached on the day's reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, which says God will write his laws on the hearts of believers, "will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more. Sometimes I like to think -- joking with the Lord a bit -- 'You don't have a very good memory.' It is God's weakness that when he forgives, he forgets," the pope said. By writing his laws on people's hearts, he said, God wants to renew creation at its roots. Obedience, then, is not an external matter of following rules, but "there is a change of mentality, a change of heart," a different way of acting and of seeing things.

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  • Though snubbed by Women's March, pro-life groups will still participate

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Like many concerned about what Donald Trump has said about women and his various and changing positions on abortion, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa decided she wanted to take part in the Jan. 21 Women's March on Washington, protesting the new president on the day after his inauguration as the country's 45th leader. She and about 50 others from the New Wave Feminists, a pro-life group against abortion, war, the death penalty and other issues, had planned to join the crowd to make their voices heard and even wanted to be listed as partners in the march's official roster. "We were going to send a message that we were going to be holding Trump accountable," Herndon-De La Rosa said in a Jan. 19 interview with Catholic News Service. While officials with the Women's March, a conglomeration of groups dealing with issues ranging from equal pay for women, against sex discrimination and violence against women, said they would march to defend the marginalized, Herndon-De La Rosa said her group felt marginalized after they were accepted, then kicked off the roster of partner organizations, along with other pro-life groups. No one contacted them to give them the news, she said, but they found out after a flurry of stories announced pro-life groups like hers were taken off the roster as partners by officials. The groups And Then There Were None and Students for Life of America also were denied or taken off the Women's March roster.

    Speakers: Aim for truth with love to help those with same-sex attraction

    PHOENIX (CNS) -- For Courage member Daniel Mattson, the intersection of his life with the gay rights movement caused "all hell to break loose. I willfully turned my back on God," he said, "and took the forbidden fruit." With the love and support of his brother, Father Steve Mattson, he left behind his homosexual lifestyle and found that the "good news is chastity. It has brought me peace and tremendous freedom." The brothers were part of a panel of faith and human science leaders that gave presentations at the Courage International "Truth and Love Conference" at St. Paul Parish Jan. 9-11. Father Mattson conceded his discussions with his brother felt more like "apologetic Whac-A-Mole," but he knew he had to faithfully speak on the Gospel call to chastity and authentic love. "The church is obsessed with love, true love. We don't want to offend unnecessarily ... but if we don't offend, we can't share the truth," Father Mattson said. "When we're not talking, they have a steady diet from the culture and not from us."

    Orange diocesan priest to take USCCB ecumenical-interreligious post

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Father Alfred Baca, a priest of the Diocese of Orange, California, has been named the new executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Father Baca, pastor of St. Columban Parish in Garden Grove, California, since 2015, will assume his new post July 1. He succeeds Father John Crossin, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, who had held the post since late 2011 and is currently on a sabbatical to continue his research and writing. Before taking on the pastorate in Garden Grove, Father Baca served as episcopal vicar for ecumenism and interreligious affairs in the Diocese of Orange from 2009 to 2015. From 2007 to 2009, he was the diocesan ecumenical and interreligious affairs officer. Ordained to the priesthood in 1989, Father Baca served in various parish assignments before attending the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, where, in 2006, he received a licentiate in sacred theology with a specialization in ecumenical studies. "Father Baca brings to the (bishops') conference a wealth of knowledge and experience in the realm of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, both at the institutional and at personal levels," said a Jan. 18 statement from Msgr. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who made the appointment.

    Bishops visiting Holy Land: Christians must oppose Israeli settlements

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, said bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe. "This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace," said bishops who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19. "So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity," said the statement, issued Jan. 19, at the end of the visit. Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, was among the 12 bishops who signed the statement. Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, represented Canadian bishops. The statement also was signed by representatives of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, as well as bishops from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

    Pope blesses Louisiana anti-trafficking project

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis posed for a photo Jan. 18 with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, it was not a protocol-dictated nicety; it was a recognition of the commitment on the part of the pope and of a coalition of state and private agencies in Louisiana to stop human trafficking. Joining the pope and governor for the photo-op were Col. Mike Edmonson, state police superintendent, and state legislators; Father Jeff Bayhi, pastor of St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Zachary; and Consolata Missionary Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who has been a leading figure in the work of women religious to assist victims of trafficking, especially women forced into prostitution. In the center of the photo is the plaque for "Metanoia Manor," a refuge being constructed for young women rescued from traffickers. The home, at a "secure location" in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, will be staffed by four members of the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy. The governor's website said, "The Houston to New Orleans corridor has one of the worst trafficking problems in the country," with the average age of victims being just 13. In 2016, it said, Louisiana State Police investigated 27 human trafficking cases, rescuing 19 victims; 16 of them were under age 18.

    Christian living requires constant battle with devil, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Moving closer to Christ means facing daily struggles against temptation and battling against evil, Pope Francis said. When Jesus approaches the people who have come to hear him and be healed, "the unclean spirits try to stop him, they wage war," which is why those who seek to follow the Lord will face obstacles, too, the pope said Jan. 19 during his early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Looking at the day's Gospel reading from Mark (3:7-12), the pope said it is "curious" how the passage ends with the unclean spirits shouting at Jesus, "You are the son of God," after describing the enthusiasm and large number of people who came to see, hear and be healed by Jesus. "This is the truth. This is the reality that each one of us feels when Jesus approaches," he said, referring to the presence and persistence of evil.

    Pope: Catholics, Lutherans must continue to seek common ground

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although great strides have been made through 50 years of ecumenical dialogue, Catholics and Lutherans must continue to work toward becoming a full and visible sign of unity for the world, Pope Francis said. A continued "communion of harmony" will allow Catholics and Lutherans to "find further convergence on points of doctrine and the moral teaching of the church," the pope told members of a pilgrimage from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland Jan. 19. "I pray to the Lord that he may bestow his blessing on the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Commission in Finland, which is working diligently toward a common sacramental understanding of the church, the Eucharist and ecclesial ministry," he said. The pope met the Finnish delegation during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme chosen for the 2017 observance was: "Reconciliation: The love of Christ compels us." The week of prayer, Pope Francis said, urges Catholics and Lutherans to reconcile and "draw closer to one another anew through conversion."

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  • Theologian: Christian unity possible but not a 'call to ignore realities'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Disagreements among Christians have existed from the beginning, but there is a way to live in unity until disagreements can be resolved, said a U.S. theologian speaking about the need for unity among Christian churches around the world. "We will have disagreements, that is predictable, but must we have divisions?" asked Michael Root, a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, in a reflection during a Jan. 17 prayer service in Washington on the eve of the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. "There are real disagreements among those who claim the name of Christ, disagreements about sacraments, about how we live out the Christian life, about how the church reaches decisions. Some differences may mean that we cannot do together some things Christians must do together to be one church," Root said. "The ecumenical quest is about overcoming those differences, but also about how we live with them in meantime." Catholic Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, presided over the event attended also by Bishop Richard Graham of the Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bishop Rozanski is chairman of the bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. The event was similar to others around the world where religious leaders gathered to mark the annual event, taking place Jan. 18-25 this year.

    Congress urged to keep health care gains, protect life, conscience rights

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee said Jan. 18 that a repeal of the federal health care law should not take place without immediate passage of a plan that preserves people's access to adequate health care and also protects human life, conscience rights and the poor. "Important gains brought about by the Affordable Care Act must be preserved" as millions of people now rely on the law for their health care, said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. At the same time, he said, any replacement measure also must safeguard human life from conception to natural death, protect conscience rights and provide adequate health care for immigrants, the poor and others on society's margins. Bishop Dewane made the comments in a letter sent to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The U.S. bishops "supported the general goal of the law to expand medical coverage for many poor and vulnerable people," but they "ultimately opposed the Affordable Care Act because it expanded the role of the federal government in finding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion," Bishop Dewane wrote.

    U.S. abortion rate at its lowest since 1973 Supreme Court ruling

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. abortion rate is down to its lowest level since the Supreme Court made abortion legal virtually on demand in 1973, and the rate is half of its early-1980s peak. According to a study issued Jan. 17 by the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate for U.S. women ages 15-44 is 14.6 per 1,000 in 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. The figure represents a 14 percent decline from the 2011 numbers, and less than half of the 1981 rate of 29.4 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. The percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion is down to 18.8 percent, a decline of nearly two-fifths below is 1983 peak of 30.3 percent. A statement by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal abortion, said the study "did not directly investigate reasons behind the declining abortion rate," but suggested "the wave of abortion restrictions passed at the state level over the last five years" could have contributed at least in part to the decline. A Jan. 17 statement from Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, attributed the decline to more women looking "for life-preserving solutions" because of ultrasound and other technologies that allow them to "see the child moving in the womb" and "hear the heartbeat of the unborn child," along with knowing there are "programs available to help them with a new baby and new circumstances."

    Church leaders say Kentucky's new pro-life laws protect unborn and women

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- Louisville church leaders welcomed two state laws that place tighter restrictions on abortions, hailing the measures as lifesavers that will help parents and their children. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville said the two pro-life laws, signed Jan. 9 by Gov. Matt Bevin, "will provide solid pathways for commonsense protection of the child in the womb in a manner that also provides care to the mother." The archbishop also said the "passage of this legislation is the occasion for us to recommit ourselves to providing pastoral care to mothers who face problems related to their pregnancies." He said several agencies "stand ready to help," including Opportunities for Life, an agency sponsored by Kentucky's four Catholic bishops that provides a 24-hour hotline to assist women with difficulties related to pregnancy, as well as Catholic Charities and pregnancy help centers, such as the Little Way Pregnancy Resource Center in downtown Louisville. Kentucky's new Republican-controlled House and Senate swiftly passed long-stalled abortion-related bills during the first week of the 2017 General Assembly Jan. 3 to 7.

    On eve of Trump inauguration, Catholic communities will pray for immigrants

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Acknowledging the fear some immigrants have expressed as Donald Trump becomes president, Jesuit parishes, schools and other communities plan to pray for those who fear him and his proposals on the eve of his Jan. 20 inauguration as the country's 45th president. At least one community said it will declare sanctuary status for itself that evening. The Ignatian Solidarity Network, a social justice education and advocacy organization based in University Heights, Ohio, said in a news release that it asked its partner universities, high schools and parishes to organize events "recognizing the experiences of marginalization that immigrant members of communities throughout the country are experiencing." The result is the event titled "Prayers of Light: A Call to Prayer for Immigrants," taking place from coast to coast Jan. 19 in venues from San Francisco to New Jersey in places large and small in between, such as De Pere, Wisconsin, and St. Louis. Some planned prayer services with candles, Stations of the Cross with stories by immigrants, vigils and calls to political action. "We offer these symbols of light as signs of solidarity for those who may be forced into the shadows of our nation," said Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. "Through action and solidarity, we hope to illuminate the dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and the value of each individual's contribution to this country."

    Working with Iraqi refugees stretches, strengthens priest's faith

    MARKA, Jordan (CNS) -- Working with displaced Iraqi Christians has stretched and strengthened the faith of a priest who came to Jordan as a refugee. Father Khalil Jaar said the Iraqi Christians, who escaped the Islamic State invasion for initial sanctuary in Jordan until they find a permanent home, have become like family for him, with some even living on the compound of his parish, Our Lady Mother of the Church, in this crowded suburb of the Jordanian capital, Amman. "I told Pope Francis that I am a privileged priest because, for me, these refugees are the saints of the 21st century," Father Jaar recently told Catholic News Service. "His secretary said the pope was very touched by this and has started to use this same terminology: 'the living saints of the 21st century.'" Some Iraqi Christians helped by Father Jaar told him that despite gains by the U.S.-led coalition pushing Islamic States militants from their villages and Mosul, they cannot think of returning home and are tired of repeatedly rebuilding their lives. "They went from Baghdad to Alqosh and other places inside Iraq they thought were safe. Then they were forced to escape to Irbil and from there to Jordan," he said.

    Duterte order that Philippines offer free contraceptives may face delays

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- The Philippine president's executive order that the government begin distributing free contraceptives to the poor by 2018 may face delays because of a pending case before the country's Supreme Court. In June 2015, the court placed a temporary restraining order on the contraceptives provision of a 2012 reproductive health law after a challenge called for certain implant contraceptives to be studied as potentially abortion-inducing. Those were taken off the government offerings. By August 2016, the list of contraceptives that had to be checked for possibly causing abortions was expanded. Father Melvin Castro, chancellor of the Tarlac Diocese, called President Rodrigo Duterte's executive order "premature." Father Castro, an outspoken critic of the law when it was still being vetted in Congress, told Catholic News Service, "I think some of our pro-life lawyers will question the executive order in the Supreme Court, precisely because there's still a pending case in the Supreme Court." Duterte's socio-economic secretary said Jan. 11 that the Philippines had to cut the poverty level to 14 or 13 percent from its current 21.6 percent by the end of Duterte's term in 2022, and the executive order would "ensure zero unmet need for family planning" in the country whose 100 million people are more than 80 percent Catholic.

    Prayer brings light of hope in dark times, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Prayer has the power to awaken hope in men and women, even in the face of death and destruction, Pope Francis said. People often feel unworthy to turn to God when they are in need "as if it were a self-interested prayer and, thus, imperfect," the pope said Jan. 18 during his weekly general audience. "But God knows our weakness; he knows that we remember him to ask for help and, with the indulgent smile of a father, he responds graciously," he said. Greeting thousands of people in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope seemed to lose his balance several times as pilgrims clasped his hand and tried pulling him toward them, hoping for a hug or a blessing. Still, the pope took time to greet people, stopping to bless a pregnant woman's belly and embracing a young boy in tears, who was overcome with emotion at meeting him. The audience took place at the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which for 2017 had the theme: "Reconciliation: The love of Christ compels us."

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  • After Baltimore fire claims six lives, archdiocese grieves and gives

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Following a tragic Jan. 12 northeast Baltimore house fire in which six children lost their lives, nearby Catholic institutions are joining the effort to aid the stricken Malone family, who have ties to the Catholic Church. One of the family's nine children, an 8-year-old girl, was able to pull herself and two of her brothers, ages 4 and 5, out of the early morning fire. All six of the other children died: two boys, ages 9 months and two years; 3-year-old twin girls; and two more girls, ages 10 and 11. The fire reportedly enveloped all three floors of the home. The third floor collapsed onto the second, which also partially collapsed, and firefighters had to fight the blaze from outside. The father, William Malone, was at work at the time of the fire. The mother, Katie Malone, and the three surviving children were taken to area hospitals. The 8-year-old has since been released. "On behalf of the Catholic clergy and laity of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I offer heartfelt condolences for the family and friends of the lives lost and impacted by the tragic fire in Baltimore today," Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said in a Jan. 12 statement. "We ask God's blessing for his beloved children who we deeply mourn and for his loving embrace of those left behind."

    Encounter fosters community, helps young, old look at reality with faith

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- This year's New York Encounter drew a crowd of 10,000 for a three-day cultural gathering of presentations, exhibits and performances centered on the theme "Reality has never betrayed me." What struck first-time participant Giovanna Maiello was the "bridge of intellectual and heart and life" that allowed her to "enter into these talks and feel like you can really get a lot out of it for your own personal journey, your own faith life." The Jan. 13-15 public event, now in its ninth year, was organized by the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation and held at the Metropolitan Pavilion. Maiello told Catholic News Service that she hoped to take away "little things" that "help me to realign my mind back to the right reality." How to be a sound consumer, for instance, she said, referring to Carolyn Woo's comments during a panel discussion, "Economy With a Truly Human Purpose: Is it Possible?" Woo, the former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said, "We underestimate our power as consumers," pointing to the need for informed choices even with small purchases like shrimp or seafood, whose industry has "a lot of slave labor embedded" into it.

    In Holy Land visit, bishops see problems related to Israeli settlements

    TENT OF NATIONS, West Bank (CNS) -- Bishops from Europe and North America lauded this 100-year-old hilltop family farm southwest of Bethlehem as an example of the nonviolent resistance needed to oppose Israeli expansion onto Palestinian land. "This farm is what we want to encourage -- a peaceful resistance ... a moral voice to the international and local community," said U.S. Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace. A Canadian bishop agreed. "Nonviolence is very important. This is what the pope has been telling us. He said that the first reaction to a violent situation is to become violent if you don't have other values. (One of) these values (is) respect for human rights of others," said Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec. Thirteen bishops from North America and Europe visited the Tent of Nations as part of the Holy Land Coordination, which meets every January to focus on prayer, pilgrimage and solidarity with the Christian communities in the Holy Land. When the bishops arrived at the farm Jan. 16, they were greeted by brothers Daoud and Daher Nasser.

    In visit to Kurdistan, U.S. bishop hears priorities of Iraqi Christians

    AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- After meeting with church leaders in northern Iraq, a U.S. bishop said he will advocate differently for Iraqi religious minorities. Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, told Catholic News Service by phone that the Iraqi Catholic clergy do not want to see a safe corridor set up for Christians, as some in Washington have suggested. Although security is paramount, they prefer to see reconciliation take place, enabling Iraq's diverse mosaic of religions and ethnicities to live side by side. But that means trust would need to be rebuilt, and that could prove tricky given the regional and local players involved in Iraq's multilayered sectarian conflict. "We don't want to live in a ghetto. That is counterproductive. That makes us a target for our enemies. We have to live in a secure but integrated community where Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Catholics, Sunni Muslims, etc., have relationships with each other," Bishop Cantu told CNS, recounting the remarks made by Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Moshe of Mosul, Iraq. He said the archbishop told him: "We need an integrated reality, rather than a 'Gaza' where there's a wall and someone is guarding people going in and out."

    Iowa ministry celebrates decade of helping women transition from prison

    SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Franciscan Sister Gwen Hennessey, director of Clare Guest House, puts a different spin on the "What would Jesus do?" slogan. "I think what we provide is what Jesus would do," said Sister Gwen, who directs the transitional home for women released from prison. Clare Guest House began as an initiative of the Sioux City Multicultural Neighborhood Project, a ministry approved by the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1998. Its mission was to respond to the needs of poor women and children, collaborate in the development of neighborhood communities and serve as an outreach to Spanish-speaking immigrants. "When we no longer had any Spanish-speaking sisters for the project, it evolved into this project of providing a safe, supportive environment for women coming out of prison," explained Franciscan Sister Grace Ann Witte, who resides at Clare Guest House with Sister Gwen. In 2005, Franciscan Sisters Shirley Waldschmitt, Mary Lee Cox and Grace Ann initiated planning for the halfway house. They developed a philosophy for the house, identified the type of women it would serve, drafted rules and staffing plans before presenting their findings.

    Pope baptizes babies born in Italian earthquake zone

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a gesture of closeness to those who lost loved ones and homes following several devastating earthquakes, Pope Francis baptized 13 babies from central Italy. The pope celebrated the sacrament of baptism Jan. 14 in a private ceremony in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives. The Vatican said that all of the babies baptized by the pope were born after last year's earthquakes and that "the youngest of the babies was 5 days old." The central Italian region -- particularly the towns of Amatrice, Rieti, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto -- were rocked by a 6.2 magnitude quake Aug. 24, 2016. Amatrice was the hardest-hit town, accounting for 234 of the estimated 290 deaths, according to the Italian Civil Protection office. Pope Francis visited the hardest-hit areas Oct. 4 and then a powerful 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck Norcia in the early morning Oct. 30, reducing the Basilica of St. Benedict to rubble.

    Opus Dei to begin process to choose new prelate Jan. 21

    ROME (CNS) -- The three-step process to elect a new prelate for Opus Dei, the predominantly lay organization, will begin Jan. 21 with a consultation involving more than three dozen women leaders. The 38 women members of the Central Advisory will be asked to submit a list with the name or names of those priests in the Opus Dei electoral congress they believe are best suited for the position of prelate. Opus Dei is a personal prelature, which in some ways is like a diocese without territorial boundaries. St. John Paul II named as bishops the two prelates elected after the death of St. Josemaria Escriva: first Blessed Alvaro del Portillo and then Bishop Javier Echevarria. Bishop Echevarria, who was elected in 1994, died in Rome Dec. 12, 2016. Opus Dei has about 92,600 members worldwide; 57 percent are women and 43 percent are men, according to the Opus Dei press office. The majority of members -- some 70 percent -- are married. The 2,083 priests who are incardinated in Opus Dei represent about 2.25 percent of the membership.

    As elections approach in Somalia, bishop sees signs of hope

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- As presidential elections approach in Somalia, the bishop who serves as apostolic administrator sees signs of hope, but he says changes are needed. Since 1991, the presence of the Catholic Church in Somalia, already small, largely disappeared across the country as parts of Somalia came under the control of a more fundamentalist Islamic authority while other large sections of the country were taken over by al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group. Bishop Giorgio Bertin, the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu and president of Caritas Somalia, has worked largely below the radar from outside of the country, first in Nairobi and later from Djibouti, where the diocesan offices were eventually relocated. Despite the years of turmoil and upheaval, he has always remained hopeful. He said one symbol of that hope is the recent rebuilding and re-consecration of the parish church in Hargeisa, Somalia's second-largest city. The project was supported by the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services. What is and is not surprising, depending on how one looks at it, is that the church serves between 10-15 faithful. "There might be one or two more," Bishop Bertin said, "but they might be afraid to come to the church."

    Vatican backs papal commission investigating Order of Malta

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican confirmed its trust in the papal commission investigating the forced resignation of the Order of Malta's former grand chancellor following a letter by the order's grand master to discredit the group. In a statement released Jan. 17, the Vatican said it "reaffirms its confidence" in the five-member group established by Pope Francis "to inform him about the present crisis of the central direction of the order." The Vatican also rejected "any attempt to discredit these members of the group," led by Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva. Other members of the commission are: Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a canon lawyer and former rector of Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University; Jacques de Liedekerke, former chancellor of the Order of Malta; Marc Odendall, counselor of the order; and Marwan Sehnaoui, president of the Order of Malta in Lebanon. In a letter to members, obtained and reported Jan. 16 by The Tablet, a London-based Catholic news weekly, the order's grand master, Fra Matthew Festing, accused three of the commission members of having links to "a fund in Geneva."

    Pope names Boston cardinal, others to Vatican congregations

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis named Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, to be a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican announced his and other papal appointments Jan. 14. The 72-year-old archbishop of Boston is one of the eight members of the Council of Cardinals who has been assisting Pope Francis with the reform of the administration of the Roman Curia, and now he joins 26 other cardinal and bishop members, and 28 consulting theologians, in advising the doctrinal congregation. The congregation deals with doctrinal questions as well as the application of Catholic moral teaching. But it also is charged with coordinating efforts to rid the church of sexual abuse and with monitoring or conducting cases against individual abusers. While the congregation members offer their expertise on the many questions the office considers pressing, Cardinal O'Malley's experience leading three U.S. dioceses confronting the abuse of minors by clergy will be important, U.S. Msgr. Robert W. Oliver, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Catholic News Service Jan. 17.

    'Stagnant' and selfish Christians are hopeless, unable to cope, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians who forge ahead with hope in God have the strength to endure life's dark moments, Pope Francis said in a morning homily. However, Christians who refuse to fight for positive changes that benefit everyone are "stagnant" and selfish, he said Jan. 17 during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Christians who are "lazy" or "lukewarm" in the faith "have found in the church a nice parking lot" for themselves where their lives are protected "with all possible guarantees," he said. It's like "living in a refrigerator" that preserves things to stay just as they are, he said. "Lazy Christians," he said, are "Christians that have no desire to move forward, Christians who do not fight for things that bring change, new things, things that would be good for everyone if these things were to change." Such "stationary" Christians, he said, remind him of an old saying back home warning that stagnant water is the first to go bad.

    Swiss Cardinal Agustoni, longtime Vatican official, dies at 94

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Swiss Cardinal Gilberto Agustoni, who died in Rome Jan. 13, was a "sincere and steadfast" member of the Roman Curia and gave a witness of "priestly zeal and fidelity to the Gospel" at the Vatican for almost 50 years, Pope Francis said. The cardinal, who served as head of the Apostolic Signature, the church's supreme court, from 1992 to 1998, died at the age of 94. He began a series of assignments at the Vatican in 1950 and retired in the city in 1998. According to the Vatican website, the late Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani had to get permission from Pope Pius XII to hire then-Father Agustoni for a position at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then called the Holy Office), because the Swiss priest was not yet even 30 years old and the matters handled by the congregation were "so serious and delicate." Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, celebrated his funeral Mass Jan. 17 in St. Peter's Basilica. Pope Francis presided over the final rite of commendation. Cardinal Agustoni was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in July 1922. He completed his compulsory education in his hometown.

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  • Christian witness requires action, pope says during parish visit

    ROME (CNS) -- Being a real Christian does not mean being a saint, but giving witness to Jesus in word and, especially, deed, Pope Francis told members of a parish on the eastern edge of Rome. Spending more than three hours Jan. 15 at the parish of St. Mary in the Setteville neighborhood, Pope Francis had the same basic message for the children and youths as he did for the parish as a whole: "Christian witness is done with three things: words, the heart and the hands." As is his custom for parish visits in the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis arrived in the late afternoon and held separate meetings with the children and teenagers from the religious education program and Scout groups; with the parents of the 45 babies baptized in the parish over the past year; with a group of parishioners who are sick or have disabilities; and with the parish council and more than 100 parishioners active in parish activities. Before celebrating Mass, he heard the confessions of four parishioners. The Vatican press office said they were the young couple who care for the 50-year-old assistant pastor, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; a young man from the parish post-confirmation program; and the father of a sick child. In response to the questions of the parish young people, Pope Francis insisted, "If I say I am Catholic and go to Mass every Sunday with my parents, but I don't speak (about Jesus), I don't help my grandparents, don't help the poor, don't visit the sick, then it is not witness and it is useless."

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  • New embassy a sign of pope's love for Palestine, President Abbas says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas thanked Pope Francis for his support of the country's new embassy to the Holy See. "This is a sign that the pope loves the Palestinian people and loves peace," Abbas told the pope Jan. 14 before heading to the inauguration of the Palestinian embassy to the Holy See in Rome. The pope welcomed Abbas with open arms, embracing the president and saying, "It is a pleasure to welcome you here." "I am also happy to be here," Abbas replied. The Vatican said the two leaders spoke privately of the contribution of Catholics in Palestine and their "promotion of human dignity and assistance for those most in need, especially in the fields of education, health and aid." The pope and Abbas also discussed the peace process and expressed hope that "direct negotiations between the parties may be resumed to bring an end to the violence" and to find "a just and lasting solution."

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  • Bishop disappointed with change in U.S. policy to Cuban refugees

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairman of the Committee on Migration at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he was disappointed with President Barack Obama's new policy ending a long-standing agreement that allowed Cubans who arrive in the U.S. without visas to remain in the country and gain legal residency. "Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities," Obama said in a Jan. 12 statement. "By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries." The repeal of the policy, dubbed "wet foot, dry foot," was effective immediately and followed months of negotiations. It was praised by the Cuban government as "an important step in advancing relations" between the two countries. In a Jan. 13 statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, migration committee chairman, said the U.S. bishops have "welcomed normalizing relations with Cuba," but he also noted that "the violation of basic human rights remains a reality for some Cubans and the 'wet foot, dry foot' policy helped to afford them a way to seek refuge in the United States."

    Europe's Catholic, Orthodox leaders say they'll stand against terrorism

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Catholic and Orthodox leaders have pledged to stand together against fundamentalism and terrorism, as well as resisting forces working to erode and destroy religious belief in Europe. "Terrorist violence against people considered unbelievers or infidels is the extreme degree of religious intolerance -- we unreservedly condemn it and deplore that such acts have developed in the soil of a misguided religious culture," the church representatives said in a joint message Jan. 13. "The constitutions of our states guarantee the fundamental rights of the human person. Nevertheless, in our societies, forces are always at work to marginalize or even erase religions and their message from the public space. We believe Europe needs more than ever the breath of faith in Christ and the hope it provides." The 14-point message was published after a Jan. 9-12 meeting of the European Catholic-Orthodox Forum, co-chaired in Paris by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, former president of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, and Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It said Catholic and Orthodox bishops deplored "crimes that may have been committed in the name of religion," but believed their churches should not be blamed "for attitudes of intolerance that are inadmissible nowadays, but used to be shared by societies in the past."

    'Story of God' host: 'There is nobody who thinks man is in charge'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Despite the seemingly contradictory reports about U.S. church attendance falling across denominations and already low percentages for believers worshipping across the globe, belief in God remains strong, said actor Morgan Freeman, the narrator of a documentary series that bears his name. The nature of belief is "universal. Wherever you go, there are people believe in a higher power, a divine power. There is nobody who thinks that man is in charge," said Freeman, who is featured in "The Story of God With Morgan Freeman," the second season of which was to premier Monday, Jan. 16, 9-10 p.m. EST, on cable's National Geographic Channel. "Belief is fundamental, an intuitive state," said James Younger, one of the executive producers of the series, on a Jan. 12 conference call with Catholic News Service. "When we think about religion, belief gets conflated into laws and doctrine. Belief is an inner feeling you have, an inner peace, an inner connection you have with the divine or the eternal." "We often talk about the other levels of faith and religion," said Lori McCreary, the series' other executive producer. "I think in this season we're really looking at how people's belief turns out in everyday life."

    Bishops of Malta issue norms for ministry to divorced, civilly remarried

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Under certain circumstances and after long prayer and a profound examination of conscience, some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may return to the sacraments, said the bishops of Malta. With "an informed and enlightened conscience," a separated or divorced person living in a new relationship who is able "to acknowledge and believe that he or she is at peace with God," the bishops said, "cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist." The Maltese "Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of 'Amoris Laetitia,'" Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, was published Jan. 13 after being sent to all of the country's priests by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo. The bishops urged their priests to recognize how "couples and families who find themselves in complex situations, especially those involving separated or divorced persons who have entered a new union" may have "'lost' their first marriage," but not their hope in Jesus. "Some of these earnestly desire to live in harmony with God and with the church, so much so, that they are asking us what they can do in order to be able to celebrate the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist," the bishops wrote.

    Bishops still have hope Congress will pass immigration reform

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Despite the apprehension over policies that could be enacted by a Republican-led Congress acting in accord with a Republican president in Donald Trump, the U.S. Catholic bishops remain hopeful that Congress will pass an immigration reform bill. "This is a new moment with a new Congress, a new administration. We should up our expectations and move very carefully on comprehensive immigration reform," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "I think this might be a very good time, a better time, to pursue our goals," Cardinal DiNardo said during a Jan. 12 conference call promoting National Migration Week, Jan. 8-14. "I think the (bishops') conference is trying to start a conversation with the transition team of the president-elect," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president. "We continue to help elected officials ... to understand the issue," he added. "I think we are trying to establish that communication."

    U.S. doctors, nurses treat Syrian refugees for free in Jordan

    MAFRAQ, Jordan (CNS) -- American doctors and nurses on a medical mission to Jordan are performing badly needed surgeries and other medical treatment free of charge to thousands of Syrian refugees who can no longer afford basic health care. Dr. Bassel Atassi of the Little Company of Mary Hospital, a not-for-profit Catholic community hospital on Chicago's South Side, led the 80-member mission. Fanning out across Jordan, under the auspices of the Syrian American Medical Society, teams provided cardiac, eye and orthopedic surgeries; others offered care in pediatrics, obstetrics, dentistry, pain management and nephrology for refugees, inside camps and in the community. They also aided poor Jordanians. Atassi, originally from Homs and Aleppo, Syria, said the brutal, nearly six-year Syrian conflict has scattered his immediate family around the globe. One of the two main oncologists at Little Company, Atassi praised the hospital for its support. "The hospital donated medications and other supplies to the mission. The last time I was here in the fall, the hospital asked me to speak at a big meeting about the mission, showing my documentary video. They are very appreciative of this effort," Atassi told the Catholic News Service.

    Catholic priest found dead in northern Mexico

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Catholic priest has been found dead in northern Mexico, marking another attack on clergy in a country where the widespread violence of the past decade has not spared church leaders. The body of Father Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, 42, was discovered Jan. 11 in Parras de la Fuente, approximately 90 miles west of his working-class parish in Saltillo, while his vehicle was discovered abandoned in another state, the Coahuila state prosecutor's office said in a statement. Details on the disappearance of Father Hernandez remain uncertain, although Saltillo Bishop Raul Vera Lopez said Jan. 11 that two suspects had been arrested. Father Hernandez was last seen celebrating Mass New Year's Day at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in a community known as La Aurora and was scheduled to take vacation thereafter. Colleagues became suspicious when they were unable to reach Father Hernandez on his cellphone, according to a diocesan statement. His room in the parish residence appeared messy, with draws left open and clothing strewn on the floor -- uncharacteristic for Father Hernandez -- while his suitcase had been left behind, along with his reading glasses.

    Take a risk by following Jesus, pope says at Mass

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following Jesus and entering into a relationship with him comes with risks, including the risk of looking foolish sometimes, Pope Francis said. The Gospels are full of stories about people who took a risk to follow Jesus and those who, filled with bitterness or concerned with their own pride and status, simply sat by the wayside watching Jesus pass, the pope said Jan. 13 during his early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. While he was preaching Jan. 13 about the story from Mark's Gospel of four men opening a hole in a roof above Jesus' head to lower down a paralyzed man, the pope also mentioned the stories of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed, the woman with the hemorrhage and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. "The women risk more than the men, don't they?" the pope said. "It's true. They are better and we must recognize that." Jesus knew that many of the people who followed him did not have the purest of intentions. They were looking for help and healing, he said, but he allowed them to approach "because he knew that we are all sinners."

    Upcoming synod needs young people's voices, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis asked young people to tell him, their bishops and pastors about their hopes and struggles and even their criticisms. In preparation for a meeting of the Synod of Bishops focused on youth, the pope wrote a letter to young people, saying the church wants "to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith, even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard," the pope told young people. "Let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls." The pope's letter was released Jan. 13 along with the preparatory document for the synod. The document includes a series of questions to be answered by national conferences of bishops and other church bodies. The responses, along with input from young people themselves, will form the basis of the synod's working document. Pope Francis chose "Young people, faith and vocational discernment" as the theme for the synod gathering, which will be held in October 2018.

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  • Panel says voting rights need strengthening

    WASHINGTON (CNS) - Voting rights advocates discussed the disenfranchisement of voters in the United States, especially in the November election and said the system needs to improve. At the Jan. 11 "State of voting rights in America" panel at The Brookings Institution, panelists such as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr. recalled the "very tortured history around the right to vote" in the U.S. and said steps must be taken so that rights are not further eroded. Many took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby vs. Holder, which in 2013 struck down an important part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and allowed nine southern states to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The decision, which took effect immediately, affected redistricting maps and voter identification laws that many on the panel credited with disenfranchising African Americans and Latino voters. The evening before, in his farewell address to the nation as president, Barack Obama mentioned some of those concerns. "When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote," he said.

    Nat Hentoff dies; was self-described Jewish atheist pro-lifer

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pro-lifers mourned the death of Nat Hentoff, 91, who passed away Jan. 7 -- a rare combination of Jewish atheist, political liberal and pro-lifer. "It's not surprising an atheist would be against abortion, because all he knows is life," said Maria McFadden Maffucci, president of the Human Life Foundation and editor of its journal, the Human Life Review. Maffucci said her father, the New York City-based organization's founding president and journal editor, got in touch with Hentoff more than 30 years after the longtime jazz scribe had written columns in the Village Voice about the "Baby Doe" cases in which two infants were denied life-saving treatment because of their physical disabilities. "I think that woke him up," Maffucci said of Hentoff. He also became one of the first recipients of the foundation's "Great Defender of Life" award in 2005. "As an atheist, Nat took much heat from his fellow liberals and rigid fundamentalists among the 'free thinking' crowd for standing against abortion," said a Jan. 7 blog posting by Wesley J. Smith for the National Review, and himself a past winner of Great Defender of Life award.

    Cardinal Dolan has a minute to read from Book of Wisdom at inauguration

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said the Scripture passage he chose to read at the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president -- Wisdom chapter 9 in which King Solomon prays for wisdom to lead Israel according to God's will -- was an easy one to make. "I pray it all the time," he told Catholic News Service and joked that "the Lord still hasn't answered the prayer." Jokes aside, Cardinal Dolan said that Solomon's prayer has been one offered to God for centuries. In the prayer, Solomon acknowledges that God made humankind "to govern the world in holiness and righteousness and to render judgment in integrity of heart." The king continues by asking God for wisdom, "the consort at your throne, and do not reject me from among your children." Solomon also pleads with God to send wisdom "that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is pleasing to you." He asks that his "deeds will be acceptable and I will judge your people justly and be worthy of my father's throne." As for his appearance on the podium at the start of the inaugural ceremony with three other faith leaders, Cardinal Dolan explained that he was "flattered" to be invited to participate by inauguration planners.

    Actor did St. Ignatius' spiritual exercises to prepare for priest role

    WASHINGTON (CNS) - Actor Andrew Garfield underwent the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, as part of his preparation for playing a Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese's new film, "Silence." Garfield's spiritual adviser for this Jesuit journey was Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large of America magazine, a Jesuit journal, the author of several books, and who has some measure of television fame for being the chaplain of the old "Colbert Report." "I studied with Father Martin all things Jesuit and attempted to crack what it means to be a soldier for Christ. The basis of that was the exercises for me," Garfield told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 11 telephone interview from New York. Garfield, whose ancestry is Jewish but who was raised in a nonreligious household, did the 30-day retreat, although not in the customary way. He spent the third week of the retreat at a retreat house in Wales. "It was a silent week, and intense," he recalled. The actor, who has dual British-American citizenship, said he returned to the United States for the conclusion of the retreat near his Los Angeles home. "Yeah, it was remarkable, really. I was so grateful for the sacred time," he said.

    St. Louis archbishop decries proposal affecting reproductive health choices

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- A proposed city ordinance seeks to make St. Louis a "sanctuary for abortion," said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who called the measure an attack on the "most deeply held moral and religious convictions of the people of this great city." The legislation would amend the city's anti-discrimination law and add pregnancy and reproductive health decisions as protected classes. The bill, sponsored by Alderwoman Megan E. Green, has been referred to the city's Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee. Reproductive health decisions, as defined by the measure, would include any decision related to the use or intended use of any drug, device or medical service, including use of contraception or fertility control, or planned abortion. The proposal would affect employers, organizations and individuals, prohibiting them from discriminating against people or entities that make decisions related to abortion, birth control or artificial reproduction services.

    McDonald's near Vatican to give free meals to the poor

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the controversial opening of a McDonald's near the Vatican may not have all local residents singing, "I'm lovin' it," the popular fast food chain is trying to do its part in the neighborhood by helping the poor and the hungry. "Medicina Solidale" ("Solidarity Medicine") announced Jan. 12 that it is joining forces with McDonald's and the papal almoner's office, which gives the pope's charitable aid to the homeless around the Vatican, to distribute 1,000 meals to poor men and women who often find shelter in and around St. Peter's Basilica. Starting Jan. 16, volunteers from the charitable organization will distribute a specially prepared menu for the poor; it includes a double cheeseburger, fresh apple slices and a bottle of water. Lucia Ercoli, director of "Medicina Solidale," said that the organization plans to distribute 100 meals a week for 10 consecutive Mondays. The program, she added, is "the beginning of a dialogue" with McDonald's to expand in the future. "It is truly a small drop in an ocean of things being done by so many other associations, by so many people who spend their time helping others," Ercoli said Jan. 12 in an interview with Vatican Radio.

    Global papal prayer network continues to evolve

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Last year, more than 13 million people around the world watched Pope Francis explain one of his specific prayer intentions each month. The 90-second, personal explanations in "The Pope Video," first launched in January 2016, encouraged people to join an estimated 50 million Catholics who already had a more formal relationship with The Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network -- better known by its former title, the Apostleship of Prayer. The prayer network, which is more than 170 years old, continues to evolve. After the debut in 2016 of the monthly video on, the new year began with Pope Francis adding a second monthly intention -- an urgent prayer appeal. For January the appeal was for the homeless struggling with cold temperatures and indifference. For decades the Apostleship of Prayer distributed two intentions for each month: one focused on needs in mission territories and the other on a matter considered more universal. The lists were published a full year in advance after going through a long process of collecting suggestions, getting input from Vatican offices and being translated.

    English bishop: Speaking about sexual morality like talking to alcoholic

    LONDON (CNS) -- Trying to preach sexual morality in Britain has become "like arguing with an alcoholic" because of the angry reaction in the face of reason, an English bishop said. "After a while, they won't argue with you on grounds of reason, they just become furious and respond that way," Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told Catholic News Service Jan. 11. "There is something in our culture increasingly like that." Two days earlier, Dame Louise Casey, a senior government adviser on integration, told politicians that U.K. Catholic schools should not teach same-sex marriage as wrong. In oral evidence to the communities committee of the House of Commons, Casey said religious extremism was a continuing problem in some British schools. "It is not OK for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage," added Casey, dubbed the "integration czar" by the British media after she was appointed director general of a team commissioned by the government to investigate opportunity and integration. "I have a problem with the expression of religious conservatism because I think often it can be anti-equalities," she said in remarks reported by the London-based Daily Mail newspaper.

    Don't procrastinate on faith, live today, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians are called to renew their faithfulness to God every day and not procrastinate when it comes to their own personal conversion, Pope Francis said. A hardened heart that sets aside "receiving the love of God" for another day, may find that it is too late to enjoy the heavenly reward awaiting those whose hearts are strong in the faith, the pope said Jan. 12 in his homily during Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "I say this not to frighten you but simply to say that our life is a 'today' -- today or never," he said. "Tomorrow will be an eternal 'tomorrow' with no sunset, with the Lord forever if I am faithful to this 'today.' And the question that I ask you is what the Holy Spirit asks: 'How do I live this 'today?'" he said. The pope centered his homily on the day's reading from the Letter to the Hebrews in which the author urges the Christian community to "encourage yourselves daily while it is still 'today,' so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin." Hearts "are at risk" of losing this "today," the opportunity of living life to its fullness and not ruined by sin, he said.

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