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  • Washington Archdiocese considers next step in lawsuit over transit ad

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    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Washington was weighing its options after a federal judge denied a request for an emergency injunction over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's advertising guidelines.

    U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson Dec. 8 denied the archdiocese's request that WMATA be required to post an ad promoting its annual "Find the Perfect Gift" initiative for the Advent season.

    Transit authority officials had denied the ad based on 2015 policies that ban ads "that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief."

    "We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our 'Find the Perfect Gift' Advent campaign," Ed McFadden, the archdiocese's secretary for communications, said in a statement Dec. 9.

    "While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on WMATA buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square," the statement said.

    Berman found that while buses are controlled by a government agency, the authority's rules likely are legal and reasonable because WMATA's restrictions are not based on whether the agency opposes the advertiser's particular views.

    The archdiocese contended WMATA's policy that "prohibits all noncommercial advertising, including any speech that purportedly promotes a religion, religious practice or belief," is a violation of the free speech and free exercise of religion clauses of the First Amendment and a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

    The WMATA's prohibition, the archdiocese contends, "violates the free speech rights of the archdiocese because the prohibition creates an unreasonable and disproportionate burden on the exercise of the archdiocese's speech without any legitimate justification."

    The archdiocese has in previous years advertised on WMATA's public buses. Up until 2015, the archdiocese purchased WMATA space for ads that, according to the lawsuit, "were explicitly religious in character."

    "These advertisements included a campaign highlighting the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation during the liturgical season of Lent. This campaign, 'The Light Is on for You,' was remarkably successful for the archdiocese -- and lucrative for WMATA -- with advertisements on the backs of 85 buses throughout the metropolitan area."

    The rejected ads highlight the archdiocese's annual "Find the Perfect Gift" campaign, which refers viewers to the FindThePerfectGift.org website that includes Mass schedules, reflections on the meaning of Advent and Christmas, religious holiday traditions and opportunities for charitable service. The image is a silhouette of shepherds and sheep standing on a hill.

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    Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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.
  • A Christmas clothing drive in Washington helps babies in Bethlehem

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- December, when all eyes are on the baby Jesus, the Holy Land Family Hospital of Bethlehem wants others to think about modern-day babies in the city in the West Bank where the Gospel says Christ was born. That's where many babies are born to struggling families, increasingly in a tense environment similar to the one the Holy Family faced upon their newborn's birth. Last year, to make life just a little easier for babies and their families, Michele Burke Bowe, of the hospital's Washington-based foundation, began gathering onesies, the tiny one-piece suits many newborns wear, to give to Bethlehem's newest residents. "It's a wonderful gesture of solidarity. Most of the families are poor and many come from desert communities where there is no heat, running water or electricity. It's a kind gesture to give a mother a gift on the occasion of the birth of a child, just like the Three Kings," she said in an Dec. 6 email interview with Catholic News Service. Clothing donations or financial donations can be sent to: Holy Family Hospital Foundation, 2000 P St. NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC, 20036. Help is needed year-round.

    Washington Archdiocese considers next step in lawsuit over transit ad

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Washington was weighing its options after a federal judge denied a request for an emergency injunction over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's advertising guidelines. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson Dec. 8 denied the archdiocese's request that WMATA be required to post an ad promoting its annual "Find the Perfect Gift" initiative for the Advent season. Transit authority officials had denied the ad based on 2015 policies that ban ads "that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice or belief." "We are disappointed that the federal court denied our emergency request for an injunction to run our 'Find the Perfect Gift' Advent campaign," Ed McFadden, the archdiocese's secretary for communications, said in a statement Dec. 9. "While this preliminary ruling that there should be no room made for us on WMATA buses is disappointing, we will continue in the coming days to pursue and defend our right to share the important message of Christmas in the public square," the statement said.

    Hispanic Catholics want to help each other encounter Christ every day

    OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- Sometimes it's hard to feel welcome, especially when moving to a new community -- or in the case of many Hispanics, a new Catholic community. Language barriers, fears of being discovered in the country without legal permission and other concerns can keep families and individuals from getting involved in a parish or continuing to practice their faith. Those experiences were recounted by some of the 60 parish leaders and representatives of the Latino community who gathered Nov. 18 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha as part of an archdiocesan encuentro, or encounter. The Omaha Archdiocese's encuentro was a culmination of gatherings of Latino leaders in parishes across the archdiocese. Diocesan-level encuentros are the current phase of a four-year process of ecclesial reflection and action leading to the U.S. Catholic Church's Fifth National Encuentro, or "V Encuentro." First came parish-level encuentros; next will be regional encuentros. The national encuentro is planned for next September in Grapevine, Texas.

    Miami's Peruvian-born auxiliary bishop says his role is 'to serve'

    WESTON, Fla. (CNS) -- On the eve of his ordination as the newest auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami, Bishop-designate Enrique Delgado witnessed a joyful celebration of his parish priestly ministry before becoming the first Peruvian-born bishop in the U.S. Held Dec. 6, during solemn vespers at his parish of St. Katharine Drexel west of Fort Lauderdale -- where the priest oversaw the successful completion of a long-awaited parish building project -- more than a thousand friends, parishioners and family members and dignitaries gathered to pray as a community for the new bishop. Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski ordained the new bishop the following day at St. Mary's Cathedral in Miami. He joins Auxiliary Bishop Peter Baldacchino in assisting the archbishop. Pope Francis named him an auxiliary bishop for Miami Oct. 12, sending the parish and the wider Catholic community of South Florida into high preparation mode for the Dec. 6-7 ordination formalities. "His life has changed in ways he has yet to imagine and we thank him for saying 'Yes' when he received that call from the (apostolic) nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, informing him that Pope Francis had chosen him to be a bishop," Archbishop Wenski told the gathering during vespers, which traditionally falls on the evening before an ordination.

    In Puerto Rico, much work to do and much suffering remains, says cardinal

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- What Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich learned in visiting and talking to the people of Puerto Rico Dec. 3-6 is that "there's a lot of work to do, a lot of people suffering" nearly three months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. In a pastoral visit made on behalf of Pope Francis, the cardinal traveled throughout Puerto Rico, meeting with its bishops, priests and laypeople. The pope had sent the cardinal to the hurricane-battered island to make a visit before Christmas to express his deep concern for the people and reach out in solidarity on his behalf to those who are suffering. Cardinal Cupich, who also is chancellor of Catholic Extension, tapped the Chicago-based papal society to assist with his trip. Making over a dozen stops, the group visited a variety of people and places, including the motherhouse of missionary sisters, an orphanage, and numerous parishes and chapels. They met with the bishops, with scores of pastors, lay leaders and deacons serving the poor. Catholic Extension has a long history of working with the six dioceses of Puerto Rico, providing about $1 million annually to support church construction and ministry. Since its first assistance to the island in 1908, Catholic Extension's most notable contribution to Puerto Rico has been its support for the construction and repair of 1,400 church buildings.

    Christian vocation is to serve life, health, pope says in message

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church's care for the sick, especially through Catholic-run hospitals, is an antidote to "the business mentality that is seeking worldwide to turn health care into a profit-making enterprise," Pope Francis said. In his message for World Day of the Sick, Feb. 11, the pope urged Catholics individually and as a community to continue to provide loving care for the sick. The church marks the day each year on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Pope Francis' message for 2018 had a strong Marian focus, emphasizing the church's maternal mission to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of all people. "May our prayers to the Mother of God see us united in an incessant plea that every member of the church may live with love the vocation to serve life and health," he prayed.

    'Honor Your Mother' Guadalupe celebration sparks joy in downtown Phoenix

    PHOENIX (CNS) -- The streets of downtown Phoenix came alive with a spectacle of swirling colors and vibrant faith as hundreds of Catholics gathered for the annual "Honor Your Mother" event that celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Diocese of Phoenix. The echo of drums, maracas and even tubas and trumpets resounded through the streets as dozens of Matachine dance troupes in colorful costumes marched Dec. 2 from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church to the plaza in front of the Phoenix Diocese's pastoral center. Georgia Gonzalez of St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear stood behind a table heaped with rosaries, prayer booklets and holy cards. The "Honor Your Mother" celebration "really shows how many young people are involved in the church," Gonzalez told The Catholic Sun, the diocesan newspaper. "It bowls me over and it really gives me a lot of joy to experience this." Ruby Lodono was with around 50 fellow Catholics from St. Gregory Parish. Holding a foil-wrapped burrito, she considered why the annual event is so popular. "It brings our community together," she said. "It's the love for the Virgin of Guadalupe that motivates us." As for the burrito, she said, "I didn't even ask for it. Someone just offered it to me."

    Update: Venezuelans try new food strategies to combat hunger, malnutrition

    BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (CNS) -- Eleven-year-old Alejandro took two sausages from the refrigerator in his home, thinking only of his empty stomach. When his mother, a cleaning woman, returned and realized that Alejandro had eaten what was meant to be dinner for her six children, she shouted at him and beat him. Furious and ashamed, Alejandro went into his room and locked the door. Three hours later, his mother found him dead. He had hanged himself. Medical Mission Sister Maigualida Riera, 46, is still shaken by the tragedy that occurred in Jesus of Nazareth Parish in Barquisimeto, Venezuela's fourth-largest city, where she lives. Alejandro's death is an extreme case of an evil haunting all Venezuelan families these days: hunger. "People do not have the money to buy enough food," said Janeth Marquez, coordinator of Caritas Venezuela, the Catholic Church's aid agency. Because of hyperinflation, the monthly minimum wage buys just four boxes of eggs. Tomorrow it might be worth even less. The Venezuelan government does not release official figures about food, but surveys by Caritas show that 46 percent of Venezuelans eat less than three meals a day, and 14.5 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition. Even Caritas workers are hit by the crisis. "Our people leave the country or have to struggle to get food for themselves," Marquez told Catholic News Service.

    Iowa priest honored posthumously for heroism as chaplain at Pearl Harbor

    DUBUQUE, Iowa (CNS) -- Relatives of the first chaplain to die in World War II accepted the Silver Star on his behalf 76 years to the day after he died saving 12 sailors during the Pearl Harbor attack. On Dec. 7, Del and Dan Schmitt, and Fran Hemesath -- nephews and a niece of Father Aloysius Schmitt -- were among the family members who participated in a memorial Mass and medal ceremony at Loras College in Dubuque. They still remember time they spent with their uncle as children before anybody ever called him a hero. "He would be very humble," reflected Del Schmitt on how the priest would react to the recognition. "He would probably tell them to give the medal to someone else." "We're very proud," added Hemesath. Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, chief of chaplains of the U.S. Navy, led the military delegation bestowing the award, the third-highest medal in the armed forces, given for bravery in combat. "It was his actions that helped to save 12 souls," said the admiral during the ceremony. "Father Schmitt has lived out the motto of the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps ... 'called to serve.'"

    Prepare way for the Lord with prayer, acts of charity, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advent is a time to make a renewed commitment to prayer and to caring for others, Pope Francis said. "It is a time to recognize the holes to be filled in our lives, to smooth the roughness of pride and make space for Jesus who is coming," the pope said Dec. 10, the second Sunday of Advent. Before reciting the Angelus prayer with an estimated 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis spoke about the Sunday Mass readings and particularly about the ways in which people today could respond to the prophet Isaiah's call to prepare the way of the Lord. Isaiah says "every valley shall be filled in" and "every mountain and hill shall be made low" in preparation for the coming of the savior. The personal valleys or voids to be filled, the pope said, are "sins of omission," especially "the fact that we do not pray or pray seldom."

    Bishops urge U.K. to allow more child refugees from France

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- U.K. Catholic leaders urged the British government to accept more child refugees from northern France after reports that hundreds of young people are being forced to sleep outdoors in low temperatures. An English and a Scottish bishop said the situation of migrants waiting in the French port of Calais for the opportunity to cross the English Channel into the United Kingdom had become increasingly perilous since the clearance of an illegal migrants' camp known as "The Jungle" a year ago. They urged the government to relax rules that limit the number of child refugees the U.K. will accept from France. "Whilst the camp has closed, young migrants remain," said Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, president of Justice and Peace Scotland, and Auxiliary Bishop Paul McAleenan of Westminster, spokesman on migrants and asylum seekers for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. "Their situation is now much worse," they said in their early December statement. "These young people are forced to sleep rough, which at this time of year, as temperatures fall, is of great concern.

    Migrants need more than decent laws, they need accompaniment, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The men, women and children who flee poverty and violence need to find people like St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who have open hearts and hands to welcome them, Pope Francis said. Her charism is extraordinarily relevant today "because migrants certainly need good laws, development programs, organization, but they also and first of all always need love, friendship and human closeness," the pope said. "They need to be listened to, looked at in the eyes, accompanied" and they need God, whom they encounter in the kind of selfless love that St. Cabrini displayed, he said in an audience Dec. 9 with the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The pope met with members of the congregation founded by St. Frances as they were marking the 100th anniversary of her death. The Italian nun immigrated to New York in 1889 to minister to fellow immigrants, opening schools, orphanages and hospitals for the poor. She died Dec. 22, 1917, in Chicago and became the first U.S. citizen to be declared a saint.

    'Crowning jewel' of national shrine -- Trinity Dome Mosaic -- dedicated

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The overflowing congregation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception hardly needed reminding to raise their "eyes to the heavens" during a dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic Dec. 8. Before Mass began, all eyes were already on the newly completed gold dome above the front central section of the Upper Church. When it was blessed during Mass, incense rose above the congregation and bright lights were turned on to give a better view of the newly finished dome that includes the words of the Nicene Creed encircling the base and a depiction of the Holy Trinity, Mary, the four Evangelists, angels and more than a dozen saints connected to the United States or the shrine. During the blessing and before and after Mass, phones and cameras were held aloft to capture the completed work more than two years in the making. But it would take more than a few pictures to capture the details in this majestic work of art described as the "crowning jewel" of the national shrine during introductory remarks by Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector. The dome mosaic is composed of more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass covering more than 18,300 square feet of the dome's surface. Its completion marks the final step in finishing the work of the Upper Church that began in 1955.

    Pope: Let go of grudges, stop whining, find joy with Jesus

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must be strong and let go of all the bitterness and negativity that prevent them from experiencing God's consolation and joy, Pope Francis said. "So many times, we cling to what's negative, we hold on to the wound of sin inside of us, and many times, the preference is to stay there, alone," he said in his homily Dec. 11 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Instead, Jesus always tells people to "get up" and have no fear, because he is there to offer salvation, consolation and joy, the pope said. The pope's homily focused on the day's reading from Isaiah (35:1-10) in which the prophet foresaw the glory of the Lord, who will come "with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you." This is why people must "strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak" and "be strong, fear not" because of the coming of the Lord, the pope said.

    God does not lead us into temptation, Satan does, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Italian and English translations of the "Our Father" can give believers the wrong impression that God can and does lead people into temptation, Pope Francis said. The Italian bishops' television channel, TV2000, has been broadcasting a series of conversations between the pope and a Catholic prison chaplain looking at the Lord's Prayer line by line. The episode broadcast Dec. 6 focused on the line, "Lead us not into temptation." Father Marco Pozza told the pope that friends have asked him, "Can God really lead us into temptation?" "This is not a good translation," the pope said. The standard versions of the prayer are translated from the Latin, which was translated from the New Testament in Greek. While he said nothing about ordering a new translation, Pope Francis noted how the French bishops had decided that beginning Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, French Catholics would change the line to the equivalent of "do not let us enter into temptation."

    Vatican renews call for peace, negotiated solution on Jerusalem

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following days of violence and backlash after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Vatican appealed for "wisdom and prudence" to prevail. The Holy See "reiterates its own conviction that only a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians can bring a stable and lasting peace and guarantee the peaceful coexistence of two states within internationally recognized borders," the Vatican said in a Dec. 10 statement. President Trump announced his decision Dec. 6 to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign. The announcement sparked anti-U.S. protests throughout Asia and the Middle East, including a four-day protest in the Palestinian territories, Reuters reported. An Israeli security guard in Jerusalem, the report said, was in critical condition after he was stabbed by a Palestinian man at the city's bus station. Pope Francis expressed his "sorrow for the clashes in recent days" and called for world leaders to renew their commitment for peace in the Holy Land, the Vatican said.

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    Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Iraq archbishop, Pence meet to discuss plight of persecuted Christians

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, reported that he and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence "had a substantial discussion on the needs of the Christians, and other religious minority communities, in Iraq." The archbishop met with Pence Dec. 4. The visit came during an extended visit the prelate made to the United States. Part of his trip included several events during and after the Week of Awareness for Persecuted Christians Nov. 26-Dec. 2. Pence is to visit the Middle East in late December. He has said his discussions there will focus on protecting religious minorities, especially Christians, the continued threat imposed by the Islamic State and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Archbishop Warda said he updated Pence "on the situation facing our people and expressed our hope that peace would soon come to Ninevah. "On behalf of our people, I expressed our gratitude for his promise of swift assistance to our communities who suffered genocide at the hands of ISIS," the archbishop said. Catholic News Service received an email with his remarks from the Knights of Columbus.

    Mass, exhibit honor winners of national Christmas art contest

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A special Mass Dec. 1 and an exhibit at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington celebrated the winners of the annual Christmas artwork contest sponsored by the Missionary Childhood Association, an agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies. Seventeen of this year's 24 winners journeyed to the national shrine with their families for the Mass and presentation of awards. Artwork was submitted by elementary school-age children in Catholic schools, religious education and home-school programs throughout the United States for this year's contest. The winning artwork is now available as eGreetings at http://egreetings.missio.org. The original artwork, featuring various representations of the Nativity story, was to remain on display at the national shrine through the Advent and Christmas Seasons. Winners chosen this year came from Metuchen, New Jersey; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Boston; Brooklyn, New York; Columbus, Ohio; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Greensburg, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles; Miami; San Diego; San Francisco; Springfield, Illinois; St. Louis; Venice, Florida; and Washington, D.C.

    Update: Fundraising starts to aid victims of Southern California fires

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has started a fund for victims of the wildfires that have raced through the archdiocese and were threatening to spread to locations in the nearby Orange and San Diego dioceses. "Friends, as the wildfires continue, the needs of our neighbors continue to increase," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles on the archdiocesan webpage that hosts the fundraising campaign, https://tinyurl.com/yaa4qlu2. "In this season of giving, let us open our heart to our brothers and sisters in need," he added. "Let us keep praying for an end to the fires and let us keep praying for the safety of our police, fire and emergency workers -- and all those who are in harm's way." In a Dec. 8 statement from Washington, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked prayers for all those in danger, "both those whose homes are in the fire's path and those courageous first responders and firefighters who are putting their lives at risk." The wildfires, which have stubbornly resisted most efforts to be reined in by firefighters, have hit Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in the archdiocese.

    DACA youth thankful for program's opportunities, but worries remain

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Humberto Marquez, 22, who came to the United States when he was about 6 years old from Jalisco, Mexico, grew up in Waldron, attending St. Jude Thaddeus Church. Marquez credits his work in youth ministry as his "first taste of community organizing." After graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith with a bachelor's in business administration and international business, he was hired as the west Arkansas organizer for the Arkansas United Community Coalition, where the mission is to "empower Arkansas immigrants and their communities through organizing, coalition building and the promotion of civic engagement. As an immigrant myself I feel very proud, but at the same time I'm very determined and very aware of what can happen if anti-immigrant policies were to pass," he said of his social justice work. Marquez has benefited from the DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created in 2012 by President Barack Obama through executive order. It has allowed certain protections for immigrants who were brought to the U.S. without legal permission when they were younger than 16 and who were age 31 or younger as of June 15, 2012.

    Catalan clergy urge freeing of leaders, return to talks

    BARCELONA, Spain (CNS) -- Catholic clergy from Catalonia demanded the release of the region's detained leaders and urged the Spanish government to resume "friendly negotiations and agreements. We consider the imprisonment of Catalan government and national assembly members unjust and unfortunate, and we are saddened by the forced exile of the president and his advisers," the 216 priests, religious and deacons said in an open letter. "When at least 2 million Catalan citizens support their action, it seems clear to us that we are not facing criminal action by unscrupulous politicians, but (have) a serious political problem that demands courage and vision." The letter was circulated as up to 50,000 Catalans, many draped in the national flag, demonstrated in Brussels Dec. 7 in support of regional president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to the Belgian capital to escape arrest after Catalonia declared independence from Spain Oct. 27. The letter said the need for "an adequate legal-political structure" to express the rights of minorities and small nations was recognized in Catholic teaching, adding that Spaniards and Catalans should all "try to understand the reasons people think and act as they do."

    Thousands flock to Paraguayan shrine to honor their patroness

    CAACUPE, Paraguay (CNS) -- It was 7 a.m. in Caacupe, and it already was starting to get hot and steamy. Esther Baez, 19, walked on the burning asphalt in violet socks almost completely covered in black. Baez, a student from the city of Fernando de la Mora, said her sister recently survived a car accident. That's why she and her friend Victor had walked all night, to arrive just in time to the biggest Mass of the year. "I came because I have to pay my promise to thank the Virgin for many things. Because my family is OK now; my sister had a car accident, but now she is OK," Baez told Catholic News Service. Thousands of Paraguayan pilgrims traveled Dec. 8 to the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Miracles of Caacupe, about 35 miles from Asuncion. Some walked hundreds of miles from cities and towns in the South American country to the city Pope Francis visited in 2015. Young families with many children walked along the sides of the road to reach the Mass, continuing a more than 200-year Marian tradition to the nation's patroness. Some came by carts, old buses and cars. Baez and her friend left home at 9.30 p.m. Dec. 7. Early Dec. 8, Baez lost her shoes trying to cross a river, but she was happy.

    Dreamer says being DACA recipient is her motivation to run, raise money

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Erika Nava will not slow down. Whether she's running for a cause or gathering young adults for Catholic fellowship, her work all goes back to faith. Raised in Russellville, Nava, 24, came to the United States from Guerrero, Mexico, at the end of 2000. She felt like "a little ghost, it was tough," sitting in an English-speaking classroom, not yet knowing the language. Nava is in her junior year at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, studying early childhood education to become a teacher of English as a Second Language, or ESL. "I know how hard it is to learn the English language. I'm trying to teach those little kids not to go through the same struggle I did," Nava told the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock. Nava said being a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient is motivation. She was approved recently for two more years under DACA. "I feel like even though the world is all messed up right now and they don't want us here, we should prove them wrong," she said.

    Polish church spokesman dismisses EU threat over abortion legislation

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A Polish church spokesman dismissed a threat of European Union sanctions if his country's parliament goes ahead with church-backed legislation to curb abortions of handicapped fetuses. "The Polish bishops' conference underlines that the right to life is fundamental to every human being, so we should all protect this right for defenseless children," said Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, conference spokesman. "Nobody can take this right away, nor can external or internal pressures change the scientifically proved fact that human life begins at the moment of conception." The European Parliament said it would demand EU action if legislators went ahead with new restrictions, which were backed by 830,000 Poles in a petition introduced Nov. 30 before the Sejm, the Polish parliament's lower house. In a Dec. 8 interview with Catholic News Service, Father Rytel-Andrianik said it would be difficult to "judge in advance" the impact of EU threats, which have been criticized as interference by some politicians in the traditionally Catholic country.

    Protests cause uncertainty in Bethlehem, but for now, pilgrims visit

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Not far from where journalists lined up for positions outside the guard tower at Rachel's Tomb in anticipation of confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, life in Bethlehem continued. Trendy young Bethlehem residents and visitors were lunching on vegetarian pizza, quinoa and salmon salad, and sandwiches with names like Sexy Morning at the popular Zuwadeh Cafe. "No benefit will come (of the demonstrations), but people are getting their frustrations out like they have the right to do. It's the least they can do," said Mahmoud Hamideh, 25. "People go and throw stones, but then life goes back to normal," agreed his cousin, Saleh al-Jundi, 31, who just moved back to Bethlehem from Abu Dhabi with his wife and 14-month-old son. "But this time I am not sure after what Trump said." Palestinians leaders called for three days of protests following U.S. President Donald Trump's Dec. 6 official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and demonstrations have broken out in the West Bank, Jordan and other parts of the Muslim world. Palestinians reported one killed and at least 35 injured in clashes in the Gaza Strip, with some 115 Palestinians injured in all protests Dec. 8. In Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at rock-throwing demonstrators.

    Trinity student studies, works to create her preferred future

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Daniela doesn't remember much about coming to the United States from her native El Salvador with her parents when she was 3 years old. "The only thing I remember is the dress I wore when I got on the plane," she said. Daniela, now 19, is a sophomore at Trinity Washington University. Her college costs are paid for in large part by a scholarship from "TheDream.US" fund. She is one of about 100 "Dreamers" enrolled at the Catholic college, which is women-only for its undergraduate studies but admits men to its graduate programs. She hasn't declared it yet, but Daniela, who asked that her last name not be used for this story, wants to be a double major -- one of those majors being in education. "But I can't see myself teaching elementary school my whole life," she told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 5 interview. For her, that means graduate and post-graduate studies, so she can be a college professor "and do my own research."

    Vatican needs to strengthen fight against financial crime, Moneyval says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican earned praise from Council of Europe experts for its updated legislation against money laundering and for its vigilance in flagging suspected cases, but the committee said the effectiveness of the Vatican efforts could not be proven until Vatican courts actually prosecuted someone for a crime. Moneyval -- the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism -- released a progress report on the Vatican's efforts Dec. 8. The experts said the Vatican Financial Information Authority "seemed to be working efficiently," but although the Vatican court had frozen the assets of several accounts at the Vatican bank, "the Holy See had still not brought a money-laundering case to court. While considerable amounts of money continued to be frozen, no criminal case had yet produced a confiscation order," a Moneyval press statement said. Moneyval said the Financial Information Authority's 2016 report indicated that the main offenses suspected in Vatican bank accounts it flagged for investigation involved suspected "fraud, serious tax evasion, misappropriation and corruption."

    Franciscans involved in making of 'The Sultan and the Saint' documentary

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A moment in time that has been captured in art has now been captured on film. The encounter in 1219 between St. Francis of Assisi and Malek al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt, during yet another flashpoint in the long history of the Crusades -- the subject of one famous fresco in Assisi, Italy -- has been made into a documentary. "The Sultan and the Saint" will get its nationwide premiere Dec. 26 on PBS (check local listings for dates and times). Not surprisingly, members of the order St. Francis founded participated in the documentary's making. It is the story of the saint leaving Assisi to cross enemy lines and meet with the sultan in Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. The two discussed interfaith conflict, war and the search for peace. Franciscan Father Michael Cusato had written four scholarly articles on the encounter. "That's how they found me," he said of the filmmakers. Father Cusato said his input on the developing script was valuable. "It took quite a bit of dialogue back and forth. They're neither Franciscans nor do they know our history," he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

    Pope asks Mary's help in fighting viruses of fear, indifference

    ROME (CNS) -- Standing at the foot of a Marian statue, Pope Francis prayed Mary would help Christians develop the "antibodies" needed to fight the modern diseases of indifference, hypocrisy and fear of foreigners. Celebrating the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception, the pope recited the Angelus prayer at noon with visitors in St. Peter's Square, visited the Rome Basilica of St. Mary Major, laid a basket of white roses at the foot of the Marian statue near the Spanish Steps, then visited the Church of St. Andrew where, in 1842, Mary appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne, a young Jewish man. He converted to Catholicism and founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion. In his prayer near the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome, Pope Francis thanked Mary for watching over him and over the people of Rome, especially "the sick, the aged, all the poor, the many people who have immigrated here from lands of war and hunger." He prayed that Mary would help people "develop antibodies against some of the viruses of our times: the indifference that says, 'It's not my problem'; civic rudeness which ignores the common good; the fear of what is different and of the foreigner."

    Musician Matt Maher to youth: Waste spare time at the feet of Jesus

    SYDNEY (CNS) -- U.S. Catholic musician Matt Maher has advice for young people: Waste more time at the feet of Jesus, and the rest of your life should go according to God's plan. Time is precious, he said Dec. 7, and young people have more time at their disposal than others. "We all have the same amount of time as Bill Gates. He has infinitely more financial resources -- but he cannot buy himself more time," Maher said Dec. 7 at a news conference after the opening of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival. "As a young person, if I could go back, I would try to encourage myself to waste more time at the feet of Jesus. As a songwriter and a worship leader, so many of my early songs came out of wasting time, from the world's perspective -- spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament or spending time leading worship events with kids or being at a Bible study at the parish I worked at on Monday nights with 20 kids." Maher, one of the biggest fixtures on the religious music charts around the world, performed at several sessions of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Sydney Dec. 7-9. The festival is a biennial event instituted by the Catholic Church in Australia following World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 to give relatively isolated Australian Catholic youth a focus for their faith between World Youth Days, which usually are held on the other side of the world.

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  • Rubio: U.S. foreign policy must be 'infused' with religious, other values

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a breakfast speech Dec. 6, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, stopped short of specific legislative proposals but spoke openly of religious faith as he offered support for beleaguered Christian communities under threat of Islamic State terror in the Middle East. "I'm a deep believer that our foreign policy should be infused with our most deeply held values, such as these. Not to impose it on other people but to ensure that in everything we do, we protect the rights of others to also fulfill their God-given rights," he said. Rubio spoke on the last day of the Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom in Washington, sponsored by the Orthodox Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The senator's own faith journey has taken him from the Catholicism of his early childhood to Mormonism, then to a Baptist megachurch, and back to the Catholic faith again. When he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he was often criticized, by both Catholic media and conservative evangelicals, for appearing to be less than authentic about the matter, but he's long been comfortable mingling the language of Christianity with politics.

    Pope names Nanterre bishop to head Paris Archdiocese

    PARIS (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Bishop Michel Aupetit of Nanterre as archbishop of Paris, succeeding Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, who turned 75 in November. Archbishop Aupetit, whose diocese was west of Paris, was often named as a potential successor to Cardinal Vingt-Trois, who headed the Paris Archdiocese for more than 12 years. The Catholic newspaper La Croix called the Dec. 7 announcement a "no-surprise" decision with some continuity. Archbishop Aupetit, 66, was a doctor for 11 years before considering priesthood. He said he once dreamed of being a "traveling missionary. As soon as I embrace sedentary life with delight, I have to go somewhere else," he wrote in a letter addressed to the Catholics of Nanterre Dec. 7. "And again, the church gives me a new mission."

    Religious freedom bill hearing spurs talk on Muslim-majority nations

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A House subcommittee hearing on a U.S. law to improve U.S. religious freedom diplomacy efforts globally prompted a discussion on how to expand those freedoms for religious minorities, particularly for those in Muslim-majority countries. The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act was signed into law a year ago by President Barack Obama to give "tools and resources to our State Department to integrate religious freedom into our diplomacy the world over in order to counter violent extremism broad," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, at the Dec. 6 hearing. The law's features include designating non-state groups such as Islamic State as "violent non-state actors," making it easier to impose financial sanctions. It also creates a "designated persons list" of violators, sets up a database of those detained, imprisoned and tortured for their faith, and requires that foreign service officers undergo training in religious liberty "so that they are able to integrate this important tool into their daily work," Smith said. It was a bipartisan measure written by Smith and co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California and named for former Congressman Frank Wolf, "a tireless champion for the rights of the poor and the persecuted globally." The advancement of fundamental human rights -- in particular, freedom of religion -- "should be a core objective of U.S. foreign policy," Smith said.

    Pope names longtime ally to lead Mexico City Archdiocese

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis picked a longtime ally to lead the world's largest archdiocese, where many professing the Catholic faith have fallen way from the church and senior clergy have failed to influence many changes in social policy. Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla was named archbishop of Mexico City Dec. 7. He succeeds Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, who submitted his resignation June 4 upon turning 75, as required by canon law. In 2007, Cardinal Aguiar collaborated with then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires -- who would become Pope Francis -- in writing a document on evangelization in the Americas for the Latin American and Caribbean bishops. The document, which became known as the Aparecida document for the city in Brazil in which it was written, calls for Catholics to prioritize reaching people on the peripheries of society. It has become a guide of sorts for the current papacy. In a statement via Twitter, Cardinal Aguiar said he recognized God's will and would accept the new position "with trust in the Holy Spirit to obey, and full of hope for this ecclesiastical responsibility in favor of God's people."

    Group gathers for prayer vigil in effort to stop deportation of couple

    CAMDEN, N.J. (CNS) -- The blistering cold did not stop a group of 35 people from gathering in front of Sen. Cory Booker's office in Camden Dec. 6 to stand in solidarity with a couple facing deportation. Camden Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, diocesan clergy, Catholic Charities staff, parishioners and other community members were there to participate in a prayer vigil on behalf of two particular individuals in attendance: Oscar and Humberta Campos. The Campos -- who are the parents of three U.S. citizen children, business owners and beloved parishioners of Holy Cross Parish in Bridgeton -- accompanied the group, standing side by side with family members. In Oscar's hand was a sign: "Stop Deportation." Later that day, a spokesperson for Booker said that while the senator's office worked for months with the Campos family and federal officials on the case, "we are extremely disappointed that ICE has denied the request for a stay of removal and saddened to see another family needlessly torn apart." The next day, the couple would have to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to show proof they had purchased one-way tickets back to the Campos' hometown of Tamaulipas, Mexico.

    Dominican who was oldest religious sister on Long Island dies at 106

    AMITYVILLE, N.Y. (CNS) -- Dominican Sister Grace Regina Wingenfeld, the oldest Catholic religious sister on Long Island, died Dec. 2 at age 106. She was a Dominican sister of Amityville for 90 years. Although no formal databases are kept, she may have been the oldest religious sister in the United States, according to her order. Her funeral Mass was celebrated Dec. 6 at in St. Albert's Chapel at the sisters' Queen of the Holy Rosary Motherhouse in Amityville, followed by burial on the convent grounds. "The Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville naturally feel the loss of Sister Grace Regina, but in this beautiful season of waiting which is Advent, we know how long she has waited to be with her God," Dominican Sister Patricia Hanvey, assistant prioress, said in a statement. "And so we now trust that Sister Grace joins the Dominican Choir of Saints in praying that our mission continues," she added. Sister Grace was well known for her long vitality -- being featured this year in Newsday, on the News 12 cable TV channel and in The Long Island Catholic, the magazine of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

    Pope celebrates Mass for birthday of College of Cardinals' dean

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, has dedicated his life to the church through good times and bad, Pope Francis said. At a morning Mass celebrating the 90th birthday of the cardinal, who is a former Vatican secretary of state, the pope said Cardinal Sodano had given "the gift of a witness of life that does everyone good. We see in the cardinal the witness of a man who has done so much for the church in different situations, with joy and with tears," the pope said at the Mass Dec. 7 in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. Cardinal Sodano preached the homily at the Mass, thanking God particularly for the gift of priesthood, while Pope Francis simply said a few words of thanks. As one gets older, Pope Francis said, the "memory of the past journey" and the desire to give thanks to God becomes stronger. Memory, the pope said, is an important part of life and of faith, and forgetting one's past and all that God has done is a tragedy.

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

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Antonia Alvarez, the mother of three DACA recipients and one U.S. States citizen, began a 10-day fast Dec. 4 outside of the Capitol in Washington to advocate for the passage of the DREAM Act. The measure would allow her children and 800,000 other Dreamers to remain in the country and gain a path to citizenship. Alvarez is originally from Mexico City and said she immigrated to the United States 16 years ago because of dangerous conditions in Mexico. She currently lives in New Brighton, Minnesota, where she has done similar fasts throughout the past few years. But after President Donald Trump announced in September that he would end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, there was added urgency to Alvarez's advocacy. To get the attention of members of Congress, she decided she would need to travel to hold a fast right in front of their offices. In ending DACA, Trump called on Congress to come up with a legislative solution to keep the program by March. Many are calling for passage of the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, to do just that.

    Australian archbishop urges youth to be spiritual flamethrowers

    SYDNEY (CNS) -- Young Catholics must set the world on fire with their faith, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher told about 20,000 young people gathered in a former Olympic Stadium. "You must be spiritual flamethrowers. You must have the awesomeness of an Australian bush fire, without the destruction," he said at the opening of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival Dec. 7. The opening of the three-day event included U.S. Catholic singer Matt Maher getting bishops dancing in the aisles with young people. Australian Aboriginals sang and danced, Maronite Catholic drummers mesmerized the crowd and Father Rob Galea, a popular Australian singing priest, challenged any bishop who was brave enough to join him on stage for a some spiritual "surfing." Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers accepted the challenge and joined Father Galea, jumping side to side in surfer poses as they belted out lyrics glorifying God. Archbishop Fisher, the Australian bishops' delegate for youth, told reporters: "Right from the start you could sense the Holy Spirit among them (young people). ... And I don't mean that everything's good for them. A lot of them have doubts and questions and, probably, struggles in their lives, but you really saw a good side of young Catholic Australia this morning."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Nativity scene and Christmas tree, like those displayed in St. Peter's Square, are visible reminders of God's benevolence and closeness to all men and women, Pope Francis said. The traditional Christmas displays are "the signs of the heavenly Father's compassion, of his participation and closeness to humanity who experience not being abandoned in dark times, but instead visited and accompanied in their difficulties," the pope said. "Every year, the Christmas Nativity scene and tree speak to us through their symbolic language. They make more visible what is captured in the experience of the birth of the Son of God," Pope Francis said Dec. 7 in a meeting with delegations from Poland and Italy, responsible respectively for the 2017 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene. The centerpiece of the Vatican's Christmas holiday decorations is the towering 92-foot spruce tree.

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

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, Christian leaders in Jerusalem said U.S. recognition of the city as the capital of Israel could have dire regional consequences. "We have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem. We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division," the Christian leaders said, just hours before Trump announced the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital and relocating the U.S. embassy. They appealed to Trump to take their viewpoint into consideration, as did the leaders who met at Camp David in July 2000 to decide the status of Jerusalem. The Christian leaders said their "solemn advice and plea" for the president was to continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem. "We ask you, Mr. President, to help us all walk toward more love and a definitive peace, which cannot be reached without Jerusalem being for all," they said Dec. 6.

    Sweden's Catholic minority shows church can thrive in secular society

    ROME (CNS) -- Even though it is one of the most secularized nations in the world, Sweden is one of the few countries in Europe where the Catholic Church is growing, said the country's first cardinal. This kind of revival shows "it is possible to live a good life as a church even if we are few," Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm told Catholic News Service Dec. 6. "Maybe that sign of hope is something we could offer to those countries that are experiencing a very severe process of secularization," he said. Elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in June, the cardinal was in Rome in early December to take possession of his "titular" church -- Michelangelo's Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs. "We are very overwhelmed by this fantastic church," he said, as his eyes swept up toward the wide vaulted ceilings and high walls decorated with lush frescoes. The Catholic Church has "nothing like this in Sweden; we're a very, very small community."

    Gregorian chant called seminarian to Catholicism

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As Gabe Bouck enters Advent, a season in which Catholics are urged to answer God's call for conversion, the seminarian is reminded of the melodic voice that inspired him to become Catholic. The former Baptist recalled attending his first Mass nearly six years ago where he encountered sounds he had never before heard in a church and it was coming from the priest. "The priest sung the entire Mass," said Bouck, a first-year seminarian at Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic University of America in Washington. This priest sang the liturgy in ethereal tones, mysterious sounds to the young Protestant with a musical background. He was used to music that came in more predictable forms with standard rhyme or meter. But the reverberations coming from the priest defied the musical logic Bouck had come to expect and it mesmerized him throughout the Mass. "It absolutely took me to another place altogether," he told Catholic News Service during an October interview. "There was something about it that immediately brought to my mind, 'I am experiencing something that is holy right now. There's something very solemn and very reverent going on in a way that I have never experienced in a Protestant church.'"

    Nuns' music program designed to keep Venezuelan youths away from violence

    BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (CNS) -- Carlos Etcheray made two wooden sticks dance over the drum as if he had done it all his life. The 13-year-old's face broke into a grin as he played a gaita, the quick, cheerful rhythm that resounds throughout Venezuela's streets during the Christmas season. For the past two years, Carlos has been part of the musical program "Latidos," Spanish for "Beats." Six members of the group were playing at a Christmas party at a school beside a playground in Barquisimeto. They played and sang salsa, merengue, gaita and other South American rhythms so joyfully contagious that some of their listeners started dancing. The most enthusiastic singer was a woman of about 50 with gray curls: Medical Mission Sister Maigualida Riera, founder of the "Latidos" program at Jesus of Nazareth Parish in Barquisimeto, Venezuela's fourth-largest city. Her neighborhood, La Carrucienha, is one of the most violent in Barquisimeto. Theft, assaults and even murders are part of life in La Carrucienha. Sister Maigualida thought music could get kids off the street and show them a different path. The program began with just a few instruments and the support of some music teachers in the community, but it grew quickly. "Now there are nearly 80 people, including children, teens and teachers," said Sister Maigualida, who notes, "music has always been a cornerstone of life."

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  • March for Life announces location, tentative speakers

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- March for Life organizers announced in a Dec. 6 briefing a tentative group of speakers, a theme and other details for a Jan. 18 conference and expo and Jan. 19 march and rally in Washington. "Love saves Lives" is the theme of the 2018 march, said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, adding that the group also wants to focus on the sacrifice involved with bringing life into the world but also in the interactions with one another. One of the speakers who will talk about that during the event is Pam Tebow, mother of former football player Tim Tebow, said Mancini. "Her story for choosing life for Timmy is beautiful," Mancini said. Tebow's doctors told her she had to have an abortion to save her own life, but she refused and delivered a healthy boy.

    Speakers: U.S. needs to spread religious liberty, conscience protection

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Religious liberty and protection of conscience are as worthwhile as exports as they are as American values, two members of Congress reminded a Washington conference Dec. 5. U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, both spoke openly of their own Christian beliefs while addressing the third Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom, sponsored by the Orthodox Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. According to organizers, the conference is a direct response to Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who expressed their "shared profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain full citizens of their homelands." "I'm unashamed to be a Christian," said Lankford, a former student ministries and evangelism specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. "I'm unashamed to be able to speak about my faith. My relationship with Jesus Christ has transformed my entire life. "Every breath that I have I owe to him. And everything good that's ever happened in my life is because of him. And I don't mind articulating that to people. And I want them to have the hope that I have," he said.

    Opioid crisis gripping West Virginia worries church, health care leaders

    BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (CNS) -- Ellen Condron wanted to start a conversation about what is happening in her beloved state of West Virginia, where the opioid crisis claimed the lives of more than 880 people last year. "It breaks my heart," she said. "You see people in the newspaper every day, young people -- 'died at home.' I feel like we're losing a whole generation. ... Grandparents are raising grandchildren because the parents can't take care of them." A 40-year member of All Saints Parish in Bridgeport, where she also serves as the parish nurse, Condron felt driven to do something. She felt especially compelled to do something after her nursing students relayed stories to her about children suffering because of their parents' addictions, she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the statewide Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. "They were coming to school hungry," Condron said her students would tell her. So she asked them, what could they do about this. Their answer: Nothing can be done. "That's the wrong answer," she said.

    Catholic bishops, agencies criticize Trump decision on global compact

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of the U.S. bishops' committees on international policy and on migration urged President Donald Trump Dec. 5 to reconsider his decision to withdraw the United States from the U.N. process to develop a global compact on migration. "Participation in that process allows the U.S .to draw on our experience and influence the compact," said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace. Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit Refugee Service were among other groups criticizing Trump's decision, announced Dec. 2 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The move came two days before the opening of an intergovernmental conference in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to adopt a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. In his statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Migration, said that Catholic social teaching on migration "recognizes and respects the sovereignty of each nation, indeed each nation's right and responsibility, to ultimately decide how it will regulate migration into its territory."

    Catholics urged to fight world's indifference to persecuted Christians

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York said Catholics should learn from their "Jewish elder brothers and sisters" how best to advocate with elected leaders to alleviate the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. "It took us a while to answer the alarm clock" on the issue, but Catholics have responded generously with aid, awareness and prayers, he told participants at a Dec. 5 conference on "Preserving Christian Communities in the Middle East and Curbing Anti-Semitism." Cardinal Dolan and other speakers said indifference, secularism and a societal reluctance to call evil by its real name contribute to lack of large-scale outrage and political action to protect Christians and help them live safely in their homelands. "Indifference gave us the Holocaust and indifference gave us the genocide situation in the Middle East. Who will stand up for the Christians?" asked Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and former U.S. ambassador to Austria.

    Austrian cardinal criticizes court ruling on same-sex marriage

    VIENNA (CNS) -- The president of the Austrian bishops' conference criticized a Constitutional Court judgment clearing the way for same-sex marriages in the traditionally Catholic country. "If the court denies the uniqueness and special legal status of marriage, built on the diversity of sexes, it denies reality and does no service to society," said Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, conference president. "It also ultimately harms everyone, including those it seeks to protect and who should be protected." The court ruled Dec. 5 that Austria's current marriage law violated nondiscrimination rules by barring same-sex unions and forcing couples to declare their sexual orientation. It opened the way for same-sex marriage to become legal in 2019. In a Dec. 5 statement to the Austrian Catholic news agency Kathpress, Cardinal Schonborn said the court's 14 judges had "lost sight of the special nature of marriage" as a male-female relationship "producing, nurturing and raising children, thus ensuring the succession of generations."

    Lego kit brings mystery of the Mass into homes of families around world

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Stephen and Jennifer Maas' family business, Domestic Church Supply Co., carries one product: a Lego kit that brings the mystery of the Mass into the living rooms of families around the world. "Father Leopold Celebrates Mass" began as a quirky passion project, but it has morphed into a popular and successful ministry for Stephen, 39, and Jennifer, 42, and their five home-schooled children. The oldest is 10-year-old Leopold, whom they call "Leo." It all began for these parishioners of Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul during the search for Leo's first Communion present. Among the standard rosaries, devotionals and holy cards, nothing seemed likely to excite their young son. What they wanted was a Lego kit that Leo -- an avid Lego fan -- could use to act out the Mass. There was just one problem: It didn't exist. That a year-and-a-half-long process of "tinkering." Stephen raided his son's Lego bins and began fiddling with different brick combinations. The resulting Mass kit is available from DomesticChurchSupply.com for $49.99. "Father Leopold" is inspired by St. Leopold Mandic, a 5-foot-4-inch Croatian priest and renowned confessor -- and Leo Maas' namesake.

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump planned to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Pope Francis expressed his concern that such a move would further destabilize the Middle East. Pope Francis said he could not "keep silent about my deep concern" for Jerusalem and urged respect for "the status quo of the city in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations." The pope spoke at the end of his weekly general audience Dec. 6, the same day Trump announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise he made during his presidential campaign. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had made the same promises during their campaigns, but once in office, they did not carry through with the move, citing its potential negative impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Trump drew warnings from Middle Eastern and European leaders that overturning the United States' long-standing policy would further complicate peace negotiations.

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

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a new letter to members of Congress, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, outlined a sweeping package of changes in pending tax reform legislation to ensure the final bill is "morally acceptable." Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, also addressed positive aspects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which members of both houses of Congress continued to hash out Dec. 6 to reconcile their respective measures for a final bill. A vote on a final version was expected in the House of Representatives and the Senate before Christmas. Bishop Dewane in his Dec. 6 letter reminded Congress that the country has long followed tax policy "that is good for workers, families who welcome life, families who are struggling to reach -- or stay in -- the middle class, and the very poor, (and) has been part of our tax code for years. Any modification to these important priorities of our nation should only be made with a clear understanding and concern for the people who may least be able to bear the negative consequences of new policy. For the sake of all people -- but especially those persons we ought, in justice, to prioritize -- Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets key moral concerns," he said.

    Indian bishop criticizes call for execution of people who butcher cattle

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- An Indian bishop criticized a call by a radical Hindu group for the execution of people who slaughter cattle or transport beef. Bishop Vincent Barwa, who chairs the bishops' office for ethnic minorities and lower-caste people, said the demand by the World Hindu Council sought to create violence and religious divisions, reported ucanews.com. The bishop spoke to ucanews.com following media reports that the World Hindu Council had resolved to press for a national law against cow slaughter, stipulating death sentences for violators. Bishop Barwa said demands for capital punishment for cow slaughter targeted Christians, Muslims, Dalits and indigenous groups who had no religious prohibition on the eating of beef. Orthodox Hindus revere cattle. Laws restricting the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks exist in 20 of India's 29 states. Since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power nationally in 2014, India has witnessed more than 20 mob lynchings connected with what is generally referred to as "cow slaughter."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Describing them as "authentic magisterium," Pope Francis ordered the official publication of his letter to a group of Argentine bishops and their guidelines for the interpretation of "Amoris Laetitia," his apostolic exhortation on the family. According to a brief note by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Pope Francis wanted his letter and the bishops' document to be published on the Vatican website and in the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," the official record of Vatican documents and acts. The papal letter, dated Sept. 5, 2016, was written in response to guidelines published by the bishops in the Catholic Church's Buenos Aires region. Pope Francis said the bishops' document "explains precisely the meaning of Chapter VIII of 'Amoris Laetitia.' There are no other interpretations." The letter is found on the Vatican website under letters written by the pope in 2016, and was published in the October 2016 edition of the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," which also is available online: http://www.vatican.va/archive/aas/documents/2016/acta-ottobre2016.pdf.

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people in Myanmar and Bangladesh are a source of hope for a peaceful future in their countries after years of war and suffering, Pope Francis said. As is customary, at his general audience Dec. 6, the first after his Nov. 27-Dec. 2 trip to Asia, Pope Francis reviewed his visit. "In the faces of those young people, full of joy, I saw the future of Asia: A future that doesn't belong to those who build weapons, but to those who sow brotherhood," the pope said. As temperatures in Rome hovered just above 40 degrees, the audience was held in the Paul VI audience hall to avoid the chilly weather. The pope entered the hall, stretching his hands to each side of the aisle to greet people who reached out to touch him.

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  • Bishop says his family's example of love, faith was key to his vocation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In an interview just before his ordination to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1989, now-Bishop Barry C. Knestout said his family's example of love and faith played a key role in his vocation. His late father, Deacon Thomas Knestout, who headed the Washington Archdiocese's Office for the Permanent Diaconate for many years, would bring his children along with him as he ministered at a hospital that served people with disabilities. "I was a seventh grader (then). He (his dad) would cart us along, my brothers and me. ... We as a family felt very much a part of his vocation," he said in the interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington's archdiocesan newspaper. He added that he also was inspired by the "quiet service" of his mom, who was a nurse. The son of Deacon Knestout, who died in 1997, and Caroline Knestout, he grew up in a family of nine children -- with three sisters and five brothers, including his twin brother Thomas, born about five minutes after him. Nine years after his priestly ordination and many pastoral assignments, he was named by Pope Benedict XVI to be an auxiliary bishop of Washington. Now another nine years later, Bishop Knestout has been named the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.

    Court seems divided in cake case examining religious rights, expression

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court seemed equally divided in the long-anticipated oral arguments Dec. 5 about the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. Even Justice Anthony Kennedy's comments went right down the middle, from expressing concern for those who would be shut out of services to later stressing that "tolerance is a two-way street" and saying the state of Colorado, where the bakery is located, seemed to be "neither tolerant or respectful" of the baker's views. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, pits anti-discrimination laws against freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression. It drew strong feelings on both sides long before the court heard the arguments with the filing of 100 friend-of-the-court briefs months ago and the crowds lined up for days hoping to get into the court during the arguments. Crowds also gathered on the Supreme Court steps under cloudy skies and warm temperatures, chanting and holding aloft placards such as "Justice for Jack" (the baker) and "Open for All." The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the court brief in support of the baker joined by the Colorado Catholic Conference, Catholic Bar Association, Catholic Medical Association, National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA and National Catholic Bioethics Center.

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

    SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (CNS) -- Belief in that iconic Christmas figure, the rotund merry man with a bag full of presents, inspires thousands of children to write letters addressed to "Santa Claus" each year. Surprisingly, many of these wish lists actually do get delivered to Santa Claus. But rather than landing in a magical workshop at the North Pole, the notes wind up in a little Indiana town that bears the same name as the jolly old elf. "We have already answered 5,000 and we'll be getting more this morning," Patricia Koch, founder of the Santa Claus Museum and Village, told Catholic News Service Dec. 2. "They come from the U.S.A. and from all over the world." Koch and a dozen other volunteers work long hours to "help" Santa answer the letters that find their way to the Santa Claus post office. Koch calls this letter-writing a ministry and is dedicated to keeping the spirit of Santa Claus, the person, alive. "Our world can become very self-centered and commercialized," she explained, "so I think Santa Claus has that spirit of love and forgiveness and peace and joy."

    Court allows travel ban to be implemented as legal challenges continue

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court said Dec. 4 that President Donald Trump's travel ban restricting entry into the United States by nationals from some countries can be fully implemented while legal challenges to the ban work their way through the lower courts. In a brief unsigned order, the high court stayed a preliminary injunction on implementation of the ban, granting the Trump administration's request to allow its latest ban, released in late September, to go into effect. The order also urged the two appeals courts with cases before them to render "with appropriate dispatch" a decision on whether the ban is constitutional. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor "would deny the application," according to the order. The Supreme Court's order means that the Trump administration can fully carry out the ban -- which is now in its third iteration. It currently restricts travel to the United States from eight nations, six of them predominantly Muslim. Most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be barred from entering, along with some Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family. A friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in mid-September said the travel ban was "cruel and inhumane treatment" and that "denying refugee children life-saving entry to the United States based on an executive order clearly motivated by anti-religious bias, is both un-Catholic and un-American."

    Lawyers call Canadian court case turning point for religious freedom

    OTTAWA, Ontario (CNS) -- Religious freedom in Canada is facing a "watershed moment" and may be "on an abyss of a revolutionary change," argued lawyers in a Supreme Court of Canada case involving a Christian university's proposed law school. "The impact of the case will be significant for a generation," said Phil Horgan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League. The league was among several interveners before the Supreme Court Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in support of the right of Trinity Western University to maintain its mandatory community covenant banning sexual activity outside of traditional marriage. The lawyers argued that a ruling against Trinity Western could ultimately impact all faith-based schools, charities and organizations that fail to align with society's prevailing views on sexuality and morality, encompassing issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia. "We certainly see this decision as a watershed moment in how the courts will interpret and apply not just religious freedom rights, but religious associational rights and equality rights on the basis of religion," said Derek Ross, president and general counsel for the Christian Legal Fellowship.

    Pope appoints Washington auxiliary bishop to head Richmond Diocese

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout, 55, as the 13th bishop of Richmond, Virginia. He succeeds Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, who was Richmond's bishop from 2004 until his death in August at age 75. The appointment was announced in Washington Dec. 5 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop Knestout's installation Mass will be celebrated Jan. 12 at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond. Four hours after Pope Francis named him Richmond's new shepherd, Bishop Knestout was introduced to the people of the diocese via a news conference at the pastoral center. The briefing also was livestreamed from the center. Bishop Knestout, a Maryland native, noted that he was born and formed in the faith in the Washington area, and "now I'm called ' to a new home, which I embrace with all my heart."

    In Nova Scotia, cemeteries tell story of 1917 ship collision, explosion

    HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (CNS) -- The tall, gray and weathered headstone in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery is carved with 11 names, all from the same family, and with a simple statement at the bottom: "They died Dec. 6, 1917, at 66 Veith St." One hundred years later, the tombstone in the west end of Halifax is a stark reminder of the catastrophic Halifax Explosion that killed 2,000 and injured 9,000 more. Under the name of the family's father, Joseph D. Hinch, 50, is the list of his 10 children and their ages, from 19 to 2 -- Clara, Helena, Thomas, Mary, Joseph, James, Annie, Margaret, Ralph and Helen. All were caught in the a 326-acre area around Halifax's north end that was torn by the destructive force of the blast, just after 9 a.m. Fires ignited and hundreds of buildings were flattened or damaged, including the Catholic church the Hinch family attended, St. Joseph's, not far from the harbor. "Every single church in the area was damaged, all the way out to Windsor Junction (21 miles from downtown Halifax)," said Blair Beed, a local historian and author of a book on the explosion.

    Pope: Superficiality, hypocrisy cause division between heart and mind

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The wisdom of the church fathers regarding the interior life of the person, often split between outward success and inner emptiness, continues to be a relevant subject today, Pope Francis said. In a Dec. 5 message to participants in a public session of all the pontifical academies, the pope said that such issues "inevitably demand reflection on the inner and intimate essence of the human being." The subject of consciousness, self-awareness and the human heart, he said, are relevant in today's world, which is "often characterized by concern with appearance, superficiality, the division between heart and mind, interiority and exteriority, consciousness and behavior." In his message, which was read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, the pope reflected on the public session's theme, "'In interiore homine' (The inner man): Research paths in the Latin tradition." The theme is inspired by one of St. Augustine's early writings, "De vera religione" ("The true religion"), in which he states that truth of God dwells within the person.

    No dispensation for this year's Christmas Mass on Monday

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although Christmas this year is the day after the fourth Sunday of Advent, Catholics looking to count a Sunday evening Mass Dec. 24 for both that Sunday obligation and Monday's Christmas Mass obligation will have to think again. The U.S. bishops already saw this coming at the beginning of the year and said Catholics should attend separate Masses for the two days. A newsletter issued in February by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship noted that a "two-for-one" Mass cannot occur in the very rare circumstances when two of the 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. The reason Catholics might consider the idea of receiving dispensation from a Monday Mass likely stems from the U.S. bishops' vote in 1991 to lift the obligation to attend Mass on holy days of obligation that fall on Saturdays or Mondays. But that vote was only for three of the six holy days: the feast of Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1; the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15; and the feast of All Saints, Nov. 1.

    Gunmen kill retired Philippine priest known for social activism

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Gunmen killed a 72-year-old Catholic priest on the main Philippine island of Luzon Dec. 4, a day after police killed a pastor they tagged as a member of the communist New People's Army. Ucanews.com reported that unidentified men shot dead Father Marcelito Paez around 8 p.m. while he was driving in San Leonardo, about 110 miles northeast of the capital. The priest died almost three hours later at a local hospital. The attack occurred hours after Father Paez, a retired priest of the San Jose Diocese and a national board member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, facilitated the release of a political prisoner in Cabanatuan, the provincial capital. The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is a national, intercongregational organization of priests and laypeople that works with peasants and indigenous people. Father Paez was also the group's Central Luzon coordinator. San Jose Bishop Roberto Mallari and other clergy condemned the killing and demanded justice. In a statement, Bishop Mallari said Father Paez once headed the justice and peace desk of the diocese's social action commission, bringing him in close contact with poor workers and farmers.

    Update: Church leaders emphasize need for repentance, atonement for Korean peace

    PAJU CITY, South Korea (CNS) -- Church leaders seeking peace on the Korean Peninsula emphasized the need for "repentance and atonement" between North Korea and South Korea. Clergy and laypeople from South Korea, the United States, Japan and other parts of the world also called for fewer military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. at the first-ever conference on the role of Catholics in building peace on the Korean Peninsula and more broadly in northeast Asia. The call came just before the U.S. and South Korea opened a massive joint military air exercise Dec. 4. North Korea and South Korea never signed a peace treaty at the end of the Korean War in 1953 and constant tensions have existed since between the democratic government in the south and the communist regime in the North. In the past year, North Korea, which takes the position that U.S.-South Korea military exercises pose a threat, tested missiles multiple times. The most recent occurred Nov. 28 and involved an intercontinental ballistic missile that flew higher and farther than others, raising grave concern among North Korea's neighbors and the U.S.

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like a sprout, humility needs to be nourished so that the Holy Spirit may grow within all Christians, Pope Francis said. While some believe that "being humble means being polite, courteous and closing your eyes in prayer," accepting humiliation is the only real sign of humility, the pope said in his homily Dec. 5 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "Humility without humiliation is not humility. The humble one is that man, that woman who is capable of enduring humiliations like Jesus, the humiliated one, the great humiliated one," he said. The pope centered his homily on the day's reading from Isaiah (11:1-10), in which the prophet foretells the coming of the Messiah as a shoot that "shall sprout from the stump of Jesse," and says that "the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him."

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  • Croatian archbishop deplores 'unjust verdicts' after general's suicide

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The president of Croatia's bishops' conference condemned "unjust verdicts" at a United Nations war crimes trial, after a jailed general publicly committed suicide when his appeal was rejected. "We have to live well with each other and cooperate, but we can't build a future when lies are told about our history," said Archbishop Zelimir Puljic of Zadar, Croatia. "Unfortunately, this tribunal has acted from political motives and followed political goals in attempting to show everyone is equally guilty and responsible," he said following the Nov. 29 suicide of Bosnian Croat military chief Slobodan Praljak, who died of heart failure after drinking potassium cyanide during a hearing with five other Croatian-Bosnian military leaders in The Hague. In a Dec. 1 Croatian Radio interview, Archbishop Puljic said he believed the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had not "taken account of historical facts" in accusing the officers of a "joint criminal enterprise," and would not "contribute to reconciliation" with its "unjust verdicts."

    Update: Pope names Oratorian priest auxiliary bishop of Brownsville

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Father Mario Alberto Aviles, a pastor in Hidalgo, Texas, and procurator general of the Oratorians, to be an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Bishop-designate Aviles, 48, has led the Confederation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri since 2012 and has been pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Hidalgo since 2002. His appointment as an auxiliary bishop was announced in Washington Dec. 4 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. He is the first auxiliary bishop to be named for the diocese in its 52-year history. Bishop-designate Aviles will assist Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores, who has headed the diocese since February 2010. Born in Mexico City Sept. 16, 1969, Bishop-designate Aviles entered the Oratorians there in 1986. Two years later, he transferred to the Oratory in Pharr, Texas, in the Diocese of Brownsville. The Congregation of the Oratory, founded by St. Philip Neri in Rome in 1575, is a pontifical society of apostolic life of Catholic priests and brothers who live together in a community bound together by no formal vows but only with the bond of charity.

    Catholic high school teacher inspired Meghan Markle's outreach

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Maria Pollia, a theology teacher at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, did not have to rack her brain to remember her former student Meghan Markle, the actress recently engaged to Prince Harry. Pollia, who taught Markle during her junior year in 1997-1998 -- when they examined mystics and writings on the church -- said the student who is now in the media spotlight always took her writings a step further than her peers. Understanding Trappist Father Thomas Merton is a challenge for high school juniors, the teacher said, but she remembers that Markle "never backed off. I'm not telling you this because suddenly I'm forced to remember her. I would have remembered her anyway," Pollia, a 1972 alumna of the all-girls school told Catholic News Service Nov. 30.

    Zeal to serve God remains at core of 175-year-old Society of St. Edmund

    COLCHESTER, Vt. (CNS) -- As the Society of St. Edmund celebrates the 175th anniversary of its founding in France, its members continue to serve God with zeal. "That zeal was in our DNA right from the beginning," said Father Stephen Hornat, superior general of the order based at St. Michael's College in Colchester. "Our founders were holy men with passion for the faith and the priesthood. ... I see that same zeal playing out" in current Edmundite missions of education, social justice, spiritual renewal and pastoral ministry. The Society of St. Edmund began in a rural region of France to revitalize the faith of people who had become increasingly alienated from the Catholic Church. The founder, Father Jean-Baptiste Muard, began the society at St. Mary's Abbey in Pontigny, the final resting place of St. Edmund of Canterbury. The saint was the 13th-century archbishop of Canterbury. The arm of St. Edmund was once enshrined at St. Michael's College, then at Nativity of the Blessed Mary Church in Swanton, which at one time was staffed by the Edmundites, as members of the order are called. The arm is now at the order's Enders Island retreat center in Connecticut.

    Innu women testify that Oblate missionary inappropriately touched them

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- Oblate Father Alexis Joveneau was said to have inappropriately touched women and girls in the Innu community in Quebec where he ministered from 1953 until his death in 1992. The revelations came during five days of hearings that ended Dec. 1 by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls regarding events in the Cote-Nord region in eastern Quebec. Father Joveneau was a prominent religious leader among the Innu people and was held in high regard in the community. Women from the Innu Nation of the Lower North Shore told the hearing in the town of Maliotenam that the Belgian priest assaulted them, especially when he heard their confession or visited their families. They recalled how the priest would make them sit on his knee during confession and engage in inappropriate conduct, such as placing his tongue in their ear or touching their chest and playing with their bra. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate said in a statement Nov. 29 that the order was "deeply concerned and saddened by the testimonies" and wanted "all the light be shed on these events."

    Sharing the journey: Mentor aids Sudanese refugee in new U.S. life

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- For nearly an hour, the young man stood anxiously near the exit of a concourse at Indianapolis International Airport. Holding a bouquet of red roses, he repeatedly strained to see down the long corridor, waiting for his family to appear. Finally -- at last -- he saw them in the distance; his anxiety disappeared as his face burst into a smile. He stood on his toes and waved at them, eyes glowing. Within seconds, he embraced his father and greeted four of his sisters, two brothers and a nephew, making his way toward his mother. Handing her the roses, he wrapped her in his arms. Her face reflected the joy and emotion of a mother reunited with her child. For the young man nicknamed "Alo" and his family, it was a long-awaited moment of thanksgiving. Since the family fled their homeland of Sudan as refugees in 2001, they have dreamed of coming to the United States to start a new life -- one without fear, one with freedom. The dream came true with the assistance of the Catholic Charities Indianapolis' Refugee and Immigrant Services program, which has helped 20,000 people during the last 40 years.

    Congress urged to 'fix fundamental flaws' in final tax reform bill

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Congress must "fix the fundamental flaws" in both the Senate and House versions of the tax reform proposal as lawmakers try to reach an agreement on a final bill, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, the chairman, issued a statement Dec. 2 in response to Senate passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in a 51-49 vote at 1:50 a.m. Washington time. Both chambers must meet in conference to reconcile differences in the two measures to bring a final bill to a vote. "Congress must act now to fix the fundamental flaws found in both bills, and choose the policy approaches that help individuals and families struggling within our society," said Bishop Dewane. "We are reviewing the final Senate bill and will soon provide analysis about key improvements that are necessary before a final agreement should be reached and moved forward," he said. "For the sake of all people -- but especially those we ought, in justice, to prioritize -- Congress should advance a final tax reform bill only if it meets the key moral considerations outlined in our previous letters," Bishop Dewane said.

    32 Catholic fishermen dead, hundreds missing as typhoon hits India

    THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (CNS) -- A typhoon that rapidly developed on the southern Indian coast claimed the lives of at least 32 poor Catholic fishermen who were at sea and another 200 more were missing. Thousands of other coastal residents had relocated to relief camps by Dec. 4, ucanews.com reported. The confirmed deaths were in Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, according to government sources. All the dead are Catholic men who had gone out to sea, said Father V. Wilfred, a priest of Vizhinjam parish, a fishing village near Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram. Antony Silvaster, a Catholic fisherman in the fishing village of Vizhinjam, said there was no warning of the storm. He said that with 200 fishermen missing, the community expected the death toll to rise. Worst affected was the coastal area near India's southern tip, a Catholic stronghold.

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Men and women contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage should not be afraid because God wants only for them to experience the joy that comes from serving others, Pope Francis said. "Our slowness and our sloth" should not delay a response and Christians need not be "fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord," the pope said in his message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations. "It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision," the pope wrote. "Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!" The papal message for the day of prayer, which will be observed April 22, was released Dec. 4 at the Vatican. The 2018 theme is "Listening, discerning and living the Lord's call."

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

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advent is a time to be watchful and alert to the ways one strays from God's path, but also to signs of his presence in other people and in the beauty of the world, Pope Francis said. Reciting the Angelus prayer Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis told people gathered in St. Peter's Square, "Being watchful and alert are the prerequisites for not continuing 'to wander far from the Lord's path,' lost in our sins and infidelities; being watchful and alert are the conditions for allowing God to break into our existence, to give it meaning and value with his presence full of goodness and tenderness." Like the ancient Israelites who wandered in the desert, the pope said, "we, too, often find ourselves in a situation of infidelity to the Lord's call; he indicates the right path, the path of faith, the path of love, but we look for happiness elsewhere." Advent gives people time to review the paths they have taken and to turn back to the ways of God, he said.

    Political power comes from serving, not lording over others, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic politicians in Latin America must take more initiative in fighting for justice for all, rather than waiting for instructions from church leaders, Pope Francis said. The Christian contribution to politics often seems to come only from "the declarations of the bishops" and not from Catholic lay men and women who are called to bring the Gospel to their activities in public life, the pope said in a Dec. 1 video message to Catholic politicians attending a three-day conference in Bogota, Colombia. "It is necessary that Catholic laypeople do not remain indifferent to the public nor withdrawn into the churches nor await ecclesiastical directives and instructions to fight for justice, for more humane ways of life for all," Pope Francis said. The Dec. 1-3 "meeting of Catholics who assume political responsibilities at the service of Latin American people" was sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Latin America bishops' council, CELAM.

    Catholic liturgies avoid Christmas decorations, carols in Advent

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During the weeks before Christmas, Catholic churches stand out for what they are missing. Unlike stores, malls, public buildings and homes that start gearing up for Christmas at least by Thanksgiving, churches appear almost stark save for Advent wreaths and maybe some greenery or white lights. "The chance for us to be a little out of sync or a little countercultural is not a bad thing," said Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin. By the same token, he is not about to completely avoid listening to Christmas music until Dec. 24 either. The key is to experience that "being out of sync feeling in a way that is helpful and teaches us something about our faith," he told Catholic News Service. Others find with the frenetic pace of the Christmas season it is calming to go into an undecorated church and sing more somber hymns like "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." But that shouldn't be the only draw, noted Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, who is the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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  • Pope says world has reached moral limit on nuclear deterrence

    ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH (CNS) -- The Cold War policy of nuclear deterrence appears morally unacceptable today, Pope Francis said. St. John Paul II, in a 1982 message to the U.N. General Assembly, said deterrence "may still be judged morally acceptable" as a stage in the process of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. But Pope Francis, in a message in early November to a Vatican conference, said "the very possession" of nuclear weapons "is to be firmly condemned." During a news conference Dec. 2 on his flight back to Rome from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Pope Francis was asked what had changed since St. John Paul wrote to the United Nations and whether the war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un influenced his position. "What has changed?" the pope responded. "The irrationality has changed." Pope Francis said his position is open to debate, but "I'm convinced that we are at the limit of licitly having and using nuclear weapons."

    Pope expresses satisfaction with meetings on Rohingya crisis

    ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM BANGLADESH (CNS) -- Well aware he was disappointing some people by not using the word "Rohingya" publicly in Myanmar, Pope Francis said his chief concern had been to get a point across, and he did. "If I would have used the word, the door would have closed," he told reporters Dec. 2 during his flight from Dhaka, Bangladesh, to Rome. He spent almost an hour answering reporters' questions after his six-day trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, but insisted that most of the questions be about the trip. In his speeches in Myanmar, Pope Francis repeatedly referred to the obligation to defend the lives and human rights of all people. But he did not specifically mention the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Rakhine state. The Myanmar military, claiming it is cracking down on militants, has been accused of a massive persecution of the Rohingya to the point that some describe it as "ethnic cleansing." More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the Bangladeshi border just since August, joining hundreds of thousands already living in refugee camps there. For the government of Myanmar, the Rohingya do not exist; instead they are considered undocumented immigrants.

    Harmony must begin within church, pope says in Bangladesh

    DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- Devoting his last day in Bangladesh to the nation's tiny Catholic community, Pope Francis told clergy and religious that there was no way they could promote interreligious harmony in the country if their communities were marked by gossip, division and bitterness. "There are many enemies of harmony," the pope told priests, religious, seminarians and bishops Dec. 2. One of the deadliest, and most common, enemies is gossip. "You might want to criticize the Holy Father for being repetitive, but this is important to me," he told the church workers gathered in Dhaka's Holy Rosary Church. Speaking badly of someone behind his or her back creates distrust, he said. "It's a kind of terrorism," destroying everything. When the temptation to gossip arises, the pope said, "bite your tongue. You might harm your tongue, but you won't harm your brother or sister."

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  • Archbishop urges funding for HIV, AIDS programs at peril in budget

    WASHINGTON -- Saying that any reduction in funding of programs to prevent HIV and AIDS could have "catastrophic life-threatening implications," Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, asked the Office of Management and Budget, in a letter, to maintain its full funding. The letter, signed also by Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, was issued Dec. 1, observed as World AIDS Day. "At a moment when we are finally witnessing great success in turning back a disease that shocked the world only a generation ago, any cuts in funding would directly result in a reduction in the number of people living with HIV who are added to treatment each year, and could trigger a resurgence in the global epidemic," the letter said. They specifically ask that the government continue to fund the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, and the Global Fund to at least current levels. President George W. Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003 as a way to deal with the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a Geneva-based organization aimed at fighting the diseases throughout the world.

    Study shows Guadalupe devotion lessens health issues caused by stress

    JACKSON, Miss. (CNS) -- A good talk with your mother every day could improve your health. At least, that's what's happened for immigrants in one Mississippi community. A study out of the University of Alabama exploring the link between faith and health demonstrated that those with a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe had fewer negative health issues related to stress. "This drives home how important faith is. In the study results, I found that people who are exposed to stress - their well-being goes down over time. Those who were Guadalupan devotees broke that pattern," explained Rebecca Read-Wahidi, the study's author. She grew up in Forest, where the state's largest concentration of Latinos works in poultry plants. They worship at St. Michael or at its mission San Martin. A community of religious sisters, Guadalupan Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, ministers to the mix of Mexicans, Guatemalans and other Latin Americans. The sisters teach English, host consulates and even offer workshops in what to do if people are stopped by police or immigration agents.

    'Let the friendship begin,' says Tucson's new bishop at installation

    TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- Using his installation Mass homily to launch his episcopacy as the seventh bishop of Tucson, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger laid out as a blueprint for ministry the day's Gospel reading about Jesus' call to the disciples as friends, not slaves. "Let us be in friendship with all, for surely that is the way love grows, the kingdom is built and the great Diocese of Tucson will step into its next age. Brothers and sisters, let the friendship begin," the bishop said. The Nov. 29 installation was the last step in the transfer of leadership that began Oct. 3 with the announcement by Pope Francis that he had accepted the resignation of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who served the diocese for 16 years, first as coadjutor bishop under Bishop Manuel Moreno and then as Tucson's sixth bishop of Tucson. When he was named Bishop Kicanas' successor, Bishop Weisenburger was bishop of Salina, Kansas. He had headed that diocese since 2012. During his tenure in Tucson, Bishop Kicanas became known for his advocacy on behalf of the poor, immigrants and cooperation with religious and civic leaders, and was beloved by Catholics throughout southern Arizona. That love was evident in St. Augustine Cathedral as Bishop Kicanas was repeatedly applauded, including a minute-long standing ovation during Bishop Weisenburger's homily.

    Advent: liturgical season with two parts and tools to help

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While most Catholics know the season of Advent is roughly four weeks before Christmas, they might not know it has two parts. Technically, Advent, the time of preparation before Christmas, begins on the Sunday that falls on or closest to Nov. 30 -- which this year is Dec. 3 -- and ends on Christmas Eve. But right in the middle, Dec. 17, Advent changes gears. Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee, said that up until Dec. 17, the tone of Advent is anticipating Christ's second coming, which is particularly reflected in the Mass readings from the Old and New Testaments. Other prayers in the Mass those first weeks also are about the second coming. But by Dec. 17, the emphasis shifts to Jesus' birth, which is why Father Morrill said when he was young, his family began their Christmas decorating at this time. This also is when some people start singing or listening to Christmas carols.

    Panel OKs bill allowing houses of worship to receive federal disaster aid

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Legal language allowing houses of worship to receive federal disaster assistance was advanced out of a House of Representatives committee and was in line for a final vote. The language was folded into the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which was approved by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Nov. 30. No vote in the full House was immediately scheduled. Current federal law prohibits houses of worship from receiving disaster relief for reconstruction from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The provisions originally were included in the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act introduced in May by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York. At the time, the two sponsors said the bill calls for houses of worship to receive the same consideration as other nonprofit entities for aid.

    Church officials in Chiapas warn of crisis as Tzotzil flee violence

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Caritas and priests in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas warn of a humanitarian crisis and escalating violence as more than 5,000 indigenous Tzotzil have been forced to flee their homes due to a decades-old land dispute. The conflict over territory in two municipalities dates to 1973, but a pair of priests in the impacted area told Catholic News Service that armed paramilitaries have blocked roads and driven poor indigenous populations from their land in at least nine settlements. "It's very serious," said Father Sebastian Lopez, parish priest in Chalchihuitan, the municipality indigenous were forced to flee. "They've cut off roads, people have been displaced, they're sleeping in the mountains, there is a lot of suffering." Caritas and the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas have issued an urgent call for donations of food, medicine and clothing. Videos provided by Father Marcelo Perez Perez, priest from the nearby municipality of Simojovel, showed displaced individuals speaking of being forcibly removed from their land, where they grew corn and coffee. The displaced included the elderly, pregnant women and children; some spoke of their crops were being burned.

    Colombian Catholics roll up sleeves to help hungry Venezuelan refugees

    CUCUTA, Colombia (CNS) -- It's 9 a.m., and volunteers at the Divine Providence Dining Hall are already busy making lunch. Women in red aprons chop dozens of carrots on a large wooden platter, while a man in his 50s flexes his muscles as he tries to mix pasta in a cauldron half his size. The volunteers are making 1,000 meals a day for Venezuelan immigrants who have been streaming into Colombia to escape poverty and violence in their country. Many are desperately short on cash and rely on the church-run dining hall for their only daily meal. "We are saving a lot of money here," said Daisy Blanco, a former shopkeeper from the Venezuelan state of Guarico, who arrived in Cucuta in October. Blanco said she's now making around $5 a day in Cucuta, selling coffee in the street. It's more than she was making in Venezuela in a week, but money is still tight. "If I bought lunch here in Cucuta, I'd have to pay almost $2," she explained. "So, we are really fortunate to have this place." Colombian immigration officials say more than 30,000 Venezuelans are crossing every day by foot into the border town of Cucuta in search of medicine, food and work. Some 2,000-3,000 of these daily arrivals do not return to their impoverished country. Instead they try to settle in Colombia, or use it as a platform to head to other South American countries.

    Angel figurines deliver message of love at Ohio senior care facility

    BEDFORD, Ohio (CNS) -- Sister Helen Scasny studied the wall of glass-enclosed cases stretching from floor to ceiling inside the entrance of Light of Hearts Villa, a senior care center in Bedford. Almost 900 angel figurines of various ages, sizes and materials crowded well-lit shelves, but Sister Helen wouldn't choose a favorite among them. "My favorite is sitting at my bedside in Bertha," Sister Helen said of the guardian angel she named years ago. "I say goodnight to Bertha. I thank her for keeping me upright. I haven't fallen!" The senior care facility welcomes the public to check out its angel display all year-round, but Christmas angels come out of storage to take a prominent spot during Advent. Now 85 years old, Sister Helen keeps bees and promotes her honey as "nun better," but in the late 1940s she was a young teacher who witnessed the angel collection blossom. "People like to give nuns gifts, but they never know what to give them," she said. "People gave us angels. In those days, we couldn't keep our gifts, and so we turned them in."

    In western Kenya, growing sect confuses some local Catholics

    KISUMU, Kenya (CNS) -- As the drumbeats grew louder at the Jerusalem Church, members of the Legio Maria movement bowed in unison before they began speaking in tongues, praying and singing. Their "cardinal," Raphael Midigo, dressed in a purple gown, appeared from behind a curtain near the pulpit and began to pray for the sick, the blind, deaf, disabled, the mentally ill and couples who could not bear children. Worshippers responded in shouts as others fainted, overcome with emotion. "I can now hear. I can speak. I thank God," shouted 30-year-old Jacinta Atieno, who claimed to be deaf in both ears for 10 years. "I came all the way from Nairobi to receive a miracle," she said. "I have suffered for a long time. I thank the man of God for healing me." Such supposed miracles in the Legio Maria sect have raised concerns among Catholic parish leaders in western Kenya. Thousands of Catholics have joined the sect in search of healing. "This is worrying because leaders from this church (Legio Maria) have their own selfish agendas, which they achieve by making people believe that they have power to heal and provide solutions," said Geofrey Omondi, a catechist of the Nyatike Catholic church in Migori, a nearby town.

    To foster vocations, trust young people, pope tells conference

    ROME (CNS) -- To foster vocations, the church must trust young people who, "despite belonging to the 'selfie' generation, look for full meaning in their lives, even when they do not always look for it where it can be found," Pope Francis said. "This is where we, consecrated men and women, have an important role: to remain awake to wake up young people, to be centered on the Lord to help young people center themselves in him," he said in a message to participants in a two-day conference on vocational ministry and consecrated life. Pope Francis said those in charge of ministering to youths must know the world and the current generation while looking for ways to announce the good news and proclaim "the gospel of vocation." If this does not happen, he added, "we would be giving answers to questions that no one is asking themselves."

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

    DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- Each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, yet so often people desecrate that image with violence as seen in the treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya minority, Pope Francis said. "Today, the presence of God is also called 'Rohingya,'" the pope said Dec. 1 after meeting, clasping hands with and listening intently to 16 Rohingya who have found shelter in Bangladesh. "They, too, are images of the living God," Pope Francis told a gathering of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu leaders gathered in Dhaka for an interreligious meeting for peace. "Dear brothers and sisters," he told the crowd, "let us show the world what its selfishness is doing to the image of God. Let's keeping helping" the Rohingya, he said. "Let's continue working so their rights are recognized. Let's not close our hearts. Let's not look away."

    Pray for your priests, pope urges at Mass in Bangladesh

    DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- Ordaining 16 new priests in Bangladesh, Pope Francis kept to his practice of using the formal ritual homily for the occasion. But, as often happens, he also felt a need to speak more personally to the people before him. At the Mass Dec. 1 in Dhaka's Suhrawardy Udyan park, Pope Francis' impromptu remarks were not addressed to the candidates for priesthood, but to the estimated 100,000 people in the crowd. Pope Francis called the Mass "a feast, this great celebration" for the ordination of priests. "I know that many of you came from afar, traveling for more than two days. Thank you for your generosity. This shows the love you have for the church. This shows the love you have for Jesus Christ. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for your generosity. Thank you so much for your fidelity," he told them. "Continue this way with the spirit of the Beatitudes." But he also had an admonition for the people: "Always pray for your priests, especially for those who today will receive the sacrament of holy orders."

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