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  • Pope decries 'barbaric resurgence' of anti-Semitism

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

    By Carol Glatz

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned the "barbaric resurgence" of anti-Semitism and criticized the selfish indifference that is creating the conditions for division, populism and hatred.

    "I will never tire of firmly condemning every form of anti-Semitism," the pope told a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles that combats hate and anti-Semitism around the world.

    Meeting the delegation at the Vatican Jan. 20, the pope said, "It is troubling to see, in many parts of the world, an increase in a selfish indifference" that cares only about whatever is easy for oneself and lacks concern for others.

    It is an attitude that believes "life is good as long as it is good for me, and when things go wrong, anger and malice are unleashed. This creates a fertile ground for the forms of factionalism and populism we see around us. Hatred rapidly grows on this ground," he added.

    To tackle the root cause of the problem, he said, "we must commit ourselves also to tilling the soil in which hatred grows and sowing peace instead."

    With integration and seeking to understand others, "we more effectively protect ourselves," the pope said, therefore, it is "urgent to reintegrate those who are marginalized, to reach out to those far away" and support those who have been "discarded" and to help people who are victims of intolerance and discrimination.  

    Pope Francis noted that Jan. 27 would mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from Nazi forces.

    Recalling his own visit in 2016 to the extermination camp, he underlined how important it is to make time for moments of reflection and silence, so as to better hear "the plea of suffering humanity."

    Today's consumer culture is also gluttonous with words, he said, churning out so many "useless" words, wasting so much time on "arguing, accusing, shouting insults with no concern for what we say."

    "Silence, on the other hand, helps to keep memory alive. If we lose our memory, we destroy our future," he said.

    The commemoration of "the unspeakable cruelty that humanity learned of 75 years ago," he said, should "serve as a summons to pause," be silent and remember.

    "We need to do this, so we don't become indifferent," he said.

    And he asked that Christians and Jews continue to use their shared spiritual patrimony to serve all people and to create ways of drawing closer together.

    "If we do not do this -- we who believe in Him who from on high remembered us and showed compassion for our weaknesses -- then who will?"  


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CNS News Briefs

Brief versions on news stories from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  • Pope urges bishops to teach discernment, including on political issues

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sometimes the political choices people face can seem like a choice between supporting a "snake" or supporting a "dragon," but Pope Francis told a group of U.S. bishops their job is to step back from partisan politics and help their faithful discern based on values, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. Meeting the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas Jan. 20, Pope Francis mentioned how, in an election, "you sometimes seem to be caught, you know, are you going to vote in one sense for a snake or you going to vote for a dragon?" Cardinal DiNardo said. The pope's advice to the bishops was "teach your people discernment by you stepping back from the sheer politics of it" and focus on the values at stake, Cardinal DiNardo told Catholic News Service. "If you try to step back and say, 'but here are the major moral issues that we face,' that's what is most important." The region's 26 bishops, including auxiliaries and retired bishops, spent about two-and-a-half hours talking with Pope Francis in English and Spanish. The pope responded in Italian so his aide could translate the responses into English. The topics were wide-ranging and included the clerical sexual abuse crisis, migration, the challenges of a media-permeated culture and forming Christian consciences, especially in a time of deep political divisions.

    Pope decries 'barbaric resurgence' of anti-Semitism

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned the "barbaric resurgence" of anti-Semitism and criticized the selfish indifference that is creating the conditions for division, populism and hatred. "I will never tire of firmly condemning every form of anti-Semitism," the pope told a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles that combats hate and anti-Semitism around the world. Meeting the delegation at the Vatican Jan. 20, the pope said, "It is troubling to see, in many parts of the world, an increase in a selfish indifference" that cares only about whatever is easy for oneself and lacks concern for others. It is an attitude that believes "life is good as long as it is good for me, and when things go wrong, anger and malice are unleashed. This creates a fertile ground for the forms of factionalism and populism we see around us. Hatred rapidly grows on this ground," he added. To tackle the root cause of the problem, he said, "we must commit ourselves also to tilling the soil in which hatred grows and sowing peace instead."

    Germany's synodal assembly a step to rebuilding church's credibility

    FRANKFURT, Germany (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Germany have compiled responses from lay Catholics in areas related to who holds power in the church, sexual morals, the role of priests and the place of women in church offices in preparation for an upcoming synodal assembly to debate church reforms. More than 940 suggestions and questions had been submitted by early January in advance of the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 assembly in Frankfurt, reported KNA, the German Catholic news agency. The synodal assembly is one segment of the synodal path, which the German bishops agreed to stage at their annual meeting last March. The synodal assembly will include 230 members. It is the highest decision-making body of the synodal path, an effort by the bishops' conference and lay Central Committee of German Catholics to restore trust following a September 2018 church-commissioned report that detailed thousands of cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy over six decades. Comments will continue to be accepted through Jan. 23 at the website of the German bishops' conference.

    Update: As Dutch parishes close, some Catholics just quit going to church

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- A Dutch Catholic newspaper warned churches will continue to close in the Netherlands, where half of all Catholic parishes have already been dissolved amid plummeting church participation. "It's never good to panic, but there are grave concerns about the way things are going here," said Peter Doorakkers, an editor at the Katholiek Nieuwsblad weekly. "It's been hoped people would draw the obvious conclusion -- that if you want your church to stay open, you don't just need to support it financially, you also have to attend it more. But if you look at the numbers at Mass now and average ages, it's obvious more churches will close in the near future." The editor spoke to Catholic News Service in mid-January after the paper published the results of a yearlong investigation on attitudes to church closures in the 17.1 million-strong Dutch population. In a Jan. 2 feature, Katholiek Nieuswblad said its investigation had focused on the "social and economic consequences of church closures," especially for rural congregations. It said the Catholic population of the Netherlands had fallen by a fifth in 15 years, with just 5% of the country's 3.7 million registered Catholics still attending Mass, while 55% of parishes had closed.

    Bishops begin 'ad limina' visit with Mass, profession of faith

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Accompanied by priests and seminarians from their dioceses, the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas knelt before the tomb of St. Peter after chanting the Creed in Latin. The profession of faith Jan. 20 was a formal, obligatory part of their visit "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- but also a response to the Gospel reading they had just heard in which Jesus asks Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was the principal celebrant and homilist at the early morning Mass in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica on the first day of their "ad limina" visit. Later in the morning, they were scheduled to meet with Pope Francis and then begin making the rounds of the offices of the Roman Curia to discuss the status of their dioceses. At the Mass, the cardinal noted how the current St. Peter's Basilica and the church built by Constantine that preceded it were "grand buildings built over the simplest of tombs" in honor of "a martyr, a witness of Jesus Christ."

    Pope hopes Berlin summit will lead to peace in Libya

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he hoped that an international summit in Berlin would be the first step toward peace in war-torn Libya. "I very much hope that this summit, which is so important, will be the start of a path toward an end to violence and a negotiated solution leading to peace and the much-desired stability of the country," the pope told pilgrims Jan. 19 during his Sunday Angelus address. The Berlin talks, which were aimed at brokering a peace deal between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and rebel commander Gen. Khalifa Hifter, were also attended by representatives of countries backing both sides of the conflict, including Turkey, Russia, Egypt, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. By the end of the summit, world leaders signed a draft declaration in which they pledged to no longer interfere in the nine-month civil war, reported Al-Jazeera, the television news network.

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  • Trump aims to 'even playing field' for faith-based groups seeking grants

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump said Jan. 16 his administration is issuing nine proposed rules to ensure the nation's faith-based service providers and organizations are not discriminated against by federal agencies' regulations or in their grant-making processes because of religion. The agencies affected include Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and International Development. Trump said his administration "is committed to ensuring religious organizations can compete on a level playing field for funding, without discrimination. The proposed rules would eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations," he said. Among those requirements faith-based service providers have had to give notice they are religiously affiliated and must make available a list of alternative secular service providers. He made the comments on the proposed rules during an Oval Office event on National Religious Freedom Day after he announced new guidance on prayer in public schools.

    Major U.S. faith-based health care system leads anti-trafficking campaign

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- While many may be aware of Houston as a hub for sex trafficking, the crime may occur right in front of them in hotels near the city's fashionable Galleria shopping mall or suburban school campuses rather than just at shady motels plagued by drugs. To train people, especially medical staff, to become aware of the crime and how to report it, Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the largest nonprofit, faith-based health systems in the nation, leads a campaign to prevent and intervene in human trafficking, said Kimberly Williams with Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center Mission/Spiritual Care Department. "Many times the one common ground for these survivors is in the emergency room for being assaulted or injured in some way," said Williams, project coordinator of the Human Trafficking Initiative. "We are training 7,000 health care providers on how to identify and intervene." Now with a federal grant of $649,560 to be used over the next three years, the effort builds on the Greater Houston Area Pathways for Advocacy-Based Trauma-Informed Healthcare (PATH) Collaborative founded by St. Luke's Health, which includes Baylor College of Medicine, Ben Taub Hospital, Doctors for Change and San Jose Clinic, which is a health ministry of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Said May Cahill, executive director of St. Luke's Foundation: "Thanks to the support of our national organization's mission and ministry fund, we were able to launch the pilot program at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in 2016. The initiative is a priority for our leadership, and now with our newest grant we are moving to expand and grow the program across our Texas division."

    Update: Judge blocks Trump's order on state refugee resettlement

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A federal judge in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction Jan. 15 blocking the Trump administration from enforcing an executive order that would allow state and local government officials to reject resettling refugees in their jurisdictions. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, three faith-based resettlement agencies -- HIAS, a Jewish organization; Church World Service; and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service -- who said their work would be directly impacted and harmed by the order. In his 31-page decision, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte said the executive order could be seen as unlawful because it grants states and localities veto power that "flies in the face of clear congressional intent." The judge also called for refugee resettlement to "go forward as it developed for the almost 40 years" prior to President Donald Trump's executive order, announced last September. Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed this sentiment, telling Catholic News Service that "refugee resettlement will continue as it has before" based on available resources and family connections. But she also acknowledged that the refugee resettlement process has taken a hit. "Everything is in flux," she said just after the injunction was issued, and she pointed out it would likely be appealed by the Trump administration.

    Mom of twins says 'miracle' events led her to reject abortion, choose life

    MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. (CNS) -- Alonna Mertz prayed in front of abortion clinics as a teenager in Michigan, driven by her well-formed, pro-life conviction. Then, in 2017 as a young adult, she went to such a clinic in Minneapolis for a different and unexpected reason: She was pregnant. Dating a man whose values didn't align with hers, she found herself alone and feeling scared about the new life inside her body. "At that point, there was enough distance between me and God that I wasn't listening to the Holy Spirit," said Mertz, 27. "I was terrified, and I made an appointment for an abortion." Like so many other women who discover unplanned pregnancies, Mertz struggled with a torrent of tortured emotions when a home pregnancy test confirmed what she had sensed was true. "I wept," she said of seeing the positive result. Though she knew abortion was wrong, she was consumed by one thought concerning the alternative of carrying her baby to term: "I can't do this." Only a technical glitch that she cannot explain and a baby's cry at that clinic kept her from getting an abortion. Instead, she gave birth to fraternal twin girls, Eve and Lilly, Feb. 2, 2018, by cesarean section. Today, she can't imagine life without them.

    Update: Poor Clares' contemplative monastery in Tennessee quietly closes

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. (CNS) -- As Christmas approached and 2019 came to a close, the Monastery of St. Clare in Tennessee quietly closed. An 88-year-old priest, Father David Knight, was the last remaining resident. He had hoped to live out his days in his tiny single room with a connecting office where he has written over 40 books. Few people have been behind the tall brick walls and iron gates of the monastery, which covers nine acres in the Memphis neighborhood of Frayser. A group of nuns there has been quietly praying for the city and its people since 1932. But now, with only four nuns remaining, the monastery has closed. In May 2018, the Vatican issued guidelines that all contemplative communities, Catholic communities established ostensibly for continuous prayer, need to have at least seven members. The last four Poor Clares in Memphis sought out ways to continue their vocation, joining other Poor Clare communities around the country. Sister Anthony went to join the Poor Clares in Cincinnati, as did Sister Alma months earlier. Sister Marguerite and Sister Claudia went to live with the Poor Clares in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. There are about 20,000 Poor Clares worldwide; officially they are members of the Order of St. Clare.

    Tiny house project fosters culture of service, helps someone in need

    ROSWELL, Ga. (CNS) -- A months-long project to build a tiny home checked all the boxes for Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell. The project -- which began in November 2018 and was just recently completed -- has fostered a culture of service on the Catholic school's campus; incorporated engineering, technology science and the arts; and drawn the participation of students with diverse interests. And regarding the faith component? The goal from the beginning was to give the finished house to a person in need, such as a homeless veteran. The house measures just under 200 square feet. Situated on a custom-built wheeled trailer, this home includes a sleeping loft for a king bed and a twin, a kitchen and a bathroom with a standup shower, along with a sitting area. The tiny home is part of a minimalist living trend. For comparison, the average house in America is about 2,400 square feet, according to the Census Bureau. When the project began, student Rosie Nemec wasn't going to let the lack of experience with circular saws, nail guns, impact drills and other construction tools stop her. Then a senior, Nemec has since graduated with the hope of becoming a nurse. The chance to work with her hands to build a home -- and not just any home, but a popular tiny house for a person in need -- intrigued her. "It was a new experience for me," Nemec said in an interview last year with The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese. "I wanted to help the school and the homeless vet we're giving the house to."

    Gratitude to God should expand hearts, lead to hospitality, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Every Christian should be grateful for the gift of his or her baptism, and that gratitude should draw them together to recognize that they are brothers and sisters and called to pursue holiness together, Pope Francis said. Welcoming an ecumenical pilgrimage from Finland to the Vatican Jan. 17, Pope Francis told the Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox and other Christian leaders that all Christians are called "to witness to the good news in the midst of their daily life." Hospitality to the stranger and to those in need is a particularly strong form of witness, the pope said on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated Jan. 18-25. The theme chosen for this year's commemoration is "They showed us unusual kindness," a quote from St. Paul, writing about the experience of being shipwrecked in Malta. "As baptized Christians, we believe that Christ wishes to meet us precisely in those who are -- whether literally or figuratively -- shipwrecked in life," Pope Francis told his guests. "Those who show hospitality grow richer, not poorer. Whoever gives, receives in return."

    Pakistani archbishop, now a Canadian, focuses on helping asylum-seekers

    LAHORE, Pakistan (CNS) -- A Pakistani Catholic archbishop who migrated to Canada after his retirement said his focus now is on helping persecuted Pakistani Christians who seek asylum in Canada. Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, the former archbishop of Lahore who moved to Canada shortly after his retirement in 2011, celebrated 60 years of priesthood Jan. 16. He became a Canadian citizen in 2016. "We live in a dark and dangerous world that is threatened by climate change, wars, economic hardships, and large-scale migrations. In the past seven years, the problem of asylum-seekers has grown acutely," the 83-year-old archbishop told in an email. In Pakistan, church leaders say Christians often become the targets of violence, rape and harassment and are treated as second-class citizens for following a religion other than Islam. Besides physical violence, the judiciary and governments at all levels are habitually biased against Christians in a country where stringent regulations, such as the blasphemy law that stipulate capital punishment, are used to settle personal scores, they say.

    Update: '9 Days for Life' prayer, action campaign takes place Jan. 21-29

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholics across the country are invited to take part in the 9 Days for Life is a novena for the protection of human life. Each day's intention is accompanied by a short reflection and suggested actions to help build a culture of life. The pro-life novena, sponsored by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, coincides with the annual March for Life that takes place in Washington every January to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the country. This year's march takes place Jan. 24. But "even if you can't come to D.C., you can join others to witness and pray for an end to abortion," said Kat Talalas, assistant director for pro-life communications at the USCCB. "We ask all of the faithful to unite in prayer to protect the rights of unborn children, to end the violence of abortion, and for greater respect for human life." By signing up online at, participants will receive a daily prayer intention, a reflection and suggested actions via email, text or through an app. The novena encompasses the annual Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children Jan. 22, the day the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton.

    Official logo for the Sunday of the Word of God unveiled at Vatican

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An icon of the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus was chosen as the official logo for the worldwide celebration of the Sunday of the Word of God. The colorful logo is based on an icon written by the late-Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul Farran, a member of the Our Lady of Calvary Congregation, who lived and worked at its monastery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The logo was presented to the press at a Vatican news conference Jan. 17, ahead of the newly established Sunday of the Word of God, which is being celebrated Jan. 26 this year. Pope Francis has asked that the third Sunday in Ordinary Time each year be observed as a special day devoted to the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God. The logo shows the resurrected Christ holding in his left hand a scroll, which is "the sacred Scripture that found its fulfillment in his person," Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told reporters.

    Protect your health, physically and spiritually, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus healed people of all sorts of physical ailments, but he always started with the essential -- forgiving their sins, Pope Francis said. "We should take good care of our bodies, but also our souls," the pope said Jan. 17, preaching about the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus healing the paralytic. "Jesus teaches us to go to what is essential," the pope said at morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. "What is essential is health, complete, body and soul." Just like a person who is sick tries to find the right doctor to cure that ailment, he said, when a person's spiritual health is in danger, "we go to that physician who can heal us, who can forgive our sins. Jesus came for this reason; he gave his life for this." In the day's reading from the Gospel of St. Mark, a paralytic is hoping for physical healing, the pope said. But Jesus says to him, "Child, your sins are forgiven."

    Update: President Trump issues new guidance on prayer in public schools

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump announced his administration's new guidance on prayer in public schools during a Jan. 16 event in the Oval Office on National Religious Freedom Day. Primarily, it will require states to report cases where public school students have been denied their right to pray. Ahead of the event, which was delayed from a 2 p.m. (EST) start to around 4 p.m., material about it was provided to reporters in a background briefing the morning of Jan. 16. In a separate proposed rule, the administration aims to protect the rights of religious student groups at public universities, giving them equal treatment with secular student groups. For schools to receive federal funding, they will need to certify once a year with state education departments that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students from constitutionally protected prayer, a senior administration official said. State departments of education also would have to report to the U.S. Department of Education each year with a list of local school boards that failed to make the required certification as well as complaints made to that department about a local school board or school that has been accused of denying students or teachers their right to engage in constitutionally protected prayer.

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  • San Francisco all-girl Cristo Rey school puts students on path to success

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Sophomore Angelica Buncio knows her hard luck turned to good fortune when she joined 371 female students at ICA Cristo Rey Academy. Established in 1883 to carry on the historic mission of Catholic education to enlighten and empower the vulnerable and voiceless, the San Francisco high school fulfills its ministry by joining with 152 corporate partners to integrate professional work experience with a four-year college prep curriculum and give economically disadvantaged girls a career-enhancing edge. Girls such as Angelica, who chokes up at the memory of the travails she and her family endured after emigrating from the Philippines. "My parents wanted a better life for me, but they couldn't always give it to me and that's why ...," she confided, tears interrupting her reminiscence. "It hasn't always been rainbows and all happy stuff, but it's a lot better now." Her prospects grew more promising with newfound aptitude and attitude. The former self-described "very shy, anti-social introvert" now exudes confidence, courage and conviction born in part of a well-rounded, in-the-field experience at Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame, California, where her supervisor staggered her shifts to include seniors, dementia patients, physical therapists, retailers and facility managers. "ICA has opened up a lot of doors for me and given me a lot of opportunities that people way older than me don't have," Angelica told Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

    Update: Knights, N.Y. Archdiocese and others providing aid to quake victims

    PONCE, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Jose Lebron-Sanabria, a Knight of Columbus and a general insurance agent for the fraternal organization, is coordinating assistance to Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes. He led the Knights' recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico in September 2017. Among other efforts this time, he is working with the Diocese of Ponce to bring food, water and nutrition drinks, like Glucerna and Ensure, to a religious monastery, home to 25 elderly nuns. "I have a tool to offer my community and that is the Knights of Columbus," Lebron-Sanabria said in a statement. The island is home to 5,240 Knights and 81 councils. The series of earthquakes, the highest being a magnitude 6.4, has leveled towns and parish churches on the southern coast of the island. Gov. Wanda Vazquez Garced has declared a state of emergency. Aftershocks continue to rock Puerto Rico. The Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Connecticut, has established an online portal for donations for those affected by the quakes: Catholic Charities USA has established a Puerto Rico disaster relief fund that can accessed online at

    Spanish cardinal: 'Marxist communism ... has been reborn' in the country

    VALENCIA, Spain (CNS) -- A Spanish cardinal warned Catholics that their country is on the verge of a communist revival. Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera of Valencia said the election of the coalition government in November had created a situation "more critical" than had been initially thought or believed. "Marxist communism, which seemed destroyed with the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been reborn and is certain to govern Spain," said Cardinal Canizares, vice president of the Spanish bishops' conference. "The sense of democracy is substituted for the imposition of a single way of thinking and by authoritarianism and absolutism incompatible with democracy," he said. In a letter posted Jan. 11 on the diocesan website, the cardinal said it almost felt like Spain was copying the faults of socialist governments of Latin America, such as Venezuela. "With much pain, I have to tell you and warn you that I have perceived an attempt to make Spain stop being Spain," he said.

    Hearing cites successes, undone work in protecting trafficking victims

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- On the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a Jan. 15 hearing to celebrate the act cited numerous successes -- including the passage of four subsequent bills to further clamp down on trafficking -- but noted work yet to do to keep both children and adults safe from others who would exploit them for sex or cheap labor. Rep. Christopher Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the House's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said few in Congress signed on when he first sponsored the bill. "For most people at that time -- including lawmakers -- the term 'trafficking' applied almost exclusively to drugs and weapons, not human beings," he said. The act, Smith said, included a number of "sea change" provisions, "including treating as a victim -- and not a perpetrator of a crime -- anyone exploited by a commercial sex act who had not attained the age of 18 and anyone older where there was an element of force, fraud or coercion." He added, "Thousands of human traffickers have been prosecuted and jailed pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act including all charges brought against (billionaire financier) Jeffrey Epstein (who committed suicide in his jail cell before trial) and the infamous convictions involving the 'Smallville' actress Allison Mack." Smith, who chaired the hearing, said the law "is working as intended. In just over two years, the U.S. government has notified foreign governments of the planned travel of 10,541 covered sex offenders to their countries. As of July, 3,681 individuals who were convicted of sex crimes against children were denied entry by these nations."

    Syro-Malabar synod asks Indian state to distribute minority grants fairly

    COCHIN, India (CNS) -- The synod of India's Syro-Malabar Church has appealed to the Kerala state government to stop discriminating against Christians when it distributes benefits intended for religious minorities. reported that at the end of its assembly in Cochin, the bishops said 80 percent of the federal grants meant for religious minorities "went to one minority community (Muslims), and the remaining 20 percent is divided among the other five minority communities in the state." Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains are classified as minorities. Together they make up 20 percent of India's 1.3 billion people. Some 80 percent of Indians are Hindus. The federal government offers individual grants for things such as education, scholarships and tuition, aiming to improve the socio-economic development of religious minorities. Such aid is distributed through minority welfare departments in each state. However, bishops in Kerala maintain the Christian community is not given such benefits in proportion to their size, reported. "Despite representing almost 20 percent of the population in the state, we are not given federal grants for minorities as per our population ratio," said Father Antony Thalachelloor, synod secretary of the Syro-Malabar media commission.

    Bishops visiting Holy Land urge governments to uphold international law

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Bishops from North America and Europe visiting for the annual Holy Land Coordination said countries must reject political or economic support for settlements but address security concerns of Israel and the right of all to live in safety. "Our governments must do more to meet their responsibilities for upholding international law and protecting human dignity. In some cases they have become actively complicit in the evils of conflict and occupation," the bishops said in their final communique. On the Jan. 12-16 trip, the bishops met with local Christian communities in Ramallah, West Bank; Jerusalem; and the Gaza Strip. They also met with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The annual visit is designed to show support for the Holy Land's Christian communities. Noting that local bishops warned people were facing further "evaporation of hope for a durable solution," the bishops said they had "witnessed this reality first-hand" of how construction of settlements and the separation wall were "destroying any prospect of two states existing in peace." They called on their governments to take an active role in building a new political solution "rooted in human dignity for all."

    Murry: U.S. cherishes religious liberty but need to protect it 'ongoing'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A culture of religious freedom "consists of respect for the dignity of others as they seek to live in accordance with the truth about God," said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty. "All people can thrive in such a culture," said Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, but he also noted that "the establishment of a culture of religious freedom is always an ongoing task." The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington issued Bishop Murry's statement late Jan. 15, ahead of National Religious Freedom Day Jan. 16, which celebrates the nation's long-standing commitment to freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith. The observance commemorates the day the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was signed -- on Jan. 16, 1786. Each year, by presidential proclamation, Jan. 16 is declared Religious Freedom Day. "While the free exercise of religion has long been enshrined in our country's laws, religious minorities have often experienced encroachments on their ability to practice their faith freely," Bishop Murry said. "Even today, many Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other communities, all in different ways, face challenges to their religious freedom."

    Catholic college mourns death of star student-athlete in tragic crash

    WORCESTER, Mass. (CNS) -- Officials at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester are "stunned and saddened" over the death of sophomore Grace Rett, 20, a star rowing athlete who died from injuries she sustained in a motor vehicle crash early Jan. 15 in Florida during a winter training trip. "Our community has suffered a tragic loss. I extend my deepest condolences to Grace's family, members of the women's rowing team and their coaches, and all who loved Grace," said Jesuit Father Philip L. Boroughs, president of the college. "In our grief we pray that the healing power of the love of Christ will touch their hearts and provide some peace," he said in a statement. "I ask that all members of the community support one another at this time and pray for the healing of those involved in the accident." Rett, who was from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, was an English and psychology major and had just turned 20 Jan. 14. She recently set a world record for indoor rowing -- 62 straight hours on an erg machine. The team was riding in a van at the time of the crash in Vero, Florida. Police said it appeared the van driver may have failed to yield, causing the crash with a pickup truck at an intersection at 7:30 a.m. local time. Six other members of the team and a coach suffered injuries in the crash and were transported to local hospitals.

    USCCB president urges nation to overcome racism that still clouds hearts

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While the United States has "come a long way" in addressing racism and injustice, much more remains to be accomplished to achieve the dream of "the beloved community" envisioned by the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles urged the country to overcome still-entrenched racist beliefs and discriminatory practices in a statement released in Washington to mark the annual holiday honoring the civil rights leader, which this year falls on Jan. 20. "We have come a long way in our country, but we have not come nearly far enough," Archbishop Gomez said in the statement issued Jan. 16 by the USCCB. "Too many hearts and minds are clouded by racist presumptions of privilege and too many injustices in our society are still rooted in racism and discrimination." The archbishop lamented that "too many" young African American men are killed across the nation or are "spending their best years behind bars."

    Pope speaks to U.S. bishops about pro-life issues, transgender ideology

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Protecting human life is the "preeminent" social and political issue, Pope Francis said, and he asked the head of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities to convey his support to the pro-life community. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the bishops' committee, told Catholic News Service Jan. 16 that the pope agreed with the U.S. bishops "identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority. His response to that was, 'Of course, it is. It's the most fundamental right,'" Archbishop Naumann recalled the pope saying. "He said, 'This is not first a religious issue; it's a human rights issue,' which is so true." Archbishop Naumann was one of 15 bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican in mid-January to report on the status of their dioceses. He and other bishops spoke to Catholic News Service Jan. 16 after meeting with the pope for more than two hours. Archbishop Naumann said he told the pope that since the Roe v. Wade court decision legalized abortion, an estimated 61 million abortions have taken place in the United States.

    Australian archbishop rejects breaking seal of confession for abusers

    YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) -- The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is the latest of the country's senior clerics to push back against legislation to lift the seal of confession for child sexual abuse. Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane made a submission to the Queensland state government opposing draft legislation that would see priests face up to three years in jail for failing to report confessions of child sexual abuse to the police; the penalty would be five years for "failure to protect." In his submission, Archbishop Coleridge said a confession is between the penitent and God, and the priest's task is to enable that dialogue. "The proposed legislation would make the priest at this vital point less a servant of God than an agent of the state," said Archbishop Coleridge. "The mechanism within this legislation which deals with the confessional seal quite simply will not make a difference to the safety of our young people." Many priests have said they have never heard a confession from a child abuser, and some have noted that the psychopathy of many offenders is such that they do not believe they have done anything wrong.

    'Ad limina' is time to reflect on personal growth in faith, bishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Before meeting Pope Francis, the bishops of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri prayed before the tomb of St. Peter and reflected on how the fisherman grew in faith and love for Jesus. Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, presided and preached at the early morning Mass Jan. 16 in front of the apostle's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica. The "privileged and sacred spot" where millions of Christians have prayed through the ages, he said, has special meaning for men "chosen, as unworthy as we are, to be successors of Peter and the other apostles" and serve the church as bishops. Reflecting on the life and witness of St. Peter, he said, is an opportunity for bishops to reflect on their own response to the call of the Lord to love him, serve him and his people. The Gospel's many mentions of St. Peter reveal "his faith, his doubt, his failure and his love," the bishop said. In many ways, he was "so much like us and, thus, it is easy for us to identify with him."

    Bishops must listen, learn, be healed by God, archbishop says

    ROME (CNS) -- The Catholic Church needs leaders who are willing to listen, learn, be healed and to serve and proclaim boldly what God has done in their lives, said Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "We have to remember that indeed nothing is impossible for God. No matter how low we might be, the Lord can lift us up to do that work that is his," he said in his homily Jan. 15 during Mass at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Archbishop Hebda was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass with the bishops of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. The bishops were making their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses. The bishops rearranged their schedule of Mass celebrants so that the presider and homilist for Mass at the basilica housing the tomb of St. Paul would be the archbishop of St. Paul. Thanking his brother bishops for giving him the opportunity for something that "seemed fitting," Archbishop Hebda reflected on St. Paul's reputation for being bold. "My brother bishops know that sometimes we all want to be bold leaders, but it is hard to be bold when we are in need of healing and the church has been knocked down," he said.

    Young adults make 'deep dive' into faith during 'ad limina' visit

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Supporting and supported by their bishops, 25 young adults from Minnesota and North Dakota made a pilgrimage "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- in mid-January. The delegation of women and men, single and married, ages 21-35 flew to Rome with the bishops of Region VIII, who are required by church law to make the "ad limina" visits to pray at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul and to meet with the pope and top Vatican officials. Many dioceses offer pilgrimages to coincide with their bishops' "ad limina" visits, but the Region VIII trip was different: Young adults were invited last May to apply to make the trip either by providing a letter of recommendation from someone who would attest to their leadership in evangelization or by writing a short essay on how Christ has worked through others to draw them closer to him. While the region's bishops met Pope Francis Jan. 13, the young pilgrims met him two days later after the pope's weekly general audience. Two young men came bearing white zucchetti -- the papal skullcaps -- and the pope put each on his head, then handed it back as a souvenir. Mychael Schilmoeller, 33, the pastoral care minister at St. Michael parish in Prior Lake, Minnesota, received special attention from Pope Francis. Noticing her belly, he asked when her baby is due. She told him, "St. Patrick's Day," and he blessed her unborn baby and gently touched her.

    The greater the sinner, the greater God's love, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God shows the greatest love and compassion for the greatest sinners, Pope Francis said. The Lord "has come precisely for us sinners and the greater the sinner you are, the closer the Lord is to you because he has come for you, the greatest sinner; for me, the greatest sinner; for all of us," the pope said in his homily Jan. 16 at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae. The pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading from St. Mark, in which Jesus' takes pity on and heals a leper who kneeled before him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." In saying "if you wish," the pope explained, the leper "attracts God's attention" and makes an "act of faith" because he saw that Jesus acted with compassion toward those who suffer. "This was Jesus' mission," the pope said. "Jesus did not come to preach the law and then go away. Jesus came with compassion, that is, to suffer with and for us and to give his life. The love of Jesus is so great that compassion brought him to the cross, to give his life."

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  • Bishops urge Central African Republic leaders to face challenges in 2020

    BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNS) -- Catholic bishops in the Central African Republic have called on government leaders to use 2020 to reopen dialogue with opponents and ensure elections. In a series of recommendations for the conflict-torn country, the bishops' conference wrote, "Knowing most of you confess faith in Jesus Christ or in a single creator God, we feel obliged to remind you of your regal duties. "We urge you to organize free, transparent elections within the constitutional framework, in accordance with the democratic demands of a state of law, and to return to the discussion table with armed groups for consensual, peaceful solutions to disputes and misunderstandings," the bishops said in a message from their Jan. 6-12 plenary in Bangui, the nation's capital. They also urged "good governance and a healthy management of natural resources, to avoid the destruction of fields, theft of livestock and loss of human life." The country's justice system was still impeded by demands for impunity and lack of reparations, the bishops said, while the state's authority remained ineffective in much of the country, which still has no proper roads or education and health services. The bishops said the church was offering a "message of hope, peace and awakening of conscience" to Central Africans on the 125th anniversary of their Christian evangelization.

    With wall on three sides, Comboni Sisters in West Bank build bridges

    BETHANY, West Bank (CNS) -- Their convent is surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall, but the Comboni Sisters told visiting bishops they are trying to build bridges of peace rather than walls. "We are here to bring people together," Comboni Sister Alicia Vacas, convent superior, told bishops from Europe and North America participating in the weeklong Holy Land Coordination. The convent, which serves as a spiritual retreat and includes the St. Mary Kindergarten, was founded in 1966 and has gone through numerous political changes since its founding on what was then Jordanian territory. But in 2004, following the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising, the sisters were cut off from half of the population they serve by the Israeli barrier, a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. Two sisters live in a Christian housing project just on the other side of the wall to maintain a presence and to serve the few Christian families who have remained in the project. A small "door" was initially opened in the wall to allow the children of the kindergarten to be passed through to the convent, but that was eventually blocked, and parents on the other side of the wall needed to take two buses, stand in line at a checkpoint, then walk 30 minutes to get to the kindergarten. It became too arduous a journey, and parents sought alternative kindergartens for their children.

    Update: Rome-brokered peace deal increases chances of papal visit to South Sudan

    ROME (CNS) -- A newly brokered peace deal between the government of South Sudan and opposition leaders increased the chance of a papal visit to the African nation. The agreement signed in Rome Jan. 13 was significant because it involved opposition leaders who had not signed previous peace deals, said John O'Brien, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in South Sudan. The Rome-based Sant'Edigio Community brokered the talks in Rome Jan. 11 and 12, and the agreement took effect Jan. 15. Signers included representatives of the government and the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance. Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, have said they would travel together to South Sudan if the country's leaders fulfill their promise to form a transitional government by late February. The joint trip to South Sudan has been a hope of both Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby since 2016, when South Sudanese leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian churches visited them to explain the ongoing tensions in South Sudan. Last April, in an effort to encourage peace, Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby hosted South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation's would-be five vice presidents for a retreat at the Vatican. At the end of the retreat, Pope Francis knelt at their feet, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy "fathers of the nation."

    Catholic high school welcomes students with special needs into new program

    MISHAWAKA, Ind. (CNS) -- Grocery shopping and Christmas-themed aerobics classes are not part of a typical high school curriculum. But at Marian High School, they offer important lessons for some students. Marian has five additions this academic year, and Principal Mark Kirzeder hopes to see a similar increase next school year. They're not new classes, but new students: those with mild intellectual disabilities. The five students are the first of the school's Bernadette Scholars, and they are making their mark at Marian. Affectionately called "Bernies," Bernadette Scholars are on nondiploma, certificate-of-completion tracks. Participants spend most of their day together in shared classes. As the school year progresses, they are further assimilated into typical classrooms. Integrating the five students into Marian has thus far proven to be a successful transition. Annie Ganser, Marian's director of learning strategies, described the program as flexible, saying it strives to meet each student's individual needs. "It focuses on life skills and achieving an optimal level of independence," she explained. Classwork is directed toward proficiency at everyday tasks for independent living rather than higher-level academics. Students are accepted into the program on a case-by-case basis, depending on their needs and the resources Marian has available. Expectations placed on the students are different from those of typical learners as well.

    Trebek cites 'power of prayer' in accepting Fordham Founders' Award

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek and his wife, Jean, received Fordham University's Founders' Award at a Jan. 7 reception in Los Angeles. According to Tom Stoelker writing in Fordham News, this was the first time the award -- which he described as "weighty statuette" of Fordham founder Archbishop John Hughes -- has been presented outside of New York City. Trebek, 79, has been at the helm of "Jeopardy" for 36 years. He has continued to host the classic game show even as he has undergone chemotherapy for stage 4 pancreatic cancer. A year ago, he was told he has the disease. He responded well to chemotherapy and at one point announced he was "near remission," but in August he said he had to resume a course of chemo treatment. "If there's one thing I have discovered in the past year, it is (the) power of prayer," he said in accepting the Fordham award. "I learned it from the Jesuits when I was a kid, I learned it from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate when I was in boarding school." In her remarks, Jean Trebek said, "We understand how education, and probably more importantly, higher education, is one of the linchpins of society."

    Committee to recommend Australian bishops give laity certain controls

    YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) -- A six-person committee charged with reviewing church governance and management is expected to present Australia's bishops with a plan to overhaul the management of the church in the country. The plan would cede control over financial, human resources and governance functions to professional laity, Jack de Groot, a member of the review committee, told Catholic News Service. The committee, established by the Australian Catholics Bishops' Conference and Catholic Religious Australia in May 2018, expects to present the plan by late March. It is the latest in a series of responses by the Australian church to the country's Royal Commission Into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, which uncovered and documented the tragic history of abuses in religious and secular organizations, including Catholic-run schools and orphanages across the country. The commission found the Catholic Church, the denomination in Australia with the most followers, to be the worst offender and, since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation to victims. Dozens of offenders, including many clerics, have been imprisoned. In June 2018, the government established a National Redress Scheme to provide support and compensation to survivors, although many have still chosen to pursue perpetrators through the courts. Catholic bishops and religious have been working to act on the series of recommendations handed down by the commissioners in August 2017. "The past year has seen steady and significant progress made across a range of areas, including in education, in governance reform and in responding to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse," Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian bishops' conference, said in a progress report in mid-December.

    Pope names bishops for Ukrainian dioceses in England, Australia

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis named new bishops for the Ukrainian Catholic dioceses in London and in Melbourne, Australia. The Vatican announced Jan. 15 that Pope Francis named Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Canadian Eparchy of New Westminster, British Columbia, to be the new bishop of the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London in Great Britain. Bishop Nowakowski, 61, had led the Canadian diocese since 2007. Also Jan. 15, the Vatican said Pope Francis accepted the resignation of 76-year-old Bishop Peter Stasiuk, who had led the Eparchy of Sts. Peter and Paul of Melbourne since early 1993. To succeed Bishop Stasiuk, the pope named Redemptorist Father Mykola Bychok, who will celebrate his 40th birthday Feb. 13.

    Pope appoints first woman to Vatican foreign ministry post

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis named Francesca Di Giovanni, a longtime Vatican official, as an undersecretary in the Vatican's foreign ministry office, making her the first woman to hold a managerial position at the Vatican Secretariat of State. The Vatican announced Jan. 15 that within the Vatican Secretariat of State's Section for Relations with States, Di Giovanni will head the multilateral sector, which deals with intergovernmental organizations and multilateral treaties. With the new appointment, the Vatican foreign ministry, led by Archbishop Paul J. Gallagher, will have two undersecretaries. Di Giovanni will serve as undersecretary alongside Msgr. Miroslaw Wachowski, who will continue to work in the area of bilateral diplomacy. In an interview with Vatican News published shortly after the announcement, Di Giovanni said that there had been a need for an undersecretary for the multilateral sector, but "I sincerely never would have thought the Holy Father would have entrusted this role to me. It is a new role and I will try to do my best to live up to the Holy Father's trust, but I hope not to do it alone," she said. "I would like to count on the harmony that has characterized our working group so far."

    God's word can never be 'enchained,' pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A true apostle is one who continues to be a courageous and joyful evangelizer even in the face of persecution and certain death, Pope Francis said. By choosing to close the Acts of the Apostles not with St. Paul's martyrdom but with his continuing to preach the Gospel even while under house arrest, St. Luke wanted to show that the word of God cannot be "enchained," the pope said Jan. 15 during his weekly general audience. "This house open to all hearts is the image of the church which -- although persecuted, misunderstood and chained -- never tires of welcoming with a motherly heart every man and woman to proclaim to them the love of the Father who made himself visible in Jesus," he said. The pope concluded his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles with a reflection on St. Paul's imprisonment in Rome. St. Paul's treacherous journey and adventures to "the heart of the empire," he said, did not weaken the Gospel he preached but instead strengthened it by "showing that the direction of events does not belong to men but to the Holy Spirit, who gives fruitfulness to the church's missionary action."

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  • Update: Canadian communities recall friends, relatives killed in Tehran crash

    EDMONTON, Alberta (CNS) -- If grief is a journey, this is the first painful step: searing heartache. More than 2,500 people filled the Saville Community Sports Centre at the University of Alberta Jan. 12 to remember the lives of 13 Edmontonians and 163 others lost when Ukrainian Airlines International Flight PS752 was shot down by a missile shortly after takeoff from Tehran. All 176 people onboard were killed in the Jan. 8 crash, including 57 Canadians. A day later, more than 2,000 miles away, a solemn vigil for seven students began with two students singing the haunting words of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence." Among those they remembered were Dorsa Ghandchi, a grade 11 student at Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Richmond Hill, who was traveling with her mother, Faezeh Falsafi, and 8-year-old brother Daniel. They also remembered Dr. Farhad Niknam, a dentist who was an adult English as a Second Language student of the York Catholic District School Board. Staff members and families connected to the board also lost loved ones. The Edmonton victims were of Iranian descent, and their lives were recalled by family and friends at the memorial, which included Persian poetry and song. They were cherished as paragons of Iranian virtues -- education, patience, humor and a welcoming spirit. They were physicians, engineers and students. One couple had just been married. Another entire family was lost. Pedram Mousavi and his wife, Mojgan Dansehmand, both engineering professors at the University of Alberta, were killed with their daughters Daria, 14, and Dorina, 9.

    Gang graffiti tags church, school in Brooklyn Diocese

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Gang graffiti ascribed to the notorious MS-13 gang was spotted on both Sacred Heart of Jesus Church and the parish school in the New York city borough of Queens, which is in the Diocese of Brooklyn. "MS-13" was scrawled on the church walls near the main entrance, and "MS" was tagged on the school doors of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Academy. The tagging was apparently done during the early morning hours of Jan. 12. The New York Police Department's 111th Precinct and the Hate Crimes Task Force are investigating. "My initial reaction when I heard about the vandalism was that I didn't know what to expect. I thought maybe windows were broken or our Nativity had been vandalized and so in a sense, I was relieved that the damage to the church was not more significant," said a Jan. 14 statement from Msgr. Thomas Machalski, pastor. "To the perpetrator, I would encourage them to find something more constructive to do with their time and energy, because the time they wasted on doing something like this, could be spent doing something good," Msgr. Machalski added. MS-13 is short for Mara Salvatruccha 13. The name's origins are the subject of some debate. The word "Mara" means "gang" in the Caliche language; some say "Salvatrucha" is a combination of "Salvadoran" and "trucha," a Caliche word for being alert.

    Quebec to take ethics, religious culture out of school curriculum

    QUEBEC CITY (CNS) -- The government of Quebec is about to eliminate its Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum, which replaced catechesis in schools in 2008. In announcing a public consultation about what should replace the program, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said there's still "too much" religion in schools. This revision process "is part of the government's desire to offer students a modern citizenship education course based on respect for oneself and others," he said Jan. 10. Citizens have until Feb. 21 to participate in an online consultation in order to "establish new themes that will enrich the curriculum and replace, in whole or in part, the notions of religious culture." The suggested themes are: citizen participation, legal education, eco-citizenship, sexual education, self-knowledge, ethics, digital citizenship and the culture of societies. It's only in the eighth and last theme, the one about the culture of societies, that the word "religion" is discreetly mentioned. The new curriculum that will result from these consultations will be tested in some schools during the 2021-2022 school year, then will be implemented in all Quebec schools beginning in September 2022. However, many experts are calling this move a "bad idea." For instance, sociologist Martin Geoffroy, director of the Centre for Expertise and Training on Religious Fundamentalism, Political Ideologies and Radicalization, stressed that "scientific understanding of religion promotes tolerance."

    School's employment program boosts students' skills, confidence

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- On a weekday morning in Southeast Portland, high school sophomore Gabriela Flores sits at a desk, picks up a pencil and concentrates on the work before her. Her task is not to find the value of "x" in a trigonometry equation, nail a history quiz or craft an elegant sentence for an English essay. It's to measure, mark and cut fabric for her job at Looptworks, a company that repurposes and "upcycles" materials into handbags, pillows, luggage and other products. Flores trades a classroom for this hip studio space approximately five days a month as part of De La Salle North Catholic High School's corporate work-study program. The money teens earn in their entry-level jobs goes directly to De La Salle and covers approximately 50% of their education costs. It's a model that benefits the corporate partners, school families -- most teens come from low-income households of color -- and, most importantly, the students. "That combination of developing business acumen and experiencing academic rigor prepares them in a way that's profoundly unique," Tim Joy, De La Salle principal, told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland's archdiocesan newspaper. "They gain a sense of pride in their abilities and a level of endurance that I'm amazed by," added Aiyana Ashley, director of the corporate work-study program. Students don't always come from stable family structures, "but they leave behind what's going on in their personal life and become a valuable part of their employer's team."

    Massachusetts judge rejects right to physician-assisted suicide

    BOSTON (CNS) -- Patients who are terminally ill do not have a right to physician-assisted suicide, but their doctors can provide information and advise about medical aid in dying, a Massachusetts court has ruled. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames said in her Dec. 31 decision that the legality of physician-assisted suicide is not one for the courts to decide. "The Legislature, not the court, is ideally positioned to weigh these arguments and determine whether, and if so, under what restrictions MAID (medical aid in dying) should be legally authorized," Ames said in her ruling. The ruling comes in a case filed by Dr. Roger Kligler, a retired physician from Cape Cod who has advanced prostate cancer, and Dr. Alan Steinbach, who treats terminally ill patients. Patient rights groups welcomed Ames' decision, saying that allowing any type of suicide is "too dangerous." "We are gratified the court reaffirmed the law against assisted suicide and referred the matter to the Legislature where lawmaking belongs," John B. Kelly, director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts, a disability rights group, said in a statement Jan. 13. "Disability rights advocates will continue to press the Legislature that assisted suicide is just too dangerous."

    Scholar says religious expression faces 'open hostility' on some campuses

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Free religious expression in American higher education is under constant threat from the tyranny of secular progressivism, a leading scholar of religious liberty said Jan. 12. Robert P. George, Princeton University's McCormick professor of jurisprudence and a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, spoke at a forum on the religious formation of "America's rising generation" with Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, one of his former students. The event was sponsored by the Tikvah Foundation in partnership with the Museum of the Bible. Sounding one of his familiar themes from his books and lectures, George observed, "There is an antipathy, sometimes an open hostility to religion. Many institutions -- even those identified with a faith -- are suspicious, if not hostile." He cited the matter of scholar Anthony Esolen, who in 2017 left the Dominican-run Providence College in Rhode Island after a long debate about diversity and the college's future. Matters came to a head in 2016 after Esolen published an essay in Crisis Magazine titled, "My College Succumbed to the Totalitarian Diversity Cult." Esolen wrote, "Is not that same call for diversity, when Catholics are doing the calling, a surrender of the church to a political movement which is, for all its talk, a push for homogeneity, so that all the world will look not like the many-cultured church, but rather like the monotone nonculture of Western cities that have lost their faith in the transcendent and unifying God?"

    Government urged to boost funding, strengthen security at religious sites

    PIKESVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- U.S. Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Christopher Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats, joined Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore and other local faith leaders to call for increased federal funding to strengthen security at religious sites amid a recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks. "We are deeply disturbed by the recent apparent rise in anti-Semitism, in particular, the violent attacks that took place last year during the Hanukkah celebration in New York and on the kosher market in Jersey City," Archbishop Lori said at Jan. 13 news conference outside the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville. "I commend our Senate leaders for calling us together today to condemn these acts, but also to take concrete and necessary measures to do everything we can to protect the rights of all people," he said. The senators are proposing to quadruple funding in next year's federal budget for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides assistance to religious and other nonprofit institutions that are potential targets for terrorist attacks. They were joined by Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. Stressing the need for the increase, Van Hollen said the FBI has reported anti-Semitic attacks rose 35% between 2014 and 2018. Speakers also cited attacks on mosques and Christian churches, including recent mass shootings in Texas. If the proposal is successful, the program would provide an additional $360 million in security assistance each year.

    Encore: Catholic schools called 'essential, integral' to church's ministry

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The mission and foundation of Catholic education are directly related to evangelization, said the head of the National Catholic Educational Association. Catholic schools are obligated to evangelize simply because that is the core and mission of the Catholic Church, according to Thomas Burnford, president and CEO of the NCEA. "The apostles told the good news of Jesus Christ, and Catholic schools are an essential and integral ministry of the Catholic Church," he told Catholic News Service. Nationwide, 1.8 million students are enrolled in 6,300 Catholic schools, he noted. Additionally, 80% of students are Catholic, and the remaining 20% are non-Catholic. Despite the percentage difference, the mission of Catholic education is the same for Catholic and non-Catholic students, Burnford explained. "The teaching of the faith, the way we witness the Catholic faith fully to Catholic students is the same for all students. All students are invited and welcomed to participate fully in the whole culture of the school, the formation of the school and the life of the school," Burnford said.

    Update: Retired pope wants his name removed as co-author of book on celibacy

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- At the request of retired Pope Benedict XVI, his name will be removed as co-author of a book defending priestly celibacy, said Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican official who coordinated work on the book. "Considering the polemics provoked by the publication of the book, 'From the Depths of Our Hearts,' it has been decided that the author of the book for future editions will be Cardinal Sarah, with the contribution of Benedict XVI," Cardinal Sarah tweeted Jan. 14. "However," he said, "the full text remains absolutely unchanged." The tweeted announcement came only a few hours after Cardinal Sarah had issued a formal statement accusing people of slandering him by saying that while Pope Benedict may have contributed notes or an essay to the book, he was not co-author of it. Archbishop Georg Ganswein, personal secretary to Pope Benedict, phoned several German news agencies and spoke with the Reuters news agency Jan. 14, saying the retired pope had requested that his name be removed as co-author of the book, its introduction and its conclusion. The archbishop confirmed that the book's first chapter, attributed to Pope Benedict, was the work of the retired pope.

    Children born into the world called 'great gift' for families, for future

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- Despite high winds, freezing precipitation and cold temperatures, thousands turned out for the seventh annual March for Life Chicago, which kicked off in Daley Plaza Jan. 11. The march, with the theme "Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman," proceeded east on Washington Avenue and south on Michigan Avenue, where it ended at the Congress Plaza Hotel. A youth rally hosted by the Archdiocese of Chicago took place at the hotel before the march, along with an expo of pro-life groups sponsored by WeDignify. The "Mass for Life" was celebrated at the hotel following the march, and the evening featured a banquet and swing dance party. Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich joined several speakers in addressing those gathered for the march. "When a child is born into the world, it is a great gift, not just for the child but for a whole family, a family that sees a legacy carried on and can see in the eyes of that child the future," Cardinal Cupich told the gathering. The cardinal spoke of how his own family welcomed two new great-grandnephews in recent months, which makes 25 great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces in his family. Those new births, and all children, inspire generosity and hope for the future, he said. That generosity extends to helping all children and mothers.

    Preaching one thing, doing another is 'pastoral schizophrenia,' pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The crowds following Jesus during his lifetime said he taught with "authority" because he lived what he preached, Pope Francis said. "Authority is seen in this: coherence and witness," the pope said Jan. 14 during his early morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. In the day's Gospel reading, Mk 1:21-28, people in the crowd remark on the authority of Jesus and how "he commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." Jesus' exercise of authority, the pope said, is authentic because it can be seen. "What is seen? Coherence. Jesus had authority because there was coherence between what he taught and what he did, how he lived," he said. The scribes in the Gospel, on the other hand, act in such a way that Jesus tells the people, "Do what they say, but not what they do." The scribes suffered from "pastoral schizophrenia" -- saying one thing and doing another, the pope said. They were prime examples of what Jesus often called "hypocrites."

    Beat pans, blow whistles to fight locusts, Catholic leaders urge Kenyans

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- As swarms of desert locusts continued to advance in Kenya, Catholic leaders urged local communities to use all means possible to fight the herbivorous insects -- even cooking them. Local communities have been beating metal pans, blowing whistles, honking motorcycles and burning cow dung to smoke away the insects, as government help took too long to arrive or became limited, church leaders said. Other Kenyans chanted day and night to scare away the insects. "We have been encouraging them use anything at their disposal to scare away the locusts. The destructive insects do not like noise. The people are very persistent in creating as much noise as possible," said Father Isaac Racho, vicar general of Marsabit Diocese. "The swarms that landed here last week have moved away, but after much destruction. We still remain on the alert." A large immature swarm that made a landfall in the northeastern county of Mandera Dec. 28 has spread south to several counties. Recently, one immature swarm in northern Kenya had occupied an area measuring 37 miles long by nearly 25 miles wide. The emergence of the migratory insects has triggered fear among East African farmers, since the locusts threaten food crops and animal pastures.

    In secularized culture, bishops must give bold witness, archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite recent studies that indicate a rise in secularism, bishops must continue to give witness to God's love by laying down their lives for their flocks, said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas. Referring to a Pew Research Center study released in December, Archbishop Naumann encouraged bishops to "not concede without a fight a single soul to the darkness of unbelief, of life without the friendship and love of Jesus. Despite the findings of Pew studies, let us commit ourselves to laying down our lives with love in our efforts to restore and, in some way, instill eucharistic amazement in the hearts of our people," the archbishop said in his homily Jan. 14 during Mass at the Rome Basilica of St. Mary Major. Archbishop Naumann was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass with the bishops of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. The bishops were making their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses. The good news proclaimed 2,000 years ago in Rome by Sts. Peter and Paul, the archbishop said, "is the same good news our people need to hear proclaimed with enthusiasm and authority today."

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  • Love of baking, culinary skills and prayer make religious brother a winner

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The oven timer dings, alerting Capuchin Franciscan Brother Andrew Corriente the chocolate layer cake he is baking needs to be checked. A quick test with a toothpick tells him the cake needs about five more minutes in the oven, more than enough time for him to soften the butter that will eventually become the buttercream icing that will top the confection. The enticing aromas in the kitchen at Capuchin College in Washington signal that Brother Andrew is busy creating another treat for the men who call the friary home. Brother Andrew knows his way around a kitchen. In fact, he was crowned this year's baking champion on ABC's "The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition." The program, which aired during the month of December and concluded Jan. 2, is an adaptation of the wildly popular "Great British Bake Off." Brother Andrew said he wanted to participate in the program "because I love to bake, and I wanted to learn from the others" who were part of the production. "They were very good, incredible cooks," the brother said of his competition. Several of them have since become good friends of his. "The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Edition," now in its fifth season, features 10 amateur bakers who compete in a series of challenges in which they must produce outstanding baked goods. Contestants are eliminated one by one until a champion is selected. Brother Andrew emerged as the victor after he and the other two finalists were charged with making three individual party desserts of their choice. He earned the crown with chocolate cookies with lime cream and blackberry jam, sponge cakes with fresh cream and fruits, and a puff pastry.

    Texas Catholic leaders oppose governor's plan to reject new refugees

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Texas Catholic leaders were quick to take a stand against a Jan. 10 announcement by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that the state would no longer resettle refugees. The governor's decision, announced in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, makes Texas the first state to reject refugee resettlement after last year's executive order by President Donald Trump requiring governors to publicly say if they would accept refugees after June 2020. To date, governors in 42 states have said they will accept more refugees. Governors from five remaining states that accept refugees -- Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina -- have yet to respond to the Jan. 21 deadline. Texas bishops responded individually on Twitter to the governor's decision, urging him to reconsider. In a Jan. 10 statement, the Texas Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, said the move to "turn away refugees from the great state of Texas" was "deeply discouraging and disheartening." The conference said it "respects the governor" but said his decision in this case was "simply misguided" because it "denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans." In his letter to Pompeo, Abbott, who is Catholic, emphasized the work Texas has done in welcoming refugees, saying that since fiscal year 2010 "more refugees have been received in Texas than any other state."

    Mexican bishops stress importance of education after school shooting

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Mexican bishops offered prayers for the victims of a school shooting, perpetrated by an 11-year-old student, that killed a teacher and wounded six others. The gunman is believed to have killed himself, according to police in the northern city of Torreon. "We elevate our prayers to God for the eternal rest of the teacher and student of the Colegio Cervantes in our city. Hearing this news fills us with pain and causes us to lift our gaze toward heaven to find comfort and peace," Bishop Luis Martin Barraza Beltran of Torreon said in a statement Jan. 10. "Let us strive each day so family unity and dialogue allows us to build new relationships based in love and respect for others." The Jan. 10 shooting shocked Mexico, where 13 years of drug cartel-driven violence has left more than 200,000 dead and approximately 65,000 missing. But the violence convulsing the country had yet to erupt in schools, and not in the form of massacres such have occurred in U.S. schools. Coahuila state officials say the perpetrator brought two weapons to school and fired nine shots. Media reports said the boy's mother had recently died and he had been abandoned by his father.

    Bishops visiting Holy Land get look at complexities of Gaza Strip

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- In addition to a sense of isolation, young people in the Gaza Strip are experiencing an unemployment rate of 70 percent, and most see emigration as their only solution, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. "This is a challenge for young people," he told Catholic News Service Jan. 13. "They are facing uncertainty and insecurity about their future." Archbishop Broglio was one of 15 bishops -- mostly from Europe and North America -- taking part in the annual weeklong Holy Land Coordination visit to support the Holy Land's local Christian communities. Several talked to Catholic News Service after visiting Gaza. "The future for the young people is very tenuous," Archbishop Broglio said. "Basically, the only solution they see is getting out. But that is very problematic, because once they do get out, there is no coming back (because of travel restrictions.) Leaving means an indefinite separation for families." Basics such as water and electricity are interrupted daily, he said. The Gaza Strip has been under an air, land and sea blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007, when Hamas took control of the Palestinian area from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The 1.8 million Palestinian residents of the coastal Gaza Strip are cut off from the remainder of the Palestinian territory by the blockade, which also restricts their free travel access to the rest of the world.

    Author hopes readers will reconnect to 'beauty, power' of the sacraments

    SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- Rose Rea's name may be on the cover of the book, but she downplays her role in the creation of "Spirit and Life: The Holy Sacraments of the Catholic Church," published by Sophia Institute Press. "I cannot take any credit. It was all inspired by the Lord," Rea said of the hardcover coffee-table book, which combines vivid photographs of sacred spaces and natural landscapes with an exploration of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, holy orders and marriage. Rea is given the "Created by" credit on the title page, but the idea came to her during prayer. And she continued to pray and fast, seeking divine guidance at each stage in the coffee-table book's development. The Catholic mother of five likens herself not to an artist, but to a "paintbrush" wielded by the Divine Artist himself. For each sacrament, "Spirit and Life" provides its readers with a scriptural passage and explanatory paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church; a historical commentary on that particular sacrament written by a church father or a pope; and a reflection penned by a contemporary Catholic. "The entire book is meant to be a prayerful and artistic experience," explained Rea, who hopes the book's format enables it to offer something that will speak to all readers, whether they are practicing Catholics, fallen-away or non-Catholic.

    Update: Barbara Stinson Lee, former editor of Intermountain Catholic, dies at 68

    SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- Barbara Stinson Lee, former editor of the Intermountain Catholic, Salt Lake City's diocesan newspaper, died Jan. 2 after a brief illness. She was 68. Her funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 8 at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, followed by her burial at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Salt Lake City. Stinson Lee worked for the Intermountain Catholic for 27 years, including 20 years as the newspaper's editor. She retired in 2013 after working the last three years on the job part time. "Barbara touched people throughout the entire diocese," said Father Martin Diaz, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, during the homily at her funeral Mass. "Cooperating with bishops, priests and deacons and religious men and women, Barbara generously gave of herself to build up the church in the service of the Gospel, working to ensure that the work of the cathedral and our diocese would continue to prosper for many generations to come." This combination of journalism and faith was Lee's hallmark. Stinson Lee's talent was recognized statewide in 2006, when the Utah Press Association presented her with its highest individual recognition, the Master Editor Publisher Award.

    Bishops begin 'ad limina' visit with reflection on being 'rock' of faith

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- St. Peter's transformation from an erring disciple to the "rock" on which Jesus built his church was not the result of lessons gleaned from a "self-help" book, but from growing ever closer to the Lord, said Bishop John M. Quinn of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota. Standing before St. Peter's tomb Jan. 13, Bishop Quinn was the principal celebrant and homilist at a Mass with the bishops of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota as they began their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican to pray at the tombs of the apostles and report on the status of their dioceses. In St. Peter's Basilica early in the morning, before meeting Pope Francis, the bishops of the 10 dioceses renewed their profession of faith and offered special prayers for the pope. "Jesus always sees more in every person he encounters than that person sees in themselves," Bishop Quinn said in his homily. St. Peter is an obvious example: "Jesus knew he wasn't the rock when he called him, but Peter becomes the rock. Jesus sees in Peter the potential," the bishop said. Peter reached that potential not because he learned "some self-help tips, it's not because he read a few books on how to become a leader."

    Bishops find hope, and humor, during 'ad limina' meeting with pope

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The "ad limina" visits bishops are required to make to the Vatican are occasions to be honest about challenges, while also being encouraged to hope, said Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo, North Dakota. "It's tempting at times to lose hope when all you hear is bad news and with some of the challenges we face in our dioceses at home; it's extremely important to maintain a spirit of hope and the 'ad limina' I think has been that for me," Bishop Folda told Catholic News Service Jan. 13 after a two-hour meeting with Pope Francis. Bishops from U.S. Region VIII -- North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota -- met the pope on the first day of their "ad limina" visit. The region's 10 dioceses have one archbishop, one auxiliary bishop, six bishops, one bishop-designate and two diocesan administrators. Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis had previously made an "ad limina" visit as bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, in 2012. Pope Benedict XVI was pope. Even then, the archbishop said, there was a group discussion, although each bishop prepared a topic to discuss. "This was even more free flowing," the archbishop said. Pope Francis spent about 30 minutes meeting with priests and seminarians from the 10 dioceses -- "he was very gracious and patient" -- and then spent a full two hours alone with the bishops, Archbishop Hebda said. "It was pretty amazing. It was beautiful."

    Update: Former cardinal moves from Kansas friary to new location

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal who was laicized by the Vatican in 2019 after numerous claims of abuse by him were substantiated, moved Jan. 3 from the Capuchin Franciscan friary in Kansas where he had been living since late 2018. McCarrick made the move on his own accord, according to a spokesman for the Capuchin Franciscan province that oversees the friary. The former prelate had stayed a little over one year at St. Fidelis Friary, run by the Capuchin Franciscan order in Victoria, Kansas, in the Diocese of Salina in the northwestern part of the state. The election of a new provincial for the Denver-based Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Conrad had no influence on McCarrick's decision to leave, according to Capuchin Father Joseph Mary Elder, director of communications and vocations for the province, which also has a friary in San Antonio within its boundaries. "There was nothing on our part" that suggested McCarrick leave, Father Elder said. "Our provincial was very clear with him." "There may have been concern on his part on the report coming from Rome" stemming from the allegations that first surfaced in 2018, Father Elder added. "But that is just conjecture on my part. He was free to stay as long as he wanted to."

    Residents fear what may come next after quakes, archbishop says

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Hurricane Maria was a body blow to Puerto Rico in 2017, one from which it has yet to fully recover. Then came the series of 5-magnitude-and-higher earthquakes that began Dec. 29 -- topped off by three such temblors in a 30-minute span Jan. 7 and followed by a magnitude 5.9 quake Jan. 11 -- that has resulted in only two confirmed deaths, but untold losses in property damage. And not only the earthquakes, but their many aftershocks. Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan lives on the northern part of the island, which was spared most of the worst effects of the quakes. But on a Jan. 10 visit to the island's southern region in the Diocese of Ponce -- what he could see of it -- the damage was much worse. "I got around by car," Archbishop Gonzalez said. "But I wasn't able to go everywhere I wanted to because a bridge here or there collapsed." Driving around Ponce, the archbishop told Catholic News Service in a Jan. 10 telephone interview from near San Juan, "I saw a number of people In Ponce now with their suitcases and looking for a place to find shelter. I can see lots of damage," he said.

    Northern Ireland religious leaders welcome restoration of institutions

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, has welcomed a new political agreement that restores the suspended democratic institutions set up as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The legislative assembly and governing executive -- established on a cross-community power-sharing basis between parties representing both the Catholic and Protestant communities -- collapsed more than three years ago due to a lack of trust between the parties. However, on Jan. 10 the Irish and British governments -- co-guarantors of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to 30 years of sectarian strife that saw more than 3,500 people killed -- published a new set of proposals to restore trust. The following morning, the assembly met and elected a new minister. Archbishop Martin joined with other church leaders in welcoming the new deal as "a balanced accommodation that is focused on the common good."

    Baptism is first step on path of humility, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In asking to be baptized, Jesus exemplifies the Christian calling to follow along the path of humility and meekness rather than strutting about and being a showoff, Pope Francis said. Addressing pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Jan. 12, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the pope said that Christ's humble act shows "the attitude of simplicity, respect, moderation and concealment required of the Lord's disciples today. How many -- it's sad to say -- of the Lord's disciples show off about being disciples of the Lord. A person who shows off isn't a good disciple. A good disciple is humble, meek, one who does good without letting himself or herself be seen," Pope Francis said during his midday Angelus address. The pope began the day celebrating Mass and baptizing 32 babies --17 boys and 15 girls -- in the Sistine Chapel. In his brief homily before baptizing the infants, the pope told parents that the sacrament is a treasure that gives children "the strength of the Spirit. That is why it's so important to baptize children, so that they grow with the strength of the Holy Spirit," he said.

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  • Legatus members are 'ambassadors' who bring their faith to the marketplace

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- When the Indianapolis chapter of Legatus marked its 30th anniversary, Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza and Ave Maria University in Florida, was on hand to help members celebrate. Monaghan, now 82, established Legatus for Catholic business executives and owners over 30 years ago. The organization describes its members as "ambassadors for Christ in the marketplace," and the Indianapolis chapter -- founded Dec. 8, 1989 -- is the fourth oldest Legatus chapter. "I congratulate you on your 30th anniversary," he said. "I like the number 30. I built my career on 30-minute deliveries. Indianapolis is one of my favorite chapters, if not my favorite chapter," Monaghan said, and noted that with nearly 70 active member couples, it also is "one of, if not the, most successful" of Legatus' 98 existing or forming chapters. The Dec. 12 anniversary event was held during the chapter's annual Christmas celebration Mass and dinner. The goal of Legatus is "to bring your Catholic faith into your business by your actions and the way you behave and operate your business," said current chapter president Gary Hoefle, founder of Maxim Services LLC. He and his wife, Katie, are members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

    Brazil's high court: Netflix can continue 'First Temptation of Christ'

    SAO PAULO (CNS) -- Supreme Court Justice Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli has overturned a lower court decision to temporarily suspend Netflix's Brazilian-made movie, "The First Temptation of Christ." The satirical movie has been severely criticized by Catholic organizations and hundreds of Brazilians for suggesting that Jesus had a homosexual experience after spending 40 days in the desert. "It should not be assumed that a humorous satire is capable of weakening the values of the Christian faith, whose existence goes back for over 2,000 years, and the belief of the majority of Brazilian citizens," Dias Toffoli said in his Jan. 9 decision. The Supreme Court justice also noted that freedom of expression is "a condition inherent to human rationality, as a fundamental right of the individual and a corollary of the democratic regime." Brazil's judiciary is in recess until February, so it is up to Dias Toffoli to rule on matters he considers most urgent until the courts are back in session. The suspension of the movie on Netflix's website was requested by a conservative Catholic group, Dom Bosco Center of Faith and Culture. A lower court judge in Rio de Janeiro, Benedicto Abicair, ruled that the right to freedom of expression "is not absolute."

    Bishops require mail balloting to OK assessment increase for 2021

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops, nearly two months after the issue was presented to them at their fall general meeting in Baltimore, approved a 3% increase in their diocesan assessment for 2021. "Yes" votes were recorded by 130 bishops -- exactly the number of votes needed to pass the measure. On Nov. 11, the first day of their Baltimore meeting, the bishops had given their OK to a budget nearing $22.69 million for 2020. That vote, 211-11 with one abstention, required a majority of bishops present and voting. But the diocesan assessment increase required instead a "yes" vote from two-thirds of diocesan and eparchial bishops for it to pass. With 195 such bishops, two-thirds represents 130 bishops. The final vote was 130 bishops voting yes, 62 voting no and three abstentions. Chieko Noguchi, director of public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, confirmed the results in a Jan. 10 email to Catholic News Service, adding the bishops have been notified of the results. The original vote Nov. 11 was inconclusive, 111-55 with three abstentions. Under USCCB statutes, bishops not present are mailed ballots to help generate a final tally.

    French bishops' council OKs removing gender IDs on baptism certificates

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The French bishops' permanent council has approved a recommendation to remove gender references for parents on baptismal certificates. Bishop Joseph de Metz-Noblat of Langres, president of the French bishops' Council for Canonical Questions, said the changes were made to bring baptismal practices into line with new gender-equality laws. In a letter to bishops dated Dec. 13, 2018, and published at the end of 2019, Bishop Metz-Noblat said the "ever-more-complex situation of families in France" had made compiling Catholic documents "sometimes difficult," especially with baptisms. He added that his council had worked with the two other bishops' conference commissions to produce a new baptismal formula, referring to "parents or other holders of parental authority." The reformulation was designed to avoid any moral judgment and help dioceses confronted with problems of vocabulary, the bishop said. He added that the reformulation had now been approved by the bishops' permanent council. "According to canon law, ministers cannot refuse sacraments to persons who opportunely ask for them, while children cannot be held responsible for the situation of their parents," Bishop Metz-Noblat said. "This is why we are recommending you adopt this formulation, which seems more suited to our epoch."

    Seasoned musician inspires people to sing, raise voices 'in honor of God'

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- With the start of the new year, a seasoned Philadelphia musician is taking on a new challenge as director of the Philadelphia Catholic Gospel Mass Choir. Tonya Taylor-Dorsey was appointed to the post by the Philadelphia Archdiocese's Office for Black Catholics, effective Jan. 1. Established for the 2014 World Meeting of Families, the ensemble features voices from the archdiocese and neighboring dioceses. The choir has participated in parish revivals, the U.S. bishops' listening sessions on racism and the annual "Soulful Christmas Concert" at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, the choir regularly performs at archdiocesan observances such as the St. Martin de Porres Mass and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day prayer service. For Taylor-Dorsey, who has more than three decades of experience in parish music, the role once seemed unlikely for someone who was raised Presbyterian -- and who "didn't sing in the church choir growing up. I wanted to be a concert pianist," she said, citing "Fanfarinette" from Jean-Philippe Rameau's "Suite in A Minor" as her favorite piece to play.

    Flu factor: Dioceses take steps to prevent virus from spreading

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The flu season is here and dioceses across the country are taking precautions to avoid spreading illness. The steps outlined by at least three dioceses are designed to minimize contact among the faithful in order to reduce the possibility of transmission of an influenza virus. The dioceses of Portland, Maine, and Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, are among those that have implemented a change in practices during Masses beginning the weekend of Jan. 11-12. The changes include asking people who are sick to refrain from attending Mass and stay home. "When individuals are ill, they are not bound by the Sunday Mass obligation. Encouraging people who are at risk to stay away from large church gatherings is an extra step intended to maintain their health," the Diocese of Portland said in its directive. The changes primarily involve the reception of holy Communion and greetings during the sign of peace at Mass. Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester, Portland Bishop Robert P. Deeley and Allentown Bishop Alfred A. Schlert have urged -- but not required -- people to receive Communion in the hand, the norm in the United States under the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

    Indian Catholics: Court ruling on madrassas will affect Catholic schools

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- India's Supreme Court has allowed the government to control the appointment of teachers in educational institutions run by religious minorities, a ruling church leaders say violates their right to manage such institutions. reported the country's top court upheld a West Bengal state law that allowed a government commission to screen candidates to be appointed as teachers in government-funded madrassas, Muslim religious schools. "The order definitely will have a bearing in the administration of church-run education institutions, too," said Salesian Father Joseph Manipadam, secretary to the Indian Catholic bishops' office for education and culture. The Jan. 6 verdict came while deciding on an appeal challenging a provision in the West Bengal Madrasah Service Commission Act 2008, which said the government panel could screen teachers to be appointed to state-aided madrassas. The schools were declared minority education institutions in West Bengal state, just as thousands of Christian schools in the country. The Indian Constitution allows religious and linguistic minorities to establish and manage educational institutions of their choice to help with the social advancement of their people.

    Update: 'No end in sight to the horror': Australian bishops respond to fires

    CANBERRA, Australia (CNS) -- Saying that "there is no end in sight to the horror which confronts us," Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the bishops have implemented a national response to months of wildfires. The bishops have set up a national network, connecting people affected by the fires with "people who can help with tasks such as preparing meals, clearing properties, rebuilding communities, as well as pastoral and counseling support." They are collaborating with other religious agencies and their institutes and will take up a special collection the last weekend in January, when Australia Day is celebrated. Archbishop Coleridge said people who do not want to wait to donate to their parish collections can donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, known in Australia as Vinnies. The bishops' conference also set up a special page,, with a button for donation to the Vinnies, as well as resources such as prayers of intercession, prayers for those affected, and statements on the fire from other organizations. "We have all seen the apocalyptic images, even if we are not in the areas most affected," the archbishop said. "Lives have been lost, homes and towns have been destroyed, smoke has shrouded large swathes of our country."

    Update: Pope sets special day to honor, study, share the Bible

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The newly established "Sunday of the Word of God" is an invitation to Catholics across the world to deepen their appreciation, love and faithful witness to God and his word, Pope Francis said. By papal decree, the third Sunday in Ordinary Time -- Jan. 26 this year -- is to be observed as a special day devoted to "the celebration, study and dissemination of the word of God." A day dedicated to the Bible will help the church "experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world," the pope said in the document establishing the special Sunday observance. Dioceses and parishes have been invited to respond with creative initiatives, helpful resources and renewed efforts for helping Catholics engage more deeply with the Bible at church and in their lives. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said added emphasis on the importance of the word of God is needed because "the overwhelming majority" of Catholics are not familiar with sacred Scripture. For many, the only time they hear the word of God is when they attend Mass, he told Vatican News Sept. 30, when the papal document, titled "Aperuit Illis," was published.

    Survivors' group, archbishop back journalist sued by Sodalitium members

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A network of clergy abuse survivors has joined calls for an end to lawsuits against a journalist who investigated alleged sexual abuse and financial irregularities within a controversial Catholic group. In an open letter released Jan. 9, the Ending Clergy Abuse organization, also known as ECA, expressed concern regarding five lawsuits against Peruvian journalist Paola Ugaz by several members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. The lawsuits, the ECA said, are a form of "judicial harassment" meant to punish Ugaz for exposing alleged criminal activities within Sodalitium. "It is true that we recognize the legitimate right of every person who feels that his or her honor was damaged to take legal action," the group said. "However, it is unlawful for anyone to abuse this right. In the abusive case of legal actions against Paola Ugaz, it is clear the intention is not to seek justice but to silence her." Ugaz and fellow journalist Pedro Salinas co-authored a book titled, "Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados" ("Half Monks, Half Soldiers"), which detailed the alleged psychological and sexual abuse, as well as corporal punishment and extreme exercises that young members of Sodalitium Christianae Vitae were forced to endure. A 2017 internal investigation found that Luis Fernando Figari, who founded Sodalitium in 1971 and headed it until 2010, and three other high-ranking former members abused 19 minors and 10 adults. "I thank ECA with all my heart for this support because it comes at the right time and gives me a lot of encouragement to keep going," Ugaz told Catholic News Service Jan. 9.

    Love is never indifferent to other's suffering, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Most Christians would agree it is wrong to hate someone, but it is also wrong to be indifferent, which is a camouflaged form of hatred, Pope Francis said. Real love "must lead you to do good, to get your hands dirty with works of love," the pope said Jan. 10 at morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Commenting especially on 1 John 4:19-21, Pope Francis said the Bible "does not mince words." In fact, he said, the Bible tells people, "If you say you love God and you hate your brother or sister, you're on the other side; you're a liar." If someone says, "I love God, I pray, I enter into ecstasy, and then tosses aside others, hates them, doesn't love them or simply is indifferent to them," the pope noted, St. John doesn't say, "You're wrong," but "you're a liar. The Bible is clear because being a liar is the devil's way of being. He is the Great Liar, the New Testament tells us; he is the father of lies. That's the definition of Satan the Bible gives us."

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