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  • Clothing drive half a world away helps babies in Christ's hometown

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

    By Rhina Guidos

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The ask for baby items heading to the Holy Land couldn't be more appropriate: "swaddling clothes needed."

    The Gospel of Luke mentions, after all, that Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in "swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

    But the "swaddling clothes" of modern times come in the form of onesies, the one-piece clothing item for babies, and it's the indispensable item the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation has been asking for as a gift to give to newborns in Christ's birthplace.

    Through a clothing drive at Washington's Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, the hospital has collected a mound of them underneath an altar of St. Francis and the first nativity depiction.

    "One of them had a note, 'With love from Howard University,'" said Father Jim Gardiner, an Atonement friar, who blessed the items Dec. 13, recalling one of the messages left behind by a donor.

    There's something about clothing a baby in Bethlehem for Christmas, said Michele Burke Bowe, of the hospital's Washington-based foundation, about the success of the clothing drive now in its fourth year. She takes the items to the hospital, operated by the Order of Malta, in January.

    When Israel froze in February the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, it caused an economic crisis for families living in the West Bank, where Bethlehem is located. Many families have been going without heat or water because of the crisis, so for new moms already feeling vulnerable to at least have an article of clothing, "it's a blessing to have an outfit for their child," when the baby is born, said Bowe.

    Some of the items were donated by pilgrims who visited the hospital earlier this year, said Father Gardiner. And some items were donated by people who now have adopted the onesie donation as a tradition, said Bowe.

    The Catholic hospital expects its staff will deliver about 4,700 babies this year, including some in need of emergency intensive care and born to struggling families who may not otherwise be able to afford health care for their newborn, said Bowe. Many Palestinian families living there also are limited by a barrier wall of some 258 miles that restricts movement and access to jobs and goods and to hospitals.

    That sometimes also leads to loss of life. But the hospital is there because of one of the core teachings of Catholicism.

    "As Catholics, we value life," she told Catholic News Service.

    At the hospital, families are helped regardless of creed or economic situation.

    "They're so grateful just to have something," Bowe said.

    Though the clothing drives ends in December, the foundation accepts donations for its other works, including a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit cares for critically ill newborns, at www.birthplaceofhope.org.

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    Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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  • Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Neb., to take medical leave of absence

    LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Lincoln announced Dec. 13 that Bishop James D. Conley will take a medical leave of absence, effective immediately. Due to serious medical issues, Bishop Conley formally requested a temporary leave of absence from Pope Francis, and the request was accepted. Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha to serve as apostolic administrator during Bishop Conley's temporary leave of absence. In a letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Lincoln, Bishop Conley announced that he has been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with insomnia and tinnitus. "My doctors have directed me to take a leave of absence for medical and psychological treatment, and to get some much-needed rest. After prayer, and seeking the counsel of my spiritual director, my brother bishops, and my family, I have accepted the medical necessity of a temporary leave of absence," Bishop Conley wrote. He said he will be at a diocesan retreat facility in the Diocese of Phoenix, "thanks to the kind invitation of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, while I undergo the best psychological and medical treatment available to me."

    Live video conference ties Rome, Los Angeles for Scholas offices' opening

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- As Pope Francis inaugurated the new headquarters of the Scholas Occurrentes foundation Dec. 13 in Rome, an archbishop, an auxiliary bishop, a mayor and Catholic high school students gathered in Los Angeles for the launch of the foundation's U.S. headquarters. A live video conference connected the two cities on a day that was special for another reason: The pope was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The aim of Scholas Occurrentes is to encourage social integration ?and the culture of encounter among high school students through the arts, sports and technology. Latin for "schools for encounter," Scholas Occurrentes was launched by Pope Francis in Argentina 2001 when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. As pope, he made it a foundation in 2013. "Holy Father, greetings from Los Angeles," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez. "We are very happy to be with you on this very special day for you as your celebrate your 50th anniversary of priestly ordination. In the name of the whole United States family, we send you our prayers and our greetings on this important day. Congratulations! Ad multos annos." He introduced Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who will be a board member of Scholas Occurrentes USA, and Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop David G. O'Connell. The foundation's new L.A. headquarters is its 14th worldwide office.

    Clothing drive half a world away helps babies in Christ's hometown

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The ask for baby items heading to the Holy Land couldn't be more appropriate: "swaddling clothes needed." The Gospel of Luke mentions, after all, that Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in "swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." But the "swaddling clothes" of modern times come in the form of onesies, the one-piece clothing item for babies, and it's the indispensable item the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem Foundation has been asking for as a gift to give to newborns in Christ's birthplace. Through a clothing drive at Washington's Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, the hospital has collected a mound of them underneath an altar of St. Francis and the first nativity depiction. "One of them had a note, 'With love from Howard University,'" said Father Jim Gardiner, an Atonement friar who blessed the items Dec. 13, recalling one of the messages left behind by a donor. Though the clothing drives ends in December, the foundation accepts donations for its other works, including a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit cares for critically ill newborns, at www.birthplaceofhope.org.

    Update: Students kept safe in N.J. Catholic school during nearby gun battle

    JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CNS) -- Sacred Heart Catholic School in Jersey City reopened Dec. 12, with a heavy police presence outside, two days after deadly gun battle took place at a kosher supermarket across the street from the school. Six people, including a police detective and three customers in the supermarket, were killed in a furious battle that filled the streets of Jersey City with the sound of heavy gunfire for hours, authorities said.The school was placed on lockdown during the nearby attack. None of the students was hurt. When Sacred Heart reopened, counselors would be onsite to assist students and staff, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Newark. Workers were fixing windows damaged in the gunfire."We are grateful for the immediate response by staff in handling this terrifying situation with all the students. All the children are safe, and parents were notified yesterday in a timely fashion," the statement said. "We reiterate our gratitude to all the first responders in safeguarding the public during this deadly incident." It added that "as a Catholic community, we continue to grieve for the victims and for the family of Jersey City Police Detective Joseph Seals." In a statement issued late Dec. 13, the chairman of the U.S. bishops ecumenical and interreligious committee said the attack highlights the need to publicly condemn "any and all forms of anti-Semitism whether in thought, word or action."

    Seminary known for solid formation, 'heartfelt desire' to lead all to Lord

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Sometimes a lecture at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul is so intense that Patrick Hoeft carries his notes straight to the chapel to pray and process them. "There's a sense of, 'Wow, something amazing just happened in class, and I can't quite articulate it, so I'm just going to sit in silence and soak it in,'" said the 25-year-old seminarian from rural Paynesville, Minnesota. "It's an awareness of my own smallness, of being struck by the mysteries of God. It's a feeling of wonder and awe." The image is an apt symbol of this storied seminary: a place for soaking in, a sort of incubator for future priests where a lanky farm boy brings his handwritten notes to God, where intellectual rigor and spiritual fervor meet -- head and heart -- to prepare new shepherds for the Catholic Church. Since its founding 125 years ago, the seminary has become a regional center for formation, producing over 2,500 priests and some 30 bishops, while expanding its scope to educate lay leaders, train deacons and support clergy. Under the guidance of its rector, Father Joseph Taphorn, and an acclaimed faculty, today it numbers 70 seminarians from 13 dioceses and religious orders, 38 men in diaconate formation, 66 degree-seeking students, and more than 800 students in its catechetical institute. It all began in 1890 with the gift of half a million dollars from a Methodist railroad tycoon to build a Catholic seminary. James J. Hill wanted to honor his wife, Mary Theresa, a devout Catholic, with a seminary.

    Netflix satire about gay Jesus infuriates thousands of Brazilians

    SAO PAULO (CNS) -- The latest episode of Brazil's comedy group Porta dos Fundos on Netflix has angered thousands of Brazilians from different religions. The group's Christmas special, "A Primeira Tentacao de Cristo" ("The First Temptation of Christ") is a satire about a gay Jesus bringing his boyfriend home to meet Mary and Joseph. Reaction to the 40-minute show was quick. Brazilians took to social media and the internet, calling for a boycott of Netflix and the cancellation of the parody. The episode, say many, ridicules the Christian faith. The Brazilian bishops' conference criticized the short film and said there is a limit to freedom of expression. The conference "repudiates recent facts that, in the name of freedom of expression and artistic creativity, profoundly assault the Christian faith. Ridiculing the belief of a group, whatever it may be, in addition to constituting an offense under criminal law, means disrespecting all people, hurting the search for an effectively democratic society that values all its citizens," said the statement, released Dec. 12. Julio Cesar Ribeiro, a federal representative, announced he was cancelling his Netflix subscription because of the episode. He said it showed Jesus as a gay man and "shows the disciples all drunk. Inadmissible! It is a mockery of the faith of evangelicals, the faith of Catholics. We need to stop it; I will even be filing a representation because this is vile and is provided for in Article 208 of the Penal Code," said Ribeiro, who is part of the evangelical base in the Brazilian Congress.

    Pope marks 50 years as a priest by presenting writings of his spiritual director

    ROME (CNS) -- As part of the celebrations for his 50th anniversary of priesthood, Pope Francis chose to personally present a multi-volume collection of writings by his longtime spiritual director, the late Jesuit Father Miguel Angel Fiorito. In addition to presenting the Spanish-language collection, "Escritos" ("Writings"), at a conference at the Jesuit headquarters Dec. 13, Pope Francis wrote an introduction to it, saying the publication is "a consolation for those of us who, for many years, were nourished by his teachings. These writings will be a great good for the whole church." But he started the celebrations much earlier in the day, inviting cardinals living in Rome to join him in the chapel of his residence for morning Mass. The Vatican did not release the text of a homily or photographs, but the Vatican newspaper printed the greetings of Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals. "On this happy occasion of your 50th anniversary of priesthood, in the name of all my brother cardinals, I wish you all the best with the deepest thanks for your generous daily service to the holy church of God," the cardinal said. At the evening book presentation, Pope Francis said he had suggested having one of Father Fiorito's "disciples" as the main speaker. The editor of La Civilta Cattolica, which published the books, asked the pope who he had in mind. "'Me,' I said. And here we are."

    Spiritual crisis led Oregon woman on journey to become consecrated virgin

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Next May, Miriam Marston will wear a white dress, receive a ring and stand in front of the altar at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. There will be no tux-clad groom by her side. In one of the oldest rites of the church, Marston, 38, will be consecrated to God -- "mystically espoused to Christ and dedicated to the service of the church," according to the Code of Canon Law. She'll join approximately 250 women in the United States and 5,000 worldwide who are known as "consecrated virgins living in the world." This was not the path she long envisioned. Although she was raised Catholic, she wasn't particularly engaged with her faith and said: "For a long stretch, I was probably fairly agnostic." In her sophomore year at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, two successive tragedies shook the faith she had: a cousin's suicide and the 9/11 attacks that left her questioning everything she thought she knew about life. "It got me wondering, genuinely for the first time, if there was a God and if this was a good God," she told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland, adding that she was "trying to make sense out of suffering." During this spiritual crisis, her mother gave her a copy of "Mere Christianity," C.S. Lewis' logical defense of God's existence and while she was reading it, she felt an "infused knowledge that God was real and that he loved me. I'd fallen into love with this God," she said, adding that she cried, happy tears, for two weeks.

    Laboure giving day aims to help those pursuing vocation pay student debt

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Dec. 17 is "Give to Rescue Catholic Vocations Day." The special day of charity was declared by the Laboure Society, which is dedicated to helping people pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life without student loan debt. The society, based in Eagan, Minnesota, is encouraging donations to the effort by organizing the special day. To donate online go to https://www.charidy.com/laboure2019. The campaign is hosted on the website of Charidy, an organization that helps nonprofits with crowdfunding and other fundraising. Student loans are a barrier because seminaries and religious institutions can't afford to pay off education debt carried by vocation candidates with college degrees. By one estimate, 10,000 people each year are discerning a vocation to the priesthood or as a religious sister or religious brother, but 42 percent are blocked from pursuing the call because of student loan debt, the society says. For a 36-hour period Dec. 17 through Dec. 18, donations to help the Laboure Society train and equip vocation candidates with financial and fundraising skills, a well as provide candidates who qualify with financial assistance, can be made online or by phone. The society's phone number is (651) 295-2548. The donations will be matched dollar for dollar, said Chris Foote, a spokesman for the society.

    After British election, bishop urges vigilance on issues

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- A British bishop said he was relieved by the election defeat of political parties committed to liberalizing Britain's abortion laws, but he was "not particularly enthused" by the Conservative Party agenda. A British cardinal called for a fresh start "in more ways than politics." In the Dec. 12 general election, the Conservatives of Prime Minister Boris Johnson gained 47 seats, the largest increase for his party since Margaret Thatcher won a third term in 1987, giving him a Commons majority of 80 members of Parliament. The opposition Labour Party suffered its worst defeat since 1935, and the Liberal Democrats, the third-largest party, gained only 11 seats. Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said he was relieved by the result because he had been "horrified" by manifesto promises made by the losing parties to strip criminal sanctions from the abortion law so that the procedure was available on demand. The two parties had "an anti-life agenda, particularly on abortion, so I am delighted that that direction has been stopped," he told Catholic News Service Dec. 13.

    Bishop: Witnessing at ICE check-in is going to peripheries as pope asks

    CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CNS) -- Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, was among 18 people who packed the reception area of a federal facility in Cedar Rapids, keeping vigil as Alejandro Guzman checked in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Guzman, a 29-year-old Mexican, is not Catholic but gave thanks for the presence of Bishop Zinkula and the others participating in the Catholic Day of Action to Protect Refugee Families and Children Nov. 27. The Iowa City Catholic Worker, Guzman's sponsor, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, organized the event. "We're all together. We're in solidarity. One human family," the bishop said during a roundtable discussion at the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City that preceded the check-in with ICE officers in Cedar Rapids. Nine immigrants currently live at the Catholic Worker House, a place of hospitality that Guzman and others sought out by word of mouth. Bishop Zinkula looks to Pope Francis as his guide to go out to the peripheries to encounter other people. The bishop chose to witness an ICE check-in, saying that accompanying Guzman "is an opportunity to practice our Catholic Christian faith to love our neighbor and to show support along the way."

    Faith groups praise Australia's religious discrimination legislation

    CANBERRA, Australia (CNS) -- The Australian government has released its second "exposure draft" of its religious discrimination legislation, winning widespread praise from faith groups, including the Catholic bishops, following changes to the original legislation released in October. The bishops' main criticism was the proposed laws did not extend to cover health and eldercare workers; the Catholic Church runs about 10 percent of Australia's hospitals and eldercare institutions. Their concerns were addressed in the new draft, which includes provisions to cover workers in those sectors and extends those institutions rights to discriminate against staff on the basis of religion to preserve the "religious ethos" of that institution. The same extensions cover religious camps and conference centers as long as they publish their policies. Medical practitioners cannot discriminate against individuals but can refuse to perform procedures such as abortion if their faith dictates against it. As well, pharmacists can refuse to dispense prescriptions such contraception and the morning-after pill if they disagree with their use. Human rights, LGBT groups and some legal experts continued to criticize the proposed laws.

    People's hearts yearn for God, not possessions, status, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Christmas season is a time to reflect on what life is all about, Pope Francis told an international group of performers. "The time before Christmas calls us to ask ourselves, 'What is it that I am waiting for in my life? What is the great desire of my heart?' You too, with your songs, help awaken or reawaken this healthy human 'yearning' in the hearts of many people," he said. The pope met Dec. 13 with the group of singers, songwriters, musicians and conductors the day before they were to perform in the Vatican's Paul VI hall for a benefit concert to help protect the Amazon and support indigenous communities there. The lineup was scheduled to include: Lionel Richie, the U.S. Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter; Susan Boyle, who was a 2009 finalist on "Britain's Got Talent"; and Bonnie Tyler, whose songs "It's a Heartache" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" are among the best-selling singles of all time. The Charleston Gospel Choir and several Italian performers were also part of the lineup for the 2019 "Christmas Concert in the Vatican," sponsored by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education. The pope told the performers and concert organizers that God is the author of the "yearning" people feel in their heart, "and he comes to meet us by this route."

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    Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • Update: Pope accepts resignation of Sioux Falls bishop; names successor

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Paul J. Swain of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and appointed as his successor Father Donald E. DeGrood, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Bishop Swain, 76, has headed the Sioux Falls Diocese since 2006. Bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignation to the pope when they turn 75. Bishop-designate DeGrood, 54, is a native of Minnesota and currently pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Savage, Minnesota. He served as the Minnesota archdiocese's vicar for clergy from 2013 until 2017, when he was named pastor in Savage. The resignation and appointment were announced Dec. 12 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop-designate DeGrood's episcopal ordination and installation as the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls is scheduled for Feb. 13. Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis said, "In making this selection, Pope Francis seems to have recognized the extraordinary priestly gifts that have long been apparent to Father DeGrood's parishioners and brother priests."

    Fire destroys New Jersey church; suspected arsonist arrested

    FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. (CNS) -- After a fire destroyed Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Franklin Lakes in the early hours of Dec. 11, the suspected arsonist was arrested. He was receiving burn treatment at a local hospital prior to his court hearing. "We are thankful for the efforts of the police, firefighters, and public safety workers who immediately responded to calls and battled the blaze during frigid conditions to try and save Most Blessed Sacrament Church," said a Dec. 12 statement from the Newark Archdiocese. James Mayers, a 26-year-old local resident, was arrested at the scene of the fire that had been set with a cigarette lighter and gasoline. He was charged with first-degree aggravated arson and third-degree burglary, according to a report by NJ.com, digital news content provider and website in New Jersey. The archdiocesan statement said: "We are moving forward to ensure parish life continues and we are currently identifying alternative sites for Masses, liturgies, and parish activities. We ask everyone to please pray for all who have been affected by this incident." Parishioners gathered outside the charred remains of the church Dec. 12 remembering the importance the nearly 60-year-old parish had for many of them.

    Mary is loving mother, humble disciple, pope says on Guadalupe feast

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope Francis said she reminds Catholics of her true essence as a woman, a mother and a "mestiza" or person of mixed race. She revealed herself to St. Juan Diego as a "mestiza" to show "that she is everyone's mother," and she speaks to everyone as she spoke to this indigenous saint five centuries ago, with tenderness and motherly love, the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12. Seminarians and priests from Rome's Pontifical Latin American College alternated singing their traditional guitar-accompanied songs with the Sistine Chapel choir singing parts of the Mass in Gregorian chant. The pope and concelebrating cardinals and bishops processed into the basilica dressed in white. Among the concelebrants were U.S. bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin who were in Rome as part of their Dec. 9-13 "ad limina" visits to report on the status of their dioceses. Pope Francis stood before a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the saint in 1531. In his homily, which the pope delivered off-the-cuff in Spanish, he reflected on the way Mary appears in the Gospels and in the apparitions to St. Juan Diego. She is first and foremost a woman who has been given many titles -- many which contain the title "Our Lady," which underlines her womanhood, he said.

    Bishops say 'ad limina' meeting strengthens their bond with pope

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inspiring "missionary disciples" rather than church-maintenance workers and building up the unity of the church in a polarized world were some of the topics on the table when 26 U.S. bishops met Pope Francis Dec. 12. Even though the pope was running 40 minutes late -- and apologized profusely for it -- the bishops of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin spent "two hours and 18 minutes" conversing with him, said Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee. "Here's one of the most important figures in the world and he gives us two hours and 18 minutes," the archbishop said. "That says a lot about his pastor's heart, about his generosity, about the fact that he likes being with bishops and talking about the things that matter to the church." Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said that thinking about the meeting, "I could imagine Peter sitting down with the apostles and sharing some of their concerns and challenges, some of their strategies for evangelization, whatever -- I kind of felt that." Every bishop was free to ask questions or talk about this diocese, the bishop said. The pope "would respond with his observations or his counsel, his experiences -- that was very neat because he would share his experiences as bishop or other experiences back home in Argentina. I feel a strengthened bond with the Holy Father," Bishop Rhoades said, especially after "feeling that care that he has for us. It's genuine. There was a real sense of solidarity or communion."

    Our Lady of Guadalupe is 'mother of us all,' says Los Angeles archbishop

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Mary, the Mother of God is "the mother of all of us," Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said in his homily for midnight Mass celebrated at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. "We can cry to her, we can share with her our joys and sorrows," he said. "We can trust in her protection! Who we are, where we are going, all our troubles and sufferings -- everything lies within her merciful and compassionate gaze." As her feast day approached, he said, he thought about "her humility, her tender love for even the least of us, her children." Mary is the Queen of Heaven and yet as Our Lady of Guadalupe, "she bends down to show herself to a humble person, a poor man of the people. Not to the bishops, not to the nobility" but to St. Juan Diego. In fact, "Juan Diego begs her to choose someone more high class, more respected in society," Archbishop Gomez said, but no, she chose him, and she had a mission for him -- one only he could carry out. "Listen, my dearest and youngest son ... where are you going?" were her first words to him, the archbishop said. "And I think that Our Lady's question is also for us. Where are we going? With all our fears and uncertainties, with all our miseries and responsibilities? Do we know that our Holy Mother goes with us, that we are always and forever precious and protected in her eyes?"

    Priest, ex-spokesman for 9 Indian dioceses, arrested, accused of fraud

    NEW DELHI (CNS) -- A Catholic priest accused of fraud in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been remanded in judicial custody for 15 days. Ucanews.org reported Father Anand Muttungal, a priest of the Archdiocese of Bhopal, was arrested Dec. 11 at his residence by officials of the Economic Offense Wing, a special branch of the Madhya Pradesh police department that investigates financial cases. After his arrest, he appeared before a court and was remanded into custody until Dec. 26. Richard James, a spokesman for Father Muttungal, described the priest's arrest as illegal and arbitrary and said the priest was a victim of a large conspiracy, ucanews.org reported. "He will come out clean from the charges against him, and the real culprits will be exposed," he said. The spokesman said he and those supporting the embattled priest have full faith in the judicial system and that Father Muttingal "will get justice." Father Muttungal, a former spokesman and public relations officer for the nine dioceses in Madhya Pradesh, faces charges that include cheating, forgery, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust. The case against the 47-year-old priest and seven others was filed Oct. 17 at an Economic Offense Wing police station in Bhopal, more than two years after a complaint was lodged against them by a group of laypeople.

    Celebrate Christmas with poor in mind, Ghanaian archbishop says

    ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) -- Christians and Ghanaians are called to be apostles of the poor and abandoned by caring for those most in need, especially during the Christmas season, said Archbishop John Bonaventure Kwofie of Accra. "Let's celebrate by thinking of what can be done to ease the situation of the abandoned, the marginalized, the forgotten, the sick, the aged, the needy," he said Dec. 11 at an event with diplomats, clergy and lay faithful. "Let us celebrate Christmas taking a positive stand in support of the human person, in order to bring to an end whatever diminishes the dignity of the human person." The ecumenical event, titled "Conversations in the Cathedral," was held at Holy Spirit Cathedral with the theme, "Being a Christian in Ghana Today: In preparation for Christmas 2019." Among those present were Ghanaian President John Mahama and Father John Tindana, director of the missions office of the Archdiocese of Accra. The "Conversations in the Cathedral" is aimed at bringing people of diverse backgrounds, expertise and beliefs together to dialogue as people who have the interest of the common good at stake. Organizers hope this, in turn, will create a bridge of trust among all participants and their various followers. In his address, Archbishop Kwofie said one way Christians can celebrate Christ's birth is by making a sincere commitment of sharing with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and the poor.

    World needs peacemakers, not empty words, pope says in message

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The world does not need more empty words, it needs committed, active peacemakers who do not exclude or manipulate, but are open to respectful dialogue, Pope Francis said in his annual message for the World Day of Peace Jan. 1. "In fact, we cannot truly achieve peace without a convinced dialogue between men and women who seek the truth beyond ideologies and differing opinions," the pope said in the message released Dec. 12. Peace requires "patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honor the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance," he said. Peace also requires "ecological conversion," he said, which basically is "a new way of looking at life as we consider the generosity of the Creator who has given us the earth and called us to a share it in joy and moderation." People, he said, need "a new way to dwell in our common home, to accept our differences, to respect and celebrate the life that we have received and share, and to seek living conditions and models of society that favor the continued flourishing of life and the development of the common good of the entire human family."

    Sainthood causes require thorough investigation, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The saints are "the true light of the church," so before they are proposed to all Catholics for imitation and veneration, a scrupulous investigation is required, Pope Francis said. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of having an office, the Congregation for Saints' Causes, totally dedicated to identifying and promoting models of holiness, Pope Francis met Dec. 12 with the congregation's staff, members and consultants -- including physicians, historians and theologians -- and with postulators, the people who shepherd and promote the causes of saints. "The very many beatifications and canonizations that have been celebrated in the past few decades demonstrate how the saints are not unreachable human beings but are close to us and can support us in our life's journeys," the pope said. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the congregation, told the pope that in the past 50 years, 2,203 people have been beatified and 1,479 have been canonized. In addition, the congregation handled the processes for the papal declarations of six new "doctors of the church," namely: Sts. Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Hildegard of Bingen, John of Avila and Gregory of Narek. Before any of those processes, the cardinal said, the congregation "carries out a meticulous and scrupulous work of scrutinizing and verifying their holiness."

    God works through those who serve him, faults and all, archbishop says

    ROME (CNS) -- Just as God used the talents and the shortcomings of St. Paul to spread the Gospel, he uses the talents and shortcomings of those called to be bishops today, said Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati. "We do not have to be perfect for God to work through us. God can work through us, faults and all, as he did with St. Paul," Archbishop Schnurr said as he preached in the basilica built over the tomb of the apostle. The bishops of Ohio and Michigan celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Dec. 11, ending with a procession to the tomb of St. Paul where they recited the Our Father, the Hail Mary and also prayed in silence. Archbishop Schnurr was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass, which was part of the bishops' visit "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles. In his homily, the archbishop noted how St. Paul, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, lists the trials and tribulations he has faced in preaching the Gospel: lashings, beatings, imprisonment, being shipwrecked, enduring hunger, thirst and cold.

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  • Adoption offered gift of life; reunion 46 years later an unexpected gift

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Thanks to the courage of a teenage birth mother and the work of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, St. Henry parishioner Matt Davis received the greatest of all gifts: the gift of life, and a loving adoptive family. In an interview with the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville, Davis reflected on his journey of being raised by an adoptive family and recently reconnecting with his birth mother. "I'm thankful that a family here opened themselves up to having a child that wasn't theirs by blood," he said. "I had a happy home, amazing parents and a great life." When Davis ponders the brave decision his birth mother made, allowing him to have that life, he just wants her to know "you are a superhero for what you did." Flashback to Naples, Florida, 1971: Cindi Salyer was an outgoing high school student with a long-term boyfriend. When she got pregnant during her junior year, she was scared and confused, and didn't even tell her mother until she was six months along and showing. Some family members wanted Salyer to abort the baby to avoid the shame that followed teen mothers at that time. "All along I said I'm not going to abort," Salyer said. It was quickly decided that she would come to Nashville to stay with her sister until she could give birth to her baby and return home to finish her senior year and graduate from high school. With the help of her sister, Salyer researched adoption agencies and decided on Catholic Charities, trusting they would place her baby in a good home.

    Update: Alleged victim sues Vatican, urges better protections for children

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- John Bellocchio, 37, who claims former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick abused him when he was a teenager, announced at a Dec. 9 news conference the he is suing the Vatican and demanding "sweeping child protection changes." He filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York in 1958, McCarrick was named an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese in 1977. A week earlier, Bellocchio, who is represented by Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, filed a lawsuit in New Jersey against McCarrick, who was archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, from 1986 to 2000. The suit also names the Archdiocese of Newark as a defendant. Bellocchio alleges Vatican officials were aware of McCarrick's behavior over his more than 60 years as a cleric and yet continued to promote him as a church leader. He took the legal action under the New York Child Victims Act and the New Jersey Victim's Rights Bill, both of which are new laws lifting the statute of limitations on sex abuse. McCarrick -- who was removed from the clerical state in February of this year following a Vatican trial into charges of abuse levied against him -- became bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1981. From 1986 to 2000, he was archbishop of Newark. He became a cardinal in February 2001 and served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006.

    Update: Germany tour led to making Holocaust research her life's work

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Suzanne Brown-Fleming was on a track to the kind of career she wanted. After having been educated in Catholic schools in the Virginia suburbs of Washington for 12 years, she flourished further in her undergraduate and graduate studies in college, and was quite close to finishing her doctoral dissertation in modern German history. Then she and a group of other doctoral students from the University of Maryland embarked on a trip to Germany for their Ph.D. work. "A friend who was Jewish, we were both in the same Ph.D. program. She was really the first person I knew in-depth who was Jewish. We were in Germany in this program, traveling near the former concentration camp at Buchenwald," Brown-Fleming recalled. "She wanted to visit." The exhibitions about Jews' experiences in the camp had not yet been redone since the fall of the Berlin Wall, "and she got emotional about that." Yet for someone who was a student of modern German history, "the topic was a shock to me, after 25 years of being an active Catholic, half-German and going to Catholic schools," she told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 6 telephone interview. Brown-Fleming is director of international academic programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

    Martyr of Denver? Father speaks of son who laid down his life for friends

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Does heroism equate with saintliness? Perhaps. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for his friends," Jesus explains in John 15:13. In November at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Bishops in Baltimore, Metropolitan-Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia suggested there is a need to publicize saintly role models representing the varied ethnicities that make up the United States. An immediate example he mentioned as a possible candidate for beatification was Kendrick Castillo. The 18-year-old Castillo was just nearing graduation in May from the charter school he attended in suburban Denver when he confronted an armed fellow student who had stormed into his English classroom intent on massacre. Although Kendrick was shot and died almost immediately, his quick intervention gave some of his classmates the opportunity to rush in and disarm the killer. Actually there were two assailants acting together but in different classrooms that day, and while a number of students were injured, Kendrick was the only fatality. Both of the perpetrators are awaiting trial for murder. Archbishop Gudziak learned of Castillo's heroic act in August while attending the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus in Minneapolis. The young man's parents, John and Maria Castillo, were present as their only child was posthumously enrolled by voice vote into membership of the Knights, an organization he had expected to join shortly after graduation. John and Maria Castillo were invited to Philadelphia Dec. 7-8 by Archbishop Gudziak, who asked them to speak during archeparchy's "sobor," or synod, an event called in advance of the worldwide Ukrainian Catholic sobor in August in Ukraine.

    Update: Bethlehem family feels the pull of living in the town of Jesus' birth

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Brothers Peter and Eli Hosh grew up knowing that their hometown was not only the place where they went to school and ran down to the corner market for their mother, but the town where Jesus was born. It is a lesson they and their two sisters continue to teach their own children, especially during the Christmas season. "I feel that here there is something great here. We are living in a holy place," said Eli Hosh, who, at 48 is the elder of the two. "Bethlehem is important for our family, and I tell that to my children. Jesus was born here. I always feel the holiness here, this is my city, but the best time in Bethlehem is Christmas." Unlike many other Christian families in the Bethlehem area, none of the Hosh siblings have moved abroad. "The most important thing is for the local Christians to stay," said Peter Hosh, 33, the youngest of the siblings. "Year by year we see less Christian (families) here. Why? It is difficult everywhere. We have hard things in life, we know, but we have to stay here and fix that. You leave and you have to start from zero; here we have our family, our work. Everybody knows each other." Two of Eli Hosh's daughters are studying at universities abroad in Europe. "Of course they will come back. Bethlehem is important for our whole family, and we know we need to stay," he said.

    Indonesian bishops to take steps to address claims of sexual abuse

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- The Indonesian bishops will take steps to address claims in a Catholic media report that dozens of people have been abused in Catholic institutions across the country, said a bishops' conference official. Ucanews.org reported that, according to the report, at least 56 people were abused within Catholic institutions in Indonesia. The report appeared in Warta Minggu, a weekly magazine published by Tomang Parish in West Jakarta, Dec. 8. Father Joseph Kristanto, secretary of the Indonesian bishops' seminary commission, confirmed the claims, telling ucanews.org that his commission had received reports from sources detailing at least 56 abuse victims. That number included 21 seminarians and brothers, 20 nuns and 15 laypeople, while the perpetrators included 33 priests and 23 nonpriests, he said. "The information we have is still limited," he said, adding it was sufficient to prompt the church into taking action.

    The church and the world need Jesus more than ever, bishop says

    ROME (CNS) -- The clerical sexual abuse scandal "may be the greatest moral crisis in the history of the church," said Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois. The Christmas-season task of bishops, and of every Christian, is "to get Jesus out of the manger and into the cold stable of our world. And in the United States, we know how cold that stable can be" with its secularism, political polarization, racism and the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the bishop said during his homily Dec. 11 at Rome's Basilica of St. John Lateran. The bishop, who turned 75 in June, was the principal celebrant and homilist as the bishops of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin celebrated Mass at the basilica as part of their "ad limina" visits to report on the status of their dioceses. In the day's Gospel reading, Mt 11:28-30, Jesus invites the crowd to come to him, promising that his yoke is easy and his burden light. That word applies to the bishops, too, Bishop Braxton said. "He knows that we, who serve as shepherds of his people, are at times burdened by our labors." The Gospel message and the words heard during the "ad limina" meetings with Pope Francis and with Roman Curia officials, he said, "are words of support, encouragement and challenge as we strive to get Jesus out of the manger and into the cold stable of our world."

    Martyrdom comes from following Christ without compromise, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- There always will be martyrs among Christians in the world, Pope Francis said. Martyrdom "is the sign that we are on Jesus' path; it's a blessing from the Lord that within the people of God there is someone who gives this witness of martyrdom," he said Dec. 11 during his weekly general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI hall, which was decorated with a large Christmas tree and Nativity scene. The pope continued his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles by looking at the increasing amount of suffering and persecution the Apostle Paul faced as he spread the Gospel. "Paul is not just an evangelizer filled with passion, the intrepid missionary among pagans who brings new Christian communities to life, he is also a suffering witness of the Risen One," the pope said in his catechesis. Much like Jesus, Paul faced fierce persecution in Jerusalem, and he was put in chains following his arrest on charges of preaching against the law and the temple. While most people saw his chains as a sign of him being a criminal, the pope said, Paul saw the chains with "the eyes of faith" as a sign of his love for Jesus.

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  • Guards attacked at national shrine in D.C. in apparent domestic incident

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Washington authorities apprehended a suspect in an incident involving an attack Dec. 10 against two security guards at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Marian shrine in the United States, at the height of its busiest season. Authorities believe the incident involves a domestic dispute but did not give details or identify those involved. Officials said the incident was not targeting the shrine. In a Dec. 10 statement, the shrine's director of communications, Jacquelyn Hayes, said both guards were injured in the 9:15 a.m. incident, and at a news conference later in the day, the shrine's rector, Msgr. Walter Rossi, said the suspect allegedly used his car to hit a female security guard "with whom he was acquainted," trying to run her over. He did not explain their relationship. The second guard then confronted the assailant, he said. The second guard was later stabbed multiple times while inside the crypt area in the lower part of the basilica. "A member of our family has been struck ... but we are in solidarity," said Hayes, trying to hold in her emotions during the late afternoon news conference. Msgr. Rossi said there's "no ongoing threat to the shrine, our staff or our visitors related to this incident." Shrine staff said they would not be releasing the names nor the medical condition of the victims out of respect for their privacy.

    Daleiden, colleague charged with nine counts of criminal eavesdropping

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- A California judge ruled Dec. 6 to let a criminal trial proceed against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on nine counts of violating California's anti-eavesdropping law. The charges stem from undercover investigative videos filmed in 2015 by Daleiden and Merritt, who are with the Center for Medical Progress, which showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing fees related to selling fetal tissue. The two posed as representatives of a mythical fetal tissue procurement firm. Judge Christopher C. Hite of San Francisco County Superior Court dropped five counts against Daleiden and Merritt, but in his order he said there was sufficient evidence to support the nine counts. The defendants must appear in court for arraignment Jan. 30. Hite's ruling follows a preliminary hearing held in September. The case is California v. David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. "The remaining charges under the California video recording law -- the first and only time it has ever been used against undercover news gatherers -- will fall for the same reasons that five charges were dismissed today: These were public conversations easily overheard by third parties," the Center for Medical Progress said in a statement. "The real criminals are the Planned Parenthood leadership who sold fetal body parts from late-term abortions and weaponized the justice system to try to cover it up," it added.

    Update: Film examines whether papal message could have saved Europe's Jews

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- One great unanswerable question regarding the Catholic Church and the Holocaust is whether Jewish lives would have been saved had Pope Pius XI or his successor, Pope Pius XII, issued a statement urging the protection of Jews in Axis-held Europe. Many Jews believe it would have helped, and some scholars point to the number of letters written by Jews to Pope Pius XI or Pope XII asking for their help. Other scholars doubt that anything anyone might have said would have stopped Adolf Hitler from carrying out his systematic elimination of Jews throughout Europe. It was a key point raised during a Dec. 5 Holocaust documentary and panel discussion at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Both were part of a program called "Reconsidering the Catholic Church and the Holocaust." The documentary, "Holy Silence," contrasted Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII on this issue. Pope Pius XI was sickly, with a heart condition, but he grew alarmed over the treatment of Jews in Germany. He even went around his secretary of state, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, to enlist a U.S. Jesuit priest, Father John LaFarge, to draft an encyclical to declare that Jews were entitled to the same rights and protections as others.

    Baltimore archbishop says Mother Lange's sainthood cause moving forward

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Vatican officials are moving ahead with the cause for sainthood for Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said Dec. 5 in Rome. If canonized, Mother Lange, the founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, would become the first black American saint. Mother Lange immigrated to Baltimore in the early 19th century and opened a school for black children in her small home in Baltimore's Fells Point section. Eventually, Mother Lange founded the Oblate Sisters -- the first religious order for women of African descent in the U.S. -- and would operate what would later become St. Frances Academy. Mother Lange and the Oblate sisters provided Catholic education to black children in Baltimore despite the prevailing racism of the time. Archbishop Lori was in Rome with fellow bishops from Region IV -- the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia and the Archdiocese for the Military Services -- for the "ad limina" visit. During their time in Rome, the bishops present detailed reports on their dioceses to Pope Francis and other Vatican officials. While meeting with Vatican officials, Archbishop Lori received an update on Mother Mary Lange's cause for sainthood, which began in 1991.

    German Catholics complete final preparations for 'synodal way'

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- German Catholics insisted their national "synodal way" reform consultation will have an impact on the church worldwide, as final preparations were completed for the consultation's first plenary in January. "Our bishops' conference verified the issues -- authority, participation, the separation of powers, sexual morality, the priestly form of life, women in church services and orders -- and wishes to face these issues, especially because a vast number of believers await this," said Matthias Kopp, the German bishops' Bonn-based spokesman. "The binding nature of the findings will be the responsibility of all those officially involved. Depending on the issue, the Apostolic See or the local bishop will be responsible for their implementation." Kopp spoke as a detailed agenda and participation list were finalized for the two-year consultation, which formally opened Dec. 1 with a Mass at the Munich cathedral and the lighting of "synodal candles" across Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses. Kopp told Catholic News Service Dec. 10 that the Munich Mass, celebrated by the bishops' conference president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, had marked the synodal way's "ceremonial and organizational beginning" and included the appointment of leaders for its four working groups.

    CUA an onsite, online repository for Archbishop Sheen's archives

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thanks to television and radio, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen touched countless Americans using the most advanced technology available to him. Some years ago, The Catholic University of America in Washington, using the most advanced technology it had available, digitized its archives on Archbishop Sheen, as well as maintaining them on the university campus. Virtually everything the university archives knows it possesses on the host of "The Catholic Hour" and other programs is online, save for the "positio," or official position paper. The copyrighted, two-volume set on the life and holiness of Archbishop Sheen, which includes his writings, was prepared for review at the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes. "They (the positio) are not shared widely while the cause is still proceeding," said Shane MacDonald, a special collections archivist with Catholic University's archives office, who added he believes there is no larger online archive of the late archbishop. The university's archive can be accessed at https://fulton-sheen.catholic.edu/at-cua/archive.html. His sainthood cause was officially opened in 2003. In July, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, announced Pope Francis had approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, which led the way to the announcement he would be beatified Dec. 21. But the Vatican announced in early December that the beatification was being postponed.

    Rome conference focuses on holistic approach to caring for elderly

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Religions share an understanding of the importance of caring for people's physical, emotional and spiritual needs -- and this precious insight is especially needed in the field of palliative care, said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. That is why the Pontifical Academy for Life, which the archbishop heads, was co-hosting a joint symposium with the Qatar Foundation to discuss "Religion and Medical Ethics: Palliative Care and the Mental Health of the Elderly." The "culture of care" is opposed to "the culture of disposal," which sees the elderly as unproductive, useless or being an unnecessary burden to society, Archbishop Paglia said at a news conference at the Vatican Dec. 10. The need to offer holistic and appropriate care to people nearing the end of their life's journey is increasingly more important as the world's elderly population grows and as rising costs for their care may negatively impact national policies and individual decisions concerning end-of-life issues, he said. Helping communities and countries take notice of this issue is key, he said, if they hope "to avoid that the growing number of elderly leads not just to a culture of disposal, but actual disposal, that is the culture of euthanasia."

    Catholics urged to pray novena for Archbishop Sheen's beatification

    PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Supporters of the canonization cause for Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen have been invited to take part in a novena starting Dec. 12 to "petition God unceasingly to remove all obstacles" for the beatification of the media pioneer, author and evangelist. "We are confident in the power of prayer," Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky said in a video message released Dec. 9, the 40th anniversary of Archbishop Sheen's death. The video and prayers for the nine-day devotion are found at www.celebratesheen.com. "I know how deeply saddened we all are about the postponement of the beatification of Fulton Sheen," said Bishop Jenky, speaking in front of Archbishop Sheen's tomb at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria. "But in these turbulent times when our faith is being tested -- which even Fulton Sheen prophesied about -- we need to remain faithful to prayer like Archbishop Sheen." A novena had been planned, starting on the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to prepare for and lead to Archbishop Sheen's scheduled beatification in Peoria Dec. 21. The beatification date was postponed, however, by the Vatican, the diocese said Dec. 3. Two days later, the Diocese of Rochester, New York -- which then-Bishop Sheen headed from October 1966 until his retirement in October 1969, when he received the title of archbishop -- acknowledged it had raised concerns over the prelate's role in priests' assignments and took those concerns to the Congregation for Saints' Causes. As a result, Vatican officials said they wanted to give a further review of related records before the beatification goes forward.

    Spanish Jesuit, linguist once expelled by dictator, dies in Paraguay

    ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) -- A Spanish-born Jesuit who dedicated his life to the study of Paraguay's Guarani people died one day shy of his 87th birthday. Jesuit Father Bartomeu Melia, linguist, poet and anthropologist, lived in Paraguay since 1954, where he died Dec. 6, during the U.N. Year of Indigenous Languages. He spent years studying the Guarani language, one of the official languages of Paraguay, and he lived with Guarani peoples of Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. He was a professor of ethnology and Guarani culture at the Catholic University of Asuncion and was president of the Center for Anthropological Studies there. He also directed the Anthropological and Paraguay Studies Supplement magazines until 1976, when he was expelled from the country by direct order of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Father Melia used to tell how that year the police entered his house while he was in the bathroom, pointed a gun at him and suggested that he leave Paraguay immediately. His crime? Narrate one of the most heinous practices of the dictatorship, the systematic massacres of the Ache indigenous people. The Stroessner regime paid soldiers and mercenaries to murder Ache, and their children were kidnapped and enslaved as domestic employees. Father Melia's report on the Ache gained international recognition and, in the late 1970s, reached U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who demanded that the Paraguayan government clarify the circumstances of the genocide. The military regime's response was to deny everything and expel the complainants.

    Update: Bishop calls mass shooting at naval station 'truly heartbreaking'

    PENSACOLA, Fla. (CNS) -- Reacting to "the horrific mass shooting" that took place early Dec. 6 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee said the "tragedy in our diocese is truly heartbreaking." Three people were shot dead and many others were injured in the shooting and the suspected gunman was a trainee with the Saudi Air Force, according to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The gunman, later identified as 21-year-old Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was shot and killed, said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, adding that a county officer "negated the threat" after responding to the scene. "Our sympathy and prayers go out to those whose lives were taken, as well as for their families, military service members and first responders, and those who were injured," Bishop Wack said in a statement, adding: "We ask for God's peace and mercy on our community. Please join me in prayer during this time of mourning." About 50 people gathered for a vigil at a nearby Baptist church Dec. 7 to remember the three who died in the shooting: Ensign Joshua Watson, 23; Airman Mohammed Haitham, 19; and Airman Apprentice Cameron Walters, 21. The FBI is investigating the shooting as an "act of terror."

    Evangelization, care for priests top topics at Region VI meeting with pope

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The bishops of Ohio and Michigan spent two hours conversing with Pope Francis about their dioceses, about the sexual abuse crisis, the crisis' impact on priests and, especially, about ways to ensure Catholics really are "missionary disciples." Seventeen bishops from the region met the pope Dec. 10 during their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses, meet the pope and the heads of Vatican departments and make a pilgrimage to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. Pope Francis made sure the group prayed for Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, who could not make the trip. Bishop Steven J. Raica of Gaylord, Michigan, told Catholic News Service there was an atmosphere of "great cordiality" with the pope showing the bishops where they could get water and where the restrooms were. "We just had a conversation like you would have talking to your favorite uncle or your dad or an esteemed professor," the 67-year-old bishop said. "There was respect for us as we had for him. We sensed a real communion with him. Sometimes maybe the press gives the impression there's a divide between the pope and the U.S. bishops. We didn't get that sense at all," Bishop Raica said.

    Update: Court won't take case on law requiring ultrasound before abortion

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 9 declined to take up a challenge to a Kentucky ultrasound law that requires a physician or qualified technician to perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and show the screen images to her. The petition to the court did not get the required four justices to sign on to hear an appeal of an April 4 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a lower court decision that the law violated doctors' freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment. The Kentucky Ultrasound Informed Consent Act law can take effect immediately. It was passed in early 2017 by Kentucky's House and Senate and signed into law by then-Gov. Matt Bevin. A Kentucky abortion provider, EMW Women's Surgical, filed suit against the law on free speech grounds. "March for Life applauds the U.S. Supreme Court decision today upholding a Kentucky ultrasound law," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. "Women facing an unexpected pregnancy deserve to have as much medically and technically accurate information as possible when they are making what could be the most important decision of their life."

    Blessed Miller kept '28-hour days,' helped indigenous Guatemalans

    HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala (CNS) -- Blessed James Miller used to wake daily at the crack of dawn. He taught and was vice principal at the local La Sallian school. The U.S. Christian Brother also was co-director of a Christian Brothers' boarding home for indigenous students and oversaw its farm program. The former Wisconsin farm boy would accompany the indigenous youths for afternoons of farm labor. Evenings at the home involved study hall and prayer sessions -- and he often wouldn't be in bed until after 11 p.m. "He really liked hands-on types of things when he wasn't teaching and just came up with one project after another," recalled Christian Brother Paul Joslin, who co-directed the Casa Indigena boarding home and lived there with Blessed Miller. "'There were 28-hour days.' That's what he would say," Brother Joslin told Catholic News Service. "In his 13 months here, he really did reach out to people." Blessed Miller was beatified Dec. 7 in Huehuetenango, where he was remembered as a martyr for education. He was praised for putting into practice the "preferential option for the poor," which had been called for by Latin American bishops. Hiram Martinez, a professor and former governor of Huehuetenango department, said Blessed Miller "was persecuted" because the authorities saw his attempts at fomenting critical thinking among indigenous populations as "subversive" and "something gringo."

    Chaldean patriarch appeals for aid to Christians in Ninevah Plain

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- Cardinal Louis Sako, Chaldean Catholic patriarch, has appealed for Christian relief in the towns of the Ninevah Plain, the historical cradle of Christianity in Iraq. "It is still so painful to remember" the 2014 attack by the Islamic State, or IS, that forced Christians to leave their homes and was followed by the looting and destruction of houses, churches, schools and more, Cardinal Sako said from the patriarchate in Baghdad Dec. 7. "The only consolation for us at that time was to find a reliable support from different parts of the world," he said, noting that social institutions and nongovernmental organizations helped the churches and "energetically contributed to the return of Christians in this region." But, two years after its liberation from Islamic State militants, the Ninevah Plain area "still needs the help of our brothers and sisters who can pray and give us a hand," so that people can remain in their homes and those who have been displaced "can return and live in dignity," he said. The defeat of Islamic State from the region "does not mean that there is no need to help its inhabitants anymore," Cardinal Sako said.

    'Ad limina' visit takes on Marian flavor for Region VII bishops

    ROME (CNS) -- As the bishops of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana began celebrating an early morning Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the church was abuzz with activity and repeated banging on a bass drum. In Rome for their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- the bishops celebrated Mass Dec. 9 at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and in a chapel of St. Mary Major Dec. 10, the feast of Our Lady of Loreto. Pope Francis has declared a special jubilee to mark the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Loreto being named patron of aviators and air travelers. As the U.S. bishops prayed in the Marian chapel, workers moved chairs and pews and decorated the railing around the basilica's main altar with pine boughs, poinsettias and other flowers. And the orchestra of the Italian air force, which claims Our Lady of Loreto as their patron, began tuning their instruments. The rumble from all that activity carried into the chapel. Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the principal celebrant and homilist, noted how the bishops' "ad limina" week in Rome had a very Marian flavor: the transferred feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 9, the day's Loreto feast and the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

    Go to confession, let yourself be consoled, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who wants to experience the consolation and tenderness of God simply needs to go to confession, Pope Francis said at his morning Mass. Celebrating the liturgy Dec. 10 in the chapel of his residence, Pope Francis recited an imaginary conversation: "Father, I have so many sins, I've made so many mistakes in my life. Let yourself be consoled. But who will console me? The Lord. Where must I go? To ask pardon. Go. Go. Be bold. Open the door. He'll caress you." The Lord draws near to those in need with the tenderness of a father, the pope said. Paraphrasing the day's reading from Isaiah 40, the pope said, "He is like a shepherd who pastures his sheep and gathers them in his arms, carrying the lambs on his bosom and sweetly leading them back to their mother ewes. That's how the Lord consoles us."

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  • Catholics mark anniversary of child's death at border

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholics joined faith groups observing the first anniversary of the death of a 7-year-old girl who died under immigration detention in late 2018 and called attention to other children in similar circumstances. Jakelin Caal Maquin died in December 2018 at the El Paso Children's Hospital in Texas of a bacterial infection and, at the time, she and her father were under detention by border agents. Some question whether earlier medical intervention would have saved her life. Catholic organizations and their leaders joined in a statement released Dec. 9 by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, which is made up of 54 national, faith-based organizations together seeking "just policies that lift up the God-given dignity of every individual." "The one-year anniversary of young Jakelin's tragic death in the Border Patrol's custody has arrived. Yet, more tragically, we as a nation are no closer to ending this border crisis of hostility and violence," said said Lawrence E. Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, in the statement. "We remember Jakelin and her family and pray for them. We also pray for America and our political leaders," he said. "This rancor against immigrants and refugees must end. They are not our enemies. We must reclaim our nation's attention and join together to solve and stop these deaths and detentions before we lose the sense of who we are as a country."

    Supreme Court leaves temporary stop on federal executions in place

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has left in place a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Trump administration from carrying out the first federal executions in 16 years. In an order handed down the evening of Dec. 6, the justices unanimously denied an application by the U.S. Department of Justice to lift a federal court injunction blocking the federal government from carrying out four executions scheduled for December 2019 and January 2020. In November, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia temporarily halted the upcoming executions of four federal death-row inmates, who had challenged the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol to be used in their executions. When U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in July that the government was reinstating the federal death penalty after a 16-year hiatus, he said the executions would use a single drug instead of a three-drug protocol used in recent federal executions and used by several states. Several of the inmates challenged the use of the single lethal injection. Chutkan said these lethal injections go against the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, which states federal executions should be carried out "in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed."

    Experts: Protests reflect world frustration with inequality, corruption

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- From Chile to Haiti to Hong Kong, protests appear to be sweeping the globe. Although sparked by different events, they also reflect a common frustration with economic inequality and corrupt governments, experts say. "We seem to be in the midst of people-power movements around the world," said Maria Stephan, director of the nonviolent action program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "People are protesting for a variety of causes," but some of the underlying reasons for discontent are similar, she told Catholic News Service. One is the growing gap between the wealthiest and poorest people. "We're in an era of peak global inequality," in which people feel "distrustful of systems that seem to be leaving them behind," Stephan said. Another trend she calls "troubling" is a return to authoritarian governments in various countries. "There is a link between the backsliding of democracy and the inclination of people to take to the street and not trust as much in traditional processes and institutions," she said. Those street demonstrations are largely organized through social media, giving them a spontaneous feel, although they often build on years of organization and previous protest. Nevertheless, there is "a difference between quick mobilization and sustained organization," she said. "It will be interesting to see whether these spontaneous protests are able to establish legs and maintain longevity and bring about reforms."

    Catholic entities step up to help Venezuelan refugees get jobs in Brazil

    SALVADOR, Brazil (CNS) -- Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled their economically stricken and politically volatile country. Many have crossed over the border into Brazil and Colombia seeking a better life. "It wasn't an easy decision. It is like throwing yourself in the ocean and hoping that you can survive by swimming away," Dellana Maria Rodriguez, 43, told Catholic News Service with tears in her eyes. "I left my friends, my parents." Rodriguez, 43, used to live on the Venezuelan border with Brazil. She would come to Brazil to purchase supplies; one day, she decided to stay. "I had a good job in Venezuela as a quality inspector at a factory, but life was getting too difficult," she said. "Many people lost their jobs, and the unstable political situation was making me very nervous." But crossing the border, many Venezuelans found, was only the first step into settling into the new country. Thousands have huddled into makeshift refugee camps in Pacaraima and Boa Vista, both in Brazil's northern state of Roraima. With few jobs in these two cities, tension mounts as Brazil's government, along with nongovernmental organizations and international entities, are trying to settle these refugees in other parts of the country. "In the last few months we found anguished Venezuelans in the shelters in Boa Vista," said Fabricio Pellicelli, president-director of AVSI Brasil, part of the Italy-based AVSI Foundation.

    Bishop Sirba 'had desire to share Christ's love,' says his brother-priest

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- A few days after the death of Bishop Paul D. Sirba of Duluth, Minnesota, his brother, Father Joseph Sirba, spent time in the bishop's private chapel. He said there were three books his brother was currently reading: the Bible, "In Sinu Jesu: When Heart Speaks to Heart, The Journal of a Priest at Prayer," and the second volume of the letters of St. Terese of Avila. Along with the books was his brother's journal that included some meditations on what he was reading: "Jesus said, tend the flock, feed my sheep." "Father, all things are possible in you." "We're called to be another Paraclete, like another Christ so that we can console." "My brother loved the Lord very much. Jesus Christ was the center of his life," Father Sirba said in the homily during the funeral Mass for Bishop Sirba Dec. 6 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth. The funeral was livestreamed. Bishop Sirba died Dec. 1 at age 59, 14 days short of the 10th anniversary of being ordained a bishop for the Diocese of Duluth. "I know all of us were stunned to learn that Bishop Paul had died this past Sunday. In fact, many of you told me that when you learned of his death, you said, 'There must be some mistake,'" Father Sirba said. "Others told me that they heard what was said, but the words didn't register."

    U.S. brother beatified on soccer fields of Guatemalan school he served

    HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala (CNS) -- Christian Brother James Miller taught students and served as a vice principal at the La Sallian Christian Brothers school in this impoverished pocket of rural Guatemala. He also helped oversee a boarding home for male students from the surrounding indigenous communities. He was beatified Dec. 7 with a celebration on the soccer fields of the same school he once served. It continues to educate students from across Guatemala's western highlands, a mountainous region of Mayan villages rife with outward migration and suffering high rates of poverty and child malnutrition. Blessed Miller was remembered as a martyr for education, whose commitment to teaching, mentoring and protecting the young Mayan men in his care -- amid the atrocities of Guatemala's civil war -- cost him his life. "The project and work of Hermano Santiago," as Blessed Miller was known, "is a point of reference, as much for the La Sallian community as it is for all Christian educators, regarding the truthfulness and relevance of Catholic education," said Cardinal Jose Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David, Panama, celebrant at the beatification Mass. "Catholic education belongs to the evangelizing mission of the church," he added in his homily.

    Pope names Cardinal Tagle to lead evangelization congregation

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a move that may signal Pope Francis' plan for the reform of the Roman Curia is close to completion, the pope has named Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The 62-year-old cardinal succeeds Cardinal Fernando Filoni, 73, who since 2011 had led the Vatican office overseeing the church's vast mission territories. Announcing Cardinal Tagle's appointment Dec. 8, the Vatican also announced that Cardinal Filoni would become grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Cardinal Filoni succeeds U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, 80, as grand master of the organization that supports Catholics in the Holy Land. In a statement released by the order, Cardinal O'Brien thanked Pope Francis for allowing him to continue as grand master for five years after he submitted his resignation at the age of 75. "Throughout my more than eight years as grand master, my personal faith and love of our church have deepened as I have witnessed our members' commitment to the goals of our order, expressed in different cultures and languages, all profoundly Catholic," Cardinal O'Brien said.

    Pope prays for 'Normandy Summit,' peace in Ukraine

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis offered prayers for a summit in France that will seek to bring an end to the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. Addressing pilgrims in St. Peter's Square Dec. 8, the pope expressed his hope that the meeting, known as the "Normandy Summit," will "seek solutions to the painful conflict. I accompany the meeting with prayer, an intense prayer, because peace is needed there, and I invite you to do the same, so that this initiative of political dialogue can contribute to bringing fruits of peace in justice to that territory and its people," he said. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were to take part in the peace summit Dec. 9 along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russian-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian government forces since 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. According to the BBC, an estimated 13,000 people from both sides of the conflict have died so far. In an interview with Vatican Radio Dec. 8, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, apostolic nuncio to Ukraine, said the pope's words were a source of "consolation" and that the meeting was important for the "future of this country and the peace that everybody desires."

    Pope calls for teaching youth to be active citizens

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Young people need training in how to be active citizens focused on the care of the human person and the environment, Pope Francis said. "Technological innovation is also needed to achieve these goals, and young people, if well motivated, will in fact be able to attain them, since they have been born and raised in today's fast-paced technological world," he added. The pope's remarks came in his address Dec. 9 to members of the "A Chance in Life" foundation, which helps at-risk youth in many countries. Formerly known as Boys and Girls Towns of Italy, the organization's work is still built on the vision of its founder, the late-Msgr. John Patrick Carroll-Abbing. The pope praised the organization's initiatives that have benefited thousands of boys and girls and "offer children and adolescents in situations of particular hardship a chance to surmount their difficulties and to realize fully God's plan for each of them." To be more effective in carrying out its mission in today's world, the foundation is also looking for ways to promote recommendations made in the pope's encyclical, "Laudato Si'."

    Communion comes from faith in Christ, U.S. archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The traditional visit of bishops to Rome to report on their dioceses is about more than just keeping things in order; rather, it is a manifestation of their communion with Christ and his vicar on earth, the pope, said Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit. "This is the reality of our communion, not organizational arrangements but faith in Christ Jesus. We live a mystery, we are servants of this mystery, the mystery of faith," the archbishop said. Archbishop Vigneron was the principal celebrant and homilist at a Mass Dec. 9 at the tomb of St. Peter with the bishops of Ohio and Michigan, who were in Rome for their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses. In his homily in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica, the archbishop reflected on the Gospel reading, which recounted Peter's profession of faith. Archbishop Vigneron said that while the "ad limina" reports prepared before the visit focus on giving an account of their organizational and pastoral governance, it is "only one dimension" of a much deeper reality: "the church as a mystery."

    Catholic NGOs can boost efforts with formation, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis encouraged Catholic-inspired service, justice, development and volunteer organizations to promote the adequate formation of their members, to use creativity when resources are lacking and coordinate joint efforts with others. "The world today needs renewed daring and fresh imagination in order to open more avenues of dialogue and cooperation, to promote a culture of encounter where human dignity, according to God's creative plan, may be at the heart" of all efforts, he said. The pope spoke Dec. 7 during an audience at the Vatican with people taking part in a world forum of Catholic-inspired NGOs. The forum, held Dec. 5-7 in Rome, was centered on the theme, "Toward a More Inclusive Society." The pope thanked participants for their concrete efforts and attention to those who are vulnerable as part of making the world one "common home" and he underlined the importance of Catholic organizations cooperating on the international level. Their work requires adequate formation for its members, the proper means necessary to fulfill their mission and teamwork, he said.

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  • Immaculate Conception is feast of hope for sinners, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mary, conceived without sin, is a "masterpiece" who reflects "the beauty of God who is all love, grace and self-giving," Pope Francis said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square Dec. 8, Pope Francis focused on the feast day that celebrates how Mary was conceived in the womb of St. Ann without original sin. Several hours after the noon prayer, the pope joined thousands of people near the Spanish Steps in central Rome to pay homage to the Immaculate Conception at a Marian statue atop a tall column. The statue was erected in 1857 to commemorate Pope Pius IX's declaration three years earlier of the dogma that Mary was conceived without sin. Early in the morning each Dec. 8, Rome firefighters using a truck and tall ladder, hang a ring of flowers from the statue's outstretched arm. Throughout the day, individuals and organizations leave flowers at the base of the statue. As is his custom, Pope Francis did not read a speech by the statue but recited a prayer he wrote for the occasion.

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  • Catholics pledge to have Masses said in support of Sheen beatification

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Dec. 3 announcement by the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, that the Vatican has decided to postpone the beatification of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has led to a grassroots effort to have Masses said all over the world to pray his beatification will go forward. Organizers of the effort hope to have "a million" Masses celebrated Dec. 9, the 40th anniversary of the prelate's death. "We decided to respond in the most positive and prayerful way possible (to) the disappointing news that the Vatican has paused the beatification of Archbishop Sheen," Lo Anne Mayer, a New Jersey Catholic, told Catholic News Service Dec. 5. "The clergy who offer these Masses and the laity who attend the Masses will storm heaven for an end to this unfortunate situation." The beatification ceremony for Archbishop Sheen was planned for Dec. 21 in Peoria at St. Mary's Cathedral. The Peoria Diocese announced it was informed Dec. 2 of the postponement. "Millions of people knew and loved Archbishop Sheen and remember his devotion to the good Lord and to the Holy Father," said Mayer, who is among those who knew the archbishop and greatly admire him.

    Advocates for poor expect new SNAP rule will boost hunger nationwide

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic advocates for poor people decried a new federal rule that tightens work requirements which determine eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is expected to force hundreds of thousands to lose food stamps. The advocates said the U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that affects able-bodied adults without dependents does not take into consideration regional differences in the economy, the lack of state job training programs and the real-life circumstances of people struggling to make ends meet. Anthony Granado, vice president of government relations at Catholic Charities USA, said the agency is concerned that more people will go hungry when the changes take effect April 1. Julie Bodnar, policy adviser in the Department of Domestic Social Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, agreed, saying that people's health would be endangered. "Access to adequate food and nutrition is a fundamental human right," Bodnar told Catholic News Service Dec. 6. The rule affects the ability of states to waive current limits on SNAP benefits. Current law allows able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, to receive benefits for a maximum of three months during a three-year period, provided they are working or enrolled in an education or training program for a minimum of 80 hours a month. States have been able to waive the time limit as people enter and leave the workforce. The rule allowed the waiver to apply even to counties where unemployment dropped as low as 2.5%.

    Christmas tree's red lights, bows call attention to Christian persecution

    BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) -- This year the Diocese of Brooklyn's Christmas tree was bedecked with 17,000 red lights and 2,500 red bows to draw attention to the ongoing persecution and martyrdom of Christians around the world. The diocese, along with the DeSales Media Group, its diocesan communications arm, and Aid to the Church in Need, sponsored an evening tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 5. The 32-foot balsam fir sits in front of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch on Grand Army Plaza. The tree will remain lit throughout the Christmas season. In front, at the base of a tree is a Nativity scene. According to Open Doors USA, in the top 50 World Watch List countries alone, 245 million Christians experience "high levels of persecution for their choice to follow Christ." That means one in nine Christians are suffering for their beliefs, the organization said. Father Charles P. Keeney, director of the Propagation of the Faith for the Brooklyn Diocese, said Catholics should never take the freedom to practice their faith for granted. "The birth of Jesus took place in Bethlehem, in the Middle East, where there has been centuries of fighting over religion, and many Christians in particular have lost their lives," Father Keeney said at the ceremony.

    Author wrote 'The Two Popes' nonfiction book, then fictional screenplay

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Anthony McCarten is a double-dipper. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The Catholic writer first wrote a nonfiction book called "The Two Popes," then was commissioned to write its fictional screenplay, which centers on fly-on-the-wall conversations between Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) and retired Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins). It also focuses on the struggles of young Jesuit Father Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, in Argentina during the South American nation's "dirty war" years in which it routinely "disappeared" its own citizens, priests included -- anyone it viewed as a threat to the regime. In a Dec. 4 phone interview with Catholic News Service from Buenos Aires, McCarten outlined one scene that he thought director Fernando Meirelles captured perfectly. "There's a moment about a third of the way through the film where up to then," he said, "the two popes had been exchanging philosophical blows (and) they retired to a small antechamber. They say to each other, 'Let's just sit in silence.' In that silence it's like the real conversation begins between these two men -- when they leave behind their ideologies and interact as human beings.

    Cleveland priest charged with possessing child pornography

    CLEVELAND (CNS) -- A Catholic priest is facing charges of possessing child pornography following his arrest at a suburban Cleveland parish. Father Robert McWilliams, 39, was being held on $100,000 bond in Cuyahoga County Jail Dec. 6, a day after he was taken into custody at St. Joseph Parish in Strongsville. His first court appearance is set for Dec. 9. Authorities charged him with four counts of possessing child pornography and one count of possessing criminal tools. The Diocese of Cleveland said in a statement Dec. 5 that the priest was immediately placed on administrative leave. Officials with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force arrested Father McWilliams while serving a warrant to search the living and office spaces of the priest at the parish, where he served as parochial vicar, the diocese said. The search was carried out as children from Sts. Joseph and John School, located on parish property, were playing outside. However, televised images of the arrest did not appear to show that the children recognized what was happening.

    Australian government revising religious discrimination legislation

    SYDNEY (CNS) -- The Australian government has decided to revisit its religious discrimination legislation after key religious groups -- including the Archdiocese of Sydney -- said they would withdraw their support. "We made a commitment to Australians to address this issue at the last election, and we are keeping faith with that commitment in a calm and considered process. We're about listening and getting this right," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in early December. After releasing an initial draft, the government received 6,000 submissions and is now in the process of writing an amended version of the legislation, which included a new bill and amendments to two existing laws. Morrison said a second and final "exposure draft" would be released before the end of the year and would "take account of issues raised and provide the opportunity to respond to the revisions made and fine-tune the bill before it is introduced next year." With the long Australian summer break now underway, observers said this is unlikely to be until at least March. The government reversal came days after a group of religious bodies sent Morrison a letter that stated: "We take the view that it would be better to have no Religious Discrimination Act rather than a flawed one." It said that, in their current form, the new laws would "diminish the religious freedom of faith groups in Australia."

    Bishops take new actions to hold themselves accountable for abuse in 2019

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The clergy sexual abuse crisis continued to command a large amount of attention and action from the U.S. bishops throughout 2019. The year was headlined by actions during the bishops' spring general assembly during which they approved a plan to implement Pope Francis' "motu proprio" on addressing abuse. The pope issued his document, "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), in May to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable. The "motu proprio" was one of the measures that came out of a February Vatican summit on clergy sexual abuse attended by the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences. The U.S. bishops' implementation plan passed 281-1 with two abstentions. "Vos Estis Lux Mundi" established procedures for reporting allegations of sexual abuse of minors or of vulnerable person by clerics, including bishops, or members of religious orders. The document also holds church leaders accountable for actions or omissions relating to the handling of abuse reports. In line with the plan, the bishops in June approved a third-party reporting system to field sexual misconduct allegations against bishops. Such a system could be in place by the end of February, Anthony Picarello, associate general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reported during the bishops' fall general assembly in November.

    Pope says he is 'scandalized' by anti-migrant rhetoric

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told Jesuits in Thailand he was "scandalized" by some of the anti-migrant rhetoric he hears in Europe, and he is convinced people are being manipulated into thinking the only way they can preserve their lifestyles is by building walls. "The phenomenon of migration is compounded by war, hunger and a 'defensive mindset,' which makes us think only from a state of fear and that by reinforcing borders we can defend ourselves," Pope Francis said Nov. 22 when he met 33 Jesuits in Thailand. The Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica, published a transcript Dec. 5 of the pope's responses to questions the Jesuits asked the pope during the meeting in Tha Kham, Thailand. Often on trips abroad, Pope Francis spends time with local Jesuit communities and holds a question-and-answer session with them. Weeks later, a transcript of the exchange is published by La Civilta Cattolica. A Jesuit who works for Jesuit Refugee Service in Thailand raised the question of ministry among migrants and refugees. "The phenomenon of refugees has always existed, but today it is better known because of social differences, hunger, political tensions and especially war," the pope responded. " For these reasons, migratory movements are intensifying." Much of the world responds with a "throwaway policy," he said; "refugees are waste material. The Mediterranean has been turned into a cemetery. The notorious cruelty of some detention centers in Libya touches my heart. Here in Asia we all know the problem of the Rohingya."

    German Catholics praise Father Johann Metz, theologian, dead at 91

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- German-speaking Catholics paid tribute to Father Johann Baptist Metz, the veteran theologian who died Dec. 2 in Munster, Germany, at age 91. "He was one of the great fundamental theologians of the post-council period, with keen sensitivity for the signs of the times," said Schonstatt Father Joachim Schmiedl, chairman of Germany's assembly of Catholic theology faculties. "He launched a whole epoch of theologians and ecclesiastical leaders." He said he believed Father Metz's ideas could be found in teachings of Pope Francis. "A keen eye for the suffering and disadvantaged, an awareness of the world's margins, and social commitment by Christians in the face of contemporary needs of the time -- these were all crucial for Metz," said Father Schmiedl. Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, chairman of the German bishops' World Church Commission, called Father Metz one of his country's "most important theologians."

    Rise in populism due to lack of listening, dialogue, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Ignoring the reality lived by men and women today has caused a resurgence of old ideologies, such as populism, that inevitably do more harm than good, Pope Francis said. Speaking off-the-cuff with staff and members of the Italian Jesuit magazine, "Aggiornamenti Sociali" ("Social Updates") Dec. 6, the pope said that prejudices, certain "schools of thought and positions taken do so much harm" in the world. "Today for example in Europe, we are experiencing the prejudice of populism, countries who close in on themselves and turn to ideologies," he said. "But not just new ideologies -- there are a few -- but to the old ones, the old ideologies that created the Second World War." Founded in 1950, "Aggiornamenti Sociali" offers "information but above all formation," as well as "criteria and instruments to confront today's most debated issues and participate in social life in a conscious way," according to the Jesuit magazine's website. The pope told the staff and writers he had prepared to read an eight-page speech, but he feared that "after the third page, there will be few left who will listen."

    Bishops, pope rely on Mary to watch over church, Archbishop Gregory says

    ROME (CNS) -- Just as children run to their mother's arms in times of trouble, Catholics -- including popes and bishops -- know they can and should turn to Mary, said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Washington. "Today we carry those problems that are ours to her -- both those that we ourselves may have caused as well as those we inherited with the office that we now hold -- and we fervently seek her wisdom and protection," the archbishop said. At Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major Dec. 5, the archbishop was the principal celebrant and homilist as bishops from Region IV -- the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia and the Archdiocese for the Military Services -- celebrated a Mass during their "ad limina" visit. Celebrating Mass in the chapel that houses the icon "Salus Populi Romani" (Our Lady, Health of the Roman People), the bishops were joined by seminarians from the region who are studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and a small group of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In his homily, Archbishop Gregory noted that the readings prescribed for Masses that day use ordinary rocks as symbols of strength and security. The reading from Isaiah exhorts people: " Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal rock." And in the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells his followers to be like "a wise man who built his house on rock."

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  • Every Catholic has duty to evangelize, archbishop tells Phoenix crowd

    PHOENIX (CNS) -- Thousands of faithful, religious and clergy from throughout Arizona and beyond streamed into Comerica Theatre in downtown Phoenix Dec. 2 to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Phoenix. At the front of the theater, a massive banner depicting the Holy Family hung over the candle-adorned altar. The Diocese of Phoenix commissioned Ruth Stricklin, a local artist, to paint the image in honor of the 50th anniversary. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove hovers over the Holy Family figures and a portrayal of God the Father looks down from the heavens. Vince and Ann Sheridan of St. Daniel the Prophet Parish in Scottsdale, Arizona, were unique among the more than 5,000 attendees at the anniversary event: The couple has vivid memories of the birth of the diocese in 1969 and the installation of its first shepherd, Bishop Edward A. McCarthy. "I can't believe how packed this is," Vince told The Catholic Sun, Phoenix's diocesan newspaper. "When I hear people talk about what parish they're from -- that parish didn't exist 50 years ago. Some of them didn't exist 15 years ago. We're still growing." As busloads and caravans of people filed into the theater and took their seats, well-known local Catholic musicians, including Paul Hillebrand, Tom Booth, Jaime Cortez and Chris Muglia led the crowd in song. Just in front of the stage where the musicians stood, the Missionaries of Charity in their distinctive white and blue saris sat and listened. Booth regaled the crowd with the request he received in 1989 to compose a song for the visit of the Missionaries of Charity foundress, St. Teresa of Kolkata. He put to music the words of Blessed Charles de Foucald's well-known "Prayer of Abandonment" in his song of the same name. The diminutive nun told Booth he left out a line -- the most important one that expresses the faithful's love for God.

    Religious freedom is a basic human right, says lawyer for Little Sisters

    SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- As an attorney with Becket, a religious liberty law firm, Luke Goodrich is proud to be able to make a difference while earning a livelihood. He sees his work as a calling from God. It entails representing religious groups or individuals who fall afoul of the federal government simply by trying to follow the dictates of their conscience. Perhaps the most well-known of his clients are the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate a number of homes for the elderly poor across the nation. The sisters continue to fight the Obama-era contraceptive mandate in the courts. "I'm very grateful and very thankful that my life's work lines up with what I see as a fundamental issue of justice in Scripture," he said. "It's a great joy because I do think religious freedom is a basic human right and a basic issue of biblical justice." Goodrich is a member of Misseo Dei Community, a nondenominational Protestant church in Salt Lake City. Originally from Florida, Goodrich has for the past seven years lived in Utah with his wife, Sarah, who grew up in Utah, and their seven children. Prior to that, he attended the University of Chicago law school and afterward clerked for Judge Michael McConnell, one of the nation's leading scholars on religious freedom cases. He then worked for the U.S. State Department in the human trafficking division, followed by time at a private law firm in Washington.

    Mexican diocese suspends evening Masses due to insecurity

    CUERNAVACA, Mexico (CNS) -- The Diocese of Cuernavaca has suspended evening Masses due to insecurity in the city and surrounding state of Morelos, a reflection of the violence raging in parts of Mexico and its impact on the Catholic Church. Bishop Ramon Castro Castro of Cuernavaca said church services would not be celebrated after dark because people in the region just south of Mexico City did not want to venture out of their homes after dark. "These are situations where people are scared. It's a fear that paralyzes them," Bishop Castro told local media Dec. 4, according to the newspaper El Universal. "There are many people I know who have nothing to do with organized crime, but find themselves affected by this violence and have changed their lifestyle," he said, adding church attendance is the southern and eastern parts of Morelos -- a small state that borders the national capital -- has dropped due to insecurity. The bishop also said he had registered four cases of extortion committed against women religious in the diocese. Mexico has had high rates of violence and homicide over the past 13 years as the country launched a crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime.

    Update: Beatification for Archbishop Sheen postponed

    PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria said Vatican officials have told him that the upcoming beatification of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has been postponed. A news release from the Diocese of Peoria said it was informed Dec. 2 that Vatican had decided to postpone the Dec. 21 ceremony "at the request of a few members" of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Details on what prompted the bishops to intervene were unknown. The diocese added, "In our current climate it is important for the faithful to know that there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against (Archbishop) Sheen involving the abuse of a minor." A Dec. 5 statement from the Diocese of Rochester, New York, said it had "expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen at this time without a further review of his role in priests' assignments." The statement said the Rochester Diocese, prior to Vatican announcement Nov. 18 that Pope Francis approved the beatification, had provided documentation expressing its concern to the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for Saints' Causes via the apostolic nunciature in Washington. Archbishop Sheen was bishop of Rochester from October 1966 until his retirement in October 1969. He received the title of archbishop at retirement.

    Caritas delivers food aid to flood victims in Muslim Somalia

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Caritas, the relief arm of the Catholic Church, has delivered food aid to Muslims in Somalia, who are currently facing floods and living in a fragile peace environment due a prolonged Islamist insurgency. The aid reached families in Berdale, a small town center of 50,000 people, including 6,000 people displaced from their homes. The town has been cut off following flooding that left most areas submerged, making it difficult for the people to access emergency food, medicine and shelter. "Caritas Somalia is carrying out interventions working with another NGO in Berdale severely hit by the floods. The intervention was finalized (Dec. 3). It consists of food for 1,000 families for one month," Archbishop Giorgio Bertin, apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, told Catholic News Service. Nearly 273,000 people have been displaced in the flood with at least killed 17 others being killed in the Horn of Africa country, according to U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Some are now sheltering under trees or in emergency tents. According to agencies a combination of floods, drought and conflict have displaced an estimated 575,000 people this year alone. Scientists say a weather phenomenon in the Indian Ocean is causing unusually heavy rains across East Africa, with swollen rivers bursting banks and some areas experiencing floods and mudslides. The pattern was forecast to peak around Dec. 6 with a storm making landfall in northern Somalia.

    Indonesia to deploy 160,000 people to protect churches for Christmas

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNS) -- Nearly 160,000 security personnel will be deployed to try to make Christmas and New Year celebrations in Indonesia safe, reported ucanews.org. This is an increase from last year, when nearly 90,000 security personnel guarded about 50,000 churches across the country. An official of the National Police Traffic Corps told journalists that police, military personnel and members of government agencies will guard churches and vital tourism sites during the celebrations. "These are our targets which we need to focus on. We want to make sure that everything will run peacefully there," he said. Stanislaus Riyanta, an intelligence analyst from the University of Indonesia in West Java province, said authorities should not let their guard down in light of recent attacks in the country. He pointed to a bomb attack on a police headquarters in Medan in North Sumatra in November and the stabbing of the Indonesian security minister a month earlier. The latter attack was attributed to a local terror outfit linked to the Islamic State group.

    At Madrid climate talks, Catholics work to provide 'moral perspective'

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Catholic campaigners at U.N. climate talks welcomed support from Pope Francis and vowed to bring a "firm moral perspective" to intergovernmental negotiations. Chiara Martinelli, a senior adviser to CIDSE, a network of 17 Catholic development agencies in Europe and North America, noted the importance of Catholic organizations at the talks, since more and more private sector and commercial companies attend. "Our task is to maintain a link between what's happening in the negotiating rooms and outside in parishes and communities across the world, where millions of alternative, sustainable pathways are already being pursued," said Chiara Martinelli, a senior adviser to CIDSE. Martinelli spoke at the 25th U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP 25; about 25,000 people from 196 countries attended the conference in Madrid. The Dec. 2-13 conference will seek effective strategies for implementing the Paris Agreement, a framework of action against climate change adopted by the U.N. in December 2015.

    Vatican unveils Nativity scene, lights Christmas tree

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican unveiled the Nativity scene and lit the Christmas tree with energy-saving lights in St. Peter's Square during a late afternoon ceremony Dec. 5. The 85-foot-tall spruce tree came from the forests of the Veneto region in northeast Italy and another 20 smaller trees were donated by communities in the region's province of Vicenza. It was adorned with silver and gold balls and "next generation" lights meant to have a reduced impact on the environment and use less energy. The large Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square was made entirely out of wood and replicates traditional northern Trentino-style buildings. Some 23 life-size wooden figures -- all with handcarved heads -- fill the scene, representing life in a small rural village in the northern Province of Trento in the early 1900s. There is a lumberjack pulling wood with a sled and people making cheese and washing clothes. Some of the faces reproduce the faces of real Italian shepherds from the region, including a man who recently died in an accident. Some of the clothes are real outfits handed down through the generations or once worn by local shepherds.

    USCCB president urges special prayers for pope's 50 years as a priest

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic faithful across the United States are being invited to pray for Pope Francis as he celebrates 50 years as a priest. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has sent a letter to bishops across the country asking them to encourage parishioners to honor the jubilee during Advent with special prayers and Mass petitions. The letter included a prayer for the pope as well as two petitions that can be used at Mass or in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The archbishop also invited the faithful to use any other appropriate prayer for the pope if they desire. Four days before Pope Francis celebrates his 83rd birthday Dec. 17, he will celebrate 50 years as a priest -- a ministry he sees as being a shepherd who walks with his flock and yearns to find those who are lost. The prayers are being sent in English and Spanish to bishops. They were developed by the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship. The USCCB also plans a social media effort to spread the message about the prayers. Archbishop Gomez encouraged bishops to share the prayers with parishes, schools and other diocesan ministries.

    Tensions arise in Canada around bishops' inquiry of Haitian group

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- A Haitian women's support organization co-founded by Quebec nuns is exasperated by repeated requests from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to know whether or not it supports the legalization of abortion. Marie Ange Noel, coordinator of Fanm Deside, an organization in Jacmel, Haiti, said her organization "has never supported or encouraged abortion practices." Fanm Deside is a partner with Development and Peace, the Canadian bishops' international aid and development organization. In a letter addressed to the executive director of Development and Peace Nov. 27, Noel said she still does not understand "that such a clear and precise answer still raises concerns for both the Canadian bishops and Development and Peace" and pointed out that even Haitian bishops have recognized the organization's good practices. Fanm Deside -- Creole for Decided Women -- is one of 52 Development and Peace partners who will no longer receive funding from the organization until the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is assured that the group respects the Catholic Church's moral teaching. Earlier in November, Serge Langlois, executive director of Development and Peace, sent a new letter to Noel explaining that, despite the clarifications provided earlier this year, "concerns persist in the eyes of the CCCB" about Fanm Deside.

    'Ad limina' Mass: Like St. Peter, bishops must be humble, archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Each day, a bishop should know Jesus is asking him the same question he asked St. Peter -- "Do you love me?" -- and giving him the same charge, "Feed my sheep," said Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans. The archbishop was the principal celebrant and homilist at Mass Dec. 5 on the "sacred ground and holy place" that is the tomb of St. Peter in the basilica named after the prince of the apostles. The Mass and recitation of the Creed before St. Peter's tomb was a central part of the "ad limina" pilgrimage of the bishops of U.S. Region V -- Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Bishops make the visits to Rome to report on the status of their dioceses. The 17 bishops and retired bishops from the region were joined at the Mass by Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, 84, the retired archbishop of Philadelphia, who now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. The life of St. Peter, Archbishop Aymond told his brother bishops, "gives us encouragement and inspiration to live our episcopal ministry." The bishops, like Peter, are called to leave everything behind and follow Jesus, the archbishop said. They are called to grow in their relationship with him and, "by our words and our actions, we, too, must proclaim that he is the Messiah, the son of the living God."

    Irish bishops: Christians must lead by example, welcome migrants

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- Ireland's Catholic bishops have criticized the use of intolerant language when it comes to discussions around migration and refugees. Their remarks were made against a backdrop of recent public protests against the housing of asylum-seekers in towns and villages across the country and a divisive election campaign in which a number of candidates were accused of using racist language. In a statement following their winter general meeting, the Irish bishops' conference said participants had "discussed with concern the use of intolerant language in public and political discourse as well as the growing hostility toward migrants and refugees coming to Ireland." They reminded parishioners that "Christians, in their language and actions, are asked to lead by example and to welcome the stranger" and warned that "any form of xenophobia is opposed to Christianity." Ireland has increasingly become a destination for migrants fleeing war and those in search of a better life as Europe struggles to come to terms with a wave of migration. On Nov. 22, 16 migrants were found concealed in a truck on board a ferry from France to Ireland after a worker heard noises. All were found to be healthy and were later received by Ireland's national integration agency.

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  • Tucson bishop, other Catholic leaders decry 'Remain in Mexico' expansion

    TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- Catholic leaders decried an expansion of the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy, which includes relocating migrants currently biding their time in the Tucson area back to border towns in Texas for transport back into Mexico. The current policy "does not provide protection to these most vulnerable people and in fact has placed them in significant danger in cities that cannot adequately assist them," wrote Tucson Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger in a statement released Dec. 2. The Trump administration just expanded its Migrant Protection Protocols policy, known as MPP and also called "Remain in Mexico," to migrants who cross over the border into Arizona. The expansion means these migrants are transported from Tucson to El Paso, Texas, and then into Mexico border cities. The Trump policy, initially announced in January 2019, requires those seeking asylum in the United States to remain in Mexico while their applications are processed. Immigration lawyers are challenging the policy in court. In late July, the U.S. Supreme Court said the policy could remain in effect while challenges to it work their way through the lower courts. A day after Bishop Weisenburger issued his statement the Tucson City Council unanimously a memorial calling on federal officials to "suspend the implementation" of MPP. Although U.S. Customs and Border Patrol successfully implemented the policy along most of the southern U.S. border, Arizona was seen as weak on enforcement, with a spike of asylum applications at a time when other ports of entry showed a decline.

    After typhoon, Philippine dioceses deploy teams to help displaced

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Catholic Church groups deployed teams to assist affected communities Dec. 4, a day after a powerful typhoon hit the Philippines, leaving at least four people dead. Videos posted on social media showed strong winds ripping off roofs and toppling power lines in the Bicol region, south of Philippine capital, Manila. Ucanews.org reported Manila's international airport was shut down for 12 hours as Typhoon Kammuri barreled across the country, bringing with it powerful winds and heavy rain. Authorities estimated that about half a million people were displaced; many of them were ordered to leave their homes hours before the typhoon struck. In Legazpi Diocese, one of the worst-affected areas, Father Rex Arjona, the diocesan social action director, said his teams had assessed the immediate needs of people. "The worst is over for us," he said, adding that his office was still waiting for a complete picture of the situation. "We will go around as much as we can to get a more substantial assessment."

    Governments urged to shed fear of working with churches on persecution

    BUDAPEST, Hungary (CNS) -- Speakers at the second International Conference on Christian Persecution called upon governments to shed the "fear of working with the churches." Setting the tone for the Nov. 26-28 conference, Tristan Azbej, secretary of the Hungarian government's Aid for Persecuted Christians program, called for collaboration in responding to the plight of Christians whose religious rights are eroding worldwide. "We are here because Christianity has a culture of action. It is time for action by working together with all for a historic change in fighting persecution," Azbej said. Attendees, including government officials, Catholic clergy and Christian leaders, also heard from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who criticized the wariness of political leaders to work with churches to help end Christian persecution. "Assistance must be taken directly to communities in distress, not provided to agencies, but directly to communities in distress," Orban told the delegates. "Therefore, we make contact with church leaders there, because we know that they take full responsibility for their communities and we know they preserve in the most appalling circumstances."

    Bishops on 'ad limina' say their unity with pope, each other is clear

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As people on pilgrimage often report, what happens along the way can be just as important as what happens at the destination. Every bishop in the world is required regularly to make a visit "ad limina apostolorum" (to the threshold of the apostles) to pray at the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, to meet with the heads of Roman Curia offices and to discuss with the pope the status of their dioceses. Groups of U.S. bishops began their visits in early November; the last group is scheduled to conclude its visit Feb. 22, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, the symbol of the teaching authority of the popes. Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, was one of 37 U.S. bishops who met Pope Francis Dec. 3. "I wish there was a way I could have had a GoPro camera on my forehead sitting with the pope, so people could see the pope -- the person, the one who doesn't have a script -- talk from the heart," the bishop told Catholic News Service. "For three hours, he spoke from the heart." After the meeting, the bishop tweeted: "He is a good and holy man and even more now I will defend him."

    Bishops in eastern Congo urge more protection, back day of strikes

    BUKAVU, Congo (CNS) -- Catholic bishops in eastern Congo urged better government protection for local communities, which staged a day of strikes for victims of recent violence. "We deplore the perverse, persisting insecurity that causes such immeasurable suffering to our populations, and we ask the Christian faithful to make concrete nonviolent gestures of solidarity and fraternal communion," said bishops from eastern Congo. "We also urge the national, regional and international authorities to be more active in safeguarding our peace, national unity and territorial integrity." The declaration, signed by Archbishop Francois Xavier Maroy Rusengo of Bukavu, was issued as church-owned schools, hospitals and social services shut down Dec. 2 in a "day of mourning, prayer and communion" with those caught up in attacks by armed groups. It said bishops from six eastern dioceses had debated the "violence raging ever more acutely and terrifyingly" in North and South Kivu provinces. The statement said the bishops backed the strikes out of "compassion for all victims of this inhuman violence." The Catholic Church's six archdioceses and 41 dioceses include two-thirds of Congo's 67.5 million inhabitants.

    W.Va. bishop meets Vatican official to discuss predecessor's amends

    ROME (CNS) -- Tasked with finding ways his predecessor should make amends for abuses, including gross financial misconduct, Bishop Mark E. Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, was able to meet with a top Vatican official to discuss those plans. "I was able to at least get a good meeting with the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet," he told Catholic News Service Dec. 3. "It was a good discussion," he said. Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who had been appointed by the Vatican to investigate the situation in the diocese before Bishop Brennan was appointed, also was part of the discussion, "so I think we had some good conversation about that matter." Bishop Brennan was one of nearly 40 bishops in Rome for a regularly scheduled series of meetings with the pope and Vatican offices as part of the U.S. bishops' "ad limina" visits Dec. 2-6. The bishops were from U.S. Regions IV and V -- District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, Archdiocese for the Military Services, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Bishop Brennan said he had been "anxious to be able to present my conclusions" about how his predecessor, retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, could make amends for the harm done to the diocese and its people.

    Update: Bishop Malone resigns; Albany bishop named apostolic administrator

    BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNS) -- Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone told Catholics Dec. 4 he asked Pope Francis to allow him to retire early so the people of the diocese "will be better served" by a new bishop "who is perhaps better able" to bring about "reconciliation, healing and renewal" in addressing the abuse crisis. In a three-page letter, he said that "despite the measurable progress we have achieved together," he made his decision "after much prayer and discernment." The "spiritual welfare" of the faithful will be better served by a new bishop. Bishop Malone released his letter as Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced Pope Francis had accepted Bishop Malone's resignation and named Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, as Buffalo's apostolic administrator. At 73, Bishop Malone is two years shy of the age at which bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignation to the pope. For more than a year, he has faced questions about how he has addressed the clergy sex abuse crisis. Bishop Malone has headed the Diocese of Buffalo since 2012. Bishop Scharfenberger, 71, has headed the Albany Diocese since 2014. In his five and a half years in Albany, he has been a national leader in responding to the clergy abuse crisis.

    Pope, council of cardinals discuss greater role for lay men and women

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals reviewed aspects of the draft of the apostolic constitution that would govern the Roman Curia, including a greater role for lay men and women. The Vatican press office issued a statement Dec. 4 saying the council also discussed the relationship between the Curia -- the church's central administrative offices -- and the bishops' conferences around the world. "The activity of the council was aimed at deepening two aspects of importance pertaining to the draft of the new apostolic constitution," the Vatican said. It included, "the relations between the Curia and the episcopal conferences and the presence of the lay faithful, men and women, in decision-making roles in the offices of the Curia and in other bodies of the church, and to study the theological-pastoral basis of these aspects." The council members met Dec. 2-4, and Pope Francis was present except when he had a scheduling conflict.

    Church must help military families face unique challenges, archbishop says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The brutal reality of war is just one of the challenges the Catholic Church is called to help members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families cope with, said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. "For 19 years, the United States has been at war, and this is a reality that anyone who has volunteered for the military knows and that touches him or her directly," the archbishop told Catholic News Service Dec. 3. "The havoc that this has wreaked on families is a very great concern, and I hope that these days of the 'ad limina' visit will be an opportunity for dicasteries to be aware of the situation, and I hope to learn some things that I might be able to take back," he said. Archbishop Broglio is among the group of bishops from the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and West Virginia in Rome Dec. 1-7 for their visit "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses. The group, along with bishops from Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, met with Pope Francis for nearly three hours Dec. 3.

    Pope demands action for failing fight against climate change

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite growing recognition of climate change as a legitimate and looming threat, current commitments to mitigate its effects and alter human behavior fall short of those needed to resolve the crisis in time, Pope Francis said. "We must admit that this awareness is still rather weak, unable to respond adequately to that strong sense of urgency for rapid action called for by the scientific data at our disposal," the pope said in a message to the U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP25. The conference was being held in Madrid Dec. 2-13, and the Vatican released a copy of the pope's message Dec. 4. The conference aimed to take crucial steps in the U.N. climate change process and to identify effective strategies for implementing the Paris Agreement, a framework of action against climate change adopted by the U.N. Dec. 12, 2015. However, studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "demonstrate how far words are from concrete actions," the pope said.

    Pilgrimage to Rome is time for grace, renewal, U.S. archbishop says

    ROME (CNS) -- Journeying to Rome to meet with Pope Francis and pray at the tombs of the apostles is an occasion for grace, growth and renewal, said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. In the day's readings at Mass Dec. 3, "We hear a simple invitation, 'Come to me'" and follow Christ, who "restored us to life," the archbishop said in his homily, addressing bishops of U.S. Region IV -- the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia and the Archdiocese for the Military Services. A very real example of resurrection was all around them, he said, indicating the vast, ornate surroundings inside the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Though founded by Constantine in the fourth century, the basilica -- Rome's second largest -- had to be completely rebuilt after a devastating fire in the 1800s. "For us, it remains a great symbol of the possibility of rebuilding, of the effectiveness of a new evangelization, and of the importance not to be daunted by what seem to be insurmountable odds," the archbishop said. "If we hear the voice of despair with a temptation not to respond to the urgings of the Word," he said, "we must recognize in them the work of the evil one and draw strength and sustenance from the word and sacrament."

    Trust in Christ, not in psychics, sorcerers, pope says at audience

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis scolded people who consider themselves practicing Christians, but who turn to fortunetelling, psychic readings and tarot cards. True faith means abandoning oneself to God "who makes himself known not through occult practices but through revelation and with gratuitous love," the pope said Dec. 4 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope called out Christians who seek reassurance from practitioners of magic. "How is it possible, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you go to a sorcerer, a fortuneteller, these types of people?" he asked. "Magic is not Christian! These things that are done to predict the future or predict many things or change situations in life are not Christian. The grace of Christ can bring you everything! Pray and trust in the Lord." At the audience, the pope resumed his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles, reflecting on St. Paul's ministry in Ephesus, a "famous center for the practice of magic." In the city, St. Paul baptized many people, and drew the ire of the silversmiths who made a business of crafting idols.

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