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  • New center shows church's ongoing commitment to immigrants, says bishop

    IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Charities

    By Rose Ybarra

    MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- Blessing the ground for a new respite center in McAllen is a sign of the Catholic Church's commitment to be available and helpful to immigrant families, who "are enduring many, many tragic situations in their lives," said Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores.

    "It's the work of the church to be a presence and to make available a space for people to feel welcome, where people can be attended to and dealt with in their humanity," the bishop said Dec. 1. "People are not statistics, people are not just numbers, people are not problems, ultimately, people are people."

    Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley hosted the ground-blessing ceremony for its new respite center.

    Bishop Flores conducted the blessing. He was joined at the ceremony by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese, and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

    All three expressed their gratitude to Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, its pastoral team and parishioners for their generosity in housing the current respite center for the last two-and-a-half years.

    "God asked the church especially to be a sign of his love by continuing to open up a space where our service to one another can be manifested," the bishop said.

    "The (Rio Grande) Valley is one of the poorest areas in the whole United States and yet, they share the little that they have to make sure that someone who has less will be able to have something that they need," Sister Pimentel said in her remarks.

    "Because of that sacrifice, we have been able to help so many thousands and thousands of immigrant families," she continued. "And so today is a very special day because it marks the continuation of this act of kindness, compassion and love."

    She thanked the city of McAllen, Catholic Charities and "the thousands of volunteers who have taken part and continue to take part to show the world that we are a community with compassion and with a heart."

    Darling in his remarks noted the recent "rhetoric about sanctuary cities in the media," and pointed out that those who receive assistance at the respite center, "are here as legally as you and I."

    The immigrants, who are mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, are in the legal process of seeking asylum or residency.

    "I keep hearing in the press that it's an illegal immigrant situation," he said, but "it's people seeking asylum."

    "We have received a lot of kind of negative publicity over the last two and half years alluding to an unsafe border, the need to protect the border, those kinds of things," Darling added, "but really what you're seeing is the spirit of McAllen and the Catholic Church helping people in need who are here; many times for reasons we can't even fathom what they have gone through."

    In June 2014, Sister Pimentel heard there were immigrant families huddled at the bus station in downtown McAllen with only the clothes on their back, nothing to eat or drink and nowhere to shower or sleep. The families had been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, released with a court date and dropped off at the bus station with permission to continue to their final destinations.

    Sister Pimentel opened the respite center in the parish hall of Sacred Heart Church, located just two blocks away from the bus station, to provide food, clean clothing, showers, medical attention, supplies for the road, phone calls, overnight lodging and more for the immigrants.

    More than 57,000 immigrants have passed through the center.

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    Ybarra is assistant editor at The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.

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CNS News Briefs

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  • Dominican sister remembered for her unconditional love of students

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- Dominican Sister Helen Marie Glaser, who died of a heart attack Nov. 26 at age 58, is being remembered by her fellow Dominican sisters, former students and friends as someone who loved and lived her faith, and loved others unconditionally. A funeral Mass was celebrated for her Dec. 1 at the motherhouse of her religious congregation, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, in Nashville. Burial followed at the convent cemetery. Many of her former students at Nashville's St. Cecilia Academy recall her as a rare authority figure who connected with them on a deeply personal level. In the days following her death, many St. Cecilia alumnae shared memories of her: how she loved to laugh and share snacks with her students, how down to earth and generous she was. In 1983, she entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. After her profession of vows in 1985, Sister Helen Marie served as both teacher and administrator in schools staffed by the Dominican sisters, including those in Nashville, Memphis, McEwen and Oak Ridge, all in Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Denver; and Catonsville, Maryland.

    Hopes for Sheen transfer still high despite granting of emergency stay

    PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Hopes buoyed in the Diocese of Peoria by a Nov. 17 court ruling allowing Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's family to transfer the sainthood candidate's remains from New York to Peoria were tempered by an emergency stay being granted to the Archdiocese of New York, which planned to appeal the ruling. In a 10-page decision, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arlene Bluth had granted the request of Archbishop Sheen's niece, Joan Sheen Cunningham, to have the remains of the famed orator and media pioneer removed from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and transferred to St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, where a crypt is being prepared for his re-interment. However, five days later, lawyers representing the Archdiocese of New York and the trustees of St. Patrick's Cathedral -- who oppose the relocation of the remains -- announced their intention to appeal Bluth's ruling. They also sought and were granted the stay. The transfer is seen as a key factor in allowing Archbishop Sheen's sainthood cause to move forward.

    French bishop opens sainthood cause for foundress of Tyburn Nuns

    SAINT LOUP-SUR-AUJON, France (CNS) -- A French bishop has opened the cause for canonization of a nun who claimed she saw a consecrated host turn to bloody flesh in the hands of a priest. Bishop Joseph de Metz-Noblat of Langres, France, initiated the sainthood cause of Mother Marie Adele Garnier, foundress of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre OSB, or Tyburn Nuns, with a Dec. 3 Mass. Afterward, diocesan officials signed an edict with Vatican officials, who traveled from Rome to the event at the nuns' convent in Saint Loup-sur-Aujon. In his homily, the bishop noted that Mother Garnier, foundress of the order of contemplative Benedictines, sought the will of God through adoration of the Eucharist. This, he said, led to authentic acts of charity and served as a model of evangelization. "As we rejoice with Mother Garnier, we want to point at her insistence of the contemplation of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist," said Bishop de Metz-Noblat. He added: "With the help of the sisters, we want the evangelization of our country but also the evangelization of all the world."

    Minnesota school bakes thousands of Christmas cookies for fundraiser

    FOLEY, Minn. (CNS) -- For more than 20 years, St. John's Area Catholic School in Foley has carried on the tradition of baking, packaging and selling homemade Christmas treats each December. Using ingredients that include 179 pounds of butter, 70 pounds of chocolate chips and 96 pounds of peanut butter, a group of between 75 and 100 volunteers bakes 3,000 dozen confections in one week. That's about 36,000 cookies and candies, ranging from peanut butter blossoms to fudge with or without nuts to traditional cutout cookies, date balls, tea cakes and more. One of the best parts besides the heavenly smell, said Christine Friederichs, the school's principal, is the sense of community it creates from start to finish. "Everyone gets involved, from our families to our staff, to our students and past students, to their families and beyond," she told The Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud. "Students from years ago wait for this time of year to be able to come back and help during this week because they remember doing it when they were a student here. It's tradition."

    'Tis the season, and Bethlehem businesses hope for a merry one

    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Even the Christmas decorations seem more cheerful this year in Bethlehem. A new display of Santa's reindeer and sleigh were about to alight at the main traffic circle on Manger Street, and a big white Christmas tree made of lights perched merrily next to them. The official Christmas tree in Nativity Square was a focus of great commotion as pilgrims and locals struck poses for photos and selfies Dec. 5. A few days earlier, at the official tree lighting ceremony, the square was packed with hundreds of onlookers ready to welcome the Christmas season to the birthplace of Jesus. After two Christmas seasons in which the political reality had overtaken holiday cheer, people seemed primed to finally feel some merriment in Bethlehem. In 2014, the summer Gaza war was still keeping away tourists, and last year a spate of stabbings and shootings overshadowed any hope of holiday cheer. This year, the Israeli separation barrier construction continues to slowly creep around Bethlehem, creating an isolated enclave. There has been no real move toward a long-term peace agreement, nor any easing of travel restrictions or any significant improvement in the economic or political situations, but Palestinians are embracing what they can of the holiday spirit. Storekeepers like Muslim Samer Laham, 37, whose front entrance displays rows of hanging Santa Claus hats, are putting out their Christmas wares and readying for the celebrations. "People haven't started buying the hats yet, but they will in a few more days," said Laham confidently.

    New center shows church's ongoing commitment to immigrants, says bishop

    MCALLEN, Texas (CNS) -- Blessing the ground for a new respite center in McAllen is a sign of the Catholic Church's commitment to be available and helpful to immigrant families, who "are enduring many, many tragic situations in their lives," said Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores. "It's the work of the church to be a presence and to make available a space for people to feel welcome, where people can be attended to and dealt with in their humanity," the bishop said Dec. 1. "People are not statistics, people are not just numbers, people are not problems, ultimately, people are people." Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley hosted the ground-blessing ceremony for its new respite center. Bishop Flores conducted the blessing. He was joined at the ceremony by Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese, and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. All three expressed their gratitude to Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, its pastoral team and parishioners for their generosity in housing the current respite center for the last two-and-a-half years.

    Iraqi Christians in U.S. pray to reunite with family at Christmas

    CHICAGO (CNS) -- On a recent overcast Sunday morning in northwest Chicago, the pews of the small wood-paneled St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church were filled to overflowing. Among the rows of Massgoers sat Firaz Rassam and her sisters. After the Mass, Rassam and her sister, Victoria Rassam, said they "pray, pray that (Victoria's) children would be able to get out (of northern Iraq) in time" before any major Islamic State attack or any other conflict reaches their neighborhood in Ankawa, a Christian hub in the Kurdish region. Firaz Rassam, who arrived in Chicago in September, said this year she would not be able to celebrate Christmas "with the type of happiness that (her family) normally would celebrate." Speaking through their nephew who interpreted from their native dialect, an Aramaic derivative, Firaz Rassam, 44, told Catholic News Service that she and her three children came ahead of her husband after her other sister, Fairuz Rassam, sent for her. "The environment over there," said Firaz Rassam, who used to be a librarian. "There's no electricity. It's dangerous. There's no work. I want to have a better future for my kids."

    Baltimore auxiliary retires, two new auxiliaries named for archdiocese

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has named Msgr. Adam J. Parker, vicar general and moderator of the curia in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Msgr. Mark E. Brennan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, as auxiliary bishops for Baltimore. The pope also has accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, who is 76. Canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope at age 75. A Baltimore auxiliary since 2005, Bishop Madden is former chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. The changes were announced Dec. 5 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishops-designate Parker and Brennan's episcopal ordination will be Jan. 19 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore. "This is a joyous and blessed day for our archdiocese," Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said in a statement. He thanked Pope Francis "for this early Christmas gift" in appointing the two auxiliaries.

    Despite distance, Iraqi Christians keep the spirit of Christmas alive

    ISTANBUL (CNS) -- Sami Dankha, his three brothers and their families used to kick off Christmas celebrations by attending a packed Christmas Eve Mass at St. Thomas Church in Baghdad. Wearing brand new clothes and sporting fresh haircuts, they would spend the night chatting, singing and eating pacha, a dish made from sheep's head that Iraqis consider a delicacy and a staple of Christmas. But that was 20 years ago. Today, Dankha, 51, his wife, Faten, and their five children live in Turkey as refugees, far away from the rest of their families. They are waiting for an answer to their resettlement application to Australia. "If you count Christmas and Easter, it has been about 40 times we haven't gathered," said Dankha, whose brothers now live in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands. Years of instability, violence and discrimination have forced Iraqi Christian families to leave their homes. Christmas, traditionally celebrated with loved ones, is a reminder of the exodus of Christians from Iraq and the Middle East to countries all over the word. Despite the distance and across different time zones, families keep the spirit of the holiday alive. "The last time we were all together was 2005. Maybe 2006. I am not sure," Habiba Taufiq, 69, told Catholic News Service.

    Congolese bishops renew offer to mediate election crisis

    KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- Catholic bishops in Congo have warned of chaos if government and opposition leaders fail to agree to a timeline for elections, and they reiterated their commitment to help arrange a compromise. "Despite all divergences, we believe a political compromise is still possible if the main parties get involved and prove their goodwill around the table," the bishops' conference said in a Dec. 2 statement. "The hour is truly grave -- and this is why, true to our prophetic mission and, summoning the Congolese people and international community as witnesses, we appeal for responsibility to prevent our country sinking into an uncontrollable situation." The statement, co-signed by Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa of Kisangani, the bishops' conference president, was published as opposition groups prepared for mass demonstrations Dec. 19, the date President Joseph Kabila was to have left office.

    Helping others realize their potential is good business, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis pleaded with a group of billionaires to take seriously their personal obligation to share their resources and make a real commitment to doing business in a way that helps other people realize their potential, too. The global economic system, he said Dec. 3, needs a "fundamental renewal" that "does not have to do simply with market economics, figures to be balanced, the development of raw materials and improvements made to infrastructure. What we are speaking about is the common good of humanity, of the right of each person to share in the resources of this world and to have the same opportunities to realize his or her potential, a potential that is ultimately based on the dignity of the children of God, created in his image and likeness," the pope told CEOs and other leaders taking part in the Fortune-Time Global Forum. Business leaders like Virgin's Richard Branson, LRN's Dov Seidman, Siemens' Joe Kaeser and IBM's Ginni Rometty met in Rome for two days to respond to what they described as Pope Francis' "passionate pleas for broader prosperity and lasting ways to lift the poor." They also spoke with concern of growing popular discontent with the way big business and governments operate. "Populism and protectionism are rearing their heads around the world, and trust in business -- as well as other institutions -- has plummeted," the leaders said in their report to the pope.

    Pope: Can't whitewash sin away; Jesus truly transforms penitent hearts

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus truly transforms and heals hearts when people let him, which means recognizing and being ashamed of one's sins, Pope Francis said at his morning Mass. Jesus helped people by showing them a new way and the possibility of real change, "and this is why the people followed him," the pope said Dec. 5 during the Mass in the chapel of the residence, Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives. The day's first reading from the prophet Isaiah (35:1-10) talks about God bringing new life to a parched land and healing, strength and joy to a broken people. This promise and power of complete renewal, the pope said, was fulfilled with the Messiah, whose miracles and ministry were not about making things look better by putting on "makeup, cosmetics. He changed everything from the inside. God created the world, mankind fell into sin, Jesus came to re-create the world," he said. Jesus comes to touch people's hearts and forgive their sins, "to re-create that man from sinner to righteous" and make him "totally new."

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  • Supreme Court agrees to take up church hospitals' pension dispute

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court agreed Dec. 2 to hear arguments about church hospital pension disputes over whether religious hospitals and schools can be exempt from complying with federal laws covering employee pension benefits. Lower courts have ruled against three hospital systems, two of which are Catholic, that have claimed an exemption from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The hospital systems have argued that the federal government interprets church pension plan exemptions to include church-affiliated organizations, but workers have argued, and courts have sided with them, that their pensions do not qualify as "church plans" exempt from the law. Billions of dollars in benefits for hospital workers are at stake in the lawsuits. The cases involve Advocate Health Care of the Chicago area, a merged network of evangelical, Lutheran and United Church of Christ hospitals; and two Catholic networks: St. Peter's Healthcare System of New Brunswick, New Jersey, and Dignity Health of San Francisco. Workers have won a number of federal appeals court decisions against church-based hospital systems claiming their pension plans were underfunded. The appeals courts have said religious organizations must comply with the law that govern employee benefits and protects retirement plans.

    Partnership enlivens parish, school, gives seminarians pastoral insights

    NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- It was 10:10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28 -- 20 minutes before the regular 10:30 a.m. Mass at St. Rita Church in New Orleans -- normally a time when the church is pin-drop quiet except for the sacristan, the organist and a few early arrivers reciting the rosary. But as parishioners began filing into the church for Mass that day, they witnessed something they had not seen in years -- their church half-filled with people. Men, some dressed in coats and ties, some in black suits with Roman collars, were spread out in the pews, reading their morning prayers or praying silently. "I thought it was a funeral or a wedding," one parishioner said with a laugh, astonished by the sight of more than 100 seminarians from Notre Dame Seminary sitting or kneeling in the pews. That Sunday was the first manifestation of a bold initiative launched by Father James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary, and New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond to have the 136-member seminary community partner with nearby St. Rita Parish. The idea is simple but bold.

    Pope recognizes martyrdom of Oklahoma priest killed in Guatemala

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of Father Stanley Rother of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, making him the first martyr born in the United States. The Vatican made the announcement Dec. 2. The recognition of his martyrdom clears the way for his beatification. Father Rother, born March 27, 1935, on his family's farm near Okarche, Oklahoma, was brutally murdered July 28, 1981, in a Guatemalan village where he ministered to the poor. He went to Santiago Atitlan in 1968 on assignment from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. He helped the people there build a small hospital, school and its first Catholic radio station. He was beloved by the locals, who called him "Padre Francisco." Many priests and religious in Guatemala became targets during the country's 1960-1996 civil war as government forces cracked down on leftist rebels supported by the rural poor.

    Syriac Catholic patriarch 'horrified' after seeing Iraqi 'ghost towns'

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- The Syriac Catholic patriarch said he was horrified to see widespread devastation and what he called "ghost towns" during a recent visit to northern Iraq. Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan wrote in an email to Catholic News Service that there was little left in some of the communities that he toured Nov. 27-29 and that "the emptiness of the streets except for military people ... the devastation and burned-out houses and churches" was shocking. About 100,000 Christians -- among them more than 60,000 Syriac Catholics -- were expelled from the Ninevah Plain by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014 as the militants campaigned to expand their reach into Iraq. Patriarch Younan also called for understanding from the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump about the plight and ordeal of all minorities, including Christians affected by violence in the region. The patriarch told CNS about "walking through the Christian towns of Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles and witnessing the extent of devastation as if we had entered ghost towns!"

    Some fleeing scene of wildfires describe it as escaping 'gates of hell'

    PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (CNS) -- St. Mary's Catholic Church was at ground zero in the wildfires that devastated parts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Nov. 28, and while flames reached to within yards of the tourist city church, it appears to have been spared. Some parishioners weren't as fortunate. Its pastor, Carmelite Father Antony Punnackal, was forced to evacuate St. Mary's as intense fires came within 300 yards of the church that sits in the heart of Gatlinburg. The church and rectory have been closed since then, but the priest has received reports that the buildings were spared from the blaze but sustained smoke damage and possible damage from high winds that fueled the flames. The wildfires left a swath of destruction in and around the city of Gatlinburg, causing at least 13 deaths, more than 50 injuries, and tens of millions of dollars in property damage. Dozens of residents and visitors to the tourist destination still are missing. Three people who suffered serious burns were transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. As of midday Dec. 2, the city of 5,000 residents still was closed down, with only emergency personnel allowed to enter as well as residents and property owners on a limited basis.

    Faith leaders urge Obama to grant pardons to immigrants, prisoners

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Faith leaders and immigrant advocates urged President Barack Obama to pardon immigrants in the country without legal documentation and people with nonviolent, federal drug offenses serving prison sentences. "This is about protecting families," said Richard Morales, immigration policy director for PICO, which stands for People Improving Communities Through Organizing, during a Dec. 1 news conference in the chapel of the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill. "There is tremendous fear in our communities. This is a moral rather than legal issue. The president does have the constitutional power to grant these pardons and he needs to act," he added. The gathering was organized by PICO, a national network based in Oakland, California, that was founded in 1972 by a Jesuit priest. The group is currently circulating a petition to deliver to the White House Dec. 15 urging the Obama administration to grant these pardons. It is also urging local elected officials, governors, mayors and churches across the country to take steps to designate themselves sanctuaries, protecting immigrants from deportation, in response to President-elect Donald Trump promises to deport 2 to 3 million immigrants without documentation.

    Orthodox patriarch says 'Amoris Laetitia' is about God's mercy

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Knowing the debate surrounding Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on the family, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said the document "first and foremost recalls the mercy and compassion of God and not just moral norms and canonical rules. In the past few months, numerous comments and evaluations of this important document have been made," the patriarch wrote Dec. 2 in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. "People have asked how specific doctrine has been developed or defended or if pastoral questions have been modified or resolved and if particular norms have been strengthened or mitigated," he said. "Whether it regards the challenges of marriage and divorce or sexuality or raising children," he said, the matters treated in the document "are all delicate and precious fragments of that sacred mystery we call life." For too long, he said, people were "suffocated and blocked" from reaching out to God for forgiveness and strength by the notion of a "heavenly Father who in some way dictated human conduct."

    French archbishop criticizes bill on digital interference on abortion

    PARIS (CNS) -- The president of the French bishops' conference wrote French President Francois Hollande to express his worries about fast-tracked legislation that would extend illegal interference on abortions to websites. Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president, said the bishops think the legislation questions the very foundations of liberties in France, and he urged Hollande to not allow the bill's passage. The archbishop said the idea of illegal digital interference could have an impact on a woman's decision to get an abortion. Referring to the oft-used French expression for abortion -- "voluntary pregnancy interruption" -- Archbishop Pontier added that the bill would make it less "voluntary," simply because it would make it "less and less free," calling it a "serious infringement to democratic principles." Earlier this fall, the French government presented a draft law regarding the creation of illegal digital interference on abortion. France's National Assembly passed the bill Dec. 1, and the Senate is expected to consider it Dec. 7, with a final vote in February. If it passes, it would condemn websites for "intimidating and/or putting psychological or moral pressures" in order to dissuade someone from getting an abortion. The text modifying an already existing abortion law raised acrimonious political debates in France. Politicians backing the legislation say it is mostly aimed at websites that look very similar to official or neutral websites, but do everything to discourage women from getting an abortion, thus tricking users with disinformation. The bill would institute penalties of up to two years of incarceration and a 30,000-euro ($31,820) fine.

    In Ireland, doctors, church leaders tell the horrors of life in Syria

    DUBLIN (CNS) -- Fifty percent of Syria's hospitals and medical centers have been destroyed or looted and their staff kidnapped, tortured or slaughtered, a leading Syrian surgeon told members of the Irish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Dr. Bashir Mohammad, a cardiologist, was part of a delegation of high-profile Syrian medical and religious leaders who appealed Dec. 1 for an end to punitive European Union sanctions against his country. Mohammad was accompanied by Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham; Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; Syria's grand mufti, Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun; and Dr. Ahmad al Khaddour, a cardiothoracic surgeon. Khaddour, a professor of medicine at Damascus University, explained that the group had come to Ireland "to pass the message that Syria needs help. The European sanctions have affected our medical system very badly. We have a shortage of medical supplies on a daily basis. We have children dying because there is no medicine and children suffering because there is no fuel for heating."

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  • Paper's 1941 war edition expressed faith, patriotism of island Catholics

    HONOLULU (CNS) -- "Our beloved country is at war. Our peaceful shores have been ruthlessly attacked, and all citizens are called upon to unite their efforts toward that peace for which we have all prayed, that peace which the world cannot give, and that peace which God will surely bring about when mankind has seen its folly and conforms its ways to his." Those are the opening words of the front-page editorial of The Catholic Herald, the publication of the Diocese of Honolulu, published Dec. 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the attack. The smallest of editions, a single tabloid sheet printed front and back, the newspaper was a somber reassurance of the faith, resolve and patriotism of Hawaii's Catholics. "Our duty is clearly marked out," the editorial continued, "and will be faithfully executed. The pages of history proclaim the love and loyalty of Catholics for their fatherland in time of war as well as in time of peace. Catholics have been in the front lines at every battle in the history of our nation. And every war-time president from Washington down to our own beloved President (Franklin) Roosevelt has sung their praises.

    USCCB leaders seek prayers for migrants, refugees on Guadalupe feast

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Prayer services and special Masses will be held in many dioceses across the country as the U.S. Catholic Church has asked that the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe be a day of prayer with a focus on migrants and refugees. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas. "As Christmas approaches and especially on this feast of Our Lady, we are reminded of how our savior Jesus Christ was not born in the comfort of his own home, but rather in an unfamiliar manger," said a Dec. 1 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The day of prayer is intended to be a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears and needs of all those families who have come to the United States seeking a better life. "So many families are wondering how changes to immigration policy might impact them," Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, said in a Dec. 1 statement. "We want them to know the church is with them, offers prayers on their behalf, and is actively monitoring developments at the diocesan, state, and national levels to be an effective advocate on their behalf."

    Priest-historian: 75 years later, Pearl Harbor 'such a powerful event'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Catholic military chaplain and historian says the attack on Pearl Harbor, even 75 years later, continues to rivet the attention of Americans because it is "such a powerful event." As the anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack neared, Father Daniel Mode detailed the effect of the Japanese attack on the Hawaiian outpost. "Before that, we were debating whether to get involved with World War II or not. We were basically a neutral country, trying not to get engaged in it. It (the attack) changed the tenor, and the president's resolve, Father Mode told Catholic News Service. "It brought our country together to fight a common threat." Speaking in a telephone interview from the Pentagon, where he works for the chief of chaplains, Father Mode said he can see a parallel between Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terror attacks. "They're both cataclysmic events that galvanized our country," he said. "One was more obviously targeted toward the civilian population, one toward the military population," the priest added, "but both certainly were defining moments in our country."

    For book on Pope Francis, author retraces pope's life in Argentina, Rome

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Pope Francis first stepped onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square in Rome, Mark Shriver like millions of other people around the world was captivated by this man who humbly bowed his head after asking the people there to pray for him, before he would offer his first blessing to them. Shriver wondered, who was this man from Argentina, who joked that the cardinals had gone to the ends of the earth to choose a new pope? Who was this man who rode back on the bus with the cardinals, later paid his own hotel bill, and would move into a Vatican guesthouse rather than the papal apartments? Who was this first pope to choose the name "Francis," after St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of caring for the poor, protecting the environment and working for peace? Then a book publisher invited Shriver to write a book about the new pope. So over the next two and one-half years, he extensively researched the pope's life, his writings and speeches, interviewed close to a hundred people who knew Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became pope, and retraced the pope's life, from his childhood in Argentina to his papacy in Rome. The result is Shriver's new Random House book, "Pilgrimage: My Search for the Real Pope Francis," which went on sale Nov. 29.

    Pax Christi International seeks new Israeli-Palestinian peace process

    BRUSSELS (CNS) -- Pax Christi International has called for a new peace process to end violence among Israelis and Palestinians and assure fundamental human rights as defined by international law. Saying that adherence to international law is critical for a peaceful world, on Dec. 1 the Catholic peace organization urged Israel and Palestine to return to negotiations and "begin a dialogue rooted in mutual respect for human rights and the dignity of the other." Pax Christi added that recognition of the full equality of Palestinians would be a strong step toward securing long-term peace. Marie Dennis, co-president of the Catholic peace organization, told Catholic News Service that the time has come "when we all need to find a way to start supporting what is a very difficult but critically important process." Pax Christi's leadership is concerned that Israel's actions -- including the continued occupation of Palestinian land, expansion of settlements in the West Bank, demolition of Palestinian homes, continued work on the separation barrier and limits on the use of water -- violate international law and must stop, Dennis said. "We included in the statement our own sense of recognition of the unevenness of the process, of the extremely difficult conditions within which the Palestinian people are living," Dennis said. "We absolutely believe (in) stopping the violations of international law, by all sides, of course, but there is a tremendous amount of inequality with what's happening between Israel and Palestine."

    Our Lady of Guadalupe's message remains alive across five centuries

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Nearly 500 years after Mexican peasant Juan Diego was greeted by Mary and urged to share a message of hope and comfort as promised by God's compassion, Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to inspire new generations of faithful believers in their daily routines and struggles. That assurance, rooted in prayer and common experiences, guides daily individual devotion and communal gatherings that build toward grand observances of the apparitions centered annually on the Dec. 12 feast day. And while Our Lady of Guadalupe is rooted in the Mexican culture, those who have studied the phenomenon and her message as it is lived today are finding that the patroness of the Americas, as she is known, can strengthen bonds of community in a disjointed world. "In the United States she belongs to everyone. Even American Catholics have embraced her as a symbol of faith and devotion," said Hosffman Ospino, assistant professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College. Ospino, a native of Colombia, said Catholic Latinos outside of Mexico have come to embrace the Guadalupe story because of their shared faith. That Mary presented herself to the indigenous Juan Diego, who was canonized in 2002, indicates that God cares for struggling and marginalized people everywhere, Ospino said.

    Pope meets Martin Scorsese after director screens 'Silence' for Jesuits

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The morning after screening his film, "Silence," for about 300 Jesuits, the U.S. director Martin Scorsese had a private audience with Pope Francis. During the 15-minute audience Nov. 30, Pope Francis told Scorsese that he had read Japanese author Shusaku Endo's historical novel, "Silence," which inspired the film. The book and film are a fictionalized account of the persecution of Christians in 17th-century Japan; the central figures are Jesuit missionaries. Pope Francis spoke to Scorsese, his wife and two daughters, and the film's producer, about the early Jesuit missions to Japan and about the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum and Monument in Nagasaki, which honors the Japanese martyrs executed on the site in 1597. Scorsese gave the pope two paintings, which the Vatican said were "connected to the theme of the 'hidden Christians,'" the Christians who kept their faith secret during the persecution. One of the paintings was of an image of Mary venerated in the 1700s.

    Pope: Resistance to God is normal, but you must be honest about it

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Struggling against God is normal because following his way toward redemption always comes with some kind of cross to bear, Pope Francis said in a morning homily. When feeling hesitant or unwilling, "don't be afraid," just plead with God -- "Lord, with great strength come to my aid. May your grace conquer the resistance of sin," he said Dec. 1. During morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, the pope examined the ways people are resistant to God's will because of their own sinful nature and the work of the devil. A "good" kind of resistance, he said, is the kind that is misguided but open to God's grace of conversion. For example, he said, like Saul, who had believed he was doing God's will by persecuting Christians, but eventually listened to Jesus and did as he told him. However, the more dangerous forms of resistance, the pope said, are the kind that are "hidden" and mask people's real intention of never embarking on the path of conversion or of not going all the way.

    Listen to God for guidance to build better world, pope tells students

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Upholding the truth and moral values isn't easy, especially for young people, Pope Francis said. "But with God's help and with the sincere will to do good, every obstacle can be overcome," he told international students and those who minister to them. Students studying abroad and about 100 campus ministers and representatives of bishops' conferences participated in the Fourth World Congress on the Pastoral Care of International Students Nov. 28-Dec. 2. The congress was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. Pope Francis said it was important that new generations always be inspired and guided to build a "healthier society," especially when it comes to dealing with moral dilemmas. Today, "the moral challenges to be addressed are many and it is not always easy to fight for affirming the truth and values, especially when one is young," he said, but it can be done with God's help and honest intentions.

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  • School's innovative tech program popular with students, boosts enrollment

    FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. (CNS) -- The Environmental and Spatial Technology Program at Conwell-Egan Catholic High School in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is probably one of the most innovative and cutting-edge high school educational programs you will find anywhere, once you get past the rather ponderous title. First of all, EAST trains the students in the use of mostly computer-based technologies for such fields as CAD (computer-aided design), architectural design, GPS mapping, animation, virtual reality, 3D modeling, robotics and many others. But that's only the beginning. The students are invited to take these skills and, while working in teams, come up with projects that can benefit the community, civic groups and others in the process. That's what makes EAST fairly unique, even as it celebrates its 10th anniversary at Conwell-Egan, which is outside of Philadelphia in Fairless Hills. Many schools have excellent technology programs, or programs that stress self-guidance and teamwork or programs with a public service component. EAST combines all of that.

    Catholic college presidents pledge support for students with DACA status

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- More than 70 presidents at Catholic colleges and universities have signed a statement pledging their support for students attending their schools who are legally protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. The statement, posted Nov. 30 on the website of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, says it hopes "the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses." President Barack Obama's DACA program protects young immigrants brought into the United States by their parents as young children without legal permission. More than 720,000 of these young immigrants have been approved for the program, which protects them from deportation for two-year periods. The college leaders' statement also points out that "undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties. We pledge to support these students -- through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal."

    Hundreds mourn beloved homeless man at funeral for him at Catholic church

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Thomas Myron Hooker lived the last 20 years of his life without a roof over his head, but his death proved he was hardly without a home. Hundreds of people -- church families, neighbors, shopkeepers and perhaps even strangers touched by the cheerful kindness and generosity of the man who for years had made camp under a tarp on a street corner in San Francisco's Richmond District -- streamed into Star of the Sea Catholic Church Nov. 7 to express their respect and affection. Hooker had endeared himself to the parish and surrounding community with his gentle spirit. He spent a part of each day praying in the back pews, said Star of the Sea pastor Father Joseph Illo, who eulogized him as "a kind of patron saint of the homeless." "The meaning of being homeless beyond shelter is when you lack a home, lack a family who understands you. You are homeless when you don't feel you belong anywhere," said Father Illo. "Many of us who live in more comfort are more homeless than Thomas was. He had a home with us." Thomas had "overcome his homelessness," said Father Illo, who claimed Hooker's body after his death Oct. 26 and planned the funeral Mass and reception that followed. McAvoy O'Hara & Evergreen Mortuary donated a casket and prepared the body for burial. A special collection was taken during the Mass so that Hooker might be laid to rest with dignity and a headstone at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma.

    New Caritas report sets out building blocks for more-just Europe

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Europe's top Catholic charitable agency has published a "road map for social justice and equality," urging all church members to defend the poor and marginalized. "The financial and economic crisis that started in 2008 proved a 'stress test' for European social models," said the Brussels-based Caritas Europa. "Solidarity mechanisms have fallen under more pressure because of the austerity measures taken by governments," it said. "Even before the crisis, about 120 million people were living in or at risk of poverty in Europe -- a clear indication that current social protection systems are not keeping their promise." The 44-page report said Caritas groups had amassed data on poverty and exclusion to set out "building blocks" for a more-just Europe, which provided welfare for all. It added that inequalities could be reduced by improvements to labor markets and social protection systems, as well as by pro-family measures and the redefinition of "social rights as human rights." Among more than 60 policy recommendations for a Caritas social model, it called for universal and enforceable access to social services and benefit entitlements, monthly child allowances and affordable child care, as well as an adequate minimum wage, social housing and equal pay for men and women.

    When God calls, he always inspires, walks with his disciples, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Through individual vocations, God calls men and women to be touched and transformed by his love, not use his gift for personal comfort, pursuing business opportunities or self-promotion, Pope Francis said. "All Christians are called to be missionaries of the Gospel," the pope said in his message for the 2017 World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The message was released at the Vatican Nov. 30. As disciples, "we do not receive the gift of God's love for our personal consolation, nor are we called to promote ourselves, or a business concern. We are simply men and women touched and transformed by the joy of God's love, who cannot keep this experience just to ourselves." The day of prayer will be celebrated May 7 at the Vatican and in many dioceses around the world; the theme for 2017 is: "Led by the Spirit for Mission." In his message, the pope said commitment to mission is essential to the faith since "a relationship with the Lord entails being sent out into the world as prophets of his word and witnesses of his love."

    Dialogue, common good can heal nation wracked by fear, pope tells France

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a world filled with frustration and fear, seeking the common good is more important than ever, Pope Francis told French politicians. Before leading his general audience Nov. 30, the pope met privately with French political representatives, who were taking part in a pilgrimage to Rome. The officials came from the southeastern Rhone-Alpes region. As French citizens prepare for presidential elections starting in April, the pope supported the bishops' call for rediscovering the true meaning of political life. Given "the current international climate, marked by frustrations and fears, intensified by attacks and blind violence that deeply lacerated your country, it is even more important to seek and develop the meaning of the common good" and what is in the general interest, he said. France, whose foundations are liberty, equality and fraternity, the pope said, is full of potential and its diversity should be seen as an opportunity. "A true debate about values and guiding (principles) recognized as common to all is at stake," he said.

    Pope: Reflections on mercy may be over, but compassion must live on

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Year of Mercy and its series of papal reflections may be over, but compassion and acts of mercy must continue and become a part of everyone's daily lives, Pope Francis said. "Let us commit ourselves to praying for each other so that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy increasingly become our way of life," he said Nov. 30 during his general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI hall. Because the day also marked the feast of St. Andrew, brother of St. Peter and founder of the church in Constantinople, Pope Francis gave special greetings to his "dear brother," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome and successor of Peter, said he was sending "a big embrace" to the patriarch and "this cousin church." The Vatican released a letter from the pope to the patriarch, which praised the way Catholics and Orthodox have begun "to recognize one another as brothers and sisters and to value each other's gifts, and together have proclaimed the Gospel, served humanity and the cause of peace, promoted the dignity of the human being and the inestimable value of the family, and cared for those most in need, as well as creation, our common home."

    Lithuanian archbishop says citizens tense over Russian buildup

    WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Lithuanian Archbishop Gintaras Grusas said citizens are anxious about military threats from neighboring Russia but said support from Europe and the United States helped calm those fears. The U.S.-born archbishop, president of the Lithuanian bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service, "The old Soviet empire mentality is still alive, and there are many in Russia who consider the three Baltic states part of that empire. But Lithuanians have fought hard to re-establish their independence and are committed to maintaining it. They've shown they're willing to pay a price for freedom -- and they're showing it again today in the turnout of volunteers for military service," said the Vilnius archbishop. Although NATO has conducted past exercises in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland, in early 2017 it plans to send about 4,000 troops as a rotational deployment in those countries, said a NATO official in Brussels. He said the decision to place troops there indefinitely was made in light of Russia's 2014 occupation of Crimea. In a Nov. 29 interview with Catholic News Service, Archbishop Grusas said the projected U.S.-led deployments had provided "some reassurance," but cautioned that concern remained high because of repeated airspace violations and the stationing of heavy weaponry in Russia's military enclave of Kaliningrad, on Lithuania's western border.

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  • For late actress Florence Henderson, Catholic faith was her foundation

    CINCINNATI (CNS) -- In what came to be her final interview, actress Florence Henderson told St. Anthony Messenger magazine that throughout her life, through good times and bad, her Catholic faith was her foundation. "I don't ever remember not praying. Bedtime prayers, the rosary, praying for friends, relatives, for the sick and for those who had died. It was a natural part of our lives," she told writer Rita E. Piro, who interviewed the popular actress in August. The story appears in the January 2017 issue of the magazine, published by Cincinnati-based Franciscan Media. Henderson, who died unexpectedly Nov. 24 at age 82, was best known for her role as Carol Brady in the 1970s sitcom "The Brady Bunch." Originally broadcast from 1969 to 1974, the program has never been off the air and has been syndicated in over 122 countries. It remains one of the most beloved and most watched family shows of all time. "I frequently am contacted by people who want to thank me for 'The Brady Bunch,'" she told Piro. "Whether they grew up during the show's original television run or are brand-new fans of the present generation, they tell me how important 'The Brady Bunch' has been in their lives. I wanted to portray Carol as a loving, fun, affectionate mother, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people who maybe had the same situation I did growing up. To think that something I was involved in had such a positive effect on the lives of so many people is satisfying beyond words."

    Supreme Court examines mental ability standards for death penalty

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the second death penalty case before the Supreme Court this term, the justices were asked to consider if the state of Texas used accurate standards to measure intellectual ability to determine if a person can be executed. The court has previously ruled that the execution of the intellectually disabled violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but it has largely left it up to the states to implement the ruling. Moore v. Texas examines how Bobby James Moore has remained on death row despite claims by his lawyers that he is intellectually disabled. Texas uses its own criteria to evaluate the intellectual ability of death-row inmates, and that criteria, adopted in 1992, determined that Moore passed a test and could face the death penalty for a murder he committed in 1980 when he and two other men robbed a supermarket and fatally shot one of the store's employees. Moore's attorney, Clifford Sloan, argued before the court Nov. 29 that the state's outdated standards unfairly kept Moore on death row. When he was 20, Moore was sentenced to death, and more than 30 years later, he was again sentenced to death, but a state trial court determined that he was intellectually disabled and couldn't be executed. On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the decision, stating that Moore had not established that he was intellectually disabled.

    Advocates of refugees, immigrants seek to calm postelection fears

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- As the American people continue to unpack exactly what the election of Donald Trump means for the country, those who work with vulnerable populations such as refugees and immigrants have serious concerns and questions about what the future holds. President-elect Trump made the issue of immigration one of the foundations of his campaign. He promised to round up those in the country without legal permission and deport them, and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; he also talked about enacting a ban on Muslims entering the country until a system for what he called "extreme vetting" of refugees can be put in place. In the days following Trump's election as president, the Catholic Charities Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Diocese of Nashville began receiving calls from school counselors seeking assistance for how to talk with refugee children who are afraid of being sent back to the countries they fled. "These are calls we haven't gotten before," said Kellye Branson, Refugee Resettlement department director. "We want to calm their fears," Branson said, noting that anyone who arrived in the country through the refugee resettlement program is here legally and faces no imminent threat of deportation. However, "we're kind of in a holding position, waiting to see what policy implications are for the future," she told the Tennessee Register, Nashville's diocesan newspaper. The president has the authority to set the number of refugees accepted annually by the United States. President Barack Obama has raised it from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016 to 110,000 for 2017. Trump could reduce that number for future years.

    Catholic leaders call on Congress to increase humanitarian aid in budget

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The head of Catholic Relief Services and the chairmen of two U.S. bishops' committees have urged congressional leaders to approve additional funding for humanitarian relief and recovery operations as part of a comprehensive budget measure for fiscal 2017. The Catholic leaders wrote a letter Nov. 28 in support of a request by the Obama administration for Overseas Contingency Operations funds to address the growing needs of those forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters around the world or as a result of the ongoing fight against Islamic State militants. They urged action before the Dec. 9 deadline that Congress faces on the federal budget. The government is funded through that date because of a continuing resolution the House passed -- and President Barack Obama signed -- at the end of September to avoid a government shutdown. "More than 50,000 people have already fled Mosul, joining the approximately 3.3 million Iraqis who have been internally displaced since ISIS began occupying parts of Iraq in 2014," stated the letter, released by Baltimore-based CRS Nov. 29. "(We) believe that as the world's wealthiest nation, we have an obligation to help the innocent who fall victim to war, to protect the marginalized and to lift people out of poverty."

    Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg retires; Bishop Parkes named successor

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, and named as his successor Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida. The changes were announced Nov. 28 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop Lynch, who has headed the St. Petersburg Diocese since 1996, is 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. Bishop Parkes, 52, has been the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee since 2012. "I'm very grateful to Pope Francis for appointing me bishop of St. Petersburg," Bishop Parkes said in a statement. "It has been a joy to serve as bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee for the past four and a half years. I'm going to miss the panhandle and all those I've had the pleasure of meeting during my time here." He will be installed as the fifth bishop of St. Petersburg Jan. 4 at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.

    Call for entries issued for annual Gabriel Awards

    DAYTON, Ohio (CNS) -- The call for entries has been issued in the annual Gabriel Awards sponsored by the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals, which has its headquarters in Dayton. "New media" has been added to the award categories, with prizes for video, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and New Media Campaign of the Year award. The categories that have sustained the Gabriels for the past half-century, though, return, as film, radio and television -- with its subcategories covering documentary, arts, entertainment, news and community awareness -- will continue. Special awards also will be given to the radio and TV stations of the year in both the commercial/public and religious fields, demonstrating outstanding achievement in overall efforts. The entry fee is $175 for all categories, which include religious, ecumenical or interreligious, arts and entertainment, news and informational, and children's programs. The entry deadline is Jan. 20. Entry details and forms can be found at

    Pope, archbishop express condolences over Fidel Castro's death

    WASHINGTON (CNS) - In a video message, Cuban President Raul Castro announced the Nov. 25 death of his 90-year-old brother and longtime Cuban leader and Communist icon whom many in Latin America know by just one name: Fidel. "It is with great sorrow that I come before you to inform our people, friends of our America and the world, that today, November 25, 2016, at 10:29 p.m., the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz passed away," said his brother Raul, who took over control of the island in 2006, after Fidel Castro, became too sick to govern. Until that year, Fidel Castro had ruled Cuba in some form since 1959, the year he led a revolution that toppled the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Over the years, he survived attempts to be toppled by others, including the United States. He gained fame throughout Latin America, where many saw him as a David-against-Goliath figure each time he denounced the commercial, "imperialist" interests of the U.S. as attempts to rob the region of its riches. But others saw Castro as a menace and a dictator, particularly those whose properties were seized when his regime nationalized homes and businesses on the island nation without compensation. Recognizing the complexity of the different feelings the Cuban leader evoked in life -- and now in death -- Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, where many Cuban exiles live, released a brief statement Nov. 26: "His death provokes many emotions -- both in and outside the island. Nevertheless, beyond all possible emotions, the passing of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, asking for peace for Cuba and its people."

    'Fear of God' isn't fright, it's being humble, childlike, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God reveals his mysteries, not to the wise and learned, but to those who are childlike, that is, to people who are humble and fear the Lord, Pope Francis said in a morning homily. "Fear of the Lord isn't fright. No. It is living the command God gave our father Abraham, 'Walk in my presence and be blameless.' Humble. This is humility. The fear of the Lord is humility," the pope said Nov. 29. During morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives, the pope reflected on the day's readings. When the prophet Isaiah talks about a small shoot sprouting from the stump of Jesse, the pope said, he is illustrating God's way of revealing himself through small, simple things. The Lord will come not as the leader of a great army to liberate his people, the pope said, but as a tiny bud. Jesus, too, in the Gospel reading from St. Luke, says God keeps things hidden "from the wise and learned," but reveals them to "the childlike."

    Year of eating cactus fruit: Drought causes extreme hunger in Madagascar

    CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Hunger levels are so severe in drought-ridden southern Madagascar that many people in remote villages have eaten almost nothing but cactus fruit for up to four years, said a Catholic Relief Services official. Eating this fruit leaves crimson stains on people's faces and hands, and there is a "shame of poverty associated with these stains in Madagascar," an island nation 250 miles off the coast of mainland Africa, said Nancy McNally, CRS information officer for East and Southern Africa. The cactus plant "is the only thing that grows" in southern Madagascar, and the plants "are growing everywhere" in earth "that looks like white silt," she said in a Nov. 23 telephone interview from Nairobi, Kenya. A father of three, sitting with his wife and children outside the town of Beloha in southeastern Madagascar, "told me that his family had been living on cactus fruit for a year," McNally said. "With whatever money he could make" from finding something to sell, he would buy food for the youngest child, she said, noting that "this would amount to a little bit of rice once in a while for the boy, who was about a year old. It's the worst poverty I've seen," McNally said, noting that the severe drought in southern Madagascar has led the U.N. to warn of potential famine, "a word that is very rarely used for fear of raising a false alarm."

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  • Archbishop says new auxiliaries to bring many gifts, charism to new role

    DETROIT (CNS) -- On the day before Thanksgiving, Pope Francis gave the Archdiocese of Detroit two very good reasons to be thankful. Less than a month after the archdiocese found out it would be losing one of its auxiliary bishops, the Vatican announced it would be gaining two more as Pope Francis appointed Detroit priests Father Gerard W. Battersby and Father Robert J. Fisher to episcopal ministry. The pope's appointments were announced Nov. 23, just days after the conclusion of the archdiocese's Synod 16, which was headed in part by now-Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, who served for five years as a Detroit auxiliary and was named coadjutor archbishop of Agana, Guam, Oct. 31. He was scheduled to arrive there Nov. 30. Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron praised the auxiliaries' appointments, saying the bishops-designate are "two well-loved and respected priests" who will "bring a rich set of gifts and talents to the roles they will play in leading our community in our mission to share the good news of Jesus." An ordination Mass for Bishops-designate Battersby and Fisher will be celebrated Jan. 25 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

    Miami archbishop recalls Catholic persecution in Cuba, prays for peace

    MIAMI (CNS) -- On the day the news of Fidel Castro's death spread, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami was one of the first Catholic Church officials to respond early Nov. 26. "Fidel Castro is dead," he wrote in a statement. "The death of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, calling for peace for Cuba and its people." Later that day at Ermita de la Caridad, a Miami shrine that honors Cuba's patron Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and one built, he said in his homily, "with the sacrifices of the (Cuban) exiles," he focused on the suffering of Catholic Cuba and the news of Castro's death. The 90-year-old former leader of Cuba reportedly died late at night Nov. 25. "The Cuban people are a noble people, but also a people who suffer," Archbishop Wenski said. "And now, on the eve of this first Sunday of Advent, to emphasize the words of Christ 'at the hour you least expect, the Son of Man will come,' we have learned that Fidel Castro has died." He continued: "Each human being, each of us, will die. We will all be judged one day. Today, it is his (Fidel Castro's) turn. God's judgment is merciful, but it doesn't cease to be just."

    Sulpicians mark 225 years of training men to be priests

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In October 1791, five men began studies for the priesthood at the first seminary in the United States, just a couple years after the Diocese of Baltimore was established as the first in the country in 1789. At the time of that humble beginning -- when Bishop John Carroll, Baltimore's first bishop, welcomed four priests from the Society of St. Sulpice and the five seminarians -- the Diocese of Baltimore encompassed the whole fledgling nation. Sulpician Father Phillip J. Brown, president rector of today's St. Mary's Seminary and University, noted in his welcome to commemorate that occasion that the seminarians began their studies at St. Mary's downtown on Paca Street a month before Georgetown University in Washington opened, making the Baltimore seminary the oldest American institution of higher learning. The remark brought a chuckle of pride from the congregation gathered Nov. 15 in the seminary's chapel to mark the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the Sulpician fathers in America and the founding of St. Mary's Seminary and University. The prayer service included the conferral of an honorary doctorate of divinity degree on Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec and now prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.

    By plane, train and bus, Chaldean priest visits Iraqi refugees in Turkey

    ISTANBUL (CNS) -- Holding a golden chalice and paten with a single hand, Father Remzi Diril slowly moved from one person to another, distributing the Eucharist. He reached for a consecrated host, dipped it in the chalice, and gave it to a woman in her 40s, whose head was covered with a veil. With chants in the background and incense filling the air, the moment inspired reverence. Yet the Mass was not in a church; it was in an apartment in Kirsehir, a small, conservative city in the heart of Turkey, a Muslim-majority country. Being the only Chaldean Catholic priest in charge of pastoral work in Turkey, Father Adday, as he is known, has become a true itinerant priest, a road warrior who, each year, logs thousands of miles tending his flock, the community of Iraqi Christian refugees in Turkey. Their exact number is unknown, but it is estimated to be 40,000. Since he was ordained two years ago, Father Adday, 34, has baptized more than 200 children, married more than 20 couples and administered the last rites to more than 30 people. He also is on his fifth suitcase. "So far this year we have celebrated first Communion for more than 100 children. And last year it was more than 150," he said.

    Revelers in Little Havana seek new future for Cuba after Castro's death

    MIAMI (CNS) -- South Florida Cuban-Americans poured into the streets of Miami's Little Havana throughout the Nov. 25-26 weekend, starting almost immediately after learning that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had died Nov. 25. Though there was an undeniable sense of glee and Latin dancing in the streets, many of the revelers were quick to say they were celebrating the end of the principal symbol and founder of the Cuban communist dictatorship rather than anyone's passing away. Cuban media announced the death of the 90-year-old Castro sometime late the night of Nov. 25, ending the decades long influence of Latin America's iconic socialist revolutionary who withstood open tensions with some 11 U.S. presidencies. Many in Miami didn't know about what was a locally momentous development until the morning of Nov. 26. "I was listening to the news as I was waking up and I didn't know if it was real or if I was dreaming, but had I known about it last night, I would have been here then too," said Elena Suarez, a member of St. John Neumann Parish in South Miami and daughter of the late Roberto Suarez de Cardenas, publisher and founder of El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald newspaper.

    For Cuban exiles, painful memories mix with relief at Castro's death

    MIAMI (CNS) -- While many celebrated loudly on the streets, the death of Fidel Castro triggered a more subdued reaction among the Cuban exiles who attended the noon Mass Nov. 26 at the National Shrine of Our Lady Charity. "Today is a day like any other," Luis Gutierrez told the Florida Catholic, Miami's archdiocesan newspaper. "The fact that 'el caballo' has died means nothing." Gutierrez used the Cuban slang -- "caballo," or horse -- for Castro, whose death had been announced earlier that morning. The 90-year-old reportedly died late at night Nov. 25. But his 57-year-old regime continues to rule Cuba, with his younger brother, Raul Castro, now at the helm. That is why, despite the joy on the streets of Little Havana, Westchester and Hialeah, the death of Fidel Castro in 2016 means much less than it would have in 1976 or even 2006. An oppressive regime still shackles basic freedoms on the island, keeping a stranglehold on a beleaguered economy.

    Pope indicates he will travel to Ireland in 2018

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the pope confirmed he will visit Ireland in 2018 and that trip organizers would look at the possibility of a stop in Northern Ireland. The pope and prime minister met Nov. 28. A Vatican statement said the two discussed the Catholic Church's contributions to Ireland, particularly "in the social and educational fields," and about how important it is for Christians to take an active role in public life, "especially in the promotion of respect for the dignity of every person, starting with the weakest and defenseless." Migration, high levels of unemployment among youths and the political and institutional challenges faced by Europe also were on the agenda, the Vatican said. After the meeting, Kenny told reporters that Pope Francis confirmed his intention to attend the next World Meeting of Families, which is scheduled for Dublin in 2018. According to the Irish Independent newspaper, Kenny said he spoke to the pope about "a number of issues that would, in my view, help greatly his visit when it comes in 2018," including the need to strongly condemn clerical sexual abuse as he did during his visit to the United States in 2015.

    Grace, not money, must guide financial choices of religious, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as "the habit does not make the monk," taking a vow of poverty does not automatically mean a consecrated person lives with a detachment from material things and in solidarity with the poor, Pope Francis said. In fact, "the hypocrisy of consecrated men and women who live like the rich wounds the consciences of the faithful and damages the church," the pope said in a written message Nov. 26 to treasurers of religious orders. Taking a vow of poverty and having no personal property is not fulfilling the vow "if my institute allows me to manage or enjoy all the goods I desire," the pope told the religious, who were in Rome for a symposium on economics and religious life. The founding "charism" -- literally "grace" -- or ideal of a religious order is not "static or rigid," the pope said. Rather, members of orders must continually look at the world and the church and discern how God wants that original grace to be lived in the world today with the human and material resources the order has. In the world at large, but particularly in religious life, he said, what one does with money is never morally neutral: "Either it contributes to building relationships of justice and solidarity or it generates situations of exclusion and rejection."

    Catholic leaders in Holy Land pray for those hit by wildfires

    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in the Holy Land expressed solidarity with those affected by regional wildfires, which continued to burn after five days. "We thank God for the fact that the majority of human injuries were light; we express our solidarity with those who suffer from physical or material damage," they said in a Nov. 25 statement. "Our country needs the fire of love which unites people, expands hearts and thoughts and enables a safe life full of faith, justice and love," they said. By Nov. 28 security officials said most fires were under control; of the 90 fires that broke out throughout Israel and the West Bank, 40 were suspected arson, they said, adding they believe the outbreak of the initial fires was due to a combination of negligence, accidents and dry, windy weather after a two-month drought. Local mosques and Christian institutions made themselves available for those evacuees in need of a place to stay, though the majority of the people stayed with family and friends or in hotels.

    Father Kolvenbach, former Jesuit superior, dies in Beirut

    ROME (CNS) -- Jesuit Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, whose service as superior general of the Society of Jesus marked a return to normal governance after a period of tension with the Vatican, died in Beirut Nov. 26, four days before his 88th birthday. After the Jesuit general congregation accepted his resignation as superior in 2008, he returned to Lebanon and served as an assistant librarian at the Jesuit-run St. Joseph University in Beirut. In a message of condolence to Father Arturo Sosa, the current superior, and his brother Jesuits, Pope Francis praised Father Kolvenbach's "complete fidelity to Christ and his Gospel" and his "generous commitment to exercising his office with a spirit of service for the good of the church." When Father Kolvenbach was chosen as superior general in 1983, his election marked the end of a two-year period in which a papal delegate, Jesuit Father Paolo Dezza, led the society. St. John Paul II had bypassed the Jesuits' normal governing structure when he named Father Dezza interim head of the society after Father Pedro Arrupe, then-superior general of the Jesuits, suffered a stroke. The pope's action troubled many Jesuits, who saw it as a lack of papal trust in the order and its members' ability to govern themselves.

    Pope speaks to Jesuits about discernment, vocations, poverty

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The approach to morality used in "Amoris Laetitia" is the same used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: They reaffirm general principles while encouraging pastoral care that recognizes a person's personal situation and seeks to lead them to holiness, Pope Francis said. When he was a seminarian, Pope Francis said, "The whole moral sphere was restricted to 'you can,' 'you cannot,' 'up to here, yes, but not there.' It was a morality very foreign to discernment," the pope told members of the Jesuit general congregation in late October in a 90-minute question-and-answer session. The Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica, published a transcript of the exchange Nov. 24. "Discernment is the key element: the capacity for discernment," he told the Jesuits in Rome, recalling that in July he had told Jesuits in Poland the same thing, asking them to teach the art of discernment to diocesan seminarians and priests. "We run the risk of getting used to 'white or black,' to that which is legal," he said. "One thing is clear: today, in a certain number of seminaries, a rigidity that is far from a discernment of situations has been introduced. And that is dangerous, because it can lead us to a conception of morality that has a casuistic sense."

    Pope asks scientists to find solutions, declare rules to save planet

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Humanity does not own God's gift of creation and has no right to pillage it, Pope Francis said. "We are not custodians of a museum and its masterpieces that we have to dust off every morning, but rather collaborators in the conservation and development of the existence and biodiversity of the planet and human life," he said Nov. 28. The pope addressed experts attending a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Nov. 25-29 to discuss the impact of scientific knowledge and technology on people and the planet. People in the modern world have grown up "thinking we are the owners and masters of nature, authorized to plunder it without any consideration for its secret potential and evolutionary laws, as if it were an inert substance at our disposal, causing, among other things, a very serious loss of biodiversity," he said.

    Follow drug supply chains to corrupt banks, financiers, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called for protecting the dignity of substance abusers and condemned the corruption and incompetence that trap so many innocent people in the snares of addiction. The "vast, powerful networks" behind the drug trade kill not only those who become slaves to drugs, he said, they also kill those "who want to destroy this slavery" -- such as judges or others who seek to stamp out criminal organizations. The pope spoke Nov. 24 to dozens of experts in medicine, science, the judicial system, government and social policy and pastoral care, who attended a special study session at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Those gathered Nov. 23-24 discussed solutions to drug use and abuse, and the most effective forms of prevention. The pope underlined the inherent dignity of all people who struggle with substance abuse, and asked that they be listened to and treated appropriately, not looked at as if they were some kind of "object or broken device."

    Neglect, bullying hurts both victims and aggressors, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Indifference to people's problems and picking on others hurts not just those who are neglected and discriminated against, it also harms the perpetrators, Pope Francis said. People who abuse their power or are negligent "end up staying closed up inside themselves and prevent themselves from encountering the flesh of their brothers and sisters, which is the necessary path for discovering the good," he said Nov. 26. Speaking with young volunteers, government officials and organizations involved in Italy's national civil service programs, the pope praised their efforts in promoting the common good and social justice. Volunteering for others is a valuable and indispensable part of helping communities, especially the weakest, he said. In fact, the pope said, the quest for a fair, just and fraternal community "is betrayed every time one passively helps increase the inequality between members of society or between nations of the world; when assistance to the weakest sectors is cut back without guaranteeing other forms of protection; when dangerous mentalities of rearmament are accepted and precious resources are invested for buying arms -- this being a real scourge; or when the poor become a hidden danger and instead of taking them by the hand, they are exiled to their misery."

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