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  • National Geographic magazine's cover story reveals Mary's appeal

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Maureen Orth, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine who has written about music icons, world leaders and Hollywood celebrities, tackled a completely different subject for National Geographic magazine: the Virgin Mary.

    For the magazine's December cover story, "Mary the most powerful woman in the world," Orth visited several countries and interviewed dozens of people with strong devotional ties to the Mary -- including from those who claim to have seen her, those who believe her intercession has healed them and those seeking her spiritual guidance and intercession.

    In the magazine's Washington office Nov. 24, Orth, widow of Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press,'' who died in 2008, said what made the biggest impression on her while interviewing people for the article was Mary's universal appeal across diverse cultures.

    "It was a huge journey all over the world," she said, noting that what particularly stands out after a year of visiting Marian devotional sites in Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Mexico, Egypt and Rwanda is that Mary is the "hope and solace of so many people including Muslims."

    The Muslim appreciation of Mary, as a "holy woman of God," she told Catholic News Service, "is a bridge that ought to be explored," especially in this time of strife caused by religious extremism.

    Orth, a practicing Catholic, who certainly knew about Mary before this assignment, said she learned a great deal from talking with scholarly experts and reading mystics who wrote about the life of Mary but whose observations didn't make it into the article.

    She came away with a "more personal relationship" with Mary than an intellectual one, saying she understood Mary more as a person after talking with so many who are devoted to her.

    She also witnessed the deep faith of many who have traveled great distances to be where apparitions of Mary are said to have taken place such as Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where six village children said they first saw Mary in 1981 and continue to see apparitions there. A Vatican doctrinal congregation is still studying these claims.

    In the small village, Orth met four stage-4 cancer victims last November: Two have since died, one is under treatment and another shows no signs of the disease. All four spoke of spiritual conversions and inner peace, she said.

    A 59-year-old hockey dad from Boston told Orth that in 2000 one of the Medjugorje visionaries prayed with him for a cure of the cancer that riddled his body, giving him only months left to live. During the prayer, he felt a sensation of heat in his body. When he went back to Boston a week later, a CT scan at Massachusetts General Hospital revealed that his tumors were almost gone.

    Since then, he's been back to Medjugorje 13 times.

    The editors at National Geographic wrote in the margin by Orth's account of his story: "Why do miracles happen to some people and not others?" Orth, who doesn't have an answer to that theological query, noted the challenge of explaining spiritual accounts in a scientific magazine.

    One of Orth's most inspiring stops for the story, primarily because she had not been unaware of it, was the small village of Kibeho, Rwanda, described as the place where Mary appeared to three young girls in the 1980s and foretold the genocide that took place in that country in 1994.

    In 2001, that Vatican verified the claims of the three girls. One had been killed in the genocide, one became a monastic sister in Italy and the third fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then Kenya during the three-month onslaught when the majority Hutu attacked the minority Tutsi and more than 800,000 people were killed.

    The girls, Orth writes, "said they spent countless hours in conversations with the Virgin, who called herself Nyina wa Jambo, Mother of the Word. Mary spoke to the girls so often that they called her Mama."

    But even though Mary is said to have spoken of the love of Jesus and gave these girls motherly advice, she is also said to have shown them images of heaven, hell and purgatory along with horrific images of genocide that she warned could happen if Rwandans did not renew their hearts and dispel evil.

    Orth said that the people she spoke with who said they saw apparitions all seemed genuine. She approached them as she would an investigative journalist. Their stories have been consistent throughout the years and they also have undergone extensive questioning from Vatican officials.

    Orth pointed out that very little is known about Mary from the Bible, but as her story reveals, the lack of details about Mary has not stopped people from reaching out to her in prayer and devotion as a way to better understand and approach God.

    "The number of people who use her as their guide and their way to a higher meaning, that was impressive across the board," Orth said.

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    Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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  • Anglican ordinariate's incoming bishop, predecessor discuss transition

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop-designate Steven J. Lopes is not a former Anglican and has never hewed to the Anglican tradition. But he may be as conversant with Anglicanism as any Catholic cleric can be. From his work over the past 10 years at the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he helped guide the process for American and Canadian Anglicans congregations wishing to join the Catholic Church with the establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, based in Houston. On Nov. 24, Pope Francis appointed Bishop-designate Lopes, a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, as the ordinariate's first bishop. His episcopal ordination will take place Feb. 2 in Houston. Bishop-designate Lopes, 40, succeeds Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, himself a former Episcopal bishop in Texas who became a Catholic in 2007 and was appointed four years ago to head the ordinariate created by the Vatican to serve former Anglicans living in full communion with the church. Despite having the title of monsignor, he had the full rights as a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he said during a Nov. 24 teleconference announcing the appointment and discussing the transition about to take place next year. Calling Bishop-designate Lopes "my dear friend," Msgr. Steenson said, "It was a year ago when I really felt convicted that we needed to move in this direction (to name a bishop). We've worked really hard on this over the last months."

    After police raid, JRS worker finds tables turned with refugees

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- Marcella Villalobos Cid, 36, lives in Saint-Denis, a working-class neighborhood in the north end of Paris, with her husband, Guillaume, and their 2-year-old daughter, Kateri. In her job as coordinator for Jesuit Refugee Service's hospitality network, Villalobos often finds herself concerned for refugees and their families. After police raided a Saint-Denis apartment for terrorists Nov. 18, Villalobos found herself on the opposite end of the concern spectrum. "Every time I hear about airstrikes being launched in Syria, I send text messages to refugees and ask them if they've been able to reach their families out there. This week, we switched position: It's the refugees themselves who texted me, when Saint-Denis was being raided by the police. Just to make sure that I was okay. Such solidarity is just priceless," she said. Villalobos, who works daily with refugees, said people "must refrain from the temptation of putting in the same bag the terrorists who commit those horrible acts of violence and the refugees who are actually fleeing the violence of those radicals." "To us, it's pure nonsense to believe that jihadists might mingle with refugees and submit themselves to that long, awful and horrific journey on sea and land, toward Europe. Many people have died while trying to get across the Mediterranean. Do you sincerely believe that any jihadist would be willing to take such a risk? It's totally insane. It's just pure nonsense," she said. "The Muslims that are being accompanied by Jesuit Refugee Service are friendly, highly critical of their own country. They even criticize Islam itself," she added.

    National Geographic magazine's cover story reveals Mary's appeal

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Maureen Orth, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair magazine who has written about music icons, world leaders and Hollywood celebrities, tackled a completely different subject for National Geographic magazine: the Virgin Mary. For the magazine's December cover story, "Mary the most powerful woman in the world," Orth visited several countries and interviewed dozens of people with strong devotional ties to the Mary -- including from those who claim to have seen her, those who believe her intercession has healed them and those seeking her spiritual guidance and intercession. In the magazine's Washington office Nov. 24, Orth, widow of Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press,'' who died in 2008, said what made the biggest impression on her while interviewing people for the article was Mary's universal appeal across diverse cultures. "It was a huge journey all over the world," she said, noting that what particularly stands out after a year of visiting Marian devotional sites in Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Mexico, Egypt and Rwanda is that Mary is the "hope and solace of so many people including Muslims." The Muslim appreciation of Mary, as a "holy woman of God," she told Catholic News Service, "is a bridge that ought to be explored," especially in this time of strife caused by religious extremism. Orth, a practicing Catholic, who certainly knew about Mary before this assignment, said came away with a "more personal relationship" with Mary than an intellectual one, saying she understood Mary more as a person after talking with so many who are devoted to her.

    School choice for all is human right, Atlanta archbishop tells U.N. body

    GENEVA (CNS) -- Amendments to the constitutions of some U.S. states are preventing children from low- and middle-income minority families from better educational opportunities than what may be available in public schools, amounting to discrimination, the archbishop of Atlanta told a U.N. committee meeting in Geneva. In remarks to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory argued Nov. 24 that the so-called Blaine amendments violate the basic human right to school choice and that nations are required to end all barriers to parental choice in education. Blaine amendments prohibit the use of state funds at sectarian schools. They are named for Rep. James G. Blaine, R-Maine, who as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1875 proposed such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While the amendment overwhelmingly passed in the House, it failed by four votes in the Senate. The meeting was part of the U.N. committee's review of reports filed by the Vatican relating to its performance under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Among its provisions, the convention requires signatories to describe steps they have taken to advance the rights of people under the law, including education, and to contest practices that lead to racial discrimination.

    Excitement palpable during major archbishop's visit to New Jersey school

    PERTH AMBOY, N.J. (CNS) -- The excitement was palpable at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School in Perth Amboy on a recent Wednesday when Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine, paid a visit. The head of the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church spoke to the schoolchildren about loving God and neighbor. He extended greetings from children in Ukraine to them. A question-and-answer session with the students followed in English, Ukrainian and Spanish -- the major archbishop speaks those languages and six others -- and covered a range of issues, including the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. In response to one boy's question, he said, "Right now there is a war in Ukraine. Ukraine is the victim of foreign aggression. But simple people in Ukraine and in Russia don't want to fight each other. "Every nation wants to live in peace, but some presidents who want to start war are playing a career game," said Major Archbishop Shevchuk. "We have to stop their irresponsibility. Young boys in Ukraine are now dying to stop the war. So please pray for them." His visit to the school, the only one affiliated with the Byzantine Catholic Church in the Diocese of Metuchen, was part of a bigger U.S. trip that includes stops in Washington and Philadelphia.

    MRS director says refugee screening process is thorough, keeps U.S. safe

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The extensive vetting process that all refugees undergo before arriving in the United States "screens out any possible threat of terrorism," said the executive director of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services. "We believe the risk is nil and certainly when we look at this (process) under a microscope, these are the most vetted people that come into our country," William Canny told Catholic News Service. The director said the State Department screening procedure -- which the White House posted on its website Nov. 20 -- is comprehensive and makes security its highest priority. "We're highly confident that it's well done, that it screens out any possible threat of terrorism. Based on that, we're very comfortable receiving these families, which by the way, are mostly women and children," Canny said. Questions about the possible entry into the U.S. by extremists tied to Islamic State militants who control large swaths of Syria and Iraq have been raised since a string of violent attacks in Paris Nov. 13 and the downing of a Russian jetliner over Egypt's Sinai desert Oct. 31, all claimed by the organization. Members of Congress, presidential candidates, state legislators and at least 31 governors have called for the federal government to stop the resettlement of Syrians, saying they feared for Americans' security.

    Arriving in Kenya, pope says tolerance, respect are keys to peace

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- With security concerns looming over his visit, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Nov. 25 urging tolerance and respect among people of different religions and different ethnic groups. Pope Francis was greeted at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers, women ululating and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation's first president, for whom the airport is named. After the brief arrival ceremony Pope Francis traveled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came out and lined the road to greet him. The formal welcoming ceremony took place at Kenya's State House, where the pope met with the president, government and civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps. In his speech, the pope focused on the values needed to consolidate democracy in Kenya and throughout Africa, starting with building trust and cohesion among members of the different ethnic and religious groups on the continent. "Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration," he said. "To the extent that our societies experience divisions -- whether ethnic, religious or economic -- all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing."

    Seoul Archdiocese launches prayer movement for North Korean parishes

    SEOUL, South Korea (CNS) -- To mark the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea and the Year of Mercy, the Archdiocese of Seoul launched a prayer movement, "North Korean Church in My Heart." Seoul Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who serves as apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, North Korea, said the people there "have always been in my prayers." Before a Mass at Myongdong Cathedral Nov. 24, the cardinal said: "Pope Francis has announced the Jubilee of Mercy; I believe the Korean Peninsula is one of the regions that need most the mercy of God. I invite everyone to join me in this prayer movement, to bear in mind the Catholic Church of North Korea, and to show our love and concern with continuous prayers," he said ahead of the opening Mass for the movement. After the liberation of Korea, there were 57 parishes and about 5,200 Catholics in North Korea. After the Korean War, however, the Catholic Church of North Korea underwent persecutions by the government. Only a few hidden Catholics are believed to be in North Korea now. The archdiocese said "North Korean Church in My Heart " is open to anyone who wants to pray for the North Korean Church.

    OSCE media monitors criticize 'Vatileaks' trial of journalists

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Media monitors at the 57-country Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned the Vatican's trial of two journalists and urged the Holy See to honor its international press freedom commitments. "Our main concern is for the protection of confidential sources -- this is a pillar of investigative journalism," said Gunnar Vrang, spokesman for the Vienna-based OSCE's Media Freedom Office. "I can't speculate on whether we'd bring intergovernmental pressure to bear, or on how this case may affect the image of Pope Francis. But there will certainly be public pressure." Earlier, the OSCE's Media Freedom Representative, Dunja Mijatovic, called on the Vatican to drop charges against Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi. The two are among five accused of involvement in leaking and publishing confidential documents about finances in the Vatican, which criminalized the release of "news and documents" in July 2013. Vrang said Vatican claims that the journalists had exerted undue pressure on their informants were "only rumors," and he said the Holy See was expected to respond to international criticisms at a Nov. 26 session of the OSCE's Permanent Council. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists also criticized the trial. In a Nov. 23 statement, it said journalists "should be allowed to carry out their role as watchdog and investigate alleged wrongdoing without fear of repression."

    Lebanon's nuncio visits Muslim bomb victims, stresses nation's diversity

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, visited hospitalized victims of twin suicide bombings in Beirut and said Lebanon's "message of coexistence" needs to be preserved, despite the crises the country is enduring. The Nov. 12 bombings in Beirut's southern suburbs killed at least 46 people and wounded more than 200. The attacks, for which Islamic State claimed credit, occurred a day before the terror attacks in Paris. "We came here today to express our friendship and brotherhood to the injured in Beirut's bombing," Archbishop Caccia said Nov. 23, while visiting the wounded, all Muslim, in two hospitals. The tour was part of an outreach of union and solidarity with those injured in the attack, organized by the Lebanese religious order Mission de Vie (Mission of Life), devoted to serving the poorest of the poor in Lebanon. The nuncio was accompanied by Maronite Archbishop Paul Matar of Beirut; Father Wissam Maalouf, founder and superior of Mission of Life; men and women religious members of the order as well as volunteers.

    Refugees in Lebanon, facing new reality, get help at Catholic-run clinic

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- The three Iraqi retirees met up at St. Anthony's medical dispensary to get medication for hypertension, an ailment exacerbated by the stress of life as a refugee. As they waited their turn, they recalled their life in Qaraqosh, Iraq. "We celebrated everything together," 70-year-old Wissam told Catholic News Service. "We had the biggest celebrations in all of Iraq, especially in summer." That was before the Islamic State seized control of Qaraqosh in August 2014, driving out some 50,000 Christians. Many settled in Lebanon, hoping to emigrate to Europe, the Americas or Australia for a brighter future. The three Syriac Catholics included a school principal, a physics teacher and a self-employed businessman who simultaneously operated five enterprises. In Beirut, they were seeking help as the poorest of the poor at a clinic run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. The refugees' adult children include a doctor and a pharmacist who, in Lebanon, had to settle for jobs in supermarkets. "These are people who are needy and who are seeking medical support," Dr. Hadi Jaklh, a physician who supervises a rotating team of 40 doctors at the center, told Catholic News Service. "Unfortunately, what we see in the media does not reflect 100 percent the reality of things. We don't see (them as) terrorists." On average, 200 refugees are helped at the clinic each day.

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  • Mali's Catholic leaders think attack won't hurt relations with Muslims

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The secretary-general of Mali's Catholic bishops' conference said he fears the Nov. 20 hotel attack in Bamako forms part of a wider Islamist campaign, but insisted Catholic-Muslim ties will not be affected by the latest violence. Msgr. Edmond Dembele said the Nov. 20 assault on Bamako's Radisson hotel, which left at least 20 dead, occurred during the church's annual national pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Mali at Kita, 160 miles from the capital. Muslims also went on the pilgrimage. "Ordinary Christians and Muslims live well together here, attending each other's ceremonies and sharing in community life. I think this crisis, far from weakening ties, will actually strengthen them," Msgr. Dembele told Catholic News Service Nov. 23. "We know there's a minority of Muslims who would like see things change. But they're just a small group, and I'm confident good relations will continue between Christians and Muslims in our country," he added. The representative of U.S. Catholic Relief Services in Mali, Niek de Goeij, told CNS Nov. 23 his agency would "very carefully review" its security after the Radisson attack, but would be "even more determined" to press on with its development and humanitarian projects. "Most of our staff are Muslims, and interfaith relations were always positive and mutually reinforcing here -- I don't think this event will have any impact on this," the CRS representative said. "But although Mali has a rapidly growing population, youth opportunities are extremely limited, and there's a great waste of human capital which any terrorist or criminal group can exploit. The country needs to offer viable alternatives in jobs and livelihoods," he said.

    Kentucky teen says Catholic youth conference 'will change my life'

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- This year's National Catholic Youth Conference was a new experience for Andrew Hawes, one he said may have changed his life. "I've witnessed the most amazing thing in my life -- 24,000 kids kneeling and staring at the Eucharist," the 15-year-old from the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, said Nov. 20. Still visibly moved by the experience of eucharistic adoration the night before, he said, "I couldn't help it, I cried. This will change my life." Teens from 55 parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville joined the thousands of Catholic young people from across the nation at the biennial conference, held in Indianapolis at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. The main events took place Nov. 19-21; an evening orientation for delegation leaders was held Nov. 18. The delegation from the Archdiocese of Louisville included 470 people, 380 of them teens. The remainder were parents, youth ministers and clergy. Some in the Archdiocese of Louisville's delegation were returning to the conference for a second time, but the majority were new to the experience, which included workshops, eucharistic adoration, daily Mass and other activities.

    Cardinal calls youths at conference to extend Christ's kingdom at home

    INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- As 23,000 youths from across the country worshipped together during the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Leanna Long felt "amazingly overwhelmed" to be in the midst of so many people who shared her faith. She attended the conference from her home in North Carolina, where Catholics are a small minority of the overall population. "We know the church is large," said Long, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Chapel Hill, in the Raleigh Diocese. "But to be able to see it and know that I'm not alone (is helpful). We're told that where two or three are gathered, (Jesus) is in your presence. Well, I'm one of one in my school. Is God with me still? The answer is, 'Yes.' Even though I'm in North Carolina and someone else is in New Hampshire, we're still ... praying together," she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. "We're still gathered together, and he's there." In her words, Long captured the church's youthful vitality and diverse universality. Both were on display Nov. 21 as conference attendees were led in worship on the feast of Christ the King by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who was the principal celebrant. In his homily he exhorted his "young brothers and sisters" "to spread out his reign of love, with all the values of the kingdom."

    Journalists claim freedom of press at 'VatiLeaks' trial

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Italian journalists standing trial in a Vatican court defended their right to freedom of the press, while the Vatican prosecution said the way they acquired confidential information was illegal. Emiliano Fittipaldi, author of "Avarice," was granted permission to address the courtroom at the trial's opening session. He expressed his "disbelief" at finding himself being tried by a non-Italian court system when he wrote and published a book in Italy. He said the charges against him were not "for publishing false or defamatory news, but simply for publishing news, an act protected by the Italian Constitution," as well as European and universal human rights conventions. The Vatican criminalized the release of "news and documents" in July 2013. The move came in the wake of the first so-called "VatiLeaks" trial in 2012 when Pope Benedict XVI's butler was charged with "aggravated theft" for giving Vatican documents and papal correspondence to the other journalist on trial, Gianluigi Nuzzi. All five people accused of involvement in leaking and publishing confidential documents about Vatican finances were present at the opening of the criminal trial in a Vatican courtroom Nov. 24.

    Our Lady of Guadalupe shouldn't be viewed as just a Mexican tradition

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a religious and cultural hallmark for Mexican Catholics for centuries, but the custom received little attention from Anglo Catholics in the U.S. before the last few decades. With the growing Latino population in the United States, the presence of Hispanics has steadily increased in Catholic churches throughout the country, creating a greater awareness of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. Catholic scholars say the significance of her feast day, Dec. 12, has risen beyond the Americas with the emergence of the Latin American church on the world stage. The dark-skinned image of Mary, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, also has been identified by leaders of the universal Catholic Church as the face of the new evangelization. The story of how Mary appeared to a poor Aztec Indian in 1531 near present-day Mexico City brought more than 6 million indigenous people into the Catholic faith within a decade. Latinos living in the U.S. celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with zeal. Their fervor for the feast day is a great example for Anglo Catholics, attracting more of them to the celebrations, said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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  • Day's granddaughter urges Catholics to speak out against war, injustice

    DERWOOD, Md. (CNS) -- Dorothy Day's granddaughter Martha Hennessy looks a little like her grandmother with her pulled-back white hair, and although she is soft spoken, she likely sounds just like her activist grandmother, too, when talking about helping the poor and promoting peace. Hennessy spoke about such topics and the influence and memories of her grandmother, who is a candidate for sainthood, at a morning talk Nov. 21 in the church basement of St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood. Her observations, to a group of about 50 people sitting at long cafeteria tables, were not just sentimental musings but challenges, stressing, for example, that Catholics have a responsibility to respond to violence, poverty and wars. She also spoke candidly about her grandmother, noting that even though Day was quoted as saying: "Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily," she is pretty sure her grandmother is "great with the idea" now. She said the church needs Day's example as a laywoman, mother and grandmother who lived her faith intentionally. Day's influence on Hennessy, 60, is palpable. "She has played a role in every decision in my life," Hennessy told the group.

    Some Hondurans seek church help to fight government changes to land

    CHOLUTECA, Honduras (CNS) -- The southern Honduran departments of Choluteca and Valle are lined with dark sand volcanic beaches and mangroves that teem with giant prawns and clams. In the midst of this delicate ecosystem in the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua have fought for centuries over pockets of land and tiny, barely inhabited islands set in a glittering deep blue sea, home to considerable biodiversity. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has launched a new program, "The Time of the South Has Come," and declared the region -- once considered little more than a rocky, drought-prone outpost -- a new "development pole for Central America." But local communities are clamoring for the church's help as they confront plans for a "charter city" free-trade zone and a gold rush they believe sounds a death knell for the region. In July 2014, a shaft in a warren of underground tunnels of an artisanal goldmine in San Juan Arriba, in Choluteca, collapsed and buried 11 miners, killing eight. Four years earlier, a now-disbanded government mining authority had warned the mine was dangerous and should close, but nothing was done. "There is an overwhelming demand from communities affected by new mining concessions that are polluting the environment and trampling on their rights," said Juan Gabriel Mendoza, coordinator of a Caritas Choluteca project providing training and support to communities in nine municipalities. He added that "98 percent of the population are unaware of their rights to consultation and informed consent, prior to mining operations." So far, 153 leaders have received training in human rights and environmental law. The papal encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," is next on the curriculum. Training and other activities are carried out in coordination with some 30 local priests active in the environmental movement, with support from Quebec-born Choluteca Bishop Guy Charbonneau of Choluteca.

    Catholic groups, undeterred by Paris attacks, to attend climate summit

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic organizations advocating to protect the world and its people from the impact of climate change said the terror attacks in Paris had not dissuaded them from attending a major U.N. summit there. "As far as I know, everyone who was planning to go is going. It is such an important issue, at such a critical moment, that we have all been working toward," said Chloe Schwabe, director of the faith-economy-ecology project at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. "As awful and horrific as the terrorist attacks in Paris were, that can't stop us, because there are so many other people suffering around the world ... from the impact of climate change," Schwabe told Catholic News Service Nov 21. She was one of several Catholic organization representatives who told CNS they were moving forward with previously scheduled plans to be present at the U.N. climate change conference, set to take place in the French capital Nov. 30-Dec. 11. The conference aims at limiting greenhouse gas emissions by way of a global accord. The representatives reiterated earlier plans to relay the stories of people already feeling the effects of climate change in Oceania, Asia, Africa and Latin America, in hopes of convincing summit delegates of the need to mitigate climate change through safeguards that do not further compromise the poor.

    Vatican orders five to stand trial in 'VatiLeaks' case

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican judge has ordered five people, including a Spanish monsignor and two journalists, to stand trial in connection with the leaking and publication of documents about Vatican finances. The criminal trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 24 in the small Vatican courtroom behind St. Peter's Basilica. Those called to trial are: Spanish Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See; Francesca Chaouqui, a member of the former Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See; Nicola Maio, who served as personal assistant to Msgr. Vallejo Balda when he worked on the commission; Gianluigi Nuzzi, a journalist and author of "Merchants in the Temple"; and Emiliano Fittipaldi, journalist and author of "Avarice." Announcing the court date Nov. 21, the Vatican said Msgr. Vallejo Balda, Chaouqui and Maio are accused of forming an "organized criminal association" with the aim of "committing several illegal acts of divulging news and documents concerning fundamental interests of the Holy See and (Vatican City) State." Fittipaldi and Nuzzi, the Vatican said, are accused of "soliciting and exercising pressure, especially on (Msgr.) Vallejo Balda, in order to obtain confidential documents and news," which they then used for their books. The books went on sale in early November. The Vatican said that if any of the five are not present Nov. 24, they would be tried in absentia. Fittipaldi and Nuzzi both reacted on their Twitter accounts and in interviews by insisting the Vatican law being used in the case and the decision to bring them to trial is a violation of freedom of the press.

    Immigrants, advocates rally for deferred deportation plan now on hold

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Isabel Aguilar of Owings Mills, Maryland, who is not an American citizen and is not documented, has lived and worked in the United States for 13 years. Suddenly let go from her job after five years, the native of Honduras found she could not apply for unemployment benefits because of her legal limbo. And with her husband, a landscaper, finding work scarce during the fall and winter months, "It's hard, because I don't have any rights." Aguilar, her 9-year-old daughter, Miranda, and 8-year-old son, Rolando, were among some 200 people attending an immigration rights rally Nov. 20 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Rallies there and at the White House marked the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's executive actions to protect from deportation both those who came to the U.S. as children and the immigrant parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents of this country. But his executive actions, which are supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have yet to be implemented. They were put on hold Nov. 9 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which upheld a Texas-based federal judge's injunction against Obama's actions. The Justice Department is appealing the circuit court's ruling to the Supreme Court.

    Education is too selective, elitist, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The educational alliance among families, schools and states is broken, causing a serious situation that leads to selecting to educate only "supermen" chosen solely based on intelligence or wealth, Pope Francis said. "Behind this, there is always the ghost of money -- always," he said. Education has become "too selective and elitist. It seems that only those people or persons who are at a certain level or have a certain capacity have the right to an education." The pope held an impromptu question-and-answer session Nov. 21 during an audience with more than 2,000 participants in a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Christian Education and the 25th anniversary of "Ex Corde Ecclesiae," St. John Paul II's apostolic constitution on Catholic universities. Taking questions from administrators and faculty members, the pope spoke about Catholic identity in education and warned about the dangers of exclusion and educating within "the walls" of a selective and safe culture. Educating that is too focused on the tangible and ignores the spiritual dimension of existence is "the biggest crisis" facing Christian education, he said. "We must prepare hearts so the Lord can manifest himself," which requires an education that strives to reflect "the fullness of humanity that has this dimension of transcendence," he said.

    Trust in God, not worldly things, pope says at Mass

    Do Christians faithfully wait for and depend on the Lord, or do they put all of their trust and sense of security in worldly things, Pope Francis asked in a morning homily. "When our soul, our life is closer to God, it distances itself from so many worldly things, things that are not needed, that do not help and that create distance from Jesus," he said. Celebrating an early morning Mass in the chapel of his residence Nov. 23, Pope Francis looked at the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus praises the poor widow who donated all she had as opposed to the rich, whose offering was just "their surplus wealth." "I like seeing the widows in the Gospel," he said, because they represent the "widowhood" of the church, as she remains faithful to and awaits the earthly return of her bridegroom, Jesus. "The church, when it is faithful, leaves everything as she awaits her Lord," the pope said. "Instead, when the church is not faithful or not very faithful or no longer has faith in the love of her Lord, she tries to make do with other things, too, with other kinds of security from the world, more than from God."

    Faith leaders say refugees from Syria, elsewhere require compassion, acceptance

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Boston cardinal and the Maryland Catholic Conference were among hundreds of faith leaders who called for compassion in addressing the world refugee crisis and stressed the importance of developing a national immigration policy based on humanitarian need. Acknowledging that the times are "dangerous" and that "enhanced security procedures are needed," Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley in a statement Nov. 19 cautioned that in developing an immigration policy, "decisions concerning the specific measure taken require careful deliberation." The Maryland Catholic Conference, which includes the Baltimore and Washington archdioceses and the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, in a statement Nov. 18 called on the country to welcome "those feeling persecution in other countries, including refugees seeking asylum from Syria." The statements came as lawmakers in Congress and governors opposed measures to resettle Syrian refugees in response to a string of extremist attacks in Paris Nov. 13 that left 130 people dead and hundreds more injured. Republicans in the House of Representatives Nov. 19 won a veto-proof majority, 289-137, on a bill blocking Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S. The bill's status in the Senate was uncertain, however. In addition, governors in at least 30 states have called for an end to Syrian resettlement until security concerns can be addressed.

    Vatican Christmas stamps feature manuscript painting of Holy Family

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- This year's Vatican Christmas stamps feature a 15th-century manuscript illumination of the Holy Family. Flanked by a lowing ox and a donkey, Mary and Joseph pray over baby Jesus as angels sing above and poor shepherds approach. The image, painted by an unknown artist, is from the Codices Urbinates Latini 239 (1477-1478) from the Vatican Library. The special edition stamps went on sale Nov. 19 in two denominations of 80 euro cents and 95 euro cents in sheets of 10. The Vatican post office and Philatelic and Numismatic Office also offer a collector's booklet containing four 95 euro-cent stamps and commemorative cover for 3.80 euro. All order requests should be made by email to: The Vatican stamp office will then send a proper order form and methods of payment.

    Pope condemns Mali attacks, calls for acts of kindness in broken world

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Show kindness, understanding and mercy in today's broken and wounded world, Pope Francis said. "Before so many lacerations in the world and too many wounds on the flesh of humanity, let us ask the Virgin Mary to support us in our commitment to imitate Jesus, our king, making his kingdom present with gestures of tenderness, understanding and mercy," he said Nov. 22 -- the feast of Christ the King -- during his Sunday Angelus address. The pope's words came the same day he had a telegram sent to the people of Mali, expressing his condolences and spiritual closeness to those affected by the latest deadly attacks there. At least 22 people were killed Nov. 20 when gunmen raided a luxury hotel in Bamako and held 170 people hostage. The telegram, sent on the pope's behalf by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the pope strongly condemned and was "appalled by this senseless violence." At the end of the midday Angelus appointment in St. Peter's Square, the pope also asked people pray for his Nov. 25-30 visit to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic.

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  • U.S. bishops endorse three sainthood causes; vote moves process forward

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops Nov. 17 endorsed the sainthood causes of a Spanish missionary regarded as a mystic who served in the American Southwest, a Native American and his companions who were martyred in colonial Florida, and a Pennsylvania native who in 1974 became the first quadriplegic priest to be ordained for the Catholic Church. The bishops' action came in a voice vote at the end of a canonically required consultation that took place the second day of their bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore. Their endorsement was needed for the causes to move forward. The three sainthood candidates are Father Aloysius Ellacuria, a Claretian Missionary priest; Antonia Cuipa and more than 80 companions; and Augustinian Father William Atkinson. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez presented the cause of Father Ellacuria, a 20th-century priest from the Basque region of Spain whose ministry was primarily in Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix. The priest, who died in 1981, founded a religious congregation named the Missionaries of Perpetual Adoration, later referred to as the Missionaries of Fatima, reflecting his devotion to the message of Our Lady of Fatima. He was known for spending long periods of time visiting and consoling the sick and dying and also is described as having an extraordinary gift for attracting vocations.

    Syriac patriarch says Western nations have betrayed Mideast Christians

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- The head of the Syriac Catholic Church has accused Western governments of betraying Christians in the Middle East and said it was "a big lie" to suggest Islamic State could be defeated with airstrikes. In a Nov. 18 interview with Le Messager, an online Catholic magazine in Egypt, Syriac Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan said, "all Eastern patriarchs, myself included, have spoken out clearly to the West from the very beginning: Be careful, the situation in Syria is not like that of Egypt, Tunisia or Libya -- it's much more complex, and conflict here will create only chaos and civil war. "They listened and responded: No, the Assad regime will fall in a few months. As I predicted, that hasn't happened, and five years later, innocent people, especially Christians, have no support. The West has betrayed us." French and U.S. warplanes stepped up attacks on Islamic State positions in Syria and Iraq after terrorists killed 129 in Paris and dozens in Beirut. But the patriarch said airstrikes were ineffective at targeting Islamic State leaders because its religiously indoctrinated operatives were well financed and armed and had infiltrated local populations. Patriarch Younan, a native of the Syrian province of Hassake, served for 14 years as bishop of the New Jersey-based Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance for Syriac Catholics in the United States and Canada. He was elected patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Church in January 2009 and is based in Beirut.

    USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services marks 50th year by looking ahead

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services marked its 50th anniversary with a daylong conference Nov. 19 that was hardly an occasion for the group to rest on its laurels but instead brought about 200 people together to focus on ongoing and upcoming challenges. At a Washington hotel, panelists and guest speakers praised MRS for its five decades of work serving and advocating for more than 1 million refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, unaccompanied children and human trafficking victims, but they also urged the agency to keep up the fight and do even stronger advocacy work to help those in need and educate the general public, politicians and Catholics in the pews about why that work is so important. Perhaps the most poignant accolade for MRS' work came from Ericka Santoyo Ramirez, a college student who came to the United States as an unaccompanied minor from Honduras. Ramirez told of her harrowing journey to the United States as a pregnant teenager traveling alone who was helped by a Catholic Charities agency after crossing the U.S. border. Now she is in college, working three jobs and raising her daughter. "Please keep doing what you're doing," she told conference participants, who in turn gave her a rousing standing ovation. Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who was the keynote lunch speaker, likewise thanked the MRS staff for their work, mentioning that a lot had been done and there was a lot more to do. His specific remarks to MRS participants were off the record.

    Palliative care home in Quebec to offer assisted suicide under new law

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- Quebec's new end-of-life care law will go into effect in December, and at least one of its 31 palliative care facilities announced that it will be offering medically induced death, or assisted suicide. By Feb. 1, La Maison Aube-Lumiere in Sherbrooke will offer this alternative to its terminally ill patients. Elisabeth Briere, president of the board of directors of the home, said medically induced death will be offered only in "exceptional situations and as a last resort. And only after all other possible means to soothe the patients' sufferings will have been used. Offering medically induced death is totally coherent with the core values of our general philosophy, which puts the patient at the center of all our interventions. To us, the interests of the patients must always be at the forefront. We also believe that every patient should be offered the possibility to decide, in a free and serene way, how they wish to live the very last moments of their existence," said Briere. Sherbrooke Archbishop Luc Cyr said he was "troubled" by Aube-Lumiere's decision. "When the patient's sufferings are soothed through proper medical care, end-of-life can be an outstanding opportunity to step back, to reflect on the meaning of life and to deepen our faith. Fear and anxiety about one's eventual death thus becomes less acute," said Archbishop Cyr, who also praised the medical and nonmedical staff who offer palliative care.

    Chaldean patriarch welcomes Iraq's changes to national charter

    MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church welcomed a decision by the Iraqi government to redraft the part of a new national charter that would have forced some Christian children to convert to Islam. The Iraqi Council of Representatives agreed, 140-66, to amend the charter after religious minorities, led by Christians, objected to a section that required that non-Muslim children of parents who converted to Islam to follow them into their new faith. After the vote, Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad described the outcome as a victory for justice and equality. "This decision shows support and is an important message for the minorities in Iraq," he told Asianews, a Vatican press agency, Nov. 18. "It is also a clear demonstration of democracy. I am deeply satisfied with the Iraqi parliament's decision," added Patriarch Sako, who had threatened to appeal to international authorities following the Oct. 27 approval of the article by the Assembly of Deputies. In a Nov. 19 report carried by the Assyrian International News Agency, Salim al-Jibouri, council of representatives president, invited non-Muslim politicians to help to rewrite the charter to ensure that all minorities enjoyed rights guaranteed by the Iraqi Constitution, which upholds freedom of religion and conscience.

    Pope meets Ukrainian president, share commitment for peace

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Although the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists continues, Pope Francis and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko still share hope that a political solution still can be found, the Vatican said. Welcoming Poroshenko to the Vatican Nov. 20, the pope greeted him in Ukrainian. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, explained that at the age of 11, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio learned a few phrases of Ukrainian when he served as an altar boy for a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Buenos Aires. Pope Francis and Poroshenko spoke privately for more than 20 minutes. The Vatican said that their conversation was "dedicated principally to matters connected with the situation of conflict in the country. In this respect, the hope was shared that, with the commitment of all the interested parties, political solutions may be favored, starting with the full implementation of the Minsk Accords," a cease-fire agreement signed in September 2014, the statement said. Additionally, the two expressed their concerns regarding the difficulties in providing humanitarian relief, healthcare in areas of the country where the fighting continues.

    Church works to promote peace in Mexico's violent Guerrero state

    ACAPULCO, Mexico (CNS) -- Father Adolfo Silva Pita celebrates a monthly memorial Mass for the deceased in a lower-middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of this tourist town, once famous for sun, fun and celebrities, but notorious now for drugs, crime and killings. Father Silva, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in a working-class neighborhood, said the Mass imparts "a message of comfort, hope and peace" for families who have lost loved ones, often in violent acts. The families also ask for individual memorial Masses, he said, "but there's a list of more than 400 names." Such is the seriousness of the security situation in many of the Acapulco's working-class barrios, far from the well-protected tourist strip. Extortion and kidnap can be common. Acapulco recorded 29 murders in a four-day period earlier in November, while at least 50 schools closed due to security concerns. The city reflects the wider security concerns in the state of Guerrero, which includes Acapulco. The state is known for the kidnapping and presumed killing of 43 teacher trainees in 2014 and is making headlines again for slayings and shootings, including 12 dead after gunmen burst into a clandestine cockfighting ring earlier in November. Bishops in Guerrero responded to the insecurity and to the inauguration of a new governor with a Nov. 1 pastoral letter calling for dialogue and prioritizing attention to victims of violence. Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlo told reporters Nov. 3 that the dialogue and attention should include the victimizers, not just the victims. "Words are a privileged instrument for the authorities to engage citizens, and the citizenry includes those who are criminals as well," he said.

    Priests cannot forget their roots, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Priests are not "mushrooms" that magically sprout at ordination, but they have a history, a community and a family that both they and their superiors must keep in mind, Pope Francis said. "On the day of their ordination, I always say to the new priests: 'Do not forget where you came from; from the flock. Do not forget your mother and your grandmother,'" the pope said Nov. 20. "This means that you cannot be a priest believing that you were created in a laboratory. No, it begins in the family with the tradition of the faith and all the experiences of the family." The pope addressed a group of priests and bishops who were participating in a conference sponsored by the Congregation for Clergy to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's decrees on priestly formation and on the priestly ministry and life. While the seeds planted in the church by the two decrees have grown, the pope said there is "still work to be done" and that proper formation of those who wish to enter the priesthood "must be promoted and cared for" in the seminary. "A priest's path to holiness begins in the seminary," the pope said.

    Proclaim Gospel, worry less about structures, pope tells German bishops

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church in Germany has strong institutions that contribute much to society and are extremely generous internationally, but Christianity must be more about proclaiming faith and less about maintaining impressive institutions, Pope Francis told the country's bishops. "One can truly speak of an erosion of the Catholic faith in Germany," the pope said in a written speech handed to the bishops Nov. 20. The bishops were ending their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican to report on what is happening in their dioceses. "Where in the '60s almost every faithful everywhere attended Mass every Sunday, today it frequently is less than 10 percent," the pope said. "People approach the sacraments less often. The sacrament of penance has almost disappeared. Fewer and fewer Catholics are confirmed or contract a Catholic marriage. The number of vocations to the ministerial priesthood and consecrated life has diminished significantly." To respond to the situation, the pope said, the bishops and other Catholics must "overcome the resignation that paralyzes" and must undertake a "pastoral conversion." A vibrant Catholic community cannot be built on "the relics of the bygone 'good old days,'" but must be modeled on Gospel-based evangelization. Using the example of Priscilla and Aquila, whose missionary work is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Francis said the church needs people of faith who witness to the truth of Christ's love with their lives as well as their words.

    'Dei Verbum' at 50: Where have all the Bibles gone?

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Fifty years ago, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation ("Dei Verbum") urged the faithful to nourish their faith by reading the Bible, putting an end to centuries of seeing direct access to the Scriptures as something reserved to the clergy. Stating that "easy access to sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful," the document stressed that frequent Bible reading allows the faithful another connection to "the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ." Today, Pope Francis repeatedly asks the faithful to carry a pocket-sized Gospel or Bible and to read several verses a day. The pope even had free copies of a pocket-sized edition of the Gospels given to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square at a number of his Sunday Angelus addresses. "Take this Gospel; carry it with you, to read it often, every day," he said in March. "Carry it in your purse, in your pocket, but read it often. A verse, a passage every day. The word of God is a light for our path." The Bible is considered the best-selling book of all time with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and with versions in close to 350 different languages. However, a question remains: With so many Bibles available worldwide, why are there still Christians with limited knowledge or access to the word of God?

    Pray the church stays faithful to God, not money, power, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis condemned a church that worships power, money and "St. Payola," a fictional patron of lucrative kickbacks. The temptation is always there to yearn for worldly security and forget that only God can bring peace, true happiness and redemption, he said in his morning homily Nov. 20. Celebrating an early morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, Pope Francis spoke about the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus cleanses the temple that, instead of being a house of prayer, had become "a den of thieves" (Lk 19:45-48). By driving out the traders and moneychangers, Jesus angered the temple's chief priests and scribes, who were benefiting from all the commercial activity. The leaders of the temple had created a "St. Payola," the pope said. "They were devoted to money and they venerated this saint. They sullied the temple," he said. "The temple is an icon of the church. The church will always -- always -- suffer the temptation of worldliness and the temptation of a power that is not the power that Jesus Christ wants for her."

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  • Priest serving diverse community in rural Georgia is Lumen Christi winner

    RAY CITY, Ga. (CNS) -- The president of Catholic Extension hailed Father Fredy Angel, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Ray City, as "a hidden Catholic hero" and "a light for the church." Father Jack Wall made the comments as he gave the 2015-2016 Lumen Christi Award to the priest, who has helped a struggling rural Georgia parish thrive and grow. "You have come to this beautiful community in Georgia, you have come as a gift to us, to the church in the United States," Father Wall told the Colombian-born missionary priest. "Together with this community, you truly are a sign of light, a light for the larger church." The Catholic Extension award was presented during a Nov. 8 Mass in Ray City, which is in the Diocese of Savannah. Father Wall said the pastor is "a hidden Catholic hero, who has grown and united a previously dispersed and struggling parish in rural Georgia into a dynamic and thriving multiethnic faith community. He really expresses what Catholic Extension is trying to do all across the country," Father Wall continued, "by creating vibrant Catholic communities in areas where Catholics are a small minority, in remote areas and in the poorest parts of the United States."

    U.S. Catholics' support for Eastern Church 'vital,' says major archbishop

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- In 2009, Ukrainian Father Sviatoslav Shevchuk, a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was named a bishop and sent to Buenos Aires, Argentina, as an auxiliary bishop and administrator of the Eparchy of Santa Maria. At that time he was just 38, the youngest Catholic bishop in the world. Just two years later, despite his youth, his brother Ukrainian bishops meeting for a five-day synod in Lviv elected him major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, the head of the entire Ukrainian Catholic Church. The election was ratified by Pope Benedict XVI. During his brief administration in Buenos Aires, his mentor was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis. The two became friends. "I think Pope Francis has deep religious spirituality," Archbishop Shevchuk observed during a Nov. 13-15 visit to Philadelphia. "His special gift is to discern and appreciate each gift from the Holy Spirit, and he was an outstanding father and adviser to me, he introduced me to the council of bishops in Argentina and helped me with my orientation."

    Lay missioners motivated by chance to serve, live simply, find challenge

    MARYKNOLL, N.Y. (CNS) -- Lupe and Charlie Petro want their children to understand the depth of their commitment to living simply and serving others. Tawny Thanh and Hiep Vu are eager to return to return to missionary life after a respite to address family and health issues. Stephen Pope hopes for growth, challenge and a worthwhile experience. They are among the members of the 2015 class of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners organization participating in a 10-week orientation program at the group's headquarters before heading to assignments in South America and Africa. Maryknoll Lay Missioners, known for 10 years by its acronym MKLM, celebrated its 40th anniversary in August. It began as a collaborative effort of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and Maryknoll Sisters, but became a separate organization in 1994. Since 1975, more than 700 Catholics have served as Maryknoll lay missioners in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The current class ranges in age from 23 to 60 and reflects the organization's historical composition of single men and women, couples and families. All have previous experience overseas. The Petros met in Lima, Peru, when Charlie was a Christian Brothers Volunteer at the Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy) school where Lupe had a job as a social worker. They married in Peru and started their family in Colorado while Charlie worked in educational publishing. They have both been active in their parishes in the various cities where they have lived. Their children are now 5 and 6 years old. "We're doing this because of the kids, not in spite of them," Charlie told Catholic News Service Nov. 10. "We want them to understand the depth of our values and found it challenging in the context of the upper middle class."

    Manila protesters call for end to APEC

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- More than 500 protesters in Manila, including dozens of Catholic religious and other Christians, called for doing away with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. On Nov. 19, the last day of the summit in which leaders of 21 economies from the Asia-Pacific met to address trade and economic concerns, protestors gathered in the 92-degree heat and yelled, "Junk-junk APEC!" over and over. Vincentian Father Edprim Gaza was among them. "I represent the church stance of calling our leaders of our country not to participate in this kind of meeting, which aims only to plunder our natural resources and plunder, oppress and suppress our poor people," Father Gaza told Catholic News Service. The priest is based in Manila but works closely with indigenous people on the southern island of Mindanao. He said their main concern is "their ancestral land." He said U.S. President Barack Obama was saying that APEC "must take care of the ecology of the poor country. But the reality (is) in the Philippines, especially the multinational corporations of mining, do not respect our nature," Father Gaza said. During the meeting, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said in a statement the APEC leaders should create policies that would give the marginalized a voice. "It's about empowering the poor so they are heard because we are so used to looking at the poor as recipients of help," he said.

    CRS officials link care for earth, care for poor in report to bishops

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- CRS Rice Bowl for families, student ambassador programs for high school and college students and a fledgling parish ambassador program can help U.S. Catholics "deepen their commitment to an essential dimension of their faith," a Catholic Relief Services official told the U.S. bishops Nov. 17. "I just wish that every Catholic knew about and could be proud of the wonderful works of mercy and justice they are part of" through the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, said Joan Rosenhauer, CRS executive vice president for U.S. operations. Rosenhauer addressed the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 17 in Baltimore, along with Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, who chairs the CRS board of directors, and Sean Callahan, chief operating officer. Archbishop Coakley said CRS works in 100 countries, having an impact on 85 million people. He said more than 60 million people are currently "displaced from their homes by natural or man-made disasters. We are all called to open our hearts and even our homes to welcome those who are most in need," he said. "CRS is responding to these and many other crisis circumstances around the world."

    'American Values' survey shows a nation less tightly knit than before

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A new "American Values" survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute shows widening gaps in how America regards itself, according to the institute's president and CEO, Robert Jones. There are "big partisan gaps, big racial and ethnic gaps" in the data, Jones said at a Nov. 17 forum at the Brookings Institution in Washington where the survey results were introduced. On one key issue, 79 percent of Republicans said terrorism was a critical issue to them compared to 53 percent of Democrats. The surveys were taken before the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, Jones noted, so those numbers may have changed. Another top issue, education, showed an even wider chasm. "There's a 30 percent gap on education," Jones said, with 60 percent of Democrats calling it a critical issue, while 30 percent -- half as many -- of Republicans hold that belief. "You have a public school system that's become increasingly black and brown and becoming increasingly defunded," said MSNBC national correspondent Joy Reid, a panelist at the forum. Asked whether the country's best days are ahead of it or behind it, 56 percent of Catholics agreed with the former, along with 57 percent of black Protestants, 58 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans and 55 percent of members of non-Christian religions. But 60 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 55 percent of white mainline Protestants believe America's best days are behind it.

    Vatican monitoring situation in Central Africa, but pope plans to visit

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite the ongoing violence in the Central Africa Republic, Pope Francis wants to visit the country Nov. 29-30, plans for the visit are in place, and the security situation is being monitored, the Vatican spokesman said. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, told reporters Nov. 19 that nothing had happened to change those plans. The Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, he said, obviously led to heightened security measures at the Vatican -- "I would not deny that" -- but they have had no bearing on the decision to visit the Central African Republic where people have been dying in civil strife for years and where Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders have worked and continue to work for peace. Domenico Giani, the head of Vatican security, will leave for Africa before the pope goes Nov. 25, Father Lombardi said. He will visit the Central African Republic and make a final security assessment. Before arriving in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Kenya Nov. 25-27 and Uganda Nov. 27-29. It will be Pope Francis' first ever visit to Africa, Father Lombardi said.

    If miracle approved, Blessed Teresa could be canonized Sept. 4

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican calendar for the Year of Mercy deliberately set aside Sept. 4, 2016, as a possible date for the canonization of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, if her sainthood cause is concluded by then. The canonization would be celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the end of a three-day pilgrimage of people who, like Blessed Teresa was, are engaged in corporal works of mercy. "Sept. 4 is a hypothesis or plan within the calendar for the jubilee year," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service Nov. 19. The Italian news agency AGI reported Nov. 18 that a panel of physicians convoked by the Congregation for Saints' Causes agreed there was no medical or natural explanation for the recovery of a Brazilian man suffering from multiple brain tumors. His healing after prayers for the intercession of Blessed Teresa was submitted as the miracle needed for her canonization. Father Lombardi urged caution, however. "The process is still underway and official communications will be given at the appropriate time."

    Pope highlights need to address impact pollution has on human health

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis encouraged greater attention to those whose health is affected by environmental degradation and pollution. He said he meets so many sick people, especially children, during his weekly general audience or on a parish visit, who are afflicted with a rare disease that doctors can't explain. "These rare diseases are the consequences of the illnesses we inflict on the environment. This is serious," he said Nov. 19. The pope was speaking to hundreds of scientists, health care professionals, theologians, diplomats and other experts taking part in an international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. The conference, Nov. 19-21, discussed the culture of "health and welcoming" in serving humanity and the planet. He encouraged participants to make sure their work considers those who "suffer harm -- serious and often permanent harm -- to their health caused by environmental degradation."

    Use of pornography called 'mortal sin' if done with 'deliberate consent'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops approved a statement on pornography on the second day of their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore. "Producing or using pornography is gravely wrong. It is a mortal sin if it is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Unintentional ignorance and factors that compromise the voluntary and free character of the act can diminish a person's moral culpability," says the approved version of "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography." The bishops passed the document Nov. 17 in a 230 to 4 vote, with one abstention. It needed 181 votes to pass. "This sin needs the Lord's forgiveness and should be confessed within the sacrament of penance and reconciliation," it says. "Those who produce and distribute pornography harm the common good by encouraging and even causing others to sin," it says. The statement, prepared by the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, adds: "There are many victims of pornography. Every person portrayed in it is beloved by God our father and is someone's daughter or son. All child pornography is automatically trafficking and a crime, because it involves the sexual exploitation of a minor for commercial gain and it is against the child's will due to the inability to give consent."

    St. Cecilia Academy for pastoral musicians turns out its first grads

    YONKERS, N.Y. (CNS) -- The St. Cecilia Academy, an educational program run by St. Joseph's Seminary of the Archdiocese of New York, turned out its first graduates in November. The academy trains parish musicians in the history, theology, and pastoral principles of liturgy and sacred music. Those musicians supported by their parishes get a 50 percent tuition discount. Musicians take four master's-level courses to qualify for graduation: introduction to liturgy; liturgical music -- history of sacred music, principles of sacred music, liturgical music planning -- liturgical year/art and environment in worship; and principles of chant -- theory and practicum. "The St. Cecilia Academy matched all of my expectations. It gave me a confidence to know that I now have the basic knowledge, tools, and the resources I need to do my job," said a statement by Shana Mahoney, music director of St. Barnabas Parish in the Bronx borough of New York City. "As professional musicians, we receive top level training at music universities and conservatories, but very little official training that prepares us for the real-world opportunities that many musicians encounter in the church -- i.e., 'church jobs,'" Mahoney added. "This is the program that fills that gap."

    Mexican priest found dead with possible signs of torture

    MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A Mexican priest has been found dead in the state of Puebla with possible signs of torture, four days after disappearing in mysterious circumstances. The body of Father Erasto Pliego de Jesus was found with burns and head injuries Nov. 16 along a rural road in the municipality of Nopalucan, some 110 miles southeast of Mexico City, state judicial authorities said. The authorities did not confirm the priest's identity, but the Archdiocese of Puebla confirmed the priest's death in a brief statement. "The Archdiocese of Puebla deeply regrets that a priest, whose life was dedicated to God and the service of others, has been a victim of violence," Archbishop Victor Sanchez Espinosa of Puebla said Nov. 17. "We thank the authorities for all their help in this regrettable occurrence. And for his family members and parish community, we express our closeness and solidarity and lift our prayers for the eternal rest of Father Erasto Pliego de Jesus." Details of Father Pliego's death remain unknown. A person answering the phone at his parish said they did not have any information on what happened, while press reports provided conflicting accounts.

    Pray for peace, weep for world at war, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "Jesus wept." Pope Francis opened his morning homily with those words as he spoke about the wars and violence engulfing numerous parts of the world. The Gospel reading for Nov. 19 began, "As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If this day you only knew what makes for peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes.' Jesus is weeping today, too, because we have preferred the path of war, the path of hatred, the path of enmity," the pope said during the Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives. "The whole world" seems to be at war today, the pope said, and there is "no justification" for it. "A war can be -- quote-unquote -- 'justified' for many reasons, but when the whole world is embroiled in war like it is today -- there is a world war (being fought) in pieces, here, there, everywhere -- there is no justification. And God weeps. Jesus weeps," the pope said. "It would do us good to ask for the grace of tears for this world that does not recognize the path of peace," the pope said. "Let us ask for the conversion of hearts."

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  • Kenyan security officials on high alert for papal visit

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- A Kenyan bishop said the church is comfortable with the security preparations for the reception of Pope Francis, in the wake of the Paris attacks that appear to have targeted crowded areas. "The church and the Kenyan government have worked well," Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui told Catholic News Service. "We have received sufficient support from the state, because the pope is visiting the country both as the head of the Catholic Church and head of state." Kenya's security agencies are on a high alert following the Islamic State attacks in Paris Nov. 13, and security agents can be seen moving around the venues where Pope Francis will hold public functions during his Nov. 25-27 visit. At the University of Nairobi grounds, security has tightened, and the students as well as the staff have had to contend with stringent security checks. In April, the terrorist group al-Shabab attacked Garissa University, and 147 students were killed. That the papal Mass is being held in a university has caused heightened security plans. "All our gates have added security personnel, and each one has to go through physical body checks at every entry, including the lecture halls and offices. We have been advised not to carry unnecessary bags into the compound and lecture halls," said Joseph Oronjo, a student at the University of Nairobi.

    Bishops back national collection in 2017 to complete shrine mosaics

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A proposed national collection does not usually receive a chorus of praise from bishops, but a cardinal's request for financial aid in decorating the central dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington did. Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington told the bishops Nov. 17 during their fall general assembly in Baltimore that the decoration of the shrine's central dome with mosaic art would complete an architectural plan that began in 1920 with the placing of the building's cornerstone. The cardinal, who serves as the chairman of the shrine's board of trustees, said the central dome would depict the Holy Trinity and Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, with "a procession of saints" associated with the shrine or the United States surrounding them. These would include St. John Paul II, St. John XXIII, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata and St. Junipero Serra, he said. Displaying a sketch of the completed project, he told his fellow bishops that "you can see that it is going to be a strikingly beautiful way to complete the last remaining part" of the national shrine. The central dome rises 153 feet from the floor of the upper church and covers nearly 20,000 square feet. Cardinal Wuerl said it is five times the size of the shrine's Redemption Dome and Incarnation Dome, completed in 2006 and 2007, respectively, and "accordingly the cost is going to be five times the cost of those other domes."

    Pornography, politics statements take center stage at USCCB

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography and additions to their quadrennial statement on political responsibility at their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore. The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting, which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops met in executive session Nov. 18-19. The 2015 version of political responsibility document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," passed 210-21 with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement's introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions; two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for passage. Additions to the document were made to reflect the teachings of Pope Francis and the later encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI. But some bishops said the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do. The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people "outside of this room" would "misuse" the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight. The pornography statement, "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography," says that "producing or using pornography is gravely wrong" and is a "mortal sin" if committed with deliberate consent and urges Catholics to turn away from it. Approval of the statement came on a vote of 230-4 with one abstention, with 181 votes needed for passage.

    Bishop disturbed by calls to end resettlement of Syrian refugees in U.S.

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration said he was disturbed by calls from federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. "These refugees are fleeing terror themselves -- violence like we have witnessed in Paris," said Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee. "They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization." In a statement issued Nov. 17 during the bishops' general assembly in Baltimore, Bishop Elizondo offered condolences to the French people, especially families of the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris in which at least 129 people were killed and hundreds were injured. He said he supported "all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again -- both in France and around the world." But addressing calls from some governors and federal officials -- including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin -- to pause or halt refugee resettlement until the U.S. can ensure the safety of its citizens, Bishop Elizondo said refugees "must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States -- more than any arrival to the United States. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need."

    Resettlement officials call for admission of Syrian refugees to U.S.

    RYE, N.Y. (CNS) -- Fear of Syrian refugees entering the United States in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris is misplaced and antithetical to U.S. values and some governors' efforts to exclude them from their states is likely illegal, according to a coalition of refugee resettlement leaders. Syrian refugees are fleeing terror themselves and want the same things Americans do, including to live in safety and protect their children, Kevin Appleby said. He is the director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Appleby was one of four speakers on a Nov 17 news conference call convened to urge a calm and open response to the plight of Syrian refugees. Speakers said of the more than 4 million Syrians who have fled their country, fewer than 2,000 have been resettled in the United States since 2011. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. would accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in the 2016 fiscal year. More than two dozen governors have said they would not accept refugees from Syria in their states because they are concerned about a possible link between the refugees and Islamic State, or ISIS, which took credit for attacks that killed at least 129 people and injured 352 in Paris Nov 13. Appleby said to "turn our backs" on America's history of offering safe haven "diminishes our standing and moral leadership in the world and our ability to bring nations together to address this humanitarian crisis."

    Bishops at fall assembly approve USCCB priorities, plans for 2017-2020

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops Nov. 17 overwhelmingly approved priorities and strategic plans for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for 2017-2020 in a 233-4 vote. The document, which was a revised version of a draft presented to them at their June assembly in St. Louis, focuses on five major areas: evangelization; family and marriage; human life and dignity; religious freedom; and vocations and ongoing formation. In June, after a presentation on the draft, several bishops said the document needed to be reworked to put more emphasis on helping those in need in light of Pope Francis' emphasis on the poor. At that meeting, the bishops OK'd the draft so it could be reworked to incorporate the feedback. At their general fall assembly in Baltimore, the bishops heard a presentation on the revised document Nov. 16 and voted on it the following day. In comments on the floor before the vote, there were mixed views about the revised document presented by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, USCCB secretary and chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans, along with Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary-elect.

    30,000 American Catholics expected to attend World Youth Day in Poland

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The American contingent to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, in July is expected to top 30,000 pilgrims. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a Nov. 17 presentation during the U.S. bishops' fall general assembly in Baltimore, that the U.S. delegation of young people is expected to be the largest outside of North America. He said that about 13,000 people already were registered for the event. Pope Francis, in inviting young people and young adults to the celebration, connected World Youth Day with the Year of Mercy, which is set to open Dec. 8. The event in the southern Polish city will become a "youth jubilee," Bishop Caggiano said. The bishop, who is working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said people of all ages are invited to attend the weeklong World Youth Day, set for July 25-31. "If everyone can be a pilgrim, where will you celebrate and how will you embark on this pilgrimage?" Bishop Caggiano asked.

    Vatican Nativity scene, tree to be unveiled early for Year of Mercy

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Christmas tree and Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square will be set up and unveiled earlier than usual this year to be ready for the opening of the Year of Mercy. In preparation for the extraordinary event, which begins Dec. 8 with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican workmen broke through the masonry that had walled off the door. Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, led a small ceremony that included prayers and a procession Nov. 17, the eve of the anniversary of the basilica's dedication in 1626. Four Vatican workmen then used a pickax to break through a portion of the wall that covers the Holy Door from inside the basilica. They removed a sealed metal box that, in keeping with tradition, had been embedded in the wall at the end of the Jubilee Year of 2000. The zinc box, which was opened with a blowtorch, contained the keys and handles for opening the holy door, commemorative medals and a papal gold coin marking the last Holy Year.

    U.S. cardinal says forces in Mideast intent on eradicating Christians

    SYDNEY (CNS) -- When Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien was named grandmaster of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in 2011, he found himself embroiled in a war a world away from the jungles of Vietnam where he ministered to dying troops as a young priest. "The forces that are at work now are intent on eradicating the Christian civilization, nothing less," said the 76-year-old U.S. cardinal, who was in Sydney in October to reach out to the order's 600 Australian members. Christians in the Holy Land face "daily horrors," while "our public is very blase about the whole thing," Cardinal O'Brien said. "Unless we face the facts, this radicalism, this extremism, is going to keep spreading," he told The Catholic Weekly, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Sydney. Islamic State militants attacked Assyrian Christians, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, in northeastern Syria in February. Reports on the assault note that the militants emptied about 30 villages, kidnapped up to 300 people, destroyed churches, and forced about 1,000 local Assyrian families to flee their homes. Most disturbing for Cardinal O'Brien is the lack of military response from the United States. "We've had an opportunity to stop those forces" and "we did nothing to stop them," said the cardinal who has spent much of his life working alongside the U.S. military. "Now those Christian villages have been eradicated, (people) killed, taken into slavery."

    Dioceses encouraged to plan own Year of Mercy events beginning in December

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- From entering a diocesan Holy Door to undertaking the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Catholics can model a compassionate life during the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. The jubilee period, designated as Dec. 8 through Nov. 13, 2016, can be observed in many different ways that allow every Catholic to be a "credible witness to mercy," Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, explained Nov. 17 during the second day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall general assembly. Repeatedly pointing to Pope Francis' "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Mercy"), which instituted the jubilee, the archbishop called on local bishops and parishioners to heed the pontiff's call to "gaze more attentively to mercy." Pope Francis will open the observance by opening the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 8. Other Holy Doors at sites around Rome are to open in the following weeks. Archbishop Blair said local bishops can designate a diocese's own Holy Door at a cathedral or at a shrine frequented by pilgrims. In Catholic tradition, the Holy Door represents the passage to salvation -- the path to a new and eternal life, which was opened to humanity by Jesus.

    Bishops approve use of adapted missal at presider's chair

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Concerns about young altar servers' weak arms and older priests' weak eyes prompted the U.S. bishops to support an adapted version of the Roman Missal to be used during the times at Mass when the celebrant is seated. Meeting in Baltimore Nov. 17, the bishops endorsed "Excerpts from the Roman Missal: Book for Use at the Chair" by a vote of 187 to 27, with three abstentions. Approval by two-thirds of the Latin-rite members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or 167 votes, had been needed for passage. Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, said the book would contain no new texts and no new translations. It would be about one-third of the size of the Roman Missal, by including only the texts needed at the presider's chair. The full Roman Missal would continue to be used at the altar, he said. "Many priests have observed that the size of the book renders it too heavy to hold for any length of time, particularly for younger altar servers," Bishop Serratelli said in presenting the document for approval.

    Italian priest shot, treated at hospital in northern Bangladesh

    DHAKA, Bangladesh (CNS) -- Unidentified assailants shot an Italian priest in northern Bangladesh Nov. 18, in the third attack on foreigners since late September. Father Parolari Piero, 64, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, was shot several times by three attackers in Dinajpur as he was riding a bicycle. He was treated at a local hospital for injuries to the neck and head, reported Doctors said he might be sent to the capital, Dhaka, for further treatment. Father Piero, a doctor, has lived and worked in Dinajpur for more than 30 years. Currently, he serves at the church-run St. Vincent Hospital and is an assistant parish priest at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. "He was on his way to the hospital from his residence when unknown attackers shot him in the back," said Father Bidya Paul Bormon, a local priest who lives in the same town. Bishop Sebastian Tudu of Dinajpur criticized the situation. "There are a good number of foreign missionaries working in Dinajpur, and the government has been providing police security for them in the churches. Yet, this priest was shot and injured," said Bishop Tudu. There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the shooting.

    Bishops approve budgets, fail to agree on diocesan assessment rise

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops approved a $24.2 million budget for the work of their national conference in 2016, but their vote was inconclusive on a proposed 3 percent increase in 2017 of the assessment on dioceses that funds the conference. The $24.2 million represented unrestricted funds available to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A separate $190 million budget of restricted funds for 2016 include funds subject to "donor intent" such as federal grants to Migration and Refugee Services and national collections for retired religious or other purposes. A third category of "designated funds" to the USCCB Communications Department projected a loss of more than $850,000 next year. The three budgets were approved by the bishops in a single voice vote Nov. 17 during their fall general assembly in Baltimore. But a separate written ballot on the diocesan assessment failed to gain the required two-thirds majority of bishops who head dioceses or eparchies. The vote was 123-49 in favor of the 3 percent increase, and 132 votes were needed to reach the two-thirds majority. Heads of dioceses who were not present at the Baltimore meeting will be polled by mail on the matter.

    God never shuts the door; church always must be open, too, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Because God always keeps open the door of his mercy and offer of salvation to everyone, the doors of every church and every Christian heart must never be closed to others, Pope Francis said. All over the world, individual Christians and the whole church must be seen as "the hospitality of a God who never shuts the door in your face with the excuse that you're not part of the family," he said during his weekly general audience Nov. 18. The pope dedicated his catechesis to the symbol of the Holy Door, which will be opened at St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 8 to mark the start of the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. Holy doors around the world represent the "great door of God's mercy" and are generously opened to receive people's repentance and offer the grace of God's forgiveness, he said. The recent Synod of Bishops on the family was an occasion to encourage the church and all Catholics to meet God at this open door and to open their own doors to others -- "to go out with the Lord" to encounter his children who are journeying, who are perhaps uncertain, perhaps lost, "in these difficult times," he said.

    Bishops elect Msgr. Bransfield as general secretary of USCCB

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops Nov. 17 elected Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield as the new general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has been associate general secretary of the conference for five years, working alongside the current general secretary, Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, whose term is ending. Msgr. Bransfield, a Philadelphia archdiocesan priest, will step into the position in 2016. His term will run for five years. The general secretariat oversees the work of the USCCB on behalf of the U.S. bishops. The bishops chose Msgr. Bransfield over Father Shawn McKnight, former executive director of the USCCB Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. No vote tally was announced by Msgr. Jenkins. The bishops also elected Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati as treasurer-elect. He received 126 votes to 110 for Bishop John M. LeVoir of New Ulm, Minnesota, on the second day of the USCCB's annual fall general assembly in Baltimore. Next year, Archbishop Schnurr will succeed the current USCCB treasurer, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas. The bishops also voted for chairmen-elect for six standing committees: Divine Worship; Migration; Domestic Justice and Human Development; Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations; Catholic Education; and Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Other elections were for the boards of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC.

    Nuns care for disabled at home Pope Francis will visit in Uganda

    KAMPALA, Uganda (CNS) -- Each day, the Good Samaritan Sisters bathe, feed and dress the more than 100 residents of the Nalukolongo House of Charity. The residents range in age from 11 to 102. One resident, who suffers from a spinal injury, has lived at the home for 37 years. When Pope Francis visits Nov. 28, more than 600 people with different kinds of disabilities will pack Mapeera Bakateyamba's Home, as it is known locally. The Nalukolongo Charity Home is situated in central Uganda, but it is home to the needy from different parts of Uganda and beyond. Sister Theresa of Avila Basemera, the home's administrator, said residents come from Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, and the needy are admitted regardless of their religious affiliation. "We take all religions and we don't force them to convert because we are serving the same God," she said. "We take Protestants, Muslims, Catholics and even those who don't profess any faith. Ours is just to give them holistic help." Although the home could accommodate 300 needy people, the nuns are only able to take in 102 people because of lack of financial resources, Sister Basemera said.

    Year of Mercy, Christmas, New Year prayers fill pope's calendar

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' calendar of Masses and prayer services for December and January are a combination of annual Advent and Christmas celebrations and added events for the beginning of the Year of Mercy. In St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass and open the Holy Door, ushering in the Year of Mercy with its emphasis on repentance, forgiveness and the need to go into the world sharing God's mercy. The same afternoon, he will make the traditional trip to the square by the Spanish Steps in central Rome to lay flowers at the base of a statue of the Immaculate Conception and offer prayers. As he did in 2014 and as Pope Benedict XVI did in 2011, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12. The next morning, he will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran and will open the Holy Door there. U.S. Cardinal James M. Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, will preside over the opening of the Holy Door at St. Paul's Dec. 13, the Vatican said.

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  • Political responsibility, pornography statements OK'd by USCCB

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops approved a formal statement on pornography, and an updated revision of a quadrennial statement on the intersection of Catholic teaching in the political arena as part of their Nov. 16-19 fall general meeting in Baltimore. The votes were made during the public portion of the meeting, which ran Nov. 16-17. The bishops were to meet in executive session Nov. 18-19. All votes had to be recorded the old-fashioned way -- by hand -- as the electronic voting system, which brings near-instantaneous results, failed. With the failure of electronic voting, results were not known for hours after the votes. The 2015 version of political responsibility document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," passed 210-21 with five abstentions, and a separate vote on the statement's introductory note passed 217-16 with two abstentions; two-thirds of diocesan bishops, or 181 votes, were needed for passage. It reflects on long-held concerns related to abortion and the needs of poor people. It also references emerging issues related to court decisions on same-sex marriage, public policies that affect religious freedom, and a rising concern for the environment as climate change affects more people around the world. Questions came from five bishops who said that the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do. The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people "outside of this room" would "misuse" the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight.

    In debate on 'Faithful Citizenship,' bishops push for more about poverty

    ALTIMORE (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops adopted a revised version of their quadrennial statement on political responsibility, but not without questions being raised by some bishops who said it should better reflect Catholic social teaching. The questions came from five bishops who said that the document does not adequately address poverty, as Pope Francis has asked the church to do. Despite the concerns, the bishops moved to a vote on the document Nov. 17, the second day of the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They cast two votes, the first for the introductory note, which passed 217 to 16, with two abstentions. They approved the limited revision of the document 210 to 21, with five abstentions. Both needed 181 votes for passage. The most vocal critic was Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, who said he was concerned that because poverty and the environment did not receive the same priority as abortion and euthanasia, that some people "outside of this room" would "misuse" the document and claim other issues did not carry the same moral weight. "It does not take into account that Pope Francis has rapidly transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements, not the truth of them, not the substance of them, but the prioritization of them," Bishop McElroy said.

    U.S. Catholics offer prayers, condolences after 'horrific' Paris attacks

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An outpouring of grief, condolences and prayers came from Catholics across the United States in reaction to Nov. 13 evening attacks in Paris, attacks the French government said were carried out by three teams of Islamic State terrorists. The U.S. Catholic bishops Nov. 14 pledged their prayers for those killed and injured at three sites in France's capital and voiced their support for those "working to build just and peaceful societies. Terror always seeks to separate us from those we most love," said a statement issued by the Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Through their suffering, courage and compassion, Parisians are reminding us that the common bond of humanity is strongest when the need is greatest. To the people of France, we mourn with you and honor the lives lost from several nations, including our own," said the committee, which is comprised of USCCB's officers, committee chairmen and other bishops representing every region of the United States. "To our brothers and sisters in the church in France, your family in the United States holds you close to our hearts. May the tender and merciful love of Jesus Christ give you comfort during this great trial and lead you on a path toward healing and peace," added the statement, issued from Baltimore, where the bishops were meeting ahead of their Nov. 16-19 general fall assembly.

    Women religious offer prophetic witness in modern world, says archbishop

    ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Consecrated religious life has a prophetic dimension that communicates a significant message in the modern world, said the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. U.S. Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia presented the opening keynote Nov. 13 at the Symposium on Religious Life sponsored by the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious. Approximately 500 women religious attended the two-day conference, held in St. Louis, marking the Year of Consecrated Life. "Everything in a religious institute that is directed toward the sanctification of its members can communicate a prophetic message to others," said Archbishop Di Noia, who is a Dominican. "To those who are not Christians -- a revelation; while to those who are -- an encouragement and confirmation. ... It is a grace leading others to seek salvation and a life of holiness -- to seek in the words of St. Paul: life on high in Christ Jesus." Unlike the first prophets or Christ and his apostles, religious communities are not communicating anything that is not already known, but instead share a confirmation of the faith, he said. Their message is expressed in the visible form of religious life, for their own salvation and the salvation of others.

    USCCB president urges bishops pray to 'see as Jesus sees'

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' urged his brother bishops to pray for virtues that would help them be better spiritual leaders. "Lord, give us an understanding heart and a credible moral voice," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, in his homily at a Nov. 16 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. The afternoon Mass was celebrated after the bishops spent the earlier half of the day discussing a varied slate of items as their Nov. 16-19 fall general assembly opened in Baltimore. Archbishop Kurtz also urged the bishops to pray for the "eyesight to see as Jesus sees" and for the renewed grace to love God and serve others. "Help us steer straight," he added, referring to how good administrators have the ability to steer their ships through rough waters. The next morning, the bishops voted on a new USCCB general secretary and committee chairmen-elect; debated and voted on a proposed statement on pornography titled "Create a Clean Heart in Me"; and debated revisions to their quadrennial statement on political responsibility. In the elections, they chose Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield as the new general secretary; he has been associate general secretary for five years. They also voted for Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati as treasurer-elect.

    Ghana's bishops urge citizens to fight environmental destruction

    ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) -- Ghana's Catholic bishops called on Ghanaians to fight the indiscriminate destruction of the environment and supported a hands-on project to fight pollution. "We regret to note once again the persistent pollution of our water bodies, the littering of plastic waste everywhere, the careless felling of trees in our forests and savannah area and the rampant illegal mining (galamsey) operations in our towns and villages," the bishops said in a statement Nov. 13, at the end of their general meeting in Bolgatanga. They praised the idea of a National Sanitation Day on the first Saturday of every month and urged all Ghanaians to actively participate in it, calling it a "Christian duty and a civic responsibility. We urge all Ghanaians to acquire the habit, not only to clean up our surroundings but most importantly, let us all learn how not to make our environment dirty in the first place." The bishops also urged Catholics -- and others -- to read Pope Francis' encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," saying "it provides a good resource for all, but most especially, policymakers." They said all laity are charged with the protection of the environment and should know that the environment is God's handiwork.

    People have right to know environmental causes of illness, doctor says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Patients have a right to a diagnosis that includes the possible causes of their illness, not just treatment addressing the symptoms, said a doctor invited to a Vatican-sponsored congress. The increasing awareness of the impact that pollution and other environmental factors are having on human health should play a greater role in medical assessments and policies dealing with prevention, Dr. Antonio Pasciuto said at a Vatican news conference Nov. 17. The Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry was about to host an international conference on a culture of "health and welcoming" in serving humanity and the planet. More than 500 people -- scientists, health care professionals, theologians, diplomats and other experts -- were expected to attend the conference Nov. 19-21. Pasciuto, who is a member of the European Academy for Environmental Medicine and president of the Italian Association of Environmental Medicine and Health, said many illnesses and diseases are caused by exposure to toxic substances present in the air, water, food and everyday products. Science has found and continues to study the harmful effects of insecticides, pesticides, heavy metals, molds and a whole host of chemicals and particles people put into the environment, he said.

    High court to hear challenge to Texas law regulating abortion clinics

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 13 said it will hear a challenge to two provisions of a Texas law regulating abortion clinics in the state. The 2013 state law requires the clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers when performing abortions and also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital near an abortion clinic. It is the first abortion case the high court has taken in eight years. In 2007, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, which was signed into law in 2003. "The abortion industry doesn't like these laws because abortion clinics would be forced to spend money to meet basic health and safety standards," said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. "For them, this isn't about 'protecting' the women they purport to help, it's about preserving their cash flow. The challenge to the law was brought by a coalition of abortion providers. The case is Whole Woman's Health v. Cole.

    Pray to lead with understanding hearts, credible voices, bishops told

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- At the opening Mass for the annual fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the USCCB president urged his brother bishops to pray for virtues that would help them be better spiritual leaders. "Lord, give us an understanding heart and a credible moral voice," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, in his homily at the Nov. 16 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. He also urged the bishops to pray for the "eyesight to see as Jesus sees" and for the renewed grace to love God and serve others. "Help us steer straight," he added, referring to how good administrators have the ability to steer their ships through rough waters. Archbishop Kurtz acknowledged that he and the other bishops face myriad daily pressures and decisions. In the midst of such demands, he said, the bishops should pray for the grace to do their jobs with the ability to "remain faithful in the midst of cultural challenges" and also to "see the voiceless and the vulnerable in our midst."

    Diocesan-based healing ministry brings church's mercy after abortion

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis is a particularly appropriate time to raise awareness about Project Rachel, the Catholic program that helps people heal in the aftermath of an abortion, three cardinals told their fellow bishops Nov. 16. Cardinals Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, Donald W. Wuerl of Washington and Timothy M. Dolan of New York made an informational report on Project Rachel on the first day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore. Criticizing those who call abortion an "unforgivable sin" and "wrongly claim that the church condemns individuals who are involved in abortion," Cardinal O'Malley said such "misrepresentations are dangerous" because they may keep people from coming to the church for assistance and healing after an abortion. "God's mercy is freely available and cannot be denied" to anyone who seeks it, he said. Cardinal O'Malley said 57 million abortions have been performed in the United States on an estimated 45 million women since abortion became legal in 1973. Since Catholics make up about a quarter of the U.S. population, "10 million Catholic women may have been involved in legal abortion in the past 43 years," he said.

    Philippine church leaders: Don't let poor get forgotten at APEC summit

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- As world leaders started arriving in Manila Nov. 17 for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit, church leaders voiced concern that the poor might be forgotten once again in the high-level meeting. "All economies should benefit as many people as possible because growth, to be growth, cannot be exclusive," said Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Philippine bishops' conference. His remarks were reported by Growth "should always include especially those experiencing hardships, those who are forgotten," he said in a statement ahead of the leaders' summit, which begins Nov. 18. He added that the poor will always be the "priority of the church." Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato challenged APEC leaders to effectively address hunger and poverty during the meeting. The prelate criticized the "trickle-down theory" of economics, saying that the poor should be a focal point of economic development. "We should not be avidly following a trickle-down economy system but something that is bottom-up ... so that the poor people can feel and enjoy the benefits of economic development," the prelate said.

    Accepting invite from Rome's Jewish community, pope to visit synagogue

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will visit Rome's synagogue and meet with the city's Jewish community Jan. 17, the Vatican announced. Invited by Rome's Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, Pope Francis will be the third pope to visit the synagogue; St. John Paul II made his landmark visit in 1986 and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2010. The Jan. 17 visit falls on Italy's annual day for Christian-Jewish dialogue -- a day that has been observed for more than 20 years in Italy to reflect on relations between Catholics and Jews, and recall the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. A similar day of dialogue is also celebrated in Poland, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Jan. 17 is also the date Rome's Jewish community commemorates "Lead Mo'ed" when a torrential rain in 1793 saved Jews from a Roman mob's attempt to attack them. In 1793, anti-Jewish tensions ran high throughout the Papal States because Jews were being blamed for supporting new revolutionary ideas coming from France. A Roman mob descended on the city's Jewish ghetto, intent on burning down its gates and doing violence to its residents.

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  • High court's ruling prompts bishops' pastoral plan for family, marriage

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- As a way to move forward in response to the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage this year, U.S. bishops are planning to develop a pastoral plan for marriage and family life. The pastoral plan, according to Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, will seek the input of the nation's Catholic bishops. He spoke about the plan Nov. 16 in Baltimore during an afternoon session at the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, said the Supreme Court's decision was a "great disappointment," but it was not unexpected. In comments from the floor about the court's decision and how the church should proceed, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, said Catholic leaders need to approach the court's decision much like they did the Roe v. Wade court decision legalizing abortion. He said the church has been active in advocacy work and in getting its pro-life message public. Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Illinois, similarly said the court's decision opened up opportunities for catechesis.

    Archbishop appeals for more priests to serve as military chaplains

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio painted a dire picture of "a pastoral problem that affects all of us" in a report to his fellow bishops about the "desperate" shortage of Catholic priests serving as military chaplains. The head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said there were only 217 Catholic priests serving the 1.8 million Catholics in the U.S. armed forces around the world, and the numbers would soon decline because of retirements and medical leaves. Archbishop Broglio made the appeal Nov. 16 on the first day of the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The presence of priests in the military chaplain corps "has dwindled to the point of being desperate," with priests making up only 8 percent of all military chaplains, he said. With such a shortage, Archbishop Broglio warned, chaplains of other faiths "might easily cultivate Catholic young people seeking spiritual counsel." Acknowledging that the bishops each faced their own priest shortage, the archbishop said he felt like St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who "used to take pieces of coal from the poor she served in order to give to those who were less well off."

    Chinese priest dies under mysterious circumstances

    HONG KONG (CNS) -- A Catholic priest who once operated a website that ran afoul of Chinese authorities has died under mysterious circumstances. On Nov. 11, police informed the family of Father Pedro Yu Heping, also known as Wei Heping, that the priest's body had been found in the Fen River, a tributary of the Yellow River that flows through Shanxi province, reported Father Yu's body was found Nov. 8, a day after the priest was supposed to be arriving in Xingcheng, in northeastern Liaoning province. Church leaders from different parts of China and faithful who were close to the priest gathered in Taiyuan, Shanxi's provincial capital, where his body was found, hoping to get more information. "Two nuns saw Father Yu off for a bus to the train station in Taiyuan on Nov. 6," said a source, who asked to remain anonymous. "Various church members were still able to talk to him over the phone that day." Father Yu was expected to appear in Xingcheng in the afternoon of Nov. 7 to join a catechetical meeting, but he did not show up. Earlier in the day, a nun received a text message from Father Yu's mobile phone. The message contained only one Chinese character -- bie, which could be interpreted to mean "farewell" -- the source said. "No one believed Father Yu, as a dedicated priest, would commit suicide," the source told "But now even a postmortem is not trustworthy."

    Bishops hear details on 2017 Orlando convocation for Catholic leaders

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A 2017 convocation for Catholic leaders represents "a new way of reaching and teaching our people," Bishop Richard W. Malone of Buffalo, New York, told the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 16 in Baltimore. Bishop Malone, who chairs the bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, was joined by two other bishops in a presentation on the national convocation, planned for July 1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, and the communications research leading up to it. The theme of the meeting is "The Joy of the Gospel in America." Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford, Connecticut, who chairs the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, were the other presenters representing the Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, which has been meeting quarterly since June 2009. Cardinal O'Malley said the aim of the research project was to "focus on the people in the pew and why they accept or disregard the church's teachings." The goal was to find ways to "motivate Catholics to embrace the full vision of what it means to be Catholic," he added.

    World's Catholic leaders condemn terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders around the world condemned terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, offering prayers and condolences. "The time has come for the world to stand united against terrorism and to confront the reasons of terrorism, such as feelings of oppression, hatred, bad education and fanaticism, with no double standards," said the Jerusalem-based Assembly of Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land. They called for a unification of "forces of good" and "countries and followers of all religions against violence, which hits the world with increased brutality." Otherwise, they said, it will hit everyone "sooner or later. We express our full solidarity with the French and Lebanese peoples and with the victims of terrorism and their families in Paris and Beirut and worldwide," they said. "We pray to the almighty for healing the wounded and consoling those who are grieving," they added. "We pray also for terror preachers and promoters so they backtrack and regret what they do." In Beirut, the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon concluded its meeting Nov. 14, a day after multiple terror attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and wounded hundreds more and two days after a twin suicide bombing in Beirut's southern suburbs killed at least 46 people and wounded more than 200. Islamic State claimed responsibility in both cases. The Lebanese assembly "strongly condemns the criminal act and urges the Lebanese to join efforts to combat terrorism."

    Paris violence won't alter church outreach to refugees, USCCB head says

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Church resettlement programs in the United States will continue to aid refugees who are fleeing violence and social ills despite calls that the country's borders should be closed to anyone but Christians. The church's response is focused on people in need of food, shelter and safety and not their particular faith, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters Nov. 16 during a midday break at the bishops' annual fall general assembly. "We at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities, we are always open to helping families who come into the United States in need of help," he said at a news conference. "We have that tradition of doing it and we're going to contribute." Archbishop Kurtz explained that any assistance provided to refugees and immigrants is carried out under government contracts and that the vetting of newcomers will have been completed by government agencies long before church agencies become involved. "Our efforts are going to be to reach out to people and to serve them," the archbishop said.

    'Faithful citizenship' revisions reflect words of Popes Benedict, Francis

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- Revisions in the U.S. bishops' quadrennial document on political responsibility draw on the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and take into account developments in U.S. foreign and domestic policy over the past four years. The document, revised by a working group of bishops comprised of the chairmen of several committees whose work is affected by public policy, will be voted on Nov. 17, the second day of public sessions during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall general assembly. For passage, the document requires two-thirds of voting bishops to support it. The bishops had set aside 45 minutes to discuss the document before the vote. The revised document is longer than its predecessors of 2007 and 2011, which garnered much public attention during the two previous presidential election years. The working group has been working on the revision since March 2014. The document reflects on long-held concerns related to abortion and the needs of poor people. It also references emerging issues related to court decisions on same-sex marriage, public policies that impact religious freedom and a rising concern for the environment as climate change affects more people around the world.

    Canadian theologian visiting Paris was minutes away from the bloodshed

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- When Daniel Laliberte planned his Paris getaway with his wife, he had no clue he would end up being only meters away from the biggest terrorist attack Europe has known in the past decade. Laliberte, a Canadian Catholic who formerly worked for the Archdiocese of Quebec, is a theology professor at the Luxembourg School of Religion and Society. On Nov. 13, he and his wife were returning to their hotel at Republique square when the metro was stopped. Police officers told them they would have to walk the rest of the way, Laliberte told Presence info. At the time, the couple had no idea of the attacks that occurred moments earlier just blocks from their hotel, and that a hostage crisis was underway at the Bataclan concert hall, only three blocks away. Laliberte said he told his wife that all the police and sirens were adding some zest to their trip. When they turned on the TV in their room and realized the scale of what was going on, they were in awe. "I felt ridiculous," said Laliberte, referring to his earlier comment. Even though he felt safe in his room, he told Presence info, he was still "freaked out" knowing this was happening right next to him.

    USCCB president calls for 'pastor's presence,' fight for freedoms

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In the face of "the heartbreaking crises and challenges in our world," Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the "pastor's presence" exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, "touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between." The talk by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened the annual USCCB fall general assembly in Baltimore, which was to include discussion of political responsibility, religious freedom, pornography and other topics. Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of "presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It's seeing the person first. Our hearts respond to (the pope's) call to be pastors who are present, welcoming and eager to walk with our people," he added. The archbishop said the updated document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," which was to come up for a vote at the meeting, sums by the challenges confronting the bishops.

    Supporting elderly religious is work of the heart, SOAR honorees say

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Supporting religious sisters, priests and brothers in their old age gives the nation's Catholics a chance to say, "I love you," in gratitude for how "they've given their lives for us," said retired Bishop William G. Curlin of Charlotte, North Carolina. He made the remarks after receiving the St. Katharine Drexel Award from Support Our Aging Religious at the group's 29th annual awards gala Nov. 6 in Washington. Known as SOAR, the organization was founded by a group of laypeople in 1986 after a Wall Street Journal article exposed the crisis faced by the nation's growing population of elderly religious who had worked for a stipend over the years and faced mounting costs for health care and living expenses in their retirement. SOAR, which is based in Washington, gives grants to help U.S. religious congregations finance the retirement of their elderly and infirm members. In 2015, it provided 61 grants totaling $1.1 million. SOAR's highest honor is named for St. Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and used her personal fortune to fund schools for Native Americans and African-Americans. She was canonized in 2000. The award honors individuals or organizations for making significant contributions to the Catholic Church on a national scale.

    South of Paris, woman prays for longtime friend injured at Bataclan

    MONTREAL (CNS) -- Claire Bourjade can't do anything but pray. The news came as a shock: Francois, a young man she's known since he was a boy, took a bullet during the Bataclan attack in Paris Nov. 13. Bourjade, 59, a nurse, lives in a village near Toulouse, 365 miles south of Paris. She told Presence info she followed news of the terror attacks on television, after the soccer game she was watching was interrupted for a special broadcast. "I experienced fear and a deep sorrow as I was overwhelmed by what was happening," she said. The following morning, her friend called to say that Francois, now in his early 30s, was among those wounded. Bourjade, who has known him ever since he was 10, describes him as a calm man. He, too, was from southern France, but had to move to Paris for his work. She told Presence info she did not want to give too many details, out of respect for him and his family. In the 48 hours after the attacks, Francois had multiple surgeries. A bullet hit his stomach and came out of his back, barely missing both his liver and his spine. However, his pelvis was shattered; he was put in an artificial coma. "I think death is closing on him, but -- with the help of faith -- he might just make it. I hope!" Bourjade said.

    Pray, study, listen to conscience, pope says about eucharistic sharing

    ROME (CNS) -- When a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man asked Pope Francis what she and her husband could do to receive Communion together, the pope said he could not issue a general rule on shared Communion, but the couple should pray, study and then act according to their consciences. "I would never dare to give permission for this because it is not in my authority," the pope told Anke de Bernardinis after a lengthy response about the faith Catholics and Lutherans share and the ecumenical goal of full unity. The pastor of Rome's Christuskirche, a parish of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, welcomed Pope Francis to an evening service Nov. 15 by telling him dialogue requires that people get to know one another. To start the process, he said, several members of his congregation had questions for the pope. As they asked their questions, the pope took notes. A little boy asked the pope what he likes best about being pope, to which the pope responded, "being a pastor." He said the formal duties of the papacy, especially the paperwork, were things he endured, but he liked being able to visit the sick, listen to people with problems and visit prisoners.

    Freelancing the religious life: An 'urban hermit' tells her story

    FLORENCE, Italy (CNS) -- Julia Bolton Holloway, a Dante scholar with a doctorate in medieval studies, lives among some of the greatest monuments of the Renaissance. She is also a Catholic "urban hermit," who practices contemplative solitude when not tending the grounds of a Florence cemetery or assisting families of the migrant Roma population. What the 78-year-old Englishwoman called her "crazy life" journey has included volunteer work in the U.S. civil rights movement, an unhappy marriage followed by divorce and a period as an Anglican nun. After her convent was closed following a financial dispute with Anglican bishops, she moved to Italy to find a new way of living her vocation. Holloway attributes her decision to become Catholic to her favorite saint, the mystic St. Julian of Norwich, as well as to St. John XXIII, who took the first steps toward reconciling the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. Holloway said because she was raised Anglo-Catholic, she never felt the division between the two churches. "I always felt my work should be an ecumenical ministry," she told Catholic News Service.

    Pope, Roman Curia heads discuss refugees, dialogue with Muslims

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The difficulties facing migrants coming into Europe and the continuing dialogues with Muslims were among the topics discussed during Pope Francis' meeting with the heads of the Roman Curia offices, the Vatican spokesman said. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the Nov.16 meeting did not deal with the pope's reform of the Curia or with further changes to the existing offices. The pope had announced Oct. 22 the establishment of a new office for laity, family and life, which combines the responsibilities of two pontifical councils. "It is one of the normal dicastery meetings that are scheduled every six months," Father Lombardi said. Noting that the themes of the meeting were scheduled in advance, Father Lombardi told journalists that the plight of migrants and the problems facing refugees and the countries that receive them were discussed. The Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, headed by Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, wanted to update the pope and members of the Curia on its work in aiding thousands of migrants and refugees coming into Europe.

    Vatican releases list of new synod council members

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Rounding out the membership of the council that will coordinate the follow-up to the Synod of Bishops on the family and help prepare the next synod assembly, Pope Francis named the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the new archbishop of Madrid and the archbishop of Brazil's capital city. The papal nominees join the 12 members of the synod council elected by members of the Synod of Bishops on the family; the Vatican released the list of new council members Nov. 14. Those elected at the end of the Oct. 4-25 synod, included several cardinals and bishops who had expressed concerns over synod procedures, as well as members who took strongly divergent positions at the synod, particularly on the question of a possible process for admitting some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to the Eucharist. Those elected to the synod council included: Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban, South Africa; Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments; and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia. Pope Francis nominated Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad; Archbishop Carlos Osoro of Madrid; and Archbishop Sergio Da Rocha of Brasilia, Brazil.

    Keep Christ in Christmas, fight pressure to conform to world, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Keeping the "Christ" in "Christmas" is part of not giving in to pressure to conform to the "norm" and become like nonbelievers, Pope Francis said in a morning homily. Giving in to the things of the world is like saying, "Let's put our ID up for auction. We are the same as everyone," the pope said. Celebrating an early morning Mass Nov. 16, Pope Francis warned against the very small, hidden way worldliness takes root in a culture and then leads to apostasy and religious persecution. In fact, "the liturgy in these final days of the liturgical year" urges people to be careful of the "poisonous roots" that lead people away from God, he said. The pope focused on the day's reading from the First Book of the Maccabees in which many "children of Israel" wanted an alliance with the Gentiles in order to be better protected. They abandoned their religious practices and covenant with God, and took to the pagan ways of the Gentiles.

    Nothing can justify terrorist attacks, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Using God's name to try to justify violence and murder is "blasphemy," Pope Francis said Nov. 15, speaking about the terrorist attacks on Paris. "Such barbarity leaves us dismayed, and we ask ourselves how the human heart can plan and carry out such horrible events," the pope said after reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square. The attacks in Paris Nov. 13 -- attacks the French government said were carried out by three teams of Islamic State terrorists -- caused the deaths of at least 129 people and left more than 350 injured, many of them critically. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a soccer stadium, gunmen attacked customers at cafes and restaurants and a team of terrorists gunned down dozens of people at a concert. The attacks, Pope Francis said, were an "unspeakable affront to the dignity of the human person." "The path of violence and hatred cannot resolve the problems of humanity, and using the name of God to justify this path is blasphemy," he said. Pope Francis asked the thousands of people who gathered at St. Peter's for the Sunday midday prayer to observe a moment of silence and to join him in reciting a Hail Mary.

    Education helps refugees reach their full potential, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Providing education is an essential part of helping young refugees discover their true calling in life and develop their full potential, Pope Francis said. "Offering an education is about much more than dispensing concepts," the pope said Nov. 14 at an audience with Jesuit Refugee Service. "It is something which provides refugees with the wherewithal to progress beyond survival, to keep alive the flame of hope, to believe in the future and to make plans." The pope met with the JRS members who were celebrating the 35th anniversary of their founding by Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the order from 1965 to 1983. The plight of refugees during and after the Vietnam War, the pope said, had a profound impact on Father Arrupe's life, and he saw "it as a challenge which the Jesuits could not ignore if they were to remain faithful to their vocation." Father Arrupe wanted Jesuit Refugee Service "to meet both the human and the spiritual needs of refugees, not only their immediate need of food and shelter, but also their need to see their human dignity respected, to be listened to and comforted," the pope said.

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