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  • U.S. bishops' pro-life chairman asks Catholics to serve mothers in need

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters


    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In marking the "sorrowful anniversary" Jan. 22 of the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing abortion nationwide, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee said the Catholic Church's pastoral response to all mothers in need "will soon intensify."

    The nation's Catholic bishops are being asked to invite the parishes in their dioceses to join a nationwide effort called "Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service" from March 25 of this year through March 25, 2021.

    Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced the new initiative on the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The new program has its own website:

    The archbishop noted that the special day of prayer marks the "tragic" Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton of Jan. 22, 1973. The rulings in the companion cases legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy across the country.

    "The church will never abandon her efforts to reverse these terrible decisions that have led to the deaths of millions of innocent children and the traumatization of countless women and families," Archbishop Naumann said.

    "As the church and growing numbers of pro-life Americans continue to advocate for women and children in courthouses and legislatures," he said, "the church's pastoral response is focused on the needs of women facing pregnancies in challenging circumstances. While this has long been the case, the pastoral response will soon intensify," with the yearlong service project "Walking with Moms in Need."

    In "recognizing that women in need can be most effectively reached at the local level," Archbishop Naumann explained, the year of service "invites parishes to assess, communicate, and expand resources to expectant mothers within their own communities."

    The U.S. bishops will be providing "resources, outreach tools and models to assist parishes in this important effort," he said.

    "We pray that 'Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service' will help us reach every pregnant mother in need, that she may know she can turn to her local Catholic community for help and authentic friendship," the archbishop added.

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CNS News Briefs

Brief versions on news stories from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  • Teaching about farming also cultivates faith at Florida Catholic school

    ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) -- Raising ranch animals and gardening is common among the residents in rural Ocala, as is the devotion to Christianity as witnessed on the numerous properties' depictions of the three crosses on Calvary. Trinity Catholic High School in Ocala, which rests on several acres of beautiful landscape housing multiple buildings, a massive football stadium, and even a small, fenced-off section to keep the livestock safe, merges Catholicism and agriculture into one learned experience that serves its students long after they graduate. For Trinity agriculture teacher Taylor Wear, every day is a chance to celebrate her Catholic faith by instructing her students about the benefits of farming. Wear, an ambitious, rookie teacher at Trinity with a personal history of nurturing farm animals and who holds an academic degree in the field, chose to helm the new agricultural program at Trinity Catholic -- the Future Farmers of America, or FFA. "It is an agriculture course where students will learn everything from integrated pest management to gardening practices to animal science to safety in the field to agribusiness," Wear said, noting the various paths the course covers. She also will instruct her students "how to have a proper interview and apply for a job." Erika Wikstrom, principal of Trinity Catholic, noted Wear's relentless motivation to the project and said the school is excited about the program and the work. "(Wear's) passion and commitment to developing the program has been a blessing to our students and community, allowing an opportunity for our students to work with local farms in Ocala," Wikstrom told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando.

    Supreme Court divided about religious schools in scholarship program

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During oral arguments Jan. 22 about the constitutionality of excluding religious schools from a scholarship aid program, a divided Supreme Court seemed like it might lean toward finding a way to allow religious schools to participate. The hourlong argument focused on potential religious discrimination when the state of Montana excluded religious schools from its tax credit program, but it also questioned if the exclusion of religious schools was even an issue since the program was shut down by the state's Supreme Court in 2018. "I am having trouble seeing where the harm in this case is," said Justice Elena Kagan, adding: "There is no discrimination at this point going on" since the program ended. But focusing on how the program cut out religious schools before shutting down, Justice Samuel Alito questioned the state's lawyer, Adam Unikowsky, saying: "It's permissible to discriminate on the basis of religion. That's what you're saying." The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, was brought before the court by three Montana mothers who have been sending their children to Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell with the help of a state scholarship program. The program, created in 2015, was meant to provide $3 million a year for tax credits for individuals and business taxpayers who donated up to $150 to the program. It was helping about 45 students and just months after it got started, the Montana Department of Revenue issued an administrative rule saying the tax credit donations could only go toward nonreligious, private schools -- saying the use of tax credits for religious schools violated the state's constitution.

    Guam's Archbishop Byrnes receives pallium in special ceremony during Mass

    HAGATNA, Guam (CNS) -- In an investiture ceremony Jan. 19, Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, apostolic delegate to the countries of the Pacific Ocean, conferred the pallium on Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes of Agana. The ceremony took place during Mass at Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna. Archbishop Byrnes originally received the pallium from Pope Francis at the Vatican last June during the annual pallium Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica. The Guam prelate was among 30 newly named archbishops from throughout the world who traveled to Rome to concelebrate the Mass, with Pope Francis presiding. The pope blessed the palliums, which were then to be conferred on the archbishops in their respective dioceses. The lamb's wool pallium is the stole that signifies the shepherd's mission. The 3-inch-wide band is worn around the neck and shoulders over Mass vestments and symbolizes an archbishop's unity with the pope and his authority and responsibility to care for the flock the pope entrusted to him. The pallium is presented every year to new archbishops or those who have been assigned to a new archdiocese.

    USCCB says annual collection shows solidarity with church in Latin America

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- For more than 50 years, the U.S. bishops' annual Collection for the Church in Latin America has been a sign of solidarity between Catholics in the United States, in Latin America and the Caribbean. This collection -- which funds pastoral programs, seminarian and religious formation, and youth and family ministries -- is going to be taken at Masses the weekend of Jan. 25-26 in many U.S. dioceses. However, dioceses can choose a different date to take up the collection to avoid conflict with local activities. "The love of Christ compels us to share our faith and support all people who long to grow closer to Jesus," said Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. "The Collection for the Church in Latin America expresses our solidarity with and love for the people of Latin America," the bishop said in a Jan. 21 statement. On behalf of the subcommittee, Bishop Cisneros expressed his "abiding gratitude to the people of the United States who generously support the collection each year and, through it, our brothers and sisters throughout the region."

    Province to withdraw its Franciscans from ministry in Charleston Diocese

    GREENVILLE, S.C. (CNS) -- After more than seven decades of ministry by Franciscans in the Diocese of Charleston, the religious order's Holy Name Province has told a group of its friars they are being withdrawn from South Carolina. The Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province announced Jan. 3 they are withdrawing from St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Greenville and St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Anderson. The announcement came from the provincial offices in New York City, which cited the challenges of a declining population of friars as the main reason for the decision to withdraw from the westernmost region of the statewide diocese. In all, the province is withdrawing Franciscans from nine of what it calls its "Fraternities-in-Mission" in the northeast and southeast regions of the United States. "Ministerial responsibilities and administrative operations of each of the nine ministry sites will be turned over to their respective dioceses this summer," the province said in its announcement. "For most of these sites, among them parishes and a mall ministry, it ends decades of Franciscan presence and pastoral service by the friars."

    Annual poll finds 70% of adults continue to support abortion restrictions

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Seven in 10 American adults support "significant" restrictions on abortion, according to a new poll released in advance of the annual March for Life. Conducted by the Marist Poll at Marist College under the sponsorship of the Knights of Columbus, the survey of 1,237 adults Jan. 7-12 showed that the respondents would welcome limits on abortions so that it can be performed only during the first three months of pregnancy. Notably, 47% of "pro-choice" respondents favored restrictions while 98% of pro-life respondents felt the same way. In 2019, the Marist Poll found that respondents favored restrictions by a 75% to 25% margin. Andrew Walther, vice president for communications and strategic planning for the Knights of Columbus, told reporters during a teleconference Jan. 22 that while the numbers have varied by a few percentage points over the 12 years of the poll, 70% to 80% of respondents have consistently supported abortion restrictions. The latest poll also found that 55% of respondents identified as "pro-choice" and 40% as pro-life.

    As Lebanese poverty grows, new Catholic clinic offers range of services

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- From the reception desk, Samira Roncaglia cheerfully welcomed the young couple with their newborn, guiding them to the pediatrician. "I'm here for everyone, with all my heart," Roncaglia told Catholic News Service, as she patiently answered a constantly ringing phone. Staffers fielded hundreds of calls in the opening days of the Catholic-run health clinic, a testimony to the needs of Lebanese who are struggling amid the country's severe economic crisis. The World Bank has warned Lebanon's poverty rate could hit 50% if economic conditions worsen. Unemployment exceeds 30% and, since the people's massive uprising beginning in October against the corrupt government, more jobs have been cut, salaries slashed, the local currency has devalued and banks have imposed withdrawal limits of a maximum of $300 a week as the country descends further into collapse. "People are getting poorer and poorer, even from the middle class," said Jesuit Father Gabriel Khairallah. "It's the duty of the church to serve poor people and people in need, to be in solidarity with them. These people are our masters," said Father Gabriel.

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

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

    Priest appeals for more shelters for volcano evacuees in Philippines

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- A Catholic priest has appealed for more and better shelters for victims of a volcanic eruption in the Philippines after criticizing a local government response. reported that authorities in Tagaytay, located near the erupting Taal volcano, announced they had set up private spaces for couples to be intimate. Inside the rooms, where couples can spend hours together after securing permission from authorities, are a mattress and bottled water. But Father Jerome Secillano of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Manila said better and additional evacuation centers would serve a greater purpose than "love nest" rooms. "We need more places to accommodate the thousands still holed up in cramped evacuation centers," said the priest, adding that the "last thing you would think about during a calamity is intimacy." As of Jan. 22, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that nearly 72,000 families or more than 280,000 individuals were affected by the volcano. Of that number, about 39,000 families, or 149,000 individuals, were in 493 evacuation centers.

    U.S. bishops' pro-life chairman asks Catholics to serve mothers in need

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In marking the "sorrowful anniversary" Jan. 22 of the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing abortion nationwide, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee said the Catholic Church's pastoral response to all mothers in need "will soon intensify." The nation's Catholic bishops are being asked to invite the parishes in their dioceses to join a nationwide effort called "Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service" from March 25 of this year through March 25, 2021. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced the new initiative on the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The new program has its own website: The archbishop noted that the special day of prayer marks the "tragic" Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton of Jan. 22, 1973. The rulings in the companion cases legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy across the country. "The church will never abandon her efforts to reverse these terrible decisions that have led to the deaths of millions of innocent children and the traumatization of countless women and families," Archbishop Naumann said.

    Hospitality is an important ecumenical virtue, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Showing hospitality makes a person a better human being and a better Christian and is an important part of promoting Christian unity, Pope Francis said. "Working together to live with ecumenical hospitality, particularly toward those whose lives are most vulnerable, will make us -- all Christians, Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians -- better human beings, better disciples and a more united Christian people," the pope said Jan. 22 during his weekly general audience. Christians today, like the people of Malta who welcomed St. Paul and his companions who were shipwrecked on their island, must show hospitality to and care for those who flee violence and persecution, he said. "Unfortunately, they sometimes encounter even the worst hostility," he said. "They are exploited by criminal traffickers today; they are treated as numbers and as a threat by some leaders today; sometimes inhospitality rejects them as a wave carrying poverty or the very dangers from which they were fleeing."

    Bishops' visit to Rome renews sense of unity, mission, archbishop says

    ROME (CNS) -- A pilgrimage to the apostles' tombs in Rome helps bishops renew their sense of unity as well as rededicate themselves to being missionaries bringing the Gospel to the world, said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City. "That's what we are here to celebrate and acknowledge today -- our communion with Peter and our mission 'ad gentes' to the nations, to the ends of the earth," Archbishop Coakley said in his homily during Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls Jan. 21. The archbishop was the principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass with bishops from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The bishops were in Rome as part of their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to pray and also to report on the status of their dioceses in meetings with the pope and Vatican officials. After praying at the tomb of St. Peter Jan. 20 and then gathered the next day at the tomb of St. Paul, Archbishop Coakley said the complementary nature of the two saints reminded him of the complementarity of centripetal and centrifugal forces. Similar to the way a centripetal force pulls an orbiting body toward the center, "St. Peter represents that center of unity for the church. Communion with Peter draws us to that center of life that ensures our unity and communion with one another and with the Lord," he said.

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  • After probe is announced, bishop says he wants his 'good name cleared'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of New York has confirmed it has begun an investigation of an abuse claim against Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, who was threatened with a lawsuit by an attorney in November, alleging the prelate had abused a child decades ago while serving as a priest in New Jersey. The bishop immediately denied the accusation Nov. 13, vowing to "vigorously defend" himself against the claim. Under new protocols concerning accusations against church higher-ups, the metropolitan archbishop, in this case Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, is charged with investigating any accusation made against another bishop in his region. In a Jan. 21 statement from the Brooklyn Diocese, the bishop said he "looks forward to the investigation of the allegation made against him and having his good name cleared and restored." Several news stories have painted the Vatican as ordering the investigation, but the development seems to be more of a result of a new process of investigating bishops accused of abuse set forth in the papal decree "Vos Estis Lux Mundi," or "You are the light of the world," which outlines the protocols. Under those new protocols, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asks the metropolitan of the region to begin the probe.

    CARA study finds bishops are satisfied with their life and ministry

    MINNEAPOLIS (CNS) -- Catholics may be surprised to learn that many U.S. bishops describe their lives as both all-consuming and satisfying, a priest-researcher said. "These are guys who generally get up very, very early in the morning, pray about two hours every day and work about 10 hours a day," Father Stephen Fichter, a research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington, which conducted the survey. "(They) just really do some interesting things and there are a lot of difficulties that they're dealing with all the time." A priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, Father Fichter explained the results of a 2016 survey of active and retired U.S. bishops in a talk at St. Mary's University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus Jan. 15. The survey was the first to look at the lives of bishops since 1989. The study is the subject of a 2019 book published by Oxford University Press, "Catholic Bishops in the United States: Church Leadership in the Third Millennium." Father Fichter is one of four co-authors of the book. The researchers wanted to carry out a comprehensive study, develop a profile of bishops and chronicle the experiences of prelates in their ministerial roles, Father Fichter said. The average age of active bishop respondents was 66. They are white and theologically moderate or traditional. Some bishops described themselves as moderately progressive. Of 429 surveys sent, 213 recipients responded. They included bishops ministering in the Latin and Eastern rites. Respondents included bishops who head a diocese or archdiocese; auxiliary bishops; and retired bishops.

    USCCB brief: 'Actual innocence' warrants Florida capital case retrial

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In an amicus brief to a Florida capital murder case, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told the Supreme Court the claims of "actual innocence" of the Florida man sentenced to death for the crime "must be resolved on the merits and cannot be dismissed on any procedural grounds." In the case, "the central question raised by the petition is whether our society can permit the execution of a person without requiring a new trial when he has come forward with persuasive evidence of actual innocence," said the brief, dated Jan. 17. James Milton Dailey, was found guilty in 1987 of complicity in the murder of a 14-year-old girl. The verdict was rendered June 27; his first execution date was set for that Aug. 7 -- 40 days after the conviction. That Dailey has spent every day in prison wondering when his execution will be is in itself grounds against the Eighth Amendment's provision against cruel and unusual punishment, said the 36-page brief, written by Owen Pell, counsel of record for White & Case in New York City. The most recent stay of execution was granted Oct. 23. Dailey "was imprisoned over 30 years ago for a murder he has steadfastly denied committing. Indeed, it is undisputed that another man, Jack Pearcy, killed the victim and was duly convicted of the offense," the brief said, while Dailey was "convicted on the basis of testimony of three jailhouse informants, who each had every incentive to lie."

    'Ed' Wall, veteran journalist in secular, Catholic press, dies at 94

    ORLAND PARK, Ill. (CNS) -- Arthur E. P. "Ed" Wall, a veteran journalist who worked spent many years in the secular press and the Catholic press, died Jan. 18 in Orland Park. He was 94. Wall, who used A. E. P. Wall as his byline, was a former director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service. He held the top post at NC News Service, as it was called in those days, from 1972 to 1976. "Ed Wall was a great journalist and editor. He had a peripatetic and amazing career that took him to Chicago, Honolulu, Washington and places in between. He was a visionary who had a large impact everywhere he served," Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief of CNS from 2004 to 2016, told CNS in an email Jan. 21. "Ed was a great editor and writer, innovative executive, witty and considerate friend and courageous battler against the rare disease (multiple system atrophy) which limited his mobility but not his mind," said Tom Lorsung, who retired as CNS director and editor-in-chief at the end of 2003, after a career at CNS which began three decades earlier. "When Ed arrived at the then-NC News Service, the daily report was mimeographed and mailed to clients, but he established a 'wire' connection with clients," Lorsung recalled in an email to CNS. "Ed was the first head of CNS to negotiate a contract with The Newspaper Guild." Now called The NewsGuild, the union still represents CNS reporters and photographers.

    Quakes severely damage historic Puerto Rico convent of Sisters of Fatima

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- To an island still recovering from the devastation Hurricane Maria left behind in 2017, the repeated tremors, earthquakes and aftershocks since Dec. 28 have added another level of stress for Puerto Rico's citizens, as well as its power plants and water plants. Most of the quaking has been centered in the south and southwest parts of the island. The towns of Yauco and Guanica especially have suffered immense damage to its buildings and roadways, and in between these towns is a small area that also has suffered much. It's Santa Rita, where the Dominican Sisters of Fatima live in a historic convent, which has been hit hard. Sister Ana Chevres said there had been so many small earthquakes and tremors that the sisters were prepared with their bags packed by the convent door just in case they had to leave their building in a hurry. At 4:30 a.m. Jan. 7, a magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit the area, damaging nearly 600 buildings and killing at least one person in Ponce when a wall collapsed on him. "It was super strong," Sister Chevres told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

    Miami archbishop says Florida shouldn't follow Texas' refugee stance

    MIAMI (CNS) -- Refugees make an important impact in the United States and should not be denied resettlement as the Texas governor recently decided, said Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski. The archbishop, writing in a letter to the editor posted online Jan. 16 for the Miami Herald, noted that Albert Einstein was a refugee and former Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez was an unaccompanied minor when he came to Florida as part of Operation Peter Pan -- when more than 14,000 Cuban minors came to the United States in the early 1960s. "Today, Texas wouldn't allow either one to resettle there. Florida, and refugees, would lose if we were to follow Texas' example," he wrote. Archbishop Wenski said Catholic Charities agencies have "a proud history as the longest-serving providers of refugee resettlement services in Florida," noting that they sponsored Cubans in Operation Peter Pan and have resettled refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1970s and continued resettling refugees when the U.S. Refugee Program began in 1980. The archbishop pointed out that a recent executive order by the Trump administration requires governors and county executives to provide written consent before refugees are resettled in their respective states or counties. "Forty-two governors have gone on record supporting refugee services -- 19 are Republican. Only the governor of Texas decided to discontinue resettlement -- apparently without much public support," he added.

    Bishop Strickland says he asked pope about McCarrick report

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said he asked Pope Francis about the Vatican investigation into Theodore E. McCarrick and the release of a promised report on how the former cardinal managed to rise through the church ranks. The bishop, who was making his "ad limina" visit to Rome, drew widespread attention in August 2018 for a public statement saying he found "credible" the allegations made by retired Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio to the United States, regarding McCarrick. Archbishop Vigano alleged that top Vatican officials, including Pope Francis, knew for years that McCarrick had been accused of sexual misconduct. "Pope Francis was great" in answering all the questions of the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas during an audience Jan. 20, Bishop Strickland told Catholic News Service the next day. But the pope did ask the bishops not to share certain details about the discussion.

    Supreme Court to reexamine contraceptive mandate for religious employers

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Little Sisters of the Poor are once again going to the Supreme Court. The order of women religious who care for the elderly poor have been down this road before, twice defending their right to not comply with the government's health law requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans. Now the court is about to look at the Affordable Health Care's contraceptive mandate from a different angle, examining if the Trump administration can legally allow religious employers to opt out of the mandate. In 2013, religious groups and houses of worship were granted a religious exemption by the Supreme Court from the government's mandate in the Affordable Care Act to include coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan. Three years later, religious nonprofit groups challenged the requirement they comply with the mandate and the court sent the cases back to the lower courts with instructions for the federal government and the challengers to try to work out a solution agreeable to both sides. In 2017, religious groups were given further protection from the contraceptive mandate through an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit religious ministries, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the contraceptive mandate.

    Redemption, beauty of the family emphasized at Los Angeles march for life

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- As they waited in the shade next to the Pico House, watching the crowd swell in size in anticipation of the sixth annual OneLife LA Walk for Life outside La Placita in downtown Los Angeles, Monica and John Meier did their best to make their daughter, Veronica, as comfortable as possible. Afflicted with cerebral palsy, Veronica, who will be 15 in March, clutched a stuffed animal for comfort, moving around in her wheelchair to the rhythm of the music at the nearby youth rally. "She is our gift and our blessing," said Monica, Veronica's mother, a regional marketing manager for the Eternal World Television Network. "Every time I'm asked about how hard it must be to take care of her, I think of all the meaning she brings and the bridges she helps us to build in our family: unity, love, sacrifice, selflessness, and she pays it all back with a beautiful smile that fills our hearts." Meanwhile, Veronica's younger brother, Thomas, stayed very active nearby, tossing around a small inflatable OneLife LA beach ball that, more than once, bounced somewhere off his mother as she spoke. "He is also a blessing; he's very caring and helpful when his sister is having a seizure," Monica added with a patient smile.

    Spanish bishops launch marriage prep course that could last 2-3 years

    MADRID (CNS) -- Catholic couples in Spain will undergo up to three years of marriage preparation under an initiative by their bishops to reverse the country's high rates of divorce. The Spanish bishops launched Together on the Way ("Juntos en Camino"), a program to help couples to succeed in their vocation to marriage amid a divorce rate that sees about 40% of marriages collapse within five years and nearly 60% within 15 years. The new course could last between two and three years; it replaces preparation courses that lasted between five and 20 hours. Speaking at a news conference in Madrid mid-January, Bishop Mario Iceta Gavicagogeascoa of Bilbao said he did not believe previous courses were adequate. "What can we do in five hours?" asked Bishop Iceta, president of the Spanish bishops' subcommission for family and the defense of life. "To make a comparison, to be a priest you need to spend seven years in a seminary," he said, adding that it was not "sufficient" to prepare to be "a husband, a wife, a mother or a father" in less than a day.

    Update: Bishops welcome guidance on school prayer, Trump's proposed rules

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of the U.S. bishops' religious liberty and Catholic education committees Jan. 20 praised the Trump administration for issuing guidance on prayer in public schools. The chairmen also welcome the administration's nine proposed rules to ensure the nation's faith-based service providers and organizations are not discriminated against by federal agencies' regulations or in their grant-making processes because of religion. "We wish to express our gratitude for these steps to ensure that the constitutional right of individual students and teachers to pray voluntarily in public schools is protected," said Bishop George V. Murry, of Youngstown, Ohio, and Bishop Michael C. Barber, of Oakland, California. "This fundamental right ensures that persons may freely worship without sacrificing full participation in schools and in society." The bishops -- who are, respectively, the chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, and its Committee on Catholic Education -- made the comments in response to President Donald Trump's guidance on prayer in public schools and proposed rules issued Jan. 16, National Religious Freedom Day.

    Irish bishop offers to mediate among gangs: 'Something has to be done'

    DROGHEDA, Ireland (CNS) -- An Irish bishop has offered to mediate between feuding criminal gangs in Drogheda in an effort to end violence that has claimed three lives in six months. The intervention by Auxiliary Bishop Michael Router of Armagh, Northern Ireland, follows the brutal murder of 17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods of Drogheda in mid-January and the discovery of the teenager's remains at two separate locations in Dublin. The youth was a junior member of one of Drogheda's gangs. The gruesome dismemberment of his body has shocked the country. In the wake of the teen's killing, Bishop Router, whose archdiocese straddles the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, said: "All human life is sacred, and an attack of this nature on someone who is still a child is disgusting and beyond belief. This desecration of life has diminished our common humanity and our sense of ourselves as a civilized people." Speaking to Catholic News Service at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Drogheda, a city of 40,000 located 35 miles north of the Irish capital, Dublin, Bishop Router said, "Something has to be done at this stage to stop the violence. Nothing is lost by talking. It was the same in Northern Ireland; someone had to shout halt at some stage to stop the bombings and the shootings, and people had to swallow a lot of things in order to achieve that."

    Smuggled out of Warsaw Ghetto, child spent five years with Catholic 'mom'

    TEL AVIV, Israel (CNS) -- Krystyna Linden does not remember much about the first five years of her life, which she spent in a tiny village outside of Warsaw as the daughter of Michalina Janiszewska. She was born to Rozalia (Rutka) Labenska Lindenbaum and Leon (Lutek) Lindenbaum just months before the Nazis began liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto in January 1943. Her parents were able to smuggle her out of the ghetto in a wicker basket full of newspapers with the help of a close Polish-Catholic friend, Mary Gasinska, who took the baby to Janiszewska, who had no children of her own. As the world prepared to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp Jan. 27 and Israel prepared for the convergence of world leaders in Jerusalem for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum Jan. 23, Linden looked over the precious few photos she has of her family before the outbreak of World War II and the photos of her as a child, during the time she lived with Janiszewska. In one, she was wearing a baptismal gown. There is a glimpse of the broad-faced, short-haired, blond Janiszewska peeking from behind a wooden door in one of the photos. "I don't remember anything of my time there," said Linden, sitting in the kitchen of her Tel Aviv apartment Jan. 19. "But to this day, I still love churches." She still peppers her Hebrew speech daily with Polish Catholic expressions, and the only prayer -- Jewish or Catholic -- she remembers by heart is the good-night prayer apparently taught to her by Janiszewska, who, according to some stories Linden was told, was busy making moonshine vodka and selling it to the Nazis when she wasn't taking her young charge to church.

    Legionaries to investigate after report exposes abuse cover-up at school

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Legionaries of Christ vowed to cooperate with an investigation after a report stated that the congregation failed to address sexual abuse and cover-ups at one of its prestigious schools in Mexico. The Associated Press reported Jan. 20 that the Legionaries failed to investigate abuses committed by Father Fernando Martinez Suarez at its elite Cumbres School in Cancun despite reforms established nearly a decade ago after it was revealed that the congregation's founder, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, abused dozens of children. In a statement released by the religious congregation Jan. 20, the Legionaries said they would work with the Vatican as well as civil authorities to "identify the persons responsible for negligence or cover-up in this case." In 2010, the Vatican announced that Father Maciel was guilty of "seriously and objectively immoral behavior" and "real crimes," and had lived a "life devoid of scruples and of genuine religious meaning." That same year, Pope Benedict XVI named the late Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to supervise the Legionaries' reform. However, an investigation conducted by the congregation and published in late November revealed that although Cardinal De Paolis and then-superior general German Father Sylvester Heereman were made aware of the abuse allegations against Father Martinez, they "did not consider a canonical investigation nor sending out a written restriction necessary."

    Integral development for all is a moral duty, pope tells leaders at Davos

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told global business and government leaders that everyone has the moral responsibility to seek the integral development of all people, but especially those who are in need, suffering injustice or whose lives are threatened. "The moral obligation to care for one another flows from this fact," which must never be forgotten, that "we are all members of the one human family," he said in a message read to those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Likewise, this means putting the human person, "rather than the mere pursuit of power or profit, at the very center of public policy," he wrote. The pope's message was read to the assembly Jan. 21 by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; he attended the forum as the Vatican's representative.

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  • Pope urges bishops to teach discernment, including on political issues

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

    Pope decries 'barbaric resurgence' of anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

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

    Pope hopes Berlin summit will lead to peace in Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Update: Poor Clares' contemplative monastery in Tennessee quietly closes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Protect your health, physically and spiritually, pope says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hearing cites successes, undone work in protecting trafficking victims

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

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

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

    Bishops visiting Holy Land urge governments to uphold international law

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

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

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

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

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

    USCCB president urges nation to overcome racism that still clouds hearts

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

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

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

    Australian archbishop rejects breaking seal of confession for abusers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Catholic high school welcomes students with special needs into new program

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

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

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

    Committee to recommend Australian bishops give laity certain controls

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

    Pope names bishops for Ukrainian dioceses in England, Australia

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

    Pope appoints first woman to Vatican foreign ministry post

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

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

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

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

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

    Gang graffiti tags church, school in Brooklyn Diocese

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

    Quebec to take ethics, religious culture out of school curriculum

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

    School's employment program boosts students' skills, confidence

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

    Massachusetts judge rejects right to physician-assisted suicide

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

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

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

    Government urged to boost funding, strengthen security at religious sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Mexican bishops stress importance of education after school shooting

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

    Bishops visiting Holy Land get look at complexities of Gaza Strip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Update: Former cardinal moves from Kansas friary to new location

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

    Residents fear what may come next after quakes, archbishop says

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

    Northern Ireland religious leaders welcome restoration of institutions

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

    Baptism is first step on path of humility, pope says

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

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