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  • Catechism revision adds impetus in death penalty abolition fight

    IMAGE: CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

    By Mark Pattison

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Changes in law and public opinion have had their role to play in the quest to end capital punishment in the United States, but Catholic teaching also has played a part, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

    "Pope Francis went there last year, when Pope Francis says the question is not is there a humane way of carrying out executions. There is not a humane way of carrying out executions, he said," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 13 telephone interview. "At the same time, Pope Francis was stressing what he called inadmissibility because it is inherently in conflict with human dignity."

    The revision to section 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which took effect Aug. 2, calls capital punishment "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," and commits the church to work "with determination" for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

    It was not the first time the catechism had been revised in conjunction with capital punishment.

    The 1992 catechism originally said: "The traditional teaching of the church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty." At the same time, it said "bloodless means" that could protect human life should be used when possible.

    However, following publication of St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life"), section 2267 was revised in 1997 to say that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

    "The revisions to the catechism are very significant for abolitionists. And they're significant both symbolically and in a practical manner. Symbolically, Pope Francis has become a moral beacon on this issue, even more so than John Paul," Dunham said.

    "I was talking with Cardinal (Blase J.) Cupich (of Chicago); we did a podcast with him. He and I were on a panel in Chicago -- the date, coincidentally, the date the catechism was changed -- and Cardinal Cupich was explaining the evolution of Catholic theology on this issue. What Pope Francis has done is not just consistent but is the logical extension of John Paul's teaching about the death penalty and Pope Benedict's statements against the death penalty," he added.

    "The thing that is, I think, critically different in Pope Francis' pronouncement and the new catechism is that it closes the door on excuses or exceptions that would have allowed the death penalty to take place," he continued. "The practical importance of the new catechism is that it commits the church itself as an institution to formally opposing capital punishment. And on the ground, that will mean more active involvement by the bishops, by the cardinals, by the priests and the laity."

    Dunham told CNS the real-world effects of the revision are being felt.

    "We've already heard stories of public officials trying to grapple with their moral qualms about capital punishment, and their prior public stance for the death penalty as a policy," he said. "I don't think that we're going to see a change overnight; it's not as though Pope Francis waves an encyclical wand and the laws will change. But we were already seeing a dialogue, and it is a dialogue that is changing attitudes and views one at a time among people in power who will be making decisions on life and death."

    Dunham added, "I think that what we are going to see is a continued erosion of death penalty support among formerly pro-death penalty Catholics, and while that's not a huge portion of the population in the United States, it's a portion that is disproportionately on the bench, in prosecutor's offices and in the halls of Congress and the legislature."

    The difference between "abolition and nonabolition," he said, is "changing a few votes in a few states."

    "So one state at a time, we may see the death penalty abolished," he said. "In retrospect, we can speculate how many of the changed votes are a product of the new catechism. We'll never know for sure. But we can be certain that it will have an effect, because it has already had an effect. We know from discussions with public officials that it has already had an effect."

    The center Dec. 14 issued "The Death Penalty in 2018: Year-End Report." In it, it noted that only Oklahoma, Missouri and the U.S. government increased the number of prisoners it had on death row in 2018. The number of prisoners on death row nationwide went down, a streak that started in 2001.

    Even in states where the death penalty is permitted, it requires prosecutors in counties to seek it in criminal trials. According to the report, 11 county prosecutors of the 30 counties where capital punishment is most often sought have been removed since 2015, including six this year in Dallas and Bexar (San Antonio) counties in Texas, Orange and San Bernardino counties in California, St. Louis County in Missouri and Jefferson County (Birmingham) in Alabama.

    Washington became the 20th state to outlaw capital punishment when a court banned it Oct. 11.

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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.
  • L.A. archdiocese to seek charges against two nuns for embezzlement

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has changed its mind about not seeking charges against two women religious who were found to have "misappropriated" a "substantial amount" of money, perhaps up to half a million dollars, from one of its Catholic schools. Various news stories say that after archdiocesan officials disclosed in a Dec. 3 meeting with parents from St. James Catholic School in Torrance that Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang had perhaps embezzled as much as $500,000, the school community expressed outrage. A spokeswoman later told various news outlets after the meeting that the archdiocese would no longer be just seeking restitution from the nun's religious order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, but it would cooperate with authorities in an investigation against the women religious that could result in leveling charges against them. Earlier, the archdiocese had said in a letter it agreed to a "full restitution" of money used for personal matters by the two women, but it would not seek criminal charges. But after officials at the Dec. 3 meeting revealed that they may have used the money for gambling and also disclosed the amount, parents began speaking out against the decision.

    Catholics urged to be 'kindling' for Holy Spirit, be 'on fire' as disciples

    METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) -- By launching a "Year of Awakening," the Diocese of Metuchen said it aims to renew and awaken the faith" in each and every heart" and begin a new "great wave of evangelization" in all of the four-county diocese's parishes and institutions. Hundreds of worshippers filled the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi Dec. 12 for the official launch. Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio presided at the evening Mass marking the start of the yearlong effort, which will lead to the consecration of the diocese to Jesus through Our Lady of Guadalupe on the same date -- which is her feast day. Our Lady of Guadalupe is known as the patroness of the Americas and the star of the new evangelization. In explaining the initiative, Bishop Checchio spoke of the importance of a unified effort among Catholics of the diocese to embark on a journey of spiritual renewal. "It's been a joy to get to know the people of the diocese since I first arrived here; and what I picked up during my pastoral visits over the past two-and-a-half years is the need for a renewal of our commitment to God and to our church," the bishop said in his homily. "While we have been planning this consecration for over a year, recent events have made this need for renewal more urgent in my mind. This is a perfect time to begin."

    Religious freedom laws meant to be 'shield, not sword,' says speaker

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Religious freedom is widely misunderstood, prone to being used only for political purposes and is identified by the public mostly with the Republican politicians. And its enshrinement in law requires constant vigilance on all sides. Those were some of the conclusions of a Dec. 13 panel sponsored by the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington. The main topic was supposed to be the role of women as heads of religious freedom organizations. Instead, the discussion moved quickly onto the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993, and the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Human Rights Commission, decided June 4 by the Supreme Court in favor of baker Jack Phillips, who had cited his Christian beliefs on traditional marriage in refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The court ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The baker said his religious views also prevented him from making Halloween-themed or satanic-themed items.

    Catechism revision adds impetus in death penalty abolition fight

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Changes in law and public opinion have had their role to play in the quest to end capital punishment in the United States, but Catholic teaching also has played a part, according to Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Pope Francis went there last year, when Pope Francis says the question is not is there a humane way of carrying out executions. There is not a humane way of carrying out executions, he said," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 13 telephone interview. "At the same time, Pope Francis was stressing what he called inadmissibility because it is inherently in conflict with human dignity." The revision to section 2267 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which took effect Aug. 2, calls capital punishment "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person," and commits the church to work "with determination" for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. It was not the first time the catechism had been revised in conjunction with capital punishment. The 1992 catechism originally said: "The traditional teaching of the church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty." At the same time, it said "bloodless means" that could protect human life should be used when possible.

    Togo church demands election postponement as violence increases

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The Catholic church in Togo has urged the postponement of Dec. 20 elections, to head off mounting violence and allow time for reforms. Bishop Anani Nicodeme Barrigah-Benissan of Atakpame, president of the church's justice and peace commission, told Catholic News Service that people in Togo "have the impression the international community isn't really listening, but we're counting on it to intervene with real measures and call the protagonists to the table of dialogue." He noted the government was insisting the elections proceed, but the opposition vowed to boycott them. The opposition is protesting that President Faure Gnassingbe, who took power in 2005 after 38 years of rule by his father, is running again. "The radicalization of positions is alarming people, while the church is trying to bring the two sides to a compromise and avoid a descent into ever greater violence," the bishops said. He said church leaders were continuing to back mediation efforts by the Economic Community of West African States. "What we're witnessing now directly results from a certain manner of governing, which needs profound change. It's the exercise of power which is at issue," he said Dec. 14.

    Reader's Digest calls Ukrainian Catholic church a 'real-life' miracle

    CENTRALIA, Pa. (CNS) -- "The church that wouldn't burn," reads a headline on the cover of the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Reader's Digest magazine. It's the lead-in to a cover story on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia. It is in the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and was designated a site of holy pilgrimage in 2015. The church, built in 1911, sits on a hilltop above the famous but mostly abandoned town of Centralia, where underneath a fire has been burning in a network of mines since 1962. That fire eventually sent poisonous gases into homes and businesses. Most residents moved out using money from a federal relocation program. Hundreds of buildings were demolished. Today, less than a dozen people live in Centralia, often called a ghost town. The distinctive Ukrainian Catholic church, with its three onion-shaped domes, is the only church left of the seven that were once there. Bill Hagley Jr. is the author of the story in Reader's Digest, a magazine with a monthly circulation of 2.5 million in the United States.

    Bishop thanks people for prayers, 'kind words' of support during illness

    GREENSBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg has posted a video thank-you to the people of the diocese for their support during his recent illness, which included many cards and messages on social media. "I want to let you know that following my mild heart attack, I am doing really well," he said in the message, which was recorded in his office and released Dec. 14. "I want to tell you just how uplifted I felt by your prayers, by your kind words, by your cards and many acts of kindness toward me over the last two weeks." He underwent a cardiac catheterization Nov. 30. He had suffered a mild heart attack over Thanksgiving weekend while out of town. He visited an emergency room there and preliminary test results did not lead to an immediate diagnosis, the diocese said, so the catherization was scheduled after his return to Greensburg. Doctors said the procedure confirmed his cardiac incident was an isolated event. He has been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, but his blockages are not serious and can be improved with medication. Bishop Malesic, 58, returned to his diocesan office Dec. 4 with a lighter work schedule.

    Postwar orphans were victims of German clergy abuse

    HILDESHEIM, Germany (CNS) -- An investigation by the Diocese of Hildesheim, Germany, is shedding new light on child sex abuse in Catholic children's homes in the country in the 1950s. A central figure in the inquiry is an esteemed and controversial figure, Bishop Heinrich Maria Janssen, a former priest in Nazi-occupied Poland awarded Germany's highest federal decoration in 1966 for postwar charity work. Volker Bauerfeld, a spokesman for the diocese, told Catholic News Service the allegations against Janssen have "deeply shaken many people" in the diocese, due to Janssen's status as "one of the most renowned Hildesheim bishops of modern times." Although Bishop Janssen and his alleged accomplices are long dead, Bishop Heiner Wilmer, the current bishop, is investigating the matter fully to "bring more light into the darkness." Bishop Wilmer is launching a vigorous inquiry to investigate sexual abuse allegedly committed by Bishop Janssen and Catholic orphanage chaplains, with the aim of revealing the truth behind a possible local pedophile ring.

    Far from home, Israel's foreign workers visit pop-up Christmas market

    TEL AVIV, Israel (CNS) -- For foreign workers and other nonlocal Christians living in Israel, celebrating Christmas far from loved ones in a country where Christians are a minority can be a difficult time. Used to a festive Christmas season back home in the Philippines, many of the Filipino caretakers who work with mainly Jewish families have learned to adjust their expectations. "We are missing our families. We are used to seeing all the Christmas decorations everywhere," said Vangie Lapada, 51, who has been working in Israel for five years. She is a caretaker in the Golan Heights in northern Israel, where there are few Christians. But as Israel's population has become more diverse to include foreign caretakers, migrant workers and asylum seekers -- many of whom are Christians living in cities where Jewish residents are the majority -- Jewish Israelis also have adjusted to a new reality. One of the changing points has also been the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union where the New Year celebration, Novy God, uses many of the usual Christmas symbols for the nonreligious holiday. On a mid-December Sunday, Lapada used her day off to travel to Tel Aviv with a friend. On the fourth floor of the cavernous Tel Aviv central bus station, they visited the pop-up Christmas market with its twinkling Christmas lights and festive Santa Claus apparel. A large banner in the center of the station announced the location of the market. The stalls were set up several years ago by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union wanting to openly celebrate the Novy God holiday.

    Education key to solving migration crisis, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the celebration of Christmas draws near, the plight of the Holy Family calls to mind the sufferings of the many men, women and children escaping war and persecution, Pope Francis said. Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the holy season is an invitation to come together to help those in need, especially young migrants who "instead of sitting in school desks, like many of their peers, spend their days doing long marches on foot, or on makeshift and dangerous means of transportation." Educating young migrants will give them the tools to find "work in the future and participate in the common good as informed citizens. At the same time, we educate ourselves in order to welcome and show solidarity so that migrants and refugees do not meet indifference or, worse, intolerance on their journey," he said Dec. 14. The proceeds of the Dec. 15 concert, which is sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations: Scholas Occurrentes in Iraq and the Don Bosco Mission in Uganda. According to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Don Bosco Mission aids refugees from South Sudan escaping civil war and is invested "in the training and professional development of young people."

    Belief in Trinity should lead to unity in the church, preacher says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faith in the living God should translate into concrete expressions of love and unity, especially within the church, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa told Pope Francis and leaders of the Roman Curia. "All human beings want unity and desire it from the bottom of their hearts. Then why is it so difficult to achieve if everyone desires it so much? It is because we want unity of course, but unity around our point of view," said the priest, who is preacher of the papal household. Offering the pope and his aides an Advent reflection Dec. 14, Father Cantalamessa continued a series of meditations on what it should mean to believe in a living God. In the human search for unity, he said, "our view seems so obvious, so reasonable, that we are astounded that others do not agree and insist instead on their point of view. We even carefully lay out the path for others to come and join us where we are."

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  • Efforts to better world by Opus Prize finalists called 'noble, holy work'

    PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- "My brother was murdered by a drive-by shooting at the age of 18 years old," says a young man from Chicago whose emotion-stained voice plays in a video. "I lost my sense of humanity at that time 'cause how could a world be so cruel to take someone away who didn't hate no one," he continues. "How do you rebuild that?" The three finalists of this year's Opus Prize, one of the world's largest faith-based awards for social entrepreneurship, are in their own ways working to rebuild such lost hope and provide opportunities for the most vulnerable -- while inspiring the next generation of leaders to do the same. "These organizations, led by unsung heroes, are doing noble and holy work, and the prize is meant to be a catalyst for campus and community conversations and actions," said Daniel McGinty, who helped oversee a partnership between the Opus Prize Foundation and the University of Portland. Each year a different Catholic university is chosen as a partner to select finalists and host the award ceremony. The University of Portland was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross. The 2018 first-place $1 million prize was presented in November to Rami Nashashibi, founder and director of Chicago's Inner-City Muslim Action Network, known as IMAN. The organization operates in a city plagued by gun violence; the young man who lost his brother in a drive-by is one of the countless people aided by the organization.

    Youth, migrant ministries among recipients of USCCB home mission grants

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Recipients of grants approved by the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions range from migrant ministry in the Diocese of Stockton, California, to pastoral support to children and families on remote islands in the Diocese of Samoa-Pago Pago, American Samoa. In a Dec. 12 announcement, the subcommittee said it had approved $9.5 million in grants to assist 79 U.S. mission dioceses and eparchies. Subcommittee grants aid dioceses and eparchies that would otherwise struggle due to difficult geography, impoverished populations and limited resources. Catholic Home Missions funding supports various pastoral programs, including religious education and youth ministry, priestly and religious formation, prison ministries, and lay ministry training. "Many dioceses and eparchies throughout the United States cannot provide basic pastoral services without outside assistance," said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, who was elected chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on National Collections during the bishops' fall general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 12-14. "Through the generosity of Catholics to the Catholic Home Missions Appeal, we can help strengthen the church here at home," he said in a statement.

    Late Trappist monk still has impact on people of all faiths, says priest

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CNS) -- Fifty years after his death, Father Thomas Merton is still helping to draw others nearer to Christ through his writings and the communities they tend to create, said Father Lawrence Morey. Like the late monk, Father Morey is a member of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, known as Trappists. Father Merton lived and wrote from his order's Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown. He died Dec. 10, 1968, near Bangkok, where he was attending a conference for monks from the Order of Cistercians and the Order of St. Benedict. Father Morey gave the homily during a Mass of remembrance honoring Father Merton Dec. 10 at the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville presided. The priest said the support of a community is essential in finding Christ and most of Father Merton's writings show how important community was to him. Father Morey shared with his listeners that the burial of a brother monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani is a "community affair." All the monks take part by singing and praying. Six are chosen as pallbearers with the responsibility of lowering the body into the ground. "We all participate at this point by holding our breath," he said. "What if one of the brothers slip and loses his grip? But we've always managed to get our brother to his final resting place without any major accident."

    English cardinal shocked to learn vicar sent two pedophiles to U.S.

    LONDON (CNS) -- An English cardinal has told an inquiry into child abuse of his shock at learning that a vicar general of his former archdiocese tried to help two pedophile priests escape to the United States. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse revealed for the first time that Msgr. Daniel Leonard, a former vicar general of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, ordered a priest to tip off Father Samuel Penney that he was about to be arrested and to give him cash to flee to the United States. It also revealed that Msgr. Leonard, who is now deceased, provided Father James Robinson with a good character reference so he could transfer to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, even though the priest was facing allegations of child abuse in the U.K. Giving evidence to the inquiry, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said: "This comes as a shock to me that such a course of action could have been in the mind of the then vicar general. "It is shocking. If I understand things correctly, it is criminal intent," said Cardinal Nichols, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, at the Dec. 13 hearing in London. The cardinal, who served as archbishop of Birmingham from 2000 to 2009, said Msgr. Leonard was in a nursing home when he took over as archbishop, and he met him only once. Cardinal Nichols said he found a "much-diminished old man who was clearly incapable of remembering much."

    Maryknoll missioners sent out to 'create more just, compassionate world'

    OSSINING, N.Y. (CNS) -- Twelve Maryknoll lay missioners and one Maryknoll sister celebrated the beginning of their overseas mission journeys in a sending ceremony Dec. 8 held at the Annunciation Chapel of the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining. "We give thanks to you and all missioners whose 'yes' profoundly speaks of hope," Ted Miles, executive director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, told the group. "We give thanks to you, for your 'yes' gives witness to the love of our God, who is always and everywhere doing something new in us and in the world," he said. "And we give thanks to our God whose grace and covenant with all of us makes all of this possible." Sister Antoinette Gutzler, president of the Maryknoll Sisters, called the sending ceremony "one of the most important and joyful events in the life of Maryknoll. It gives witness to our evolving understanding of cross-cultural mission, the call of discipleship and what it means to be part of the faith-filled communities of Maryknoll." Sister Gutzler also pointed out the importance of key passages from the commitment prayer the new missioners recite during the ceremony.

    Ignoring reality of abuse, resisting responsibility must end, says Jesuit

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who still believes the abuse crisis is an "American" or "Western" problem must become properly informed, face reality and realize problems may be hidden and explode in the future, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. And those who think too much talk and attention about abuse only blows the situation out of proportion or that it is time to change the topic are following "a mistaken path," he said in the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica. "If the issue is not fully confronted in all of its various dimensions, the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of (the church) and all of her priests will remain seriously wounded and, above all, the essence of her mission will suffer -- that of proclaiming the Gospel and its educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity," he wrote. The article, "In the Run-up to the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors," was sent to journalists Dec. 13 ahead of the issue's Dec. 15 publication date. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

    Be voice for the poor, imprisoned, pope tells Catholic television

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic media have a responsibility to be "spiritual antennas" that connect the world to the sufferings of the poor and the unwanted in society, especially prisoners on death row, Pope Francis said. During a Dec. 13 audience with journalists and collaborators of Telepace, an Italian Catholic television and radio station, the pope encouraged them to "transmit and receive" the "spiritual signs of the Father's merciful love. In your profession, may you be 'living channels' of spirituality to God and to all your listeners and viewers. Especially the poor, the last ones, the excluded. Never forget them, the poor next door!" the pope said. Pope Francis also encouraged them to be close to inmates, especially those on death row awaiting their executions. He recalled the ministry of Father Guido Todeschini, director of Telepace, who accompanied two death row inmates -- Ivan Ray Murphy and Bryan Eric Wolfe -- until their executions in 2003 and 2005, respectively, in Huntsville, Texas.

    Update: Strasbourg bishop speaks of 'lucid madness' after terror attack

    STRASBOURG, France (CNS) -- At noon Dec. 12, the bells of every Catholic church in Strasbourg rang for 10 minutes to honor the victims of a terror attack at a Christmas market the previous day. On Dec. 11, a shooter opened fire on the crowd, killing at least two and injuring 12 others. Police said the suspect, a 29-year-old man presumably linked to radical Islam, fled the scene after he was injured by soldiers. The attacker was said to have yelled "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is the greatest) during the incident. Police said the suspect was radicalized while in prison. "Once again, once again, terrorist violence has struck us," Archbishop Luc Ravel of Strasbourg said in a Dec. 12 statement. He said he felt the same "vertigo" he had after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris. "Vertigo in front of the lucid madness of the assassin, who should not make anyone believe that his act is rational or religious. It is absolutely necessary that all religious authorities rigorously denounce this vicious rapprochement between God and terrorism," wrote Archbishop Ravel. Pope Francis expressed his "sadness and concern" after learning of the attack in Strasbourg, as well as his "firm condemnation against such acts."

    Pope: Protecting human dignity must be government priority

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Protecting human dignity and human rights must always be at the heart of any action by world leaders to confront the many humanitarian crises afflicting today's world, Pope Francis said. Meeting with new, non-resident ambassadors to the Vatican Dec. 13, the pope noted the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and said governments must ensure the document continue to "guide the efforts of global diplomacy to secure peace in our world and to promote the integral development of each individual and all peoples. It is essential that respect for human dignity and human rights inspire and direct every effort to address the grave situations of war and armed conflict, crushing poverty, discrimination and inequality that afflict our world and in recent years have contributed to the present crisis of mass migration," he said. After receiving their letters of accreditation, the pope welcomed the 10 new ambassadors who hailed from Switzerland, Malta, the Bahamas, Cape Verde, Estonia, Iceland, Turkmenistan, Grenada, Qatar and Gambia.

    Update: Shooting in Brazilian cathedral leaves five dead, four injured

    SAO PAULO (CNS) -- A gunman opened fire inside a Brazilian church, killing four people and injuring four others before turning the gun on himself, police said. The shooting occurred Dec. 11 just as parishioners from Our Lady of the Conception Cathedral in Campinas, near Sao Paulo, were leaving a midday Mass. "I conducted the Mass at 12.15, at the end of the Mass a person came firing and made some victims, nobody could do anything, or help at all," said Father Amauri Thomazzi in an emotional video posted on his social media account hours after the incident. Police identified the gunman as Euler Fernando Grandolpho, 49, of Valinhos, a nearby city in the densely populated state of Sao Paulo. Police said the gunman fired more than 20 shots before being cornered by officers near the altar and killing himself. In a telegram sent Dec. 12 to Father Jose Eduardo Meschiatti, administrator of the Archdiocese of Campinas, by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Pope Francis expressed his sadness after hearing news of the attack and "assured his solidarity and spiritual comfort to the families who have lost their loved ones."

    Pope heads to Balkans in May to visit Bulgaria, Macedonia

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will make a three-day visit to Bulgaria and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, the Vatican announced. He will be the first pope to visit the Republic of Macedonia, which declared independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991. "Accepting the invitation of the respective highest authorities" of both nations and of the Catholic communities there, Pope Francis will travel to Bulgaria May 5-7 and Macedonia May 7, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said in a written statement Dec. 13. While the pope's itinerary will be published later, Burke said the pope would visit the Macedonian capital, Skopje, which is the birthplace of St. Teresa of Kolkata, and the Bulgarian capital of Sofia and the city of Rakovski -- the city with the largest number of Catholics in Bulgaria, which is predominately Orthodox. Catholics make up less than 1 percent of Bulgaria's 7 million people. The Vatican released the logo and motto of both trips. "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock" from Luke 12:32 was chosen for the Republic of Macedonia. The colors -- red and gold -- match the colors of the nation's flag and three blue stripes bordering the bottom symbolize the blue stripes of Mother Teresa's white sari.

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  • Christmas season brings joy, stress for survivors of natural disasters

    MIAMI (CNS) -- After spending a week with adults and Catholic school children in the hurricane-impacted Florida Panhandle, one mental health professional noted how the Christmas season is a mixed blessing for survivors of natural disasters. "Right now the holidays are working in two different ways -- both as a distraction and an underlying stress factor for parents both emotionally and financially but in another way it is good thing kids are looking forward, knowing that Christmas is coming and it is something else to think about," said Claudia J. Gomez-Cardona, is a regional director of counseling for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami. Gomez-Cardona and other Catholic Charities licensed mental health counselors from around South Florida spent the first week of December offering therapy and faculty training to hard-hit areas of Northwest Florida following this year's unusually strong storm there. Hurricane Michael's Oct. 10 landfall brought near Category-5 strength winds when it came ashore at Mexico Beach, near Panama City on the Florida Gulf Coast. The visiting mental health team initially expected they would engage more traumatized adults at one of the parishes most impacted by the storm but found themselves more useful by reaching out to parents, students, faculty and staff at one Catholic elementary school which has absorbed the entire student body of another school which closed due to Hurricane Michael.

    Panel: Aim of 'seamless garment' to unite Catholics on all life issues

    NEW YORK (CNS) -- Since Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin introduced the "seamless garment" approach to life issues 35 years ago, the notion has been both divisive and formative for the church, according to speakers at a Dec. 11 panel in New York. The event, "A Consistent Ethic of Life 2.0: An American Catholic Dialogue Rebooted," was held at Jesuit-run Fordham University, the site of Cardinal Bernardin's 1983 speech. The cardinal was the chair of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee when his seminal talk connected poverty, euthanasia, nuclear war, abortion and other life issues into a single "consistent ethic of life at every stage and in every circumstance." The cardinal's presentation "ushered in a new way of viewing moral living which emphasized the protection of the unborn, care of the poor, the elderly and the environment as interrelated and intertwined," said retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, who currently is apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico. "This 'out of the box' thinking is just what was needed to move beyond the impasse that had formed within the church and in society around life issues," he said. Some ignored the unborn focusing their passion for those on the margins. Others upheld the right to life of the unborn without any consideration for the degradation of human life found in the plight of the poor and even less for the care of creation."

    Update: Filmmaker's 'Camino' documentary finally finds home on PBS

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- What a long, strange trip it's been. Not walking the 500 miles in a pilgrimage from southern France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, that Lydia B. Smith first did a decade ago. Not even making a documentary about "the Camino," as the pilgrimage is called, when she returned a year later with a camera and film crew. It was getting the documentary aired on PBS stations. At long -- very long -- last, Smith's hopes are being realized. "Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago" is being shown in December on more than 200 PBS affiliates in 118 cities throughout the United States. Thanks to repeat showings, "Walking the Camino" will air more than 1,000 times before the year is out. Although the earliest airings are set for Dec. 15 on a handful of stations, the biggest splash will be Dec. 18. Now that PBS has joined the multicast universe along with other over-the-air broadcasters, "Walking the Camino" will be seen that date on the PBS subchannel World at 9 p.m. EST, with subsequent airings over the following two weeks at different times of the day, including overnight, early morning, afternoon, prime time and dayparts called "early fringe" and "late fringe." The biggest cities where "Walking the Camino" will be shown on the primary PBS channel are St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky; and Boise, Idaho.

    Vatican climate negotiator looks to NGOs to override government inaction

    KATOWICE, Poland (CNS) -- The Holy See's chief delegate at the United Nations climate talks in Katowice urged the development of stronger links among nongovernmental organizations in the drive for a final agreement as the two-week conference near its end. The call Dec. 12 from Msgr. Bruno-Marie Duffe, secretary of the Vatican's Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, came amidst signs of resistance to any substantive agreement emerging from the conference from the United States and other developed countries. "It's difficult to develop an international approach when some governments don't want to continue participating in dialogue. But it's important to continue talking with all the social actors," Msgr. Duffe said during a media briefing at the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP24. "The church must go on promoting solidarity among nations and peoples and remember past acts of cooperation not just at the level of states and political decision-makers," he said. Msgr. Duffe said he had met with U.S. representatives Dec. 11, three days after they joined Russian, Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegates in opposing an official "welcome" by COP24 delegates of an October report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with new warnings of disastrous effects if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.

    With a mother's heart, Mary raises up the abandoned, pope says at Mass

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as she did hundreds of years ago from a small hill in Tepeyac, Mexico, Mary accompanies the downtrodden and the lowly like a mother caring for her children. Mary "is a woman who walks with the gentleness and tenderness of a mother, she makes her home in family life, she unties one knot after another of the many wrongs we manage to generate, and she teaches us to remain standing in the midst of storms," the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Processing into the basilica dressed in white, the symbol of purity, Pope Francis made his way to a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the indigenous saint in 1531. The pope stood before the image, bowing reverently and incensing it three times. In his homily, the pope reflected on the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, in which Mary hastily visits her cousin Elizabeth, and subsequently proclaims "the greatness of the Lord." Through her Magnificat, the pope said, Mary teaches all Christian men and women not only the importance of praising God in the midst of joy, but also how to accompany and walk with others. From houses and hospital rooms to prison cells and rehabilitation clinics, he added, Mary continues to utter those words she said to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who am your mother?"

    Cardinal Pell found guilty of sex abuse, expected to appeal, reports say

    MELBOURNE, Australia (CNS) -- Australian Cardinal George Pell reportedly has been found guilty on five charges related to serious sexual misconduct involving two boys at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s. The trial, the specific charges, the testimony and almost all other details involving the accusations against the 77-year-old cardinal are covered by a court-issued "super injunction," which forbids all media in Australia from reporting on it. Cardinal Pell is expected to appeal the conviction. Sources said Cardinal Pell pleaded not guilty to all charges but was found guilty Dec. 11 by a jury of 12 people, who delivered a unanimous verdict, as required by Victoria state statutes; the jury had deliberated for more than three days. The trial took place before Judge Peter Kidd of the County Court of the State of Victoria; it was one of two trials Cardinal Pell is reportedly facing on accusations of abuse that allegedly occurred in the 1970s and in the 1990s.

    USCCB welcomes Treasury Department guidance on 'parking lot tax'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees welcomed a new explanation from the Treasury Department that relaxed rules on the payment of taxes by churches and nonprofits that offer employee parking. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the revisions, which will allow many nonprofit employers to retroactively reduce nondeductible parking expenses, were needed. In a Dec. 11 statement, the prelates also called for the full repeal of a provision in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that would tax houses of worship and other nonprofits for parking and transit benefits they provide to their employees. The USCCB joined other faith-based organizations in November in urging the repeal of what became known as the "parking lot tax."

    Creche up for one day, then Delaware town's leaders order its removal

    WILMINGTON, Del. (CNS) -- A manger scene can make people feel good at Christmas and that's what Patty Derrick and her friends in Rehoboth Beach were aiming for when they spoke to town leaders about erecting a creche that has been part of the beach town for about a half-century. "We were so positive about it," said Derrick, a shop owner and member of St. Edmond's Parish. "Everything was so positive, I don't know what happened. No idea." On Dec. 5, volunteers from St. Edmond's erected a creche belonging to the local Kiwanis Club in the town square about 50 feet from the city's Christmas tree at the bandstand in the center of town. The club has put the creche up in town every year for at least 50 years, according Derrick, including for many years in the same location in the downtown square. Last year and for several years previous, the creche had been displayed adjacent to a nearby bank while part of the town underwent a facelift during construction, she told The Dialog, newspaper of the Diocese of Wilmington. This year, volunteers wanted to return it to its original location. Derrick said she was asked by the pastor at St. Edmond's, Father William Cocco, to contact Mayor Paul Kuhns for permission to put up the creche near the Christmas tree.

    Three cardinals end service on pope's Council of Cardinals

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Three members of Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals have officially ended their service as papal advisers on the reform of the Roman Curia. In September, the council members had asked the pope for a reflection on "the work, structure and composition of the council itself, also taking into account the advanced age of some of its members." In response to that request, the pope wrote to three cardinal-members at the end of October thanking them for their service, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters Dec. 12. The cardinals ending their service after five years as members are Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77; Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, 85, retired archbishop of Santiago, Chile; and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Congo, 79. The three cardinals have missed a number of the meetings, which are scheduled five times a year in Rome. Cardinal Pell has been on trial in Australia on multiple sex abuse charges and Cardinal Errazuriz was to face questioning by a local prosecutor over his handling of abuse allegations. The Chilean cardinal told Radio Cooperativa in November his departure was not a resignation but was because his term had ended.

    Don't be afraid to ask for things from God in prayer, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said. Jesus does not want people to become numb to life's problems and "extinguish" those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall. "He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue" with God, the father, he said. Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity. With this prayer, Jesus shows an "audacious" way to address God immediately as "our Father" without any pomp and "preambles," the pope said.

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  • Update: New law will provide relief to genocide victims in Iraq, Syria

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump has signed into law the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018, which will provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold accountable Islamic State perpetrators of genocide. "The legislation signed today again reminds us of America's earlier efforts to aid victims of genocide -- Christian communities targeted by Ottomans a century ago and Jewish survivors of Shoah," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a Dec. 11 statement. With the bill now law, "America speaks with bold moral clarity and political unanimity," he added. Anderson and other officials of the Knights of Columbus took part in a signing ceremony at the White House. As chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services praised the new law, calling it a "critical" measure and "a signal of hope for the critically vulnerable of this region." The law enables financial and technical assistance for the humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery needs of former and current religious minority residents of Iraq and Syria. The assistance may come through the federal government or other entities, including faith-based groups.

    Study shows young adults leaving church start down that path at age 13

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. (CNS) -- To find Catholics who have left the church, start looking at the faces in the pews, according to a recent report. A 2018 study on young adults leaving the Catholic Church found people stopped identifying as Catholics at a median age of 13, long before they ceased attending a parish. The report adds to the picture of a church that more people are leaving and that fewer ever want to return to. At a Nov. 29 symposium prior to the start of the Santa Clara Faith Formation Conference, researchers from St. Mary's Press discussed the findings from their study. Titled "Going, Going, Gone: the Dynamics of Catholic Disaffiliation," the report presented an in-depth look at stories of the men and women who left Catholicism. Robert J. McCarty, one of the study authors, told the audience that about a third of respondents left over church teaching, most often that on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. "Young people see dealing with the gay community as an issue of social justice and human dignity, not an issue of sexuality," he said. Study participants also said they stopped identifying as Catholics because of a disbelief in religion, or a personal or familial change in their religious denomination.

    U.S. returns church bells to Philippines after more than 100 years

    MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- After more than a century, the United States government has returned three church bells swiped by American forces as war booty from the central Philippine town of Balangiga. reported that, after years of repeated demands for their return, the bells were brought home aboard a U.S. military plane Dec. 11. The United States will formally turn over the bells to President Rodrigo Duterte in Balangiga Dec. 14. U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim said the return of the bells "reflects the strong bonds and mutual respect" between the United States and the Philippines. "It demonstrates our determination to honor the past and the sacrifices made together by Filipinos and Americans," Kim said during a ceremony in Manila Dec. 11. He said the return of the bells "heralds our bright future as friends, partners and allies," adding that the two countries' shared history is "enduring and deeply personal."

    Pilgrimage across U.S. lets peacemaker spread light from Bethlehem

    LAFAYETTE, Ind. (CNS) -- Brian Duane's maroon Subaru had already covered about 1,800 miles when he pulled into the parking lot at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette Dec. 4. It was Duane's 18th stop in what would be a weeklong, cross-country journey for the resident of Pembroke, Massachusetts, and his car contained precious cargo with a radiance of goodwill. This road trip was a mission from Bethlehem carrying a message of peace, contained in a glowing lantern. This fire had originally been kindled at Christ's birthplace, the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. Duane is part of a national network of volunteers spreading this "Peace Light from Bethlehem" across the nation. "It is symbolic of Christ's love for us and of the Prince of Peace," Duane told Catholic News Service. "It serves as a reminder to us." For more than a decade, volunteers like Duane have driven this flame from coast to coast, lighting hundreds of lanterns along the route. The effort to spread the Peace Light is spearheaded by Scouts and Scouting advisers, most often associated with Catholic churches.

    High court won't hear states' appeals over defunding Planned Parenthood

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pro-life leaders said they were disappointed the U.S. Supreme Court declined Dec. 10 to hear appeals from Kansas and Louisiana on lower court rulings that have stopped the states from defunding Planned Parenthood. "Complicated legal arguments don't take away from the simple fact that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion," said Jeanne Mancini, who is president of March for Life. "America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is responsible for more than 300,000 abortions each year and was recently found to be involved with the harvesting and trafficking of body parts from aborted babies," she said in a statement issued shortly after the high court declined to hear the states' appeals. "Abortion is not health care, it is a human rights abuse," Mancini added. "Until Planned Parenthood ceases to perform abortions, they should not receive any money from taxpayers." Federal funds cannot be used to pay for abortion, but pro-life advocates say Planned Parenthood should not get Medicaid funding because its facilities primarily perform abortions; the organization argues that without Medicaid funds it could not provide health screenings and birth control to low-income women. Mancini said, "Until Planned Parenthood ceases to perform abortions, they should not receive any money from taxpayers."

    West Bank residents work to ensure tourists spend time with locals

    BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (CNS) -- Bethlehem and the neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour depend economically on tourism, but traditionally have struggled with keeping visitors in the area for more than half a day. Although the hotels are fully booked for Christmas this year, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into any business for the locals. Most large tour and pilgrim groups are bused through the Israeli checkpoint straight to the Church of the Nativity and sometimes to the nearby Milk Grotto or Shepherds Field in Beit Sahour. Then tourists get back on their buses and go to one of a select few souvenir shops to spend their money. If the souvenir hawkers hovering in the area are lucky, they may be able to sell the tourists a few trinkets during their brief stay. But for the most part smaller businesses, including shops and cafes, rarely see any rainfall from visitors. With the memories of the economic difficulties during the second intifada still fresh in their memories, private residents and the three municipalities are starting initiatives to entice visitors to stop, stroll through the towns, eat a local baklava sweet or take a city tour, much like they would in any other city they visit. Janneke Stegeman, 38, a German theologian, has been to Bethlehem many times. But this time, arriving during the Christmas season, she took advantage of a two-hour Art Walk tour through the old city of Beit Sahour -- one of Bethlehem's sister towns in the Bethlehem "triangle" -- to get to know some of the young artists in the area and hear about the work they are doing. "For me, coming here as a pilgrim is having a deep connection to the context and people you are visiting," she told Catholic News Service. "People come to the holy places without realizing where they are and who the people are who are living here."

    Venerating Cure d'Ars' relic can help church 'heal,' says head of Knights

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, "reminds us God uses instruments to be ministers of his grace and mercy," said Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S. He celebrated a nearly two-hour Mass Dec. 9 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that opened a four-day public veneration, which he prayed "would help people ask for the grace to change their lives." A six-month tour will take the holy relic of the saint -- popularly known as the Cure d'Ars -- across the United States. Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the "Heart of a Priest" tour was launched in wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, said in statement that St. John Vianney offers an example to help the church heal and rebuild. "We now welcome as providential this opportunity to invoke the intercession of the patron saint of parish priests, whose holiness and integrity is a singular model for clergy," Anderson said in his statement.

    Vatican official: With migration, cooperation is better than isolationism

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican praised the adoption by more than 160 nations of a key agreement on global migration, saying today's migration challenges are better tackled together than with "isolationist" stances. The U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration "includes a comprehensive framework of best practices and policy instruments to increase international cooperation and sharing of responsibility in the governance of migration," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, head of the Vatican delegation, told government leaders. The agreement, which is not legally binding, gives countries "the space to respond to their national circumstances and priorities, in full respect of international law and of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their status," he said at the gathering Dec. 10. "Its implementation will help all governments, as well as nongovernmental entities, including faith-based organizations, collectively to manage migration in a more safe, orderly and regular manner, something no state can achieve alone," said the cardinal, who is the Vatican secretary of state. The Vatican released a copy of the cardinal's remarks Dec. 11.

    Consolation comes even in martyrdom, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God sends his consolation to those in need of reassurance, even when they are facing death, Pope Francis said. Just like the early Christian martyrs, who sang as they marched to their deaths in the Colosseum, today's martyrs still give witness to that same joy in the midst of suffering, the pope said in his homily Dec. 11 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "I think of the good Coptic workers on the beach of Libya, slaughtered. They died saying, 'Jesus, Jesus!' There is a consolation within, a joy even in the moment of martyrdom," he said. In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's first reading from the prophet Isaiah, in which God sends his messenger to "give comfort to my people" and "speak tenderly to Jerusalem." This tenderness, the pope explained, is "a language that the prophets of doom do not know. It is a word erased from all the vices that drive us away from the Lord: clerical vices, the vices of a few Christians who do not move, who are lukewarm. They are afraid of tenderness," he said.

    Encore: Italian bishops approve new Missal, safeguarding efforts

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Italian bishops approved an updated translation of Mass prayers, including a change in the translation of the Our Father, and they passed a proposal to create a national office dedicated to serving dioceses in safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults. During the general assembly of the Italian bishops' conference, which met Nov. 12-15 at the Vatican, the bishops approved the translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal, the book of prayers used at Mass, and included changes to the text of the Our Father and the Gloria. Instead of ending, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," the new version is the Italian equivalent of "Do not abandon us to temptation but deliver us from evil." The bishops had approved the same translation in 2002 when they approved a new translation of the Bible for use in the liturgy. With the Gloria, instead of beginning with "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will," the new version is the Italian equivalent of "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to people, beloved by the Lord." The text of the new edition of the missal must still be approved by the Vatican.

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  • Priest sees his personal Christmas cards to parishioners as evangelizing

    BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) -- Shortly after Labor Day, when the only signs of Christmas are at retail outlets and drug stores, Father Frank Uter takes a seat at his kitchen table of his rectory and pens personal tidings in Christmas cards to his parishioners. He sends cards to 4,100 families at Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs and its mission church, Sacred Heart in Livingston. He has carried out this tradition for decades, across the Diocese of Baton Rouge at the various church parishes where he has served. During that time, he has likely used many gallons of ink. Father Uter's inspiration for sending out the personalized Christmas cards came from the St. Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation on evangelization, "Evangelii Nuntiandi." Evangelization has always been part of the church's ministry since the ascension of our Lord," Father Uter told The Catholic Commentator, newspaper of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. "But our focus primarily was within the parish and her ministries and religious education. But Pope Paul VI reminded us how important it is to evangelize, to reach out beyond the pews."

    Retired nuns make pilgrimage to share the journey with migrants, refugees

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Some 100 Immaculate Heart sisters covered 1,170 miles during a nine-week pilgrimage to support migrants and refugees -- while raising almost $2,000 for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Catholic Social Services along the way. The 130 women religious reside at Camilla Hall, the convent home and health care center of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in Malvern. Each pledged to walk -- or, for the mobility challenged, to wheel -- at least one mile a week for nine weeks. The long hallways of Camilla Hall, which measure 338 feet from end to end, enabled the nuns to rack up 1,170 miles by Nov. 13. "Our pilgrimage took on a different shape than the traditional pilgrimage, but the miles walked, and the prayers offered, are very real," said Sister Mary Lydon, a Camilla Hall resident who serves as the house's social justice representative. In her role, Sister Mary coordinates various prayer and advocacy efforts in which the hall community takes part. The hall's recent pilgrimage was part of Share the Journey, a two-year campaign launched by Pope Francis in September 2017 to increase awareness of, and compassion for, migrants and refugees throughout the world. As part of the initiative, the pope has called for all Catholics to stand with migrants by undertaking a spiritual pilgrimage on their behalf.

    Catholic groups push for strong climate deal at U.N. summit in Poland

    KATOWICE, Poland (CNS) -- Catholic representatives worked to keep negotiations on track for a comprehensive deal to address global warming as the U.N. climate change conference entered its second and final week in Katowice, Poland. The effort was complicated by the actions of U.S., Russian, Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti delegates, who objected to a note by the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP24, "welcoming" an October report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report warned that greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would need to be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 for global warming kept to a maximum of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit under the 2015 Paris climate accord or risk worsening drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty. After hours of negotiations Dec. 8 and with no consensus reached, the note was dropped under U.N. protocol. Still, the church continued to press for sustained action on climate change. "The church is exerting pressure and showing really significant commitment. We must hope countries match this," said Rebecca Elliott, communications director of Global Catholic Climate Movement, a coalition of more than 650 Catholic organizations. "Besides acting as a moral voice and providing a robust faith-based response, Catholic organizations are relating stories about the experiences of people from Latin America, Africa, India and the Pacific islands who are gravely affected by climate change."

    Two Jesuit provinces release names of priests with credible abuse claims

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The leaders of two U.S. provinces of the Society of Jesus released the names of more than 150 clergy with credible sexual abuse claims against them dating to the 1950s. Father Scott Santarosa, provincial of the order's West province based in Portland, Oregon, and Father Ronald Mercier, provincial of the Central and Southern province based in St. Louis, released separate lists Dec. 7 of priests and religious brothers who were alleged to have abused minors. The release of 153 names by the two provinces comes as dioceses, archdioceses and religious orders nationwide have made public since summer the names of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. The Central and Southern province list included 42 names dating to 1955, while the West province identified 111 men dating to 1950. Both provincial leaders apologized to abuse survivors and to the wider Catholic community in response to the claims of abuse. The priests also said they released the names in response to calls for transparency from the faithful and survivors.

    Kenyan priest killed as he takes Mass collection funds to the bank

    NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- A Catholic priest was shot dead by unknown robbers Dec. 10 near his parish in central Kenya as he was taking the Sunday Mass offerings to the bank. Father John Njoroge Muhia of Kinoo Parish in Kiambu, part of the Nairobi Archdiocese, was accosted by four robbers on motorcycles. They obstructed the priest's car on a rough road, forced him to stop and demanded the bag that he had in his car. One of the robbers reportedly drew a pistol, shot Father Njoroge in the chest and snatched a bag and mobile phone before escaping on the motorcycles. The priest was pronounced dead on arrival at the county hospital. "We are saddened by the killing of Father Njoroge," Father Francis Kiarie, who has worked with the dead priest, told Catholic News Service. "While we ask why, we condemned the act in the strongest terms possible. The killing of people of God is not unacceptable." An eyewitness in a nearby construction site said he heard gunshots and saw two motorcycles moving at high speed on the road. He added that his workers had told him that the men on the motorcycles had shot someone and were escaping. Photos of priest's car show that the robbers had fired through the front windshield.

    'Holy Fire' retreat ignites faith of middle schoolers from 10 dioceses

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- More than 1,800 Catholic middle school students and their chaperones from 10 dioceses danced and prayed their way through an interactive retreat event at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, the largest of its kind ever staged in the diocese. "I'm still in awe," said Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Nashville. The daylong event Dec. 1, which included a mix of high-energy musicians and inspirational speakers, along with quiet moments for eucharistic adoration and prayer, was well-received by the youth, their parents and chaperones who attended. Holy Fire, produced by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, is developed in collaboration with host dioceses, like Nashville as well as Chicago recently. Both events have been extremely well attended by thousands of young people. "We had over 10 dioceses in all, including representatives from across Tennessee and three of four dioceses in Kentucky," Staley told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. Groups also traveled from Birmingham, Alabama, north Georgia and Evansville, Indiana.

    Houston clergy, religious bid final goodbye to nation's 41st president

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- For Sister Mary Brendan O'Donnell, it was a baby afghan she made for the newborn child of George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Pierce Bush. For Father Christopher Nguyen, it was President Bush's administration that welcomed him to the U.S. as a Vietnamese refugee. Like many around the world, and especially in Houston, the lives of a consecrated woman religious and a Catholic priest were changed because of the nation's 41st president. Sister O'Donnell beamed as she remembered the soft colorful blanket. She had crocheted it herself and hand-delivered it to the Bushes for one of their newborn children at a Houston Astros baseball game. Decades later, she found herself in line with thousands to pay her respects to the late president at his own parish church, St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, the night before his Dec. 6 funeral. Sister O'Donnell said she was there to represent her convent, the Congregation of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, and the sisters' prayers for the repose of his soul. "The sisters are praying for him every day," she told the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. "For him and the consolation for his family, which is even harder for them right now."

    Update: Everyone must respect the basic human rights of all human beings, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The fundamental rights of all human beings, especially the most vulnerable, must be respected and protected in every situation, Pope Francis said, marking Human Rights Day, Dec.10. "While a part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees their dignity denied, ignored or infringed upon and their fundamental rights ignored or violated," he said. Such a contradiction leads one to ask "whether the equal dignity of all human beings -- solemnly proclaimed 70 years ago -- is truly recognized, respected, protected and promoted in every circumstance," he said in a written message. The message was read aloud by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, at a Dec. 10-11 conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University discussing the "achievements, omissions and negations" in the world of human rights today.

    Christian, Muslim young people spread pre-Christmas cheer in Beirut

    BEIRUT (CNS) -- On a gloomy, rainy Saturday morning in Beirut, 92-year-old Julia enthusiastically greeted her visitors, Christian and Muslim youth, who had come to set up a Christmas tree in her modest apartment. "Welcome. I love you," she said to her guests, who each greeted the beaming woman with kisses before breaking out in a chorus of "Jingle Bells." Julia, a Maronite Catholic, was one of 10 beneficiaries Dec. 8 of a Christmas tree decoration project for poor elderly that brought together Lebanese volunteers from the Knights of Malta, a Catholic organization, and "Who is Hussein," a Muslim Shiite organization, as well as Girl Guides associated with the local St. Vincent de Paul. Widowed for 40 years, Julia had spent her life as a homemaker. She lives with her 66-year-old unmarried son, Nicholas, who has difficulty finding work in his trade as a house painter. There are no government-sponsored services for the needy in Lebanon. Julia is one of the beneficiaries of the Knights of Malta Lebanon's Elderly Guardianship Program, in which the order's youth volunteers visit the homes of elderly on a monthly basis.

    Pope: Prepare for Christ's birth by recognizing mistakes, sowing peace

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Advent is a time for people to think about what they can change about themselves so that they can sow the seeds of peace, justice and fraternity in their daily lives, Pope Francis said. The Advent season is a call for personal conversion, "humbly recognizing our mistakes, our infidelities, our failure" to do one's duty, he said Dec. 9 before praying the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square. Celebrating the second Sunday of Advent, the pope said the attitudes of vigilance and prayer that characterize the Advent season and preparations for Christmas include a journey of conversion. "Let each one of us think, how can I change something about my behavior in order to prepare the way of the Lord?" the pope said. Preparing the way entails making straight "his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low," the pope said, citing the day's Gospel reading according to St. Luke.

    Algerian martyrs bear witness to dialogue, peace, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The lives of 19 religious men and women martyred during the Algerian civil war are a testament to God's plan of love and peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, Pope Francis said. In a message read Dec. 8 at the beatification Mass for the six women religious and 13 clerics, Pope Francis said it was a time for Catholics in Algeria and around the world to celebrate the martyrs' commitment to peace, but it was also a time to remember the sacrifices made by all Algerians during the bloody war. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, celebrated the Mass in Oran, Algeria, for the martyrs who were killed between 1994 and 1996. Both Christians and Muslims in Algeria "have been victims of the same violence for having lived, with faithfulness and respect for each other, their duties as believers and citizens in this blessed land. It is for them, too, that we pray and express our grateful tribute," the pope said.

    Surprise! Pope makes several impromptu visits

    ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis made surprise visits Dec. 7 and 8 to people receiving medical care far from their homes, to a dozen intellectually challenged young people and to the staff of a major Rome newspaper. The late-afternoon visits Dec. 7 to the CasAmica residence for families with a member needing long-term medical care far from home and to Il Ponte e l'Albero, a therapeutic rehabilitation home, were part of the pope's continuing "Mercy Friday" activities. Pope Francis began the Friday visits to hospitals, clinics, schools and residential communities during the 2015-16 Year of Mercy to demonstrate that mercy involves concrete acts of kindness and solidarity. Both the CasAmica and Il Ponte e l'Albero are on the extreme southern edge of Rome. The Vatican said most of the guests at the CasAmica are Italian families, mostly from the south, who cannot afford to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment while their family members are receiving treatment for cancer, leukemia or other serious illnesses. A few of the families, though, come from North Africa and from Eastern Europe.

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  • Marking feast day, pope asks Mary's care of families seeking refuge

    ROME (CNS) -- In the heart of Rome, near streets of fancy shops already blinged out for Christmas shopping, Pope Francis prayed for Romans struggling to survive and for families in the city and around the world who face the same lack of welcome that Mary and Joseph experienced. The pope concluded his public celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, by making the traditional papal visit to a statue of Mary erected in Rome's historic center to honor Catholic teaching that Mary was conceived without sin. The statue is located near the Spanish Steps and Rome's most expensive clothing and jewelry stores; it is also next to the building housing the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Instead of making a speech near the statue, the pope composes and reads a prayer, and he leaves a basket of roses at the statue's base. In the prayer addressed to Mary, he said, "In this Advent time, thinking of the days when you and Joseph were anxious for the imminent birth of your baby, worried because there was a census and you had to leave your village, Nazareth, and go to Bethlehem -- you know what it means to carry life in your womb and sense around you indifference, rejection and sometimes contempt. "So, I ask you to be close to the families who today in Rome, in Italy and throughout the world are living in similar situations," the pope continued. He asked Mary to intervene "so that they would not be abandoned, but safeguarded with their rights, human rights that come before every other, even legitimate, demand," an apparent reference to rights of migrants and refugees and the right of nations to control their borders.

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  • After heart procedure, Knoxville Bishop Stika back to regular schedule

    KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- After spending one night in the hospital following a heart catheterization procedure, Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville was released from Parkwest Medical Center early Dec. 6 and returned to the chancery for a brief visit. "I feel good, and I am grateful for the prayers I received and the great care that was provided to me while I underwent this procedure," Bishop Stika said. "I am ready for baseball season." Dr. Stephen L. Marietta, a Knoxville cardiologist, performed an angioplasty to clear a significant blockage -- 99 percent -- in an area of the heart at the location of a bypass operation 14 years ago, according to Bishop Stika. Regarding post-operative instructions from his doctor, Bishop Stika displayed his usual sense of humor. "The doctor told me to not lift anything heavy for a while, but I don't think that will stop me from carrying my crozier, my pastoral staff," he joked. Bishop Stika was immediately resuming his normal schedule, including celebrating two Masses in Knoxville during Dec. 8-9 weekend and a Mass in Chattanooga Dec. 10.

    Retired Bishop Rodimer dies; spent a lifetime of ministry in home diocese

    PATERSON, N.J. (CNS) -- Retired Bishop Frank J. Rodimer of Paterson died Dec. 6 at St. Joseph's Home for the Elderly in Totowa. He was 91. When Bishop Rodimer became the sixth bishop of the diocese Feb. 28, 1978, he had the unique distinction of being installed as the only priest of the Paterson Diocese to have ever been raised to the episcopacy. He retired in 2004. Earlier this year, he moved St. Joseph's Home. For much of his retirement, Bishop Rodimer resided in Green Pond and in those years he served the diocese whenever he could. "Every day I still pray for the people of the diocese and their intentions and I always hope today to still encourage my brother priests in whatever way I can to continue this very important ministry," he once said. Bishop Rodimer's body will be received the afternoon of Dec. 14 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson, followed by viewing until 7 p.m. and then vespers. His funeral Mass will be celebrated Dec. 15 at the cathedral.

    Religious investors ask energy firms to oppose EPA emission rollback plan

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Nearly two dozen Catholic entities have joined other investors in urging major oil and natural gas producing companies to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rollback of standards governing greenhouse gas emissions. In an early December letter to the energy firms, the 61 shareholders that are part of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility wrote that any rollback is risky to their investments because it would lead to "excessive methane emissions that needlessly tarnish the reputation of natural gas as clean fuel and call into question the role natural gas can play in a low-carbon future." The letter specifically focuses on an EPA plan to ease the New Source Performance Standards, or NSPS, adopted in 2016. The standards govern production and transmission in the oil and gas industry. The standards set limits on the emission of methane, volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants in energy production. The EPA proposal seeks to ease those limits, citing cost savings to industry. Organizations such as Virginia-based Mercy Investment Services, one of the Catholic signatories to the letter, see the rollbacks not just as financially risky but a threat to the environment as the world struggles to respond to climate change.

    San Francisco Archdiocese celebrates newly written Mass of the Americas

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- San Franciscans will celebrate the recently commissioned "Mass of the Americas" Dec. 8 for the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe at the archdiocese's Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. The liturgy, scheduled for 2 p.m., is the first new Mass commissioned for the cathedral since it was dedicated in 1971. "The Mass embodies the way Mary, our mother, unites all of us as God's children," San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone said in a statement announcing celebration the Mass, which he said is a "simultaneous tribute to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe," whose feast days are Dec. 8 and Dec. 12, respectively. San Francisco composer Frank La Rocca wrote the Mass, which includes music in Spanish, Latin, English and Nahuatl, the Aztec language Mary used when she spoke with St. Juan Diego in Mexico in the 16th century. The Mass is sponsored by the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship. La Rocca is composer-in-residence at the institute.

    Woman dumps acid on priest hearing confessions in Managua

    MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNS) -- A 24-year-old woman dumped sulfuric acid on a priest while he was hearing confessions in the Managua cathedral. Father Mario Guevara, 59, was immediately taken to the hospital Dec. 5 and treated for burns. The Archdiocese of Managua asked for prayers for the priest, who has diabetes and hypertension. A Nicaraguan church source told Catholic News Service Dec. 6 the priest had a chemical burn on one eye and his shoulders. "He is already at home and is stable from his diabetes and his pressure." Witnesses said after the woman was controlled by the people in the cathedral, she yelled: "... Call the police if you want!! I know they cannot do anything against me." Police came and arrested her. A tweet from Sofia Montenegro Alarcon, an award-winning Nicaraguan journalist, social researcher, and feminist, said the acid attack "bears a 'chamuca' trademark of a supposed feminist, who nobody in the movement recognizes." She said it was associated with clubs and bars linked to the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

    A Norbertine abbey, steeped in tradition, uses modern outreach

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Norbertine Fathers at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California, just opened their doors, so to speak, to the world at large. The priests and seminarians who live a monastic life at the abbey but also have apostolic ministries at schools, parishes and prisons in Southern California, recently developed an online platform for their donors and subscribers to essentially take part in the life of the abbey -- gaining access to spiritual writings of the priests, audio to their Gregorian chants and video clips including links to a series they produced last year about themselves called "City of Saints." The site is called the Abbots Circle -- -- and is akin to a digital library, but it also provides opportunities for subscribers to ask questions. "God is asking us to reach the church in new ways," said Norbertine Father Ambrose Criste, novice master and director of vocations and formation for the order. The new platform enables the priests to give back to their supporters and "provide spiritual nourishment," he added. It also responds to those who come to the abbey seeking spiritual direction and often ask for more, wondering if they can read homilies or other works by the priests. "They are thirsty for sound instruction, teaching nourishment and real-time questions and answers," the priest told Catholic News Service Dec. 4.

    Canadian bishops talk with pope about abuse policy, indigenous peoples

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The leaders of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the concerns of the indigenous peoples in Canada and the bishops' updated sexual abuse policies were among the issues they spoke about with Pope Francis. Each of those issues is an ongoing concern that is "dear to his heart," Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, conference president, told Catholic News Service Dec. 7. Bishop Gendron met the pope at the Vatican Dec. 6 along with Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg, Manitoba, vice president of the CCCB, and Msgr. Frank Leo Jr., general secretary of the conference. They were in Rome Dec. 3-14 as a part of an annual trip by conference leadership to meet the pope and other senior Vatican officials. At the end of their annual plenary in September, the bishops vowed to implement a new set of guidelines dealing with abuse protection, prevention, care and reconciliation. The two conference leaders told CNS that the guidelines received praise from Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, one of the leading experts in the church regarding safeguarding and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Archbishop Gagnon said that during their meeting with Father Zollner Dec. 7, the Jesuit said "he very much likes the resource we produced" and it was "very well-received." The archbishop added that each diocese will be focused on victims and all those affected by abuse, including the families of the abused, of the perpetrator and people in the community.

    Christmas spirit in the air as Vatican unveils Nativity scene, tree

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The annual unveiling of the Vatican's Christmas tree and Nativity scene brought some much-needed warmth to people's hearts as winter approached. Hundreds of people in St. Peter's Square Dec. 7 applauded as white curtains unfurled, revealing a 52-foot wide artistic representation of Jesus' birth made entirely of sand and dubbed the "Sand Nativity." The bas-relief sculpture, which weighed over 700 tons, was made with sand from Jesolo, an Italian seaside resort town roughly 40 miles north of Venice. Shortly after, as the sun set behind St. Peter's Basilica, the sounds of "Silent Night" filled the square before the lights of the Vatican's towering Christmas tree were lit. The 42-foot-tall red spruce tree, donated by the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone in the northern Italian region of Veneto, was unveiled at the Vatican's annual tree lighting ceremony. Among those present at the annual Christmas tree lighting were Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; Archbishop Francesco Moraglia, patriarch of Venice; and Bishop Giuseppe Pellegrini of Concordia-Pordenone.

    Feast of Immaculate Conception does not get weekend dispensation

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Just last year, Catholics were required to attend separate Masses two days in a row for the Sunday obligation and Monday's Christmas Mass. Now, they have a similar opportunity this year with the feast of the Immaculate Conception falling on a Saturday -- Dec. 8. The vigil Mass on Saturday evening is not a "two-for-one" Mass for both days. Last year, the U.S. bishops gave Catholics a heads-up about the back-to-back Sunday and Christmas liturgies 10 months in advance in a newsletter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Divine Worship. It also referenced what would occur this year and will recur when Dec. 8 falls on a Monday. The newsletter specifically noted that the Saturday vigil does not count for both the holy day and Sunday in the very rare circumstances when two of the church's six holy days of obligation -- the feast of the Immaculate Conception or Christmas -- fall the day before or after Sunday. "When consecutive obligations occur on Saturday-Sunday or Sunday-Monday, the faithful must attend Mass twice to fulfill two separate obligations," the committee said. There is dispensation from a holy day Mass obligation when other holy days fall on Saturdays or Mondays but this does not apply to Christmas or the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    Paris archbishop to pray for France as fuel taxes canceled

    PARIS (CNS) -- Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit planned to pray for the country Dec. 7, even as the French government dropped all fuel tax increases for 2019. The government move came after French cities were hit with weeks of violent protests, as French demanded lower fuel taxes and better purchasing power. Images of rampage at the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees during the Dec. 1 weekend have been shown around the world. The demonstrations, known as the "yellow vest" protests after the high-visibility vests worn as a symbol of French citizens' demands, were set to continue, despite the cancellation of the fuel tax increase. At least four people have died since the protests began in mid-November. On Dec. 5, Archbishop Aupetit said he believed the protests reflected a "significant suffering of many of our fellow citizens," but he denounced the "outrageous violence" that led to violent clashes, particularly in Paris. The archbishop, who asked Christians to be peacemakers, said he would pray for the country at Notre Dame Cathedral's 6:30 p.m. Mass Dec. 7, the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    German prosecutors launch crackdown on church sex abuse

    FRANKFURT, Germany (CNS) -- German police and prosecutors are launching investigations into clergy sexual abuse following the Sept. 12 leak of a report containing evidence of 3,700 alleged child sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church over a 68-year-period. Authorities in Cologne, Passau and Gorlitz have publicly initiated criminal proceedings following the release of the report, according to Welt news. Six law professors filed criminal complaints against all 27 dioceses in October. A further 20 public prosecutors nationwide are currently examining evidence against church officials in Germany's 27 Catholic dioceses. According to a Dec. 6 report by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, public prosecutors who have not yet openly brought charges are doing so with an aim to identify all parties involved in cover-ups and root out larger conspiracies within the church. Details of the investigations are being kept confidential. Authorities currently doing investigative research include those of Osnabruck, Wurzburg and Bamberg. Archdioceses currently being affected by criminal proceedings have been asked to reveal all details of known cases and to hand over all relevant documents to government authorities. Spokesmen for the German bishops' conference have declared its "full cooperation" with judicial authorities. Some archdioceses have already made their files available to public prosecutors, according to KNA, the German Catholic news agency.

    Alabama archbishop releases names of clergy, religious accused of abuse

    MOBILE, Ala. (CNS) -- Saying that Jesus provides light for the church to overcome darkness, Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile released the names of priests, deacons and religious brothers who had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors. In releasing the list Dec. 6, Archbishop Rodi apologized to victims of child sexual abuse as well as to parishioners throughout the southern Alabama archdiocese in a statement posted on the archdiocesan website, The names were included on two lists: one for archdiocesan clergy and the other for religious order clergy and religious men. In the case of religious order clergy, he said, the list includes the names of all priests and brothers credibly accused, even if alleged incidents of abuse did not occur in the archdiocese. The lists show that allegations were received from the 1950s through 2012. The most recent case involved a deacon of the archdiocese. All other incidents were reported no later than 1998. In all, 10 archdiocesan priests and one deacon were named as were 15 religious order priests and two religious brothers.

    Update: Illegal drug makers, dealers are traffickers of death, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Everyone must help in the fight against drugs, particularly governments which are called to confront the "traffickers of death" who produce, distribute or sell addictive substances, Pope Francis said. There needs to be better and more cooperation of people and coordination of policies battling drugs and dependencies, he said. "Isolated policies are no use; it is a human problem, it is a social problem, everything must be connected, creating a network of solidarity and closeness with those who are scarred by these pathologies" of addiction, he said. The pope made his comments during an audience Dec. 1 with experts attending an international conference on drugs and addictions organized by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. "We are all called to tackle the production, expansion and distribution of drugs in the world," he told participants.

    In times of trouble, hold fast to God, Capuchin tells pope

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When storm clouds gather and the Catholic Church is tossed by the scandalous behavior of some of its members, Catholics must repeat what St. Francis of Assisi repeated: "God is and that suffices," the preacher of the papal household told Pope Francis and his aides. "Let us also learn to repeat these simple words to ourselves when, in the church or in our lives, we find ourselves in circumstances similar to those of (St.) Francis, and many clouds will disperse," said Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa Dec. 7. The preacher of the papal household leads the pope and Roman Curia officials in a spiritual reflection on most Fridays of Advent and Lent. For his 2018 Advent reflections, Father Cantalamessa said he would "set aside every other theme and any reference to current problems" and focus on each individual's need for a personal relationship with God. "We know from experience that an authentic personal relationship with God is the first requirement in dealing with all the situations and problems that come up without us losing our peace and patience," said the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa. At the suggestion of Pope Francis, Father Cantalamessa will lead a retreat for the bishops of the United States Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago as they continue to discuss and discern ways to handle the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

    Vatican leads talks to expand testing, care of HIV-positive kids

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Responding to the deaths of tens of thousands of children from AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses, the Vatican brought together physicians and representatives of drug companies and humanitarian agencies to strategize ways to improve care for children and adolescents who are HIV-positive. Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, convened a "dialogue" at the Vatican Dec. 6-7 on the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric HIV. The meeting aimed to "address bottlenecks that limit access to early infant diagnostic products and programs" as well as to "scale up strategies that can help quickly identify HIV-exposed children and link them to testing and treatment services," according to Caritas Internationalis, which helped sponsor the event. While the global community has made great progress in improving access for adults to HIV and AIDS testing and treatment services, "more than 120,000 children continue to die each year from AIDS-related causes and over 13,000 children are newly infected each month," said a Caritas press release Dec. 6. The two-day dialogue was designed to develop a plan of action for introducing and expanding "optimized diagnostics and case-finding strategies for HIV" to reach those still lacking care and to "intensify commitments in key challenging areas," such as in the development of treatments and in gaining regulatory approval of life-saving drugs and diagnostic tools, the statement said.

    Vatican urges adoption of global compacts on migration, refugees

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming the finalization of global compacts on migration and on refugees, the Vatican urged nations to adopt the nonbinding agreements to protect people who are on the move and to promote their orderly acceptance in new countries. "Greater cooperation and responsibility sharing are important themes running through both compacts," said a statement Dec. 6 from the Vatican's Migration and Refugees Section. In anticipation of the adoption Dec. 10-11 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Vatican noted, however, that it had registered some "reservations and comments" on references in the compact to "the so-­called 'Minimum Initial Service Package,'" which includes the distribution of condoms, and to "sexual and reproductive health services," which could include abortion. Those provisions, the Vatican said, "are neither agreed language in the international community nor in line with Catholic principles." Still, the Vatican said, the compact is an essential recognition that the phenomenon of migration is universal and that international cooperation is required to protect the rights and dignity of migrants and to assist the nations that welcome them. The global compact offers "a menu or a toolkit of actions that states -- and other actors -- can choose to do internally, bilaterally and even regionally, depending on their circumstances and needs," the Vatican statement said.

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  • Deacon: From wildfires come acts of kindness for those trying to recover

    SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Deacon Ray Helgeson left his home in Paradise on the morning of Nov. 8 with his wife, Donna, for daily Mass at the close-knit Butte County town's only Catholic church. They never arrived. On the short drive to St. Thomas More Church, where the deacon assists at Mass and heads the parish's adult faith formation program, the Helgesons saw billowing smoke and a nearby peak in flames. They continued warily in the direction of the church but were soon intercepted by emergency crews, who diverted them from what would become California's most destructive wildland fire. The Camp Fire burned more than 153,000 acres, destroyed more than 14,000 homes and caused 85 fatalities, with several people still reported missing as of Dec. 6. The fire left more than 80 percent of Paradise residents, including the Helgesons, essentially homeless and had a devastating impact on St. Thomas More parishioners, with an estimated 640 losing their homes out of 800 on the official roster. "This stuff really confuses you," Deacon Helgeson told Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He made the comments in a Nov. 28 phone interview from his son's home in Citrus Heights outside Sacramento, a 90-mile drive from Paradise. He and his wife arrived Nov. 8 with the clothing they wore to church that morning, a short supply of necessary medications and Deacon Helgeson's breviary. Like many residents, they have not been back to the fire zone, where recovery efforts are still underway, but have confirmed that their home is gone. "Stability for human persons is huge and we don't have a place now to call home now," Helgeson said. "If your faith is weak, it's going to be extra tough."

    Houston Catholic, civic leaders hail late president as hometown hero

    HOUSTON (CNS) -- Catholic and civic leaders in the Houston area recalled the late George H.W. Bush's legacy as president, his history as a Houstonian and his faith as a Christian. "The world, our country and the city of Houston recently lost a courageous man, dedicated leader and selfless public servant," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo said of the nation's 41st president, who died in his Houston home Nov. 30 at age 94. "I join the faithful of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in offering prayers and condolences to the entire Bush family." Cardinal DiNardo, head of the Texas archdiocese, said Bush's career in the public eye -- from the Lone Star State to the global stage -- was marked by incredible statesmanship and honor. "His strong faith in God, devotion to his wife of 73 years, the late first lady Barbara Bush, and his boundless love for the covenant of family served as a model for all to follow," he said. "The city of Houston was very proud to call him one of our own and one of our brightest points of light. We will forever be grateful for his presence and commitment to our community and to the people of Houston. May the glory of the risen Lord transform our sorrow into serenity." Cardinal DiNardo and his predecessor, retired Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, sat in the front row at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston Dec. 6 for the funeral services for the late president.

    Catholic Relief Services marks 75 years of restoring people's dignity

    BALTIMORE (CNS) -- As Catholic Relief Services staffers and supporters spent an evening marking 75 years of service in the world, one word recurred: dignity. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who chaired the CRS board of directors from 2010 to 2013, spoke of it in his homily at a special Mass Dec. 5 in St. Stephen's Chapel at the organization's Baltimore headquarters. Every day, he said, Catholic Relief Services is "trying to bring the world that IS to the world that God intends." In most cases, this means "giving some sense of dignity to people robbed of their dignity." Bishop Kicanas, who often visited CRS projects when he was chairman of the board, spoke of all the places he saw this occur: in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where children scrounge for food; in India's Uttar Pradesh state, where CRS helps women fight infant mortality. In Peru, he said, he saw an indigenous woman speaking at a meeting in her newly learned Spanish, "and the men were listening. Amazing! CRS for 75 years has been hovering over the vulnerable," he said, calling the international relief and development agency determined, resolved and patient. "CRS will not fail," he said, urging staffers to continue their work for another 25 years.

    Update: Pope to make historic visit to United Arab Emirates in February

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will visit the United Arab Emirates next year, becoming the first pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula, the Vatican announced. In a Dec. 6 statement, the Vatican said the pope will "participate in the International Interfaith Meeting on 'Human Fraternity'" after receiving an invitation by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi. "The visit will take place also in response to the invitation of the Catholic Church in the United Arab Emirates," the Vatican said. The trip Feb. 3-5 will take place less than a week after Pope Francis returns from his Jan. 23-28 visit to Panama for World Youth Day. Shortly after the announcement, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, welcomed the announcement of the pope's visit in a post on his personal Facebook page.

    Tennessee bishops say man's execution would not serve justice

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) -- The bishops leading Tennessee's three Catholic dioceses said the planned Dec. 6 execution of a man convicted of brutally killing of a young mentally handicapped woman fails to serve the "common good of advancing toward a more just society." Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Kentucky, who is apostolic administrator of Memphis, said in a Dec. 5 statement that David Miller, should be "punished severely," but that his life should not be taken. Miller's attorneys continued seeking to delay the execution hours before it was set to occur at 7:10 p.m. local time. Miller, 61, has been on death row since 1982. Miller was convicted of the 1980 death of Lee Standifer, 23. Investigators found her body May 21, 1981 in the backyard of a Knoxville home where Miller was living. Authorities determined that Standifer was killed by two blows to the head and that she was stabbed eight times after she died. The bishops acknowledged that the Miller's crime was unjustified and that he deprived Standifer of "her God-given gift of a joyful and fulfilling life." They also said the "horrendous conditions and abuse" Miller experienced as a child and young adult that were revealed in recent news reports do not mean he should absolved of responsibility for Standifer's death, "but they do shed light on the impact of sin and the destruction of a soul."

    Women religious launch Advent with the light appearing in darkness

    BEECH GROVE, Ind. (CNS) -- A few purple hangings and an Advent wreath were the only signs of the season in the dark chapel of the Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove. In the hallway just outside, the Sisters of St. Benedict quietly assembled, intentionally stopping to gather their thoughts and silently reflect. The light appearing in darkness served as a metaphor for the 38 women religious during their Dec. 1 evening prayer as they marked the beginning of Advent, four weeks of preparation before Christmas. Outside of the monastery walls, Christmas decorations, shopping and celebrations were in full swing. Silent, sparse and contemplative, the religious house was a stark contrast. One expert called this liturgical season of Advent a "radical critique" of the human tendency to binge on celebration. "We need times to contemplate and to await the coming of that which is to come, and we need time to celebrate that which is here," said Timothy O'Malley, academic director for the Center for Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. "In a kind of perpetual cycle of wanting to move from event to event, to have no preparation but just to celebrate and move, Advent is a radical critique," O'Malley told Catholic News Service.

    Bishop of Algiers: Martyrs' beatification can unite Christians, Muslims

    ALGIERS, Algeria (CNS) -- The beatifications of 19 martyrs in Algeria will be a "great joy" to the church and will help unite Christians and Muslims of the country, said a French-Algerian archbishop. The beatifications represent "hope for the future" rather than a "complaint about the past," said Archbishop Paul Desfarges of Algiers, the largest city in the North African country. His words came in a commentary published Dec. 5 on the website of the French bishops' conference alongside a 24-page pastoral letter, written by the French-born archbishop in November. Archbishop Desfarges said he looked forward to the Dec. 8 beatifications with "complete confidence," saying he expected the event to unite Christians and Muslims of the country in deeper friendship. "This beatification is not a ceremony just for Christians," he explained, but was an honor for all Algerian Christians and Muslims who were now "living together in peace." The Catholic martyrs, the archbishop said, would be popularly associated with "114 imams who refused to condone violence during the dark decade" of the Algerian civil war of the 1990s.

    Los Angeles Archdiocese adds new names to list of accused priests

    LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles Dec. 6 released an updated list of priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, with the report showing two cases of alleged abuse of current minors in the archdiocese since 2008. The two cases were made public at the time the allegations were first received. Upon receiving the accusations, the archdiocese removed the two priests, Juan Cano and Jose Luis Cuevas, from ministry and reported them to law enforcement. Following separate investigations by police and by an archdiocesan oversight board, the men were permanently removed from ministry. "As disturbing as their behavior was, it shows that thanks to the swift action of alert teachers, parents and even children themselves, we can catch signs of abusive behavior early," said Heather Banis, victims assistance ministry coordinator for the archdiocese. Overall, the update added the names of 54 priests -- 27 of them now dead -- to the Archdiocese's "Report to the People of God," originally published in 2004 by Cardinal Roger Mahony, and updated in 2005 and in 2008. The archdiocese has posted the full list, along with a message from Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, on a new website,

    Catholic groups see major harm for immigrants in changing public benefits

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A proposal by the Trump administration to deny green cards to legal immigrants using public assistance "will dramatically change the process of legal migration and make it increasingly difficult for low-income and working-class individuals to legally migrate to the United States." That's the view of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA according to comments they filed in response proposed revisions to what is called the "public charge" rule. They urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the proposed rule and return to "the current and long-standing interpretation of public charge" and laid out several reasons for opposing the rule change. It will "undermine family unity and stability," will "harm low-income and working-class families and "have a negative impact on the social safety net. The rule will have severe consequences for public health and is detrimental to larger families," they said. "The rule proposes a definition of 'public charge' and 'public benefit' that is arbitrary and will make people less self-sufficient ... and proposes a public charge scheme that will create grounds to deny virtually every immigration application."

    Pope revamps Vatican City State structures, laws to boost oversight

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis approved a new set of laws concerning the structure and governance of Vatican City State in an effort to simplify the many offices and activities of the world's smallest nation and to boost oversight, transparency and budgetary controls. The measures, issued "motu proprio," on the pope's own accord, were published Dec. 6. In his letter, the pope said the reorganization was necessary to make it "suitable to current needs" while ensuring its mission to serve the pope and the specific aims of the departments and activities within Vatican City State. He said the time was right to "proceed with a systematic legislative reform enlightened by the principles of rationalization, cost-effectiveness and simplification as well as pursuing the criteria of functionality, transparency, regulatory consistency and organizational flexibility." The pope approved the legislation that had been drafted by a working commission headed by Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the governing office of Vatican City State. The new laws will go into effect June 7 and fully replace the law approved by St. John Paul II's motu proprio in 2002.

    Christmas tree sales benefit charities and help families celebrate season

    DE PERE, Wis. (CNS) -- There's only one place in northeast Wisconsin where families can purchase a Christmas tree and get Tootsie Rolls in the bargain. It's the Christmas tree lot run by the Knights of Columbus' Abbot Pennings Council 3955 in De Pere. If the free Tootsie Roll isn't enough incentive, knowing that your purchase goes to benefit charitable projects may sweeten the tree-buying decision. Handing out Tootsie Rolls is nothing new for members of the Catholic fraternal service organization. Knights Tootsie Roll Drives, held to benefit people with intellectual disabilities, began in Wisconsin in 1973. In 2018, the program raised $726,736 statewide, according to the Wisconsin State Council. On the other hand, selling Christmas trees for charity is not a common Knights' fundraiser. Only a handful of Wisconsin Knights councils operate Christmas tree lots, and the De Pere council likely has the longest running operation. This year the council is celebrating five decades of selling trees. "We start selling the day after Thanksgiving and stay open until all trees are gone," John Mueller told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. "When we get down to the last 10 or 12 trees, then we just close up and donate those to St. Vincent de Paul. We also provide free trees when a family shows up and can't afford one."

    Australian judge overturns former Adelaide archbishop's conviction

    NEWCASTLE, Australia (CNS) -- An Australian judge overturned the conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson, whom a lower court found guilty of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse by a priest. New South Wales District Court Judge Roy Ellis ruled Dec. 6 that there were reasonable doubts about Archbishop Wilson's conviction, which was handed down by a lower court in Newcastle in May. The archbishop, 68, was the highest-ranking church official to be found guilty of abuse-related charges stemming from the actions of clergy. During his trial, Archbishop Wilson consistently denied knowing that the priest had abused boys in the 1970s. Ellis said that suspicion of a crime did not substitute for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense attorneys argued that evidence pointing to the archbishop's knowledge of the alleged abuse was circumstantial and that he was innocent of the charge filed against him. In July, Archbishop Wilson resigned from his duties in the Adelaide Archdiocese after being sentenced to one year of house arrest. He subsequently appealed his conviction, leading to the Ellis ruling.

    A life built on trust in God is built on solid ground, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians are not people of faith in name only, Pope Francis said; they trust in God, base their lives on his truth and seek to act on the teachings of Jesus. People with faith in God have not put their hope only in words or in "vanity, pride, in the fleeting powers of life," he said. They put their hopes on solid ground -- the Lord, he said in his homily Dec. 6 during morning Mass at his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus tells his disciples that those who act on his teachings will have built their house on solid rock, while those who only listen to his word and do not act will be fools with a vulnerable house built on sand. The pope said the Advent season is a time for people to ask themselves, "Am I Christian in words or in deeds? Do I build my life on the rock of God or on the sand of the world, of vanity? Am I humble? Do I seek to always lower myself, without pride, and, in that way, serve the Lord?" Being Christian in name or words only, he said, is a superficial form of belief, like putting on makeup to look the part. It is going only "halfway -- I say I am Christian, but I don't do what Christians do."

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  • Nation's 43rd president says his late father was 'a great and noble man'

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the days since the Nov. 30 death of former President George H.W. Bush, several news outlets reported that some years ago he told family members that he doubted any one would come to his memorial when he died. But over the course of nearly three days, throngs lined up on the street near the Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol and waited up to four hours, in some cases, to snake through the crowd barriers to pay their respects as Bush lay in state in the Rotunda. After Bush died at his Houston home at age 94, his body was brought to Washington by "Special Air Mission 41" for a state funeral. After arrival at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington Dec. 3, his body was transported to the Rotunda, and the round-the-clock public viewing period began that afternoon. The viewing ended at 7 a.m. Dec. 5, which President Donald Trump had declared as a national day of mourning. Bush's casket was then transported across the city to the Episcopal Church's Washington National Cathedral for a state funeral. His eldest son, former President George W. Bush, gave an emotional eulogy. He said his father would be remembered as "a great president of the United States, a diplomat of unmatched skill ... and a gentleman who executed the duties of his office with dignity and honor."

    As U.N. declaration hits 70, push to include 'new' rights called troubling

    UNITED NATIONS (CNS) -- Seventy years after its adoption, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was lauded Dec. 4 as a seminal, yet imperfect achievement of the nascent United Nations. Speakers at a panel honored the foresight of the declaration's framers, but also warned that recognition of "new and deeply troubling rights" will contradict the document's noble intent. Msgr. Tomasz Grysa, deputy permanent observer of the Holy See to the U.N., said human rights are at the core of the United Nations, but the U.N. Charter did not "specify what those fundamental human rights were." The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was tasked with identifying "both political and civil rights, including life, liberty, property, freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and economic, social and cultural rights. Like work, education and basic subsistence," he said. The rights articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were practical and made to guide action, Msgr. Grysa added. "They flowed from the conviction that every person needs to be treated like every other human being" and were framed in relation to both states and institutions like the family, local communities and religious groups to acknowledge that "human beings are persons in solidarity and fraternity rather than isolated individuals," he said.

    Advent calendars: Old tradition and modern commercialism, same message

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Advent calendar with one tab or box to open each day for 24 or 25 days taps into something people really like: countdowns. It also highlights the anticipation that is at the heart of the four-week liturgical season of Advent. These calendars, which are religious in nature, hence always with the name Advent, also at times can take the religious theme and run with it, sometimes leaving the biblical manger scene in the dust with daily surprises of anything from whiskey, cosmetics, toys, chocolates, books, coffee, and for pets, daily treats. But not all Advent calendars are alike. Some simply display, when each window is opened, either Christmas symbols, Bible passages or inspirational daily motivations. Some are online, some are traditional paper and others are way more elaborate with daily gifts in drawers or boxes. No matter their size or design, Advent calendars all count down to Christmas. Since they start with the No. 1, for Dec. 1, they technically do not begin at the start of Advent; the first Sunday of Advent varies each year and often comes at the end of November. Some calendars, with 25 windows, end after Advent with the biggest prize, or image, on the 25th window, or Christmas, but some calendars end at 24. Whether they come from a Hallmark store or a religious supply company, these calendars are based on the practice of counting down the days until Christmas that once was done with chalk marks on doors or straw placed in Nativity mangers.

    Colleagues say new Congolese archbishop will defend human rights

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The newly installed head of one of Africa's largest archdioceses will vigorously defend democracy and human rights, while also seeking to reconcile political opponents, said church officials in Congo. Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu is "above all a pastor, who displays Christian frankness in what he says and shrewdly understands given situations," said Father Andre Masinganda, deputy secretary-general of the Congolese bishops' conference. "He's also particularly sensitive to justice, peace and human rights and can be counted on to promote these values with a firm stand." Archbishop Ambongo, vice president of the bishops' conference, began his ministry as archbishop of Kinshasa in late November, replacing 79-year-old Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, who held the post for 11 years and was a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on reforms. Father Masinganda told Catholic News Service that Archbishop Ambongo, who was installed Nov. 25, would be ready to work with all sides in Congo's bitter political disputes. "He shows an open spirit and is always ready to calm and unify by considering the views and convictions of others," Father Masinganda said, adding he hoped political leaders would show a new willingness to cooperate.

    Woman who once assisted with abortions to address March for Life Jan. 18

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Abby Johnson, who early in her career assisted in carrying out abortions, will be among the speakers during the 2019 March for Life rally Jan. 18 on the National Mall in Washington. Johnson, a one-time Planned Parenthood clinic director, is the founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry that assists abortion clinic workers who have left their position. "Unique From Day One: Pro-Life Is Pro-Science" is the theme of the 2019 march, Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, said during a media briefing Dec. 5 in Washington. Mancini said this year's events will focus on the scientific discoveries that have led to new understanding about life in the womb. "Science and technology are on the side of life in large because they show the humanity of the child at a very young age," Mancini told Catholic News Service after the briefing. "We can hear and see a baby's heartbeat now at six weeks. There are blood tests to know a baby's gender at seven weeks. Now that's changed enormously over the course of the last few years," she said. Details of events are online at

    Amid church's abuse crisis, music can unite the faithful, says composer

    IJAMSVILLE, Md. (CNS) -- "How can we pray when we feel betrayed?" The song continues, offering more questions, but no answers. "How Can We Pray?" was written by Zachary Stachowski, director of music ministry at St. Ignatius of Loyola in Ijamsville, moved by the anger he felt immediately after the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse was released in mid-August. After posting the sheet music to his personal Facebook page, nearly 300 people reacted, 67 commented and 80 shared, including the pages of national music organizations such as the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Stachowski has heard from music ministers who have used the song as far away as Ireland and Redlands, California. "When the news started coming out of the grand jury in Pennsylvania, I just started noticing the uproar on social media," Stachowski said. "It seemed to be a lot of anger, a lot of hurt." The music that he was being used in the wake of the grand jury report, however, did not reflect those emotions.

    Prince Charles says Iraqi Dominican's story shows 'power of faith'

    LONDON (CNS) -- The heir to the British throne spoke of how he was deeply moved by the testimony of an Iraqi sister who fled Islamic State militants but has returned to the Ninevah Plain to help re-establish the Christian presence. Charles, Prince of Wales, described the resilience of Sister Luma Khudher, a Dominican Sister of St. Catherine of Siena, and other Iraqi refugees as a testament to the "extraordinary power of faith." Speaking in Westminster Abbey at a Dec. 4 ecumenical service "to celebrate the contribution of Christians in the Middle East," the prince recalled his "great joy" of meeting Sister Luma in England in October. He told a congregation of more than 1,000 people how, in 2014, as extremists advanced on the Christian town of Qaraqosh, Sister Luma "got behind the wheel of a minibus crammed full of her fellow Christians and drove the long and dangerous road to safety. Like the 100,000 other Christians who were forced from the Ninevah Plains by Daesh that year, they left behind the ruins of their homes and churches and the shattered remnants of their communities," he said. "The sister told me, movingly, of her return to Ninevah with her fellow sisters three years later, and of their despair at the utter destruction they found there," he said. "But like so many others, they put their faith in God, and today the tide has turned -- nearly half of those displaced having gone back to rebuild their homes and their communities."

    Prayer is a constant learning experience, pope says

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus' way of praying to his father throughout his life is a reminder for Christians that prayer is more than asking God for something but is a way of establishing an intimate relationship with him, Pope Francis said. Prayer is a longing within one's soul that is "perhaps one of the most profound mysteries of the universe," the pope said Dec. 5 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall. "Even if we have perhaps been praying for so many years, we must always learn!" he said. Beginning a new series of audience talks on the "Our Father," the pope reflected on the disciples' request to Jesus to teach them how to pray. The Gospels, he said, offer "very vivid portraits of Jesus as a man of prayer" who, despite the urgency of his public ministry, often felt the need to withdraw into solitude and pray. "In some pages of Scripture, it seems that it is first Jesus' prayer, his intimacy with the Father, that governs everything," the pope said.

    Pope expresses condolences for death of former President Bush

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis expressed his condolences for the death of the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, sent a telegram to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, telling him the pope was "saddened to learn of the death" of the former president. "Pope Francis offers heartfelt condolences and the assurance of his prayers to all the Bush family," he said in the telegram published by the Vatican Dec. 5. "Commending President Bush's soul to the merciful love of almighty God, His Holiness invokes upon all who mourn his passing the divine blessings of strength and peace," Cardinal Parolin wrote.

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  • Pa. high court says names in redacted grand jury report can't be released

    HARRISBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- In a 6-1 decision Dec. 3, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the identities of some clergy accused of abuse that were redacted from a grand jury report issued in mid-August must remain permanently blocked from release. "We conclude ... we must make permanent the redaction of petitioners' identifying information ... as this is the only viable due process remedy we may now afford to petitioners to protect their constitutional rights to reputation," Justice Debra Todd said. Lawyers for 24 priests named in the report said their clients fought the release of their identities because they said they "were denied an opportunity to appear before the grand jury to defend themselves, question witnesses, or provide contradictory evidence," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. "They later argued that the report received so much publicity that it poisoned public opinion against their clients. The only solution, they contended, was to permanently block the names," it said. Six of the justices agreed with their petitioners' argument. The lone dissenter was Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor. In a statement after the ruling was handed down, he urged the bishops of the priests' respective dioceses to release the names.

    Christmas preparation overwhelms Advent's, church musicians say

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Have a holly, jolly ... Advent? If there seems to be a culture clash between the Christmas season and the Advent season that precedes it, Christmas is going to win out practically every time, according to a pair of liturgical musicians. "Christmas as a secular holiday has overtaken Christmas as a religious celebration. It starts early," said J. Michael McMahon, executive director of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. "The Christmas season starts as soon as we put the turkey balloons in the trash. So people are already into Christmas and they skip over" Advent. Peter Latona, director of music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, agrees, even though Advent is longer in duration than Christmas. "People hear (Christmas) tunes and stuff like that on the radio, and they play it on the piano," Latona said. "They just hear it so much more often." In a liturgical sense, though, "that's not the case," McMahon told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 3 telephone interview. "At the liturgy, people have a chance to take an Advent break."

    Update: Pope's white Lamborghini up for raffle; winner gets trip to Rome

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A custom-built 2018 Lamborghini Huracan coupe autographed by Pope Francis is back on the block, but, this time with an online fundraising platform, not at an elite European auction house. The Italian luxury carmaker donated the white vehicle with gold stripes -- to match the white and yellow of the Vatican City flag -- to the pope in November 2017. The pope had put his diminutive signature on the car's hood, then the vehicle was put up for auction to raise money for charity. However, it turns out the final bidder at the Sotheby's auction in Monaco in May did not finalize the transaction and the promised $800,000 sale fell through, according to according to information provided by Lamborghini. In an effort to still raise funds for a good cause, Lamborghini has decided it will offer people around the world -- not just the highest bidder -- the chance to win the unique vehicle. Donations begin at $10 in order to enter the contest, according to the campaign at

    During Advent, Trinidad musicians visit houses to sing of Jesus' birth

    BARATARIA, Trinidad (CNS) -- A hush descended on the room as the band -- a rambling collection of men and women of ages and ethnicities as blended as the instruments they fingered -- settled into their positions. The instruments ranged from Latin scratchers and mandolins, to African-inspired skin drums and a rustic-looking box-bass -- literally, a large wooden box just shy of two feet, with a stout, cylindrical mast protruding from one corner normally to the bassist's breast. A lone, thick string connected the box's center and mast-top; when plucked, it sounded like a cannon with a cold. Silence, until, at some hidden cue, the first note thundered collectively, truncated almost as soon as it began. Pause. Another note; brief, silenced, the box-bass' belch like the early roar of war. Then, the Latin-inspired melody released, surging like a battalion charging hot through a breach, like the one made by the Redeemer of whom they sang, who breached the walls of sin and death with a lowly birth. This group was performing to a mixed audience at a modest parish fundraiser, but traditional parang forms part of an intimate prayer celebration in private homes. "There is a tradition that started in Venezuela of carrying a gift of song to the homes, just as in English culture, there is caroling," explained Julio Torres, veteran parang musician and vocal coach. He added that parang is indigenous to Trinidad.

    Women religious open Christmas season with German Catholic tradition

    FERDINAND, Ind. (CNS) -- The sights and sounds of Christmas brightened the massive dome of the Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand as six Sisters of St. Benedict rang out "Silent Night" on hand bells. The gentle chimes of the season soothed the hundreds of people who gathered at the foot of the Ferdinand monastery during the cold Nov. 16 night, while the German tradition launched the Christmas season in the Indiana hamlet. The Benedictines were heralding the opening of the town's Christkindlmarkt, a weekend of vendors, concerts and Christmas cheer. The sisters have bolstered Ferdinand's tradition since the festivities began two decades ago. "It's a town celebration and the sisters are very much an integral part of the town of Ferdinand," said Sister Rose Wildeman, the monastery coordinator and director of the hand-bell choir. About 10,000 people -- more than four times the number of Ferdinand residents -- amassed into the small town for its Christkindlmarkt held Nov. 16-18. The monastery -- its arched windows, turrets and towers seeming to come straight out of medieval Europe -- provided an appropriate backdrop for the weekend.

    Cardinal tells COP24 climate needs present 'challenge of civilization'

    KATOWICE, Poland (CNS) -- The Vatican challenged countries gathered for the 24th U.N. Climate Change Conference to focus on the needs of the present and the future as it worked to take swift action. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, addressed the conference in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3 and told participants, "We are standing before a challenge of civilization for the benefit of the common good." "The Katowice meeting has the fundamental task of developing the Paris Agreement Work Program. This document should be a solid set of guidelines, rules and institutional mechanisms, aimed at facilitating a fair and efficient implementation of the agreement, particularly at the national level," the cardinal said, adding, "We are all aware how difficult this endeavor is." "We know what we can do, and what we have to do becomes an ethical imperative," he told conference participants. The cardinal said COP24's guidelines should have "a clear ethical foundation," including "advancing the dignity of the human person, alleviating poverty and promoting integral human development," with "transparent, efficient and dynamic" measures. "It is still possible to limit global warming, but to do so will require a clear, forward-looking and strong political will to promote as quickly as possible the process of transitioning to a model of development that is free from those technologies and behaviors that influence the over-production of greenhouse gas emissions," Cardinal Parolin said.

    At Advent, make peace, not war, pope says at morning Mass

    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Advent season is a time of preparation for the coming of the prince of peace and not a time of making war with those around you, Pope Francis said. As Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they must also reflect on what they do in their daily lives to become "artisans of peace," the pope said in his homily Dec. 4 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae. "What do I do to help peace in the world?" he asked. "Do I always make some excuse to go to war, to hate, to talk about others? That's warfare! Am I meek? Do I try to build bridges?" In his homily, the pope reflected on the day's reading from the prophet Isaiah in which he prophesies a time of peace after the coming of the Messiah. "Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them," Isaiah writes.

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