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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told Jesuits in Thailand he was "scandalized" by some of the anti-migrant rhetoric he hears in Europe, and he is convinced people are being manipulated into thinking the only way they can preserve their lifestyles is by building walls.

"The phenomenon of migration is compounded by war, hunger and a 'defensive mindset,' which makes us think only from a state of fear and that by reinforcing borders we can defend ourselves," Pope Francis said Nov. 22 when he met 33 Jesuits in Thailand.

The Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica, published a transcript Dec. 5 of the pope's responses to questions the Jesuits asked the pope during the meeting in Tha Kham, Thailand.

Often on trips abroad, Pope Francis spends time with local Jesuit communities and holds a question-and-answer session with them. Weeks later, a transcript of the exchange is published by La Civilta Cattolica.

A Jesuit who works for Jesuit Refugee Service in Thailand raised the question of ministry among migrants and refugees.

"The phenomenon of refugees has always existed, but today it is better known because of social differences, hunger, political tensions and especially war," the pope responded. " For these reasons, migratory movements are intensifying."

Much of the world responds with a "throwaway policy," he said; "refugees are waste material. The Mediterranean has been turned into a cemetery. The notorious cruelty of some detention centers in Libya touches my heart. Here in Asia we all know the problem of the Rohingya."

"I must admit that I am scandalized by some of the narratives I hear in Europe about borders," the pope told his Jesuit confreres. "In other parts (of the world) there are walls even separating children from their parents."

Strangely enough, the pope said, those same governments do not seem to be able to build a wall to keep illegal drugs out.

Pope Francis noted that the Bible and millennia of Christian teaching have encouraged welcoming the stranger. "But there are also many little customs and traditions of hospitality, such as leaving an empty chair on a festive day in case an unexpected guest arrives."

"If the church is a field hospital," he told the Jesuits, "this is one of the camps where most of the injured are found."

But, recalling the visit to Thailand in 1981 of Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, then superior general of the order, Pope Francis said the work with refugees and any other social apostolate must be supported by prayer.

"We must remember it well: prayer," the pope said. "That is to say, in that physical periphery do not forget this other one, the spiritual one. Only in prayer will we find the strength and inspiration to engage fruitfully with the messy consequences of social injustice."

Another Jesuit asked the pope about balancing the need to denounce unjust social systems and "the prudence that suggests you sometimes keep quiet for the greater good or not to complicate situations further."

Pope Francis said there was no easy answer to that question. The right way can be found only through prayer and the discernment of the concrete situation. "There are no rules that are definitive and always valid."

And, he added, sometimes a broad boulevard of opportunity will not open up and, even if it did, it may not be the right path to take. "Sometimes, more than highways, small paths work better; these are the routes through the peripheries that nonetheless get you to your destination. They're not rigid, big or obvious, but they're effective."

"Sometimes, however, when we want everything to be well-organized, precise, rigid and always defined in the same way, then we become pagans, even if disguised as priests," the pope said. "I think Jesus spoke a lot about pharisaic hypocrisy in this regard."

Another Jesuit asked Pope Francis how they should minister to Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried. "I could answer you in two ways: in a casuistic way, which however is not Christian, even if it can be ecclesiastical; or according to the magisterium of the church as in the eighth chapter of 'Amoris Laetitia,'" his 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family.

The document, he said, urges pastors to "journey, accompany and discern to find solutions. And this has nothing to do with situation ethics, but with the great moral tradition of the church."

Asked about the reception of his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis said the Paris Climate Accord was a big step forward in addressing climate change.

"But then the conflicts began, the compromises between what was hoped for and the 'wallet,' the economic interests of certain countries," he said. "And so, some countries withdrew."

Still, he said, people today, especially young people, "have become much more aware than before of the need for the care of our common home and its importance."

Young people understand the encyclical "with their hearts," he said. Their commitment is "is a promise for the future."

 

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

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Ignoring the reality lived by men and women today has caused a resurgence of old ideologies, such as populism, that inevitably do more harm than good, Pope Francis said.

Speaking off-the-cuff with staff and members of the Italian Jesuit magazine, "Aggiornamenti Sociali" ("Social Updates") Dec. 6, the pope said that prejudices, certain "schools of thought and positions taken do so much harm" in the world.

"Today for example in Europe, we are experiencing the prejudice of populism, countries who close in on themselves and turn to ideologies," he said. "But not just new ideologies -- there are a few -- but to the old ones, the old ideologies that created the Second World War."

Founded in 1950, "Aggiornamenti Sociali" offers "information but above all formation," as well as "criteria and instruments to confront today's most debated issues and participate in social life in a conscious way," according to the Jesuit magazine's website.

The pope told the staff and writers he had prepared to read an eight-page speech, but he feared that "after the third page, there will be few left who will listen."

In his off-the-cuff remarks, the pope highlighted the importance of listening, saying it is the "fundamental attitude of every person who wants to do something for others."

"Listen to situations, listen to problems, openly, without prejudices," he said. "Because there is a way of listening that is 'Yes, yes, I understand, yes, yes,' and it reduces them, a reductionism to my categories. And this cannot be."

The resurgence of ideologies like populism, he explained, is a product of not listening because "it is a projection of what I want to be done, what I want to be thought, what I think should be."

"It is a complex that makes us substitute God the creator: we take the situations in our own hands and work," he continued. "Reality is what I want it to be; we place filters. But reality is another thing, reality is sovereign. Whether we like it or not, it is sovereign. And I must dialogue with reality."

Dialogue, he added, is an important step in confronting today's societal ills. Christians are not called "to impose paths of development or solutions to problems," but instead, to initiate "a dialogue with that reality starting from the values of the Gospel, from the things Jesus has taught us, without dogmatically imposing but with dialogue and discernment."

"If you start from preconceptions or preestablished positions, from dogmatic pre-decisions, you will never, never be able to give a message. The message must come from the Lord through us. We are Christians and the Lord speaks to us through reality, through prayer and discernment," he said.

In his prepared remarks, which were given to those present, the pope encouraged the magazine's writers to continue "to give space to the perspective of those who are 'discarded'" by today's society.

"Continue to be with them, listen to them, accompany them so that their voices may be the ones who speak," the pope said. "Even those who research and reflect on social questions are called to have the heart of a shepherd with the smell of the sheep."

He also reminded the Jesuit magazine's editorial staff of its responsibility to allow for dialogue and different points of view while avoiding "the temptation of abstraction, of limiting yourselves to the level of ideas while forgetting the concreteness of doing and walking together."

"Serious intellectual research is also a journey made together, especially when dealing with cutting-edge issues," he said. The staff must allow "for different perspectives and disciplines to interact" and should "promote relationships of respect and friendship between those involved so that they may discover how encountering one another enriches everyone."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Becket - Religious Liberty for All

By Linda Petersen

SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- As an attorney with Becket, a religious liberty law firm, Luke Goodrich is proud to be able to make a difference while earning a livelihood. He sees his work as a calling from God.

It entails representing religious groups or individuals who fall afoul of the federal government simply by trying to follow the dictates of their conscience.

Perhaps the most well-known of his clients are the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate a number of homes for the elderly poor across the nation. The sisters continue to fight the Obama-era contraceptive mandate in the courts.

"I'm very grateful and very thankful that my life's work lines up with what I see as a fundamental issue of justice in Scripture," he said. "It's a great joy because I do think religious freedom is a basic human right and a basic issue of biblical justice."

Goodrich is a member of Misseo Dei Community, a nondenominational Protestant church in Salt Lake City. Originally from Florida, Goodrich has for the past seven years lived in Utah with his wife, Sarah, who grew up in Utah, and their seven children.

Prior to that, he attended the University of Chicago law school and afterward clerked for Judge Michael McConnell, one of the nation's leading scholars on religious freedom cases. He then worked for the U.S. State Department in the human trafficking division, followed by time at a private law firm in Washington.

When a position opened up at Becket in 2008, "I jumped at the opportunity," Goodrich told the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Becket was founded in 1994, by Kevin "Seamus" Hasson, a Catholic. It is "the nation's only law firm dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty and to doing so for people of all faiths," said Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel. Becket's main headquarters are in Washington.

With regard to the legal battle being waged by the Little Sisters of the Poor, Goodrich called their case critically important for the defense of religious liberty.

"If the government can reach inside us and force us to violate our conscience, there's very little that the government can't do," he said. "Every human being is born with a religious impulse, a desire for transcendent truth and by its very nature we can't act on that impulse under coercion.

"If the government coerces us in matters of transcendent truth, it's going against our fundamental nature as human beings and therefore violating our human rights," he added.

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. The Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 added FDA-approved contraceptives to a list of preventive services, mandating all employer health care plans cover all forms of these methods. It included a very narrowly drawn exemption for churches.

This exemption did not cover religious employers such as the Little Sisters, Catholic dioceses and many other faith-based organizations, all of whom opposed the mandate on moral grounds, because some of the approved contraceptives are considered abortion-inducing.

More than 100 lawsuits have been filed over the Obama-era regulation by religious organizations.

"It's one of the only times in our nation's history where the federal government has attempted, on such a large scale, to force so many religious organizations to violate their conscience, particularly around the issue of abortion," Goodrich said.

When the Little Sisters sued, claiming a religious exemption, their case made it to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected their argument. Becket intervened in the case on their behalf.

In 2016, the Supreme Court granted the Little Sisters of the Poor a religious exemption from the mandate.

Then, one year later, they were given further protection by an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring HHS to write a comprehensive exemption from the contraceptive mandate for the Little Sisters and other religious ministries.

HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

In May, HHS introduced the "conscience rule" that protects individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs. Several state attorneys general subsequently filed suit against HHS and the administration, arguing that the new rule is unlawful.

The attorneys general cases "exploit essentially a loophole because the Supreme Court's decision did not issue a definitive ruling that the Obama-era regulation was unlawful," Goodrich said. "Instead, it urged the parties to figure out a solution that would respect the religious freedom of the sisters and also accomplish the government's goal of distributing contraception."

So far, the 3rd and 9th circuit courts, based in Philadelphia and San Francisco, respectively, have found against the Little Sisters and other religious organizations. Becket has appealed to the Supreme Court to rehear the Little Sisters case and give a definitive ruling.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by June 2020 whether it will hear the case, which Goodrich said is likely.

He believes that ultimately the Little Sisters will prevail. Still, there are a number of significant religious freedom challenges on the horizon in the United States that Christians are ill-prepared to deal with, he said.

"Long-standing Christian beliefs about life, marriage and absolute truth, which used to be uncontroversial, are now viewed in many quarters as a threat to the prevailing culture," he said.

Goodrich has published his first book, "Free to Believe," examining the principle of religious freedom, threats to it and how to protect it. He offers three arguments why everyone should care about religious freedom: It benefits society, is the foundation of all of our other rights and is a fundamental human right.

Nevertheless, Goodrich believes all Christians should have hope. "As Christians, our hope doesn't rest primarily in the results of an election or the composition of the Supreme Court. If we are Christians, our hope rests in the person of Jesus Christ," he said.

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Petersen is a reporter for the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

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Update: Beatification for Archbishop Sheen postponed

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By

PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria said Dec. 3 Vatican officials have told him that the upcoming beatification of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has been postponed.

A news release from the Diocese of Peoria said it was informed Dec. 2 that Vatican had decided to postpone the Dec. 21 ceremony "at the request of a few members" of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The diocese added, "In our current climate it is important for the faithful to know that there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against (Archbishop) Sheen involving the abuse of a minor."

However, a Dec. 5 statement from the Diocese of Rochester, New York, said it had "expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen at this time without a further review of his role in priests' assignments."

The statement said the Rochester Diocese, prior to Vatican announcement Nov. 18 that Pope Francis approved the beatification, had provided documentation expressing its concern to the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for Saints' Causes via the apostolic nunciature in Washington.

Archbishop Sheen was bishop of Rochester from October 1966 until his retirement in October 1969. He received the title of archbishop at retirement.

The statement from the Rochester Diocese said, "Other prelates shared these concerns and expressed them," adding that "there are no complaints against Archbishop Sheen engaging in any personal inappropriate conduct nor were any insinuations made in this regard."

"The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen's cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification," the statement continued.

The Rochester Diocese added it would have no other comment.

Calling the delay "unfortunate," the Peoria Diocese's Dec. 3 release outlined some of the activities for which Archbishop Sheen was especially known, including "his personal dedication" a Holy Hour of daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and "courage in confronting the challenges in our society."

"Drawing strength from his personal prayer life and deep devotion to Our Lord, Fulton Sheen consistently demonstrated tremendous courage in confronting the challenges in our society," the statement said. "He was well known for his boldness in preaching the Gospel on radio and on television in the face of our secular culture. This same spirit of courage and boldness guided him as a bishop to preach the truth, to defend the faith and to safeguard the church."

The Peoria Diocese also said "there continue to be many miracles reported" through the archbishop's intercession. The diocese said there have been "several" miracles reported since the pope's announcement of the beatification ceremony.

"The Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen's virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated," the statement said. "Bishop Jenky has every confidence that any additional examinations will only further prove Fulton Sheen's worthiness of beatification and canonization.

"The Diocese of Peoria has no doubt that Fulton Sheen, who brought so many souls to Jesus Christ in his lifetime, will be recognized as a model of holiness and virtue," the statement added.

The diocese said Bishop Jenky was "deeply saddened" by the Vatican's decision.

"In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news," the diocese said. "He is firmly convinced of the great holiness of the venerable servant of God and remains confident that Sheen will be beatified. Bishop Jenky has every intention of continuing the cause, but no further date for beatification has been discussed."

The Diocese of Peoria said it will offer no further comment "at this time."

Fulton J. Sheen, a native of El Paso, Illinois, was ordained Sept. 20, 1919, at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria. He went on to teach at The Catholic University of America in Washington and lead the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. Perhaps he is best remembered for his popular television show, "Life Is Worth Living."

He died in 1979 at age 84. His sainthood cause was officially opened in 2003. The church declared his heroic virtues and he was given the title "Venerable" in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.

In July, Bishop Jenky announced Pope Francis had approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, which led the way to the announcement he would be beatified.

The miracle concerns the healing of James Fulton Engstrom of Washington, Illinois, who was considered stillborn when he was delivered during a planned home birth Sept. 16, 2010. His parents, Bonnie and Travis Engstrom, immediately invoked the prayers of Archbishop Sheen and encouraged others to seek his intercession after the baby was taken to OSF HealthCare St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria for emergency treatment.

In general, two miracles must be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of a prospective saint, one before beatification and the other before canonization.

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Vatican unveils Nativity scene, lights Christmas tree

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican unveiled the Nativity scene and lit the Christmas tree with energy-saving lights in St. Peter's Square during a late afternoon ceremony Dec. 5.

The 85-foot-tall spruce tree came from the forests of the Veneto region in northeast Italy and another 20 smaller trees were donated by communities in the region's province of Vicenza.

It was adorned with silver and gold balls and "next generation" lights meant to have a reduced impact on the environment and use less energy.

The large Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square was made entirely out of wood and replicates traditional northern Trentino-style buildings.

Some 23 life-size wooden figures -- all with handcarved heads -- fill the scene, representing life in a small rural village in the northern Province of Trento in the early 1900s. There is a lumberjack pulling wood with a sled and people making cheese and washing clothes. Some of the faces reproduce the faces of real Italian shepherds from the region, including a man who recently died in an accident. Some of the clothes are real outfits handed down through the generations or once worn by local shepherds.

The scene also features broken tree trunks and limbs salvaged from severe storms in the region in late 2018. About 40 trees will be replanted in the area that had been seriously damaged by hurricane-like winds and torrential rains.

A smaller Nativity scene, provided by the northern province of Treviso, was set up in the Vatican's Paul VI audience hall; with its Gothic arches, it imitates an old style of barns and stables in the Lessinia mountains of the Veneto region.

Early in the day, Pope Francis met with delegations from the northern Italian regions responsible for the tree and Nativity scene.

Thanking the delegations for their gifts, the pope said he was happy to hear that new trees will be planted in the region to help reforest areas hit by last year's storms.

"These alarming events are warning signs that creation sends us and that ask us to immediately make effective decisions to safeguard our common home," he said.

The Christmas tree they donated represents "a sign of hope, especially for your forests, that they may be cleared (of debris) as soon as possible in order to begin the work of reforestation," he said.

The pope reminded his audience of his recent letter on the meaning and importance of setting up Christmas cribs.

"It is a genuine way to transmit the Gospel in a world that sometimes seems to be afraid to remember what Christmas really is and erases Christian signs in order to keep only those of a trivial, commercial" nature, he said.

Pope Francis also asked people to pray for help in seeing Jesus in the face of those who suffer and in lending a hand to those in need.

 

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Update: Bishop Malone resigns; Albany bishop named apostolic administrator

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Buffalo

By

BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNS) -- Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone told Catholics Dec. 4 he asked Pope Francis to allow him to retire early so the people of the diocese "will be better served" by a new bishop who is "perhaps better able" to bring about "reconciliation, healing and renewal" in addressing the abuse crisis.

In a three-page letter, he said that "despite the measurable progress we have achieved together," he made his decision "after much prayer and discernment." The "spiritual welfare" of the faithful will be better served by a new bishop.

Bishop Malone released his letter as Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced Pope Francis had accepted Bishop Malone's resignation and named Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, as Buffalo's apostolic administrator.

At 73, Bishop Malone is two years shy of the age at which bishops are required by canon law to turn in their resignation to the pope.

For more than a year, he has faced questions about how he has addressed the clergy sex abuse crisis, particularly a situation involving two priests' relationship with a seminarian that he has called "a very complex, convoluted matter."

Bishop Malone has headed the Diocese of Buffalo since 2012. Pope Benedict XVI named him the 14th bishop of Buffalo May 29, 2012, and he was installed in August of that year. Bishop Scharfenberger, 71, has headed the Albany Diocese since 2014. In his five and a half years in Albany, he has been a national leader in responding to the clergy abuse crisis.

"My family just expanded and we have 600,000 wonderful Catholics (in the Diocese of Buffalo.) It's a very wonderful Catholic diocese," Bishop Scharfenberger said in an interview with The Evangelist, Albany's diocesan newspaper. "I want to do a lot of listening and I want everybody to feel that they do have my ear. I don't want anyone to feel excluded."

"I am very well aware that there has been a lot of hurt and polarization and trust breaches," he added. "We only have one healer and that is Jesus, and we are going to turn everything into his hands and trust that he will guide the way."

Bishop Scharfenberger said he plans to visit the Diocese of Buffalo in western New York weekly. As for how long he could be in the dual role, he said: "I have no idea ... these things can take over a year. I know it will be a high priority to find the right successor."

In his letter, Bishop Malone referred to the apostolic visitation the Vatican had assigned Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, to conduct in October. When the visitation was announced, Bishop Malone welcomed it.

On Oct. 31, the Brooklyn Diocese announced completion of the visitation and said Bishop DiMarzio had submitted his report to the Congregation for Bishops. It has not been made public.

"Inevitably some will surmise that my decision" is the result of this visitation, Bishop Malone wrote. "While I was made aware of the general conclusions of the report, which were a factor in my discernment, my decision to retire early was made freely and voluntarily" and reached "after honest reflection" and with " a deep and abiding commitment" to the best interests of the church in western New York.

Bishop Malone did not share details of what the report contained in his letter.

"This has been a difficult period in the life of the church in Buffalo. Throughout this process, the lay faithful, religious and clergy were in my prayers," Bishop DiMarzio said in a Dec. 4 statement.

At the Vatican's direction, he said, the visitation was thorough, "conducted with urgency" and carried out with "the good of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo" being the foremost consideration. More than 80 people were interviewed over a period of several weeks "to gather information for this administrative review," he said.

"What I found are many deeply devoted Catholics who love their church. I pray this moment of suffering and pain will lead to a birth of new faith," he added, saying he is confident Buffalo Catholics "are in good hands" with Bishop Scharfenberger overseeing the diocese.

"I hope that now Catholics in Buffalo can begin the process of moving forward, healing and helping the diocese in all of its ministries," Bishop DiMarzio said. "We extend a promise of prayer for Bishop Richard Malone, as he moves into the retirement phase of his episcopal ministry, and for the faithful of Buffalo."

Bishop Malone said in his letter that some have attributed the Buffalo Diocese's turmoil "to my own shortcomings." "But the turmoil also reflects the culmination of systemic failings over many years in the worldwide handling of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy."

"The crisis our church is facing relates not only to the immoral and criminal acts of those who committed unconscionable offenses toward the most vulnerable," he said, "but also to the failure to regard these violations as grave offenses that warranted the full weight of civil and ecclesiastical justice."

Much has been accomplished in addressing the abuse crisis by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since passage of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in 2002, but "injury caused by past abuse continues to bring immense suffering around the world and here in our diocese," Bishop Malone said.

"I have met with many survivors of child sexual abuse and felt deeply their anguish, which words and gestures alone are inadequate to soothe," he said, and he has acknowledged on "many occasions the mistakes I have made in not addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behavior between adults."

The Diocese of Buffalo, too, has "made much progress" in many areas including accountability and ensuring safe environments, but in listening sessions he has held across the diocese, he said, "I have heard your dismay and rightful concerns."

"I have been personally affected by the hurt and disappointment you have expressed, all of which have informed our actions. I have sought your understanding, your advice, your patience and your forgiveness," he said.

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Editor's Note: The full text of Bishop Malone's letter can be found online at https://bit.ly/34PZaMy.

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Contributing to this story was Mike Matvey, staff writer at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.

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

Pope demands action for failing fight against climate change

IMAGE: CNS photo/Susana Vera, Reuters

By Paige Hanley

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite growing recognition of climate change as a legitimate and looming threat, current commitments to mitigate its effects and alter human behavior fall short of those needed to resolve the crisis in time, Pope Francis said.

"We must admit that this awareness is still rather weak, unable to respond adequately to that strong sense of urgency for rapid action called for by the scientific data at our disposal," the pope said in a message to the U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP25.

The conference was being held in Madrid Dec. 2-13, and the Vatican released a copy of the pope's message Dec. 4.

The conference aimed to take crucial steps in the U.N. climate change process and to identify effective strategies for implementing the Paris Agreement, a framework of action against climate change adopted by the U.N. Dec. 12, 2015.

However, studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "demonstrate how far words are from concrete actions," the pope said.

According to the intergovernmental panel, global temperatures and emissions continue to rise and humanity is not on course to fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement by 2020.

"We must seriously ask ourselves if there is the political will to allocate with honesty, responsibility and courage, more human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change," Pope Francis said.

The pope also affirmed that numerous studies show how curbing global warming is still possible.

This closing window of opportunity "calls us to reflect conscientiously on the significance of our consumption and production models and on the processes of education and awareness to make them consistent with human dignity," he said.

"We are facing a 'challenge of civilization' in favor of the common good and of a change of perspective that places this same dignity at the center of our action," the pope said.

He called on the current generation of international leaders and regular citizens to act, rather than allow the burden to fall on the next generations.

"We should give them the opportunity to remember our generation as the one that renewed and acted on -- with honest, responsible and courageous awareness -- the fundamental need to collaborate in order to preserve and cultivate our common home," Pope Francis said.

"May we offer the next generation concrete reasons to hope and work for a good and dignified future," he said.

 

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis scolded people who consider themselves practicing Christians, but who turn to fortunetelling, psychic readings and tarot cards.

True faith means abandoning oneself to God "who makes himself known not through occult practices but through revelation and with gratuitous love," the pope said Dec. 4 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope called out Christians who seek reassurance from practitioners of magic.

"How is it possible, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you go to a sorcerer, a fortuneteller, these types of people?" he asked. "Magic is not Christian! These things that are done to predict the future or predict many things or change situations in life are not Christian. The grace of Christ can bring you everything! Pray and trust in the Lord."

At the audience, the pope resumed his series of talks on the Acts of the Apostles, reflecting on St. Paul's ministry in Ephesus, a "famous center for the practice of magic." In the city, St. Paul baptized many people, and drew the ire of the silversmiths who made a business of crafting idols.

While the uprising of the silversmiths eventually was resolved, the pope recounted, St. Paul made his way to Miletus to deliver a farewell speech to elders of Ephesus.

The pope called the apostle's speech "one of the most beautiful pages of the Acts of the Apostles," and he asked the faithful to read chapter 20.

The chapter includes an exhortation of St. Paul to the elders to "keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock."

Pope Francis said that priests, bishops and the pope himself must be vigilant and "close to the people to guard them and defend them," rather than being "disconnected from the people."

"Let us ask the Lord to renew in us his love for the church and for the deposit of the faith which she preserves, and to make us all co-responsible in the care of the flock, supporting in prayer the shepherds so that they may manifest the firmness and tenderness of the Divine Shepherd," the pope said.

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Sister recalls vaudeville days and her family as 'Nine Dancing Donahues'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Brown

By Michael Brown

TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- Sister Barbara Donahue, 90, was only 10 minutes into an interview about the vaudeville group made up of her and her siblings when she broke out in "The Donahue Song."

The ditty was written by her mom for the group, which became its signature piece, emphasizing the importance of family.

"We were just ordinary people trying to do extraordinary things," said Sister Barbara Donahue, who is a member of the Sisters for Christian Community.

She was talking to Catholic Outlook, Tucson's diocesan newspaper, as she looked back looking back on memorabilia from her childhood when she and her siblings were the "Nine Dancing Donahues."

Sister Barbara, who had her 90th birthday in September, lives at El Rancho Encanto assisted living center in Tucson. She was diagnosed recently with lung cancer. She's the last survivor of the troupe.

Born Sept. 14, 1929, she was the youngest of five boys and four girls growing up in Detroit. Her dad, Emmett, was a bricklayer by trade, but supported his family with his job at the Plymouth auto factory. Her mom, Ella, was the musical genius. She graduated from St. Aloysius School and played the organ in church.

"St. Aloysius was the root of all that happened," Sister Barbara said.

"Her early occupation was to play at the silent movies," she said about her mother. When the oldest child, Emmett Jr., turned 7, she put him to work as "an Irish tenor."

"When she would play, he would sing," Sister Barbara said.

Later, someone approached her and suggested that they form a family vaudeville group, and the "Nine Dancing Donahues" were born. After Emmett Jr. came Jack, Dennis, Thomas, Richard, Betty, Kay, Nancy and Barbara.

"Our sponsor was the Kennedy Milk Company," she said with a grin.

Her dad was the stage manager, Sister Barbara recalled. His greatest challenge was trying to keep the girls' shoes properly organized offstage as they switched between their tap and stage shoes.

The group was prominent in the Detroit area, especially among the Irish parishes. It broke up in 1945 when the U.S. entered World War II. Three brothers entered the military and Barbara entered the convent. She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Kalamazoo, Michigan, at age 16, taking the name Sister Mary Leah. She joined her current community after the Second Vatican Council.

In 1949, the University of Michigan sponsored a vaudeville show that included the siblings' group. Even though she was preparing for her vows, Sister Barbara said, she was allowed to return to join the reunion.

During their touring days, each child had a song. Hers was "Alice Blue Gown," from the play "Irene" as sung by 1930s' Hollywood star Alice Faye. She even has a photo of her singing in a blue gown at age 15.

Nancy and Kay sang "East Side, West Side," Sister Barbara recalled. That was usually preceded by her brother Denny singing "Ain't She Sweet?"

Whenever a local parish sponsored a fundraiser, the "Nine Dancing Donahues" was there in a pinch, she said.

The signature song, "The Donahue Song," became a family mainstay, so much so that those who marry into the family are not really members until they attend a special ceremony with the family at the Irish American Club in Detroit. Family members encircle the newcomer and sing "The Donahue Song."

"Then you are in the family," Sister Barbara said.

When Ella died Sept. 8, 1953, her obituary ran the following week in Billboard magazine, the entertainment industry periodical of record.

Sister Barbara marveled at the amount of detail she still remembers from her early days. "All this is extraordinary. I paid a lot of attention apparently."

The theater skills came in handy in ministry, especially during her time serving at the San Solano missions in the Tucson Diocese. "I was always regarded as a good teacher," she said.

She repeated a mantra she learned from her mother: "If you see a need, step up to it."

Sister Barbara said when she was growing up, people always knew the location of the Donahue house. A fire hydrant stood in front, so the city also placed a streetlight nearby to help first responders during nighttime emergencies.

"We were always out there playing baseball," she said.

More than seven decades after the troupe broke up, one memory was as strong as the day it started, said Sister Barbara, the last surviving member. "The wonderful part of this was family."

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Brown is managing editor of Catholic Outlook, newspaper of the Diocese of Tucson.

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Everyday Heroes: Fisherman attributes survival to heavenly intercession

IMAGE: CNS photo/Spirit Juice, courtesy Knights of Columbus

By Andrew Butler

Jeffrey Rentegrado never expected that his career as a fisherman could put his life in danger. Nor did he know his faith -- and perhaps the intercession of the founder of the Knights of Columbus -- would save him from a deadly attack in his own home on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

"I'm very grateful to Father McGivney. I feel that he provided for me. He granted my prayers and that is why I survived," Rentegrado said.

Before May 27, 2009, Rentegrado and his wife, Ginalyn, had a routine typical for a fisherman's family. His day began at 2 a.m., when he made his way out to sea. When he came ashore with the catch, Ginalyn weighed and sold it.

But on that May evening 10 years ago, Rentegrado prepared to have dinner with his family when two gunmen stormed into the house. Aiming to seize control of Rentegrado's fishing grounds, they shot him 13 times in front of Ginalyn and their two children. One son, Reggie, also was shot.

Blood spilled from Rentegrado's mouth as he and his son were taken to a local doctor. The medic thought he was dead on arrival, but she found a pulse and sent him to the hospital.

The gunshot wounds should have been fatal, according to Dr. Roger Braceros, who treated Rentegrado at the hospital.

"With those 13 gunshot wounds, it seemed impossible for us to revive this patient," Braceros said.

But Rentegrado wasn't dead. He was conscious and heard a voice telling him to pray. He grabbed his rosary and turned to pray for the intercession of Father Michael J. McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus.

Medics told Rentegrado's wife it was a hopeless cause. But she wouldn't listen.

"I said to my husband, just have faith, fight it out. You can do it," she said.

For his commitment to faith throughout this traumatic incident, Rentegrado is featured in "Everyday Heroes," a video series produced by the Knights of Columbus showcasing ordinary men acting in extraordinary ways, who are strengthened by their Catholic faith and membership in the Knights of Columbus.

Rentegrado underwent three surgeries in five hours. And, defying nearly everyone's expectations, he survived.

"Suddenly I remember opening my eyes and seeing my wife, Ginalyn. I was so overwhelmed my heart jumped," Rentegrado said.

Rentegrado now has a new appreciation for Knights' founder Father McGivney, who started the organization in part to keep families together. He established the Knights to band together men of faith, to help families stay together despite dangerous working conditions. So it's no wonder Father McGivney was watching over Rentegrado.

Father McGivney (1852-1890) was a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford who founded the Knights in 1882 in New Haven. The cause for his sainthood formally began in Hartford in 1997. He was declared to be a venerable servant of God in March 2008.

Now every day before going out to sea, Rentegrado makes the sign of the cross, asking the Lord for strength, endurance and protection. An active member of the Knights of Columbus, he has worked with his brother Knights to construct a parish hall and to serve their pastor whenever he calls.

For surviving that horrific attack 10 years ago, his wife calls him the "King of the Sea," or, thanks to the K of C, he's also the "K of Sea."

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Editor's Note: A video accompanying this story can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NVY2P-ijuU. To share your story of an everyday hero with the Knights of Columbus, contact andrew.fowler@kofc.org.

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Great faith sprouts from small, humble actions, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God makes his presence known not by those who claim to have great faith but by those who are little and humble, Pope Francis said.

Priests, bishops and laypeople who "do not take on this path of littleness" will fall like the Christians of the past who "sought to impose themselves with force, greatness and by conquering," the pope said in his homily Dec. 3 during morning Mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae.

"The Kingdom of God sprouts in the small things, always in the small things, the small seed, the seed of life," he said.

Celebrating the memorial of St. Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuits, the pope dressed in white vestments, which signify joy, innocence, purity and glory.

He reflected on the day's Gospel reading in which Jesus praises God for having hidden his divine revelation from the wise and instead "revealed them to the childlike."

Littleness, the pope said, is where "redemption, revelation, the presence of God in the world begins."

"The great ones present themselves as powerful. Let us think about Jesus' temptation in the desert, like Satan who presents himself as powerful, the lord of the whole world," the pope said. "Instead, the things of God begin by sprouting from a small seed. And Jesus speaks of this littleness in the Gospel," he said.

Christmas, he continued, also serves as a reminder of this since "we will all go to the creche where the littleness of God is" found.

True Christians "always starts from littleness" and in prayer, they "give thanks to God because we are little," he said.

"If, in prayer, I feel little, with my limits, my sins, like that publican who prayed at the back of the church, ashamed: 'Have mercy on me for I am a sinner,' you will go forward. But if you think you are a good Christian, you will pray like that Pharisee who did not leave justified: 'I give you thanks, God, because I am great,'" he said.

Pope Francis said his favorite sacrament to administer is the sacrament of confession, especially to children because "they tell you concrete facts."

The concreteness of one who is small. 'Lord, I am a sinner because I did this, this, this and this. This is my misery; this is my littleness. But send your spirit so that I will not be afraid of the big things, that I may not be afraid of you doing great things in my life,'" the pope said.

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Defend dignity of persons with disabilities, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The dignity and rights of people with disabilities are increasingly threatened by a society that discriminates and views them as a burden, Pope Francis said.

In a letter marking the U.N.'s International Day of Persons with Disabilities Dec. 3, the pope said that humanity needs to "develop antibodies against a culture that considers some lives as class A and others as class B; this is a social sin!"

"Have the courage to give a voice to those who are discriminated against because of their disability, because unfortunately in some countries, even today, it is difficult to recognize them as persons of equal dignity, as brothers and sisters in humanity," he said.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities "aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life," according to the U.N. website.

In his letter, the pope acknowledged that while "great progress" has been made in medicine and legislation, the influence of a throwaway culture leaves many disabled persons "feeling that they exist without belonging and without participating" in society.

"Making good laws and breaking down physical barriers is important," the pope wrote, "but it is not enough if the mentality does not change, if we do not overcome a widespread culture that continues to produce inequalities and prevents people with disabilities from actively participating in ordinary life."

Pope Francis said that discrimination and prejudice against persons with disabilities limits their access to education, employment and participation in society. He also said that service and commitment to those in need "determines the degree of a nation's civility."

"A person with disabilities, in order to build himself or herself up, needs not only to exist but also to belong to a community," he said. "I pray that each person may feel the paternal gaze of God, who affirms their full dignity and the unconditional value of their life."

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Update: Work on Wisconsin farm prepared slain brother for service in Guatemala

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Christian Bro

By Sam Lucero

GREEN BAY, Wis. (CNS) -- Before donning the habit of a Christian Brother in 1962, Brother James Miller wore the bib overalls of a Wisconsin farm boy.

While in his green work clothes, repairing a wall outside of the Casa Indigena De La Salle -- his religious community's school for indigenous boys in Huehuetenango, Guatemala -- Brother Miller, 37, was gunned down by three men Feb. 13, 1982.

Nearly 37 years after his death, Brother Miller will be beatified during Mass Dec. 7 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Huehuetenango. He will be the first American-born Christian Brother declared blessed.

To his friends and family, Brother Miller was a farm boy through and through. He was also a deeply spiritual man who grew to love the poor, indigenous people of Guatemala, who, like him, were close to the land.

"Jim was a man of faith. He lived and gave his life helping poor Indian boys learn the trade of farming so they could feed themselves," said fellow Christian Brother Stephen Markham, who grew up on a farm in Iowa and entered the Christian Brothers the same time as Brother Miller.

Born Sept. 21, 1944, in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, Brother Miller was the oldest of Arnold and Lorraine Miller's five children. His siblings include brothers Bill and Ralph, and sisters Pat Richter and Louise Shafranski. Their father operated a dairy farm that, at its peak, had 68 cows, said Ralph Miller, who today operates the family homestead in Ellis with his brother, Bill.

The siblings recall their eldest brother as full of faith.

"He always wanted to be a priest at the start," Ralph Miller said in a telephone interview. When Brother Miller was young, he used to play the role of priest and celebrate Mass.

"Jim made a tabernacle from an old clock and a monstrance from a tinker toy set," said Brother Markham. "When he was around 10 or 12 years old, he was halfway home from confession when he exclaimed, 'Oh, I forgot to say my penance.' So he knelt right down there on the road and prayed."

One of his duties on the farm was to tend to the chickens, said Brother Markham. "One day his brother Bill saw him kneeling over a hurt chicken and praying for it that it would not die."

Working with his hands and fixing things around the farm helped Brother Miller later on as a missionary, said Shafranski, his sister.

"Jim's background was a perfect fit," she said in an email. "Not only did he have a true calling to the Christian Brothers, but the fact that he started from a humble farm background ... gave him the knowledge to know how to fix things. It also kept him grounded to the basics of land, faith and family."

He attended grade school in his hometown of Ellis, then entered Pacelli Catholic High School in Stevens Point in 1958. It was at Pacelli where Brother Miller was introduced to the Christian Brothers, who staffed the Catholic high school.

After one year at Pacelli, he joined the junior novitiate. In September 1959 he was sent to Glencoe, Missouri.

"In one day, I left the state of Wisconsin for the first time, took my first train ride and saw a building over four stories high," Brother Miller wrote in a two-page autobiography for his religious community in June 1978.

He finished his novitiate in Winona, Minnesota, in 1963, earned a bachelor's degree at St. Mary's College, Winona, in 1966, and was sent to teach Spanish at then-Cretin High School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Brother Miller's first exposure to Central America was in July 1969, when he spent the summer in Bluefields, Nicaragua, studying Spanish. He returned to St. Paul, but made his way back to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, in March 1974. During his five years in Nicaragua, Brother Miller helped build an industrial arts and vocational education complex; served as principal of a government-owned high school, Instituto Nacional Bartolome Colon; and even volunteered as a local fire department chief.

"Since I have quite a bit of experience in building construction, the Nicaraguan government recently asked me to supervise the construction of 10 new rural grade schools being built in the region," he wrote in his autobiography. "I find a lot of satisfaction working among the very poor here in Nicaragua."

His association with the Nicaraguan government of Anastasio Somoza led to Brother Miller's departure after the Sandinista revolution in 1979. He returned to St. Paul and taught one more year at Cretin High School before being assigned to Huehuetenango, Guatemala.

Brother Paul Joslin was president of the Christian Brothers community in Huehuetenango when Brother Miller arrived in January 1981.

"Brother James and I were the director and co-director of Casa Indigena," which housed about 150 indigenous youth from the Guatemalan highlands who were training to be teachers, said Brother Joslin.

Brother Miller, whose name in Spanish was Hermano Santiago, quickly found ways to put his fix-it skills to work, repairing plumbing and electrical problems at Casa Indigena.

In a telephone interview, Brother Joslin recalled the tense buildup of fear following reports of pending violence, and the disbelief when he received word of Brother Miller's murder.

The "preferential option for the poor," a pastoral challenge presented by the Latin American bishops in 1968, influenced the Christian Brothers to provide education to the indigenous children in Guatemala and also led to military retaliation, he said.

Just days before Brother Miller's assassination, the religious community was warned by a border patrol agent, whose office was located at a nearby army base, that members of a death squad were looking for one of the seven Christian Brothers in Huehuetenango.

"We were forewarned, but despite that, the decision that we made individually and collectively, was to remain in Huehuetenango for as long as possible," said Brother Joslin.

On the morning of his death, Brother Miller informed Brother Joslin that he would accompany students on a picnic to celebrate Valentine's Day. After returning, Brother Miller decided to fix a hole on a wall near the Casa Indigena entrance, just one block from the cathedral on a crowded shopping street.

"He had to get up on a ladder in order to do it," said Brother Joslin. While on the ladder, three men walking past the entrance, pulled out guns and shot him numerous times. Sister Madeleva Manzanares Suazo, a nurse serving at a nearby hospice, heard the gunshots and ran to find Brother Miller on the ground. He apparently died instantly.

"When this happened, I was in the brothers' house next to the school, which was one kilometer away from Casa Indigena," said Brother Joslin. "When I got there, I can't tell you how awful it was, the shock, but when I went to reach, to touch Santiago, there was a policeman standing there and he snapped at me and said, 'Don't touch him.'

"I did pick up the hat he was wearing ... and it was still full of sweat, as if he were still alive," added Brother Joslin.

The local bishop celebrated Mass the following day; more than 1,000 students, parents and friends of the Christian Brothers then processed to the local airfield.

Brother Miller's body was flown to Guatemala City, where two more Masses were celebrated. Brother Joslin accompanied the coffin from Guatemala to St. Paul, Minn., where Archbishop John Roach celebrated Mass Feb. 16 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The body of Brother Miller was returned to Wisconsin for another Mass, then burial at St. Martin Cemetery in Ellis, one mile south of the farm where he was raised.

In a memorial written shortly after Brother Miller's death, Brother Markham said his friend "followed no other star but his own."

"He was proud of his farm background and never hesitated to share his farm stories, no matter who the audience," he said. "He loved his roots, he loved his family dearly."

In December 1981, during a visit to Minnesota, when Brother Miller had knee surgery, Brother Markham "asked Jim if he wasn't frightened by the thought of returning."

"Jim responded, 'You don't think about that, that's not why you're there. There's too much to be done. ' If it happens, it happens," Brother Markham wrote.

Brother Miller was one of more than 200,000 people killed during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. He was the second Catholic missionary from the United States murdered in Guatemala.

Father Stanley Rother, pastor of St. James the Apostle Parish in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, was shot to death in his rectory July 28, 1981. Pope Francis officially recognized Father Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, as a martyr for the faith, and on Sept. 23, 2017, Father Rother was beatified in Oklahoma City.

On Feb. 13, 2007, the 25th anniversary of Brother Miller's death, Casa Indigena, the center he called home, was renamed Centro Indigena Santiago Miller.

In an email, Shafranski recalled her brother telling her that he would return to Guatemala even though he faced danger.

"I could be kidnapped, tortured and killed, or I could simply be gunned down," she said he told her. "I knew Jim was very dedicated and committed to his students in Huehuetenango. There was no stopping him from going back."

Louise and Rich Shafranski will travel to Guatemala for the beatification Dec. 7. She is the only sibling who is able to attend.

"The one thing I hope people (remember) is that Jim was a real person. He was a son, brother, Christian Brother and friend," she said. "He had a hardy laugh, a ready smile, a quick wit, a good sense of humor, and was a genuine hard-working person. He was a man who felt happiness and sorrow, had great love for both family and the church. He loved working with his hands, and was through and through a little farm boy at heart."

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Lucero is news and information manager for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

 

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Church seeks what is best for those who are wounded, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The sacrament of marriage cannot be "improvised," but must be prepared for, nourished and supported throughout the couple's journey, Pope Francis said.

Christian couples also must be helped to pursue their "particular vocation to become missionary disciples as spouses, witnesses of the Gospel in family life, at work, in society, wherever the Lord calls them," he said. And they must be given the space in parish ministries to fulfill that call.

The pope made his remarks Nov. 30, in a meeting with men and women enrolled in a course offered by the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal primarily responsible for hearing requests for marriage annulments. The course, held Nov. 26-30, was on safeguarding marriage and on the pastoral care of "wounded couples."

"The church will never be able to go on its way, turning its head away" from those couples facing crisis, he said.

"The church, when it encounters the reality of wounded couples, first of all cries and suffers with them," the pope said. "It draws near to them with the oil of consolation to sooth and to heal. It wants to take upon itself all the pain it encounters."

Helping those couples and dealing with their marriage cases can never be a merely impersonal and "bureaucratic" process, the pope said; rather, it involves "entering into" their lived experience and offering compassion.

The church's canonical and juridical processes are part of its mission "always and only to seek the good of those who are wounded, seek the truth of their love," he said.

The church has no other intention than "to support their just and desired happiness, which, before it being a personal good to which we all humanly aspire, is a gift that God sets aside for his children and that comes from him," the pope said.

The church, he said, must prepare and support couples so that marriage be "that which the Lord Jesus wanted it to be," a vocation and sacrament that fills both spouses with joy and with spiritual and human fulfilment.

Married couples are the "columns" of the domestic church, he said, and they are instrumental in the church's missionary mandate.

Marriage, he said, is a couple's vocation, calling them to "demonstrate the beauty of their belonging to him" and to show others how faith adds to their love, which in turn can be "the epiphany in the world of Christian hope offered by Christ."

 

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Pope saddened by deadly protests in Iraq

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alaa al-Marjani, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he was concerned and saddened following two months of protests in Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.

"I pray for the dead and the wounded; I am close to their families and to the entire people of Iraq, calling upon God for peace and harmony," the pope said Dec. 1 after praying the Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

The pope's remarks came nearly four days after Iraqi security forces fired on unarmed protesters, leading to the deaths of 25 people and the wounding of dozens more, according to Amnesty International.

Since the protests began Oct. 1, an estimated 400 demonstrators have been killed. Protesters have expressed anger at government authorities for widespread financial mismanagement, corruption and increasing poverty in the country.

The protests resulted in the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi Dec. 1 and for calls by international observers for investigations into the killing of protesters.

Iraqi Cardinal Louis Sako, Chaldean Catholic patriarch, expressed his "solidarity with Iraqi Shias and Sunnis" and his concern for those who died or were wounded in the protests, said a statement on the patriarchate's website. He asked all Catholics to pray for the country at Masses Dec. 1.

Cardinal Sako, in the statement posted Nov. 30, said he hoped that "the blood that has been shed as a price" for a free, dignified and secure life in Iraq, will be the seeds of an effort "to build a homeland of justice and independence, in which no one would be oppressed or treated unfairly."

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Pope asks Catholics to set up, be enchanted by a Nativity scene

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Nativity scene is a simple reminder of something astonishing: God became human to reveal the greatness of his love "by smiling and opening his arms to all," Pope Francis said in a letter on the meaning and importance of setting up Christmas cribs.

"Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas creche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition," the pope wrote in his apostolic letter, "Admirabile Signum" ("Enchanting Image").

Pope Francis signed the short letter Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent, during an afternoon visit to Greccio, Italy, where St. Francis of Assisi set up the first Nativity scene in 1223.

When St. Francis had a cave prepared with a hay-filled manger, an ox and a donkey -- no statues or actors or baby, even -- he "carried out a great work of evangelization," Pope Francis said, and Catholics can and must continue that work today.

"With this letter," he wrote, "I wish to encourage the beautiful family tradition of preparing the Nativity scene in the days before Christmas, but also the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares."

"It is my hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived," the pope said.

At the heart of even the simplest Nativity scene, he said, there is a reminder of "God's tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness."

Then, he said, there is the fact that this baby is "the source and sustenance of all life. In Jesus, the Father has given us a brother who comes to seek us out whenever we are confused or lost, a loyal friend ever at our side. He gave us his son who forgives us and frees us from our sins."

The magic of the season goes deep when someone -- child or adult -- gazes upon a Nativity scene, he said. And whether or not they can put what they experience into words, they come away knowing that "God's ways are astonishing, for it seems impossible that he should forsake his glory to become a man like us."

"To our astonishment, we see God acting exactly as we do: He sleeps, takes milk from his mother, cries and plays like every other child! As always, God baffles us. He is unpredictable, constantly doing what we least expect," Pope Francis wrote. "The Nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God's own life. It invites us to become his disciples if we want to attain ultimate meaning in life."

Knowing that some families keep to the essential characters and setting while others add all sorts of characters and buildings and streams and towns, Pope Francis said even "fanciful additions show that in the new world inaugurated by Jesus there is room for whatever is truly human and for all God's creatures."

But he focused in the letter on some key elements, starting with the starry night, the simplicity of the stable and the poverty of the shepherds.

Giving the Nativity scene a nighttime backdrop, he said, respects the Gospel account of Jesus' birth but also serves to remind people of times when they've experienced darkness. The creche, he said, says, "Even then, God does not abandon us, but is there to answer our crucial questions about the meaning of life. Who am I? Where do I come from? Why was I born at this time in history? Why do I love? Why do I suffer? Why will I die?"

"It was to answer these questions that God became man," the pope wrote. " His closeness brings light where there is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadow of suffering."

The simple shepherds, who were the first to go to the stable to see the newborn Jesus, are reminders that "the humble and the poor" are the first to welcome the good news, the pope said. "In a particular way, from the time of its Franciscan origins, the Nativity scene has invited us to 'feel' and 'touch' the poverty that God's son took upon himself in the incarnation."

That, in turn, calls Jesus' disciples "to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross," the pope wrote. "It asks us to meet him and serve him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need."

"Jesus, 'gentle and humble in heart,' was born in poverty and led a simple life in order to teach us to recognize what is essential and to act accordingly," he said.

Mary is a model of discipleship, faithfully accepting God's will for her life and sharing him with others, inviting them to obey him. Joseph, too, accepts the role God assigned him, protecting the baby Jesus, teaching him and raising him.

And, of course, the pope wrote, "when, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger, the Nativity scene suddenly comes alive. God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms."

The whole scene, he said, reminds adult Catholics of their childhood and of learning the faith from their parents and grandparents. Each year, it should be a reminder that the faith needs to be passed on to one's children and grandchildren.

Standing together before a Nativity scene, in wonder and awe, he said, is a simple way to start.

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The Vatican's English translation of the pope's letter can be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20191201_admirabile-signum.html

The Spanish translation is available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco-lettera-ap_20191201_admirabile-signum.html

 

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50 years since White House conference on food, hunger issues remain

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim West

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Fifty years ago, the White House sponsored a Dec. 2-4 conference on food, nutrition and health designed to set the groundwork for a national nutrition policy and to advise President Richard Nixon on the best ways to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in the United States.

The conference succeeded in initiating policies to improve school lunch programs and nutrition education and to give more consumer protection -- which led to the nutritional labeling food buyers are now accustomed to.

The conference also helped develop the Women, Infants and Children program, which offers supplemental food assistance to low-income pregnant women and mothers and their children up to age 5, and it paved the way for the first major expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income individuals and families buy food.

Fast forward 50 years and food policy advocates still have a lot on their plates, so to speak, in efforts to address food insecurities across the country as well as growing food-related epidemics of diabetes and obesity. They also want to ensure policies that took shape 50 years ago do not face pending cuts proposed by President Donald Trump's administration.

Panelists at a Capitol Hill gathering Oct. 30 marked the White House food conference's anniversary and discussed ways to move forward. Even though Americans are not besieged by scurvy, they said, nor are there constant images of children with extended bellies from starvation, the overall lack of access to healthy food and good nutrition remains a major issue.

The event, which offered healthy snacks and water, was sponsored by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston and Hunger Free America, a nonprofit advocacy group based in New York.

Several of the panelists cited troubling statistics on hunger. Notably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2019 Household Food Insecurity in the United States report said more than 37 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger.

Other statistics they shared, compiled by Hunger Free America, include:

-- 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food in 2018.

-- More than 11 million children live in food-insecure households.

-- Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and need to rely on their local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for support.

No one needs to tell these facts to those who work in public policy at Catholic Charities USA or its local agencies providing food to those in need every day.

Anthony Granado, vice president of government relations for Catholic Charities USA, said there are a number of food and nutrition policies that have the support of Catholic Charities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Rural Life and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Those groups submitted a joint comment objecting to the Trump administration's proposal to tighten eligibility standards for SNAP that would cause about 3.1 million people nationwide to lose their food stamp benefits.

The comment, submitted Sept. 23, called SNAP the "first line of defense against hunger for those struggling to make ends meet," noting that just last year the program served 40.3 million people.

They warned that the proposed policy change would impact individual and community health since food insecurity is linked to chronic conditions such as diabetes and is associated with increased risks of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke and arthritis, to name a few.

They also said the proposed changes to SNAP would bring more people to charities for help when they are already feeding millions each year.

"Our organizations already struggle to meet the needs in our communities and are forced to turn away many for lack of resources. The proposed rule, if implemented, will only add to a demand that we cannot meet," their comment letter said.

Lizanne Hagedorn, director of Nutritional Development Services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, an agency that got its start just two years after the White House conference, knows all about food needs and hasn't seen them decrease by any means.

As the head of agency that administers local federally funded child nutrition programs and a community food program, Hagedorn said those who come for help are not always atypical; in recent years the agency has seen more senior citizens and college students. She also has seen a shrinking pool of volunteers to serve those in need at food pantries.

Hagedorn said over the years the agency also has changed its offerings because of clients' health conditions and also to educate children about healthy food choices and exercise so they don't develop health problems. "We want to make sure we are helping their lifelong existence," she told Catholic News Service Nov. 21.

She said she is honored to do this work, which she admits is "not always easy and the (government) regulations are ridiculous" because on any given day they have given people a meal that can help them to face the next day.

"It's in our blood as Catholic Christians to be good stewards of food and money and to bring everybody along," she said, adding: "Not in an overbearing way but understanding 'there but for the grace of God go I.'"

As she sees it, the agency's job will remain for the long haul but with good reason. She said the employees are using their gifts and talents to "help everyone live a better life and be healthier, I know that's what we're supposed to do."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Pope prays for Albania after earthquake leaves dozens dead

IMAGE: CNS photo/Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis led prayers for the people of Albania after the country was struck by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake.

"I would like to send my greetings and my closeness to the dear people of Albania who have suffered so much in these days," the pope said Nov. 27 before concluding his weekly general audience.

"Albania was the first country in Europe I wanted to visit. I am close to the victims. I pray for the dead, for the wounded, for the families. May the Lord bless this country that I love so much," he said.

The earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning Nov. 26 and was felt as far away as Serbia. According to Albanian news agency, Shqiptarja, authorities said the death toll was at least 26 people and an estimated 650 wounded.

First responders worked throughout the day to recover bodies and rescue survivors from crumbled buildings. Rescue workers from neighboring Greece and Italy assisted with the efforts.

Shortly after the pope's call for prayers, the Vatican released a condolence telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Albanian President Ilir Meta.

Pope Francis, the message said, "invokes blessings of strength upon the emergency personnel in their relief efforts and entrusts the people of Albania to the loving providence of the Almighty."

In his general audience talk, the pope reflected on his Nov. 20-26 visit to Thailand and Japan which, he said, "increased my closeness and affection for these peoples."

Recalling his Nov. 20 meeting with the supreme patriarch of Thailand's Buddhist community, Somdej Phra Maha Muneewong, the pope said he was "continuing on the path of mutual esteem initiated by my predecessors, so that compassion and brotherhood may grow in the world."

He also noted the Catholic Church's presence in the Thailand, particularly in its service to the sick and the witness given by the country's laity, priests, consecrated men and women and bishops.

Pope Francis noted the theme of his subsequent visit to Japan, "Protecting every life," and its significance in a country "that bears the scars of the atomic bombing and is for the spokesman for the whole world of the fundamental right to life and peace."

"To protect life, we must love it, and today the most serious threat in more developed countries is the loss of the sense of living," the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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Update: Everyday Heroes: Army officer donates part of liver to save priest's life

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Knights of Columbus

By Andrew Fowler

Father Dennis Callan's health was rapidly declining. His situation was so dire that his dentist refused to even pull a tooth out of fear that the he would bleed to death.

The cause? Advanced cirrhosis of the liver.

A Divine Word missionary, Father Callan was stationed in South Korea, serving as a military chaplain. He would have to leave Korea to return to the United States for treatment.

When he announced to his parishioners in November 2015 that he had to leave for "personal reasons," one parishioner took notice: his friend U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Chris Moore.

Moore and his wife, Heidi, met Father Callan in 2014 at Camp Humphreys. The Moores and Father Callan would share meals together and socialize after Mass, particularly at Knights of Columbus council meetings -- both men were members of Bishop John J. Kaising Council 14223 on the base. Father Callan was a spiritual guide as the Moores welcomed two children into their growing family.

"He was a support during our time in Korea because my wife was new to Catholicism," said Moore, currently stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, while his two children and his wife live in Arizona. "Father Dennis was there to guide us and strengthen us in our relationship and help us to get to where we are today."

When Father Callan returned to the U.S., his hepatologist in Chicago told him that he was lucky to have survived the trip from South Korea. His only chance of survival was a liver transplant.

Members of family were tested to see if they could donate, but no one was compatible. By the end of December 2016, Father Callan's health began free-falling.

He began arranging his funeral.

"I decided I did not want to go on this (donor) list," Father Callan said. "I figured, I'm a priest and I would accept whatever the Lord had in mind for me and I did not want to take the opportunity away from another to receive a liver."

Throughout the process, Father Callan and the Moores kept in touch. When Father Callan told the Moores that every option seemed exhausted, they offered to be tested to see if one of them was a compatible donor.

Father Callan was completely shocked at the Moores' offer. Especially because it would not be easy for Chris to donate, due to Army regulations regarding organ donations.

It turned out that navigating these regulations was worth it. Chris was a match.

In May 2017, Moore and Father Callan went in for surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

"We said our 'goodbyes' and I told (the Moores), 'I'll see you on the other side,'" Father Callan said. "The next morning I woke up and I said, 'I feel 100% better already.'"

Father Callan was in surgery for 10 hours and received more than two-and-a-half pounds of his brother Knight's liver. Moore noticed the immediate health differences in his friend when he visited him the day following the surgery.

"We call each other brothers now because we share something in common, our livers," Moore said with a smile. "We share a special bond and he's able to do what he does, continue to be able to do what he wants to do which is minister to people."

The brotherhood between Father Callan and Moore is shown in "Everyday Heroes," a video series produced by the Knights of Columbus. The series showcases ordinary men acting in extraordinary ways, who are strengthened by their Catholic faith and membership in the Knights of Columbus.

"One of the things that I felt very strongly about is that the brotherhood among the members of the Knights of Columbus is important because men need a lot of support in the faith," Father Callan said.

Father Callan and the Moores attended the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage -- an international event co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus along with the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services to bring healing to military personnel and their families at the Marian shrine in France.

When reflecting on this period in his life, Father Callan sees God's providence.

"What we have to realize is that God is present with us," Father Callan said. "God is leading us, guiding us through the many, many things, many trials that we face. God is always present, caring and loving for us in ways that we don't necessarily understand."

Father Callan remains close with the Moores, visiting them at their home in Arizona.

But when apart, the brother Knights still contact each other to talk.

"For me, simply being with Chris or talking with him inspires me and encourages me," Father Callan said. "We are brother Knights in every sense of the word."

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Editor's Note: A video accompanying this story can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLJtJdGW8Hc. To share your story of an everyday hero with the Knights of Columbus, contact andrew.fowler@kofc.org.

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Bound by shared grief, staff assists families at natural burial ground

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin

By Andrew Nelson

CONYERS, Ga. (CNS) -- There's the father who regularly visits his buried son with a bag of doughnuts for the staff.

There's the request by a mother for Honey Creek Woodlands staff to tell her buried child "she still loves him" when they pass his final resting place.

Staff members at this natural cemetery know what it means when heartfelt requests come from grieving families. Three of the staff members themselves have family buried among the trees and the grasslands.

"There's something that happens here and it's very transformative," said Elaine Bishoff, who buried her father here.

"People come here, sometimes it happens when we're looking at sites like it did with my own family, and sometimes that happens with the service where they're bracing and they're nervous and they're grieving, it lifts," she told The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. "All of a sudden they're smiling and they're relaxed and they start talking like, you know, like they're just talking with their family."

Honey Creek Woodlands in Conyers, 25 miles southeast of Atlanta, is a burial ground for those who desire a simple burial in a wooden box or a shroud. Graves are marked with discreet sandstone markers. The land is owned by the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a community of more than 40 Trappist monks.

The burial ground is "a quiet and beautiful resting place for people of all faiths, as well as those who have struggled to find faith," states its website.

Bishoff's family was one of the first to bury a loved one at Honey Creek Woodlands. It was October 2008. Her father, Jack Jameson Sr., died in his sleep.

"It is not what I thought. This is not creepy," she remembered about her first visit. Her father loved the outdoors, was humble and would not have been interested in conventional funeral practices.

"I work here, but my heart is here. I fell in love with this," said Bishoff, 58, who spent most of her life working in customer relations for a car dealership. She grew up attending Our Lady of Assumption Church in Brookhaven and graduated from St. Pius X High School in Conyers. Five years after burying her father, she joined Honey Creek Woodlands. Today, she is the senior steward, working with families and staff.

Neil Battles, 29, relies on a tractor, chain saws, shears and pruning tools as part of his job as a caretaker.

In 2012, his father, Mark, died from cancer and was buried in the pine tree forest on the grounds.

Battles started working at Honey Creek Woodlands in 2016. He grew up attending St. John Neumann Church in Lilburn, and St. Matthew Church in Winder.

"I'd go out to visit my dad and it's kind of therapeutic. You have a tendency to block away things, or you tend not to think about certain things because it's kind of a little hard to think about. But then you visit the grave and you remember, him coaching me as a kid in baseball or, you know, just different little memories," Battles said.

He wants to give that experience to others as he prepares for a graveside service or thins out a natural growth of saplings and wild grass.

"That kind of transfers over because you want everybody to get that same experience where they're like, you know, the grave looks good and they're not worried about everything and they can kind of just relax in the setting."

Bishoff's father was buried in the hardwood forest, where oaks, dogwoods and other trees reclaimed the area surrounding his grave. It's about a mile from the office on a gravel road to the towering pine trees, a meadow and the hardwood forest. There's also a hilltop where the Martin Gatins Chapel and its bell tower are located.

Honey Creek, the site's namesake, is crossed with a bridge called the Bridge to Grace, donated and built by a family whose daughter, Catherine Grace, is buried at the woodlands.

For now, about 160 acres have been set aside for burials. The rest of the land is untouched.

The cemetery is part of changing trends of funeral practices. People are choosing to deal with human remains in an environmentally aware, chemical-free manner. The only requirement at Honey Creek is that bodies are laid to rest in a shroud or biodegradable casket.

In 2015, more Americans for the first time chose cremation over traditional funerals, and the option is expected to become increasingly popular. Cremated remains are also buried in biodegradable containers. The scattering of ashes is not allowed.

Honey Creek Woodlands opened on Earth Day 2008. Joe Whittaker was the first caretaker. A statistician by training, he recalled waiting several months before he assisted the first family in burying their loved one. That first year there were about a dozen burials. In late October, 10 burials took place in one week. About 3,000 plots have been sold and since opening there have been about 1,200 burials, he said.

Whittaker last year stepped back to a part-time position. The families he served became "more friends than anything else," he said. At his South Carolina home he etches the sandstone markers families customize to be gravestones.

"We are people trying to help them through a difficult situation."

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Nelson is a staff reporter at The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

 

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