Various Catholic News

As safety and politics block trips, Pope to pray for Congo and South Sudan

Crux Now - 4 hours 51 min ago

ROME – During his first visit to Africa, Pope Francis visited Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. The third nation was at war, waging a civil conflict with ethnic and religious undertones. Despite warnings concerning his safety, the pope had no second thoughts.

“The only thing I am worried about are the mosquitoes,” Francis joked with journalists on the papal plane. He reportedly told his pilot: “I want to go to the Central Africa Republic, and if you can’t manage it, give me a parachute.”

Ever since, Francis hasn’t been afraid of war zones. He went to Colombia while the ink on a treaty that brought an end to a decades-long civil war was still drying. He’d made the peace accord a deal-breaker for his visit.

Later this week he’s going to Myanmar, a country under the microscope of the international community for what its army is doing to the Rohingya Muslim minority.

RELATED: Cardinal Bo urges Pope Francis not to use the word ‘Rohingya’ during Myanmar visit

Yet there are two other countries in conflict he’s spoken about numerous times, that for now, due to security concerns, remain on the wish list: South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

There were several reports, originally fueled by local bishops, of a possible visit to South Sudan this fall. By the pope’s own admission, the outing would have included the head of the Church of England, Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

RELATED: Ecumenism and the quest for peace may carry Francis to South Sudan

However, the situation on the ground was deemed too unstable, and papal spokesman Greg Burke released a statement on May quashing hopes of the South Sudanese religious leaders, who’d traveled to Rome to invite Francis to the country in late 2016.

In the case of DRC, it was the papal representative in the country, Argentinian Archbishop Luis Mariano Montemayor, who announced that a trip had been put on hold until national elections are held.

“The pope wanted to come. The Holy See has made clear to the Congolese authorities that his visit is conditioned on the organization of the elections which are established by its constitution,” Montemayor said in September.

RELATED: Pope trip to Congo won’t happen until after elections, says Vatican ambassador

Since then, the pope has made several appeals for peace in both countries, and will do so again on Thursday, when he’s scheduled to lead a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica for these embattled nations.

The ongoing crisis in South Sudan

South Sudan is the world’s newest nation, located in the center of Africa and bordered by six countries. It’s theoretically rich in oil, but following decades of a civil war that ended in 2005, it is also one of the least developed regions on earth.

Over a decade after the war, however, the bloodshed is far from over, as ethnic-related fights are still ongoing.

Half of the country’s population of over 12 million is severely affected by hunger, and people with knowledge of the situation on the ground believe the United Nations will again declare famine in the country in 2018, as was the case in February of this year, despite its fertile lands.

“In South Sudan, people can’t even go out to plant on their fields,” said Nancy McNally, an American currently working in neighboring Kenya for Catholic Relief Services, the international aid agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“When I was there in March, you couldn’t cross these vast expanses of territory for safety reasons,” she said. McNally said that in many of these territories, there used to be villages full of people working the land. However, all are gone, with only a water well or an abandoned medical clinic remaining as a memory of the life before.

Speaking with Crux, McNally said that despite their poverty and the horrific conflict the South Sudanese have lived through, people there “can be amazingly resourceful.”

CRS’s work is mostly focused in the Jonglei state, in central South Sudan, where they are in “full emergency mode” to support nearly 900,000 people through diverse programs. If peace is ever achieved, they’re ready to put in place developing programming, to support and rebuild the country.

One of the long-term ongoing projects is in a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Awerial county, also in central South Sudan, where CRS is working with groups of fishing associations headed by women.

They’re also working with the Dinka and Nuer tribes in Jonglei state to create irrigation canals and roads to link villages, building cohesion among the communities which, even though they’ve always lived together, hasn’t been a coexistence without some tensions.

“Parts of Jonglei have been so severely affected by the drought and conflict, that there’s nothing else to eat other than bushmeat,” she said.

According to McNally, most of the South Sudanese don’t want to migrate, but rather they want to stay in their country, because they’re “very attached to it.” To illustrate, she told the story of a man she met while there, who had emigrated to Italy and was living there legally, with a work permit. When his country gained its independence, he moved back to open his own business and “help rebuild the country.”

Yet when the war broke again in 2013, he lost everything: the kiosk he’d set up with a generator imported from Italy to charge phones was ransacked and his 50 cattle stolen. Without a dowry, he wasn’t able to marry. He’s in his 50s now, totally bereft, living in an IDP camp.

“Given the choice and the opportunity, this man chose to go back, without hesitation,” McNally said.

The ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo

DRC is extremely wealthy in natural resources, including diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc. It’s also a vast territory, with a size similar to Western Europe. Yet the country’s resource wealth has benefited foreign companies far more than the close to 80 million people who live there.

Decades of political instability, a lack of infrastructure, corruption and wars have all affected the country’s development. As of 2016, DRC’s level of human development is 176th out of 187 countries, according to the Human Development Index.

Speaking at a press conference in Rome last week, Michel Roy, secretary-general of the papal aid agency Caritas Internationalis, said that while the main causes of the conflict in both countries are political in nature, multinational companies are profiting from “the favorable conditions” of a weakened state in order to exploit the country’s wealth.

He gave the example of the diamond mines in the southern Congolese province of Kasai. Congolese politicians, Roy added, receive kickbacks and “are under the orders of these companies” to keep the conflict alive so they can continue to exploit the country’s vast diamond industry.

“There are also regional interests so that the Congo remains this way, that it doesn’t become strong,” he said, according to Catholic News Service. “A big country with these kinds of resources can become an important country in Africa, like South Africa, like Nigeria.”

The Catholic Church has long played a key role in DRC’s pacification efforts, including mediating in the peace talks between the government and opposition after political violence last December.

In late October, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley visited the African nation, and thanked the prelates for their efforts so far, while at the same time urging them to once again help with the current deadlock.

The agreement signed last year stipulated that President Joseph Kabila would remain in office, but elections would be held before the end of 2017. Yet Congo’s electoral commission has said elections will be held in mid-2019, which again has created chaos in the country.

During her visit, Haley reportedly said that every day that passes without elections, a woman is raped, a child has an unwanted pregnancy, and children are forced to be soldiers.

According to the United Nations, there’s a nationwide use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In this country ravaged by over twenty years of conflict, over 1 million women of all ages, from babies to grandmothers, have been raped, most of them by armed groups or militia.

In April, as news continued to arrive of “bloody clashes” in Kasai state, “fighting which drags in victims and displaced persons,” Francis urged some 20,000 faithful at a Mass in the northern Italian city of Carpi “to pray for peace, that the hearts of those behind these crimes do not remain enslaved by hatred and violence.”

Thursday’s prayer service is being organized by “Solidarity with South Sudan” and the Justice and Peace office of male and female religious organizations worldwide. When Francis heard of the initiative, he said he wanted to be personally involved in it.

Christians across the world are invited to pray together on that day and time (5:30 PM Rome time, 11:30 ET) for peace, particularly in South Sudan and in DRC.

Celebrating Thanksgiving can be a struggle, and a blessing, for Americans in Rome

Crux Now - 4 hours 54 min ago

Ann Schneible says trying to assemble a Thanksgiving dinner in Italy is an adventure.

Asked about her most memorable moment, she said: “For me, it was having to transport a 15-plus pound turkey across Rome on public transportation, only to discover after I’d brought it home that the head was still attached.”

The Virginia-native was a student at Rome’s Pontifical University Santa Croce for several years, and Thanksgiving could be a difficult time.

“For most of the year, the daily experience of living in Rome as an expat is chaotic enough to distract from homesickness: I think any major holiday that’s spent away from family is difficult, since it’s during these times that we slow down and think about the family we’re missing. On Thanksgiving, this can be especially challenging,” Schneible told Crux in an e-mail interview.

In Italy, Christmas is still Christmas. If you are away from your family, Italians know it’s a difficult time, and will often try to cheer you up.

But Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is just a Thursday in November. No one even realizes it’s an American holiday.

There are thousands of Americans in Rome. Many of them are students, like Schneible was. Most others work in the city: As translators, tour guides, at the United Nations, and at international firms. The Vatican has several American employees, and hundreds of American priests and religious work and study in the heart of the Church.

For all of them, celebrating Thanksgiving takes some effort.

The North American College hosts an annual dinner

The Pontifical North American College – the seminary in Rome training priests for the United States, popularly known as the NAC – hosts a Thanksgiving dinner every year, to which many of the clergy are invited. Each seminarian can usually invite a guest, which makes it one of the most sought-after tickets in town.

The dinner features skits and speeches, along with a full Turkey dinner, complete with homemade – well, at least seminary-made – pumpkin pie.

Yet even the American seminarians – in their carefully constructed enclave of the United States within Italy – have to face certain realities: The students don’t attend classes in the NAC itself, they go to the different pontifical universities in Rome; and Thursday is a school day.

So the entire student body at the NAC plays hooky for the day.

One seminarian confirmed they exchange notes with another national seminary for the day, and cover them on their national holiday.

But if you aren’t a seminarian, or a seminarian’s good friend, getting a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not so easy.

Finding a turkey, and discovering some sweet potatoes are sweeter than others

There are options, especially in the past few years as the American student population has grown in the city. Several pubs and restaurants have started offering Thanksgiving Day dinners at often exorbitant prices.

For this, you usually get an overcooked turkey breast, something resembling gravy, some mashed potatoes, and a first course of pasta (because in Italy, every important dinner involves a first course of pasta.)

Although this may be fun if you are on a semester abroad, or if it’s your first time away from home, it’s not the same as a real Thanksgiving dinner.

“We always celebrate as authentically as we can,” said Christopher Owens, who lived outside Rome with his wife, Anna, for 2 ½ years.

“And the more, the merrier. Sometimes we have had as many as 15 or 20 people around the table,” he said.

Owens was doing graduate studies at Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the Angelicum), while also teaching at St. John’s University’s Rome campus. He moved from Italy to California earlier this year.

The Owens family had spent a decade in Europe, also living in Britain and Germany, and always faced problems when explaining Thanksgiving to their neighbors.

“It is difficult for Europeans to really grasp the purpose of the celebration. Most important holidays in Europe are religious, and so to them the historical origins of Thanksgiving do not seem important enough to celebrate in such a way,” Owens said.

“But then, none of the American holidays are ‘holy days,’ and so this does seem to be an aspect of celebration which is unique to American culture,” Owens said.

But Rome presents its own unique struggles, mostly dealing with food.

Although a European capital, Rome is still very provincial when it comes to cuisine. Finding the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving can be, as Schneible said, an “adventure.”

Anna Owens said the biggest problem was finding cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, and “finding a turkey smaller than 20 pounds.”

You can’t really “find” a whole turkey in Rome, you have to order them from a local butcher. And no matter how much he assures you it’s “no problem” when you order a 10-pound bird, when you go and pick it up the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, he’ll hand you a 21-pound turkey with a slight shrug of his shoulders. And yes, you will be charged the full price of the larger turkey.

This isn’t just a crisis of leftovers: Most ovens in Rome – especially if you are renting an apartment – can’t fit a turkey that size. At least not without a lot of pushing and twisting.

Sweet potatoes are another challenge, because they are rare, and they are often not what they seem.

Owens said, “One year, we accidentally picked up the wrong ones!”

They turned out to be white. The white “sweet potato” is also not as sweet as the varieties in the United States.

“You can’t have candied yams with white sweet potatoes. So, we added food coloring. Before getting the color balance right, at one point they were beet red! But, they ended up looking alright in the end,” Owens said.

For cranberry sauce, the only option is usually Castroni, the vastly overpriced shop in Rome which seems to have a monopoly on foreign food. A small jar of cranberry sauce can cost over $5. It’s also the place to get pumpkin, evaporated milk, and pecans (nearly $10 for a small bag just about big enough to make one pie.) But you must plan ahead, since Castroni is notorious for running out of essentials days before Thanksgiving actually takes place.

Seeing Thanksgiving through the eyes of non-Americans

Since Thanksgiving is a family holiday, Americans in Rome often invite the only family they have: Their friends and colleagues.

“They think it is an obscene amount of food,” Owens said.

“It’s also always fun to experience an American Thanksgiving through the eyes of our European friends,” Schneible said.

“Most years, when I had the space and resources, I tried to celebrate Thanksgiving with an open invite to any American with nowhere to go for the holiday,” she told Crux. “A few times we had well over fifty people, which was a challenge, but a rewarding one.”

Some years the crowd grew so large, a local parish let Schneible use their dining hall and kitchen. On one Thanksgiving, she hosted a dinner at a pilgrim center (not that kind of pilgrim) in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood.

Both Schneible and Owens have returned to the United States, but Monica Charles celebrated her first Italian Thanksgiving in 2016.

Her new husband has lived in Rome for six years, and attends the Angelicum, while she teaches.

“Last year for the first time ever I worked on Thanksgiving! It was so odd telling my students I was celebrating a holiday and for them it was just any other day,” she told Crux.

Last year she went to dinner at the Owens’ house; this year she is hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

“I will be cooking my first turkey this year!” she said.

She and her husband have invited their non-American friends to bring traditional dishes from their own countries, to create a truly international Thanksgiving.

“The best part is probably how excited the non-Americans are to celebrate with us. This will be their first Thanksgiving celebration and it is something they have only ever heard about,” Charles said.

When asked about other positives about celebrating Thanksgiving outside the United States, Charles said, “It is helpful that all the stores are still open!”

When asked the same thing, Owens came up with another plus about Thanksgiving in Rome: “The wine is better!”

Bangladesh cardinal says Pope Francis will bring message of dialogue and harmony

Crux Now - 5 hours 29 sec ago

MUMBAI, India – Bangladesh’s cardinal said Pope Francis will confirm the faith of the country’s small Catholic population.

Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, the Archbishop of Dhaka, spoke to Crux in response to the video-message released on Tuesday by the pope to the people of Bangladesh ahead of his Nov. 30- Dec. 2 visit to the South Asian country.

In his message, the pope said he would travel to Bangladesh to proclaim the Gospel message of “reconciliation, forgiveness and peace,” and he said he was especially looking forward to a meeting with the nation’s religious leaders.

“We are living at a time when religious believers and people of good will everywhere are called to foster mutual understanding and respect and to support each other as members of our one human family,” Francis said.

RELATED: Before Bangladesh trip, pope calls for interreligious dialogue

“Bangladesh was very happy to welcome this message of the Holy Father’s greetings and friendship,” D’Rozario said.

“In Bangladesh, where we live, as a minority, we witness to the Gospel through our way of life and our services for all, without discrimination and also through our cooperation together with others for the common good of all,” the cardinal said.

“The Church is in continuous dialogue of actions, and dialogue of peace and festivals which is our expression of harmony. Dialogue is a very important way of communicating the universal values of humanity,” he said.

There are only about 350,000 Catholics in Bangladesh, about 0.2 percent of the total population. The country is over 86 percent Muslim, while another 12 percent are Hindu.

RELATED: Church in Bangladesh working with other faith communities to welcome pope

The Catholic bishops’ conference in the country has set up ten multi-faith subcommittees to help greet the pope, which includes Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists – as well as other Christian denominations.

The theme of the papal visit to Bangladesh is “Harmony and Peace.”

“The pope is singling out and highlighting the religious harmony – dialogue and harmony – in his visit. I consider the pope’s visit a festival of dialogue, a witness of religious harmony, a celebration of harmony of Bangladesh’s culture,” the cardinal said.

A sign of this harmony is the ‘Home of Compassion’ established by St. Teresa of Kolkata in Dhaka, which is still under the care of the Missionaries of Charity. The pope will visit the facility on Dec. 2.

Currently, there are more than 140 residents, including abandoned children, the handicapped, and those who are sick.

D’Rozario visited the facility last month, and told Crux it “is a big witness in Dhaka city.

“The Holy Father will spend around 15 minutes with the people of the home. It is significant as the Holy Father would like to see, where they live and meet with them in their situations and the simplicity of their lives and to be in solidarity with the sick and the poorest of the poor,” the cardinal said.

The pope’s visit to Bangladesh is part of a two-nation trip to the region. He will first visit Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh, from Nov. 27-30.

RELATED:  Pope to preach dialogue in Bangladesh, Myanmar

The two countries are also intertwined with the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Over 500,000 of Myanmar’s Muslim minority have fled to Bangladesh since August, creating a dire humanitarian situation.

On Wednesday, the United States joined the United Nations to accuse Myanmar of acts of “ethnic cleansing.”

Caritas Bangladesh – the aid arm of the Church – is doing what it can to help the refugees.

Although currently most concerned with providing food, cooking utensils, and other essentials, Caritas is making plans with the government to help provide permanent housing structures as well as medical and educational facilities.

The pope has been an advocate for the Rohingya, mentioning them most recently on Oct. 23, during his daily Mass in the Casa Sanctae Marthae, when he spoke about people who are “hungry for money, land and wealth” creating an “idolatry that kills.”

“We only think of one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps,” the pope said. “There are 800,000 people there, 200,000 of whom are children.”

Francis also made an appeal for them during his Angelus on August 27, when he urged for them to be given “full rights.”

On Wednesday, the Vatican confirmed that Francis would meet with Rohingya Muslims during an interreligious meeting in Dhaka on Dec. 1.

Nov. 23 Optional Memorials of St. Clement I, pope & martyr; St. Columban, abbot; Bl. Miguel Pro, priest and martyr; Thanksgiving Day, Opt. Mem.

St. Clement is the third successor of St. Peter who ruled the Church from c. 92 to 102 and is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass. Pope St. Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians, which is one of the most ancient and precious documents surviving from early Christian times; it shows his profoundly religious spirit, wholly imbued with the mystery of the things of God and love of Christian unity.

Beatification of Solanus Casey in Detroit marked by anticipation, joy, and thankfulness

Catholic World Report - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 9:27 PM
The huge crowd at Ford Field, so quiet and reverent at times that you could hear a pin drop, clapped loudly as Cardinal Angelo Amato, [...]

Echoing Pope Francis, Argentines unite in prayer for missing submarine

Crux Now - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:58 PM

ROME– After a week without news regarding a lost Argentine submarine missing since Nov. 15, Catholics across the country are organizing prayer services, with many dioceses celebrating Masses pleading for the safe return of the 44 crew members.

Eleven countries, including the United States, have joined Argentina in the search of the ARA San Juan, contributing personnel, planes and boats. Merchant ships, scientific vessels and fishing trawlers have joined in the effort.

Beyond Masses and vigils, several chains through social media and WhatsApp have asked Argentines to pray daily at 10 p.,m. local (8 p.m. EST), echoing two calls made by Pope Francis, an Argentine himself.

“Pope Francis assures his fervent prayers for the 44 officers aboard the Ara San Juan,” said a telegram sent by the Vatican’s Secretary of State to Argentina’s military ordinariate on Saturday. “[Francis] asks that his closeness be conveyed to their families and to the military and civil authorities of the country in these difficult moments. Likewise, he encourages the efforts to find the vessel.”

On Sunday, the pope referred to the submarine after the weekly Angelus prayer in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square.

Cardinal Mario Poli, Archbishop of Buenos Aires handpicked by Francis as his successor, said Mass in the local cathedral. In his homily, he said that “it’s not necessary to take the pulse of the sensitivity of our nation these days: everybody is talking, thinking, and praying for the 44 brothers we have in the submarine that we still haven’t found.

“In these special circumstances, in which we pray for the life of all from conception to death, we ask God that this moment of tribulation have a halo of hope,” he said on Tuesday.

The ARA San Juan, which is carrying 44 crew members, including the country’s first woman submarine officer, was last seen a week ago, in the San Jorge Gulf, about 268 miles off the coast of Argentina.

If the submarine has been fully submerged since its disappearance, time is running out for the rescue operations, as it only has enough air to last between seven to ten days.

Bishop Oscar Ojea, recently elected as head of the bishops’ conference, said that the prelates were united to the families of the 44 crew members: “All together, let’s continue to pray insistently for each one of them and their loved ones.”

Bishop Antonio Baseotto, emeritus military ordinariate, echoed those sentiments, while underlining the solidarity, “not only national, but also of so many countries, that have contributed and are contributing with all their means to find a solution to what is a grave emergency.”

Santiago Olivera, current military bishop, arrived in Mar del Plata, the coastal city where the families of the missing crew are currently staying, close to the rescue operations, on Tuesday, where he said Mass at a navy base.

The Institute of Religious Dialogue also issued a statement asking for “each Argentine to elevate a prayer in the form that their tradition dictates so that the 44 crew members of the submarine ARA San Juan be found alive.”

The institute was founded and is co-presided over by Father Guillermo Marcó, former spokesman of then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, today Pope Francis; Rabbi Daniel Goldman; and Imam Omar Abboud, who is a close friend of the pope.

Catholic blogger accused of in ‘inappropriate, predatory’ behavior

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:27 PM
Women in the community around Sick Pilgrim, a Catholic blog for spirituality, have accused the blog's co-founder with nonconsensual touching and “inappropriate, predatory and exploitative” relationships. The co-founder denies the allegations.  

Contraceptive mandate battle still on: States fight religious exemptions

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:05 PM
The Little Sisters of the Poor, who have always been known for their care for the poor elderly, have been in the spotlight for the past six years with their objection to the federal government's requirement that they provide insurance coverage of contraceptives for their employees.

Contraceptive mandate battle still on: States fight religious exemptions

Crux Now - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:05 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Little Sisters of the Poor, who have always been known for their care for the poor elderly, have been in the spotlight for the past six years with their objection to the federal government’s requirement that they provide insurance coverage of contraceptives for their employees.

They hoped the issue was behind them after a new rule was issued in October by the Department of Health and Human Services granting an exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious nonprofits who oppose the mandate on religious grounds.

But days after the rule was issued, Pennsylvania and California filed complaints against the federal government over the exemption. Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined California’s lawsuit to become the first plaintiff group to file a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to prevent the new exemption rule from going into effect.

This means the Little Sisters of the Poor are going back to court.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket, the law firm representing the sisters, said in a Nov. 21 press call that the HHS rule “should have been the end of the story” and the end of a “long and divisive culture war.”

But with these lawsuits in place, he said Becket is preparing to file a brief on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor and he also said the sisters want the judge to hear their arguments, noting that the case is more than states’ attorneys general arguing against the federal government.

Rienzi said the sisters will echo what they’ve said all along: that the government doesn’t “need nuns to give out contraceptives” and that they should not be punished for acting in accordance with their faith. He said the cases will be heard in December.

A statement issued by Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the Little Sisters, based in Denver, said: “We just want to be able to continue our religious mission of caring for the elderly poor as we have for over 175 years. We pray that these state governments will leave us alone and let us do our work in peace.”

Rienzi called the states’ fights “political grandstanding” that is trying to take away rights from religious groups. He also said none of the states has come forward with someone who had contraceptive insurance coverage through an employer before and is now going to lose it.

He also said the lawsuits were “deeply ironic” since some states — such as Pennsylvania and Virginia — don’t even have a contraceptive mandate and others have broad religious exemptions in place.

The lawsuits claim that the exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate pushes the cost burden to states.

In the California suit, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the HHS ruling providing the religious exemption violates constitutional amendments because it allows employers to use religious beliefs to discriminate against employees and denies women their rights to equal protection under the law.

When the HHS ruling was announced this fall, Catholic Church officials said it “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, then-chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

They also said it was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

More than 100 couples get married in Paraguay cathedral

Crux Now - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:00 PM

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – Over one hundred couples who had been living together but were not yet married, celebrated their marriages in the Asunción Cathedral in Paraguay Nov. 15.

The couples were able to say “I do,” thanks to support from the Santa Librada Foundation, which put on a program to prepare the couples for marriage, in collaboration with the Asunción Archdiocese, and the Community of Missionary Families of Christ.

Children and relatives of the couples participated in a Mass celebrated by Father Oscar Gonzalez, vicar general of the archdiocese, along with 16 other priests and deacons.

The couples came from 18 parishes from various areas in and around Asunción. Most of the couples participating in the program reported that they had been unable to afford the cost of a wedding on their own.

111 couples participated in a program of weekly spiritual formation and psychological support, which aimed to help them “understand more deeply the importance of entering into marriage, especially as a covenant with God, which is fundamental in building and strengthening the family,” a sponsor couple told the Encuentro Weekly.

The Retail Company, a socially minded business which owns a supermarket chain where most of the newlyweds work, paid for the wedding attire, hairdressing, makeup and transportation, according to the EFE news agency.

The large wedding took place as part of the 50th anniversary of the Santa Librada Foundation, the social outreach arm of a local business group, which provides support and assistance to needy families in Paraguay.

This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Parish roundup: Feeding the hungry; reading about Black Elk

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 3:00 PM
The Field Hospital: St. Vincent de Paul Society gears up for Thanksgiving demand; medical and legal clinics at the Oakland's cathedral; readers recommend books about Black Elk.

At Mass, Jesus seeks to bring others with him to salvation, pope says

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:57 PM
If people understood that participating at Mass is witnessing Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, then maybe they would stop acting as if it were some kind of show, Pope Francis said.

Daily Advent Messages of Peace

Franciscan Media American Catholic Blog - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:51 PM

As Advent approaches, the staff at Franciscan Media has been thinking about the peace and joy we all hope the season will bring. We invite you to join us in spreading peace this holiday season.

Rather than argue, try ‘tell me more’ with Thanksgiving hot-button discussions

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 2:49 PM
Eco Catholic: At this time of year, articles tell us how to get along with the Republican or Democrat at the Thanksgiving table. Try this instead.

Bangladeshi religious leaders have high hopes for Pope's visit

Catholic Register Canada - News - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 1:45 PM
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladeshi religious leaders of different faiths hope Pope Francis' upcoming visit will promote harmony and tolerance in the Muslim-majority nation.
However, one hard-line Muslim group warned it would protest if the pontiff said or did anything "unexpected and unacceptable," reported.

The Nov. 30-Dec. 2 visit will be the third by a pope to the populous, impoverished country. Blessed Paul VI made a 1970 stopover lasting a few hours in what was then East Pakistan to express sympathy for victims of a devastating cyclone. St. John Paul II came to independent Bangladesh Nov. 19, 1986.

During his trip to Dhaka, the capital, Pope Francis will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid as well as members of the diplomatic corps and civil society. He planned to pay respects at two national memorials and celebrate Mass for more than 100,000 people in Dhaka, where he will ordain 16 deacons to the priesthood.

Interfaith and ecumenical gatherings and a visit to a home for destitute people run by the Missionaries of Charity, the congregation that St. Teresa of Kolkata founded, also are on the pontiff's itinerary.

Pope Francis' visit will celebrate a 46-year Vatican-Bangladesh relationship, said Cardinal Patrick D'Rozario, archbishop of Dhaka.

The Holy See was among the first states to recognize Bangladesh after it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971 and established full diplomatic relations in 1973.

The relationship was based on universal values such as compassion and human dignity that transcend ethnicity and politics, Cardinal D'Rozario said. Past international expressions of sympathy when Bangladesh suffered from natural disasters and the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that claimed more than 1,100 lives cemented the relationship, he said.

"I have seen the joyful feeling in people, who are eager to have an encounter with the leader who is a symbol of unity of the church," the cardinal said.

On another front, a senior leader of the hard-line Hefazat-e-Islam group welcomed the pope's visit, but said he would closely monitor it.

"Pope Francis is the supreme leader of Christians and head of the Vatican state, so we welcome him in our country," Mufti Faizullah, a joint secretary of the group, told "We will be closely watching what he says and does during the trip. If we find anything unexpected and unacceptable, we will protest and issue statements if necessary."

The group has pushed for rigorous implementation of an anti-blasphemy law, execution of atheists, Islamization of school textbooks and removal of idols and statues from public places and has attacked what it sees as Christian evangelization in some areas.

Maolana Fariduuddin Masoud, president of the liberal Muslim group Bangladesh Jamiyat-ul-Ulema, said he expects love and hospitality will be highlighted during the pope's visit.

"Pope Francis is a saintly figure and a global leader, so people are honored to have him in Bangladesh and they will offer him overwhelming love," Masoud told

Bangladesh's pluralistic and tolerant image has been tainted by a lethal rise of Islamic radicalism in recent years. Since 2013 Islamic militants have murdered some 50 people including atheist bloggers, writers and publishers, gay rights activists, liberal Muslims, religious minorities and foreigners. A government crackdown resulted in about 70 militant deaths and dozens of arrests.

Despite the government's actions little has been done to combat radical ideology fueling violence despite attempts to promote interfaith dialogue.

Rana Dasgupta, a lawyer and Hindu leader in Dhaka, said the pope might look at lapses in Bangladesh's battle against extremism.

"Extremists wanted to attack the heart of the nation, our pluralism and harmony, so they killed people who held liberal or critical views on religion or adhere to other faiths," Dasgupta said.

"This extremist ideology is not part of our culture, but little has been done on this front to present a counter-ideology. Pope Francis has been soft on Islam, refused to associate it with terrorism and called for dialogue between religions to combat violence and extremism," he said.

Dasgupta said the Bangladeshi government had government efforts to promote dialogue and harmony were insufficient.

"Maybe the pope can offer some guidance on how best dialogue can be used for harmony and peace," he said.

Ashoke Barua, a Buddhist leader, said the papal visit would be a boon for religious harmony.

"Pope Francis' trip will reinvigorate religious harmony and bring people of all faiths closer," he said. "It is also a great opportunity to present Bangladesh's goodness to the world."

Despite recent setbacks, Cardinal D'Rozario said he expects that Pope Francis realizes the nation remained committed to harmony and peace.

"Our nation is like a river," the cardinal said. "Sometimes you see strong currents fueled by strong winds, but at the riverbed there is calmness. And this comes from the basic religiosity and pluralism of people."

Bangladesh is struggling to cope with a refugee influx triggered by violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The pope is expected to take up the issue publicly or privately during his visit.

Cardinal D'Rozario noted that Bangladesh had lived up its "traditional values" by accepting fleeing Rohingya. "The pope is coming for harmony and peace, not for just Rohingya but for all," he said. "He is not coming to solve any problem, but he will surely have a message for them and for everyone."

The cardinal noted that the Rohingya crisis had similar elements to violence against marginalized communities around the globe, including where "big world powers" are involved.

"The pope will not just talk about Rohingya," he added, "but other persecuted people and maybe he will be critical of those who 'shed crocodile's tears' for Rohingya but not for others, like Christians in the Middle East."

Morocco goes digital to counter radical Islam online

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 1:03 PM
The Mohammadia League of Islamic Scholars, the institute leading Morocco’s extensive campaign against violent Muslim extremism, is using social media to reach young Moroccans. 

Religion scholars turn activist in the shadow of Trump

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:53 PM
As nearly 10,000 scholars of religion and the Bible shuttled among 300 sessions at a conference here last weekend, Donald Trump dominated the agenda.

I am grateful for so many things

Natl Catholic Reporter - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:36 PM
NCR Today: In the midst of this administration, not to mention all the other woes of our world, there are things to be thankful for.

Philippines to extradite priest accused of molesting boys in North Dakota

Crux Now - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 12:07 PM

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government is preparing to extradite to the United States a recently arrested Filipino Catholic priest who faces charges of sexually molesting two boys in North Dakota churches in the 1990s, an official said Wednesday.

Chief State Counsel Ricardo Paras said Fernando Laude Sayasaya was arrested over the weekend by police in Calamba city in Laguna province south of Manila and will be flown back to the U.S., which sought his extradition under a treaty.

“The apprehension of Fernando Sayasaya once again shows that the long arm of the law would reach all criminals,” Paras said. “The suppression of crime is the concern not only of the state where it is committed but in any other state where the criminal may have escaped.”

Sayasaya is being detained at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila and could not be reached for comment.

He was charged in a North Dakota court over alleged sexual advances toward two underage siblings from 1995 to 1998, including by separately touching and making them watch pornographic videos, in two North Dakota churches, according to a Philippine Court of Appeals documents that cited a U.S. investigation.

Sayasaya was assigned at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic church and at the St. Mary’s Cathedral, both in North Dakota, at the time, the court documents said.

Amid the allegations, Sayasaya was asked to go on leave by Catholic church officials in August 1998 and was sent to the Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota. He sought permission to fly back to the Philippines for Christmas in 1998 and never returned, the court documents said.

It was not immediately clear if Sayasaya remains on leave or has been suspended or removed from the Catholic church, Paras said.

The Department of Justice in Manila won court approval in 2010 for Sayasaya’s extradition, but the priest appealed the decision before the Court of Appeals, which upheld the court ruling two years later.

‘Future of church in good hands,’ says Archbishop Gomez at closing Mass

Crux Now - Wed, 11/22/2017 - 11:21 AM

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — When Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson thanked Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez for celebrating the Nov. 18 closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference, a cheer broke out from the Los Angeles youths in attendance.

And when he mentioned the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting held in Baltimore some days before the youth gathering, that archdiocese’s contingent of teens shouted and clapped.

He proceeded to receive shouts and standing ovations when he thanked the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministers, and then when he thanked the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and then when he thanked all of the religious, deacons, priests and bishops who helped with NCYC, and then when he wished everyone safe travels.

Thompson just shook his head and laughed.

“A guy going to a Catholic wedding told me he didn’t know if he should wear a dress suit or a warmup suit because Catholics stand up and sit down so much!” he joked. And that line too received a thunderous standing ovation.

It was the kind of spirited joy that only 20,000 youths could exude at the end of the three-day NCYC gathering.

Not long before the revelry, the very same youths had knelt in solemn prayer after receiving the most holy Eucharist during the convention’s closing Mass in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Thirteen bishops, including Thompson, concelebrated the Mass with its primary celebrant, Gomez, who wove into his homily another auspicious Catholic event that happened earlier that day.

“Blessed Solanus Casey was just beatified today in Detroit,” he said. “(God) gave him many gifts. He was a good listener, and he had a deep faith and deep heart for Jesus. He wanted above all to serve God.”

But that is not why the Capuchin Franciscan was beatified, said the archbishop. Rather, he was beatified “because he tried to serve God in every moment. … He used his gifts to help others.

“This is how God wants us to live, to make your whole life a life of giving,” the archbishop continued. “Try to do little things for God. Try to be a little miracle in someone’s life. Give hope. Yes, we can strive for holiness because it is … doing God’s will in the little things of daily life.”

Such was the message of the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, he said of the parable of the servants and the talents.

“The parable of the talents is a plan for life,” Gomez said. “Jesus is talking to us about our relationship with God. How are we using the gifts God gives us?

“The words we hear in the Gospel from Matthew is what God wants for each of us: ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. … Come, share your master’s joy,'” he said.

The archbishop gave specific advice to help the youths do God’s will and to become holy: “The most important thing … is to pray.

“When I was your age, I made a decision … to spend some time in prayer daily, and it has made an extra difference in my life,” Gomez continued.

“If you make time for prayer every day, you will see a difference. … Listen to (Jesus), even for just a few minutes. … Be consistent. Do it every day. I promise you, if you spend time in prayer every day … you will start to see that Jesus is with you and how much he loves you.”

Elizabeth Murillo of the Diocese of Dallas, who attended NCYC for the first time, experienced such a moment earlier during the conference.

“One of the things that stood out to me is that someone said to let God speak to me, and (God) said to me, ‘You’re not alone, you have me. You can count on me anytime you want,'” she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

Several youths cited the time adoring the Blessed Sacrament as a group of 20,000 teens Nov. 17 in the stadium as the NCYC moment that had the most impact.

“I’ve been to adoration before many times at different retreats,” said Elisha Mix of the Orlando Diocese. “But to see (20,000) youths adoring the Lord is something amazing.”

Daniel Linn of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis agreed.

“I’ve never celebrated it that way before, with so many people being so sacred,” he said.

Overall, said Linn, NCYC was “just mind blowing. It was very powerful to see all these people come together and celebrate their faith together. The Church is a lot stronger than it seems in the world.”

Based on a comment he made in his homily, it would seem that Gomez agrees.

“You inspire us bishops,” the archbishop told the 20,000 youths. “You give us hope. The future of the church is in good hands with you.”

Hoefer is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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