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Updated: 17 min 26 sec ago

Respect freedom of speech, Kenyan bishops say after media restrictions

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 7:09 PM

Nairobi, Kenya, Feb 14, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Kenya’s government has shut down several TV stations after the leader of an opposition political party declared himself the “people's president” in January. The country's bishops condemned the actions of both parties and insisted on the importance of free speech and respect for law and order.  

“As a Church whose mandate is to promote justice and peace, we are categorically concerned with acts of both the government and the opposition that are unconstitutional and a bridge to law and order,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 2 statement.

The situation follows a disputed August 2017 election. President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected Aug. 11, but it was nullified and a new election was ordered by the Supreme Court, which said the vote wasn't transparent.

Raila Odinga, Kenyatta's challenger, boycotted the October re-run, claiming it would also be neither free nor fair, and Kenyatta won overwhelmingly, with only 39 percent turnout.

Odinga then held an unofficial swearing-in ceremony in Nairobi Jan. 30 where he called himself the “people's president.”

Kenyatta's government then shut down several TV channels so as to prevent coverage of the swearing-in. The stations were still able to live-stream online, however. Only two stations have now been allowed to resume broadcasting to subscribers.

The Kenyan bishops responded saying that the restrictions on the TV stations did “not augur well for the freedom of expression and press in the country.”

“This is in itself is retrogressive and deliberate effort toward eroding the positive steps the Country and her people have laid down in the Constitution as a social contract.”

The bishops encouraged the government to resume the proper media functions, as Kenya’s constitution allows. The statement also emphasized the responsibility of journalists “to inform and educate the public.”

Additionally, the bishops insisted that “both opposition and the government should desist from any acts that can incite the public and cause deeper divisions among the people of Kenya and the Country at large.”

Citing the fact that “no state agency or individual is above the law,” they called on all state agencies and all duty bearers to respect and adhere to the tenets and spirit of the Constitution, respect human rights and the fundamental freedoms.”

As an organization committed to peaceful solutions, the bishops offered their support to help facilitate dialogue and encouraged Kenyans to join a 2018 Lenten campaign for peace.

About 50 people have reportedly been killed in violence related to protests following the August 2017 election.

Kenya's 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced as many as 700,000.

Bishops in Tanzania denounce government for suppressing freedoms

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 6:08 PM

Dodoma, Tanzania, Feb 14, 2018 / 04:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Tanzania spoke out this week against the suppression of several constitutional freedoms within the country, saying the government is becoming responsible for threatening national unity.

“The activities of political parties, such as public gatherings, demonstrations, marches, debates inside premises, which are the right of every citizen, are suspended until the next elections,” read a Feb. 11 pastoral letter signed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Tanzania, according to Africa News.

“Political activities are prohibited by the instrumentalization of the police,” the letter continued, denouncing the government’s interference with national laws and the freedom of expression.

Political tensions within Tanzania have been rising with upcoming by-elections.

President John Magufuli, of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, has been in power since taking office in 2015. The CCM has held power in Tanzania since the party was founded in 1977.

Magufuli is nicknamed the “bulldozer”, and holds a reputation for enforcing censorship and limiting freedoms of expression.

Since President Magufuli’s election, opposition parties have been targeted through suppression - their party meetings have been prohibited, media has been silenced, and some reports have said that journalists critical of the government were found beaten.  

In December, government authorities threatened to revoke the licenses of churches which openly discussed political issues, after a Protestant pastor said in a sermon that Tanzania was “turning into a one party state.”

Last fall, the opposition chief in parliament, Tundu Lissu of the Chadema party, was hospitalized after an alleged assassination attempt. He is currently hospitalized in Brussels. Although no suspect has been arrested, Lissu’s party is pointing to the government for possible involvement in the attack.

The bishops said the current political standing is creating “division and hatred that could endanger peace, security and the lives of citizens,” and encouraged the government to give up suppressive tactics.

“Media are closed or temporarily suspended, thus restricting the right of citizens, to be informed, freedom of opinion and the right to privacy and expression,” the bishops said.

“If we allow this climate to continue, let us not be surprised to find ourselves in more serious conflicts that will destroy the foundations of peace and national unity.”

Irish bishop calls for protection of the unborn ahead of abortion referendum

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 5:02 PM

Galway, Ireland, Feb 14, 2018 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Human life “from its tiniest origins” must be protected, Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway and Kilmacduagh said at his installation Mass on Sunday.

The Feb. 11 Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, was attended by more than 2,000.

Kelly used part of his address to the full cathedral to issue a strong call to protect the unborn, ahead of an abortion referendum that will take place in the Republic of Ireland by the end of May.

The referendum will decide whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans abortion in Ireland, known as the Eighth Amendment. The amendment was passed by a referendum vote in 1983, when nearly 67 percent of Irish voters approved it.

The amendment reads, in part, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

Abortion is already permitted in Ireland when a women’s health or life is in danger, and some Irish women travel to the United Kingdom for abortions. According to Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, 3,265 Irish woman traveled to the United Kingdom for abortions in 2016.

There is already legislation being proposed which, pending the outcome of the referendum and approval by parliament, would grant unlimited access to abortions up to 12 weeks of gestation.

In his address, Kelly said that every human life has "immense dignity, respect and reverence that is due to every living person, regardless of ability, health, colour, size, nationality or otherwise.”

After the Mass, Kelly told the Irish Independent that he planned on prioritizing the preaching of the Gospel of Life ahead of the upcoming vote.

Kelly added that his stance on abortion had nothing to do with a mistrust of women.

"Without all the women in my life, where would I be or any of us? I am so grateful to my mother for giving me life and so grateful she gave life to eight other children," he said.

Several other Irish bishops have urged respect for human life after the referendum was announced.

“The innate dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, is a value for the whole of society, rooted in reason as well as in faith,” stated Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh in a recent pastoral message.

“The Catholic Church, in common with other people of goodwill, teaches that ending the life of an unborn child, like the taking of any other innocent human life, is always evil and can never be justified,” Archbishop Martin continued.

In a recent pastoral letter, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said that “the reference to the right to life (of the child and of the mother) would be removed from the Constitution and not replaced with anything else.”

“When it comes to the right to choose, there is a tendency to forget that there is another person involved; a vulnerable person who has no choice and who depends entirely on others for protection,” Bishop Doran said.

“If society accepts that one human being has the right to end the life of another, then it is no longer possible to claim the right to life as a fundamental human right for anybody.”

US bishops urge day of prayer and fasting for peace in DRC, S Sudan

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 4:44 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2018 / 02:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged Catholics to join Pope Francis Feb. 23 in a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

“Let us answer the Holy Father’s call to pray and fast for peace, especially for the Church and peoples of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB.

“And let us turn our fasting into almsgiving and support the work of Catholic Relief Services in both countries.”  

Both countries have suffered corruption, violent ethnic clashes, and poor economic conditions. Reflecting on those affected by the violence, Pope Francis encouraged individuals to ask how they may be able to promote peace.

“I make a heartfelt appeal so that we also listen to this cry and, each one of us in his/her own conscience before God, ask ourselves, ‘What can I do for peace?’” said Pope Francis.

In preparation of day of prayer, the USCCB has listed three means Catholics may promote peace – to learn, pray, and share.

“Tragically, violent conflict rages in both nations. South Sudan won its independence in 2011 only to find itself a victim to corruption and a bloody civil war. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the government fails to honor the constitution as the Catholic Church courageously promotes a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the ruling and opposition parties. In both countries, innocent families suffer,” said Cardinal DiNardo.

Additionally, the bishops asked Catholics to share the message of peace by hosting community prayers at local parishes, educating others about the conflict by means of social media, and donating to charities such as Catholic Relief Services.

Archbishop Lori: MLK’s principles of nonviolence have 'enduring power'

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 3:00 PM

Baltimore, Md., Feb 14, 2018 / 01:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a new pastoral letter, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s "principles of nonviolence" are the keys to “address and resist injustice” in the Baltimore area.

“The wisdom of Dr. King’s teaching is both timely and important for our family of faith, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and indeed for our whole society,” wrote Archbishop Lori in his February letter.

“We urgently need to retrieve, understand, embrace and put into practice his teaching and legacy,” he continued.

Archbishop Lori’s letter comes ahead of the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. The civil rights leader was fatally shot April 4, 1968, on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tenn.

“Now is the time for all of us to reconnect with Dr. King and his teaching,” Archbishop Lori said, noting that “Dr. King’s wisdom is more necessary than ever in our violent and fragmented society.”

“Violence, racism and a host of social problems exist in different forms and degrees…no family, no neighborhood, no community is immune from violent crime, domestic violence, drug abuse, racism and many other social problems,” the archbishop said.

Archbishop Lori pointed to a surge of gun violence in Baltimore in 2017, a year in which the Baltimore Police reported that 301 people in the city were killed with guns.

He also noted that “the sin of racism” has “has tarnished the soul of our society.”

Lori said that “lack of education, unemployment, a dearth of decent and affordable housing; a proliferation of illegal weapons; drug abuse and gangs; the disintegration of the family; homelessness” are among conditions which “create despair and spawn violence in our neighborhoods.”

“In this stark environment, Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence are more necessary than ever: they are prophetic words of hope that can light the path forward,” the archbishop said.

According to the archbishop, the principles of nonviolence advanced by Dr. King are “meant to change us” by addressing every person’s heart with a call to conversion.

Lori explained King’s six principles of nonviolence, which were the foundation of his pastoral letter.

First, he said that nonviolence was a way of life for “courageous people,” who bear “witness to the truth by living it and seeks not to coerce others into conformity, but rather to persuade them in love.” The archbishop said the sacraments of baptism and confirmation are crucial for this kind of courage.

Secondly, nonviolence seeks to “win friendship and understanding.” This means, according to Lori, that every person’s common humanity “is the basis for friendship that crosses the lines of race, ethnicity, politics and culture.”

Nonviolence also seeks to “defeat injustice, not people.” The archbishop said this principle seeks to deter “those who would harm the innocent and defenseless,” while also persuading individuals against the evils of racism.

Nonviolence also teaches that “suffering can educate and transform.” This means that suffering is a means to purification, out of which a “pure and peaceful heart flows.” The letter pointed to the witness of the early Christian martyrs who showed love in the face of violence.

The fifth principle of nonviolence rules that individuals should choose “love instead of hate.” Lori encouraged a “radical form of love that refuses to engage in any form of violence.” He noted that selfless love always seeks the good of the other in every relationship, which, he said, can powerfully transform society.

Nonviolence also believes that “justice will ultimately triumph.” This means that hope rules every action, despite suffering and injustice, Lori said.

“These principles took shape as Dr. King held up the experience of his people to the light of the Gospel and the Christian Tradition. Thus, they constitute not an abstract philosophy, but an applied theology of liberation,” he said.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s principles of nonviolence call for a change of heart. However, they also call for action,” said Archbishop Lori.

The archbishop said the archdiocese would use King’s principles to actively challenge the local community through information, education, personal commitment, negotiations, direct action, and reconciliation.

To that end, the archdiocese has created a website to springboard discussions.

“I cannot do this alone. This is something we must do together,” urged the archbishop.

The letter’s plan of action includes four efforts: building the local network of services to more effectively serve the community; forming cooperative relationships among the parishes within the archdiocese; reaching out to people on the peripheries to personally walk with them; and promoting stronger efforts towards ecumenical and interfaith partnerships that will build lasting community.

Lori also encouraged Catholics to work for the re-evangelization of each parish community in the archdiocese.

“For so many reasons, we do well to heed the prophetic teaching of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to put it into practice,” Archbishop Lori said.

“Guided by his principles, we will take a further step in being ‘a light brightly visible,’ a Church that brilliantly reflects the light of Christ.”

 

Expert says religious freedom critical for Vatican-China bishop deal

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 1:06 PM

Rome, Italy, Feb 14, 2018 / 11:06 am (CNA).- A missionary priest and expert on the Church in China has expressed caution, and a limited optimism, about a rumored agreement between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops.

Fr. Bernard Cervellera is the editor-in-chief of Asia News, a media project of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, PIME.

In an interview with CNA, he said that an accord could lead to greater freedom for Catholics in the Communist country, though he questioned the Chinese communist party's intentions, asking whether true religious freedom is possible under a regime that so far has sought to eradicate religion.

The priest stressed that if an agreement is reached, the Vatican will need to push “for more religious freedom.”

“You can't simply deliver the Church, but there must also be more religious freedom,” he said.

Asia News covers the Church in China closely, and reported the news that in October 2017 a Holy See delegation went to China asking two bishops – Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou in and Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin of Mindong– to step down in favor of government-appointed bishops.

In 1951 Beijing broke official diplomatic ties with the Vatican. Since the 1980s they have loosely cooperated in episcopal appointments, however, the government has also named bishops without Vatican approval.

The result has been an increasingly complicated and tense relationship between the government-supported Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the so-called “underground Church,” which includes priests and bishops who are not recognized by the government.

Many Catholics parishioners, priests and bishops who have rejected government control have been imprisoned, harassed and otherwise persecuted. Churches have also been destroyed by the Chinese government.

Currently every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the patriotic association, and many bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not recognized or approved by the Chinese government have faced government persecution.

However, as part of a proposed agreement, which sources close the situation have said is “imminent” and could come to fruition as early as this spring, the Vatican is expected to officially recognize seven bishops who are out of communion with Rome, including 2-3 whose excommunications have been explicitly declared by the Vatican.

Most notably, the new deal would also apparently outline government and Vatican roles in future episcopal selection. Reportedly, the details of the deal would be similar to the Vatican's accord with Vietnam, in which the Holy See would propose three names, and the Chinese government would choose the one to be appointed bishop.

Cervellera told CNA that the Chinese government has tended to view religions as dangerous sources of terrorism and division, which threaten societal coexistence.  

For that reason, he said, making a concession for the sake of a deal is “likely the step that's needed to show that the Church isn't interested in overthrowing the Chinese government.”

Referring to recent statements made by Cardinal Joseph Zen, Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong and a leading opponent of the deal, Fr. Cervellera told CNA that “this agreement is an agreement that doesn't 'sell' the Church,” but depending on how much the Vatican is willing to concede, could place the Church's fate “completely in the hands of the government.”

Cervellera pointed to a government crackdown on religion, involving a stricter enforcement of rules which, as of Feb. 1, ban anyone under 18 from attending religious services. It's also now forbidden to hold any sort of youth group activity, even if it's not held at a church, he said.

Cervellera said that a fellow priest had observed that the government “has turned churches into a special type of 'nightclub' only for adults.”

If young people are removed from religion, he said, “you are practically condemning religions to death,” and this “was always the project of the Chinese Communist Party, always. Because the Patriotic Association was born to control religions so that little by little...they die from suffocation.”

On the other hand, he said, a deal Vatican deal with the government on appointing bishops could “facilitate the Vatican in deciding the candidates without problems, and help (with) the daily management of the Church,” he said.

But if the Vatican doesn't insist on more breathing room, “both the official and the underground, the Church will continue being suffocated. Because what is lacking is religious freedom.”

On Monday a group of 15 influential Chinese Catholics, most of whom are from Hong Kong, wrote an open letter to bishops' conferences around the world voicing their opposition to the deal, saying the government should have no role in choosing bishops and warned of schism should an accord be reached.

The signatories, which include Hong Kong politicians, university professors, lecturers, researchers, lawyers and human rights activists, specifically referenced the seven “illicit” bishops in question, saying “they do not have the trust of the faithful, and have never repented publicly.”

“If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in Greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China.”

However, on Sunday, Feb. 11, Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin of the Mindong Diocese – one of the bishops asked to step down by the Vatican delegation in 2017 – said he would be willing to step aside in favor of government-backed Bishop Zhan Silu, who was formerly excommunicated by Rome.

According to the New York Times, Bishop Guo – who has placed in detention multiple times and is currently living under police surveillance – said he would respect any agreement that is reached, and that if he were presented with an official, verifiable Vatican document asking for his resignation, “then we must obey Rome's decision.”

“Our consistent stand is to respect the deal made between the Vatican and the Chinese government,” he said, explaining that “the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”

Though he would respect any deal that is reached, Guo also cautioned that there is still hesitancy on the part of Chinese authorities to let the Vatican have a final say over Catholic spiritual life, and that while they might not explicitly say the local Church has to “disconnect” from Rome, this has at times been implied.

What the Chinese authorities don't realize, he said, is that by having the local Church cut ties with the universal Church would make Chinese Catholics “second-class believers,” because Catholics in other countries get to have a say in the rules that govern the global Church, whereas Chinese faithful don't.

Guo said he at one point told the Chinese government that “when you restrict churches in China to contact Rome, in fact you are slapping your own face...We need to participate so that the Chinese voice” is not lost, but is heard within the universal Church.

However, despite recent crackdowns and a lingering reluctance on the part of the government, Guo said he believes restrictions on Catholics have loosened, and “the government is gradually opening up to it.”

In his comments to CNA, Fr. Cervellera said a deal would certainly make the process of choosing bishops easier, and it could open wider channels of communication with between the Vatican and the government.

“Now it's truly complicated for the Vatican to make their needs heard to the Chinese Church,” so an agreement could make things easier, but “this doesn't mean more free.”

Referring to rumors that the proposed deal would follow the Vietnam model, he said in this case “at least there is great assurance that the criteria in which the candidates are chosen is based on faith,” because with the patriotic association, the criteria are mainly in their own interests.

However, he voiced doubt that a deal might be as close as this spring, as authorities in the past have said multiple times that an agreement was near, but it never happened.

“I say this not because it's pessimistic, but there are many, many problems inside the (Chinese community),” including an attitude on the part of some who don't want an agreement.

Concerns have also been raised that should an agreement be made, it would potentially harm the Holy See's relationship with Taiwan, as they are the island nation's only European ally and one of only 20 countries who recognize their authority over Beijing.

On this point, Fr. Cervellera stressed that the agreement, “if it happens, is an agreement on the appointment of bishops, it's not an agreement on diplomatic relations.”

In his view, “more time is needed” before discussing diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China.

Taiwan, he said, while having few allies, still has commercial offices all over the world, “and they are able to manage commercial relations throughout the world even without having this legal recognition from European countries. I think there will always be the possibility.”

If the Holy See lands this deal with China, “I don't think it will be a big problem [for Taiwan],” he said, because “it's not that the Vatican can forget about Taiwan, because it's always a lively Church, so the Vatican must have relations with the community of Taiwan.

Overall, though skeptical, Fr. Cervellera said he hopes that if an accord is reached, it would help lead “to a greater influence of religions on Chinese society.”

A big problem Chinese society has, he said, is that it is very materialistic and lacks values, so beyond the “so-called national consciousness” that seeks to control and subordinate citizens, “there is nothing.”

“So to find a way to give spiritual values, to inflate spiritual values to give dignity to the people, this is an important task,” he said.

“I don't know if this will happen through an agreement on the nomination of bishops. I hope, but this is certainly the mission of the Church, the entire global Church and the universal Church regarding China: to do it in such a way that Chinese development is a development inside the dignity of the human person...I hope that the Church is able to make [China] more human.”

 

English bishop: marriage is God's gift, let us foster it

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 12:41 PM

Shrewsbury, England, Feb 14, 2018 / 10:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Young people still desire to marry despite the crisis surrounding marriage in the contemporary U.K., and Catholics need to defend marriage as God intends it, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has said.

Bishop Davies said in a Feb. 10 homily: “may we all recognize our own part in raising our voices and giving our witness to the perennial, enduring gift and grace of marriage of which God himself is the Author.”

The bishop spoke during the diocese’s annual Mass in celebration of marriage, held at the Church of Our Lady and St. Christopher in Romiley, about 80 miles northeast of Shrewsbury. The Mass celebrates significant wedding anniversaries of those in the congregation.

“Generations to come will surely be surprised that we failed as a society, and sometimes even as Christians, to actively propose and defend marriage as it came from the hands of the Creator,” said Bishop Davies.

Christ raised marriage to a sacrament and the Scriptures speak of marriage’s “high purpose” as an image of Christ and the Church, he explained. “Christ chose to begin his public life at a wedding, thereby confirming the goodness of marriage; indeed, the first of his miracles would be for the sake of a married couple,” the bishop added.

However, he spoke of a “human and social crisis” surrounding marriage, an issue which he said should be “raised to the very top of our public concerns.”

He cited “disturbing trends” like historic lows in the U.K. marriage rate and the high divorce rate. There are predictions that only half of today’s 20-year-olds will ever marry, with under 25 percent of those with lower incomes ever marrying.

At the same time, about 75 percent of young people aged 14 to 17 said marriage is one of the key aspirations of their lives, said the bishop, citing the Centre for Social Justice.

“It should not surprise us that, in the face of every discouraging trend, the young still aspire to the vocation of marriage for this was inscribed by the Creator into the very nature of man and woman,” he said.

Bishop Davies’ homily comes as the U.K. government seeks to change marriage registration for the first time since 1837. It would allow opposite-sex couples to register civil partnerships instead of marriages.

If approved, the changes would mean that couples are no longer given a marriage certificate on their wedding day, the Daily Telegraph reports. Couples will not sign an official register that day, but an electronic register will replace the system of registers now held in churches. Marriage certificates will also carry a mother’s name and occupation.

Bishop Davies suggested the proposal has its priorities wrong.

Until recently, he said, the state “recognized the bond of marriage and with great reverence sought to protect it as vital to the well-being of society and the health of the family.”

“If the present government is seeking the greatest shake-up of marriage registration laws for 200 years then it should surely be seeking to strengthen marriage not to further undermine it,” he said.

“The Church has always recognized divine wisdom in this call to love and faithfulness inherently open to receive the gift of children,” he added. “She possesses no authority to change or compromise the promises on which marriage rests.”

Citing the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, the bishop said the Church sees individual well-being as bound up with “the healthy state of married and family life.” The Church hopes to encourage Christians and “all who are trying to preserve and foster the dignity and supremely sacred value of the married state.”

Bishop Davies further voiced hope for new diocesan initiatives to promote the vocation of marriage and noted the work of the diocesan Caritas affiliate to “support the family in this time of crisis.”

Pope on Ash Wednesday: Lent is the perfect time to 'come home'

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 11:33 AM

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2018 / 09:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At Mass for Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis invited everyone to live the 40 days of Lent as a time to “pause” from things which keep us from virtue and to return home to the loving and merciful embrace of God the Father.

“Return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you. Return without fear, for this is the favorable time to come home,” the Pope said Feb. 14.

“[Lent] is the time for allowing one’s heart to be touched...” he continued, explaining how “persisting on the path of evil only gives rise to disappointment and sadness. True life is something quite distinct and our heart indeed knows this. God does not tire, nor will he tire, of holding out his hand.”

Marking the start of the Lenten season Feb. 14, Pope Francis prayed the Stations of the Cross at St. Anselm Church in Rome before processing the short way to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for the celebration of Mass, benediction, and the imposition of ashes.

The traditional procession is composed of cardinals, bishops, priests, the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican friars of Santa Sabina, and lay people. As they make their way between the two churches, they sing the Litany of the Saints.

The practice of beginning the Lenten season of prayer and penance this way was started by Pope John XXIII when he came for the opening of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in 1961.

In his homily at Mass, Pope Francis criticized distrust, apathy and resignation, stressing that Lent is the ideal time to uproot these and other temptations from our hearts. He listed out different ways we can do this through the actions of pausing, seeing, and returning to the Father.

He offered several suggestions of how to pause, including refraining from showing off, or from an attitude which gives rise to unproductive thoughts and self-pity, and which lead us to forget our call to encounter others and share in their burdens.

He also urged an end to the desire “to control everything, know everything, destroy everything,” which he said stems from a lack of gratitude for our life and what we've already been given.

Lent is also a good time for the “creative power of silence” in order to “leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere,” he advised.

“Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift... time with God,” he stated.

The Pope also called out “haughty looks” and “fleeting and pejorative comments,” and urged a break from words stemming from a lack of “tenderness, compassion and reverence for the encounter with others, particularly those who are vulnerable, hurt and even immersed in sin and error.”
Francis urged people instead to look upon and contemplate those actions which promote faith, hope and charity, and to look upon the faces of the vulnerable and in need, like families who, despite hardship, still strive to make their homes “a school of love.”

He also advised people to see the faces of children and youth, yearning for a future, to see the faces of the elderly reflecting “God's wisdom at work,” and to see the faces of sick people and their caretakers, whose vulnerability reminds us of the value of every person.

“See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes,” he continued, “and who from their misfortune and suffering fight to transform their situations and move forward.”

Finally, the Pope encouraged everyone to take time during Lent to “see and contemplate the face of Crucified Love.”

“See and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception,” he said. “For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see his face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.”

 

 

Mass-goers have a right to a well-prepared homily, Pope says

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 7:32 AM

Vatican City, Feb 14, 2018 / 05:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Wednesday Pope Francis again offered some reflections and tips for the Liturgy of the Word, saying faithful who attend Mass lack a fundamental “right” if they do not receive a well-prepared and well-preached homily.

In the Liturgy of the Word, the Lord speaks for both pastors and faithful, and he “knocks on the door of those who participate in Mass, each one in their condition of life, age and situation,” the Pope said Feb. 14.

Because of this, after the readings are done, people in the pews are entitled to a “well-written, well-preached” homily, he said, explaining that “when the Word of God is not well-read or preached by the priest, deacon or bishop, the faithful lack a right. We have the right to hear the word of God.”

Pope Francis spoke to some 10,000 pilgrims present in St. Peter's Square during his weekly general audience address on Ash Wednesday, continuing his catechesis on the Mass.

Though the weather was dreary, Francis told attendees that “if the spirit has joy, it's always a good day.”

He focused his reflections for the day on the Creed and the Prayers of the Faithful, saying that after the brief moment of silence after the homily is finished, “our personal response of faith is included into the profession of faith.”

“There is a vital link between listening and faith, they are united,” he said, adding that faith isn't the result of a “fantasy of human minds,” but rather comes from “listening, and listening involves the Word of Christ.”

When we recite the Creed, then, it allows the entire congregation to both meditate on and profess “the great mysteries of faith, before their celebration of the Eucharist.”

Francis said that our response to the Word of God is also seen during the Universal Prayer and the Prayers of the Faithful, during which we pray for the needs of both the Church and the world.

He noted how during the Second Vatican Council, the prelates who participated wanted these prayers to take place after the Gospel and the homily, especially on Sunday and feasts, “so that with the participation of the people, they prayed for the Holy Church, for those who govern us, for those who are found in various necessities, for all men and for the salvation of the world.”

Turning to Scripture, he noted how in the Gospels Jesus said that “if you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask what you want and it will be done.”

Many times “we don't believe this, because we have little faith,” he said. But if we have faith “the size of a mustard seed,” as Jesus said, “we will receive everything.”

When the congregation unites in offering their prayers to God, this is also a time for the faithful to express their own personal desires to God, he said, adding that “it is the strongest time in the liturgy to ask the Lord for what we want, what we desire.”

“It will be done, in one way or another, but it will be done,” he said. And if someone is struggling with faith, he urged them to pray the same prayer as the man in the Gospel who had asked Jesus to heal his child, saying “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.”

Francis also encouraged priests not to be afraid to be spontaneous with the prayers of the faithful, since they focus on the concrete needs of their community and of the world, and to avoid the use “of conventional and short-sighted formulas.”

Where do Ash Wednesday ashes come from?

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 3:03 AM

Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2018 / 01:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Or, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

On Ash Wednesday, millions of Catholics throughout the English-speaking world will hear one of these two blessings as a priest applies ashes to their forehead in the sign of the cross.

But where exactly do the black or grey powdery ashes come from?

Per the instructions of the Roman Missal, ashes are typically supposed to be made from last year’s Palm Sunday palm branches.

These branches are then burned down into a fine powder and, in the United States, are mixed with holy water or chrism oil to create a light paste. In other parts of the world, sometimes dry ashes are sprinkled on the head rather than made into a paste.

BYOA - Burn Your Own Ashes

Fr. Dan Folwaczny is a priest with the Archdiocese of Chicago and serves as associate pastor at St. Norbert and Our Lady of the Brook parish.

He told CNA that the parish burns their own palms from previous Palm Sundays.

“We have an order of palms that comes in, and some of them are handed out on Palm Sunday but some are leftover, and those we usually store away in the garage until the following year,” he told CNA.

“And then also we have some that people bring back, so people have had them in their houses in the lead-up to Lent, and we’ll tell people to bring them in to the church,” he said.

Then on the day before Ash Wednesday, all of the old palms are placed in a fire pit on the church steps.

“And then the school kids come out and we have a little prayer service and light it on fire,” Folwaczny said.

While some priests order palms from religious goods suppliers, Folwaczny said he has always had plenty of palms and ashes to spare.

“We actually still have plenty in reserve from previous years,” he said. “We could actually not [burn additional palms] for a couple of years and still be fine.”

A similar procedure for the burning of ashes is followed in many parishes and dioceses, including the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.

 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The ashes you receive on your forehead come from burning the palm branches that were blessed last Palm Sunday. Students from Saint Benedict Catholic School in Richmond are with their Pastor, Rev. Anthony Marques. pic.twitter.com/w4nBSpljTu

— Diocese of Richmond (@RichmondDiocese) February 13, 2018


 

Fr. Harrison Ayre, with the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia, told CNA on Twitter that he burns his own ashes for Ash Wednesday in a metal garbage bin “and they reduce to ashes quite nicely.”

Ash buyers

While many parishes use Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to use up last year’s palms, the Church also allows for the buying of ashes from religious goods suppliers.

Fr. Joseph Faulkner, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., told CNA on Twitter that he buys his ashes from religious goods suppliers to avoid sub-par or “stabby” ashes.

For Catholic parishes in Colorado, one of the most-used such suppliers is Gerken’s Religious Supplies.

“There is quite an art to (burning ashes),” Mike Gerken, the co-owner, told the Denver Catholic last year.

“To get the good ash, you can’t just burn them. You have to let them smolder with no oxygen, and that’s where it gets the real charcoal black.”

Religious goods suppliers such as Gerken’s typically get their Palm Sunday palms, and sometimes the palm ashes as well, from palm suppliers in the warmer parts of the United States, such as California, Texas, Florida and other parts of the South.

Why Palm Sunday palms?

There is liturgical significance in the use of the palms from Palm Sunday, as opposed to other materials, to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

Father Randy Stice, associate director for the Secretariat of Divine Worship for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, told CNA that the ashes made from palms remind us of what Lent is all about.

“Those branches herald Holy Week, the suffering death and resurrection of Christ,” Stice said. The feast of Palm Sunday occurs the beginning of Holy Week, which leads up to Easter. “Then that helps us identity with (Jesus) in Lent...it connects us with events in Christ’s own life,” he said.

Ashes have also long been a symbol of repentance and conversion, even in the Old Testament, Stice added.

“It’s an Old Testament and a New Testament symbol of repentance and conversion, sorrow for our sins, awareness of our frailty and mortality - [symbols] that have been taken up by the Church from the earliest stages.”  

 

 

Rocket launch prompts talk of living on Mars – what’s a Catholic to think?

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 2:41 AM

Rome, Italy, Feb 14, 2018 / 12:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A major rocket launch by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, on Feb. 6 has been hailed as a major step toward cheaper and more frequent spaceflight – and the eventual population of Mars.

In the face of such unexplored terrain, how should Catholics respond?

While “this kind of expansion is in its infancy, and full exploration of space is a long way off... this is the time to start thinking about and planning for these things,” Jesuit Br. Robert Macke told CNA.

Curator of the meteorite collection at the Vatican Observatory, and holding a PhD in physics, Br. Macke said technological progressions such as the SpaceX rocket do not change how we relate to God, but “as with any new development in technology or the way things are done, the main question for persons of faith regards how it is to be used.”

The question we need to ask is if the technology is being used “in a way that is just, and compatible with moral theology and ethics,” he said, raising the importance of Catholic social teaching in the future of space travel.

While it is still too early to see how it will be used, “one aspect to keep an eye on is whether such technology, accessible to the private sector, further divides the rich and the poor; those who can go to and exploit the resources of space, and those who will never have that chance.”

According to the SpaceX website, the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket by a factor of two. It lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 6 at 3:45 p.m. ET and has the capacity to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lbs) – a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel, the website says.

The rocket carried and released into orbit a Tesla Roadster, complete with a mannequin driver called “Starman,” decked out in astronaut gear.

The luxury sports car is worth $100,000, and according to the website whereisroadster.com – which is tracking the convertible’s up-to-the-second location – on Feb. 13 at 5:50:14 it was 1,245,8587 miles from earth (and quickly increasing).

The same website tracks that at that time, the car had exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty 231.4 times “while driving around the Sun” at a speed of approximately 55,479 miles/hour.
The development of commercial enterprises, such as the Falcon Heavy, is a necessary first step to “widespread space travel and colonization,” Br. Macke said, but he stressed that whether they are on earth or Mars, human nature remains the same.

“As more people are in space, they will not cease to be people. They will form a complex society with all of the good and bad aspects of any modern culture,” he said. This includes good things, such as economic growth and new technologies.

But it could also have some negative consequences, he noted, especially environmental ones.

“As we have learned from the age of exploration on Earth, when we introduce invasive species in a new environment, they often take over and overwhelm the area. Microbes and bacteria that hitch a ride on spacecraft may become invasive on Mars or other planets, and if there is any native life, it may be overwhelmed and lost.”

Governmental space programs have protocols in place to minimize the number of microbes and other earth-based contaminants that could reach other planets on spacecraft, he said, and there are international laws in place to which private corporations must adhere.

But increasing the amount of space travel will also increase the risk of contamination. For example, the Tesla Roadster wasn’t fully sterilized, Macke said. Because it won’t land on Mars, it is not subject to the same laws.

 

Florida bishop supports bill to limit criminally charging minors as adults

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 7:02 PM

Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 13, 2018 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Under current legislation, in the state of Florida there is no minimum age requirement for an individual to be criminally indicted as an adult.

However, Bishop William Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee wants to change that.

This week, Bishop Wack urged support for House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 936, which would reform the current system and prevent youths under the age of 14 from entering the adult criminal system.

“Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution,” Bishop Wack wrote in a Feb. 12 opinion piece at the Tallahassee Democrat.

“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, children should not be treated as though they are equal to adults,” he continued.

Wack pointed to the story of a Florida boy, named Tim Kane. He was 14-years old when his friends killed two people. Because he was a witness to the crime, he was indicted for felony murder and charged as an adult.

While Kane had no previous criminal record, he will serve life in prison for being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Wack.

The Florida bishop pointed to the numerous dangers involved with charging a youth as an adult. Wack said this process creates a “threat to public safety because it creates more crime,” since “recidivism rates for children prosecuted as adults are higher than rates for children whose cases are resolved in the juvenile justice system.”

“Adult facilities are not equipped with the appropriate education and transition services for children,” Wack said, also noting that children experience a higher risk of “sexual abuse and suicide” in the adult criminal system.

When youth are charged as adults, they will also carry the label of “felony conviction” with them for the rest of their lives, which would bar them from partaking in various opportunities, such as serving in the military, receiving financial aid, and voting.

Because of these various downsides, Wack encouraged state legislators to support House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 936 in the upcoming session. These bills would make it impossible for a youth under the age of 14 to be transferred into the adult criminal system. It would also offer other juvenile justice protections and make changes to the current law.

“Present scientific knowledge of the adolescent brain and the development of children demonstrates that children are different from adults,” Wack said.

“It is time to establish a minimum age for indictment.”

Coptic Orthodox to dedicate church to New Martyrs of Libya

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 6:01 PM

Minya, Egypt, Feb 13, 2018 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Coptic Orthodox Church will dedicate on Thursday a new church to the 21 Martyrs of Libya, who were beheaded by the Islamic State, three years after their deaths.

The church will be opened Feb. 15, according to Fides News Agency. It is located in the village of al-Our in Egypt’s Minya Governorate. The village was home to 13 of the martyred men.

“Any way that the Church of today can honor her martyrs is a blessing. The story of these 21 brave men is worth telling. In way too many places Christians are under siege from the dark forces of extreme hatred, and their freedom is conditioned by this hatred,” Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn told CNA.

The church may someday house the 21 martyrs’ remains, which were identified in a mass grave on the Libyan coast in September.

The Coptic Orthodox Church recognized the 21 Coptic Christians as martyrs to be commemorated every Feb. 15 within only a week of their murder in 2015 along the Libyan coast, which was filmed by the Islamic State and released in an internet video.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.

Although Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi authorized the building of the new church, its construction in a village that is 70 percent Muslim has faced resistance.

“Some of the villagers protested and threw stones when construction started on the church. Churches are a sensitive subject throughout Egypt, even though about 10 percent of the population is Christian. It's hard to get permits to build them,” Jane Arraf of NPR reported from al-Our.

Christians in Egypt face a constant threat of violence. Earlier this week, a man was found guilty of stabbing Coptic Orthodox priest, Samaan Shehata, to death last October.

On Palm Sunday last year, two Islamic State suicide bombings at Coptic churches in Egypt claimed the lives of 47 people.

“We pray for our Coptic brethren as they continue to witness to their beautiful faith and way of life in Christ Jesus. They live in the most terrifying of circumstances, never knowing the hour or the place of the next attack. May the prayers of the Mother of God be their comfort and strength,” said Bishop Mansour, who continued: “Egypt was the first place of refuge for the holy family and continues to be a place of refuge for God’s holy family, mystically present in his Coptic Christians.”

LA Archbishop calls for compromise and compassion in Senate immigration debate

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 5:35 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2018 / 03:35 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the US Senate begins a debate on immigration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said that “Dreamers” should not be used as “bargaining chips” in the political process.

In a column published in Angelus, the archbishop wrote that although he’s “encouraged” the government is considering a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, he thinks their future should not be “tied to broader, more complicated questions about how to fix our broken immigration system.”  

“To me, it would be unconscionable to allow this moment to pass and risk the humanitarian nightmare of more than a million young people being deported and their families broken up. There is no political goal that could justify such an outcome,” Gomez wrote.

The Senate will debate several immigration reform proposals this week.

The plan supported by the Trump Administration ties funding for increased border security--including the construction of a wall--to the creation of a path for citizenship for “Dreamers,” as well as the elimination of the diversity visa lottery and restrictions on family-sponsored migration, commonly known as “chain migration.”

A bipartisan proposal offered last week does not include funding for a border wall, but would increase border security in other ways while creating a path to citizenship for “Dreamers.”

In his column, Archbishop Gomez called the current immigration system in the United States “broken,” and suggested three areas “essential to fixing our broken system:” securing the border, modernizing the visa process, and creating a way for the undocumented people living in the country to obtain legal status.

“I hope that members of Congress and advocates are willing to at least engage this plan in a spirit of seeking compromise and trying to extend compassion to those who have come here seeking a better life,” said Gomez.

The archbishop himself is an immigrant to the United States, having been born in Mexico and becoming a US citizen in 1995.

Gomez accused both major political parties of trying to exploit the immigration issue, and said that the only thing this has accomplished is “further dividing our nation and polarizing our politics.”

The archbishop offered a mixed review of President Donald Trump’s immigration proposal, saying that while he’s “encouraged” about a path for “Dreamers” to citizenship, “I disagree with the Administration..in the area of visa reform.”

The Trump Administration’s proposal would limit family-sponsored migration to the spouse and minor children of an immigrant, and would not include grandparents, cousins, or any other relatives.

“Family-based immigration has served our country beautifully. Immigrant families have built vibrant neighborhoods, churches and civic institutions in every part of America.” Gomez wrote.  

He continued, “(...)Family means more than just mother and father and sister and brother. It also means grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.”

Gomez also argued that the United States shouldn’t shift to a singularly merit-based system, as the country needs a “realistic” system that allows in both skilled and unskilled workers.

“We have never had an immigration policy that only looks at people for the skills they have to offer or the economic contributions they can make,” he added.

The debate on immigration is scheduled to last for a week, and both sides of the aisle are scrambling to come up with a proposal that will garner the necessary 60 votes in order to pass the Senate. That proposal will then go to the House of Representatives and on to President Trump.

Break ‘concordats with sin’ this Lent, Chaput says

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 5:00 PM

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 13, 2018 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has encouraged Catholics to learn from history this Lent: to refuse to negotiate with evil, and to pursue the “difficult but always liberating” path to holiness.
 
“We negotiate little ‘concordats’ with our favorite personal sins, ugly habits and dictatorial appetites all the time,” Archbishop Chaput wrote in a Feb. 13 column. “The deals we make with the world, and the flesh, and the devil, always go south.”

“February 14 this year is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  It’s the day on which a loving God invites all of us to smash our miserable little concordats with sin and its alibis to bits.”

The archbishop drew his point from an analysis of Reichskonkordat, a deal between the Holy See and the German government, signed in 1933.

On paper, Chaput said, the deal was mostly a good one: the state developed a stable relationship with a well-organized, “potentially troublesome,” religious minority, and the Church’s people were protected.

“A few problematic passages in the text do exist,” Chaput said. The Church would be required to consult with German Reich on the appointment of some bishops, and new bishops would be required to take a loyalty oath to the German state. But, Chaput said, those concessions were not “unknown in Europe’s historical context,” and the deal guaranteed explicit promises of religious freedom.

The deal’s promises, Chaput said, “were empty.” Shortly after the deal was signed, Germany began restricting the Church’s life and ministry.

In 1937, he said, Pope Pius XI had to smuggle into Germany Mit brennender Sorge, an encyclical condemning the Nazi regime’s atrocities.

Germany’s response was to increase pressure on the Church more, Chaput said.

“What’s the lesson here? It’s this: If you sup with the devil (so the proverb warns), you’d better bring a long spoon. It’s probably a bad idea in the first place,” the archbishop said.

Chaput said the lessons of history apply to the spiritual life.

“The line dividing good and evil is usually — not always, but usually — pretty bright for anyone who wants to see it.  Most of us really don’t want to see it, of course, because doing so would cramp our own daily behavior.  We negotiate little ‘concordats’ with our favorite personal sins, ugly habits and dictatorial appetites all the time,” he wrote.

“For every forbidden, hurtful, dishonest thing we like to do, we’re experts at self-deceit; at training our consciences to perform like pets … well-manicured poodles that offer us alibis on demand, like: ‘I didn’t have a choice;’ or …’There’s a new paradigm for thinking about this particular unpleasantness;’ or... ‘OK this is wrong, but it’s not THAT bad.’”

This Lent, Chaput said, Catholics need to cling to the teaching of the Church if they are to be freed from sin.

“We need to cling to it, confident in God’s mercy, in judging our own actions and redirecting our lives, no matter how radically that new path demands.”

 

Commentary: Holiness, not despair

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 4:00 PM

Denver, Colo., Feb 13, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Last week, a priest wrote to me. He said that as he surveyed the difficulties facing the Church, he was starting to wonder if it had been a mistake to convert to Catholicism.

I felt terrible. At Catholic News Agency, we report on the difficulties the Church faces. We report on controversies, conflicts, and mistakes. We balance that coverage, I hope, by reporting on the good news about the Church in the world today--about holy men and women doing beautiful and courageous things for the Lord.

But I was discouraged to think that our reporting might lead anyone to be dispirited about the faith, or to wonder whether they belong in the Church.

This is not a time for believers to be discouraged. This is not a time for despair. This is an exciting time to be a Catholic. And this is a great time to become a saint.

The Church is facing real and serious difficulties. Bishops and theologians have serious disagreements about the meaning of the Gospel; about what is true, and what is not. Some Catholic institutions seem to be faltering in their sacred mission, or even willfully betraying it.  Leaders of the Church must answer serious questions about their approach to sexual abuse, about the Church’s relations with atheistic states, and about their commitment to the Church’s unchanging doctrinal teachings. And beyond all that, faith itself is faltering in the west, and once-Christian societies seem to have come under the ever-stronger grasp of relativism’s dictatorship.

Difficulty begets confusion, and confusion can beget despair.

At CNA, we report on the Church’s trials and struggles, and on the Church’s victories and graces, because the Lord calls us, and all Catholic media apostolates, to a prophetic mission. Our call is to tell the truth, as best as we can. We hope to dispel confusion by revealing the truth, even when that truth is difficult to face. And we hope that knowing the truth will be a source of encouragement, and an inspiration for believers to know that holiness really matters.

The Church has always faced grave difficulties. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that “the whole course of Christianity from the first, when we come to examine it, is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing, and lingers on in weakness...Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of Truth dim, its adherents scattered.”

As they travelled with Jesus, the apostles jockeyed for position and favor. Paul and Barnabas suffered a great rift. The Church has endured schisms, heresies, and leaders without virtue.

Struggle and difficulty are the ordinary vocation of the Church. We imagine that things were better in some bygone era, but in truth, they weren’t. Though the problems may have been different, they were no less real, and no less grave.

The Church faces difficulties because sin is real. But the Church endures difficulties because grace is real.

The difficulties the Church has endured are a sign that Lord sustains her. Any human institution would have crumbled long ago. But the Church endures because of the Lord’s presence.

“Much of comfort do we gain from what has been hitherto,” Newman wrote. “Not to despond, not to be dismayed, not to be anxious, at the troubles which encompass us. They have ever been; they ever shall be; they are our portion. ‘The floods are risen, the floods have lift up their voice, the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.’”

Christ is mightier than any storm the Church might face, more powerful than any crisis she must weather. He is present in the Church, and because of that, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Christ has brought us through great difficulties already. And through the Church, Christ has made great saints.

The saints remind us that we can trust in the sacraments. That we can trust in the teachings of the Church. That we can trust in the Lord’s love, his mercy, and his promises.

The saints remind us that through the Church, we can become holy, as he is holy.

Holiness brings renewal, clarity, and peace.

Today, the Church needs our holiness. The Church needs us to be missionaries, to be disciples, to be prophets, to be mystics. The Church needs us to be signs of the Lord’s promise. The Church needs us to hope when others have despaired.

In difficult moments, the call of every believer is to pray for the Church, and to work for truth, and fidelity, and justice. The call of every believer is to bring the light of Christ into darkness. To transform the world, through holiness. Our call is to become saints.

We should not despair because sin is real. Instead, we can rejoice, because the grace of God is real. Grace will sustain us, perfect us, and sanctify us, through the sacrament of salvation, the Church.

 

Supreme Court delays execution of inmate over dementia claims

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 3:48 PM

Mobile, Ala., Feb 13, 2018 / 01:48 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed the execution of an Alabama man who killed a police officer in 1985, on the grounds that the inmate reportedly suffers from dementia.

Vernon Madison, now 67 years old, has been held in solitary confinement for the past 30 years. He was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Thursday.

However, Madison’s lawyers have said that he has suffered from a number of strokes, and is now legally blind. They have also claimed that his memory is impaired, potentially due to the onset of dementia, and he cannot walk without the aid of a walker.

“His mind and body are failing,” Madison’s legal team said, according to the BBC.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which requires that inmates must have a “rational understanding” of death row and their execution, has allowed Madison’s death to be delayed until his condition could be further researched.

Madison was sentenced to death row for shooting and killing police officer Julius Schulte, who was responding to a domestic dispute involving Madison and his girlfriend in the city of Mobile, Alabama in 1985.

Madison’s death was to be the second scheduled prisoner execution in the U.S. this year. In 2017, there were 23 U.S. executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that all non-lethal means should be explored before the taking of any human life, no matter the crime of the perpetrator, if safety of society can be ensured.

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person,” says the Catechism.

Pope Francis has spoken out numerous times on capital punishment, saying it is “an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person,” calling the practice “unacceptable, however grave the crime.”

 

Catholic leaders voice concern over federal budget proposal

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 2:08 PM

Washington D.C., Feb 13, 2018 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- The federal budget proposal released by the Trump administration on Monday has been met with worry from U.S. bishops who stressed the need to protect the poor.

“Budget decisions ought to be guided by moral criteria that safeguard human life and dignity, give central importance to ‘the least of these,’ and promote the well-being of workers and families who struggle to live in dignity,” read a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 13.

“Yesterday, President Trump unveiled a budget plan, ‘Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget,’ that again calls for deep cuts to vital parts of government, including underfunding programs that serve the poor, diplomacy, and environment stewardship,” the statement continued.

The bishops commended certain aspects of the budget request, which would prohibit organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal funding, and would pump $13 billion into fighting the opioid crisis. However, they also expressed concern on other aspects, including immigration enforcement and the boost in military spending.

The statement was signed by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the USA Military Services, who chairs the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The proposal, which was sent to Congress Feb. 12, outlines a $4.4 trillion budget. It would boost military spending by $195 billion over the next two years, and cut federal entitlement programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps, by $1.8 trillion. Some parts of the food stamp program would be replaced for eligible participants with a premade box of American-produced food items.

The new budget would also boost spending for infrastructure improvements and cut funding to the State Department and foreign aid. It would set aside $18 billion for border security, including build a wall on the southern border of Mexico and hiring additional border security personnel.

Through the budget, the administration projected an economic growth of 3.1 percent over the next three years. The New York Times reported that it would also add $984 billion to the federal deficit next year.

“We urge Congress – and every American – to evaluate the Administration’s budget blueprint in light of its impacts on those most in need, and work to ensure a budget for our country that honors our obligations to build toward the common good,” the bishops said.

International humanitarian agency Catholic Relief Services also criticized the new proposal.

Under the new budget, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would have its funds cut by more than one-third, which would limit its capacity to provide food assistance and aid. The new policies would also slash food security spending by more than $1 billion, which would effectively throw out food aid programs and the Global Food Security Act.

“Humanitarian assistance provides life-saving aid; we cannot cut now, when 30 million people face famine,” said Bill O’Keefe, the vice president of government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, in a Feb. 13 press release.

“At a time when hunger is increasing around the world, now is not the time to cut back on helping communities grow more food,” O’Keefe continued, adding that “underfunding this area will only lead to more destabilizing food emergencies in the future.”

He also pointed to the budget’s cuts to microfinance, water, education, and anti-trafficking efforts, calling the proposal “short-sighted,” and urging Congress to place more emphasis on food assistance and international aid in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

“The United States is a generous nation that has led the global community in responding to catastrophe and providing opportunity to the poor and the marginalized,” O’Keefe said.

“But even beyond the fundamental humanitarian and moral imperative to fund foreign aid, poverty-reducing international assistance is in the best interest of our country. Deep and disproportionate cuts to development aid and diplomacy will only exacerbate the problems we face today and leave a vacuum for new crises to fester tomorrow.”

 

Pope offers Mass alongside patriarch of Melkite Greek Church

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 8:55 AM

Vatican City, Feb 13, 2018 / 06:55 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At Mass at Santa Marta Tuesday, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass with the patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Youssef Absi, saying that offering the liturgy together is like an embrace between the two Churches.

“This is what the ceremony of today means: the embrace of the father of a Church with Peter. A rich Church, with its own theology within the Catholic theology, with its own wonderful liturgy, and with a people,” the Pope said Feb. 13.

Speaking in place of a homily, Francis noted how a great number of the people of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church are being “crucified, like Jesus.”

He also said that the Mass was being offered “for the people that suffer, for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, who give their lives, give their goods, their properties, because they are driven away. And we also offer Mass for the ministry of our brother Youssef.”

At the end of the Mass, Patriarch Youssef, who concelebrated, offered his own words to the Pope, saying that he was moved by “his fraternal charity, by the gestures of fraternity, of solidarity that he has shown to our Church during this Mass.”

“We promise to keep it always in our hearts, in the heart of all of us, clergy and faithful, and we will always remember this event, these historical moments, this moment that I cannot describe for how beautiful it is: this fraternity, this communion that binds all disciples of Christ.”

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite in full communion with Rome. It consists of some 1.5 million members and is based in Syria and Lebanon, with most of its eparchies in the Arab world. It also has structures to serve the Melkite diaspora in Australia, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.

On Feb. 12, Pope Francis met with bishops of the Greek-Melkite synod, assuring the patriarch and bishops of his closeness in prayer.

In his speech, the Pope remarked on the presence of their Church in the Middle East, in particular Syria, where their Church “is deeply rooted and performs a precious service for the good of the People of God.”

He also extended his prayer for all the people and priests of the Church throughout the world. “In this difficult historical period, many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to live their faith in the Lord Jesus in the midst of many trials,” he said.

“I sincerely hope that with their testimony of life, the Greek-Melkite bishops and priests can encourage the faithful to remain in the land where Divine Providence has wanted them to be born.”

Francis said that on Feb. 23 he has called for a special day of prayer and fasting for peace, and that on that occasion he would not fail to make special mention of Syria, which has been hit in recent years “by unspeakable suffering.”

Referencing the most recent assembly of the synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which took place in Lebanon earlier this month, he said that those meetings are both an important moment of communion and when important decisions are made for the faithful.

Among these decisions is the election of new bishops, which Francis said are called to be shepherds, accompanying their people and helping them to seek the things of Christ, not of the world.

“We need so many Pastors to embrace life with the breadth of God's heart, without settling on earthly satisfactions, without being content to carry forward what is already there, but always aiming high,” he said.

He also asked the bishops and the patriarch, when they return to their offices, to remind the faithful, and the men and women religious, that they are “in the heart and in the prayer of the Pope,” and gave his apostolic blessing.

Amidst the Pyeongchang Games, remembering Korea’s martyrs

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 7:00 AM

Seoul, South Korea, Feb 13, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As the 2018 Winter Olympic Games continue in Pyeongchang, the world is watching Korea for more than just sports.

The sister of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, was present at the games’ opening ceremony where athletes from both Koreas marched together under an inter-Korean flag.

Vice President Mike Pence stated that U.S. policy will remain unchanged after his trip to the region. Pence said, “new strong sanctions are coming very soon and the maximum pressure campaign will only intensify until North Korea abandons its nuclear program” in a post on Twitter on Feb. 12.

As tensions on the Korean peninsula remain high, Catholics there are likely remembering the witness of Korea’s first native-born priest, the martyred Saint Andrew Kim Taegon.

“St. Andrew Kim Taegon exhorted believers to draw from divine love the strength to remain united and to resist evil,” said Pope St. John Paul II on his third and final papal trip to South Korea, in 2001.

Korea’s first priest, Andrew Kim Taegon, was born 1821 into an aristocratic Korean family that eventually included three generations of Catholic martyrs.

Kim’s great-grandfather died for his Catholic faith in 1814, decades before the first Catholic missionary priests arrived on the peninsula from France.

“The first Christian community in Korea [is] a community unique in the history of the Church by reason of the fact that it was founded entirely by lay people,” said John Paul II at the canonization of 103 Korean martyrs, including Andrew Kim Taegon, in 1984.

Andrew Kim traveled over 1,000 miles to attend seminary in Macau. While Kim was away at seminary, his father, Ignatius Kim Chae-jun, was martyred for his faith in 1839.

After Kim was ordained in Shanghai in 1845, he returned to his homeland to begin catechising Koreans in secret. Only 13 months later, he was arrested.

In his final letter from prison before he was tortured and beheaded, Kim wrote to Korean Christians:

"Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded his Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of his faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down. Ever since his ascension and from the time of the apostles to the present, the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow even in the midst of tribulations...I urge you to remain steadfast in faith, so that at last we will all reach heaven and there rejoice together. I embrace you all in love."
During a century in which an estimated 10,000 Christians were martyred in Korea during waves of persecution by the Chosun Dynasty, Christianity continued to grow.

“The splendid flowering of the Church in Korea today is indeed the fruit of the heroic witness of the martyrs. Even today, their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the North of this tragically divided land,” said John Paul II at the martyrs’ 1984 canonization.

In 1989, at South Korea’s Olympic Gymnastics Hall, Saint John Paul II again pointed young people to look to those martyrs, as the Korean people continued to grapple with the peninsula’s division.

“Your martyrs, many of them of your own age, were much stronger in their suffering and death than their persecutors in their hatred and violence. Violence destroys; love transforms and builds up. This is the challenge which Christ offers to you, young people of Korea, who wish to be instruments of true progress in the history of your country. Christ calls you, not to tear down and destroy, but to transform and build up!” the Pope said.

“The Korean nation is symbolic of a world divided and not yet able to become one in peace and justice,” the Pontiff said on the same papal trip, “yet there is a way forward. True peace – the shalom which the world urgently needs – springs eternally from the infinitely rich mystery of God’s love.”

“As Christians we are convinced that Christ’s Paschal Mystery makes present and available the force of life and love which overcomes all evil and all separation,” St. John Paul II continued. “the Eucharist is the sacrament of Christ’s “peace” because it is the memorial of the salvific redemptive sacrifice of the Cross.”

When speaking of peace on the Korean peninsula, Pope St. John Paul II had the following reminder:

“We must listen carefully to Christ’s words: ‘I do not give (peace) as the world gives (it).’ Christ’s peace is not merely the absence of war, the silencing of weapons. It is nothing less than the communication of ‘God’s love that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.’”