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Pope apologizes to sex abuse victims, defends accused Chilean bishop

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM PERU (CNS) -- Pope Francis apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse, saying he unknowingly wounded them by the way he defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse by his mentor.

Speaking with journalists on his flight to Rome from Lima, Peru, Jan. 21, the pope said he only realized later that his words erroneously implied that victims' accusations are credible only with concrete proof.

"To hear that the pope says to their face, 'Bring me a letter with proof,' is a slap in the face," the pope said.

Pope Francis was referring to a response he gave in Iquique, Chile, Jan. 18 when local reporters asked about his support for Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, given accusations that the bishop may have been aware of abuse perpetrated by his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. The priest was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

"The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?" the pope had told the reporters in Iquique.

His response provoked further outrage, especially from Father Karadima's victims who said the pope's response made his earlier apologies for the church's failure to protect sex abuse victims seem hollow.

Asked about the incident during the flight back to Rome, Pope Francis said he meant to use the word "evidence," not "proof." The way he phrased his response, he said, caused confusion and was "not the best word to use to approach a wounded heart."

"Of course, I know that there are many abused people who cannot bring proof (or) they don't have it," he said. "Or at times they have it but they are ashamed and cover it up and suffer in silence. The tragedy of the abused is tremendous."

However, the pope told reporters on the papal flight that he still stood firmly behind his defense of Bishop Barros, because he was "personally convinced" of the bishop's innocence after the case was investigated twice with no evidence emerging.

Pope Francis said that while "covering up abuse is an abuse in itself," if he punished Bishop Barros without moral certainty, "I would be committing the crime of a bad judge."

During the inflight news conference, Pope Francis answered eight questions over the course of an hour, although the conference was interrupted by turbulence, which forced the pope to sit for about five minutes.

As he did in November on his return from Bangladesh, he said he only wanted to respond to questions related to the trip.

Pope Francis told reporters he appreciated the statement made Jan. 20 by Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, acknowledging the pain survivors of abuse felt because of the pope's statement about Bishop Barros.

"Words that convey the message 'If you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed' abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile," the cardinal wrote.

He also said, "Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones."

The pope said he was grateful for Cardinal O'Malley's statement because it struck the right balance between listing what he has done to show his support for sex abuse victims and the pain experienced by victims because of the pope's remarks.

Pope Francis also spoke about the scandal-plagued Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Catholic movement based in Peru.

The movement's founder, Luis Fernando Figari, has been accused of the sexual and psychological abuse of members; he has been ordered by the Vatican to remain in Rome and not have any contact with the movement.

"He declared himself innocent of the charges against him," Pope Francis told reporters, and he has appealed his cause to the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's supreme court. According to the information the pope has received, he said, "the verdict will be released in less than a month."

Pope Francis also was asked about the status of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which he set up in 2014. The three-year terms of its members expired in December and some have questioned whether child protection really is a priority when the commission's membership was allowed to lapse.

Before the terms ended, he said, the members decided to recommend who should serve a second term and offering the names of possible new members.

The final list, he said, arrived on his desk a week before the trip began "and now it is going through the normal channels in the Curia.

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At Lima Mass for 1.3 million, Pope Francis preaches message of hope

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Barbara J. Fraser

LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Pope Francis took his message of hope to this sprawling, dusty capital of Peru, celebrating Mass within view of the rocky, waterless Andean slopes where most of the city's poorest residents live.

The day's Scripture readings, in which Jonah was sent to Nineveh and Jesus set out toward Galilee, "reveal a God who turns his gaze toward cities, past and present," the pope said in his homily.

Crowds lined the pope's route to the Las Palmas military base, where thousands of people arrived during the night and throughout the morning to participate in the Mass.

Lima's heat and blazing sun did not wither the spirits of the estimated 1.3 million Mass attendees, who chanted and sang as they waited for the liturgy to begin.

Mariana Costa of Lima felt fortunate. She had missed a chance to see Pope Francis in Poland, she said, "and now I have the opportunity to see him in my own country."

As a young adult, she was touched by his words to youth.

"Ultimately, we're the ones who have to work to make sure this faith is not lost," she said.

Sister Maria Lucero of Lima was struck by three messages the pope had for the priests, religious and seminarians with whom he met in Trujillo the day before.

"He said to remember what we are (and spoke of) joy and gratitude to God for everything we have and do not deserve," she said.

His words kindled a desire to renew her efforts, "because the people here need it," she said.

The scores of concelebrants included Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who was in Lima to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Boston-based Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, whose priests have worked in many Latin American countries, including Peru. Cardinal O'Malley had spoken out Jan. 20 about Pope Francis' defense of a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse. The cardinal said he understood why victims were hurt by the pope's words.

The place where Pope Francis presided at the liturgy is not far from the vast neighborhood of Villa El Salvador, where Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in 1985, when it was a dusty shantytown in which community leaders, many of whom were active in parishes, were threatened by terrorist violence.

The poorest neighborhoods form rings around Lima and other Latin American cities, as people migrate from other parts of the country in search of opportunities.

Most build their own houses bit by bit, sometimes in hazardous areas vulnerable to disasters, like the unusual rains in early 2017 that left thousands homeless on the east side of Lima and in cities such as Trujillo, which the pope visited Jan. 20.

The majority also work in the informal economy, eking out a living with day labor, selling goods in markets or working in small, family-run businesses with no health insurance, pension or vacation time.

The pope spoke to them when he talked of "our cities, with their daily situations of pain and injustice," which "can leave us tempted to flee, to hide, to run away."

While some people can to build their lives, others are left "living on the fringes of our cities and lacking the conditions needed for a dignified existence," he said. "It is painful to realize that among these 'urban remnants' all too often we see the faces of children and adolescents. We look at the face of the future."

Seeing those things, people may be tempted to become "indifferent, anonymous and deaf to others, cold and hard of heart," he said.

Jesus, who entered Galilee upon hearing of John the Baptist's arrest, and shows a different way to respond, he said.

Jesus "began to sow the seed of a great hope," and the rippling effect of that joy and good news has been passed down through the apostles and saints, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin of Porres, whose relics he venerated in the morning, Pope Francis said.

"It has come to us as a timely antidote to the globalization of indifference," he said. "In the face of that love, one cannot remain indifferent."

Walking through the city with his disciples, Jesus saw people who had "given up in the face of indifference, laid low by the grave sin of corruption," Pope Francis said. "He begins to bring light to many situations that had killed the hope of his people and to awaken a new hope."

Jesus taught his disciples to see things they had overlooked before and to notice new needs, he said.

"The kingdom of heaven means finding in Jesus a God who gets involved with the lives of his people."

His words rang especially true after six days in which he raised issues such as corruption, rapacious consumerism, environmental devastation, organized crime, violence against women and industrial activities such as mining and industrial agriculture, which strip indigenous peoples of their lands and livelihoods.

As he often does, the pope challenged bishops and clergy to avoid clericalism and walk closely with the people. He called on government officials to listen to and respond to the needs of native peoples, youth, the elderly and children.

Jesus "continues to walk on our streets. He knocks today, as he did yesterday, on our doors and hearts, in order to rekindle the flame of hope," the pope told the throng of Mass-goers.

"Today the Lord calls each of you to walk with him in the city, in your city. He invites you to become his missionary disciple, so you can become part of that great whisper that wants to keep echoing in the different corners of our lives: Rejoice, the Lord is with you!"

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Update: Pope meets Chilean abuse victims; controversy over bishop continues

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Pope Francis met in private Jan. 16 with survivors of sexual abuse by Chilean clergy, a Vatican spokesman said, but his actions threatened to be overshadowed by controversy over a Chilean bishop.

Greg Burke, the spokesman, said the pope met with "a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests" at the apostolic nunciature in Santiago, Chile.

"The meeting took place in a strictly private way, and no one else was present: only the pope and the victims," Burke told journalists that evening.

The private setting, he added, allowed the group to speak freely with the pope "and recount their sufferings.

Pope Francis "listened, prayed and cried with them," Burke said.

Also present at the press conference was Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos Perez of Santiago, secretary-general of the Chilean bishops' conference.

Bishop Ramos addressed criticism regarding the presence of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno at several papal events, including the pope's meetings with the country's clergy as well as the bishops of Chile.

Bishop Barros' appointment as bishop by the pope in 2015 drew outrage and protests due to his connection to Father Fernando Karadima, his former mentor. Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

"Bishop Barros is bishop of Osorno and was named by the pope. All bishops have the right and responsibility to participate at the events. That was the only reason why" he was present, Bishop Ramos said.

Arriving in Iquique Jan. 18 at the site of his final Mass in Chile, Pope Francis was asked by local journalists about his support for Bishop Barros.

The pope reiterated that he has yet to see any evidence that Bishop Barros knew or witnessed the abuses committed by his former mentor.

"The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?" the pope told the journalists.

On Jan. 20, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, "It is understandable that Pope Francis' statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile, were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator. Words that convey the message 'If you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed' abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.

"Not having been personally involved in the cases that were the subject of yesterday's interview, I cannot address why the Holy Father chose the particular words he used at that time. What I do know, however, is that Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones," Cardinal O'Malley said.

Cardinal O'Malley was traveling to Peru on a previously scheduled trip. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston said the trip was not related to his statement on Bishop Barros, but that he expected the cardinal would "be with the Holy Father at some point, as he normally is when he accompanies him on a papal trip."

Pope Francis named Cardinal O'Malley president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors when he established the body in 2014. The initial members' terms of office expired in December and, as of mid-January, the Vatican had not announced new members.

Earlier Jan. 16, the pope asked forgiveness from the victims of sexual abuse during an address to government authorities and members of Chile's diplomatic corps, expressing his "pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church."

Burke said it was significant the pope addressed the issue of clergy sex abuse during his meeting with government authorities "because normally he speaks about it when meeting with bishops or priests."

"The fact that he spoke there means that it is an evil not only for the church but for society," Burke said.

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Every child 'a precious gift from God,' Trump tells pro-life rally

IMAGE: CNS/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In remarks broadcast to the March for Life from the White House Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said that his administration "will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life."

He invoked the theme of this year's march, "Love Saves Lives," and praised the crowd as being very special and "such great citizens gathered in our nation's capital from many places for one beautiful cause" -- celebrating and cherishing life.

"Every unborn child is a precious gift from God," he said, his remarks interrupted several times by applause from the crowd gathered on the National Mall. He praised the pro-lifers for having "such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure parents have the support they need to choose life."

"You're living witnesses of this year's March for Life theme, 'Love Saves Lives,'" he said. His remarks were broadcast to the crowd live via satellite to a Jumbotron above the speakers' stage, a first for any U.S. president, according to March for Life.

During their tenure in office, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush all addressed the march via telephone or a radio hookup from the Oval Office, with their remarks broadcast to the crowd.

Trump spoke with a crowd surrounding him in the Rose Garden, including 20 students from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. One of those standing next to the president was a Marianne Donadio, a top official with Room at the Inn, a nationally accredited Catholic ministry based in North Carolina that serves homeless, pregnant women and single mothers with children.

Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed last year's March for Life in person at Trump's request, introduced the president as the "most pro-life president in American history," for among other things issuing an executive memorandum shortly after his inauguration to reinstate the "Mexico City Policy." The policy bans all foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. funds from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning in other countries.

Trump also has nominated pro-life judges to fill several court vacancies and a day before the March for Life the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights. Its aim is to protect the conscience rights of doctors and other health care workers who do not want to perform procedures they consider morally objectionable.

For the first time in a recent memory, the weather in Washington was more than tolerable for March for Life participants as they gathered on the National Mall to mark the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The sun was shining and the blue sky was cloudless. By the time the speeches ended and the march to the Supreme Court started, the temperature had reached 50 degrees.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, opened the rally by calling on everyone in the crowd to text the word "March" to 7305 and to show their commitment to ending abortion and join their voices in calling on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood.

"Do you agree that's important?" she asked the crowd. "Yes!" they shouted. March for Life, she said, is about educating people about abortion and mobilizing to end it and to love all those women and families who are facing a troubled pregnancy and other needs.

"'Love Saves Lives' is this year's theme," she added. "Love and sacrifice go hand in hand It is not easy. No one ever said it was, but it is the right choice ... the self-sacrificial option."

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was among several others who addressed the crowd.

"Thank God for giving us a pro-life president in the White House," the Catholic congressman said.

"Your energy is so infectious," he told the crowd, praising them for being "the vigor and enthusiasm of the pro-life movement."

Seeing so many young people "is so inspiring because it tells us this a movement on the rise," he said. "Why is the pro-life movement on the rise? Because truth is on our side. Life begins at conception. Science is on our side."

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, gave an emotional speech about the troubled pregnancy she faced about four years ago. She and her husband, Dan, were told their unborn child had severe defects, that the baby's kidneys would never develop and the lungs were undeveloped because of a rare condition. Abortion was their only option, they were told.

Today, that baby is 4-year-old Abigail. She and her younger brother and their father stood on the stage with the congresswoman.

"Dan and I prayer and we cried (at the news of their unborn child's condition) ... and in that devastation we saw hope. What if God would do a miracle? What if a doctor was willing to try something new? Like saline infusions to mimic amniotic fluid so kidneys could develop?" she recalled.

With "true divine intervention and some very courageous doctors willing to take a risk we get to experience our daughter, Abigail," Herrera Beutler said. She is a very "healthy, happy 4-year-old big sister who some day is going to be 'the boss of mommy's work,'" she said.

Herrera Beutler asked the crowd to imagine that 45 years of legal abortion had not existed and that 60 million babies had not been lost to abortion, and if out of those people had come those who could cure cancer and correct all manner of disabling conditions, including those that exist in utero, and eradicate poverty.

"What richness we would we get to see instead of two generations missing," she added.

Another Catholic member of Congress and longtime pro-life advocate, Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, described the last 45 years of legal abortion as Orwellian.

"Every one of you here today" and millions of others throughout the country and world, he said, "are an integral part of the greatest human rights struggle on earth. Because we pray, because we fast, we will win. Babies will be protected."

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Pope Francis calls for church with 'Amazonian and indigenous' face

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Barbara J. Fraser

PUERTO MALDONADO, Peru (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on indigenous people of the Amazon to work with missionaries and bishops to shape a church with an "Amazonian and indigenous" face.

The pope pledged the church's "whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures" and called his audience to work together toward the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, which he has called for 2019.

"The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present," Pope Francis said. "Amazonia is not only a reserve of biodiversity, but also a cultural reserve that must be preserved in the face of the new forms of colonialism."

He also called for a change in the consumer culture that extracts resources from the Amazon without regard for the people who live there, and he had harsh words for officials who consider indigenous people an obstacle to development.

"Your lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost," the pope told the audience of some 2,500 indigenous people from Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.

Upon his arrival in this Amazonian town, the pope was welcomed by children who chanted, "Pope Francis is Amazonian now." Once in Madre de Dios stadium, dancers in feathered headdresses accompanied him as he greeted the crowd.

Members of various indigenous peoples presented the pope with gifts that reflected their culture, including a basket, painting, book and woven stole. The pope left the stadium wearing a feathered headdress and strings of beads typically worn by community chiefs, presented to him by Santiago Manuin Valera, an Awajun leader from northern Peru.

The pope said he had come to listen to the people of this Amazonian region, which is rich in natural resources and indigenous cultures but increasingly devastated by illegal mining, deforestation and social problems.

A Harakbut woman and man and an Awajun woman described the threats their peoples face from outsiders who take timber and other resources from their lands, as well as their fear that their cultures could disappear and their efforts to keep those cultures alive

The pope echoed their concerns, listing oil and gas, mining, logging, industrial agriculture and even conservation programs as activities that do not take indigenous peoples into account, but "strangle" them and force young people to migrate because of a lack of alternatives.

"We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants," he said.

On his journey to the Amazon, the pope flew over an area where illegal gold mining has carved huge, cratered, polluted scars visible from outer space. He noted that the mining has been accompanied by the trafficking of people for sex and labor.

The day before his visit, in a meeting with Amazonian bishops, representatives of various indigenous delegations said they hoped the pope would urge governments to respect their rights, especially by demarcating their territories and respecting laws requiring officials to consult indigenous communities about development projects that would affect them.

Without mentioning titling or prior consent laws directly, the pope called for "institutional expressions" of respect and dialogue with native peoples.

"Recognition and dialogue will be the best way to transform relationships whose history is marked by exclusion and discrimination," he said.

The pope praised the church's work among native peoples in the Amazon, although he acknowledged errors. In many parts of the Amazon, missionaries started the first schools for indigenous children.

While noting that education and building schools is the government's job, Pope Francis urged the Amazonian bishops to continue to encourage intercultural and bilingual education in schools, universities and teacher training programs.

Echoing the Harakbut speakers who had greeted him, he emphasized that education for native people must "build bridges and create a culture of encounter," in a way that "respects and integrates their ancestral wisdom as a treasure belonging to the whole nation."

The pope praised young indigenous people who are "working to reinterpret the history of their peoples from their own perspective," as well as those who "show the world your worldview and your cultural richness" through art, music, crafts and literature.

"Much has been written and spoken about you," he said. "It is good that you are now the ones to define yourselves and show us your identity. We need to listen to you."

The pope urged his listeners, many of whom are pastoral agents in remote rural communities and poor urban areas, not to let their people's Catholic faith be uprooted. Each culture "enriches the church by showing a new aspect of Christ's face," he said.

Pope Francis encouraged them to draw on the wisdom of their peoples, especially elders, to counter the pressures they face and to dialogue with missionaries and bishops.

"We need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in Amazonia," he said.

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Cardinal invokes Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in march vigil homily

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a homily at the Jan. 18 Mass that opened the National Prayer Vigil for Life.

Like "Pastor King," as Cardinal Dolan referred to him throughout his homily, "our belief in the dignity of the human person and the sacredness of all human life propels us to concern for human life wherever, whenever, and however it is threatened, from racial antagonism to justice for immigrants, from the war-torn to the hungry," the prelate said.

And, like Rev. King, whose life was the subject of a national holiday three days prior, "our prayers and witness are about civil rights: the civil right to life and to equal protection under the law, guaranteed by our Constitution, for the most fragile, marginalized and threatened -- the tiny, innocent baby in the womb," Cardinal Dolan said.

The Mass, which has attracted more than 10,000 in recent years, was celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Rev. King "would be marching with us in the defense of unborn life were not the dignity of his own person and the sanctity of his own life tragically violated 50 years ago this spring," Cardinal Dolan said, referring to the civil rights figure's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968.

"Pastor King would often begin his stirring speeches, which still move us, by asking his listeners, 'Why are we here?'" Cardinal Dolan said.

Answering the question himself, the cardinal gave a variety of reasons.

"We are here to advocate and give witness, to advocate for those who cannot yet speak or walk with us, the pre-born baby, whose future is in jeopardy and can be ended by a so-called choice, and to give witness that millions, mostly young people, share a passion for the belief that that little baby has civil rights," he said.

"We are here to fight the heavy temptation -- we must admit the temptation -- to discouragement," he continued.

Another reason, he said, was "to lobby for life," sharing "passion for a society to assist and protect all vulnerable life ... because, to borrow my brother pastor's refrain, 'We shall overcome,'" to which the Mass crowd applauded.

"And there is one final reason why we are here," Cardinal Dolan said. "To pray!"

The opening Mass featured more than 300 clergy concelebrants, including 34 bishops and archbishops, and six U.S. cardinals. Retired Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington did not join in the processions, but instead got to the shrine's sanctuary a few minutes before Mass with the aid of a walker.

While Washington has not been immune to wintry weather for the overnight vigil and next-day March for Life in recent years, this year's events were met with relatively mild temperatures compared to the frigid and slick conditions north, west and -- surprisingly -- south of the nation's capital.

At the Jan. 19 morning Mass that closed the vigil, Bishop Edward M. Burns of Dallas told the story of a young boy who saw an online advertisement for a baseball glove. Wanting the glove but not having the money to pay for it, he wrote a letter to his mother that took the form of an itemized bill for the chores he did around the house -- with the total equaling the cost of the glove.

Knowing his mother must have seen the envelope addressed to her at her place at the dining room table, the boy, a few days later, saw a box at his own place at the table. In the box was the glove he had wanted. But as he was trying it on, he spotted an envelope addressed to him at the bottom of the box. In the letter was his mother's list of services rendered to him -- giving birth to him, changing his diapers, tucking him in at night, drying his tears, bandaging his wounds and holding him tight -- and after each entry came the words "no charge."

"That's sacrificial love," Bishop Burns said, "the type of love God has for us." He added, "He demonstrates that love for us time and time again, and he asks us to demonstrate that sacrificial love for others. ... Our Lord Jesus Christ is an example of sacrificial love."

In echoing the Mass theme "For the Preservation of Peace and Justice," Bishop Burns recalled the words of Deuteronomy 30: "I set before you a choice: death of life. Choose life so that you may live."

"Choosing life comes from a sacrificial love," Bishop Burns said. "We are here to bring attention to the attacks against human life." He told worshippers, "Stay strong, stay dedicated and committed to the cause of life."

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Head of March for Life calls abortion 'social justice cause of our time'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Charlie Camosy, associate professor in the theology department at Jesuit-run Fordham University, spoke to Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, in advance of this year's annual march in Washington Jan. 19.

She talked about changes in the event and the crowd she has seen over the years, the efforts to unify pro-lifers on a variety of life issues and her own pro-life views.

For her, abortion is "the single most significant social justice cause of our time."

Here's Camosy's Q-and-A with Mancini:

Q: You've been going to the March for Life for many years now. What are some ways that the march has changed since you first started attending?

A: The rally is a little shorter, the crowds have grown, the age demographics have decreased, marcher signs are more diverse and creative. What hasn't change is that the weather often presents extra opportunities for making a sacrificial pilgrimage! Plus that the event is primarily staffed by generous volunteers, and most importantly the issue. Mostly, that we are there -- for the 45th year in a row -- to protest the human rights abuse of today -- abortion.

Q: One thing that struck me from when I first started taking high school students to the march nearly two decades ago was the hyper-religiosity of the event. As a theology teacher, I shared many of these commitments, but it made a number of my students uncomfortable and I don't think they returned after high school. The hyper-religiosity of pro-life activists also seems to keep more moderate folks from identifying with the movement more generally and our policy proposals from getting wider traction -- especially in a culture which - wrongly -- sees much of what we do as imposing our religion. Religious commitments are nothing to be embarrassed about, obviously, and many grass-roots movements for basic justice and rights were very religious. But do you see a tension to navigate here?

A: Our experiences differ, so I find it hard to answer this question -- but broadly I would say no. There are a lot of religious signs, but my experience is that it is mostly young people who attend the March for Life. Young people are attracted to this cause because it is the single most critical social justice issue of our time. They are so enthusiastic -- it is contagious! Perhaps that excitement and motivation could be interpreted as "hyper-religiosity," but I see it as attractive unbridled zeal for ending abortion and building a culture of life. Of course, there are always a few "outliers" and some people are led to the pro-life movement through their faith. But, overall -- this is a movement filled with vibrant, passionate, life-affirming young people. I'm older, reserved and suspicious at my age, and I find their confidence and trust inspiring. I love the lack of cynicism in many young people, and admire their hope and goal to "abolish abortion." At the front of the march when we've had some counter-protesters, I've watched young people being spit on and mocked and respond with Christian messages of love. Basically, I agree with St. John Paul II, who said that young people are the best "ambassadors for life."

Q: Especially with the campaign and election of Donald Trump, divisions and fissures within the pro-life movement have become more pronounced in the last couple years. Do you think the March for Life has the chance to contribute to the unity of pro-lifers who disagree about these political matters?

A: We certainly seek to unify and I hope we are successful. I'm convinced that disunity is our biggest enemy. As an organization we quietly do what we can behind the scenes within the movement; whether arranging group meetings or making strategic introductions to draw groups and pro-life leaders together. In a more public way we always seek to have a bipartisan lineup of speakers, although admittedly that has gotten harder in recent years.

Q: What vision did you have in mind when you started running the March for Life? How does the current march reflect who you are as a pro-lifer?

A: When I first became president of the March for Life, it was a surprise, and it happened very quick following the death of MFL founder Nellie Gray. In the beginning, I had some goals, but not an overall big picture vision. These goals included trying to break into mainstream media -- especially showing our enthusiastic young marchers; having a shorter and very engaging rally; positive messaging grounded in the attractiveness of life; drawing in people of all faith; and embracing social media. I believe that we have been successful in these goals and we continue to be more success in these goals each and every year. My ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job by working to make abortion unthinkable and enact laws that reflect the inherent dignity of the human person.

Q: Suppose a reader is on the fence about attending the march. In your view, what should she consider as she makes a decision whether or not to attend?

A: I was just reading an email from a business owner who attended for the first time last year. To paraphrase her, the March for Life is a life changing experience that will restore your hope in the goodness of humanity. I would add to that, how can you not attend? Abortion is the single most significant social justice cause of our time. Every single one of us carries that burden on us and needs to do everything possible to bring it to an end.

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Update: Pope marries couple on flight during Chilean trip

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO IQUIQUE, Chile (CNS) -- Love was literally in the air as Pope Francis performed an impromptu wedding ceremony at 36,000 feet aboard his flight in Chile.

During his flight to Iquique Jan. 18, the pope was approached by LatAm flight steward Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga and asked for a blessing for him and his wife, stewardess Paula Podest Ruiz.

The couple were supposed to be married in their home parish in Santiago Feb. 27, 2010. However, tragedy struck when an earthquake destroyed the church. Eight years later, they remained only civilly married.

Ciuffardi told journalists aboard the flight that, after he explained their story, he asked the pope for their blessing.

At that moment, the pope surprised the couple with offering to marry them right there on the plane.

Ciuffardi said the pope asked the couple, "Well, do you want to get married?"

"I said, 'Well, yes. Are you sure?' Then the pope said, "Are YOU sure?' I told him, 'Yes! Let's get married,'" Ciuffardi recalled excitedly.

The newlywed said he asked his boss and president of LatAm airline, Ignacio Cueto, to be his best man and one of the Vatican prelates drew up a handwritten marriage certificate.

"The pope said it was historic! Never has a pope performed a wedding on a plane!" Ciuffardi said.

The pope was on his way from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique before heading to Peru later in the day.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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March lauded for witnessing to life; participation in '9 Days' urged

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a message of support for the March for Life in Washington, a Vatican official praised "the tens of thousands" of participants for their witness to the "value of every human life" and for upholding the dignity of life from conception to natural death.

"You give witness to the world of your understanding of the value of every human life and of your commitment to welcome, nurture, protect and integrate every human life from the first moment of conception until natural death," said Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

He made the remarks in a statement dated Jan. 19, the day of this year's march, and addressed to March for Life officials. It also was sent to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington; and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia.

In a Jan. 16 statement, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities, urged Catholics and others across the country to get involved in the "9 Days for Life" prayer and Action Campaign Jan. 18-26.

"Our prayers matter," he said. The campaign's website is www.9daysforlife.com.

"We bring many needs to God this month, including care for displaced persons, racial harmony, Christian unity and the protection of all human life," Cardinal Dolan said. "Every prayer matters, and if you can't start at the beginning, jump in when you can!"

"9 Days for Life" is the U.S. bishops' annual, pro-life prayer and action campaign surrounding the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

The overarching intention of novena at the center of the event is the end to abortion, and each day treats a different aspect of respecting the dignity of the human person -- from the beginning of life to its natural end.

This year, as part of the Catholic Church's "Share the Journey" campaign supporting displaced persons, one day addresses human trafficking, something migrants and refugees are particularly at risk of suffering.

Participants can make a "digital pilgrimage." They are encouraged to build "a culture of life" through prayer and action and by sharing their experiences on social media with the hashtags #9DaysforLife and #OurPrayersMatter. There also is a Facebook frame participants can use on their profile picture to show their support for life.

In his letter, Archbishop Paglia assured March for Life attendees of his prayers "for the fruitfulness of your undertaking that is so filled with love." He was certain that on Jan. 19 in particular "you will have the blessings and grateful prayers of all the innocent lives for whom you have, over so many years, cared and struggled."

Archbishop Paglia recalled his own participation in the march "one very cold January day more than 20 years ago."

He added: "I join with Cardinal Wuerl of Washington and Bishop Burbidge of Arlington, with all my brother Catholic and Orthodox bishops in the United States, and with all the members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, in honoring what you do and who you are, and in encouraging you always to remember the love that God has for you his "good and faithful servants."

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Young people at forefront of pro-life fight called 'new Magi' of movement

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Over 5,000 people from Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and other Midwestern states gathered Jan. 14 in Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago for the annual March for Life Chicago commemorating the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Participants carried signs with pro-life messages and balloons during the rally and march through the streets of downtown. The drum line from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein played in the march.

Chris Murrens of Libertyville brought her two teen-age children to the march and said seeing the many youth and young adults in attendance was "heartwarming" and "inspirational."

"The heavenly Father is smiling. Our Lady is smiling. It's a great day," she told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Murrens said she brought her two teenagers because she felt it was important to expose them to the event and the message.

"I want them to see how important this is and for them to be part of this generation that is turning things around to become more pro-life," Murrens said. "They are having a wonderful time and getting the message all at the same time."

Young people, especially in their teens, are impressionable and open to new things so that is a pivotal time to share the church's teaching that life is sacred from the womb until natural death, the mother of three said.

"This is when they see so much of what is going on in the world. This is the time when you can really grab their hearts and make a difference for the rest of their lives," she said.

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich -- one of several speakers who addressed the gathering prior to the march -- applauded the witness of young people and, referring to the recent feast of Epiphany, called them "the new Magi."

"You give us confidence that the energy to protect the child in the womb has not grown weak over these 45 years, but is as youthful, strong and vibrant as you are," the cardinal said. "You are the new Magi in our time, who teach us all to keep our heads up, and amid the darkness of the night at times, to take heart that God is still in the heavens, guiding us like that Bethlehem star and keeping our dreams alive."

Quoting Pope Francis, Cardinal Cupich said that children make society "dream beyond ourselves."

"Taking human life, especially the life of the child in the womb, not only has an impact on that one human being but deeply wounds all of humanity, robs from us our ability to dream and see life as much bigger than our own concerns, challenges and struggles," he said. "Is it any wonder that we are so divided as a nation when we are so fixed only on ourselves, when we can no longer dream and see all that God is doing beyond ourselves?"

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision robbed the nation of its children and its dreams, he said.

"Now with the recent law passed by our Legislature and signed by our governor, more lives and dreams will be robbed as will family incomes that will be forcibly used to pay for abortions," Cardinal Cupich said referring to legislation Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law in 2017 that provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions.

"Can we not better use our tax dollars to support health care for families expecting children, and child care and assistance to parents when their children come into the world?" the cardinal asked. "Can we not better use our tax dollars to keep alive both our children and our dreams as a nation?"

Other speakers at the rally included Illinois Congressmen Dan Lipinski and Peter Roskum and former Planned Parenthood director Ramona Trevino.

Earlier in the day, Cardinal Cupich celebrated the archdiocesan Mass for Life at Holy Name Cathedral attended by a standing-room only crowd. During the Mass, young people brought white roses to the altar, commemorating lives lost to abortion and homicide in Chicago last year.

In the Denver Archdiocese a day earlier, about 3,000 people gathered outside the state Capitol in Denver for the annual Colorado March for Life. The afternoon rally and march were preceded by the celebration of several morning Masses at a number of churches, including one celebrated by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

"This is the Colorado piece of the largest civil rights movement in our lifetime," Lynn Grandon, archdiocesan Respect Life program director, said in advance of the Jan. 13 gathering.

More pro-life marches were planned around the country. Among those will be the fourth annual OneLife LA Jan. 20 in Los Angeles, followed exactly a week later by Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco.

In Chicago, some of those who attended the Mass and rally also planned to travel to Washington for the national March for Life Jan. 19.

Others preparing to attend the march and rally in the nation's capital included students at Monsignor Bonner Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Catholic school leaders throughout the U.S. take thousands of their students to the regional or national March for Life events each year in an effort to engage them in the pro-life cause and to eventually pass the torch of leadership to them, said Steven Bozza, director of the Philadelphia archdiocesan Office for Life and Family.

The pro-life activists who have been embroiled in the movement for decades will not be able to go on forever and it's up to the current leaders to prepare the next generation of advocates, Bozza told Catholic News Service during an interview in Drexel Hill.

"We're going to win this battle," he said. "Maybe not tomorrow or next week. Maybe not this year, but we're going to win it. Especially with the new generation coming up."

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth in Drexel Hill.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.