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Faith advocates see victories in new farm bill

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Lott, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The farm bill that passed both houses of Congress by wide margins doesn't have money in it to protect endangered species, but it did preserve one that had been on the threatened list: bipartisanship.

"We were so excited that he Senate acted like grown-ups," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

"They actually did governance, and they had hearings, and Sen. (Pat) Roberts (a Republican) from Kansas: I rarely agree with him on anything, so this was an amazing project he led, focused on the needs of the people involved," Sister Campbell said Dec. 13. "It was far beyond partisanship in actually trying to make government work."

Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, was happy Congress acted relatively swiftly. This was the first time a farm bill passed without needing an extension of the expiring version since 1990, when George H.W. Bush was president.

Not all farmers will reap benefits from the farm bill. "We've got lots of folks hurting in rural communities," Ennis told CNS Dec. 14, "but you can't put everything in one bill. You just can't."

Sister Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, gave Roberts, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, credit for "listening to many of the agricultural workers in Kansas who use SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the off-season."

Farmers who hire the farmworkers, she said, "depend on their workers being able to eat," and Roberts saw this "through the eyes of the farmworkers and the farmers."

She added Roberts was "helped by the changing politics in Kansas, which has moved significantly away from the hyperpartisan, punitive approach. ... I think it was a combination of his experience, the experience of his people, and the November election."

Sister Campbell also lauded Roberts' Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan: "She has worked hard to put together a very collaborative relationship with him, so together, they could create a bill they could be proud of."

The Senate passed the farm bill in a 87-13 vote Dec. 11. The House passed it 369-47 Dec. 12. The bill was awaiting the signature of President Donald Trump.

One point of contention between the original House and Senate versions was a provision in the House bill that would have imposed stricter work requirements for SNAP eligibility, with stretches of SNAP ineligibility growing longer each time a recipient failed to report their work, or looking for work, in a timely manner. The House ultimately removed that from its version of the bill.

"We actually got most of the stuff that we wanted," Sister Campbell told CNS in a telephone interview. While she said she sees farm subsidies as "a little excessive," the final bill "maintained pretty much the existing protections for farm runoff and the fertilizers used and that sort of thing. So I don't have complaints on that side. Certainly, after what we were facing in the House, I'm certainly not complaining about the nutritional title.

"It's a rare day for me to not complain about something."

"They decided we can't keep doing that to our farmers," Ennis said of the extensions lawmakers passed in all the previous farm bills over close to the last 30 years.

"It helps, too, that the (Republican-led) House felt under pressure due to the change in leadership (in January)," he told CNS. "They have the control now, but in the future, they would be losing control. So they made some concessions, but passed something they can live with."

Having a farm bill in place, he added, gives farmers "stability for planning for next year."

Dairy farmers, while they will see gradual opening of Canadian markets as sources for their goods under this bill, would be one focus of a future bill should one be submitted, Ennis said.

"There are a lot of dairy farmers hurting right now because of low prices," he added. "It's just very difficult to find markets that will pay a reasonable price."

Ennis said the future of family farms, with a focus on dairy farmers, will be the main topic in a future issue of Catholic Rural Life's quarterly magazine.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of the Christian citizen anti-hunger lobby Bread for the World, praised the bill for its inclusion of added funding for employment and training pilot projects -- including funding prioritizing specific populations such as older Americans, former prison inmates, people with disabilities and families facing multigenerational poverty.

It also makes and funds a new program allowing health care providers to give prescriptions for low-income people to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The farm bill eliminates a requirement in the federal Food for Peace program to sell U.S. food commodities overseas to pay for life-saving food and nutrition programs; the complicated requirement had been cutting about $70 million from food aid each year. The legislation also gives the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program more flexibility to purchase from local farmers and markets, which will improve the nutritional quality of the food for preschool and school feeding programs in foreign countries.

The farm bill, the Rev. Beckmann said, "will be an important lifeline for millions of families experiencing hunger in both the United States and around the world."

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Catechism revision adds impetus in death penalty abolition fight

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

By Mark Pattison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Education key to solving migration crisis, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the celebration of Christmas draws near, the plight of the Holy Family calls to mind the sufferings of the many men, women and children escaping war and persecution, Pope Francis said.

Meeting with organizers and artists participating in a benefit Christmas concert at the Vatican, the pope said the holy season is an invitation to come together to help those in need, especially young migrants who "instead of sitting in school desks, like many of their peers, spend their days doing long marches on foot, or on makeshift and dangerous means of transportation."

Educating young migrants will give them the tools to find "work in the future and participate in the common good as informed citizens. At the same time, we educate ourselves in order to welcome and show solidarity so that migrants and refugees do not meet indifference or, worse, intolerance on their journey," he said Dec. 14.

The proceeds of the Dec. 15 concert, which is sponsored by the Congregation for Catholic Education, will be donated to two organizations: Scholas Occurrentes in Iraq and the Don Bosco Mission in Uganda.

According to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Don Bosco Mission aids refugees from South Sudan escaping civil war and is invested "in the training and professional development of young people."

Scholas Occurrentes, the congregation added, will use proceeds from the benefit concert to continue their educational initiatives in Irbil, Iraq, where, "for thousands of children and young people who live in refugee camps, going to school is their only chance for liberation."

The many musicians and artists scheduled to perform at the Christmas concert included U.S. singers Dee Dee Bridgewater and Anastacia, as well as Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano and Emirati singer Hussain Al Jassmi.

During the papal audience, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the education congregation, said initiatives that help migrants and refugees are a reminder that humanity has a duty "to protect the civilian population, especially children, from the effects of war."

"The languages of music and art, linked to the Christmas season that celebrates the coming of the Son of God, help to manifest our generous support" for those most in need, Cardinal Versaldi said.

In his address, Pope Francis said that Christmas is a time that awakens charity and "calls us to reflect on the situation of so many men, women and children of our time -- migrants, refugees and displaced persons -- who are marching on to escape wars and misery caused by social injustice and climate change."

Just like many migrants and refuges today, he added, the Holy Father experienced "the anguish of persecution" when fleeing to Egypt.

"Little Jesus reminds us that half of today's refugees in the world are children, blameless victims of human injustice," the pope said.

The pope said that initiatives, like those in Iraq and Uganda, are an opportunity for the church to respond to the tragedies that countless men, women and children face and to offer them a chance not only to receive an education, but also the means for them "to get back on their feet" with dignity, strength and courage.

He also thanked the artists and the event organizers for donating their time and talents to "light in every heart the warmth and tenderness of Christmas."

The mission of the church, the pope said, "has always been manifested through the creativity and genius of artists because they, through their works, are able to reach the most intimate areas of the conscience of men and women in every age."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Claudio Peri, EPA

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who still believes the abuse crisis is an "American" or "Western" problem must become properly informed, face reality and realize problems may be hidden and explode in the future, said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.

And those who think too much talk and attention about abuse only blows the situation out of proportion or that it is time to change the topic are following "a mistaken path," he said in the Jesuit journal, La Civilta Cattolica.

"If the issue is not fully confronted in all of its various dimensions, the church will continue to find itself facing one crisis after another, the credibility of (the church) and all of her priests will remain seriously wounded and, above all, the essence of her mission will suffer -- that of proclaiming the Gospel and its educational work for children and young people, which for centuries has been one of the most beautiful and precious aspects of her service for humanity," he wrote.

The article, "In the Run-up to the Meeting of Bishops on the Protection of Minors," was sent to journalists Dec. 13 ahead of the issue's Dec. 15 publication date. The Rome-based biweekly magazine is reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State before publication.

Father Lombardi, who served as head of the Vatican press office from 2006 to 2016, is president of the board of directors of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation and is a contributing writer to the Jesuit journal.

The article, which as of Dec. 13 was available only in Italian, looked at the aims and intentions of the summit Pope Francis convoked at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 for the presidents of bishops' conferences, representatives of religious orders and heads of Vatican dicasteries.

A major focus, he wrote, will be on helping participants understand they are being encouraged to join together -- not as representatives of their own people -- but as leaders of the people of God on a journey that requires the input and collaboration of lay experts so that there may be "a united response on the universal level."

"The entire church must feel in solidarity, above all with the victims, with their families and with their church communities that have been wounded by the scandals," he wrote.

Pope Francis, he added, has also widened the scope of abuse to include not just sexual abuse but the abuse of power and of conscience and the corruption of authority, which is no longer lived as service but as the wielding of power.

The February summit will give people a chance to share experiences and best practices, he said, and to strongly encourage everyone to make "new urgent steps forward."

While many lessons already have been learned, "there are also many open questions" left to address, he said.

One is recognizing that even though a number of countries have done much in the area of prevention and formation, "it must be recognized that in many other countries, little, if anything, has been done."

Every bishops' conference, bishop and religious superior must recognize their responsibility before God, the church and society, he said.

In many cases, the seriousness of the problem of abuse and the deep amount of suffering it causes still have not sunk in, Father Lombardi wrote.

People do not need a theoretical understanding, but actual concrete awareness of the damage caused, and that will push people to overcome "laziness, fears and very dangerous resistance" and to leap into action.

"Often one continues to delude oneself that it is mainly a 'Western' or else an 'American' or 'Anglophone' problem and with incredible naivete, thinks that (the problem) may be marginal in one's own country," he wrote.

People must look carefully and never avoid the presence of problems, which are "sometimes still hidden, but are such that future dramatic explosions are possible," Father Lombardi wrote. "Facing reality is necessary and adequate information will help a lot in this regard."

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Itinerant papal preacher: Capuchin will lead U.S. bishops' retreat

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For more than 38 years, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa has preached to the pope and top officials of the Roman Curia. In early January, he will lead the weeklong retreat of the U.S. bishops.

As they continue to study and discuss ways to respond to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, the bishops will gather for the retreat Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.

Pope Francis suggested the bishops hold the retreat and offered the services of the 84-year-old Father Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher of the papal household since 1980.

In an email Dec. 6, the Capuchin declined to be interviewed about the retreat, saying, "At this delicate moment in the life of the U.S. church, I don't believe it would be opportune for me to give interviews."

The theme of the U.S. bishops' retreat will be "the mission of the apostles and of their successors" and will draw from Mark 3:14, which says Jesus "appointed 12 -- whom he also named apostles -- that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach."

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, told Catholic News Service, "You can see why the pope asked the bishops to make the retreat together in what he told the bishops of Chile: without faith and without prayer, fraternity is impossible."

"At a moment like this, the bishops need to be united in prayer, and Catholics in the U.S. should see them at prayer," Burke said Dec. 13. "A retreat is always a time for conversion, and perhaps there's been no time in the U.S. with more need for conversion than now."

The job of "preacher of the papal household" is not a fulltime position; each year it requires the priest to give an average of eight meditations -- one each on most Fridays of Advent and Lent -- and the homily during the pope's Good Friday celebration of the Lord's Passion.

The title, and the ministry, has a very long history. Superiors of different religious orders took turns preaching to the pontiff and his aides during Advent and Lent until the mid-1500s, when Pope Paul IV appointed the first preacher of the papal household; his successors followed suit, always choosing a religious-order priest for the job. Pope Benedict XIV decided in 1743 to be more specific, decreeing that the preacher of the papal household always be a Capuchin friar.

St. John Paul II asked Father Cantalamessa to take the job in 1980; since then, the Capuchin has given more than 300 spiritual talks and homilies to the popes and their closest aides in the Roman Curia.

When he is not preaching to the pope, Father Cantalamessa leads retreats around the world, writes books and articles and works with charismatic Catholics; in late October, he was named ecclesial adviser of "Charis," the new international coordinating body for the Catholic charismatic renewal.

In a 2015 interview with CNS, he said the first time he climbed the steps to the lectern in St. Peter's Basilica to preach to the pope on Good Friday, "It felt like I was climbing Mount Everest."

But, he told TV2000, the Italian bishops' television station, "this post of preacher of the papal household says more about the pope than the preacher. He has the humility to set aside all his important tasks on the Fridays of Advent and Lent to come listen to the preaching of a simple priest."

The three popes he has preached to have given him the freedom to choose the topics for his meditations, he told CNS in 2015. "I try to understand, including with the help of prayer, what are the problems, needs or even graces the church is living at the moment and to make my little contribution with a spiritual reflection."

"Putting the word of God into practice must characterize all preaching," he said. "Pope Francis gives us a stupendous example of that with his morning homilies."

While focused on challenging and strengthening the faith of those he is preaching to, Father Cantalamessa's homilies have touched on religious persecution, Christian unity, signs of hatred and prejudice in society, violence against women, war and peace, the defense of human life and the abuse crisis.

His homily in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday in 2010 caused controversy. At the service, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, the Capuchin focused on how Jesus broke the cycle of violence and victimizing others by taking on the world's sins and offering himself as a victim.

He had noted that in 2010 the Christian Holy Week and the Jewish Passover coincided, and he told the congregation the Jews "know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence," and they recognize when other groups are being attacked simply because of who they are.

He then read a portion of a letter he said he received from a Jewish friend, who wrote that he was following "with disgust" attacks against the church and the pope, including because of the abuse scandal. The repetition of stereotypes and using the wrongdoings of some individuals as an excuse to paint a whole group with collective guilt reminded the Jewish author of "the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism," the letter said.

Father Cantalamessa later said he was sincerely sorry if he offended any members of the Jewish community or any victims of sexual abuse.

The Capuchin also has preached on the need for the Catholic Church to be honest and transparent about the abuse crisis and to repent for it.

In December 2009, just a few hours before Pope Benedict XVI met with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse crisis, Father Cantalamessa gave one of his Advent meditations. He told the pope and other Vatican officials that, as a matter of justice, the church must publicly admit the weakness of some of its priests.

However, he had said, acknowledging weakness is not enough to "launch a renewal of priestly ministry." For that, he said, the prayers of priests themselves and all the faithful are needed as is a renewed commitment by all priests to devoting themselves totally to serving God and their brothers and sisters.

And, in Advent 2006, leading a meditation on the passage from the beatitudes that says, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted," Father Cantalamessa said the church's tears of shame for the abuse crisis must be turned into tears of repentance.

Rather than mourning for the damage done to the church's reputation, he said, the church must weep "for the offense given to the body of Christ and the scandal given to the smallest of its members."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

 

 

 

 

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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.

U.S. Bishops Approve $1 Million in Funding for Leadership Development and Pastoral Support in Africa

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Subcommittee on the Church in Africa has approved 33 grants totaling $1 million in funding to support pastoral projects for episcopal conferences and dioceses across the African continent. The grants were approved at the Subcommittee's meeting on November 11 in Baltimore.

Projects slated to receive funding through the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa include the following:

● Strengthening the availability and accessibility of Natural Family Planning services in Uganda
● Creation of a continent-wide platform of Catholic student action movements, through the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM)
● Ongoing leadership and child-protection formation of local clergy in Zambia
● Integration of Catholic social teaching during priestly formation in the African Great Lakes region

"The Solidarity Fund enriches the Church in both Africa and the United States by building relationships of mutual solidarity through pastoral support for our sisters and brothers in Africa,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, of Newark, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Church in Africa. “I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of the faithful who give generously to the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa and who continue to pray for our universal Church."

The Subcommittee on the Church in Africa oversees the Solidarity Fund for the Church in Africa as part of the USCCB Committee on National Collections. It allocates revenue received from the Solidarity Fund, which is a voluntary collection, as pastoral grants to episcopal conferences and their regional associations in Africa. To learn more about the work of the Subcommittee visit www.usccb.org/africa.
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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, Subcommittee on the Church in Africa, Solidarity Fund, Committee on National Collections, Natural Family Planning, Uganda, Zambia, Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa, Madagascar.

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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

U.S. Bishops Approve $4 Million in Grants to the Church in Latin America, Including Funding for Youth Ministry, Catechesis and Natural Disaster Recovery Assistance

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America awarded over $3.2 milllion in funding for 173 grants to support the pastoral work of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, and nearly $800,000 toward seven grants for recovery and reconstruction projects in areas devastated by earthquakes in Haiti and Mexico and Hurricanes Matthew, Maria, and Irma. The grants were approved at the Subcommittee's meeting on November 10, 2018, in Baltimore.

The Subcommittee approved funding for several projects in many countries of the region. For example, projects supporting lay formation and leadership were funded in Cuba and Ecuador; evangelization and catechesis projects were supported in Uruguay and El Salvador. Other projects were funded to support to indigenous populations in Brazil and Venezuela.

The Subcommittee also approved grants to support youth ministry and travel for delegates from various Latin American countries, including Haiti, Peru and Cuba, to participate in World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama, January 22-27, 2019.

“The Collection for the Church in America has an immeasurable impact on people throughout the region, particularly among the most vulnerable,” said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Chairman for the Committee on National Collections. “I sincerely thank the Catholics of the United States for their generosity to, and solidarity with, our sisters and brothers in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Pastoral grants are funded by the annual Collection for the Church in Latin America, taken in many dioceses across the United States on the fourth Sunday in January. The emergency and reconstruction grants were awarded from various special collections called by the USCCB.

The Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America oversees the collection and an annual grant program as part of the USCCB Committee on National Collections. It allocates revenue received from the Collection for the Church in Latin America as grants across Latin America and the Caribbean. More information about the Collection for the Church in Latin America and the many grants it funds, the latest list of the approved projects, as well as resources to promote it across the country, can be found at www.usccb.org/latin-america.

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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, Caribbean, Haiti, Mexico, Hurricanes Matthew, Maria, Irma, Peru, Cuba, World Youth Day, Panama.
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Media Contact:
Judy Keane
202-541-3200

 

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Just as she did hundreds of years ago from a small hill in Tepeyac, Mexico, Mary accompanies the downtrodden and the lowly like a mother caring for her children.

Mary "is a woman who walks with the gentleness and tenderness of a mother, she makes her home in family life, she unties one knot after another of the many wrongs we manage to generate, and she teaches us to remain standing in the midst of storms," the pope said in his homily during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Processing into the basilica dressed in white, the symbol of purity, Pope Francis made his way to a replica of St. Juan Diego's tilma, which bears the image of Mary, who appeared to the indigenous saint in 1531. The pope stood before the image, bowing reverently and incensing it three times.

In his homily, the pope reflected on the reading from St. Luke's Gospel, in which Mary hastily visits her cousin Elizabeth, and subsequently proclaims "the greatness of the Lord."

Through her Magnificat, the pope said, Mary teaches all Christian men and women not only the importance of praising God in the midst of joy, but also how to accompany and walk with others.

From houses and hospital rooms to prison cells and rehabilitation clinics, he added, Mary continues to utter those words she said to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who am your mother?"

"In Mary's school, we learn to be on the way to get to where we need to be: on our feet and standing before so many lives that have lost or have been robbed of hope," the pope said.

Mary, he continued, also teaches her children that problems are not solved with immediate responses and magical solutions, nor through "fantastic promises of pseudo-progress that, little by little, only succeeds in usurping cultural and family identities."

Instead, Christians learn from her the true joy that comes from loving God and neighbor unconditionally and to guard "the sense of God and his transcendence, the sacredness of life" and respect for creation, the pope said.

Mary, he added, taught humility by lifting up lowly people, like St. Juan Diego, by giving them a voice and "making them the protagonists of this, our history."

Pope Francis said that "through Mary, the Lord refutes the temptation of giving way to the strength of intimidation and power" and instead gives dignity to those who have been cast aside.

"The Lord does not seek selfish applause or worldly admiration. His glory is in making his children the protagonists of creation," the pope said. "With the heart of a mother, (Mary) seeks to raise up and dignify all those who, for different reasons and circumstances, were immersed in abandonment and obscurity."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

 

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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.

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

IMAGE: CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No one should be afraid to turn to God with prayer, especially in times of great doubt, suffering and need, Pope Francis said.

Jesus does not want people to become numb to life's problems and "extinguish" those things that make them human when they pray, the pope said Dec. 12 during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI audience hall.

"He does not want us to smother our questions and requests, learning to put up with everything. Instead, he wants every pain, every apprehension to rise up to heaven and become a dialogue" with God, the father, he said.

Continuing a new series of audience talks on the Our Father, the pope reflected on the simplicity of the prayer and the way it addresses God with intimate familiarity.

With this prayer, Jesus shows an "audacious" way to address God immediately as "our Father" without any pomp and "preambles," the pope said.

"He doesn't say to turn to God calling him 'O, the All-Powerful' or 'O, the One on high,' or 'O, You who are so far from us and I am the wretched one ....'"  

"No. He doesn't say that, but simply (uses) the word, 'Father,' with great simplicity, like children who turn to their daddy. This word, 'Father,' expresses intimacy, filial trust," he said.

The prayer invites people to pray in a way that "lets all the barriers of subjection and fear fall away," he added.

While the Our Father is rooted in "the concrete reality" of every human being, prayer, in essence, begins with life itself.

"Our first prayer, in a certain way, was the first wail that came with our first breath" as a , and it signals every human being's destiny: "our continual hunger, our continual thirst, our constant search for happiness."

Prayer is found wherever there is a deep hunger, longing, struggle and the question, "why?" Pope Francis said.

"Jesus does not want to extinguish (what is) human, he does not want to anesthetize" the person in prayer, he said. Jesus understands that having faith is being able to "cry out."

"We all should be like Bartimaeus in the Gospel," he said. This blind man in Jericho kept crying out to the Lord for help even though everyone around him told him to be quiet and not bother Jesus, who -- they felt -- ought not be disturbed because he was so busy.

Bartimaeus did not listen and only cried out louder "with holy insistence," the pope said. Jesus listened to his plea and told him his faith is what saved him.

The pope said this shows how the cry for healing is an essential part of salvation, because it shows the person has faith and hope and is "free from the desperation of those who do not believe there is a way out of so many unbearable situations."

"We can tell him everything, even those things in our life that are distorted and beyond comprehension. He promised us that he would always be with us," he said.

When greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope greeted all those from Mexico and Latin America, noting that Dec. 12 marked the feast "of our patroness," Our Lady of Guadalupe. He asked that she help people surrender themselves to God's love and to place all of their hope in him.

Before the audience, the pope blew out a few candles on a birthday cake a visitor had prepared for him. The pope will celebrate his 82nd birthday Dec. 17.

Greeting visitors at the end of the audience, the pope met with a delegation from Panama, representing the upcoming World Youth Day events in January, and he greeted a delegation of Austrian members of parliament who were marking the 200th anniversary of the song "Silent Night," whose melody was composed by an Austrian school teacher.

The pope said that "with its profound simplicity, this song helps us understand the event of that holy night. Jesus, the savior, born in Bethlehem, reveals to us the love of God the father."

 

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U.S. Bishops Approve $4 Million in Aid for Ministries in Central and Eastern Europe

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe approved $4 million in funding for 143 projects at the Subcommittee's meeting on November 11, 2018, in Baltimore.

Central and Eastern Europe projects receiving funding include:

● Charitable support for single mothers in areas of Armenia experiencing high emigration rates of men. Through Armenian Caritas, mothers and children in need will receive food, hygienic items, school supplies, fuel, medicine, and other necessities.
● The construction of a rehabilitation center in Georgia to provide services to children, people with disabilities, and others living in poverty. The center, which will be managed by the Georgian branches of the Camillians and the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Christiana, will offer rehabilitation, mental health, and speech therapy services to the people of South Georgia and northern Armenia.
● Financial support to help young people from Latvia participate in World Youth Day in Panama City, Panama, in January 2019.
● Translation of Papal encyclicals and other important Catholic social teaching documents into modern Ukrainian, many for the first time. The translated documents will be published in both printed and electronic format and presented through a series of workshops in different areas of Ukraine.
● Support for the development of the most rapidly growing seminary in Eastern Europe in Kyiv, Ukraine, where the number of seminarians has increased from 39 to 79 in the last five years.

“Our support for the Catholics of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union helps rebuild and restore the faith where people continue to feel the repercussions of decades of communism and oppression,” said Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Chairman of the Committee on National Collections.

The USCCB Subcommittee on the Church in Central and Eastern Europe funds projects in 28 countries to build the pastoral capacity of the Church in these places. The funds collected in the Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe are used to support seminaries, youth ministry, social service programs, pastoral centers, church construction and renovation, and Catholic communications projects.

Grants are funded by the annual Collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe. The national date for this collection is Ash Wednesday, although dioceses may take it up on different dates. The Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe oversees the collection and an annual grant program as part of the USCCB Committee on National Collections. More information about the collection and who it supports can be found at www.usccb.org/ccee.
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Keywords: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, Armenia, Armenian Caritas, Camillians, Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Christiana, Ukraine, World Youth Day, Papal encyclicals.
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