Martin Baani: the Iraqi seminarian who will not leave his people

Bombs are falling and the sound of the explosion is sending shock and fear into the hearts of the people. Amid the sound of crying and frenzied activity, people pack up what belongings they can carry and make off into the night.

In the midst of it all, on the night of Aug. 6, stands Martin Baani, a 24-year-old seminarian. It’s dawning on him that this is Karamlesh’s last stand.

For 1,800 years, Christianity has had a home in the hearts and minds of the people of this town so full of antiquity. Now that era is about to be brought to a calamitous end; Islamic State are advancing.

Martin’s mobile phone rings: a friend stammers out the news that the nearby town of Telkaif has fallen to “Da’ash” – the Arabic name for Islamic State. Karamlesh would surely be next.

Martin dashes out of his aunt’s house, where he is staying, and heads for the nearby St Addai’s Church. He takes the Blessed Sacrament, a bundle of official papers, and walks out of the church. Outside a car awaits – his parish priest, Father Thabet, and three other priests are inside.

Martin gets in and the car speeds off. They leave Karamlesh and the last remnants of the village’s Christian presence go with them.

Speaking to Martin in the calm of St. Peter’s Seminary, Ankawa – a suburb of the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil – it is difficult to imagine he is describing anything except a bad dream. But there is nothing dreamy in Martin’s expression. “Until the very last minute, the Peshmerga were telling us it was safe.”

“But then we heard that they were setting up big guns on St Barbara’s Hill (on the edge of the village) and we knew then the situation had become very dangerous.”

Taking stock of that terrible night, Martin’s confidence is bolstered by the presence of 27 other seminarians at St. Peter’s, many with their own stories of escape from the clutches of the Islamic militants.
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By vassallomalta Posted in News

Cardinal Parolin: Without its Christian roots, Europe won’t help the world

The European Union could be significant and helpful in solving crises around the world, but its common effort should lie in its Christians roots which are somewhat forgotten, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State spoke during a visit to the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. The event coincided with the appointment of a new abbot for the community, and its reorganization, and commemorated the 50th anniversary of Bl. Paul VI’s visit to the first community of the Order of St. Benedict.

When he visited Montecassino in 1964, Bl. Paul VI read his apostolic letter Pacis nuntius, proclaiming St. Benedict a patron of Europe and acknowledging the monk’s work in building a common European identity.

Cardinal Parolin lamented that 50 years later, it seems “there is no more wish for ‘Europe’ as there was 50 years ago.”

He underscored that the European Union could be one of the most important actors in the world arena, but added that it needs to “speak with one voice,” and look back to its common roots.

“I believe that Europe is suffering of the common loss of historical memory, which forbids us to remember where we hail from and what are the deep roots of this Europe.”

In his analysis of the Middle East situation and plight of Christian there given during the Oct. 20 consistory, Cardinal Parolin had also blamed on the international community – including the European Union – for having remained silent as the situation worsened.

“Europe should find one voice … we believe that the problems of the Middle East should be solved by the Middle Eastern countries, but we also believe that Europe can help those countries in their purpose, since we know that a big part of this conflicts comes from outside the Middle East.”

And Europe should “even more” give its contribution in “solving the Ukraine situation, trying to put together the interests of everyone,” Cardinal Parolin said. Continue reading

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Pope: Regarding the Church, What Is Not Seen Is More Important Than What Is Seen


Pope Francis has urged the faithful to not let their limitations and fragile nature interfere with their ability to reach out to others and make a difference.

Addressing thousands of pilgrims gathered for the weekly Wednesday Audience, the Holy Father admitted, “Often as a Church we experience our fragility and our limits,” yet, he added, we should not be discouraged since “the Lord has really made ​​an instrument of grace and visible sign of his love for all mankind.”

While admitting that our natural human weakness can be discouraging, he reflected that with faith, “we can understand how, despite our smallness and our poverty,” the Lord is working through us to make a difference in the lives of others.

“The reality of the visible Church is beyond our control, beyond our strength,” the Pope said, as “it’s a really mystery because it comes from God.”

Recalling last week’s catechesis, the Pontiff said it showed the Church has a spiritual nature: “It is the body of Christ, built in the Holy Spirit.”

However, he pointed out, when we refer to the Church, “our thoughts turn immediately to our communities, our parishes, our diocese, to the structures in which we usually gather together and, of course, of the component and institutional figures which guide and govern it.”

“This,” he said, “is the visible reality of the Church.”
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Why isn’t anyone talking about the synod’s paragraphs on contraception?


An opinion by Jamie Manson


While most members of the U.S. media spent this week perseverating on what the synod’s midterm progress report actually means for cohabitating, civilly married or same-sex couples, few apparently noticed that the synodal fathers also had something to say about contraception.
Since few commentators seemed to think that paragraphs 53 and 54 of the report were worth mentioning, those sections bear repeating here:

53. It is not difficult to notice the spread of a mentality that reduces the generation of life to a variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans. Economic factors sometimes have enough weight to contribute to the sharp drop in the birthrate which weakens the social fabric, compromising the relationship between generations and rendering the view of the future less certain. Being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love.

54. Probably here as well what is required is a realistic language that is able to start from listening to people and acknowledging the beauty and truth of an unconditional opening to life as that which human life requires to be lived to its fullest. It is on this base that we can rest an appropriate teaching regarding natural methods, which allow the living in a harmonious and aware way of the communication between spouses, in all its dimensions, along with generative responsibility. In this light, we should go back to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which underlines the need to respect the dignity of the person in the moral evaluation of the methods of birth control.

That these paragraphs did not garner greater attention in United States is tragic, especially among Catholics invested in social justice issues and the plight of the poor.
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By vassallomalta Posted in Synod

Vatican monsignor pressured to return church valuables that went missing on his watch


A Vatican monsignor, considered an unindicted co-conspirator by the FBI for his role in a 2008 criminal scheme to sell American church property, has been forced by Italian authorities to return valuable objects to churches in his home diocese of Turin, according to a Sep. 28 report in Il Fatto Quotidiano, a daily in Rome.

Msgr. Giovanni Carrù, an undersecretary at the Congregation for the Clergy from 2003 to 2009, is secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, a job that oversees the catacombs.

“During his 20 years as pastor in a town on the outskirts of Turin, many paintings, statues, furniture and other objects have been lost and then found in private homes,” Andrea Giambartolomei reported in Il Fatto. “Two candelabra ended up among the possessions of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former secretary of the Vatican State.”

Bertone, whose million-dollar renovation of his apartment in the Vatican has drawn bad press, returned the questioned candelabra, according to the report in Il Fatto Quotidiano, an independently owned newspaper that, unlike many larger ones, promotes itself as receiving no government subsidy.
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‘What is being proposed is not marriage’ – Pope calls for defense of family


In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience.

He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it’s an association. But it’s not marriage! It’s necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed.

He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

Noting that there are many who cohabitate, or are separated or divorced, he explained that the “key” to helping is a pastoral care of “close combat” that assists and patiently accompanies the couple.

Pope Francis offered his words in a question-and-answer format during his audience with members of the Schoenstatt movement, held in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding in Germany.

Roughly 7,500 members of the international Marian and apostolic organization, both lay and clerics from dozens of nations around the world, were present in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for the audience.
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Lefebvrians: “Rome doesn’t plan on imposing a capitulation”


In an interview with authoritative French weekly magazine Famille Chrétienne, the Secretary of Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Guido Pozzo, discussed the state of relations between Rome and the Society of St. Pius X following Mgr. Fellay’s recent meeting with the Prefect of the Doctrine for the Faith. From the interview, it would seem that the Holy See does not intend to put any pressure on Mgr. Lefebvre’s followers but would like an agreement to be reached, although the timeframe for this is uncertain. What we are given to understand here, is that Rome intends to show greater flexibility on any aspect that does not regard doctrine.

In 2009 Benedict XVI decided to revoke the excommunication of Lefebvrian bishops who had been illicitly ordained by Mgr. Lefebvre in 1988. This was a first and essential step toward the resumption of a constructive dialogue. Just a first step, however, because there were still some big doctrinal questions which needed to be addressed. The Ecclesia Dei Commission which has close links with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is the main instrument in this dialogue process.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the interview is that which addressed the sticking points in said dialogue. Mgr. Pozzo underlined that “any reservations or positions the Society of St. Pius X may have regarding aspects which are not related to faith but to pastoral questions or the prudential teaching of the Magisterium do not necessarily need to withdrawn or relinquished.” Here Rome seems to be showing an attempt to alter positions expressed in the past: According to Mgr. Pozzo, the fraternity’s reservations are linked to “aspects of pastoral care or the prudential teaching of the Magisterium.” The monsignor’s statement suggests that since these criticisms and reservations are no longer labelled as “doctrinal” the Lefebvrians could legitimately continue to express them.
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Twelve Iraqi priests, monks suspended for breaking vow of obedience


Chaldean patriarch Louis Sako I has suspended a group of monks and priests who fled Iraq without consulting their superiors, saying a priest’s primary duty is to serve his flock wherever he is asked.

“Before his ordination, the ‘Priest’ announces the offering of his whole life to God and the Church. It is an offering grounded in the obedience to his superiors without any conservation,” Patriarch Sako said in his Oct. 22 statement.

“For monks, the vows are absolute; chastity, obedience and poverty. Looking for substitutes is considered a grave violation to the vows.”

Published on the Chaldean Patriarchate’s website, the statement gives the names of six priests and six monks who, as of Oct. 22, have been suspended from their priestly duties for leaving their eparchies without consulting their superiors, and for refusing to return when asked.

The patriarch noted that those who left are currently living in the United States, Canada, Australia and Sweden, and assured that because of this, his decision “is not an act against a certain Eparchy.”

He explained that the decision was made in accord with the monastic context after consulting Canon Law and monastic regulations, as well as speaking with the permanent synod and informing the Vatican’s Congregation of the Oriental Churches.
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Pope Francis calls for abolishing death penalty and life imprisonment


Pope Francis called for abolition of the death penalty as well as life imprisonment, and denounced what he called a “penal populism” that promises to solve society’s problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.
“It is impossible to imagine that states today cannot make use of another means than capital punishment to defend peoples’ lives from an unjust aggressor,” the pope said Thursday in a meeting with representatives of the International Association of Penal Law.

“All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty. And this, I connect with life imprisonment,” he said. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”

The pope noted that the Vatican recently eliminated the death penalty from its own penal code.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, cited by Pope Francis in his talk, “the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” but modern advances in protecting society from dangerous criminals mean that “cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”
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Sistine Chapel being used as sacred place – not ‘venue for private parties’


Director of the Vatican Museums Antonio Paolucci has rejected rumors that they are now renting the Sistine Chapel, adding that beauty is always an occasion to grow in charity and generosity.

“In the last few days I’ve read that someone thought we are renting the Sistine Chapel to those who have money to spend,” Paolucci said in an Oct. 20 statement released by the Vatican Museums.

“It is nothing of the sort, because the Sistine Chapel is a sacred place: it’s certainly not able to be rented on request, nor will it ever become a venue for private parties!”

Rumors surrounding the Sistine Chapel began following the Oct. 18 launch of the museum’s “The Art of Charity” initiative, which consists of a series of exclusive events that include a guided tour of the museums with a private concert inside the Sistine Chapel, as well as a dinner inside the museums.

The Rome-based Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, was the group selected to play during the launch event. They performed Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle.”
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Pope Francis: God’s image is revealed in the face of our brothers


The message Pope Francis sent during his Sunday Angelus address was that love of God and neighbor are inseparably united, and that we see God’s face most clearly in the weak and vulnerable.

“In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations – of the legalisms of yesterday and today – Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and that of the brother,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Oct. 26 recitation of the traditional Marian prayer.

“He doesn’t deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces, because in the face of each brother, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”

Pope Francis took his cue from the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus is tested by a doctor of the law who asks which is the greatest commandment.

In his response, Jesus first quotes the Book of Deuteronomy in saying that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind, the pontiff observed.
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Beyond economics, youth unemployment a ‘problem of dignity,’ Pope says


Pope Francis has sent a message to young people affected by the “culture of waste,” calling on them to spread the hope of the Gospel amid these times of uncertainty.

The Pope’s message, dated Oct. 16, was written to mark the Italian Bishops’ conference of Salerno’s national convention on the theme: “Hope amid uncertainty.”

According to the message, the aim of the convention, which runs from Oct. 24-26, was to reflect on that which offers hopeful prospects, “in a time marked by uncertainty, bewilderment, and great changes.”

Having encountered many young people over the course of his visits throughout Italy, the Pope Francis writes that he has seen “firsthand the plight of many unemployed youth.”

The problem is more than merely economic, he said: “It is a problem of dignity.” Without work, one cannot have the experience of dignity which comes from being able to put food on the table. “And unfortunately,” he said, “there are many young people in Italy without work.”

At this moment in time, the Pope writes, “the ‘culture of waste’ is strong: everything that does not bring in a profit is discarded. The youth are discarded, because they are without work.” Because of this, “the future of a people is discarded, since the youth represent the future of a people. We must say ‘no’ to this ‘culture of waste’.”
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“Romanian Greek Catholics could remarry until 1873”


Jesuit historian, Fr. Giancarlo Pani – who recently published a revelatory article in “La Civiltà Cattolica” on the exception the Council of Trent made for Greek-rite Catholics, allowing them to follow the Orthodox practice –, responds to the criticisms voiced by US theologian E. Christian Brugger. And he adds another interesting fact

The article Fr. Giancarlo Pani published in Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica before the Synod, regarding the exception the Council of Trent made for Greek-rite Catholics, withdrawing its condemnation of the Eastern practice of second marriages in 1563, has sparked a heated debate. The article written by the Jesuit historian has attracted criticism not from another historian but from a moralist, the American E. Christian Brugger, who is Professor of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. A clear response was published on Italian Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister’s website.

Dr. Brugger claims that Fr. Pani “defends the Greek matrimonial practice of “oikonomia” by which failed marriages can be dissolved and spouses permitted to remarry, or, what’s more often the case, to have their “new marriages declared valid” by the Church “after penance”. He plainly hopes that this “tolerant tradition” may find its way into the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Pani was asked to comment on this criticism.
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Egyptian Christians feel safer, though Islamism still looms


While problems still exist, Christians in Egypt feel “much safer” under the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former military officer who played a key role in the coup that ousted Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013, a Catholic official said.

“The mood has improved considerably. The security situation is getting better. There is greater stability,” Father Rafik Greiche, press officer for the Egyptian bishops’ conference, told Aid to the Church in Need Oct. 21.

“Christians feel a lot safer. They are going to church without feeling threatened as they did under President Morsi … In all, a more peaceful atmosphere is being created.”

A 2011 revolution, part of the Arab Spring, had overthrown Hosni Mubarak, a military officer who had been Egypt’s president since 1981. The following year Morsi, of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, became the first democratically elected Egyptian president.

“Under the Muslim Brotherhood Molotov cocktails were hurled at churches or graffiti was sprayed on the walls,” Fr. Greiche recounted.
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30th Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Reading I: Exodus 22:20-26
Responsorial Psalm 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51
Reading II: 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40

On Being Loved Sinners

We’re strange creatures, more lovely than we think and more sinful than we imagine, too hard and too easy on ourselves all at the same time.

Human nature is a curious mix. On the one hand, we’re better than we think and this beauty and goodness doesn’t just come because, deep down, we’re made in the image and likeness of God or because, as Plato and Aristotle say, we’re metaphysically good. That’s true, but our loveliness is also less abstract. We’re beautiful too, at least most of the time, in our human and moral qualities.

Most of the time, in fact, we are quite generous, often to a fault. As well, most of the time too, despite appearances, we’re warm and hospitable. The same is true in terms of the desire and scope of our embrace, both of our minds and our hearts. Inside of everyone, easily triggered by the slightest touch of love or affirmation, lies a big heart, a grand soul, a magna anima, that’s just itching to show itself. Mostly the problem isn’t with our goodness, but with our frustration in trying to live out that goodness in the world. Too often we look cold and self-centered when we’re only hurt and wounded.

We don’t always look good, but we are. Mostly we’re frustrated precisely because we cannot (for reasons of circumstance, wound, and sensitivity) pour out our goodness as we would like nor embrace the world and those around us with the warmth that’s in us. We go through life looking for a warm place to show who we are and mostly don’t find it. We’re not so much bad as frustrated. We’re more lovely than we dare imagine.

That’s the half of it. There’s another side: We’re sinners too, more so than we think. An old Protestant dictum about human nature, based upon St. Paul, puts it accurately: “It’s not a question of are you a sinner? It’s only a question of what is your sin?” We’re all sinners and, just as we possess a big heart and a grand soul, we also possess a petty one (a pusilla anima). Inside us too, congenitally, there’s selfishness, jealousy, and a pettiness of heart and mind that is never far from the surface.

Moreover, generally, we are blind to our real faults. As Jesus says, we too easily see the speck on our neighbor’s eye and miss the plank in our own. There’s a real contradiction here: Where we think we’re sinners is usually not the place where others struggle the most with us and where our real faults lie. Conversely it’s in those areas where we think we’re virtuous and righteous that, most often, our real sin lies and where others struggle with us.

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Vatican reorganizes Montecassino, mother abbey of the Benedictines


Pope Francis on Thursday appointed a new Abbot of Montecassino – the first monastery built by St. Benedict – and at the same time reduced the territory for which the new abbot is responsible.

“The Monastic Community warmly welcomes Father Donato Ogliari as 192nd Ordinary Abbot of the territorial Abbey of Montecassino,” the abbey posted on Twitter Oct. 23.

Abbot Ogliari, O.S.B., who is 57, was professed as a member of the Consolata Missionaries in 1978, and ordained a priest of that institute in 1982. He later transferred to the Order of Saint Benedict, and was solemnly professed there in 1992. Before his appointment as Abbot of Montecassino, Abbot Ogliari had been abbot of Santa Maria della Scala Monastery in Noci, Italy.

The Territorial Abbey of Montecassino had been vacant since June 2013, when Abbot Pietro Vittorelli resigned.

Montecassino is one of the few remaining “territorial abbeys” in the world. This means that the abbey is independent of a diocese, and is in fact its own particular church.
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‘Don’t abandon us’ – Church in Mosul ‘no longer exists’


Reflecting on his recent trip to the Holy Land and to Iraqi Kurdistan, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said that for all practical purposes, the bishops of Mosul no longer have Churches to shepherd.

“When we were in Erbil, we met with the Archbishop of Mosul, who along with his priests and all of the faithful of the archdiocese, have been driven out,” Archbishop Coakley said in an interview.

“He is, in effect, the archbishop of a Church that no longer exists.”

Archbishop Coakley continued, saying, “they’ve all been scattered. There are no more Christians in his archdiocese. That’s a traumatic, but illustrative situation, of what’s happening there, and what can happen, if things don’t improve.”

There are in fact two Catholic archbishops of Mosul: one for Chaldean, and one for Syriac Catholics. Both of them, as well as three Orthodox bishops, were forced from their home along with their people by the Islamic State in mid-July – three months ago.

As chairman of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Coakley spent seven days earlier this month travelling to Gaza, Jerusalem, and Iraqi Kurdistan to survey the work being done by the U.S. bishops’ international charity.
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Hard winter looms for Iraq’s ‘betrayed’ Christian refugees


Despite efforts by northern Iraq’s Catholic bishops to ensure that Christians and other refugees can survive the winter, housing shortages and a significant lack of financial support pose serious threats.

“The Church is pretty much alone in caring for them; so far the Iraqi government has not done anything for them. The tents of the refugees are set up on parish properties,” said Karin Maria Fenbert, an official with the international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Fenbert assessed the situation in Erbil. With the start of the school year, many of the refugees who had been sheltered in schools have left quickly in order to avoid tensions with local Christians, she explained.

“Moreover winter is not far away and many refugees are still living in tents that are not waterproof, some of which are set up on the bare ground,” Fenbert continued in an Oct. 14 statement.

More than 100,000 Iraqi Christian refugees have fled their homes in and near the northern city of Mosul following the seizure of territory by forces from the Islamic State group earlier this year. Many refugees have escaped to Iraqi Kurdistan. They are among the more than 30 percent of Iraqi Christians who are now refugees.

Northern Iraq’s bishops, Fenbert said, “are only reporting what they hear hundreds of people say: the Christians feel betrayed: betrayed by their central government in Baghdad; betrayed by their former Muslim neighbors; and betrayed also by the international community.”

“They feel that they are being perceived merely as collateral damage in geopolitical power plays. Add it all up, and the bishops feel quite helpless and powerless.”
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Resist ‘hidden euthanasia’ of elderly, Little Sisters stress


Receiving an award recognizing their works of service, members of the Little Sisters of the Poor stressed the need for loving attention and care for the elderly, particularly by the youth.

“I urge you to fight against the tendency to marginalize and abandon the elderly, to commit what the Pope refers to as ‘hidden euthanasia’,” Sister Constance Veit, the Little Sisters’ U.S. national communications director, said.

She spoke at an awards ceremony at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, where the Little Sisters were awarded the Poverello Medal in honor of their service.

Sr. Veit said that the elderly “have become the contemporary outcasts” of society at a time when their numbers are increasing. The elderly will make up 19 percent of the U.S. population by 2030, she said.

She called for a “covenant between generations” to join young and old together.
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Church teaching on sexuality is simple, but not easy, priest says


When it comes to human sexuality, one of the predominant themes discussed by participants at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family pertains to the certainty that truth and mercy cannot be separated.

This is according to Fr. Stephen Fawcett of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who was one of 27 volunteers serving at the Synod on the Family.

Fr. Fawcett, whose role throughout the Synod had been in part to act as one of two secretaries to one of the small groups over this past week, said that “one big strand that came out of the groups echoed Benedict XVI’s reminder of the link between love and truth.”

“God shows his mercy to all of us… to grow into the people we should be,” he said. “It’s not (that) some people need mercy, and some people don’t. All of us need the truth… and all of us need the grace to journey in that truth.”

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