Lebanese parish reaches out to Christian Iraqi refugees for Christmas

The sadness behind their polite smiles was evident when they arrived on two buses for a Mass and luncheon in their honor.

As an expression of solidarity and to share the hope of Christmas, the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection in Rabieh, an affluent suburb north of Beirut, hosted the group of Christian Iraqi refugees.

Some of the refugees had arrived in Lebanon only days or weeks before, their hopes for a safe future overshadowed by memories of their expulsion from their homes in Mosul and the areas of the Ninevah Plain last summer, when Islamic State militants seized the areas and ordered minorities to convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or face death. Continue reading

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The silent cries of migrants in the US reach the Pope

Guatemalan film director Luis Argueta gave Francis two documentaries that capture the paradoxes of the failed US immigration system, with crude realism

“Migrants leave everything behind but the faith”. This is the most valuable lesson Pedro Arturo López Vega has ever learnt. Pedro is a young boy who was born in the United States. His Guatemalan mother repeated this phrase to him time and time again, until she was arrested and deported following the most controversial anti-immigration raid in the history of their country. The boy’s story, along with the silent cries of so many other Hispanics, reached Pope Francis thanks to Luis Argueta, a film director born and raised in Guatemala.

Argueta gave the Pope two copies of his documentaries “AbUSAdos” (a play on words in Spanish, with the words abused and USA) and “Abrazos” (Embraces) when he greeted him in St. Peter’s Square on 10 December. Both documentaries illustrate the paradoxes of the failed US immigration system, with crude realism.
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Do not give up on ecumenical dialogue, Pope tells German Lutherans

Pope Francis received a delegation from the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany and the ecumenical commission of the nation’s Catholic episcopal conference on December 18 and called on those involved in ecumenical dialogue to focus on the “next possible step” rather than abandon the journey.

Recalling progress in ecumenical dialogue over the past five decades, including the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999), the Pope said that “the common goal of the full and visible unity of Christians sometimes seems to recede into the distance.”
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Pope’s Morning Homily: God Saves Us In Worst Moments

Pope Francis says even when we do not understand the difficulties of life, we must realize that God, our loving father, has a plan and is there to save his children.

According to Vatican Radio, during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis reminded those gathered that “God walks with us, makes history, tests us and saves us in the worst moments.”

The Apostle St. Paul reminds us God is our Father, the Pontiff recalled, noting that “step by step” as God ‘makes’ history with us, he continues the history of salvation.

“Making history with his people,” the Pope observed, “means for God to walk and to test his elect.” But in the end God saves them, Francis stressed.

From the very beginning, God, Francis said, made a journey through history with his people. “Therefore, “there is no salvation without history. And to get to the point of today there was a long history, a long history.”
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Pope brokered deal to open US-Cuba ties

Pope Francis played a key role in mediating talks between the US and Cuba, resulting in an exchange of prisoners and opening the way for the first direct talks between the neighboring countries in more than 50 years.

At a December 17 news conference in Washington, President Barack Obama acknowledged the importance of the papal intervention: “I want to thank Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is,” he said. Obama revealed that the Pope had written personal appeals to him and to Cuban President Raul Castro, urging a release of prisoners and a diplomatic thaw.

The Vatican later disclosed that in October, the Holy See had quietly arranged to receive diplomatic delegations from the US and Cuba for “a constructive dialogue on delicate matters.” The Vatican statement promised that the Holy See would continue to support diplomatic efforts to normalize relations between the two countries.
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Vatican Officials Say US Sisters ‘Experiencing Challenging Times’ Prompted Visit

The prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has said the pastoral visit to nuns in the United States was prompted because the “religious life in the United States is experiencing challenging times.”

This was the reflection made by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation, who spoke this afternoon at a press conference aimed at presenting the final report on the pastoral visit to women religious in the United States, spearheaded by his dicastery.

Also speaking were Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, secretary of the same dicastery, Mother Clare Millea, Superior General of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Director of the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Apostolic Life of Women Religious in the United States of America; Sr. Sharon Holland, vice-president of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and president of Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life and Chair of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR).
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German bishops ready to change policy, allow divorced/remarried and homosexual employees

The Catholic bishops of Germany will soon approve a change in policy allowing people in irregular marital arrangements to work for Church agencies, reports Edward Pentin in the National Catholic Register.

Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg im Breisgau said that the bishops would change their existing policy to preserve the “credibility” of the Church. The change would allow for divorced and remarried Catholics, or those living in same-sex unions, to work for Catholic employers.

The German bishops had scheduled a vote on the policy for their November meeting, and reportedly were prepared to endorse the change. But the vote was postponed until April 2015.

Also in November, a German court ruled that a Catholic hospital had the right to dismiss a doctor who was divorced and remarried. That decision upheld the legal validity of the policy that the bishops are now reportedly prepared to abandon.

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New Additions to Commission for Protecting Minors Announced

Fr. Lombardi: All Geographic Continents Represented, Almost Half Women, Half Laypeople

In an unannounced, but somewhat expected, briefing in the Holy See Press Office this morning, Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican press office director, informed journalists that Pope Francis has nominated new members of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, “chosen from various parts of the world, so as to allow a broad representation of different situations and cultures.”

“They were nominated by the Pope,” the Vatican spokesman said, noting, “We have the complete list.”

“Therefore, now, we finally have 17 members, representing all the continents,” he stated, noting, “Ten are laypeople.”

Turning to the members’ qualifications, he informed journalists that some “are theologians, psychologists, academics, psychotherapists, moralists, and experts in education, rights, social work and so on.”

“Eight are women, two of whom are religious,” he said. “There are nine men.”

“Two are victims of abuse,” he said, including Marie Collins of Ireland, already on the commission, and Peter Saunders of England, just added.

The Commission’s next plenary session, Fr. Lombardi said, will take place in the Vatican, Feb. 6-8, 2015.
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Pope: Families Are to Make Special Place in Home for Jesus This Advent

During a special weekly general audience coinciding with his 78th birthday, Pope Francis called on all families to make a special place for Jesus in their homes this Advent.

Although the Holy Father did not draw any attention to his birthday himself, those gathered were ready to celebrate. Tango enthusiasts had been dancing on Via della Conciliazione, the street leading into St. Peter’s Square, for the Pope’s big day.

While making his way through the square before the audience, not only did Francis sip some mate, the traditional Argentinian drink, from pilgrims in the square, he also stopped by seminarians of the Legionaries of Christ who gave him a birthday cake with candles.

Following the welcoming festivities, the Pope continued his catechesis on the family, reminding the jubilant pilgrims that the Son of God chose to be born into a human family, in an obscure town on the periphery of the Roman Empire.
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Bishops “musn’t be like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son with regard to ‘irregular’ families”

The Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, talks about the Synod, cardinals’ perception of Putin as a model figure, the “principle of gradualism” and “patchwork families”

“Good Catholics sometimes remind me of the older brother” in the parable of the Prodigal Son who “is disappointed and feels he is not being rewarded for his loyalty. The father’s reply is one of the most beautiful sentences in the New Testament: ‘You are always with me and all I have is yours.’” The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, said this in a recent interview with Herder Korrespondenz, illustrating the attitude some took at Synod on the family and especially the fear expressed by some of the Synod Fathers during the discussions. Their fears were in relation to the proposals made for a more open approach toward irregular relationships, which could lead successful Catholic families to feel disoriented. “I would tell these families that they should be glad and thankful as they bear witness to the fact that marriages can be successful, but also that they should rejoice and welcome home those who do not achieve this ideal,” the Austrian cardinal said.

In his long interview with the German theological monthly based in Freiburg, published in its latest issue, Schönborn said he was surprised by the fact that many of his fellow bishops were “afraid” of his suggestion that they recognise the good aspects of irregular relationships. He said that at last October’s extraordinary Synod on the family he suggested applying the “principle of gradualism” in order to underline that recognising that cohabiting couples might be on the way to the Sacrament of Marriage does not mean agreeing with cohabitation as a whole.
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Francis: God saves a repentant heart

In this morning’s homily for the mass at St. Martha’s House, Francis said Christians need to be able to say: “these are my sins – they are not his, or hers, they are mine – Take them from me so that I may be saved”

God saves “repentant hearts”, but those who do not entrust themselves to Him and do not trust in him face condemnation. Francis said at this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House.

Today the Pope spoke once again about the importance of humility, which allows man to recognise himself as a sinner in need of mercy and salvation. He reminded faithful of the opposite attitude, pride, which makes man arrogant, closed, a stranger to shame and deaf to the voice of God. Today Francis commented on the day’s readings taken from the Book of Zephaniah and the Gospel parable about the two sons who are sent to work in the vineyard.

Both texts, the Pope underlined, talk about “judgement” and salvation and condemnation depend upon this judgement. The Prophet Zephaniah writes about a rebel city where there is still a group that repents of its sins: these are the “people of God”, the Pope said, and there are “three characteristics” that describe them: “humility, poverty, faith in the Lord”.

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Final Report on Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in US

Here below is the Vatican-released Final Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States of America:



At the conclusion of the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States of America, conducted “to look into the quality of the life of religious women in the United States”, this Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL) presents this report to the women religious themselves as well as to the Church’s Pastors and faithful. In addition to this general report, it is foreseen that individual reports will be sent to those Institutes which hosted an onsite visitation and to those Institutes whose individual reports indicated areas of concern. Letters of thanks will also be sent to those Institutes which participated in the first two phases of the Visitation.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is sincerely grateful for the presence of women religious in the United States and for all that they contribute to the Church’s evangelizing mission. Since the early days of the Catholic Church in their country, women religious have courageously been in the forefront of her evangelizing mission, selflessly tending to the spiritual, moral, educational, physical and social needs of countless individuals, especially the poor and marginalized. Throughout the nation’s history, the educational apostolate of women religious in Catholic schools has fostered the personal development and nourished the faith of countless young people and helped the church community in the USA to flourish. In addition, a great majority of the Catholic healthcare systems in the United States, which serve millions of people each year, were established by congregations of women religious.
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Marriage: A Unique Relationship

In May next year Ireland will vote on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. The bishops of Ireland have recently published a pastoral statement which said that “to redefine the nature of marriage would be to undermine it as the fundamental building block of our society.”

The statement was published in English, Irish and Polish and included a couple of prayers for marriage and the family.

The bishops started their message by insisting that marriage is a unique form of love between a man and a woman that has special benefits for society. It is, they affirmed, “the single most important institution in any society.”

Re-defining marriage would undermine it and damage society, the statement argued. The understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman is present in all cultures and therefore maintaining this definition is not an act of discrimination or exclusion.
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Pope at mass – “Rigidity is a sign of a weak heart”

At this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House, Francis spoke about the “discipline” of the doctors of the law that is “rigid on the outside”, recalling how some were scandalised when Pius XII freed faithful from the Eucharistic fast

“Jesus never negotiates His heart of the Son of the Father, but He was so open to the people, seeking paths to help them.” Francis said this in the homily he pronounced at this morning’s mass in St. Martha’s House, reminding people that Christians are merciful and that rigidity is a sign of a weak heart. Francis commented on today’s Gospel reading which relates how the chief priests asked Jesus by what authority He did His works, Vatican Radio reports. This question unmasks the “hypocritical heart” of those people – people who were not interested in the truth, who sought only their own interests, and went where the wind blew: you should go this way, you should go that way…” They were weathervanes, all of them! All of them! Without consistency. A heart without consistency. And so they negotiated everything: they negotiated interior freedom, they negotiated the faith, they negotiated their county, everything except appearances.” To such people, getting the best out of every situation was the important thing. They were opportunists: “They profited from the situations.”

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US Sec, Kerr, Cardinal Parolin speak about Middle East, Guantanamo inmates

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, met on December 15 with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, his Vatican counterpart, for a discussion that centered on the Middle East.

During the conversation, the Vatican noticed in a brief statement, Secretary Kerry affirmed the US commitment to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Kerry also sought “the Holy See’s assistance in seeking adequate humanitarian solutions for current inmates.”

The bulk of the conversation, however, was devoted to the violence in the Middle East, the effort to avoid escalation of current conflicts, and the push for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In an unusual note, the Vatican statement on the meeting said that the “short time available” prevented discussion of other important topics including the tensions in Ukraine and the reaction to the Ebola epidemic in Africa.

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‘Put an end to the fossil fuel era,’ say bishops at climate conference

A group of bishops who attended an international climate-change conference in Peru called upon the international community “to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degree Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels, in order to protect frontline communities suffering from the impacts of climate change.”

“Central to this is to put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100% renewables with sustainable energy access for all,” the bishops said.

The nine bishops included representatives of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM), the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), and the French and Brazilian bishops’ conferences.

“We express an answer to what is considered God’s appeal to take action on the urgent and damaging situation of global climate warming,” the bishops stated.

“The main responsibility for this situation lies with the dominant global economic system, which is a human creation,” they added. “In viewing objectively the destructive effects of a financial and economic order based on the primacy of the market and profit, which has failed to put the human being and the common good at the heart of the economy, one must recognize the systemic failures of this order and the need for a new financial and economic order.”

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Pope Francis Sends Christmas Message to Prisoners

Pope Francis has written a letter to prisoners at a correctional facility in the Italian district of Latina, assuring them of his spiritual closeness and his prayers during the Christmas season.

In his letter, addressed to the chaplain Don Nicola Cupaiolo, Pope Francis said that he hoped that the time spent in the facility would not be seen as “time lost,” but rather “as a further occasion for genuine growth in order to find peace of heart and the strength to be reborn, a return to living the hope in the Lord who never disappoints.”

The Holy Father included with his letter the gift of a new Missal, with the hope that those in the facility “might discover in the Holy Mass the track of the daily journey with the Lord, who is the efficacious physician of your wounds, the faithful friend of each day, and the necessary nourishment to sustain you in that journey of salvation and liberation that not even prison bars can impede.”
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Poverty Is Biggest Enemy of Church in Zimbabwe

Father Felix Tachiona Mukaro is disappointed in his country’s politicians, as many Zimbabweans are: “All they care about is influence and power, not the country itself or the fact that the economy is in shambles and people don’t know how they are supposed to make it through the day.”

Strong words by Father Mukaro, ordained in 2007 and now working as a development expert in the Diocese of Chinhoyi, in the north of the country. He is confronted with daily evidence of the country’s political stagnation and the ongoing fight to succeed the 90-year-old strongman, Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country with an iron fist. “While administering pastoral care we clearly see just how deeply the majority of the people are suffering,” the priest said.

Millions have in the meantime left Zimbabwe, resettling in neighboring Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa or starting new lives in the United States or Europe. People no longer trust the local currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, so those who can afford to, use the US dollar, the euro, British pound or South African rand.
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