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Actor Mark Wahlberg's faith journey leaves impression on young adults

October 27, 2017 - 1:20pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic

By Joyce Duriga

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Hearing the faith journey of Hollywood actor and businessman Mark Wahlberg left an impression on the hearts of many young adults at the Archdiocese of Chicago's first (re)Encounter event Oct. 20 at the UIC Pavilion.

"It's powerful for a celebrity to feel that way about religion," said Omar Lopez, 21, from St. Gall Parish. "For me, when I think about a celebrity, I think cockiness, selfishness, but to hear an artist say that he takes time to just pray, that's an incredible feeling."

Lopez rushed to the stage at the end of Wahlberg's segment and got to shake the actor's hand.

"I came to hear him because personally I feel lost myself," Lopez told the Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper. "At first I was really skeptical about it. I came here to just to hear different stories and to hear different aspects of life."

About 2,000 young adults attended (re)Encounter -- an evening of music, speakers, faith sharing and eucharistic adoration aimed at energizing the faith of young adult Catholics.

The highlight was a question-and-answer session with Wahlberg and Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich.

Star of movies such as "Transformers: Age of Extinction," "Ted" and "Deepwater Horizon" and producer of the popular HBO series "Entourage," Wahlberg takes his faith seriously, often attending daily Mass and making time for quiet prayer each morning. He emceed the Festival of Families with Pope Francis during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015.

His faith wasn't always important to him. Youngest in a family of nine children, he dropped out of school at 13, and served prison time. At 16, he was charged with attempted murder but he pleaded guilty to assault.

Today, he said, he's committed to being a good father and husband and giving his children the Catholic education he didn't have.

"I'm a street kid from Dorchester, Massachusetts. Grew up in St. Greg's and St. William's parishes," he told the crowd.

Because his parents worked a lot, he was often unsupervised and took to running the streets.

"Ended up getting into a lot of trouble, incarcerated, tried as an adult at 16, 17. That was a big wake-up call for me," he told Cardinal Cupich. "A lot of people go to God, especially when they get in trouble. When I heard the jail doors close behind me, I started praying right away."

It was then that he turned his life around.

"Still, every day it's a process. That's why I start my day, every day, by getting on my hands and my knees and starting a time of prayer and reading, reading Scripture. Then I feel like I can go out there and conquer the world or at least do my job and give back because I've been blessed so much," Wahlberg said.

He keeps in daily touch with his parish priest from when he was growing up, Father Ed Flavin, who married him and his wife and all of his siblings and baptized his four children. When Wahlberg decided to turn his life around, the priest was one of the people he looked up to.

Wahlberg, 46, said his biggest mistake was quitting school. Despite having a successful career as an entertainer and businessman, that haunted him, so he got his GED at age 42.

Responding to a young adult's question about making time for prayer and Mass in a busy life, the actor said it's a "must." He goes to bed early every night and wakes up before his family to pray in the chapel he built in his home.

Addressing another audience question about knowing when one has made the right decision in life according to God's will, Wahlberg shared how he felt God was calling him to more involvement with his faith leading up to the World Meeting of Families and his role as emcee at an event featuring the pope.

Somebody came to speak at the church ... they were saying, 'Are you a participant in the church and the community or are you a spectator?' And I was like, 'Whoa.' I felt like, yeah, I'm a bit of a spectator right now," Wahlberg said. "I'm coming and getting what I need, but I'm not really giving back, you know, reciprocating the kind of love and support I'm getting."

That encounter resulted in him saying "yes" to ushering when asked a few days later, and subsequently saying "yes" to the event with Pope Francis when asked a few days after that.

Wahlberg's commitment to prayer inspired Yunuen Arroyo of St. Odillo Parish in Berwyn.

"I can't even explain the motivation he has," she said. "The whole event is awesome. I love it. I really enjoyed the questions because I've asked those questions, like, 'How do you forgive yourself?'" said Arroyo. "You just have to keep going every day. You just have to keep trying."

Mary Kando of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Gewargis Cathedral, also connected to the actor's faith story.

"Not that my life has been anywhere near his life, but sometimes I feel like, 'How can I pull myself together?'" Kando said.

A friend invited Kando to (re)Encounter and she was glad she accepted.

"I heard about it but I wasn't really motivated to go because I didn't want to go by myself," she said. "I was looking for something to pull me back in. Not that I was away, but I was just kind of sick of the mundane, 'It's just Sunday Mass.' I wanted to get rejuvenated."

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Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Amid hurricane's devastation, Puerto Ricans' spirit seen shining through

October 27, 2017 - 11:45am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice J. de la Vega

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Above all material and financial considerations after Hurricane Maria's severe damage in Puerto Rico, one must highlight the brotherly spirit shown by the island's people during the ongoing recovery period, said the island's top Catholic pastor.

Although the church's financial burden has obviously become heavier as it strives to meet the increased emergency material needs of the faithful, it is the people's "huge capability for solidarity" that shines through in this disaster, Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan told Catholic News Service Oct. 25.

"There are so many helping gestures, like people who don't know each other but share 'our daily bread,' and neighbors sitting down in the dark out on the street chatting," said Archbishop Gonzalez.

Due to slow government response to Hurricane Maria's victims in Puerto Rico, there has been an increase in church and neighborhood or town groups banding together to clear remote unpaved roads, remove fallen trees and debris, and provide material aid to the neediest.

"They are giving lessons of what is the essence of how to live," said the archbishop. "There's a very strong resiliency and spiritual capacity that we have seen in our people. College youngsters have taken to the streets to remove debris. ... These are touching and impressive moments we are living."

Some of those youngsters come from San Ignacio Catholic High School in San Juan. Father Andres Vall Serra, the Jesuit school's pastoral director, told CNS that the school has a special project to immerse students in providing aid to the poor. It is a class titled "Magis," which basically means universal good, or "what can one do to reach the good of all," based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

"Every Friday, all students from one grade's class are sent out to distribute filtration systems and food to poor communities," said Father Andres. "It's a moment that allows them to encounter Christ, but in a way that helps transform them."

The charity project has a grade-specific mental health counseling component, aimed to help students cope with the stress brought on by Hurricane Maria's effects.

Alvaro Carrillo, a senior at San Ignacio, spoke about how a Catholic-oriented education has helped prepare him for disasters such as hurricanes, noting "the emphasis on community impact and internal growth as a person. I mean being compassionate (in order) to recognize the worlds needs and how to react to situations like this one."

"This school has focused us on its Jesuit motto, 'Men at the service of others,'" said senior Ricardo Sanchez. "It was here, in seventh grade, where I started going out to help communities in need."

San Ignacio reopened Oct. 3, the first Catholic school to do so in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, said Father Andres. It was moderately damaged, mostly by falling trees. Its basement amphitheater and several storage units underground were flooded.

"We are at time of national mourning, trauma, after the passing of two hurricanes ... the consequences on the mood, the spirit, the emotions (of the people) are deep," said Archbishop Gonzalez, adding that "another trauma is that of shared love and solidarity."

He agreed with several pastors who had told CNS that, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Mass attendance has risen sharply, although many still could not leave their homes because of the damage. "But yes, there's a spiritual rebirth," he said.

Church finances have been severely impacted in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. As businesses and factories shut down, families' economic stability has been affected while their financial demands have increased to cover repairs and replacement of lost property.

"We can neither ask nor expect that they continue the same level of support (to the church) when they themselves are barely surviving," said Archbishop Gonzalez. "In time, we have to see how we deal with sustaining parishes that can't sustain themselves, as well as our (television) Channel 13 and radio stations."

However, the archbishop stressed that "our focus now is direct assistance. Most people need water, food, clothing. That's our primary mission."

"The top challenge the church in Puerto Rico faces is to nurture the soul our people with God's word, Jesus' presence through our works of charity, solidarity, celebrating the Eucharist, and maintaining a perspective that keeps us anchored in reality of these tragic events and full of hope for the strength that the Holy Spirit gives us," said Archbishop Gonzalez.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Not a Roman holiday: Pilgrims learn lessons walking to Rome

October 27, 2017 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS/Robert Duncan

By Matthew Fowler and Robert Duncan

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After weeks of navigating difficult terrain, avoiding wild animals and steep cliffs, the devoted pilgrims and hiking enthusiasts who manage to traverse the 155 miles between Assisi and Rome on foot arrive in St. Peter's Basilica and report a special kind of payoff.

"It's very moving when you get there and walk through the doors of St. Peter's," said Bret Thoman, director of St. Francis Pilgrimages. "It's almost like walking from the world into heaven."

The Way of St. Francis is a network of walking trails that connects Assisi to Rome. Created 15 years ago by the government of Italy's Umbria province, it attempts to mirror the path likely trod by St. Francis of Assisi when he went to Rome to meet Pope Innocent III in 1209. The actual historic route remains unknown.

"When you arrive (at St. Peter's), you're usually kind of beat up. You have blisters, your legs are sore, your feet are sore, your joints are sore," Thoman said, but still the pilgrims are grateful for the hard lessons learned along the way.

Deacon Terrance Marcell, a 79-year-old serving at Holy Rosary Parish in Edmonds, Washington, said the challenge of walking the "cammino" -- as it is called in Italian -- gave him a renewed sense of what is truly important in life.

"I'm not going to worry about my golf score anymore like I did," he said just before finishing his pilgrimage in late October. "I can think back and realize that I need a little bit more patience with people, with my family."

Pilgrims encounter true wilderness on the trail to the Rome, and Thoman said he prepares them for encounters with the dogs, wild boar, snakes and other creatures that inhabit the Italian forests.

"It's a real-life journey out in nature," said Thoman, who has been organizing Catholic tours of Italy with his wife for the past 15 years.

To keep on schedule, pilgrims walk between nine and 12 miles daily, stopping only to eat and sleep. Many of the pilgrims Thoman leads opt to stay in hotels, since, he says, "after a hard day's hiking most pilgrims have had enough penance."

Marcell said that encountering quaint scenes of rural Italian Catholic life summoned vivid memories of his youth.

"The icons, the little churches and the sanctuaries have brought an image and have reminded me of my roots as a child," he said.

Father Vincent Gilmore, the pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, said that punctuating each day of hiking with the celebration of Mass helped him feel connected to the saints who had taken similar paths throughout history.

"For me, it's a way of joining heaven and earth while I am walking," Father Gilmore said. "In the Eucharist, there is no time, you enter the space of God, which is really outside of time," and therefore it brings together "all the people who have walked these lands in the present."

"Walking the cammino is a rhythm and a silence that puts things into perspective," said Father Gilmore. "We mature along the way, we gain more wisdom and a greater sense of God and his providence."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Pope asks U.S. to welcome migrants, urges migrants to respect laws

October 26, 2017 - 3:06pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/James Lawler Duggan, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on the people of the United States to welcome migrants and urged those who are welcomed to respect the laws of the country.

"To all people (of the U.S.) I ask: take care of the migrant who is a promise of life for the future. To migrants: take care of the country that welcomes you; accept and respect its laws and walk together along that path of love," the pope said Oct. 26 during a live video conversation with teenagers from around the world.

Pope Francis was speaking with teens participating in a program of the international network of "Scholas Occurrentes."

At the event, broadcast by the U.S. Spanish-language network Telemundo, the host asked the pope for a message to immigrants in the United States.

Many face difficulties after the Trump administration's recent call to tighten immigration laws, by raising the standard of proof for asylum seekers and limiting family members of current immigrants who can enter the country.

Other proposals include: constructing a wall on the southern border; cracking down on the entry of young Central Americans; criminalizing the overstay of a visa as a misdemeanor; and restricting federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities.

Pope Francis said the U.S. bishops "have told me about what you suffer" and is aware that "there are people that do not want you."

"I am a son of immigrants. And if there weren't people who helped my father when he arrived at 22 years old, I would not be here today," the pope said.

The call to welcome the migrant and the stranger, he added, is not a personal request he made as pope but a mandate given "by someone much more important than myself."

"God said it and the Bible is clear," the pope said. "Receive the migrant, receive the refugee, because you too were a migrant and refugee from Egypt. Jesus was also a refugee; they wanted to cut the little child's head off."

While video chatting with students from Houston, the pope also was asked by the host of the event if he had a message for immigrant youths in the United States known as "Dreamers."

Approximately 800,000 young men and women who have benefited from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, are at risk of losing their legal status.

President Donald Trump has said that in any bill to legalize DACA, Congress must include funding for a U.S-Mexico border wall and more Border Patrol agents -- as laid out in his policy proposals -- or he won't sign such a measure.

The pope told the Dreamers, "The first thing I want to say is that I'm praying for you and I am close to you. Secondly, continue dreaming. And lastly, be close to people who can help you and defend you at this juncture. Do not hate anyone; look for help from those who can defend you. I am praying for you."

Pope Francis also urged Europeans to welcome migrants and refugees who arrive on the continent seeking a better life, and he reminded Europeans that they are also "mestizos" ("mixed race") from "the great migrations of the barbarians and the Vikings."

"This isn't the time to pretend this is sterilized laboratory," the pope said. "This is the moment to receive, to embrace and -- to those who arrive -- to respect the rules of the country that welcomes you."

"To the migrants who suffer," the pope added, "know that the pope is very close to you. I accompany you and I am praying for you."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Pope says space station crew like a 'tiny U.N.' with peaceful diversity

October 26, 2017 - 12:25pm

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- One perk that comes with floating aboard the International Space Station is NASA arranges for occasional calls with celebrities to keep the astronauts' spirits high during their monthslong flights.

Before his first space mission began this year, Catholic astronaut Mark Vande Hei of Falls Church, Virginia, requested a call from Pope Francis, and Oct. 26 his wish upon a star came true.

The pope linked up live from the Vatican with the six-man crew as they orbited 250 miles above Earth.

"Good morning, good evening," the pope told the crew at 3 p.m. Rome time "because when you are in space, you never know" what the real time is.

During their 20-minute link-up, Pope Francis asked five questions about how their unique perspective from the frontier of the universe has changed or enriched them and what lessons they could share with people back on Earth.

Saying society today is very individualistic, but what is needed is collaboration, the pope asked them how the ISS is an example of that collaboration.

Flight engineer Joseph Acaba of Inglewood, California, said it is the diversity of each individual that makes the team stronger.

"We need to embrace who we are as individuals and respect those around us, and by working together we can do things much greater than we could do as individuals," he told the pope.

Pope Francis said they were like a tiny United Nations, in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Thanking them for their work, he said they were "representatives of the whole human family" working on such an important project in space.

When the pope asked what brought them joy during their long mission, Commander Randolph Bresnik from Fort Knox, Kentucky, told the pope that it was being able to see every day "God's creation maybe a little bit from his perspective."

Bresnik, a Baptist, said, "People cannot come up here and see the indescribable beauty of our earth and not be touched in their souls." His fellow crewmembers were also Christians: two Russian Orthodox and three Catholics.

"We see the peace and serenity of our planet as it goes around 10 kilometers (six miles) a second, and there are no borders, there is no conflict, it's just peaceful," Bresnik said. "And you see the thinness of the atmosphere and it makes you realize how fragile our existence here is."

The commander said he hoped the beautiful images they capture from space and their example as international crewmembers successfully working together would be an inspiration and a model for the rest of the world.

The pope said he was struck by Bresnik's awareness of the fragility of the earth and humanity's capacity to destroy it, but also the hope and inspiration the astronauts could feel.

When asked by the pope what has surprised them most about living in the ISS, Vande Hei said it was how differently things looked from such a unique perspective. He said it was also "unsettling" to be in constant rotation and have to orient himself by deciding himself what was "up" or "down."

"This is truly a human thing -- the ability to decide," the pope replied.

When asked what made them want to become astronauts, Russian flight engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy said his grandfather was his biggest inspiration because he had been the chief engineer on the Soviet team that built Sputnik, the first artificial satellite successfully launched into earth's orbit. "So for me, it is a great honor to continue what he was doing to fulfill his dreams," said Ryazanskiy.

After Pope Francis asked for their thoughts about Dante Alighieri's verse in the Divine Comedy that love was the force that "moves the sun and the stars," Russian flight engineer Alexander Misurkin said only love gives you the strength to give yourself for others.

Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli said he hoped that someday people like the pope, "not just engineers, physicists," but poets, theologians, philosophers and writers "can come here to space, which will certainly be (the case) in the future, I would like for them to be able to come here to explore what it means to have a human being in space."

It was the second time a pope has called ISS crewmembers; Pope Benedict XVI spoke with 12 astronauts in 2011, praising them for their courage and commitment and for their comments on how science can contribute to the pursuit of peace and the protection of a fragile planet.

Nespoli was present on the ISS for both calls. Among the small number of personal possessions the devout Catholic is allowed onboard, he keeps a prayer card of St. Padre Pio and an olive branch he received from Pope Francis as a reminder of the importance of taking care of earth "our common home."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Vatican City PD: Gendarmes continue centuries-old military tradition

October 26, 2017 - 10:04am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like police everywhere, Vatican officers write dozens of parking tickets and deal with more than their fair share of petty thieves.

The Vatican's blue-uniformed police corps does not have the picturesque uniforms or the medieval halberds of the Swiss Guard, with whom they work to protect the pope and Vatican City State, but they have a 1,700-year history that is just as colorful.

The history -- spanning times of peace, war and even excommunication -- is recounted in a new book titled, "The Vatican Gendarmerie: From its Origins to our Days."

The book, released Oct. 19, draws from ancient records, archival documents and candid photos to chronicle the history of the force, which traces its origins date back to the 4th century. After the Diocletian persecution of Christians, the Emperor Constantine granted them religious freedom and allowed Pope Miltiades to have an armed military escort.

From the late 1300s to the 1600s, the Gendarmes Corps -- as it was known -- enrolled young men from Corsica, because men there were considered to be particularly "proud and courageous," the book said.

But the face of the Vatican military force changed following Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Italy in the late 1700s. According to the volume, a majority of the members of the Gendarmes Corps left to serve in the French army, a move that led to their excommunication by Pope Pius VII.

In 1816, after Napoleon's defeat, Pope Pius issued an apostolic letter that brought significant reform to the administration of the papal state, including a new force called the Pontifical Gendarmes, now known as the Vatican Gendarmes.

Two hundred years later, the "Activity of the Holy See," an annual book of reports from various Vatican offices, offers a glimpse into the actions, investigative work and arrests that occur within Vatican City State.

In 2015, for example, Vatican police carried out eight arrests. They also launched a pickpocketing-prevention program in the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica and conducted investigations into 58 reports of theft. Of those thefts, 19 cases were handed on to the Vatican City court.

Throughout its history, the Vatican police force also has worked to ensure the safety of the Roman pontiff. Given the millions of people who gather in St. Peter's Square or St. Peter's Basilica for papal events every year, that is no small task.

Protecting the pope while allowing him access to pilgrims proved most challenging during a general audience May 13, 1981. St. John Paul II was riding in his popemobile greeting pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square when Turkish gunmen Mehmet Ali Agca fired four shots, severely injuring the pope.

In the ensuing chaos, Camillo Cibin, then head of the Vatican police, tackled Agca as he was attempting to dispose of the gun and flee. Cibin prevented another assassination attempt on St. John Paul one year later when a former priest tried to stab the pontiff during his pilgrimage to Fatima.

Cibin, who served in the Vatican police force for nearly 60 years and was a bodyguard to six popes, was dubbed by the Italian media as the "guardian angel of the popes," a title that remained with him until his retirement in 2006 and his death three years later.

Coincidentally, the nickname calls to mind the patron saint of the Vatican police, St. Michael the Archangel, a saint Pope Francis has encouraged today's Vatican police to emulate.

Like the archangel, a good guardian "has the courage to get rid of demons" and has the intelligence to be able to pick them out from the crowd. "He can't be, excuse my terminology, an idiot; he has to be quick on the uptake and alert," the pope said in his homily at a Mass for security personnel Sept. 27, 2014.

While Vatican police are no strangers to occasional bomb threats -- including six suspicious bags intercepted in 2015 -- Pope Francis warned them of one major bomb that they must always be on the lookout for.

"The worst bomb inside the Vatican is gossip," which "threatens the life of the church and the life of (the Vatican) every day," the pope said, because it "sows destruction" and "destroys the lives of others."

Domenico Giani served as Cibin's deputy and now is his successor as head of the force. Like his predecessor, Giani was an ever-present figure during the papacy of retired Pope Benedict XVI and now watches over his successor, Pope Francis, as head of the security detail.

In his preface to the book detailing the history of the Vatican Gendarmes, Giani recalled the pope's 2014 homily and confirmed that the officers' vocation remains what it was centuries ago: to safeguard the state so the church and the pope "can be free" to carry out their mission.

"Faithfulness to the pope, in and with the church, 'Fides et Virtus' ('Faith and Virtue') -- our motto -- and following the plans of divine providence: this is the wish and hope for today's gendarmes and those of tomorrow, with our thoughts always looking back to those who preceded us," Giani wrote.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Puerto Rico recovery effort shows 'a church that walks with the poor'

October 25, 2017 - 1:03pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice J. de la Vega

LAS MARIAS, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- By joining forces to create coalitions on behalf of those who are suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico has been fulfilling Pope Francis' expressed wish to see "a church that walks with the poor."

At the parish level, that cooperation has been notable at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Las Marias, a small town nestled in Puerto Rico's western mountains.

Father Carlos Francis Mendez, pastor of Immaculate Heart, has teamed with the local Pentecostal church, Plenitud lay youth group and Samaritan's Purse to pool and distribute material resources in a coordinated way to the poorest sectors of Las Marias.

Initially, the church's parish hall became a busy warehouse and operations center full of volunteers providing relief to victims of Hurricane Irma in Haiti. Hurricane Maria refocused their mission toward the local community.

"What we have done is create Proyecto de Vida (Life Project) by joining different religious and civil organizations to gather all we have, and that way magnifying what we can give to the poor," Father Carlos told Catholic News Service.

Local and federal agencies had been notably slow distributing aid to Las Marias. Some aid was brought in during the first weeks after Hurricane Maria, but it had been sitting undelivered to the needy.

Deep off-road in Plato Indio sector Oct. 24, Father Carlos was busy leading a party of volunteers to distribute food, water filters and plastic tarps, which are mainly being used to cover torn roofs. At each stop, the group also prayed for the families they were helping.

Plato Indio is a maze of narrow one-lane roads recently cleared of landslides debris and fallen power lines. It is an area dotted with unsafe houses and extremely poor families.

"We have been doing this since day one," said the young priest. "The idea is to get to the least (because) here it has been disastrous and aid was slow."

He said that during the first weeks after Hurricane Maria, the church's delivery of aid was extremely difficult because it had to be done by foot because practically all local roads were blocked by landslides.

Nidia Sierra, parish secretary, explained that each coalition member receives donations individually and brings them to Proyecto.

"We sort them, put them in mixed bags and deliver them door to door out in the countryside," she said. "Last Saturday we went out and delivered all we had, and when we came back there was a large load of clothing items already waiting for us for the next distribution."

The last round of donations received by the coalition included $5,000 from the Diocese of Arecibo for food items, hundreds of clothing items from the Pentecostals, as well as 200 water filters and hundreds of solar-powered lightbulbs from Samaritan's Purse.

One of the parish volunteers working with the church relief operation was Martha Vega. Before the hurricane, the young mother had lost her husband, her son and her daughter. Both men are incarcerated and the girl has been placed under child protective services. Hurricane Maria took all Vega had left: her house in a nearby wooded area and her personal property.

"I have lost everything. My house was torn apart. It took me four days to make it to my house walking by way of trails because the road was impassible," said Vega. She was temporarily staying with a friend. "The only thing I can do now is start over," she told CNS. "I'm motivated because I'm here, helping others, and because all help that I have requested, I have received it here."

Luz Lamboy, 82, who has Alzheimer's, was one of the last recipients of aid in Plato Indio. Cheerful and happy to have company, she was grateful for the items received.

When Father Carlos identified himself to her as a priest, she answered with a big smile: "I don't care who you are, as long and you bring me the gift of God's word."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

In the end, everyone faces God with 'empty hands,' pope says

October 25, 2017 - 10:18am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- God waits for everyone, even the worst sinner who repents only with his dying breath, Pope Francis said.

"Before God, we present ourselves with empty hands," he said, meaning that all the good works people have or haven't done throughout their lives aren't measured to determine entry into heaven.

"A word of humble repentance was enough to touch Jesus' heart" and to make him promise eternal life in heaven even to a poor criminal, he said Oct. 25 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

The pope announced the day's catechesis would be the last in his series of audience talks on Christian hope, adding that the last talk, therefore, would look at hope's final fulfillment in heaven.

A curious fact, he said, is that the word "paradise" appears just once in the Gospels; it is used when Jesus from the cross promises the thief executed with him that "today you will be with me in paradise." The "good thief," the pope said, had the courage to recognize his sins and humbly ask Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom."

"It is there, on Calvary, that Jesus has his last encounter with a sinner, to open to him, too, the gates to his kingdom," the pope said.

The good thief had done no good works in his life and had nothing to show Jesus that he had earned or was worthy of heaven, he said. "He had nothing, but he trusted in Jesus, whom he recognized as someone innocent, good, so different from himself."

The "good thief reminds us of our true condition before God: that we are his children, that he feels compassion for us," that he can't resist "every time we show him we are homesick for his love."

The miracle of forgiveness is repeated continually, especially in hospital rooms and prison cells, the pope said, because "there is no person, no matter how badly he has lived, who is left with only desperation and is denied grace."

"God is father and he awaits our return up to the last moment," he said, just like the father of the prodigal son did.

"Paradise is not a fairy tale or an enchanted garden," the pope said "Paradise is the embrace of God, infinite love, and we enter thanks to Jesus who died on the cross for us."

"Wherever Jesus is, there is mercy and happiness; without him, it is cold and dark," he said.

Jesus "wants to lead us to the most beautiful place in existence, and he wants to bring us there with the little or immense good that has been in our life, because nothing is lost in that which he has already redeemed," the pope said.

Death does not frighten those who have put their trust in God, he said, because they trust in his promise and infinite mercy. They know Jesus died on the cross to redeem everyone's sins, mistakes and failings and to bring all of his children with him to the house of the father.

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Pope's November-January schedule includes new World Day of the Poor

October 25, 2017 - 10:04am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Szilard Koszticsag, EPA

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will celebrate a special Mass with the poor and people who assist them Nov. 19, the first World Day of the Poor.

After the 2015-16 Year of Mercy, the pope established the day to encourage new initiatives fostering encounter, friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance to the poor. Pope Francis is scheduled to offer a luncheon to 500 people attending the Mass, and the Vatican said it hoped parishes would do something similar.

The World Day of the Poor celebration was just one item on a list of papal liturgies for November through January. Other items on the list published Oct. 24 include:

-- Nov. 2, feast of All Souls, afternoon Mass at the American military cemetery in Nettuno, south of Rome.

-- Nov. 3, annual memorial Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for cardinals and bishops who died in the past year.

-- Nov. 19, World Day of the Poor, Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Nov. 26-Dec. 2, papal visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

-- Dec. 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception, prayer at the foot of a Marian statue near Rome's Spanish Steps.

-- Dec. 12, feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, evening Mass for Latin America in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Dec. 24, Christmas Mass at 9:30 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Dec. 25, Christmas blessing "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world) at noon from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Dec. 31, evening prayer and "Te Deum" in St. Peter's Basilica in thanksgiving for the year past.

-- Jan. 1, Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the feast of Mary, mother of God, and World Peace Day.

-- Jan. 6, feast of the Epiphany, Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- Jan. 7, feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Mass in the Sistine Chapel with the baptism of several infants.

-- Jan. 15-22, papal trip to Chile and Peru.

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Mideast church leaders look to U.S., but want voice in own destiny

October 24, 2017 - 5:50pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Barb Fraze

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two prominent Mideast church leaders told a U.S. audience that they were looking to the United States for leadership to obtain peace in the Middle East.

"We look to America to lead the international community in so many ways," said Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch.

At an Oct. 24 media conference kicking off the In Defense of Christians Summit in Washington, the cardinal and Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch and all the East told a crowded room of church leaders, politicians and media at the National Press Club that Middle East residents were looking for the United States to push for peace, especially in their region.

The Oct. 24-26 summit centers on the theme of "American Leadership and Securing the Future of Christians in the Middle East."

Cardinal Rai said people in the Middle East were looking to America to help solve the humanitarian crisis that is enveloping Lebanon: 1.7 million Syrian refugees, who have been coming for more than six years; half a million Palestinians, who have been in the country for 69 years; "and many Iraqis."

Yet he and Patriarch John insisted that Middle Eastern nations must be involved in coming up with a solution.

"We hope the Palestinian crisis will be resolved soon, but not at the expense of Lebanon," said Cardinal Rai, emphasizing that Lebanon needs to be involved in negotiations.

He noted that his country has been at peace for years, but that peace is fragile. Many Lebanese have said the number of refugees in Lebanon -- proportionately equivalent to about 150 million people coming to the United States and needing care -- is straining that peace, as well as the nation's infrastructure and resources.

Lebanon's proximity to conflict zones and its hospitality have made it a haven for those fleeing violence. Southern Lebanon shares a border with Israel. Eastern and northern Lebanon borders Syria; from Damascus, Syria, to the border with Lebanon is only 15 miles.

Cardinal Rai said that, throughout history, "many of our challenges came from outside Lebanon."

"We have been abandoned to solve the problems we did not create," he said.

"We have a long tradition of pluralism in the Middle East," he said, but that has eroded in recent years.

Patriarch John also emphasized the need for people of the Middle East to be involved in peace negotiations.

"I daresay that if we are talking about our destiny in our land, we have something to say," he said, noting that people do not want terms dictated to them. People want "our right to express on our destiny and our own plight."

"Living in security and peace is a right of people of all the world," said Patriarch John, noting that the hands of terrorism were stretching to Europe. However, he said, church leaders wanted Middle Easterners, especially Christians, to be able to return to their homelands.

Without specifically mentioning the exodus of Middle East refugees to Western nations, Cardinal Rai said people always speak of refugees living in human dignity, yet countries closed their borders and left families in the rain and the cold. He asked if it was enough to give a family a tent and food.

"If they really want human dignity, the first thing they have to do is stop the war" and allow people to return to their countries, he said.

Both church leaders emphasized that Christians in the Middle East were working together, through groups like the Middle East Council of Churches, but also with Muslim leaders. Responding to a question about the creation of safe zones for Christians in various countries, they said they did not want to be split from their neighbors.

"We want Lebanon to be one Lebanon, and one Syria, united, and one united Iraq," said Patriarch John.

The summit includes an ecumenical prayer service and multiple seminars, with policy advocates and politicians, as well as speakers from the Middle East.

Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a banquet Oct. 25. Participants will travel to Capitol Hill Oct. 26 to lobby congressional leaders and speak with administration officials.

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Follow Fraze on Twitter: @BFraze.

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Updated: In Myanmar, Pope Francis' words will be monitored closely

October 24, 2017 - 12:33pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffery

By Paul Jeffrey

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) -- When Pope Francis visits Myanmar in late November, church leaders will be listening nervously to his every word, specifically hoping they don't hear the R-word. Any mention by name of the Rohingya, a Muslim group widely hated in this predominantly Buddhist country, will have widespread implications here.

"The pope's visit is keeping us very anxious, as many things can go wrong. A wrong word from the Holy Father can plunge the country into chaos," said Father Mariano Soe Naing, communications director for Myanmar's bishops.

"If the Holy Father in his speech evens mentions the Rohingya, the nationalist groups will respond. This is a historic problem, and we need a lot of time to solve this problem. We cannot just say this or that. That is the reason why Aung San Suu Kyi cannot say anything," he said, referring to the de facto leader of Myanmar's civilian government, who has been criticized internationally for failing to speak out against the military's actions against Rohingya in northern Rakhine state.

Father Soe Naing told Catholic News Service that while the bishops support democracy and back Aung San Suu Kyi, they understand her silence on the Rohingya.

"Aung San Suu Kyi has no right to comment on anything. The military has the authority to decide everything," he said. "The whole world wants to criticize her, wants her to fight against the military in favor of full democracy. But that's a fight she cannot win. She might have the force of the people behind her, but the bloodshed would be terrible. The blood would flow like rivers in this country. The military is not ready to give up easily. She knows that well."

The Asian church news agency ucanews.com reported the country's Catholic bishops told the papal nuncio in June that they would prefer Pope Francis avoid mentioning the Rohingya by name.

More than a million Rohingya live in Myanmar, but they are widely seen by the government and the majority Buddhist population as foreigners, and they are frequently referred to as "Bengalis."

On Aug. 25, Muslim separatists launched a series of attacks on government security forces in Rakhine. The Myanmar military launched a fierce counterattack. On Oct. 18, Amnesty International issued a report blaming Myanmar's military for a "targeted campaign of widespread and systematic murder, rape and burning" in Rohingya communities in the region.

More than half a million Rohingya refugees have fled across the border into neighboring Bangladesh, where UNICEF, in an Oct. 20 report, said conditions resemble "hell on earth," particularly for refugee children.

On Oct. 24, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement setting up a framework for the return of the Rohingya. Aid workers on the ground doubt it will make much immediate difference in the flow of Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh.

Despite the caution urged by bishops here, Pope Francis has mentioned the Rohingya by name.

"I would like to express all of my closeness to them," he said Aug. 27, asking pilgrims at the Vatican to pray for "the Lord to save them, to raise up men and women of goodwill to help them, that they may be given full rights."

Father Soe Naing said the pope's comments, just two days after the separatist attacks, created discontent in Myanmar.

"When the Holy Father said that we should pray for the Rohingya, people were really angry, because it was Burmese police posts that were attacked, and people died. The pope didn't mention the terrorist attacks when he asked people to pray for the Rohingya. Why did he leave out the rest of the people who suffered in this country?" Father Soe Naing said.

"Our people do not want to hear the word 'Rohingya.' We are not allowed to use it in our country. If the Holy Father comes and begins to speak about this conflict, then the nationalists may rise up against him. That is our fear. But we believe that the Holy Father knows what to say and what not to set say. We trust in his wisdom," the priest said.

Win Tun Kyi, director of Karuna Mission Social Solidarity, the aid and development agency of the Myanmar Catholic Church, downplayed the negative repercussions of Pope Francis' venture into Myanmar's internal strife.

"When the pope said something about the Rohingya, some of the Buddhist nationalists got very angry. But people tend to forget after two or three weeks. There are new things to get excited about on Facebook and in the media," he said.

Words have tremendous power in a county where people still argue whether they should call themselves Burma, a name dating to British colonial rule, or Myanmar, which was adapted by the country's military in 1989 in response to pro-democracy demonstrations.

Win Tun Kyi suggests Pope Francis follow the lead of former U.S. President Barack Obama who, during a visit in 2012, avoided taking sides by almost always using the phase "this country."

"Politicians are good at these things, and I hope that our pope will be sensitive in his public statements," he said.

A Protestant leader said the pope's visit would affect more than just Catholics.

"In general, people don't know the difference between Catholics and Protestants, so when the pope comes it will not just benefit the Catholics, but the whole Christian community. And if something goes wrong, it is not only the Catholics who will suffer," said Patrick Loo Tone, president of the Myanmar Council of Churches.

"Most Buddhists don't trust the Muslims, and the Muslims don't trust the Buddhists. For the time being, though, both parties trust us Christians to a certain extent. But if we do or say something that appears to favor the Muslims, then the Buddhists will become more suspicious and uneasy about us. We have to be very careful about what we say, or we Christians could be the next target."

Despite the political traps that await Pope Francis in this country, Loo Tone says non-Catholics are enthusiastically playing a supportive role in welcoming the pontiff.

"There are tens of thousands of Catholics who want to come see and hear the pope, because it's the first time that the pope has come here. They have asked us to help, and we're opening our churches and other buildings to offer hospitality. And many Buddhists, including some of the big monasteries, are also offering their spaces. Some might see the pope's visit as possibly negative, but I believe God will make it a positive experience for everyone."

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Catholic dairy farmer fears Puerto Rico's milk industry may be decimated

October 24, 2017 - 12:28pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice de la Vega

HATILLO, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- Way up in the highlands of north central Puerto Rico, in an area severely damaged by Hurricane Maria, lies an untold story of an imminent economic catastrophe: the potential decimation of the island's milk industry.

That's the message Gustavo Toledo, a Catholic dairy farmer in the Naranjito sector of Hatillo, wants to get out before it is too late. Two of his three dairy farms were wiped out by Hurricane Maria.

"I woke up the day after Maria, walked over the gate at the top of the hill behind my house, and stood there, frozen in disbelief about what I was seeing," Toledo told Catholic News Service Oct. 22 while standing a few feet from a huge pile of twisted metal that was one of his milk production facilities.

The son of an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and a lector, Toledo said that a few days before Maria, he had to move most of his 700 cows about five miles away, cutting through neighbors' land, to a safer location. About 20 cows that could not be moved remained at his property.

"If I take into account the lost and damaged cows, milk production unmet, structural damage like this one, destroyed equipment and everything else, I'd say we have lost just over $1 million," said Toledo. The farms' structures were insured, but the policy covers only part of them.

Considering that his farms were not the only ones destroyed, one of Toledo's main concerns is the massive unemployment resulting in the area's agricultural industry. His farms have provided employment for area workers for at least 50 years.

The local cattlemen's association has had meetings with government officials about recovery programs available, "but we have to rebuild ourself and if aid is approved, they reimburse part of it," said Toledo.

"In Puerto Rico, the only agricultural industry protected is milk production and the product has never been scarce," added Toledo, "but I anticipate that for two or three years, there will be a shortage of milk."

Toledo said that at this time, Puerto Rico's milk production is at 45 percent of normal output and the next few years "will be very difficult for the industry."

According to the trade magazine Progressive Dairyman, Puerto Rico's dairy industry yields more than $200 million annually, representing about one-quarter of Puerto Rico's total local agricultural production.

Hatillo leads the island's dairy production. Puerto Rico has close to 80 dairy farms, most of which suffered severe hurricane damage.

"The government recently announced that the milk industry is back up to 70 percent, which is not accurate," said Toledo. "Moreover, if we don´t get help fast, we might end up completely losing the Puerto Rican milk industry."

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U.S. Embassy to Vatican prepares to welcome new ambassador

October 24, 2017 - 11:21am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- A few hours before President Donald Trump was to swear in Callista Gingrich as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, the charge d'affaires of the embassy said the fight against human trafficking and the protection of religious freedom around the globe would continue to be top priorities in U.S.-Vatican relations.

Obvious differences on specific policies related to immigration and climate change, for example, have not eroded the relationship, as many pundits on social media claim, said Louis Bono, who has headed the embassy staff while awaiting Gingrich's nomination, confirmation and arrival.

He also said the Vatican and the U.S. embassy are cooperating as the Vatican carries out its criminal investigation of Msgr. Carlo Capella, a former diplomat at the Vatican nunciature in Washington, on charges related to child pornography. While the U.S. State Department requested the Vatican waive diplomatic immunity, which the Vatican declined to do, Bono said the U.S. government respected the Vatican's right to insist on handling the case itself.

Trump was to swear in Gingrich Oct. 24. She and her husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were expected to arrive in Rome in early November. While she will begin working at the embassy, she will not participate in official diplomatic functions until she presents her letters of credential to Pope Francis.

Bono said the embassy has been informed that there are several ambassadors from other countries already waiting for an appointment with the pope, but it is hoped Gingrich will be able to present the letters before Pope Francis holds his annual meeting with the entire diplomatic corps in January.

Gingrich has stated publicly and indicated to the embassy staff, Bono said, that she will be involved particularly in ongoing U.S.-Vatican efforts in fighting human trafficking and protecting religious liberty around the globe, not just regarding the persecution of Christians, but of any religious minority.

For Pope Francis, the crime of human trafficking also has a relationship to restrictive immigration policies that can make people think smugglers and traffickers offer them the best hope for improving their lives.

As the U.S. bishops have noted, many of the Trump administration's immigration policies are in opposition to those of the pope and the bishops.

And Pope Francis publicly has criticized political leaders who have decided, like Trump did, not to adhere to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But Bono insisted U.S.-Vatican relations are still strong, because there is enough common agreement on fundamental values and even on the list of current problems needing urgent attention.

On the migration question, he said, "there may be some disagreement as to how we approach that, but they do realize that it needs to be addressed, and that one of the primary solutions is addressing it at the core," doing everything possible to ensure people can be free and safe at home and able to support their families.

"If you have a good relationship, you can have a frank discussion and identify where you disagree," he said. "We don't have to agree on everything, but our relationship is strong enough that it can weather disagreements."

Bono also expressed exasperation at caricatures of the new ambassador on social media and intimations there that her husband would be somehow be calling the shots at the embassy.

"People think they know the Gingriches. They see Newt on television a lot," he said. "But how many people really know Callista?"

"She's the one who is taking the oath today," Bono said. "She's the one the president nominated."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Grammy winner sings with Sistine Chapel Choir in new Christmas CD

October 24, 2017 - 10:03am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a new release of music for Advent and Christmas, multiple Grammy award-winning mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli sings with the pope's Sistine Chapel Choir.

It marks the first time one of the oldest choirs in the world has issued a recording with a female singer, Msgr. Massimo Palombella, director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, told Catholic News Service.

The new 16-track CD, "Veni Domine: Advent and Christmas at the Sistine Chapel," was to be released in Italy Oct. 27 and worldwide in November with the proceeds earmarked for the poor through the pope's charities.

Produced by Deutsche Grammophon and Universal Music Italia, the CD marks the fourth joint venture between the music companies and the papal choir; the other CDs include "Habemus Papam" and "Cantate Domino."

Like "Cantate Domino," "Veni Domine" was recorded in the Sistine Chapel not only for its rich acoustic effects, but also because the musical compositions chosen had originally been composed to be sung in the chapel for papal celebrations, the monsignor told reporters at a news conference Oct. 24.

The one change made to the chapel was that carpets were put down to improve the sound quality, said Mirko Gratton, head of the classical and jazz music division at Universal Music Italia.

All of the musical selections, Msgr. Palombella said, were taken from the choir's vast ancient archives at the Vatican Library. Three of the Renaissance-era compositions have never been performed in modern times, he added.

The pontifical choir, which traces its history back to the 1470s, is dedicated to making its music known beyond the walls of Vatican City and to helping people experience Christ through sacred music, he said.

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Editors: The CD can be ordered or downloaded beginning Oct. 27 at: http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/en/cat/4797524 or from Amazon, Apple music or iTunes.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Catholic organizations, groups actively working on Puerto Rico's recovery

October 23, 2017 - 12:35pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Wallice J. de la Vega

QUEBRADILLAS, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- A month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Catholic organizations, groups and individuals were still among the most prominent responders to the needs of a suffering people.

Despite early logistical obstacles, as of Oct. 20, the local Caritas chapter had disbursed over $1.1 million in aid to an estimated 50,000 people -- including food, clothing, first aid supplies, potable water and sundries. At its San Juan office, hot lunches also were being distributed daily to members of the community.

"We had to blindly design a response plan," Father Enrique "Kike" Camacho, executive director of Caritas Puerto Rico, told Catholic News Service Oct. 19. "But after communications opened somewhat, we began improving the plan based on diocesan reports. Today, we have a well-coordinated relief system at Puerto Rico's 500 parishes in all six dioceses."

Caritas has been closely working with Catholic Charities USA on Puerto Rico's recovery since Hurricane Irma brushed the island's northern coast two weeks before Maria followed Sept. 20.

Kim Burgo, senior director of disaster operations for Catholic Charities, told CNS: "One of our biggest challenges is money because there were two other hurricanes before ... but then Maria comes along, which in many ways was worse than Harvey and Irma, and people have donor fatigue and it is very difficult to get donations for Puerto Rico. The need here is so much greater, yet the financial resources are so much less."

Puerto Rico's post-hurricane recovery efforts have been largely a grass-roots impulse, mainly spearheaded by newly formed young adult movements and religious groups that have become an alternative to slow, complex and bureaucratic government procedures. Most of these groups, local and coming from the U.S., include Catholics.

Katherine Riolo, a Catholic volunteer with the Canadian relief foundation Impact Nations, came to Quebradillas, a town of 25,000 residents in northwest Puerto Rico, with a team of four to help distribute 300 portable water filters around isolated homes deep in the mountains. Riolo is a retired schoolteacher and a 30-year missionary veteran who is a member of the Sangre de Cristo Parish in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was her first disaster-related mission.

"All the devastation ... when you see this, no electricity, families living with no water to bathe in, it's hard and they are traumatized," Riolo told CNS while distributing the water filters around Quebradilla's Guajataca sector Oct. 21. "When you come into someone's house, they don't forget that, and when you tell them, 'God thinks about you so much that he sent us ... and there's a whole lot of people in my town thinking about you,' they don't forget that.."

Asked about what drives her to do missionary work, Riolo simply answered: "We are the hands and feet of Jesus."

Bishop Daniel Fernandez of Arecibo touched on that exact sentiment from Riolo at a Mass at St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Quebradillas Oct. 22, World Mission Sunday.

"The Father sent his son into the world -- mission means to send," said Bishop Fernandez during his homily. "If sending means mission or mission means send, then Jesus was the first missionary."

Just as the church cannot avoid being missionary, the bishop said, neither can Catholics avoid it. Therefore, he said, offering witness of our faith has to be practiced with good deeds "in times of hurricanes like this one."

Parishes in the inner mountain regions of Puerto Rico have fared the worst after Hurricane Maria. Not only have their congregations' financial support diminished due to massive unemployment, but also federal and local government support is not being received in their towns. Many parishes, like St. Raphael the Archangel, are holding ongoing relief collections for them.

Before Mass, Bishop Fernandez told CNS the Diocese of Arecibo is distributing all aid coming from Caritas directly to its 59 parishes. His diocese and the Diocese of Mayaguez are the most damaged of the dioceses. The island has one archdiocese, San Juan, and five dioceses.

"I'm perceiving much unity and even calm within the faithful," said Bishop Fernandez. "However, (the priests and I) are attentive because we know that as time passes and, if the situation doesn't improve at an adequate pace, tolerance levels might diminish as the physical exhaustion rises."

Recovery after Hurricane Maria, one of the most destructive in Puerto Rico's history, has been slow. Official reliable statistics about hurricane damage, including an accurate death toll, have been scarce and widely debated by experts.

The latest government timetable for recovery announced Oct. 19 says 90 percent of the island will have its electric power normalized by Dec. 15. That recovery plan is said to yield a totally new and diversified power grid that would bring back hydroelectric systems and add solar power components.

Traditionally a Catholic people, Puerto Ricans feel the church tends to be the most trustworthy source of relief in disaster conditions. For Father Kike, that represents one of the church's most important challenges.

"To me the greatest challenge in these situations is to meet our people's expectations" he said. "They expect a lot from the church because they trust it, and there's pressure on us. It's a high standard and we cannot fail."

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Copyright © 2017 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.

Church can't be blind, deaf to people with special needs, pope says

October 23, 2017 - 12:20pm

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church must be welcoming and creative in finding ways to not let people's physical, psychological or intellectual limitations keep them from encountering God, Pope Francis said.

"The church cannot be 'mute' or 'tone deaf' when it comes to the defense and promotion of people with disabilities," he told differently abled individuals, their families and pastoral workers and professionals who work with them.

Words and gestures of outreach and welcoming must never be missing from any church community, so that everyone, particularly those whose journey in life is not easy, can encounter the risen Lord and find in that community "a source of hope and courage," he said Oct. 21.

The pope spoke during an audience with 450 people taking part in a conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. The gathering Oct. 20-22 was dedicated to sharing best practices in engaging and catechizing persons living with disabilities -- a topic Pope Francis had specifically asked the council to look into, conference organizers told Catholic News Service.

Fortunately, the pope told the group, there has been progress over the past decades in recognizing the rights and dignity of all people, especially those who are more vulnerable, leading to "courageous positions on inclusion" so that "no one feels like a stranger."

However, attitudes that are often "narcissistic and utilitarian" still abound, marginalizing people with disabilities and overlooking their human and spiritual gifts, he said.

Also still too pervasive is an attitude of refusal of any potentially debilitating condition, believing it would be an obstacle to happiness or the full realization of oneself, he said.

It's an attitude, the pope said, that is seen in today's "eugenic tendencies to kill unborn children who display some form of imperfection."

But "in reality, all of us know many people who, even with their serious frailties, have found -- even with difficulty -- the path of a good life, rich in meaning," he said, and "we know people who are outwardly perfect" yet full of despair.

"It's a dangerous deception to believe in being invulnerable," he said, since vulnerability is part of the essence of being human.

Two participants from the United States, who were part of the conference organizing committee, and a father of a young woman with Down syndrome told CNS that the usual approach of "special programs" for people with particular needs should change because they can become a form of segregation.

For example, Sister Kathleen Schipani recalled how dark and lonely it was going to an empty school late every Wednesday night for a parish program meant for children with disabilities.

Sister Schipani, who leads the office for persons with disabilities and the deaf apostolate at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said the model they are pursuing is to have one parish religious education program for everyone, but with options for smaller breakout groups, one-on-one instruction or other methods that can address individuals' particular needs.

Janice Benton, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability based in Washington, D.C., said too much focus on providing special programs also has meant some people get turned away from their neighborhood parish because the church doesn't have a program accommodating a specific disability.

"The first thing is welcome the person," she said, and speak with them; the church is more than a collection of programs, it's about relationships with each other and with God. "It's not so much having the skills or having the professionals, it's knowing the person and then just an ordinary way of expressing how they belong to the church" in catechetical formation, participating in the liturgy in some way or parish activities, said Sister Schipani, a member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Also, a policy for creating media should be that it is planned from the start with everyone in mind, so that a video, for example, has both visual captions and audio narration since digital platforms "can get less accessible" if they rely too much on one style or format, said Benton.

Not only do people with disabilities miss out on support and the sacraments, the whole church community loses by not including their differently abled brothers and sisters in Christ, said Blase Brown, whose 31-year-old daughter, Bridget Mary, runs ButterfliesForChange.org and is a public speaker about life with Down syndrome.

"The gifts she has to share, particularly at the level of her faith" he said, are "an untapped, beautiful" resource. The question he always asks, he said, is why don't dioceses put more focus on "how day-to-day parish life, religious education, schools, liturgy" can include people with various disabilities rather than come up with activities that sideline them.

Being together, he said, is "the highest level of respect."

There might be some disruption or distraction when people with disabilities are more widely welcomed, he said, just like when a baby cries from the pews. "This is who we are, we are people. This is living. This is life. Everybody belongs at the table and sometimes somebody is going to be disruptive and you deal with it," said Brown, who lives in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

Sister Schipani said priests can make all the difference by setting the tone and the example for the rest of the parish. Priests can talk "from the pulpit" and parish bulletins can explain about being welcoming, patient and comfortable with families with children and adults with disabilities. Ushers, too, can help by "modeling really wonderful ways of welcoming and including and giving people choices" about seating arrangements, she added.

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Being Christian means being missionary, pope says

October 23, 2017 - 10:30am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics must make a real effort to share the Gospel with all people, fighting "the recurring temptation" that leads some to focus only on internal church matters or to be pessimistic about evangelization efforts, Pope Francis wrote.

"May the Good News that in Jesus forgiveness triumphs over sin, life defeats death and love conquers fear be proclaimed to the world with renewed fervor and instill trust and hope in everyone," he wrote in a letter encouraging preparations for an "extraordinary missionary month" to be celebrated in October 2019.

The Vatican released the letter Oct. 22, World Mission Sunday, as Pope Francis was reciting the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"I exhort everyone to live the joy of mission by witnessing to the Gospel in the areas where they live and work," Pope Francis said. "At the same time, we are called to support with affection, concrete aid and prayer the missionaries who have set off to proclaim Christ to those who still do not know him."

The pope told visitors in the square, "It is my intention to promote an extraordinary missionary month in October 2019 with the goal of increasing the passion for the church's evangelizing activity 'ad gentes,'" a phrase meaning "to the nations" and used to describe missionary activity focused on people who still have not heard the Gospel.

The special missionary month will coincide with the centennial of a major document on missionary activity issued by Pope Benedict XV. "In 1919, in the wake of a tragic global conflict (World War I) that he himself called a 'useless slaughter,' the pope (Benedict XV) recognized the need for a more evangelical approach to missionary work in the world, so that it would be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from the nationalistic and expansionistic aims that had proved so disastrous," Pope Francis wrote.

The document, and the Second Vatican Council 50 years later, emphasized how missionary activity is essential to the life of the church, Pope Francis said. And St. John Paul II noted how Christians' mission to spread the Gospel could be seen as having just begun.

To be Christian is to be missionary, he insisted. It "can no longer be enough" simply to try to keep one's parish or diocese going.

"Let us not fear to undertake, with trust in God and great courage, a missionary option capable of transforming everything, so that the church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world rather than for her self-preservation," the pope wrote.

Pope Francis prayed that the centennial of Pope Benedict's document and the extraordinary mission month would "serve as an incentive to combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past."

"In these, our troubled times, rent by the tragedies of war and menaced by the baneful tendency to accentuate differences and to incite conflict," he prayed that Gospel hope would be shared and spread all over the world.

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Editors: The text of Pope Francis' letter in English is available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20171022_lettera-filoni-mese-missionario.html

The text in Spanish can be found at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/letters/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20171022_lettera-filoni-mese-missionario.html

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Starving children are innocent victims of humanity's greed, pope says

October 23, 2017 - 10:02am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Thousands of starving children around the world today are innocent victims sacrificed upon the altar of the god of money because of humanity's greed and attachment to wealth, Pope Francis said.

In his homily at Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae Oct. 23, Pope Francis said the day's Gospel reading of the parable of the rich man who stores up treasure for himself "isn't a fairy tale that Jesus invented; it is today's reality."

"Let us think about just one case: 200,000 Rohingya children in refugee camps. There are 800,000 people there; 200,000 are children. They barely have food to eat, are malnourished, without medicine. Even today this happens. This isn't something the Lord said long ago. No, it is today!" the pope said.

The Rohingya, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar, have been fleeing the country for Bangladesh. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit both countries in late November.

Like the rich man in the day's Gospel parable, he said, people today often focus solely on accumulating their wealth "in that movement of exasperated consumerism," believing it will "prolong their lives."

"So many people live only for this and life has no meaning," he said. "They do not know what it means to be rich in what matters to God."

The thirst for money and earthly goods, Pope Francis said, continues in today's world where "starving children who do not have medicine, education and are abandoned" become unwitting victims to "an idolatry that kills, that makes human sacrifices."

Christians have the duty to pray not only so that God may "touch the hearts of those people who worship money," but also that they would not fall into that idolatry of money, rather that they would seek the true wealth that comes from God, the pope said.

"That is the only path. Wealth, but in God. And it isn't a contempt for money. No, it is about greed," Pope Francis said. "To live attached to the god of money."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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In letter to Cardinal Sarah, pope clarifies new translation norms

October 22, 2017 - 11:02am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican is not to "impose" a specific liturgical translation on bishops' conferences, but rather is called to recognize the bishops' authority and expertise in determining the best way to faithfully translate Latin texts into their local languages, Pope Francis said in a letter to Cardinal Robert Sarah.

In the letter, released by the Vatican Oct. 22, Pope Francis said he wanted to correct several points made in a "commentary," which Cardinal Sarah sent him and which was published on several websites in a variety of languages.

Cardinal Sarah is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. The pope's letter noted that most of the websites "erroneously" cited Cardinal Sarah as the author of the commentary.

The commentary looked at changes Pope Francis made to the Code of Canon Law in the process for approving liturgical translations. The changes were ordered in the pope's document, "Magnum Principium" ("The Great Principle"), which was published Sept. 9 and went into effect Oct. 1.

Pope Francis, saying he wanted to "avoid any misunderstanding," insisted the commentary could give an erroneous impression that the level of involvement of the congregation remained unchanged.

However, while in the past "the judgment regarding the fidelity to the Latin and the eventual corrections necessary was the task of the congregation," the pope said, "now the norm concedes to episcopal conferences the faculty of judging the worth and coherence of one or another term in translations from the original, even if in dialogue with the Holy See."

The commentary attributed to Cardinal Sarah insisted on the ongoing validity of the norms for translation contained in "Liturgiam Authenticam," the congregation's 2001 instruction on translations.

But Pope Francis, in his letter, said the changes to canon law take precedence, and "one can no longer hold that translations must conform in every point to the norms of 'Liturgiam Authenticam' as was done in the past."

The texts for Mass and other liturgies must receive a confirmation from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, the pope said, but this "no longer supposes a detailed, word by word examination, except in obviously cases that can be presented to the bishops for further reflection."

Pope Francis also wrote to the cardinal that the "fidelity" called for in translations has three layers: "first, to the original text; to the particular language into which it is being translated; and, finally, to the intelligibility of the text" by the people.

The new process, the pope said, should not lead "to a spirit of 'imposition' on the episcopal conferences of a translation done by the congregation," but should promote cooperation and dialogue.

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Health care law: uncertain outcome after multiple diagnoses

October 20, 2017 - 3:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Mike Blake, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Affordable Care Act -- on the examination table since President Donald Trump came into office -- has been poked, prodded and even pronounced dead while the fight to keep it alive keeps going.

President Trump told Cabinet members Oct. 16: "Obamacare is finished. It's dead. It's gone. ... There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore," but that is not how those who want health care reform, including Catholic leaders, see it, and it's not the general public's view either, according to a recent poll.

The Kaiser Family Foundation poll said seven in 10 Americans think it is more important for Trump to help the current health care law work than cause it to fail. Sixty-six percent of Americans want Trump and Congress to work on legislation to bolster the health insurance marketplaces rather than continuing their efforts to repeal and replace the ACA.

The poll, conducted by the Washington-based group that examines key health policy issues, was released Oct. 13, the day after Trump announced some changes to the current health care law. 

By executive order, he directed federal agencies to make regulatory changes to the ACA to allow consumers to buy health insurance through association health plans across state lines and lifting limits on short-term health care plans. He also announced that he was ending federal subsidies to health insurance companies that help pay out-of-pocket health care costs for those with low incomes.

The Obama administration had authorized the subsidies, but in 2016, Republicans filed a lawsuit, saying they were illegal because Congress had not authorized the payments.

The president's plan to end the subsidy payments prompted swift criticism from Democrats, U.S. health care groups and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the bishops "will closely monitor the implementation and impacts of this executive order by the relevant administrative agencies."

He said flexible options for people to obtain health coverage are important strategies, but he also cautioned that "great care must be taken to avoid risk of additional harm to those who now receive health care coverage through exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act."

A possible fix to Trump's cuts that would continue federal subsidies to insurance companies through 2019 was offered in a bipartisan Senate proposal by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Patty Murray, D- Washington, which Trump initially appeared to support but then backed down from a day later. 

When the Obama administration authorized the subsidies, Republicans filed suit, saying they were illegal because Congress had not authorized the payments.

By Oct. 20, there was no word on when the bill -- which also aims to provide states flexibility to skirt some requirements of the health care law -- might come to the Senate floor for a vote. Several senators have said they are waiting to see more details in the bill's text. Support from the House doesn't seem likely since House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has said he opposes it.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity and president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, a leadership organization of more than 2,000 Catholic hospitals and health care facilities, has been keeping a close eye on the president's action on health care and the response by Congress.

"Working out a deal to keep the subsidies for a longer-term plan is something that is very important and critical to the future, particularly for the most vulnerable among us," she said.

Sister Keehan, who also is a nurse, told Catholic News Service Oct. 18 that she encourages the House and Senate to take immediate action to stabilize the insurance markets and delivery and "allow time for us to have a national conversation" about improving the health care law without letting those now covered with health insurance lost it or for "premiums to go out of sight."

So far, she has only seen parts of the Senate bill, but she said the Catholic Health Association is "willing to do what we can to craft a compromise that will work in the short term until we have a longer-term solution."

The Alexander-Murray bill is not the only text that needs a closer read to understand the future of the country's health care system. The new rules that will be written by federal agencies, per Trump's executive order, will also need a close look. These changes could appear within weeks but are unlikely to take effect before the end of the year.

Dr. Steven White, a pulmonary specialist in Ormond Beach, Florida, who is chairman of the Catholic Medical Association Health Care Policy Committee, said he is awaiting to see how new rules and regulations are written but is hopeful that some changes will be a move in the right direction.

White said his association sees less federal control and more patient control as a good thing and also would like the health law to offer more options, freedom and flexibility.

He told CNS Oct. 18 that pouring more money into health care isn't the solution, but he also echoed Bishop Dewane's concern that changes shouldn't be made on the backs of those with low incomes. He said if Congress backs legislation that supports subsidies, they need to balance that with the realization that such a plan "can't last forever."

"Something has to be done," he said a few times during the interview.

But just what will happen still remains a mystery.

Another finding of the Oct. 13 Kaiser poll showed that despite Americans' support for a bipartisan approach to health care, their confidence that Trump and Congress can work together to make this happen remains low.

Seven in 10 Americans said they are either not too confident or not at all confident that cooperation can happen.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 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.