Rome, Italy, Dec 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict told inmates at Rome’s largest prison that he supports efforts by the Italian government to reduce chronic overcrowding in the country’s jails.
“It is important that the institutions promote a careful analysis of the prison system today, verifying the structures, resources, personnel, so that prisoners do not serve a ‘double punishment,’” the Pope said to over 300 prisoners in the city’s Rebbibia Prison on Dec. 18.
The Pope said he has already received many letters from prisoners highlighting the issue. Italy has some of the worst prison overcrowding in Europe, with a current prison population of 68,000, which is 24,000 people above capacity. Rebbibia itself has 500 more inmates than the 1,240 it was constructed to hold.
The Pope said it is important “to promote a development of the prison system, which, while in full respect for justice, is increasingly tailored to the needs of the human person.” This, he said, could even include “the use of the non-custodial sentences” or “different modes of detention.”
Primarily, however, the Pope desired to express the love and solidarity of Christ and the Church with prisoners during Advent and Christmas. He recalled that “the only-begotten Son of God, The Lord Jesus, experienced prison” when he was “subjected to trial before a court and suffered the most cruel death sentence.”
Pope Benedict also recalled the words of Jesus, as described by St. Matthew, which will be uttered at the Last Judgment, “I was in prison and you came to me.”
Wherever there is someone who is hungry, a stranger, sick, or incarcerated, “there is Christ himself who awaits our visit and our help,” he said.
“This is the main reason that makes me happy to be here, to pray, talk and listen. The Church has always counted visiting those in prison among its corporal works of mercy.”
The Pope told the prisoners he would “like to be able to listen to the personal story of each one of you, but, unfortunately, this is not possible.” However, he said that he came to tell them “that God loves you with infinite love, and you are always the same children of God.”
Christ’s parable of the vineyard owner who gave his laborers the same pay regardless of when they arrived at work “clearly explains the delicate relationship between justice and mercy” and that it is never too late to repent, he said.
Towards the end of his hour-long visit the Pope took questions from some of the inmates, an experience that seemed to deeply touch both the prisoners and the pontiff.
One inmate, Federico, explained how prisoners with HIV are often viewed “ferociously,” and with great hostility. “People speak ferociously even against the Pope,” Benedict XVI replied, “but nonetheless we have to move on.”
Another inmate, Alberto, told Pope Benedict that he felt like “a new man” after serving his sentence and was now looking forward to going home to his two-month-old daughter named Gaia, whose photo he showed the Pope.
“I am happy that you consider yourself a new man and that you have a splendid daughter,” the Pope said, as Alberto began to weep. He added, “I pray and hope that you can soon embrace your daughter and wife and form a splendid family.”
Pope Benedict then greeted both inmates and guards individually, with many of them giving him Christmas presents, including their own artwork. Meanwhile, other prisoners led the group in singing popular Italian Christmas carols, such as St. Alphonsus Liguori’s “Tu scendi dalle stelle” (You come down from the stars).
The Pope then led everybody in praying the Our Father, before imparting his apostolic blessing. As he left the prison, he shook hands with many of the inmates and gave them individual blessings.
Omaha, Neb., Dec 19, 2011 (CNA) - It wasn't much, just a little Christmas tree with colorful lights and a few carefully wrapped presents.
But it was all Dick Jones, 66, needed to feel an instant connection to the love and comfort of home. Sitting on his bunk aboard the U.S.S. Jamestown off the coast of Vietnam in 1967, the young seaman took his time opening the gifts to reveal a writing tablet, pens and other presents sent by his fiancé, Judie.
"It melted my heart," Dick said. "I remember sitting there with these little wrapped packages and the delight I had with each one of them."
The 12-inch tree stood as a reminder to Jones that love surrounded him just as surely as the sulfur smell of war and steamy Vietnamese jungle he confronted daily.
It also represented the hope that is renewed each year as people celebrate Jesus' birth.
Judie, 65, said she remembers how she felt when she bought the Christmas tree.
"I was so excited. I wanted him to feel that sense of home and know we were together in heart and spirit."
Today, the little tree with its twinkling lights sits on an end table in their front room, reminding the couple, members of Holy Cross Parish in Omaha, of the preciousness of every Christmas together.
For Jan Placke, 63, a member of St. Michael Parish in Central City, Neb., the Christmas memories she cherishes include Advent wreaths, attending midnight Mass with her six brothers and sisters in Augusta, Kan., and the excitement of Christmas morning.
Her parents stressed the importance of the season by demonstrating through their faith that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, Placke said.
Placke said she and her husband, Deacon Don Placke, continue that tradition with their three children, now adults with their own families.
"My husband and I taught our children that Christmas is about Jesus' birth," Jan said.
A few times to stress that point as the children grew up, she bought a birthday cake as part of their holiday celebration.
And the Plackes continue to emphasize the significance of the season through prayer and reflection.
"Christmas is a time for God and family," she said.
Judie Jones said celebrating the Savior's birth runs much deeper than presents and all the commercialization that seems to have overtaken the season for so many people.
"It's trusting God every day to bring the one you love home safely. It's the anticipation of the birth of Jesus and it's wondering what new things you will experience in the coming year through his divine grace."
Over the years, the Joneses have tried to instill a sense of self-sacrifice and service in their seven children and 22 grandchildren by adopting a family for the holiday to buy gifts for, or sending financial support to someone in need.
"We try not to take anything for granted," Dick said. "We are so blessed."
He is reminded of his blessings when he thinks back to the times the ship was docked in the Philippines and he was on duty in the mess hall.
"We had BBQ ribs one night and after the guys had scraped their plates into the metal cans I took them out to the dumpster on the dock. The locals who were lucky enough to work on base came over and started picking through the dumpster looking for ribs to take home to their families. I'll never forget that," he said.
Things like that, the Joneses said, keep them humble, prayerful and grateful, especially during the holidays.
"There are years I don't even put up a big Christmas tree," Judie said. "But I always bring out my little Christmas tree, Advent wreath and Nativity set."
Printed with permission from the Catholic Voice, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb.
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2011 (CNA) - After a recent papal Mass commemorating Latin America, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil entrusted the future of the continent to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“We pray that Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of America, will guide our countries always down the path of democracy, truth, justice and peace,” Cardinal Damasceno, head of the Brazilian bishops' conference, told CNA on Dec. 12.
The cardinal made his remarks after joining Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City at a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe marking the bicentennials of countries in Latin America.
“I was very honored by the invitation to concelebrate with the Holy Father at a time like this,” he said. “It was a very moving celebration.”
Cardinal Damasceno also noted his excitement about about World Youth Day 2013, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro.
“The cross and the icon of the Virgin Mary are currently on pilgrimage in all of the 276 dioceses and are being warmly received,” he said of local celebrations preceding the global youth event.
“We hope the event will be a great success for Brazil, for the world and especially for young people,” he added.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec 19, 2011 (CNA) - Christians from two churches in Malaysia rejected a requirement that they will need a police permit to sing Christmas carols in their parishes or homes.
Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, head of the Malaysian bishops' conference, told Vatican-based Fides news that the country will soon be in “a police state” if authorities continue demanding such “bureaucratic requirements.”
Two churches in Klang outside the city of Kuala Lumpur recently received notices from police asking for the names and addresses of people who were singing Christmas carols, claiming that a government mandated permit was required for those wishing to sing carols in their homes or churches.
Father Andrew Lawrence, head of the diocesan “Herald” newspaper, called the police action “a strict interpretation” of current regulations on “worship and freedom of religion” in the country.
He noted, however, that after protests by local Christians, “government representatives have denied the need for such authorizations.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had promised voters in 2011 that he would overturn unpopular laws which stifle the press and allow for detentions without trial.
Instead, the Malaysian Congress sparked widespread protest after passing a new measure titled the “Law on Peaceful Assembly” which enables more government control.
According to Teresa Mok, the national secretary of the Democratic Action Party, the new norm is “an abuse of power by officials” and “an attempt to violate religious freedom.”
Denver, Colo., Dec 19, 2011 (CNA) - Catholic News Agency will suspend its daily news service beginning Dec. 20, in celebration of Christmas and the New Year. It will resume Jan. 2, 2012.
Members of our staff will be working during this time to improve services for the upcoming year. We will also provide coverage of the Pope's Christmas homily and his New Year's address.
We ask that you keep our agency in your prayers this Christmas season as the Church celebrates Christ's birth. We would like to take this time to thank all of our donors, who have made our work possible.
Considering the present economic situation, coupled with the demands of the season, we understand the challenges that come in making financial contributions. However, we ask you to prayerfully consider supporting CNA in the coming year.
To contribute, please visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/donation.php
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year,
Catholic News Agency
Seoul, South Korea, Dec 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may be the beginning of a turning point for the path of reunification of the Koreas, Catholic leaders said after his passing.
“We hope that the Lord gives light and strength to the North Korean brothers so that there is a return (to) a policy focused on dialogue, peace, reconciliation,” Bishop Peter Jeng of Cheju, president of the South Korean bishops’ conference, told Fides news agency.
Kim Jong Il, 69, died of a reported heart attack during a train trip. He had led the isolated communist state since 1994. His third son, Kim Jong Un, is his expected successor.
His death caused much grief among North Koreans who lamented the “great leader’s” death. State television urged North Koreans to unite behind his successor.
The South Korean military went on high alert in case of any military provocation.
Bishop Kang said the bishops did not expect Kim’s death.
“We hope that this will become a reason to develop a path of reunification. We do not know in detail the current political situation in North Korea.”
He suggested that a “settling time” was possible. Korea’s new leader, the 30-year-old Kim Jong Un, is “very young,” has “no political experience” and does not seem to have the Korean people’s confidence.
"No one knows him. He is a leader who has suddenly appeared. Our hopes are always towards the beginning of a journey of peace and reconciliation, the bishop said.
“This event could be a sign that the Lord wants a fundamental transformation in the country.”
Fr. Baptist John Kim Hun-il, executive secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Subcommittee for Aid to North Korea, hoped that Kim’s death would not plunge North Korea into more chaos, UCA News reports.
He expressed hope that his committee’s aid program might continue and that North Korea will show more progress in reconciliation efforts.
Rev. Kim Kea Sun, the deputy general of the Korean Conference of Religion for Peace, said North Korea’s future is “a very delicate issue.”
Kim Jong Il’s death “could leave a void and create very serious problems at a social and political level.”
“We hope that in the North there is no conflict, which would bring further suffering to the people.”
Rev. Kim hopes to continue his organization’s relationship of exchange and dialogue between religious leaders of the North and South Koreas.
The organization has scheduled a potential Dec. 22 meeting in North Korea to plan for a religious leaders’ delegation to visit to the South. In September 2011 a delegation of South Korean religious leaders visited Pyongyang.
“Our hope is that this exchange process continues, even with the new political leadership in the North, to reinforce a climate of cordiality and friendship between North and South Korea,” Rev. Kim said.
North Korea has only one Catholic church in Pyongyang and about 3,000 Catholics, UCA News says. There are no resident priests or nuns.
Denver, Colo., Dec 19, 2011 (CNA) - St. Michael the Archangel is the model for a saint-based action figure, part of a new “Action Saints” series from the Denver-based Kolbe Film School. The series is intended to engage children in their faith and help them get acquainted with the saints.
The poseable, four-inch-tall figures “provide children the ability to put the heroes of our faith in action,” Kolbe Film School said.
“St. Michael leads the holy angels, saints, and the Church militant over the evil powers against the Church today -- a true hero for our times.”
The figures’ creators said that figures of saints tend to be “dangerous and breakable ceramic, metal and glass statues,” not something that children can play with. They contended that these statues convey to children the message “Do not touch!”
The creators saw the need for child-friendly figures after hearing parents’ stories about their son who loves to play with a St. Michael statuette, even though he has broken off its wings and punctured himself with its spear.
Other saints’ figures in development include St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Therese of Lisieux. The school also sells trading cards of saints to help children learn more about them.
Kolbe Film School provides online training for students around the world. Its mission is to train artists to create media to inspire “a culture of life.”
More information about the saints action figures is available at the website http://www.ActionSaints.com.
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI formally recognized miracles attributed to Bl. Marianne Cope and Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha on Dec. 19, clearing the way for both women to be canonized.
The two women, who both lived in the United States, were among numerous individuals whose sainthood causes were advanced by decrees authorized by Pope Benedict XVI on Monday.
Sister Grace Anne Dillenschneider, vice postulator for the Cause for the Diocese of Syracuse, told CNA on Dec. 19 that the date for Bl. Cope’s canonization has not yet been confirmed.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints had already approved Bl. Cope’s second official miracle, which involved the medical recovery of a woman in Syracuse who was cured of a fatal and irreversible health condition.
Born in western Germany in 1838, Bl. Marianne Cope entered religious life in Syracuse, N.Y., where she served as a teacher and principal and established two hospitals before traveling to Hawaii, where she spent several years caring for lepers.
She died in 1918 and was beatified in 2005.
Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, known as "the Lily of the Mohawks," was born in 1656 in upstate New York.
Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother was an Algonquin who was raised Catholic.
A smallpox epidemic killed both of her parents and left her with poor eyesight and a badly disfigured face at a young age.
Despite objections from her relatives, she was baptized at age 20, after meeting several Catholic priests.
An outcast from her community, Bl. Tekakwitha lived a life of deep prayer, with a strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
She died in 1680 at the age of 24. Witnesses said that the scars on her face disappeared after her death.
Bl. Tekakwitha was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, the first Native American to be declared blessed.
On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict also authorized promulgations recognizing miracles attributed to the intercession of 10 other individuals, allowing them to move forward towards beatification or canonization.
In addition, he recognized the martyrdom of more than 60 individuals, including priests, religious and laymen, who can now move forward in the process towards beatification.
The Pope also approved decrees recognizing seven individuals as having lived out heroic virtue and being venerable. These individuals will each need a miracle attributed to their intercession before they can be beatified.