West Bridgewater, Mass., Nov 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the season of Advent draws closer, Catholic Relief Services and a fair trade group are encouraging consumers to be mindful of where they buy their Christmas gifts.
“We ought to be aware of how we’re connected,” said Rodney North of Equal Exchange, a fair trade group based in Massachusetts.
Since 2007, Catholic Relief Services has worked with Equal Exchange to involve more U.S. Catholics in their work of improving the lives of those in developing nations. Now, thanks to a revamped online store and Christmas bazaar program, it’s easier than ever to support rural communities.
“The relationship began because of this coincidence in values,” North told CNA in a recent interview.
Catholic Relief Services works to help improve the well-being of those in need, usually on the ground level of charities, while Equal Exchange works as a “friendly buyer” for small farmers and farming co-ops throughout the world. Even if the market forces prices down, Equal Exchange guarantees a fair wage for their products.
“If nothing else, this partnership is educating people about their connections with others,” North explained. “Every day through the banana you buy, through the coffee you drink, you’re connected to these people and you should think about that.”
While most people are familiar with the constant fluctuation of marketplace prices, he said, what many people may not realize is the devastating impact these changes can have on producers in developing nations.
“That’s one reason why they have low prices year after year after year so they can never escape their poverty, they can never scratch enough together to climb out of that hole,” North said.
“Now that we know this sort of grim reality of how the marketplace works, we have choices; we’re encouraging you to make this other choice to seek out fair-trade products where people are trying to do right by the small farmers, to give them a break,” he added.
After buying products at a fair price, Equal Exchange then sells them online and gives churches and other community organizations the opportunity to sell them as well, particularly at annual fairs preceding Christmastime.
More than 5,000 congregations and community organizations have purchased Equal Exchange products to sell at their annual Christmas fairs. While this might sound like a large number, North pointed out that this leaves more than 300,000 congregations and place of worship that do not offer fair trade products.
When consumers purchase products through this particular option, they are both generating funds for their own congregation and supporting Catholic Relief Service’s overseas projects by funding a small-farmers’ sustainability program.
“When farmers come together, they get a little more power,” North explained.
By joining with other local producers, these communities can pool their money to build warehouses, trucks for shipping and even hire a person to conduct quality control, thus improving their products – and quality of life – even more.
Coffee, chocolate, handmade crafts and artisan gift wrap are just some of the items available, all of which comes from people who are receiving fair wages for their work.
North said that those interested in learning more about selling fair trade products at their Christmas fairs can visit: http://www.equalexchange.coop/programs/holiday-bazaar. Simply by requesting more information, people can be entered to win $500 in fair trade merchandise to sell at their fair.
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, Nov 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Although it is one of the youngest and smallest “dioceses” in southeast Asia, the Apostolic Vicariate of Brunei is a steadily thriving Church with growing spiritual activities in its communities.
“Our logo is 'Duc in altum' (Put out into the deep), and we now have projects to empower and sustain the missionary dimension of the Church,” Bishop Cornelius Sim, Vicar Apostolic of Brunei, told CNA Oct. 17.
“We are one of the smallest dioceses in Asia,” he said, adding that with only one bishop and three priests, “we hope to have vocations to the priesthood and religious life.”
Brunei is a country of 2,200 square miles located entirely on the island of Borneo, which is also home to parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is a developed country, and one of the richest in the world. Malay is the official language, but English and Chinese are both widely spoken.
The country is an absolute monarchy led by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. About two-thirds of the population is Muslim, and Brunei was recently noted for its adoption of Sharia law, though it is being applied only to Muslims.
Around 10 percent of the population is atheist, 13 percent is Buddhist, and a small number have indigenous beliefs. Christians, half of whom are Catholic, constitute 10 percent of Brunei's population.
Fr. Arin Sugit, the bishop's assistant at Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral in the nation's capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, explained to CNA that a majority of the Catholic population – 70 percent – are migrant workers from the Philippines. Another 20 percent are migrants from other countries such as Indonesia, India, and Malaysia, he said, and the remaining 10 percent are indigenous Bruneians.
“It’s fortunate to have a substantial Filipino congregation that makes our Church very lively,” reflected Bishop Sim. “They bring their faith, with popular pious devotions, and they enrich us and our faith very much.”
Fr. Sugit added, “we have lots of vibrant faith activities in our parish, and the faith is steadily growing; but of course it’s a slow process.”
Fr. Sugit was ordained in 2008. The apostolic vicariate's two other priests are Fr. Paul Shie, pastor of St. John's in Kuala Belait, who was ordained in 1999; and Fr. Robert Leong, pastor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Seria, who was ordained in 2003.
Bishop Sim and his three priests serve the roughly 20,000 Catholics who live in Brunei. Catholics can freely practice their faith within the church compounds and at home, but public displays of the faith are restrained.
Fr. Sugit said that at Our Lady of the Assumption, 5,000 to 6000 people attend Mass each Sunday.
While the faith was first preached in Brunei by Franciscan missionaries in 1587, it has only been its own local Church since 1997. Prior to that, Bruneian Catholics were served by the Diocese of Miri, in Malaysia. It was for that diocese that Bishop Sim had been ordained a priest in 1989.
When John Paul II established the Apostolic Prefecture of Brunei in 1997, then-Fr. Sim was appointed prefect. Apostolic prefectures and vicariates are the precursors to dioceses in mission territories.
In 2004, John Paul II decided to elevate the apostolic prefecture to a vicariate, which resulted in Fr. Sim being consecrated a bishop. He was consecrated on Jan. 21, 2005 by Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, who was then the Vatican's ambassador to Brunei, as well as other southeast Asian nations.
As apostolic vicar, Bishop Sim exercises the Pope's authority in Brunei. As the Church there grows, it may eventually be raised to a diocese.
Bishop Sim optimistically noted, “it’s a humble beginning, and we have to move on to enrich our faith based communities.”
Vatican City, Nov 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Angelus message to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis praised the ‘ridiculous’ actions of Zaccheus, the short tax collector who climbed a tree in order to be able to see Jesus in the crowds.
“This external gesture, a little ridiculous, nevertheless expresses the interior attitude of a man who seeks to bring himself above the crowd in order to have contact with Jesus,” Pope Francis said Nov. 3.
Despite the oddity of Zaccheus’ action, it serves as a model for sinners who may feel far away from Jesus, he explained.
“But let’s look at Zaccheus today in the tree: he is ridiculous, but it is a gesture of salvation,” the Pope said. “And I say to you: if you have a burden on your conscience, if you have shame about many things that you have done, stop yourself a little, don’t be afraid, think of the One who awaits you, because he never stopped remembering you, thinking of you.”
“And this is your Father, it is God, it is Jesus who awaits you. Climb up, just as Zaccheus did; climb the tree of your desire to be forgiven. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. Jesus is merciful and never gets tired of forgiving.”
Zaccheus was “despised” by the people of Jericho because of his occupation as a tax collector, and yet after he climbs a tree to see Jesus, the Lord “calls him by name,” noted Pope Francis.
“This short man, rejected by everyone and far from Jesus, is like the lost in anonymity; but Jesus calls him, and this name, Zaccheus, in that language of that time, has a beautiful meaning full of allusions: ‘Zaccheus’ actually means ‘God remembers.’ That’s beautiful: ‘God remembers’,” he reflected.
Jesus then goes to the house of Zaccheus, “drawing the criticism of all the people of Jericho,” because “even in that time, they gossiped a lot, eh?” said Pope Francis, hinting at the danger of idle chatter, a recurring theme in his speeches.
“And the people were saying, ‘but how? With all the good people that there are in the city, he goes to stay in the very house of the tax collector?’” recounted the pontiff.
“Yes, because he was lost; and Jesus says, ‘Today, for this house has come salvation, because even he is a son of Abraham.’ In the house of Zaccheus, from that day, entered joy, entered peace, entered salvation, entered Jesus.”
Zaccheus’ social status did not deter Jesus from coming to his home. This story expresses that “there is not a profession or a social condition or a crime of any type that can erase from the memory and from the heart of God a single one of his children.”
“God remembers, always, he forgets no one that he has created,” added Pope Francis.
“He is Father, always watchfully and lovingly waiting to see revived in the heart of his child the desire to return home. And when he recognizes this desire, even if simply hinted at, and many times almost unconscious, he is immediately next to him, and with his forgiveness makes the path of conversion and return lighter.”
“Brothers and sisters, let us also call upon the name of Jesus!” urged the Pope. “In the depths of our hearts, listen to his voice that tells us, ‘Today I must stop at your house; I want to stop at your house and in your heart,’ that is, in your life. And let us welcome him with joy.”
Pope Francis’ speech was met with cheers and applause from the packed square. Flags waved as the Pope concluded his Angelus greeting with various welcomes to Romans and pilgrims to the city. As is his custom, Pope Francis closed by wishing everyone a “good Sunday and a good lunch!”
Rome, Italy, Nov 3, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis offered Mass on All Saints’ Day at a Roman cemetery, preaching on the importance of hope in Christian life and death.
“To see God, to be similar to God: this is our hope. And today, precisely on the day of the Saints and before the day for the dead, it is necessary to think a little about hope: this hope that accompanies us in life,” he said Nov. 1 at the Verano Cemetery in Rome.
“The first Christians depicted hope like an anchor, as if life had cast the anchor into the river of Heaven and all of us journeying towards this river were clinging to the anchor’s rope,” explained Pope Francis.
“This is a beautiful image of hope: to have the heart anchored there where our ancestors are, where the Saints are, where Jesus is, where God is. This is the hope that does not disappoint,” he said.
He said the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls, celebrated Nov. 2, are “days of hope.”
“There are moments of difficulty in life, but with hope the soul moves forward and looks toward that which awaits us,” he added.
The Pope went on to consider the means of entrance to heaven, saying that we can enter “only thanks to the blood of the Lamb, thanks to the blood of Christ. It is truly the blood of Christ that has justified us, that has opened the door of Heaven.”
The saints are our “brothers and sisters” who “are in the presence of God.” We can hope to join them there, encouraged the Pope, “through the pure grace of God, if we walk along the path of Jesus.”
It is hope that “purifies us, that unburdens us; this purification in hope in Jesus Christ makes us go in haste, quickly.”
But each of us has a “sunset” at the end of our path, advised Pope Francis, who preached as the sun sank low in the Roman sky. “In this pre-sunset of today, each of us can think of the sunset of our own life: ‘How will my sunset be?’”
“Do we regard it with hope?” the pontiff asked.
“Do we regard it with that joy of being welcomed by the Lord? This is a Christian thought, that gives us peace,” he reassured the congregation.
“Today is a day of joy,” he said. “We think of the sunset of many brothers and sisters who have preceded us, we think of our own sunset, which will come. And we think of our heart, and ask ourselves, ‘Where is my heart anchored?’
“If it has not been anchored well, anchor it there, in that river, knowing that hope does not disappoint because the Lord Jesus does not disappoint,” urged Pope Francis.
The Pope concluded Mass by blessing the Roman cemetery’s tombs.
He then took a moment to pray “in a special way” for immigrants who had died in recent tragedies both in the desert and at sea. He said they died “during their search for freedom, for a more suitable life.”
“We have seen the photographs, the cruelty of the desert, we have seen the sea where many drowned. We pray for them,” he said. “And we pray for those who were saved, and in this moment are in many places of shelter, crowded, hoping that the legal practices move quickly so that they can go somewhere else, more comfortable, in other reception centers.”