Archive of November 11, 2013

The sick are not merely 'objects of charity,' Pope reflects

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a meeting with an Italian organization dedicated to helping those in poor health go on pilgrimage, Pope Francis reminded the ill and infirm that they have a true role in the Church.

“Dear sisters and brothers who are unwell, don't consider yourselves only as objects of solidarity and charity, but feel integrated fully into the life and the mission of the Church,” he told the members of U.N.I.T.A.L.S.I., the National Italian Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines, on Nov. 9.

“You have your place, a specific role in the parish and every ecclesial sphere. Your presence, silent but more eloquent than many words, your prayer, the daily offering of your suffering in union with that of Jesus crucified for the salvation of the world, patient and even joyous acceptance of your conditions – these are a spiritual resource, a patrimony for every Christian community,” the Pope explained.

The pontiff then went on to emphasize that work of Christians with the sick is not “welfare aid or philanthropy, but a genuine announcement of the Gospel of love, and a ministry of consolation.”

“You seek to be the look that welcomes, the hand that raises and accompanies, the word of comfort, the embrace of tenderness,” he continued.

“Every sick and fragile person can see in your face the face of Jesus; and you also can recognize in the suffering person the body of Christ.”

Pope Francis underscored the need for this mutual understanding to affect not just the Church, but society at large.

“The poor, also the poor in health, are a richness for the Church: and you…have received the gift and the responsibility to accept these riches, in order to help them be valued, not only for the Church herself but for all of society.”

This can be difficult in the modern world which “is much more inclined to hide physical frailty, to consider it only as a problem which requires resignation and pietism or at times discards people.”

In fact, the Pope said, “it is a matter of really valuing the presence and the testimony of weak and suffering persons,” not merely as people to be served, “but as active subjects of this same apostolic activity.”

The U.N.I.T.A.L.S.I. organization is particularly dedicated to bringing the sick to Marian shrines. Pope Francis focused on this aspect of their spirituality, reminding members to “imitate the maternity of Mary, the maternal care that she has for each of us.”

He turned to the biblical account of the wedding at Cana, in which Mary finds that the newlywed couple has run out of wine for their guests, and tells the servants to do whatever Jesus orders. Christ then turns water into wine for everyone.

“This intervention of Mary with her son shows the care of Mary towards mankind. It is a careful attention to our most real needs: Mary knows what we need!” the Pope exclaimed.

“She takes care of us, interceding with Jesus and asking for each of us the gift of 'new wine,' that is love, grace, that which saves us.”

Christians should see in Mary the model of a believer who “always intercedes and prays for us, especially in the hour of difficulty and need, in the hour of distress and confusion, and above all in the hour of sin.”

The pontiff then led the audience in a Hail Mary prayer before concluding the meeting. U.N.I.T.A.L.S.I. is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year.

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Rome sabbatical aims to renew priests through prayer, formation

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A special sabbatical program invites priests to come to the Eternal City to rest and receive classes on topics relevant in the Church today in order to give new ardor to their pastoral ministry.

“We want them to stir into flame the gift they received on the ordination day, to rediscover that zeal they had,” Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo told CNA during a Nov. 8 interview.

Msgr. Figueiredo is the director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and plays a key role in deciding which topics will be discussed during the program each year.

The three month sabbatical takes place every fall and draws its inspiration from Bl. John Paul II’s post-synodal exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” or “I will give you Shepherds,” which calls for the continuous formation of priests.

“We need to go out to the people, but how do we do that unless we're formed,” explained Msgr. Figueiredo.

“Priests are in need of continuing formation,” he stressed, adding that “one would never imagine a doctor never being updated in his profession and it's very much the same for priests, particularly in the world we are living, where new issues are arising.”

One of the greatest challenges noted Msgr. Figueiredo, is “always to remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus, to his message,” but also “to make it relevant to people today.”

In order to aid in these efforts, the program offers special modules designed to “update” the priests who participate “on very important issues,” including many topics that, in light of “changing governments and legislation,” go against the teachings of the Church.

It is also important, the priest continued, that those who come are formed in a “spirit of deep fraternity,” because often times they “live on their own,” and “have large parishes distant from others.”

“So to be together again, as they were in the seminary, really strengthens a priest.”

Frequently, Msgr. Figueiredo noted, the priests arrive “very tired” due to “huge ministries, very big difficulties, challenges which take place in the world today,” so it is necessary to follow Jesus’ invitation to his apostles to “come away and rest awhile.”

Emphasizing also the need to be renewed in prayer in addition to intellectual formation, Msgr. Figueiredo said that “the best theology is done on our knees.”
“Ultimately,” he explained, the intellectual formation received “has to be nurtured by intimacy with Jesus Christ, otherwise it remains a dead book. We have something in our head but not of the heart.”

“So we combine really the two, we receive that intellectual formation but we take it to our heart and we are inspired by what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, in order to make that message a good news, make it applicable to people in their lives and to say the Christian message, the message of Jesus Christ, is not bad news, it's good news.”

“We know from the difficulties of a secularized world, priests today can be discouraged in their ministry,” Msgr. Figueiredo observed, revealing that he has “seen miracles” through the program.

Some of the priests who have participated, he reflected, might have otherwise “left the ministry because of discouragement,” but instead “go back strengthened and even holier through the experience here of prayer, fraternity and theological updating.”

Among the different topics offered in this year's modules are classes discussing spiritual direction, the Sacrament of Confession, how to address modern moral problems in society, as well as a scripture study tour of Rome and Turkey and a study in Christian art and architecture within Rome and Assisi.

As part of the efforts to encourage priests to participate in the sabbatical, the Institute for Continuing Theological Education has released a promotional DVD entitled “Good Priests, Better Priests,” which will be distributed in parishes across the U.S., as well as Canada and other English-speaking dioceses.

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Apostolic nuncio calls US bishops to deeper Christian witness

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the opening of the U.S. bishops’ autumn conference, the Pope’s representative urged the diocesan shepherds to a more profound witnessing to Christ and to preserve unity amongst themselves.

This is “a call to attentiveness, watchfulness and preparedness for whatever proclaiming the Gospel may mean for us as successors of the Apostles, who were called to give radical witness to their faith in Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Carlo Vigano told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 11.

The nuncio, an Italian native, introduced his speech by saying that he would be sharing “a few reflections and observations I have since my time here in this country,” adding that “I ask you to take these thoughts into prayerful consideration. You know this comes from my admiration, respect, and loving concern for the Church in America.”

He began by referring to Paul VI, and quoting extensively from the late Pope's apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, which Pope Francis, he noted, considers “the greatest pastoral document written to date.”

Archbishop Vigano stressed Paul VI's statement that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

He used this statement to impress upon the bishops the necessity of being witnesses to the Gospel. “Certainly, my brothers, no one can dispute the clear fact that our present Holy Father himself, as the Supreme Teacher, is giving us, by his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the Gospel.”

“While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.”

The nuncio went on to say that the Holy Father “wants bishops in tune with their people,” saying that when they met in June, Pope Francis “made a special point of saying he wants 'pastoral' bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”

He also quoted extensively from Blessed John Paul II, who in 1978 told the U.S. bishops that to be pastoral, the Gospel must be more effectively taught.

Archbishop Vigano concluded by reflecting on the importance of unity among the episcopate.

“I urge you, my brothers, to preserve a spirit of real unity among yourselves and, of course, with the successor of Peter, trusting in the way he sees best to live out his mission to mankind. Unity expressed in a real, prayer-filled communion of mind and heart is the only way we will remain strong and be able to face whatever the future may hold for us.”

While noting that the Church, and America as well, is characterized by diversity, he stressed, “we must take care that, for us as a Church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation.”

Having said this, he noted an article which claimed that America's political polarization “began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders.”

This, he said, was “well said, since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops. The sheep will gather together as one; they recognize and listen to the voice of their shepherd who calls out to them, walks with them, and is ready to give his life for them.”

“My brothers, let us go forward, filled with zeal and fervor of divine love. Let us be confident that the Lord will give us the wisdom and strength we need for the tremendous task before us to give genuine witness to the faithful,” he concluded.

“Let us embrace our people with a fatherly embrace, let us make them feel that they belong, that they are not orphans or strangers. And we should also ask ourselves today a question posed by Pope Francis to the Bishops of Brazil: ' … are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?' Let our response be a firm and wholehearted: 'Yes, we are!'”

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New bishop in England looks forward to working with poor, weak

Plymouth, England, Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Monsignor Mark O'Toole, whom Pope Francis appointed Bishop of Plymouth on Saturday, has said he is humbled by the appointment and that the Roman Pontiff's example will help form his ministry there.

“Recognising that I am a sinner who experiences the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus, I embrace with my whole self this deeper call to service in His Church,” the bishop elect said Nov. 9.

“I know that the example and witness of Pope Francis will continue to inspire and shape my ministry as Shepherd to all in the Diocese, especially to serve the poor, the weak, and those who feel alienated from God, as I work alongside fellow Christians.”

He added that “I look forward very much to putting down firm roots in the Diocese and making my home in Plymouth.”

Monsignor O'Toole was born in London of Irish descent in 1963. He began seminary for the Archdiocese of Westminster in 1984 at Allen Hall, and was ordained a priest in 1990. He has served as a parish priest, and did further studies in theology at Oxford University, and in theology at the Pontifical University of Leuven.

In 1997 he became a professor and formator at Allen Hall Seminary, where he served until 2002. At that time, he became personal secretary to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, who was Archbishop of Westminster. In 2008 Monsignor O'Toole was appointed rector of Allen Hall, where he has served until now.

Monsignor O'Toole will be consecrated a bishop Jan. 28, 2014, and succeeds Bishop Emeritus Hugh Budd, who is 76 and was Bishop of Plymouth from 1986.

The Plymouth diocese serves southwestern England: the counties of Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset. Monsignor O'Toole commented that “this part of the country is known for its outstanding natural beauty, and this is mirrored in the gracious welcome shown to the newcomer by its people.”

He noted the importance of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and Allen Hall Seminary, in his own experience, and said, “I will miss especially everyone at Allen Hall. I have seen how essential the vocation of the priest is for our Church and our society. I hope I can continue to make its promotion a priority in this new mission.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster stated that the bishop elect is “a dedicated, gifted and experienced priest who will become an excellent Bishop of Plymouth … we shall miss him but always hold him in our prayers especially as he prepares to take up this new mission, given by the Lord.”

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Defend persecuted Christians, Cardinal Dolan urges bishops

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to be advocates of Christians persecuted for their faith around the world, encouraging prayers as well as action on their behalf.

“We bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives hang in the balance, as we dare not allow our laudable battles over religious freedom at home to obscure the actual violence being inflicted on Christians elsewhere,” Cardinal Dolan told the bishops’ assembly Nov. 11.

The U.S. bishops’ conference is holding its fall assembly Nov. 11-14 in Baltimore. On Nov. 12, the assembly will elect the successor to Cardinal Dolan, who has served as conference president for the last three years, in addition to serving as Archbishop of New York.

In his address to the assembly, Cardinal Dolan said one million Christians have been killed for their faith in the first years of the 21st century, which he called “a new age of martyrs.” Citing the Pew Research Center, he said that over 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with restrictions on freedom of religion.

The cardinal invoked Pope Francis’ Sept. 25 general audience, in which the Pope asked Catholics whether they pray for persecuted Christians.

“When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering?” the Pope asked. “When I think or hear it said that many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, does this touch my heart or does it not reach me? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Christ?

Cardinal Dolan said these words must be answered both as individuals and as bishops. Supporting persecuted Christians should be “a defining element of our pastoral priorities,” he said.

He particularly lamented the trials facing Christians in the Middle East.

He declared a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria, where two Orthodox bishops have been kidnapped amid the ongoing civil war. He said the Iraq war and its consequences have “devastated” Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The 2012 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad resulted in a massacre of 58 Christians.

The cardinal also noted a “serious escalation of violence” against Christians in Egypt, where dozens of Coptic churches have been burned. An August attack on a school run by Franciscan nuns resulted in the rape of two teachers. Three nuns were paraded “as prisoners of war.”

There have also been attacks on African Christians, such as shootings of priests and church burnings in Zanzibar. Anti-Christian violence in Nigeria has included church bombings on Christian holy days.

Cardinal Dolan said the situation in India is “grave” in the aftermath of the 2008 Orissa massacres that killed hundreds of Christians and displaced thousands more. Thousands of homes and about 400 churches were destroyed. The cardinal noted a recent mob attack on a Christian couple simply because of their faith.

In addition, the cardinal noted the pressures on Christians in China, such as the state supervision and imprisonment that faces Catholic bishops and other religious leaders.

In light of these grave global challenges, Cardinal Dolan made several suggestions for action.

The bishops should encourage “a culture of prayer for persecuted Christians,” both in private prayer and in liturgical intercessions, he said, noting that prayers after Mass for the conversion of Russia helped shape Catholics’ awareness of the victims of communism.

He encouraged the bishops to make others aware of the suffering of other Christians through their columns, blogs, speeches and pastoral letters. Bishops can ask pastors to preach on the topic and to launch study sessions and activist groups. They can also encourage Catholic media to “tell the stories of today’s new martyrs.”

The cardinal also stressed the importance of supporting organizations that have done “heroic work,” such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Relief Services and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He also praised the work of Protestant groups.

The bishops can insist that U.S. leaders listen to persecuted Christians and make their protection “a foreign policy priority,” he added, observing that this has not been a high priority for presidential administrations of either major political party.

Cardinal Dolan noted the ongoing struggles to defend religious freedom in the U.S., but said these “pale in comparison to the Via Crucis currently being walked by so many of other parts of the world.”

These Christians’ suffering “must be ours as well.”

“I want us to broaden our horizons, to ‘think Catholic’ about our brothers and sisters in the faith now suffering simply because they sign themselves with the cross, bow their heads at the name of Jesus, and profess the Apostles’ Creed,” the cardinal said.

“May all the blessed martyrs, ancient and new, pray for us, as we try to be confessors of the faith.”

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Pope Francis to meet with Vladimir Putin

Rome, Italy, Nov 11, 2013 (CNA) - Pope Francis will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 25 at the Vatican, according to the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi.

On the following day, the Pontiff will meet with the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano.

The first meeting between Pope Francis and the Russian president comes after the Holy Father sent Putin a letter on Sept. 5, at the opening of the G-20 summit, calling on the group’s leaders to set aside the “useless” search for a military solution to the conflict in Syria and to pursue a peaceful resolution through dialogue and negotiation.

Upon his election to the papacy, Pope Francis received a letter of congratulations from Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church in which he expressed his hope that Orthodox and Catholic believers would join forces to defend persecuted Christians in the world and to promote traditional values amidst the widespread secularism.

Pope Francis will be the third pontiff to meet with President Putin. On March 13, 2007, the Russian leader met with Benedict XVI and although he did not invite the Pope to visit Russia, despite hopes that he would, the meeting did mark a turning point in relations with then Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II.

John Paul II met with Putin twice during his pontificate, once in 2000 and a second time in 2003.  Years earlier, the future saint met with the president of the Soviet Union, Mikail Gorbachov, on Dec. 1, 1989, several days after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Caritas aid agency provides relief to typhoon-wrecked Philippines

Manila, Philippines, Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the devastating wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Caritas, a relief agency of the Church, has rushed to support victims through the distribution of food and first aid materials. 

“The devastation is awful and the situation is outrageously bad at the moment,” said Gilda Avedillo, program officer for Caritas Manila’s disaster risk reduction and management program.

Avedillo told CNA on Nov. 11 that basic food items, as well as non-food items such as clothing and medicine, are on “priority” rush and that “efforts are underway for speedy distribution.”

On Nov. 8, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, struck the island nation with sustained winds of 147 miles per hour and gusts as strong as 170 miles per hour, the BBC reported.

The strong winds led to flash flooding and landslides, and destroyed many homes and other buildings. Some areas saw 45-foot waves and more than 15 inches of rain.

The typhoon mowed down buildings, trees and crops, with flood waters washing away entire towns. Tacloban, one of worst-hit cities, has a number of large ships run ashore by the storm.

Some 10,000 people are believed to have died from the storm, with 600,000 displaced. More than nine million are affected, lacking shelter, food, or potable water.

Caritas' relief efforts are being conducted through volunteers with both diocesan and parish teams.

Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu encouraged his people, highlighting their faith in the midst of trials.

“No typhoon or flood can diminish the strength of Filipino soul,” he said, nor can it “quench the fire of our hope.”

The Filipino bishops' conference declared a nationwide novena of prayer from Nov. 11-19 for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, as well as of the earthquake that struck the central Philippines last month.

While Caritas' 150 volunteers in Manila are packing, collecting, and coordinating the relief efforts, victims' needs are “increasingly demanding,” as many people have lost their belongings, Avedillo said.

According to the Diocese of San Jose de Antique, 60 percent of houses in the Antique province are completely or partially damaged, and power is unavailable.

A survivor, Rosette Bernardo, told CNA that her family's crops and plantation were “destroyed completely,” but thanked God that her family members had been rescued and were safe.

Avedillo said several challenges lay ahead for relief efforts, the roads in some areas have been destroyed or blocked, and electricity and communication systems have been cut off.

Other challenges are health related, with improper sanitation increasing the risk of “spread of epidemics” with contamination, diarrhea and infestation of mosquitoes.

“It is sad that there have been reported instances of people mobbing, rioting and looting shops and shopping centers due to hunger and an inadequate supply of food,” said Avedillo.

The U.S. has sent 90 Marines and Navy servicemen to assist in relief efforts, as well as supplies of food, water, and materials for shelter and hygiene.

On Nov. 11, the storm made landfall in northern Vietnam, with sustained winds of up to 85 miles per hour, and it is moving in the direction of southern China.

On Sunday, Pope Francis sent Filipinos a message of prayer and encouragement, saying at his Angelus address, “I want to assure the people of the Philippines and of that region who were struck by the terrible typhoon of my closeness.”

“Let us pray a moment in silence, to the Madonna, for these our brothers and sisters,” he exhorted, and “let us try also to reach out to them with practical help.”

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Synod, evangelization discussed at bishops' meeting

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During the first day of their fall meeting in Baltimore, the U.S. bishops discussed themes and priorities for their work as a whole, including evangelization, the family and Catholic education.

The bishops listened on Nov. 11 to remarks from apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and conference president Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on the importance of Christian witness and international religious freedom.

They heard a report from the conference’s National Advisory Council, a 48-member group of laity, clergy and religious of various ages, locations, ethnicities and occupations, who meet to offer input on topics discussed by the bishops.

The council supports a continued focus on evangelization and education, the development of a formal statement on pornography, a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict, and an extension of the bishops’ “Call to Prayer” for life, marriage and religious liberty.

In addition, the group supports a spokesperson for the president of the bishops’ conference and called for a review of the federal government’s new Common Core State Standards to see how they will impact Catholic education.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who chairs the conference’s Committee on Priorities and Plans, offered an update on the bishops’ New Evangelization-themed strategic plan for 2013-2016, which was approved unanimously by the bishops last year.

Critical to the strategic plan are the goals of protecting human life and dignity, strengthening marriage and family life, promoting religious liberty and improving faith formation and sacramental practice.

In the past year, Archbishop Sartain said, the conference’s committees have made “important progress” towards these priorities, working to provide resources to promote the Sacrament of Penance, coordinate U.S. participate in World Youth Day this summer, and develop online New Evangelization Toolkits as a resource for dioceses.

At the same time, committees have worked to strengthen the people’s understanding of Christian vocation and witness, enhance intercultural competencies, create effective communication strategies, exercise stewardship and promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

At the suggestion of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Sartain also reiterated the importance of keeping in mind Pope Francis’ call to be “a Church for the poor and a Church of the poor” while working towards the conference’s priorities.

The bishops also carried out a canonical episcopal consultation – a required step in the Church’s canonization process – for Mother Mary Teresa Tallon, servant of God. After hearing a presentation from Cardinal Dolan, the local prelate promoting Mother Tallon’s cause, the body of bishops approved a request to move forward on her sainthood cause.

Born in Waterville, N.Y., in 1867, Tallon worked with poor children as a Catholic school teacher after joining the Holy Cross Sisters when she was 19. She founded the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate in 1920 as a way to offer personal door-to-door ministry in New York.

Mother Tallon died in 1954, but her community continues to work in religious education and door-to-door family visitation in dioceses throughout the U.S., as well as Nigeria and the Philippines.

In addition, the bishops discussed practical considerations in gathering data requested by the Vatican in anticipation of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops next October, which will explore the theme of “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”

“There’s a great enthusiasm for the synod,” Cardinal Dolan observed as he opened a discussion on how to best gather data.

The bishops have been asked by the Holy See to collect information on the state of marriage and family in the U.S. Church in order to help address pastoral questions of how to minister to those living in irregular family situations, among other things.

While confirming that “the questionnaire is intended for the bishops,” Cardinal Dolan noted that the bishops can consult various groups and individuals in compiling their answers. Some bishops said they are seeking input from the faithful over the internet, while others are contacting pastoral councils and other diocesan organizations to gain the data needed to prepare for the synod.

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