Archive of November 20, 2013

Cardinal O'Malley: cohabitation, student debt threaten marriage

Baltimore, Md., Nov 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cultural trends discouraging marriage are among the biggest challenges to the Church in the U.S., says Cardinal Seán O'Malley, who also sees signs of renewal and hope among young people.

"Concerns about marriage – people not getting married, falloff in Mass attendance, (and the) challenge of catechizing the young Catholics" are some of the more troubling trends facing Catholicism in the U.S., the Archbishop of Boston said to CNA Nov. 11, during the general assembly of the national bishops' conference in Baltimore.

Cardinal O'Malley is a member of the group of eight cardinals whom Pope Francis has asked to help reform the Roman Curia, as well as chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on pro-life activities.

The cardinal noted that "the whole notion of family is so undercut by the cohabitation mentality," and that these social trends are having a tremendous impact on the working-class communities "who were once the backbone of the Church."

"Half of the children born to that demographic are born out of wedlock," a statistic that Cardinal O'Malley said would have been "inconceivable" a few decades ago.

This shift away from the bearing of children within wedlock is the “biggest threat to marriage.”

Yet the sacrament of marriage is facing other challenges as well, he added.

"Part of the problems are economic" he commented, explaining that "our educational system is so expensive, people graduate from college or graduate school facing huge debts."

"If you have a $150,000 debt when you graduate law school, are you going to marry a girl that has a $130,000 debt and start off your marriage with over a quarter-million dollars' debt?”

“So people are postponing marriage – are postponing a decision to go into the seminary or religious life – because they're saddled under this tremendous debts which former generations didn't have."

In addition, Cardinal O'Malley stated that the Church needs "better marriage preparation" and outreach to help young people recover an understanding of marriage.

The Church needs to "catechize our young people and instill in them a sense of vocation, and also to help them understand what courtship is about."

In combination with the misunderstanding of marriage, lack of attendance at Mass, and the shortcomings in the catechization of young people, the Church also faces many challenges posed by the “secularization of the culture,” he explained.

Despite all this, Cardinal O'Malley said, there remain cultural "signs of hope."

Within the pro-life movement, there are "more and more young people who are embracing the Gospel of Life" and becoming "part of the marches in Washington" in defense of human life.

Young people are also flocking to World Youth Day, “with more than 3 million young people there” at the latest gathering in Brazil, he reflected.

Cardinal O'Malley added that he is "very encouraged by the response of the world to our new Holy Father."

People around the world are showing "great enthusiasm for his message, and many people who have stepped away from the Church are beginning to look at the Church in a new light."

The Pope's message is placing an "emphasis on our obligation to serve each other, especially the poor," and providing an example of "how we should take care of each other,” the Capuchin explained.

“Hopefully that will help them find the way back to the fold.”

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Rome program aims to better priests' engagement with media

Rome, Italy, Nov 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In an effort to equip future priests to better encounter the mass media, one seminary in Rome now provides a hands-on workshop in social communications.

“We need to be part of the world-wide conversation that is happening on social issues, on religion, on faith – and we can do that by being able to give educated and effective responses to the media when asked,” explained instructor Ashley Noronha in an interview with CNA Nov. 19.

The goal of Norohna's “Media Training for Priests” workshop, held at the North American College seminary in Rome, is to offer “an opportunity for young seminarians and also for priests to learn how to work well with the media: to manage tough interviews, to navigate crisis communications and to learn to better, more effectively spread the message of the Church.”

Recent participant Michel Niemczak, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, described it to CNA as “an attempt to introduce us into the world of media relations and to see how we can evangelize, bring this good news of the Gospel to the world – the secular world as well as the Catholics who maybe don’t know what’s going on in our diocese.”

The workshop is offered in three sessions which move from basic lessons on media communications to practice interviews in front of a camera. The participants choose controversial topics to prepare and spend seven minutes discussing the issues on film. In the last session, the students receive evaluation on their interviews.

“We're really able to practice by doing, and that’s the best way to learn,” added Deacon Christopher Bernabe, also of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, who recently finished the workshop.

“I learned that I have so much to learn about how I communicate and present myself, but that its so important that we choose a topic and are prepared,” he said.

“That we take our central theme and try to work that through throughout the entirety of it – and to do so joyfully, because what’s most important about engaging the culture is to be certain that what we’re talking about is true, but also to present it with joy, because that’s who we are. We’re a people of joy!”

“Jesus Christ died for our sins, he came down to lead us to a new relationship with him – and if we can’t communicate that which is most important about our life, then we really have some problems,” he emphasized.

Noronha expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to work with such enthusiastic participants, noting that as the Church pursues a new evangelization, “right now more than ever young priests and seminarians, religious, are understanding the importance of the media as a vehicle to help spread the message of Christ and the Church to the ends of the earth.”

On how a lay woman came to develop a media training program for priests, Noronha explained that her background “goes back to business and marketing, and that was the world I worked in for many years until I did a Master’s in theology and then came to Rome to continue.” 

“From that I did an STL (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) in communications and I'm now pursuing my doctorate in that field, and the way that this workshop was born was a rather organic way,” recounted Noronha.

“I was asked by a priest who really saw the need for this. He knew my background in this field and asked if I would create this, and indeed, 'Media Training for Priests' grew from that.”

The workshop is offered every semester, but is limited to 12 students so that Noronha has “time to offer one-on-one personalized feedback to each of my students because of course that’s the way that they grow in these skills.” Ashley's husband John, a professor of theology and former engineer, offers additional classroom assistance in both apologetics and technology.

Deacon Bernabe believes that “Media Training for Priests” is a successful program in large part due to Noronha's personal dedication. He described her as “a woman who is deeply in love with the Church and incredibly informed.” 

“She's willing to walk us through various steps through it, but also to help us on an individual basis. I remember there were times when I had a question or something like that outside of class – sent her an email: within hours she had already emailed me back,” he continued. 

“The opportunities that she has to engage in our lives and to see her around – she really wants to see us succeed, to see the Church succeed in her mission which is to bring about the salvation of souls, and so if you have somebody who is engaged in that – she’s proficient, she’s professional, and just loves Jesus so much – I can’t conceive of any better combination,” Deacon Bernabe said.

Noronha has worked with the North American College since 2010, but she has also offered workshops on three different continents for people from lay organizations, seminaries, and religious organizations.

“I’ve been thrilled by the positive response that I’ve received to it,” she said.

Her desire to continue such work is fueled by her observation that there are “so many priests, so many religious, who through the media have the opportunity to reach people that they would never otherwise see in the pews on Sunday.”

Moreover, the skills taught in her course “are not only specialty skills: these are skills that they can use for homilies, for any public speaking engagement, also for one-on-one communication.”

Deacon Bernabe felt this lesson quite keenly: “It’s very important that you craft and form your words in such a way that people are able to hang on to them, and be able to take them to heart; and to be able to find the ways in which the gospel encounters one’s life and to be able to put 'feet on the gospel' so to speak, and so if I'm not able to do that in a homily, I’m not going to be able to do it in an interview, either.”  

Neither Deacon Bernabe nor seminarian Niemczak had ever done any social communications work before, but both now feel much better prepared, as Nimenczak put it, to see an encounter with the media as “an opportunity rather than a challenge.”

Noronha noted that her hope for the future is “to have a group of trained media-savvy priests, seminarians, religious throughout the world who are able to confidently engage with the media and to spread the message of Christ and the Church to the ends of the earth.”

(More information can be found at

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Knights of Columbus' Pope documentary now on DVD

Rome, Italy, Nov 20, 2013 (CNA) - The Knights of Columbus' new documentary on the life of Pope Francis and his election to the papacy will be available on DVD starting Nov. 20.

“This documentary arrives as the world realizes that a very special man has assumed the leadership of the Catholic Church, and this begins – but does not end – with his gestures of humility and care for everyone,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus, an executive producer of the documentary.

“Still, what remains largely unknown to the public are many details of Pope Francis’ life, the work he has done and the ways in which he has defended the voiceless and Catholic principles. This documentary delves into those stories,” Anderson said.

The hour-long documentary, “Francis: The Pope From the New World,” has been broadcast on the Fox Business Network and CNBC.

The documentary begins with the Pope’s election on March 13, 2013 and revisits his background in Argentina, where he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and as a Jesuit provincial.

Pope Francis, formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, is the first Pope from the Americas and the first Jesuit Pope. He has long been an advocate for those struggling economically, including those who lived in the slums of Buenos Aires. He also helped protect those endangered in Argentina’s Dirty War. At times, he encountered opposition from Argentina’s political elites.

The documentary uses interviews with the Pope’s close friends, his fellow priests, his co-workers, his biographer, and the poor of Buenos Aires. It covers his personal life, including his family relations and his support for the San Lorenzo soccer team.

A trailer and more information about the documentary is available at its website

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Church is 'depository' of God’s forgiveness, Pope says

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his weekly general audience, Pope Francis spoke about the power Jesus gave the apostles to forgive sins in his name, stating that priest’s should exercise this ministry with “humility.”

“The Church is the depository of this power. It is not an owner, it is the servant of the ministry of reconciliation on behalf of men,” the Pope explained during his Nov. 20 general audience.

Continuing his reflections on the Creed, the pontiff addressed the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square saying that “Today I would like to speak again on the forgiveness of sins by reflecting on the ‘power of the keys.’”

This authority, he explained, “is a biblical symbol of the mission Jesus entrusted to the Apostles.”

“First and foremost, the protagonist of the forgiveness of sins is the Holy Spirit,” he noted, recalling how Jesus bestowed the Spirit upon the Apostles after his Resurrection.

“Hence, he made the Church the guardian of the keys, of this power.”

Pope Francis went on to explain that the “Risen Jesus, before communicating his Spirit, showed the signs of his Passion,” reflecting that “his wounds represent the price of our salvation, indicating that the Holy Spirit grants the forgiveness of God by ‘passing through’ the wounds of his hands and his side.”

Because of this, the pontiff observed that “the Church accompanies us on our journey of conversion for the whole of our lives and calls us to experience reconciliation in its communal and ecclesial dimension,” highlighting how it is always glad to offer “this divine gift.”

Turning to the importance of confessing one’s sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession, the Pope verbalized that “God wanted us to receive his forgiveness through the ministers of the community.”

Through this priestly ministry, noted the Pope, “God has given us a brother to bring us forgiveness in the name of the Church.”

“Priests,” he explained, who are “the servants of this sacrament,” also have “the necessity of mercy,” and “must recognize that they also are in need of forgiveness and healing,” because they are “an instrument of reconciliation” for their brothers.

Because of this, Pope Francis stressed that “they must exercise their ministry in humility and mercy.”

“If he is not in this condition,” the Pope warned, “it is better that he does not administer this sacrament. He must have peace in his heart in order to sow hope, and humility to receive the sinner who approaches him like Jesus himself.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by encouraging those present to “remember always that God never tires of forgiving us. Let us truly value this sacrament and rejoice in the gift of pardon and healing that comes to us through the ministry of priests.”

“Through the ministry of the priest he gives us an embrace that regenerates us and permits us to rise again and take again our journey.”

The pontiff then extended his greetings to the thousands of pilgrims present, which included groups from Spain, Venezuela, Guatemala, Argentina, Mexico, England, Wales, Korea and the United States of America.

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Pope Francis blesses man with severely disfigured face

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2013 (CNA) - Continuing his efforts to promote a “culture of encounter” with the disabled, Pope Francis again embraced a severely disfigured man after his Nov. 20 weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The Pope spoke with a man who lacks facial features, embraced him and gave him a blessing. Pope Francis then smiled at the man, kissed him and gestured toward the sky in the midst of a crowded square.

The cause of the man’s disfigurement was not known. His identity is also not known, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reports.

It is the second time this month that the Pope’s hospitality towards the disfigured has drawn public attention.

At the end of his Nov. 6 audience, Pope Francis warmly embraced Vincio Riva, an Italian man suffering from severe tumors all over his body. His disorder is known as neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition.

The Pope received Riva for several minutes, took the man’s face in his hands, kissed him and gave him a blessing. Riva later said he “felt only love” by the action, noting that the Pope did not know whether his condition was contagious.

Though previous Popes have also made a habit of greeting the disabled, Pope Francis has drawn unique media attention for his actions.

At World Youth Day in July, Pope Francis welcomed a newborn girl born with anencephaly, who lacks a part of her skull and brain. The Pope blessed the child and her parents during the July 28 Mass on Copacabana beach.

In a June audio message to the Italian Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Pope Francis called for a “culture of encounter, solidarity and hospitality” with the disabled that encourages their “active participation” in society.

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Bishops urge New Evangelization for Ghana

Accra, Ghana, Nov 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic bishops of Ghana called for “renewed zeal” to spread the Catholic faith, saying all Christians are called to participate in the New Evangelization.

“Ghana has in recent years been touted not only as a peaceful and an emerging stable democracy but also as a profoundly religious nation,” the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a communique.

The bishops cited the growing Christian population, the proliferation of religious movements, and the “obvious show of religious piety” in the public square where national days of prayers and thanksgiving “have become the order of the day.”

But despite these positive signs, they said, there is “urgent need of the New Evangelization” in the face of “growing indifference” and a lack of personal commitment to Jesus Christ among Christians in the western African country.

“In spite of her flamboyant religious garb, the changing social, cultural, economic and political situation in Ghana is making a deep and personal encounter with Jesus Christ very difficult,” the bishops said.

“Whereas our Churches are packed on Sundays with faithful worshipers the fruits of this religious fervor are yet to be manifestly visible in our socio-economic and political life.”

The bishops’ communique comes after their annual plenary assembly, which met in Sunyani from Nov. 8-16.

While Christianity has been present in Ghana for more than 500 years, the bishops stressed that there is still “an urgent need” for evangelization, which “always begins with the individual human heart.”

“It is fundamentally an act of faith which leads to a change of heart following a personal encounter with the Word of God,” they said. “It involves a conscious effort by the Christian, aided by the grace of God, to turn away from evil and to embrace a life of righteousness and holiness.”

The bishops highlighted the need for “in-depth knowledge of the Gospel” and catechetical instruction for the New Evangelization to succeed. More inculturation is necessary to help promote a Christian understanding of funerals, marriages, and leadership.

They praised traditional Ghanaian values such as love of neighbor, hospitality to the stranger, disdain for theft, respect for the elderly, and “love for moral rectitude.”

However, they voiced concern that Ghanaians “seem to have even lost these foundational values as a people.”

The bishops emphasized the need to evangelize in the area of the family, noting that parents and guardians are “the very first agents of the human and religious formations of their families and wards.”

In socio-economic life, Christians must embrace a role “as collaborators rather than exploiters,” they said, praising government and civil organizations’ work to protect Ghana’s natural resources.

They called on pastors to support advocacy on behalf of the people whose lands and livelihood are threatened by destructive activities, while denouncing corruption and greed, warning of the “huge social cost and untold suffering” caused by “the desire to make quick money and by whatever means possible.”

Ethnic diversity is “a treasured gift from God,” but is also threatening national unity and impeding the message of the gospel, the bishops continued, stressing the need to evangelize to counter negative perceptions of those who are not of the same ethnicity or tribe.

They also thanked God and praised Ghanaians for peaceful elections, urging further prayer to maintain peace and to make the New Evangelization possible.

“God often precedes the evangelizer by making the evangelized receptive to the message of the Gospel, the bishops’ communique concluded. “This means that evangelization must begin and end in prayer, asking the Lord to open the hearts of those who hear the message to receive it and bear abundant fruits.”

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Albuquerque pro-life measure hailed as valuable despite defeat

Albuquerque, N.M., Nov 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Although a pro-life ballot measure in Albuquerque, N.M., did not gain enough votes to pass, pro-life activists say the initiative was able to educate citizens about the reality of late-term abortion.

“Months ago, most Albuquerque residents had no idea their city had become a national hub for late abortion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement.

“Despite being outspent four to one, pro-life grassroots activists were able to educate thousands of citizens about fetal pain and the reality of late abortion,” she continued. “This was no small feat in a deep blue city that chose Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a 15-point margin.”

Dannenfelser’s comments come in response to the Nov. 19 defeat of a citizen-initiated ordinance to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Albuquerque. New Mexico currently has among the most lax abortion regulations in the country, allowing the procedure up until the day of birth.

The measure garnered 27,000 signatures, allowing it to come before the citizens for a vote. However, the ballot initiative was rejected by 55-45 percent of the vote.

In the weeks leading up to the election, abortion activists worked to counteract support for the initiative, raising more than $200,000 for television advertisements and activism, according to Susan B. Anthony List.

Pro-life advocates noted that the campaign to promote the ballot initiative has drawn awareness and support to the growing movement to ban late-term abortions across the country. Efforts to ban the procedures have been introduced at both the state and federal levels.

Protect Albuquerque Women and Children, a group supporting the measure, explained in a Facebook post that “all is not lost” because the battle “shed a light on the horrific practice of late-term abortion.”

“We will continue fighting to protect women and children from the barbaric and unnecessary practice of late-term abortion,” the group said, adding that it is not the end “but only the beginning of eliminating” the practice in Albuquerque and beyond.

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Archbishop Coakley humbled, surprised to be CRS chairman

Oklahoma City, Okla., Nov 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City says he feels privileged to have been named chairman of the board for Catholic Relief Services and was surprised when he was asked last week to take the role.

“I'm humbled, and I'm honored, to have this opportunity to serve the Church and our mission to the least of our brothers and sisters around the world,” Archbishop Coakley told CNA Nov. 19.

“I've been on the board of CRS for over a year, going on two years, but I was very much surprised by the appointment.”

The archbishop recalled how the new U.S. bishop's conference president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., approached him as the annual meeting concluded in Baltimore last week “and asked if I would be willing to serve.”

“So I had to ask him what chairing the organization would entail, and it certainly will require me to rearrange some priorities, but I'm very happy to serve in this way, very honored to be entrusted with this responsibility.”

Archbishop Coakley was announced Tuesday as chairman of Catholic Relief Services' board of directors, succeeding Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson in the role. The charity is the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. bishops, providing assistance to those in need in 91 countries. It was founded in 1943 to aid World War II survivors in Europe.

In a public statement, Archbishop Coakley expressed his deep gratitude for Bishop Kicanas and his “sterling example and dedication as the previous chair.”

He added that “even now, as I transition into this role, more than 100 CRS workers are on the ground in the Philippines, offering their expertise and assistance as our Filipino brothers and sisters face great and unexpected suffering in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The work of CRS – its mission to extend the love and compassion of Christ to the poor wherever there is need – continues.”

Archbishop Coakley explained to CNA that “the work of CRS is so important, and such a significant expression of the Catholic Church in the U.S., of our mission to serve the poor and those who are in distress, the least of our brothers and sisters.”

He visited CRS operations in Rwanda in September, and was “deeply moved by that experience.”

“It was my first opportunity to witness on the ground how CRS is affecting lives, and saving lives. I have a great esteem for the organization, for the staff members, supporters, for all who share in this mission, so I'm very excited about (my appointment).”

Archbishop Coakley added that the responsibility of board members who are bishops “certainly touches upon the importance of keeping the CRS focused according to the Church's mission and identity.”

“We're very concerned that CRS remains faithful to the Church's moral and social teachings, and we're confident that we're able to provide that kind of careful oversight,” he added.

“We're always reviewing our projects, and partnerships, to ensure that we are not inadvertently drawn into, or involved, in illicit partnerships that could compromise our Catholic identity and mission. We take that very seriously.”

The archbishop reflected on the agency's dedication to serve those in need, regardless of their religion, race, or nationality.

“We serve the least of our brothers and sisters, regardless of who they are.”

“That's always been my approach with Catholic social ministries; my refrain, working with our own Catholic Charities organization is 'we don't serve because our clients are Catholic, we serve because we are Catholic.'”

“Our faith demands that expression of practical charity,” he concluded.

Archbishop Coakley cited Pope Francis as sharing this view, explaining that “certainly, the Holy Father is making that Gospel mandate very clear: to go out to the peripheries, to those who are not being reached, and serve them as an expression of our faith – faith working through charity.”

“We can't; the Church has never limited it outreach and its mission, to serve only its own; we can't be in-looking, we have to; the love of Christ impels us forward, and beyond, to serve everyone.”

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