Archive of December 2, 2013

Pope Francis' December prayers, nativity scene plans revealed

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis is bringing this year to a close by offering special prayers during the month of December for children who are victims of violence, and imploring Christians to prepare for the coming of Christ.

Each month this year has been dedicated to specific prayer intentions of the Holy Father, one general intention and one missionary intention.

The general intention concluding the year of 2013, as published earlier this year in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, is “That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.”

His missionary intention, which centers more specifically on the faithful's response to the season of Advent, is “That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior’s coming.”

Previous intentions this year have included prayers that priests who experience difficulty would be comforted in their struggles and confirmed in fidelity, and that those who are weighed down with burdens would experience the closeness of God.

In addition this spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Nov. 19 marked the beginning of the Vatican's external efforts with the initiation of the building of their annual nativity scene.

Every year the Vatican's “San Pietrini” workers, those in charge of maintaining the basilica both inside and out, design and construct the nativity displayed inside of Saint Peter's. This year, it is anticipated to be much smaller than in previous years.

Traditionally located within a large chapel of the basilica, the nativity has been moved to the “Baptistery Chapel” near the front entrance, which is higher and less wide, allowing less room for the decorations that usually adorn the scene.

A source close to the Vatican's nativity project revealed to CNA that this decision was made at the request of Pope Francis, who stated that he preferred something “very simple” and “down to the basics,” and which speaks of the poverty of Christ’s birth.

Because it is a “new scene” in a “new chapel,” the source noted that “it will be interesting to see what comes out of it.”

Also taking place within Saint Peter's are preparations for the arrival of the Vatican’s Christmas tree at the base of the Obelisk inside of Saint Peter’s Square, which began on Dec.2.

In the midst of recent controversy surrounding the cost of the tree in previous years, the archdiocese of Naples, led by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, has decided to donate the amount needed in order to cover the cost.

The tree to be placed in the Square is expected to be a large fir that will arrive from the region of Bavaria in Southern Germany, and will be erected on Dec. 6.

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Argentine congress recommends Pope Francis for Nobel Peace Prize

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Argentina’s House of Representatives has passed a resolution to nominate Pope Francis for the Nobel Peace Prize for his call to end the violence in Syria.

The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority and now goes to the Senate for ratification.  

Representative Oscar Martinez, who sponsored the resolution, described Pope Francis as “a man who throughout this year has been decisive in maintaining international peace through his clear position regarding the conflict in Syria.”

Since his election to the papacy, Pope Francis has made repeated calls for peace in Syria.  He sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G20 Summit in which he called on the international community to work for an end to the violence in Syria and to reject any military intervention.

The Syrian conflict has now dragged on for more than 2.5 years, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide on March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader of the country's Ba'ath Party.

In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people. There are at least 2.2 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

An additional 6.5 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

The Syrian rebels are made up of a large variety of groups, including both moderates and Islamist extremists, as well as Kurds.

Reports that chemical weapons had been used against civilians in Syria, killing more than 1,400 people, led to a discussion of possible international military action. Pope Francis called for a Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace on Sept. 7.

After weeks of negotiation, an international agreement was reached to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons without a military strike.

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Christmas is more than a 'temporal celebration,' Pope reflects

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his daily homily on the first Monday of Advent, Pope Francis reflected on the season of Christmas, explaining that it is a time to encounter the Lord in faith, and allow him to renew our lives.

Christmas, the Pope expressed in his Dec. 2 homily, “isn’t just a temporal celebration or the memory of a beautiful (event); Christmas is more…Christmas is an encounter!”

Pope Francis directed his words to those who were present for his daily Mass inside of the Vatican’s Saint Martha guesthouse.

As we progress through the season of Advent, “we go by this road to meet the Lord,” the Pope stated, “we walk to meet him,” to “encounter him with the heart, with life; encounter him alive, as He is; encounter him with faith.”

Turning to the day's Gospel reading in which the centurion comes to Jesus asking him to heal his servant only by “saying the word,” Pope Francis noted that “it is not easy to live with faith,” emphasizing how in the Gospel the Lord “marveled at this centurion: he marveled at the faith that he had.”

“He had walked to meet the Lord, but he did so with faith. For this reason he not only encountered the Lord, but he felt the joy of being met by the Lord.”

“And this,” the pontiff pointed out, “is precisely the encounter that we want: the encounter of faith.”

When it is only us who seek an encounter with Christ, continued the Pope, “we are – in quotation marks, let's say – the masters of this meeting,” but on the contrary, when we allow him to encounter us “and it is he himself who enters us…it is he that re-makes us all over again.”

This renewal is the fruit of letting Christ encounter us, the Pope explained, “because this is the coming, this is what it means when Christ comes: to make everything new.”

Jesus, he said, re-makes “the heart, the soul, life, hope,” and “our path,” adding that “We are on a journey of faith, with the faith of that centurion, to meet the Lord and mainly to let him encounter us!”

The pontiff then stressed the importance of having an open heart in order for this encounter to take place, explaining that it is also crucial to be open to what the Lord wants to tell us, noting that “what he wants to tell me,” is often not “what I want him to tell me!”

However, the Pope observed, “He is the Lord,” and what he tells us is meant for each of us personally, because “the Lord does not look at everyone together, like a mass. No, no!”

“He looks everyone in the face, in the eyes, because love is not abstract: love is concrete!”

Concluding his reflections, Pope Francis emphasized that this love is “from person to person: the Lord, a person, looks at me, a person.”

“Letting ourselves be encountered by God means just this,” he stated, “to let ourselves be loved by the Lord!”

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Seminarians bring American football to Rome for Thanksgiving

Rome, Italy, Dec 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Thanksgiving weekend at the North American College in Rome is full of traditions not normally found in Italy. Besides a classic turkey dinner and pumpkin pie, the seminarians at the college host their traditional “Spaghetti Bowl.”

This year on Dec. 1, the entire college and its guests gathered to watch the “New Men vs. Old Men” match. First-year seminarians faced off against a team comprised of students from every other class at the seminary.

“New year guys take on the whole rest of the house, so obviously it’s not quite a ‘fair’ thing,” Fr. Peter Harman, director of pastoral formation and media relations, explained to CNA, “but it is a fraternity-building thing, and opportunity for them to bind as a class.”

Each team was comprised of roughly 30 men, who elected student coaches to lead them.

“It’s all in good fun, but they take it seriously: they practice, they come up with plays, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in preparation – it’s not just a scrimmage. They’ve been practicing for weeks and weeks,” said Fr. Harman.

The annual post-Thanksgiving football game is part of a long weekend of festivities.

Seminarian Michael Dion of the Archdiocese of Seattle explained, “We’re gone from home at Thanksgiving, and so the whole weekend is filled with events to build the community spirit.” Everything from the meal to the football match makes it “a little bit easier.”

After the typical Thanksgiving dinner, the entire college is able to enjoy pumpkin pie made by the 5th year priests of the college. “That’s a big deal because that’s not something you can find in Italy,” noted Dion.

Fr. Harman shared Dion’s enthusiasm: the college hosts an American-style barbeque during the football game “to bring American kind of things right to the middle of these guys who are far from home for Thanksgiving.”

The college also puts on a “New Man / Old Man show” on Friday evening, so that, according to the college’s rector, Msgr. James Checchio, “everyone really gets to show their talents, whatever they are.”

The college’s annual football game has been going on longer than most faculty and staff members can remember. Msgr. Checchio, Fr. Harman, and many of the other faculty played in the match when they were students at the college.

Times have changed a bit, however. Msgr. Checchio recalled that in his day, “everyone had to play, whether they were good or not,” because there were only about 30 men in a class.  

This year’s “new man” team has its choice from any of the 64 newcomers.

The rector noted that the annual game sees “new men really pull together.”

“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn to work together, (build) patience, fraternity, a chance to recognize one another’s skills, build one another up, help one another… skills that a priest needs in his parish, working together with other priests and laity.”

Msgr. Checchio is the former chaplain for the Philadelphia Eagles. He described sports as an important “opportunity to work together for teamwork: it’s not all about ‘me,’ it’s about all of us moving together.”

“And the Church is certainly like that too,” he continued. “Our efforts as priests aren’t just for me – they are for the benefit of the Church, (to) help us think of others. So this is one small opportunity for us to do that, in a different way, but pulling together to work together.”

Moreover, the rector added, “sometimes people have an image of the priesthood” that doesn’t “relate to reality.”

He gestured to the field full of seminarians in athletic gear who warmed up as music pumped from the loud speakers.

“They are men, answering the call, striving to serve the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength, but they’re like everybody else, their colleagues at home.”

“Their focus, obviously, is giving themselves to the Church, but they still do a lot of regular things just like anybody else: sports is one of them.”

“Besides being formative,” he added with a smile, “it’s a lot of fun!”

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Croatians vote to protect marriage from redefinition

Zagreb, Croatia, Dec 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Croatian voters have approved an amendment to their country’s constitution that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Cardinal Josip Bozanic encouraged a “yes” vote, noting in a letter read to parishioners that marriage is “the only union enabling procreation.”

The Dec. 1 referendum passed by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, with about 65 percent of Croatians voting in favor and about 34 percent voting against it, the Associated Press reports.

Referendum supporters, including the group In the Name of the Family, gathered 750,000 signatures in the predominantly Catholic country to place the measure on the ballot.

Supporters of the referendum cited concerns among many Croatians that the government would try to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions. Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic both opposed the referendum.

Government leaders are backing a bill allowing same-sex couples to register as “life partners” and secure some legal rights. A 2003 law recognizes same-sex unions for couples who have lived together for at least three years.

The Dec. 1 vote was the first citizen-launched referendum since Croatia became independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Zeljka Markic, a backer of the initiative, welcomed its success.

“We showed that we know, like David fighting against Goliath, how to direct our small slingstones in the same direction,” she said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “This time for the protection of marriage, and next time for something else of the same importance.”

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Pope to dedicate 2015 to consecrated life

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a meeting with the Union of Superiors General held Nov. 29, Pope Francis mentioned that he would be dedicating 2015 to consecrated life, thanking religious for their witness to Jesus Christ.

“Thank you for what you do and for your spirit of faith and your service. Thank you for your witness and also for the humiliations through which you have had to pass,” the Bishop of Rome said to 120 superiors present for the group's general assembly, held in Rome Nov. 27-29.

Pope Francis' decision follows a conference on “vocational perseverance” held one month ago, at which Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, secretary of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, maintained that “in five years, 13,123 left religious life.”

The dedication of 2015 to religious life should promote and draw attention to the challenges facing God's call  to consecrated persons. To proclaim a year dedicated to a specific topic, shedding light on an issue deemed to be of particular importance, has recently become a common tool for Popes.

Benedict XVI proclaimed a Pauline year in 2008, a Year of the Priesthood in 2010, and the Year of Faith in 2012-2013.

Pope Francis' comments met with the superiors general for three hours, holding a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, beginning with the subject of consecrated life's identity and mission as a witness to the kingdom of God, according to the Vatican.

The consecrated are those who “can awaken the world,” he said. “Consecrated life is prophecy. God asks us to fly the nest and to be sent to the frontiers of the world, avoiding the temptation to 'domesticate' them. This is the most concrete way of imitating the Lord.”

The Roman Pontiff added that newer dioceses are bearing much fruit, and gave this as a reason for inculturating the charisms of religious life.

He emphasized the importance of good formation for candidates to religious life, saying that it is “not a form of policing, but is “an artisanal craft … its aim is to form religious persons with a tender heart; not acid, not like vinegar.”

Continuing that theme, Pope Francis exhorted religious not to “act like managers” when faced with conflict when living in community, but rather to accept conflicts and deal with them firstly as persons.

Religious are to be respected for their charisms, he reflected, and not seen merely as “helpers” when a local Church is in need of priests.

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Writers prompt balanced reaction to Pope's take on economy

New York City, N.Y., Dec 2, 2013 (CNA) - Pope Francis' words in “Evangelii Gaudium” touching on economic issues have elicited a range of reactions, with one columnist emphasizing their challenge to conservatives to respond generously.

“The challenge for conservative Catholics,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote Nov. 30, is “to spend the Francis era not in opposition but seeking integration – meaning an economic vision that remains conservative, but in the details reminds the world that our Catholic faith comes first.”

“The pope's words...should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since 'compassionate conservatism' collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more – often much more – of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues,” he said.

In his Nov. 24 apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization, Pope Francis referred to issues of economics twice – while discerning the context in which evangelization must happen today, and while discussing the inclusion of the poor in society as one of the social dimensions of evangelization.

The Bishop of Rome rejected the “economy of exclusion,” idolatry of money, a ruling financial system, and violence-spawning inequality; he praised solidarity with the poor, mercy, the value of the poor, and a better distribution of income.

The Pope's words were dismissed by some conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh as “pure Marxism” and “political.”

But writing at Catholic Online, Deacon Keith Fournier emphasized that “his teachings are not political – they are prophetic and pastoral,” and transcend the categories of American liberalism and conservatism.

“Neither can this apostolic exhortation be squeezed into the economic overlay which fuels much of the debate in the United States. Yet, just such an effort is being used by those with political and economic agendas, left and right,” Deacon Fournier wrote.

“Sadly, they distract the public from hearing a desperately needed corrective and beautiful message from a pastor who has been given charge of what he properly refers to as a church without frontiers.”

The deacon explained that the exhortation does not make Pope Francis a “fellow political progressive” of the American left, but neither is he defending the sort of materialistic capitalism which places capital – goods – over persons; rather, the Pope is teaching that economic issues are moral issues.

“Christian Social thought needs to be rescued from those who may have used it as a kind of proof text to legitimize any political theory or economic system that fails to spring from its' fundamental view of the dignity of the human person, solidarity, authentic human freedom, economic and social justice,” he said.

George Weigel made a similar point, writing in the Wall Street Journal that Pope Francis' program “is not a matter of economic or political prescription, but a revolution in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church: a re-energizing return to the pentecostal fervor and evangelical passion from which the church was born two millennia ago, and a summons to mission that accelerates the great historical transition from institutional-maintenance Catholicism to the Church of the New Evangelization.”

Evangelii Gaudium is to be read as “what it manifestly is,” he said: a “clarion call” for this self-understanding of the Church.

Columnist James Pethokoukis added that “it is impossible to understand the pope’s message if one fails to view it through the lens of Jesus' teachings,” and that “of course” he doesn't consider market capitalism to be “the ultimate cure to what ails humanity or the key to true human flourishing.”

Douthat responded to his fellow-conservatives' objections to the exhortation, saying that “the burden is on explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.”

He emphasized that the Catholic case for limited government “is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics,” nor a case for zero regulation or redistribution, or for valuing capital over labor.

“This is where Francis's vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians,” Douthat wrote.

“The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope,” but they do need to be integrated with conservative ideas.

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