Archive of December 15, 2013

New devotional app delivers Christian content to any device

Denver, Colo., Dec 15, 2013 (CNA) - A new multi-device content delivery system has been hailed as a “game-changer” for the way Christians receive devotional materials to help grow their faith.

“The amount of Christian content available through iDisciple is unparalleled,” said Mike Kendrick, president and CEO of iDisciple.

“But even though iDisciple is so robust, the user experience is simple and straightforward. When people dive into the app, iDisciple will meet them wherever they are in their walk with God.”

The aim of the new app is to give Christians easy access to a growing database of over 30,000 pieces of content including devotionals, articles, Bible studies and sermons.

“iDisciple is like the iTunes of Christian content,” he explained. “This is a game-changer for Christian discipleship.”

A free version of the app gives users access to basic features such as devotionals and articles while a $4.99 a month version will allow the user to create a customized profile for receiving content that is relevant to their preferences.

The app stores the user’s preferred content in a “cloud” database so subscribers can access their content from any web-capable device including iPhone, iPad or Android devices.

Content providers include Christian organizations such as Focus on the Family, Proverb 31 Ministries and World Vision.

Due to an increasing demand for Catholic content, Catholic News Agency, through the parent organization, Association for Catholic Information, will provide content faithful the Church teaching through the channel, “When In Rome.”

In addition to receiving devotional content, users may also use the app to give to their favorite charity through the “Giving App” with their credit card or account credit from referring other members.

“Our mission is two-fold,” Kendrick said. “First, to help as many believers as possible grow in their relationship with God by creating the world's largest discipleship platform. Second, to create a generosity engine so we can support as many Christian ministries as possible across the globe.”

The app is the work of Family Christian Ministry, so all of the income will be donated to support Christian charities and ministries.

Although the app is already launched, the content providers are continuing to grow their materials everyday. To learn more about iDisciple, visit

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Combat human trafficking, Pope urges new ambassadors to Vatican

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Meeting with 17 newly appointed ambassadors to the Holy See, Pope Francis encouraged them to work together, regardless of creed, against the “slavery” of human trafficking.

“This is a true form of slavery , unfortunately increasingly common, which affects every land, even the most developed, and which affects the most vulnerable people in society: women, children, the disabled, the poorest and those who come from situations of family or social disintegration,” the Bishop of Rome told the newly accredited ambassadors, including the representative of Palestine, Dec. 12 at the Vatican's Clementine Hall.

“In these persons, in a special way, Christians recognize the face of Jesus, who identified with the smallest and the neediest among us. Others, who do not refer to a religious faith, in the name of our common humanity share our compassion for their suffering and the commitment to free them and to tend to their wounds. Together we can and must take action to free the victims of human trafficking and to put an end to this horrible trade.”

He mentioned the victims of forced labor, and those trafficked for both labor and sexual exploitation, saying “this cannot continue: it constitutes a grave violation of the human rights of the victims and is an affront to their dignity, as well as a a defeat for the global community.”

“All persons of good will, whether they profess a religion or not, cannot allow these women, these men and these children to be treated as objects, deceived, violated, often repeatedly sold, for various purposes, and at the end either killed or ruined physically and mentally, to end up discarded and abandoned. It is shameful.”

Pope Francis continued, calling trafficking a “crime against humanity,” saying “we must unite” to end this “increasingly aggressive” scourge which he said threatens not only its victims but “also the foundational values of society,” justice, and “family structure and social life.”

Speaking to the representatives of so many nations, the Roman Pontiff said there must be a “more decisive political will” to end trafficking and protect the rights of those trafficked and to prevent the corrupt and criminals from eluding justice and having the last word.”

He urged better legislation throughout the world, noting particularly the importance of laws to “facilitate regular migration” so as to “reduce the problem.”

In addition to the transport of illegal migrants, Pope Francis noted as causes of human trafficking the drugs and weapons trades, and the mafia.

He commended the measures taken by government to combat trafficking, yet also lamented the involvement “at times” of “public officials and members of peace missions” in the trade in persons.

“However, to effectively combat this scourge, it is necessary for action to extend to the fields of culture and communication. Also, we must deeply examine our consciences: how many times do we tolerate that a human being is considered as an object, displayed to sell a product or to satisfy immoral desires?”

“The human person must never be bought and sold like merchandise. Whoever uses and exploits human persons, even indirectly, becomes complicit in their oppression.”

The Roman Pontiff told the ambassadors that he addressed this concern of his to them because he believes “in the value and the strength of concerted commitment in combating it.”

“Therefore, I exhort the international community to adopt an even more unanimous and effective strategy against human trafficking, so that in every part of the world, men and women may no longer be used as a means to an end, and that their inviolable dignity may always be respected.”

Pope Francis concluded, offering the ambassadors his “best wishes” and pledging the help of the Roman Curia in their mission.

“I invoke upon your persons and upon your families, as well as upon your staff, an abundance of divine blessing.”

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Pope addresses Marxism accusations, women cardinals

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In an interview published Dec. 14 in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Pope Francis has responded to several questions touching controversial topics that have arisen in his papacy.

When asked by Italian Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli about the accusations of Marxism from “ultra-conservative Americans,” who took issue with certain passages of the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, the Pontiff was quick to denounce such ideology.

“The Marxist ideology is wrong,” he responded flatly.

The Pope had severely criticized the assumptions behind “trickle-down theories” in the exhortation, saying that they expressed “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

In blasting economic practices driven by greed and leading to inequality, he drew fire from the likes of radio host Rush Limbaugh, who contended that his comments were “pure Marxism” and “dramatically, embarrassingly, puzzlingly wrong.”

In the new interview, Pope Francis said he wasn’t offended by the comments, noting that he has known many Marxists who were still “good people.”

The Pope reaffirmed his adherence to the constant tradition of the Church, explaining that he had no intention of speaking in technical language.

“In the exhortation, there is nothing that is not found in the Social Doctrine of the Church. I didn't speak from a technical point of view, I tried to present a photograph of what happens,” he said.

“The only specific citation was for the ‘trickle-down’ theories, according to which every economic growth, supported by the free market, is able to produce in itself a great equity and social inclusion,” he continued.  

Saturday’s interview contained continued criticism of these specific ideas. “There was the promise that when the glass was full, it would have flowed over and the poor would have benefited from it. Instead, what happens is that when it is full the glass magically gets larger, and so nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

But “this was the only reference to a specific theory,” he repeated.

Pope Francis took the opportunity to re-emphasize his standpoint, stressing, “I repeat, I do not speak as a technician, but according to the Social Doctrine of the Church. And this does not mean being Marxist.”

When asked about another controversial topic, the possibility of women cardinals, the Pontiff was quick to point to the problematic assumption underlying the question. “Women in the Church must be valued, not ‘clericalized.’ Whoever is thinking (about) women cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

As for any rumors about his own consideration of the issue, “It is a line that has come from who knows where,” he said.

Tornielli’s questions also included the recently much-discussed topic of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Unless their first marriage has been annulled, the Church prohibits the reception of the Eucharist by these individuals, because they are living with someone other than their legitimate spouse.

“The exclusion from communion for divorced persons who live (in) a second union is not a sanction. It’s good to remember that,” replied Pope Francis.

“We must seek to facilitate people’s faith rather than control it,” he added.

Evangelii Gaudium had noted the need for both “prudence” and “boldness” in regards to the sacraments, saying “everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason.”

Pope Francis explained in the latest interview, however, “some (people) had immediately thought of the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, but I did not speak about particular cases: I wanted only to indicate a principle.”

The interview, which spanned three pages, also included the Pope’s thoughts on ecumenical matters and his concern for the poor, as well as his understanding of Christmas as “a meeting with Jesus” in which “the hope and the tenderness of the Birth of the Lord shakes us out of indifference.”

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Church is a 'house of joy,' Pope stresses on Gaudete Sunday

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his Angelus address on the third Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis emphasized the joy of the Christian message and community.

“The Christian message is called the ‘gospel,’ that is, ‘good news,’ an announcement of joy for all people; the Church is not a shelter for sad people, the Church is the house of joy!” he exclaimed to the crowds filling St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 15.

“Christian joy, like hope, has its foundation in the faithfulness of God, in the certainty that He always keeps his promises,” explained the pontiff.

The third Sunday of Advent is often referred to by its Latin name, Gaudete Sunday, which indicates that it is a day of ‘rejoicing.’

“In the liturgy, the invitation to rejoice, to arise, resounds repeatedly, because the Lord is near, Christmas is near. Like a mother, the Church encourages us to follow faithfully the spiritual path in order to celebrate the feast of Christmas with renewed exaltation.”

The enthusiasm of the crowd was apparent. Despite the rain, large numbers of people flocked to the Vatican square to celebrate an old Italian tradition: the blessing of the baby Jesus statues for manger scenes.

Today is “Bambinelli” Sunday, when children bring their statues of the infant Jesus from their nativity sets at home to be blessed by the Pope. “Dear children, when you pray in front of your manger scene, also remember me as I remember you,” asked Pope Francis.

“May the Virgin Mary help us to hasten our steps toward Bethlehem to meet the Child that is born for us, for the salvation and joy of all men,” he encouraged.

“The joy of the gospel is not just any joy,” the pontiff explained. “It is the joy that comes from knowing you are welcomed and loved by God.”

Because of its divine origin, “this joy truly remains even in suffering, because it is not superficial, but goes down to the depths of the person who commits himself to God and trusts in Him.”

“Those who have encountered Jesus along the road experience in their hearts a serenity and joy that nothing and no one can deprive them of,” Pope Francis emphasized.

“Our joy is Jesus, his faithful love is inexhaustible!” he exclaimed, taking a moment to stress the loving forgiveness of God, who is always waiting to welcome his children back.

Moreover, when a fellow Christian becomes sad, “we must pray for him, and make him feel the warmth of the community.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, “helps us to live the joy of the Gospel in family, at work, in the parish and in every environment,” he commented.

The Holy Father described a Christian’s joy as “an intimate joy, with wonder and tenderness,” like that of “a mother when she looks at her newborn baby, and feels that it is a gift from God, a miracle for which there is only thanks!”

After the Angelus, Pope Francis went to greet the members of the Dominic Tardini Community of House of Nazareth, who had participated in the 10 a.m. Mass held in St. Peter’s Basilica, along with the group’s president, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini.

The Pope thanked them for their work in service of “the dignity of the human person,” asked for their prayers, and wished them a “happy and holy Christmas.”


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Patriarch: Work with Muslims to promote religious freedom

Rome, Italy, Dec 15, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church is calling on the faithful to reach out to Muslims in order to foster a common understanding of religious liberty and cooperation in supporting it.

“The majority Muslim population is good and not violent,” said Archbishop Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Babylon. “They do not agree with the extremists but they are also afraid to react publicly.”

He noted that moderate Muslims are “the majority,” and said that they must promote religious freedom and civil harmony in their societies.

“They must prove to the world through deeds that Islam is not a religion of ‘terror and killing’ of innocent civilians.”

Archbishop Sako, whose Church is in full communion with Rome, delivered a keynote lecture Dec. 14 at a conference on Christianity and freedom, held at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome. The conference is an initiative of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

The archbishop suggested that the Catholic Church produce a document for Muslims to translate ideas of religious freedom into a language more understandable to Islamic thinking.

“Such an undertaking can help the Church look for a new and more comprehensible theological language in Arabic to help Christians and Muslims to understand our faith, and the importance of religious freedom to every person and every society,” he stated.

This proposed document, he said, should explain “in language compatible with Islam” the idea of religious freedom as articulated in the Second Vatican Council’s religious freedom declaration “Dignitatis Humanae.”

“It is important to clarify with them both our fears and our hopes,” he observed.

“We need a way to help Muslims reconcile Islam with citizenship based on full equality,” he added. “A secular state that entails cooperation between religious and political leaders would be ideal.”

The patriarch invited Muslim friends to show common action as a follow up to “A Common Word Between Us and You,” a 2007 document produced by leading Muslims as part of a dialogue with Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Sako stressed the importance of Christians in the Middle East, citing their history in the region dating back to apostolic times, long before Islam’s arrival. He noted Christians’ culture, their high level of education, their work in business, their “spirit of cooperation” and their institutions such as schools, hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly.

Efforts to repress Christians or to encourage them to flee is “a great crime” against them and “a big loss for Muslims,” he said, calling for an end to the “mortal exodus” of Christians from the Middle East, due to threats including war, a lack of security, “extremist political Islam” and organized crime.

“We Christians are trying to remain in our homelands because we are committed to love each other,” the archbishop explained, stressing the need for religious unity in the quest for peace.

“Because we are all created by God, each of us carries a heritage that profoundly links us all,” he said.

The patriarch urged the West and the international community to increase efforts to help Muslim nations in “modernizing” Islam’s approach to religious freedom, as well as to convince Muslim nations that anti-Christian persecution is harmful both for Christians and their societies as a whole.

Archbishop Sako, who is based in Baghdad, particularly lamented the lack of security in Iraq and the daily attacks, bombings, kidnappings and murders.

“Naturally we are worried about our future,” he said. “The continuing weakening of Christianity in Iraq is not just a tragedy for our country, but the entire region.”

After the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, “turmoil swept Iraq,” he said. Christians and other minority groups have been especially affected.

More than 1,000 Iraqi Christians have been killed since 2003, while others have been tortured or kidnapped and released only after a large ransom. About 62 churches and monasteries have been attacked.

Iraq’s Christian population has halved since 1987, with at least 850,000 having left the country.

A similar scenario is playing out in Egypt, where more than 100 churches have been attacked in the last 18 months. In Syria, 67 churches have been attacked and tens of thousands of Christians have left the country.

Archbishop Sako stressed the “deep roots” of Christianity in the Middle East, dating back to apostolic times. He noted that Syriac Christianity uses a language very close to the Aramaic language of Jesus Christ and the early Christians. This version of Christianity reached Tibet and China.

Furthermore, it was in Antioch in the Roman province of Syria that the followers of Jesus Christ were first called Christians. The patriarchal sees of five churches originated in Antioch.

The archbishop said that many Muslims do not know the historical role of Christians in the religious and intellectual formation of Islamic civilization.

He praised the “long tradition” of Syriac Christians’ encounter and dialogue with their Muslim neighbors, voicing hope that this tradition may help these Christians preserve their heritage and offer their “unique contributions.”

“The loss of Christianity from the Middle East would fundamentally alter the contours of culture and society in nations such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt,” he emphasized. “It would deal a severe blow to any hope of pluralism and democracy.”

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