Vatican City, Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican's spokesman says some coverage of Pope Francis’ comment about a child of a same-sex couple is “forced” and a “manipulation” of his primary concern about evangelizing in new cultural environments.
On Jan. 3, the Italian Jesuit periodical La Civilta Cattolica published a 14-page account of Pope Francis' Nov. 29 conversation with a group of superiors general from religious orders.
While discussing marginalization, culture, and education as the frontiers of mission, the Pope recalled that in Argentina he met “a very sad little girl who finally confided in her teacher the reason for her state of mind: 'my mother's girlfriend doesn't love me.' The percentage of children studying in schools who have separated parents is very high. The situation in which we live now provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand.”
“How can we proclaim Christ to these boys and girls? How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing? We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”
Some Italian news agencies, as well as the French news agency AFP, reported on the 14-page account as though Pope Francis had made indicated some opening towards gay marriages or civil unions.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press officer, said Jan. 6 that the Pope's “point about the educational responsibilities of the Church, which in a sense is fairly obvious, was made on Nov. 29 in entirely general terms, (but) has been placed by various Italian media outlets in the context of the question raised in recent days of recognition of civil unions of homosexual couples.”
“It is completely self-evident,” he said, that the topic was “forced … so much so that in some cases it seems the Pope’s remark is being manipulated. To speak of an ‘openness to gay couples’ is paradoxical, because the Pope’s comment is completely general in nature and because even the small concrete example made by the Pope about (a girl who was sad because her mother's girlfriend doesn’t love her) alludes to the suffering of children.”
The Vatican spokesman emphasized that Pope Francis was addressing the fact that “the situation in which education of children takes place today is very different than in the past, because (these children) live in many difficult family situations, such as parents who are separated, anomalous new unions, sometimes even homosexual unions.”
He continued, saying, “education and the proclamation of the faith of course cannot ignore this reality and must be attentive to the welfare of future generations, affectionately accompanying them in their current context, in order not to provoke negative reactions contrary to openness to the faith.”
One Italian political party has announced its support for civil unions since Pope Francis spoke to the superiors general, and Fr. Lombardi said the Pope had “absolutely not expressed himself on the debate that reopened in Italy only a month later.”
“Those who remember the positions he expressed earlier in Argentina during similar debates know that they were completely different from what some people are now trying surreptitiously to attribute to him.”
In a July 2010 letter to Carmelite nuns of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio asked them to pray for the defeat of a gay marriage bill and criticized it in strong language.
“Let’s not be naïve: This is a not simple political struggle, but an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill but a move of the Father of Lies, who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he wrote.
Chicago, Ill., Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
As intense cold weather in the Midwest nears record low temperatures, local Catholic Charities affiliates are reaching out to those who are most in need.
“Chicago is experiencing extremely dangerous and cold weather. We are anticipating some of the coldest weather on record,” Kristine Kappel, communications director for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA Jan. 6.
“In weather like this our top priority is ensuring that everyone who needs a warm place to stay has someplace to go,” she said.
The National Weather Service said Jan. 5 that temperatures in Chicago could fall to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill ranging from minus 30 to minus 50.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has added more staff to its outreach program, which does well-being checks, delivers emergency food boxes and helps those in need find temporary shelter or a warming center.
Kappel said the Chicago agency has 227 shelter beds for men, women and families and is now at full capacity. Its mobile outreach program works with shelters around to city to ensure that all needs for shelter are met.
The agency works “very closely” with the City of Chicago and other social service agencies and shelters.
The National Weather Service has warned that wind chill readings so cold to be “life-threatening” will be widespread across Wisconsin.
Justine Lodl, director of communications for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., said everyone is vulnerable in such weather conditions.
“Catholic Charities is helping with any housing related emergencies by assisting in getting persons connected to resources within the communities we serve,” she told CNA.
The Green Bay Catholic Charities affiliate has a temporary wintertime shelter with 84 beds. The gym at St. Norbert College or several churches can help host any overflow.
Minnesota is also suffering from the extreme weather.
“It’s cold. This is probably the coldest it’s been in quite a while,” said Julia Jenson, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “With the wind chill, it makes it so much colder.”
Jenson said the agency has four to five shelters, including one for families and another for homeless youth. The shelters have a total capacity of about 1,000.
“Basically we’re just trying to keep people safe and off the streets and provide help where we can,” Jenson told CNA Jan. 6.
The agency has opened its shelters for a longer period. Its care coordinators and case managers are also checking on the vulnerable elderly to see if they have heat or need help for applying for heat assistance. The agency is also making food deliveries through programs like Meals on Wheels.
“We have a lot of these clients who are living at the poverty level,” she said. “We want to check in on them, especially the elderly folks to make sure that they are staying warm and keeping their apartments at the appropriate temperature.”
Augusta, Ga., Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A Veterans’ Affairs hospital in Georgia was wrong to bar Christmas carolers from singing religious songs, a religious liberty legal group has said.
“By banning these Christmas carols, the VA is trampling the very religious freedoms our veterans have sacrificed so much to defend. Contrary to what hospital officials are claiming, they are disrespecting--not respecting – constitutionally protected religious freedoms,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Dec. 30.
A group of high school students visiting the federally-run Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga. on Dec. 20 were told not to sing religious songs.
They were given a list of 12 Christmas songs the hospital’s pastoral service “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of all veterans,” the Athens Banner-Herald reports.
Hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell announced the ban the Monday before Christmas, saying military veterans “represent people of all faiths.” He said VA policy is “welcoming but respectful of all faiths and the protection of each veteran’s right to religious freedom and protection from unwelcomed religious material, to their religious beliefs.”
He said the hospital regrets “any inconvenience or misunderstanding.”
Alleluia Community School principal Dan Funsch told the Athens-Banner Herald that his students were welcomed in 2011 and 2012.
“This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue,” he said, noting that the songs are broadcast on radio stations and retail outlets.
Tedesco said that while veterans have faced dangerous threats, but “children singing Christmas carols is not among them.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the hospital Dec. 30 saying that federal courts have determined that allowing religious Christmas carols to be sung “fully complies with the First Amendment.”
It urged the hospital to rescind the policy.
Fusch, the principal, said Christmas and Christmas carols are intended “to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of.”
“We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places.”
Other VA hospitals have adopted restrictive policies around Christmas activities. The VA hospital in Dallas said that homemade Christmas cards from elementary students at Grace Academy in Prosper, Texas could not be delivered to veterans because they violated policy. Some children had planned to hand deliver some cards, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes reports.
A VA official cited the Veterans Health Administration handbook, saying a chaplaincy services-led team must review donated cards to determine “if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients.” He said the policy was “in order to be respectful of our veterans’ religious beliefs.”
The cards were instead sent to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio and to a private veterans’ facility in Louisiana.
Karwar, India, Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholics gathered with those of other traditions last week in a city of South West India to celebrate Christmas with efforts promoting peace and harmony.
Bishop Derek Fernandes of Karwar presided over Christmas celebrations Dec. 29 with over 4,000 faithful, as well as extending the joy of the Nativity with those of other religions.
“Such a public manifestation of the birth of our savior is important so as to share with everyone the grace of God and to recount to all that Jesus Christ is Lord,” Fr. Anthony Dias, pastoral director for the Karwar diocese, told CNA Jan. 5.
Bishop Fernandes' Christmas message emphasized the priority of fostering peace, of commitment to sharing the gospel, and of zealously striving in the service of mankind.
The message was in union with Pope Francis' Dec. 25 Urbi et Orbi message, in which he prayed for peace and said, “true peace … is not a balance of opposing forces. It is not a lovely 'facade' which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment, starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.”
Karwar's Christmas celebration was hosted by the city's United Catholic Christian Forum, and was attended by representatives of both Hinduism and Islam.
The chief guest, S. R. Naik, a Hindu and a local college professor, said that “Jesus Christ brought the good news of peace, joy, love and forgiveness to all people on earth.”
“The principles he taught by words and deeds are simple truths, which, if followed by all, will certainly establish God’s kingdom on earth,” he continued.
“The secret of the popularity of the Christian faith lies in its simplicity and universal appeal… no one, except Jesus Christ, could and did pray for forgiveness for his enemies from his cross.”
The Christmas celebration began with a prayer and a reading of the Gospel by Karwar's vicar general, Msgr. Simon Tellis. Then the Christmas message was presented by groups from several parishes, schools and religious congregations through skits, caroling, and the distribution of charitable gifts.
Fr. Dias said the skits helped make the Biblical narrative more easily accessible and understandable to those of other religions.
The celebration was held on Tagore Beach, Karwar's waterfront where locals often co congregate to walk along the coast of the Arabian Sea, a region of the Indian Ocean. Karwar is located in Karnataka state, and is a port city on the Arabian sea.
The Diocese of Karwar serves nearly 54,000 faithful, who comprise nearly four percent of the total population of 1.4 million.
Vatican City, Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On New Year’s Eve, Pope Francis called a community of Carmelite sisters in Lucena, Spain to wish them a happy new year, and when they didn’t answer, he left a message saying that he would call back.
"What are the nuns doing that they can't answer?" the Pope jested in his Dec. 31 message to the nuns, "I am Pope Francis, I wish to greet you in this end of the year, I will see if I can call you later. May God bless you!"
According to CNN, the community gave the audio of Pope Francis’ message to COPE, a Spanish radio network that is partially owned by Spain’s Episcopal Conference, because they wanted to share his words “with the world.”
Upon receiving the Pope’s message, the nuns, who had been praying when the Pontiff called a few minutes before noon, “didn’t know what to do.”
Sister Adriana, prioress of the convent, told COPE that she "literally wanted to die" after first hearing the message, explaining that “our friendship goes back 15 years but we never thought the Pope would remember to think of us."
After consulting with their local bishop, Emilio Z. Marquez, the community attempted to return the Pope’s call, but was unsuccessful and decided just to wait, hoping for another call.
Within a few hours the phone rang again, and the Nuns were sure to answer, COPE reported.
The community of five, three of whom are from the Pope’s native country of Argentina, were able to speak with the Pontiff for a few minutes on speakerphone.
Pope Francis’ message “was to never lose hope, because sadness leads to spiritual sloth and hopelessness," Sister Adriana revealed, adding that she has known the Pope for years, and admires his simplicity and closeness to people.
In addition to the celebration of New Year’s Eve, the Pope’s call also coincided with the community’s 400th anniversary.
This message has been the latest in a series of personal calls that Pope Francis has made to various individuals since his election, including a call to cancel his newspaper subscription after he was elected Bishop of Rome, and to a young mother offering to baptize her unborn child in September.
Zahle, Lebanon, Jan 7, 2014 (CNA) -
Christian refugees from Syria living in Lebanon need the support of their Western counterparts, according to an Eastern Catholic bishop who is himself a native of Syria.
“They live in rented homes, sometimes with multiple families in a single home or a set of rooms … most of these Christian families, however, are in need of the very basics of daily life – food, educational opportunities for their children, medical care,” Archbishop Issam John Darwish of the Melkite Greek Archeparchy of Zahle and Fourzol told the charity Aid to the Church in Need last month.
“Many of them are in bad shape, emotionally and materially – they left everything behind and came here with literally nothing. Jihadist rebels came to them at night and forced them to leave immediately – they are traumatized, because they were unable to mourn and pray for their dead. We try to support them emotionally and financially.”
These refugees are fleeing the now 33-month long Syrian civil war, which has forced 2.3 million Syrians to flee their homes for Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and elsewhere.
The war has internally displaced another 6.5 million, and more than 115,000 have died in the violence.
Archbishop Darwish explained that most of the refugees in camps run by the U.N. are Muslim, and that Christian refugees are reluctant to register themselves for benefits out of fear of identification and reprisal.
“They don’t want to be involved whatsoever in the war; they worry that their names will be given either to the Syrian government or the rebels … I don’t believe they have real reason to be afraid, however, and we have tried to help matters by organizing meetings between the families and representatives of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.”
He explained that he had encouraged the agency to work directly with the Melkite Church, “but officials apparently are not too eager to do so, but we are making some progress.”
There are more than 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a country home to fewer than 5 million people. Much of the Lebanese population is reluctant to provide new housing to refugees, fearing a sense of permanency.
According to a New York Times report of Dec. 11, the country has banned “box shelters,” housing units of plywood walls and zinc roofs which measure 250 square feet, “regarding them as a threat to this already fragile nation.”
Archbishop Darwish said “we help the poorer Christian families pay their rent,” adding that the archeparchy also tries “to find work for the young men and adults.”
In the Beqaa Valley, where Zahle is located, December brought freezing temperatures along with snow, rain, and high winds. Zahle itself is sheltering 800 Christian refugees.
Zahle is located within 15 miles of the Syrian border, where nationwide demonstrations sprang up March 15, 2011, protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president. That April, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
The war is now being fought among the Syrian regime and various rebel groups, including moderates, Islamists, and Kurds.
Archbishop Darwish criticized the characterization of the Syrian uprising as part of an “Arab Spring” which toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
“There is no Arab spring,” he said, “there is no push for democracy – it is a push for theocracy, as we saw with the revolution in Egypt that brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power. Jihadists from all over the world are coming into the region – just consider the various radical factions in Syria, like Al Nusra. So far, the moderate opposition to the old regimes has been weak.”
The archbishop indicated that “Christians have an important role to play” in the establishment of societies open to dialogue in the Middle East, saying, “what we can do is collaborate with moderate Muslims, here in Lebanon, in Syria, and in other countries of the region. Quietly, we have begun doing so, because there definitely are partners for dialogue within the Muslim community.”
Vatican City, Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In his daily Mass homily Pope Francis touched on the importance of discerning what comes from God and what is false, emphasizing that the way of Jesus is always one of “humility.”
“That is the path of Jesus Christ: abasement, humility, humiliation as well,” the Pope said Jan. 7, “if a thought, if a desire takes you along the road of humility and abasement, of service to others, is from Jesus.”
Focusing on the Apostle John's words “remain in the Lord” from the day's first reading, Pope Francis told those gathered in the chapel of the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse that this expression is a “counsel for life.”
John, the Pontiff noted, displays for us “one of the attitudes of the Christian who wants to remain in the Lord: to understand what’s happening in one’s own heart,” and for this reason he cautions us “not to trust every spirit, but test the spirits.”
Observing that there are some spirits which help us to “remain in the Lord” and others that “take us away from Him,” the Pope urged those in attendance to “test the spirits to see if they really come from God, because many false prophets have come into the world.”
This, stated the Pope, is “why vigilance is necessary. The Christian is a man or a woman who knows to keep watch over his or her heart.”
Highlighting how often times our hearts filled with “so many things that come and go,” Pope Francis explained that they can seem like “a local market: everything, you can find everything there.”
“No! We need to test things – this is from the Lord, and this is not – in order to remain in the Lord,” he continued, adding that the Apostle John gives us a “simple” criterion to determine what is from God and what is from the antichrist.
“Every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God,” the Pope noted, “this is the spirit of the antichrist.”
To fully recognize that “that the Word is come in the flesh,” Pope Francis explained, means to recognize “the path of Jesus Christ” and that Jesus, “being God, He emptied Himself, He humbled Himself” even to “death on the Cross.”
“If a thought, if a desire takes you along the road of humility and abasement, of service to others, is from Jesus,” noted the Pontiff, “but if it brings you to the road of sufficiency, of vanity, of pride, along the path of an abstract thought, it is not from Jesus.”
Recalling the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, the Pope explained that “all three proposals the demon makes to Jesus are proposals that intended to take Him away from this path, the path of service, of humility, of humiliation, of charity.”
“But the charity accomplished with His life, no? To the three temptations Jesus says no: ‘No, this is not my path!’”
Inviting those present to question themselves about what is in their own hearts, the Pontiff asked “Do I test what I think, what I want, what I desire, or do I accept it all” without discerning?
“So many times, our heart is a road, everything passes there,” he affirmed, “Put it to the test! Do I always choose the things that come from God? Do I know which are the things that come from God? Do I know the true criterion by which to discern my thoughts, my desires?”
Concluding his reflections, Pope Francis encouraged the congregation to think about these questions, and not to forget “that the criterion is the Incarnation of the Word.”
“The Word is come in the flesh: this is Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ who was made man, God made man, who lowered Himself, humbled Himself for love, in order to serve all of us.”
“May the Apostle John” he prayed, “grant us this grace to know what is happening in our hearts, and to have the wisdom to discern what is of God and what is not of God.”
Dallas, Texas, Jan 7, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis' witness shows Catholics how to care for the poor and suffering while bringing the new evangelization to a world “that so desperately needs Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila says.
“Do not be afraid to love in this way, to evangelize with the strength of charity,” the archbishop said Jan. 6. “Nothing is impossible for God. He can take your love, which could be as small as a mustard seed, and turn it into something beautiful that changes the course of history and eternity.”
The archbishop spoke at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at a dinner for benefactors of the 2014 student leadership summit of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a Colorado-based student missionary organization. The summit, held from Jan. 3-7, brought together “young people on fire for the Lord,” he said.
Archbishop Aquila explained that the new evangelization is not about new content, but rather a new approach in “ardor, methods and expression,” as Pope John Paul II said. This means reaching out to those who have not heard the message of the Catholic faith, to those who need to grow deeper in their Catholic faith, and to those who once accepted the faith but no longer do.
Pope Francis is especially advancing this evangelization effort through his “affection for the smallest, the poorest, the sickest, and the furthest away,” the archbishop added. This affection “has certainly touched everyone who has witnessed it, from those who have left the Church to those who have never heard the Gospel.”
The Denver archbishop said he believes Pope Francis' actions draw from the spiritual conviction that the world is “profoundly wounded and deep down it wants to be healed.” He noted the Pope's image of the Church as a “field hospital after battle” which must first “heal the wounds” before talking further.
At the same time, Pope Francis has spoken of “the joy of the gospel” that “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Those who accept Jesus Christ's salvation are “set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness,” the Pope wrote in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium.”
According to Pope Francis, the most foundational proclamation of evangelization is “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”
Mercy and love “come first,” Archbishop Aquila summarized. He said Catholics should adopt a “missionary orientation” that changes how they present the Gospel, how they accompany people spiritually and how they pray.
The archbishop cited Pope Francis' emphasis that evangelization must start with personal dialogue, sharing joys, hopes, concerns and “heartfelt needs.”
“Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship,” the Pope said.
Archbishop Aquila then advised how to put this into practice. Catholics must “spiritually accompany people on their journey toward Christ” and “earn the right to be heard.”
“If the Church exists to evangelize, then every Catholic is called to accompany their spouse, children, coworkers, fellow parishioners, society and especially those living far from the Church,” he added.
Catholics should also know the Scriptures, the archbishop reflected.
“What are you doing to train your heart and ear to listen to God’s word?” he asked. “If you are not nourished by the Scriptures, then you will not know the source of evangelization.”
He said several practices of FOCUS are already in line with the Pope’s advice: the organization’s formation practice of “mentoring” students, its small group Bible studies, and its principle that student missionaries must love people first before attempting to share the Gospel.
Archbishop Aquila said Catholics are called to “share our love for God in a joyful way, in ways that take us to the outskirts of society where the materially poor live and to the intellectually barren and secularized places of our society where the spiritually poor live.”
“God takes something small and humble and makes it flourish,” he said.