Juba, South Sudan, Feb 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Catholic bishops of Sudan and South Sudan have said South Sudan is at a turning point, urging repentance and reconciliation after an outbreak of violence killed hundreds of people.
“We are convinced that we stand at a decisive moment in the history of South Sudan. Fundamental choices must be made about how we deal with our past and present history, about how we govern ourselves as a nation, about how state institutions serve the poor,” the bishops said in a joint apostolic exhortation Jan. 30.
“We must seize from the present crisis an opportunity to re-found our nation on democratic principles of dialogue, inclusion, and respect for diversity, God's gift to humanity.”
The bishops proclaimed their “hope and expectation” that South Sudan will “rise above the crisis.”
“Let our nations be built not on foundations of sand but on strong foundations of truth, justice, reconciliation, diversity and peace, on the foundations of the Gospel values enshrined in Catholic Social Teaching.”
The exhortation, addressed to the people of both countries, was produced by the extraordinary plenary assembly of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference which met Jan. 21-31 in South Sudan's capital of Juba. Signatories included Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako of the Sudanese capital Khartoum and Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba.
South Sudan won independence from its northern neighbor Sudan in 2011, years after the end of a bloody, decades-long civil war in 2005. In mid-December 2013, armed conflict broke out in South Sudan's capital of Juba following a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar.
The violence has killed over 1,000 people and displaced over 500,000 more, the International Business Times reports. Some killings have reportedly been targeted based on ethnicity.
The bishops said they were “shocked” by the violence and that the region is in “crisis” and faces perhaps one of its gravest situations ever.
“Our vision of a liberated nation in which all people will be equal and live in peace appears to be shattered,” they said, comparing the violence to the murder of Abel by Cain.
They said that God will judge “harshly” those who murder, rape and loot the innocent, and judge “even more harshly” those who incite violence or fail to prevent it. At the same time, they added, Jesus came “not to condemn but to redeem.”
“We invite the prodigal son to return to the family, the lost sheep to the fold, the sinner to right behavior,” the bishops said. “We call for repentance and conversion of heart. Let those who have committed atrocities admit it honestly. Admission of guilt is a virtue, not a weakness.”
Describing Sudanese history as “an open wound that desperately needs healing,” the bishops called for a rejection of “negative narratives” that “poison” social relations.
“Let us end these vicious cycles by creating space where we can speak and work towards peaceful coexistence and reconciliation,” they said.
The bishops criticized growing tensions in South Sudan’s governing party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, saying these tensions played a “significant role” in the violence.
“Internal party disputes should not be allowed to destabilize the nation,” they said.
They called for better governance and for a rejection of the tendency to “personalize” political power and act against the community’s best interests. They said institutions should be staffed by people chosen for their “competency and professionalism.”
The bishops said that corruption and nepotism have helped destabilize South Sudan by preventing basic services from reaching people. This breeds “resentment and disillusionment towards the institutions of our state.”
They urged transparency and accountability in government as well as the rejection of “all recourse to violence.” They encouraged responsible journalism and the rejection of all incitement to violence, propaganda, speculations and rumors.
Military issues were also a subject of their exhortation. They said that the military should be non-political All armed groups should respect and protect civilians and prisoners of war. Hospitals, churches and other places of shelter should be respected. All conscription and recruitment of children should be rejected.
The bishops stressed the need for education to help students understand the “structures and dynamics” of society and to form them in “moral and ethical values.”
“Many of our leaders are churchgoers, but their behavior does not indicate a good moral life,” they said. “We need to form consciences and professional ethics.”
They voiced particular concern for the humanitarian crisis in the Diocese of Malakal in northeastern South Sudan. They appealed to all aid agencies to support vulnerable communities there and elsewhere in the two countries.
The bishops objected that churches had been excluded from the South Sudan peace talks held in Ethiopia. They also stressed the importance of prayer in this process.
“We call on the nation and all people of good will to continue to accompany the peace and reconciliation process with prayer and fasting,” the bishops said.
Attendees at the bishops’ plenary assembly included bishops of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa. The assembly also welcomed Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, the new papal nuncio to South Sudan.
Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In honor of Catholic Schools Week, U.S. Congressman Dan Lipinski (D- Ill.) introduced a House resolution commending Catholic schools for their work and contributions to society.
“As a proud graduate of Catholic grammar school and high school, every year I look forward to highlighting the achievements of America’s Catholic schools during Catholic Schools Week,” said Rep. Lipinski in a Jan. 23 statement.
His resolution commended Catholic schools for promoting a “broad, values-added education emphasizing the lifelong development of moral, intellectual, physical, and social values in young people in the United States.”
The resolution also extends support to “the goals of National Catholic Schools Week” and welcomes the “key role” that Catholic schools “play in promoting and ensuring a brighter, stronger future for the Nation.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Catholic Schools Week, instituted by the National Catholic Educational Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The theme for this year – which runs Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 – is “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”
Each year during Catholic Schools Week, Lipinski visits some of the Catholic schools in his district.
“The Chicago Archdiocese and the Joliet Diocese run two of the very best school systems in the country, regularly producing graduates who are successful in their chosen fields and go on to become leaders in their communities,” he said.
“Visiting the students, teachers, and administrators at our Catholic schools throughout this special week is always inspiring. It is one of the highlights of my year.”
Brother Robert Bimonte, FSC, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, thanked Congressman Lipinski and the co-sponsors of the resolution.
“This week is not only a celebration but a timely reminder that Catholic schools are both a gift to the Church and to the nation that must be treasured and preserved,” he said.
“Catholic schools provide a rich environment of faith and learning where students experience how much God loves them in Christ,” commented Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., who chairs the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ education committee.
“Our schools have educated millions of young people over the years by providing them a superior academic background, always pointing the way to eternal life,” the archbishop said in a Jan. 15 statement.
He added that Catholic school students “are free to express their own love for God in prayer and the celebration of the sacraments and to express love of neighbor in a community where each is respected as a gift from God.”
“The success of Catholic schools in handing on the faith, generation after generation, is a bright light in the history of the Church in the United States.”
Vatican City, Feb 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis spoke emphatically about the importance of religious life during his Sunday Angelus message.
“Every consecrated person is a gift for the People of God on a journey. There is much need of their presence, that strengthens and renews the commitment to spread the gospel, to Christian education, to charity for the most needy, to contemplative prayer; the commitment to a human and spiritual formation of young people, of families; the commitment to justice and peace in the human family,” he said on Feb. 2 to the crowds who braved the rain to gather in St. Peter’s Square.
Noting that Feb. 2 is the World Day for Consecrated Life, the Pope continued, “consecrated persons are signs of God in diverse environments of life, they are leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, prophecy of sharing with the little and the poor. As such understanding and experience, the consecrated life appears to us just as it really is: a gift of God!”
Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis exclaimed, “What would happen if there were no sisters? Sisters in the hospitals, sisters in the missions, sisters in the schools… one can’t imagine it! They are the leaven that carry the people of God forward!”
“The Church and the world have need of this testimony of the love and mercy of God,” he stressed.
Those who live a religious life in imitation of Christ’s own poverty, chastity, and obedience, offer “a special witness to the gospel of the Kingdom of God.”
Although all Christians are consecrated to God in baptism and all are called to make “a generous gift of our lives, in the family, at work, in service to the Church, (and) in works of mercy,” those in religious life experience this consecration “in a particular way.”
“Totally consecrated to God, they are totally given over to their brethren, to carry the light of Christ there where the darkness is thickest and to spread his hope to hearts who are discouraged,” emphasized the pontiff.
The Church will benefit from a greater knowledge and presence of consecrated men and women, urged Pope Francis. The year 2015 will be dedicated in a special way to religious life.
“It is necessary to value with gratitude the experience of consecrated life and deepen the knowledge of different charisms and spiritualities. We must pray, so that many young people respond ‘yes’ to the Lord who calls them to consecrate themselves wholly to Him for disinterested service to their brethren.”
The Pope then led the crowds in the Angelus prayer, followed by greetings for different pilgrim groups present.
Pope Francis made special mention of the “Day for Life” celebrated in Italy today, thanking everyone who works to defend life, “to accept, respect and promote it, especially when it is fragile and in need of attention and care, from the womb of a mother until its end on this earth.”
The Pope also called for prayers and “concrete solidarity” with those in Rome and Tuscany who have been affected by flooding recently due to heavy rains in the regions.
He then closed by wishing everyone a good Sunday and good lunch.
Vatican City, Feb 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis’ Sunday homily reflected on the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, noting how the event shows both young and old people joyous in their faithfulness to God.
The Pope said the Presentation is “a meeting between the young full of joy in observing the Law of the Lord and the elderly full of joy by the action of the Holy Spirit.”
“It is a singular meeting between observance and prophecy,” he said Feb. 2.
The Presentation, recounted in the Gospel of Luke, is the story of the infant Jesus and his parents meeting the elderly Simeon and Anna in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis noted that Luke’s gospel repeats four times that Mary and Joseph “wanted to do that which was prescribed by the Law of the Lord,” in bringing their child to be dedicated to God.
“The parents of Jesus had the joy of observing the precepts of God, yes, the joy of walking in the Law of the Lord... It’s not an external fact, it’s not to feel alright, no! It’s a strong, profound desire, full of joy,” he explained.
The elderly Simeon and Anna “were guided by the Holy Spirit.” Simeon was a “just and pious man who awaited the consolation of Israel” while Anna was a “prophetess” who was “inspired by God.”
“In other words,” said Pope Francis, “these two elderly people are full of life! They are full of life because they are animated by the Holy Spirit, docile to his actions, sensitive to his call.”
This meeting points to a deeper reality in the Church, he continued.
“If we reflect carefully, the observance of the law is animated by the same Spirit, and prophecy moves us along the path drawn by the Law. Who more than Mary is full of the Holy Spirit? Who more than she is docile to his actions?”
He addressed a congregation that filled St. Peter’s Basilica with religious and clergy gathered to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation. In 1997 John Paul II dedicated the feast day as the World Day for Consecrated Life.
Pope Francis said that the commitment to religious life should be seen as a “meeting with Christ.” It is Jesus Christ who “comes to us, brought by Mary and Joseph, and we who go towards him, guided by the Holy Spirit. But He is at the center.”
“He moves everything, he draws us to the Temple, to the Church, where we can meet him, know him, welcome him, embrace him.”
The Pope explained that this encounter can take place in organizations of vowed religious.
“Jesus comes to meet us in the Church through the foundational charism of an institute: it’s beautiful to think this about our vocations!” exclaimed Pope Francis to the many men and women religious in the congregation.
“And also in the consecrated life, one lives the meeting between youth and the elderly, between observance and prophecy,” he continued. “Let us not see them as two opposing realities!”
Observance of the law and prophecy must work together, he urged. “A sign of this is joy, the joy of observance, of journeying in the rule of life, and the joy of being guided by the Spirit, never rigid, never closed, always open to the voice of God who speaks, who opens, who leads.”
Pope Francis then encouraged the elderly to share their wisdom with young people, and young people to “receive this patrimony of experience and wisdom,” in order to “carry it forward,” not “to keep it in a museum” but rather “for the good of the respective religious families of the whole Church.”
At the close of Mass, Pope Francis stopped for a moment of prayer in front of a statue of Mary holding the infant Jesus before processing out of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The statue of the baby Jesus from the Vatican’s Nativity scene, which will be put away today, was also brought to the pontiff for a final act of veneration.