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Virgil Dechant, past supreme knight of Knights of Columbus, dies at 89

IMAGE: CNS photo/Knights of Columbus

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LEAWOOD, Kan. (CNS) -- Virgil C. Dechant, the longest-serving supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, holding the office from 1977 to 2000, died in his sleep Feb. 15 in his hometown of Leawood. He was 89.

"God has called home a good man and one of the Knights' great leaders," said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who succeeded Dechant in the top post. "Virgil Dechant used to say that his goal was to leave the Knights better than he found it, and in myriad ways, he accomplished that."

Dechant "leaves a lasting legacy and an excellent example of what it means to be a Knight and a fraternalist," Anderson added in a statement released Feb. 17. "Nowhere is this more true than in his home state of Kansas, which remains in many ways a model jurisdiction."

Born Sept. 24, 1930, in Antonino, Kansas, Dechant joined the Knights in 1949 and was a member of LaCrosse (Kansas) Council 2970 and St. Augustine Council 2340 in Liebanthal, Kansas. A successful businessman, Dechant operated a private farm in Kansas and he also owned and operated his own car dealership and farm equipment firm.

Dechant arrived at the Knights' headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1967 to serve as the supreme secretary for the fraternal order. Ten years later, he was elected supreme knight.

During his tenure in the top post, Dechant "oversaw tremendous growth in the order's membership as well as in its assets and insurance business," according to a Knights' news release about his death. He also opened the organization to greater involvement by the wives and families of its members.

In addition, Dechant forged a close relationship with the Vatican during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, leading the order to sponsor numerous renovation projects -- including of the facade of St. Peter's Basilica -- and working with the pope to promote the faith in Eastern Europe, which was then behind the Iron Curtain.

In 1988, when the Knights held their Supreme Convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, President Ronald Reagan in addressing the attendees via videotape singled out Dechant "for the counsel he has given me over the years.'' In his wider comments, Reagan commended the organization for its views on the family, work against pornography and help for the disadvantaged.

In 1990, the pope appointed Dechant to the lay board of directors for the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank.

At the 2003 convention, the then-retired Dechant urged the assembled Knights to take the lead fighting the "new anti-Catholicism." He also said the Knights understand that lay leadership "is not about the laity seizing control of the church" but rather to work in " solidarity and cooperation" with bishops and priests.

On April 6, 2005, Dechant escorted President George W. Bush to the funeral of St. John Paul at St. Peter's Basilica.

Among his honors was his appointment to the Order of Pius IX, the highest papal honor that can be conferred on a Catholic layman who is not a head of state. Dechant also received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great and was a Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

In 1998, Dechant received the National Right to Life award along with Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, for their staunch support of the right to life and opposition to abortion.

Dechant is survived by his wife, Ann, their four children, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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Raphael's tapestries briefly return to Sistine Chapel

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Vatican Museums

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An artistic masterpiece conceived by the Renaissance master Raphael was on display for one week in the Sistine Chapel to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the artist's death.

"It's an important moment" and a way to celebrate a truly great artist, Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, told Vatican News Feb. 17. Raphael died in Rome on Good Friday, April 6, 1520, at the age of 37.

The 10 enormous tapestries designed by Raphael for the lower walls of the chapel were on display Feb. 17-23 in the Sistine Chapel, "putting them in the place they were commissioned for in 1515 and where (some) were hung in 1519," Jatta said. The tapestries are normally displayed behind glass on a rotating basis elsewhere in the museums.

The colorful and detailed tapestries depict the lives of Sts. Peter and Paul and events from the Acts of the Apostles. They were designed to specifically correspond to the frescoed images higher on the walls depicting scenes from the lives of Moses and Jesus, and Michelangelo's images from the story of Genesis.

After Michelangelo had completed the Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1512, Pope Leo X wanted to leave his mark on the chapel, but every surface had already been painted by Michelangelo, Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Pope Leo chose the young and rising star, Raphael, to create 10 designs for a special set of tapestries for the chapel's lower walls, whose panels had already been adorned with "trompe l'oeil" drapery. Tapestries were a popular art form at the time and the church liked to use them for special liturgical ceremonies.

The painted designs, called "cartoons," were sent to famed tapestry artisans at Pieter Van Aelst's workshop in Brussels. Seven of the 10 original cartoons still survive and belong to the British Royal Collection.

The tapestries cost 1,600 gold ducats a piece -- an enormous amount of money because of the intense labor involved and the expensive materials used, including real gold and silver thread. The total cost for the 10 designs and tapestries was five times the amount Michelangelo was paid for decorating the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Seven of the tapestries were completed and sent to Rome in 1519 and the last three arrived in 1521, right before Pope Leo died in December and one year after Raphael passed away.

Miraculously, they have survived the centuries despite numerous unfortunate events. First, they were stolen during the Sack of Rome in 1527 but, by 1536, seven of the 10 tapestries made their way back home. Pirates got hold of the others and some ended up in Tunisia and Turkey.

The missing tapestries eventually were recovered in Venice in 1554, but others were snatched again from their home in 1798 during the Napoleonic Wars. It took the diplomatic finesse of Pope Pius VII's secretary of state to wrangle for their return in 1808.

All 10 tapestries have been restored over the years. Each covers about 35 square yards (30 square meters) and weighs between 110 and 132 pounds. (50-60 kilograms).

 

 

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Pope adds year of missionary service to Vatican diplomats' training

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis, adopting a suggestion made at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, has decided that every priest preparing for service in the Vatican diplomatic corps must spend a year in ministry as a missionary.

In a letter to U.S. Archbishop Joseph S. Marino, president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains Vatican diplomats, Pope Francis said the year of missionary service should be added to the academy's curriculum beginning with students entering in the 2020-2021 academic year.

"I am convinced that such an experience could be helpful to all young men who are preparing for or beginning their priestly service," Pope Francis wrote in the letter released Feb. 17. In a special way, he continued, mission experience would be helpful "for those who in the future will be called to collaborate with the pontifical representatives and, later, could become envoys of the Holy See to nations and particular churches."

Currently students -- all already ordained priests -- usually spend four years at the academy in central Rome. They earn a license in canon law from one of the pontifical universities in the city and then a doctorate in either canon law or theology. If they already hold a doctorate, then their time at the academy is only two years.

In addition to their university courses, the students study diplomacy, Vatican diplomatic relations, languages, international law, papal documents and current affairs.

Vatican diplomats represent the Holy See to individual countries around the world as well as to international organizations, such as the United Nations. But they also represent the pope to the local Catholic Church and coordinate the search for new bishops.

At the end of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis said he had "received in writing" a suggestion that "in the Holy See's diplomatic service, in the curriculum of the diplomatic service, young priests should spend at least one year in mission territory, but not doing an internship at the nunciature as happens now, which is very useful, but simply at the service of a bishop in a mission area."

In his letter to Archbishop Marino, the pope quoted from a speech he gave to students at the academy in 2015 when he reminded them of the missionary focus of all that the church does, including its diplomatic activity.

He had told the students, "The mission to which you will be called one day to carry out will take you to all parts of the world: To Europe, in need of an awakening; Africa, thirsting for reconciliation; Latin America, hungry for nourishment and interiority; North America, intent on rediscovering the roots of an identity that is not defined by exclusion; Asia and Oceania, challenged by the capacity to ferment in diaspora and to dialogue with the vastness of ancestral cultures."

Pope Francis told Archbishop Marino that he was certain that, "once the initial concerns" about changing the formation program are overcome, "the missionary experience that it aims to promote will be useful not only for the young academicians, but also for the individual churches they will collaborate with and, I hope, it will give rise in other priests of the universal church a desire to make themselves available for a period of missionary service outside their dioceses."

 

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Update: Cardinal Dolan meets with Cuban President Diaz-Canel in Havana

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

HAVANA (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan met privately with the president of the Republic of Cuba Feb. 11, the last full day of a six-day visit to the island nation mostly filled with visits to Cuban prelates and humanitarian organizations and facilities where the island's Catholics operate services for the poor and elderly.

"The meeting went very well, and it was no surprise because he's always extraordinarily cordial," the archbishop of New York said in an interview with Catholic News Service following the meeting with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez in Havana. "I said I'm not here as a politician. I'm here as a pastor, Mr. President. I want you to know how much I admire my brother bishops (in Cuba).

"We've been very thrilled to meet priests and women religious, lay leaders and the faithful and they are happy, and they love Jesus and his church. I'm so grateful for the openness of Cuba to allow priests and sisters and lay faithful leaders into Cuba to help in the mission of the church."

The meeting lasted 50 minutes, Cardinal Dolan said, adding that he reiterated the ardent desire of the church "to just be a partner in the public square in any project that enhances the dignity of the human person, human life, the dignity of the family, the importance of marriage, and the real deep heritage of faith found in the Cuban people."

He said he found the president to be "realistic" but also "yearning to see if there could be good relations."

Cardinal Dolan said he'd met Diaz-Canel twice before and the last time was in 2018, the year he took over the helm as head of Cuba from Raul Castro. Diaz-Canel visited New York later that fall and spoke before the United Nations. He asked for a meeting with Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's Cathedral and during that visit, he gave the prelate a present: a statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

Though church members, along with other religious groups on the island, suffered persecution after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, Cuba's Catholic Church underwent a wave of openness from government officials following the 1998 visit of St. John Paul II to the island. Then Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012, followed by Pope Francis in 2015 -- all with messages of salvation.

The Vatican, with the help of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana, who died in July 2019, played a major role in the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. and the two countries announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in late 2014, which included the reopening of their respective embassies in Havana and Washington.

The Catholic Church has constantly held that it's better to engage Cuba instead of isolating it, and efforts -- from the Vatican to the U.S. bishops -- have emphasized diplomatic solutions.

However, with a Donald Trump presidency came sanctions and new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba. Cardinal Dolan said that Diaz-Canel said he was appreciative of the efforts by the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying that dialogue is always better than antagonism and that mutual exchanges in commerce and culture are beneficial to the understanding of people, "and I affirmed that," he said.

Cardinal Dolan said he agreed that those who suffer the consequences of measures such as the embargo are not the government leaders but the common people of Cuba.

"And when you see the huge shortages of food and medicine, it does strike one as unfair," he said.

To those who would criticize his meeting with Diaz-Canel, he said he has plenty on his plate, but if he's invited to visit a place and the visit might do some good, that's his interest as a pastor.

"I don't sit around wanting to make trips. I got enough to do. I've got a full-time day job," he said.

He said that during the meeting, Diaz-Canel told him that Cuba was the only place in the Americas where three popes have visited.

"And I said 'No, no. There's one where four popes have been, namely St. Patrick's Cathedral. Then I gave him a gift" from the cathedral, he said.

Cardinal Dolan said if others could pay visits like his to the island, including educational leaders, business leaders, artists, writers and leaders of other faith communities, "I think how things would warm up."

The meeting made headlines in the government newspaper Granma Feb. 12, which published two stories about the cardinal's visit saying he had been welcomed to the island with "hospitality and respect," and mentioning his meetings with Cuban bishops and his visits to "places associated with church activities" in Cuba.

A second article mentioned the cardinal's "visit of solidarity with the Cuban people for whom he has declared affection on more than one occasion."

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British Columbia couple on quarantined cruise ship relying on faith

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Camales-Torrijos family

By Agnieszka Ruck

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CNS) -- The morning routine hasn't changed for Marichu and Ding Camales-Torrijos since they and all other passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were quarantined following discovery of the coronavirus on board.

The couple has breakfast delivered by mask-wearing cruise staff, they listen to live updates from the captain about the spread of the virus, they send online messages to family and friends, and they pray.

"We start the day with prayer thanking God that we are symptom-free," Marichu told The B.C. Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Feb. 13. The couple, parishioners at St. Matthew Parish in Surrey, boarded the ship for a Southeast Asia cruise 26 days earlier. It was a gift to Ding ahead of his 65th birthday.

They made stops in Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong, when on the last day of the trip a case of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, was discovered on board. The ship was placed on quarantine, docked in Tokyo, and anchored for the next two weeks. The couple don't expect to leave the ship until Feb. 19.

On Feb. 13, 44 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on board, bringing the total number of infected individuals to 218 of the 3,700 cruise passengers and crew.

"We are taking this in stride on a day-to-day basis," Marichu said.

The couple is confined to their 200-square-foot cabin during the quarantine. They must wear masks when their meals are delivered and during the single hour a day they are allowed to walk outside. The rest of the time they stay inside, praying, sending messages to other passengers through online chat groups, and trying to stay positive.

Marichu is unaware of any Catholic priests on board the ship, but as a lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and member of Couples for Christ at St. Matthew, she is trying to minister to her fellow travelers by offering an optimistic outlook.

When an elderly passenger was taken off the ship and sent to hospital for treatment, Marichu reached out to the man's wife, who remained on board. Through online messages, Marichu tries to provide comfort and encouragement.

"Without faith, I don't think I would last this long," Marichu said.

Vancouver Archbishop J. Michael Miller has called for prayers for those suffering from the virus.

"As Chinese health and political officials struggle to contain the virus, please pray that they see in the response of the global community a solidarity rooted in Christian charity. May God grant wisdom and healing as the countries of the world work to prevent a global epidemic," he prayed.

Although Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia's deputy provincial health officer, has said just four cases of COVID-19 have been discovered in the province and the risk of contracting the illness is low, some Catholic communities have taken precautions.

Father Richard Au, pastor of Canadian Martyrs Parish in Richmond, British Columbia, has obtained a dispensation from attending Mass for members of his largely Chinese congregation who have recently traveled to regions affected by the virus, have been in contact with anyone who might be infected, or are coughing or feverish. Those who do not attend Mass "must practice other forms of piety for an hour" such as reading the Bible or praying the rosary.

Since the announcement, Father Au has noticed a decrease in attendance at Sunday Mass, while the hand sanitizer dispensers are in high demand, as are the automatic door openers, with parishioner using their elbows instead of hands to push the button.

"Everyone has someone or has a connection" to someone in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus, he said. The constant information and misinformation about new cases, compounded by fear, has led to parishioners showing up at the church "at nighttime, knocking on the door and pouring their hearts out and their tears out."

 

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Remains of aborted babies now in final resting place in Indiana cemetery

IMAGE: CNS photo/Indiana Office of the Attorney General

By Ann Carey

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) -- A cold, gray, wintry day in South Bend seemed like an appropriate setting for the burial of 2,411 aborted babies, whose remains were interred in Southlawn Cemetery in the city Feb. 12.

The babies had been aborted between 2000 and 2003 by the late Dr. Ulrich "George" Klopfer, who operated abortion clinics in Indiana since the 1970s and performed an estimated 30,000 abortions before having his license revoked in 2016.

The medically preserved remains of those fetuses had been transported across state lines and stored for years on Klopfer's Illinois property, in his garage and in the trunk of a car. The grisly discovery of the remains was made after his death Sept. 3 last year.

Neither his family nor authorities have been able to determine why Klopfer kept the remains instead of properly disposing of them. Indiana law now requires fetal remains to be cremated or buried.

Records found with the remains indicated the abortions had taken place in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Gary, so Indiana Attorney General Curtis T. Hill Jr. took possession of them.

Originally, an effort was made to determine in which city each abortion took place so that the remains could be returned home for burial. The state received several offers of burial locations, including an offer by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend for space and services at Catholic Cemetery in Fort Wayne.

However, Klopfer's records were so incomplete and inaccurate that Hill's office was unable to determine where each abortion occurred. Thus, it was decided to bury the remains together, "each connected by their common fate," Hill explained at the burial service. South Bend was chosen as the site because it is the most central of the three cities involved.

In his opening remarks at the burial service, Hill told a somber crowd of over 200 mourners: "The shocking discovery of 2,411 medically preserved fetal remains in Illinois left in a garage and in the trunk of a car was horrifying to anyone with normal sensibilities. Regrettably, there is no shortage of depravity in our world today, including due regard for the most vulnerable among us. And so, we brought them home, back to Indiana."

The attorney general said that not only was it Indiana law that fetal remains be buried, it was fitting and proper for the aborted babies to receive a final resting place, just as it is appropriate for any human being. He observed that people hoped it could never happen that 2,411 unborn human beings would been terminated, discarded, lost and forgotten.

"But friends, we will not forget," Hill said. "We therefore honor and memorialize these unborn that their lives be remembered not for their brevity, but for how their discovery has impacted our collective conscience. May each of the 2,411 buried here rest in peace."

Hill thanked Indiana, Illinois and local authorities who worked together to bring the babies to their final resting place and acknowledged the many offers of assistance by countless others across the state.

Palmer Funeral Home donated the burial space at its Southlawn Cemetery and a memorial stone, which reads: "In memory of the 2,411 precious unborn buried here on Feb. 12, 2020." The funeral home also provided a tent with chairs for family members, chairs that remained empty during the brief burial service.

The attorney general also thanked the 200-plus mourners for coming to "personally honor and memorialize these 2,411 precious unborn who now stand as a reminder of the fragility of life and of the obligation of the state and of the nation to preserve human dignity and respect for all."

After Hill left the podium to conduct a news conference, a multifaith prayer service took place, led by a variety of religious leaders. Among them was Father Glenn Kohrman, pastor of South Bend's Holy Family and St. John the Baptist parishes and a board member of Catholic Charities and Right to Life Michiana.

Father Kohrman offered a modified version of the Catholic Church's prayer of Commendation of an Infant Who Died Before Baptism.

Sister Agnes Marie Regan of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Indiana, attended the burial service with several of her Franciscan sisters, and probably spoke for the hundreds of mourners when she told Today's Catholic, diocesan newspaper of Fort Wayne-South Bend, that she attended because, "These are our brothers and sisters."

A memorial service at the gravesite will take place Feb. 23, sponsored by the right to life groups of Lake County, Michiana and Northeast Indiana.

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Carey writes for Today's Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

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Pope shares with U.S. bishops his frustration with reaction to Amazon text

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told a group of U.S. bishops that, like them, he is accused of not being courageous or not listening to the Holy Spirit when he says or does something someone disagrees with -- like not mentioning married priests in his document on the Amazon.

"You could see his consternation when he said that for some people it was all about celibacy and not about the Amazon," said Bishop William A. Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

"He said some people say he is not courageous because he didn't listen to the Spirit," the bishop told Catholic News Service Feb. 13. "He said, 'So they're not mad at the Spirit. They're mad at me down here,'" as if they assume the Holy Spirit agreed with them.

Bishop Wack was one of 15 bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina who spent close to three hours with Pope Francis Feb. 13 as part of their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican. They were joined by two from Arizona -- Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix -- who had been unable to meet the pope with their group Feb. 10.

During the meeting, one bishop asked Pope Francis for three or four points he would like them to share with their people from the document "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), which was released the day before and offered the pope's reflections on the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

Auxiliary Bishop Joel M. Konzen of Atlanta told CNS that the pope said the most important message in the document for U.S. Catholics is to care for the planet, "that this is a grave matter."

Then, he said, the pope told the bishops that months or even years go into producing documents and what gets reported by the media "is one line" or that "the pope didn't have the courage to change the rules of the church."

Bishop Wack said the pope told them the synod met "'to talk about the issues of the church in the Amazon. Other people wanted me to talk about celibacy. They made that the issue. But that wasn't the issue of this synod.'"

Pope Francis told the bishops that they and their priests must teach and preach about care for the environment, Bishop Wack said. "He said even if people don't want to hear it. How can we deny that things are changing? How can we deny that we're hurting our future? And he said, if we don't talk about these things, well, shame on us. We have to preach the Gospel, and this is part of the Gospel."

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said Pope Francis also talked about what he means by "synodality" and members of the church listening to each other, praying about issues and trying to discern a way forward together. The synod, he said, is not "a parliament in which people take majority votes on a whole bunch of issues."

Among the reactions concerning the exhortation that caught Pope Francis' eye, he said, was a commentary that said "the pope lacked courage" on the issue of ordaining married men.

"But the synod is not about the courage of the pope or the lack of the courage of the pope," Archbishop Wenski paraphrased the pope as telling them. "The synod is about the action of the Holy Spirit and discernment of the Holy Spirit. And if there is no Holy Spirit, there is no discernment."

If discernment and the action of the Holy Spirit are missing, then it is just "a meeting and it's people sharing opinions and maybe research, but it's not necessarily a synod unless it's in some way governed by the Holy Spirit," Bishop Konzen said.

Bishop Wack said Pope Francis also explained that synodality and discernment are processes that continue even after a synod has met and a document has been published.

"He said, 'You can't just meet once and then say, "Oh, we have all the answers," but the conversation continues,'" the bishop said. "And so, he said, 'What we did is we raised these issues, and now we have to deal with them,'" continuing to invoke the Holy Spirit and discern the path for the future.

As with the 13 groups of U.S. bishops that preceded them, the bishops also spoke with the pope about the clerical sexual abuse crisis, immigration, youth and young adult ministry and what it means to be a bishop.

Bishop Wack said he asked for advice about finding balance as a bishop since "we are supposed to be shepherds, we're supposed to be priests for the people, other Christs. And yet, just like with our pastors, like so many people working in the church, as well as parents and people working in world, we are so busy with so many other things."

Pope Francis spoke at length about being a bishop, he said. "He said if we're too busy doing other things, we put those aside; we pray, and we preach, and we serve our people."

Archbishop Wenski told CNS that in covering the church or Pope Francis' teachings, the press often uses "categories from the world, and they don't fully appreciate that we're dealing with a different way of being, a different way of thinking."

The bishops' meeting with the pope, he added, was a moment to "be with the pope, see the pope and to hear the pope" in a relaxed atmosphere and discuss issues "that concern us bishops throughout the world."

"That was a great opportunity because often times, as bishops, we experience the pope through the filter of the news media. And it's good to experience him without that filter; (to) experience him face to face," he said.

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Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden, Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

To prevent spread of COVID-19, Hong Kong Diocese cancels Masses

IMAGE: CNS Photo/Francis Wong

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HONG KONG (CNS) -- The threat of spreading the coronavirus has forced Catholic officials in Hong Kong to suspend all church programs Feb. 15-28, including Sunday Masses and the Ash Wednesday liturgy that marks the beginning of Lent.

Ucanews.com reported Cardinal John Tong, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, said the "disappointing" decision had been made "because the next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic."

"Some church members may be disappointed" with the diocesan move, the cardinal said in his Feb. 13 pastoral letter. "This is not an easy decision."

The move comes amid global fears that the epidemic, now called COVID-19, has worsened in China against the prediction of experts. The epidemic, first reported in Wuhan city of Hubei province, has spread across the world and claimed more than 1,300 lives, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases as of Feb. 13, mostly in China.

Hong Kong, which has open borders with China, has reported 50 confirmed cases and one death. The densely populated Hong Kong city-state of 7.4 million people is on high alert to check the virus, as thousands have crossed over from mainland China to avoid the infection, ucanews.com reported.

"At this difficult time," Catholics must "deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbors and all people," the cardinal's message said.

Cardinal Tong said he wanted Catholics to fulfill their Mass obligation by participating in Mass online, receiving Holy Communion spiritually and meditating on the Scriptures or saying the rosary at home.

He also urged Catholics to help each other; share anti-epidemic materials; live the Gospel virtues of faith, hope and love; and pray for each other.

As part of efforts to arrest the outbreak, Hong Kong has set up a slew of mass quarantine camps to isolate victims. So far, around 2,200 people have been placed in quarantine camps in Hong Kong, and some people have criticized the government for setting up the camps in residential areas.

The new mandatory quarantine rules took effect Feb. 8, with people arriving from the mainland required to be quarantined for 14 days to curb outbreaks in the community. People leaving the camps without permission commit a criminal offense punishable with a six-month jail term and a fine of $25,000 (US$3,220), the government has said.

With the prices of essential goods soaring and unavailability of medical masks, residents have raided supermarkets and pharmacies, braving chilly winds.

Schools in Hong Kong will extend closures until March 16, Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's education secretary, said Feb. 13.

The government has given its 176,000 civil servants the option of working from home until Feb. 23 to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

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Editors: The original story can be found at www.ucanews.com/news/hong-kong-cancels-church-gatherings-ash-wednesday-liturgy/87218.

 

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Vatican releases pope's Lent, Holy Week, Easter schedule

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By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis and top officials of the Roman Curia will leave the Vatican March 1-6 for their annual Lenten retreat, the Vatican announced.

And, as is customary when first publishing the pope's calendar for Holy Week, the Vatican did not provide the time or place for his celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, April 9. Pope Francis has made it a tradition to celebrate the Mass and foot-washing ritual at a prison or detention center, refugee center or rehabilitation facility.

Here is the schedule of papal liturgical ceremonies for February, March and April released by the Vatican Feb. 12 (times listed are local):

-- Feb. 26, Ash Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. penitential procession from Rome's Church of St. Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina for Mass with the imposition of ashes.

-- March 1-6, Lenten retreat with the Roman Curia at the Pauline Fathers' retreat center in Ariccia, southeast of Rome.

-- March 20, 5 p.m., penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 5, Palm Sunday, 10 a.m. Mass in St. Peter's Square.

-- April 9, chrism Mass, 9:30 a.m. in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 10, Good Friday, 5 p.m. liturgy of the Lord's passion in St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 10, Way of the Cross, 9:15 p.m., Rome's Colosseum.

-- April 11, Easter vigil Mass, 8:30 p.m., St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 12, Easter morning Mass, 10 a.m., St. Peter's Square, followed at noon by the pope's blessing "urbi et orbi" (the city and the world) from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

-- April 19, Divine Mercy Sunday, Mass in St. Peter's Square at 10:30 a.m.

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Cardinal Dolan pays homage to revered Cuban priest who ministered in N.Y.

IMAGE: CNS photo/Father Stephen Ries

By Rhina Guidos

HAVANA (CNS) -- The moment was anything but intimate, but it was probably the best chance Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan had to pay respects to a revered Cuban-born priest who helped Irish immigrants in New York.

The archbishop of New York, followed by a crowd of press Feb. 11, approached the place where the remains of Father Felix Varela are interred in a great room on the campus of the University of Havana and began to pray. Cardinal Dolan spoke of Father Varela's accomplishments as a scholar, teacher and thinker, one who made great contributions in his home country but also in his adoptive home.

Father Varela was born in Havana Nov. 20, 1788, but carried out his ministry in New York. He is a candidate for sainthood, and in 2012, the Vatican declared the priest "Venerable," recognizing his heroic virtues.

Cardinal Dolan made the stop during the last full day of a Feb. 7-12 mission trip to the island nation. He was accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York, who was born in Cuba and is the vice postulator of Father Varela's canonization cause.

"He was a great thinker, but he was a man who would take the shirt off his back for others," Bishop Cisneros told reporters.

And that's what Bishop Cisneros wanted to emphasize, that Father Varela was a priest above all. Father Varela was ordained a priest in Havana but served in New York, including in a post as vicar general, as the church helped with an influx of Irish immigrants and refugees from other countries.

Though many Cubans on the island may associate his name with being a patriot or a scholar, he was primarily a pastor, Bishop Cisneros said. His remains were first buried in St. Augustine, Florida, where he died Feb. 18, 1853, at age 64. His remains were later returned to the island and interred on the campus.

Those who traveled with the cardinal from the Archdiocese of New York gave out prayer cards of Father Varela during Masses in Cuba where Cardinal Dolan presided.

The priest who helped the poor, the downtrodden and the immigrants in the U.S. -- "that's Father Varela" -- may not be a saint canonically, he is a saint in the hearts of many, Bishop Cisneros told reporters who had gathered around Cardinal Dolan to ask about U.S.-Cuba relations.

Cardinal Dolan made the stop after a brief tour of the campus of the University of Havana, where he met with university and government officials.

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Pope on women in Amazon church: Don't try to 'clericalize' them

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis released his document on the Amazon region on the 15th anniversary of the assassination in Brazil of U.S. Notre Dame Sister Dorothy Stang, a missionary who defended the poor and the environment.

Her life and sacrifice are emblematic of what many participants at the October Synod of Bishops for the Amazon had said: Women in the region are leaders of both community and religious life; their defense of the poor and the natural environment is consistent and consistently results in threats to their lives.

In his postsynodal apostolic exhortation, "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), which was published Feb. 12, Pope Francis said consecrated men and women in the Amazon are "closest to those who are most impoverished and excluded."

The pope devoted an entire section of the document to praising the way women -- lay and religious -- have kept the faith alive in the Amazon region. But he flatly rejects a request made by several synod participants to consider ordaining women deacons; the request did not receive enough support to be included in the synod's final document.

At the end of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, and on numerous other occasions, Pope Francis has said Catholics still have not understood how and why women are important in the church.

"We have not yet realized what women mean in the church," but instead "we focus on the functional aspect" -- what offices they are permitted to hold -- "which is important," but is not everything, he said at the end of the synod in October.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has acknowledged the essential and irreplaceable contribution of women to the church, their equal dignity and the importance of having their voices and talents contribute to decision-making.

But the pope also understands that in the way the Catholic Church operates in most places today, the traditional Catholic tie between ordination and power has meant that sometimes women are consulted and sometimes they aren't.

In his exhortation, Pope Francis tried again to lay out his vision for a church in which priesthood is equated with service, not power.

But clearly, until that vision becomes more of a reality, it will be up to priests and bishops to determine the extent to which the contributions and expertise of women -- and laypeople, in general -- will be welcomed.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, who served as secretary of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, said Pope Francis' caution in the apostolic exhortation about thinking women will be valued only if they can be ordained must read within his "extensive magisterium" stressing "the need to separate power from the priestly ministry, since this combination is at the origin of clericalism."

"This relationship between ministry and power is what leaves women without a voice, without rights and often without the possibility to decide," the cardinal told Vatican Media. "So, it is not a question of giving them access to an ordained ministry in order to have them gain a voice and a vote, but of separating power from ministry."

Pope Francis frequently has told people that ordination and the offices that go with it are not a measure of a person's importance in the church; in fact, he often insists "Mary is more important than the apostles."

In the exhortation, Pope Francis said, "In the Amazon region, there are communities that have long preserved and handed on the faith even though no priest has come their way, even for decades."

That happened, he said, "because of the presence of strong and generous women who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries. For centuries, women have kept the church alive in those places through their remarkable devotion and deep faith."

Their example, the pope said, "summons us to broaden our vision" beyond seeing ordination as the best way to encourage and recognize women leaders in Catholic communities.

Still, while warning about the temptation "to clericalize" women or focus solely on functions, Pope Francis did say in the document that women "should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs."

Those positions, he said, should be established in a stable manner, be publicly recognized and include a formal "commission from the bishop."

While the positions should make it possible for women to have "a real and effective impact" on decision-making, he said, it should be done "in a way that reflects their womanhood."

Pope Francis does not explain in the document what he means by that other than by saying, "Women make their contribution to the church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother."

Reparatrix Sister Augusta de Oliveira, a Brazilian and vicar general of her order, was the only woman chosen by the Vatican to present the pope's document to the press Feb. 12.

Throughout the Amazon and in Amazonian Catholic communities, she said, women are "conquering and occupying spaces for decision making, reflection and service in defense of threatened life."

In the most difficult areas of the Amazon basin, she said, "we find the female presence" in religious communities "animating, supporting and serving."

Pope Francis, in his document, urged Catholics to trust that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Catholic communities of the Amazon. "For wherever there is a particular need, he has already poured out the charisms that can meet it."

The church, the pope wrote, simply must "be open to the Spirit's boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay."

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Pope says there is no quick fix for priest shortage in Amazon region

IMAGE: CNS photo/Maria Cervantes, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis acknowledged the serious shortage of priests in remote areas of the Amazon, but he insisted not all avenues have been exhausted to address the issue.

In his apostolic exhortation, "Querida Amazonia" ("Beloved Amazonia"), which was released by the Vatican Feb. 12, the pope said that confronting the priest shortage simply by "facilitating a greater presence of ordained ministers who can celebrate the Eucharist" would be "a very narrow aim."

The members of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in October asked Pope Francis to open the way for the priestly ordination of married permanent deacons so that Catholics in the region could go to Mass and receive the sacraments regularly.

In response, Pope Francis wrote in his new document that the priest shortage must be seen as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to "awaken new life in communities."

"We need to promote an encounter with God's word and growth in holiness through various kinds of lay service that call for a process of education -- biblical, doctrinal, spiritual and practical -- and a variety of programs of ongoing formation," he said.

In an interview with Vatican News Feb. 12, Cardinal Michael Czerny, who served as secretary of the synod in October, said Pope Francis believes that "the question is not one of numbers and that a greater presence of priests is not the only requirement."

"What is needed is a presence of laypeople at the local level who are animated by a missionary spirit and capable of representing the authentic face of the Amazonian Church. This, he seems to indicate, is the only way that vocations will return," he said.

Cardinal Czerny told journalists that while there is no mention in the pope's document of ordaining married men to the priesthood or to women deacons, the pope "has not resolved them in any way beyond what he has said in the exhortation."

The synod is a journey "with long roads ahead as well as roads already traveled," Cardinal Czerny said Feb. 12 during a briefing at the Vatican press office. "So, if there are questions that you feel are open or that the church feels are open, thanks to the exhortation they will continue to be debated, discussed, discerned, prayed over and when mature presented to the appropriate authority for decision."

Pope Francis urged bishops, especially in Latin America, to encourage those who wish to be missionaries "to opt for the Amazon region."

Much like in past exhortations, the pope drove the point home in the footnotes.

"It is noteworthy that, in some countries of the Amazon Basin, more missionaries go to Europe or the United States than remain to assist their own vicariates in the Amazon region," he said.

While the shortage of vocations is an issue felt throughout the church, even the severe shortages in places like the United States pale in comparison to their Amazonian counterparts.

The Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, for example, has an estimated 900,000 Catholics and a total of 103 priests, which is an average of one priest for every 8,737 people. It has one of the lowest priest-to-Catholics ratios in the United States.

In comparison, the Diocese of Caxias do Maranhao, Brazil, has only 25 priests for a population of 825,000 Catholics, an average of one priest for every 33,000 people.

And remote villages, such as the Kichwa indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazonian region, are difficult areas for priests to visit since they are accessible only by small plane or canoe.

In his exhortation, the pope said that priests are essential for the full life of Catholic communities since they are the only ones who can consecrate the Eucharist and grant absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.

"If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness," the pope said.

Nonetheless, Pope Francis also called for a renewal "of both initial and ongoing priestly formation" before considering other suggestions.

While priests are necessary, religious women, lay people and permanent deacons -- "of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region" -- could perform other functions necessary for Catholic life "with the aid of suitable accompaniment," he said.

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True sorrow for sins leads to renewed love for God, others, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Recognizing and repenting for one's own sins and errors is difficult, but essential, Pope Francis said.

"To understand (one's) sin is a gift from God, it is the work of the Holy Spirit" who helps each person realize "the evil I have done or that I may do," the pope said Feb. 12 during his weekly general audience.

The pope continued a new series of talks on the Eight Beatitudes by reflecting on Jesus' second "paradoxical" proclamation, "Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."

This kind of mourning is more than mere grief, he said; it is "an inner sorrow that leads to a new relationship with the Lord and with each other."

The Bible distinguishes between two types of sorrow, the pope said. One is the pain felt when facing the suffering or death of someone else and is a pain that comes from a place of love and empathy. The second is sorrow for one's sin.

Just as there are sorrows to be comforted, he said, sometimes there are people who are too comforted, and they need some sorrow to "wake up" and remember how to cry for their brothers and sisters.

Mourning for another is a "bitter" but important journey that reveals "the sacred and irreplaceable value of every person" and is a reminder of how fleeting life is.

The sorrow people should experience over their sins is not the same thing as getting angry when they make a mistake. That, he said, is pride.

Instead people should truly mourn for what they have done, for their failure to do what was right or for betraying God by not living the way indicated by the Lord, "who loves us so much."

"This is the sense of sin -- it makes us sad knowing the good was not done," he said. It is the sorrow of realizing "I have hurt the one I love," leading to the precious "gift" of tears.

This lies at the heart of facing one's own errors, which is "difficult, but vital," he said.

"Look at the tears of St. Peter, which led him to a new and more authentic love," versus Judas, who did not accept he did anything wrong, "and poor thing, he commits suicide."

Mourning purifies and renews the heart and one's relationship with God, the pope said, highlighting St. Ephraim the Syrian, who spoke of the beauty of a face washed with tears of repentance.

The pope asked people to pray for the grace to grieve for their sins and to be open to the healing grace of the Holy Spirit.

"Do not forget. God always forgives, even the worst sins. The problem is us who tire of asking forgiveness," he said.

At the end of the audience, the pope led a moment of silence after he asked people to pray for Syria, which has been "shedding blood for years."

"So many families, so many elderly people, children have to flee from war," he said.

He also asked for prayers for people in China who are suffering from illnesses caused by the "vicious" coronavirus. "May they find the path to healing as soon as possible."

 

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In Amazon document, pope calls for action rooted in conversion of heart

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ney Marcondes, Reuters

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Like so many of Pope Francis' teachings and major documents, his apostolic exhortation on the Amazon is built on a call for conversion -- a new way of seeing, thinking and doing.

"We need to feel outrage," he wrote, underlining his concern that the world has become too indifferent, too numb or too much in denial about what is happening to the environment, the world and the people in it.

In his apostolic exhortation "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), Pope Francis urged people to recognize how much injustice and cruelty has taken place in the Amazon region, and he pleaded for attention to "current forms of human exploitation, abuse and killing."

Following in the footsteps of "Laudato Si'," his 2015 encyclical on the environment, the pope said people must approach the Amazon aware that "everything is connected," which means that care for people and care for ecosystems are inseparable.

In the document, released Feb. 12, he called on political leaders and governments in the Amazon region to take more seriously their responsibility to preserve the environment and resources and to protect the rights and cultures of all its citizens.

An unusual suggestion Pope Francis made in the document was that people turn to poetry and delve into Amazonian stories to discover how unique the region is and to feel more deeply its importance.

"Those poets, contemplatives and prophets help free us from the technocratic and consumerist paradigm that destroys nature and robs us of a truly dignified existence," he said.

Poetry helps give voice to beauty and to pain, he said, and it should help wake people up to what is under threat.

Reflection is needed to bring about the true conversion needed to hear and respond to the cry of the region's people and the cry of the earth, he said. "From the original peoples, we can learn to contemplate the Amazon region and not simply analyze it, and thus appreciate this precious mystery that transcends us."

"We can love it, not simply use it, with the result that love can awaken a deep and sincere interest," he wrote. "Even more, we can feel intimately a part of it and not only defend it; then the Amazon region will once more become like a mother to us."

The key to all of Pope Francis' appeals in the document is to not "look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings."

"A sound and sustainable ecology, one capable of bringing about change, will not develop unless people are changed, unless they are encouraged to opt for another style of life, one less greedy and more serene, more respectful and less anxious, more fraternal," he said.

 

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Update: Glenmary Father Rausch, advocate for Appalachian people, dies at 75

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Glenmary Father John Rausch recognized early in his time as a missionary in Appalachia that people were facing severe environmental and economic challenges and devoted his ministry to seeking solutions and calling attention to their predicament.

For 53 years, Father Rausch of Stanton, Kentucky, who died Feb. 9 at age 75, traveled around the region, speaking, writing, organizing and praying in a lifelong effort to carry out the biblical call to justice, friends and colleagues recalled.

"He was very dedicated to justice," Father Dan Dorsey, Glenmary's president, told Catholic News Service Feb. 11. "Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato Si', seemed to sum up his own ministry and passion as far as care of the earth. He had just an incredible love of Appalachia and its people."

Visitors to Father Rausch in Kentucky often were treated to hearty meals and warm hospitality. "It was the ministry of the table," Father Dorsey said.

That love led Father Rausch to the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, for which he served as director from 2005 to 2013. The organization presented him with its Bishop Sullivan Peace and Justice Award in 2016.

Michael Iafrate, the committee's current co-coordinator, credited Father Rausch for being "a regular guy."

"He was on the other end of clericalism, of being with people and not imposing stuff on them, and standing with them in whatever struggle they might have, a personal struggle or a political struggle," Iafrate said.

"He also had a way of communicating what Catholic social teaching is about and reaching people who you wouldn't think would be very receptive to it," Iafrate added in a Feb. 11 interview with CNS.

Father Rausch, who was writing an autobiography for the University of Kentucky Press at the time of his death, had been a longtime supporter of coal miners and their families. In recent years, he spoke against efforts by mining companies to shed pension and health care liabilities for retired workers.

In his wide-ranging ministry role Father Rausch also served with the Commission on Religion in Appalachia, the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center, Christians for the Mountains and the Laudato Si' Commission of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky. He joined the faculty at the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada for three summers.

A native of Philadelphia, Father Rausch began his work with Glenmary in the mid-1960s as an associate pastor at the order's missions in Norton and St. Paul, Virginia. He later became pastor of St. Paul.

A pastoral letter by the 25 bishops of the Appalachia region, "This Land Is Home to Me," influenced Father Rausch in 1980 to devote his life to serving the Appalachian region without a traditional church assignment. "He viewed all of Appalachia as his parish," Father Dorsey said.

The pastoral letter marked the first effort by the bishops as a group to call attention to the dire economic hardship, rising drug abuse, environmental destruction and a decline in the culture that defines the 205,000-square-mile region that extends from southern New York to northeastern Mississippi and is home to more than 25 million people.

Father Rausch organized pilgrimages for religious leaders, journalists, elected officials and parishioners from across the country to see firsthand the resiliency of the people in the face of the hardships.

In his writing, Father Rausch described the experiences of the people of Appalachia in a column that appeared in diocesan newspapers as well as in articles for various publications. He won 10 Catholic Press Association awards for his work published in Glenmary Challenge magazine.

In 2007, Pax Christi USA awarded Father Rausch with its Teacher of Peace Award.

Johnny Zokovitch, executive director of Pax Christi USA, recalled the priest for his witness in life that "spoke to the peace of Christ, care of creation and the church's preferential option for those who are impoverished."

Father Rausch is survived two sisters, Marian J. McGinty and Melanie V. Cannon.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Feb. 19 at St. Matthias Church in Cincinnati. Father Rausch will be buried at Gate of Heaven in Montgomery, Ohio.

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Pope shares his 'dreams' for Amazon region, its Catholic community

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis said he dreams of an Amazon region where the rights of the poor and indigenous are respected, local cultures are preserved, nature is protected, and the Catholic Church is present and active with "Amazonian features."

In his apostolic exhortation "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), Pope Francis made no mention of the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood so that far-flung Catholic communities would have regular access to the Eucharist.

Instead, he said "every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian people do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness."

"A specific and courageous response is required of the church" to meet the needs of Catholics, he said, without dictating what that response would be.

However, Pope Francis opened the document saying he wanted "to officially present the final document" of October's Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. The final document asked for criteria to be drawn up "to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the word and the celebration of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region."

Speaking about the final document, Pope Francis wrote that the synod "profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region."

Having a church with "Amazonian features," he said, also will require greater efforts to evangelize, official recognition of the role women have and continue to play in the region's Catholic communities, a respect for popular forms of piety and greater efforts to inculturate the Catholic faith in Amazonian cultures.

In the document, Pope Francis did not mention the theft during the synod of wooden statues of a pregnant woman, usually referred to by the media as "pachamama" or described as a symbol of life and fertility by synod participants.

But he insisted, "Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples."

The pope devoted several long passages to the theme of "inculturation," the process by which the faith becomes "incarnate" in a local culture, taking on local characteristics that are in harmony with the faith and giving the local culture values and traits that come from the universal church.

"There is a risk," he said, "that evangelizers who come to a particular area may think that they must not only communicate the Gospel but also the culture in which they grew up."

Instead, he said, "what is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ."

One of the characteristics of many Catholic communities in the Amazon, he wrote, is that, in the absence of priests, they are led and sustained by "strong and generous women, who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed and acted as missionaries."

While the idea of ordaining women deacons was mentioned at the synod, it was not included in the bishops' final document.

In his exhortation, Pope Francis said the idea that women's status and participation in the church could come only with ordination "would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective."

Instead, he called for including women in roles "that do not entail holy orders," but that are stably established, publicly recognized and include "a commission from the bishop" and a voice in decision making.

Peppered with poetry praising the region's beauty or lamenting its destruction, much of the document looks at the exploitation of the Amazon region's indigenous communities and poor inhabitants and the destruction of its natural resources.

"The Amazon region has been presented as an enormous empty space to be filled, a source of raw materials to be developed (and) a wild expanse to be domesticated," the pope wrote. "None of this recognizes the rights of the original peoples; it simply ignores them as if they did not exist or acts as if the lands on which they live do not belong to them."

The destruction of the forest, the polluting of the Amazon River and its tributaries and the disruption and contamination of the land by mining industries, he said, further impoverish the region's poor, increase the chances that they will become victims of trafficking and destroy their communities and cultures, which are based on a close and care-filled relationship with nature.

"The inescapable truth is that, as things stand, this way of treating the Amazon territory spells the end for so much life, for so much beauty, even though people would like to keep thinking that nothing is happening," Pope Francis wrote.

Yet, he said, "from the original peoples, we can learn to contemplate the Amazon region and not simply analyze it, and thus appreciate this precious mystery that transcends us. We can love it, not simply use it, with the result that love can awaken a deep and sincere interest. Even more, we can feel intimately a part of it and not only defend it."

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Knights of Columbus celebrate 100 years in Rome

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) -- Less than 40 years after its humble beginnings in New Haven, Connecticut, the Knights of Columbus was invited by Pope Benedict XV to establish a permanent presence in Rome.

The Knights celebrated the 100th anniversary of their charitable work in the Eternal City with an audience with Pope Francis Feb. 10 and a press event Feb. 11, reflecting on the fraternal organization's past achievements and ongoing projects.

Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson told reporters that the Knights had a temporary presence in Rome During World War I when it set up and ran a hospitality center for U.S. troops at the Hotel Minerva.

At the time, he said, it was the only charitable organization for U.S. troops that did not segregate according to race and provided "racially integrated" services for soldiers, decades before segregation was abolished.

After 1920, when Pope Benedict XV invited them to have a permanent presence, the Knights set up sports centers and other activities for young people in Rome.

During World War II, Anderson said, the United States and Italy found themselves fighting on opposing sides, leading the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to try to close down the Knights' facilities.

But the people in Rome protested and the organization was able to continue its work, which was particularly critical in the aftermath of the war, he said.

Over time, the Knights expanded the kind of assistance they offered to include helping the Vatican's radio and television centers to broadcast major events at the Vatican around the world as well as help purchase needed high-tech equipment.

Anderson said they provide this help to Vatican communications "so no one is excluded" from hearing the Gospel preached by the Holy Father.

They continue to help subsidize a number of initiatives with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and they sponsor a large number of projects for restoring and repairing parts of St. Peter's Basilica, its chapels and priceless works of art and sacred objects.

Soon, Anderson said, they will help fund a project that is still in the planning stages: improving the lighting and visitor experience of touring the underground excavations of the necropolis and St. Peter's tomb.

Alongside their efforts helping the universal church, the Knights still support projects in the city of Rome, including their sports center, which hosts Special Olympics events and does outreach for the large Filipino community in the city.

"We see these actions as preaching the Gospel through faith in action," he said, adding that they were proud to be able to help every pope since 1920.

"As I promised Pope Francis yesterday, in the century to come, the Knights of Columbus will continue to work tirelessly serving those in need and being a beacon of charity, unity and fraternity to our members, to the church and to the world," he said.

 

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At Mass in Havana, Cardinal Dolan highlights church's unifying teachings

IMAGE: CNS photo/Rhina Guidos

By Rhina Guidos

HAVANA (CNS) -- Though there's a great distance from New York to Cuba, sharing the Eucharist with other Catholics on the island is a great reminder of the bonds of faith and love and what the church can build even among people who are different, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said Feb. 10.

"It is very clear to us, the visitors, that we are at home here," he said during his first Mass in the Cuban capital of Havana.

"We are specially at home when we are at the family table," the cardinal said, referring to the celebration of the Eucharist during a homily at the chapel of Hogar Santovenia, a center where members of the Catholic Church, including women religious, care for the elderly in Havana.

It felt so much like home that a man in the choir suddenly broke into a flute rendition of "Ave Maria" at the end of the Mass, after which the cardinal turned to face a statue of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, the country's revered patron saint, while the man finished playing.

"Que viva la Virgen de la Caridad!" the cardinal then shouted in Spanish, followed by great applause from the elders.

The cardinal's spontaneity has played well among the Catholic Cubans he has visited during his six-day mission trip, his first to the island, as well as church-run centers or organizations he has toured.

"Your affection gives us encouragement," said Maritza Sanchez Abillud, director of Caritas Cuba, who met with the cardinal during his first full day in Havana to talk about the programs the organization provides, particularly tending to the island's aging population.

"We remember how our faith unites us, but our charity also unites us," Cardinal Dolan said to Sanchez, who spoke to him about some of the difficulties of trying to help when materials on the island are scarce.

Aside from the visit to the Caritas Havana office, the cardinal and his small entourage -- which also included Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of New York, and Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn, New York -- also visited a facility where a small group of Guatemalan women religious, members of the Congregation of Mary and Martha, care for aging or sick priests, and the Vatican embassy, or nunciature, on the island.

During an evening Mass at Havana's cathedral, he was joined by Cuban Cardinal Juan Garcia Rodriguez of Havana; Bishop Juan Hernandez Ruiz of Pinar del Rio; Bishop Emilio Aranguren Echeverria of Holguin, who is the head of the Cuban bishops' conference; and Archbishop Giampiero Gloder, the Vatican's nuncio to Cuba.

At the cathedral, Cardinal Dolan continued the sentiment he had expressed at each of the places he visited: that even though his Spanish wasn't perfect, he was "very, very happy" to be in Cuba to share with those in the church who are doing good works there, despite difficulties. He referenced the first reading for that day from the First Book of Kings, which spoke of the dedication of the Jerusalem temple.

The temple in Jerusalem brought people together, he said. He referenced how the Havana cathedral, too, served the same purpose. Earlier he had mentioned the presence of a small group of government officials at the evening Mass.

"And here we are, here in this magnificent, historic temple that is the center of unity in the church that has brought people together in love in faith and worship for centuries," he said. "Here is the arc of the covenant, with God's holy word and the real presence of Jesus in the holy Eucharist."

Jesus taught his disciples to help the poor and the sick, Cardinal Dolan said.

"The church tries to do what Jesus did and, in Cuba, I have been so inspired" to see the same take place, he said.

"Here, I see the church do what Jesus did in helping the old, the sick and the poor," and simply doing what Jesus asked, he said.

Carrying out those teachings of being of service to others reminds the followers of Christ of the sacredness of human life and the dignity of every human person, he said, and it is part of the universal church, whether in Cuba or New York.

Cardinal Garcia thanked him for his visit and said the church in Cuba feels one with the church in the U.S.

"We have the same faith in God," he said, and that helps carry out the church's teachings including the belief in the wonder that is marriage, the defense of life, practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the church's social doctrine. He also said Cuba had the joy of having priests in the U.S. and jokingly said he was hoping the cardinal would send some missionary priests from New York to Cuba.

"Thank you for your testimony, your prayers, your aid and cooperation," Cardinal Garcia said, telling the New York cardinal jokingly that seminarians were "angry" at him for not bringing along copies of his book for them.

"It all sold out," the cardinal replied.

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Bishop: Single-issue politicking 'distorts call to authentic discipleship'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ryan Blystone, courtesy University of San Diego

By

SAN DIEGO (CNS) -- Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, in a Feb. 6 speech at the University of San Diego, said "the drive to label a single issue preeminent" in the 2020 election "distorts the call to authentic discipleship in voting rather than advancing it."

Bishop McElroy called both abortion and the environment "core life issues in Catholic teaching."

"The death toll from abortion is more immediate," he said, "but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity."

He added, "There is no mandate in universal Catholic social teaching that gives a categorical priority to either of these issues as uniquely determinative of the common good."

Yet "the designation of either of these issues as the preeminent question in Catholic social teaching at this time in the United States," Bishop McElroy said, "will inevitably be hijacked by partisan forces to propose that Catholics have an overriding duty to vote for candidates that espouse that position. Recent electoral history shows this to be a certainty."

At their fall general meeting in November, when the U.S. bishops approved a series of videos to augment their "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizens" document, Bishop McElroy voiced his concern over a supplementary letter to their quadrennial guidance for voters that stated abortion is the preeminent teaching of the church. So doing, he argued, would open the door for people to ignore Pope Francis' call to consider other concerns as equally important.

He made the comments during a brief debate over Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago's proposed amendment to include in the letter a paragraph from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Gaudete et Exultate" ("Rejoice and Be Glad") encompassing the church's concern for the unborn, but also describing as "equally sacred" the lives of the poor and elderly people, human trafficking victims and others who are struggling to survive.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput disagreed, saying the church's pro-life teaching remains its preeminent concern. Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez responded that part of the paragraph was included but that the full paragraph was referenced in a footnote. The amendment to include the full paragraph was not approved.

In his Feb. 6 address, "Conscience, Candidates and Discipleship in Voting," Bishop McElroy cited 10 issues he said Catholics should scrutinize. Beyond abortion and the environment, he listed immigration and refugees, euthanasia and assisted suicide, racism, work and workers' rights, poverty and inequality, the promotion of marriage and family, nuclear disarmament, and the protection of religious liberty.

"The comprehensiveness of Catholic social teaching points toward an understanding of justice, life and peace that refuses to be confined to narrow boxes or relegated to partisan categories," Bishop McElroy said. "At the same time, this very comprehensiveness makes the prioritization of Catholic teachings difficult for voters."

He added, "The question of preeminence is further clouded by a third compelling issue our country faces in this election cycle: the culture of exclusion that has grown so dramatically in our nation during the last three years. Racial injustice is on the rise, buttressed by a new language and symbolism that seek to advance the evil of white nationalism and create structures of racial prejudice for a new generation."

"This growing culture of exclusion does not emerge as a specific policy question in our contemporary national politics; rather, it seeps into all of the most salient questions of life and dignity that our society faces and corrodes each one in turn," Bishop McElroy said.

"On virtually every question of human life and dignity, the growing culture of exclusion in our nation reinforces and propels cleavages that are highly destructive to all of the goals that lie at the center of Catholic social teaching. For this reason, many faith-filled Catholics believe that in this election cycle, the most compelling issue that arises from Catholic social teaching for American voters is the need to repudiate radically this culture of exclusion before it spreads further."

But in the end, Bishop McElroy noted, "it is the candidate who is on the ballot, not a specific issue. The faith-filled voter is asked to make the complex judgment: Which candidate will be likely to best advance the common good through his office in the particular political context he will face?"

The bishop's answer: a combination of prudence and conscience.

"In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 'prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. ... It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience,'" Bishop McElroy said. "In Catholic social teaching, prudence is called 'the charioteer of the virtues.'"

Some Catholic leaders "have asserted that candidates who seek laws opposing intrinsically evil actions automatically have a primary claim to political support in the Catholic conscience," Bishop McElroy said. But "the problem with this approach is that while the criterion of intrinsic evil identifies specific human acts that can never be justified, this criterion is not a measure of the relative gravity of the evil in particular human or political actions."

Among the examples he gave: "Contraception is intrinsically evil in Catholic moral theology, while actions which destroy the environment generally are not. But it is a far greater moral evil for our country to abandon the Paris climate accord than to provide contraceptives in federal health centers."

Bishop McElroy added, "Catholic social teaching cannot be reduced to a deductivist model when it comes to voting to safeguard the life and dignity of the human person."

When voting, he said, "the constellation of substantial moral elements that are relevant to deciding which candidate is most likely to advance the common good during her time in office can only be morally comprehended through the virtue of prudence. There cannot be faith-filled Catholic voting without the virtue of prudence, exercised within the sanctity of well-formed conscience."

 

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U.S. bishops ask pope about Amazon synod, discuss range of issues

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Talking about debates, differences and discernment, Pope Francis told a group of U.S. bishops that people focused on the possibility of ordaining some married men and women deacons for service in the Amazon will be disappointed in his apostolic exhortation.

The Vatican will release "Querida Amazonia" (Beloved Amazonia), the pope's postsynodal document, Feb. 12.

The document came up Feb. 10 in the two-and-a-half-hour discussion Pope Francis had with bishops from New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, two of the bishops said. The bishops were making their "ad limina" visits to Rome to report on the status of their dioceses.

As is his normal practice, Pope Francis told the bishops they could talk about whatever issues they wanted to raise, offering him information, asking him questions or even critiquing him, as long as the critique remained in the room.

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, told Catholic News Service the pope told the bishops: "I want to hear what you have to say. Criticisms, complaints and questions are welcome. That's how the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit can't work if we're all walking on eggshells and afraid to say anything."

The clerical sexual abuse crisis, immigration, polarization in society and in the church, training seminarians, the ministry of bishops and the role of women in the church were among the topics discussed, several bishops said.

Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City said Pope Francis did not go into detail about "Querida Amazonia," but he did give the bishops the impression that the issues of ordaining married men and women deacons for ministry in far-flung communities would still be a matter for future discussion and discernment.

"He said he didn't actually believe in the ordination of married men, but what are you going to do with all those people who are deprived of the Eucharist," the bishop said. There are communities where a priest arrives only once a year for Mass.

Pope Francis did warn the bishops that many in the media and the general public will be focusing on those two issues -- married priests and women deacons -- while he wanted to focus on the social, pastoral, ecological and cultural challenges facing the Amazon region.

Archbishop Wester said, "A lot of the media sometimes will glom on to something because it fits a particular agenda, or it sparks a particular controversy that they know is going to kind of bring a lot of future business."

The archbishop told CNS that Pope Francis was asked for "a clarification" about the synod.

"The pope, very gently and very calmly, said, 'You know, this point was really not a big point," although it did come up, the archbishop said, without saying whether the issue was married priests, women deacons or something else. The gist of the pope's response, the archbishop continued, was "I don't even think at this point that it's something we're going to move on because I haven't sensed that the Holy Spirit is at work in that right now."

Summarizing his take on the discussion about the Amazon synod document, Archbishop Wester told CNS, "It's what's not going to be said that people will notice."

Retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, said having met almost all the U.S. bishops for "ad limina" conversations since November, "I'm sure he's gotten an earful."

The bishop said he believes the pope has specific hopes for the church in the United States.

"I think he senses that there's a kind of, his phrase would be, a spiritual worldliness that has taken over and not having the sense of living my life in a sacrificial way, in a serving kind of way, in a giving kind of way, in a generous way," Bishop Kicanas said.

"My impression is that he sees the United States is very blessed, but perhaps needing to learn how to share those blessings and how to be bring those blessings to the service of others," he said. One example of that, the bishop said, is immigration. "He would love to see countries do their part, not everybody can do everything and there are limits to what any country can do. But we do our part."

Highlight how "all of us are immigrants," Pope Francis told the bishops, "As I look around the room and listen to your names, none of you are Native Americans so we need to realize that most of us have come from elsewhere," Bishop Kicanas said. The pope "would like to see a more generous society, a more giving society, a society that's attentive to those who are in need."

Archbishop Wester said the pope "was very strong on" the importance of lay leadership, especially the participation of women in the life of the church.

"The gifts that women bring -- it's so important not to exclude that, but to include that in our various schools and parishes, etc.," the archbishop said.

The pope also discussed the sexual abuse crisis and the need for the church to not only help survivors heal, but to heal itself.

"A wound has been opened, and in some cases, reopened" -- for example, because of grand jury reports -- "but we see that as providential in that Christ can help us now to heal," Archbishop Wester said. "You have to open the wound in order for the healing to take place."

While it is painful to look back at the abuse that occurred in the church, Archbishop Wester said the bishops "need to look so we can learn from history, to learn from our mistakes."

And in a world marked by "polarization, that division," Bishop Solis said, Pope Francis emphasized the role of the bishop as a builder of unity, a person who must be willing to listen to a diversity of opinions, pray about decisions and trust the Holy Spirit will guide the discernment.

"He values differences of opinion," the bishop said. "I think he must have heard about the lack of civility" that seems to be afflicting public discourse in the United States. "People don't discuss anymore" but move immediately to "looking at each other with hatred."

Pope Francis encouraged the bishops to be close to one another and to discuss their differences calmly and openly, Bishop Solis said. "You could see that he's concerned about it like a typical father when siblings are not in sync with one another."

Bishop Solis was celebrating the 16th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop Feb. 10 and said he spent it "engaging in a very, very personal and beautiful, Spirit-filled conversation our Holy Father, Pope Francis. It was the best gift I've ever received in my life. I forgot all my problems."

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Contributing to this story were Junno Arocho Esteves, Cindy Wooden and Carol Glatz.

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.